HL Deb 23 May 2002 vol 635 cc973-1038

8.45 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 49.

Lord Lucas

moved Amendment No. 222: Page 33, line 29, after "pupil," insert— () requiring any child in public care to be represented in the event of any exclusion under subsection (1) or (2), for that representation to be independent of the local education authority and funded through the Community Legal Service in the matter of an appeal under subsection (3)(c), and for representations to be made on behalf of such a child at every suitable opportunity The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment I shall also speak to Amendment No. 223A.

We have managed to deal with 11 groups in the past four hours. At that rate, I reckon that we have 10 hours to go. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, seems to think that we shall rise earlier. I am delighted.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Over my dead body.

Lord Lucas

I would not wish that, so I shall make good speed.

These two amendments are not in any way connected. Amendment No. 222 addresses the issue of how a child in care should be represented, given the fact that essentially local authority tribunals will decide the fate of such children who appear before them. As local authorities are also essentially the parent of such children and the body that should prepare for and make representations to the tribunal, we should consider a separation of the functions and provide children in care with a route for independent representation. The local authority should not be forced to act as both the child's advocate and his judge.

Amendment No. 223A addresses the issue of undiagnosed special needs. It suggests that, in their guidance and regulations, the Government might find it convenient to suggest to local authorities that children permanently excluded for behavioural problems who have not had an assessment of special educational needs should perhaps have such an assessment. It is something that the local authority should consider. I beg to move.

The Earl of Listowel

I strongly support Amendment No. 222, which is supported also by the British Psychological Society and the Who Cares Trust. The amendment would allow for the representation of children in public care by guardians, educational psychologists or other care professionals. It would be a great improvement on current arrangements.

I should perhaps take this opportunity to voice some concern about an earlier reply on the independent appeal panels to which the children will be sent. There is considerable concerns about the quality of decisions made by the panels, which were very well outlined in the article by Professor Neville Harris. I hope that there will be an opportunity to discuss those concerns before Report.

I shall also speak briefly to Amendment No. 223A. I feel very sympathetic towards the provision although I have not had a chance to study it in detail. I hope that it will receive a very sympathetic hearing from the Minister.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I sympathise with the intention behind Amendment No. 222. As I have said both several times today and previously in the House, children in public care are a particularly vulnerable group and are particularly vulnerable to exclusion. We believe that it must be for the person or organisation with parental responsibility for the child to decide whether to make representations about the child's exclusion and to determine the content of those representations. However, there would be severe practical difficulties in accepting the proposal in full, including in relation to the timetable. Additionally, the effect of introducing publicly funded representatives into the exclusion procedure for children in public care or children in other categories would inevitably be to make hearings much more like judicial proceedings. That is something we wish to avoid. A degree of formality is, of course, needed but not to the extent that the hearing resembles a court hearing.

However, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we are very aware of the risk of children in public care being excluded from school and of the need to ensure that they are properly represented at appeal hearings. That is why the joint DFES/Department of Health guidance on the education of children and young people in public care points out that local authorities as corporate parents are expected to act as champions for the children in their care and as advocates for their needs in exactly the same way as a parent.

We have also included guidance on children in public care for the first time in the draft revised guidance on exclusion published in January. That makes clear that in cases where a child in care is excluded, the person having parental responsibility for, or care of, the child will have the right to make representations and appeal and should pursue those rights if there are grounds for appeal.

I turn to Amendment No. 223A which we believe is unnecessary as it replicates the provisions already contained in Section 323 of the Education Act 1996. That section places a duty on local education authorities to assess a child's special educational needs where the authority is of the opinion that a child for whom it is responsible has, or probably has, special educational needs which call for special educational provision. That duty exists and I see no merit in repeating the provision in regulations governing exclusion.

As I said earlier this evening, I acknowledge that children with special educational needs are disproportionately excluded. That is a problem that we intend to address. I have already invited the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to talk with us further about the issues of advocacy and the revised guidance. We intend to address that matter in the revised guidance on exclusions to be issued later this year. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Lucas

I suspect that the arguments about the constitution of the appeal panel and representation in front of it will rumble on for some long while. We are being left with a system which has, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, a number of well known disadvantages and malfunctions. That will result in a continuing flow of protest over the years. We may eventually end up with a better system.

So far as the local authorities' requirement to assess is concerned, what we face—it is evidenced by the number of people with special educational needs who end up in prison—is a system where people with special educational needs slip through the net. One of the main ways they slip through the net is through becoming disenchanted with school, being excluded from school and otherwise dropping out of the system. It seems to me that it is important that where a step is being taken in regard to a child, such as exclusion, and there are symptoms present which could well be symptoms—as many behavioural symptoms are——of an underlying special educational need, that there is a duty to look again at that particular point at whether that excluded child should be assessed. I know that there is a general duty, but should it not, at least in guidance, be made clear to local education authorities that this is a point in the life of a child when the local education authority should have particular regard to whether there might be an underlying SEN? However, I am grateful—

The Earl of Listowell

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. On the legal side of things, I should like to draw the Minister's attention to a point made by Professor Neville Harris in his book; that is, that parents in middle class occupational groups aged under 50 who had received advice, especially legal advice, were far more likely to bring an appeal than others. That again seems to suggest the importance of having some legal involvement for these particularly vulnerable children. They should have access to the community legal service.

Baroness Ashton of 1Upholland

I say to the noble Earl, as I think I said earlier, that vie are considering the whole question of advocacy. The noble Earl referred to the adoption Bill that is going through another place. We are looking across government to ensure that we look at the needs of this particularly vulnerable group in terms of advocacy. We shall, of course, keep the noble Earl in touch with those developments. We take that point on board.

Lord Lucas

Practice and experience show that there is increasing use of advocacy all through the system at the moment as this is such a crucial matter. Those who can afford it are routinely resorting to solicitors. What we are doing is depriving those who cannot afford that of equal attention. However, as I say, I believe that we shall return to this matter over the years. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 223 to 227 not moved.]

Clause 49 agreed to.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 228: After Clause 49, insert the following new clause— "PARENTAL BEHAVIOUR (1) If a parent or guardian of a child registered at a maintained school behaves in a manner which—

  1. (a) exhibits violence towards a member of staff of that school, whether or not on the premises of the school, or
  2. (b) disrupts the normal functioning of the school,
he shall be guilty of an offence. (2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale. (3) Section 8 (parenting orders) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37) is amended as follows— (a) after subsection (1)(d) there is inserted— (e) a person is convicted of an offence under section (parental behaviour) of the Education Act 2002"; (b) in subsection (2) after "444" there is inserted "of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) or section (parental behaviour) of the Education Act 2002"; and (c) after subsection (6)(d) there is inserted— (d) in a case falling within paragraph (e) of that subsection, the commission of any further offence under section (parental behaviour) of the Education Act 2002". The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 228 aims to introduce an amendment to a criminal justice Act—Section 8 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998—in order to make it an offence if parents behave violently towards a member of staff on or off school premises, or if they should disrupt the normal functioning of a school. In response to the growing number of violent attacks on teachers and other staff and the growing number of incidents where the normal functioning of a school is disrupted by the behaviour of parents, the Government have pledged publicly on a number of occasions that they intend to extend parenting orders. My amendment does just that. One reason for the delay given by Her Majesty's Government has been the lack of parliamentary time in the legislative programme. By accepting the amendment it would not be necessary to wait for a relevant criminal justice Bill.

In drafting the amendment I took advice from the Public Bill Office and I tabled a Question for Written Answer which was answered by the Minister about which statute would require amending to give effect to the aims of the amendment. The answer was that it should be Section 8 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. That is what I have done.

This is a serious problem in our schools. Only today we heard about the increasing level of violence of pupils towards teachers and other members of staff and, of course, towards each other. Sadly, often those children's parents then come to the school and behave violently. We are hearing more often teachers themselves say how unprotected they feel in school. It was most depressing to learn that policemen are now being put on school campuses. We should not be proud of the fact that we are having to offer police protection in our schools. Sadly, it is a sign of the times. The pressures on teachers are considerable enough without their having to worry about their physical protection while teaching in school.

I hope that the Minister will accept from me that this is a straightforward amendment. There are no politics involved. I believe that Members on all sides of the Committee want to do what they can to protect teachers. We know that there is a deficit here. Certainly, the National Association of Head Teachers believes that there is a serious deficit in this regard. The Government have promised that association that parenting orders will be extended. We on this side of the Chamber have also been promised that parenting orders will be extended.

I have done the legwork for the Government. It would be a simple matter to accept the amendment. Teachers deserve no less. They should be protected and they should be free to get on with what they do best; that is, teaching our children, safe in the knowledge that if parents cause harm or disrupt the normal functioning of the school on school premises or within its vicinity, a penalty will apply. I beg to move.

Lord Northbourne

I should like to comment on the issue of parenting orders. Having been the founder and for eight years the chairman of the Parenting Education and Support Forum, I was interested to hear at a conference a few weeks ago my erstwhile colleagues say that although they had been strongly opposed to parenting orders when they were introduced, they now found that many parents subject to parenting orders thanked them profusely and were delighted with the information that they received. It is encouraging to think in terms of parenting orders being acceptable and successful in many cases.

In reality, while I support the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in tabling the amendment, I think that in the real world the only thing that will make a serious difference to parents' attitudes to schools is efficient and proper school outreach to parents which, again, I regret to say, will require additional resources. However, if parents understand what schools are trying to do and are encouraged to be sympathetic about what they are doing and even to participate in decision-making, there would be much less trouble with parents.

9 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I have some reservations about the provisions, partly because I have the gravest reservations about the utility of putting parents in prison because of the behaviour of their children. Our prisons are already far too full; it is an utterly useless thing to do.

Baroness Blatch

I should correct the noble Baroness. My amendment relates not the behaviour of the children but to parents who are violent. It has nothing to do with the violence of children. I cited the increasing number of violent children who are turning into violent parents. The amendment relates to violent parents.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I agree that the behaviour of some parents is appalling. Anything that one can do to restrain that is an advantage.

I strongly agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. We need to develop an outreach mechanism that can help parents in the community. Many of them need help with their parenting skills.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised the important question of dealing with the small number of parents who disrupt school life by being violent in schools or by threatening school staff in or out of school. The Government view that matter with the utmost seriousness. I make it clear that there is never any excuse for a parent to abuse, either physically or verbally, a teacher or anyone who works in our schools. Unfortunately, we know that that happens. We are very clear however: we expect the toughest possible line to be taken against such behaviour.

In the vast majority of cases, as Members of the Committee will know, relations between school and parents are mutually respectful and good. That is how they should be. The outreach referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, works well. It is inconceivable to most of us that any member of the school community should run the risk of being subject to violence at work. It is our very firm opinion that anyone who presents that sort of risk should expect to be punished.

Last autumn, the department consulted on extending the use of parenting orders. We had in mind then that disruptive or violent behaviour in school by a pupil resulting in a pattern of fixed period exclusions or permanent exclusion could be a "trigger" for initiating court proceedings, leading to a parenting order being imposed. We have made it clear, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, that we intend to pursue this option when a suitable criminal justice Bill is available.

We said in the consultation paper that there was an issue about whether parenting orders should apply where the parent's behaviour, not the child's—the noble Baroness pointed that out—is causing a problem. Seventy-eight per cent of those consulted—104 out of 134 respondents last autumn—opposed extending parenting orders to cover parental behaviour. That was because parenting orders are fundamentally about improving parenting, not about punishing people for violence.

However, we are absolutely clear that we want school staff to be protected and violent parents to be prosecuted. Let me remind the Committee of the words of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State when she addressed the Easter conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. She reminded the conference that there is already a range of ways in which bad parental behaviour can be punished: parents causing a disturbance can be removed from school premises and prosecuted by the local education authority; parents assaulting a teacher or causing damage to schoolteachers' property can be charged under criminal legislation—for example, under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 or the Criminal Damage Act 1971; or anti-social behaviour orders can be imposed. If someone causes harassment, he can be taken before the courts under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. That legislation offers a range of sanctions, including custodial sentences and fines that are greater than those proposed in the amendment. So we are clear that the powers are already there.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said to the ATL conference, we do not need new legislation; we just need the will to use the powers that already exist. She made the position very clear. Employers must take whatever action is necessary to protect teachers, including prosecution. Where teachers are assaulted or threatened in the course of their duties, employers already have the power to act decisively. We want them to do so. This is a real opportunity for LEAs to lead.

We are now taking active steps to make the existing remedies better known and to promote their use, so that action can be taken against disruptive parents at the first opportunity. We have had very positive discussions about that approach with the Association of Chief Education Officers, the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers. We are looking to ensure that schools have the support to ensure that rapid and tough action can be taken against anyone who threatens their staff or their smooth operation.

I have a final word on the issue of police in schools. Members of the Committee may be familiar with examples of police in schools, but I strongly recommend them to visit schools. Police working in schools are seeking to enhance the relations between the community, the school and the police. They provide a real service to children—they are often children who are trying to lead the kind of life that we wish them to lead. Policemen and policewomen talk with the children, are involved in their lives and help them to understand, perhaps in a citizenship role, their place. That is very much the role that we envisage. It is not about providing a protection service in that sense.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for moving this amendment, which has given the Committee an opportunity to unite in saying that we expect teachers and other staff in schools to be protected to the fullest extent of the law. I hope that the noble Baroness agrees with me that, given the range of powers that can be used and the severity of the penalties available, we must now concentrate our energies on ensuring that those powers are used as fully as possible to give all our teachers and staff the protection that they deserve. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

I cannot describe how disappointed I am with that answer. The Government gave a promise that they would extend parenting orders—they did not say that that would be put out for consultation or that they might be extended. The NAHT and other teachers accepted the promise that they would be extended. All that was stopping the Government was a legislative opportunity to do so. We have provided such an opportunity, but what did the Government say? That the law is all right as it is, that teachers are fully protected under the law and that all that we need to do is to enforce the law. Teachers do not believe that. They do not feel protected and on a daily basis teachers up and down the country are being physically hurt by violent parents. We have left them undefended.

It is all very well for the Minister to say that existing law should be used. The Government have done nothing about finding ways of encouraging magistrates and the courts to use the law more effectively or to encourage the police to use their powers where necessary, to protect teachers. Instead, the Government say that they will extend parenting orders.

Tonight, the Minister has elegantly danced on a pin in finding ways to avoid honouring the Government's pledge. I expect the Government to match their words with deeds. I am deeply disappointed. The issue is too important to run a vote at this time of the evening, knowing that the Government have their army corralled outside. I hope that the noble Baroness will think again about the Government's promise to teachers and the protection that they deserve. I beg leave to withdrawn the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 50 [Attendance targets]:

On Question, Whether Clause 50 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Blatch

Any target for school attendance should not fall below 100 per cent. At even the best-run schools, some children will fall ill while others may suffer a death in the family. By any yardstick and for totally understandable reasons, some absences will be justified. However, we are talking not about the actuality but the target. The expectation should be 100 per cent attendance. Can one imagine a school being given an attendance target of 70 per cent, 80 per cent or 90 per cent? No school in the land should be set an attendance target anything below 100 per cent.

I was part of the ministerial team that introduced the publication of absenteeism figures, starting with unauthorised absences. It quickly became clear that schools throughout the land had varying attitudes to children being absent. Some were lax. Provided a parent telephoned or sent a note after the child's absence or if the child looked sufficiently pleadingly into the eyes of the teacher, that was acceptable to some schools as an authorised absence. I managed to persuade my ministerial colleagues that it would be a good idea to publish publicly figures of authorised and unauthorised absences, so that people could identify how relaxed or rigid a regime a school operated and for Ofsted to make a judgment about a school's absenteeism policy management.

There is positively no defence for allowing a school to have an attendance target of anything less than 100 per cent.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I could not agree more that schools should aspire to 100 per cent attendance—although, as the noble Baroness said, there are times when children suffer bereavement, illness or other circumstances. We are enabling the Secretary of State to set targets aimed at reducing all types of absenteeism—not only those unauthorised by the school.

In the last academic year, 0.7 per cent of half days were missed due to unauthorised absenteeism but 6.5 per cent of half days were missed due to authorised absenteeism—which accounts for 90 per cent of all absences from school. A large proportion of children stopped by truancy patrols are with an adult. According to Ofsted, the figure is about 80 per cent. Your Lordships may have read press reports in recent days in which one excuse for school absenteeism given by a family was that they were out to buy a hamster.

Children who are out of school are missing out on their education. I am sure that every Member of the Committee agrees that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. Good attendance is crucial if children are to achieve at school. The emphasis should not be on why the child is absent from school but on making sure that he or she gets back to school as soon as possible. It is important that children are taught the importance of good attendance if they are to succeed later in life. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said that employers might ask for an applicant's school attendance record when assessing his or her suitability for a job.

Appropriate targets play a vital role in school improvement and raising community awareness of the issue. Many schools already work hard to improve attendance and set their own targets with their local education welfare service. It is important that schools have the right incentive to take all types of absence seriously. Therefore, a requirement that targets are set for schools with above-average absence figures ensures that they put their energy into working with parents and with the education welfare service in getting children back to school instead of debating whether or not an absence should be authorised.

The targets will not be additional to existing targets. Instead, they represent a widening focus that we believe will be welcomed by schools and local education authorities. That is why we have moved to a target for all absences. Of course, I accept what the noble Baroness said. We want every school to move towards 100 per cent attendance. The clause seeks to move schools from having high levels of absence into a better position. It seeks to raise awareness, get schools to focus on the issues, work with the education welfare service and move beyond.

Of course, our ultimate objective is for every child in school to learn and develop to the best of his ability. I hope that the Committee will see that the clause forms an important part of our plans to raise the level of attainment of all pupils. It should, therefore, stand part of the Bill.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas

I hoped that the noble Baroness would say something about her plans—or the Government's plans—to give schools the necessary powers to do something about the problem of absence. Schools can add something to their newsletters to parents or send a note home with little Jimmy saying that it would be nice to see him in school more often. But it is the culture among many parents to take a relaxed altitude to the presence of a child in school. When they want to buy a hamster or take a skiing holiday off-peak or get some winter sun, they take little Jimmy out of school and off they go. Unless that occurs in the middle of an exam period, it does not really matter because being out of school provides just as good an education as being in school. Those are all things that parents say.

That is a problem which the school can do nothing about. No sanctions are available. There is no sanction that anyone will lay against such parents; nor do schools have any way of offering rewards. If a target is set, surely there must be some way of it being reached.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

We do have sanctions against parents. In recent days, there was a very high-profile case of a parent who did not send her children to school. The result was that that parent was imprisoned. As I mentioned earlier this evening, I was in Stevenage last week. A head teacher there said to me that two children whom he had had great difficulty in getting back into school reappeared last Monday morning. When asked why, the children said, "Because our mum does not want to go to prison".

We have sanctions. The education welfare service does a good job in working with schools—it is often based in schools—to develop links with such families in order to get their children into school. It is very important that we ensure that the service works well. But, ultimately, sanctions do exist. They are an issue that we must consider, and local education authorities do so.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Baroness has given me no reason whatever to support the idea of a school having a target lower than 100 per cent. She said that the Government want to set targets in order to enable the Secretary of State to reduce all types of school absence. In that case, let us give them a target of 100 per cent and ask them why they have not achieved it. They may or may not have very good reasons for not doing so. But the judgment can be made. As for the child who was found with a parent buying a hamster, that parent was breaking the law and should be dealt with.

The Government appear to be taking some credit for the fact that, for the first time in a very long while, one parent has been imprisoned. I agree with the noble Baroness that that has had quite an impact throughout the parent and pupil communities. However, it came about through the persistence of the local authority. One has only to look at the catalogue of attempts that had been made to ask that parent to comply with her obligation to send her children to school to see that the local authority reached the end of the line in trying to persuade her to be compliant.

However, I still say that if only 0.7 per cent of absences are unauthorised and 6.5 per cent are authorised, then reducing the target below 100 per cent is almost to condone the rate of absence. It seems to me that one answer is to make the target 100 per cent and to make schools accountable for the absences that fall short of that target. The Government have put up no argument or defence whatever for their proposal.

I want to relate an anecdote in order to express my incredulity at this clause. I was once involved in contemplating the privatisation of cleaning and caretaking in schools. As part of the prerequisite work for that, I discovered to my horror that a bonus scheme was operating in the local authority. The scheme paid a bonus to anyone who worked at a level above 70 per cent effort. I then asked the natural follow-on question of how many people had received the bonus. I discovered that everyone had received it. The shock to me was that it was considered the norm to work at 70 per cent effort. I do not know any other norm than working flat out. One does one's best, and if one does not expect people to do their best they will not. That pertains particularly to children. The more one expects of children the more children will rise to the challenge and want to deliver.

In the case of people who were expected to work at 70 per cent, everyone received the bonus because there was no measuring system in place. The exercise is worth undertaking if only to find that out. I believe that the target should be 100 per cent. There should be no bureaucracy. The Government suggest that the local authority liaises with every school. The noble Baroness has just said that the local authority, in conjunction with the school, should arrive at a target and monitor whether that target is met. That appears to me to be an absolute nonsense. Through my amendment I advocate the removal of the clause from the Bill. I believe that the Government should expect all children to attend school on each school day of the year.

In view of the existence of published information, Ofsted inspections, the LEA's duty to see that children are in school and the parents' obligation to get their children to school, in relation to which a raft of measures can be taken by the courts, the police and support systems, I simply cannot understand the Government's reluctance to remove this clause from the Bill and their insistence on this idiotic policy.

Lord Dearing

I have great sympathy with the principle raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The objective should he for all children to attend school 100 per cent of the time. However, as a manager, I am conscious that to be told in difficult circumstances that 100 per cent is the target may cause people to give up. With a highly transient, difficult population teachers may say to themselves, "The legislators do not live in the same world as the people of this borough".

I believe that it will help to say on the way to that desired objective of 100 per cent, "Your target is to move towards that to a certain extent". In that situation I can see teachers rallying around the head teacher in support. As a manager, I fear that if one asks too much, people will put up their hands and not try. While agreeing with the principle put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I realise that the Government are adopting a practical and workable policy that will move matters in the direction that we all want.

Baroness Blatch: In response to what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has said, many schools that are struggling against the odds are damned often by reputation and often by people knowing that it is not the best school in the town. If I, as a parent, moved into an area and looked for a school for my children and I knew that the target for attendance at a school was less than 100 per cent—it may be 60,70,80 or 90 per cent—I would be very concerned about sending my children there. I would know that a certain percentage of the children at that school would not be expected to be in school at any given time.

I agree with the noble Lord that there is a problem and that we should approach it from a different angle. Such a school should be given as much support as possible to help it to fight against those odds even though it has a high percentage of non-compliant parents in the area. One should do that through support systems, through liaising with the police, and through finding innovative ways of trying to connect with the parents and remind them of their obligations. Setting a target below 100 per cent will damn a school and that will certainly not achieve the objective.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. We are trying to find a mechanism. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is absolutely right to say that we want 100 per cent of children in school at all times. Some of our schools, in challenging circumstances, have a real difficulty with the issue of school attendance. We are trying to move them towards that figure. The purpose of this clause is to remove the difference between "unauthorised" and "authorised" in order to create one target on attendance. We have spoken to education authorities and schools, which have welcomed that move.

With regard to whether targets work, there is always a case of the jury being out. We know, however, that as a result of the targets that we set, in the past two years the level of unauthorised absence in primary schools has decreased in 44 local education authorities. We also know that the level of unauthorised absence in secondary schools has decreased in 60 local education authorities. It is an ongoing process that is being used as a means of ensuring that we work closely with our schools and put in the right kind of support mechanisms. In that respect, I could not agree more with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

It is important to encourage schools to focus on the issue of moving towards the target to which we all aspire and to put in place targets that they will try to meet to ensure that children are in school. I do not believe that the noble Baroness and I are in disagreement about this matter. It is a mechanical process: a way of ensuring, on the basis of what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing has said, that we have in place targets towards which schools can work. On that basis, I hope that the clause will stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch

I still profoundly disagree with the Minister. It is not right to say that we are both coming from the same place. I do not believe that we are. The intention of this clause is to include authorised as well as unauthorised absences. The Minister has already said that a number of remedies are in place for dealing with parents who do not send their children to school.

If we are referring to schools that find it difficult to get children to attend because their parents are not complying, by either condoning the absence, failing to alert the school of problems, or not meeting their own obligations to get their children to school, that is the issue to be tackled. The schools would welcome tougher action being taken with parents who are non-compliant in relation to sending their children to school. However, it seems bizarre to put the target on the school by saying, "You as a school must expect to achieve only 80 or 90 per cent attendance". The target should be 100 per cent. If the parents are at fault in not sending their children to school, that is the problem that the Government should address.

I withdraw my opposition to the Question that this clause stand part of the Bill, but we shall certainly return to it at another stage.

Clause 50 agreed to.

Clauses 51 to 53 agreed to.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 54 [Power of LEA to provide for governing body to consist of interim executive members]:

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

moved Amendment No. 229: Page 37, line 26, at end insert— () In the case of a Church of England school, a Church in Wales school or a Roman Catholic Church school, before giving consent to the exercise by the local education authority of the powers conferred by subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall consult the appropriate diocesan authority. The right reverend Prelate said: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 229 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. At first glance, it may seem a strange amendment to move in the light of subsection (2)(4) of the clause, but I hope to explain that in a moment.

I say at the outset that nothing in this amendment goes against the thrust of this clause in the Bill. If there are problems in the governing body of a voluntary-aided school that lead to the failure of a school, they need to be addressed. But we look for some assurance at the outset of the process. It seems to us that before consenting to the process beginning and taking up the point made by the local authority, the Secretary of State should at least check out this matter with the appropriate diocesan authorities.

Although in this country relations are excellent between most local authorities and the governors of voluntary-aided schools, sadly there are cases in which, for doctrinaire or whatever other reasons, some local authorities try to make life quite difficult for the governors of voluntary-aided schools. In those rare circumstances where in our judgment there may be a slightly unworthy motive, the Secretary of State should be required, as it were, on the face of the Bill at least to consult with the diocesan authority in order to check out the facts before acceding to the request of the local authority.

I re-emphasise that there is nothing in this amendment which runs against the thrust of Clause 54 in trying to impose, where appropriate, an interim executive board. However, I hope that in her reply the Minister will give me the small amendment that I seek in order that the governors of aided schools may feel rather more secure than they do with the clause as presently drafted. I beg to move.

9.30 p m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

I am very happy to support the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. The point that he made about the non-controversial nature of this clause is one with which I agree. It is right that the Government should take these powers to deal with the imposition of interim executive members in the case of the schools that are mentioned in subsection (1) and also in other subsections. However, it does not spell out exactly what would happen in the case of diocesan schools. I know that not only the Church of England authorities but also the Catholic Education Service are concerned about what would happen in such circumstances.

I hope that the Government are minded to accept the spirit of this amendment. If the Minister believes that the first line of consultation, as it were, should be with the local education authority, perhaps he could tell the Committee what would happen in the case of the sort of dispute outlined by the right reverend Prelate. If there were to be a dispute, can the Minister say who would be the point of reference in those circumstances? Even if it is not on the face of the Bill, the Minister's clarification in that respect could meet some of the concerns that have been raised.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

If there is any issue between us—I do not believe that there is—it is not whether there should be consultation with diocesan authorities, but who does the consultation. There are two ways in which interim executive members can be appointed to replace the governing body of a school where that school requires "special measures" or has "serious weaknesses": first, by the local authority, with the consent of the Secretary of State, and following consultation. Consultation will include the appropriate diocesan authority in the case of a foundation or voluntary school, which is Church of England, Church of Wales or a Roman Catholic School. The second possibility is appointment by the Secretary of State, following consultation with the relevant diocesan authority and others, unless the LEA has already undertaken this consultation.

We have not been debating these interim executive measures because no other amendments have been tabled on the subject. The intention is that such powers should be used only in exceptional circumstances where there is a need for prompt, rapid intervention to improve standards. On the first option, the Secretary of State will expect to be informed about the LEA's consultation on appointing interim executive members in considering the LEA's case. If there is any concern that the appropriate diocesan authority has not been consulted adequately, the Secretary of State will request further details, asking for sight of any correspondence or notes of meetings, or will undertake further consultation.

We do not wish to impose more work on the diocesan authorities by legislating far the duplication of consultation. I hope that the assurance I have given—namely, that the interests of diocesan authorities are already protected in either case—will meet the concerns expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn

I thank the Minister for his reply, which goes some way towards reassuring those whom I represent that the Secretary of State will take due note that the consultation has taken place and that, before giving whatever consent is necessary, will investigate the situation in some way. I hope that my understanding of the Minister's response is correct. In the knowledge that that assurance is on the record, I am content to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 54 agreed to.

Clauses 55 and 56 agreed to.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clauses 57 to 59 agreed to.

Clause 60 [Power to require LEA to obtain advisory services]:

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 230: Page 41, line 11, at beginning insert "following consultation with the local education authority, The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 231.

Clause 60 provides for the Secretary of State to intervene and direct the LEA to introduce a partner to assist with turning round a failing school or schools if insufficient progress has been made. However, there is nothing in the Bill to require that the Secretary of State must consult with the LEA in such a situation.

The exercise of those powers will have clear financial implications for the LEA, especially when a lot of money is to be delegated to the new partner. It will also have implications for other schools for which the LEA has responsibility as it could put in jeopardy the necessary critical mass of the authority's advisory and other services if a large chunk of those services were taken over by a partner.

It is therefore surprising that the Government think it appropriate for the Secretary of State to interfere with local decision making to such an extent without even ascertaining from the authority what the knock-on effects of such action might be. The Minister may say that of course such consultations will take place, and perhaps with the current Secretary of State, they would. However, we shall not always have the present Secretary of State, so it is necessary to put this protection into the Bill for the benefit of other schools in the area. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In order to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I shall explain in what circumstances those powers could be used. I emphasise that it is certainly our intention that they should be used extremely rarely.

I say that in the context that our policy in tackling failing schools is working well. In the past few years more than 900 schools have been turned round, and I pay tribute to the role of local education authorities in that achievement.

Many LEAs have established effective partnership arrangements. The power in the clause to direct an LEA to involve a partner to support the governing body of a weak or failing school, or to support the LEA itself, will be needed in only a very small number of cases, where the LEA has chosen not to do so itself.

There are two possible instances when the power could be required. First, when an LEA is preparing an action plan following an Ofsted inspection which has judged a school as having serious weaknesses or requiring special measures, it may be necessary to require the LEA to involve external support where action is clearly necessary and the authority has no plans to take such action. Alternatively, a direction may be necessary later in the process if it becomes clear that an LEA's recovery plan is not working.

In either case, we shall have been working closely with the LEA in question to help it to tackle the difficulties that it faces. Therefore, the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales will have sufficient knowledge to be satisfied that a direction is the appropriate course of action. There will have been detailed discussions throughout this time, which I should have thought would go rather further than consultation in the formal sense. Therefore, we do not need a further requirement to consult. That would slow down the process of securing for children the quality of education that is their right.

I turn to Amendment No. 231. We expect the Secretary of State to use her power under Clause 60 to direct the LEA to obtain advisory services. We expect that to happen only rarely. The fact that it has happened in my borough of Haringey is perhaps irrelevant to the argument. We propose to provide guidance on the way in which any local education authority might use external partners to provide advice on turning failing schools around.

We want the guidance to be as helpful as possible and we believe that LEAs will find examples of model contracts more useful than detailed guidance about the terms and conditions which the Secretary of State might include in a direction. We hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will agree that that sort of guidance would be preferable to a formal direction.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the Minister for his answer. Given that the circumstances in which the Secretary of State might have to use such powers—hopefully rarely—it would probably mean almost a complete breakdown in relations between the DfES and the local authority in question. I very much hope that the Minister is right and that it would be used rarely. I shall read his remarks with great care and possibly return to the matter at the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 231 not moved.]

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

moved Amendment No. 232: Page 41, line 34, leave out "an order of mandamus" and insert "a mandatory order The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 232 is a drafting amendment which brings the matter up to date. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 60, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 61 agreed to.

Clause 62 [Academies]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy

moved Amendment No. 233: Page 42, line 42, after "State" insert "(in relation to England) or the National Assembly for Wales (in relation to Wales) The noble Lord said: Clause 62 and the succeeding clauses up to and including Clause 67 apply to England only. Some of us in Wales feel that it may be losing out by not opting in to some of these clauses and some of the possibilities that they contain.

Amendment No. 233 seeks to remedy this short-sightedness, particularly in relation to academies. The amendment, I hasten to add, is only indicative, in the sense that if it were to be accepted, other consequential amendments would be necessary in the clause. We have not littered the Marshalled List with them at this stage.

The argument is very clear. Here is a proposal that the Secretary of State may enter an agreement with a person to establish and maintain an independent school with a broad curriculum but with an emphasis on a particular subject area. That we know represents a popular approach to education among young people with a special interest. They take an interest in their schooling. With that kind of interest, there is something to combat the inertia that we all remember from our schooldays.

Such youngsters in Wales are to be denied any such opportunity and so are the potential patrons of such schools. And why? It is because the Welsh education system and the Welsh proposals in the Bill are anachronistic, backward instead of forward looking and antipathetic to novelty and change. The ethos is static, self-perpetuating, anti-enterprise and, frankly, wrong. New ideas and concepts are anathema.

It will be said that there is no demand for such schools as these academies and that there is no queue of patrons at the Minister's door. There certainly will not be now that the door has been firmly slammed in their faces. I am sorry to say that the best that we can hope for in Wales is that news of the success of these academies will percolate down in time and that someone will press for such academies to be established there. As the Bill stands, it will not be possible for Wales to benefit unless the amendment is accepted making Clause 62 apply to Wales as well as England. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 234, 237, 238, 242, 243 and 245. This series of amendments all relate to Clause 62 which deals with the setting up of new academies. Each one is, however, slightly different and addresses a slightly different issue. I shall address each one of them separately.

Amendment No. 234 seeks to ensure consistency of terminology. The 1988 Act's, a balanced and broadly based curriculum", is well understood by teachers as one which includes a range of individual subjects which collectively covers all experiential disciplines and one which all pupils have access to. All pupils follow one curriculum differentiated accordingly to ensure equal access.

The 1988 Conservative Government at the time clearly envisaged the national curriculum as providing the necessary breadth and balance. But with the need for sex education and careers education, it was always clear to teachers that a balanced and broadly-based curriculum referred to the national curriculum plus the wider school curriculum. The current Government appear to view a "broad" curriculum as something different again. In the proposals for 14 to 19s and the White Paper, terms like "balance", "breadth" and "entitlement" are used but clearly do not have the same meaning as before.

The Government appear to envisage that a "broad" curriculum will mean something different to different pupils. The amendment is intended to find out exactly what they mean. We suggest that the Bill refers to the Act by inserting the words, curriculum which satisfies the requirements of section 74(1)". Amendment No. 237 is intended to probe the Government to clarify pupil admissions to academies. Section 482(2)(b) of the Education Act 1996 states that the school, or in this case the academy, provides education for pupils of different abilities who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated". By inserting the words "local education authority" before "area", we seek further clarification with regard to admission to academies. Can the Government clarify—or in this case, quantify—the term "mainly"? What area will academies serve?

I turn to Amendment No. 238, which is also a probing amendment regarding the Government's intention in relation to the establishment of additional academies. The amendment would ensure that no academy was established without prior consideration of its value in raising standards across the LEA. The establishment of city academies—or, as proposed, academies—may fragment local provision of secondary schools. Academies also involve the transfer of publicly funded assets to sponsoring bodies, which are not necessarily accountable. Sponsors provide about 20 per cent of the initial capital cost of setting up a city academy—up to £2 million of the average cost of £10 million. Public money is used to fund the remainder of the capital cost.

In the case of the proposed city academy in Haringey, for example, there have been numerous technical difficulties in transferring land and assets to the sponsors. The relationship of sponsors to the governance of city academies has not been adequately dealt with, which is why we want to insert the new subsection.

Amendments Nos. 242 and 243, which we have tabled at the behest of the Local Government Association, are intended to enable local leaders, in consultation with their communities, to decide on the planning of new secondary schools. That is currently the role of the schools organisation committee. The LGA is concerned that the Bill takes powers and responsibilities away from local community leaders and gives them to the Secretary of State. That undermines local democracy and provides for an unacceptable level of centralisation.

The role of community leaders is crucial, especially given the Government's proposals to make communities more cohesive in the wake of last summer's disturbances in some English towns and cities. The proposals for community cohesion are cross-cutting and extensive and will require the full involvement of local leaders and a level of local knowledge that only they can provide. They feel—and we on these Benches agree—that the Bill runs counter to those proposals and will make it difficult for local leaders to perform their community function. The Bill fails to foster a genuine partnership between local and central government, which we want to protect.

The Government are leading a consultation exercise on the new secondary school planned for Clapham, in a prosperous area in the borough of Lambeth. The school, a city academy, will be privately sponsored by the Church Schools Company and will take up to 180 students a year. The academy will meet the urgent need for secondary school places in Lambeth and the proposal has emerged after a long lobbying campaign by council and residents.

Issues forming the basis of the consultation include admissions criteria, the school's ethos, how the national curriculum will be delivered and the make-up of the governing body. The borough's executive director of education, Michael Peters, has asked residents to do all in their power to ensure that the city academy delivers what is best for the community, the borough, pupils and parents. Those concerns are all relevant to the amendment.

Amendment No. 245 originates, I think, with the NAHT. It is self-explanatory. The duties imposed on the governing bodies of maintained schools should be echoed for the academies.

Baroness Blatch

My first observation is that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, in the guise of someone trying to be helpful to local authorities is, in fact, showing her petticoat on her dislike of city academies, city technology colleges or whatever. They are, in fact, state independent schools, and the legislation setting up the city academies is based on the legislation that set up the city technology colleges in the first place.

To be fair to the noble Baroness, she has made no secret of her views. From our earlier debates today, we know that there is an antipathy towards those colleges. I believe that they have raised educational standards in the areas in which they have been established and have been an enormously valuable educational experiment in some difficult areas, particularly urban areas.

I shall pose a question to the noble Baroness. The city technology colleges, on which the city academies are based, have been in place for some years. What is it about those city academies that has proven to be a problem in the opinion of the noble Baroness? What has made her feel that we ought to change the basis on which the schools are set up? If we take the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness together, it would seem that she is trying to turn them all back into normal comprehensive schools within the state system and take away the independent status that they enjoy. As far as I know, the Government intend that those schools should continue to enjoy that status.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It is a mixed bag of amendments. It starts with Wales, so I had better deal with Wales first, had I not?

The National Assembly for Wales has set out its strategic view of the needs for education in its document The Learning Country. The contents of that document were widely welcomed in Wales. As in England, there has been a long-standing commitment to enabling schools to build on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. In Wales, that finds expression in the close partnership arrangements with local education authorities and in the Partnership Council, which consists of Assembly Members and members of local authorities and was established by the Government of Wales Act 1998.

In those circumstances, the Government's view is that it is right to respect the decision of the Welsh Assembly that, in the light of the approach that they are taking, they do not wish to have the power proposed here. That is why we have not extended it to Wales.

I turn to Amendment No. 234. We already require that the curriculum in each academy should be broad, and we use funding agreements to flesh that out. However, I see merit in extending the legislative requirement so that it resembles more closely the requirements placed on maintained schools in respect of the breadth and balance of the curriculum and the emphasis on meeting the moral, spiritual, cultural, mental and physical needs of young people and preparing them for later life. That is what the amendment does. Therefore, we accept the principle behind the amendment and its intention. We shall bring forward a government amendment at Report stage to implement it. I hope on that basis it will not be pressed.

I am not so happy about Amendment No. 237 and I hope that it is just a misunderstanding. We agree, of course, with the intention that academies, like other schools, should serve their community and we have put in place stringent requirements to ensure that that will happen. I remind the Committee, and give a further commitment, that academies will be bound through their funding agreement to conform to the requirements of the law on admissions and the statutory codes of practice as those apply to maintained schools.

If I sometimes say that the rules for academies are consistent with those for maintained schools, what I mean is that, in effect, they are the same. They are achieved in a different way through funding agreements rather than in other ways. However, the problem with the amendment is that communities do not always follow neat local education authority boundaries. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, knows, for maintained schools there is case law. The 1989 Greenwich judgment established that LEA maintained schools were not allowed to give priority to children simply because they lived in that LEA's administrative area. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that academies should, as far as admissions are concerned, be treated in the same way as maintained schools.

Turning to Amendments Nos. 238, 242 and 243, the Government have consistently made clear that we expect academies to be established in partnership with local education authorities. Indeed, that has been the case. The LEA has been an active partner in all of the 17 city academy partnerships announced to date and we continue to have expressions of interest from LEAs which are keen to explore the opportunities that city academies offer for tackling under-achievement and raising standards in their area.

Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is right. There is public money involved, in particular in the provision of the sites. The key question for the Secretary of State when she considers whether or not to enter a funding agreement with an academy is the likelihood that the academy will make a significant contribution to raising standards. That is not just raising standards for pupils in the academy, but contributing to the education of pupils in other schools in the area. Academies' funding agreements will set out explicit targets for attainment at the individual school level which will feed into the host LEA's targets. They will be required, through their funding agreements, to contribute to raising standards across the board by sharing their facilities and expertise with other schools and the wider community. Therefore, the involvement with the LEA can be seen to be pretty important in the establishment of academies.

In considering sponsors' proposals, we look for evidence that local stakeholders, including the LEA, have been involved in their development. We want to be sure that each one will complement and augment the existing provision in terms of the education it provides and the opportunities it offers to the wider community. The involvement of LEAs has contributed to the city academies programme. We expect LEAs to continue to play a positive role, for example, by being represented on the governing bodies of academies.

Already, the Secretary of State is obliged to consult relevant LEAs before entering into a funding agreement with a city academy and that obligation, which I believe is the thrust of these amendments, is reenacted under subsection (3) of the clause. The Secretary of State is already consulting LEAs as required. We have testimonies which I could read out, if it was not so late, from a number of local education authorities, to that point. However, we do not see any need to put in place unnecessary additional legislative hoops. The primary goal of the academies is to raise standards and it will do so most effectively when it works in partnership with the LEAs and other stakeholders.

There may be occasions when the LEA, or an adjacent LEA, does not support the case for an academy. The Secretary of State has to consult the LEA and any other LEA from which the Secretary of State thinks pupils might attend. If the LEA or LEAs, do not support the academy, they will say so. The Secretary of State will then have to consider their views alongside the case made for the academy by sponsors and others, including local parents and other community groups.

However, it is possible that the LEA's view may not always be the right one. There may be cases—I expect them to be rare—when the LEA sets its face against an academy and where an academy is exactly what the area needs. In such cases, the Government feel that an academy should go ahead.

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 245. I am happy to say that I think it is unnecessary. Academies are independent schools funded by the Department for Education and Skills. We work hard to ensure that each one will play a full part in its local family of schools and is properly accountable. But there is no need for the blanket insistence that academies should he the same as schools maintained by the LEA. What matters—and all that matters—is that each academy has governance arrangements that meets its needs and helps it to provide the best possible education for its pupils. That does not mean that in each case the governance should be the same.

However, it does mean—and I can give the Committee this assurance—that academies will comply in full with the requirements of special educational needs, admissions and exclusions legislation as they apply to maintained schools. We expect academies to be established as charitable companies limited by guarantee. They will have a memorandum and articles setting out their governance arrangements. We have agreed a standard memorandum and articles with the Charity Commission and we have placed a copy of this in the Library, together with a standard funding agreement.

We intend that academies should be treated no more and no less favourably than maintained schools. They are equal but different. I hope that that is what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, wants because that is what we want.

10 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I think I am quoting the Minister accurately when he previously said that as far as admissions are concerned academies should be treated in the same way as maintained schools. There are two very important distinctions between academies and maintained schools. One is that they take in children from across the ability range but in about live ability bands. That is scientifically worked out, which is wholly unlike maintained schools which, if they are local comprehensive schools, simply take all-comers, whatever their abilities.

Secondly, academies admit by interview and no other maintained school is allowed to take in children under the admissions procedure by interview. Therefore, they are different in that respect.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I did not quite say that the admissions procedure was the same. In order to be safe, I shall read what I said because I was reading my brief on this occasion. I said that academies will comply in full with the requirements of SEN admissions and exclusions legislation as they apply to maintained schools. As regards the issue of banding, we turn to that with the next group of amendments. I think that it would be better if we discussed the matter then.

Baroness Blatch

Perhaps I may come back on that. I was referring to an occasion much earlier today when the noble Lord said that as far as admissions were concerned academies were treated the same as maintained schools. It might have been in the context of another aspect, but it was not in the context of SEN.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not always read speeches and perhaps I made some such comment. However, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that it is not necessarily the case—and perhaps this is relevant to the next group of amendments—that academies have banding policies. It is not necessarily the case that they interview potential pupils.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for his detailed reply. I am somewhat reassured by what he has had to say. I am delighted that he has accepted our Amendment No. 234—that is a nice little bonus for us.

The only issue to which I want to return is that of admissions. Am I right in thinking that academies are their own admissions authorities, in the same way as the CTCs are their own admissions authorities?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

They are independent schools in the public sector, and they have funding agreements, memoranda, and articles. I have explained what those require them to do and the extent to which they have to obey the same law as maintained schools; but they are their own admissions authorities, subject to those very significant constraints.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I realise that those are very significant constraints and that is reassuring. What I find particularly reassuring is the degree to which the academies will be serving their own local communities. On these Benches, we feel strongly that a great deal of public money is going in and that it is important that they do not become élite academies.

In relation to Amendment No. 237, we should be delighted to see the abolition of the Greenwich judgment, but it is there and we recognise the limitations that that imposes.

There is a great deal in the Minister's answers, for which I thank him. We shall read them with care, and we shall possibly return to some of these issues on Report.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I, too, am grateful to the Minister for explaining why Clause 62 does not apply to Wales. He referred to the document produced by the National Assembly, The Learning Country, which I have read more than once. It looks forward a decade or so, but, alas, is not very innovative in terms of practical ideas. It seems as if a straitjacket has descended on the comprehensive system in Wales. Possibly, the spirit of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has been abroad in educational circles in the Principality.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I hope that the noble Lord does not expect me to agree with him. In words once used by Ken Tynan, wild horses on their bended knees would not extract from me a criticism of the National Assembly for Wales.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

As regards the amendment, my personal view is that Wales is losing out and that the Bill is not as enabling as it might be, in that, if these clauses did apply to Wales, it would, of course, be up to the Assembly and others involved in education as to whether they were activated or not. Personally, I think that the idea of academies is a promising one and would be relevant in the Principality. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 234 not moved.]

Lord Peston

moved Amendment No. 235: Page 43, line 11, leave out "different" and insert "all The noble Lord said: I hope that I can deal briefly with these two amendments, Amendments Nos. 235 and 236, especially as I am indebted to the good offices of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp and Lady Blatch. I tabled them partly so that we could have a good debate on comprehensives, and we managed to have such a debate earlier.

The two amendments in my name and that of my noble friend should not be interpreted to mean that either of us supports what I regard as the most idiotic idea; namely, "academies". I have no idea what the origin of this lunacy is, but in speaking about the idea I hope that I am not interpreted as thinking for one moment that it would be other than damaging to the education system of our country.

The Minister has spoken on more than one occasion of the Government's commitment to comprehensive education, for which I am indebted. "Comprehensive" education means admitting pupils of all abilities. One need rarely argue about the word. It does not mean "different abilities"; it means "all abilities". Therefore, given the Minister's commitment to comprehensive education—and the Minister having said how sympathetic she is to at least one Conservative amendment, how sympathetic she is to one amendment tabled by the Bishops, how sympathetic she is to one Liberal Democrat amendment—we might have an absolutely miraculous occasion and she might actually support an idea coming from her own supporters. I therefore press on the Minister the notion that we need the phrase "all abilities" and not the phrase "different abilities".

My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey reminds me of our younger and happier days when the idea of banding was introduced in a moment of aberration on the part of the people of Haringey who voted for a very short time for a Conservative local administration. It did not last very long, but it thought that the idea of banding was a good one. Two leading figures in opposing that to the death were my noble friend and myself. We won that battle. I certainly have not changed my view and I take it that he has not. Therefore, we really must replace the word "different" with the word "all".

Amendment No. 236 is more of a drafting amendment. In the provision, the word abilities—which I hope will be "all abilities" rather than "different abilities"—is followed by "who are wholly or mainly". That could be interpreted as meaning that the issue of abilities applies only to those who come under the "who are wholly or mainly", so that young people who do not come from the local area do not have to be of "all" or "different" abilities, but could be of one ability. That is my reading of the amendment.

There are two possibilities here. The first is that I am right and that we need the "and" that I suggest. Alternatively, as I am not an expert in drafting, my noble friend could say, "No, we don't need the 'and' because the clause as it stands means the 'and"'. Not being an expert on reading legislation I shall take his word whichever way round. However, my reading of it is that the "and" is required.

Those are my two points. We need "all abilities" because allegedly—not allegedly; my noble friends have said how committed they are—definitely we believe in comprehensives. The "and" is to avoid any confusion as to what the clause means. I beg to move.

Lord Northbourne

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I believe that the importance of education is to do what is best for the child rather than to employ political prejudice.

Baroness Blatch

I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. We have on record now the city technology colleges, city academies and specialist schools, all of which have made a positive difference. The noble Lord cannot point to any of those establishments and say that it has failed young people in any sense whatever. In fact, they have served the more deprived communities better than any preceding schools.

Lord Peston

The noble Baroness should know that there is no research evidence supporting what she has just said, and that there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence showing exactly the opposite. There is no case other than an a priori and a prejudiced case—to which I shall return in a moment—that it is the other way round. There is no case for these schools. No one has ever shown a research case for them or, in my view, a philosophical case for them. The noble Baroness really should not persist with this view that they are doing a lot of good. There is no evidence whatever that they are doing a lot of good.

Baroness Blatch

I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, but I shall remain undaunted and continue to press my case. However, the noble Lord himself has not produced any evidence whatever for the case he is pressing. I shall make the following statements: The comprehensive revolution has not removed the link between education and class but it has strengthened it. The revolution which afflicted state schooling from the 1960s is one of the most profound and incendiary factors influencing the state of British society. It was not merely a technical educational change, but changed the nature of the country. In 1965, the Labour-controlled House of Commons resolved that moving to a comprehensive system would 'preserve all that is valuable in grammar school education for those children who now receive it and make it available to more children'". Few would maintain that that has in fact been the case. Moreover, The comprehensive revolution tragically destroyed much of the excellent without improving the rest. Comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price. Middle class children now go to middle class comprehensives whose catchment areas comprise middle class neighbourhoods while working class children are mostly left to fester in the inner city comprehensives their parents cannot afford to move away from". Those are not my words but those of Andrew Adonis, a Labour Party educational adviser to the Prime Minister.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

Before the Committee concludes its debate on this amendment and issue—as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, we have rehearsed some of the arguments already—I should like to share an experience from my early days as a local councillor in Liverpool, 30 years ago, when I became the governor of a local comprehensive school which had been built for 2,000 children. It had been built in an area where mass demolition was taking place. The numbers in that school had fallen to about 300 or 400 pupils. Huge efforts were made, not least by the local authority which spent vast sums of money on the school. At one point it was suggested that it would have been cheaper to provide places at Eton for every child at the school than to run the school with those numbers of pupils. However, it drew from an area that was incredibly socially deprived. That council ward which I represented had some of the worst social indicators in England. Half the houses had no inside sanitation, running hot water or bathrooms. That school was more like one of the old secondary modern schools that both the noble Lord, Lord Pest on, and I wholly oppose.

I lived on a council estate and my father worked on the shop floor at Ford but, like others who addressed the Committee earlier this evening. I attended a grammar school. I am aware of the opportunity that that afforded me. I share that experience with the noble Baroness and others who have spoken. My support, as it were, for comprehensive schools is predicated on those experiences. However, I do not support comprehensive schools where they are simply a replica of old secondary modern schools. There is no doubt that where a school's catchment area excludes children from other social backgrounds due to its location, it is in danger of becoming that kind of school.

To complete the story, the school I mentioned was closed down by the local education authority. That is relevant to other debates that we have had here because, ultimately, the Church of England took over the school and turned it into a non-selective girls' school. It is extraordinarily successful and, indeed., has introduced some of the most advanced technology facilities in the city. In a sense that story illustrates what the Government are trying to achieve through diversity.

The other part of the story is that, quite close by, it is planned to situate the new academy in Liverpool which was mentioned earlier. That is to be based in an area that I represented in another place for many years. That has resulted primarily from the initiative of the Bishop of Liverpool., James Jones, who has been a powerhouse of energy in trying to make that happen. I can see that that will have a radically improving effect on the possibilities for children in inner-city Liverpool. We have so-called comprehensive schools in the heart of that city that have virtually never produced anyone who has gone on to higher education. We delude ourselves when we say that those schools are achieving the same objectives as comprehensive schools that are situated in suburban parts of the same city which do an incredibly good job and whose pupils are admitted to the LSE and elsewhere, as we would all wish to see.

I believe that the Government have the matter right. The words "all" or "different" in the amendment go to the heart of the problem. Diversity is surely the issue. As my noble friend Lord Northbourne said, we must provide for the individual needs of every child. I believe that we are agreed not that every child is the same but that what is required is equality of opportunity.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas

Had those children been sent to Eton, they would have found familiar conditions; that is, no inside toilets and heating on just three days a week. It would have been just like home for them. I am sure that they would have done well there.

I shall be fascinated to hear what the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has to say about banding and whether the Government are for or against it. It may interest the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to know that the place where it is becoming most popular at the moment is Camden. Clearly, being socialist is not necessarily an antidote to banding.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

When we opposed banding in Haringey, it was being proposed by the Labour Inner London Education Authority. So, there is no accounting for taste.

I hope that the Committee will allow me to talk about the amendments and not about the theory of comprehensive schools. My noble friend Lady Ashton dealt with that matter this afternoon and last week. Her and my commitment to comprehensive education is not to be doubted. However, that issue is not raised by the amendments we are discussing. I want to talk about the amendments.

I understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, with regard to what "different" might mean. Although he did not say so, he could be questioning whether it could allow an academy to admit only category I—the very bright—and category 2—the bright. They would be of different abilities and would certainly not be comprehensive. I make it absolutely clear that that would not be allowed.

The Government wish that each academy should cater for pupils with very different abilities; that is what the Bill provides. I know that Members of the Committee are keen—the Government are certainly keen—that academies should also cater for pupils from their local communities. The rules for admissions to academies—I said this in response to an earlier amendment—are consistent with those for maintained schools. I use the word "consistent" because they are based on funding agreements rather than other legislation.

I shall now descend into semantics. Where fewer pupils apply than there are places, the academy must admit all of them. I cannot imagine a situation in which those pupils would not be representative of "different" abilities. But they may not be representative of "all" abilities nationally. In an ideal world, all abilities nationally would be represented locally. But in the real world, we know that we have geographic segregation. It may well be that pupils of all abilities do not apply to the academy, so the test set by the amendment could not and would not be met.

Stephen Timms, the Minister for School Standards, said that he wanted academies to serve the needs of children of all abilities. That is indeed our aim and our aspiration, but it is not something that we can guarantee, as the amendment would require. Let us imagine a situation in which the academy is oversubscribed and cannot take all those who would like a place. The academy will have clear oversubscription criteria to determine who should be admitted in such cases. Those criteria will be clear, fair and transparent. They will be published locally for all to see and will be contained in the academy's funding agreement and approved by the Secretary of State.

A common oversubscription criterion is based on distance from the school—those who live nearest have the best chance of securing a place. I believe that most people agree with that; it ensures that schools serve their local community. But let us combine that criterion with a requirement to admit pupils of all abilities. What happens if the pupils who live nearest the school do not represent all abilities? Should some of them be denied places so that the school admits pupils of all abilities?

There is a further problem. There are many things that the Government can require of academies. We have made it clear that they must be inclusive schools and that they must follow the rules that all maintained schools must follow in terms of who is admitted. But the Government cannot require that they admit pupils of all abilities because we cannot require that pupils of all abilities apply to the academies.

Perhaps I should apologise; it may be thought that that is a semantic argument. However, it applies not only to academies but also to all maintained schools. It is not introduced by the idea of academies. I know how my noble friend Lord Peston feels about academies; he has made his views very clear. However, what is proposed in this regard is not an admissions policy that somehow departs from the comprehensive system any more than the admission policy for maintained schools might be thought to do so.

I turn to Amendment No. 236. We of course agree that academies should serve their community. We have put in place stringent requirements to ensure that that will happen. Academies will be bound through their funding agreements to conform to the requirements of the law on admissions and the statutory codes of practice as those apply to maintained schools.

However, the problem with the amendment is the one that I set out when I responded to Amendment No. 237, which was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Local communities do not follow neat LEA boundaries. The 1989 Greenwich judgment established that LEA maintained schools were not allowed to give priority to children simply because they lived in that LEA's administrative area. The Government's policy—I believe that this view will be generally held—is that academies should, so far as admissions are concerned, be treated in the same way as maintained schools.

I have not raised issues of profound principle about comprehensive education because I do not believe that they are raised by the amendment. However, I hope that I have answered the specific concerns that are raised by them.

Lord Peston

I suppose that when the proposed reforms are implemented and we rise at 10 p.m. the House will operate more efficiently. I must admit that I could not understand a word that the Minister just said. It may be old age or the lateness of the hour, although it is not that late.

If I were asked to describe a comprehensive school, I would have no difficulty defining it as an all-ability school, not a different ability school. I am at a loss to understand why the department decided that "different" is right and "all" is wrong. The only explanation is that the schools are not going to be comprehensives.

I am even more mystified by my noble friend's unwillingness to use "and". I had no idea that "and" had anything to do with the Greenwich judgment. I just thought that it would clarify the purpose of that part of the clause. My noble friend might like to reflect on the answer that the officials have written for him, which he read out admirably, and reconsider whether adding "and" would have an effect on one of the most fundamental parts of education. It beats me completely but at twenty past 10 o'clock, at my age, it is all a hit much for me. Given that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Lucas

Before the noble Lord sits down, he might like to note that Section 101(1)(a) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 states that in any year the pupils admitted to the school in any relevant age group are representative of all levels of ability among applicants for admission to the school in that age group". That seems a formula that we might try putting into the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 236 to 238 not moved.]

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 239: Page 43, line 13, at end insert— (2A) The Secretary of State shall annually lay a report before both Houses of Parliament on the admission of disabled children and children with special educational needs to schools to which an agreement under this section relates. The noble Baroness said: This probing amendment is designed to elicit a response from the Minister as to whether or not academies will be included in local education authority monitoring of admissions of children with special educational needs, with or without statements.

Earlier, the Minister gave an assurance that academies will meet the full requirements but the amendment calls for monitoring at national level. If academies are not included in LEA monitoring, it will be important to have information on admissions of children with SENs brought together nationally, as proposed by the amendment, so that the picture is complete. If academies are to be included, will LEAs be in a position to challenge admissions if an academy were found systematically to be admitting fewer disabled and SEN children than had been expected? Current statistics show that specialist schools and CTCs do not admit the same number of children with SENs and disabilities, which gives cause for concern. I hope that the Minister agrees that as city academies are a new invention, careful monitoring is absolutely necessary. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

Given that the Government will be collecting the information anyway, the assurances given earlier, which I welcome, and the increased resources that the Government have properly made available to children with special needs, which are to be commended, laying a report before Parliament would do the Government a service. The form proposed by the amendment may not be precisely the right way but no one will go to the stake over that. However, the spirit behind the amendment is good and, rather than knocking it stone dead this evening, I hope that the Government will consider the proposal between now and Report stage, if they cannot accept it tonight.

10.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

During the passage of the Learning and Skills Act, Ministers gave unequivocal commitments that city academies, as introduced by that Act, would be inclusive schools and would treat pupils and prospective pupils with special educational needs or disabilities on an equal basis with others. I can reiterate that commitment in respect of academies. I believe that that is fundamentally what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, wanted. I repeat, as I have said throughout, that they are subject to comparable requirements in all those respects to those which apply to maintained schools.

As to the issue of reporting, each academy's funding agreement will also require the governors to publish an annual prospectus. The information to he included in the prospectus will include details of the governing body's policy for pupils with special educational needs, the details of the arrangements for the admission of disabled pupils, the steps taken to prevent disabled pupils from being treated less favourably than other pupils, and the facilities provided to assist access to the academy by disabled pupils. I believe that that covers the reporting point which is made in the amendment. Therefore, I hope that it will not be pressed.

Baroness Blatch

Before the Minister sits down, I wonder whether he agrees with me on a point that I hoped would have been included in his answer. City technology colleges—I suspect that the academies will be no different—have been enormously innovative in providing education for children with special educational needs. Incredibly effective dyslexic and other programmes have been put in place. I have been deeply inspired by many things that I have seen in those schools. I believe that their achievements are greatly to their credit. They will have a great deal to record if they are invited to make an annual report. We all have much to learn from what they are doing in disseminating good practice around the system.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am happy to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, says.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for his reply. There is no doubt whatever that the monitoring process is helpful. I should also expect to see some monitoring of outcome. As I said, the evidence to date among specialist schools is that they have not taken an equivalent number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities as has been the case across the whole population of schools. The concept of ex post monitoring is that that target would be met.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In that case, I cut down my speech too much. Of course, the duties set out affecting schools in Part IV of the Disability Discrimination Act apply directly to academies. They are legally bound not to discriminate against disabled pupils and prospective pupils, to make reasonable adjustments and to plan for increased access for disabled pupils. I agree that that is process and not outcome, and I believe that the noble Baroness makes a very valid point about further reporting on outcome and what actually happens. I should like to take away that point and consider how it should be done.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for that reply.

Baroness Blatch

I believe that it should also be placed on the record that there is no evidence for what may be anecdotal or perception in relation to our specialist schools. Those schools are as bound by the law as are city academies and maintained schools. They cannot refuse young people with special educational needs; indeed, they have an obligation under the law to provide for them. I believe that they do so.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. I believe that there is a distinction between CTCs and city academies and some of the specialist schools that have been developed. However, I shall withdraw the amendment, and I look forward to what the Minister may bring forward.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Peston

moved Amendment No. 240: Page 43, line 13, at end insert— () Any agreement proposed should be published at least six months ahead of being formally entered into. The noble Lord said: When these amendments were put down in my name and that of my noble friend Lady David, our intention was to have a full debate on the academies. So far as I know, there has never been a full debate in your Lordships' House on the nature of these institutions and what they are all about. However, I must take account of the lateness of the hour. A few moments ago, my thought was to wait until Report stage to raise the matter. But my luck has been so bad that, if I leave the amendments until Report stage, they will probably be dealt with at one o'clock in the morning rather than at half-past ten. Therefore, I shall soldier on, but briefly.

I also apologise to the Committee because, although the three amendments were grouped together in order to have a large debate, they are something of a ragbag. Therefore, I must treat each of them separately.

Amendment No. 240 concerns the fact that in order to go ahead with these matters—earlier the Minister made this clear—there has to be proper consultation. The amendment says that the agreement should be published early enough and with a sufficient time lag so that the consultation shall be more than a formality. There should be an opportunity for everyone who believes that he or she is interested—I do not regard the LEA as the only interested body—to intervene.

The second point relates to the peculiar phenomenon of the academy. I emphasise the word "peculiar" because my understanding is that it will be an independent school and yet a state school. It appears that we are giving a large amount of publicly owned assets to the private sector. On other occasions one may consider that a misuse of public funds. Again, subject to the Minister telling me that I am wrong, we shall be financing them more generously than other local schools.

Some people who are involved with the academies do not appear to have any connection with education, let alone education within the maintained sector. To say that one is suspicious of that is to put it mildly. If public assets are to be given to private individuals, the very least we should demand is the highest standards of financial planning, transparency and all the related matters. There will be a need to draw up proper accounts and to publish them such that they can be subject to proper scrutiny so that we know what is happening.

Where the Government have brought in the private sector and given it public sector assets I have been troubled by a question to which I received a glimmer of an answer earlier when we discussed Church schools. If anything goes wrong, to whom will the assets revert? That is an extremely important question. Many of these schools are on sites that would be worth millions of pounds if they were converted into supermarkets. If something went wrong, the owners, who would not be the Government, could sell the site and build a supermarket.

Apologising for jumping all over the place, which as my noble friend is aware is not my wont, alarm bells sound in relation to what is said on page 43, lines 25 and 26. It starts by saying that these schools cannot charge fees and then says that they can, but it does not tell us in what circumstances. I can imagine no worse event than such schools having a power to charge any pupil for education. On the whole I am not a conspiracy theorist as I assume that everything in the world in which we live is open and honest, but why does it say, subject to such exceptions as may be specified in the agreement"? In my judgment there should be no exceptions whatever. It should be absolutely out of the question that any school should be able to charge its pupils. I am sure that my noble friend is about to tell me that I am right, although I need to ask him so that it is put on the record. It also gives him an opportunity to say that the words that I want to take out are a nullity. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am a conspiracy theorist. I assume the worst in all circumstances. I can assure my noble friend that I questioned officials deeply when I saw these amendments. The idea of inadequate consultation or additional charging or a lack of financial planning would have turned me utterly against the idea of academies in the first place. I shall not comment on his fundamental distrust of academies. If he had wanted to express that, I have no doubt that he would have tabled an amendment to that effect. However, he has tabled amendments about the detail of academies. I believe that I can reassure him on each of his points.

I believe that Amendment No. 240, which proposes that a funding agreement be published six months ahead of being formally entered into, is unnecessary. Where it is proposed that an academy be established in response to an LEA invitation to interested parties to bring forward proposals to provide an entirely new school, the provisions of Clause 66 of the Bill would apply. Where an academy replaces one or more existing schools, the system is again clear and transparent—the LEA, or the governing body as the case may be, will consult locally and publish notices in accordance with the relevant sections of the School Standards and Framework Act to close the existing school. Those notices will set out the arrangements to be made for the pupils who attended those schools and the provision to replace that which is currently made in those schools.

My noble friend Lord Peston will remember that when we went comprehensive in Haringey in 1967, we closed all the schools. He will also remember how long it took us to close them. It took a great deal longer than six months—the period provided for by this amendment.

Under the provisions of Clause 62, before signing a funding agreement, the Secretary of State already must consult the LEA in which the academy is to be located, and any other academy from which significant numbers of pupils are likely to attend.

In practice, the funding agreement will be signed many months—not six—in advance of the opening of the academy. In the case of the Walsall academy, which was undertaken with the enthusiastic support of the local education authority, the agreement: was signed in December 2001 and the academy will open in September 2003. There are no circumstances in which a school could open within less than six months of the signing and publication of the funding agreement.

With regard to Amendment No. 241, I can assure the Committee that the financial controls must and will conform with the requirements of both propriety and good financial management. Through their funding agreements, academies are required to ensure that appropriate financial planning and management controls are in place to safeguard public funds.

Incidentally, I can again reassure my noble friend Lord Peston that there is no more generous public funding for academies than for maintained schools. There may be more funding from sponsors, but there is no more funding from the public purse than for maintained schools. With regard to the issue of public assets going into the academies, I can also assure my noble friend that if for any reason the academy comes to an end—a point that may be dealt with in later amendments—there is no question but that those public assets will return to the public sector.

Academies are expected to be companies and charities. They are required to prepare and file with the Companies Registry such annual accounts as are required by the Companies Act 1985. and to prepare and file with the Charity Commission annual accounts prepared in accordance with the statement of recommended practice. They must also comply with their obligation under the Charities Act 1993 to prepare an annual report and to transmit it to the Charity Commissioners. Through their funding agreements, they are required to secure annual auditing of their accounts by independent auditors appointed under arrangements approved by the Secretary of State. That is the formal position. Will that meet the requirements of good financial practice, which is what the amendment seeks?

Unfortunately, the amendment would undermine an academy's ability to manage its affairs and carry out its core function of raising standards in some of our most disadvantaged areas. It would seek to include in an academy's funding agreement, which is a legally binding document, a detailed financial plan for the first five years of the academy's existence. It would bind an academy to a rigid, long-term spending regime from which it would not have any flexibility to deviate. That kind of requirement is not placed on maintained schools. If we are seeking equality with maintained schools, the amendment would depart from that. We want to give—and the whole thrust of government policy has been to give—the maximum amount of flexibility to schools to manage their own affairs.

Amendment No. 244 relates to charging. Again, I can give the Committee assurances on this point. Clause 62 provides that no charge may be made for admission to, or attendance at, an academy. The standard funding agreement provides that academies should act in accordance with certain sections of the 1996 Act, as those provisions apply to maintained schools; in other words, Clause 62, taken with the provisions of the standard funding agreement—which, as I said, is available in the Library of the House—means that academies are treated in exactly the same way as maintained schools.

I know that my noble friend is not satisfied with the position of maintained schools. I realise that he does not like the provision that, for example, musical tuition for groups of fewer than four can be charged for. I also know that my noble friend does not like the fact that charges for travel and accommodation on school trips can be made. However, that is the wider law as it applies to maintained schools. It has been thrashed out over a very considerable period of time. Therefore, to require academies to depart from the conditions for maintained schools, will, as I said earlier when we discussed the issue of school companies, mean that adult education centres, for example, could not charge for classes held on school premises outside of school hours.

In common with maintained schools, academies can levy charges for board and lodging for residential trips, and for what are called "optional extras"; but they can do no more. We would never agree that they should do any more. My fundamental point for all these amendments is that there are no privileges here in any of these respects for academies. The standards required of maintained schools apply equally to them.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

I agree with the noble Lord about the degree of accountability of these schools: they are very accountable in a most public way. However, it is my understanding that they do in fact receive greater revenue funding from the Government. I also understand that the children who attend them receive more hours of education than those in maintained schools.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not know the position regarding school hours. They have greater flexibility as to what hours they offer, but they certainly do not receive more funding.

Lord Peston

I must begin by apologising to my noble friend. I, too, was under the impression that academies were more generously financed. However, my noble friend is advised, and I have to work these things out for myself. Given what I was pretty sure was the case, I certainly hope that he will ask his officials to check the position. I was very much under the impression that such schools were more generously financed for current expenditure, but, because I am a perpetual student, I am always delighted to be corrected on such matters.

I am very much reassured by what my noble friend said on the charging point. I should add that my objection to charging is not quite as strong as he maintained. If what is charged for is defined as part of the curriculum, which it often is, it just should not be charged for. The fight for free education in our country simply should not be ended because of new doctrines that emerge. However, if such activities are nothing to do with the curriculum and are extraneous, I can live with the situation. What is troubling me is that sometimes they form part of the curriculum and great pressures are put on very poor parents to find money that they should not be asked to find. None the less, although I suspected that there was something special about these schools, as opposed to others, I take my noble friend's assurance that that is not the case.

I shall read my noble friend's response with care. I am a little mystified here. I do not see that the criteria set out in my amendment for proper financial behaviour and probity would in any way restrict schools. After all, every organisation must have the sort of financial arrangement that I have outlined. I have not noticed that business enterprise complains because it has to have proper financial arrangements in terms of flexibility, and so on. Having a full financial plan covering five years is absolutely standard in business. Therefore, why it should in any way limit these schools is quite beyond me.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It is a legally binding document, and that is not the case for the financial plans of businesses. It would not be capable of amendment in the way that a business plan would be.

Lord Peston

That mystifies me even more. A well-run operation sets out what money it proposes to spend and where it will get it from. The fact that it is a legally binding document does not excuse bodies from doing exactly that. It would be foolhardy not to do so. To use a word that has been bandied about, it is all semantics and we really agree.

We have covered some of the ground, but it is not the end of the matter, although my noble friend the Minister has been very reassuring. I need to put on record more strongly my antipathy to these bodies. That can wait in the hope that the subject of academies will come up in daylight hours in a couple of weeks. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

Before that happens, I want to add a question and hope that the Minister will write to me between now and the next stage of the Bill.

The academies are funded directly by Government and not by an LEA. Every LEA holds back different sums of money for different functions, so the amount of money that goes to schools is consequent upon the amount of money held back by the LEA. The Government treat the academies rather differently; they are directly funded. How do the Government calculate the sum of money that would normally be fed through an LEA to a school per pupil and the way in which academies are funded? We would find the answer illuminating.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will remember that the Bellman in the The Hunting of the Snark said: What I tell you three times is true". I have told her twice and she now wants me to write to her in more detail, shall gladly do so—that will be the third time.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 241 to 245 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 245A: Page 43, leave out lines 35 to 37. The noble Baroness said: I shall be brief as I simply want to question why there has been a change. The city technology colleges have been in place for some time and Section 483 of the 1996 Act has worked well. Subsection (2) in lines 35–37 on page 43 will effect a change from "shall" to "may". In a slightly cynical way, I must ask whether an amendment was won to change "may" to "shall" against the then Conservative Government. Does the change represent the department's revenge?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to the ranks of the conspiracy theorists.

It might be helpful if I explain the intention behind Clause 62(2), which the amendment would delete. It should be considered alongside the proposed repeal of Section 483(3A) of the 1996 Act contained in Schedule 22 of the Bill, as it effectively replaces the provisions of that section.

The purpose of subsection 62(2) is to allow for, rather than require, academies to repay capital grant to the Secretary of State in the event that their funding agreements are terminated. I referred to that in passing when my noble friend Lord Peston was here. This provision is necessary because academies, unlike CTCs, will not retain the land and buildings that they occupy in the event that their funding agreements are terminated. That is fundamental and my noble friend Lord Peston is strongly recommended to read this part of Hansard when it appears tomorrow. Because of this difference it would he perverse for the Secretary of State to require them to repay capital grant paid in respect of the land and buildings. They would have no assets or income from which to fund the repayment.

Academies will be established as replacements for existing maintained schools, or to provide new school places in areas where there is a need. In all circumstances, we expect the LEA in which the academy is to be situated to transfer a suitable site to the academy at no cost, as it will be providing places for children who would otherwise be the responsibility of the LEA. The LEA may lease the site to the academy, or transfer the freehold.

If the funding agreement is terminated, for whatever reason, it would be inappropriate for the academy to retain ownership of land and buildings transferred to it at no cost. Where a local education authority transfers land to an academy, either leasehold or freehold, there will normally be provision in the contract for the land to revert to the authority if it is no longer required for the purposes of the academy.

The Secretary of State will also have the power, by virtue of Schedule 7 to the Bill, to transfer land from an academy to the local education authority which provided it, where the land is no longer required for the purposes of the academy.

I hope that the House will agree that it is right that the Secretary of State should have the discretion to waive repayment in those circumstances, and that the provisions of subsection 62(2) are art improvement on the order-making power which currently exists.

The Secretary of State will also have the power, by virtue of Schedule 7 to the Bill, to transfer land from an academy to the local education authority which provided it where the land is no longer required for the purposes of the academy.

I hope the Committee will agree that the Secretary of State should have the discretion to waive repayment in those circumstances. The provisions of Clause 62(2) are an improvement on the order-making power which currently exists.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

If the local authority transfers the freehold over to the new academy, which is an independent company limited by guarantee, then surely the company owns the land. How is it proposed to impose on that company an obligation to return the land to the local authority if it did not fulfil its functions?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It is proposed to do that by imposing a condition to the freehold transfer, which can also be done to a lease. Schedule 7 to the Bill disapplies the rule against perpetuities, so removing restrictions on the grant of an option to a local education authority to re-acquire the interest in a site transferred to an academy.

Baroness Blatch

I hope that it is not a pun, but I want to talk about a level playing field. We talked earlier about a change to a diocesan measure where the Church enters into a contract to establish an academy and the land is subsequently sold. It is the same basis here with the academies, only the third party is not a Church venture. If the land is subsequently sold, my understanding is that—and I have left a question with the noble Baroness to attend to later—the land and its value actually goes to the Church and the Church is obliged to use any proceeds from the sale for educational purposes. There is not a level playing field here in that the land reverts back to the LEA. There is no ongoing obligation on the part of the third party. So it would seem that the Churches are being treated extremely favourably. I should like to leave that question on the record so that it can be scooped up with my previous one.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Let me respond immediately to that because my understanding, and the answer I gave, was based on the assumption that the land had come from the local education authority and had been transferred at no cost. My advice was that that would be the normal situation. Under those circumstances land has to return to the local authority. I see the point of the question of the land going back—to use Ray Gunter's words—"from whence it came". I would like to write to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about that matter.

Baroness Blatch

That would add another dimension to the question. My understanding is that some of the schools set up with Church collaboration are not necessarily always preceded by ownership by the Church. Therefore, there will be a transfer of land and assets. It would be useful to have that question answered. I am still puzzled as to why this has worked so far and why there is this change. I shall read what the noble Lord has had to say. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 62 agreed to.

Schedule 7 [Academies: supplementary]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendment No. 246: Page 151, line 20, at end insert— "Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991 (1991 No. 2) 1A (1) Section 10 of the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991 is amended as follows. (2) In subsection (1), in the definition of "church school", at the end there is inserted "or an Academy falling within subsection (1A)". (3) After that subsection there is inserted— (1A) An Academy falls within this subsection if—

  1. (a) at least one member of its governing body is appointed to that body to represent the interests of the Church of England;
  2. (b) the premises provided for the Academy when first established were so provided on trust that, in the event of the discontinuance of the Academy, the property concerned was to be held for, or sold and the proceeds of sale applied for, the benefit of the Church of England; or
  3. (c) the premises provided for the Academy when first established were so provided on trust in connection with the provision of education, or the conduct of an educational institution, in accordance with the tenets of the Church of England.""

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 63 to 65 agreed to.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 247: After Clause 65, insert the following new clause— "MEANING OF SPECIALIST SCHOOL The Secretary of State may by order designate any community, foundation or voluntary secondary school as a specialist school if it has one or more of the following specialisms—

  1. (a) technology;
  2. (b) arts;
  3. (c) sports;
  4. (d) languages;
  5. (e) engineering;
  6. (f) business and enterprise;
  7. (g) community;
  8. (h) international;
  9. (i) any other specialism introduced by order of the Secretary of State; or
  10. (j) any other specialism applied for by the governing body of a secondary school."
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 247 seeks to tease out the concept of the specialist school more than we have to date. There is no secret that we, on these Benches, have reservations about the whole concept of the specialist school. At present, this applies to a limited number of schools. While the Government are extending that number, it is proposed that only 50 per cent of our secondary schools should become specialist schools. The arrival of specialist schools brings a considerable financial benefit.

The categories suggested here extend the list of specialist schools to international schools and to any specialism applied for by the governing body of a secondary school. In other words, the amendment develops the concept of innovation that the Minister intends the Bill to encourage. There may be areas of specialisation for which schools would like to apply that are not currently listed. It also introduces the concept of a specialist community school. The concept of a community school, which brings such facilities as, say, a public library, childcare and nursery facilities, information services, youth and leisure facilities and adult education alongside a school, has been around for a long time. Indeed, it has been practised with a great deal of success in several areas—perhaps the most renowned being the Cambridge community colleges.

The Local Government Association, in its response to last year's White Paper, Schools—achieving, success, proposed the extension of specialist schools, arguing that there was a need for the community category of specialist schools because in many areas where specialist schools may be proposed, parents and the local community need to be engaged. Community schools have a good record of engaging children's families in learning activities.

In advocating those developments, the LGA wants to look beyond the normal cluster of activities associated with community schools to such areas as banking, post office or health facilities, housing advice and tourism. Whether schools as the centre of a community should extend as far as the LGA envisages is a moot point, but the central argument remains: involving the community in its schools raises aspirational achievement. That would be a novel way to extend the concept of the community school. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will know from our earlier deliberations, the specialist schools programme is well established. The current network of 685 specialist schools includes all types of secondary school across every part of England and encompassing 90 per cent of local education authorities. The schools currently in the programme were designated through an administrative process. That mechanism has worked well for a long time—since 1994, in fact—and continues to work effectively. Making the designation process statutory would of course make it more cumbersome and would have no benefit for applicant schools. I can see no point in making regulations where there is no good reason for doing so and therefore the new clause should be rejected.

The process of designating a school to a specialist status is not about making a change in the legal status of a school or affecting its admissions policy. It remains a community, foundation, voluntary or special school. I want to be clear on that. Seeking designation in one of the eight specialisms now offered is about the focus on a specific curriculum area to develop a school's distinctive ethos and character in order, as I said earlier, to play to the school's strengths. The extent to which a school is committed to and capable of embedding a specialist school identity is shown by the quality of the application that it submits and during a visit to the school by an assessor.

It is on the basis of that application, which is judged against others and against the published criteria, that the Secretary of State awards specialist designation. By seeking to enshrine in legislation the categories of specialism, the new clause puts unnecessary obstacles in the way of the programme's development. Such an amendment would add to bureaucracy at a time when we are considering how to reduce the burden of regulation.

Let me comment briefly on the inclusion of "international" schools. We have, as I said, retained a curriculum focus at the heart of the programme. Of course, some schools will develop international links—one thinks of modern foreign languages as an obvious example. But we should focus on curriculum areas.

The question of community schools is a different debate. We can debate extending what schools do, but that is inappropriate to the Bill. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I am disappointed by the Minister's reply. The concept of a specialist community school is rather a good one. I am sorry that she has dismissed it out of hand.

I recognise what the Minister says about the focus on the curriculum. Nevertheless, as she knows, it carries a considerable money tag. The schools that need the extra resources are the schools that. arguably, find it most difficult to meet the requirement to raise the extra £50,000 for the curriculum lag. The definition of a specialist school is too narrow, and we should widen it.

Given the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Walmsley

moved Amendment No. 248: Before Clause 66, insert the following new clause— "PROPOSALS TO ESTABLISH ETC. () A proposal to establish, alter or discontinue a school can be made by an admission authority or potential admission authority, the Secretary of State in the case of a City Academy, or the Local Education Authority where the authority is not the admission authority. () All proposals shall be considered and determined by the School Organisation Committee which covers the area in which the proposed school is to be situated. The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 248, I shall speak to Amendment No. 253 and oppose the Question that Clauses 66 and 67 stand part of the Bill. It may sound as though it will be a long speech, but it will not, as the Committee will be relieved to hear. I shall be concise.

Clauses 66 and 67 enshrine in the Bill further ways in which powers and responsibilities are to be taken away from local authorities and given to the Secretary of State. That undermines local democracy and is part of the centralising agenda behind the Bill. Under those clauses, the LEA would have to invite bids to establish new secondary schools, and the resultant competition would determine who established the school. By removing the clauses, inserting the new clause proposed in Amendment No. 248 and removing paragraph (b) of Clause 67(2), we would ensure that local leaders would decide on the planning of new secondary schools in consultation with the LEA. They would be able to take into consideration the needs of other schools in the area, as well the type of demand for a new school.

Such consultation can work well, as has already been proved in Clapham. There, a new school—a city academy—will be privately sponsored by the Church Schools Company and will have an intake of up to 180 students per year. It will meet an urgent need for places in the borough. The school was established after long consultation with the council and residents on its ethos, admissions criteria, curriculum, the make-up of the governing body and many other matters. Such consultation could be bypassed by Clauses 66 and 67. That is why I am concerned about them.

The school organisation committees were established to oversee school planning in an area and to consult all stakeholders. It is important that those bodies are always involved in such planning and that that function is not centralised in the hands of the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

The new clause would, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, reverse the provisions that we are introducing in Clauses 66 and 67 of the Bill.

Clause 66 provides that, if a local education authority thinks that an additional school—I choose my words carefully—is necessary, it must publish a notice inviting proposals from interested parties. At the end of the period given for proposals to be made, it may also make proposals of its own. All the proposals will be considered together and decided on by the Secretary of State. Between 1998 and 2001, there were 17 additional schools. Last year, there were six.

The new clause provides for proposals to establish, alter or discontinue a school to be made by an admissions authority or by the local education authority if it is not the admissions authority. The proposal would then be decided on by the school organisation committee. That goes beyond reversing the provisions of Clause 66 and would greatly extend the powers of local education authorities over schools for which they are not the admissions authority. Most proposals relating to alterations to voluntary and foundation schools are the sole responsibility of their governing body. The new clause would allow an LEA, for example, to propose the closure of a voluntary-aided school.

The suggestion that the Secretary of State should be able to publish proposals to establish or alter an academy is both at odds, and odd, in terms of local decision-making. Plans for academies are developed by local partnerships, including the local education authority and the sponsor, which provides the substantial contribution, as Members of the Committee know, to capital costs. The Secretary of State already has powers to terminate agreements with academies.

However, not only are its ramifications very wide, we cannot accept the replacement of the provisions of Clause 66. We believe that our proposals will encourage a greater range of providers to think seriously about establishing new secondary schools, and help to encourage greater innovation across the state sector.

I should like to say more about the way in which this proposal would work. The basis of this clause is that when a local education authority believes that a new secondary school is necessary, the way in which it will put this forward is that the local education authority will publish a notice, identify a site, invite any interested parties to come forward and publish a notice setting out information. All the proposals go to the local organisation committee for comment before being passed on to the Secretary of State, and will be considered on their individual merits.

We want to rectify the position that at present those who have an interest in providing a new secondary school may simply not be aware that there is any need for additional places. Even if they are, they may not be able to find a suitable site. We want to rectify that and to create a level playing field for new promoters. The notice will specify a site.

The noble Baroness has argued that this clause takes power from local education authorities. I do not believe that, for the reasons that I have already explained. I can say one thing that I hope will be helpful without damaging the principles of the clause. If it would help Members of the Committee, I am prepared to bring forward an amendment at the next stage to remove the requirement in Clause 66(1) for local education authorities to seek the Secretary of State's consent before presenting a notice under this clause. That confirms the local education authority as being firmly in the driving seat in this process. I hope that that might help the noble Baroness.

Clause 67 simply updates existing provisions to allow LEAs greater flexibility in responding to directions. The Secretary of State already has powers in Schedule 7 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to direct local education authorities and governing bodies to bring forward proposals to rectify any shortfall or surplus of school places, and to bring forward her own proposals if she is not satisfied with those published in response to the direction. This clause simply widens a local education authority's possible range of response to a direction by adding the new powers of Clause 66 to the existing arrangements. I should stress that the powers in this clause are very much powers of last resort that would be used only in very exceptional circumstances.

I turn briefly to Amendment No. 253. I should stress that it would not reinstate the local education authority's ability to respond to a direction from the Secretary of State by publishing proposals for additional schools without inviting other interested parties to make bids. That would require that paragraph 97(2) of Schedule 21 should cease to have effect in those circumstances. The actual effect of the amendment would be to limit a local education authority's ability to respond to a direction because it would not be able to create an additional school. The fact that these proposals are being made in response to a direction does not change our view that all interested parties in an area should be properly informed of the need for a new school so that they can consider the contribution they can make.

As I said, our provisions do not prevent local education authorities making their own proposals; they merely ensure that others do so as well. In the light of all that I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Walmsley

I thank the Minister for her reply and eagerly look forward to her amendment at the next stage of the Bill. We may then return to the issue of the removal of power from local authorities and instating it in the hands of the Secretary of State. In the mean time, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has in mind to put the LEA in "the driving seat". I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 249: Before Clause 66, insert the following new clause— "GRAMMAR SCHOOLS: RETENTION OF EXISTING ADMISSION ARRANGEMENTS In the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31)—

  1. (a) in section 104 (designation of grammar schools), omit subsection (4),
  2. (b) omit sections 105 to 108 (procedure for ballots to determine retention or discontinuance of selective admission arrangements),
  3. (c) in section 109 (proposals by governing body to end selective admission arrangements), omit subsections (3)(b) and (4)."
The noble Baroness said: I return to the Prime Minister's personal adviser on education who wrote a book, A CLASS ACT: The Myth of Britain's Classless Society, in conjunction with Stephen Pollard. On pages 39 to 40, he wrote: In the post-war decades direct-grant schools such as Dulwich College provided a far more effective bridge between the state and private sectors than the more recent assisted places scheme. The direct-grant scheme succeeded, without any fanfare, in opening up many of the best independent schools to ability rather than wealth. It is a sad irony that in destroying the direct-grant schools on the alter of equal opportunity, the 1974–9 Labour government succeeded only in denying opportunity to many poor children and increasing the number of fee-paying parents. From then on, for any parent concerned to secure a rigorously academic education for his child, there was generally little choice but to go private". One could say the same about the demise of grammar schools.

It bears repeating that on page 51, Andrew Adonis goes on to say: The comprehensive revolution has not removed the link between education and class but strengthened it. The revolution which afflicted state schooling from the 1960s is one of the most profound and incendiary factors influencing the state of British society. It was not merely a technical educational age, but changed the nature of the country". On page 52 he said: In 1965 the Labour-controlled House of Commons resolved that moving to a comprehensive system would 'preserve all that is valuable in grammar school education for those children who now receive it and make it available to more children'. Few would maintain that this has in fact been the case". On pages 54 to 55 he went on to say: The comprehensive revolution, tragically, destroyed much of the excellent without improving the rest. Comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price. Middle-class children now go to middle-class comprehensives, whose catchment areas comprise middle-class neighbourhoods, while working-class children are mostly left to fester in the inner-city comprehensives their parents cannot afford to move away from". Those passages bore repeating because this is the Government's own education adviser recanting on much that had gone before.

At least the city academies, the city technology colleges and the specialist schools are doing something about tackling that problem in the inner city areas. However, I have to say that the Government have been wringing their hands for a long time about young people from poorer homes entering higher education. It is interesting to note that a greater proportion of young people from poorer homes entered higher education at the beginning of direct-grant schools, then from assisted places schools and certainly from grammar schools.

Therefore, one of the questions one must ask the Government is: if the reason that the panoply of petitions, ballots and so forth to determine the future of schools is because they are selective, why grammar schools? There are selective special schools and bilateral schools. Why does the community not have a say in respect of bilateral schools? There are selective faith schools, so why does the community not have a say about them?

I am not advocating that, because I believe in freedom, choice and diversity, in which the Government say they believe. That is right, but why are grammar schools singled out for this particular treatment? I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

It is no secret that on these Benches I in particular dissent from the views about grammar schools expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the Government's adviser, Andrew Adonis. Perhaps one of the reasons I feel that so much of the Bill is bad is because much of it has derived from Andrew Adonis in Number 10.

My amendment also relates to grammar school ballots but my concern is to simplify the whole process of the ballot and make it somewhat fairer. I have been provided with a long brief which goes into the details of grammar school ballots, but I do not propose to read the whole of it at this hour of night. It is much too late.

Perhaps I may make only three comments. The amendment we have tabled makes three changes. First, it concerns the question of who is eligible to vote and it extends the right to allow an area ballot for all parents by removing the legislation relating to feeder-school ballots. Therefore all local parents of primary-age children and younger would be eligible to sign petitions and vote on whether their local secondary schools should cease to select.

Secondly, it would reduce the percentage of the electorate required to sign a petition in order to trigger a ballot, which is currently at 20 per cent, to 5 per cent. That is the proportion required, for example, to trigger a local referendum in a big issue at a local level.

Thirdly, it would allow the LEA to give more indication about what a comprehensive system would look like in the event of a successful vote.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, these new clauses would either repeal the provisions for petitions and ballots of parents to decide on proposed changes to the selective admission arrangements of grammar schools, or fundamentally change the way in which they are conducted. We believe that in both cases the effects would be unfortunate, and that the amendments are unnecessary.

The details of the petition and ballot process were debated vigorously and at length during the passage of the 1998 Act, both in this House and in another place. The issue was debated again during the passage of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. Indeed, Amendment No. 249 is itself largely a repeat of amendments which have already been tabled against this Bill and debated in another place.

Amendment No. 249, by removing the arrangements for ballots completely, would seek to take power away from parents—the people most concerned in the outcome—and place it back in the hands of local authorities.

We have made our position on selection clear. We do not support selection by ability at 11 and do not wish to see it extended. We remain convinced that local parents—rather than Ministers or local government—are best placed to decide whether the 164 existing grammar schools should continue to select their pupils by ability.

I am well aware that it was a Conservative government who first gave parents the right to a ballot on whether schools should opt out of their local education authority and become grant-maintained. We believe that the system of balloting can be appropriate, and that is why we believe that in this case it should stay.

The ballot legislation does not threaten grammar schools. It ensures that local school provision reflects the needs and wishes of local people. If local people declare that they wish their grammar school to retain its selective admission arrangement, as was the case in Ripon, in North Yorkshire, then so be it; that is local democracy.

It is parents who should be making these decisions. They are best placed to make the right decision on the future of their local school. It is right that they should continue to be given the opportunity to participate in such decisions.

Whereas Amendment No. 249 would remove the ballot legislation altogether, Amendment No. 249A seeks to make changes which could be just as damaging. The changes it proposes would disenfranchise the parents of several groups of children who might wish to express an opinion. Such changes would add a great deal of unnecessary complication to the process.

Subsection (2) would remove the current sub-LEA groupings of grammar schools, which are designed to take account of local circumstances, including the pattern of intake and the provision of single-sex education.

If the intention is that all ballots must involve all parents throughout the LEA even if there is only one grammar school in one corner of the area, the actual number of petitioners required to trigger a ballot could be higher than it is now, even if the threshold is reduced from 20 per cent to 5 per cent—and many of the parents whose support would be needed would have no direct interest in the outcome, so would be less likely to be interested in petitioning for a ballot.

If the intention is that specific sub-LEA areas should be defined for each grammar school or group of schools not in a selective area, this would be an extremely complicated, and in some cases arbitrary, process. It could also disenfranchise many parents with a reasonable expectation that their child would attend the relevant grammar school.

Subsection (3) would remove the right of parents of secondary school aged children to vote in ballots concerning selective areas, even though any change to the grammar schools would have a knock-on effect for secondary provision throughout the area. Parents of secondary age pupils have a real interest in the outcome of such ballots, and should not have the opportunity to vote taken away from them.

Subsections (4) and (6) would remove the right of feeder school parents—those parents with the most direct interest in the future admission arrangements of the grammar schools—to vote, and would mean that all ballots would be based on a defined area. We believe that removing provision for feeder school ballots would be unhelpful.

I understand that subsection (5) is intended to lower the petition threshold—although I must say that it is not drafted in that way. We have made clear that we feel that 20 per cent is the right figure to demonstrate clear local support for a ballot before one is actually held. Setting the threshold as low as 5 per cent would mean that the expense and uncertainty of holding a ballot could be incurred when there is really very little local demand to change the existing arrangements.

Finally, subsection (7) is more prescriptive than the current provision in the School Standards and Framework Act. There is nothing currently to stop an authority from producing proposals on the system it would introduce should selection be removed. On the other hand, the narrower wording adopted in the amendment may prevent some proposals from being published because they do not fall within the precise wording of the provision.

These new clauses are unnecessary. As I said, the grammar school ballot arrangements have been debated in great detail and the arguments are well rehearsed. We remain convinced that the arrangements currently in place represent the best way forward and that parents must continue to be given the opportunity to express their opinions. These new clauses offer nothing new to that debate and, as explained, could have unfortunate results. I therefore very much hope that the noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Sharp, will not press their amendments.

Baroness Blatch

I should have said at the outset that my argument, like that of Andrew Adonis, is not against comprehensives per se. It is on the record—I shall say it again—that my own children went to a comprehensive school in Cambridgeshire. They did very well and I have no complaints about the school at all. I am talking about "one size fits all". I have heard the Minister herself say that they do not believe that one size fits all and that there is room for diversity. Of the 24,000 or so schools, we are talking about 166 grammar schools. I simply do not understand how a group of schools can be so offensive to the Minister and her colleagues.

The Minister criticises my amendment on the basis that the proposals have been discussed on a number of previous occasions. There is no law against returning to a subject. In fact, during our debates, the Government have returned to a number of previous statutes and proposed changes to them. I have not used the argument that we have been here before, that the proposals have been discussed endlessly and that we should therefore not accept them. Legislation is a dynamic process. Times change and the world changes and legislatures go back to previous statutes and discuss them again. I make no apology for returning to previous debates.

The Minister also said that there should be no extension because the Government fundamentally do not believe in this form of selection. My amendment has nothing to do with extension. Although, as she knows, I would not object to any extension for these schools, my amendment is not suggesting extension. It is merely suggesting that there should not be this continual war of attrition on these schools.

Another argument used by the Minister is that the Conservatives introduced balloting for grant-maintained schools. That is absolutely true. However, the very important distinction is that that balloting did not change the nature of the school. Schools that became grant-maintained schools retained their nature. If they were selective before, they were selective after; if non-selective before, they remained nonselective; if comprehensive, they remained so; if specialist, they maintained that status. There was absolutely no change in the nature of the school.

These ballots would result not only in the school's nature being changed but in the school's abolition. It would no longer be a grammar school, and there is no guarantee that it would remain a school at all. As was confirmed in previous debates, in some cases, post-ballot, the school would disappear entirely. In other cases, it would be converted to a non-selective school. In fact, we tried to introduce an amendment providing that the local authority should say in its business plan what would happen if a ballot were successful. The Government insisted that that should not happen and that the business plan should follow and not precede the grammar school's demise.

I do not think that the arguments are very strong, but I shall not press my amendment. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 249A. Before Clause 66, insert the following new clause— "GRAMMAR SCHOOL BALLOTS: EXTENDING ELIGIBILITY TO LOCAL PARENTS (1) The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) is amended as follows. (2) In section 105(2) (procedure for deciding whether grammar schools should retain selective admission arrangements), paragraphs (h) and (c) are omitted. (3) In section 106(1) (eligibility of parents to request or vote in a ballot) there is inserted "primary" before "schools". (4) In section 106 subsection (2) is omitted. (5) In section 106(3)(a) (proportion of parents required to request a ballot) for "20" there is substituted "5". (6) In section 106(3) paragraph (b) is omitted. (7) In section 107(3) (information provision by the authority or body on intentions or proposals following a successful petition) for paragraph (c) there is substituted— (c) a statement by the authority or body on intention or proposals for a non-selective education system which may include information on options, costs and planning assumptions in the event of such a result.". The noble Baroness said: I am disappointed with the answer from the Minister as the amendment was intended to simplify the incredibly Byzantine rules currently surrounding grammar school ballots. There is a great deal to be said for trying to simplify the rules and make them fairer and easier for parents. However, given the lateness of the hour, I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 249A not moved.]

Clause 66 [Proposals for additional secondary schools]:

Lord Lucas

moved Amendment No. 250: Page 44, line 22, leave out "local education authority in England" and insert "permitted body The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment I shall also speak to Amendment No. 252. I do not pretend that this is anything like complete drafting. It is merely intended to introduce the general proposition that we should seek to move towards the Dutch and Danish method of organising school systems; that is, to allow not any party but any sensible party the right to establish a school if they can establish that there is a demand for that school. That school would then become part of the state system subject to the usual terms and conditions of that system.

For a long time, certainly when my party was in government and all the way through this Government's term of office, there has been a long debate about surplus places as if that was something which could be cured only by planning, by placing bureaucratic restrictions on the ability to create new schools and by bearing down ever more on the availability of surplus places—surplus places, of course, being the only mechanism that was available to enable school choice on the part of parents to take place. So, we have the uncomfortable position whereby a lot of parents are not getting the schools that they want for their children, but there is an inability to create the schools that parents would want.

If one looks at the Dutch and Danish systems—as was done a few months ago with great care and insight by the Robert Adam Institute—one sees that allowing freedom for schools to be created within the state system does not result in a widespread waste of money or surplus places but in an efficient system where schools in an area tend to be the sort of schools that parents want in that area. If there is a demand for, say, a new Roman Catholic school, the Church will propose it, recruit the parents that it needs to reach the minimum level, provide it and it will just happen. If there is a shrinkage of demand, as happens in the private sector, a school will reduce in size or go out of existence if that is what parents want. A system is produced which is much more responsive to parents' wishes than anything that relies on our Stalinist style of planning, however burdened it may be with wondrous committees of people who are appointed rather than elected to decide how we should establish our school system, how it should be regulated and how admission should be organised.

This measure is just a first step in the right direction. It suggests that the Secretary of State should designate a number of bodies. She could start with the Churches. The principal Churches would be obvious people to be allowed to propose the establishment of a new school. One might name a number of other bodies which have successfully established, say, city technology colleges or other state educational institutions and allow them to propose a school if there is a local demand for it. If there is a local demand, they should be allowed to go ahead and create a school.

If someone is doing that with their own money and providing the capital cost of a school, I cannot see that that would result in any disadvantage to the state system. It would provide a great influx of new ideas and new blood and it would at the end of the day be an alternative to the old grammar school system and selection. If people could establish schools which were intended to attract bright kids from the inner cities and that were free of the old dusty, discredited state schools in the area, and could provide arrangements for parents to get to them and prove that parents wished to use them, that surely would be a great deal better than allowing the system just to run on as it always has because there is no mechanism for changing it.

I do not myself like selection except where it cannot be avoided but I do like parental choice. Over the next 10 or 20 years we shall have to make real strides in making parental choice a real possibility. As we can never be in a position where there is an enormous number of surplus places, choice has to be achieved by allowing parents to create schools where they need them and to abandon schools where they do not. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

In responding to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I should like also to speak to government Amendments Nos. 252A and 252B. These technical amendments put more fully into effect our original intentions in respect of the newspaper notice inviting proposals for additional secondary schools.

As currently drafted, the clause requires the notice to specify all the information that must be contained in any proposals that are brought forward in response to the notice. We never intended the notice itself to go into that level of detail. The first amendment therefore removes the need for all the information that proposals must contain to be specified on the face of the notice. That will instead be listed in regulations, but in practice we expect that interested parties will refer to the guidance on statutory proposals, which will be updated to include pro formas giving all the necessary information.

The second amendment provides for regulations to prescribe the information that must be contained in the notice, in addition to a possible site for the school and the date by which the proposals must be submitted, which are specified in the clause.

The additional information that will be required by the regulations will be based on that specified in the first paragraph of the policy document that was prepared in another place for the Committee and deposited in the Library of your Lordships' House.

That approach is really a technical adjustment to clarify our original intentions, and I trust that noble Lords will agree that the Bill should be amended accordingly. I shall spare Members of the Committee specific details on the newspaper notice—although I should be happy to go into them if any Member of the Committee requires it.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 250 and 252. Their effect would be to permit a charitable body approved by the Secretary of State, as well as the LEA, to publish a notice inviting proposals for the establishment of a maintained secondary school or academy. That is unnecessary because the amendments would not increase the powers of any person to bring forward proposals. Under existing legislation any person may already bring proposals for the establishment of a secondary school. Section 28(2) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 allows any persons, generally referred to as "promoters", to publish proposals for a new foundation or voluntary school. Section 482 of the Education Act 1996 enables any person to enter into an agreement with the Secretary of State to establish an academy.

So there is no constraint on charitable bodies making proposals. Furthermore, Clause 66 provides that the LEA can publish proposals, as I have previously said in your Lordships' House, only for the establishment of a wholly new secondary school subsequent to it publishing a notice inviting others to bring forward proposals. If, for some reason, individuals or bodies do not want to publish proposals themselves but encourage others to do so, they are perfectly free at the moment to take any steps that they wish in order to achieve that.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the Dutch system. I should very much enjoy discussing that with him, but I fear that tonight may not be the best moment. I understand what he said in that regard and we have of course looked into the system on the basis of his known interest. We have also looked at the Learning from Europe report, which recognised in its foreword that the Government are interested in diversifying the provision of public services. That is a major element of the Education Bill.

With those assurances, I therefore hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Lucas

I quite agree that it is too late at night to discuss the Dutch education system, or anything else Dutch for that matter. I am sure that we shall find another opportunity to return to this matter at a more sensible time of day. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 251 and 252 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

moved Amendments Nos. 252A and 252B: Page 44, line 33, leave out paragraph (b). Page 44, line 35, after "submitted," insert— () specify such other matters as may be prescribed,

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 66, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 8 agreed to.

Clause 67 [Duty of LEAs to secure proposals]:

[Amendment No. 253 not moved.]

Clause 67 agreed to.

Baroness Blatch

moved Amendment No. 254: After Clause 67, insert the following new clause— "MAINTENANCE, EXPANSION AND FUNDING OF SCHOOLS SIXTH-FORMS After section 113 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c. 21) (inadequate sixth-forms) there is inserted— "113A MAINTENANCE, EXPANSION AND FUNDING OF SCHOOLS SIXTH-FORMS (1) Where the Learning and Skills Council proposes a change in sixth-form provision, there shall be a presumption that a school sixth-form will not be closed where the governing body of the school proposes that it should continue and believes that it contributes to the success of the school as a whole. (2) Subsection (1) above shall not apply if an inspection has shown that education for those above compulsory school age is of an unacceptable standard. (3) A maintained school which provides education for pupils above compulsory school age but below the age of nineteen may submit proposals to the relevant authority to increase the number of sixth-form places, and the relevant authority shall provide funding for those places at the same rate per capita as for existing places, provided that the schools can demonstrate sufficient demand for those places." The noble Baroness said: There is a great deal of disquiet about the future of sixth forms in the context of the advent of regional assemblies, the establishment of learning and skills councils, the thrust behind the Government's actions, and the organisation and funding of sixth forms. I well remember the Government's unequivocal promise in debates on establishing learning and skills councils that they would not have the power to remove sixth forms. We suspected at the time that the Government's agenda, if not hidden, was under the surface. It has been brought to fruition in the Bill.

The National Association of Head Teachers remains most concerned about the powers granted to learning and skills councils to reorganise post-16 education and thereby close sixth forms. There is deep suspicion that LSCs will attack small sixth forms in particular and, on the back of area inspections, look to a tertiary solution in general.

My colleagues in another place were denied the opportunity to debate the future of sixth forms because of the pernicious use of the guillotine procedure: otherwise, they would certainly have introduced an amendment with a presumption against closure of a sixth form where the governing body believed that it was of value to the school as a whole. My colleagues would also have produced an amendment to protect per capita funding, even if the number of pupils increased. I know that they were concerned to ask the Government to continue to provide per capita funding and to guarantee it for five years from April, with local learning and skills councils free to increase funding but not decrease it. As we all know, as numbers expand, the per pupil amount of money is not necessarily guaranteed.

The first part of the amendment provides that where a learning and skills council proposes a change in sixth-form provision, there shall be a presumption that a school sixth form will not he closed where the governing body of the school proposes that it should continue and believes that it contributes to the success of the school as a whole. The proposed subsection (2) states that presumption shall not apply if an inspection has shown that education for those above compulsory school age is of an unacceptable standard. If a sixth form is not providing good education, there will be a formal inspection. Only subject to that would the proposed subsection (1) apply.

Finally, a maintained school) that provides education for pupils above compulsory school age but below the age of 19 may submit proposals to the relevant authority to increase the number of sixth-form places. The relevant authority shall provide funding for those places at the same rate per capita as for existing places, provided that: the school can demonstrate sufficient demand for those places.

The Government make much of wanting to provide education in all areas to match the needs of young people. Rural areas in particular, where there is much less choice, become attached to schools that have sixth forms. Those areas are increasingly concerned about the external views of learning and skills councils, which will philosophically have an urge to rationalise 16-plus provision, make it administratively neat and tidy and create a tertiary system—ignoring the value of a sixth form to a particular school and the logistical problems faced by young people in rural areas, including the distances that they would have to travel to a sixth form or further education college.

I believe it is absolutely right that the patchwork of provision for post-16 education should include a robust further education sector and a very robust sixth-form college centre, where that works. Certainly the noble Baroness will know that the collegiate system in the city of Cambridge works extremely well. 'There are also schools there which have sixth forms and value them. Therefore, there is a mixture of sixth forms, a sixth-form college system, further education colleges and even workplace education. I believe that those should be allowed to exist.

From informal contacts with the learning and skills councils, especially at national level, we know that there is definitely an agenda here. Because of that, we are supporting the National Association of Head Teachers. We also support the idea that all schoolls that have a sixth form should continue to enjoy that sixth form unless, under the second part of my amendment, the quality of education becomes so poor that it would not be advisable for the school to continue with that sixth form. I beg to move.

11.45 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I rise to support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I also want to speak to Amendments Nos. 255, 256 and 257, which also raise concerns about precisely what the extension of powers of the Learning and Skills Council, as contained in Clause 68, means. These three amendments are probing amendments. They seek to find out a little more about precisely what the Government and the Learning and Skills Council have in mind.

The first—Amendment No. 255—comes from the Association of Colleges. It is concerned with trying to obtain a clearer picture of what the Government's intentions are in relation to the circumstances under which the Learning and Skills Council will be empowered to bring forward proposals for the establishment and reorganisation of sixth forms.

In the consultation paper, 16–19 Organisation and Inspection, which preceded the Bill, the Government proposed two triggers which would allow the Learning and Skills Council to initiate proposals for the improvement of 16 to 19 provision. The first would come from recommendations arising from the report on area inspection; the second would arise where other evidence, such as institutional reports of student achievement or participation rates, convinced the Learning and Skills Council that provision in the area was not sufficient or adequate to meet the needs of the students. The first proposal is embodied in proposed new Section 113A, but the second has been replaced by a much more general power embodied in subsection (1)(b) to specify in regulations other circumstances where the LSC would be able to act.

Changes to the organisation of 16 to 19 provision are frequently controversial because of the impact on existing provision, both in regard to changes in the character of institutions and on access for students. Often, they will also have substantial implications for employment, involve significant investment and require restructuring of a learning delivery system. Only rarely will changes be possible which do not affect existing institutions to any significant extent; for example, where new provision is being developed in response to major population growth and new housing development.

Equally, while there would be general agreement about the desirability of improving the quality of provision and raising standards, the assessment of quality involves subjective judgments as well as objective evidence. The relationship between the organisation of provision and quality is complex. In consequence, it is vital, first, that it can be shown objectively that the reorganisation is necessary and that other measures would not achieve a similar outcome; secondly, that the basis on which proposals are developed are clear and transparent; and thirdly, that the proposals are cost-effective and will result in clear improvement.

Therefore, Amendment No. 255 is intended to probe how far the Government intend to use these powers. It is based on four propositions reflecting those considerations. The first is that the evidential basis for action should be established clearly and publicly by the Learning and Skills Council before any action is proposed. Secondly, re-organisation should not automatically be the preferred option where there are weaknesses in the provision and other options for improvement should also be considered, and considered on an equal footing. Thirdly, there should be a formal published assessment of the impact of any re-organisation proposal on local providers, taking into account access, personnel, finance and estates issues. Lastly, the criteria that should be used to assess the validity of the proposals should be consistent and should, as a minimum, cover the impact on existing provision in both institutions that are the subject of proposals.

Amendment No. 256 proposes that the additional powers intended for the Learning and Skills Council, as outlined in Clause 68, are interventionist and go against local accountability, in that it has always been the role of LEAs, schools and local organisation committees to put forward proposals concerning school organisation. Clause 68 and Schedule 9 provide additional powers to the Learning and Skills Council in England and the National Council for Education and Training in Wales relating to the restructuring of sixth forms.

We are opposed to the proposal that enables the Learning and Skills Council to make proposals directly to the Secretary of State concerning school sixth forms. Local accountability must be maintained by safeguarding the decision-making processes of the school organisation committees. The Learning and Skills Council should not be able to gainsay the decisions made by the school organisation committees, as those committees were originally set up to consider school organisation proposals with all the local stakeholder groups involved.

Local accountability and democratic processes will be seriously undermined should the Learning and Skills Council and the National Council for Education and Training in Wales be given further extended powers in relation to the establishment, alteration and closure of maintained sixth forms.

Amendment No. 257 relates to special educational needs. Its purpose is to ensure that disabled young people and the parents of disabled children and children with special educational needs in schools in the area are consulted about any proposals to establish, alter or discontinue sixth form provision and that the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales take account of those views.

Lord Lucas

I would be grateful if the Minister could help me in relation to the interpretation of new Section 113A(3). Paragraph (a) appears to refer to what I would call a sixth form college, except that it is now to be established by a local education authority but it is a school providing sixth form education only. Why is that not to be established as a sixth form college? Why is it to be established under the aegis of the local education authority? Have I misunderstood what kind of a body it is? Similarly in subsection (3)(c) are there any such bodies that could be discontinued? I was not aware that there were any maintained schools that offered only sixth form education.

Lord Davies of Oldham

Once, many years ago—more than I care to remember—I led the parliamentary football team on to the pitch at Old Trafford after 67,000 spectators had left the ground because the main match had finished. The Members of Parliament played to a house of 200 supporters who were locked in because they were regarded as potential hooligans and were not allowed out at that time. I feel that this evening I am again in that position. A substantive Committee has now been reduced to a diligent few. I am grateful to those who have stayed.

I have a sympathetic response to a number of the amendments in this group, although I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will recognise that I have a little less sympathy with hers. The Bill, together with the regulations and guidance for which it provides, will have the effect of ensuring that the LSC proposes changes to the pattern of sixth form education only where there is real evidence of local need and only where change would clearly benefit the young people in the area. That is why the LSC will be able to make proposals only under clear conditions. Therefore, I want to dispel the anxieties of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that the LSC may be conducting its affairs in some position of prejudice against small sixth forms. That is far from the case.

The first clear condition on which the LSC will operate is set out on the face of the Bill; namely, the follow up to an area inspection. The second condition, which we shall be putting into regulations, will ensure that sixth-form proposals may be published only where there is clear, objective evidence of local need. That evidence may come, for instance, from recent institutional inspection reports or from local achievement and participation data.

In addition, the regulations and guidance provided for in the Bill will ensure that, rather than relating to single institutions, the LSC proposals will be based on a clear assessment of the overall need in an area. We are clear that for the purposes of this new power, proposals should relate to the quality and sufficiency of provision in an area as a whole.

We shall consult representatives of schools, Churches, colleges and other relevant local interests on the detailed arrangements for developing and determining 16–19 proposals for the LSC. In doing so, we intend to ensure that local LSCs must fully consult with all local interests, including, of course, the schools that may be affected. Local LSC proposals must be approved by the national LSC Young People's Learning Committee before publication. That will ensure consistency with national policy and priorities.

In preparation for that role, the LSC is granting to the Churches membership of that committee and strengthening its expertise in schools matters.

Any objections, comments or concerns must be fully described in the material that will be submitted to the Secretary of State, alongside the published proposal. In making any decision, the Secretary of State will take full account of the strength of the case for reorganisation; the extent to which solutions other than reorganisation have been considered; the breadth of local consultation; and the nature and extent of any local objections.

Those measures guarantee that the voice of individual sixth forms, to which the noble Baroness quite properly drew attention, will be heard in the proposal and decision-making processes. But, crucially, they will also ensure that, without preconceptions or in-built biases, local 16–19 reorganisation proposals consider the range and quality of local provision across all the relevant providers and offer a solution that best meets the overall needs of the area.

In my view, by linking the possibility of closure simply to the views of the sixth form concerned regardless of the wider local needs, Amendment No. 254 takes a totally different and retrograde approach.

I have greater sympathy for the other amendments. I noted that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, expressed her position in terms of the need for effective local consultation. I say at the outset that the Government accept the spirit of the amendments that she has tabled. However, as a general principle, we are not in favour of specifying in the Bill the details of the proposal-making processes. In the light of earlier experience, we need flexibility to adjust those processes to meet concerns or unforeseen circumstances.

I should add that we are also committed to further future consultation on all the details of the processes needed to support this new power. I can reassure the noble Baroness that we intend to consult widely with representatives of Churches, schools, head teachers, LEAs, colleges and others. I fear that the amendments before us today would pre-empt much of the consultation that we undertake to carry out. I agree with the noble Baroness that the key to the proposal-making process is that it should be transparent:. The information and analysis that support local proposals must be available to all those who may be affected, as a basis for full discussion about the best way forward for tackling local weaknesses, raising standards, and improving supply, as well as promoting participation in 16 to 19 learning. I recognise that the noble Baroness's amendment, Amendment No. 255, rightly identifies some of the most important elements that are needed to ensure this openness. However, I hope that she will also recognise that we have proposals in hand for improving the process of consultation after we have been able to extend our work more widely.

I turn to Amendment No. 256. It is certainly essential that school organisation committees can make an input for 16 to 19 proposals that affect them. The consultation paper on 16 to 19 organisation and inspection that we published in the autumn made it clear that we envisaged that school organisation committees and LEAs, school and college interests must be fully consulted.

Where I disagree somewhat with the noble Baroness is in the detail of the procedure. The consultation paper envisaged that the learning and skills council would be required to send proposals to the relevant school organisation committees, which would have the right to attach comments after consulting other local interests. The LSC would then be obliged to submit any comments from the school organisation committee with its own proposals as a package to the Secretary of State. That process was strongly supported in the consultation.

Amendment No. 256, which is also tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would substitute for this a two-stage process in which the Secretary of State would, first, receive the proposal, and then consult the relevant school organisation committees. The differences are not critical: both options would achieve broadly the same. I am happy to give the Committee a clear assurance that we shall be ensuring that school organisation committees have a statutory right to be consulted.

We accept the principle that Amendment No. 257 seeks to establish. Indeed, I am happy to assure the noble Baroness that we intend to take that principle further. We wish to ensure that the process for local proposals takes account of the views of the full range of young people and parents who may be affected by changes in their area. That effort ought to go wider than those affected by disability or SEN provision, while ensuring that those particular needs are separately and clearly identified.

I hope, therefore, that I have persuaded the noble Baroness that we accept the many good points made in her amendments. We shall be reflecting their spirit in the arrangements that we intend to put in place. Where we disagree in principle, we do so to support the effective local planning and collaboration needed to secure a wide range of high quality opportunities for all young people. In either case, I hope that noble Lords will agree that this part of the Bill should not be amended in any of the ways proposed today. I trust, therefore, that noble Lords will not press the amendments.


Lord Lucas

The noble Lord does not seem to have answered some of the questions that I asked. I hoped that I saw some communication floating his way from the Box. I shall be most grateful for some clarification. However, perhaps I may raise some further points in anticipation of that response.

From what the noble Lord said, if the various local interests get together and decide that what they need is a consolidated sixth-form school "x", or that they need to establish what seems to be a quasi sixth-form college—I do not know why it is not a proper sixth-form college—once all the consultation has gone through, it seems to me that they will have the power to say to schools that are operating what they consider to be small sixth forms, "You have to close because we need the pupils for our sixth-form college", or, indeed, to make a big sixth form at school "x". That would be very foolish.

Many pupils and parents will wish their children to carry on at the schools that they currently attend. The atmosphere in local schools with a small sixth form is very different from a sixth-form college or a school that gathers in children from a wide area. Those children who want a protected, less adult environment will often be much better off in their local school.

Small sixth forms in both the private and state sector can perform extremely well. Pupils receive much more individual attention than in a larger college. The cost and burden of that can be accommodated in the overall provision for such schools. I have not observed that it has been at the expense of the rest of the school, but it seems to fit in well with the way in which a good school can be run.

The two great sixth-form colleges that were established in the Cambridge area did not mean that sixth forms in the surrounding schools were abolished. They got smaller and one which was particularly enterprising has turned itself into Impington village college, which is an extraordinary establishment, born out of the pressure of having to compete with the sixth-form colleges. It has produced something unique and wonderful.

The idea that a school should have to submit to diktat to close its sixth form because someone else wants its pupils is both against the wishes of parents and, in the long term, against the good of the school system as a whole.

I hope that the Minister can answer my original question.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for raising that initial point. I agree with him entirely. Sixth forms play the role that he has identified. I hope that nothing I have said this evening detracts from our support, commitment and admiration for the enormously good work that is done by sixth forms of widely varying size across the country.

I want to respond to the final point kindly made by the noble Lord. All local interests will be taken into account. I sought to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, whose amendments probed the issues of consultation, which we regard as extremely important. There is no doubt that when a sixth form is performing a function that is greatly valued by parents and young people, there is no question of its status being altered. The purpose and objectives of the LSC are how to enhance educational opportunities.

The reason why I hestiated on the question posed by the noble Lord, for which I apologise, is that I was unable to remember the name of the school that was whizzing round in my mind. That is a problem that we all have late at night. There is a sixth-form college run by the local authority in Hammersmith—the William Morris school. It has a special status as it evolved in special circumstances a number of years ago. That is the exception to the general provision across the country, and that is why it has to be recognised. It is an interesting and fine establishment, but it is not a precursor to any other proposals for a similar institution.

Lord Lucas

I was referring to new Section 113A, which is how the new sixth-form only institutions will be established. They will be established as maintained schools under an LEA rather than as new sixth-form colleges. That is the wording that interests me most. Is it proposed that William Morris should be the model rather than the sixth form colleges that currently exist? If so, why has that been chosen, rather than—since the LSC is involved—creating new sixth-form colleges alongside existing ones?

Lord Davies of Oldham

The framework provides for the possibility of a sixth-form college developing under LEA auspices. Sixth-form colleges have established a good reputation in many parts of the country—the noble Lord referred to Cambridge, where there are two outstanding achievements. That is more likely to be the model, but we are not seeking to prejudge the position in this legislation.

Lord Lucas

Perhaps the noble Lord might prefer to write to me. It seems that new Section 113A only allows William Morris colleges to be established rather than sixth form colleges, which were originally FEFC colleges. If I have misunderstood the situation I am sorry, but I should like to understand how a sixth form FEFC college, on the old model, can be established under this part of the Bill.

Lord Davies of Oldham

The noble Lord has a reputation for modesty. He suggests that he might have misunderstood the position, but it is as likely that I have. If I have, I shall in due course apologise to him. I will certainly write to him, if necessary, with any correction to the position that I have put forward today.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for his response to the various amendments to which I have spoken. I am reassured that the Government will consult fully locally on any move by the LSC and that it would be a transparent move.

I have one reservation about the whole business. Too often there is a tendency to change for the sake of change. These are institutions, some of which have only just begun to put down and feel their roots. There is a rumour that we will see more change and that we shall have big sixth form/FE colleges for the 16 to 19-year olds, putting up Chinese walls between the various parts of their provision and so forth. That is all very unsatisfactory. We really want to give these colleges a chance to get off the ground and to develop the new relationship with the LSC. They are just beginning to do that and we do not want to see yet more change. I hope that none of these rumours will come true.

In the meantime, given the lateness of the hour and the hope that we had that we were going to finish some time ago, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. No, I do not beg leave to withdraw, I just sit down.

Baroness Blatch

It is my amendment, so if anyone is going to withdraw the amendment, I shall. I just might run a vote. It would liven us all up. The Minister a moment ago referred to it being very late at night. I remind him that it is actually early in the morning that we are discussing the amendment.

I am not surprised that the noble Lord floundered when he talked about William Morris. William Morris was established by stealth. It was illegal for a long time until in a recent statute the Labour Government made it legal. The students remained on the rolls of their parent school and not on that of William Morris. There is nothing like it in the country. The way that it was established and the way that Hammersmith and Fulham turned a blind eye to the legal position was an absolute disgrace. Indeed, I must say that I believe that the department was also complicit in that.

My basic point is to ask why the LSC should be involved at all. Sixth forms are not add-ons to schools. Where they exist they are an integral part of the whole school. The idea of siphoning off the sixth forms to be responsible to another body—again an unelected and unaccountable body—away from the other part of the school which is accountable to its local education authority is a recipe for disaster. It is not surprising that they feel vulnerable.

In the past when the Government have funded a whole school, the way that that money was spent by the school and how it was distributed between the teaching of sixth-formers and other children in the school was a matter for the governors.

The staff who teach sixth-formers will teach other young people in the school. There is an integrated network of activities between the sixth form and the rest of the school. The notion that they are somehow add-ons is a retrograde step.

I am rather sad that the Government have gone down that road, other than to understand what the hidden agenda is. The hidden agenda is tertiary education. In days gone by, the Labour Party made no secret of this. They do not dare mention its name now because they know it is unpopular with schools that have sixth forms. The truth is that they always did have an open agenda about tertiary education. Now, as I say, it is a policy that dare not speak its name.

I should like an assurance from the Minister, today if possible, that a sixth form would only be abolished if it was failing in the quality of education that it offered its students, that it would not be closed on cost grounds; it would not be an economic decision. I wrote down the Minister's words. He said that it would be decided on the quality and sufficiency of provision. As well as asking for those assurances, I also want him to explain what he means by "sufficiency of provision". Is he saying that if it is possible to remove a sixth form and disperse the children around other schools in the area to satisfy a spare places argument, as opposed to whether or not the quality of education is good, a sixth form could be closed?

The noble Lord views as a virtue the whole raft and panoply of consultation processes that would be in place. I am not concerned with that, because if the Learning and Skills Council wants to abolish sixth forms to achieve its hidden agenda, it can consult with all and sundry, with a relevant interest or otherwise, but at the end of the day, the LSC makes the decision. It can listen and be terribly patient, but if it wants a sixth form to be abolished, it has the power to do so. If the educational standard is satisfactory or better, on what other grounds could a sixth form be abolished?

12.15 a.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

Perhaps I may disabuse the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, of her notion that there is a secret agenda that is the result of a Labour Party commitment to tertiary education. She is absolutely right that there are people within the Labour Party, as there in the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats and all parties, in favour of tertiary education, but I assure her that I have never read a document issued by my party nor have I been involved in any discussion of education—and I have been in a few—in which there was a commitment to tertiary education as the sole route by which to provide post-16 education. I have never read such a document or been involved in such a process. She may know my party better than I do, but I beg to differ on that point.

On the more general point about what criteria there are other than education, there are none—only the best possible educational opportunity for the children in the area. The noble Baroness must recognise that educational opportunity for young people these days must often have considerable breadth in its provision. Of course, it can be of high quality across a limited spectrum, but young people—and the wider society that we seek to educate and train—increasingly demand greater breadth and a greater range of choice in education. All of our proposals relating to changes in education for 14 to 19 year-olds are predicated on that assumption. She must recognise that an element in the decision must necessarily be what young people think of the quality of education provision as represented in terms of their breadth of opportunity.

I assure the noble Baroness that the criterion relates to educational achievement and the raising of standards, which is the objective of the Learning and Skills Council, as it is of the Government.

Baroness Blatch

In 1998, during the debate on the Bill which established learning and skills councils, we were suspicious that the council would be given powers over the organisation and reorganisation of sixth forms. Ministers stood where the Minister stands tonight saying, "I should like to disabuse the noble Baroness of any fears that she may have that that may come about". Here we are, a mere couple of years later, and precisely what were our fears then have come to fruition. So the noble Lord does not convince me when he says, "I should like to disabuse the noble Baroness of her fears". Much of what we fear now on sixth forms' behalf will come to fruition.

The noble Lord answered none of my questions. He did not say that sixth forms would be abolished only if their education was failing. He did not confirm that sixth forms would not be closed on the grounds of cost. He did not define the words "sufficiency of provision". He did not answer the question: if education was satisfactory or better, on what other grounds could a sixth form be abolished?

I hope that the Minister will write to me on all those points between now and the next stage. I will return to the matter, but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 68 [Proposals relating to sixth forms]:

[Amendments Nos. 255 to 260 not moved.]

Clause 68 agreed to.

Schedule 9 agreed to.

Clauses 69 to 71 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 261 not moved.]

Schedule 10 agreed to.

Lord Davies of Oldham

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty-one minutes past midnight.

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