HL Deb 28 May 2002 vol 635 cc1302-10

(1) If it appears to the Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales—

  1. (a) that any person (in this section referred to as "the awarding body") who, either alone or jointly with others, awards or authenticates any qualification accredited by the Authority has failed or is likely to fail to comply with any condition subject to which the accreditation has effect, and
  2. (b) that the failure—
    1. (i) prejudices or would be likely to prejudice the proper award or authentication of the qualification, or
    2. (ii) prejudices or would be likely to prejudice persons who might reasonably be expected to seek to obtain the qualification,
the Authority may direct the awarding body to take or refrain from taking specified steps with a view to securing compliance with the conditions subject to which the accreditation has effect. (2) It shall be the duty of the awarding body to comply with any direction under this section. (3) Any direction under this section is enforceable, on the application of the Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales, by a mandatory order." Page 177, line 17, at end insert—

"Provisions extending to Northern Ireland

6 In section 58(6) of the Education Act 1997 (c. 44) (provisions extending to Northern Ireland), for "section 26" there is substituted "sections 26 and 26A".

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 17, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 183 [LEA functions: qualifications]:

On Question, Whether Clause 183 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Lucas

What is it for?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

This clause is intended to clarify the legal position of local education authorities in England and Wales to engage in the award or authentication of educational qualifications. It ensures that LEAs are able to develop, deliver and award qualifications and to charge a fee in respect of those services. The clause also enables an LEA to make arrangements with other persons and form, participate in or be a member of a body corporate in order to exercise its powers in relation to educational qualifications.

This clause does not add to what LEAs already do. It merely clarifies their powers to do what they have done for many years. It confers express and specific powers on LEAs to enable them to develop, deliver and award qualifications and to charge a fee in respect of those services. The clause also enables LEAs to make arrangements with other persons and form, participate in or be members of a body corporate in order to exercise these powers.

The clause is intended to be clarificatory. The powers are therefore expressed as always having been within the powers of an LEA, and are without prejudice to its other powers. I recommend therefore that this clause should stand part of the Bill. An example for the noble Lord is the Oxfordshire LEA music certificate and the Cornwall LEA Cornish graded examinations. However, the bulk of the qualifications to which Clause 183 relates are provided by the Welsh Joint Education Committee which is a major player in both Wales and England. I re-emphasise that Clause 183 is intended to clarify the position. It will not give LEAs powers to do anything that they have not already been doing for many years. I commend the clause to the noble Lord and hope that my response has satisfied him.

Baroness Blatch

What is unclear about the present statute? Given that this does not replace the present statute, does that mean that there is a present statute which covers the present state of affairs and we now have a new statute in Clause 183 which will overlay the existing one?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that questions have arisen over a number of years about whether LEAs can lawfully carry out these activities. I emphasise that the clause does no more than clarify powers for LEAs to do what they have done for many years. In particular, the clause is intended to clarify the powers of the WJEC and bring to an end any possible question about the WJEC's powers by making them explicit. Such clarification will allow it to concentrate on delivering the high quality services of education in Wales that I am sure we all want. The clause expresses these powers to have always been within the powers of LEAs. That reflects our interpretation of existing legislation. It also removes any doubt as to the validity of qualifications that students have already obtained where the awarding body is an LEA.

Lord Lucas

Do these qualifications fall under the ambit of the QCA, as we have just learnt Montessori education should, or are they for some reason a little island all on their own?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

It is my understanding that, as with all qualifications, in particular the WJEC ones, they would be approved. If I am proved to be wrong on that, I shall write to the noble Lord.

Clause 183 agreed to.

Clause 184 agreed to.

Clause 185 [Directions to bring forward proposals to secure regional provision]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy

moved Amendment No. 343: Page 113, line 21, at end insert "including the costs to pupils' parents The noble Lord said: There is considerable interest in educational circles in Wales about regional provision for children with special educational needs. We already have some such schools, which draw pupils from outside the local LEA boundary, and their services are highly regarded. It is unclear how the parents of SEN children fare in that arrangement. They obviously incur costs if they transport their children long distances to attend special schools. My concern is that such costs should be recognised and, if possible, met. There is no mention of parental costs in the proposals. The purpose of the amendment is to draw attention to them.

If those regional special education schools are established to cater for children in two or more authority areas, to what extent will the parents' costs be met, especially the costs of those who live at the extremities of the region? I need not remind the Minister that there are some very large regions in Wales—Powys, for example, is 150 miles from one end to the other. We must ensure that those parents are not disadvantaged.

Amendment No. 344 relates to Clause 189, which deals with the provision of information that may assist parents to choose schools for their children. Increased public awareness of the quality of education provided at a school assists in assessing the efficiency of a school's management. The clause takes a very guarded approach to the provision of such information, which is defined as "qualifying material" that is to be provided or prescribed by the Assembly. The Assembly will also specify who is to receive it. The publication of such material is at local authority or governing body level.

The likelihood is that if one is a parent choosing a school, one's ability to compare school performances will be confined to schools in one's local authority area. Bearing in mind that Wales has 22 LEAs covering 3 million people, the areas are quite small and schools within a particular LEA are, frankly, much of a muchness, with some notable exceptions among secondary schools.

The amendment would counter what I shall call the guarded approach to the provision of information about schools. The public generally, as well as parents, have a right to know about the schools in their area, especially if they are council tax payers and potential employers. It would also be salutary if some knowledge was available about how local schools stand in comparison with similar schools elsewhere. Some schools might be encouraged by such comparisons to improve themselves and to raise their standards. A little competition between schools is not at all bad; it exists in any case, especially at the local level, and might be turned to good purpose. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I shall speak first to Amendment No. 343. Under Clause 185, the National Assembly for Wales may direct the LEA or governing body of a school to exercise its existing statutory powers to bring forward proposals for the establishment, alteration or discontinuance of schools in order to secure that regional provision is made for children with special educational needs.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, emphasised that he was concerned about any costs that may fall on parents. The aim of this clause is to ensure that all costs of any proposals made in pursuance of a direction under the clause fall to the relevant LEA with regard to the establishment and funding of such regional centres, irrespective of the category of school. The intention is to avoid an individual governing body having to bear the costs of implementing proposals which relate to the reorganisation of regional facilities.

Therefore, I suggest that the noble Lord's amendment is misconceived. Schedule 6 to the 1998 Act is concerned with the cost of implementing statutory proposals as between LEAs and governing bodies. None of those costs falls to be borne by parents.

However, the noble Lord referred specifically to transport costs. As he is well aware, I know—occasionally to my cost late at night—the length of the county of Powys. We anticipate that all children who are likely to require placement in a regional facility will have severe and complex special educational needs. Such children and young people would be in possession of a statement of special educational needs. As such, the vast majority of costs associated with meeting their educational needs would be met by the LEA in which the child or young person resides, including any transport costs.

Under the 1977 Scholarships and Benefits Regulations, as revised under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Payment of School Expenses Regulations 1999, local authorities have the discretionary power to grant assistance to parents who are unable to meet school uniform costs.

With regard to Amendment No. 344, I understand the reason that the noble Lord tabled that amendment. I believe that there is very little difference between what we and the noble Lord are seeking to achieve with Clause 189. The origin of the clause is in the Welsh Assembly's desire to ensure that qualifying material—that is, information—published by LEAs and the governing bodies of maintained schools in Wales includes comparative and contextual information and that it is available to the public. The clause, as drafted, enables that to happen.

Following consultation and compliance with the Welsh Assembly's procedures for approving subordinate legislation, all LEAs and schools in Wales will be required to publish qualifying material on the same basis. The material will encompass the assessment and examination results of each school and a range of value-added indicators placing each school's results in context.

Parents will be able to obtain the results of all schools for which their children are prospective pupils, and further afield if they wish, and make fair and direct comparisons of the standards attained in each school. Other members of the public will be able to do the same.

Therefore, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, need have no fear: there is no intention of withholding the information from the public. In fact, the opposite applies. All LEAs and schools will publish meaningful and useful material on the same basis. That will help parents to choose a school for the children, increase public awareness of the quality and standards of education and assist in assessing how well schools manage resources. With those explanations, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments on these two amendments. I am particularly reassured that parental costs will be met if the parents have children who attend these proposed regional centres.

The noble Baroness said that if the children were statemented—if I may use that description—then, of course, such costs would be covered by the statement. Children in Wales—an all-party group involving both Houses—recently reported that not all children received statements and much work had yet to be done on encouraging LEAs to ensure that parents were aware of their right to have children statemented.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I am not clear whether the noble Lord is referring to children whose level of special need is not great enough to require a statement or to occasional difficulties in ensuring that children's needs are assessed as quickly as necessary. Perhaps the noble Lord will write to me before Report stage to clarify the situation. I do not believe that regional special centres are likely to be used by children for whom a statemented special need would be inappropriate.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I will certainly look into the matter more deeply but the all-party group reported that LEAs in Wales do not always provide statements where they are required and that progress needs to be made in that sphere. I am grateful for the Minister's comments about the qualifying material and her assurances. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 185 agreed to.

Clauses 186 to 188 agreed to.

Schedule 18 agreed to.

Clause 189 [Publication and provision of material]:

[Amendment No. 344 not moved.]

Clause 189 agreed to.

Clause 190 agreed to.

12.30 a.m.

Clause 191 [Transition from primary to secondary school]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy

moved Amendment No. 345: Page 116, line 46, after second "to" insert "parental wishes and The noble Lord said: Clause 191 deals with the transition of children from primary to secondary school and gives power to the National Assembly to require the governors of secondary schools and their feeder primary schools to draw up plans to ease the transition. Regard has to be paid to guidance given by the National Assembly.

The amendments highlight the need to take parental wishes into account and make the choice of school by parents a reality. There is no mention of parental wishes in the clause, which is entirely devoted to the administrative convenience of the education system. I thought that we had moved beyond the straitjacket of fixed catchment areas and similar rigidities towards greater flexibility and parental choice. Here we are moving back in time, under the guise of easing the transition from one type of school to another. Is there more to the easement provided than administrative convenience?

Subsection (5) makes it clear that governing bodies and head teachers must have regard to plans when discharging their functions. Clause 191 is a further tightening of the screw. Plans seem to matter more than the well being of the individual child. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Although I understand the sentiments behind the amendment, I believe that the reasoning for tabling them is flawed. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, may have thought that subsection (2) of Clause 191 related to school admissions policies. It does not. School admissions are governed by the provisions of Part III of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and, subject to the passage of this Bill, the additional provisions set out in Chapter 3, Clauses 44 to 48. The question of whether an individual pupil should be admitted from a primary school to a secondary school will be decided under those provisions. That is, rightly, where the question of parental wishes, to which the noble Lord referred, applies.

Clause 191 is concerned with measures to improve standards. It may help your Lordships if I outline the policy considerations behind it. Significant numbers of pupils in Wales do not build upon their achievements at the end of primary school. By the age of 14—the end of key stage 3—they do not attain the levels expected on the basis of where they had reached at age 11. In other words, there is a dip in performance. The evidence produced by Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales is that the dip in performance at the end of key stage 3 is less pronounced if there has been effective joint planning by primary and secondary schools to facilitate the transition of pupils from one to the other.

The National Assembly for Wales wishes to see best practice in effective joint planning embedded in the life of schools. The clause, therefore, places a duty on the governing bodies of secondary schools and their feeder primary schools to plan together for the better and smoother transition of pupils. It would hardly be reasonable to ask a school to engage in planning when, perhaps, only one child from a particular school at the other end of a large area wished to transfer to the school because of parental choice. That would be an unreasonable burden, and I fear that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, might even accuse us of being over-bureaucratic were we to support it.

Given the reference in the clause to drawing up joint plans to facilitate transition, the National Assembly for Wales will produce guidance that could, for example, allow a primary school in a rural area that sends a small number of pupils to be treated as a feeder school.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, referred to parental choice. Of course, parents may choose to transfer their child from a primary school that has never before served as a feeder. That is not the issue in this case. It is an entirely different matter, to be dealt with according to the wishes of parents. As I explained, the policy objective behind Clause 191 is effective planning between the governing bodies of schools. Subsection (4) requires governing bodies to have regard to any guidance issued by the National Assembly in discharging their functions to draw up transition plans.

The discussion of the noble Lord's amendment has given me the opportunity to reassure him. I hope that, given my explanations, the noble Lord will be able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch

The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I would look askance at her if she were to agree to such a level of bureaucracy. I hope that she will agree that it is important that there should be succession arrangements for an individual child moving from one school to another, particularly if the child is moving across key stages and even more so if the child has special educational needs. Much time is wasted in the receiving school if the profile of the child and any information about the child's educational needs do not arrive in time. That could certainly be improved.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

As a parent whose children went through the state school system, I cannot disagree with the noble Baroness. Speaking for the Government on the subject of Wales, it is not for me to make judgments on the judgments made on matters that have rightly been devolved to the National Assembly for Wales. Considering the care with which they put forward the proposals, I would be extremely surprised if they did not consider the aspect on which the noble Baroness and I, hypothetically in the context of England, agree.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I am grateful to the Minister for assuring me that parental wishes will feature in this context. With regard to the dip in performance at the end of key stage 3, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, it is difficult to believe that that can be planned out of existence. Surely the individual child and his or her condition has a great deal to do with the position. Nevertheless, I also appreciate that transition at the end of key stage 3 from one school to another is an important stage in a child's life. It is important that that transition should be as easy as possible and as beneficial as possible for the child. I should like more time to consider what the Minister has said and to investigate the matter further.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I ask the noble Lord to consider the child who transfers from primary to secondary school only to find that he or she has to repeat a whole year's work that was covered by the primary school, or the child who transfers only to discover that he or she has not covered the necessary work in order to keep up. That should be overcome by the schools working together.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

I agree with the Minister. Of course, the transition is important as my noble friend Lady Blatch said. It has to be planned as well as possible to ensure that the kind of eventuality that the noble Baroness described of overlapping does not occur. I shall consider the matter further and possibly return to it. Meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 346 not moved.]

Clause 191 agreed to.

Lord Lucasmoved Amendment No. 347: Before Clause 192, insert the following new clause—