HL Deb 18 January 2005 vol 668 cc649-724

3.8 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Filkin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 125ZA: Before Clause 63, insert the following new clause— "PRINCIPLE TO BE USED IN BY SECRETARY OF STATE IN EXERCISING POWERS In exercising any powers under Part 3 of this Act and Parts 2 and 3 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31), the Secretary of State is to have regard to the principle that, in the organisation of secondary education, there shall be no extension of selection by ability". The noble Baroness said: We are now moving on from Part 1 to Part 2 of the Bill. On Part 1, we discussed the Government's consultation paper entitled A New Relationship with Schools, which was about inspections and the new inspection framework. The document underlying Part 2 is no longer A New Relationship with Schools, but the five-year strategy document, published in July last year.

We on these Benches are in agreement with a great deal of the Government's five-year strategy for education. We very much endorse the emphasis on early-years and extended schools. We like the emphasis on personalised education—which some might call child-centred education if it were not a rather unfashionable phrase. However, personalised education—which is the fashionable phrase these days—is very much about child-centred education. We think it right that the child should be at the centre of the education provided for him.

We endorse the proposals on 14-to-19 education and the need to consider very seriously the education and career paths for the 50 per cent who do not go on to higher education. We are also delighted to see the commitments to staff development and continuous professional development and to partnership between schools. Schools should work together within a community framework. That is part of the essential vision that we have for the way in which schools should work.

Where we depart from the Government in their five-year strategy is on structural issues. In some senses, the Government seem to be putting forward contradictory messages. On the one hand, they are encouraging all kinds of new structures at the secondary level. They want what are currently called community secondary schools to move as quickly as possible towards foundation status with a degree of independence from local education authorities that they do not have at the moment. They are encouraging private promoters of schools to come in. In again viewing local education authorities as enablers rather than providers of education, they are encouraging more voluntary-aided schools and more academies.

All those proposals envisage a situation in which there are many secondary schools, but that is not always applicable in rural areas. Moreover, they endorse the view that competition between schools helps to promote performance. It is that conflict between competition and collaboration that we find slightly odd, and indeed we are not the only ones to find it slightly odd. I notice that when the Bill was published the Labour chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills noted a degree of schizophrenia at the heart of government on these particular issues.

As I say, we do not endorse the notion of setting secondary school against secondary school. We find it very interesting that the Government, who early on set their mantra as "standards, not structures", have now shifted so totally and put so much emphasis on structure. We do not share their view that changing a structure can have the effect of changing performance; indeed we think it often has precisely the opposite effect—that changing structures can destabilise already established structures and cause a good deal of time to be spent on unnecessary structural change at a time when more emphasis should be put on more important matters.

Those are the underlying issues that we shall be looking at in Part 2: the changing structures and changing financial position of schools and the changing ways in which the Secretary of State will effect these changes in structures. Amendment No. 125ZA suggests that we should have a new clause before Clause 63 on the principle to be used by the Secretary of State in exercising his powers. It suggests that it would be helpful if the Secretary of State were to put into writing a commitment which he has already made on several occasions that there shall be no extension of selection by ability.

3.15 p.m.

The amendment picks up the five-year strategy and the degree to which the Government are trying to face in two directions at once. Everyone admits that the current admissions system is a mess—a point examined last year by the House of Commons Select Committee, which concluded that, in the current system, fairness is a matter of luck rather than a matter of course. In the conclusion to its report, the Select Committee stated: We believe that it is time for Ministers to engage in an informed debate about the role of selection in secondary education and its impact across the education system as a whole. The Government needs to explain how it reconciles its insistence that there will be no return to selection with its willingness to retain and increase selection where it already exists. Without an honest and robust engagement with this issue the Government's policy on selection will continue to appear ad hoc and without principle". We are trying to provide the Government with an honest and a robust statement so that they can answer that criticism from the Select Committee.

The Government's response to the point, published before the Select Committee report, came in the five-year strategy itself. In his statement on the five-year strategy, the then Secretary of State, Mr Charles Clarke, said: Independence will be within a framework of fair admissions, full accountability and strong partnership. We will never return to a system based on selection of the few and rejection of the many. The strict national requirement for fair admissions will remain and we will not allow any extension of selection by ability".—[Official Repor, Commons, 8/7/04; col. 1012.] That is a commitment never to return to a system based on selection and it is repeated in the strategy at least five times. I therefore believe that one can regard it as something of a commitment by the Minister.

The commitment is also on page 44 of the document, which states: We will never return to a system based on selection of the few and rejection of the many; we will not abandon intervention in failing schools; and we will not cast aside our ambitious targets for schools to keep on improving. Independence will be within a framework of fair admissions, full accountability and strong partnerships that drive improvement The Government have given that commitment in their five-year framework. As I say, the aim of the amendment is to enable them to put their promise into practice—a chance perhaps for them to regain some of the public trust that seems to be eluding them so much at present.

The implications of that are spelt out by someone who, although one of their own, is also one of the foremost critics of the Government's current policy. Regarding that commitment on admissions, Fiona Millar said last September, in an article in the Education Guardian: This would mean quietly dropping the idea that new independent state secondary schools could set their own admissions criteria. But it would reinforce rather than undermine other existing commitments to put schools at the heart of their communities. And it would help to smooth the transition between primary and secondary school, back up the Children's Bill proposals for the most vulnerable young people, and. crucially, enhance progress on standards for the most challenging pupils by giving them an entitlement to the schools that are currently the preserve of the most socially and academically desirable". The Government have made it clear that they are committed to their five-year strategy and to a policy of restructuring secondary education. As both the chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee and one of the Government's foremost commentators have pointed out, the commitment to fair selection should be a central plank in the planning of their third term. The Bill, which provides the framework for those developments, contains no mention of this issue. We believe that we are doing the Government a considerable service by moving the amendment, which would embody in the Bill the principle underpinning all the new developments that they propose. I beg to move.

Lord Filkin

This has somewhat taken on the nature of a Second Reading debate, so I shall try not to respond in kind, since we are in Committee. I shall answer the direct questions and the amendment.

It has always been government policy that there should not be any extension of selection on the basis of academic ability. That is why new selection by academic ability is prohibited by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Only 164 grammar schools remain in England and none in Wales. Furthermore, the Secretary of State has little involvement in school organisation decisions. These are matters for local decision, either through the school organisation committee or the schools adjudicator. It is for local education authorities or the promoters of a school to publish proposals—in the case of a secondary school, following a local competition.

However, Clause 64 allows the Secretary of State to consent to local authorities bringing forward proposals without a competition being held. It would not be possible to publish proposals for a new grammar school under this clause. Section 104 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 means that there can be no new grammar schools other than those that existed by 1997 and which have been designated as grammar schools by the Secretary of State. Similarly, new partial selection by ability is prohibited by Section 100 of the 1998 Act, unless it is fair banding, which is allowed under Section 101. We have also made it clear in schools' capital guidance that the department will not provide funding for the expansion of grammar schools.

I do not need to give undertakings from this Dispatch Box on the Government's policy in respect of the amendment since it is already made explicit in legislation. I welcome the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for much, if not all, of the five-year strategy. The issue is about promoting parental choice so that parents have more ability to choose what they think is in the interests of their children to obtain a good education in their area. It is also about developing a new relationship with schools, which seeks to free them from unnecessary controls, to give them more control over their resources and to hold them accountable for the results and the outcomes that they achieve. There is much evidence to say that that philosophy of how you stimulate the performance of public or private sector organisations is a better mechanism than seeking to control input mechanisms and detail.

I hope that I have made the matter clear and put the mind of the noble Baroness to rest. There is no intention to reintroduce selection by ability—and statute makes that clear.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for his reply. I clearly stated that the Government's position was written five times in the five-year strategy and that they had no intention of extending selection by ability. The purpose of the amendment was to enable the Government to put that within the context of this Bill, because there is the potential in some of the new structures that they are establishing for some schools with greater independence to introduce some element of selection by ability. I proposed the amendment to ensure that that would not be the case.

I do not apologise for making something of a Second Reading speech because we are moving from Part 1, which dealt with inspection, to Part 2, which deals with the changing structures in secondary education. As we move on, it is useful to set the general context in which our discussions take place. It is useful for noble Lords to recognise that the Bill makes substantial changes to the way in which new secondary schools may be set up. It is possible that that they might have greater independence over who they select and who they do not. In many ways, I do not feel that the Minister's response was particularly helpful.

Perhaps I will return to this matter on Report, but, meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 63 [Proposals not requiring consent of Secretary of State]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 125A: Page 37, line 28, leave out subsections (3) and (4). The noble Baroness said: Clause 63 amends Section 28 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which set up the current system for considering proposals for both the closure and promotion of new schools, by the establishment of a schools organisation committee—a statutory sub-committee of a local education authority to consider proposals and make decisions for either the closure of a school or the promotion of a new one—and the use of the schools adjudicator to rule in disputed decisions.

Section 28 currently provides the statutory basis for the LEA to propose new community or foundation schools and allows, as a result of amendments passed in the Education Act 2002, other promoters to propose the establishment of new foundation or voluntary schools.

Clause 63 would effectively nullify all of that. It stops Section 28 being used by the LEA or other promoters to propose a new secondary school. Clauses 64 and 65 provide the new machinery and redefine the concept of a middle school, so that those which include a year 11 class—the GCSE class—are included within the competition for new secondary schools proposed in the Bill.

The purpose of the amendment is, first, to ask the Minister whether our understanding is correct. Am I right to say that Clause 63(3)(2A) will stop Section 28 being used as a means of proposing new schools? Secondly, I wish to probe this shift in the definition of middle schools. Why are the Government making this move? Why do they wish such middle schools to be included within the framework of their structural proposals? I beg to move.

Lord Filkin

If I had more wit, I would probably be able to answer in one or two words, but given that I have not, I shall do so at length.

The aim of this part is to extend the requirement for local authorities to invite promoters to come forward with proposals to establish new schools, so that the requirement applies whenever statutory proposals are required to establish a new secondary school. Local authorities are currently required to invite proposals, under Section 70 of the Education Act 2002, only when a new secondary school does not replace an existing school—that is for an "additional" secondary school.

In a number of circumstances, the Secretary of State will be able to disapply the requirement on local authorities to invite proposals. This is intended to allow flexibility for the particular requirements of local circumstances. The Secretary of State would currently decide proposals for additional schools. Under the new provisions, all proposals will be decided by the local school organisation committee or the schools adjudicator.

The policy will inject more choice into the system, encourage new providers, including charitable or community groups, to act as promoters of schools and will lead to a more diverse range of schools. We wish to see the creation of more schools that have a distinctive ethos and sense of identity and deliver a better quality education in tune with the wishes and aspirations of parents and communities.

3.30 p.m.

The policy forms part of the five-year strategy, which envisages a new role for local authorities as the commissioners of educational services, rather than direct providers. Where a local authority decides that a secondary school is required, different providers should normally be given the opportunity to come forward with proposals to establish a school. Local people will then have the opportunity to express views about the options, rather than about a single option. When deciding which proposals to approve, the school organisation committee or the adjudicator must take account of local people's views.

I understand the wish of the noble Baroness to probe the amendments that this clause makes to Section 28 of the 1998 Act. Clause 63 modifies the existing provisions in respect of statutory proposals for new schools so that only proposals for primary schools, or middle schools where the upper age is not at least 16, may be published by local authorities and promoters under existing provisions; in other words, primary schools and middle schools where the upper age is not 16 are not caught by the provisions. It is complementary to Clauses 64 and 65, which contain provisions detailing the conditions under which proposals for new secondary schools may be published.

The effect is as follows. They include in the definition of a secondary school, for the purposes of school organisation legislation, any middle school catering for children of 16 and upwards. The legal definition of a middle school is that it must cater both for children below the age of 10 years and six months and for those above the age of 12 years. A middle school may be deemed to be primary or secondary, depending on the age range of the pupils. That definition is contained in Section 5(3) of the 1996 Act.

The definition of the term "secondary school" is intended to capture middle schools which are "all-through" schools; that is, schools catering for the full secondary age range plus primary pupils. That seeks to answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about why they were included. Effectively, they are teaching secondary-age school pupils, and the policy is focused on them. The effect of the amendment in the wider context of the Bill is to provide for local authorities to invite proposals when they wish to establish all-through schools.

That is the only effect of the amendments to Section 28 of the 1998 Act. Local authorities and others will continue to be free to publish proposals to establish, change or to discontinue middle schools that do not have an upper age range of 16 or more. It is not the Government's policy to promote the establishment of all-through schools. We take a neutral view on that; that is for local education authorities. I hope that that has been helpful.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for his reply, but I am not sure that he replied to my question about why the definition of a middle school was being changed.

Lord Filkin

We are not generally changing the definition of middle schools. We are including in this part of the Bill for school competitions middle schools that have pupils of 16 or above and are, therefore, effectively teaching pupils of secondary school age. That is why they are included.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Presumably, those schools were included under the School Standards and Framework Act. At that point, they were included as middle schools, and they were not part of the secondary school framework. I understand what the Minister is saying, and I thank him for his response.

Clearly, as the Minister rightly indicated, Clause 63 is a prelude, in effect, to Clauses 64 and 65, on which we shall shortly have considerably more discussion. He has confirmed my understanding of the role of Clause 63 and, therefore. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 63 agreed to.

Clause 64 [Publication of proposals with consent of Secretary of State]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 125B: Page 38, line 13, at end insert— () When considering whether to grant consent to publish under subsection (2), the Secretary of State shall have regard to any representations made by the local education authority for the area in which the school is proposed, and any other local education authority likely to be affected by the proposal. The noble Baroness said: In this part of the Bill, which extends from Clause 63 to Clause 70, and in Schedules 10, 11 and 12, there are many instances where consent is to be granted by the Secretary of State or guidance or directions are to be issued by the Secretary of State. Clause 64(1), for example, says: may with the consent of the Secretary of State". Clause 64(5) says: guidance … from … the Secretary of State". Clause 65(6) says, "Regulations may", and paragraph 4(4) of Schedule 10 says that the school organisation committee may be required, to have regard to any guidance … from … the Secretary of State". The aim of the three amendments is to ensure that, in taking decisions and in issuing guidance, the wider effect of those decisions is recognised. Amendment No. 125B says that the Secretary of State shall consider the impact of the reorganisation that is being proposed not only on schools in the local education authority area in which the school is located but in neighbouring local education authority areas.

The Bill extends the circumstances in which new schools will be subject to competition. Under Clause 64, if local education authorities or promoters want to establish a new community, foundation or voluntary school without going to competition, they have to get the consent of the Secretary of State. This amendment establishes the principle that any proposal should be considered alongside existing planning arrangements for all local schools, avoiding unnecessary disruption of local schools and their communities.

Amendment No. 126B inserts a new subsection: Before making any regulations under this section, or issuing any guidance under Schedule 10, the Secretary of State must consult such representatives of local government and such other persons (if any)—as he considers appropriate". It would be subsection (7) to Clause 65. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult fully local government and key stakeholders on regulations for school competitions. The amendment seeks a commitment from the Government that they will consult fully local government and other key stakeholders on the regulations for school competition. It is essential that the regulations recognise the complexity of school organisation and reorganisation.

The extension of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to cover the need for competition to include instances where, for example, two schools are being merged due to surplus places risks introducing planning blight into local systems. That may be the case, particularly where an authority is moving from a system of middle schools. Schools in a particular area are developed as part of a local strategic planning process, and schools should be seen as serving their local community. If some schools are to be allowed to expand, as is suggested in the DfES five-year strategy, inevitably other schools will lose places. The local authority has strategic responsibility to ensure that there are sufficient and appropriate places for all children.

The final amendment in this group is Amendment No. 130A. This is a new clause to be included after Clause 69. It refers back to the whole of Part 2 and reinforces the point. The new clause states: Before making any regulations or issuing any guidance under this Part, the Secretary of State must consult such representatives of local government and such other persons (if any) as he considers appropriate". The aim is to ensure that the complexities of school organisation and reorganisation are fully explored before being finalised in regulations and guidance. That will provide the opportunity to ensure that any requirements do not destabilise schools and their local communities. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

I congratulate the Whips' Office on the way this maze of amendments is grouped. I shall speak to Amendment No. 125B and to Amendments Nos. 128 and 130.I am not clear whether it would be more helpful to do all that now or wait until later. My instinct is that I should get on with it.

Questions about school organisation and rural schools touch closely on the work of the Church of England in education. A great many Church of England primary schools are rural. I believe that the majority of rural primary schools are Church of England schools, and I am not thinking just of the Isle of Wight. The Church of England is represented on each school organisation committee alongside a representative of the Roman Catholic Church, the local education authority, the school itself and, where post-16 proposals are envisaged, the local learning and skills council.

On the whole, the system works well. The only fly in the ointment is the view of some local government lawyers that the Church of England representatives ought to declare an interest and not vote on issues affecting Church of England schools. That seems to me to be a misunderstanding of the very purpose of their presence, namely, to achieve the best for education locally from a specifically Church of England perspective. They are not there to be sectarian, but to represent a particular interest and ought to be free to do so.

When the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 was a Bill and being considered in this House, my predecessor but one as chairman of the Board of Education, Bishop David Young, then Bishop of Ripon, expressed himself content with the proposals about the school organisation committee. That enabled decisions on school organisation to be taken locally that previously would have been taken by officials in London.

He was also content that, where the members of that committee could not agree, decisions would be made by an adjudicator. The then Opposition tempted him with an amendment which would have prevented decisions about Church of England or Roman Catholic schools being referred to the adjudicator. He resisted temptation—that is possible sometimes. Adjudicators have not always made the right decision from our point of view, but I support his resistance and take it as a lesson in how we treat at least some tempting opposition and Lib-Dem amendments, or even government amendments.

I apply the lesson to the question of rural schools. At first sight, it would seem to make sense that parents should have the final word on a rural school. More than most, I recognise the value to the rural community of a school, especially a Church school. Moreover, there are some really excellent, very small rural schools serving remote communities. They need to be preserved where at all possible despite the cost to the wider community of schools. Speaking for myself, we are in regular touch with the Isle of Wight County Council, for example.

However, I am also aware of rural schools that in practice serve a local urban community much more than the rural community itself. Popular schools, often by no deliberate action of their own, can attract parents to drive sometimes extraordinary distances out of towns. That is not always desirable from the point of view of the schools from which they are driving away or even the schools to which they are driving their children quite apart from the environmental cost. The school organisation committee and the adjudicators are between them the best people to make these very difficult decisions.

Finally, I turn to the question of the Secretary of State's involvement in decisions about the publication of proposals for new schools. The Church of England is busily establishing new schools towards the target of 100 new secondary schools within the next three or four years. It was a target set us in 2001 by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. We are well on track.

I understand the Government's purpose in Part 2 of the Bill to be an extension of diversity in the provision of schools. From these Benches we support that broad proposal. The Church of England and Church in Wales schools are part of the diverse educational system in Britain. It would be illogical if we were not to welcome other suitable providers of schools, especially among the faith communities.

In this context I must briefly mention the speech made yesterday to the Hansard Society by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector. It was about teaching citizenship. He commented adversely on some independent faith-based schools, especially Muslim schools, that were not preparing their pupils to play their full part in British society, as he and others see it. I am sure that we all agree that they should do so if we are effectively to build a cohesive, inclusive and just society, which is a goal that we all share. Sadly, we are not at a point as a society where such criticism is likely to be taken at face value and treated neutrally; nor has it been. But such faith-based schools serving the Muslim communities, like Jewish and other faith-based schools, are themselves an important statement of the full inclusion of the communities they serve within British society. As such, it would be better if they were included within the maintained system. Then they would be required to offer the national curriculum and, I would hope, broad based religious education as well as a thoughtful induction into their own religious beliefs. We are working towards a broad framework of RE. I know that this is a matter of active debate and concern.

If Clauses 64 and 65 of this Bill serve to encourage such diversity, even where the local education authority may have its doubts, I am in favour of them. But it does look a bit back-handed. As I understand it, normally, if there is a perceived need for a new school or an amalgamated school, there will have to be a local advertisement and a competition inviting bids from potential providers. But there will be circumstances where the Secretary of State can decide otherwise. Is this not a removal of local decision-making, running against the admirable trend of the 1998 Act and of other education legislation including parts of this Bill? We need to hear more about why the Secretary of State must make decisions that would make it unnecessary to invite local potential school providers to enter a competition and how she is likely to make the decisions.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Hanningfield

I shall move a series of amendments associated with these issues in a moment. But I would like to comment on one point made by the right reverend Prelate. He said that sometimes legal officers rule that representatives of the Church of England, the Catholic and other churches, on the school organisation committee are not allowed to participate, particularly to vote. That is sometimes also the rule for elected members. An elected member cannot speak or vote on the school which is to be established or reorganised in his or her area. Sometimes it also applies to governors of schools. Therefore, often electorates are unrepresented because their elected members cannot speak for them because they have, not a pecuniary interest, but an interest. It makes several of the school reorganisation proposals sometimes very difficult for local members, governors and Church representatives to speak about. I wanted to add that to the pot because it is a problem in terms of people being able to represent the views of others on school organisation matters. Can the Minister comment on those points about representation?

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

Before this debate finishes I wish to make a couple of very quick points. Those made by the right reverend Prelate about rural areas are very important indeed in terms of the sparsity of population and the impact that school closures can have in those areas and the creation of new schools. We need to be very careful in particular about cross-border issues between England and Wales.

If a new school was created, for example, in Oswestry in Shropshire, that might have quite an impact on the situation in Powys. If the local education authorities were not involved, it could cause an organisational crisis. By the same token, there is a school in Presteigne in Radnorshire which takes a lot of pupils from Shropshire. Although the amendments we are dealing with refer to England, I am sure the Minister can understand that decisions made without consultation with local authorities could have some very awkward consequences and need consideration.

I also note what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has just said. I certainly have experience of the local representative with no direct pecuniary interest in a school being unable to make representations which impinge on his or her geographical area, which might be very material indeed to the school structure.

Lord Dearing

Does the Minister wish to reply to the point about school organisation committees at this point? If not, I shall intervene and, in order to keep my interventions to a minimum, I shall speak on a block of four amendments—this amendment and the next three—which deal with one issue; that is, the involvement of local authorities

I must declare interests. As the right reverend Prelate has already mentioned, I was the chair of a committee that proposed an extra 100 Church of England secondary schools. I am also a vice-president of the Local Government Association. That has enabled me to see the operation from both sides and to see how well, in general, local authorities collaborate with, for example, the Churches.

In relation to Clauses 64 and 65, I want to point out the advantage of involving local authorities, as has been proposed by the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Front Benches. Local authorities uniquely have a strategic view and understanding of the needs of the community and a responsibility to see that the community is well served. That predisposes me to think that the amendment to Clause 64, which I believe comes from the liberal side in particular, and which states that local authorities should be consulted before proposals are published, is valid. I also refer to Clause 65(2) and the provision that local authorities should be able to put forward proposals for community schools at the same time as others do so, and to the provision in, I believe, Clause 65(6), requiring local authorities to be consulted about regulations; those provisions have a good deal of advantage. Local authorities have knowledge and can make a valid contribution. The Government do not have sufficient knowledge to make the best possible decision without the input of local authorities. Therefore, I hope the Government will look sympathetically and constructively at the amendments that have been put forward by the two Front Benches on these matters.

Lord Filkin

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth for speaking to his proposals en bloc, I hope that he will bear with me if I respond when we come to each proposal. Otherwise, I shall have to respond twice and I might contradict myself, which would be clumsy. I have the greatest respect for the way that the right reverend Prelate has resisted great temptation on other Bills and I respect the courage with which he did that on a certain Bill; he knows the Bill to which I am referring.

I can categorically confirm that there will be proper consultation. There is no need for provisions on the face of the Bill. It is normal and proper practice to consult interested parties on draft regulations and guidance. On the matters covered by these clauses, we would always consult with local authorities and dioceses, as well as with teacher and head teacher organisations, governor representatives and others, including foundation and voluntary school organisations.

On the specific concerns raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp of Guildford, the Secretary of State would consider any representations made to her before giving her consent to the publication of proposals for new secondary schools without the need for proposals to be invited from other promoters. Before reaching her decision, she would consider whether she had sufficient information on which to base it. She would seek the views of interested parties, including the local authority, where necessary. She would do so for good reasons: it is proper government and, defensively, because she would be open to judicial review if she did not do so. If she decided that a competition was not necessary, proposals would be published in the normal way, following consultation in the area, and there would be an opportunity for interested parties to comment and object.

Some of the noble Baronesses' concerns were shared by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and I made clear that local authorities and others will be consulted on regulations and guidance. The illustrative regulations have already been made available to your Lordships and show the provisions under consideration. Guidance of its nature is less significant than legislation and would not normally be considered by Parliament. We do not think that it should be. By its nature, guidance changes after proper consultation. Legislation, both primary and secondary, has not normally dealt with guidance. I cannot think of a case where we have dealt with it, although guidance has often informed the legislative process.

The provision to have regard to guidance is common in education legislation. The requirements in these provisions mirror those in the School Standards and Framework Act applying to proposals for other changes in the organisation of schools. The existing guidance to school organisation committees and adjudicators is publicly available on the department's website. The factors considered significant for decisions on new schools include the effect on standards, the contribution to school improvement, the need for places, whether the proposals represent a cost-effective use of public funds and the views of interested parties. But we shall consult on draft guidance in respect of these provisions alongside draft regulations.

I was asked about Welsh local authorities affected by the proposals for new schools in England. The illustrative regulations accompanying the Bill make clear that invitations for proposals must be sent to all local authorities that might be affected. That would include local authorities in Wales, were they to be so affected.

I hope that this has been helpful and has clarified the points behind these probing amendments.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I am grateful to the Minister for his reassuring reply. It is helpful to have on the record the fact that the Secretary of State would consult these authorities. None of the amendments proposed that Parliament should be consulted, only that local authorities should be consulted as appropriate. That seems to me to be reasonable.

This is the same old business that we come across all the time in the discussion of amendments. We have assurances from the Minister that consultation will take place, but there are occasions when it is useful to reinforce that message by having it in the Bill. I would have thought that one reference to consultation in this series of clauses would be helpful. This is an issue that we may come back to on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 64 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Hanningfield

A series of amendments were tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The Minister has given some answers to them that may cover the amendments to which I am now speaking. One does not have time to catch all the answers given by the Minister, so I may be covering some of the same territory, but some of the points are new.

Clause 64 introduces a new section in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said earlier. It deals with proposals for the establishment of new secondary schools by local education authorities and other persons with the consent of the Secretary of State. As the Bill stands, there is scant detail of how this clause will work in practice, as was mentioned in the debate that we have just had. Furthermore, I found the Explanatory Notes less than useful in this context. Therefore, I have a number of comments and questions that I wish to pose to the Minister.

The clause would allow private promoters to set up new foundation or voluntary schools. This sounds suspiciously like Conservative Party policy, and I am flattered that the Government have acknowledged the merits of including it in this part of the Bill. Unsurprisingly, we support the idea that an organisation other than the stale should be allowed to set up and run a new school with funding provided by the state. We believe that this can assist parents and pupils by providing a greater choice of schools and range of curriculum on offer in a local area. The Minister said something similar in his recent reply.

However, I would be grateful if the Minister would expand on how he sees such a measure working in practice. It will be interesting to understand the relationship between such promoter schools and those in the maintained sector, as well as the process for setting them up. Will he also mention the funding of these schools? How will the capital and the annual revenue funding be realised?

Furthermore, how many proposals does the Minister envisage will be received from promoters under this clause on, say, an annual basis? More importantly, how many does he think will be given permission to go ahead? Can the Minister describe the proposed criteria on which each promoter will be judged? Also, who will give the final go-ahead and approval that a new school can be established under such terms?

4 p.m.

Equally, from my reading of the Bill, the measure would also allow a successful LEA to open an affiliate of a successful school in a neighbouring borough— something that could be encouraged—financed with money from that borough's schools budget. That may be welcome progress towards more choice but, again, can the Minister expand on how he sees the measure working in practice?

I also have several specific queries relating to this part. Proposed new Section 28(4) states: Proposals under this section shall … contain such information, and … be published in such manner, as may be prescribed". The obvious questions are: what kind of information are we talking about and in what manner should it be published? Can the Minister tell us if any consultation has been undertaken on this part of the legislation?

Is the noble Lord's department actively discussing these proposals with representatives of local government and, indeed, with other parties who may wish to submit proposals to set up a new school? Furthermore, the relevant LEA or promoter must consult any person whom it considers appropriate under this clause. Again, it would be useful if the Minister could give some indication of the groups the Government have in mind under this subsection.

I believe it is very important that in such circumstances local people and parents are not only made aware of such proposals but that they have an opportunity to have a say over the provision of any new school. Will the Minister therefore consider placing in the Bill an assurance that local people must, as a matter of course, be consulted on any proposals for a new school? I have declared my own local government interest many times. I have been involved in many public meetings where we have put proposals for new schools to parents and so on, and one assumes that the Government would wish that to continue.

In addition, I should like the Minister to explain the impact of the changes detailed in Schedule 12. Once again, I am sorry to say that I found the Explanatory Notes less than helpful in this regard, and that is why I found it necessary to question whether Clause 69 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, I have also given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clauses 64 and 69 stand part of the Bill, and I want to add to what the noble Lord said. There is concern about the new proposals in Clause 64, which effectively substitutes Section 28 of the School Standards and Framework Act. It is felt that perhaps undue preference is being given to the independent foundation schools and that there is no level playing field with local authority proposals. We shall come to that in a moment when I talk about my small amendment to Clause 65.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, we are concerned that the Government want to overthrow the rather successful involvement of local people in the decisions over new schools in terms of the school organisation committee and, to some extent, to change the rules which have worked quite well over the past few years. Therefore, we echo very much the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. We want to understand a little more what the Government have in mind here and why they are moving in this direction.

Lord Filkin

This is a good and proper probing debate as part of the clause stand part process. As I have already explained, the aim of this part of the Bill is to extend the requirement for local authorities to invite promoters to come forward with proposals to establish new schools so that it applies wherever statutory proposals are needed to establish a new secondary school. Clause 64 inserts a new section after Section 28 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to provide that local authorities and promoters in England may publish proposals for new secondary schools with the consent of the Secretary of State without the requirement to invite proposals under Clause 65.

The clause is complementary to Clauses 63 and 65, which, together with this clause, provide that proposals for new secondary schools may be published only with the consent of the Secretary of State or in response to a notice by the local authority inviting proposals.

The effect of removing the clause while Clause 63 is retained would be that all new secondary schools would have to go through the invitation-to-bid process, but of course that was not the literal effect of opposing the Question that the clause stand part. We believe that there are some circumstances in which this would be unnecessary or, indeed, counterproductive. We envisage that it would occur in a limited range of circumstances where it was clear that the objectives of increasing the quality and diversity provision could be met without the need for an invitation for other proposals.

An example would be where there is a failing school and the local partners, in concert with expert advisers, decide that the best way forward is a collaborative restart of the school with a particular character and ethos. Another example could be an independent school coming into the maintained sector. We also think that, in many circumstances—

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

For information, can the Minister tell me whether I am right in thinking that these proposals do not apply to schools which have been put into special measures and which therefore might be regarded as failing schools?

Lord Filkin

That is correct. They would apply only if a school were to be closed and therefore if there were a need for a new school to replace it.

To continue, we also think that in many circumstances it might be appropriate for proposals to be brought forward to replace a non-denominational school with a school with a religious character where diversity in the area was low, for example, and all parties agreed that that was the best way forward.

We would also be likely to consider an invitation to others to bring forward proposals to be unnecessary where an independent promoter proposed a new school to increase diversity, rather than in response to a local authority's need to reorganise.

Similarly, if the local diocese, either Roman Catholic or Church of England, wished to rationalise provision in the area—perhaps because of falling rolls—it would seem to make sense if that could take place without the need to invite competitive proposals from other promoters.

However, we suspect that in most cases it will be appropriate for a local authority to publish a notice inviting other providers to bring forward proposals for new secondary schools under the arrangements put in place by Clause 65 and for the reasons to which we referred in our earlier debate.

Clause 69 provides for Schedule 12 to contain further amendments relating to proposals for the establishment, alteration or discontinuance of schools. The schedule updates previous legislation to take account of the provisions of this Bill, especially to include proposals published under new Section 28A of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 inserted by Clause 64 or under Clause 65, and to include those published under Clause 65 and to remove references to Section 70 of the Education Act 2002.

In particular, it changes the definition of "middle school" so that the upper age becomes a specified age above 12 rather than simply an age over 12. For the purpose of these provisions, Clause 63 defines "secondary school" as including a middle school in respect of which the upper age is at least 16. We referred to that earlier.

Schedule 7 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 is replaced by Clause 66. In Schedule 11 to this Bill in respect of England, changes are also made to make it clear that it now refers only to Wales and that powers are to be exercised by the Assembly. These amendments are necessary in order to take account of the new provisions, although I regret that they are not always easy to understand at a first hearing.

I shall now do my best to answer the 10 or 11 difficult questions, if I recollect correctly, posed by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. He asked who would give the final go-ahead or who would make the final decision. The answer is that the decision would be taken locally either by the school organisation committee or the adjudicator. On the question of the number to be set up, we expect up to 20 a year to be established. We have no idea how many bids there would be for each of those 20.

The noble Lord asked what information the proposals will contain and how it will be published. That is set out in the illustrative regulations, which are already with the House, and they might be worth a glimpse, although perhaps not a full read.

I was asked on what criteria the decisions would be made. We shall set them out in guidance, on which we shall consult. The Secretary of State and adjudicators will be expected to consider all proposals on their merits, taking into account such factors as their likely contribution to raising standards and increasing diversity. The first is the central thrust of the Bill and the latter is the central part of this part of the Bill.

The principle underlying the policy is that all new parties should have the same opportunity to bring forward proposals when new schools are required—in other words, a level playing field. The Bill envisages a two-stage process. First, the local authority will publish a preliminary notice inviting promoters to put forward proposals for a new school. Secondly, the local authority will publish all the proposals received along with any proposals of its own for a new community or foundation school.

Detailed procedures for the publication of the preliminary notice of proposals of promoters will be set in the regulations. The regulations provide that the promoters will have four months from the date of the preliminary notice to put their proposals together, or more if a local education authority wishes to specify a longer period. During this time the local education authority may prepare any proposals of its own.

Following the end of the four-month period the local authority has three weeks to publish the proposals received and any of its own. There then follows a six-week period in which people may offer objections to the proposals. After that period the local authority has one week in which to refer the proposals to the school organisation committee to make the decision, or to the school adjudicator where the Secretary of State has directed that the adjudicator should decide on the proposals. These arrangements will ensure that all parties have the same opportunities to put their proposals together, and that all proposals are subject to the same public scrutiny and, it is to be hoped, a fair application of the criteria against them.

How will the schools be funded? Promoters will be invited to bring forward proposals for foundation schools, voluntary-aided schools or academies, and these will all be funded in the usual way. Recurrent funding will come via the local authority. Capital funding will come from the local authority and the Secretary of State and promoters as appropriate.

I am sure that I have not covered every one of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, but I will spot those I have not answered and write to him.

Lord Hanningfield

I thank the Minister for his answers. When he talked about the four months for preparation of plans and then a certain amount of time that people can object to those plans, I questioned how local people were to be involved. At the moment there are local meetings to which parents can go. Plans do not necessarily need to be published but there needs to be some kind of format in which people can discuss them. Does the Minister envisage how people can be well informed about these alternative plans so that people can make observations and decide whether to object to or approve the plans?

Lord Filkin

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is right. The purpose of the local authority being required—in the process that I described—to publish all the proposals after it has received them is clearly for the purpose he indicates. It is so that local people have the opportunity to look at them, read them if they wish to and engage with them.

He is also right that some local people will find it adequate to get the proposals off a website or get a paper copy. They will be able to engage with the proposals and put in their views. Many other local people—for a variety of reasons—might prefer to have the opportunity of a briefing about the proposals and a discussion with either the local authority or the proposers about what is put forward.

We will need to give thought to what extent it is necessary in regulations and guidance to be specific about what local authorities should be doing to involve local people in commenting on proposals. But it is absolutely fundamental that local people must have full and adequate opportunity of commenting on those proposals before the decisions are considered by either the school organisation committee or the adjudicator. That is part of why we are trying to get these issues taken into the local level, so that local people have more of an opportunity for engagement.

Let me reflect on the extent to which we put this matter into regulations. I do not think we should ever go to quite the level of saying that a certain number of meetings should be organised, but certainly there should be the principle of a proper engagement of local people in understanding the issues and choices to be made, and giving them the opportunity to comment. I hope that is helpful.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

May I ask the Minister, in so far as he reflects on this issue, to take particular account of cases where proposals are published just before the summer holidays? Often, inevitably, consultation takes the form of meetings arranged at schools, and so on. If you have a limited period for consultation, that cannot happen during the six weeks of the summer holidays. That timing often limits the degree to which local people can get involved.

Lord Filkin

Yes, I am very happy to do so.

Lord Hanningfield

I thank the Minister for all that information, which we need to digest. I repeat that, with local authorities these days, for any new scheme—even a minor road scheme—presentations tend be put on in local village halls, and so on, so that people can go and look. Life has changed a lot in the past few years about how the public want to be involved in these matters. I agree that you do not want to prescribe exactly what should happen about the consultation, but there certainly needs to be in both regulation and guidance enough strength to make certain that local people are involved in the decision-making process.

I hope that the Minister will reflect on this part of the debate and give it some thought before we come back to it.

Clause 64 agreed to.

4.15 p.m.

Clause 65 [Proposals for new secondary schools in England]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 125BA: Page 39, line 8, at end insert— () a community school The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 125BA is fairly small and is in many senses a probing amendment. Clause 65 is about proposals for new secondary schools. It states: The following schools fall within this subsection … a foundation school; … a voluntary school;… an Academy". It goes on to state that it includes community schools. That comes back to the point I made in relation to the previous discussion on Clause 64 stand part. To what degree are the Government not creating a level playing field between community schools and other schools?

The impression gained from some government publications is that the Government want to see foundation schools, more voluntary-aided schools and academies but that they do not want to see community schools established. Yet in many areas—and again I stress that many of the proposals are London-centric, or metropolitan-centric—community secondary schools are serving their communities very well and do not want to be foundation schools. They want to have the local authority behind them—the strategic authorities—and have no wish to change their status.

The question is why a straight community school should not be considered among these new proposals. I beg to move.

Lord Filkin

I hope that I can be both brief and helpful. Our intention is to ensure that promoters and local education authorities have the opportunity to publish proposals to establish schools on an equal footing. That is the heart of the policy—that all parties should have the same opportunity to bring forward proposals when new schools are required.

The procedure envisaged in Clause 65 is as follows. Where a local authority identifies the need for a school it must publish the preliminary notice inviting proposals. The notice will specify the period for which submissions must come in. At the end of the period the local authority has to publish the proposals.

At the same time the local authority may also publish proposals of its own. The local authority does not have to advertise to itself that it can submit a proposal because it knows that it is advertising for other proposals. If the local authority wishes to make a proposal it brings it in on the same timetable as the other proposals, and it is published with any other proposals received. There follows the period in which local people have the opportunity to make representations. The proposal then goes to the decision-making process.

The regulations make clear that all proposals will be published and considered in the same way whether they are put forward by promoters or by the local authority. According to the procedure I have described, once the local authority has published a preliminary notice it will have the same amount of time in which to prepare any proposal for a community foundation school as promoters will have to prepare their proposals. All the proposals will be published at the same time and subject to the same level of scrutiny by local people and then the decision will be taken by the school organisation committee or adjudicator.

I hope that is helpful and clarifies the intention of there being a level playing field, and that local authorities clearly can put forward their proposals in the format I have described.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the situation. I think that I understand it better as a result of what he has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hanningfield

moved Amendment No. 125C: Page 39, line 23, after "may" insert "at the same time or subsequently The noble Lord said: This set of amendments is intended to clarify the situation and to add to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. We wanted in Amendment No. 125C—and I hope the noble Lord will confirm this—to ensure that the local authority would not be disadvantaged in putting forward proposals for a new school. A Member of the Committee referred to a level playing field. The amendment seeks to establish the principle that a local authority is a legitimate proposer and able to compete with all the other proposers.

The competitive process for a new school should allow for all proposals to be discussed and consulted on in an open and transparent manner to ensure that local communities are fully aware of all the options and how all proposers, including the local authority, can have the opportunity to propose diverse provision in a locality. It is important that the local authority is able to present its work with partners as a comparator with other proposers if it wishes to do so.

Local authorities are moving more and more into all sorts of partnerships. They are developing community schools and what we have referred to previously in the legislation as extended schools, which tend to support the family, along the lines of the Children Act. Therefore, the proposers of new schools would probably be local authorities in line.

Do the Government believe that it is important that local people, if they want, can accept local authority maintained schools as well as other options? Local authorities have a strategic role to ensure that there is sufficient provision of a suitable nature for all children and young people in the area. That provision remains.

Moving on, Amendment No. 126 is designed to probe the timetable, on which I think the Minister gave a satisfactory answer in his previous response.

Finally, Amendment No. 126A ensures that the Secretary of State may require the information required by all proposers and not just the local authority. It seeks to confirm the principle that the local authority is able to act as a proposer for a new school on a level playing field with other proposals.

Any proposer should be able to demonstrate how its proposal will link with the strategies of the local authority and its partners—back to this increased amount of partnership activity. Having another promoter potentially introduces another stakeholder dimension to the local partnership arrangements. Local authorities will need confidence in their ability to ensure that any relationship will benefit the locality and not add an unnecessary layer of complication to existing partnership arrangements. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My name is associated with that of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, on Amendments Nos. 125C and 126A. I want to reinforce his message that there is a feeling that perhaps there is not a level playing field and that local authorities are drawing the short straw over these proposals. We seek a reassurance from the Minister that there will be fairness in relation to the local authorities and that they are seen as real partners working with the local community for the local community in bringing forward new proposals.

Lord Filkin

With the leave of the Committee, I shall speak relatively succinctly because we covered much of the heart of these probing amendments in the previous group. I repeat and re-emphasise that we think it is right and proper that there should be more choice for local people to comment on. and more choice for school organisation committees to make decisions on, when new schools are provided or are to be provided. The purpose is not some abstract theory but to see whether local people and school organisation committees have a better opportunity to make a judgment about which proposal gives them greatest confidence and will raise standards and produce good outcomes for children in that area, because that is what local people want.

But—and it is a clear "but"—that means it is completely open to the local authority, if it wishes, to put in its own proposal for a maintained school. As the Committee knows, the decision on which school to choose, after local people have expressed their views by a proper process of consultation, will be made either by the school organisation committee or, if it cannot decide, the local adjudicator. So these decisions are retained at local level.

On Amendment No. 126A, I can assure the Committee that the legislation already fulfils the intention of the amendment, in that the illustrative regulations set out the procedures for both publication of a notice inviting proposals for a new secondary school and the procedures for publishing the proposal received.

Regulation 5 makes provision for the publication of a notice inviting proposals; that is, a notice published under subsection (1). Subsection (3) sets out the matters to be prescribed in regulations. Regulation 9 makes provision for the subsequent publication of proposals submitted to the local education authority, as envisaged in subsection (6).

I hope that noble Lords will agree that the illustrative regulations make sensible provision for the publication of preliminary notices and proposals for new secondary schools and therefore will feel minded to withdraw their amendment.

Lord Hanningfield

With the past few amendments we have had a lot of information. I thank the Minister for his extensive replies. We need to go away and digest it, to see whether it covers our concerns and whether we might need to return to some aspects later. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 126 to 126B not moved.]

Lord Filkin

moved Amendment No. 127: Page 39, line 35, at end insert— (8A) Where any proposals published under this section relate to a school which is proposed to be situated in an area other than that of the local education authority who published the notice under this section, the provisions of Schedule 10 shall have effect in relation to the proposals with such modifications as may be prescribed. The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 127 provides for a regulation-making power so that the provisions of Schedule 10 may be modified where it is proposed to establish a school in an area other than the area of the local authority which published the notice inviting proposals. Such a situation might arise, for example, where a local authority identifies the need for a school in an area bordering that of a neighbouring authority and the most suitable site for the school happens to be physically located in the neighbouring authority.

In those circumstances it would be for the authority publishing the proposals to secure the ownership of the site as necessary. We would expect such a situation to arise exceptionally, but we think it is important to ensure that if it does arise the procedures for dealing with proposals establish clear ownership of the decision of the school organisation committee for the local authority area that will maintain the school. We also want to ensure that appropriate account is taken of the views of the school organisation committee for the area where the school is to be situated.

Existing legislation governing the establishment of schools already contains a regulation-making power which permits the modification of the schedule governing the procedures when dealing with proposals. Regulations made under that section modify the schedule to provide, for example, that the school organisation committee for the local authority in which the school is to be situated considers the proposals and makes recommendations to the school organisation committee for the local authority which is proposed to maintain the school. If the views of the two school organisation committees differ, the proposals must be referred to the school adjudicator to decide.

The intention behind the amendment is to replicate the regulation-making power contained in the 1998 Act. The omission of such a power from the original drafting was unintentional. The Committee may wish to note that new Section 28 A of the 1998 Act, inserted by Clause 64, provides for such a power in relation to proposals for new schools, published by local authorities and promoters for the Secretary of State's consent.

The alternative to providing a regulation-making power would be to make separate provision in the Bill for proposals to establish a school in an area other than the area of the local authority inviting proposals. We believe that a regulation-making power is more appropriate. I also refer the Committee to Schedule 5 to the Education (School Organisation Proposals) (England) Regulations 1999, as amended, which contain modifications to Schedule 6 to the 1998 Act that we expect to replicate.

4.30 p.m.

Amendment No. 131 does nothing more than remedy a drafting error. Amendment No. 132 inserts a new sub-paragraph (9)(b) in paragraph 4 of Schedule 7 to the 1998 Act in substitution of the existing sub-paragraph. The Bill makes several amendments to Schedule 7 so that it applies only to school organisation proposals published by the National Assembly for Wales. Comparable provision for proposals published by the Secretary of State for England is now made in Schedule 11 to the Bill. Amendment No. 132 supersedes the amendments to sub-paragraph (9)(b) originally contained in sub-paragraph (6)(c) of paragraph 13 of Schedule 12 to the Bill. I am sure that that is clear.

Amendments Nos. 154 and 155 are consequential on Amendment No. 132. They delete repeal of some of the wording of sub-paragraph (9)(b) of paragraph 4 of Schedule 7 to the 1998 Act contained in Schedule 19. Those repeals are superfluous, as Amendment No. 132 repeals the sub-paragraph in its entirety, substituting a new sub-paragraph in its place.

I regret that that is so complex; no doubt, it will become clearer on perusal of Hansard. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 65, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 10 [Proposals under section 65 for establishment of secondary schools: supplementary]:

Lord Hanningfield

moved Amendment No. 127ZA: Page 97, line 33, leave out paragraph 3. The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I really want to speak to Amendment No. 128, which is the last in the group.

The school organisation committee is a statutory body established under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 that meets to approve the school organisation plan, which encompasses the planned provision of school places by the local education authority for the next five years, and has replaced the Secretary of State in making decisions about school reorganisations, new schools, closures and so on.

The typical committee meets on average once a year to approve the school organisation plan, together with other meetings as required to consider specific issues: for example, changes to standard numbers, proposals for new schools or school closures. As we heard from the right reverend Prelate, each committee is made up of a number of representatives from a variety of sources: the local education authority, Church of England diocesan representatives, Roman Catholic Church diocesan representatives, the local learning and skills council and so on, and, obviously, representatives of schools, which should consist of seven school governors representing the balance of all types of schools in a local authority area, all types of governor and all geographical areas as far as possible.

Decisions about school closures are made locally by the school organisation committee. If the committee cannot decide unanimously, the proposals are referred to an independent schools adjudicator, to which reference has been made several times today.

There can be no mistaking the intention of our amendment. We believe that the days of the school organisation committees—and, indeed, of the school organisation plans, especially given the legislation proposed by the Government—are numbered. I am happy to give a firm pledge that a future Conservative government would legislate for their abolition. What might sound on paper like a sensible and rational idea has been in practice an interfering, obscure and bureaucratic mechanism.

We have heard several instances today in which people who are part of those committees cannot speak, although they have a particular knowledge and expertise in the area being discussed, because of operating practices. People cannot participate in debates when they should. Those bodies should not be making such decisions as I have described. School organisation committees are as unnecessary as they are unwelcome. The administrative time, the planning and consultation processes and the referral of plans between neighbouring LEAs, as well as the servicing of the committee itself, mean that it is a very bureaucratic and time-consuming exercise.

This is about the philosophy of how we want our education system to run in future. We believe in powers and freedoms being given to schools and schools running themselves. Research and common sense indicate that the best-performing schools are those in which the head teacher is free to make a difference and does so and in which teachers can tailor their lessons to the children in their charge and the requirements of the area in running the school. The school organisation committee applies red tape to the system.

We would also like to end the surplus places rule, so that good schools can expand to meet local demand. We want any good school that can offer a good education for the same cost as a state school to be created and set up to offer a greater choice of education in the area. Parents would have greater choice. The presence of many school places in the area would act as a spur to underperforming schools.

We need to consider the matter differently as a result of the legislation that is being proposed and to remove the bureaucratic nature of those decisions. In promoting the amendment, I am opening a debate that will, I hope, lead us to some more rational and constructive way to take those decisions. Those bodies have been around since 1998. They have not worked terribly well, from what I have seen of their operation, and their removal will only help to achieve what the Government, and everyone else, want: to make certain that there are more good schools. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

We face in a diametrically opposite direction from the Conservatives. I have made it clear that our view of education is that it is provided for a community and that nursery, primary and secondary schools must all work within a system for that community and feed through to one another. Given the community base of education, it is vital that there is some overriding authoritative guidance in that community to take decisions, such as whether a new school is needed or not. What the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, suggests leaves me with the feeling that there would be complete anarchy. Anyone who wanted to establish a new school could do so; there would be no criteria on which decisions would be taken.

I should have had more sympathy with the noble Lord if he had said that we should revert to the local education authority, rather than have this sub-committee of it set up as the school organisation committee. The school organisation committee goes slightly wider, because it includes nominated members. As I said, those bodies should represent a community, and matters should be democratically decided. The local education authority is a democratically elected authority.

Lord Hanningfield

Perhaps I should have explained that abolishing the committees would take us back to the local authority, as it did in the past, taking those decisions, except when they were controversial, when they were referred to the Secretary of State. Most decisions—probably 75 to 80 per cent of them—were taken locally by a local authority. That is what I would prefer, with exceptional decisions—which would certainly be relevant to the Bill—taken by the Secretary of State.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I have more sympathy with the notion that the provision should refer to the local education authority. There is no doubt that on occasions there were difficulties regarding local authorities taking decisions. Rather than going to the Secretary of State for a decision, having the adjudicator available has had some advantages. We believe that the school organisation committee has worked reasonably well and is in tune with local feelings. I should be worried about the relative anarchy of the Conservative Party proposals.

Baroness Andrews

That was an interesting debate between the two Front Benches. I am grateful for the welcome by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to the school organisation committee. We believe that it is working. I did not recognise the picture put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, although I acknowledge his great practical experience in this field.

The amendments and the proposed new clause would remove the duty on local education authorities to establish SOCs and the Secretary of State's power to appoint schools adjudicators. The remaining consequential amendments would delete from Schedule 10 the paragraphs for dealing with the other procedures for deciding proposals. Those include procedures for the referral of proposals to the school organisation committee and the adjudicator in certain circumstances; and for consultation with the Secretary of State on proposals for academies. Deleting those paragraphs would mean that the Bill makes no provision for proposals published under Clause 65 to be decided, except where the local education authority alone had published proposals.

The adjudicator also decides cases of contentious admissions arrangements that are referred to him. The amendment, therefore, would also disadvantage parties with an interest in admissions in the area, including parents. For example, it would not be possible to refer objections to schools admissions arrangements to the adjudicator, as is provided for in Section 90 of the 1998 Act.

For all those reasons, I ask the noble Lord to reflect on the history of the organisation committees and the local and independent decision-taking that they represent. Before those decision-making arrangements were introduced by the School Standards and Framework Act in 1998, decisions on statutory proposals were commonly taken by Ministers in the Department for Education. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to that phenomenon. The improvement that we sought in the process reflected the importance we attach to local and independent decision-making. That has a long history in this country. All parties when in power have hitherto seen a need for regulation of changes to schools, in particular the opening and closing of schools. This system is a development of the system put in place in 1944. That has involved consultation, publication of proposals in a local newspaper, opportunity for interested parties to object and a decision by a third party.

We established the system in 1998 following pledges that decisions on schools would be devolved to local level. There was widespread consultation and agreement on that. The constitution of the SOCs was designed carefully to give equal representation to all the local stakeholders including the LEA which has the statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient school places; schools themselves, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, pointed out; the local Church of England and Roman Catholic dioceses, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out; and the local learning and skills council.

4.45 p.m.

We believe that such decisions should be made at local level by key education stakeholders who would understand local issues and would be able to take a balanced view of competing arguments. They would also ensure that there was local ownership of important decisions affecting the local community.

Local knowledge and the ability to balance competing arguments will be important when deciding between a number of different proposals. We have the five representative bodies. There is also the possibility of a sixth group to represent particular local interests—community groups, for example, or district councils. Indeed, about a fifth of the SOCs have that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, pointed out, over the past five years, the evidence is clear that in practice they are working in fair and effective ways.

Perhaps I may give a few statistics. Of the proposals which went to the SOC for decision—not all do so if the local authority is unanimous in its decision—just over 90 per cent were approved unanimously. Only 1 per cent were rejected. The remainder were referred to the adjudicator to determine. We believe—I think that I can pray in aid the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth—that the system is working well. It has followed guidance which is expansive, clear and generous in its interpretation of all the issues which have to be taken into account. It has provided a sensible route for taking decisions which affect the organisation of local schools and education.

The noble Baroness used the term "anarchy". My speaking notes refer to "virtual anarchy". The noble Lord sees the proposal as a return of control to local authorities. We cannot be sure. We see the proposal as the abolition of a system which is working well. It would benefit no one as competing interests fight over local decisions and a return to centralised decision-making in Whitehall. We do not see the system as interfering or bureaucratic but as making sensible decisions on a proportionate basis. We all agree that we owe it to our children to do our best to ensure that the schools system delivers equity and quality for all. While we are not complaisant, we have heard no clamour for change. Of course, things do go wrong in certain committees; we are aware of that. The department is alert to that. But we are not aware of a barrage of complaints. Far from being complaisant, we continue to monitor the arrangements. We take account of the extent to which they deliver good outcomes.

I hope that we can agree that some such arrangements are necessary and that it is not practicable for schools to be set up without proper consideration of their viability or the educational and social needs of the area. As the Committee is aware, we are extending the contestability arrangements; and we propose to extend delegation further to ensure that decisions taken under the present arrangements by the Secretary of State will be taken by the local SOC and in some circumstances the school's adjudicator. The sections of the 1998 Act requiring the publication of proposals for changes to schools would remain; and they would require the proposals to be sent to the SOC for decision. Those proposing such changes could not decide the proposals for themselves and no alternative decision-maker would exist.

The noble Lord has referred to the removal of the school organisation plans. The Children Act 2004 repealed the requirement to produce the school organisation plan alongside a number of other plans. It also provides for regulations requiring a children's services authority to produce a single plan. We look forward to rationalising local authority planning requirements. We aim to commence these provisions shortly. The fact that we have done that does not invalidate the other work of the SOC.

I draw on the spirit in which the right reverend Prelate introduced his remarks. Decisions this important should not rest in the hands of a single body or group of individuals. A range of stakeholders must be involved in the ownership of those decisions. That is what we have in the SOCs. The balance of interests, whether reflected in the choice of the establishment of a new school or the closure of an old school, involves decisions which have huge implications for families and children. It is important that a range of voices can be heard. We believe that school organisation committees do that job well. On that basis, we fervently hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Will the Minister remind us what role school organisation committees will play in relation to academies? Will there be a normal choice process with academies, or will they be, to some extent, excluded and given a fast track?

Baroness Andrews

Our departmental intelligence has just confirmed that academies will not come up before a school organisation committee. If the noble Baroness wishes, I can confirm that in writing.

Lord Hanningfield

I have probably been associated with this problem for too long, as I have been involved in school reorganisation for more than 20 years. During the five years in which I was chairman of a local authority education committee—Essex is very large; it has 800 schools—I reorganised, amalgamated or changed more than 400 schools without any problem. It was all done by agreement with schools, parents or the public. It is good to have a wider debate on a controversial proposal; that always happened previously. Much is now deferred and made more bureaucratic because simple things take much longer to achieve.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, hit the nail on the head when she said that academies would not refer to school organisation committees. The committees will not have a big part to play in those new schools, which will be established by outside bodies and will therefore be separate from much of the process. I envisage that the bureaucratic nature of school organisation committees will handicap good local authorities in what they should be doing anyway. These days, local authorities have various checks and balances, such as comprehensive performance assessments, Ofsted inspections and so on. Obviously, partners should always been involved, but you do not need a school organisation committee to do that. Certainly, when I was involved in the process, such a body was never necessary: the two diocesan boards were more involved than the local authority at times, if they had an interest in a proposal.

Unfortunately, we are now creating legislation to cover one or two bad instances. Sometimes we slow things up or stop the process when it is working fairly well. I would like a return to the good old days of school organisation whereby we get on with things rather than have a bureaucratic body distorting the process. Perhaps we need to look at how the committees operate and how the process can be speeded up.

The schools adjudicator is probably the most unpopular person in my county, because he must decline parents' applications to schools. Unfortunately, people think that the schools adjudicator is part of the local authority. A headline in the East Anglian Daily Times once called for the abolition of the local authority, in response to something that the schools adjudicator had said. It was assumed that the schools adjudicator was part of the local authority.

I am sorry to raise my own personal experience in the context of these issues, but it illustrates why, when legislating to change the system, we must ensure that it will work well. That is why we tabled the amendment today. Perhaps it was not exactly right; such provisions need to be developed to cater for new situations. I shall reflect on the matter again before Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 127ZB not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Elton)

I assume that Amendment No. 127A is not moved. Amendment No. 127AA has been spoken to.

[Amendment No. 127AA not moved.]

Lord Hanningfield

moved Amendment No. 127B: Page 98, line 45, at end insert "and should set out criteria for determining whether a case is to be referred to the adjudicator The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 127B would ensure that criteria are set out to determine when cases should be sent to the adjudicator. As I said, the adjudicator in my county was quite unpopular.

It is currently unclear in what circumstances the result of a competition should be referred to the adjudicator. It is essential that the regulations are workable and proportionate. For example, if promoters have been unsuccessful, it must not be possible for them to refer a decision to the adjudicator because they do not agree with it, only on the grounds that the process was unfair. We would not want referrals to the adjudicator unduly to exacerbate local community uncertainty about proposed decisions.

The role of the adjudicator and the criteria on which he will operate require much more detailed consideration. Those who have had a proposal rejected may have a strong perspective on their approach to education and there will therefore be a need to ensure that any process is transparent. Local authorities and their partners are required to make difficult decisions on behalf of local communities. Assurance must be given that that does not unduly heighten uncertainties among local communities over a protracted timescale. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My name is also attached to the amendment. I wish to reinforce what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has said. This is another example of a tendency in the Bill, which I referred to earlier, to require the Secretary of State to issue guidance. In this case, the Secretary of State must set the criteria by which the adjudicator should operate. Yet we have no guarantee that we will have a chance to see the guidance issued to the adjudicator.

Amendment No. 127B was originally preceded by Amendment No. 127A. I am not sure whether we will return to it.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

The answer to the noble Baroness's question is yes. I apologise that in our enthusiasm we have leapfrogged Amendment No. 127A.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I shall leave my remarks at that. This is another example of where it would be very reasonable to set out in the schedule, which is not part of the Bill, the criteria for determining whether a case should be referred to the adjudicator. On occasion, the Secretary of State will require that. We want to know what criteria the Secretary of State will use in those circumstances.

Lord Filkin

Just when I thought that we were making progress, I find that we are about to go backwards again. The illustrative regulations made available to the Committee deal with this issue. Regulation 14 makes it clear that proposals should be referred to the adjudicator by the school organisation committee in certain circumstances. The basic circumstances that we have referred to in previous debates have been when the school organisation committee cannot reach a decision on proposals; two groups cannot vote because of a conflict of interest; the proposals are related to other proposals already being considered by the adjudicator; or the committee had failed to reach any decision within two months.

Paragraph (2)(1) gives the Secretary of State a reserve power to direct that proposals be referred to the adjudicator rather than the school organisation committee for decision. The Secretary of State might do so where there is a record of poor local decision-making in the area. Criteria for determining whether there was a record of poor local decision-making might include, for example, failure by the school organisation committee to comply with the regulations governing its own procedures; failure to check whether the proposals presented to it for decision had complied with the regulations governing their publication; disregarding statutory guidance on factors to be taken into account in decision-making; and taking decisions that are clearly unreasonable.

We do not think that those circumstances need to be set out in regulations, although we intend to consult on guidance informing interested parties on the current thinking on the use of the provision. Any decision made by the Secretary of State to make a direction would, of course, be subject to judicial review. One hopes that having the powers in the cupboard, if I can use that expression, would render their exercise unnecessary, as one finds at times.

I should explain why the power of direction should apply only to proposals published in response to a notice under Clause 65. We are satisfied that local decision-making arrangements are generally working well, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, acknowledged. This is a reserve power for use in exceptional circumstances.

We recognise, however, that school organisation committees do not have a track record in deciding between a number of competing proposals. At present they are only ever required to decide whether to approve or reject a single set of proposals to establish a school. So this is new business.

I should also make it clear that we are not proposing to give unsuccessful promoters or local education authorities the right to appeal to the adjudicator if their proposals are rejected. As I have explained, the Secretary of State may take action where there is evidence that a school organisation committee may not decide proposals impartially. Otherwise, the committee's decision would be final.

I hope that that clarifies the position and makes it unnecessary for the noble Lord to press his probing amendment.

Lord Hanningfield

We have rather put the cart before the horse here. This amendment obviously follows on from Amendment No. 127A. However, the Minister's response is helpful in that it sets out what the Government intend to do. We shall debate the earlier amendment in a moment, but we will reflect on the answer just given by the noble Lord. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

I called Amendment No. 127A earlier, at which point the Committee agreed that it should not be moved. But I understand that it was not included in the earlier group and that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, would like to move it.

Lord Hanningfield

moved Amendment No. 127A: Page 98, line 32, at end insert— () The first publication of the guidance given under sub-paragraph (b) should be approved by Parliament. The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 127A was tabled to be considered by itself. It was not grouped with any other amendments. I am prepared to move it.

A while ago we debated at length the role of school organisation committees, at which point I proposed their abolition. Both the Government and my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches argued that they are important bodies which take local decisions.

However, we fear that this Bill will allow the Secretary of State to give school organisation committees guidance to inform their acceptance or rejection of proposals put forward as the result of a competition. We feel that school organisation committees might be used as a vehicle for the Secretary of State to get her way, for example, in putting forward schools that might operate in competition with local authority schools. This may be a way of enforcing the will of the legislation rather than allowing the school organisation committees, if they are to be retained, to continue to act independently. The guidance that is to be given to these bodies will affect the entire shape of school provision in England.

It is essential that Parliament is given the opportunity to subject to full and proper scrutiny any regulation made under this critical part of Schedule 10, which is the intention of Amendment No. 127A. If we are going to tell school organisation committees how to operate, it is extremely important that Parliament is given a chance to scrutinise the regulations being placed on them. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I am delighted that Members on the Conservative Benches support this measure to promote open government. Our main purpose in supporting the amendment is because we believe in openness and transparency in government. This is yet another instance where the Secretary of State will issue guidance and regulations. We feel strongly that such measures must be debated and made open to the public.

Lord Filkin

There have been occasions when legislating when I have wished that I could go backwards. It was thought that it could not be done, but I am delighted to see that we have found a reverse gear. I shall seek to use it whenever the opportunity arises in the future.

Let me be absolutely clear. I have already signalled today that we think it really important that local people, in particular local parents, have the opportunity to express effectively their views on the alternative options for a new school. That is healthy and right, and it is therefore helpful to give parents the opportunity to consider which of the proposals that comes forward will best meet the needs of their children and deliver the life outcomes they hope to see. It follows from that that we want a fair and level playing field providing fair options and processes for decision-making by school organisation committees.

It is not our intent to skew the process one way or the other, but we do think it important to provide guidance to school organisation committees to ensure that they follow properly good and fair processes.

As I signalled earlier by making a slightly premature comment on a previous amendment, parliamentary agreement to guidance of this kind has never previously been considered necessary. For obvious reasons, the Government are not about to provide for the thousands of pieces of guidance to come before Parliament. We say that for good and proper reasons. Were that to be the case, we would need another Chamber.

However, the way in which protection is built into the system so that the Executive is not insensitive or over mighty is to take consultation very seriously indeed. Therefore I have signalled on a number of occasions that the consultation on draft guidance is already under way. I have sent Members on the Opposition Front Benches a whole range of draft guidance on this Bill—I recollect that I did so just before Christmas, to everyone's shock and horror.

Turning to the specific measure, the draft guidance has already been sent to the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf. So while I am not able to say that the Government would be agreeable to putting draft guidance through a parliamentary process, it will be available for us to consider before we have completed the legislative process. I hope that that will go a long way towards putting to rest any fears that there may be a malign plot lurking within these regulations and guidance.

I hope that my response is helpful to noble Lords.

Lord Hanningfield

I thank the Minister for his response. I agree that not everything set out in regulations can be brought before Parliament. We would need another Chamber to deal with it all. But important issues arise that involve a distinct shift of policy, affecting what happens to the structure of our schools. As I said in moving the amendment, this will affect the entire education system in England.

I hope that the Minister will think again about this because it is an important issue. There is a feeling that the level playing field might be in the process of being removed. I was tempted to test the opinion of the Committee on the matter, but I probably will not do so. However, we may reflect on it again at a later stage when we have considered the Government's thinking. We may then consider the matter again at the next stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nus. 127BA and 127BB not moved.]

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. A127C: Page 104, line 28, at end insert— "Consultation Consultation as required by this Schedule shall be at such time and of such duration as may be required so as to ensure that persons wishing to respond to consultation shall have reasonable opportunity to do so having regard in particular to the incidence of school terms and periods of school closure. The noble Baroness said: This amendment also relates to Schedule 10, the main purpose of which is to speed up the processes for establishing new schools through school organisation committees. It will replace Section 35 and Schedule 8 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, as amended by the Education Act 2002. The only requirement under Schedule 8 was that the proposal must be published, but it did not allow the legislation relating to other school changes to be used for consultation and determination of the change of category proposals. Current regulations apply these new procedures.

The current situation in relation to the establishment of, for example, a foundation school is that the governing body must submit to the school organisation committee a full analysis of the school's strengths and weaknesses, including a summary of the effect of the change on the school; the viability of the governing body; and the tenure of the school buildings, land and so forth. In the future it is proposed that, after considering all the comments and objections that are submitted, the governing body should merely determine whether the proposals shall be implemented. That will greatly reduce the administrative burden of such changes on schools.

The governing body has six months to determine whether to change the status after the closure of consultation, set a date to implement the change and inform the Secretary of State of the implementation date. The governing body cannot rescind the decision to change status but may modify the implementation date after consulting the local education authority.

The new consultation proposes that community or voluntary controlled school governing bodies must now make a proposal, publish it and allow only four weeks, not six weeks, for consultation. At the end of that period the governing body now must consider all objections and comments and determine whether the school should convert to foundation status.

It does not appear from the proposed regulations that there is anything to ensure that the four-week period does not fall in the school holidays—a point I have already raised with the Minister and the revised procedure does not require the governing body to consult before making the proposal, although it is described as "advisable" to check with the LEA what rights and liabilities might be apportioned to the school through a change of category. Once the proposal is made, the governing body is required to publish a notice in various places but it does not have to inform the LEA.

This rapid shift to foundation status has both pros and cons. We know that there are some advantages in foundation status—or there have been—in terms of independence. But, given the degree of independence that is now available to community schools, there is really remarkably little difference.

Under the heading "Freedoms and flexibilities for foundation schools", the sole example described in the consultation document issued by the Government concerns the Government's wish, to encourage foundation secondary schools to acquire foundations which will be able to appoint the majority of the governing body of the school", in addition to owning land on trust for them.

Schools may acquire a foundation in three ways: establishing a bespoke foundation; joining with two or more other schools to establish a foundation body; or through an existing charity with appropriate educational objectives acting as a foundation.

At present, where a foundation school has a foundation, the foundation may appoint at least two governors but no more than a quarter of the governing body places. It is proposed that the foundation will in future be able to appoint a majority of up to two of the governing body places. This would obviously mean a major change in the constitution of governing bodies, principally at the expense of elected parent governors. These would be reduced under the proposals from at least one-third, which is required under both the 1998 Act and the 2002 Act reconstitutions, to at least one— only one—parent governor, with the foundation governors including a sufficient number of people eligible as parent governors to make up at least one-third when counted with the parent governors. In other words, parents elected by governors would be replaced by parents appointed by the foundation. This is justified with the assertion that, experience suggests that the backing of the foundation can help strengthen a school's mission and ethos, and inject drive and dynamism into school leadership". I understand what the Government are saying but we have to beware this push towards bodies that are not democratically accountable. Increasingly we are establishing half-way bodies, such as the foundation trusts in the National Health Service, which do not have direct accountability to anyone.

The danger in this is that there is no local democratic accountability for the decisions made by foundation bodies. Indeed, local councillors cannot even be members of foundation bodies. If increasing amounts of education land and property are under the control of these bodies—or, indeed, under the control of simple foundations—it will be increasingly difficult for the local education authority to manage the education estate for the whole community. This runs counter to the Government's policy of developing extended schools and the successful implementation of the children's services agenda.

So, once again, there is a contradiction in what the Government are trying to do. There is an issue in that we are establishing bodies that have control over considerable finances, but they are bodies which are appointed rather than elected. Ultimately, we, as a country, put great store by the principle of no taxation without representation. This House has no purview over money Bills, which are for the House of Commons because it is the directly elected House. If we carry that principle forward, we have to beware of establishing new organisations which we believe to be representative but which are appointed. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Filkin

Not for the first or last time, I am slightly confused. I thought we were dealing with Amendment No. 127C, which is essentially about the consultation processes. But, unless I am mistaken, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was speaking to Amendment No. 132ZA, to which we will come later. Be that as it may, let me give the noble Baroness the benefit of the Government's response to Amendment No. 127C.

The amendment refers to consultations required by the schedule, and the schedule requires consultation only in specific and limited circumstances—for example, the school organisation committee or the adjudicator, as may be the case, is required to consult the Secretary of State on any proposals for an academy.

Persons wishing to make representations about particular statutory proposals must, of course, have a reasonable opportunity to do so, having regard to school holidays. It is for local authorities to determine the timing of the publication of all proposals submitted in response to a preliminary notice, taking into account the general requirement of Schedule 10 and the associated regulations in regard to timing.

I expect local authorities to ensure that local people have the fullest opportunity to make representations about any proposals which are published. I do not believe, however, that it is necessary to make provision for this on the face of the Bill. It is more appropriately a matter for guidance to local authorities on publishing proposals.

As I have already explained, this part of the Bill provides for a two-stage process under which local authorities first invite proposals for new schools, then publish all proposals submitted along with any proposals of their own. Those submitting proposals in response to a preliminary notice are not required to consult on their proposals.

Once promoters have submitted their proposals and they have been published by the local authority, there is a six-week period in which local people may make representations about the proposals. I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the local authority will wish to manage the process to ensure that this period does not coincide with school holidays; otherwise it will be nugatory and will not achieve the effect intended.

With that strong assurance or emphasis from me, I hope the noble Baroness will feel minded not to press Amendment No. 127C.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for that reply. As I pointed out, Schedule 10 speeds up the consultation process in regard to such issues as the establishment of foundation schools. Some would regard it as "fast-tracking" the route to foundation schools. I therefore took the opportunity to raise the issue of foundation schools, a subject to which we will return on Amendment No. 132ZA. It is an issue about which I feel strongly and I perhaps let my emotions carry me forward a little.

I thank the Minister for his response. As with everything else, I shall read very carefully what he has said on the consultation procedures. I come back to the general principle that we have already raised: it is important that these consultations are open and above board and that people are given ample time to express their views. There are occasions when it is useful to nudge the Government by having something written on the face of the Bill. For the moment, I shall withdraw the amendment, but I suspect we shall come back to these issues in some form on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 10 agreed to.

Clause 66 [Rationalisation of school places in England]:

On Question, Whether Clause 66 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Morris of Bolton

Clause 66 introduces Schedule 11 which contains provision enabling the Secretary of State to direct local education authorities in England, or the governing bodies of maintained schools, to bring forward proposals for the rationalisation of school places.

The law on rationalisation of school places first appeared in the Education Act 1993, was consolidated by the Education Act 1996 and was updated to the new school categories of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The current law on this subject in England and Wales is found in Schedule 7 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

In moving this Question, I have a simple question to lay before the House: why does the Secretary of State need the centralised powers conferred by this clause? Why does he or she need the power to demand the production of plans for the rationalisation of school places, let alone the power to impose plans of the Government's invention if none is forthcoming? Why, at a time when all parties speak of conferring more power on local schools and local parents, do we want to preserve this central prerogative, this licence for diktat?

Even successive Secretaries of State over an 11-year period seem to agree that these powers are not required. Indeed, they have yet to be exercised in relation to a single LEA. They are wholly untested.

The schedule also imposes duties which have been equally neglected. These include a requirement which has been on the statute book since 1993 that the Secretary of State set out principles which local education authorities should apply in bringing forward school reorganisation proposals. No Secretary of State has yet done so. This schedule is manifestly redundant. Or is the present incumbent proposing to be more active in this respect? If so, perhaps the Minister could shed some light on the Government's aims and thinking on the rationalisation of school places.

I also draw your Lordships' attention to the default criteria—also pristine and unused—which enable the Secretary of State to make his or her own proposals for school reorganisation and the subsequent local inquiry, as detailed in Schedule 11. We are entitled to ask how this unused power might work in practice. How, and why, should a Secretary of State set about determining the optimal provision of school places in my native Bolton, for instance, or in any other part of the country? This must surely be a matter for local schools and for local people. So let us undo the straitjacket of regulation and set our schools free.

We would scrap the additional places rule and enable good schools to expand to meet parental demand. We would allow new schools to be created by charitable bodies. We would promote diversity, excellence and choice, and we would have no need for central direction or a Schedule 11 or a Clause 66.

Not only is the clause undesirable, it is also unworkable now that academies have been included in school rationalisation provision. In practice, academies cannot be easily closed, for under Section 483(2) of the Education Act 1996, the Secretary of State has to give a notice period of not less than seven years, should he or she decide to maintain an academy no longer.

This is a serious issue for neighbouring authorities which are committed to having a high proportion of academies. For example, Hackney is understood to want to convert all its secondary schools into academies. The neighbouring boroughs of Islington, Haringey, Newham and Tower Hamlets propose to have one academy or none. Given the likely attractiveness of academies to parents because of the capital resources and additional support available to them, it is unlikely that academies will suffer a shortfall in applicants, even with falling rolls. More pupils will travel further distances and there will be an emptying of school places in neighbouring boroughs.

There are also implications for the fundamental duty of local education authorities to secure sufficient schools for secondary education to meet the age, aptitude and ability of the local population, as detailed in Section 14 of the Education Act 1996.

I believe this is another area of possible concern, and I would welcome the Minister's thoughts on it.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

Along with the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, my name is attached to the Question whether Clause 66 should stand part. Specifically, my name is attached to Amendment No. 127D, to which I shall speak shortly.

Clause 66 is a very short clause, consisting of one sentence. Its title is "Rationalisation of school places in England" and it states: Schedule 11 contains provisions enabling the Secretary of State to direct local education authorities in England, or the governing bodies of schools maintained by them, to bring forward proposals for the rationalisation of school places, and for such proposals to be made by him". What cheek, if I may say so—what absolute cheek. Why should the Secretary of State be able to tell local authorities what they should do with school places? Either we believe in local government and local accountability or we do not, and I suppose the answer is that successive governments have overruled all elements of local accountability. One has very little faith in them giving local authorities the chance to cope for themselves with their own decision on such issues.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the general thrust of the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for that reason. We feel that this is a matter for local action and local decision-making, and there is no reason why the Secretary of State should have to intervene.

Having said that, Amendment No. 127D is a probing amendment asking the Government to tell us a little more about their proposals for expanding popular schools. Paragraph 25 of the five-year strategy that I talked about earlier states: There is no 'surplus places rule' that prevents schools from expanding. All successful and popular schools may propose to expand, and we strongly support them in doing so where they believe they can sustain their quality. We have introduced dedicated capital funding to encourage expansion, and have given strong guidance to local decision-makers that they should allow expansion in all but exceptional circumstances Paragraph 26 states: We will introduce a fast-track process to speed up expansion to take less than twelve weeks (unless there is an appeal); and we will reinforce the existing strong presumption that expansion proposals should be agreed". To some extent, we talked about this in terms of Schedule 10 and some of the amendments on the fast-track expansion process. I was talking about it earlier in relation to foundation schools, but it is also an expansion process for the popular schools.

Interestingly, last week's Times Educational Supplement had a look at how far head teachers want to follow this through. In a survey of some 45 heads of top comprehensives, two thirds said they would not accept more pupils despite overwhelming parental demand. Many heads said that it was not practical for them to expand. Several did not have enough land, while others felt that expansion would change the school's character, making it much less attractive to parents.

Sir Alan Steer, head of the Seven Kings High School in Ilford, Essex—the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who is not in his place at the moment, probably knows it very well—said: The principle of stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap may work in supermarkets but it is not a recipe for successful schools". A lot of people feel that there are great dangers in the "stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap" proposal here.

5.30 p.m.

In relation to this proposal, the National Association of School Governors has said: Expanding one school means contracting others in an area. Pupils in these schools are every bit as entitled to a good education as those fortunate enough to be in the more 'successful' schools". That raises a difficult and important issue for the Government. You can expand popular schools but, however hard you do so, they are still going to be oversubscribed. You can never meet enough demand. We have to make sure that we do not have any schools that are not providing a high quality education. More emphasis needs to be put on upgrading schools that are less popular, rather than expanding schools that are very popular.

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said: Expanding popular schools, closing unsuccessful schools and creating more academies may well appeal electorally. But an unlicensed education market could all too easily damage the education of pupils in those schools that descend into an irretrievable spiral of decline". We all know schools where that has happened. They lose pupils, and there is a rapid downward spiral.

Can the Minister tell us more about what the Government mean by the proposals and their implementation of them? Will they work out in practice, without creating schools that are planning blighted and will become sink schools providing a poor education for those who are unfortunate enough to have to attend them?

Lord Dearing

I would like to expand a little on what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said on the Government's attitude towards fast-tracking the expansion of successful schools. I can see why they would want to do that.

Can the Minister tell us how that might need to be balanced by caring for a community in an area of social deprivation, where the school is very important to parents? How would they be engaged in lifelong learning and in the life of a school? We should recognise that such schools should be helped to increase their performance, to do a better job and to enrich the life of those communities, rather than letting the successful schools expand in the leafy suburbs and letting the kids from deprived areas go to them. That would create a risk of increased truancy—rather than engagement in schoolwork—and that would be to their disadvantage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, raises an important point of social policy here.

Lord Lucas

The answer to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has already been provided in my noble friend's outline of the Conservative Party's policy. That would allow people to found new schools with relative freedom, so that the parts of the community that are not already addressed by successful schools can be addressed by people who have the enthusiasm, innovation and ideas necessary to tackle the more difficult locations in cities and elsewhere.

That is exactly what has happened in the Netherlands and elsewhere. The entrepreneurs have not tried to cherry-pick the leafy suburbs because they are already well served by good schools. They have gone for the areas where there are lots of customers crying out for the good schools that are not being provided at the moment. The system has worked extremely well in other countries, and there is no reason why it should not work well here.

We seem to be on a roll in producing good ideas in education at the moment. I hope that, when the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, replies to this debate, he will be cautious in criticising this. I suspect that it will be Government policy shortly. They have been following in our footsteps for some while. It is comforting to observe that—except that by stealing all our good ideas they make it hard for us to make a contrast between our parties at the election. None the less, the latest thing that Tony Blair has said on this matter suggests that the Government are moving in the direction of allowing more access for the independent sector—I mean that in the wider sense, not independent schools—into the provision of state education. And a great thing it will be too.

I entirely agree with my noble friend in opposing the clause. The Secretary of State has—and should have— no role in this matter. It is a matter for local discretion and local decisions. There are many factors that contribute to the question of whether it is necessary or appropriate to hold open vacant school places.

If a successful school expands, vacancies will occur in another school. In a way, that is an opportunity. You have the chance to re-build it and so on, but it takes time to agree that. You may need to make structural changes. You hold those vacancies open because you do not want to go through the catharsis of closing the school. If, for example, one of your schools is a city academy which proposes creationism, you may feel that you do not wish to compel people to attend it by restricting school places.

I would hate the idea that my children were forced to attend such an academy. I am delighted that such places exist. If people want to start schools proposing their own cultures and ideas, I am all in favour of variety. But I do not like the idea of my children being forced to go to such establishments because the Secretary of State has said, "We must squeeze surplus school places. There are a thousand places at this city academy, and they must be filled with those local children". That is untenable.

If we are going to have variety in schools and allow the more eccentric beliefs to be propagated through the city academies that are becoming ever more popular, we must allow a surplus of school places to allow proper parental choice. Having a surplus of school places is essential to parental choice. If there is no surplus of school places, parents have no choice in the aggregate, because they have to fill the places that are there. It is only if you have a surplus—or a potential surplus—that you can move between one school and another from year to year.

For all those reasons, the question of the right level of surplus school places has to be set locally, in response to particular local conditions. In the past, we were centralist and imagined that we could control education from the centre and make it better that way. That clearly was not right. The changes that the Government have introduced mean that that is not consistent with what they have done or with where they say they are going. Considering our policy, it is not consistent with where we are likely to end up. I hope that the Government will drop it.

Lord Dearing

The eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in advocating the policy does not cause the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and I are making. There is not necessarily an antithesis between what I was saying and what you are arguing. I am concerned that, in making such decisions, the needs of particular communities—particularly communities of social deprivation—should be weighed in the balance of policy decisions.

Lord Filkin

I will follow my previous practice of not being drawn on whose policy was pinched from whom, or whether that happened at all. We invented all our policies ourselves through a process called immaculate conception. I shall go no further.

Clause 66 provides that Schedule 11 shall have effect. It says that the schedule, contains provisions enabling the Secretary of State to direct local authorities … or the governing bodies … to bring forward proposals for the addition of places, where they are needed, and for the removal of surplus places.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, spoke clearly and accurately about the provenance of that power. There is nothing new in the provisions. They started in 1993, moved into 1996 and have their current form as a result of the 1998 Act. The provisions in this schedule replace those in Schedule 7 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. They are re-enacted in one place for convenience. I always regret it when parliamentary draftsmen do things for convenience—it brings more things to the attention of the Committee—but that is in the nature of the job.

The powers are reserve powers. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, argues that as they have never been used—and I agree that they have never been used—they are not required. I do not think that that is true. As I shall explain more in a moment, although we accept that there will have to be some vacant places in the system—the management of an appropriate number of vacant places is one of the challenges that a local authority has to face, and they largely do it well—it is not inconceivable that there could be situations when a local authority, because of its own internal difficulties, failed to face up to the responsibility to do so.

I hope that that never happens. It has not happened so far. However, we would be a foolish government if we said that it will never happen. It therefore seems to me that a sensible government should have a statutory provision in the cupboard that imposes no burdens whatever on local authorities in practice, but is a protective device come the day when something goes seriously wrong with a local authority and its community leadership function, as long as that government are not tempted to use those powers to interfere unduly with processes that are working well enough. We do not intend to behave in that manner.

I think that we would be foolish if, in recognising the challenge that school reorganisations and surplus places creates for local authorities, we did not have a protective power in reserve just in case it might be necessary in future. I would take a different view on this if the existence of that power was burdensome to local government. However, it is not.

I can also assure the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that the powers are designed to deal with long-term chronic problems in an area if all other measures have failed. They would not be concerned with increases in admission numbers at individual schools, which are a matter for the admission authority for the school, or with objections to the school adjudicator.

I should also touch briefly on the issue of the surplus places rule. There is no surplus places rule; there might have been in the past under the previous administration, but there is not one now. If memory serves me right, there has not been one since 1998. By that, I mean that it is government policy that school places should be located where parents want them. There is therefore a strong presumption that proposals to expand successful and popular schools, which is what parents often want, should normally be approved. The fact that there are surplus places elsewhere in the area does not necessarily mean that that should not be approved. That may give comfort to parts of the Committee but cause increasing discomfort to other parts. Again, that is the nature of the role.

Local authorities have been encouraged to take action to remove surplus places especially where schools have a quarter or more of their places unfilled. Different judgments need to be made in rural areas, for reasons which I think the House will understand and to which noble Lords will be sensitive. The Secretary of State wants to encourage local authorities to organise provision in order to ensure that places are located where parents want them and to encourage them to take positive action to remove any unfilled vacancies at schools to which parents do not choose to send their children.

We opened a discussion—using, I think, the illustration of Hackney and academies—on whether that provision would cause wreckage to other parts of the system. However, academies are set up only when they take over failing schools. Therefore, they are a replacement for existing places when the children in that school have demonstrably not been receiving a decent education. If the argument that the quality of education in an academy was so outstandingly good that other parents wanted to come in from other areas or other boroughs were right, then that might be an incentive to the other authorities to think about using academies in their own areas.

Undoubtedly, the capital may make a difference. But my experience is that parents will send their child to a school with pretty poor capital plant if the quality of education is good, but will not send their child to a school with a spanking new, high-quality physical plant if the teaching is poor and the results hopeless. So I cannot agree that capital investment alone will be the draw. The quality of outcomes will drive it.

5.45 p.m.

I was also asked whether academies can be closed down. I shall write to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the procedure for dealing with academies in that way. We have not yet had to cross that bridge. I shall write to the noble Baroness so that I can answer her properly.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, raised the issue of fast-tracking successful schools and how to balance the importance of schools in other areas. He is quite right. A local authority has to treat seriously, as most of them do, the importance of improving weak or poorly performing schools, an issue which we have talked about previously. That is why the school improvement partner is so important and why many other provisions in the Bill are so important. One of the remedies available to local authorities is to decide that they will promote an academy in that area; in other words, not just sitting and watching the rot continue but taking vigorous action. Those issues have to be weighed in the balance when judgments are being made about the balance of future provision.

I shall not respond in detail to the exposition of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but I will not ignore it. I will reflect on it and see whether there are any particular points to which I should in courtesy respond. I could be drawn into party politics—but, as the Committee knows, I have always taken a vow never to do so.

This has been an important debate. I think that we will come back to some of these issues later in the Bill. I have made an initial reply. I should like to reflect on what has been said around the Committee and try to ensure that I cannot give better answers when noble Lords challenge me later in the process. I hope that, at this stage, the Committee will feel minded to agree the clause.

Lord Lucas

Perhaps I may quiz the Minister a bit further. He sees these very much as reserve powers—clearly that is how they have been used in the past—but I thought that one of the Government's innovations was the ability to place a local authority that was seriously failing on special measures and take over the management of its business. Surely, in those circumstances, whoever was put in charge of the local authority would be able, among the other things they did, to rationalise school places. So are we saying that there is a category of failing authority that is insufficiently bad that it should be placed under what might be called special measures but to which the Secretary of State would none the less wish to apply the measures in Clause 66? I find that very hard to comprehend.

Lord Filkin

It is conceptually possible. However, I shall try to make a fuller response by going away and reflecting on whether there is not in fact a duplication of powers. Taking the gist of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I shall examine my argument that we would be foolish to throw away the capacity to deal with exceptional circumstances when it is not burdensome and there are no other ways of dealing with the circumstances.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I should like to go back to the issue of the city academies and the example of Hackney. I think that we touched on the issue earlier today. I believe that there are a number of proposals to establish city academies in Hackney. Inevitably, those will spill over to other education authorities. Particularly initially, city academies are often seen as very attractive to parents. Hackney is bordered by Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets—a whole series of London boroughs. Attempts by those boroughs to cope with their own schools can be affected by proposals to establish academies.

The Committee may recall that one of the points that we made when we were talking about consultation was that other, adjacent local education authorities should be involved in the consultation provisions. That is one of the problems that arises. If there is a duty on a local authority to take a strategic view on the provision of facilities within its own area, where some schools are popular but others are less so, the decisions which that local authority is taking could be totally lost by decisions that other local authorities are taking. Therefore, regarding the establishment of academies, you need to keep a track of what is happening and where.

Lord Filkin

I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I do not wish to prolong the debate, but there is a small danger that we are drifting into the question of British antipathy to excellence. If, as a consequence of an academy or a foundation school being founded, the quality of education for the children that it is serving improves such that other parents, either in that borough or in other boroughs, wish to bring their children to that school, it is a problem of success, not of failure. It is a spur to the local authorities in those other areas to do something about the quality of their schools better to meet parents' aspirations.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

That was a good Conservative philosophy. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for her support for the general principle of the amendment but take issue with her about allowing good and popular schools to extend. We on these Benches believe fundamentally that where heads and governing bodies wish to expand their schools, they should be allowed to do so. As my noble friend Lord Lucas said, we welcome the provision of new schools and new providers and believe that these are the drivers of increasing standards. I thank the Minister for his detailed answer and look forward to receiving further information on the academies.

The reason for retaining Clause 66 seemed to be that somewhere in the dim future a local authority might get it horribly wrong. If you are saying that local communities should make their own decisions, you have to trust them. Part of trust means trusting people to get things wrong as well as getting them right. We believe that there are many anomalies in Clause 66. Its provisions have been on the statute book for too long, they have never been used and seek to confer powers on the Secretary of State that are better exercised by local communities determining local provision.

Clause 66 agreed to.

Schedule 11 [Rationalisation of school places in England]:

[Amendment No. 127D not moved.]

Schedule 11 agreed to.

Clauses 67 to 69 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 128 not moved].

Baroness Morris of Bolton

moved Amendment No. 129: After Clause 69, insert the following new clause— "ABOLITION OF THE INDEPENDENT APPEALS PANELS Sections 67 and 68 and Schedule 18 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) shall cease to have effect. The noble Baroness said: I trust that the intent of the amendment is clear for all to see, but I acknowledge that our draftsmanship has, perhaps, been less precise. The amendment of the provisions of the 1998 Act identified under our new clause would achieve what we have in mind. However, the Minister should have no fear. No doubt we will return to this matter at a later stage and have the amendment redrafted to include the required sections.

The independent appeals panels are discredited, unpopular and widely distrusted by parents and pupils alike. Reforming the system is, therefore, a priority. A couple of years ago two boys were expelled from Glyn Technology School in Surrey after making death threats against a teacher, only to be reinstated on appeal by the appeals panel. Such interventions ride roughshod over the judgment and authority of teachers and must not be allowed to recur. Parents also dislike the panel. They find it secretive in its operation, confusing and intimidating—which are further reasons why we believe that the system cannot continue in its present form.

So we return to a question of philosophy and how best to run our education system. We on these Benches believe that head teachers should have complete control over expulsions. Expulsion is the last resort for head teachers, but it is critical that they have this option. Why should a class—or even a whole school—suffer because of the behaviour of one pupil? We believe that head teachers' decisions should not be second-guessed by remote appeals panels. Head teachers should have the final say.

However, a child's future is far too precious simply to be written off because they are expelled from school. Today, too many expelled children simply fall out of education altogether, wasting their potential, and often get into crime. They deserve, as much as anyone, a decent education to get back on track for a successful and fulfilling future. Yet there are currently only 4,000 places in pupil referral units (PRUs) in England, but last year there were 9,500 permanently excluded pupils in the country. That means that almost 6,000 young people were last year in danger of falling through the cracks in our education system. More worrying still, less than half of those pupils in PRUs received a single GCSE pass and less than 5 per cent received five or more GCSE passes. Half of all children who are expelled receive less than 20 hours education per week.

I am sure that the Minister will ask what the alternative is if there are no appeals panels. Our answer to that problem is a new approach by providing new turnaround schools, which will replace PRUs. We will increase the number of places from 4,000 to 24,000, so that there will be a safety net for those expelled from school. They will follow an established curriculum and pupils will receive accredited qualifications. Turnaround schools will be required to publish their attendance and performance figures.

Today we have a system of independent appeal panels which has lost the confidence of parents and pupils and provides inadequately for excluded pupils. The amendment will both restore the authority of head teachers and staff and provides an example of how we could help our more difficult pupils to lead more productive lives. I beg to move.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

It is odd that we have reached exclusions at this point. I do not wish to speak about the independent appeals panels in particular. I do not fully share the noble Baroness's doubts about them, although there have been glitches along the way. The issue of exclusions is one to which we shall return in Part 4. It is vital that we cope and ensure that the pupils involved receive an adequate education. The great danger with the Conservative Party's proposals is that you could end up with grandiose, but failing, schools. Can the Minister say more about how this matter fits into the Bill?

Baroness Andrews

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, acknowledged that the drafting of the amendment was not quite right. Oppositions are sometimes allowed not to get it quite right. She is, indeed, referring to parts of Section 52 of the Education Act 2002, which currently provides for the setting up of independent appeals panels. But she made a good fist of explaining why she thought that the appeals panels had outlived their usefulness and I hope to counter that, while taking account of her description of the Conservatives' policy on turnaround schools, for which we are all grateful.

6 p.m.

I hope I can develop the theme of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. She said she did not fully agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said; indeed, we do not agree at all with what the noble Baroness said in relation to appeals panels. They were introduced by a Conservative government and they first came into operation in 1987.

I want to reflect on behaviour and how important we believe it is to establish the highest standards of behaviour in children. We want the best possible mechanisms for ensuring that behaviour and discipline are properly organised and effected in schools. In that context, it is also important to recognise that both the inspector's report and the DfES survey of head teachers reflect that the behaviour of the vast majority of pupils is good or acceptable.

As the Secretary of State said recently at the north of England conference, universal high standards require universal good behaviour and parents put that very near the top of their priorities for schools. In some places behaviour is not all that we want it to be, which is why we put it very near the top of our list as well. We are determined to ensure that behaviour is as good as it can be and to put an end, as far as possible, to unacceptable behaviour.

At its most acute, bad behaviour leads to exclusions, which are related to this amendment and to the appeals panels. However, for different reasons, I believe that the noble Baroness is wrong to want to do away with appeals panels. They are a very necessary safeguard for pupils and parents; they are needed in the interests of natural justice and they comply with the Human Rights Act.

Yes, of course, we support the head teachers in the exercise of their authority. We are entirely committed to backing that authority when pupils' behaviour warrants exclusion. We have made it very clear in guidance that heads can permanently exclude pupils who are very disruptive or violent. Guidance on exclusion to appeals panels backs that up.

Abolishing appeals panels would inevitably lead to a very sharp increase in legal action by parents against schools and more cases would be brought to court. I cannot believe that the majority of parents would want that. At present, there are about 1,000 exclusion appeals each year, of which in no more than six cases do parents seek judicial review. That total would increase significantly as parents would not have recourse to any other independent review of a school's decision. That would be costly, in time and money, to everyone involved: the estimated cost would be in excess of £2,000, which would fall on schools, parents and local authorities.

Neither do I agree that parents find appeals panels unpopular. A recent national survey found that 60 per cent of parents wanted to keep appeals panels. That is very significant. Neither do I believe that a disproportionate number of pupils are reinstated. Independent appeals panels do not reinstate large numbers of excluded pupils. After consideration by an independent appeals panel, out of a total of 9,729 permanent exclusions in England and Wales in 2002–03—the latest figure—only 173 excluded pupils were reinstated, which is 1.8 per cent of the total who were excluded.

I know that concerns have been expressed about decisions by the appeals panels to reinstate particular pupils. In the Glyn case, one of the minority of cases in which the panel reinstated the pupil, that was not a reason. We have to be very careful not to change the law because occasionally there are bad and injudicious decisions. The reason for the independent review is so that we can sort out this kind of matter.

At the same time, to improve on the process itself, in January 2003, the composition of panels was changed to ensure that they better reflect the realities of school life. Now, we have a three-member panel comprising a serving or recently retired head teacher, or in Wales another education practitioner, a serving or recently serving governor and a lay member who takes the chair. We believe that by making those changes, the panels are more in touch with contemporary classroom conditions. Moreover, since January 2003, in deciding whether to reinstate a pupil, powers have been required to balance the interests of the excluded pupil against the interests of all other members of the school community, including pupils and teaching and support staff. Other changes that were introduced at the same time concern reflecting the realities of the classroom.

We have also made improvements to the training to which appeals panels must have regard. By law, appeals panels have to have regard to guidance. Clearly, we want to ensure that they are well trained in what the guidance requires them to do, and to be updated whenever there are changes in the law. To that end, since 2001, a training pack has been available to train panel members in England. It has since been revised to reflect changes in exclusions and a few panels are finding that extremely helpful.

The noble Baroness asked about PRUs. We do not want children to be segregated in all cases; we want them to be reintegrated whenever possible so that they can enjoy the beneficent effect of school life and learn to behave better in circumstances in which people can help them, not least so that they have access to the full curriculum.

Last year, 20,000 pupils attended a PRU at some point, but not all of them had been excluded; some attended for other reasons. We must have regard to the relative costs of putting children into PRUs; £10,000 a year compared with only £2,500 for the average secondary pupil. Although they do not teach the full national curriculum, they should offer a balanced and broadly based curriculum, including citizenship, emotional health and well-being, drug education and appropriate behavioural support. PRUs perform a very important function.

On turnaround schools, I share reservations expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that one might be creating a huge ghetto of children in those schools, rather than looking at ways of integrating them back into the community with support.

In the light of all those reasons—the human rights; the fact that parents support the appeals panels; the fact that the panels work and very few conclude with the reinstatement of pupils; and, most important, the safeguards that they offer parents—I hope that the noble Baroness will reconsider and withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

I thank the Minister, as always, for her thoughtful reply. I also thank her for her indulgence in letting me put forward some Tory Party policies. I did that to pre-empt any questions that she may ask. She spoke of natural justice. Of course, there has to be natural justice. We see no reason why it cannot be done with a panel of governors, just as it is in the independent sector. The Minister also said that parents were in favour of appeals. I would not consider for a moment that they were not. The question is what kind of appeal?

Again, we believe this is a matter of trust. It goes back to trusting the schools and heads to decide for themselves. We feel that today we have a system of independent appeals panels that has lost the confidence of parents and pupils and makes inadequate provision for excluded pupils. Our amendment would restore the authority of head teachers and staff and help to set our most difficult pupils on course to lead more productive lives. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

moved Amendment No. 130: After Clause 69, insert the following new clause— "CLOSURE OF RURAL PRIMARY SCHOOLS

  1. (1) No primary school located in a rural area, as defined by the Office of National Statistics under its Rural and Urban Area Classification 2004, may be closed without the approval of parents of registered children of that school.
  2. (2) The appropriate authority shall organise, fund and conduct a ballot to determine the views of registered parents, and shall inform the parents of their right to participate.
  3. (3) The results of the ballot shall be communicated by the appropriate authority to each registered parent, governing body and the Secretary of State.
  4. (4) Any ballot shall be invalid unless fifty per cent of the registered parents participate.
  5. (5) No further ballot may be held within 7 years of the first ballot being held."
The noble Baroness said: This is a relatively simple and straightforward new clause designed to safeguard small, rural primary schools, as defined by the Office for National Statistics under the Rural and Urban Area Classification 2004. It would require that a ballot of registered parents be held before such a school was closed. The ballot, either way, would be a simple majority vote, which would need at least 50 per cent of the registered parents to participate in order for it to be valid. Even if the amendment is perhaps not the most beautiful piece of parliamentary draftsmanship, at least the intent is clear.

I am aware that the Government have proclaimed "a presumption against closure" in regard to such schools. However, the amendment goes one step further in giving parents a clear role in the continued future of small rural primaries. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, the importance of the role played by small schools in rural communities cannot be overestimated. Tired old arguments that small schools cannot cope with the curriculum are being thoroughly refuted in ways that the public understands, in government inspections and national tests. Small rural schools are doing as well as, and often better than, the rest.

The potential of village schools to serve wider community needs is an additional key factor in our amendment. We are aware of the usual ways in which such facilities can be used by members of the community. However, where no adequate meeting space is available, where no local centre for minor medical matters, clinics or prescriptions is available, even where no post office exists, it is well within the realms of possibility that some such provision could be based on the existing public plant that the school represents.

The modifications needed to provide such services, mainly space, could also incorporate the additional space that many small schools need for private meetings with parents, improved library facilities, a staff room, an office and a medical room for sick children.

With the permission of the Committee, I would like to give just one example of the way in which a rural school can be incorporated to play a key role in the life of the community. At Hook Norton in Oxfordshire, a rebuilt village school was designed to house an adult education wing. It is used by both the school and the community, sometimes in shared activities.

Modern technology also considerably enhances the potential of small schools to work together. The same technology is also available to promote wider links between communities. Many other examples are known, and the possibilities are endless, not least at a time when government policy seeks to strengthen rural life.

We are also keen to see local transport needs focusing on provision based on existing school needs. I hope that it might answer some of the reservations of the right reverend Prelate. Currently, big coaches trundle around narrow country lanes twice a day, belching diesel fumes everywhere and carrying handfuls of children to school and home. A community minibus could do the same job. It could be available during the day to serve other school needs but also to take people into town, to the surgery, collect prescriptions and even the occasional outing. The investment in thousands of minibuses would be large, but the returns in enhanced public transport provision would be enormously beneficial and long-term.

Community use could justify local charging that would offset the original education budget costs. This proposal extends the kind of principles and provision in the present post bus systems used in remoter parts of the nation.

The debate is only just starting. We are only just waking up to the fact that village schools are central to the proper concerns of the countryside. The school provides a dynamic focus for families across the social spectrum, and no debate about housing, employment, conservation or services is complete without proper reference to the school. Yet, documents from most rural organisations rarely mention village schools.

In its report on small school performance in tests and inspections, Ofsted not only affirmed their educational credentials but argued that, taken together with their community virtues, there was a place for the small school in national provision. Now we need only to exploit those virtues and capitalise on the massive potential that such places represent. They serve as a fitting testament of a quality of life and purpose that can serve as an example in all schools and all communities. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

I support what has been said about rural primary schools. I would like the Minister to clarify whether the amendment would apply to Wales as well as England or whether it relates totally to England.

My experience has been long and sometimes painful as regards the closure of rural primary schools. The problem is that the definition of a small school is not clear. In some local authorities, we are talking about a really different moving target. In the area which I represented in another place, for example, there had been a policy of closure of rural schools. In fact, one rural school per year was closed over a 30-year period. We ground that to a near halt because the local authority had cluster schools instead of small village schools, which were quite effective. The room for manoeuvre for closing more rural schools was extremely limited.

The problem is that a neighbouring authority, with which I am familiar, hung on to having very small rural schools with about 10 or 11 pupils, which became unsustainable in the end. That authority is now faced with the problem of closing a swathe of rural schools of that size.

As I am speaking from a Welsh perspective in this instance, there is an additional problem. There is a linguistic dimension to the matter because the small schools sustain the Welsh language. That is another issue altogether, specific to the National Assembly.

It is important, as has been said, that the schools become a resource centre for the local village. In some more progressive authorities, new village halls have been built and leisure facilities added to them, which has enabled a much more sustainable rural community to exist. The problem is that, where rural schools are closed and the school is a bit tenuous, the school is often the main social cohesive factor in the community. If that is taken away, we have serious problems in sustaining such a community. We all know what happens when post offices, pubs and schools are closed: the community withers on the vine. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, made clear, the problem of inadequate rural transport can compound all these factors. We need to define what a small rural school is. That obviously differs in remote areas. It is difficult in such areas to sustain rural primary schools. I would like the Minister to state what exactly we are talking about and the circumstances in terms of numbers and to pay attention to what has already happened. Many rural schools have already been closed, with little room to manoeuvre to close further schools, if the Government are not going to give a commitment to the sustainability of our rural communities.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

I shall not repeat what I said earlier as regards this and preceding amendments. The arguments are not absolutist. I have a huge amount of sympathy for what the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have just said. The issues are finely balanced. I can see their merits. In the end, I would resist the amendment. I am fully committed to rural schools and the rural way of life, but I believe that the onus should be on the school organisation committee and the adjudicator to make the final judgments. We are talking about complex issues here. It is about the relationship between a particular institution in a rural community, whether it is a school or something else, and the rest of the network. That applies to post offices and Methodist chapels and possibly even to parish churches. We seem to be the only people left in some of these communities, so I do not speak with distant coldness. This is a difficult matter, but I would resist this amendment.

Baroness Andrews

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short but important debate, which raised important issues. The noble Baroness presented her case very eloquently and I agree with everything that she said about using rural schools as the heart of the community. A lot of the things that we are intending to do by developing extended schools—both primary and secondary—will have particular relevance and resonance in rural communities. I have seen that in Wales. There is a very bright future for the rural school in the development of family and childcare facilities and the rationalisation of other services. That can give rural schools an important lease of life; the prospects are very bright. I say "Amen" to all that.

This amendment would prohibit the closure of a rural primary school without a preliminary ballot in which at least 50 per cent of registered parents take part and approve the closure. I understand the intention of protecting rural schools. However, the amendment goes too far in creating too high a threshold and is unnecessary because of the developing policy and practice in maintaining rural schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, raised the question of whether the new clause would apply to England and Wales. I shall come on to talk about Wales. Unfortunately, the amendment is deficient because it refers to the Secretary of State rather than to the Welsh Assembly. In order to be comprehensive, it would have to refer to the Welsh Assembly.

The noble Baroness referred to the fact that some years ago we introduced a presumption against the closure of rural schools in England. That is now in statutory guidance to decision-makers. Indeed, we have gone further than that because it was reinforced by the rural White Paper in 2000, which set out very clearly the role that we see for the rural school, the importance that we attach to it and the role that it plays. The presumption has been very successful. The rate of closure of rural schools in England has been reduced from an average of 30 a year to an average of five a year. By contrast, the average number of urban school closures is 32 a year. If noble Lords were to look at the accompanying guidance, they would find that it is very detailed about the sorts of evidence—not least on transport implications and the distances that children might be required to travel—that need to be taken into account by the school organisation committee before it contemplates closure. The guidance is impressive in its thoroughness and I commend it to noble Lords. Local education authorities and school organisation committees have to think very carefully about bringing forward proposals.

It is not only the guidance: rural schools now have the support of additional policy and funding arrangements. We have responded to the requirements of rural schools. However, the fact remains that local stakeholders and independent adjudicators have decided that, in some cases, it is right that a school should close. The arguments are not always one-way. We have to look realistically at the options that they face. All the arguments have to be taken into account and all proposals have to be decided on their merits. We believe that that is the right way and that, with our presumption against closure, the balance is right.

In Wales, where there is no presumption against the closure of rural schools, we believe that balance is being attained. I cannot answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, about the definition of a small school, but I know that in Wales there is a higher proportion of small rural schools. The reasons are obvious in Powys and Dfyed, areas that the noble Lord knows well. About 14 per cent of primary schools in Wales have 50 or fewer pupils on the roll, compared with around 4 per cent of primary schools in England. There is also significant surplus capacity. The noble Lord will know that there is a need for investment in school buildings in many areas: many of them are Victorian.

Against this background, some rationalisation of provision is likely to be required if LEAs are to ensure that a high quality of education is available to all children. That is the policy challenge. Guidance issued in 2002 makes clear that the priority for educational provision in rural areas is access to high quality education. The case for the closure of any school has to be robust and any decisions are focused on educational issues and on using resources as effectively as possible.

When we come to the amendment, I take comfort from the right reverend Prelate. He said that he did not believe that one group of people should be responsible and that he had faith in the capacity of the school organisation committee and the independent adjudicator to come to correct decisions. He repeated that when he spoke on the amendment. It seems to us that the important thing is that any closure proposal provides for appropriate consultation and the fullest possible consultation with parents. In a small primary school, that would probably include consultation with all parents. That is the gold standard. However, there may be circumstances where there would be valid educational reasons to close a school in spite of parental objections. We all know how hard it is as a pupil, a parent or a member of the community to contemplate it in those circumstances.

We believe that the amendment would raise the barriers against closures too high. In some cases, schools can become too small to offer the rich educational experience that we want all pupils to have. It could be that a child would be the only pupil of that age and gender in the school. In other cases, there may well be alternative provision nearby.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

I thank the Minister for giving way. Does she agree with me that the quality of the education has to be equated with the social well-being of the children? In some instances that I know of, children of four, five, six and seven are being asked to make a round trip of 50 miles a day. That has to be a very important issue in the balance between quality and stress, as it does affect very young children. In many cases, that is why parents oppose the closure of their local school so strongly.

Baroness Andrews

Yes, all noble Lords would agree with that. The relationship between well-being, however defined, and educational success and confidence is very clear. Travelling many miles a day is not good for small children. Every decision-maker would try to avoid it, which is why the guidance for England emphasises transport arrangements and the alternatives.

These are difficult decisions. Under the present arrangements, parents and others have to be consulted about proposals. Therefore, they have an opportunity to object once the proposals are published. The decision-makers have to take objections or comments into account in reaching their decision. Where the alternatives are acceptable, parents may not be motivated to vote in a ballot. Numbers may be insufficient for a valid ballot. There are all sorts of reasons why we believe that the amendment is not appropriate. Given what I have said about the way that the presumption is working, the way the weight of policy is being directed and the drop in the number of decisions that are closing small rural schools, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel comfortable in withdrawing her amendment.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for his support. Indeed, it was our colleagues in the Welsh Assembly who brought this matter to our attention. As the Minister so kindly pointed out, the deficiency of our drafting meant that he did not realise that the amendment covered Wales as well. I keep thinking that perhaps my school report at the end of this Committee stage will be, "Patricia could do better".

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, also mentioned social activity. I often think that the closure of two things knocks the heart out of a village. One is the closure of the local school and the other is the closure of the local pub—I do not know about the church. Many local pubs have closed and so we hope we can keep more of our local schools.

I thank the Minister for her full and understanding reply. We shall consult our colleagues in Wales again but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 130 A not moved.]

6.30 p.m.

Lord Hanningfield

moved Amendment No. 130B: After Clause 69, insert the following new clause—


  1. (1) No special school in England shall be closed without the prior authorisation of the Secretary of State.
  2. (2) The Secretary of State shall by regulations prescribe a suitable mechanism to allow him to comply with his powers under this section.
  3. (3) No special school in Wales shall be closed without the prior authorisation of the Assembly.
  4. (4) The Assembly shall by regulations prescribe a suitable mechanism to allow him to comply with its powers under this section."

The noble Lord said: This new clause would give the final say on the closure of any special school to the Secretary of State in England and to the Assembly in regard to such schools in Wales. We are seeking to secure an in-built safeguard against closing special schools.

We are conscious that, in promoting this amendment, we are effectively reducing the level of local decision-making and discretion—a matter about which everyone knows I am passionate—but I shall go on to explain why I am putting it forward.

We believe that this step is necessary not because of any lack of trust in local authorities but because of the Government's existing policy towards special needs and inclusion. It is clear that the policy of including more and more children with special educational needs in mainstream schools has not necessarily been satisfactory, benefiting neither pupil nor parent. Indeed, that view is supported by a number of teachers' unions, including NAS/UWT, and it is clear that the Government's policy is having undue influence on the decision of local authorities to close special schools.

In 1983, there were 1,562 special schools in England. In 2003, there were, 1,160—402 fewer. Yet the number of children with the most severe needs in mainstream schools has risen by 49 per cent over the past decade. We also know that during the course of their schooling around a quarter of all pupils will have some form of special needs, whether it be a passing behavioural problem or a more severe permanent disability.

Teachers in mainstream schools are having to cope with an increasing number of pupils with special needs. According to a study by the National Foundation for Educational Research, up to 40 per cent of head teachers said that the number of children with special educational needs had risen over the past year, including an increase in pupils with behavioural problems. Of the 320 head teachers surveyed, 58 per cent said that the range of special needs had widened and only 5 per cent said that it had narrowed.

The Government support a policy of inclusion in which pupils with physical disabilities or behavioural problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, can be taught in mainstream schools. Yet schools say that that can be achieved only with considerable extra resources. The study found that almost half the heads surveyed had had to devote more of their budget to specialist equipment and support staff; four out of 10 said that they had been forced to make timetable changes to accommodate special needs pupils; and a third highlighted the impact that the more disruptive pupils had on the atmosphere in the classroom. A number of head teachers said that the parents of children without special needs had voiced concerns about the amount of time that teachers had to devote to special needs pupils.

There is a danger that the policy of inclusion has gone too far and too fast. We on these Benches want to ensure that children with special needs are not suffering educationally from the policy. We need to ask whether the Government's policy of inclusive education for disabled children is working or whether children with special needs are being physically included but educationally excluded. We must ask whether disabled children are being failed by the system. At present, 13 per cent of non-disabled young people have no qualifications. The figure for disabled young people is 24 per cent.

We are under no illusion about the sensitivity of this question. We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to ensure that children with special needs receive the best possible care and education that we can provide. However, there must be a realisation that, given the severity of their condition, some of these children will never be able to be incorporated into the mainstream system—nor should we or they try to do that. That is why it is so important that we protect our existing special schools and the excellent work that they do. I beg to move.

Lord Dearing

I welcome the amendment as a means of calling attention to an issue. Of course, it is right to include the principle, but it does not work unless teachers have the distinctive special skills to respond to those children and unless the resource is adequate to enable them to do so. My limited experience is that those conditions are not met and that therefore the children may not be receiving as good an education as they would if they went to a special school. It is very important to be conscious of this issue and I welcome the amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

When we debated the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, which effectively incorporated the inclusion agenda, we on these Benches constantly said to the Minister, "You are willing the ends but you are not willing the means". That is the problem. The responsibility is pushed down on to local authorities but local authorities have not been given the means to fulfil their responsibilities. One result of the financial provisions now being negotiated is that less and less money is available centrally for local authorities to fulfil their responsibilities under the special educational needs agenda, and that makes it more difficult for them to be responsible.

My instinctive reaction to this matter is to ask: why on earth are we putting it back to the Secretary of State? That is not what I would wish because, again, it is something that on the whole must be met at a local level. As I said, it is clear here that the Government have willed the ends by their legislation but they have not willed the means. Therefore, by putting the responsibility on to the Secretary of State, one is, in effect, putting the baby back in his lap and I feel that currently that is the appropriate thing to do

Lord Filkin

I, too, welcome a debate on this subject but I do not particularly welcome having it in the middle of the debate on this Bill, which does not have much to do with it. However, I welcome it because it is one of the issues for which I have a specific ministerial responsibility. Therefore it is close to my heart and actively on my agenda. I shall say a little more about that in a minute.

Initially, I shall say why we think that the specifics of the amendment are not appropriate and then I shall speak a little—not too much because this is not the place for it, although there will be opportunities before too long—about our perspective on how the special educational needs of children can be better met in the future.

Obviously, we are keen to ensure that adequate provision is in place for children and young people with special educational needs. Last February we published the strategy, Removing Barriers to Achievement. Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide sufficient schools in number and character to ensure appropriate education for pupils with special educational needs. That can be in maintained special schools and supported mainstream schools, both in and out of the authority, and by taking up places in non-maintained and independent schools.

We are clear on this matter, and it is strange how throughout debate on the Bill, even when dealing with closely connected clauses, the parties opposite have hopped between being centralisers and decentralisers. But local authorities are best placed to respond to the needs of pupils within their particular areas. That is why we strengthened local participation in decisions on patterns of provision.

Local authorities are also charged under the Education Act and the Children Act to get better outcomes for all their children. We have talked at length about the fact that every child matters. It is a fundamental responsibility not simply to raise the educational and life opportunities for children of ordinary or good ability but to raise the educational attainment of those who have a particular challenge. We have reason, as do local authorities at present, not to be complacent about that.

However, the question is: what is the best way of achieving that? I cannot for the life of me think that centralising the decisions will help the process. To begin with, there is already in place a proper process, with adequate checks and balances, for ensuring that local authorities cannot close special schools willy-nilly. Before deciding to close a special school there has to be an established process for formal consultation before publishing proposals. Following publication of proposals there must be a two-month objection period during which anyone can submit a formal objection. Any such statutory objection must then be sent to the school organisation committee, or in Wales to the National Assembly.

If a proposal put to a school organisation committee is agreed unanimously, it may be implemented. But if it is not unanimous it has to go to the independent adjudicator for determination. Therefore the office of the schools' adjudicator has to look afresh at all cases referred to it, considering each case on its merits and taking account of the reasons for disagreement.

I am very well aware of the turbulence around special educational needs at present. Let me give myself no more than about three minutes to highlight it. We are concerned about the extent of parents not feeling that the system meets their needs fast enough and responsively enough without their having to go through a statementing ritual. We are concerned about how some other parents, children and teachers feel in some schools that the problem of the school adequately coping with the child with special educational needs leads to disturbance, which then leads to a concern about the ability of the rest of the school to learn.

Often, if not always, that is the product of a failure of early enough intervention with a child with special educational needs, which has led to some of the behaviours and difficulties in the first place. But these are not easy issues.

We are also aware of the controversy around closure and opening of special schools. Some people are fundamentalist on this agenda. They think that there should never be any special schools whatever. They argue that everybody can be educated in mainstream schools. That is not sensible. There are clearly some children and young people whose needs are so severe and intense—increasingly as a product of advances in medical science—that there is no possibility of them being educated in a mainstream setting as part of their normal schooling. But that number is often smaller than has been assumed in the past.

It is extremely important that local authorities making their decisions about the pattern of special educational needs think seriously about the role of special schools and how they relate to mainstream schools. There has tended to be too much of a distinction in terms of putting a special school in one place and seeing it almost—how shall I put it?—as a gulag where some children are educated, and having a mainstream school in another place. Instead we see a picture of special and mainstream schools working much more in partnership, whereby some of the expertise in teaching in the special school is helped to support the mainstream, and where there is also a movement of pupils between the two according to the curriculum or their special needs or time, so that you have much more a network of provision rather than a separation of it. We are actively looking at how we stimulate the development of a better system of that type, but now is not the time or place to go into that. It is extremely important for local authorities, schools and the Government to make it work better.

I do not believe—nor in my heart do I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, does either—that sending those decisions to the Secretary of State is the answer to those problems. Further development is undoubtedly necessary, which we will make clear before too long over the coming months. I am sorry if my response resembles a Second Reading response to a Second Reading debate, but perhaps I could not resist the temptation.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Hanningfield

I thank the Minister for his reply and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for their interventions. We tabled the amendment because we are having an education Bill. The Minister described the situation in the special education world as "turbulent". That is true. I have had some recent exposure to it with regard to the school that to my knowledge is not going to be closed. It is a well regarded school that deals with autistic children, but the rumours are that it might be closed. I visited it. It is a very popular school.

One of the problems is that I do not see the issue as the Minister does. I do not see a special school in one place and a mainstream school in another place. Particularly in counties, special schools cover large geographical areas. They do not relate to a separate secondary school at all. Two or three special schools cover the whole of the north of Essex, while there are 20 or 30 secondary schools. The parents very much value those special schools, including the school I visited recently. When you visit, you see what a wonderful job they do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was right when she suggested that this amendment was tabled because someone had to recognise the responsibility. One of the problems with special education—as I have seen throughout my political career—is that professionals get fashionable; there is one fashion or another. I have nothing against professionals but we need to make certain that we get it right for these very vulnerable children.

Parents greatly value what the system does for them. When you meet a group of parents who have children in a special school you cannot meet a more dedicated group of people who support that school. We must dismiss lightly a threat of closure.

I raise this issue today in order to highlight it. I am not sure that the Minister was right because a special school has a very wide catchment area; it does not always relate to one secondary school. That needs considerable thought. I referred to the Secretary of State in the amendment because someone needs to think about how we deal with this problem. I agree with the Minister that we are not having a Second Reading debate but it is a crucial issue that the Government and all of us must address in the coming months. I leave beg to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hanningfield

moved Amendment No. 130C: After Clause 69, insert the following new clause— "ABOLITION OF GRAMMAR SCHOOL BALLOTS Sections 105, 106, 107, 108 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) shall cease to have effect. The noble Lord said: This amendment may be slightly more controversial; I do not think I shall get quite the support from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, as on the previous amendment.

This amendment concerns the future of grammar schools, which is sometimes dismissed by the Government and other parties as a sideshow or irrelevance these days. It is deeply important not only for the schools concerned, which are doing an excellent job, but because of what it tells us about the nature of education and how education systems can be run most effectively for all our children. We all agree—or most people agree—that there has to be a variety of schools and choice.

In 1996, the then Leader of the Opposition said: A Labour Government would not close your grammar schools. That is my personal guarantee. I am not interested in closing good schools". However, one of the earliest steps taken by the new Government, in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, was to introduce measures that placed the remaining grammar schools in peril.

The Government implemented a one-way ratchet that allows the removal of grammar schools, but not the potential introduction of grammar schools. Members of the Minister's party claim that the issue is one of parental choice, but that is not true. Parents are free to choose not to have a grammar school, but they are not free to choose if they want one. The ballot question is loaded because it does not even refer to grammar schools or the intention to abolish them.

The balloting and petitioning system leaves many disenfranchised voters. Parents with pre-school children or children at private schools are not able to vote in the ballot, although they can go to the trouble of registering for the purposes of the ballot.

The petition provides for no mechanism to check whether signatures are genuine. The signatures will simply be checked against the list of eligible voters. The Government have not contacted the Electoral Reform Society to engage in any proper check or scrutiny of whether those people who appear to have signed the petition have in fact done so.

The debate on the government side has been dominated, tragically, by the ideas of an education system that the Labour Party saw or experienced in the 1950s, not the reality of selective education as it is today.

The success of grammar schools is well known and easy to identify. Year after year, half the top 200 places in the A-level league table are occupied by selective schools, as are nearly half the top 300 GCSE league table places. Noble Lords opposite may say that such results are surely inevitable, given that the most academically able children have been selected to go to those schools. However, I invite them to look at the overall achievements of the local education authorities, as that evidence lays to rest the myth about the selective system. Of the 149 LEAs in England, 29 have a significant element of selection; and 23 of the 29 fully or partially selective LEAs achieved above the LEA average for the country as a whole.

Strikingly, the success of selective LEAs becomes even more marked when like-for-like comparisons of areas' socio-economic profiles are made. A comparison between 22 LEAs that offer similar numbers of free school meals shows that selective LEA areas come top in 16 instances. The evidence speaks for itself. In my own town, Chelmsford, we have two selective schools within the top four state schools in the whole country; yet we also have three comprehensives in the very top league as well. So it shows that comprehensives and selective schools go side by side.

Moving on, abandoning grammar schools would also have serious repercussions for the educational opportunities of those pupils currently taught in such establishments. Any change would require reorganisation in many education authority areas. Again, we face wasted opportunities for ordinary children and wasted money in LEAs that seek to amalgamate or close schools or rationalise school estates. In Kent, education officers estimate that that would cost £150 million. Replicate that sum across all the areas that have grammar schools and the cost would be £0.5 billion—money that would be wasted on destroying good education rather than trying to improve bad education.

We have been left with a poor set of regulations that will influence the future of the grammar schools. Indeed, they were criticised by this House in May 1998 when concern was expressed at how the proposals had been put in place through regulations rather than primary legislation. We are stuck with a flawed procedure, loaded against the remaining grammar schools.

At the very least, parents around the country have a right to expect that those regulations will be observed and policed by Ministers. The Minister will be well aware that one of the regulations requires a prohibition on the use of public funds.

There have been reports of other abuses around the country. It has been reported that anti-grammar school campaigners have booked council chambers as if for union meetings and so not paid for the facilities. There have been reports of children signing the petitions. If they are signed in the name of their parents, the situation would not be covered because the Government made no provision for verifying whether signatures are genuine. There are reports of trade union funding of the anti-grammar campaign, which results in an unfair imbalance of resources. There are also reports of names being transferred to petitions directly from the list of electors en bloc, which again would not be discovered because the Government did not take the trouble to contract the Electoral Reform Society to check whether people have really expressed their wishes in the petition process.

It is time for the Government to admit the truth: some selection works. It works for pupils in grammar schools but it also works for those in high schools, who achieve better results under a selective system than they would if they went to other schools. It works for low and middle-income families who cannot afford to go elsewhere for their education and for the ethnic minorities, who have a route out of problem areas and a chance to achieve according to their abilities.

It is time for Ministers to get a grip on the situation and to declare the process in the 1998 Act unworkable and unnecessary. It does not provide for a fair question to be asked and/or for a proper decision to be reached.

We cannot proceed with an unfair campaign in breach of the rules that could destroy the very best education in this country. That would harm the interests not of a few children in grammar schools today but of millions of children all over the country for many years to come. I beg to move.

Baroness Andrews

This is an Education Bill and it is very tempting to have a debate, however short, on the future of grammar schools. I respect that.

The effect of the amendment would be to remove the provisions for parental petitions and ballots to decide the future admission arrangements of existing grammar schools. It would take power away from parents and place it back into the hands of the local authority. We believe that that would be wrong.

We have made our position clear many times. We do not support selection by ability at 11. We do not wish to see it extended. We continue to believe that parents, rather than Ministers or local government, are best placed to decide whether grammar schools should continue to select their pupils by ability. I want to make it clear that we think that is the right thing to do and we have no plans to abolish grammar schools.

The noble Lord talks about standards rising. We want to see, and are seeing year on year, higher standards and higher achievement in all our schools. We are pleased about that and have set it out in Every Child Matters. We have a duty towards the majority of children. This is an opportunity to pay tribute to those who ensure that happens—our teachers, parents, the pupils themselves and everyone who works in the education system.

If shall answer some of the noble Lords questions if I can, but let me remind the Committee that parents were first given the right to ballot on whether schools should opt out of their local education authority and be grant-maintained. That is very much a plank of the party opposite. We have to ask, in terms of the amendment, why should parents be denied the right to ballot on the future of selective admissions?

Before any ballot is held it must be demonstrated that there is local support. There must be a petition and 20 per cent of eligible parents must indicate that they want a ballot to go ahead.

On the question of eligibility, I believe that local authorities do check whether they are eligible. I shall write to the noble Lord if that will help.

Lord Hanningfield

Does the noble Baroness agree that if we are going to have elections that might be best done through the Electoral Reform Society? They could be properly conducted under better rules than the current procedure, which gives rise to the anomalies that I instanced and which could lead to abuses of the system. It might be better to have fairly orthodox and well regulated ballots.

Baroness Andrews

The Electoral Reform Society is involved at a very early stage. Once 10 or more people notify the Electoral Reform Society that they intend to raise the petition, the ERS must set the threshold for that petition—the number of parents who must sign the petition in favour of a ballot to form the 20 per cent required for the ballot to be held. That is a very important safeguard. We recognise that raising a petition is a significant task. It is only right that it is established that there is a genuine desire for a ballot among a significant proportion of parents. That brings with it costs. We understand that and are prepared to support the costs in that sense.

The noble Lord asked specifically about the nature of the question asked. We believe that the question is straightforward. We do not believe that it needs changing. It is a straightforward question: should the schools cease to admit on academic ability? Obviously, the implications of ending academic selection in grammar schools would be different in each area, but legislation allows any area or school to produce fairly presented factual information on the implications. Guidance on that is available in the ballot information code and in our guidance. So again we believe that safeguards are built in.

I do not want to say very much more because I believe that we have addressed the issues raised. To reiterate, we believe that parents should be the ones who decide whether their local grammar school should continue to select pupils on the basis of academic ability. The amendment would remove that right. We do not believe that that is right, and we hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hanningfield

I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I was pleased to hear, as we have heard before, that the Government do not wish to close existing grammar schools. Some people say that academies will be like grammar schools. I am sure that some people have that fear. I might not have that fear, but academies are a type of school that some parents might wish to choose. I would have liked the Government to have thought more and to have taken this opportunity, if we are going to have ballots, at least to make them slightly more satisfactory than they are now. But I hear what the noble Baroness says. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 12[School organisation: further amendments]:

Lord Filkin

moved Amendments Nos. 131 and 132: Page 115, line 39, leave out paragraph 28(2) and insert section 28(2) Page 116, line 21, leave out paragraph (c) and insert— "(c) for paragraph (b) of sub-paragraph (9) substitute— "(b) proposals adopted under paragraph 14 have effect as mentioned in paragraph 15(b),",

On Question, amendments agreed to.

7 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 132ZA: Page 117, line 19, at end insert— () In schedule 8 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (changes of category of school), in paragraph 2(2) after modifications insert except that in all cases the School Organisation Committee must approve of the change of category. The noble Baroness said: This amendment brings us back to foundation status and school organisation. Last time, we spoke about that in relation to Schedule 10, which concerns proposals under Section 65 for the establishment of secondary schools. Schedule 12 is a ragbag of subsequent amendments required to earlier education Acts. This amendment fits in with that rather splendidly by requiring an element to Schedule 8 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

I have raised the issue previously: we are considering the whole question of changing school category—in particular, changing from community schools to foundation schools. As I spoke at some length last time, I do not want to do so this time. Currently, the rules governing a change of school category are found in secondary legislation. As has been demonstrated by recent government consultation on fast-tracking of foundation school status, it is possible for a community or voluntary-controlled school to grant itself foundation school status without wider community approval of the change.

We propose in the amendment that the change should be subject to approval by the school organisation committee. As we also know from our earlier debates, that committee was established under the 1998 Act to take a community view of the local development of the school system. It is wrong that the Government have now decided to bypass that body for no apparent benefit. As I explained earlier, we have grave reservations about the acceleration of that process of consultation over the establishment of foundation status. We are by no means convinced that what are now community schools benefit from becoming foundation schools. We are worried about the knock-on effect of that on democratic accountability.

The principles behind changing category were described by the then Minister of State for School Standards back in 1998 as follows: the Government took the view that while they — community schools considering becoming foundation schools— are community schools, the community of interest is the LEA, because there is that link between them. If a school wants to become voluntary aided or a foundation school, it will be for the school organisation committee to agree or disagree with that change of character. —[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee A, 5/2/98.] The amendment provides the Government with an opportunity to put that commitment into legislation. I beg to move.

Lord Filkin:

I thank the noble Baroness for making those points and acknowledging that she had spoken to them earlier. I sought to remember as much as I could, although Hansard will help me later.

In short, we do not think that the amendment has anything to do with the subject of the Bill or of Schedule 12. The change of category regulations have already been made. Rather, we feel that the amendment is designed effectively to frustrate the intention set out in the Governments five-year strategy to allow schools to become foundation schools by a simple vote of their governing body, followed by a short consultation. We consulted widely on those proposals, including local authorities and dioceses, and are currently considering the responses.

In our view, the change in category of the school is not always so significant a change that it requires an external decision-maker. The school itself will be the same size and cover the same age range, so I cannot see how it significantly alters the pattern of supply and demand in the area such that the school organisation committee could be engaged. If that is the case, what criteria will the school organisation committee apply? Presumably, it will be whether it thinks that foundation schools are a good or bad idea.

With the greatest respect, Parliament has—the Government have—established a policy position on that. So it would be a sham for the school organisation committee to be engaged in that, when it has plenty of other extremely important and challenging business to do, without undertaking that bureaucratic process.

Foundation status may not affect the size or age range of the school, but we hope that it will have a significant impact on the attitude and ethos of the school. We want schools to take responsibility for their own character and future and, as I said, have more of the levers of control and resources under their governance better to get excellent outcomes for their children. They own their land and buildings; they employ their own staff; they may have a foundation, and we are consulting on whether that foundation may have a majority of governors on the governing body, as voluntary-aided schools do.

We think that those responsibilities will make it easier for schools to develop a distinctive ethos and make them more responsive to changing demands, but there are proper safeguards in place. Admissions will be governed by existing legislation and guided by the school admissions code of practice. The governing body of the foundation school may make changes to the schools admission arrangements only after consulting in accordance with regulation. If there is disagreement, the local authority or any other school can object to the schools adjudicator about the admission arrangements. The buildings are not owned in the sense that they can be sold off and the money spent; disposal would require the consent of the Secretary of State and proceeds would normally return to the local authority.

Let me underline the point about admissions and the importance of effective arrangements. The former Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Charles Clarke, in a speech that he made in November, set out the position extremely clearly. He said: By September 2005, every Admissions Forum should develop and agree a protocol covering their area for the admission of hard to place children. We will issue guidance and examples of good local agreements and will make consequent changes to the School Admissions Code of Practice. So the school admissions code of practice, buttressed by a protocol signed up to by schools, gives strong mechanisms for motivating agreement on how place hard to place children. He continued: I expect all schools … to be part of these protocols and I will if necessary legislate to achieve this. We doubt that that will be necessary, because we think that there will be a proper response.

Without protracting the debate, that is why we cannot support the amendment. It would interpose an unnecessary bureaucratic process.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for his reply, but to some extent he gave his position away when he corrected himself. He started by saying that Parliament has already established a positive position and then corrected himself and said that the Government have already established a positive position on the matter. They have changed their position on foundation schools compared to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. They have been able to do so by secondary legislation and they have, as the Minister rightly said, been consulting widely about the proposals to fast-track the establishment of foundation schools.

The reason why we on these Benches are worried about the issue is that although it probably has surprisingly little impact on the organisation of the school itself, it has a major impact on the governance of the school, as I pointed out previously. There is a significant change in the balance of appointments among the governors: a shift away from those who are elected, especially elected parent governors, towards those who are appointed. We are worried about the issue because education is one of the largest spenders of government money. Schools are expensive institutions. A great deal of money is being spent here and we feel that some element of democratic accountability in the governance of those organisations is appropriate.

We are worried by the shift away from democratic accountability to relatively undemocratic accountability. As I pointed out previously, it does not apply only to foundation schools. One sees it occurring across a raft of institutions which the Government are setting up—whether it applies to regional assemblies, development agencies or foundation trusts. There is no doubt that those are all good local burghers, local citizens. Nevertheless, they are appointed, not elected. We believe that the proposition that there shall be no taxation without representation is correct. We are worried by that tendency.

I can see that I shall not move the Minister in any sense—however eloquent I may be on the issue. We shall return to this fundamental issue time and again—the tendency to move from democratic means to the Governments appointees, their cronies. There are great dangers in that. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 70 and 71 agreed to.

Clause 72 [Functions of Agency]:

Lord Hanningfield

moved Amendment No. 132A: Page 41, line 7, at end insert by developing productive partnerships with other providers of continuing professional development The noble Lord said: With Amendments Nos. 132A and 136B, I come to what I think is probably the biggest issue concerning the training of the school workforce. As noble Lords will see from the amendments, it is my contention that the Government have neglected to say, at least in the Bill, how the new agency will operate in relating to other agencies and bodies which have overlapping responsibilities.

Before detailing that neglect, I should say that I am in favour of the Governments general approach to teacher training. Bringing together initial teacher training, continuous professional development and career promotion indicates a coherent strategic approach and potentially will give the Government the ability to steer and influence all-through teacher development. This should be a boon to standards and teachers aspirations for ongoing development opportunities.

However, as I have mentioned, the nature of the agencys wider-ranging remit in engaging in productive partnerships with other bodies that also operate in the area of teacher training, development and advocacy has been left unclear by the Government, and it would be helpful to all concerned if the Minister could say a little about how he expects the new arrangements to operate.

For example, it seems to me that there is a particular issue with regard to the General Teaching Council in England and Wales. The General Teaching Council is the teachers professional body and has led a lot of important work on continuous professional development, particularly early career development. It has produced the GTC professional learning framework, which informed the recently revised Department for Education and Skills continuous professional development strategic priorities, and has established a teaching learning academy to provide national recognition of teachers professional learning. The GTC successfully piloted with nine LEAs innovative approaches to CPD development in schools and is now extending that to 21 further LEAs supported by the General Teaching Councils link advisers. The DfES has also established regional CPD advisers who are working with local authorities on the review of CPD strategy in the light of the DfES priorities. They do this by working closely with the GTC link advisers.

The important point is that the Bill makes no mention of the need for the Training and Development Agency for Schools to consult the GTC on standards for teaching and continuous professional development, even though in law the GTC is charged with raising standards of teaching and quality of learning. The absence of that provision from the Bill strikes me as either an oversight that the Government must now address as a matter of urgency or a mistake that could lead to incoherent outcomes.

Can the Minister tell the Committee whether he thinks that the agency's extended responsibilities could jeopardise the coherent, professional role of the General Teaching Council? If not, what are the implications for the extended role of the agency, particularly relating to the CPD, and other bodies leading and working in that area? Finally, does not the noble Lord agree that there should be some requirement for the Training and Development Agency for Schools to consult the GTC, if not other bodies such as the QCA, on the statutory functions that they seem to share? I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Filkin

We move to a new part; let us hope we make good progress on it. At Second Reading, we stated how important is training and development of the whole school workforce as part of improving educational attainment and the mechanism for helping to deliver the goals of the Children Act. Therefore, I shall not develop that.

The Committee will also know why we have chosen the Teacher Training Agency to be the foundation for reform and development and to do that function. Its record of success over recent years has been impressive, remarkable and well recognised by many, both its success in raising the status, numbers, confidence and skill of the teaching profession and its success at developing, in partnership with other bodies, teaching assistants into the schools system to the considerable benefit of children in our schools.

Therefore, we think it important that the Training and Development Agency for Schools should work closely with, and have consistency between, its future activities and other bodies with an interest in raising standards of teaching and learning. Those bodies include the General Teaching Council for England and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. In Wales, where the agency may also act at the request of the Assembly, they also include the General Teaching Council for Wales. The agency itself recognises that. The TTA's record of achieving this synergy is good. We are determined that it will continue to be the case. None the less, it is important that, in encouraging the agency to take an inclusive and participative approach to its business, we do not encumber it with bureaucratic procedures. Amendments Nos. 132A and 136B would risk that.

Clause 72(2)(b) stipulates that one of the agency's objectives shall be to promote careers in the school workforce. This re-enacts and extends the TTA's existing objective to promote teaching as a career under Section 1 of the Education Act 1994.

Encouraging and enabling adults to work in school is not wholly about providing them with continuing training opportunities. It is much more fundamentally a question of prompting people to consider joining the school workforce, advising them about the most suitable route into the profession and ensuring that they have the initial training opportunities. Those are three areas in which the TTA has achieved outstanding success and on which the TDA will build.

For example, the TTA has run a series of high-profile, extremely successful, advertising campaigns to promote careers in teaching. Secondly, every year the TTA's teaching information line deals with numbers of inquiries from prospective trainee teachers that are well into six figures, and the advice and guidance the callers receive is of the utmost importance in steering them towards a suitable route. I think that there will probably be broad consensus on that, so let me not labour the point. None of that means that the TDA should or will shun partnerships with other bodies which have an interest in this field.

The promotion of continuous professional development for teachers generally would invariably include working with and discussing with the General Teaching Council for England. The TTA has in the past consulted and worked with key stakeholders to produce frameworks of standards and professional qualifications, such as qualified teacher and higher-level teaching assistants, and additionally they work well with two partners to secure high-quality training provision and provide support and guidance to school staff and teachers. The agency has also had coherent dialogue with the QCA, and both are members of several existing forums including, particularly importantly, the school workforce development board, which is a partnership between government employers, unions and other bodies to lead the development of the school workforce in England. It has been remarkably successful as an exercise in social partnership about making some difficult, radical changes in how the school workforce works with the positive co-operation of most of the unions and local authority employers. Similarly, the agency and the GTCE are members of the School Workforce Strategy Group, which is committed to developing a highly skilled workforce in England. The governing boards of the TTA and the GTCE have for several years shared one member in common, although her tenure has now expired. I will argue that Amendment No. 136B would not usefully add value to the arrangements that I have described.

When I met the chief executive of the GTCE recently to talk about the childrens workforce reform agenda, those issues were not raised, so far as I recall. Those I met talked most thoughtfully about how the registration and regulation bodies such as the GTCE needed to reflect on the development of codes of practice and the professional registration issues regarding the school workforce. They recognised that we are in a state of gradual evolution and development. I commended them for that thoughtfulness in recognising how the world of professional disciplines had been carved up in the past and that it was not quite in a state of flux but certainly in one of development—more strength to their arm on promoting those discussions with others. I do not think that there is a threat to such bodies through this proposal. The TDA must, and will, work in partnership with them. The more they do so, the more we will serve the needs of children in schools and the wider community. I hope that that has helped the noble Lord.

Lord Hanningfield:

I thank the Minister for that reply. The other professional bodies have been concerned about the increased role of the GTCE. As I said, we support it, but when you give a new body more powers, sometimes other bodies wonder exactly how they relate to it. The professionals to whom I have spoken have expressed concern. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

moved Amendment No. 132B: Page 41, line 8, leave out "and efficiency The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 132C and 132D. All three amendments relate to Clause 72(2), which deals with the objectives of the Training and Development Agency. Amendment No. 132C would delete from paragraph (c) the term "and efficiency" from the phrase, to improve the quality and efficiency of all routes into the school workforce". Amendments Nos. 132C and 132D are important little amendments. If the former were agreed, paragraph (d) would read: to secure the involvement of schools in all courses and programmes for the initial and continuing professional development … of school teachers". That would very much fulfil the Government's objectives. Amendment No. 132D provides the objective applies to the training of teachers, and other members of the school workforce". Given the role now played by other members of the school workforce, it is important that what I know to be the Governments objectives should be reflected in the Bill.

I must confess that these are probing amendments. In his letter, dated 17 December, to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and me, the Minister said that, much of what the Government were expecting from the TTA"— in its transformation to the TDA— will require co-ordination work". with no extra funding. He stated: for example, the remit for continuing professional development of teachers is not about funding of such provision, because money for this is already in the school budgets By that, does he mean that schools will now get additional funding to meet the training and development needs of support staff as well as teachers? The DfES no longer provides ring-fenced grants for teacher continuing professional development. On the one hand, that may allow schools and LEAs greater flexibility to provide accessible professional development that better meets their teachers needs and aspirations, but it does not ensure entitlement to CPD.

The GTCE for England survey published in July 2004 found that 24 per cent of teachers felt that their professional development needs went unmet. If almost a quarter of teachers do not have access or opportunity for meaningful professional development, what guarantees are there for the school workforce more generally? Without a properly funded entitlement, we see teachers having to pay for their own training. The GTCE survey found that almost one in five—17 per cent of respondents—had either wholly or in part personally funded their professional development in the past 12 months. Is there, therefore, an expectation that teaching staff will have to pay for some element of their training?

At the north of England conference, in Manchester, Ralph Tabberer, the current chief executive of the TTA, said: we ought to raise our expectations significantly about every member of staff being engaged in continuous professional development within the fabric of every school day. This we have circled for years but have not yet achieved". He then argued: What is coming over already is the fact that, outside of the National Strategies, which I think should be classified as government change programmes rather than CPD, a lot of training and development in this country has become fragmented: teachers taking up bits and pieces rather than being directed to more targeted and sustained activities. If we let this go on, it will be a big waste. Research is categorical that, organised properly, training and development programmes give schools the best bangs for their bucks in terms of impact on school and improvement and pupil outcomes, better than reductions in class size, better than ICT initiatives, better even than the use of more classroom assistants. But if the training and development is in bits and pieces, research is equally clear that the effects simply disappear". How far will those aspirations for continuous professional training and development be met? Will there be resources to meet those aspirations? To what extent are they just pie in the sky? I beg to move.

Lord Filkin

I shall explain why the probing amendments, which I must not take too literally, would make an unwelcome addition. I do not mean to dismiss them, but I recognise the literalism involved. Such amendments are sometimes a peg on which to hang an argument.

Clause 72(2)(c) provides the TDA with an objective to improve the quality and efficiency of routes into the school workforce, based on Section 1 of the 1994 Act. The amendment would mean that one of the TDA's objectives would continue to be improvement of the quality of routes into the school workforce, but it would no longer be a stated objective that it should improve their efficiency. I cannot believe that that is literally what was intended, because, clearly, the TDA ought to be concerned about such issues as reducing the dropout rate between following a training course and entering the school workforce, or ensuring that the content of training corresponds more closely to the needs of those being trained and their eventual employers. The TTA has had success in both those areas. Such outcomes are clearly highly desirable and must continue to be part of the TDA's objectives.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also proposes changes to subsection (2)(d), which provides the TDA with an objective to secure schools involvement in all forms of initial teacher training. As drafted, the provision reproduces exactly the wording of the 1994 Act. Although the TDA's new remit will encompass the wider school workforce as well as teachers, and continuing as well as initial training, we reflected carefully before deciding to confine the provision to the initial training of teachers.

Schools are already involved in all initial teacher training courses. In some forms of training, such as employment-based programmes, they can be training providers. But even more conventional routes must have heavy school involvement.

Why, then, should we not, as the noble Baroness proposes, extend this to the initial and continuing training of the whole school workforce? I assure the Committee straightaway that schools will be directly involved in many of the activities undertaken as part of the TDA's new remit. For example, a teachers annual performance appraisal is already geared towards identifying development needs, as it should be. This will be further reinforced when the teaching and learning reviews for teachers are introduced from September.

I would also draw the attention of noble Lords to the contrast between this sort of activity and the training of a school bursar. This almost entirely involves issues concerned with financial management and need not necessarily involve a school directly. Likewise, several thousand qualified teachers are already engaged in continuing professional development activities which do not have direct school involvement.

I am in no doubt of the good intentions behind the amendments, but the new agency will promote the development of a high-quality, well-trained school workforce just as vigorously as has the old. The wording of Clause 72(2) is designed to set a framework for the agency to do just that.

I turn to the issue of resources. There has been a substantial delegation of funding into schools for teacher development so that they themselves have the appropriate resources. As regards the resources going into the TDA itself, if I recollect correctly it is to have an increase of 13 per cent to its budget from next April to take account of the expanded responsibilities we are placing on it. Again from recollection, that increase will provide a budget for the TDA in the order of some £650 million. This is a powerful and well-resourced organisation which has a track record of success. We are confident that, working in partnership with other organisations, the TDA is the right vehicle to deliver the improvements to the school workforce which are absolutely crucial if we are to achieve the objectives set out in Every Child Matters.

I hope that my response is helpful to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I thank the Minister for his reply. Taking the amendments I have tabled literally, the issues of quality and efficiency again raise the question of resources, a point I shall come back to in a moment.

I am slightly surprised at the speed with which the noble Lord has turned down the two subsequent amendments, Amendments Nos. 132C and 132D, both of which reflect the Governments stated aspirations for what they want to do with the TDA. He has rejected them with contumely, but one gets used to that on this side of the Chamber.

On the issue of resources, the question is not so much the resources provided to the TDA, although that is part of it, but the fact that there are pressures on schools. Will sufficient resources be available within school budgets to make provision for the continuing and expanding professional development envisaged here, in which schools are to take an active role? The problem is that when budgets are squeezed, provision for training is usually the first to go out of the window. It would be nice to think that that is not going to be the case here. As the noble Lord rightly points out, there is a direct link between training and performance, which is a point worth pursuing.

Given the hour and the fact that we all want to have something to eat, I shall not pursue the matter any further at this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. However, we may come back to this at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 132C and 132D not moved.]

Baroness Andrews

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In doing so I suggest that the Committee stage of the Education Bill should start not before twenty-five minutes to nine.

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

House resumed.