HL Deb 24 February 1997 vol 578 cc905-70

3.9 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley)

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Relaxation of controls on changes relating to selective admissions]

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 13 at beginning insert ("Except in the case of any county school which has within the previous four years undertaken a significant enlargement of its capacity").

The noble Lord said: In order to cover the susurrus created by the movement of noble Lords whose interest in education seems to have expired some considerable time ago, perhaps I may begin by apologising to the Committee and begging its indulgence because I have the mother and father of all coughs. Throughout the rest of our proceedings today I shall cough, hack and I hope not spit, but it is a question of whether my voice will hold out until the end of the day. May I therefore invite noble Lords on all sides of the Committee who cannot hear what I say and wish to do so to signal that fact by some modest eccentricity of behaviour?

In moving Amendment No. 1, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 4, 48 and 55. These amendments bring together the issues of enlargement and increases in selection. The first two amendments provide that county and voluntary schools are to be excluded from the greater freedom to select where they have enlarged their capacity to a significant extent in the previous four years. The third amendment, which is an amendment to the Government's new clause before Clause 3, provides that where a grant-maintained school has used that clause to enlarge its premises in the same way, the greater freedom to select conferred under Part I shall not apply to that school.

This Bill is about serial change. One might describe it as a series of salami cuts towards selection or a creeping barrage against the comprehensive principle. The best analogue I can think of is ecclesiastical. For some 10 years before 1980 liturgical activists worked to modernise the services of the Church of England and confine Cranmer to the crypt. Then, in 1980, came the Alternative Service Book; not a replacement, we were told, not a takeover, but one beside the other—alternatives. But, as some of us said, be ye not deceived. The intention was quite clearly to displace the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and scrap 318 years of tranquil agreement; but slowly, slice by slice, introducing first of all series 1, series 2, series 3 and series goodness knows what, and then a little bit further down the line producing an Alternative Service Book, marginalising and reducing the old book, and pushing the new one, especially through the theological colleges. This same process of gradualism is at work in the Bill.

As we open our detailed discussion on it I would beg the Committee not to be taken in for a moment by the idea that these are only small changes, minor adjustments and little movements here and there to allow a bit more elbow room to those who really need it. This Bill offers alternatives and its aim is to restore the élitism of the 11-plus. We shall not see the 11-plus reinstituted in all its gory glory, but we shall see the same divisiveness in our education system. And unto him that hath shall be given and from him that hath not—the underprivileged—shall be taken away, even that which they hath.

In technical terms, the Bill completely rewrites the concept of "significant change of character" and "significant enlargement" by the provisions of Part I. This provides that in relation to the character of the school, increasing selection up to a threshold of 20 per cent. in a county school or 50 per cent. in a grant-maintained secondary school does not significantly change its character. It is the same beast really; nobody would know the difference; it is a minor matter; a mere adjustment. In our view, that is not so.

In the same way, the Government's new clause, which was twice not agreed to in the other place, tries to rewrite the concept of significant enlargement of premises so that an increase of 50 per cent. is not to be treated as significant. By altering these technical definitions, Ministers hope to liberate schools—and in particular grant-maintained schools—from a process of public consultation and seeking of consent and popular agreement which in most other areas of our legal system is considered the essential underpinning of a structured system, and especially of a structured system of school provision.

These amendments thus seek to draw out some of the implications of this gentle relaxation of control at the outset of our Committee stage. The contention behind the amendments is that either a substantial increase in the selective intake of a school or a large growth in its size are major alterations in both the practice and the ethos of a school and that they should not take place simultaneously. All those professionally concerned in education agree, as the Second Reading debate on this Bill reflected, that the education service needs, above all, a period of calm and recuperation rather than the perpetual fuss of ongoing and everlasting change. Teachers, head teachers, LEAs and educationists are sick of one Bill every year, churning up and overturning what they have been trying to assimilate and get through to their pupils in the previous 12 months. They go back in the autumn in fear and dread of what the Government will throw at them this time which will require more and endless returns and paperwork and keep teachers from their classes.

The principal problems in our education service are illiteracy, innumeracy, the position of our system in its rating against our international competitors, discipline, teaching methods, rotting buildings and demoralised teachers in a profession which does not even have a general council to look after its interests. Those are the major items that we ought to be addressing ourselves to, because, as the Prime Minister himself said—we shall repeat this shamelessly during the next days of Committee debate—15 per cent. of our children are equal to the best in the world but, in his phrase, the other 85 per cent. frankly are not. What we have is this great tail of under-achievers. We contend that those are the people to whom we should be addressing our work. Yet the Government's policy, at this fag end of a Parliament, is to loosen the foundations on which a formerly coherent system rests by creating, even more than they have to date, a market for pupils among schools.

I should also, I suppose, declare a sort of interest. I am the chairman of the Council of the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture, which is part of a group of charities of which the Prince of Wales is the president. I was talking about this issue with the Director of Education in another of them, Business in the Community, which deals with education and business. He said this: We estimate that 25-30% of young people at 19 are functionally illiterate and this is costing business £10 billions per annum to provide training in basic numeracy and literacy as well as billions to the UK economy in terms of the costs of unemployment, social security, exclusion, crime and related tax costs combined with low purchasing power and lowered tax-base in the economy and skills shortages undermining future investment. We believe that this 'tail' is the result of the cycle of low aspiration and deprivation in disadvantaged communities with low literate adults…some 5,000 schools (4,000 primary/1,000 secondary) need focused support to tackle this issue which affects over 200,000 young people leaving school at 16 with virtually no formal qualifications (100,000 fail to achieve any grade in English or mathematics at GCSE each year)". I could not put it better myself. It is right that, as the Committee begins to assess what the Bill says about greater selection, this is a matter to which we should give our attention.

The Government make much of the importance and the creative possibilities of competition. There is a great deal of truth in that. We on this side of the Chamber support competition wherever it can be usefully and creatively deployed; it is a necessary part of any educational process. It can be creative, stretching, enlightening, developing and it can be great fun. I recall that 50 years ago my grammar school, as it then was—it is not now—used to play rugby against every public school in the area that we could find. It was highly competitive. We played Blundells, Christ College, Brecon, Crypt Gloucester and Llandovery. In our view those schools existed for the sole purpose of being beaten by Cardiff High School at rugby regularly every year and by a large margin. Similarly, we competed against them in achieving scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge and we did extremely well.

But what was the price? Eighty five per cent. of our contemporaries, many of our friends, brothers, sisters, people with young children whom we had been brought up with, were consigned to the factories, the collieries or the dead-end jobs where they were simply "hands" that clocked on for the appropriate shift. They were the under-achievers—the tail-enders.

Those days are dead and gone. Competition must now be creative in a new way. I gave the best picture of it that I know at Second Reading when I talked about one school which introduced a new race on Games Day, in which the school was divided into teams. They raced against one another, but each team had a proportion of the weak, disabled, the unco-ordinated and the general losers. The winning team was the one which got all its members over the line first. To win one had to collaborate as well as compete. That is the kind of competition that this country needs: that is what we are aiming for with these amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, deserves the sympathy of this Chamber for the risk that he runs of the collapse of his voice. If I were to comment I believe that perhaps, for the sake of his voice, he could be a little less generous with his eloquence because his speech did range somewhat widely from the amendment that he was moving. That said, I sincerely hope that his voice will hold on for the rest of the day because I always enjoy listening to him even if I find myself disagreeing with so much of what he said.

I have a little difficulty with the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, was introducing. Of course, he is right to be concerned about the level of under-achievement in schools, but that is something which, regrettably, has persisted for a very long time. Indeed, it was always there. I went to a moderately good public school and there was under-achievement even there. The fact of the matter is that if one looks at the other side of the spectrum—which I believe is the way that one should put it—and at university entrants, one finds that the percentage has risen from 8 per cent. in about 1980 to 30 per cent. today. That suggests that the schools are doing a remarkably successful job on behalf of a very large number of students. So there is another side to that particular picture.

I had a little difficulty with the argument that the noble Lord produced over the Book of Common Prayer because the original which we all grew up with was a very familiar and well-loved document and had been around for some centuries. To compare comprehensive education with that is being a little "radical" with the facts. I did not really like the process of gradualism from that being compared to this. In any event, even if we are now indulging in a process of gradualism back to something which existed for a long time before—it can be said that we are—that process is as nothing compared with the very blunt instrument that was used in two circulars from the Labour Government; namely, Circulars Nos. 1065 and 1066. They actually introduced the comprehensive system virtually at a stroke when in fact there was not a demand for it.

I come back to the amendments. The one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, left out of his proposition was consideration of the wishes and needs of parents. Not only are we talking about empowering schools as to how they should administer and organise their affairs, we are also talking about empowering parents so that they can make valid choices about the schools which their children attend. I remind the Committee that selection is not simply a matter of the 11-plus or bust. I come from a town with three very good schools and a sixth-form college. The rational way of organisation in that town would be for the three schools each to specialise in particular groups of subjects. It would make for much better use of resources. Such a system would imply a very heavy degree of selection by parents and the schools for it to work and the necessity to pick people with an affinity for the subject groupings on which the schools concentrated. I reject the remarks made in moving this amendment and I hope that the Committee will support the amendments proposed by the Government.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

Perhaps I may add my voice in expressing sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, for the affliction which has overcome him. It may have affected the mellifluence of his voice, but it has not affected the eloquence of his speech. I listened with great interest to his opening remarks. I am delighted that, in addition to his knowledge of the Bible, of the 1662 book and of clerical humour, to which I referred at Second Reading, he has added a knowledge of liturgical development.

He may be interested in a story which relates to the moment when the Queen was present at the General Synod of the Church of England and was to be presented with a copy of the alternative service book to which the noble Lord has referred. In presenting the book the Archbishop said that he had considered the possibility of making the point that the alternative service book stood alongside the 1662 book by presenting the Queen with a copy of each of them but, he said, "Your Majesty, we did think you might already possess a copy of one of them". I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, possesses a copy of the 1662 book. I am delighted to think that he uses it so frequently.

I had some difficulty—as did the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith—over the application of that particular parallel because it seems to me, as has just been said, that the parallel was incorrectly drawn. Had we been considering the introduction of a new book, his analogy might have been right; but in going back to selection, we are surely doing something that might be paralleled by a return to the Book of Common Prayer—a restoration. Therefore, I found some difficulty with the notion that moving towards selection is paralleled by moving towards liturgical development. In fact, it seemed to me that the parallel was reversed.

I accept what the noble Lord said about the need for broad-based skills in education. When I listen to industrialists and a variety of other people talking about the educational needs of this country, again and again they paint the picture of an educational system which at the top produces marvellous scholars who are very well equipped, which produces a broad middle range of people with good skills, but which totally fails to produce the broad pyramid for the whole of our national workforce which is what we need. In other words, at the bottom end, the skills narrow down again. What we most need is an educational system which enables all those who pass through it to gain broad-based skills. Therefore, I accept the broad thrust of the noble Lord's remarks.

However, perhaps the noble Lord can explain my difficulty over the relevance of this amendment which, as I understand it, would mean that a school (either a county school or, under Amendment No. 4, a voluntary school) could not make two sets of changes within the four-year period. In other words, if a school has enlarged its capacity, it cannot then take the road towards selection within the same four-year period. I can understand the argument against selection, but I cannot at the moment quite grasp why a school which has enlarged its capacity should somehow be prevented from going down the road of selection. Perhaps the noble Lord can assist me with that. However, it may well be that as we move on in the debate, I shall find myself more in agreement with him.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Tope

I hesitate to follow the ecclesiastical arguments that have so far characterised this debate. Indeed, I do not intend to do so. I rise to support this amendment, which stands also in my name and in that of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, to whom I spoke on the telephone this morning. Unfortunately, the noble Earl has been taken ill and is confined to his bed. He asked me to explain that and to give his apologies to the Committee for his unavoidable absence today and to say—I think I quote him accurately—that he supports anything that can be done to protect the role of LEAs.

Lord Henley

I can assure the noble Lord that the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, communicated with me by fax to pass on exactly the same message.

Lord Tope

I am grateful to the Minister.

As I have said, I do not want to follow the ecclesiastical debate, but I should like to comment on one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about the large growth in the number of university entrants. That has been a welcome change over the past 20 to 30 years and I should have thought that it makes the need for selection even less than might have been the case all those years ago. I believe it undermines any argument that there might be in favour of selection.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, described the principal problems, as he saw them, of our education system as illiteracy and poor numeracy. He touched very gently and delicately—as I know that he must—on the other principal problem, the crumbling buildings and lack of equipment—basically, the under-funding of our education system. As we have said previously, the Bill does nothing to address that. Today, we are largely debating matters which, frankly, are irrelevant to the real needs of our education service. Nevertheless, we must now try to see how we can make a bad Bill better.

As I said on Second Reading, the only way to make this part of the Bill better is to remove Part I altogether. I urged the Minister to do that, but I did so more in hope than in expectation and I need to repeat it: the only satisfactory thing to do is to withdraw Part I from the Bill. We cannot do that, however, so we are seeking to make something bad a little less bad. That is the purpose of our amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, referred to serial change. It reminded me of a card that I used to have on my office wall which said, "Constant change is here to stay". That is the case with the education system. There have been Education Bills every year that this Government have been in office. Although most people agree that the one thing that our schools really need now is a period of calm and recuperation, here we are changing things and churning it all up again—and for no very good reason.

The amendments seek to restrict that degree of change. We propose either that there should be significant growth or that there should be a selective intake, but not both at the same time. The upheaval and the disturbance to a school at such a time would be considerable. Perhaps even more so—here I come to the query raised by the right reverend Prelate—in that the effect of allowing growth and a selective intake, particularly in grant-maintained schools, would ensure that the rate of change and the rate of selection in such schools would be significantly greater. Over time—probably over not all that much time—the proportion of selective places would rise above even the percentages suggested in the Bill, although many of us agree that they are far too high.

The purpose of the amendment is to give schools and admission authorities a choice: either to expand the numbers or to increase the proportion of selective places. The amendments seek to prevent the drift towards selection being combined with the wholesale expansion of the grant-maintained sector, without the approval of the parents, the Secretary of State or anyone else.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

First, I must apologise for not hearing all of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. I am afraid that a large family crisis will forbid me from staying to the end of the debate; but, having spoken at Second Reading, I felt that I should say something now. Those parts of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that I managed to hear both in the Lobby and in this Chamber worry me because no one on the Opposition Benches is prepared to consider breaking the rigidity of our present system and that is something that we really must consider.

As noble Lords know, the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and I had somewhat of an exchange over the continental system, so I should like to make the facts clear. Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Austria and Germany have the old, tripartite system. France, Italy, Spain and Scandinavia have comprehensive education up to age 16 although with repetition of years. If you fail a year, you have to repeat it. Furthermore, they do not have an examination that is equivalent to GCSE. In other words, an integral part of what we call their comprehensive system is a form of selection post-16. Although I say that at boring length, noble Lords opposite do not seem to realise it.

This Bill seeks to break the log jam. I understand noble Lords opposite want to keep a comprehensive system to the age of 18, providing vocational and academic qualifications. If they oppose the Bill, they must explain to the House how they think that such a comprehensive system will be better than those provided by all our continental neighbours, even those without the tripartite system who have selection post-16 and who, it is generally agreed in every survey, produce better results than we do. We are harping on old arguments and I have not yet detected any constructive proposals from the Benches opposite.

This Bill may not be perfect—I am a Back-Bencher and I can say that—but it is a step in the right direction. Unless we are prepared to think about it we will go steadily further down. In the Second Reading debate I quoted Galileo. I now quote the old saying about the Bourbons: [They] have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing".

Lord Henley

I do not intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, by making what amounts to a Second Reading speech on the first amendment of the day. However, I pick him up on one or two points. I am amused to hear that the Labour Party now supports competition. I am also amused to hear of his prowess on the rugby field. Perhaps he was referring to his school's prowess. I do not know whether the noble Lord himself took part when Cardiff High School used to thrash so many English and, I daresay, Welsh public schools. As an Englishman, one wonders whether the same would be true now of the Welsh and English national teams. One will have to wait and see.

I should also like to deal with one point raised by the right reverend Prelate. He spoke of skill shortages that faced British industry. He was quite right to say that it was necessary to get the education system right so that it could deal with any skill shortages that might arise in the future, but I can assure him that there are no skill shortages at the moment. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Desai—who was briefly in his place earlier today—the British economy is in fine shape. I am grateful to the noble Lord for telling us that.

The right reverend Prelate also made the valuable point that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, had not really told the Committee what the amendments were about and had hardly addressed them in his speech. It may assist the Committee if I say a word or two about the amendments before a decision is reached on them. The noble Lord alleged that the Bill was about serial change and was a creeping barrage against the comprehensive principle. I assure the noble Lord that it is not that. It is about giving more power to schools and admission authorities to consider developing choice and diversity within those schools. I do not believe that that is a matter to which the noble Lord can object. One of the central purposes of the Bill is to give admission authorities greater flexibility to introduce or extend selection without needing central approval; that is to say, it is deregulatory in nature. That is what Schedule 1, to which Clause 1 gives effect, and Clause 3, which is referred to by one of the later amendments, provide for.

We believe that it is right for admission authorities, whether governing bodies or LEAs, to have extra flexibility to respond to what parents want. However, it is important to remember from where we start. Under present legislation LEAs and governing bodies must publish statutory proposals for any alteration to a school that would amount to a significant change of character. In relation to selective admissions, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has taken the view that to select up to 15 per cent. of a school's intake does not constitute a significant change of character and that therefore the usual procedures need not be followed. Paragraph 2 of Schedule I would enable the admission authority of any county or voluntary school to introduce selection or to vary the proportion of selective admissions by up to 20 per cent. rather than the existing 15 per cent. of a school's intake. We have yet to hear from the Opposition exactly what it feels about specialist schools. Does it believe that specialist schools should have the right to select a certain proportion of those by ability or aptitude within their own particular speciality? For technology colleges and other specialist schools the threshold would be 30 per cent. These are simply extensions to the flexibility that admission authorities already have. I see no reason why particular county or voluntary schools should be denied access to them, which is exactly what Amendments Nos. 1 and 4 seek to do.

Schools that have significantly enlarged their capacity tend to be popular schools or schools that happen to be in areas where there has been population growth. To penalise such schools seems to be particularly objectionable, but that is exactly what these amendments seek to do. Similar points apply to Amendment No. 48 in relation to grant-maintained schools. As for Amendment No. 55, there is no reason why introducing or extending selection should require significant enlargement or adaptation of premises. I suspect that in most cases governing bodies who decide to take this path will not want to commit themselves to major building work. However, there may be cases where governing bodies decide to combine selection with expanding the school's premises or, where pupils are selected by aptitude for a particular subject, providing specialist adaptations to support that particular subject. That is particularly appropriate for those schools within the specialist schools programme. We have no intention of preventing that. That does not mean that schools that want to carry out such projects should have any automatic right to capital grant from the Funding Agency for Schools beyond their normal formula allocation. But if the governors can find funding that they need from a variety of sources available to them I see no reason why they should be prevented by law from combining selection with expansion. Obviously, the noble Lord does not share my view because that is exactly what this amendment seeks to do. Presumably, the noble Lord is afraid that popular schools which introduce selection will become even more popular and draw away more pupils from other less popular schools. As a central planner, no doubt the noble Lord regards that as a bad thing, but I certainly do not.

If a school expands as a result of introducing or extending selection it must mean that it is giving parents what they want. I regard that as a very good thing and is much of what this Bill is all about. We want many more parents to be able to put their children into popular schools, like the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition and Mrs. Harman. If it means that there are surplus places at unpopular schools there are ways of dealing with that.

For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will not feel that it is necessary to press the amendment, but if he does so, I advise my noble friends and others that it should be rejected.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

In opening what I believed would be a pretty long haul and some fairly late hours, I felt that it was my duty to set the scene in which this amendment was tabled. After all, this is the first amendment of the first day. I am sorry that my ecclesiastical analogy caused such concern on the spiritual Benches, but I intended merely to illustrate the seductive power of gradualism in the move towards selection which this whole Bill represented. As to the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, we believe that selection and growth during the school experience of one child represent too much disruption in the ethos of a school to be tolerated together. The central point is that schools now need a period of peace and quiet.

I could spend a great deal of time dwelling on the minutiae of each amendment, but there is no need to do so. The Minister has described them carefully and accurately, as he always does. But, sadly, I find the reasons that he has put forward for rejecting them unconvincing. I must ask the Committee to express a view upon the matter.

3.47 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 86; Not-Contents, 125.

Division No. 1
Addington, L. Gallacher, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Geraint, L.
Barnett, L. Gladwin of Clee, L.
Bath, M Gould of Potternewton, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]
Berkeley, L. Gregson, L
Blease, L. Grey, E.
Borrie, L. Hamwee, B.
Broughshane, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Hayman, B.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Calverley, L. Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Hutchinson of Lullington, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Judd, L.
Craigavon, V. Kilbracken, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Kirkwood, L.
David, B. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Lockwood, B.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Desai, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Donoughue, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Molloy, L.
Dubs, L. Monkswell, L.
Eatwell, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Ezra, L. Ogmore, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Oxford, Bp.
Fitt, L. Paul, L.
Plant of Highfield, L. Taverne, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Prys-Davies, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B. [Teller.]
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Richard, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Ripon, Bp. Tope, L.
Ritchie of Dundee, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Rochester, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Rochester, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Russell, E. Whitty, L.
Serota, B. Wigoder, L.
Sewel, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Strabolgi, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B. Winston, L.
Aberdare, L. Holderness, L.
Acton, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Addison, V. Hooper, B.
Ailesbury, M. Hylton-Foster, B.
Ailsa, M. Ilchester, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Lauderdale, E.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Lawrence, L.
Alport, L. Layton, L.
Ampthill, L. Lindsay, E.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Long, V.
Annan, L. Lucas, L.
Balfour, E. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Barber of Tewkesbury, L. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Berners, B. Marsh, L.
Blatch, B. Merrivale, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mersey, V.
Brigstocke, B. Miller of Hendon, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Milverton, L.
Butterworth, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Byford, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Cadman, L. Munster, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Nelson, E.
Carnock, L. Newall, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Noel-Buxton, L.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Northesk, E.
Chelmsford, V. Oliver of Aylmerton, L.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Palmer, L.
Chichester, Bp. Palumbo, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Courtown, E. Peel, E.
Cox, B. Pender, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Crickhowell, L. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Cuckney, L. Porter of Luddenham, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Pym, L.
Cumberlege, B. Rankeillour, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Rees, L.
Davidson, V. Rotherwick, L.
De Freyne, L. Rowallan, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. St. Davids, V.
Denham, L. Seccombe, B.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Sheppard of Didgemere, L.
Donegall, M. Skelmersdale, L.
Ellenborough, L. Slim, V.
Elles, B. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Stockton, E.
Gainford, L. Strange, B.
Goschen, V. Strathcarron, L.
Gray, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Sudeley, L.
Harding of Petherton, L. Swinfen, L.
Hayhoe, L. Taylor of Warwick, L.
Hayter, L. Tenby, V.
Henley, L. Terrington, L.
Teviot, L. Walton of Detchant, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L. Westbury, L.
Wilcox, B.
Torphichen, L. Wynford, L.
Trumpington, B. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 13, at beginning insert ("Where the Secretary of State has in accordance with subsection (10) below designated the area of a local education authority as an area within which it is for the time being to apply").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 5, 49 and 50. These amendments introduce five requirements before Schedule 1 and Clause 3 apply. It is the schedule, activated by Clause 1, which introduces the relaxation of controls over selection for county and voluntary schools. Controls over selection in grant-maintained schools are similarly relaxed by the clause.

Under the amendments those provisions could come into effect only in a given LEA area where the Secretary of State had designated. She could do so only where she was satisfied that selection would benefit that area and had come to that conclusion by testing the area against certain criteria. In addition, under the amendments designation could occur only after consultation with the relevant LEA, voluntary authorities and other concerned persons.

The criteria themselves pinpoint much of what is wrong with this insistence upon greater selection. The criteria need a little care. I shall deal with one or two of them and my noble friends will deal with others. I draw attention to the question of choice and diversity. Enhancing choice as well as diversity for all ranges of ability is one of the criteria. That cannot be achieved by more selection. Instead, the Bill will lead to large-scale selection and grammar schools by stealth through several routes.

Let us take, for example, the freedom to select up to the percentage limits in Schedule 1. The pressure of a domino effect, once selection is encouraged on the scale proposed, will be for schools to move to the maximum straight away in order to preserve their competitive position. They will all be scrambling in a somewhat undignified way for what look like the brightest boys and girls in the area, or, indeed, beyond the area. That domino effect will reach out from the school that goes first to all the others and is likely to bring in the highest rate of selection straight away.

In the grant-maintained sector under the new clause (the former Clause 3 which the Government seem keen to reintroduce, even though they were defeated twice in another place) the conjunction of increased selection with freedom to expand numbers each four years by up to 50 per cent. would mean—it needs no great mathematical ability to see this—that the overall number of grant-maintained selection places will increase substantially.

Under Schedule 1, paragraph 3(2), county and voluntary schools would then be able to select for all age groups within the school within their percentage limit, not just to move to or expand selection for the admission year group. County schools which wish to move to 100 per cent. selection and become grammar schools would be able to appeal to the Secretary of State over the head of the LEA under what seems to us to be a rather biased procedure, described in Schedule 1, paragraph 5, which favours the would-be grammar school over the interests of the community as a whole. Furthermore, 100 per cent. selection for sixth forms would become the statutory norm; that is Schedule 1, paragraph 3(1).

The direction set by the Bill is wholly opposed to retaining choice for the majority of parents for whose children selection will not lead to a place. It is those with whom I am concerned. The reality is that the parents of children who fail—I use that word advisedly—to he selected will be faced with fewer choices of school, if any at all, and the likelihood of longer travel to a school which is further away than the one which they would have preferred. The consequences in terms of the cost to public funds, moving them around, wasting pupils' and parents' time, and the safety and well being of pupils faced with long journeys have not been taken into consideration.

We all agree that the introduction of the 11-plus would be widely opposed if it were mooted—not least by middle-class parents who fear that a number of their children would fail. We believe that the Bill, led by Schedule 1 and Clause 3, threatens to reintroduce the 11-plus in many areas by a back door. That is why we are opposed to the Bill's proposals. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Lord Tope

I support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, has given an explanation of the first of the criteria that we are setting before areas can be designated as an area to which provisions of the Bill should apply.

Perhaps I may deal with the next criterion, which involves no loss of resources to the LEA and enables resources to be better targeted. Selection will drive up costs for LEAs. I speak as a leader of an LEA. They will face increased costs of moving pupils greater distances, a more complex admissions procedure and an appeals system. I speak from experience of that. I seriously doubt the statement in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum that the changes are: unlikely to have a significant financial effect", There is no evidence for that claim, but I hope that the Minister will be able to produce some evidence. It certainly flies in the face of all my experience of an LEA which still has a strongly selective increase. Any increase in costs is bound to mean a diversion of resources away from the classroom in ways which cause parents concern.

Another criterion proposed in the amendments is the enhancement of provision for pupils with special needs. Selection cannot achieve that. It moves precisely in the opposite direction of the recent progress towards integration enshrined in successive legislation and in the special needs codes of practice.

Finally, the amendment seeks to promote the educational opportunities for all pupils in all areas. That point is important. Instead, resources, attention and a sense of achievement must necessarily attach to the more academically able. The effect of the school increasing its selective proportion may, depending on its geographical location, affect not only other schools in the authority's area but in some neighbouring authorities too. As regards voluntary aided schools, the effect may be even more widespread, disturbing the pattern of admissions over a considerable catchment area.

In proposing the amendments, we set out a number of criteria. I suspect that the Minister will not accept the amendments, but I shall be interested to know whether he accepts at least the criteria. If he does not agree with them as being desirable, I ask: why? If he agrees with them, how can they be achieved by the greater selection that is being proposed in the Bill? I support the amendment.

Baroness Warnock

I strongly support the amendment. I speak partly on behalf of my noble friend Lord Baldwin, but more on my own account. An important proposal in the amendment is the reiteration of the necessity of working collaboratively with the local authority. I am not opposed to selection and therefore do not support the amendment on grounds directly connected with selection. Nevertheless, it is true that the more selective schools become, the fewer places there are for children of moderate or low ability, to say nothing of children with special educational needs.

One of the defects of the Bill is that the needs of such children, who make up a large proportion of school children, are not addressed. I refer not only to children with statements but children who for various reasons are of low ability. They used to be called the "Warnock 18 per cent.". I believe that they need particular attention.

Above all, it is a general principle that parents, although they should be able to choose selective schools, are not the best policy makers. There is no reason why they should make policy for a whole area covered by a local education authority. However, there must be someone, other than members of the funding authority, who understands the needs of a particular geographical area and who is consulted as a matter of first priority on any changes within the area. In concert with governors of grant-maintained schools, which are, after all, maintained schools, such a person should plan for the proper provision for all children.

One of the merits of the amendment is the setting out of criteria which should be agreed in general. The question is how the Bill as it stands will satisfy those extremely important criteria. I support the amendment on grounds of consultation and in terms of considering policy to meet those criteria.

Baroness David

I support the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. In my Second Reading speech, I said that I thought the people who would be damaged by the Bill in particular were the 18 per cent. of children who do not have statements but have special needs. They will not be the children selected by the schools—and we must remember that the schools will select rather than the parents. A little more choice for a few parents will mean much less choice for nearly every parent. We must consider that point. We are supposed to be helping to educate the whole body of children and not just the few who will no doubt get on perfectly well anyway.

Baroness Young

In discussing the amendment, we return to the important question of whether to accept the principles of diversity and choice, in particular the principle of selection. I was interested to hear the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Pilkington in respect of Amendment No. 1 about what is done in other countries and why we should be different from any of the countries in Europe. We are trying to crack a difficult nut, which is the education of average and less average children.

A long time ago I was chairman of a local education authority which operated a tripartite system. There were some very good schools. I recall an extremely good secondary modern school. On looking back at all my educational experiences, I shall never forget going to the retirement of the headmaster of that school. He was absolutely adored by both the pupils and the parents. People used to queue up to try to get into that school. All the children were numerate and literate, beautifully disciplined and had no difficulty in getting a job.

Not all schools are like that and I do not pretend that they are. But a good school is made by a good head with sound principles. I see no reason whatever for thinking that because some schools are selective, there will never be a good head in any other school. That is a positive insult to the teaching profession. There are very good people who would regard it as a challenge to teach other children and, indeed, the late developers, many of whom are very intelligent and who come into the schools. There will be people who will wish to make those schools into very good schools.

When the tripartite system ended we were told that it was very bad. The argument was—and it has been repeated several times this afternoon—that 15 per cent. of the children did very well and 85 per cent. did very badly. Therefore, we were told that we should all go into comprehensive schools. When I was chairman of that education committee, I recall clearly the circulars to which my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith referred—1065 and 1066—which committed us all, without any real experience of comprehensive schools, to going comprehensive, and so the authority went comprehensive.

But the argument now is—and I do not believe that anybody can have any pleasure in saying this—and the point on which I thoroughly agree with the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, is, that for average and less average children there are still failures in the comprehensive system. We are trying to deal with that. We still have the devastating statement that in comparison with many of our competitors, the average and less average children are two years behind in English and maths. If that is still a fact, it is not one about which any of us can be pleased. We must ask ourselves how to deal with it.

We find that, for better or for worse, the comprehensive system has not dealt with that problem and those children are still suffering. I believe that part of the problem is due to extraordinary teaching methods for mixed ability groups in schools and for reading. That has contributed to the problem. It is extremely important for children that we should get these matters right.

The really successful schools and the schools that are doing well bring up the standards of the rest. In my speech on Second Reading I referred to Northern Ireland, which most people regard as having the best education system in the United Kingdom. There they have grammar schools and selection. I do not say that that pattern should be repeated here, but, as far as I know, there is no evidence whatever to suggest that where grammar schools exist side by side with comprehensive schools, the average and less average children do worse. Indeed, there is some evidence to show that they are doing better.

Lord Monkswell

The noble Baroness referred to grammar schools and comprehensive schools co-existing, which is absolute nonsense. You cannot have grammar schools and comprehensive schools co-existing. If there are grammar schools, by definition, we then have secondary modern schools; we do not have comprehensive schools. The only way that we can have comprehensive schools is by doing away with grammar schools and secondary modern schools.

Baroness Young

I do not wish to become involved in a long argument with the noble Lord. But there are authorities where there are grammar schools—I admit very few grammar schools—and comprehensive schools. That is a matter of fact and that is the position as it is today.

I hope that it will be recognised that with this Bill the Government are trying hard to raise the standards of the average and less average children. Grant-maintained schools are very successful and they have children of a whole range of abilities. I am certain that the right honourable Mr. Blair would not send his children to grant-maintained schools if he did not think they were good schools.

What parents want is an important factor. Parents may not always be very articulate but my experience is that they look for a school in which there is discipline. They want their children to be able to read and write well and at the end of their school days to be able to obtain a job. That is what the school should be aiming to do. The rest of the Bill, which we are not debating now, deals with testing, assessment and all those other matters that are so important and all part of it which are issues that we should consider.

We all have a common interest in trying to help these children. I hope very much that this amendment will not be accepted. The Bill is trying to help all the children of this country to be able to do their best.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Addington

The amendment aims to make sure that we have regard to such matters as ability to consult the local authorities which are administering such matters as special educational needs. The Government have made considerable progress in that regard, but such matters are all administered through the local education authorities. That is one area in which the local education authorities are still dominant. If schools are pushed further and further out, through selection, there is bound to be a change in the way in which that help is given. That is a fact. That is bound to happen.

In a system of selection, the pupils with problems will be the ones who are excluded unless they are spotted early on, and a lot of them are not picked up in that way. If this amendment or something like it is not in place, there is a tremendous danger that a large group of children will be excluded from a certain type of school.

This amendment may not be perfect but it seeks to counter a de facto exclusion of pupils in that 18 per cent. who have special needs but who are not actually statemented. It seeks to prevent those pupils from being elbowed to one side. I do not wish to become involved in the argument as to whether grammar schools are good or bad. But we know that those with ability tend to succeed, whichever schools they go to, unless something goes severely wrong. The less able pupils will fail unless everything is done to support them. Surely that is what we are arguing about here.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and I should like to make one or two points in response to her. First, I find great difficulty in seeing how both choice and diversity are to be maintained in the selection system. I accept entirely that selection will provide greater diversity. But I live in a city, albeit a tiny city where there is a grammar school and a secondary modern school. There is no comprehensive school. It is quite clear that in that city many of the parents have no choice because the children are not selected for the grammar school. Therefore, I find great difficulty in understanding how choice and diversity can be maintained if we follow that route.

I was most interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, and his comments on post-16 education. I would wish to talk to him further about that. There is a variety of provision in the post-16 sector through sixth-form colleges in the FE sector, other FE colleges and the sixth form itself. As I understand it, there is some measure of selection in part of that sector.

As regards what the noble Baroness said about mixed ability and mixed teaching, those are not issues here. Mixed ability and mixed teaching methods can be found within schools which are not selective. Therefore, I felt that in making those comments she was not helping us to focus on the important issues.

With regard to the points that the noble Baroness made about grammar schools and comprehensive schools, if there is selection, that removes from the total pool a number of the more able children. That is bound to affect the mix to be found in comprehensive schools. I believe that we are arguing that they cannot be truly comprehensive because part of the total mix has been taken from them. There is much to be said for the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and I shall be supporting it.

Baroness Brigstocke

My mother always told me that I should not contradict anyone completely, but I have something to say to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. I do not know whether one is allowed to say that he is talking nonsense but, as the chairman of a city technology college, I can tell the noble Lord a little about Derby. I can also assure Members of the Committee that there is at least one grammar school in Derby, there are several secondary schools and another very successful comprehensive. There is also the city technology college which I should have thought would be called comprehensive.

We do not select on any kind of academic criterion in the college. We look only for those children who want to come and who are interested in a technological, mathematical and scientific curriculum. Their parents declare that they are determined to educate their children until the age of 18. They do not always keep their promise but that is what they say at the beginning. Parents want a specialised curriculum. They want an ethos of encouragement, and the aim of success. Those children, who, had they tried for a grammar school place, would certainly not have got in, are welcomed by us in what might be called a selection process.

We do not know the IQ of the children whom we take. We look at them in another way. We have several children with statements and many children are benefiting from our special educational needs department. In fact, we have so many that, with great delight, we have had to appoint several more teachers and assistants. Some, but not many, of those children have special needs because they are at what one might call the "top end" academically. We have many children with real special needs who are being looked after beautifully and succeeding in a way that makes me very proud. In our discussions we have always said that selection is automatically academic selection; it is not. When parents can see a school which is dedicated to its aims and which really cares about children across the whole broad spectrum, then selection can be a very good idea.

Lord Henley

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Brigstocke for informing the Committee that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was talking nonsense. Of course, I would never use such an expression and, for that reason, I was grateful to my noble friend. However, the noble Lord raised some interesting questions from the Opposition Benches. He stated that a comprehensive school could not exist alongside grammar schools. If one takes that argument to its logical conclusion, it would mean that we would have to rule out all selection of any form whatever and the choice of all parents to make the schools fully comprehensive.

I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he was also suggesting that one should abolish the entire private sector. Would he remove what amounts to choice and selection by means of mortgage—for example, parents moving into different areas in order to choose the school of their choice? Would he remove the selection by religious commitment, allowing people to attend Church schools? Would he remove selection by means of home-school agreements, which I believe is something that his Front Bench support?

The noble Lord seems to be saying that we should go back to the old ILEA policies of actually bussing pupils around to ensure that every single school reflects the community in its entirety—

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I do not rise to defend noble Lords on the Labour Benches, but to ask the Minister whether he recognises that his use of the words "choice" and "selection" is totally contrary to the way that many people would use and understand them. A parent chooses a school. A school selects a pupil and, by doing so, may limit the amount of parental choice that exists in any area. That is the nub of the issue.

Lord Henley

Of course, a parent chooses the school and, on some occasions, a school can select a pupil. Exactly the same applies with universities. We have free choice about which universities we apply to. Indeed, I can remember one very distinguished university which did not particularly want to have me, so I went to another one which happened to be my second choice. I dare say that that is true for a great many people. However, that does not deny the fact that I had a choice about which university to attend.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, seemed to be implying that comprehensives could only exist if all schools were comprehensive. The logical corollary of that is that one has to go on and say that one would have to stop bussing pupils to ensure that every school reflected the entire social mix of the country.

I should like to pick up on one small fact that might encourage the noble Lord to consider the virtues of the selective system and those of grammar schools. My noble friend Lady Young referred to the success of schools in one part of the United Kingdom, possibly the best of all; namely, Northern Ireland, which still has grammar schools. I can assure the noble Lord that the percentage of 15 year-olds achieving five or more GCSEs of grades A* to C is 52 per cent. in Northern Ireland and 43 per cent. in England. Similarly, the percentage of 15 year-olds achieving no GCSE passes is lower in Northern Ireland than in England.

I turn now to the amendment. If I heard correctly, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said, while talking about the domino effect, that the Bill would lead to large-scale selection and grammar schools by choice. I should point out to the Opposition that they have yet to make their position clear. In one breath they say that parents and schools do not want selection—but, in that case, there can be nothing to fear from giving schools such powers. In the next breath, as the noble Lord put it, they say that there will be large-scale selection presumably because they recognise, as we do, that many parents do want selection and that schools will respond to that particular request from parents.

Schedule 1 and Clause 3 of the Bill are about promoting that very real choice. As I believe I made clear earlier, they will do so by giving governing bodies and LEAs more freedom to respond to what parents want; namely, a freedom which would apply nation-wide. In contrast, the proposed amendments would limit such freedom to the areas designated by the Secretary of State. They would set such restrictive criteria for designation that few, if any, would qualify. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked whether I supported the criteria set out in the amendment. As I said, I believe that the amendments are excessively restrictive and not appropriate for such a Bill. However, no doubt they are matters which individual schools and admission authorities would want to take into account.

I should like to address a few further items. I turn first—and I believe that this was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tope and the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock—to the perceived effect of selection on special educational needs. There is no evidence to suggest that selection undermines provision for children with special educational needs. There are eight LEAs in the country with 20 per cent. or more secondary pupils in selective schools and they present a fairly normal SEN profile. All have close to the national average percentage of children with statements; most have average or lower levels of appeal to the SEN tribunal; Her Majesty's inspectorate has not expressed concern about the provision of special educational needs in any of those eight authorities; and, indeed, the department does not receive a disproportionate volume of correspondence about SEN issues arising in those areas.

Non-selective schools in areas with selective schools might be expected to have a larger number of pupils with special educational needs. But, again, there is no evidence in those eight LEAs to show that that difference is significant. Where an individual school has an unusually—

Lord Addington

I believe what most of us are worried about are the children who are not spotted and who do not have a statement.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Henley

I cannot provide evidence about those who are not spotted, but if one looks at those with statements, one can see—as the evidence that I have put before the Committee shows—that they are being treated well. Therefore I do not believe that those without statements are likely to suffer as much as is claimed.

If I may, I shall continue. Where an individual school has an unusually high proportion of pupils with special educational needs, parental choice is almost certainly involved. Parents of children with SEN are likely to choose a school which has a good reputation for providing effectively for such children integrated into the mainstream. I believe that giving schools a little more freedom to select—which is all we are talking about—does not reduce safeguards for children with special educational needs in any way. All of these remain in force including the safeguards preventing admission authorities from discriminating against such children, the right of parents of children with a statement to specify their preferred school, and the requirement to publish clear information about admission arrangements for disabled pupils under the DDA.

There was also the suggestion—I think it was made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope—that more selection would mean extra costs for LEAs. I think he particularly referred to transport. There is no reason to assume that more selection would necessarily lead to additional school costs. Parents may choose to send their children to a partially selective school further away from their home; but nothing in the Bill changes the existing rules on transport—rules that can be operated by LEAs—if pupils live beyond the statutory walking distance from their nearest suitable school. That means that such parents may forgo free school transport to send their children to a non-selective school further away. That may well set off additional costs for transporting pupils who may have to attend a school further away but who are still entitled to free school transport.

We on this side of the Chamber want to give schools more flexibility to serve their communities. That is why the Bill offers freedoms to schools throughout the country. I think Members of the Committee opposite are paying mere lip service to school autonomy, diversity and choice, and I do not believe they believe in that. They want to ration that freedom so far as they possibly can, and underneath their fine words that is exactly what these amendments are all about. Therefore if the noble Lord is not prepared to withdraw them, I encourage those on this side of the Committee to vote against them.

Baroness Warnock

Before the Minister sits down, I hope he will address the question of co-operation with local education authorities, because I do not think he said anything about that. This is at the heart of my support, at any rate, for this amendment; namely, that it should be made clear on the face of the Bill that changes must be made only if there has been collaboration with local policy makers, if I can put it that way.

Lord Henley

We shall come to these points later on. The simple fact is that we would expect schools that wish to make changes to their admission procedures, or whatever, to do so. In the case of the LEA county schools, it is the LEAs themselves who would do this because as often as not they are the admission authorities. In virtually all cases they are the admission authorities and therefore the point we have discussed does not apply. In the case of other schools, for example, voluntary schools with their own governors, we would expect them to consult the local education authority and others as appropriate. Later, we shall set out guidance on how that consultation should take place. What I am saying is we do not like this prescriptive attitude as suggested by this amendment that the Secretary of State herself has to designate areas where this can take place before it can take place. We believe the schools are the right people to do this and they will know how to do it.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I was, I must confess, amazed and saddened to realise that there was at one point a university which felt it might get along perfectly well without the Minister. I can only say that had I been in the position of the admission authorities at that university, I should not have made that decision.

The point about selection that we are concerned with is that it deals with people up to the end of the statutory school age. At some point life will require that there is selection of one sort or another. I should not like to think that when I competed for a chair of English literature at the University of Sheffield at the age of 39 that should have been invalidated because everyone else did not get a professorship at exactly the same time. We are concerned with selection in schools; what happens in tertiary education, in higher education and in the rest of life is not at the moment our concern.

I was impressed with the way the right revered Prelate the Bishop of Ripon put his difficulty of how choice and diversity are to be maintained in the present system. I do not feel that anything that has been said after his speech has done a great deal to deliver him from his dilemma. We believe that the Secretary of State should not act without consultation and without consideration of the criteria to be involved. Nothing can be lost by the Secretary of State doing that. The criteria are clearly laid out. They have been enunciated by me and by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I notice that the Minister in his reply drew attention to the non-statemented children in some of our schools and how they are dealt with. We on this side of the Chamber would be grateful if he could provide—probably not now, but at some later point—figures on the non-statemented children because the figures are extremely difficult to come by as they are not easily recognised.

The issue to us is that the Government seem not to have any faith in a local community to decide whether it wants selection. These amendments simply permit the citizens of every town in which the Government want to see a grammar school set up publicly to say whether they want four out of five of their schools to be secondary modern schools. The Minister has not been convinced by our arguments. We shall, however, leave them in his mind like eggs in a nest in the hope that they may hatch at a later stage of this Bill. In the meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo)

Before I call Amendment No. 6 I should point out to the Committee there is an error on the Marshalled List. Amendment No. 6 seeks to amend Clause 1 and not Clause 73 as printed on the Marshalled List.

Clause 1 [Relaxation of controls on changes relating to selective admissions]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 6: Page 2, line 5, at end insert— ("(4) Subsection (3) above shall come into force after the making of an order, and no such order may be made unless a draft of the instrument containing the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 6, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 7. These amendments deal with the issues of surplus places and the proper planning of resources.

Lord Henley

Is the noble Baroness also speaking to Amendments Nos. 200, 219 and 222? Amendments Nos. 219 and 222 seek to amend Clause 73, which might be where the confusion comes from.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Yes, I am. I apologise to the Committee. These amendments deal with the issues of surplus places, the management of resources and the important issue that every pound that is spent on providing education for children in our communities ought to be spent most effectively.

The amendments would require the Secretary of State to establish an independent inquiry into the effect of the Bill as regards the creation of surplus places, and require that the Government lay the results before Parliament before various plans to increase selection and to increase provision can be undertaken as a result of this Bill.

During the Commons Committee stage, MPs asked when the report, Trading Places, would be available from the Audit Commission. At one point the Minister claimed not to have seen the report; and it was published the morning after the Commons Committee had completed its consideration of the relevant provision in the Bill. These amendments seek to ensure that proper weight is given to that report.

The report identifies a direct conflict between promoting grant-maintained schools and ensuring the economic and efficient supply of school places. Since GM status was introduced, 40 per cent. of the schools that LEAs wish to close have remained open by opting out. Secondly, the cost of promoting choice is undermining the need to control public expenditure, with no clear indication of the Government's priority. There is a breakdown in the system of capital allocation to schools which has prevented LEAs and diocesan authorities maintaining, let alone improving, many of the currently needed school buildings.

The problem has been that the Government have top-sliced the money that is available for school buildings, and made the money unfairly and disproportionately available to the GM sector and the city technology sector at the expense of county and voluntary-aided schools in all parts of the country.

We are calling on the Government to revise their policy in line with the findings of the Audit Commission for schools facing reorganisation. We are calling on them to re-examine the issues of capital; the definition of school capacity; parental choice; balancing parental choice; and tackling surplus places. We need to give more effective powers to local agencies, both to LEAs and to the FAS, to plan provision and to give local agencies more power to manage the market.

I noted that during debate on a previous amendment the Minister referred rather scathingly to, "those who would seek to plan centrally". Previous debates have referred to education for pupils of statutory school age as though somehow the market alone would provide that which the country needs. The market alone will provide that which a small section of the community needs and will fail the majority. The market is not a system that should be used to determine the ability of every young person within the community to have access to the right quality of provision.

In the light of the Audit Commission report, it is vitally important that Parliament fully understands the implications of the Government's contradictory policy before the selection provisions are given effect to under Clauses 73 and 69. A negative order is required before provision can come into effect along these lines. Delaying the report would thus fit well into the process of further scrutiny within Parliament. A call for a full inquiry is in no way intended to demean the significance of the commission's findings or its independent stance. On the contrary, the report is of such importance that it forms an essential starting-point. Ministers might even wish the commission to undertake the inquiry and gear it directly to the policy implications of Part I of the Bill.

It is a pretty strong indictment of the Government's policy—or rather, the lack of coherence between two aspects of government policy in the field of education—that the list of recommendations in the Audit Commission report contains the following. Under the heading, (a) To make the current approach work better", the report recommends that the Government: Encourage and support effective working relationships". Under (b) To change the current approach", the commission lists: Reconsider the existing policy framework by reviewing the consistency between existing policies and procedures on: GM status for schools facing reorganisation; capital; the definition of school capacity and the setting of admission limits; the entitlement of parents to choose; and the balance between promoting choice and tackling surplus places … Consider options to give more effective powers to local agencies … to plan provision … Consider options to give local agencies more powers to manage the market in their area … Consider options for the introduction of an improved set of incentives and trigger mechanisms to promote value for money". That is a list against which no government should turn their face.

I have no doubt that the Government, the Minister and speakers from the Government Benches will say that the Audit Commission has been "captured" by people from the Opposition Benches in this House and presumably by the diocesan authorities in different parts of the country. Nothing could be further from the truth. These concerns were set out after a professional detailed analysis of the results of government policy. They should be taken most seriously.

The Audit Commission identified a conflict of interest between two government policies—a large black hole of the Government's making. The Audit Commission is warning the Government not to keep digging without stopping to consider who is falling into the hole. On these Benches we know that into that black hole of wasted resources are falling the interests of children in our primary and secondary schools, in our county, voluntary controlled and voluntary-aided schools. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

In rising to support the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, I wish to make a couple of brief points. First, if it is the case—and the Audit Commission, for which I believe everybody in local government has a very deep respect, suggests that it is—that £100 million is being wasted every year on empty school places and the creation and expansion of grant-maintained schools contributes to that, it is a very serious matter indeed, and one which I should have thought it would be in the very best interests of the Government to assist us in resolving. For that reason we agree with the suggestion that it would be beneficial to allow a further investigation into the apparent conflict of two different strands of government policy and the cost that it imposes to be carried out before we pass the relevant parts of this Bill. In addition, Amendments Nos. 219 to 222, as it were, permit this process to have a meaningful conclusion by insisting that the enactment of this part of the Bill shall be by affirmative procedure in both Houses.

The justification for that is that selection is a deeply divisive issue. I am not talking about what happens on your Lordships' Benches. I am talking about the divisiveness of this issue outside these walls. Had the Government said that they intended to pass an Act which increased the level of selection by a certain proportion, the proposal would have met with very wide opposition among the general public. There is no evidence that parents are particularly keen to ensure that there is an increased amount of selection in their areas. Many parents quite understandably fear what would happen to their child under a selective system, so it is a divisive issue.

The Audit Commission's report has also indicated that it is controversial within the terms of the framework of the Government's policy initiatives. Those are the educational arguments for putting forward the suggestion for the affirmative mode when enacting the Bill.

In parliamentary terms one might question the wisdom of introducing the controversial sections of the Bill at the end of a Parliament. I make no comment as to what will be the result of the forthcoming election, whenever it is called, but that there will be an election is beyond dispute. One must ask oneself whether this is the right moment to introduce extremely controversial issues without having gone as far as one can to prove or disprove the important criticisms with which the Audit Commission dealt in its report.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Perhaps I may deal with some points, particularly those raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. First, we must all take the Audit Commission's reports extremely seriously. I worked with it for a long time and have the highest respect for the work it does. However, if we take the £100 million of let us not say wasted resources but under-used resources in the education system as a result of an imbalance between the existing school places and the existing children, there will always be some imbalance. I do not find the figure too discouraging. When I was involved, the figure nationally was of a similar order, unless my memory has failed completely. We have not entirely managed to eliminate inflation, even though we have got it down to a low level and one which the country is not used to. That seems to suggest that the figure overall is stable, so in real terms it is decreasing. However, that is an academic economic argument that is perhaps not too relevant here, even though we should have regard to it.

We also need to consider carefully what the Audit Commission says, as quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, about power for agencies to plan and to manage. The agencies involved, particularly the LEAs, have an absolute responsibility in that field. The difficulty we all have, as did the Audit Commission, is that if there is a separation between plans and management and what parents actually desire for their children there is a problem. The Bill's purpose is to try to enable those who are most intimately involved and have the greatest direct responsibility to have a little more influence over what happens through the power of their own decision. For that reason, I hope that in due time, if it comes to it, the Committee will also reject these amendments.

Lord Henley

The noble Baroness assured us that the amendments were about the surplus places and management of resources, if I put her words down correctly. It seems to me that Amendments Nos. 6, 219, 221 and 222, which seek to impose requirements for affirmative resolution on the order commencing under Schedule 1, are simply a delaying tactic and no more. The provisions of Schedule 1 and Clause 3 will have been fully debated here and in another place during the passage of the Bill. I believe that no useful purpose would be served by re-running the debate before the provisions come into effect.

As for Amendments Nos. 7 and 220, I believe that they are based on a misunderstanding of what Schedule 1 is about. The schedule is permissive. It offers schools new freedoms but does not compel any school to use them. So it makes little sense to try to predict the schedule's effects before it comes into force. Schedule 1 is about giving schools more flexibility to introduce or extend selection, and there is nothing in the schedule that would lead to the creation of more school places.

Clause 27 prevents any school, except one that is 100 per cent. selective by high ability, not just by ability—and they are invariably full—from keeping empty places that it cannot fill by selection. So it is hard to see what the inquiry proposed by the amendments would inquire into.

However, it would be right for me to say a word or two about the Audit Commission's Trading Places since the matter was raised by the noble Baroness. I agree with her and with the Audit Commission that it is an important subject. I am disappointed by some of the treatment it has received in the press and in other places. The commission acknowledges that standards have improved significantly. That is good news and something that we should welcome. The recent report on published performance tables shows just that—a steady increase across the board. All the reforms we have introduced have been focused towards our core objective of raising standards. It is our view that higher standards are promoted by extending choice and diversity. The Bill does just that. It further extends the choice available to parents.

We welcome the attention that the report gives to removing surplus places. The department has for some time been stressing the importance of that. We believe that considerable progress has been made in the area and that certain levels of surplus have been reduced by about half over the past 10 years. That is something of which the department and the LEAs responsible can be proud. But we share the commission's conclusion that more can be done and we shall encourage LEAs to follow the examples of good practice contained in the report. Officials within the department will continue to follow up with individual local authorities where the returns suggest to us that there is scope for action that has not been taken.

Finally, turning to the noble Baroness's point on grant-maintained schools opting out and, as she alleges, blocking progress in removing certain places, our position on grant-maintained schools facing closure is quite clear. The Audit Commission, sadly, does not quote it in full but it is set out, as the noble Baroness will be aware, in circular 23/94 which states that we will not approve applications for grant-maintained status which are prompted by the threat of closure arising in the context of a well-founded local rationalisation scheme, particularly where the school concerned has a significant amount of surplus capacity. But we would be minded to approve grant-maintained proposals from schools proposed for closure where we are not persuaded of the authority's case and where the school is viable and of good quality.

Since that statement was made, some 71 per cent. of schools seeking grant-maintained status in those circumstances have been approved for closure. I thought it would be useful for the noble Baroness to have the statement in full. I hope that she will therefore accept that the first part of the group of amendments is unnecessary and superfluous and that the second is based to some extent on a misunderstanding of what the schedule is about.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The Minister repeated the problem identified by the Audit Commission and acknowledged in his reply that the purpose of these parts of the proposed legislation would be to extend choice and diversity. The basic tenor of the report from the Audit Commission is that it is precisely the existing level which causes conflict in the removal of surplus places.

The Minister referred to the reduction over a 10-year period. It is my understanding, from reading the report and the figures, that that process has been slowed down by the experience of local authorities and diocesan authorities when they have sought to rationalise surplus places. However, at this stage it is important to consider the Minister's reply in detail and so with the Committee's agreement I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

5 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 8: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause— SELECTION CRITERIA (".—(1) A maintained school which admits a proportion of its pupils by reference to ability or aptitude, and which also within its admission arrangements accords priority—

  1. (a) on the basis of the proximity of a pupil's home to the school; and
  2. (b) to a sibling of a pupil or former pupil,
shall accord a higher priority to—
  1. (i) proximity; or
  2. (ii) being a sibling of a pupil or former pupil who was admitted on the basis of proximity,
than to being a sibling of a pupil or former pupil who was admitted by reference to their ability or aptitude.").

The noble Baroness said: This proposed new clause deals with the situation in which a maintained school admits a proportion of its pupils by reference to aptitude or ability and also within its admission arrangements gives priority on the basis of proximity to the school of a pupil's home and to the sibling of a pupil or former pupil. We wish to examine that in the context of pupils being in danger of being denied access to a school because the sibling of a pupil or a former pupil who has been selected on grounds of ability has priority over one who would not be selected on ability and could be denied access on grounds of proximity to the school.

It is important to offer and maintain an essential level of protected access for local children for the non-selective places in schools which include an element of selection within their admission arrangements. It is also critically important that, if partially selective schools are oversubscribed, numbers of local children do not find themselves displaced by children from more distant places who are admitted to the selective places, a significant number of whom may be drawn from outside the locality. That situation should not then be continued because of a policy of admitting the siblings of those children from a greater distance at the expense of children in the locality.

The purpose of the amendment is quite clear. I beg to move.

Lord Tope

I rise briefly to support the amendment. As the noble Baroness said, its purpose is clear. I believe its language also is clear. It is a very important amendment. To me it appears to be an amendment about choice and that may appeal to the Minister. I know—I speak from experience of an LEA adversely affected by the Greenwich judgment—that one of the rights of choice which most parents feel they should have is for their children to go to the school nearest their home. As the noble Baroness explained, the effect of not agreeing to this amendment will, over a fairly short period of time, deny that choice to an increasing number of parents and their children.

I think the case has been made. The amendment is clear. It is not a matter of party political division but one of common sense. The amendment tries to ensure choice for parents who are denied that choice by virtue of the admission criteria. I support the amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I have not spoken before on the Bill, largely because many of the issues are local to schools in England and Wales. As I live in Scotland, I find some of those issues quite difficult to follow. However, this one is very easy to understand.

It seems to me very strange to put the need to ensure that there are places for children who live near the school in front of the need to keep families together. Surely we know how much it matters to parents to have their children attend the same school. It is important not just for the children themselves but for the sake of family life—getting them to and back from school, the time at which they arrive home, attending school occasions and so on. Those things are very important to families. It seems to me extraordinary that their children should be in different schools and be told by legislation that they must be in different schools.

Having listened to the discussions on the last two amendments, I feel that noble Lords opposite may he falling into a trap if they believe that the community in which they live and community relations, which matter so much to everybody, have to be contained within the geographical area of the local authority. The school community matters to people. The school is a community. The school to which your children go is an important community to which parents and children belong. Those who feel very strongly about communities—we all do at the present time—may be falling into a trap and this amendment is a sign of it. It is a small point in some ways but it could be a very important amendment for families.

Lord Monkswell

I have some sympathy with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy. It strikes a resonance with my own school experience. I went to what might be described as a minor public school in Scotland. It was a direct grant school. I travelled half way across town to attend that school, which had a very strong ethos.

We need to recognise that the proportion of the population which goes to such schools—those which have a kind of public school ethos and a sense that all the way through life the most important thing is the old school tie—is small compared with the vast majority of children in this country. Time after time a problem arises for parents when they cannot get their children into the local school because it has been filled with people from outside the area. To them it defies common sense. We must recognise that.

We would all agree that the ability of siblings to attend the same school is very important. But it is absolute nonsense and unfair that a large proportion of the population cannot get their children into the local publicly provided school because it is full and therefore their children have to travel some distance to attend school. It creates such great antagonism and a sense of unfairness and illogicality that we must find ways to deal with it. This amendment attempts to do so very satisfactorily.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I did not have that in mind at all. I do not worry about the kind of school to which the noble Lord was lucky enough to go. I am thinking about local schools in inner cities, where there is a choice—the inner city has a number of schools quite close together—and people want their children to go to the same school. The community of the school matters very much indeed to the children in those areas. They are the ones about whom I am thinking.

Baroness Young

I am sure that everyone sees the points that have been made about proximity and siblings and I take on hoard the point made by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. But is not the difficulty about this amendment that this provision is not suitable to put on the face of the Bill? In the first place, we are not discussing wholly selective schools, as the amendment itself makes clear when it says: A maintained school which admits a proportion of its pupils". The amendment does not speak of all pupils but only of a proportion of pupils. Once one starts to lay down such detailed criteria, one must ask where it will all end. It seems to me that on its selection procedures, whatever they might prove to be at the end of the day, a good school will take into account the points about siblings and proximity and will weigh them in the balance against other matters. But to put such a provision on the face of the Bill will simply create further difficulties for an authority and will not make things easier or better for the education system.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

We are not talking about an academic matter at all. I know from my experience in Wandsworth that there is a school which, during this academic year, did not select any pupils on the grounds of proximity. They were all selected either by examination or as being siblings. I know from former councillor colleagues that it created a great deal of ill will among parents who were unable to get their children into that school. So I believe that it is a matter of to whom we choose to give the choice.

I accept the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, about schools being a community. But they are a greatly enhanced community if they are based in the community of the people who live in that area. It seems to me that the community of a school and the community of the residents are enhanced if they are, largely speaking, one and the same. I believe that the amendment goes some way towards meeting that point.

The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was that this type of detail should not be on the face of the Bill. But where else should it be? In the case of Wandsworth, the council washed its hands of such issues and the residents do not feel that the governing body is adequately representing their views.

Lord Henley

For one awful moment I thought that I had the support of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, which tempted me to think that I might have to change my views on the amendment. Fortunately, he resumed his usual tack and I realised that what I felt about the amendment was probably sound.

Like my noble friend Lady Young, I accept that some of the ideas behind the amendment may be described as perfectly good. The simple point is that we do not believe that it is right that they should be on the face of the Bill. The Government have no intention of prescribing the admission arrangements schools are allowed to use. Schools, if they are the admission authorities, or local education authorities, where they are the admission authorities, are in the best position to take an informed view in relation to the admission arrangements which suit their school and their locality.

If schools want to give priority to siblings of pupils, regardless of whether or not they were admitted by selection, that is a matter for the schools or for the admission authority where the admission authority is the LEA. Likewise, if the schools wish to change their admission criteria in line with the amendment, they are free to do so. There are perfectly good arguments on either side and in whatever direction one wishes to go.

However, the amendment would not be a suitable addition to the Bill and I cannot offer any support for it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The reason the amendment is before the Committee is that the Government are interfering with the pattern of provision which is currently that decided by the local community through a genuine partnership of all those concerned. They are seeking to make it possible for changes to he made against the wishes of the majority of parents within that community. It is necessary therefore to consider putting these points on the face of the Bill.

All I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, is that in my experience as a chair of an education authority during the period when the Government argued that they had increased parental choice within the county of Lancashire, I found that there was hardly any difference in the numbers of parents who obtained their first preference at that stage. This Bill would make a difference.

It angered many parents to find that, after buying a house opposite a school, children from the other side of the town had first call on the places in that school. Were they to discover that a child had taken the place they viewed as the place of their own child simply because an older brother or sister had been selected on grounds of ability, they would have been even more angry.

The Government's understanding as to what most parents see as being "parental choice" is fundamentally flawed. In their view, it is access to the school they choose in their own locality; it is freedom to ensure that other people are not selected from outside the area on the basis of ability; and it is the ability to ensure that if their child has a non-statemented learning difficulty—a moderate learning difficulty—the child can still be educated alongside his or her siblings in the local school.

The Government are interfering with the pattern of provision and with what parents expect. I shall read the words of the Minister with care, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 [Schedule inserted after Schedule 5 to the Education Act 1996]:

5.15 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon moved Amendment No. 9: Page 54, line 10, at end insert— (" "Church in Wales school", "Church of England school" and "Roman Catholic school", and "appropriate diocesan authority" in each case, have the meaning given by section 311(1) of this Act;").

The right reverend Prelate said: In moving Amendment No. 9, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 12, 20, 52 and 57. As I understand the situation, these amendments relate to schools which are over-subscribed. If a school is under-subscribed, if insufficient parents have selected that school to make up the number, then the situations we describe do not arise. Schools that are under-subscribed are required to take the children of those parents who opt for that school. Indeed, I believe I am right in saying—perhaps the Minister can confirm this—that a clause in the Bill makes that point explicitly.

We are therefore discussing over-subscribed schools. Clearly any over-subscribed school must have some way of determining which students will gain admission and which will not. In other words, an over-subscribed school must have an admissions policy. Selection by ability or aptitude is one criterion that may be used. If it is used, other criteria under the admissions policy will have less effect. Indeed, as I understand it, that was precisely the point of the amendments we considered a moment ago.

I want to examine that point in relation to admissions to voluntary schools and to grant-maintained former voluntary schools. The group of amendments in my name to which I am now speaking covers both those categories of school. In many cases they are popular, over-subscribed schools; more families want admission to the school for their children than the school is able to admit. Therefore there has to be a way of deciding who is and who is not to be admitted.

That is where the difficulty arises. Many voluntary schools were originally promoted, and in many cases funded, by a diocese—Church of England or Roman Catholic—to make a specific contribution to an area of education. I made that point in the Second Reading debate. Therefore, if the governors are able to change the contribution without consulting the diocese, they may be able to override the intentions of the diocese in its original promotion and funding.

Most dioceses promote secondary schools in order to provide denominational education for an area of the diocese. That is not their only criterion for admission. Clearly in relation to voluntary schools one of the strong criteria must be the relationship of the family to a neighbouring church or congregation. If a governing body is able to alter that admissions policy and include selection by aptitude or ability as one of the criteria by which pupils will be admitted, it leaves fewer places for those for whom the voluntary school was originally provided.

Since those schools are already over-subscribed, I am aware of the grave difficulty they already experience in making any kind of determination between one family and another. It creates enormous difficulties locally and reference has already been made to the appeals procedure. Many people are already going through the appeals procedures in regard to voluntary schools. In addition to the denominational criteria, there are other criteria that a voluntary school may wish to apply. However, if selection is one of them, it leaves fewer places for those for whom the school was originally promoted or funded.

The original purposes of those schools were determined by the appropriate diocesan authorities. Therefore, it is surely right that those authorities be consulted and, in the case of admissions, their consent required before criteria, which include selection by ability or aptitude, are approved by the governors.

The amendments set out the changes which would be needed both in the case of voluntary schools and in the case of grant-maintained former voluntary schools. The amendments make reference to "appropriate diocesan authority". "Church in Wales school", "Church of England school" and "Roman Catholic school" are defined in Section 311(1) of the Education Act 1996. They are defined by reference to the religious education which is provided at the school. The "appropriate diocesan authority" is defined, in the case of the Church in Wales, as, the Diocesan Board of Finance … or such other person as the Secretary of State may by order designate". In respect of the Church of England, it is defined as, the Diocesan Board of Education". And in respect of the Roman Catholic Church, it is defined as, the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese in which the school is situated". I shall not pause to comment on the ecclesiology of that. Attentive Members of the Committee may note that there is a distinction between the Roman Catholic and the Church of England provision. Roman Catholic Bishops, dare I say, have a good deal more power in their dioceses than I have in mine. Nevertheless, that is the definition which is made by law. It is with reference to that definition that the amendments are framed.

The amendments do not say that governors have no part in setting their admissions policies. Clearly they do, and, as was said in the debate on a previous group of amendments, it is right that governors should have that provision. But the amendments are not removing that provision. The amendments simply require that the appropriate diocesan authority shall give written consent, for the reasons I have outlined, before a governing body is able to go down the road indicated in the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

The Bill gives the admission authorities greater flexibility to introduce or extend selection without central approval. That will promote diversity by giving schools greater flexibility to respond to what parents want. Amendments Nos. 12 and 52 would require the governing bodies of Church of England and Roman Catholic voluntary and grant-maintained schools to obtain written consent from the relevant diocesan board or diocesan authority before using the new freedoms to introduce or extend selection up to the relevant thresholds. We believe that this goes against the deregulatory intention of the Bill by replacing the Secretary of State's approval with that of diocesan authorities. It would also mean that governing bodies in the case of aided, special agreement and grant-maintained schools would no longer be solely responsible for determining admission arrangements for their own schools.

The diocesan authorities are represented on the governing bodies of Church schools by foundation governors. At voluntary aided, special agreement and ex-voluntary grant-maintained schools foundation governors make up the majority of the governing body. They are the appropriate medium through which the diocesan authorities can exercise influence over Church schools. The Bill requires admission authorities to consult before introducing or extending selection up to the threshold. We have made it quite clear that the Secretary of State will issue guidance on consultation. We shall no doubt be discussing consultation later on. That will set out the Secretary of State's expectation that diocesan boards would be consulted in the case of Church schools. The amendments represent an unacceptable restriction on the power of Church schools to vary their admission arrangements. I therefore hope that the right reverend Prelate will not feel it necessary to press them.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 20 and 57. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 provides that county and voluntary schools will not need to seek central approval for any changes in the proportion of pupils admitted to their sixth form by selection. Section 265B, in Clause 3, does the same for grant-maintained schools. That is not an issue for many schools as their sixth forms are made up entirely of pupils coming up through the school. It is only an issue for those schools that admit pupils at the age of 16. The number of admissions at that age is usually very small. Entry to sixth forms, whether from within or outside the school, is traditionally on a selective basis and obviously depends to some extent on a pupil's GCSE achievements. The department has always taken the view that changes in the proportion of pupils selected to a sixth form does not significantly change the character of the school. Under current law, even ignoring the Bill, changes would not require central approval. The Bill confirms that position.

Amendments Nos. 20 and 57 would therefore require the governing bodies of Church schools to seek diocesan approval in cases that at present do not require central approval. That goes against the deregulatory nature of the Bill. I therefore hope that the right reverend Prelate will not press those amendments.

The right reverend Prelate also asked whether the Bill contains separate provisions on the right of schools to hold places empty. I can assure him that it does. Clause 27, to which I understand we will not be coming today, provides that schools may not in general refuse to take children if they still have empty places available. The only exception to that rule is schools which select all of their pupils by high ability or aptitude or by denomination.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

I am grateful to the Minister for his response, in particular for his response to my query about schools that are under-subscribed. I am bound to say that I am not entirely satisfied by the argument that governing bodies contain representatives of the diocesan board of education or appropriate authority, because normally they are in a tiny minority. It could well be that they would find great difficulty in arguing their case. Nevertheless, I shall study with great attention what the Minister has said. I beg leave at this stage to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 10: Page 54, line 25, at end insert ("primary or").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 54, 135 and 137. The issue of not using baseline assessment is covered by Amendments Nos. 135 and 137. I shall refer to them briefly at this stage but I may wish to return to them when we reach their places in the Marshalled List.

The purpose of the amendments is to press the Government on their attitude towards selective admissions at primary school age. Thus far in our discussions, here and in another place, there has at the very least been confusion with regard to the Government's real intentions on the issue of selection and primary education. The Prime Minister has spoken of a grammar school in every town and the Secretary of State has written about the logic of the grammar school. Increasingly, selection is being promoted. It is proposed that only secondary school governors will discuss annually whether or not to increase selection. It is therefore rather strange that Clause 1 speaks only of schools and Schedule 1 excludes only nursery schools from being covered by the Bill. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments on that.

We welcome the exclusion of nursery schools from the selection of children by ability. I can see the Minister smiling at the idea of pupils being selected on grounds of ability or aptitude. In a small but important number of cases there is a problem with regard to the availability of pre-school education for children who are showing quite marked behavioural and emotional difficulties. I refer not only to those who are sometimes regarded, rather pejoratively, by the popular press as being children whose parents have failed in some way but to those children who have a moderate degree of autism. Quite clearly there is a problem as regards nursery schools and whether they serve the whole community.

However, leaving that to one side, this amendment seeks to extend to primary schools the exclusion from Schedule 1 which deals with selection by aptitude or ability. I hope that it is not going to be necessary to rehearse in full the issues which argue very strongly against selection at primary school age. At this stage I refer to them by heading only, but I shall return to them if the Minister's reply indicates that we face the prospect of the Government supporting selection by ability at primary school age. Young children develop at different rates. It is true, of course, that there are late developers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the varying stages at which children develop and, quite obviously, that is more marked when the children are very young. There is also a greater opportunity for children to be selected at this early age on the basis of their background before they have had access to formal education. Selection in the primary sector is much more likely to disadvantage those children for whom English is not their mother tongue and who will have had perhaps little opportunity to express themselves in English before starting school. There is the issue of motivation if children are going to be seen by themselves—or, perhaps more importantly at that stage, by their parents—as having failed to measure up to some arbitrary standard. The majority of parents wish their children to have access to the local primary school. There are the problems of collection of children and so on. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply and hope that I shall not need to go through the detailed reasons as to why selection on the ground of ability at the age of five or in primary education would not make educational sense. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Tope

I support this amendment and do so with as much interest as that of the noble Baroness in awaiting the Minister's reply. Most of the debate in this Chamber, in the other place and, indeed, publicly, has focused either directly or by implication on selection for secondary schools. I have no doubt that we shall continue to discuss that vigorously in this Chamber.

I suspect that, in the wider world, very few people have yet come to realise that this Bill actually permits—it may be even encourages—selection by ability or aptitude from the age of five. I believe that it is probably one of the least recognised aspects of this Bill. I find it almost inconceivable that that is the Government's intention. Are they actually intending that children at the age of five or just before, should be selected as to whether they go into an academic stream in their primary school? The noble Baroness has given the headlines for the reasons to object to selection at five and I endorse all of them. They are very important. All our objections to selection at the age of 11 apply dramatically more so at the age of five years where children are nowhere near starting to develop.

There is at least strong doubt whether one can select children by ability at the age of 11 and I would have thought it demonstrably the case that one cannot at five years say how a child is going to develop. Children at the age of 11 can be adversely affected by the home background and at the age of five that must be dramatically more the case. The children are affected by the home background or by the early years of learning which they may or may not have received. If English is not their first language, then at the age of five they are enormously disadvantaged and very unlikely to succeed in choice by ability or aptitude although in no way will that measure their ability or aptitude.

It is inconceivable that we are knowingly about to embark on a course that allows primary schools to select 20 per cent. of their pupils by aptitude or ability. I simply cannot believe that that is the Government's intention and I hope that that will be confirmed to us very shortly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, made some good points earlier on about local schools and the community. I am sure that she will agree that primary schools in particular are a part of their local community in every sense. Siblings go to the primary school. There is no question of selecting them by ability or any other method. If we are going to introduce such divisive measures into primary schools then that will very quickly destroy their ethos and all that is good about so many of them. I look forward to hearing from the Minister that that is not the Government's intention and that they are either going to accept these amendments or bring forward others that will make that crystal clear.

Baroness Young

I too will listen very closely to what my noble friend the Minister has to say on the matter. As I understand the position on the Bill—and I may not have got it right—one of the proposals is that there will be a baseline assessment of children entering primary schools. I understand that its object is to find out exactly where the children stand when they begin school. For precisely the arguments that the noble Baroness has put forward about whether they are from families where English has never been spoken or there are handicaps of one kind or another, these can be identified. In a primary school the object is to set targets for what should be achieved.

My experience of trying to raise standards in anything is that one has to set a target of what one believes and hopes can be achieved so that everyone will come up to that standard. As I understand it, it is intended to help the school and the teacher by having this measurement taken when a pupil arrives at the primary school. The primary school will be required to assess pupils shortly after admission to the school in order to provide the information which will help teachers to plan the children's education and to establish the baseline from which their future education can be measured.

Lord Tope

With respect, I believe that the noble Baroness is missing the point of our amendment. I have no objection to baseline assessments and, similarly, I believe that the other opposition parties support them. Baseline assessments are good and necessary and they already happen. They are good practice. But they happen after the child has been admitted to the school. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, has said that she would forbear from mentioning this, but such assessments are not used—and I hope that they never will be—as a means for selecting children before they go into school. Therefore, our problem is not with baseline assessments which we support, but with selecting pupils before entering a primary school.

Baroness Young

We shall have to wait to hear what the Minister says in reply. I am very glad that we are all agreed about baseline assessment. But as I understand the position, the object of this exercise is to assess what the child requires in the primary school and to set an objective target for all pupils.

Lord Henley

I begin with baseline assessments. I am glad that my noble friend Lady Young recognises their importance. I am also grateful that everyone else recognises their importance. For once we are all in agreement, but I do not know whether that means that we are probably all wrong although there are occasions when that rule applies.

I understand that the noble Baroness has concerns that baseline assessment could be used for selection in primary schools. I want to make it absolutely clear that it could not be so used as the timing of the statutory baseline assessment will be specified in regulations, which will specify that the assessment must take place after the child has been enrolled in the school. For that simple reason it could not be used as a form of test for selection to the school.

Another question is whether an admission authority could use baseline assessment material produced by SCAA to select pupils before they enrol in the school. That is not the purpose for which these materials are being currently designed by SCAA. As now, it will be for admission authorities to decide what methods to use for assessing ability and aptitude. Obviously, it would be up to them to make use of those assessments if they so wish.

I come back to the main point about selection in primary schools. I recognise that the noble Baroness will want to return to baseline assessments or the major issues relating to them, later on in the Bill and I accept that absolutely.

As regards selection in primary schools, I assure the Committee that the present regime covering selective admissions is exactly the same for primary schools as for secondary schools. Publication of statutory proposals would be required if a school wanted to introduce or to extend selection to a degree which would amount to making a significant change in the character of the school. One then has all the safeguards such as going to the Secretary of State and so on. My right honourable friend has always made it clear that in her view selecting up to 15 per cent. of a school's intake (primary or secondary) does not constitute a significant change of character. To that extent, the Bill does not introduce anything new.

The Bill sets a new statutory baseline threshold of 20 per cent. for selective admissions, with higher thresholds for specialist and grant-maintained schools. We believe that just as the present regime does not discriminate between primary and secondary schools, the new baseline threshold should apply to both. We do not believe that many—if any—primary schools will wish to select pupils by general ability. I fully accept the points made by the noble Baroness about children developing at different rates. I know that from my own small children. I recognise also the problems faced by those without English as their mother tongue, if I may use that rather old-fashioned expression. That is why we do not believe that many—if any—primary schools would want to select by general ability. However, it is possible that some may want to do so by aptitude in a particular subject. I believe that one of my honourable friends in another place cited the example of music. I suspect that that is one of only a very few examples that might appear.

The other important point to remember is that the Bill does not require primary school governing bodies to consider whether to introduce or extend selection each year, as it does for secondary schools. However, we believe that primary schools should have the same options as most secondary schools—and that is what the Bill gives them.

With those assurances and the assurance that there is no secret plot, as the noble Baroness seemed to imply, to extend selection to the whole of the primary sector, I hope that the noble Baroness will be prepared to withdraw her amendment.

The noble Baroness also raised a number of concerns about nursery schools and children with special needs. Those matters are not really for discussion this evening, but if the noble Baroness has particular concerns and would like to come to see me about them, hearing in mind my interest in the department in children with special needs, I am more than happy to accommodate her.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

That was an interesting reply. At the beginning of it, I thought that I was going to rise in order to apologise to the Minister for having asked a, "Will you please in future stop beating your wife?" question. The Minister replied—metaphorically, of course—that he had never intended to beat his wife in this case—or to put forward legislation that would allow primary schools to select their pupils. There appeared to be an outbreak of total agreement across the Committee. However, then we discovered that in the past it has been legal for people to do such wife beating (in the shape of selecting by ability and/or aptitude at primary level) but that nobody ever did it, so the wives were safe and the children were not selected when very tiny. Then we were told—

Lord Henley

I do not think that I ever said that nobody ever beat their wife, if the noble Baroness wants to put it that way. It may be that some primary schools use a degree of selection by selecting children with, say, an aptitude for music. So be it, let them do that because they can do so for up to 15 per cent. of their intake. All that the Bill seeks to do is to extend that proportion to 20 per cent.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I would be deeply concerned if primary schools selected by musical ability at the age of five because I suspect that at that age the overwhelming majority of children in this country have not even had the opportunity to see whether they have a gift for playing a musical instrument or for singing. However, I leave that to one side.

Having agreed that none of us knows whether this mechanism has been used—and, where there is agreement, it is on the basis that if it has been used, it has been used on only a minor scale—the Government now say that they wish to set in statute the ability to do something that we all agree is not really a very good idea. I find that quite strange. I shall read with care the Minister's words in Hansard and I may well return to this matter at a later stage. I have every faith in the Minister and his total innocence when it comes to the sort of wife beating we are talking about, but leaving the whip hanging over the door is something that we on these Benches would have to consider carefully. I beg leave—

Baroness David

Before my noble friend withdraws her amendment, I am sorry to be so ignorant, but could the Minister tell me where in legislation that 15 per cent. is announced?

Lord Henley

The 15 per cent. is not specified in legislation. The legislation refers to a significant change in character. On taking legal advice, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State was advised that a significant change of character would be represented by a selection ratio of 15 per cent. or more. That has been the understanding for some time. As I said, we believe that both primary and secondary schools should be treated in the same way. The Bill simply extends the proportion to 20 per cent.

Lord Monkswell

Before my noble friend withdraws her amendment, I wonder whether I may press the Minister for some fairly urgent information about whether any primary schools in England and Wales practise selection for up to 20 per cent. of their intake. I do not know how quickly the department can get that information, but I think that it would be significant in our deliberations. I do not expect to receive that information tonight, but perhaps we could have it by tomorrow or before the final stage of the Bill.

Lord Henley

There are something of the order of 24,000 schools in England alone, of which I imagine that something of the order of between 20,000 and 21,000 are primary schools. It would not be practical for the department to write to every single one. Such schools are run either by themselves (if they are grant-maintained) or by the local education authority. If the noble Lord wishes to write to them all, he is perfectly free to do so.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

As I have said, we look forward with interest to reading in great detail the Minister's words in Hansard. Perhaps in return the Minister will consider whether it might be helpful to exclude primary schools in exactly the same way as nursery schools are excluded. With the leave of the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 11: Page 54, line 37, at end insert ("and in the case of a county school the local education authority resolves that the proposals would not reduce the range of choice as to admissions available to parents of pupils (including pupils who are less likely to be admitted by reference to ability or aptitude) in the relevant age group in its area").

The noble Baroness said: We now come to a group of amendments, Amendments Nos. 11, 18, 13 and 14, which are all connected—

Lord Henley

For the convenience of the Committee, I wonder whether the noble Baroness will give way—

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

If the Committee prefers to take them separately—

Lord Henley

If the noble Baroness would give way, my understanding was that she was to speak to Amendments Nos. 11, 18 and 51. Does she also wish to include the other two? I am happy either way. If she wishes to speak to Amendments Nos. 11, 18 and 51, so be it.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

For the ease of the Committee, I shall speak to those amendments that are grouped on the list.

The purpose of Amendment No. 11 and the subsequent provisions which are scattered throughout the Bill is to enable local authorities to have limited powers of intervention in certain circumstances when their own schools (county and voluntary schools) seek, under the provisions of the Bill, to increase their proportion of selected pupils.

As the Bill is now drafted, a school is not required to go through a publication procedure nor are the proposals to be regarded as constituting a significant change in the character of the school. Therefore, paragraph 2(2) creates a loophole in the planning arrangements for school admissions, replacing a system in which parents and local interests can at least voice their opinion through the publication procedure and consultative arrangements with a system which Ministers clearly expect to be less rigorous. This amendment brings the LEA into the picture. It does not necessarily prevent the expansion of selection. The LEA may take the view that an increase in selection, perhaps in the context of the overall number of places available in the area, will increase the range of choice available to parents. But the strong argument was made at Second Reading from all sides of the House that the decisions of individual schools could have a knock-on effect on admission patterns that applied to all the schools in the area. This amendment seeks to recognise that and to argue that in the case of county schools the LEA should continue to hold the ring.

Amendment No. 18 provides that where there are proposals for a county or voluntary school to select up to the threshold, there should be consultation with the LEA or the body that appoints its foundation governors. The amendment seeks to ensure that if there is to be greater competition between schools to select pupils, without public consultation, there should at least be a proper discussion between the various interested parties so that duplication and waste can be avoided. I do not repeat all of the arguments rehearsed earlier about the importance of the Audit Commission report.

I stop at this point; otherwise, I believe that I shall become involved in a complicated argument about two groups of amendments. I believe that I have gone as far as Amendment No. 18. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

The amendments before the Committee deal with the admission authorities for county and voluntary schools. Paragraph 2 of Schedule I enables those admission authorities to introduce various selective admissions within certain thresholds without publication of statutory proposals. Amendment No. 11 seeks to make any such decision for a county school subject to a resolution of the LEA. But as in virtually every single case the LEAs are the admission authorities for those county schools, I have no doubt that the LEA will take the relevant factors into consideration in deciding how to use the new freedom offered by paragraph 2. The amendment is therefore unnecessary. I do not believe that it would take matters any further. It would be asking the LEA to resolve a matter on two different occasions.

I believe that Amendment No. 18 is also unnecessary. First, as I have already argued, as the LEAs are nearly always the admission authorities for county and controlled schools, in the great majority of cases the admission arrangements for such schools cannot be changed without the co-operation of the LEAs. Therefore, the LEAs would have to decide something twice, quite unnecessarily. Secondly, the bodies that appoint foundation governors appoint the majority of governors at voluntary aided schools and a substantial proportion of the governors at voluntary controlled schools. That gives the bodies that appoint foundation governors a powerful channel of influence over voluntary school governing bodies. Thirdly, paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 requires admission authorities proposing variations in admission arrangements, to which the requirement to publish statutory proposals no longer applies, to consult interested parties and, in so doing, to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State. I can give the noble Baroness an assurance that the guidance will make clear that those consulted should include LEAs and bodies that appoint foundation governors; that is to say, diocesan authorities or whatever.

For similar reasons, Amendment No. 51 is also unnecessary. Diocesan and other bodies that appoint foundation governors appoint the majority of governors at former voluntary grant-maintained schools. Clause 5 of the Bill imposes consultation requirements on grant-maintained governing bodies identical to those in paragraph 6 of Schedule 1. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I thank the Minister for his reply, which I shall read carefully. It was quite complicated. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 13: Page 54, line 47, leave out ("either").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 13. The purpose of the amendment is to prevent reductions below a school's selection threshold, once it has been exceeded, from being subject to the control of the Secretary of State. One of the main purposes of the Bill is to restrict the occasions on which an expansion of selection requires the approval of the Secretary of State. It does this by creating thresholds below which an increase in selection is not to be treated as a significant change, with the result that the process of public consultation and thereafter approval by the Government is no longer required.

The amendment proposes that only a change to exceed the relevant threshold should require the approval of the Secretary of State. The converse case, where a school which previously selected more than the threshold changed its admission arrangements to reduce its selective intake, would no longer require the approval of the Secretary of State. The first case is reasonable. The purpose of the Bill is to extend the ability of schools to become more selective, but it sets definite limits to the extent to which that can happen. However, there is little justification for the mechanism to prevent schools from becoming less selective, which, after all, has the effect of increasing choice for the majority of parents.

The circumstances in which such a case may arise illustrate why the amendment is desirable. Any degree of selection depends on there being a greater number of potential pupils seeking a place for whom a lesser number can be selected. The proportion of pupils who can be selected will therefore depend upon the school being over-subscribed. If the number of pupils seeking admission under the selective criteria falls below the appropriate percentage, the selective percentage must also fall, unless the number of pupils admitted under the non-selective admissions procedure is reduced to a balancing level.

If applications under the non-selective criteria are buoyant, pupils can be turned away while there are surplus places in the school. Plainly, that would be nonsense and a denial of parental choice. It would also be unlawful under open enrolment rules. In these circumstances the Secretary of State would be constrained to grant the necessary permission; that is, to make unnecessary and wasteful constraints, which the amendment seeks to remove.

It may be said that the circumstances outlined would be unlikely to come about in practice. However, the provisions of this Bill make it all the more likely that this could happen. If a number of formerly comprehensive schools in an area began to select part of their intake, a formerly selective school could easily find that there was an insufficient pool of pupils from which to select. The Government are aware of this danger. They do not propose a completely selective system and they retain reserve powers in Clause 11 to limit selection where they consider that the situation warrants it. In effect, by allowing Ministers to impose a common 20 per cent. limit, Clause 11 would cut down selection in GM schools to the same level as that in county schools. The amendment will help the natural process by which schools can adjust to the circumstances that face them.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

Surely, this amendment is a matter of fairness to the LEA and the governing bodies. I believe that the noble Baroness summarised the matter by saying that where a number of former comprehensive schools in an area began to select part of their intake, a former selective school could easily find that there was an insufficient pool of pupils from which to select. In the context of letting governing bodies, local authorities and parents have a degree of planning in the level of selection that they want, I am intrigued to learn how the Government can argue against this amendment simply on the basis of what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Lord Henley

Well, well, well! I was interested to see whether there would be a response from the official Opposition Front Bench. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that an amendment of this kind would appear to fly in the face of recent remarks by his honourable friend Mr. Blunkett in the Wirral about not doing anything to endanger the selective schools or grammar schools in that and other areas. What it would allow the LEA as admission authority to do would be to reduce selection entirely, without publishing any proposals whatsoever. As we all know, Schedule 1 sets out the rules that govern changes in selective admissions. For changes within the threshold, publication of statutory proposals is not required. For changes above the threshold, the existing change of character regime applies. If the changes mean that the proportion of selective admissions crosses the threshold in either direction, statutory proposals are always required. That is a full and consistent set of rules.

The amendments introduce the inconsistency that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, was trying to remove, by requiring publication for changes where an increase in the proportion of pupils selected crossed the threshold but not for changes where a decrease had the same effect. There should be consistent rules for publication of statutory proposals in terms of the character of individual schools. Reductions in selection can be just as important as increases. If the noble Baroness had not spotted that, I hope that she now recognises it and will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I thank the Minister for his reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

6 p.m.

Lord Monkswell moved Amendment No. 15: Page 55, line 7, leave out ("20") and insert ("15").

The noble Lord said: It may for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 53. The import of the amendments is the same. They seek to do two things: first, to simplify the criterion at which the break point occurs; and, secondly, to ensure that the threshold of the break point—if I may describe it as such—is sensible, logical and understandable by everyone involved. I shall talk a little about the second point: the reduction of the threshold of significant change from 20 per cent., 30 per cent. or 50 per cent. to 15 per cent.

We need to recognise that we are here talking about the definition of significant change in a school. One of the important factors about legislation is that it should be, as much as possible, in tune with people's common sense and understanding. If one went to any parent and said, "If the size of your child's class changed from 30 to 35 pupils would you think that to be a significant change?", or, alternatively, "If the class stayed at 35, but five pupils were removed and five pupils who all had blond hair and blue eyes were installed in the class, would you think that to be a significant change?", probably 99 per cent. of parents would say that that was a significant change. That is the common sense way of looking at things that I hope we can enshrine in the Bill.

When we say that there is a significant change and we call for a different procedure to apply once that significant change has been exceeded, we need to ensure that it is in tune with that which ordinary people on the street can understand.

My second point is that in the Bill we are talking about a number of different types of school. We are talking about county schools, which are under the administration of the LEA; maintained schools, which are effectively Church schools, again financed effectively by the LEA; and nationalised schools. That is my definition of grant-maintained schools. They are no longer administered by the LEA; they are effectively administered by the Government; that is, they are nationalised.

We describe the schools as different, and they are described as different in different parts of the Bill, but they have certain things in common. They will all have a board of governors made up of lay people. When lay people deal with complex legal and administrative situations they need advice. It is worth pointing out that a governor of a grant-maintained school could also be a governor of a LEA school. We need to enshrine within our public procedures—that is effectively what we are doing with the Bill—sensible, common sense rules which are common across the sector. I pointed out that governors are lay people. In the same way, a jury is comprised of lay people; magistrates are lay people; and local authority members are lay people. All those people have difficult decisions to make which are constrained by legal requirements and administrative procedures.

All those other groups of lay people have a source of expert advice. The jury will have the advice of a learned judge; members of a local authority will have the advice of their chief executive, who is probably legally qualified, with great professional ability and understanding of the legal and administrative position; and magistrates are advised by justices' clerks, who are professional men and women who have the expertise to provide the advice necessary to ensure that the lay people abide by the regulations that Parliament lays down. School governors are not necessarily in that position.

It is correct that school governors will have the advice of the head teacher, but the head teacher is first and foremost a head teacher and not a professional adviser or administrative or legal expert. We must recognise that. When we are writing laws that apply to governors and schools, we need to take care that we do not make them so complicated that they need the professional advice which they do not have.

For those reasons, it makes sense for us to have a common threshold of 15 per cent. which applies to all the different types of schools, because effectively the governors are all lay governors. That threshold should be 15 per cent. because that will strike a resonance of common sense with the vast majority of the people in this country that a change of 15 per cent. in a school's character is a significant change. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I listened almost with fascination to the noble Lord, because he came out with a wonderful piece of obfuscation of the issue under discussion. It is a superb way of taking the time of the Committee, but perhaps we could return to what the debate is all about. It is that he prefers one figure and the Government prefer another. He prefers, inevitably, of course, a more restricted figure than the Government who wish to have a rather more relaxed environment in which schools can work. He tries to claim that his figures create a resonance with ordinary people. I listened with great care for some justification of that statement. I am bound to say that there was none. "Mr. 15 per cent." may be an interesting title, but I do not believe that we should waste any more time on it.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I believe that we might reasonably justify spending a few minutes more on the issue. We have plenty of time, although I gather that we may find ourselves distinctly squeezed and sitting very late on another day in Committee.

Perhaps in the interests of clarification I may ask the Minister two questions. The purpose of our amendments is, first, to suggest that the present common selection threshold would be appropriate for all schools; and, secondly, to enable Ministers to explain the basis on which the legal position has been undisturbed until now. Is it not the case that the Bill represents a significant departure in that the interpretation of "a significant change in the character" has been a matter for circulars issued by the department interpreting primary legislation? On that basis, Circular 693 advised that selection up to a threshold of 10 per cent. would not be considered as representing a significant change in the character of a school. Last year, that was changed to advise that a threshold of 15 per cent. would be acceptable. It is important to be clear that neither of those statements was based on any legal provision. Each one represented guidance as to how Ministers wished to implement pre-existing legislation.

The Department for Education and Employment recently became concerned, and rightly so, that its 15 per cent. judgment rested on no legal basis. One of the advantages of the present legislation is to give officials a firm basis on which to rely. In doing so, they have taken the opportunity to push the threshold up yet again to these unequal levels. First, why change it; and, secondly, why vary it?

Lord Henley

I do not intend to take long over this amendment. It strikes at the heart of the Bill, which is bringing in a range of different thresholds for different types of schools which have different ways of viewing things. That is why we considered that 20, 30 and 50 per cent. were appropriate. To reduce the threshold to 15 per cent. would strike at the central purpose of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, wished to know how we had arrived at the figure of 15 per cent. and what our legal advice was. He will understand if I do not embark on the legal advice that we received, other than to say that we were advised that if we wished to go beyond 15 per cent., which would be a significant change in the character, primary legislation would be required. That is exactly what we are seeking to do in the Bill, and it is why we should like to give local authorities an option—whether that is in voluntary or county schools at the 20 per cent. option, specialist colleges at the 30 per cent. option or grant-maintained schools at the 50 per cent. option. That is exactly what the Bill will achieve and I urge the Committee to reject the amendment.

Baroness Lockwood

I understand from the Minister that the purpose of the Bill is fundamentally to change the circumstances under which selection can be introduced. To increase from 15 per cent. to 20, 30 and 50 per cent. and to make it legal suggests that the whole purpose of the Bill is, as has been argued today, to change the whole basis of our education system and to return to a selective system. As my noble friend Lord Morris said, if the Government were to propose a new education Bill advocating selection it would not meet with the general approval of the electorate; in other words, we are going through the back door to change the basis of our education system.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Henley

No, I am afraid that the noble Baroness misunderstands the whole purpose behind the Bill. It is freeing up the decision making of the schools, providing that if they wish to go beyond what is a significant change in character they must go through the appropriate statutory procedures. They would have to do that if they went beyond the 15 per cent. selection at present—that is, publishing proposals, going to the Secretary of State for permission and so forth. The Bill is providing that rather than the threshold of 15 per cent. county schools can go up to 20 per cent. without going through such procedures, but going through a degree of consultation which we shall discuss in due course. The Bill proposes different thresholds for other types of schools.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

Why should there be different thresholds for different types of schools? Is it solely so that schools can have a different selection ethos? Is it in order to add a level of complexity to the whole system? I do not believe that what the Minister said is any form of justification, in particular when in previous Bills he has been keen to argue for a flat rate of selection. What has changed? Why do we have to have a differential rate of selection now?

Lord Dormand of Easington

Can the Minister tell us what is magic about the three figures which the Government have produced? Perhaps in doing so the Minister will refer to the educational side. My noble friend mentioned legality, which must be taken into consideration. However, what possible educational advantage can there be of having the stepped percentages? The Government must have thought about that and I believe that this is an occasion on which the Minister can reveal the thinking.

Lord Henley

There is no magic, as the noble Lord puts it, in the figures. We are talking about different types of schools. We believe that a grant-maintained school should be allowed to decide for itself whether to go to 50 per cent. without going through the cumbersome process of applying to the Secretary of State, publishing proposals and so forth. If it wishes to go beyond that level the present safeguards will still exist whereby it must go through the statutory procedure. We considered that 50 per cent. was appropriate for the grant-maintained schools.

One takes a figure that one considers to be appropriate for schools; for example, 30 per cent. for specialist schools. We believe it is right that such schools might want to select to a degree, particularly in respect of aptitude within their specialities. We have heard nothing from Members opposite about specialist colleges. We have heard that their party now supports the creation of specialist colleges but we have not heard whether they will be allowed to select people who might be particularly good at the specialties provided. No doubt we will hear about that in due course. However, as regards county schools or voluntary schools, which are still under the control of the LEAs, we believe that 20 per cent. is the appropriate figure. I can take the matter no further than that.

Lord Monkswell

We have had an interesting exchange; but I wish to press the Minister a little further about the difference between grant-maintained schools and county schools; effectively, LEA versus nationalised schools. How does he see those schools being distinguished to the extent that one group will be allowed to select up to 50 per cent. but the other group will be allowed to select up to only 20 per cent. without the inquiry mechanism? I am not sure that the Minister has explained to the Committee satisfactorily why there should be the distinction between the two groups of schools. I do not know whether he can give a further explanation to the Committee, but I would welcome it.

Lord Henley

I shall make one last attempt. The noble Lord refers to grant-maintained schools as nationalised schools. I suppose that that is part of his conversion to a recognition of the horrors of nationalisation. But I just say that en passant.

The simple point is that grant-maintained schools are not nationalised schools. They are schools to which we have delegated a great deal of authority in order to run themselves. That is quite right. I am glad that so many schools benefit from that grant-maintained status and I am glad that so many noble friends, honourable friends and right honourable friends in another place are making use of those grant-maintained schools.

Having delegated more powers to them, we believe that they should be given more freedom to follow a route which they consider appropriate after consultation and so on, without going through the statutory procedures. That would not be appropriate for voluntary schools and county schools which are still being run by LEAs.

Lord Monkswell

I still find that the Government are making a distinction between the governors of grant-maintained schools and the governors of county schools as being a different class of people. You can entrust a decision to change the character of the school by 50 per cent. to one group of people, but such a decision is entrusted only up to 20 per cent. for the other group of people. However, I can see that we are not making any impression on the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Serota)

In calling this amendment, I should point out to the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 20.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 19: Page 55, leave out lines 23 to 30.

The noble Lord said: This part of the Bill allows schools in certain circumstances to admit pupils by selection on grounds of ability or aptitude up to certain thresholds without having to publish proposals in order to gain approval for a significant change of character. However, it makes it clear that where those thresholds are crossed, publication of statutory proposals would be required. However, the schedule also sets out circumstances in which that general approach would not apply and where, the Bill suggests, schools could exceed the previous thresholds with impunity.

Those parts of the Bill must be looked at alongside other provisions which allow schools to expand their overall numbers, also without publication of statutory proposals. Thus, it is envisaged that not only could a school move to being a totally selective sixth form without that being regarded as a change of character, but it could also create a completely new sixth form when none previously existed without that being regarded as a significant change of character.

The logic of the Bill is that it would be beneficial for schools to have increased freedoms to select part of their intake. It assumes also that a degree of autonomous expansion to meet demand will be beneficial in allowing the system to develop in response to the needs of local people. Those propositions are debatable, for the Bill itself recognises that there are thresholds beyond which unfettered expansion or change of character should not be allowed.

In those circumstances, the Bill retains existing procedures to ensure that more extreme proposals are properly published and debated and not allowed to proceed unless the Secretary of State is satisfied, after consultation with relevant interests, that they are sound.

There is common ground that a complete free-for-all would be unwise and could lead to some pupils being left without school places. Therefore, the debate is about where that line should be drawn. This amendment argues that sixth forms should not be exempt from normal rules.

In the case of sixth forms, education and training provision for young people beyond the age of 16 involves providers beyond the ordinary school system. Opportunities at that age include general and vocational courses at further education colleges and various forms of work with training organised by trainers or training and enterprise councils. Significant changes of provision in an area will affect planning decisions and the market of all those other providers. Therefore, it is important that significant changes which will impact on other publicly provided and funded opportunities should be considered in the light of that impact and not simply allowed to happen willy-nilly.

This amendment is designed to guard against those possible difficulties by ensuring that schools proposing to make those significant changes should be subject to a more rigorous process of consultation and approval than would otherwise be the case. The amendments would not preclude such developments taking place but they would help to guard against the possibility of serious problems emerging unexpectedly. I beg to move.

Baroness Warnock

This is a very important amendment because, unlike the selection issue, there is quite obviously here a case where other schools and sixth-form colleges should be taken into account seriously before an expansion of non-compulsory schooling is allowed.

It is well known that the fragmentation of sixth forms is very harmful in the sense that a small sixth form does not offer the choice which a large sixth form of a sixth-form college offers. This amendment would prevent uncontrolled and unplanned expansion of various small sixth forms which would be harmful to the pupils' education.

Lord Tope

I support the amendment. It is extremely important to try to make clear this system in what cannot be an unfettered market place. It is undeniably true that the development of sixth forms without consultation and without being part of a planning process could have a significant effect on a range of other providers of post-16 education, whether that be other schools, the local further education college, the TEC or most particularly, sixth-form colleges.

The development of a small sixth form, or even a larger sixth form, could, if unplanned and without consultation or reference to the wider considerations, have a very serious effect in a comparatively short time on the well-being of a number of sixth form colleges and other providers. Therefore, the purpose of the amendment is not to try to prevent it happening but to ensure that it happens in a planned way and with proper and thought-through consultation. I support the amendment.

Baroness Young

One of the success stories of recent years in education, which has not been referred to in the course of our debates, is the number of children staying on after the statutory school-leaving age. I think that I am right in saying that it is now something like 70 per cent. Perhaps the Minister will confirm those figures. That is a remarkable achievement and one with which we must all feel a great sense of satisfaction on all sides of the Chamber. It is not so long ago that the proportion was about 30 per cent. Therefore, from the point of view of the pupils concerned, that is a tremendous achievement. It means that they are going on to some form of further education, which is highly desirable.

I may not have understood this part of the Bill correctly, but it seems to me that in giving that added freedom to schools—and we are now talking about post-16 education, so it is those pupils over the compulsory school-leaving age—we are allowing them, if they so wish, either to develop or to expand a sixth form. That could well be seen as an opportunity to encourage more pupils to stay on beyond the age of 16.

It is desirable to have a great deal of variety. I am a supporter of further education colleges and sixth-form colleges but some pupils would prefer to stay on at school and they might well be encouraged to do so were the sixth form at their school to expand.

I take the point that there are dangers in relation to a small sixth form, but that will be something which the school will have to consider. The cost of a small sixth form is very considerable and the school may not feel that it is worth while. On the other hand, to deny schools the opportunity to expand their sixth forms in that way, if they wish to do so, cannot possibly help the situation of encouraging more pupils to stay on beyond the school-leaving age.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Life is strange; indeed, it is full of surprises. In supporting the amendment, I should point out that we are not actually arguing within its terms against schools being able to develop sixth forms; we are arguing against them being able to develop sixth forms without proper consideration being given to the effects on other providers of education for 16 to 19 year-olds.

I begin to feel so old. I say that because for many years successive Secretaries of State gave local authorities and local authority chairs of education advice and guidance on how to rationalise the use of resources. Those of us who were involved with local authorities were encouraged to attend highly unpopular meetings throughout the country and point out—indeed, I remember very clearly conversations with the late Lord Joseph when he was Secretary of State—that small unviable sixth forms had two inbuilt snags.

One of those snags was that the group sizes of the students may suit the teacher but were not in the best interests of the pupils because, at that age and stage, pupils learn from one another. There is a need for a reasonably sized group to enable the young people to learn alongside one another. Secondly, in the interests of having the cachet of a sixth form, schools were actually denuding funding from lower down the school and often from the pupils who needed most help—indeed, the tail that we have referred to so often today—and using it because of the prestige value of the sixth form.

So a huge exercise was undergone. The general experience has been that the development of sixth form and tertiary colleges has contributed more than anything else to the increase in the staying-on rate. There is a clear correlation between the two and marked increases in staying on. In areas, for example, where there were a large number of Church schools—whether Anglican or Catholic—with sixth forms attached to each school, they were encouraged to rationalise. As I said, the amendment does not seek to prevent that sixth-form development from going ahead; it very reasonably seeks to ensure that there is proper discussion about it.

Some teachers prefer teaching sixth-form pupils. But if a school cannot make a case for undertaking a viable project in terms of sixth-form pupils and developing a viable range of subjects so that young people are not encouraged to take inappropriate subjects or specialise too narrowly, we are failing our young people. I believe that this is one of the most reasonable amendments to come before the Committee. I am sure that such a reasonable person as the Minister will stand up and say that he cannot but agree.

Lord Henley

I thought for a glorious and brief moment that the noble Baroness, on her own, had actually understood what the amendments were about. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, certainly did not seem to understand what they were about. However, there it is. The amendments are not about setting up sixth forms; they are only about selection within existing sixth forms. When we reach Clause 4 and the power that grant-maintained schools will have to set up sixth forms, perhaps we can discuss such matters. As I said, these amendments are not about that. They are about selection within sixth forms.

Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 and Section 265B of the 1996 Education Act (inserted by Clause 3 of this Bill) deal with cases where publication of statutory proposals is not required for changes in selective admissions to LEA and GM schools respectively. These provisions follow on from paragraph 2 and Section 265A, which provide that, if there is any change in the proportion of selective admissions which makes the school cross the relevant threshold, statutory proposals must always be published. Paragraph 3 and Section 265B introduce two exceptions. Neither of those cases would result in significant changes in the character of a school. So they would not, under present law, require the publication of statutory proposals. I shall spell out for Members of the Committee the first exception which relates to sixth-form admissions. Schools will not need to seek central approval for changes in proportion of selective admissions to sixth forms, even though these might cross the relevant threshold. For many schools this is not an issue, because the sixth form is made up entirely of pupils coming up through the school. It is only an issue for schools that admit pupils at age 16, and the number of admissions at that age is usually very small.

Entry to sixth forms, whether from within or outside the school, has traditionally been on a selective basis. We discussed that matter earlier when I said, quite obviously, that GCSE results were relevant to some extent to entry into the sixth form. The department has always taken the view that changes in selection arrangements for a sixth form do not significantly change the character of the school. Amendments Nos. 19 and 56 seek to remove that exception. The effect will be to require publication of statutory proposals in circumstances where, I submit, a school's character had not changed. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment. He will no doubt wish to return to the issue when we reach Clause 4.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I have just been leafing through my speech and I do not believe that I talked about setting up new sixth forms; I was talking about a significant change in existing sixth forms and how that would affect the position of other providers of tertiary education in the area. The nub of the question which the Minister completely avoided is: why should the criteria for sixth forms be different from that of other groups within the school system?

I should like now to address the point raised by Lady Monkswell; I am sorry, I meant to say the noble Baroness, Lady Young.

Noble Lords


Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

I am not sure to whom I should address my apology.

However, I should like to raise a point with the noble Baroness. Surely we all agree that variety in an area is the desirable objective. Surely some degree of review and planning—the two words which the party opposite seem to cower away from—should ensure that variety of provision is kept. I believe that the Minister should address himself to the issues of why there is a difference as regards post-16 and pre-16, and what will ensure that the variety continues. However, as I can see no favourable reaction from the Minister, I feel obliged to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede moved Amendment No. 21: Page 55, leave out lines 31 to 40.

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 21 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 58. The amendments deal with the Bill's intention to allow schools to extend their age range or begin admitting pupils at a different age and to increase selectivity at the same time. This part of the Bill allows schools, in certain circumstances, to admit pupils by selection for ability or aptitude up to certain thresholds without having to publish proposals in order to gain approval for a significant change of character. Where those thresholds are crossed—that is, where the proportion of selection either moves above the permitted threshold or, having previously been higher, falls below it—publication of statutory proposals would be required.

However, the clause and the schedule set out circumstances in which that general approach would not apply. One circumstance is where a school begins to recruit pupils routinely at a different age; for example, if an 11 to 16 school which previously relied on recruiting pupils at the age of 11 began to invite admissions from those leaving middle schools at, say, 12 or 13. In those circumstances the Bill suggests that schools could exceed the previous thresholds with impunity.

If a school sought to expand its intake and increase its selectivity at a point other than the beginning of its normal age range, unlooked for and undesirable consequences could arise. While demographic change and parental preference mean that the overall balance of provision and demand is in the process of constant change, it is in the public interest to maintain some degree of consistency and stability from year to year. Significant departures from established patterns of recruitment between different schools can be difficult and destructive. The action of one school could destabilise another, particularly when ages of transfer are different and it is not a question of direct competition between institutions for pupils of the same age.

These amendments are designed to guard against these possible difficulties by ensuring that schools proposing to make these significant changes should be subject to a more rigorous process of consultation and approval than would otherwise be the case. The amendments would not preclude such developments taking place but they would help guard against the possibility of serious problems emerging unexpectedly. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 and new Section 265B of the 1996 Act, inserted by Clause 3 of this Bill, deal with cases where publication of a statutory proposal is not required for changes in selective admission to LEA and grant-maintained schools respectively. Those provisions follow on from paragraph 2 and new Section 265A which provide that if there is any change in the proportion of selective admissions which makes a school cross the relevant threshold, statutory proposals must always be published.

Subsection (3) in new Section 265B introduces two exceptions. Neither of these cases would result in significant changes in the character of a school so they would not under present law require publication of statutory proposals. We have already considered the exception in a previous amendment of sixth-form admissions. The second exception applies to the introduction of new relevant age groups for admission. Schools will not need to publish statutory proposals in situations where, although a new relevant age group for admissions is being introduced, the proportion of pupils selected does not increase.

I think the noble Lord cited the example of the LEA-maintained 11-to-16 school which started to admit pupils from middle school at the age of 12 or 13. This would not in itself require statutory proposals because it would not significantly change the school's character by extending its age range; it would still be an 11-to-16 school, but the school might already be selecting more than 20 per cent. of pupils admitted at age 11. Without paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 1, the school would then have to publish statutory proposals, even if the proportion of 12 year-olds admitted by selection was no higher than the proportion of admissions at age 11.

These amendments seek to remove that exception. The effect would therefore be to require publication of the statutory proposals in circumstances where the school's character had not fundamentally changed. That would clearly not be right and I therefore hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The Minister seems to be saying that it is not the Government's intention that this proposal of the Government as it stands would allow schools suddenly to increase by a whole form outside the normal age of admission of 11. If the addition of one child who had moved from a different area were to tip the balance, that would be one thing. However, is the Minister saying that the Government have no intention of allowing schools suddenly to start to recruit destructively from adjacent schools pupils at the age of 13 or 14? It is a genuine concern because such action could easily damage the range and scope of examination courses on offer at another school and could produce two schools that do not have viable year groups.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Henley

I shall have to look carefully at the example given to me by the noble Baroness. If I may, I shall write to her at a later stage as to whether that would constitute the significant change of character. As I made clear, where a school was merely admitting some pupils at 12 but did not arrive at a higher proportion than it had before, that obviously would not be the significant change of character. To allow these amendments would have left us in that nonsensical position. Whether the noble Baroness has raised another point is something I would prefer to look at, if I may, and I shall write to the noble Baroness in due course.

Lord Monkswell

I wonder whether we are not running into the problem that the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, always reminds us of; namely, the law of unintended consequences, in the sense that here we have the Government saying—I use the example of county schools—that there is a threshold of 20 per cent. at which a significant change takes place. The Government have effectively said it is 20 per cent. of selection of pupils. Are we to understand that the courts would not interpret the figure of 20 per cent. as being a significant change which would result in an increased number of pupils in a school? If that applied in year one, would it not also apply in years two and three?

Perhaps the system that the Government seek to put in place to protect, support and encourage grant-maintained schools to become grammar schools could lead to the destruction of those self-same grant-maintained schools because of the competition they would face from county schools that were prepared to go down this competitive route not because they wanted to damage any other school but from a point of view of self-protection. In that sense is not the risk like the risk that exists in industry and commerce where, because there is no minimum wage, decent firms have to pay wages as low as those of bad firms? In that case all standards are driven down rather than being promoted.

Lord Henley

I do not think today is yet the day for debating the minimum wage. We shall have many opportunities to do that with the noble Lord in due course. However, he knows where I stand. He knows perfectly well that if we brought in the minimum wage we would lose half a million jobs pretty quickly, if not more. If the noble Lord is worried that voluntary schools, county schools, or whatever, fear competition from the grant-maintained sector. I have one piece of advice for them: follow the route of grant-maintained status as so many other schools have done.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

If grant-maintained schools are so successful and so popular, why do the Government have to show them favouritism in government terms by saying that others may select fewer pupils on grounds of ability but grant-maintained schools may select more?

Lord Henley

Because we believe that grant-maintained schools should have the right to pursue the freedoms they have earned by becoming grant-maintained. That is why grant-maintained schools are so successful. That is why the noble Baroness cannot deny it—so many of her friends in the party opposite in another place make use of grant-maintained schools.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I had hoped that we would not start to have a to and fro across the Chamber about whose children went to which school. I have no intention of parading the fact that my children all went to comprehensive schools. I have no intention of asking those on the Government Benches who propose changes to the state school sector whether they send their children or grandchildren to those schools, be they grant maintained, selective or comprehensive. I hope that in this Chamber, notwithstanding the nearness of the election, we can leave each other's families out of it.

Lord Henley

I am more than happy to do so. I merely pointed out that it is hypocrisy for the party opposite to say it wants to deny choice to others but make use of it itself. That is a point worth making again and again. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, if Church, voluntary or LEA schools wish to obtain the benefits of grant-maintained status they are perfectly free so to do. So far I think we have had ballots in about one out of ten of all schools and of those one out of ten, 75 per cent. have chosen grant-maintained status. I should like some LEAs to cease trying to discourage all their parents from seeking the advantages of grant-maintained status. As I said on the earlier point, I shall look at what the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, has said and write to her in due course. I might even copy the letter to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

The Minister used the word "hypocrisy". Perhaps he will say how many of his colleagues in this House or the other place send their children to any of the schools that we have been discussing.

Lord Henley

That is not hypocrisy. I make no bones about the fact that I use the private sector, as I am entitled to do and as we encourage others to do. That is why we have the assisted places scheme. I was referring to those who insist on choice for themselves but say that they would deny it to others. That is hypocrisy.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

Perhaps the Minister does not think that any of the schools under discussion are good enough for his own children. That is a choice that he has made—

Lord Henley

Perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I have a right as a parent to make a choice as I wish, just as Mr. Blair and Ms Harman also have the right to do. But it is not for them to say that they do not wish others to have that right.

Lord Dormand of Easington

I shall again ask a question with which the noble Lord has dealt many times but to which we do not receive a satisfactory answer. In all our debates so far we have heard how good grant-maintained schools are. I am sure that some of them are very good and some are perhaps not so good. However, the basic question is that, out of 26,000 schools, 1,200 have opted for grant-maintained status. The figures speak for themselves. Against a background of certain privileges, certain advantages and certain incentives, the process has now been going on (the Minister will correct me if I am wrong) for four or five years and it is still not convincing people.

There is no doubt that there has been a reduction in the number of ballots. However, where ballots have taken place, is it not a fact that the number of opt-outs decided are very few and far between? Is that not the basic question to be asked about grant-maintained schools?

Lord Henley

I will give the figures to the noble Lord if he wants them. Some 20 per cent. of children in secondary schools go to grant-maintained schools. That is a jolly good figure. There have been ballots in one out of 10 schools. In other words, in nine out of 10 the parents have not even been given the option of a ballot, largely because of the influence of LEA governors on the boards and so on. Of the one in 10 that have held a ballot, 75 per cent.—three out of four—have voted to go grant-maintained. Those figures speak for themselves.

Lord Dormand of Easington

The Minister understandably continues to repeat the fact that 20 per cent. of secondary school pupils are in the grant-maintained sector. It is a fair point. However, is it not fairer to concentrate on the number of schools, not the number of pupils in each school? The ballot takes place in relation to a school, not on the number of pupils in a school. Will the Minister address that question?

Lord Henley

The point is very easy to address. The answer is simply that we have something of the order of 3,000 or 4,000 secondary schools; the remaining 24,000 or so are primary schools. Grant-maintained status has been much more popular in secondary schools, which tend to be larger than primary schools. Secondary schools find it easier to take on the added burdens of being grant-maintained. That is why we have had success in the secondary sector—1,100 schools; 20 per cent. of secondary school pupils in grant-maintained schools.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Will the Minister confirm that as a result of government policy the governing bodies of schools are no longer controlled by a majority of local education authority appointees; and if the parents and teachers on governing bodies together were of the opinion that there ought to be a parental ballot, such a ballot would take place?

Lord Henley

Come, come, come. The noble Baroness has been on an LEA. She knows LEAs. She has been an LEA governor; I have been an LEA governor. As the noble Baroness knows, they wield quite considerable influence on the governing body.

Lord Monkswell

Perhaps that is the reason why a significant proportion of schools which have opted for grant-maintained status have done so—to get out of the control of LEAs that are Conservative. The Minister seems to have a lot of figures at his fingertips. What proportion of those schools that have opted for grant-maintained status were either scheduled for closure under reorganisation proposals or were under Conservative LEAs?

Lord Henley

I cannot give those figures. However, I refer the noble Lord back to my remarks earlier today about guidance in relation to schools seeking grant-maintained status to avoid closure. Obviously that point has to be taken into account. I recommend to the noble Lord the circular from which I quoted.

The number of schools in Conservative authorities is not relevant. I still believe that there are many more which could take that option. They would find it a lot easier if they did not have a hostile LEA, as in places such as Islington, desperately trying to prevent any school leaving that LEA. At the same time, all the parents are leaving that LEA. As we know, some 43 per cent. of secondary school children from Islington are now educated out of the borough.

Lord Monkswell

Surely it is relevant if the objective of grant-maintained status is to get out of LEA control. If the vast majority of schools opting for grant-maintained status effectively opt out of Conservative LEA control, surely that says something about Conservative LEAs.

Lord Henley

Not at all. Again, to be personal, why is it that Ms. Harman wanted to send her children not to a school in Labour-controlled Southwark but to a grant-maintained school in Conservative-controlled Bromley, where grant-maintained schools and the FAS work quite well with the LEA? The LEA still has a function and it can do a good job. My point is that LEA governors in many Labour local authorities are making it increasingly difficult for the schools to get even as far as a ballot.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

This has been a wide-ranging debate. The amendment sought to examine the consequences of admitting children of different ages and any unintended consequences that that may have on the thresholds of selection. The Minister gave an interesting reply to that point. I should appreciate a copy of the letter that he is to write to my colleagues on this side of the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

If Amendment No. 22 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 23.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 22: Page 55, line 46, leave out from beginning to end of line 20 on page 56.

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to initiate a debate that will take in Amendment No. 23 as well.

We move now to the gentler waters, the calmer pastures of increased selection in specialist schools. Under the Bill, specialist schools are allowed to appeal to the Secretary of State over the head of the LEA if they consider that that authority is not progressing satisfactorily towards complying with their request. The first word that causes us concern is "comply". "To comply" means quite simply, "to yield to the wishes of another", from the Latin, complere, "to fulfil". To comply with someone's request is to agree with it whether you want to or not.

Our amendment argues that a better approach would be to test the progress that the authority makes in considering the proposals. The amendment examines the process by which specialist schools may seek to increase their proportion of selective admissions above the threshold.

The first question to which we are interested to receive an answer is why specialist schools should be singled out in this respect. Do we anticipate a sudden flourish of gifted trumpeters in a local primary school? Do we think that there may be an influx of brilliant violinists from Hong Kong? Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 envisages the situation where the governing body of a specialist school which is not itself the admission authority writes to the local education authority to ask it to allow the school to increase the proportion of its selective admissions up to the 30 per cent. threshold. If, after two months, the governing body reasonably form the opinion that the authority have not made satisfactory progress towards complying with the request, the governing body may refer the matter to the Secretary of State". How will that governing body reasonably form that opinion? Will it do so by vote? Will it do so by majority opinion, and is 51 per cent. enough? Can the Minister tell us more about what "satisfactory progress towards complying" will mean? An intemperate governing body—and I believe there might be some—could feel that nothing is satisfactory except total and utter compliance. The Secretary of State is then empowered either to direct the LEA to make the variation, to make a different variation or to turn down the request.

Paragraph 4 is clearly intended to prevent LEAs making dilatory progress in relation to an application of which they may not approve. I am bound to confess without the rack that it is theoretically possible that a local education authority might be of such complexion that it was so minded. We are all prone to sin. But can the Minister give us five recent examples of LEAs who are guilty of that particular sin?

However, it is unreasonable to enable the governing body to trigger national consideration of the issue purely where, in its opinion, the authority is not moving fast enough towards agreeing on what has been requested. The Wednesbury principles of reasonableness as to decisions by public bodies place a number of duties on LEAs and others to go through the proper processes in reaching a determination. Usually, it is accepted that a statutory body has a duty to consider the matter fairly and within reasonable limits of discretion as to which side of the question it opts to support.

Paragraph 4, however, pre-judges the whole issue by placing the LEA in the position of either agreeing with the request or being likely to be told to agree. There is no scope for the matter to be determined properly at local level unless it is in the direction with which the Government happen to agree. It seems to me and to all of us that this is quite a striking illustration of Ministers' views of local decision-making and the centralisation of the whole of the past 18 years. Local agreements are out of fashion with the Government; the power of the Secretary of State is in fashion. The amendment attempts to redress the balance. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I wish to make a few brief comments about Amendment No. 23. As we were warned earlier, if Amendment No. 22 were accepted, it would render Amendment No. 23 unviable. To put it the other way, if Amendment No. 22 is not accepted, then Amendment No. 23 seeks, in the event that a specialist school has applied to the LEA for a change in admission procedures and the LEA has not responded after the two-month period, to require the Secretary of State in those circumstances to consult with the LEA and have regard to its views before giving the various directions which appear under sub-paragraph (3)(a), (b) and (c).

The Bill provides that where the governing body of an LEA-maintained specialist school has requested that the LEA vary admission arrangements to allow for an increase in the number of pupils selected by reference to aptitude or ability and the governing body reasonably forms the opinion that the LEA has not made satisfactory progress, the Secretary of State may require the LEA to implement the proposal or may take a different view. But it is not required in either case to talk to the LEA.

Concern has been expressed that the framing of this part of the Bill is based on the assumption that the absence of a rapid compliance with a school's request is de facto unreasonable. If paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 is to be retained, then the two-month period is still impractical and unfair in the way that has already been described. The fact that the Secretary of State is not obliged to consult the LEA is, to my way of thinking, unwise. That is, particularly bearing in mind the views expressed in the previous debate by the Minister, for example, that LEAs have a role in managing schools' admissions processes.

First, an LEA, on receipt of a request for a specialist school to increase the number of pupils to be selected by ability and aptitude, should consult with the governing bodies of those schools which might be affected by the proposals. It might then be necessary to take a report of the meeting to the education committee. It is unlikely that the timing of meetings of governing bodies and the LEA will allow that to happen within a period of two months.

Secondly, the timing within the school year of the submission of a request to the LEA is critical because of the effect of school holidays and the ability of the LEA to consult with all interested parties. I speak as one who has had some experience of the process.

In the Committee stage of the Bill in another place, the Minister said that in considering the appeal from a governing body, the Secretary of State would, of course, consider the circumstances of the governors' request and any comments from the LEA. A requirement to consult the LEA before reaching a decision would, however, delay the Secretary of State's consideration of appeals. So what are we to make of the first statement that the Secretary of State would consider the circumstances of the governors' request and any comments from the LEA? A reasonable inference is that the Secretary of State will consider any comments from the LEA only if they arrive at approximately the same time as the referral from the governing body. In other words, the LEA will not have an opportunity to consider the details of the referral from the governing body or to present a detailed response. A requirement to consult the LEA following a referral from the governing body need, in practice, take no more than a fortnight. That does not seem to me to be an unjustified delay in the context of what might otherwise appear to be one-sided decision-making. I support the amendments which have been proposed.

Baroness Young

Is not the whole debate about the future of specialist schools? As I understand it, they have been immensely successful. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that there are 181 existing technology and language colleges educating 180,000 pupils. They have managed between them to raise £18 million in sponsorship. That suggests that they are not only popular with parents and the students but with the outside world as well. I should have thought that that was highly commendable.

As I understand it, this part of the schedule would allow specialist schools to expand. Although I can quite see that it is a good joke to talk about extra trumpeters in some schools, many of the specialist schools are language schools. Again, I should have thought one issue on which all of us in the Committee today could agree is that we are not good as a country at speaking foreign languages. We might try to do something to improve that.

The Secretary of State is herself a modern linguist and is particularly interested in those schools. I believe that they have been effective in improving pupils' ability to speak other languages. That seems to me to be a highly desirable outcome. If those schools wish to expand, they should be encouraged to do so. As I read what appears to be the offending section, it states: If, at any time after the end of the period of two months … the governing body reasonably form the opinion that the authority have not made satisfactory progress". All of us who have been in negotiations know that it is possible to submit something and hear nothing. On the other hand, one can hear that the authority has met, it has considered the matter and wishes to ask the following reasonable questions. There is a whole variety of points in between. But if, as I read the legislation, the authority has made no progress or does not appear to be making progress and is playing the well-known political game of stonewalling, it is reasonable that the school should be able to approach the Secretary of State. He would have the opportunity of allowing the school to expand provided that it conforms to the three subsections which qualify it. That is a perfectly reasonable part of the schedule. It supports those excellent specialist schools. The same applies to the technology schools and, I believe, to those relating to arts and sports. All those varieties of schools ought to be encouraged. That enables the successful ones to expand. I hope that the Minister will not accept the amendment.

Lord Henley

My noble friend is absolutely right to sing the praises of the specialist schools programme and their success. There are now something in the order of 180 technology colleges and some 42 language colleges. The figures are somewhat higher than she mentioned. A recent competition resulted in another 41 schools being so designated. That was 41 out of 131 applicants. Many more schools are striving for that status than we can accommodate at the moment.

My noble friend was also right to address their success. I visited an ordinary LEA maintained comprehensive school in Dartford which had gone down the route of the language college. It offered quite a wide range of European languages and, as I recall, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, something from the Indian sub-continent and one or two other languages. I visited another establishment in Devon, of all places, that had decided to specialise in Japanese. I found the link between Japan and Devon quite interesting. That will fairly soon be the only school in the country, I believe—certainly the only maintained school—in which every pupil between 11 and 16 years will be taught some Japanese. That is all within the national curriculum. It is something of which we can be proud and we want to continue to give the technology, language, sports and arts colleges—the two new categories which will be coming in shortly—greater flexibility to develop their strengths and the services that they offer to their communities.

I am very pleased that we now have a degree of support for the specialist schools programme from the party opposite, though we have yet to hear from those Benches what they feel about selection. The noble Lord was wrong to play that down. It is important that the specialist schools should be allowed to look to selection by aptitude in their subjects for a number of their pupils. That is only right.

As part of their development, specialist schools may wish to select a proportion of their pupils by ability or aptitude in their specialist subjects. Among other things, that can have the benefit of making the specialist facilities that those schools offer available to pupils who are best able to benefit from them—not all of us are good at modern languages, like my right honourable friend the Secretary of State; I am not sure that I would have benefited immensely from the kind of facilities that can be made available.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, asked why specialist schools should be allowed that freedom. We want to encourage such developments. That is why paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 enables specialist schools to select up to 30 per cent. of their intake by ability or aptitude for their specialist subjects. Obviously, if they wanted to go beyond that, the appropriate change would trigger off the usual procedures. But we believe that up to 30 per cent. it is a matter for the schools themselves to consider.

It is right that specialist schools of all kinds, whether they be grant maintained specialist schools or county and voluntary controlled schools, should benefit from that flexibility. But while the admission authorities for voluntary aided schools are usually their governing bodies, LEAs are usually the admission authorities for county and controlled schools. That means that an LEA can block the governors' proposals for introducing or extending selection. In such circumstances, paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 enables the governors-by the governors I simply mean the governors who will make decisions (the noble Lord asked how they made decisions and it is a matter for the governors themselves)—to refer the matter to the Secretary of State and enables the Secretary of State to direct the LEA to implement the governors' proposals if she approves them.

In exercising that right of appeal, the governing body would have to put its case to the Secretary of State and explain why it judged that the process was unsatisfactory. The Secretary of State would then consider those arguments on their merits. The whole process would be subject always to the normal legal requirements of reasonableness. Therefore, I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, need fear nothing.

So the purpose of paragraph 4 is to give all LEA specialist schools equal flexibility. Removing that paragraph, as the first of the noble Lord's amendments seeks to do, would discriminate against those specialist county and voluntary controlled schools. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not wish to push the amendment.

With regard to the second amendment, which I understand cannot be proceeded with should Amendment No. 22 be agreed to, I believe that it is unnecessary. Paragraph 4, by enabling the governing body to put its case to the Secretary of State, deals with the circumstances in which an LEA has blocked proposals. In those circumstances, it would be remarkable if the LEA did not also put its case to the Secretary of State. If it did so, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would be obliged to take account of what the LEA said in reaching her decision. So requiring the Secretary of State formally to consult the LEA would simply delay her decision. Therefore, I suggest to the noble Lord that his amendment is unnecessary. It would be a very strange local education authority which did not put its case to the Secretary of State.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

We have had an interesting debate. The Minister carefully avoided giving direct answers to most of the questions which I asked him. I hope that tomorrow he will read what I said and when he comes to the end of a sentence, if he sees a little question mark, that is a question which I asked him.

The Minister has been rather roundabout in looking at the crucial matter of how an LEA replies to the accusation that it is dilatory. Perhaps he can come back to us at a later stage or write to me on that issue, which seems to me to be fairly close to the heart of the matter.

Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

The Earl of Courtown

I beg to move that the House be resumed. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before twenty minutes past eight o'clock.

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

House resumed.

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