Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

– in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 14th March 2000.

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Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 3:07 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 51 [The Inspector's remit]:

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 107:

Page 20, line 30, leave out ("for persons") and insert ("provided in the further education sector and special needs education sector and which is suitable to the requirements of those").

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 108, 109, and 127 to 129 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tope. The purpose of the amendments is to rationalise and simplify the post-16 inspection system.

As set out in the Bill, the system is shared between two inspectorates, the adult learning inspectorate--code-named ALI--and the office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools (Ofsted). As I made clear in Committee, our objections to the system rest on three issues, the first being its complexity. As my noble friend Lord Tope said at Second Reading,

"Why on earth do we have the anomaly of two inspection agencies falling over each other to inspect the [post-16] provision? Why do we need complex rules about 'joint inspection' and a 'common inspection framework'? The obvious and radical answer is to have a single inspection agency for all post-16 education and training which will see its work in the context of lifelong learning".--[Official Report, 17/1/00; col. 939.]

Our second objection is the degree to which the system reinforces and perpetuates the binary divide between education and training. We had a long debate about this issue both in Committee and on earlier amendments on Report which I tabled yesterday. In his replies on both occasions, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, made it clear that it is the Government's intention that the Bill should move firmly away from this divided system. Yet, when we discussed the amendments on the inspectorate in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing--who, incidentally, has sent me a letter regretting the fact that he cannot be present today as he has to be in hospital--said:

"I have been involved in education for a number of years and throughout that period I have been concerned that we have had two cultures: the culture of what I describe as academic education and the culture of vocational--applied--training".--[Official Report, 15/2/2000; col. 1181.]

He pointed out that the structure of the proposed inspectorates, far from being one of partnership, put ALI--the vocational arm--into a totally subordinate position. He warned that that might make it difficult to recruit good people to the inspectorate and, even more damaging, that it might put at risk:

"that distinctive contribution which is needed for a community of learners which is adult rather than young, part-time rather than full-time, and possibly needing greater encouragement to engage in education and upskilling. After all, we are trying to create an adult learning society. If the Government are set on this particular approach, the result may be damaging to the Government's aspirations".--[Official Report, 15/2/2000; col. 1145.]

There is a different ethos in the further education sector from that in the schools sector. ALI, which will presumably take over from the Further Education Funding Council inspectorate and the National Training and Skills Council inspectorate, would reflect that ethos, whereas Ofsted has no experience and track record in the sector. We are not alone in believing that Ofsted methodology is appropriate. The CBI, British Chambers of Commerce and National Skills Task Force have all expressed reservations about the extent to which the two methodologies are compatible.

The colleges themselves have great reservations. In evidence to us, the FE21 group of colleges spoke of being compelled the follow the achievement-oriented ethos of the Ofsted inspection regime to the detriment of encouraging non-traditional learners into education. The burden of views submitted to the DfEE during consultation was overwhelming. Of 250 submissions, 249 advised against joint inspections. Only one--the FEFC, which is a Government-appointed body--was in favour of the proposals, yet the Government push ahead with them.

In Committee, the Minister's main objection to our proposals was that it would be a "terrible mistake" to restrict Ofsted's role in post-16 education because of the "experience and rigour" it would bring to A-level inspections. She claimed that the present system was not working because:

"In effect, you have one group of inspectors inspecting A-level provision in schools and a totally different group of inspectors inspecting A-level provision in FE colleges. This is what the Government are addressing: we want a single group of inspectors taking the lead in inspecting 16 to 19 provision and a single group of inspectors taking the lead in inspecting the specialist aspects of work-based training and adult education".--[Official Report, 15/2/2000; col.1148.]

Surely that view of the world is just as flawed. Where 16 to 19 year-olds are in work-based training, the off-the-job element that might be described as education is just as important as the job element. If it is a question of the rigour of inspection, that can be coped with under the guidance given by the Secretary of State to ALI. As for experience, given the ways in which teams of inspectors are today put together and contracted for specific tasks, there is no problem for the ALI in hiring inspectors with experience of A-level.

The amendments would draw a clear distinction between the two sets of inspectors--putting them on a par with each other, not making ALI the junior partner. The amendments would make it clear that the remit of chief inspectors of adult education extends to school and school-based sixth forms, and that ALI would have responsibility for all post-16 education and training in the non-school-based further education sector. That clear and simple distinction has the support of the majority of the community and makes common sense. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 3:15 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I am a little disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and her colleagues have revisited questions that they raised in Committee and are arguing for the exclusion of Ofsted from the new post-16 inspection regime. I will describe again the reasons for the Government's policy and explain why I cannot accept the arguments.

The idea that there should only be one inspectorate under the Bill does not hold water. No one is suggesting that Ofsted should not inspect school sixth forms. Although amendments were tabled in Committee--but wisely not moved-- that ALI should inspect school sixth forms, I am glad that the noble Baroness has decided that that particular policy would not make sense.

If it is agreed that Ofsted should inspect school sixth forms, why should it not inspect sixth form colleges? The profile of qualifications taken by 16 to 18 year-olds in school sixth forms is virtually identical to that taken by 16 to 18 year-olds in sixth form colleges. The profile of courses taken by full-time 16 to 18 year-olds in general FE colleges is not dissimilar, although in FE there is a slightly higher percentage of students taking vocational options than in sixth forms. It is untrue to suggest, as the noble Baroness did, that the vast majority of 16 to 19 year-olds in FE colleges or the FE sector are doing work-based learning. Nearly half of all students taking A-levels and GNVQs are in the FE sector.

Those facts illustrate the logic behind our proposals. Ofsted has the expertise and experience to take a really good look at 16 to 18 provision outside work-based learning, across colleges and sixth forms. It has particular strengths in the assessment of teacher performance and student achievements--both of which are critical to successful inspection. I am not prepared to let the new post-16 inspection regime develop without a substantial input from Ofsted.

I assure the noble Baroness that fears that colleges will be subject to a double burden of inspection are without foundation. We are legislating for a single inspection of colleges, by a team of inspectors from both inspectorates looking at the whole picture. The balance of the team will reflect the nature of the provision. In sixth form colleges, the inspectors are likely to be mostly from Ofsted. Where adult provision dominates, ALI inspectors are likely to be in the majority. There will be a single report reflecting the collective judgments of all the inspectors. Once again, I dispute the noble Baroness's comment that there are two totally different cultures and that the methodology pursued by Ofsted would be completely inappropriate. We are working towards a common framework. The inspectorates are doing that now.

The noble Baroness suggested that of all the responses to our proposals, only the FEFC was in favour of joint inspection. I received letters last year from colleges expressing fears that there would be two inspectors in every class--one from ALI and the other from Ofsted--where there were students both above and below the age of 19. My ministerial colleagues and I, and my officials, have worked hard to dispel those myths, not least by setting out our inspection proposals in the Learning and Skills Council prospectus that we issued before Christmas. Since then, colleges have been substantially reassured by our proposals.

I should also like to address in more detail the suggestion that the Ofsted "culture" is inappropriate for the mix of learning that takes place in colleges. As I explained in Committee, we see the new regime under the common inspection framework as building on the best elements of the current systems. There is a strong case for incorporating Ofsted's observational approach into a model which also looks at self-evaluation by the provider. We want to draw from and build on both traditions and create a system of inspection which benefits from both approaches.

We certainly need to look carefully at the precise reasons for patchy performance in some parts of the post-16 world: a range of performance across all strands of education and training is far too great. Therefore, appraisal of teaching and student achievement is very important. At the same time, I do not think that anyone doubts the importance and value of self-evaluation--I do not--as one means of promoting continuous self-improvement. It is a way of involving staff in their own self- improvement. It will be a permanent feature for all providers in the LSC world. And we will want a means by which providers can judge whether they are evaluating themselves accurately.

This is an important issue on which I hope that I have now made the Government's position clear. There is great diversity in post-16 education and it is not easy to find a simple solution to inspection. I believe, however, that our proposals will help to bring about that permanent improvement in standards that we all want to see. The value of a common framework, the close co-operation between the two individual and independent inspectorates, and the synergy produced by drawing from the strengths of different traditions will, I hope, produce a new excellent and dynamic inspection system. The noble Baroness referred to the divide between the academic and vocational. That will not be a huge chasm which young people and adult students are unable to jump; the system will be brought together so that there will be no such divide. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, which was not totally unexpected. On these Benches we remain unhappy about the degree to which the adult learning inspectorate remains the junior partner within the proposed arrangements. I am reassured by the noble Baroness's remarks about attempts to forge the joint working of the two inspectorates. The Minister spoke of the diversity of the sector. We believe that that demands a separate inspection system. The proposed arrangements are complex. The simplicity of the ALI having remit over the further education sector, and Ofsted over the schools sector, has much advantage. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 108 to 110 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 111:

Page 20, line 39, after ("training") insert ("other than higher education").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 111 I speak also to Amendment No. 115.

The higher education world is concerned about another aspect of the inspection arrangements in the Bill. For example, the Association of University Teachers sees as a possible threat a further avalanche of bureaucracy being introduced into the system on top of the system already in place.

The quality of provision of higher education courses is currently examined by peer group (the external examiner system); the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education; internal university audit; Ofsted, for initial teacher training; and the research assessment exercise, for research in higher education. Surely that is enough. There is no case for superimposing any further inspection arrangements.

University teachers hold the principle of academic freedom to be of supreme importance. That subject has been discussed on many occasions in this House. However, they see it as a worrying development if the Government decided to create for themselves a reserve power whereby they could control the provision and content of higher education courses. Although the Association of University Teachers has communicated with the Government for clarification, as yet it has merely been referred to the Committee stage debate and that is not particularly enlightening.

The Government have made clear that the Bill should not extend to higher education, and this has been underlined by the Minister in her Second Reading speech and in the legislation itself where the phrase "other than higher education" is reiterated many times. But the provisions under Clause 51 of the Bill as currently drafted do not include such clarity. Instead there is a loose reference under Clause 51(1)(e) to,

"such other education or training (which may, in particular, include training of or for teachers or lecturers) as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State".

The training of teachers in higher education is already covered by Ofsted under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998. This clause will add yet another organisation to the long list of inspection regimes in that sector.

Will the Government clarify the extent of the proposed adult learning inspectorate for the purposes of lecturers in higher education and the training of teachers in higher education? I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, it is an important amendment. I have been unable to take part in the Bill until now. However, I have listened to my noble friend. The Association of University Teachers represents, as the Minister knows well, many people who have been driven mad by the number of inspections which pull in a number of different directions. People cannot get on with their job because of them. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will express some understanding of the position described here. It is not special pleading. It is a cri de coeur from people who are being driven crazy by the Government's impositions upon them.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, we debated at some length during Committee the precise scope of this power to extend the remit of the ALI and in particular the provisions for teacher training. In the light of that debate, the Government have decided that it would be appropriate to clarify the Bill--in particular to demonstrate that we are not concerned here with the inspection of training for school teachers. That is the point of the government amendment to which I shall speak after I have spoken to the noble Baroness's amendments.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, it would be helpful if I may press the noble Lord a little more. We are addressing whether further education teachers and/or lecturers are taught in higher education. It is not the training of school teachers.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, I am aware of that. Perhaps the noble Baroness will give me a little longer to explain the position. The noble Baroness has tabled her own amendments to clarify the position. We cannot accept them.

Amendments Nos. 111 and 115 would mean that the adult learning inspectorate would be unable to inspect further education teacher training which qualifies as a course of higher education. The consequence would be that the ALI would be able to inspect only some but not all FE teacher training.

Noble Lords may find it helpful to know that FE teacher training is provided at two levels. First, there are City and Guilds qualifications, usually provided directly in colleges. Since this is further education provision for adults, the adult learning inspectorate will scrutinise it under its normal remit. Secondly, FE teacher training is also made in the form of the Certificate of Education or the PGCE in Further Education, and much of this training is franchised by HE institutions to further education institutions. However, it is defined within Schedule 6 to the Education Reform Act 1988 as "higher education".

The Government have very recently issued a consultation paper on compulsory teaching qualifications for teachers in further education. In that paper we stress our expectation that staff involved in teaching post-16 education and training should be appropriately qualified. It follows that better and more extensive FE teacher training will be needed in the next few years. Coherent inspection arrangements are a crucial part of the plan to raise FE teaching standards.

We want to use the regulation-making power to ensure that the ALI has a potential role in all further education teacher training so that it can bring its expertise to bear across the whole of this important area. Therefore, through the regulations, the remit of the ALI will extend to include provision in the small number of universities which run specialist post-graduate certificates of education for teachers in further education. It will not include--and I stress this--initial teacher training for schoolteachers. Ofsted already inspects this provision which takes place in higher education.

It is very important to allow the ALI to form a comprehensive judgment about standards in the training of FE teachers, lecturers and vocational trainers. We hope that the House will accept the government amendments rather than the amendments of the noble Baroness. I shall now speak to the amendments.

Perhaps I may begin by assuring the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that we do not intend to extend the remit of the ALI to include the training of schoolteachers. I think she has accepted that point. Amendments Nos. 112 and 114, which the Government propose in respect of Clause 51, and Amendments Nos. 117, 118 and 119, which necessarily follow at Clause 52(4) and (5), make clear that we are concerned with the inspection of the teachers, lecturers and trainers in FE colleges and work-based training. Amendments Nos. 136 and 137 in this group in respect of Clause 73 have a similar effect for Wales.

A further government amendment, Amendment No. 120, is necessary--for the avoidance of doubt--to maintain consistency between the terminology in Clause 52(2) to (5) where "specify" is used in a similar context.

I hope that to some extent the concerns of the noble Baronesses opposite are removed. I hope they agree that FE teacher training should be inspected by one organisation, that organisation being the ALI.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I am not impressed with the response. There is real concern, not just about this amendment and how higher and further education and teacher training will be inspected, but about all the points that were raised on the previous set of amendments. There is incredible disquiet about the way in which the ALI and Ofsted are going to work and about the interaction between further and higher education inspections. The answer is deeply unsatisfactory. I shall return to the matter at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 112:

Page 20, line 39, leave out from ("training") to ("as") in line 40.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 3:30 pm, 14th March 2000

moved Amendment No. 113:

Page 20, line 41, at end insert--

("( ) facilities for providing information, advice or guidance about education or training or connected matters secured by the Council under section 12(5) of this Act or by the Secretary of State under section 9 of the Employment and Training Act 1973 for persons over the age of 19").

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in moving this amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tope I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 145 which is grouped with it. The amendment relates to the inspection of careers advice and guidance in the further and adult education sectors. We argued the case in Committee. The Minister responded by saying:

"We intend, however, that the inspection and quality assurance of information, advice and guidance provision should be carried out by the independent Accreditation Board that was set up last year by the Guidance Council with support from my department. So there is an existing body with specialist expertise available to carry out this work".--[Official Report, 15/2/00; col. 1166.]

She continued, at col. 1167:

"Secondly, and most importantly in responding to the noble Lord, information, advice and guidance is a specialist activity. Many of those providing information, advice and guidance are not learning providers. They operate in a quite different context".

We are not convinced by these arguments. Is the Guidance Council the right body to do this work? Is it appropriate when so much of the guidance given in further education comes from within the workplace? Guidance for adults on learning and career opportunities is delivered, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, often by line managers and supervisors rather than by specialist training or personnel officers. Increasingly, learning representatives within trade union structures play an important role. We are not convinced that the Guidance Council standards were designed with such a wide audience in mind, particularly one where the professional standards of other national training organisation bodies are concerned. So far, the inspections have been undertaken by the National Training Council and the Further Education and Funding Council Inspectorate. Both bodies have a clear understanding of workplace cultures and their inspection and have the necessary expertise to undertake this function. As both bodies will be incorporated within the new adult learning inspectorate, it seems obvious that that body should take on the responsibility.

Amendment No. 145 relates to the inspection of the new Connexions service for post-16 education. As this is non-school-based careers advice and guidance, it is obvious that the adult learning inspectorate rather than Ofsted is the appropriate body to inspect such guidance. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, Amendment No. 113 would place the inspection of information, advice and guidance services for adults within the remit of the adult learning inspectorate. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, spoke to a similar amendment in Committee. As I said then, we intend that the inspection of this provision should be carried out by the Guidance Accreditation Board which was set up last year by the Guidance Council with support from my department. I should like to emphasise that the Guidance Accreditation Board is independent of the Guidance Council and that, under the inspection and quality assurance regime, we intend that they will have fundamentally different roles. There can be no question of their roles becoming confused. Perhaps I may expand on that.

The Guidance Council will be responsible for maintaining and updating the quality standards and for providing advice and support to practitioners on how to interpret them. Organisations which are delivering information, advice and guidance for adults as part of local learning partnerships will be required to comply with the Guidance Council's quality standards by April 2002. The accreditation board, by contrast, will be responsible for inspecting provision; for assessing whether providers meet the quality standards; and, where necessary, for withdrawing their accreditation.

There are four reasons why it is most appropriate to secure the inspection and quality assurance of information, advice and guidance for adults through the route I have described rather than through the ALI. First, information, advice and guidance is a specialist activity. It is a quite different process from teaching and learning, and many of the bodies which deliver it on a local level are not learning providers. They have no role in providing learning. Instead, they are highly specialised organisations with particular expertise in this field. That is why we have chosen the distinctive approach to the inspection of this activity that I have spelled out.

Secondly, the arrangement with the Guidance Council and the Guidance Accreditation Board that I have described is already up and running, contrary to what the noble Baroness implied in her introduction. It has been in development for some years. We and the council consulted extensively about the quality standards and the accreditation regime that will be at its heart. They command wide support among practitioners. Placing responsibility for inspecting information, advice and guidance provision with the ALI would disrupt and delay the benefits of a quality regime for adult information, advice and guidance, when a more appropriate system has recently been put in place. That would not be in the interests of the clients of the service who benefit from its use.

Thirdly, the delivery of information, advice and guidance for adults is extremely diffuse. It is not just a question of provision made by careers services or by FE institutions for their own students, important though that is. Under our policy, information, advice and guidance is being delivered by a wide range of organisations, including community and voluntary bodies and libraries as well as employers. The plans we have been discussing with the Guidance Council are based on the assumption that up to 1,500 provider organisations will need to be accredited between now and the end of 2001-02. Many of these are not learning providers at all. The sheer numbers involved and their diversity make an accreditation regime of the kind that is already in operation essential. Placing responsibility for the inspection of this provision with the ALI would significantly increase the number of organisations with which the ALI would have to deal, for little obvious gain.

Finally, the arrangements through the Guidance Council are not just about the accreditation of provisions that will be funded by the LSC or even about publicly-funded provision more widely. Much provision in the adult guidance field is in the private sector and will continue to be paid for by employers and individuals. It will be open to such private sector organisations to seek accreditation from the Guidance Accreditation Board, too. Not only will accreditation give an assurance about the quality of private sector provision, it will also help to reduce the cost to the taxpayers of these arrangements, as such providers will pay a fee to the accreditation board. The Guidance Council's business plan for these arrangements envisages that, depending on the level of fee income achieved, they will be self-financing over the medium term.

I turn to Amendment No. 145. It would further extend the ALI's remit to include inspection of the new Connexions service. An amendment similar to this was debated in Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, suggested then that the Connexions agenda is closer to that of the chief inspector of adult learning than that of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools. I must beg to differ. The provision to be inspected by the ALI will be totally different from that of the Connexions service. Although the ALI will inspect all post-16 work-based training, the lion's share of the ALI's remit, as its name suggests, will be learning provision for adults. The Connexions service will be for 13 to 19 year-olds.

The noble Baroness suggested that the ALI was the better-suited inspectorate because the Connexions service would be addressing social exclusion, including through encouraging young people to take up vocational learning. First, I do not believe that we or others should be putting out a message that disaffected young people are not expected to re-engage with more academic learning, where that may, in fact, be more appropriate in some cases. We should ensure that that opportunity is kept open to them.

More importantly, I want to take this opportunity to remind noble Lords that the Connexions service will provide a wide range of services for all young people, including those who are already achieving. Indeed, in the majority of cases, its role will be less about tackling social exclusion issues than about providing timely support for young people's learning and career choices. It will be concerned with the provision of information, advice and guidance about learning, together with a whole range of other support services for young people, rather than with the provision of actual education and training.

We believe that Ofsted is well positioned to carry out inspection of the Connexions service because it has the relevant broad experience with the age group concerned. Ofsted inspects LEA youth services and education work with young offenders. As part of its school inspection responsibilities, Ofsted inspects careers and drugs education in schools and is familiar with behavioural and attendance issues. As I indicated in Committee, Ofsted's remit also includes LEA inspections. These are focused on educational standards and school improvement issues, but they also cover a wide range of other LEA activity, including effective partnership working and LEA support to pupils with particular needs.

We are convinced that Ofsted's experience makes it the better choice for the inspection of the Connexions service. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 3:45 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, which was not totally unexpected. I continue to question whether she is right in putting so much emphasis on the role of the Guidance Council. We received briefing from the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE), which stated:

"As a member of the Guidance Council since its inception, NIACE welcomes the confidence which the Government has in the organisation, its quality standards and its Accreditation Board. We are not, however, convinced that this arrangement [will work]".

It goes on to state that, as it stands, the Guidance Council does not have the capacity to take on the inspection nor does it have a track record in such territory. I was interested that the Minister noted that during the next few years 1,500 guidance organisations will need to be accredited. Given the role of accreditation, the additional role of inspection will be a considerable burden on the organisation.

As regards my second amendment, again, the reply was not unexpected. Our perception that the chief inspector of adult learning should be the chief inspector is linked to the fact that we should like to see a clear distinction between the two roles of Ofsted and the ALI and that all non-school-based education and learning should be under the remit of the ALI. In that case, it would have made much sense for the ALI also to have been the main inspector of the Connexions service. I wonder what place the Guidance Council might have. Given its role, it might be more appropriate for it to consider the advice and guidance issued in relation to the Connexions service. I am not fully satisfied with the responses, but, for the moment, I beg leave to with draw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 114:

Page 20, line 41, at end insert--

("( ) Regulations made under subsection (1)(e) may include within the Inspectorate's remit training of or for teachers, lecturers, trainers or other persons engaged in the provision of education or training which otherwise falls within the Inspectorate's remit.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 115 not moved.]

Clause 52 [Functions of the Inspectorate and Chief Inspector]:

[Amendment No. 116 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

moved Amendments Nos. 117 to 120:

Page 21, line 18, leave out from ("remit") to ("as") in line 19.

Page 21, line 22, leave out from ("remit") to ("as") in line 23.

Page 21, line 24, at end insert--

("( ) The functions specified under subsection (4) or (5) may include functions with respect to training of or for teachers, lecturers, trainers or other persons engaged in the provision of education or training which falls within the Inspectorate's remit.").

Page 21, line 27, leave out ("direct") and insert ("specify").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 121:

Page 21, line 27, at end insert--

("( ) The Inspectorate and the Chief Inspector must have regard to the assessment of needs included in the local learning and skills council's annual plan under section 22.").

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 121, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 130. These are small, but I believe useful, amendments. Clause 22 requires local learning and skills councils to produce an annual plan, part of which must include the statement of needs in relation to the education and training of their local population. The purpose of the first amendment is to require the inspectorate and the chief inspector to have regard to that assessment of needs. Amendment No. 130 makes a similar provision with regard to area inspections to be carried out by the Chief Inspector of Schools.

As I said, these are small and simple amendments. However, if the plans are in place, the needs are stated and the requirements made, then it is right that the inspector, when carrying out that role, should have regard to them and should report on the extent to which they are being fulfilled. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may ask one small question. I am not in any way critical of the noble Lord who proposed the amendment, but I would have assumed that the inspectorate and the chief inspector naturally would have regard to the assessment included in the local learning and skills council's annual plan. I should be interested to know whether the noble Lord has any grounds for believing that they might not carry out that very obvious task. If he had such grounds, I would support him; if not, I do not believe that it would serve any useful purpose.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, as this is the Report stage, perhaps I shall allow the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to respond to that question when he rises. Amendments Nos. 121 and 130 relate to Clause 22 of the Bill, under which local learning and skills councils must prepare plans which assess the needs of the local area. These two amendments would link both the adult learning inspectorate and Ofsted closely to that process by requiring them to have regard to the assessment of a local area's needs and to inspect the implementation of the local LSC's plans. I do not believe that that would be a very good idea. I believe that it would blur the distinction between the roles of two quite independent bodies--the inspectorates on one hand and the LSC on the other. The inspectorates are not really planning organisations; they examine the whole area of the quality of provision made by learning providers.

Under Clause 22, the local LSC acts as a planning body to ensure that local provision matches the aspirations of local communities. Of course, as a matter of routine, good inspection will encompass a knowledge of local conditions and current trends, as I believe was implied by the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. However, as I have said already, neither the adult learning inspectorate nor Ofsted is interested primarily in the process of planning. They should be independent, objective organisations which are interested in the outcomes achieved by education and training providers. During the course of an area inspection, where it is necessary to examine the effectiveness of the way in which the LSC has applied its resources, the Bill already contains the necessary provisions. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will understand why I cannot accept the amendments and that he will not press them.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, not only for her reply to me but, in effect, for her reply to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I would have made the same assumption as did the noble Lord. As I believed she would, the Minister made clear to both of us that we would have been wrong in that assumption for the reasons that she has given. I am not entirely satisfied on this matter because I believe that the inspectors must have regard to the objectives and to whether they will be met. However, I shall not press the matter further today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 122:

After Clause 53, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:AREA INSPECTIONS BY THE CHIEF INSPECTOR

(" .--(1) The Chief Inspector of Adult Learning may, on his own initiative, conduct an inspection of--

(a) the quality and availability of a specified description of education or training, in a specified area of England, for persons who are aged 16 or over;

(b) the standards achieved by those receiving that education or training; and

(c) whether the financial resources made available to those providing that education and training are managed efficiently and used in a way which provides value for money.

(2) The Chief Inspector of Adult Learning must carry out such an inspection if asked to do so by the Secretary of State.

(3) If the Learning and Skills Council or a local education authority has applied financial resources in respect of education or training which is being inspected under this section, the inspection may extend to considering the manner in which the Council or that authority has applied those resources and whether they have been applied in a way which provides value for money.

(4) The education or training that may be made the subject of an area inspection is any education or training within--

(a) the Adult Learning Inspectorate's remit; or

(b) the remit of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools for England.

(5) If, in connection with an area inspection, the Chief Inspector asks Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools for England for advice on a matter relating to education or training within his remit, he must give such advice as he considers likely to be appropriate for the purposes of the inspection.

(6) A person providing education or training which is the subject of an area inspection must provide the Chief Inspector with any information reasonably asked for by him in connection with the inspection.

(7) Any local education authority whose area, or part of whose area, is within the area which is the subject of an area inspection must provide the Chief Inspector with such information as the Chief Inspector may reasonably ask for in connection with the inspection.

(8) "Area inspection" means an inspection under this section.").

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 122, I wish to speak also to the amendments grouped with it. These provisions follow on directly from the arguments that I have already put forward in relation to the adult learning inspectorate. The aim of the amendments is to place on the chief inspector of adult education a responsibility analogous to that given to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England: to initiate and to undertake area inspections which relate to his remit of inspecting further and higher education institutions in England.

Our reasons for tabling these amendments are similar to those that I have already put forward for extending the adult learning inspectorate's remit to cover all further and adult education institutions. As we have argued, the ethos and the mode of teaching in further and adult sectors differs significantly from that in schools. The factors which have shaped Ofsted's approach are wholly different from those which have shaped the approach of the FEFC and the Training Standards Council inspectorate. Ofsted has neither experience nor interest in adult education. Indeed, even though the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 gave Ofsted powers to make inspections of adult and community education, in the seven years between 1992 and 1998, only 12 such inspections took place.

When we raised these issues in Committee, the Minister made clear in her reply that Ofsted should be in the lead because of its wide experience gained from inspecting sixth forms and the database derived from that experience about the characteristics of effective sixth forms and level 3 qualifications. She said that Ofsted not only has the most extensive expertise in this area, it has the majority of the 16 to 18 remit under the Bill's provision. She said that Ofsted should lead, and that it would be ludicrous to cut it out of the equation and make its role a minor one.

Is that really so? The logic of our suggested reforms is that the new adult learning inspectorate should have the remit for all non-school, post-16 education. So much in that remit is non-A-level based that it makes just as much sense for ALI as for Ofsted to take the lead in the inspections. It has the expertise and the knowledge in that area.

Contrary to what the Minister said at the previous stage, there is no reason why Ofsted should automatically lead area inspections when they relate not to schools but to the community and further and adult education. As I said, Ofsted has had the remit in that area but has shown very little interest in that remit. It does not understand its ways or its ethos. By contrast, those who will form the core of the adult learning inspectorate, coming as they do from the Further Education Funding Council and the national Training Standards Council, have shown an interest and have the expertise. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, again, we are returning to an issue which we debated quite extensively in Committee. In arguing that ALI, not Ofsted, should have the remit for post-16 inspection, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has built on the same principles that the Liberal Democrat Benches set out a little while ago under the amendments to Clause 51. In a sense, these amendments are linked.

In the debate in Committee, I believe and hope that I gave a fairly comprehensive overview of area inspections and explained why the focus was on 16 to 18 provision and not on adults. This matter does not relate to adults. There is a major need to raise the standard of provision for young people in certain areas. Those areas are usually, but not exclusively, in urban communities, where we know, and I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware, that the quality of what is being provided and the standards being achieved are simply not sufficient. We know that in such areas, both participation and attainment are too low. That means that the life chances of far too many young people are not what they should be. The inspections will therefore be a major contribution to raising the standard, but also to improving the relevance of provision for young people, who must have access to high quality education and training.

The same issues do not arise in post-19 learning. Of course we all want to expand adult participation. We want to create a learning society. We want to make it possible for far more adults to go on learning throughout their lives. Naturally we have plans not only to expand, but to improve the quality of learning available for adults. We are already taking a number steps to do that, especially, for example, in improving basic skills provision. We know from Sir Claus Moser's report that there are some 6 or 7 million adults whose basic literacy, numeracy and ability to function in an IT world are all limited. The ALI will be a significant influence in the overall drive to raise standards of provision for adults.

It is perhaps worth explaining further that the inspections are the means by which it can be judged whether the LSC and LEAs are making provision of sufficient quantity and adequate quality. Where there are deficiencies or inadequacies, I am afraid to say that far too many young people are being seriously let down. If that is happening, we need a prompt as well as an appropriate solution. That is something we have to get on with as a matter of urgency.

We have earlier today debated the role of Ofsted in post-16 provision. I believe that the House has now accepted--although I readily concede that the noble Baroness is not altogether happy about it--that Ofsted has a crucial role and I do not want to repeat the key arguments again in full detail. Ofsted has inspected every school with a sixth form, and has published a range of influential reports on the characteristics of effective sixth forms, as well as on level 3 qualifications. It is, quite simply, widely acknowledged to be a powerful influence in enhancing standards and quality across the range of its work. That should apply to 16 to 19 year-olds too.

It is therefore axiomatic that Ofsted should lead the area inspections, given its overall 16 to 18 remit, which we have already debated, although I want to say--perhaps this will provide some reassurance to the noble Baroness--that the adult learning inspectorate will naturally give key help and assistance. But the Government will not accept a series of amendments which would give that vital work to the adult learning inspectorate alone, to the exclusion of Ofsted.

I shall summarise. We need area inspections to have a 16 to 18 focus in order to ensure that local providers really do meet local needs, including the labour market need for well qualified young people. Where 16 to 18 standards need to be raised, we must ensure that there is a sound basis for intervention. Our provisions in Clauses 63 to 65 will secure that policy. While I am pleased that the noble Baroness shares our commitment to the value of area inspections, I feel bound to say that her amendments would divert us from our primary purpose. For those reasons, I greatly hope that she will not press the amendments.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 4:00 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Again, I am not surprised by it. I am glad that she recognises that on this side of the House we support the Government's general push to raise the standards of 16 to 19 education. What we find difficult constantly is the junior role given to the adult learning inspectorate in relation to Ofsted. That is at the core of our disquiet about the proposals. We can see no reason why that organisation should constantly have to play second fiddle in a junior role to Ofsted, nor why Ofsted's empire should continue to expand in such a way.

We should greatly like to see the development within the adult learning inspectorate of a core of standards which is appropriate and applicable to the further and adult education sector. The series of amendments we have tabled on the subject were aimed at doing precisely that; to develop the adult learning inspectorate into a body equivalent to Ofsted in its standards in that area and to develop within the inspectorate the concept of the team mentality which exists within Ofsted. However, we accept what the Minister has said on this occasion. I am not totally happy with the response, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments No. 123 and 124 not moved.]

Clause 55 [Right of entry and offences]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 125:

Page 22, line 42, at end insert--

("( ) In respect of education and training provided by an employer in the workplace, the right of entry may be exercised only if the employer has been given reasonable notice in writing.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I rise simply to ask the Minister why it has seemed necessary to put in a requirement in Clause 76(2) to give reasonable notice in writing before the inspectorate wishes for access to the premises of workplace employers in Wales, but it is not deemed appropriate to make similar provision for England. The CBI, which speaks for business and commerce throughout the country, believes that it is important to have similar arrangements for business people in both Wales and England. That is why my amendment seeks to achieve parity with Clause 76. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, before the Minister replies, I should like to say that I support entirely what my noble friend has said. I greatly hope that the Government will accept what seems an extremely modest amendment. It is incumbent on us sitting in Parliament to see that the official world is not handed every possible power and right which its representatives believe may be convenient to them. Such matters must be justified. I hope that the Minister will proceed to do so, or to accept my noble friend's amendment.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, we had a good debate on the right of entry to premises when considering this clause in Committee last month. The noble Baroness has returned to the fray on this occasion with a different amendment.

Perhaps I may surprise the noble Baroness--indeed, even amaze her. We accept the principle behind the points she makes. Indeed, it may be that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is surprised as well--

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

No, my Lords, I am too charitable to be entirely surprised.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

Employers are in a different situation from colleges and schools, in that they are not solely concerned with education. We want to ensure that inspection will not interfere unduly with normal business. Of course, we see the point the noble Baroness makes about the provisions adopted in Wales, which require that employers must be given reasonable notice in writing before inspectors exercise their right of entry. We are a government who listen.

However--I am sure the noble Baroness will understand this from her days in government--we want to reflect carefully on the best way of giving effect to the proposal in the Bill. Therefore, while entirely conceding that the noble Baroness is right in this instance, I invite her to withdraw her amendment. The Government will bring forward their own amendment at a later stage of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I admit to being overwhelmed by that response. I am deeply grateful to the Minister. But I find it strange that the form of words is not used. The form of words is identical to that in Clause 76(2). It would seem appropriate to use the same form of words in this clause. Nevertheless, if wiser counsels prevail, I shall welcome an amendment at the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 58 [The extended remit]:

[Amendments Nos. 126 and 127 not moved.]

Clause 59 [Additional functions of the Chief Inspector]:

[Amendment No. 128 not moved.]

Clause 60 [Inspection of further education institutions]:

[Amendment No. 129 not moved.]

Clause 63 [Area inspections]:

[Amendments Nos. 130 and 131 not moved.]

Clause 64 [Reports of area inspections]:

[Amendment No. 132 not moved.]

Clause 65 [Action plans following section 63 inspections]:

[Amendment No. 133 not moved.]

Clause 67 [The framework]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 134:

Page 28, line 24, at end insert--

("( ) The common set of principles shall cater for the different types of learning, including workplace learning and training.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, Amendment No. 134 deals with the concern that the joint inspection framework will not accommodate workplace training. I hope, again, that the Minister will regard that as important.

The classroom is a different place from the college, and the college is a different place from the employer's workplace. Therefore, any training provided should recognise the cultural differences between the different training and education providers. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 4:15 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to address amendments to Clause 67. Although the common inspection framework has been mentioned in debates on other amendments, rather surprisingly, these are the first amendments which deal directly with it. Again, I do not want to surprise the noble Baroness too much. However, this is an area where I agree with what lies behind the amendment. I regard the matter as important. Work-based training is enormously important. It is a route for many young people, and should probably be so for larger numbers of young people than has been the case in the past.

I agree that these are important considerations and I therefore have no difficulty in principle with a great deal of what the noble Baroness said. The CBI set out similar arguments.. Indeed, the noble Baroness may have been in touch with the CBI on this matter. It is self-evident that the common inspection framework is a document that must be flexible.

The wording of Clause 67(1) is important. There must be,

"a common set of principles applicable to all inspections ... under this Part [of the Bill]".

That means that the principles must apply, for example, to the inspection of A-level Latin in sixth-form colleges; vocational qualifications; adult evening class provision and the work-based environment.

It will be no easy task to get that right; I am the first person to admit that. At the same time, as an optimist I am confident that it is possible to achieve it. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to explain to the House that some important preliminary work has taken place. I am enormously grateful to the three existing chief inspectors. Chris Woodhead from Ofsted, Jim Donaldson from the Further Education Funding Council inspectorate, David Sherlock of the TSC and many of their staff have been working extremely hard to draw up the draft framework which is a "prototype" of the statutory framework. It will therefore be possible, probably next month, to have non-statutory consultation on the framework principles. That will be in addition to the three-month statutory consultation which can take place only after enactment of the Bill.

I agree that it will be important to ensure that the new post-16 inspection system takes into account the special nature of workplace learning. As the TSC is one of the three partners developing the framework document, I am confident that we shall get it right. I know that it will express the same sort of sentiment expressed by the noble Baroness today.

Employers have a great deal of confidence in the TSC. It was highly commended recently by the CBI for the way it has developed a rigorous and positive system for inspecting work-based provision. I am sure that we shall not find that employers are discouraged from offering training. We must certainly avoid that. One of the great challenges we face is to get every employer in this country to offer training to all employees.

I do not believe that Amendments Nos. 134 and 135, tabled by the noble Baroness, are necessary. We do not need any additional qualification on the face of the Bill. If we were to put a reference to workplace learning in this clause we should logically have to do the same for further education colleges or perhaps for the various different types of qualification. If we were to add more provisions, as in the amendment, we could run into the danger of making the framework less flexible, not more so. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept my reassurances about the way in which workplace learning will not only be accommodated but given substantial support and priority. In the light of that, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps she can confirm a matter which she has not stated in the answers given today. One of the basic principles of learning is that one must start with a person's experience to date. The noble Baroness will know that from her previous distinguished service at Birkbeck College. It is critical that one should begin with a person's experience. An adult or young adult will have more experience than a very young person.

Can the Minister confirm that a set of principles will include the basing of teaching on a person's experience to date? Work-based education has the great advantage, however young the worker, of a common experience of the work being done, and that is where one can begin. The Minister has not said that.

I am making a single point in perhaps a somewhat complicated way. Will the set of principles include basing teaching on a person's experience to date, and if that person is at work, on his or her experience at work? If the set of principles includes that, the amendment will not be necessary.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, I have to be a little careful here in the sense that it is not right for Ministers to prescribe the nature of teaching; how it should be done and the methodology to be used, whether through the work-based route or college-based route. At the same time, I entirely accept the principle set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy. One must take into account the experience of a young person or adult. That must be done by adult information and guidance, which we discussed earlier, when advising on the kind of programme to be entered. It must also be taken into account when we are setting up the type of programme to be followed by a young person on the work-based route.

I also accept the comments of the noble Baroness about the fact that those undertaking work-based education will share with their peers a common experience. That is a matter on which those undertaking the training and education to be provided should draw in their teaching. These are all matters for the inspectorates to take into account when carrying out their inspections. I am sure that they will do that.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I am at least comforted to hear that not just the principles but the training will include understanding the nature of the different providers. I should like to read exactly what the Minister has said, but I am encouraged. I accept some of the reasons given for not putting it on the face of the Bill. However, it is very important in the light of Pepper v. Hart that we have something which is quite unequivocal on the face of the Bill to show that this will be recognised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 135 not moved.]

Clause 73 [Additional functions of the Chief Inspector for Wales]:

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

moved Amendments Nos. 136 and 137:

Page 32, line 3, leave out from ("Part") to ("as") in line 4.

Page 32, line 4, at end insert--

("( ) The functions specified under subsection (3) may include functions with respect to training of or for teachers, lecturers, trainers or other persons engaged in the provision of education or training which is brought within the remit of the Chief Inspector for Wales by this Part.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 96 [Qualifying accounts]:

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 138:

Page 42, line 12, at end insert--

("( ) conditions relating to the provision or arrangement of support to enable persons with learning difficulties to manage an account;").

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

My Lords, I am delighted to see, perhaps untypically at this tea-time hour, that your Lordships' House is gradually filling up. However, I am too old a thespian not to recognise that it is not I, with my individual learning accounts amendment, who am the star attraction, but the following amendment, No. 138A. I remember that once I played the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, and we broke the house record, playing to absolute capacity for eight performances on the trot. I knew it was not entirely due to me, but regretted that in fact it was because the famous Glaswegian Jimmie Logan was in the cast with me. So I am aware of when I am not the star attraction!

This is a probing amendment which seeks to ensure that individual learning accounts will be available to all adult learners, including those with learning difficulties who may require support in making decisions regarding how best to use their account and in managing their finances. I regret that I was unable to move this amendment at Committee stage, but better late than never, for individual learning accounts are a major strand in the Government's programme for life-long learning. The accounts will provide a mechanism to help individual learners to plan and manage their own learning. Learners will invest their own money in their accounts, but they are also intended to be a vehicle for government and employer contributions. The Government have already announced a package of financial incentives for the launch of individual learning accounts which will benefit learners considerably.

It is worth remembering that people with disabilities are more than twice as likely as other people to have no formal qualifications and are only half as likely to be in employment. Those who are employed typically work in low-paid jobs and many, particularly those with severe learning difficulties, depend entirely upon state disability benefits. I must stress that those statements come from the DfEE's own reports and are not figments of my fevered imagination. I, and indeed the entire Post-16 Consortium, therefore welcome the introduction of any scheme which seeks to eliminate financial barriers to life-long learning, and we recognise the importance of establishing a mechanism for individuals to plan their own finances to support their learning aspirations.

It is crucial that individual learning accounts, and the incentives attached to them, are open to all learners, including those with learning difficulties. Incentives such as discounted computer literacy courses could open up a variety of new opportunities for adults with learning difficulties who have not had a chance to learn such skills in the past.

I believe that all learners should have the opportunity to benefit from holding an account independently, but that help should be provided to make this possible.

Lessons can be learned from the experience of "direct payments", a mechanism for local authorities to make cash payments to community care users for the purchase of their own support. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that people with learning difficulties and disabilities have been excluded from pilot schemes. Others have been denied access to the scheme on the grounds that they lack competence, even though there has been no support available to assist them. Many have found it difficult to obtain accessible information about direct payments in the first place, and others who use the scheme have found it difficult to obtain accessible information about what choices are available to them.

Research concluded that continuing support is needed to enable people with learning difficulties to use a scheme such as direct payments successfully. Development work with people with learning difficulties and their supporters was deemed to be a necessary initial step. However, it was pointed out that no additional funding had been allocated for development work or for the operation of support systems.

What I am asking the Government, through this amendment, is to ensure that lessons are learned from the operation of the direct payments scheme and are applied to the operation of individual learning accounts. I should like to see a commitment on the face of the Bill that ensures that people with learning difficulties, with the necessary support, manage their own individual learning accounts and that there is a commitment to the proper resourcing of support systems so that people with learning difficulties are not excluded from incentives to life-long learning. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

My Lords, as my name is attached to this amendment, I should like to support it very strongly. It has been very ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The whole idea of individual learning accounts I like, and it is very important that those who are disabled should have the opportunity to make use of them. For that they will need help, I think. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, they can learn by means of some computer courses and information technology courses, and those can be invaluable to people with disabilities. Often, if they have difficulty in writing, they can manage a word processor very well, but they are going to need help with running their accounts. Therefore I hope very much that this amendment can be accepted by my noble friend.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I like the idea of being able to give people independence, and particularly to a group who had seemed to have it taken away from them by the way society is run. "Does he take sugar?" comes to mind when we think about being able to run an individual learning account--that is, being able to have some input into the process.

We are talking about support to enable people to do that. So often when we deal with disability issues we are talking about trying to enable people to have control over their own lives. This will be a small step towards encouraging such people to become a more integrated part of society. If that means giving some guidance on how to handle something themselves, I suggest that the Government should at least look very favourably at this amendment, because it relates to bringing a person on as an individual. I hope that the Government can give us a full answer on this.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is too modest. He is our Jimmie Logan; he is our star attraction as far as this debate is concerned. I am surprised that he should think it is any future debate that has attracted so many people into the Chamber this afternoon.

Individual learning accounts, or qualifying accounts as they are referred to in this clause, are indeed--to use the noble Lord's own words--a major strand of the Government's policy. They are designed to assist people of all abilities to access a wide range of learning opportunities. They are only one of many policies aimed at widening participation in learning, which should encompass all people, including people with learning difficulties and disabled people. I can assure the House that we take that very seriously indeed, as I hope has been reflected in our earlier debates on or around this particular topic and in the concessions made by the Government during the passage of this Bill, both at this stage and at Committee stage. We continue to look at how best we can support these people.

The learning account system will be simple for people to use. There will be help available both from a customer service centre and from learning providers on how to use the incentives and discounts to enhance their skills. People will open a learning account through the customer service centre. They will be able to do this in person, over the telephone, by post or, in the future, through the Internet. Once the individual has decided on the learning he or she wants to undertake, the customer service centre will identify the incentives that can be claimed under the scheme. The learner will pay the balance direct to the learning provider. The customer service centre will also easily provide information about whether learning will qualify for government support, the balance of a person's account and a record of their learning.

We plan to make links with others who can provide extra support so that people get the best possible service. Careers service providers, for example, and staff in "learndirect" centres will be available to help people with learning difficulties, whether this is about opening a learning account or accessing actual learning provision.

At the present time, we are also in discussion with relevant partners and interest groups to ensure that qualifying accounts meet the needs of individuals with learning difficulties. For example, we are exploring how we can make information available in various formats, such as in Braille or on tape, to suit all needs. I hope that the noble Lord will be pleased to hear that those discussions are continuing.

I appreciate that this is a probing amendment, but we believe that it is simply not necessary to specify support for any specific group in respect of individual learning accounts on the face of the Bill. Our clear policy intention, which is no doubt supported by all sides of the House, with individual learning accounts is--as their name suggests--to help to meet the different requirements of different individuals. This is as true of the operation of the account as of the learning provision to which its incentives and discounts will apply. While of course we have sympathy with the intention behind this amendment--indeed, I am grateful to the noble Lord for tabling it because it has given us an opportunity to have this important discussion today--I would ask the noble Lord, having heard the assurances that I have given, to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, although I am happy to accept his assurances, would it be possible to have a further assurance that people with learning difficulties could be included in some of the pilot schemes?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, I shall not be able to answer the noble Lord directly, but I can say to him that we shall look into that matter. Our feelings are sympathetic towards the idea. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord in more detail in the near future.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

My Lords, I am happy to accept that assurance and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 4:30 pm, 14th March 2000

moved Amendment No. 138A:

After Clause 97, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:("Grammar schools: retention of selective admission arrangements

:TITLE3:GRAMMAR SCHOOLS: RETENTION OF SELECTIVE ADMISSION ARRANGEMENTS

. In the School Standards and Framework Act 1998--

(a) in section 104 (designation of grammar schools), omit subsection (4),

(b) omit sections 105 to 108 (procedure for ballots to determine retention or discontinuance of selective admission arrangements),

(c) in section 109 (proposals by governing body to end selective admission arrangements), omit subsections (3)(b), and (4).").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I shall focus specifically on my own amendment. It seeks to remove the petition and balloting arrangements, which are designed to determine the fate of grammar schools, from the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

When the Government introduced the system of petitioning for signatures and ballots to determine the fate of grammar schools, it was obvious that a pernicious and relentless war of attrition would be unleashed on these schools. Those hostile to grammar schools busied themselves canvassing for signatures, chose what they deemed to be a soft target--Ripon Grammar School--and successfully triggered a ballot. The result is now history. Parents, but incidentally not the parents of children who attend the school, voted two-to-one in favour of retaining the grammar school. However, in the wake of the Ripon result, a group of anti-grammar school activists are already fundraising for a return to the fray.

I shall turn to the crux of my amendment. This power, as set out in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, allows those who are opposed to grammar schools to return in four years' time to canvass yet again for signatures in order to trigger another ballot. That can go on ad infinitum.

However, for the schools concerned, their staff, the parents, and, most significantly, for the children, this is a most unsettling, disruptive and debilitating process. Time, energy and money are expended in fending off those who hold a political grudge and have a philosophical objection to grammar schools.

I welcome the response to the Ripon Grammar School ballot result on Friday from Mr Blair, Mr Blunkett and certain of their colleagues. They wish to end hostilities against grammar schools. They have said that arguments about selection are now a past agenda and, instead, they wish to draw a line in the sand on this issue. I welcome, too, Mr Blunkett's comment that he is not "hunting grammar schools", but that he would rather concentrate on the issue of raising standards. We all say "Amen" to that.

The timing of this Bill is fortuitous and I hope that I can be forgiven for taking advantage of it. But this opportunity gives us all--including the Government--a chance to make a reality of the statements made over the weekend by the Secretary of State and his colleagues. The provision of education should, as far as possible, match the needs of all of our children. That means that there should be an extension of choice, a widening of diversity and the freeing of schools to offer education to young people with learning disabilities or those with particular talents and aptitudes for science, music, the arts or sport, and for those who are academically able. The issue should be to encourage more, rather than less, choice.

I hope that the noble Baroness will feel it unnecessary for me to press this amendment to a Division. However, if that is not to be the case, I hope that as many noble Lords as possible will support me in putting an end to such a disruptive, deeply damaging and relentless war of attrition by voting in favour of my amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hattersley Lord Hattersley Labour

My Lords, I am in the embarrassing position of making my third speech in this House, in the knowledge that it is practically identical to my second speech. When I last addressed noble Lords, I said that the system of parental ballots was, I feared, so prejudiced as to be ridiculous. I now amend that allegation to express my certainty that the system of parental ballots is so prejudiced as to be ridiculous and I hope, if noble Lords will allow, to substantiate that claim.

However, before I turn to that point, I should like to make one or two comments on the proposal of the noble Baroness and on the way in which she has made her case. First, if, as she and her party so often claim, she believes in parental choice, she should support the argument that I shall put forward this afternoon; namely, to provide for better and more representative ballots which genuinely enable the parents in an area to determine the kind of school system they want in their county or borough. That would be a genuine parental choice upon which we could all agree.

However, the noble Baroness who has moved this amendment never offers arguments in favour of selection which bear much relationship to the truth of the matter. She has said again this afternoon that she believes in selection because it provides increased opportunities for parental choice. However, everyone knows that selection is the antithesis of parental choice. Parents do not choose schools; schools choose pupils.

If the noble Baroness truly believes that selection provides parental choice, I urge her to visit Ripon and ask those parents whose children attend the local secondary modern school--known by another name, but none the less a secondary modern school--how much parental choice they think they have. Some 33 per cent of those parents have tried to exercise their parental choice by choosing to take their children outside the borough to Knaresborough Comprehensive School which, in terms of examination results, has performed better than the grammar school in Ripon. However, the notion that selection and parental choice go together is one of the great myths of this debate. I find it sad that that argument is brought forward every time this subject is debated, even though it is patently false as a matter of fact. It is not a question of ideology; it is a matter of fact.

Like the noble Baroness, I, too, wish to draw upon the morality of the Ripon ballot. However, unlike the noble Baroness, I should like to remind the House of exactly how the Ripon ballot was conducted. Parental ballots have an extraordinary quality that is not shared by any other kind of ballot in this country. A politician, in this case the Secretary of State, can decide what should be the eligible electorate. In this case, he decided that five primary schools within the borough of Ripon--covering almost one-third of the electorate--should be disenfranchised, whereas two private schools outside the borough of Ripon (the largest one is in Harrogate and it has not sent a child to a Ripon school for almost two years) should be enfranchised. It is a simple nonsense to conduct a parental ballot in a borough and to disqualify almost half the parents who have an interest in how the future of those schools should be determined.

My noble friend the Minister of State and I have discussed these matters constantly over the past 35 years. I know that she was a child when she began and that I was, even then, as the Secretary of State said on the radio the other day, ageing but much loved. That is a terrible accusation to make. Ageing I accept. As Gerard Manley Hopkins said, it is a fate we are heirs to. But "much loved" is a terrible thing to say of a politician with my reputation. However, that is an aside.

My noble friend the Minister of State and I have discussed these matters over the years. She, I know, shares my view that the form of education in any one area is a matter of concern to all the parents and all the pupils in that area. The idea that whether or not there are comprehensive schools in Ripon should only be a matter on which parents who have an association with a grammar school can vote is preposterous. A very large number of parents who wanted to send their children to comprehensive schools were prevented from doing so, prevented from voting for a comprehensive system they wanted.

I regard this as a tragedy in terms of the democratic reputation of the Government whom the Minister serves and whom I support. If I may be allowed to make a political point, I say to the Minister that if the Government whom I support continue to develop the reputation for rigging ballots they may pay a terrible price when an election comes along which they cannot fix before polling day. The Government need to demonstrate their integrity on this matter. Their integrity is not underlined or emphasised when the Secretary of State says that he is glad that the issue is now closed in Ripon and that he does not want to see an end to grammar schools. At least, that is what he said on Sunday. He may have been joking at the time. Of that we will not be sure for another five years. On Sunday he expressed his delight that he had drawn a line under these matters. I think that undermines the entire credibility of the Government in their pursuit of a coherent education policy.

Therefore, I say to the Minister of State that what she ought to do today--if I may speak to her in such didactic language--is to accept that under the clauses of the framework Bill it is possible for the Government to move an amendment to the order which says that when there is a parental ballot--as parental ballots there will be--that ballot will be available to all parents within the area where change must come about. The simple logic of that is overwhelming.

It is a simple logic which undermines another point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who moved the amendment. The noble Baroness says that she endorses the belief of the Secretary of State that we ought to consider standards rather than structures. Everyone, apart from the Secretary of State and apparently the noble Baroness, knows that standards and structures cannot be distinguished. When I made a speech in the House a year ago the Minister of State was good enough to agree with the proposition that when we talk about how schools should be organised we are talking about organising in a way that produces the best overall results. Some Members of this House, and many of us in the country, know that the best way to produce the best overall results is through a non-selective system of secondary education.

Having asked for that amendment--with no lively anticipation that my request will be granted--I want to say to the Secretary of State, through the Minister of State, that he could not have been at times over the weekend more explicit in saying that what the Government really wanted was for the whole argument on comprehensive education to go away. But I have to tell the Secretary of State--and on this at least the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch and I are agreed--that it is not going to go away. The campaigns will continue; not so much in Ripon, though an appeal against the way in which the ballot was conducted may come from that city. The campaign will go on in Trafford; it will go on in Sutton; it will go on in Birmingham; it will go on in Kent. The campaign will go on in those places because in each of those areas there are people who believe that comprehensive education is best for the children of the area. These are people whose attitude to education is based on judgment and principle.

I take the example of Kent where--I think literally and certainly virtually--every primary school head wants to see an end to the 11-plus. They say collectively that they are unable to conduct proper classes in junior and infant schools because the pressure is, "Don't teach the children, prepare them for the 11-plus". People who regard that as a negation of education will go on campaigning. The Secretary of State said that in Kent five schools are failing and he may take emergency action in the summer. A sixth one may be added to the list. There are more failing schools in Kent than in any other county in the country. Oh yes, it is true. Before the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, shakes her head, I urge her to look up questions in the House of Commons over the past fortnight. There are five failing schools in Kent, more than in any other county in the country. The failing secondary modern schools of Kent are the price that most of the pupils pay for the selective education that provides the minority of grammar schools. While that goes on some people are going to continue to campaign. And quite right, too. It is a matter of principle and not one of political preferment and political expediency.

Before I weary the House, I wish to mention one of my deepest political convictions. One of the tragedies of the ballot--and there are some tragedies--is that damage is done by implication to the reputation of the majority of overwhelmingly successful comprehensive schools in this country. That damage has been compounded by many of the conflicting statements made by the Secretary of State over the weekend. In most parts of the country the "comprehensive" argument is over. Comprehensive schools are doing well. They are succeeding. They are taken for granted.

In the village where I live in Derbyshire the man who does my garden came to me on the first day and said, "Remember, everyone in this village votes Conservative and that includes me." In that village the idea that there should be an argument about whether the children of prosperous families should do anything other than go to comprehensive school would be regarded as ridiculous because the comprehensive school in north Derbyshire meets all the needs of the children who have a variety of abilities, aptitudes and aspirations.

I hope that the Minister of State will say--and speak for the Government when she says it--that comprehensive schools in this country have been an overwhelming success. They have fuelled the explosion in further and higher education. The new undergraduates going to our new universities are not the product of the 164 remaining grammar schools. They are the product of the non-selective system that is working. Desperate damage has been done to that principle by the unnecessary argument that the issue surrounding the ballots has created.

I say in conclusion that I would have liked my party to have taken its courage in its hands and to have said, "We believe that comprehensive education is best and therefore it is obviously the system that we will produce throughout the country." There was a time when the Conservative Party did the mirror image of that, when the Conservative Party-- with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I believe, exercising some authority in these matters--toured the country promising a grammar school in every borough. I think that is no longer the policy of the Conservative Party; it knows that in most boroughs and counties what the people want is non-selective secondary education. I regret very much that my party has not advocated that with the boldness that the subject justifies. So the ballots must go on. I wish that they could go on in a more equitable, just and rational way.

Some people have been exposing the inadequacies of the ballots as they are now presented. But they will go on and the argument for comprehensive education will go on because many of us think that it is right and necessary. I look forward to hearing my noble friend emphasise today that the Government accept that the comprehensive revolution in this country has been a great educational success. None of this somewhat peripheral argument surrounding it should be allowed to detract or deter us from that undoubted truth.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

My Lords, over the past 30 years, the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, has been utterly consistent in his views on selection. I have heard him speak on this subject before in the other House and I have read his articles. He has been completely consistent. He believes totally, as he expressed very eloquently in the final few minutes of his speech, that the comprehensive system is the most effective system for our country.

The noble Lord was a friend and disciple of Tony Crosland. He did not quite express it in the extreme and memorable way that Tony Crosland used, but none the less he shared that view. Therefore, it is a grave disappointment to him that his Front Bench no longer holds to that belief with the intensity that he holds to it. As a result, it has devised a system of making electoral colleges around the country to do its dirty work for it. The noble Lord used the word "principled". It would be principled if the Government said, "We no longer believe in selection and we will bring in legislation to do away with selection". But they have not said that. That would be the principled position, but the unprincipled position is to say, "Well, we will create various electoral colleges around the country and let them do the work for us. If one of those electoral colleges comes up with the end of a grammar school, it will not be our fault; it will be the fault of the electoral college. We can walk by on the other side. We can wash our hands". What principle is there in that?

In effect, the Labour Party has decided to turn its face against selection. Certainly, the Prime Minister has. He has made a selection for his own children to go to schools that are not immediately in the catchment area where he lived. I do not quarrel with that at all. That should be the right of every parent. Indeed, when I held responsibility for these matters, one of the thrusts of our policy was to increase parental choice by having a wider variety of schools. That is a choice which our Prime Minister has exercised. I do not criticise him. But what of the Secretary of State? At a Labour Party conference before the election, the present Secretary of State made the famous, celebrated comment, "There will be no further selection. Watch my lips". He qualified that or rather explained it--

Photo of Lord Hattersley Lord Hattersley Labour

My Lords, I am sorry to rise to interrupt the noble Lord but he must get these words right. The Secretary of State did not say "no further selection". That is what the Secretary of State says he said when he talked about it on Sunday. What he said was "no selection". The distinction between "no further" and "no" is very significant indeed.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord is digging a bigger hole for the Government. I am willing to accept that amendment. Of course, "no selection", and the Secretary of State says that it was a joke. So statements at Labour Party conferences by shadow Ministers or by Ministers are now a joke. "We will cut taxation"--that is a joke; "We will cut waiting lists"--that is a joke; "We will have an ethical foreign policy"--that is a hilarious joke. What the Government have done is to turn the Labour Party conference into a joke jamboree.

I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, and to the Minister that the process in Ripon has been deeply damaging. For three months, parents have been set against parents. Is that what the Government want? Teachers have been set against teachers and pupils against pupils. For three months, the whole of the community has been divided over a doctrinal issue and has not been concentrating on improving the education of the children in Ripon. Why should they be subjected to that again? Why should the children and the parents in other areas where ballots will take place be subjected to this appalling procedure? That is why I very much support the amendment of my noble friend today.

The process is damaging to education. The two head teachers, in the grammar school and in the secondary modern, which I am glad has now become a technology college, have shaken hands. They said, "No more. We don't want to do it again". They have already established an exchange of classes, because some of the departments in the technology college are better than those in the grammar school. Therefore, some of the pupils from the grammar school will benefit from that and some of the pupils from the technology college will go to the grammar school for the more academic lessons which are provided there. That is how it should be. One does not want conflict; one wants co-operation. However, the Government have invented a system of conflict. I think it should be abandoned. It is very damaging indeed.

Before I sit down, perhaps I may turn to the Liberal Party. I hope that the Liberal Party will be voting for us today; and if not, I hope that the chief spokesman for the Liberal Party, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will be voting for us. The official view of the Liberal Party is against selection. But when it comes to Sutton, where the noble Lord holds sway, it has grammar schools. There the Liberal Party at a local level not only does not attack grammar schools, but funds them. It is not going to campaign against the grammar schools. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will be in our Lobby tonight, because when it comes to changing from his national policy, he clearly is not embarrassed by scruple or hindered by consistency. Clearly, he has struggled with his conscience and lost.

I hope that when noble Lords consider the matter today--I appeal more to those on the Cross Benches than anyone else--they will be able to support the amendment. The system that the Government have devised is shabby and deceitful. If they really believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, believes, that selection should end, they should come forward with measures to do it. I profoundly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. I believe that grammar schools should remain. I believe in a certain element of selection, by aptitude and ability, in our education system.

I hope that that will survive and I hope that the 164 grammar schools will survive. I beg the Minister to realise the damage that this process is inflicting on the education system in these areas. The Government do not have the courage to do what some of their supporters would like. They should abandon this shabby policy.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has not for the first time put the Government, and particularly the noble Baroness the Minister, very much in her debt. My noble friend has given the noble Baroness the opportunity, which she really must in her heart have been seeking for a long time, to explain the utterances of her right honourable friends in another place--what the Prime Minister's position is and what the Secretary of State's position is.

For myself, I believe that grammar schools are a useful institution and one of great merit. For a reason which I do not understand, but to which my noble friend has just referred, the Government have proved a little squeamish about coming forward openly and strangling grammar schools and killing them off, which, as my noble friend said, a whole host of their supporters would probably like. They have not done so. They have instead developed a system of death by a thousand cuts and putting them under a more or less permanent sentence of execution. Every four years there is an opportunity for campaigners. The noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, is quite right in saying that there will always be campaigners. Some campaigns are campaigns of merit; others are rather deficient in that quality.

My noble friend has done us all a service in giving the Government an opportunity, of which they must make the most, to explain their position. If they are still animated by prejudice but are not prepared to confess it, they will get into a more and more shameful position. I very much hope that, if the noble Baroness cannot move this evening, she will tell your Lordships' House that this is the moment when she will go and tell her colleagues that she and they are drifting into an impossible position. They have to make their intentions clear and not leave the fate of grammar schools to this ridiculous and, if I may take my noble friend's word, appalling procedure which tortures everyone and satisfies no one.

Photo of Lord Mayhew of Twysden Lord Mayhew of Twysden Conservative 5:00 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I shall begin by declaring an interest in that I am a board member of an organisation called Support Kent's Schools, which is a private company set up to campaign to retain the present system of variety and choice in secondary education in Kent and to improve and sustain standards everywhere in schools in the area. Incidentally, I should point out that our chairman is Mr Eric Hammond, who is a distinguished socialist and former trades union member.

For 23 years I represented a constituency in Kent in another place. Throughout that time, I found that there was very substantial support for the four grammar schools in my constituency. It did not come exclusively from those who had had personal experience of them, though, for the main part, it did. Similarly, I did not find that there was any general implication in that support that, somehow or other, the non- selective secondary schools were necessarily inferior. They very obviously were not, as was perfectly clear to me from my visits to them, any more than the children thought themselves failures. Unfortunately, some are told by their parents that they are and that seems to me to be a great disservice to them.

Now we have had the outcome of the ballot in Ripon. It seems very much as though the parents there take the same view. I want to deal head on with what the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, said about there being no choice offered by the selective system. I find it impossible to understand that argument. No one is saying that all the schools must be selective, but, if you have a selective option, you have the choice of being considered by a selective school. You do not have a guarantee that you will be accepted--I see that the noble Lord finds that extraordinarily hilarious. That seems to me to be absolutely unanswerable. You have a choice of being considered by a selective school for admission, whereas if you live in a county where people share the views that the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, holds, you will have no choice at all: you will be told that you have the choice of going to the comprehensive, or to the comprehensive. Therefore, it seems to me to be beyond question that you have more choice if you have an option to go to a grammar school, if you happen to pass the selective criteria for that school.

If we were to have a ballot inflicted upon us in Kent, I guess--it would be presumptuous to put it any higher--that we would have a result that would reflect the one in Ripon, though probably more emphatically. Of course no one can tell, but I think that that would most likely be the case. The noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, has some experience of the feeling in Kent. Although I did not have the privilege of being there myself, I am told that the noble Lord attended a widely-advertised meeting that attracted about 47 people, not all of whom were supporters of his way of thinking. I understand that there are those on the noble Lord's side of the campaign who utter despairing comments that it is impossible to get people to demonstrate enthusiasm for it. I do not know whether or not that is true.

I turn now to the system of ballots and of petitions that trigger the ballot. I believe that the Government have now rightly assessed that public opinion is strongly averse to what is proposed in the Bill. Therefore, given that state of opinion, I believe, for the reasons that have already been given, that the system has now become oppressive, as well as costly and extremely divisive. I suggest to your Lordships that the time has come to take heed of what the Secretary of State said the other day; namely, that what is now necessary is to get on with the business of providing the higher standards of education for our children that are possible and practicable. That is the important thing. We must set aside this argument that has gone on for the past 25 years.

In Kent we happen to have something like one-fifth, although I am not sure whether it is a quarter, of the remaining grammar schools that survived the attentions of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, when she was Secretary of State and an ally and colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. We survived then by the skin of our teeth, the general election intervened and we, therefore, have that number of grammar schools left. They are there because, on the whole--though not exclusively--the people in Kent want them. However, they do not want to see this argument going on and on.

I believe that the existence of this system--I take seriously what the noble Lord said about those who will continue to try to operate it--is deeply damaging. I suggest that what we need now is a long period of stability during which those who attend the schools and those who teach in them can settle down to their proper tasks. I therefore support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Labour

My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I have been moved to do so by the several references that have been made to Kent. I am a parent in Kent with two daughters. One is in a Kent primary school and the other has just passed through a Kent primary school. I should like to concur with my noble friend. It is true: head masters and head mistresses of primary schools in Kent are often put under pressure from a minority of parents not to teach the broad curriculum that it intended but to coach for the Kent test. Indeed, one or two village primary schools have a reputation of so doing to such an extent that there is a willingness among a small minority of parents to ensure that their children get into particular schools.

I live on the Romney Marsh. The selective grammar school that my daughters could have gone to, had they so intended and been successful, is in Folkestone. That is 17 miles away. It may well be that the majority of people in Kent have a view about selective education, and the noble and learned Lord may be correct in what he says. However, if those who wish to see an end to the grammar school system--as I do--were successful in persuading what in Kent is a large number of people to qualify for a ballot, I had anticipated that I would have the democratic right to express a view. I shall not go as far as to say whether or not that view would result in the end of selection, but I do not see that as being divisive between me and my neighbours.

Similarly, I do not see the torture and, indeed, I doubt that those in Ripon saw the torture of which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, talked. What I see is rank opportunism by way of inserting the amendment into the Bill--an attempt, thereby, for prejudice to re-establish itself--not a selective system to be eradicated, if so required, by a democratic ballot.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, I have spoken enough on the subject in this House. However, I want to take a brief break from the insularity of this debate. I should like to point out that in the German state there has been a democratic choice. Only 9 per cent of schools are comprehensive. When East Germany joined West Germany it had a totally comprehensive system but, thereafter, 90 per cent of the east-German states--and this is the telling point--went over to the selective system of the west.

The noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, may belong to the world of dinosaurs and believe that the English state and society is so unique that it cannot live with the selective system, as exists over large parts of Western Europe. But even he must think about the choice that was given to East Germany. They had enjoyed the comprehensive system for 30 or so years, but when they had the chance to change they went selective; and they did so on a total ballot. We must not be insular about this. We must realise that the vaunted comprehensive system has produced some of the lowest results internationally of many countries.

We cannot boast, as the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, does, about a perfect education system. Yes, I am prejudiced: I came from a poor family and, like the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, the grammar school gave me great advantages. The great criticism of English education is that neither the Right nor the Left would provide proper alternatives to the grammar school, as they did in France and Germany. We must not keep ourselves in this insular debate. Indeed, Ripon has provided an example that grammar schools exist for those who benefit from a largely academic education, and a technological college will provide the rest. Let us not stop this happening. I beg noble Lords to think carefully about this.

Photo of Baroness Lockwood Baroness Lockwood Labour

My Lords, this debate is not about the future system of education in this country; it is about whether or not there should be ballots of parents on the existing grammar schools. However, the debate has slightly widened and I should like to make it absolutely clear that I support the comprehensive principle. I do not agree with what has been said about the comprehensive school not providing an opportunity for parents to choose. Within the good comprehensive school there is choice for parents to concentrate on different aspects of the syllabus.

I live in an area not far removed from Ripon with a good school, the Ilkley Grammar School. It is not a selective school; it is open to all the children in the area, but it continues to produce students with good academic ability and students with other abilities too. I believe that that proves that one does not need the selective system to give parents a choice.

It is a bit rich that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, should table this amendment on the balloting of parents. I remind your Lordships that it was the government of whom the noble Baroness was a member who first introduced the principle of balloting.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way, but does she agree that there is an important distinction here; namely, the measure was initiated by the parents and the governors of individual schools?

Photo of Baroness Lockwood Baroness Lockwood Labour

My Lords, the balloting under the previous administration's system did not concern whether schools should opt out of being selective but whether they should opt out of being directly funded by a local authority and should be grant maintained. Those were to be annual ballots, if parents and governors so wished. We are now talking about a five-yearly ballot. Again, it concerns parental choice; that is, whether parents in an area wish their children to be subjected to the selective principle. I had sympathy with my noble friend Lord Hattersley when he said that not all parents in the area we are discussing were entitled to a vote under the system. If we are to have balloting, it should cover all parents.

However, I suggest to your Lordships that this is not the occasion for a debate of this kind. We are debating the Learning and Skills Bill which concerns the education and training of young people from the age of 16 onwards, whereas the amendment introduces an area of the education system which is not covered by the Bill. I have no objection to our having a full debate on the principle of comprehensive education or on the principle of balloting. However, as I say, I suggest that this is not the occasion to have this debate. Therefore I am strongly opposed to the amendment.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Alloway Lord Campbell of Alloway Conservative

My Lords, I hope that I may deal shortly with the point that the noble Baroness has just made. She has made the point that it is not appropriate or proper to seek to amend another statute through this amendment, in this case the School Standards and Framework Act. If the noble Baroness will attend for a moment, I shall try to deal objectively with her point. The Title of the Bill states that it is a Bill,

"to make other provision about education".

Amendments have already been tabled in Committee by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn to amend the Education Acts. It is understood that when these have been perfected in some form they will be presented to this House at Third Reading of this Bill. If that is the case, why should the noble Baroness object to amending another statute which is concerned with education through this amendment, when her own party proposes to do precisely the same thing as regards another statute which deals with education on Third Reading?

Photo of Baroness Young Baroness Young Conservative 5:15 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I wish strongly to support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Blatch. She is quite right to introduce it for two reasons. Two events have taken place in the past few days: first, the result of the ballot at Ripon over the future of the grammar school there; and, secondly, the remarks of the Secretary of State over the weekend. The result of the ballot at Ripon proved conclusively that parents wished to retain the grammar school and were satisfied with the educational arrangements. I, too, am pleased that the other school is to become a college of technology as those colleges have already proved their educational worth. I have no doubt that that school will benefit from that measure.

I have no reason to believe that the remarks of the Secretary of State have not been reported correctly, as they have not been denied. It appears that he has now said that what he said in the run-up to the election was not true and was a joke and that he wishes to draw a line under the argument about grammar schools. That means that we are in a different situation. My noble friend is quite right to press the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, to say what exactly the Government's position is. We need to remember that we are talking about pupils in school. Those at Ripon Grammar School are currently taking GCSE, A-level and other examinations. The teachers are teaching them; pupils' future lives are being determined. While that is going on there are arguments about whether there should be another ballot in five years' time. That is unsettling.

I do not believe that there is one Member of your Lordships' House who would wish to send his or her child to a school which was to be subjected to a ballot every five years to determine whether it would continue.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that the amendment would give rise to immense uncertainty in the education sector?

Photo of Baroness Young Baroness Young Conservative

No, my Lords, not if the statements by the Secretary of State are to be believed and he wishes to draw a line under this matter. That would mean that we would return to the status quo and we would stop arguing about these matters. If the Secretary of State was genuinely interested in children and in raising standards, he would put an end to these ballots. We all know that the staff in a school are the key to good education. If someone is employed in a school and thinks that there may be a ballot in five years' time which may result in him or her having to move or be out of a job, that person will consider whether to stay in that school or whether to move somewhere else. This process is unsettling for staff and for parents but, above all, it is unsettling for pupils in a school. I believe therefore that it is right to do what the Secretary of State has apparently suggested and to draw a line under the whole argument about grammar schools. Let us stick with the status quo. I support the important amendment of my noble friend Lady Blatch.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, begged the forgiveness of the House for introducing this amendment at an extraordinarily late stage in a Bill to which it does not relate at all. I noticed that the Minister shook her head as if she was in some doubt as to whether to forgive the noble Baroness. I, too, felt some doubt as to whether to forgive the noble Baroness. We had a late night last night discussing this Bill and I was not best pleased, when driving home in the early hours of the morning, to hear that we would discuss this issue today. However, having heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, I now forgive the noble Baroness. But I am not sure whether the Minister will be equally forgiving for the same reason. If it was a repeat of his second speech, from my point of view it certainly bore repeating.

I agreed with virtually everything that the noble Lord said, except his comments about the Government getting a reputation for ballot rigging. That is not quite right. The Government are getting a reputation for ballot rigging and still getting the wrong result. That is the worst of both worlds. I think the noble Lord was perhaps being uncharacteristically kind to his Government.

However, he was right to put into context the fact that for the past 25 or 30 years the overwhelming majority of children in this country have been educated in comprehensive schools and that the overwhelming majority of parents have been very satisfied with those schools. In some cases they are perhaps more satisfied than they should be; nevertheless they are satisfied.

Standards have been rising and examination results have been getting better. It is as well to remember that because all the publicity has been and, I am sorry to say, continues to be about failing schools and failing teachers. That gives a wholly wrong impression of the education system in this country. None of us defends or wants failing schools, but we must remember that they are a small minority.

I was going to spare the House my experiences in the London Borough of Sutton but, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, has made personal reference to them--and as he bears some personal responsibility for those experiences--I shall spend a few moments on them, partly because they are illustrative of the history of education in this country over the past 15 years.

My party was elected to control in the London Borough of Sutton in 1986, a very significant year. If there was a single issue in that election--and I think that there was--it was our unequivocal statement that we would reorganise to get rid of the selective system in Sutton and introduce comprehensive education. We preferred to say that we were going to abolish the secondary modern schools, something I hear very little of from the Conservative Benches.

In the previous election the Conservatives had elected 47 councillors; at the 1986 election they returned with 21. At the previous election we had elected three councillors; we came back with 28. I felt that that was a clear endorsement not only of my party but of the principal issue on which the election was fought.

We went ahead with comprehensive reorganisation. In different schools around the borough, I chaired 16 meetings on our proposals. I can tell the House that the meetings in our four grammar schools were not wholly comfortable. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, recently had a similar experience in Sutton and knows what I am talking about.

Then came the 1987 general election. During that election and immediately afterwards, the Secretary of State--the same noble Lord who attacked me earlier--made it clear that there was no way he would agree to a reorganisation which would get rid of four grammar schools and introduce comprehensive education. If there was such a reorganisation, the Government made it very clear that they would introduce grant-maintained status. Our four grammar schools were in the first wave of applications for grant-maintained status. They were, of course, given grant-maintained status--at which point, incidentally, we stopped funding them as a council. Of course we fund the grammar schools now. Does the noble Lord seriously expect that the local education authority would not fund good schools? I accept that they are good schools. Of course it does.

That is enough about Sutton. It is often said that there are now only 163 grammar schools in the country and that this is a minor issue. Certainly in many parts of the country it is a non-issue, but in areas such as Sutton where there are still grammar schools, it is a major issue. It is an issue not only for the 163 grammar schools but for the large numbers of other schools in those areas which are directly--and usually adversely--affected by the existence of a selective system.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

Before the noble Lord leaves Sutton completely, perhaps I may correct his impression of the 1987 election. In no speech that I made in that election did I fetter my discretion as Secretary of State, should an application come before me, for the abolition of grammar schools. I was waiting for an application from the Borough of Sutton because it had Liberals in control and they were committed to abolishing grammar schools. They did not make that submission. That is the point. Nationally, the Liberal Democrat Party believes in the abolition of grammar schools, but when it has them in its boroughs it goes on funding them.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, perhaps before any other noble Lord gets excited, I should make it clear that I have no intention of leaving Sutton. This is only a temporary phase today.

Let me make it clear that one of the most difficult decisions that our group in Sutton had to take after the election was whether or not to pursue our reorganisation proposals. Many of us felt very strongly that we would. I accept of course that the Secretary of State would not have been so foolish as to say anything that would have fettered his discretion. But do any of your Lordships believe that, in the context of 1987-88, the new Secretary of State for Education, the right honourable Kenneth Baker, would have approved a system which would abolish four grammar schools? I doubt whether any noble Lord, on any side of the House, believes that that would have happened.

So, as a new administration which had inherited years of neglect in our education system, we had to decide whether to concentrate on the things that we could achieve or to fight what was then a hopeless cause. If there should be any doubt about my personal commitment at that time, I should inform the House that my two sons passed the 11-plus in Sutton. Both of them went to our only comprehensive school--if there can be a comprehensive school in a selective system; it was as comprehensive as it could be--and last year my elder son graduated with a first-class honours degree. So I have no problems at all about where my commitment lies and where my party's commitment lies locally.

Turning now to wider issues than Sutton, selection affects more schools than grammar schools; it affects all schools in the area of a selective system. More importantly, it affects all children in the area of a selective system.

Returning for a moment to Sutton--again only for illustrative purposes--last September in our borough, where we still have a selective system, only 14 per cent of the children from Sutton primary schools gained a place in one of the Sutton grammar schools. That is how bad it has now become. More than 50 per cent of the intake to our grammar schools now comes from outside the borough. I am not a petty nationalist or a petty Suttonist. It is a mark of the success of those schools. But it is also a mark of the effect that it has locally and how unfair and how divisive it is within the selective area.

The Government's record is shameful. I think we all recall the much-quoted phrase at the 1995 Labour Party conference, "Watch my lips". Many did watch his lips. I have not the slightest doubt that the intention at that time was to give the impression--whether or not it was meant then I do not know--that should a Labour government be elected we would see the end of selection. I have no doubt at all that that is what was intended at the time.

It is said that we have had to wait five years to learn that that was a joke. Those of us who spent many hours going through the School Standards and Framework Bill realised very quickly at that time that it was a joke. For a party that says it is still opposed to selection and committed to ending it, the ballot system it has introduced--with all the hoops and hurdles that those of us who want a fair ballot have to go through--is a very strange way of showing a commitment to abolishing selection. What has happened since has been shameful. Whichever way one would vote in such a ballot--assuming one was lucky enough to get a vote in such a ballot--it has been shameful. The Government do not come out of this with any credit at all.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that if I were to join him in the Division Lobby today--which I will not--it would not be because of any equivocal feelings about grammar schools on my part. No one who knows me locally thinks that I have any equivocal feelings on that issue. If I were to join him it would be because I share, for opposite reasons, the views expressed from the Conservative Benches about the ballot system. It is a dreadful system. At the time we argued that these decisions should properly be made by the democratically elected and accountable local education authority after full and proper consultation. That remains our position.

We shall not support the amendment. It is an attempt to turn the clock back to a bygone age. Now and in the future we should be paying attention to creating an education system which is not divisive and which prepares all of our people of all ages for a thorough learning-for-life education in the 21st century. We should not be harking back to the so-called golden days of the 1950s, which were golden only for a small percentage of our children.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 5:30 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, there has already been a great deal of debate about the relative merits of comprehensive and selective forms of education and I am at a loss to know what more can be added on this occasion. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that the Government have explained their position on many occasions, although I am perfectly happy to do so again.

Photo of Lord Peyton of Yeovil Lord Peyton of Yeovil Conservative

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive me for interrupting. I may be very slow indeed, but my difficulty is that the explanations have not always tallied with each other. That has led me to suppose that the noble Baroness might welcome an opportunity to clear up the confusion which is totally foreign to herself but is engendered by her colleagues elsewhere.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, I am happy to send the noble Lord a number of documents, including speeches made by my colleagues. Perhaps that would help him.

Let me begin by saying that this Government are committed to raising standards for every pupil in every school. I am not sure that that could be legitimately claimed by noble Lords on the Conservative Benches opposite for their government. I am afraid that it could not be claimed; there would be no validity to such a claim.

The amendment certainly does not address the task of raising standards in all our schools. As my noble friend Lady Lockwood said--

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative

My Lords, I do not want to disturb the debate, but in answer to the idea that this side of the House did nothing about standards, will the noble Baroness explain why the Government maintained Christopher Woodhead, and Ofsted, which was a result of the policies of the previous government? Is that an example of not raising standards?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, I endorse the work that is done by the Chief Inspector of Schools. That does not mean that Members of the Conservative Opposition can claim that they successfully raised standards--on the contrary, their policies did quite the reverse. Many young people--

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, I am not going to give way again. I have given way twice already in the first three sentences of my reply. I must be allowed to make my arguments. It really is impossible if noble Lords opposite rise to interrupt, literally after every phrase. I should like to be able to make a speech and if, at the end, noble Lords want to put further questions, I shall of course be delighted to try to answer them.

I want to pick out something that my noble friend Lady Lockwood said, as did the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Not only does the amendment not address the task of raising standards; it does not address the main purpose of the Bill--namely, to create a new infrastructure for raising standards and participation in post-16 learning and skills development.

Before this Government were elected, decisions on the future of grammar schools were in the hands of local authorities and Ministers in Whitehall. We had a manifesto commitment to place those decisions in the hands of local parents. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, knows very well, we delivered that manifesto commitment in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The legislation was, of course, passed by both Houses of Parliament. What the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, now seeks to do is to overturn the manifesto commitment which was fulfilled through the passing of that legislation.

The amendment is intended to repeal that legislation in spite of the manifesto commitment that led to it and, with it, the position that we established by which parents--not local authorities, not Ministers, not civil servants--would decide on the future admissions of grammar schools. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, suggested that the Government had been unprincipled. I refute that suggestion. This was a principled commitment to allow parents to decide the future of the structure of secondary education in those areas where grammar schools remain.

The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 also prevents any new selection by ability, except, of course, for sixth forms and for banding pupils to ensure intake across the ability range. In the case of grammar schools, the Act allows existing selection to be removed only where parents vote for it to change or the governors of a grammar school put forward such proposals. The Act also leaves decisions on partial selection to the adjudicator. We steered that legislation through Parliament precisely because, while we believe that further selection by ability would not enhance standards, it should be for parents locally, not LEAs or Ministers, to decide whether they wish to change the 11-plus. The Government continue to believe--this is true of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the Prime Minister and all other Members of the Government--that selection by ability does not enhance standards.

Acceptance of the amendment would mean that we were letting Ripon parents vote for all parents, which would be a very odd position to adopt. By analogy, it would be like the result of a by-election determining the governance of the country as a whole. Ripon parents have voted, as the legislation allows, on their local circumstances. Of course, we respect that vote--although I understand that my noble friend Lord Hattersley does not like it. The first ballot has taken place. Parents in Ripon have been able to express their view clearly. There were complaints during the ballot process that it was unfair, particularly as regards the composition of the electorate. But those complaints have been made by both sides, and indeed back in 1998 when the School Standards and Framework Bill received its Second Reading in this House on 7th April, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, alleged:

"The survival of grammar schools would be at the mercy of a biased balloting system.--[Official Report, 7/4/98; col. 624.]

Finding myself between my noble friend Lord Hattersley--who I must say is ageing extremely well, and who is certainly much loved, always has been and always will be--puts me firmly in the centre, and in quite a reasonable position.

The claims made by the noble Baroness do not stand up to scrutiny. The electorate was composed of parents whose children attend the schools which most regularly send children to Ripon Grammar School. These are therefore the parents with the greatest interest in the future of the school.

Placing the future of selection by ability for the 164 remaining grammar schools in the hands of parents allows us to concentrate on our main agenda of raising standards in all 3,600 secondary schools. A number of rather over-the-top comments were made by noble Lords opposite when describing what has happened in Ripon. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Brett, who was right to point out that bandying around such terms as "torture" really is purple prose of the worst kind.

Perhaps I may describe some of the ways in which we are raising standards in our 3,600 secondary schools, and indeed across the system. I very much agree with the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that we must put behind us some of the sterile arguments that we have heard in this debate from the Conservative Opposition.

We are at the beginning of a three-year period of significant growth in education spending. The proportion of national income spent on education will rise over the course of this Parliament; whereas over the course of the previous Parliament it fell. We are providing a real terms increase in spending of 16 per cent. These resources ensure that standards can be raised in all schools for all pupils. I want to underline again that we should be talking about all schools and all pupils, not just a tiny minority in the remaining 164 grammar schools.

We are tackling poor performance in primary schools so that firm foundations are laid for success in secondary education. We inherited a situation in which more than four in 10 of 11 year-olds fell below the standards set for their age in literacy and numeracy. That is the extent to which the previous government, in their 18 years in power, failed our children and young people. Thanks to the literacy hour and numeracy strategy--measures opposed by the Conservative Party--we are raising achievement in primary education, particularly in schools in the most disadvantaged areas. We are delivering on our commitments to ensure that all pupils can succeed.

We put in place new measures to improve the transition from primary to secondary education, including a successful programme of summer schools particularly designed to help young people in disadvantaged areas. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment has spelt out a radical new agenda for raising standards at key stage 3--measures that will ensure that pupils can succeed whatever their background, whatever school they attend.

I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, that there can be great choice in the comprehensive system. Not all comprehensive schools are identical. We have a range of policies that promote diversity in schools. We are increasing the number of special schools that provide opportunities for children with a particular interest in the arts, languages, sports or technology to play to their strengths. Specialist schools do work. Their performance on average in 1999 examinations improved compared with other schools. Specialist schools are also popular. By September 2000, there will be specialist schools in 86 per cent of education authorities. My noble friend Lady Lockwood was right to point up the choice that exists in the comprehensive system. There will be even more choice in future. We are also encouraging setting, which takes account of the different abilities of different pupils in different subjects. We are working on a national strategy for improving the education of gifted and talented pupils. Our Excellence in Cities programme includes initiatives for able pupils as well as promoting new opportunities across the ability range for young people who in the past had far too few chances to realise their potential.

I will say more about the success of comprehensive schools. Schools that select pupils by high academic ability are bound to perform better than those which admit the full range of ability. However, the average performance of the top 24 per cent of pupils at maintained comprehensives is the same as that of grammar school pupils, based on the GCSE points score for 15 year-olds in 1997-98, the latest year for which data are available. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hattersley and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that many comprehensives are doing a truly excellent job.

As to the references to Kent made by Opposition speakers, I confirm that--as was said by my noble friend Lord Hattersley--Kent had the highest number of schools in the country with serious weaknesses. It had 11 schools requiring special measures--hardly a reputation of which to be proud.

The amendment is an attempt to reintroduce the Conservative policy of a grammar school in every town which that party failed to implement during 18 years in office and which has been disowned by both shadow Education Secretaries since the general election. Theresa May told the Times Educational Supplement as recently as 1st October 1999:

"I don't get the impression that in areas where there are no grammar schools there is a great groundswell of opinion in favour of introducing them".

Nor do we.

I cannot accept the amendment. Moreover, we shall seek to reverse it in another place if we lose the Division that I anticipate the noble Baroness is about to call. Nevertheless, I ask her to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative 5:45 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, may I ask the Minister one question before she sits down? At the beginning, the Minister said that the last Conservative administration had failed our young people. She used that phrase again halfway through her speech. At the beginning she said there had been no progress. Halfway through she said that the last Conservative administration had failed our young people. How does the noble Baroness reconcile that allegation with what actually happened? When we came to office, some 30 per cent of 16 year-olds were staying on for higher and further education. When we left office, that figure had risen to 75 per cent.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Lords Chief Whip (HM Household)

My Lords, we are on Report. Noble Lords are only supposed to speak once to an amendment. They can ask short questions of the Minister for elucidation but they should not make another speech.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Conservative

My Lords, the Minister made a fixed accusation to my noble friend the former Secretary of State for Education and Science. When my noble friend tried to interject, the Minister said that he would have the opportunity at the end of the debate. It does not become the Government Chief Whip to reach for the rule book when my noble friend had almost come to the end of his point.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful for such support as I am getting. May I repeat my short question? The Minister said that the last Conservative government had failed our young people. If so, why during the last Conservative government did the number of 16 year-olds who stayed on increase from 30 per cent to 75 per cent? Why does the noble Baroness want to make a cheap political point that she knows is fundamentally wrong?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, many cheap political points have been made by Opposition Members during this debate. While I concede that the number of young people staying on at school increased, when we took office only some 45 per cent of 16 year-olds were attaining five good GCSEs at grades A to C. That is a measure of the previous government's failure.

Photo of Baroness Warnock Baroness Warnock Crossbench

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, as the Government--who were elected by a huge majority--believe that selection does not help to raise standards, which is their manifest aim, I fail to understand why the policy decision to abolish grammar schools cannot be taken by the Government. Why should it be taken by parents?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, I thought I had made clear that it is the Government's principled view that for the few remaining grammars schools--164 out of a total of 3,800 secondary schools--it is right to consult parents, seek their views and allow them to ballot.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I personally resent the Minister's very cheap jibe about our intentions and policy objectives over the years to raise standards in education. The noble Baroness and I have known each other a long time. I would not say such a thing of the Minister. The noble Baroness has always been concerned about standards in education.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will hear me out, I like to think that my colleagues and I are also concerned about standards. Most of the debate between us is about the means to achieving ends. The noble Baroness states that. Yet her party accepts city technology colleges after opposing them when they were set up. It accepts specialist schools, having opposed them when they were set up. The party accepts testing and assessment, which it opposed when put in place. Funding by the Government as a percentage of GDP is less than when we were in office. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, perhaps I may clarify what I said. Nothing I said was intended to mean that the noble Baroness's intentions were not to raise standards. I simply said that as regards outcomes I do not think that she was altogether successful.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, unless the noble Baroness interferes with the writing of Hansard, she referred to the party not being interested in raising standards. When the Minister says that about my party, she says it about me.

It is almost as though the Secretary of State was not around: that we all imagined what he said over the weekend. The Minister referred to a manifesto commitment. We are not overturning a manifesto commitment. The manifesto commitment was overturned by the Secretary of State himself over the weekend when he wished to draw a line in the sand: he wished to end hostilities against the grammar schools. There is only one way to do that: to take away the pernicious petitioning and balloting system.

Many, like me, will be angry and dismayed--but not surprised--by the Minister's response to the debate. Your Lordships will remember well the siren call of Mr Blair at the last election of, "Trust me. We shall be a government who will say what we mean and mean what we say"--that is, when they are not joking. This is a Government who, from the Prime Minister down, make choices for their own children--selection by interview, selection by examination. They send their children to independent schools, grammar schools and grant-maintained schools. We have no quarrel with that. They do what every good, discerning parent would want to do: make the best possible choice for their own children. But what hypocrisy--to make those choices for themselves but to deny the same choice to parents up and down the land. You do not improve the rest by destroying the best.

If the Government support the monolithic non-selective system advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, let them honestly say so. If not, let them clarify what they support. The Minister came to the Dispatch Box to explain what has happened since Friday. But nothing that the noble Baroness said threw any light on the comments of her colleagues in another place.

In arguing whether or not he supported grammar schools, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, made it clear that the national party does not support them. I remember well that when the School Standards and Framework Bill was discussed the noble Lord said that if his party had been in power it would have had a one-line clause in the Bill abolishing all grammar schools. My noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking reminded noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches that some of their colleagues at local level were highly supportive of grammar schools--often overtly--in their local area. I wish that I could find the quote of the reply, but I remind noble Lords of the gist of it: "That is at local level. But our national policy is not to support grammar schools". Talk about facing two ways at the same time!

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I want to get to a vote and have, therefore, hesitated to intervene. Perhaps I may suggest that the noble Baroness is not best placed to describe the policy of the Liberal Democrats, nationally or locally. It is not what I said. Nor is it our party's policy, nationally or locally. Nor did I say that I would introduce a one-line clause in the Bill which I shall introduce when I become Secretary of State for Education.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I think that I might embarrass the noble Lord by quoting from that discussion. I am well placed to talk about Liberal Democrats at local and national level. I worked with them for a very long time. Such was the state of play in Cambridgeshire when I was leader that we almost had to tape record our discussions with Liberal Democrats because of their saying one thing and doing another. On visiting a grammar school recently I was surprised when supporters of the grammar school said to me, "Please don't upset the Liberal. He's very supportive of our school but he doesn't really want it to be known too well at national level".

The petition and balloting arrangements represent a pernicious and relentless war of attrition on grammar schools--a war which was declared at an end over the weekend. And--surprise, surprise--the guns are manned once more. At the weekend, Mr Blunkett said that when he stated five years ago, "Watch my lips, there will be no selection either by interview or examination", it was a joke. To supporters of grammar schools--myself, noble colleagues, staff, parents and children--this is no joke. I commend the amendment.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 138A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 166; Not-Contents, 161.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

Schedule 7 [Inadequate Sixth Forms]:

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip 6:07 pm, 14th March 2000

moved Amendment No. 139:

Page 73, leave out lines 3 to 6.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, raised the question in Committee as to whether the provisions which now form paragraph 15 of Schedule 7 amount to retrospective legislation. While we do not accept that the paragraph is technically retrospective, we have looked at it again in the light of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness and other Members of the Committee.

While we are clear that we shall do nothing to suggest any lessening of our commitment to quality in post-16 education, we are equally clear that schools should have every reasonable opportunity to address problems and to raise the quality of their sixth-form provision to meet the required standard, and we recognise that this should be the case before the schedule comes into force, as after.

Therefore, we propose to remove the provision. The noble Baroness may be further reassured to know that the judgment that a sixth-form is inadequate will not be made in the reports of school inspections carried out before April 2001, which is when we expect to bring into effect the powers in Schedule 7.

I hope that this amendment meets the concerns of noble Lords. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I rise to thank the Minister. I am delighted that he listened to what we said in Committee. It was wise to move in that direction because there was much concern among the colleges and providers of sixth-form education. I am delighted that the Government have made those changes.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 102 [Provision of services]:

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, I must tell the House that, if Amendment No. 140 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 141.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 140:

Page 45, line 5, leave out ("The Secretary of State may") and insert ("Having regard to his duties under sections 8, 9 and 10 of the Employment and Training Act 1973 and sections 43, 44 and 45 of the Education Act 1997, the Secretary of State may also").

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the amendment relates to the Careers Service in its new guise, the Connexions service. In the debate in Committee, the Minister made it clear that the Careers Service as it currently exists will be subsumed within the new Connexions service. As the Minister also made clear, the new service is to be an ambitious, interdepartmental initiative aimed at providing a comprehensive, integrated service for 13 to 19 year-olds. It will build on the existing services for young people, including the Youth Service and the Careers Service, and also pull in other partners such as the LEAs, the health authorities, the Probation Service and the social services. It will build on and extend current services which are presently the statutory responsibility of the Secretary of State.

As regards the Careers Service, the Minister made it clear that Clause 102 is about additional powers. It does not destroy old duties. As yet, it is uncertain how the new Connexions service will work, but the Minister said that she wanted it to be evolutionary and to grow from bottom up. The Government are committed to resourcing the new Connexions service properly so that every 13 to 19 year-old, whatever his or her circumstances, has access to the help needed. The estimated cost is £500 million at a minimum. The Minister said that half of that would come from the current budget for the Careers Service, some of it from the current Youth Service and some, she hoped, from new money from the comprehensive spending review now being undertaken.

The prime aim of the new Connexions service is to help bring back the 160,000 drop-outs in the 16 to 19 year-old group who leave school with few or no qualifications and fail to find employment or to continue in any education or training. We on these Benches applaud that initiative. The aim is ultimately to provide a mentor for every 10 of those drop-outs. If that is achieved, eventually 16,000 people will be working as mentors.

What then of the Careers Service? It currently employs 7,000 people and the Youth Service about 3,000 people. Even if all those working in both services were employed in the new mentoring posts there would not be enough. Many of them are neither qualified by their current training nor wish to move to being mentors to those who currently drop out of education. The Minister assures us that that is fine because the current Careers Service will continue. The duty of the Secretary of State is to ensure that every child between 13 and 16 receives careers information advice and any necessary guidance. The Minister clearly stated:

"every young person will have access to a personal adviser. That access will be available according to his or her need. Not every young person will have a personal adviser, but every young person who needs such support will have access to one".--[Official Report, 17/2/00; col. 1380.]

In reply to further queries, the Minister categorically stated at col. 1384:

"there is no sense in which the Government intend to change the provision of important careers advice for pupils and students at school or in FE colleges. That service will continue ... under the auspices of the Connexions service ... All that Clause 99 [now Clause 102] does is to empower the Secretary of State to provide some additional services".

The "some additional services" is 16,000 personal mentors. The problem is that the sums do not add up. How can it fund the new mentoring service, which will cost close to £500 million, without new money now? If the Careers Service is to continue to do what it has been doing in providing careers advice, information and guidance to 90 per cent of those who remain within the school and college framework, there is little if anything to divert from its £250 million budget? The same applies to the Youth Service, which likewise has no slack in its funding. On the contrary, during the past few years most local authorities have cut the Youth Service to the absolute bone.

Yet the provision of these mainstream services to those who are not socially excluded is vitally important. Yesterday, we spoke of the waste involved in young people making bad choices and studying the wrong subject in their first year at university. But young people need guidance, even if they are not university material, in terms of careers. They need to be informed of the options that are open to them because the choices are so wide. They need guidance in making choices between the different offerings. Even if they are taking GCSEs, NVQs and A-levels, they need advice as to whether to stay on at school or to take work-based training. There are many choices.

The world has changed so radically that neither parents nor teachers are in a position to provide the necessary guidance. If anything, we need to improve the quality of careers guidance provided to mainstream students in further education colleges. That is the reason for tabling the amendment.

What the Minister said in Committee does not add up. She cannot have her cake and eat it. She cannot have her new Connexions service, with which we have much sympathy, and continue to provide the same quantity and quality of careers advice, information and guidance. Therefore, the amendment puts on the face of the Bill the duties of the Minister under, first, the Employment and Training Act 1973 and, secondly, under the Education Act 1997. That is why we have phrased the amendment in such a way.

We on these Benches applaud the new Connexions initiative to bring in the socially excluded. It is right to give them high priority. However, the scheme cannot be funded from existing resources, nor by switching existing services. The purpose of the amendment is to make it quite clear that the initiative is in addition to existing duties already incumbent on the Secretary of State, and not an alternative. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour 6:15 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I have attached my name to the amendment and I want to speak to it and support what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said so ably. I thank the Minister for the letter that she wrote to me. It was helpful, but there are still anxieties and questions to be asked.

I repeat what the noble Baroness said: there is strong support for the intentions underlying the new Connexions service, but there is still concern about its impact on the careers education and guidance available to all young people between the ages of 13 and 19.

We do not see how the duty of the Secretary of State in Sections 8 to 10 of the 1973 Act is to be met. Government statements repeatedly refer to the fact that it is designed as a universal service. Most of the information available so far about the design of the service is addressed to the needs of young people who have dropped out of education, training or employment, or are at risk of so doing. That is evident in the two key features of the service: the emphasis on bringing together the variety of agencies which currently deal with the needs of young people at risk and the focus on the new profession of personal adviser who will provide continuity of help in relation to the full range of these problems.

The Government estimate that they will require between 15,000 and 20,000 personal advisers. Where are they to come from? There are currently just over 7,000 careers advisers in the whole of England, Scotland and Wales. How many will become personal advisers? How many will remain as careers advisers? All personal advisers will be offering careers awareness and guidance. My noble friend Lord Bach said that on 15th February. Given that most of them will have no previous experience of the work, how are they to develop the necessary competencies within the time available?

There are approximately 3½ million to 4 million young people between the ages of 13 and 19. The ratio of personal adviser to young person is likely to be about 1:200. Since some young people are to receive intense support, the support provided to others is likely to be limited. How are personal advisers to deliver the wide range of services expected of them?

There is particular confusion about the arrangements for schools. Here, the first point of advice is to be the learning mentor. The notion of learning mentors is based on the Excellence in Cities programme, where their role in practice is confined to working intensely with pupils at risk of dropping out. Has any evaluation been carried out of this work? Is it now the intention that all pupils will have learning mentors? How will they relate to careers programmes and to pastoral care structures within the schools?

The Minister has assured me that schools will continue to receive the impartial advice they need on careers matters through the Connexions service. If so, will the impartiality of their advice in relation to choice at 16 be assured, given that the learning mentors, and I think the personal advisers, will be appointed and managed by head teachers, who perhaps have an interest in 11 to 18 schools in students staying on with them; or will it continue to be offered by careers advisers based outside schools, as in the present Careers Service? If so, will there be enough?

The Careers Service provides up-to-date knowledge of the labour market, as well as impartial advice. It also offers careers library support, in-service training for teachers, work experience programmes, placement activities and other services. Is this to continue as the framework within which the Secretary of State carries out his duty under the 1973 Act to provide a careers service to students in schools and colleges? Can the Secretary of State provide assurance that the quality and extent of these services for all young people will be sustained?

In view of the growing complexity of options and pathways post-16 (and I congratulate the Government on these options), will the service include in-depth guidance for all who need it, including those who are achieving well in school but are unclear about their future plans? They may be bright and have five O-levels or more but not have the maturity and knowledge to reach sensible decisions without outside guidance. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, made that point.

About finance, the budget for the new service is to comprise the existing Careers Service budget (some £236 million), an approximately similar amount from other sources and whatever additional funding is released following the year 2000 spending review. Given the multiple nature of the service, why is the only budget to be subsumed that of the Careers Service? Why is not the strategy to be adopted for the Careers Service that being adopted for the youth service, for the mainstream work to remain outside Connexions and to continue in tandem with the new service?

The current rearrangements offer a major opportunity for encouraging individuals to know where to access good quality guidance throughout life. There is a risk that instead there will be separate "brands" for Connexions and for information, advice and guidance for adults. How are Ministers proposing to ensure a seamless transition from one service to another, as suggested in the Connexions document, chapter 6.13?

There are fears that in the interval before the new learning and skills council is established existing services are being eroded. Most of the existing funding sources--notably TEC discretionary funds--and some European social funds are drying up. The risk is that by the time any new initiative comes on stream, services and their staff will have been disbanded. This will mean that much money and effort have to be expended on start-up activities. Transitional funding is urgently needed. Can the Minister comment on that?

There is strong evidence that many adults, including those who have not previously participated in learning, need access to in-depth guidance. I was interested in this context to read the Secretary of State's speech on 15th February on higher education. I quote:

"Universities and colleges must also be sure that the careers [service] they offer their students is relevant, up-to-date and effective. Graduates need good information on prospective careers, as well as knowledge and skills, to prosper in the labour market.

I make this point strongly because I believe that we need significant improvement in careers guidance in higher education, linked both to effective experience of the world of work and to guidance on choices for learning and progression, so that students make informed choices and build steadily towards learning outcomes that equip them with a broad base of skills and knowledge. Provision of careers guidance is currently patchy, and we need significant improvement. This will also assist in cutting the drop-out rate in the UK--albeit one that is very low by international standards".

That, I think, is quite important in the light of the advice that we seek for the Careers Service to give to all those in schools and, indeed, throughout further education, too. So I hope that what the Secretary of State says there he will carry out and be sure to carry out in the schools and colleges.

A final comment: it would seem from a consultation document that the department is circulating that the needs of 47 per cent of students under 16 and 63 per cent post-16 will be straightforward. Information will be through access to paper-based materials, user-friendly IT-based systems or through the opportunity for advice--for example, through drop-in centres--but will not include the guarantee of access to an NVQ level 4 specialist careers adviser. The service which was intended to be universal will not be. Eleven per cent will be those at risk who have truanted, and so on, certainly needing advice but not from a specialist careers adviser. So 41 per cent of the more gifted students will have the benefit of a qualified careers person--not quite what we have been led to believe.

It seems odd that this may become the policy for this country when the DfEE is currently out to tender for careers education and guidance for overseas European schools. There are 10; one in England. I quote from the detailed specification:

"All British pupils in the secondary years equivalent to Year 11 in [the] UK 'must be offered an individual interview with a careers adviser. If the pupil seeks another interview, or is referred again by the school, he/she may be seen more than once'.

All British pupils in the secondary years equivalent to Years 12 & 13 in [the] UK (ie. 17 & 18 year olds) 'who wish to be seen must be offered an individual interview, of between 20 to 45 minutes, with a careers adviser'.

'Careers advisers' must possess the Diploma in Careers Guidance or NVQ [level] IV in Guidance".

I do think it is odd that this should be being made clear for the European schools but it is not clear to us yet that it is going to be the position in this country. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance when she replies.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, if the noble Baroness does not mind, it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak now to Amendment No. 142. Because the arguments are so very similar, it may save her repeating herself.

At Committee stage I raised my concern that the Government proposed to fund Connexions services by robbing Peter to pay Paul. One cannot spend the same money twice. One cannot make the same person do two full-time jobs. One cannot take an existing group of services, tack on to them a host of new functions and then expect the job to be done properly without substantial additional resources.

The Government plan to provide 15 to 20 personal advisers. Where are they going to come from? Where are their salaries going to come from? In Committee, the Minister told us that 50 per cent of the resources would come from transferring 100 per cent of the existing Careers Service budget to the Connexions programme. But are the existing employees of the Careers Service presently occupied as personal advisers? I assume that many of them are not. Will personal advisers be transferred in from other jobs? If so, surely that will require additional funding. Where existing members of the Careers Service are transferred to become personal advisers, what will happen to the jobs they are doing at present?

In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said,

"at present, neither the Careers Service, let alone the youth service, has slack in it if one wants to continue the current provision of services to schools, which we do".--[Official Report, 17/2/2000; col. 1384.]

The Institute of Careers Guidance's briefing states:

"Given the staff shortages in all of the agencies which will be part of the Connexions Service ... [there is] a real danger that human resources will simply move from those agencies to Connexions in the hope of better pay and conditions, thus exacerbating the staffing problems of existing agencies".

The Government envisage that that part of the funding which does not come from the Careers Service and from an unspecified amount of new money to be put in by the Government is to come from other services currently provided for young people. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said,

"resources for the service will come from the pooling of existing central government resources and from those that are already devoted by local partners to youth support and guidance".--[Official Report, 17/2/2000; col. 1380.]

My particular concern is for the youth service, which is already overstretched. As your Lordships will know, England's youth service is extremely irregularly funded. The 1998 youth audit shows that a number of local authorities grossly underfund their youth services. The best local authority--if I may put it that way--spends £292 per head on 13 to 19 year-olds. The worst spends £18. I ask the Minister how that is going to work. Will the authority which spends £18 be asked to spend £9 on the Connexions service--in which case there will not be much of a Connexions service; will the Government subsidise that authority; or will they force it to spend more? Will the authority which spends £292 divert some of that money to the Connexions service? Will it receive the same subsidy as the local authority which spends only £18?

The danger for the youth services is that existing youth workers will be diverted by the local authority from mentoring to the new Connexions service as personal advisers. For example, there is an excellent watersports and canoeing service in Shadwell Basin in Tower Hamlets. There are several good youth workers there. If they are attracted away to become personal advisers, there will be no watersports service. Then, not only will the young people already using it be disadvantaged, but there will be no service to which the personal advisers can refer their clients--if I may put it that way--for ongoing support.

The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that the new service--which is an admirable service--will not be funded or staffed at the expense of existing youth services. If that is what the Government intend, they have nothing to fear from my amendment. If not, then my amendment is badly needed.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 6:30 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I wish also to speak briefly to Amendment No. 142. I appreciate the Minister's assurances in Committee on the human resource implications of the Bill. However, I remain concerned that such a far-reaching and, in many ways, extremely welcome Bill, may unintentionally undermine good work already in place. It is extremely disappointing for young people, who have come to trust and value particular youth workers and the service which they offer, to lose those relationships. I am thinking particularly of young people who do not enjoy good relationships at home. I therefore warmly support my noble friend's amendment.

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative

My Lords, I appreciate that the Minister is probably having some trouble combining the responses to the two sets of amendments, but I should particularly like to speak to Amendment No. 142. It seems that the noble Baroness, Lady David, was expressing anxieties which must exist--but on which I have not been briefed--in the minds of the professionals who have such expertise in the different aspects of guidance of young people.

I am thinking in particular of the resources needed for youth work of the more informal kind, which has a great deal to do with how people become equipped to do jobs. Such work probably helps young people more than anything else. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to canoeing and that kind of activity. We all know the great variety of possible provision. I wonder whether the Government realise how quickly the cost of such provision is escalating. Young people's standards and expectations, if they are going to be attracted to informal youth work, are going up and up, partly due to television and partly due to the existing provision. Their expectations have risen in many ways. Informal youth work is growing more and more expensive. Unless the money is found to fund such work, it will die away and fizzle out because it will not be able to compete. That applies, of course, to voluntary youth organisations which deal with that age group, which must find higher and higher standards of provision if they are to attract young people.

The Government must face that problem. In their thinking about the new structures in the Bill, I hope that they realise that if they detract from expenditure on those provisions, they will lose them altogether. It may be that formal careers guidance improves, but the stimulation of individual young people's motivation, their desire to do things properly and to meet high standards in everything they do will be lost. That is the value of the voluntary organisations and the informal provision which local authorities can produce. The Government must consider the matter seriously. That point is not always put to them by officials because it is less obvious. It is clearer to people who are involved in making the provision.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I rise to support almost everything that has been said during the course of this debate. It may come as some relief to the Minister that I shall not press my Amendment No. 143, which seeks to remove Clause 102, because I was using it as a mechanism to prompt the kind of debate that we have just had.

I do not know whether the amendments in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Sharp, or indeed, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, are the right amendments, but there is a real issue here. One of the issues is the degree to which expectations have risen. Throughout the service there is an expectation that something big will happen and that there will be a great deal more provision. There is definitely a dearth of what I call dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's; information about how the provisions will work on the ground. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, raised the uncertainty, distress and dismay of those operating at the local level right now under some difficulties. What will be their future? Will their job descriptions be changed? Will they be redeployed? Where does professional pride come into this? They jealously guard the way in which they carry out their duties, the way in which they have developed culturally over the years and the way in which they relate to young people. That will be prescribed in the future and it is difficult to know how that will work.

Where is the money coming from? As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has said several times, it cannot simply be a matter of taking the money that is presently being spent in all the different departments, bringing it together and redeploying it in a different way. Even that in itself would cost money. However, there is not enough there at present to fulfil the aspirational policy aims set out in the document, Connexions.

There are also other questions. I refer, for example, to peer mentors, youth brokers, youth workers and counsellors. How will those functions be incorporated? Will that be done by one individual relating to a young person or by more than one? As the noble Baroness set out in an answer to me on the record and in a letter to me, this service is not simply for the excluded 7 per cent but for 100 per cent of young people. If 100 per cent of young people are to have access to a personal adviser, counsellor or mentor, whatever one might call it, the service will not be deliverable. It would be almost a sin to build up such expectations without necessarily being able to deliver them.

I refer to yesterday's debate when we discussed transport issues for people with disabilities. A provision had been made for those people but they were unable physically to get to and from the colleges and/or schools. The noble Baroness said at that time that the pilot schemes being conducted for educational maintenance allowances, which will give young people £40 per week, will be extended to consider the possibility of addressing the issue of transport for this particular group. Again, the money will either be spread even more thinly or yet more money will be required. It will be much more expensive to roll out that scheme nationally. It will be interesting to know from where that money will come.

I refer to a magazine entitled Ten, which is not one I read with too much joy. It is produced by an organisation involved in educational affairs. That organisation recently stated that financial support comes via eight different routes and eight different agencies on behalf of two departments. If that is what it is saying--and it is very much more a friend of the Government than I believe the Government would describe me--it too has considerable concern about confusion.

There is also confusion about whether the local skills councils will take over the educational welfare officers, educational psychologists and youth workers. It would be helpful to know who will have the responsibility for funding what is called the non-skills based education. That is another issue. Who will be responsible for running the personnel services for educational welfare officers, educational psychologists and youth workers? There is huge uncertainty.

At the same time, one must mention the warmth of reception for the aims of the Government, what they want to do and, I believe, are determined to do. However, there are many practical questions and this is the time, while the Bill proceeds through Parliament, when they should be answered.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, before I begin perhaps I may clarify that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will not now move Amendment No. 143?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, that is correct.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, I shall try to respond to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, my noble friend Lady David and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

Amendment No. 140 relates to the role of careers provision in the light of the establishment of the new Connexions service. I am grateful for support from all sides of the House for the Government's intentions to set up the Connexions service so that we can do better than we have in the past in supporting all young people. I refer especially to those young people in danger of falling through the different nets which at present support them. I hope that we shall all be able to work together to achieve what is an ambitious but at the same time laudable aim.

My noble friend Lady David asked an enormous number of questions. I am sure she will understand if I cannot answer all of them. I shall, of course, write to her and deal with those that I do not have the opportunity to address today. As I am sure she will understand, I shall not go into issues such as careers guidance for higher education. That is another issue which has nothing to do with the Bill or the Connexions service. However, I entirely accept that it is important that students in higher education receive good careers guidance.

As noble Lords are no doubt aware, Amendment No. 140 would have no legal effect. But I welcome the opportunity to confirm what I perhaps did not make sufficiently clear in Committee. We are not repealing, and do not intend to repeal, any part of the Employment and Training Act 1973. The duties and powers of the Secretary of State to secure careers services will therefore remain intact. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, suggested that we might have great difficulty in putting the Connexions service in place and that it might not be viable for every young person to have access to a personal adviser. It is the case that every young person has access to a careers adviser at present. The Connexions service will incorporate the Careers Service and provide a broader-based service which will do the same; that is, provide access to every young person who wants and needs that kind of support.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Perhaps I may press her further. Does that mean that there is no change? If every young person at present has access to advice and information, does that mean that the new policy is not extended in any way to 100 per cent of young people?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

No, my Lords; there is change. The Connexions service will provide a much broader range of advice and support than the existing Careers Service. That is the real difference. It will also focus rather more than the Careers Service has been able to on those disaffected young people who are in serious danger of dropping out completely and becoming lost, marginalised, unemployable and poorly educated. That is what the Connexions service is about.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, perhaps I may ask for clarity over the question of mentors for those who have dropped out. Is the intention that the counselling service should be far more intensive? In Bridging the Gap, it was suggested that there should be a 10:1 mentoring service; that is, there would be 10 young people to every mentor. I believe that those two put together create doubts about whether the Government can achieve their aims.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. We want to provide a more intensive and continuous service, particularly for those with greatest need. There will be more differentiation than has been provided by the Careers Service in terms of the amount of support and help given to young people.

I am sorry that the noble Baroness and others are so pessimistic. I believe that we shall be able to achieve our intentions. Perhaps I may also say at this early stage that we are not trying to set up a brand new service on day one but to develop it over a three to four-year period, beginning with pilots to try out ways in which we can achieve that to greatest effect. I certainly believe that this is right when setting up a complex service of this sort.

Let me finally confirm that the Secretary of State's duties and powers to secure career services will remain and that the delivery of those services to 13-19 year-olds will be within the context of the wider range of support provided by the Connexions service. I want to be absolutely clear about that. However, that is not to say that in the future careers provision will be in any way subordinated. As I hope I have made clear, such provision will be an absolutely key element of the Connexions service. That is why it is vital for the new Connexions partnerships to build on the skills and experience which exist within Careers Service companies. It is also why we expect that the staff who currently work within those companies will form the core of the Connexions service, alongside staff from the youth service and other statutory, voluntary and community organisations.

Perhaps I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that we will be drawing on expertise from a wide variety of different professionals who are working at present. Of course we will need to recruit beyond the existing numbers in the Careers Service. As your Lordships may know, local learning partnerships will continue to be responsible, as now, for providing information, advice and guidance services for adults. Responsibility for funding and planning will lie with the learning and skills council. We are determined to improve the quality, coverage and scope of information, advice and guidance for adults. That is why we announced last year an initiative to develop services for adults at local level with a new investment of £54 million over three years.

In many instances, Connexions service providers will also be important partners in the local delivery of careers provision for adults, but so too will UfI, Learn Direct and a wide range of community and voluntary organisations. Below the age of 13 most pupils are rather too young to need detailed guidance about future jobs, so for this age group careers guidance is mainly delivered as part of the school curriculum through personal health and social education, or through careers education provided directly by schoolteachers. However, it will be open to head teachers to draw on the careers expertise of their Connexions learning mentors to support such activity.

A number of speakers, and certainly the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about resources. As I said in Committee, we are committed to resourcing the Connexions service properly. Some of those resources will come from the pooling of existing central government resources and some from those already devoted by local partners to youth support and guidance. Of the existing resources that we expect agencies to contribute, about half will be made up of the existing Careers Service budget. That simply reflects the fact that careers provision for 13-19 year-olds will now be delivered as part of the new Connexions service.

As your Lordships will know, we are also considering what additional funding will be required as part of the Government's Year 2000 Spending Review and the rate at which the service is phased. It will of course depend in part on the resources available. Perhaps I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, and to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that we are certainly not going to take funds away from the youth service. We have made clear--I think I have said this in previous debates--that we will not be top-slicing the LEA youth service budget, or indeed removing any part of it. I hope that that provides some reassurance to the noble Earl as well. I should like to say at this point how much we value the work of the voluntary and the local authority youth service.

Can I also say something about the whole issue of whether careers provision for the majority will be at the expense of services for the disadvantaged? I think I have said previously that this new service is really going to be for all young people, whatever their circumstances and abilities. Careers provision will be a core function of the service. I want particularly to provide that reassurance to my noble friend. For many young people this will be the part of the service to which they really want access. It will apply to the great majority who are on track towards achieving appropriate learning goals, to doing well at school and going on to post-school education and who face rather few barriers to reaching their potential. Their main need basically is for career support, particularly at key stages, in order to inform their choices.

However, as I said, some young people need a great deal more support across a wider spectrum to help them keep on track and stay on in learning. They have just as great a need, if not a greater need, for careers support but they also need an awful lot of other help. That is what the Connexions service will provide.

I was also asked about Connexions service personal advisers, their recruitment and training. These advisers will include those working in a whole range of different occupations: new services, social services, teaching, youth justice and, as I made clear to my noble friend, Careers Service companies. Obviously I cannot say at this point what proportion of them will come from Careers Service companies because I do not know how many Careers Service staff will want to make the transition. I hope the vast majority will. This, again, is something that we need to evaluate and monitor as we go along. We believe that each of these groups will bring valuable skills to their new role. However, to ensure that the new profession has clear aims and objectives and a core set of skills, we are developing a job specification and a good, tough training programme to include the provision of high quality careers information, advice and guidance, as well as all the other functions that these personal advisers will be expected to carry out.

Of course, personal advisers will be expected to refer some young people to specialist advice where necessary. A young person with a serious drugs problem, for example, would need to be referred on to experts dealing with drug abuse among young people. As the Connexions document makes clear, in schools the Connexions personal adviser will be a learning mentor. My noble friend Lady David asked about this, building on the model that is being introduced in Excellence in Cities areas. This is being monitored and evaluated. The Connexions learning mentor will supplement the advice given by careers teachers in schools and, where appropriate, will refer young people for specialist advice and support, giving specialist careers advice and guidance.

The personal advisers will be appointed and managed by head teachers but their remit will be covered by protocols to ensure continuing objectivity of careers advice given in schools. I accept that objectivity is extremely important. My noble friend asked about transitional arrangements, including a phased introduction to the service, which will allow us to look at the different approaches to the involvement of existing Careers Service companies in the Connexions service. With support from the Careers Service National Association, the DfEE has established a group to provide guidance during the next few months on transitional issues facing Careers Service companies as the service develops.

Amendment No. 142 would place the Secretary of State under a duty to ensure that local authorities and LEAs continue to maintain and fund local youth services at current levels, including when he engages them in Connexions service provision. I understand and share the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to ensuring that the very valuable work undertaken by these services is not just maintained but increased, in particular those wider activities which help young people across the spectrum to develop confidence in their life skills. We are not just talking about their ability to achieve in a formal school or college context. I understand that the noble Lord is keen to ensure that this work is not in any way undermined or marginalised.

As I said in Committee, I believe that the Connexions service could significantly improve the prospects for effective local youth services. We have said that we expect the youth service to be represented at all levels within the Connexions service. We have also said that we expect local three-year business plans to specify the contribution to be made by all the partners, including the statutory and voluntary youth services. Indeed, we have been explicit in saying that Connexions service delivery contracts will be awarded only if the national unit is satisfied that the partnerships have included in their plans the optimum mix of delivery through private, public and voluntary sector partners.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is concerned that the focus on Connexions activities could result in the further withdrawal of local authority funding. I believe that I have already covered that point, but I should like to emphasise that local authorities will retain all the powers they need to provide for local youth services. We intend that they should do so. I repeat that we have no intention of withdrawing funding or top-slicing that budget.

Along with several other speakers, the noble Lord was also concerned to ensure that demand for Connexions personal advisers does not result in a drain on key frontline youth service staff. Again, as I said in Committee, we have considered the potential problems as regards recruiting sufficient numbers of qualified staff for the Connexions service. That is one of the reasons why we have decided to phase in the service. I am being absolutely frank and straightforward when I tell the House that the rate of phasing will depend partly on the time that it takes to recruit enough qualified staff without causing an adverse impact on related services. We also intend to undertake an audit of the human resource implications for the very wide range of new and existing advice and support services provided by central and local government.

I hope that I have covered the main issues that have been raised in this area. If I have not done so, I shall be happy to write to noble Lords. However, having provided these reassurances, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will feel able to withdraw her amendment and that other noble Lords will not wish to press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 7:00 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her lengthy and careful reply. I can see much more clearly what is being proposed here, and in particular I take on board the fact that the Connexions service will grow slowly and evolve over time as more resources are made available to it. It seems to me to be absolutely essential to secure a large slug of money from the comprehensive spending review that is due to take place. That is because, despite the reassurances of the Minister, the money put aside at present will not be sufficient properly to fund this service.

I was a little disturbed when the Minister indicated that there would be more differentiation within the existing Careers Service than is the case at the moment. The consultation document from which the noble Baroness, Lady David, quoted indicates that the age cohort will be divided into three groups, of which one would comprise 47 per cent. That group will receive only general advice and support based largely on access to paper-based material and IT systems. However, only a small proportion of that group will receive the careers interview and guidance that I believe many young people need. Forty-seven per cent amounts to almost half of these young people and I do not think that we can assume that they will not need rather more guidance than that which has been suggested.

I am left with a degree of uneasiness about how the service will develop. If we are to continue to provide careers guidance services, it will not be easy for the staff involved to transfer over into mentoring activities. There is very little slack in the system. It may be that a new "army" will have to be recruited to carry out the mentoring functions because I am not convinced that it will be easy to shift staff over into those activities.

It may be that we shall wish to return to this issue at Third Reading, but for the moment I shall withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 141 to 143 not moved.]

Clause 103 [Consultation and coordination]:

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

moved Amendment No. 144:

Page 45, line 38, after ("consult,") insert--

("( ) a body providing services in pursuance of arrangements made or directions given under sections 8, 9 and 10 of the Employment and Training Act 1973,").

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

My Lords, this amendment would seek to place Careers Service contractors delivering the Secretary of State's duty (under the 1973 Act, as amended) as bodies with whom the Secretary of State should consult under subsection (2) of Clause 103 rather than in subsection (1), as we attempted in Committee.

Subsection (1) specifies key statutory bodies. Amended subsection (2) will specify voluntary bodies and the provider of the Secretary of State's duty in respect of the Careers Service. The Secretary of State's duty is to provide a careers service to,

"assist persons undergoing relevant education to decide what employments ... will be suitable for and available to them", and to do so by "offering advice and guidance" to these young people. The Secretary of State's duties and powers under Sections 8 to 10 of the 1973 Act also relate to providing services to assist persons,

"to decide what training or education ... [will] fit them for those employments".

Learning and skills are essential for individuals to progress from education and training into productive employment. The Secretary of State's vision is of an inclusive learning society, which also is marked out by thriving businesses, and hence a thriving economy. Critically, it is the Careers Service contractor--in fulfilling the Secretary of State's duty--who brings impartial information into schools and colleges to assist individuals to make choices informed by the needs of the labour market.

In planning Connexions services, it will be essential that the distinctive impartiality and labour market intelligence from the statutory Careers Service contractor is enabled to influence service provision. Unless this is the case, businesses will not be served by the new arrangements, nor will the economy--and the very inclusion that the Government rightly seek will be seriously impaired.

It is evident that Ministers seem intent upon the current "Careers Service contract" being subsumed in the Connexions contract. There is not the same clarity over how the funding of other elements of the Connexions strategy will be contractually captured and assured. Perhaps DfEE Ministers have failed to extract agreement from the DETR for certain elements of local authority funding to be routed to Connexions partnerships. If this is the case, it needs to be challenged.

Either Connexions partnerships bring together "partners with funding" who are required to work together or all of the funding for Connexions should come through a single contact. There is no evidence to justify a proposal to bring to an end existing Careers Service contracts.

Surely it would be better to continue to contract directly for the fulfilment of the Secretary of State's Careers Service duty, and to require those Careers Service contractors to work with local authorities and other Connexions partners. Local authorities and other partners would be "directed" by the Secretary of State to bring resources to the partnership table. Connexions partnerships would then be more "equal" and Connexions partnership proposals would be informed by the distinctive perspectives of the partners--including, by right, the distinctive Careers Service perspective. This is what the amendment to Clause 103 would secure. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my name is also attached to this amendment and I should like to speak briefly to it. The amendment concerns consultation. Clause 103 provides for consultation, first, with a number of statutory bodies and, secondly, with non-statutory bodies. Those specifically mentioned are voluntary bodies providing services to young people.

It is extraordinary that the providers of careers advice, who will be subsumed within the Connexions service, are not listed among these consultees. As we know, in the past 10 years the Careers Service has been privatised. It is now supplied, largely, by private providers and private companies who are contracted to local authorities, schools and various other bodies to provide careers advice. Insofar as they are playing a crucial part within the new Connexions service, they surely need to be included as those who will be consulted about how the service will be set up.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, the effect of this amendment would be to add Careers Service providers to the express list of those who must be consulted about Connexions service provision for a particular area. Noble Lords may recall that we debated a similar amendment in Committee. I said then that there were a number of bodies that could be listed on the face of the Bill as organisations that should be consulted about Connexions provision. However, Clause 103 has been drafted so that it provides for the full range of relevant bodies to be involved in the new service while maintaining simplicity and flexibility.

I can also reiterate the assurance that in planning Connexions provision in an area we will certainly expect those delivering a careers service to be key consultees. They will, after all, be key delivery partners. That includes Careers Service companies, schools, colleges, training providers and those responsible for adult information, advice and guidance. As it is said in the Connexions policy document, there will be close links between the Connexions service and the LSC at both local and national levels. At national level the head of the national Connexions service unit will be invited to attend meetings of the LSC and their young people's learning committee. At local level the Connexions partnership will be invited to attend meetings of the local learning and skills council as observers.

The local Connexions service will advise the LSC on gaps in provision and provide feedback on quality and on trends and reasons for non-participation in learning. The local LSC will provide labour market information, including skills shortages, to the local Connexions service. They will work together to improve information, advice and guidance about post-16 opportunities for young people and to ensure coherence across the pre-16 and post-16 divide.

Having heard what I have said, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I take it that he is not accepting my amendment. But, on the other hand, he has said that the Careers Service will be key consultees and he has given some other comfort. I shall have to be satisfied with that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 106 [Inspection]:

[Amendment No. 145 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 7:15 pm, 14th March 2000

moved Amendment No.146:

After Clause 111, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:PROVISION OF CAREERS EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES

(" .--(1) The Education Act 1997 shall be amended as follows.

(2) For section 46 substitute--

"Extension or modification of provisions of ss. 43 to 45.

46.--(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations extend the scope of operation of section 43 and section 44 requiring--

(a) the governing bodies of institutions within the further education sector, and

(b) the principals or other heads of such institutions, and

(c) the schools listed in section 43(2)(a) to (d), to secure that a programme of careers education is provided for any specified description of persons attending such institutions up to the age of 20.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for extending the scope of operation of section 43, 44 or 45 to primary schools or to any specified description of such schools, to secure that a programme of careers education is provided for any specified description of persons attending such institutions.".").

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I rise to propose Amendment No. 146 which stands in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Tope and the noble Baroness, Lady David. This amendment is similar to one that I moved at Committee stage which sought to extend careers education and guidance to the post-16 age group for whom, at present, there is no mandatory duty to provide such services.

In his reply at Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said:

"We do not think that compulsion is either necessary or appropriate. It is better, in our view, that schools and colleges continue to develop their careers education programmes with the support of the new Connexions service".--[Official Report, 17/2/2000; col. 1402.]

In fact, Section 46 of the Education Act 1997 does provide the Secretary of State with the power to extend the requirement of careers education to primary schools, which is another issue covered by the amendment.

The probing amendment that we brought forward on the previous occasion gave the Secretary of State the opportunity to indicate that he might use this power. He is clearly unwilling to do so. Yet there are increasing numbers of young people participating in education post-16. For these young people going into the workplace, careers education and guidance can make a very real difference to their achievement and successful progression.

The changes to the post-16 curriculum mean that choices at 16 are no longer the single most important determinative of a career path. The decision at 16 remains critical, but that is the case also at 17. There are new and different choices to be made, with a changing approach to advanced studies and the growth of vocational qualifications. While loudly applauding these changes--the growth in the number of young people continuing in learning--there remain very serious problems to tackle, both in achievement and in successful progression from this area. Sometimes drop-out rates as high as 20 or 30 per cent are not uncommon in further education. It is worrying that that is creeping into higher education.

Vocational maturity does not go hand in hand with academic ability. Poor choices by far too many post-16 students result in misery for them and their families, a waste of public money and the failure to capitalise on the talents of young people as they progress into the labour market. The Bill does not go far enough in seeking to address these matters. That is why we have proposed this amendment.

We are somewhat surprised that Ministers have not learned the lesson from the previous administration. In 1992 to 1993, as the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill was progressing through Parliament, it was Labour MPs and Peers who argued that the Careers Service should be given the statutory right of entry to schools and that schools should be required by law to have a careers education programme and policy. The Conservative government said that this was not necessary, that the Careers Service and schools would work together in partnership and that compulsion was undesirable. What happened? By 1997 it was clear that in some schools, albeit a minority, some young people were not receiving access to the impartial help necessary for them to choose between all the options and routes post-16. Some careers advisers were being denied access to certain students. Colleges were expressing concern that post-16 school offerings were being biased by teachers and that the work-based route was not always being opened to students.

Ministers then changed the legislation: Sections 43 to 46 of the 1997 Act placed a duty on schools to provide access to careers advisers. It seems to me that we are now in danger of repeating history. I fear that that danger will be exacerbated if personal advisers and learning mentors replace rather than work in support of impartial careers advisers. Evidence shows that school-based advisers, unless their work is supplemented by impartial external careers advisers, do not always enable young people to choose between all the options and routes. This is why we feel it necessary that there should be this expansion post-16 into the college and further education section of the Careers Service and why we are putting forward this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, spoke to a similar amendment during Committee and indicated that she intended to return to the issue of careers education for young people. The proposal here is that the Secretary of State should be required to make careers education compulsory for specified groups of young people in schools and FE colleges up to their 20th birthday.

As was made clear during the debate in Committee, there is no question that careers education is important for young people, whether or not they are still in compulsory education. However, there is at present no mandatory subject for over 16s, other than, of course, religious education in school sixth forms, and we believe that it would be quite wrong to make formal careers education a requirement in this way.

Furthermore, in relation to the further education sector, we do not control the subjects offered by FE institutions and nor would we want to. Further education institutions should have as much autonomy in this and other respects as possible. The amendment would undermine that independence.

The provisions of the Employment and Training Act 1973, as amended, which gives the Secretary of State duties and powers in relation to careers services will, as I have already made clear, remain entirely intact. These provisions require careers services to be made available to, among others, precisely the groups with which this amendment is concerned: school pupils and FE students under the age of 20. Delivery of this provision will, as I have already made clear, be strengthened by the establishment of the Connexions service.

The amendment would also give the Secretary of State a specific power to secure careers education for primary school children. We believe that to be unnecessary because the existing Section 46 of the Education Act 1997 is already broad enough to allow this. The noble Baroness suggested that we have not learnt a lot of lessons from the previous administration. On the contrary, we have learnt a lot of lessons from the previous administration. It is a shame that they have not learnt some too.

We appreciate the concern which gives rise to this amendment but believe that efforts should be focused instead on ensuring that schools and colleges continue to develop their careers education programmes with the additional support of the new Connexions service. I am sorry that I cannot oblige the noble Baroness by agreeing to her amendment. Indeed, having heard my explanation, I would ask her to withdraw it.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation. I am somewhat reassured by what he said. It is unfortunate that we cannot have a mandatory duty on the further education sector to provide careers education, but I understand the points that he has made. We may wish to return to this matter at Third Reading. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 147:

After Clause 112, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:GOVERNORS' LIABILITY

(" . The governors of an institution incorporated under section 15 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 or under section 112 of this Act shall not incur any personal liability in respect of anything done reasonably and in good faith in the exercise or purported exercise of their powers under section 18 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 as amended by this Act.").

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I moved an identical amendment at Committee stage and I have nothing to add at this stage. However, I put down the amendment in the hope and expectation that the Minister will have something to add. I pointed out at Committee stage that there is widespread concern among college governors that they do not have the same protection from personal liability as do others; for instance, school governors. I pointed out that this concern was shared by the Neill committee, which had recommended to the Government as long ago as summer 1998 the need for legislation--"a pressing need for legislation" were the committee's words--to clarify the position.

In his very positive response the Minister expressed much sympathy with the amendment, though he suggested that it was a little flawed. He was aware of the issue of liability and was aware that it was of concern to many governors in the FE sector. He said:

"We are certainly prepared to reconsider this issue, how best we can give some reassurance to FE governors, and to come forward with our own proposals at a later stage".--[Official Report, 17/2/2000; col. 1413.]

We are nearly four weeks later; it is a later stage; I have put down the amendment simply to inquire from the Minister the product of his thought over the past three or four weeks and what the Government intend to do about this and when. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I rise simply to support absolutely everything that the noble Lord has said. This is a pressing issue. We are now so close to Third Reading that it would be helpful to have some information about progress on this point.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, I am astonished, quite astonished, that this amendment has been added to the Report stage. The noble Lord quoted exactly what I said--that we would come forward with our own proposals at a later stage. That is exactly what we will do. I did not say, "at a later stage in this House"; I said, "at a later stage". I am afraid that he will just have to be a little more patient.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, that is a fairly discourteous reply. It is a relatively simple issue. It is an issue that could be dealt with in this place. The noble Lord could have given exactly the same answer but in a more courteous tone. That was a very unfortunate tone of reply.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, it was not meant in any way to be an unpleasant reply. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, would not take it as that. He would know that by raising the amendment again he would get the short, quick and, I hope, fair response that he was given. On this issue he will almost certainly get what he wants. I just ask him to be a little more patient. I am just surprised that the amendment appeared on the Marshalled List at all.

Photo of Lord Tope Lord Tope Liberal Democrat

My Lords, perhaps it is my turn to say that I, too, am astonished. I moved the amendment in, I hope, a conciliatory spirit. I paid tribute to the Minister's recognition of the issue and intention to do something about it. I made clear that it was a probing amendment, to find out what progress the Government have made in their thinking over the past three or four weeks. I have clearly struck a raw note with the Minister. I am led to the conclusion that the Government have not thought about it at all over the past three or four weeks, that the noble Lord's briefing says nothing about it and that he has nothing to say about it.

I thought that it was an extremely unpleasant reply. I am not too worried about that. I have had far more unpleasant things than that said to me. That does not bother me in the least. But I am disappointed that after three or four weeks and at a later stage--I accept that the Minister was not specific about which later stage, but this is a later stage--the Minister has absolutely nothing to say and indeed gives me a reply which is far less sympathetic and understanding than the one he gave a month ago. I am inclined to press the amendment but I shall not do so. Is the Minister inviting me to press the amendment? I shall not do so, but I am surprised that the Minister feels quite as aggressive about this. I am very surprised and very disappointed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but we may well continue to press him, given how vulnerable he clearly feels on the issue.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

At a later stage?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 113 [Assessments relating to learning difficulties]:

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 148:

Page 51, line 11, after ("1996,") insert--

("( ) a person is identified by the school as someone who will qualify as a student with a learning difficulty or disability (or both) within the meaning of section 13(2), (3) and (4),").

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

My Lords, this amendment would ensure that all students with learning difficulties, and not only those with statements, are assessed in their last year at school. I shall be brief because it is the same amendment as the one I moved in Committee on 17th February. However, I shall bat on intrepidly. I said then that it was a probing amendment so I shall not rehearse the reasons why it is very important for some--I agree it will not be all--students without statements to be assessed if they are to flourish and not flounder when they move on to college or training.

In Committee, the Minister gave a useful explanation of how the existing Clause 113 will ensure that any education and training needs of statemented school-leavers are properly set out in all cases, but I did not feel that she had fully answered the point about non-statemented pupils. We agreed to pursue the matter later since it was 7.30, there were several more amendments to go and the sword of Damocles suspended over the Committee's head by the Chief Whip was timed to drop at 8 p.m. For all I know, it may be exactly the same situation again, but no one has told me.

The Minister wrote me a reassuring letter on 28th February so I have put down the amendment again in the hope that the Minister can give me that welcome reassurance on the record. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I rise to support the noble Baroness in her amendment. We are dealing with a problem caused by success. Surely the problem should be met in this spirit. It is easy to ensure that we carry on the good work. Let us put it in new business terms. Let us not waste our investment in these people. Let us ensure that they can go through and receive the appropriate education.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment 7:30 pm, 14th March 2000

My Lords, I entirely accept that this is a probing amendment; indeed, I am grateful for the opportunity that it presents to expand on what I said in Committee about the operation of Clause 113. I concentrated then on why we think that it is important to place a duty on the Secretary of State to arrange assessments of young people with statements of special educational needs who move into other forms of education and training at the end of their compulsory schooling.

I can now say more about the much larger proportion of pupils with special educational needs, but without statements, who move on in the same way. The noble Baroness seeks reassurance that proper attention will be paid to them and that they will be covered, where appropriate, by an assessment, while recognising that this will not by any means apply in all cases. I can give that assurance.

We all want to develop an approach which, by responding to their individual circumstances, is fair to all young people with learning difficulties. The Connexions service will need to focus most of its energies on young people who, for a variety of reasons, experience learning and other difficulties. It will know which young people have been identified as having special educational needs, at whichever of the five levels apply in schools. It will know the nature of those needs and will need to take such needs into account in advising the young people concerned about the best way of going on into FE or training. Moreover, its staff will need to be properly trained to carry out this task.

I would certainly expect some pupils without statements to be the subject of Clause 113 assessments on account of their individual circumstances. I would also expect some young people between the ages of 19 and 25 to be the subject of assessments under the extended power for the Secretary of State under Clause 113(3), which I undertook yesterday to bring forward on Third Reading.

It is a little too early to be more specific about numbers or process. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept the position. However, I am clear that we shall need a consistent approach right across the country. In order to secure this, we shall want to issue guidance on how we expect the assessment arrangements actually to operate in practice. We shall also need help in developing that guidance from organisations representing people with learning disabilities. We shall look to the post-16 disability consortium, among other organisations, to provide us with that help and discuss the guidance fully with us.

Perhaps I may say here how much we appreciate the very constructive arrangements that we have had with organisations such as SKILL, with which I know the noble Baroness is very closely associated, and Mencap, with which the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who is not now in his place, is closely involved. I hope that I have given the reassurances sought by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, in tabling this amendment. In the light of what I have said, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

Yes, my Lords. I am not in the unfortunate position in which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, found himself earlier. I am delighted to be able to thank the Minister for her reply. She has entirely answered my questions. I am very glad that the noble Baroness acknowledges the fact that there will be many students who are not statemented and who will need assessment. I am also grateful for what she said yesterday about the position for 19 to 25 year-olds. I welcome the fact that the noble Baroness said that there will be guidance and that she will consult the consortium. Finally, I thank her very much for her nice remarks about SKILL. I should, perhaps, declare in parenthesis, as it were, that I am president of this organisation. I also thank her on behalf of my noble friend Lord Rix for what she said about Mencap. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 115 [Further education sector: designated institutions]:

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 149:

Page 52, line 25, after ("shall") insert (", subject to the preservation of the essential nature of the institution,").

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, this amendment need not detain us for very long. I raised this issue in Committee. The amendment addresses what are known as "designated institutions"--institutions such as the Ruskin College, the Working Men's College, Morley College and the WEA. In Committee, the Minister talked about the incorporation of governing bodies of voluntary aided sixth form colleges. I should have responded immediately then and said that it was not the reply that I had expected. This is one reason why I have raised the matter again on Report. The Minister now has an opportunity to make a response and, I hope, give us an explanation as to what will happen. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness has come back to the issue on Report. My only regret is that the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, does not appear above that of the noble Baroness on the Marshalled List in respect of this amendment. I could then have made some reparation for the offence that I unwittingly caused him earlier. However, my remarks are aimed at both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord who sit on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench.

The noble Baroness indicated her concerns about the future of the adult colleges under the new arrangements. It is fair to say that we were somewhat at cross-purposes when we discussed this point in Committee. I am pleased that we have had the opportunity to address the matter properly now. The position of the adult colleges is in no way weakened under the new arrangements. They remain designated colleges and part of the further education sector. I hope that it will be helpful to the House and to the noble Baroness if I explain briefly a little of the background that is relevant to this issue.

When the further education sector was established, many LEA colleges were incorporated as further education corporations under Section 15 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. However, there is a separate group of colleges that were designated--in layman's terms, made eligible for funding by the FEFC--but which were not incorporated. This took place under Section 28 of that Act. Together, the two groups of FE corporations and designated colleges make up the further education sector.

The designated colleges can be subdivided into two subgroups--former voluntary aided sixth form colleges, with which most of Clause 115 deals, and the adult colleges, with which the noble Baroness is concerned. Under the current arrangements, the FEFC may fund only the governing bodies of institutions in the further and higher education sectors-- the former consisting, as I have already explained, of the incorporated further education colleges and the designated colleges.

However, in contrast to those current arrangements, the learning and skills council will be able to fund any provider relevant to its functions. The present form of words in Section 28 of the 1992 Act is, therefore, redundant because there is no need to designate an institution in order for it to be eligible to receive funds from the LSC. Nevertheless, we must retain the concept of designation so that we are quite clear which institutions form part of the further education sector. In that sense, the change is entirely neutral towards the adult colleges. I hope that it is quite clear that the amendment in Clause 115 to Section 28 of the Further and Higher Education Act is a purely technical point. I am happy to give the noble Baroness an absolute assurance that the amendment to Section 28 of the 1992 Act does not in any way affect the basis of funding for the designated adult colleges.

However, I am sure that the noble Baroness is looking for something more positive; and, indeed, I can offer her that. There is a crucial second change in our new arrangements by which the designated adult colleges can only benefit. The noble Baroness will be aware that the duties of the FEFC in respect of adults extend only to Schedule 2 provision--that is, formal further education, often leading to national qualifications. The majority of the provision made by the adult colleges is of the non-Schedule 2 type; in other words, the FEFC has no obligations to fund this sort of provision and colleges have, to some extent, been relying on grace and favour. That will change. The duties of the LSC include all forms of further education, Schedule 2 and non-Schedule 2.

The Government have announced a very substantial additional investment in further education for adults for the next few years. They have also been conducting pilot schemes through the FEFC to expand non-Schedule 2 provision. This is the sort of area where the adult colleges have considerable expertise. There is clearly a challenge to them to build upon their existing work and to grasp the opportunities that will be open to them. That is, of course, a matter for them. But I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that they should in no way be fearful of the future. Rather, it offers the prospect of developing their mission and enhancing the distinctive contribution that they have made over many decades to adult education. I hope that the response and the reassurances that I have given will satisfy the noble Baroness and that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, which was both full and very welcome. There is no doubt whatever that those in this particular sector of further education will be delighted with the news that he has given me today. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 8 [Amendments]:

[Amendment No. 150 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 151:

Page 85, line 3, at end insert--

(". After section 109 of that Act insert--

"New grammar schools.

109A.--(1) This section has effect for enabling the admission arrangements of a school to be revised so that the school has selective admission arrangements which--

(a) make provision for selection by ability; or

(b) make provision for one or more of the following, namely--

(i) any selection by ability authorised by section 101;

(ii) any selection by aptitude authorised by section 102;

(iii) any selection by ability such as is mentioned in section 99(2)(c).

(2) Any such revision of the admission arrangements of a school shall be one of the alterations to a maintained school which are prescribed for the purposes of section 28.

(3) Regulations may provide that in their application to any proposals for any such revision of the admission arrangements of a school, any provision of section 28 or Schedule 6 shall have effect with such modifications as may be prescribed."").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, the amendment is self-explanatory. It seeks a permissive power--where this is appropriate or is requested--to set up new grammar schools. But the point I want to make--

Photo of Lord Hattersley Lord Hattersley Labour

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. A couple of hours ago the noble Baroness and her noble friends warned the House against the disruption caused by changing the status of a school every five years. How does she reconcile that with this amendment which offers the prospect of changing the status of a school every day of the week and every week of the year indefinitely? Or is it disruptive to change grammar schools into comprehensives, but not disruptive to change comprehensives into grammar schools?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, my amendment is not disruptive at all. The power it seeks will be a bottom-up power from a local community, if it so wishes. I am talking about a power to create new schools, new sixth-form colleges, new colleges and new universities. I simply include grammar schools in that permissive power.

I wish to counter a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, earlier. For most of my life I have been concerned about standards in education. The remarks which the noble Baroness made earlier were deeply offensive. I believe that, as far as possible, the policy aim should be to meet the needs of all children: those with special educational needs; those with talents and aptitudes for the arts, the sciences and sport, for example, and those with good academic ability.

The amendment seeks to create new schools on the basis of selection. Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, made an interesting point about selection. Where do the Labour Government stand on selection? Apparently there was to be no more selection under a Labour government. However, three years on, there is selection for ballet schools. I approached the department only this week to inquire whether it was possible to help a young person enter ballet school. I was told that the department only provides assisted places--I emphasise that point--in three ballet schools. The ballet school I was interested in was not covered. I refer in this connection to music schools, specialist schools, city technology colleges where there is banding and selection by interview, Church schools where there is selection by interview, and, in some Church schools, selection by ability, and, of course, grammar schools. Therefore there is much selection in any case. My amendment is a modest addition to that. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, this is the second amendment today on the subject of grammar schools. The arguments are the same and therefore I shall not go over them all again. The noble Baroness takes personally comments that I make about the performance of the previous government. I am constantly the butt of the noble Baroness's criticism but I take that to be part of the political debate; I do not take it personally. I certainly do not mean my remarks to be taken personally and I hope that in future the noble Baroness will not take them personally.

The amendment introduces new grammar schools. Therefore, it would allow schools to introduce selection by ability. I shall not go into all its technical defects but it appears to be intended to allow a grammar school, where parents have voted against selective admission arrangements, to reintroduce them and to allow schools to reintroduce selection where it has been removed. I believe that that would be disruptive, as my noble friend Lord Hattersley said.

The amendment also makes absolute nonsense of existing legislation on the future of grammar schools and on partial selection. It is a further attempt to divert the debate from standards to selection. It shows yet again an intention to overthrow the legislation which delivered our commitments that where grammar schools exist, their future selective admissions will be decided by local parents and that there will be no new selection by ability. As I said earlier, that legislation followed a manifesto commitment and was passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Legislation allowing parents to decide the future of selective admission arrangements at grammar schools is based on our belief that further selection by ability would not enhance standards. As I said earlier, placing the future of selection by ability for the remaining grammar schools in the hands of parents allows us to concentrate on our main agenda of raising standards. I explained earlier at some length how we are doing that and I gave plenty of examples.

As I said of the earlier amendment, this amendment is simply an attempt by the Opposition to reintroduce their "grammar school in every town" policy which they singularly failed to implement during their 18 years in office and which has been disowned by both shadow Education Secretaries since the election. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I cannot accept the amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw it.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I said that this was a permissive amendment. I believe that it is an important amendment; it is part of the tapestry of provision. I wonder when we shall hear a proper defence of a government whose members take advantage of selection, send their children to selective schools, allow their children to attend schools which have selection by interview or examination, and yet close the door on all other parents who would like to make the same choices. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 151) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 53; Not-Contents, 152.

Division number 2

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.