Education Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 11 March 2002.

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Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards) 3:13, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

It is with a sense of privilege as well as pleasure that I rise to speak on the Second Reading of the Education Bill. It begins a new phase of educational reform: a phase of reform that starts from the belief that schools themselves have the capacity to lead change; renews our programme to raise standards and strengthens the teaching profession; and seeks to create a culture of collaboration between schools. It is a Bill that looks to what has already been achieved in our schools and takes the next important steps to ensure that we continue to push back the boundaries of excellence and offer support to our most challenged schools. It can do so from the knowledge of real progress in education.

I shall take a moment to set out the changes that make this Bill possible. First, we have seen real and sustained progress in our schools. The latest report from the Chief Inspector of Schools tells us that we have the best ever generation of teachers—with more good lessons than ever before. The recent OECD PISA study showed that our 15 year-olds are now performing well above the OECD average in literacy, mathematics and science. Performance at all levels has improved—so that 150,000 more children begin secondary school with the sound foundations in literacy and numeracy that they need to succeed; and almost half a million infants benefit from reductions in class sizes.

Secondly, we now have a highly developed accountability framework based on clear standards, national targets and well-established inspection arrangements. Alongside that framework, we have better data about school performance than ever before. At the touch of a button, it is possible to tell how a school is doing, how its performance compares with other schools in similar circumstances and how quickly it is improving.

Thirdly, major national investment in continuing professional development for teachers means that now, more than ever, we can trust the informed professional judgment of teachers.

With this clear national framework in place, we can take the next step—a step which I believe deserves support across your Lordships' House. We can look to our schools and local education authorities to lead the way, to be the innovators in education so that our children and young people get the skills they need to take their place in a fast-changing world.

We know that many of the best ideas in education begin in our best schools—schools that have risen to the challenges facing them and found new ways of working that have benefited their children, and often their communities. We want to free them further to develop those ideas, to share them with other schools and to help our school system to take the next big steps forward to higher standards for all our children.

The Bill will enable government, for the first time, to respond quickly and effectively to schools and to LEAs which come forward with good ideas that do not fit the rules as they stand. Where schools come up against legislative barriers, they will be able to seek to have them removed for a pilot period under Chapter 1 of the Bill.

It is important for noble Lords to understand the role of the Secretary of State in this process, for this power may be used only where she is satisfied, on the basis of professional advice, that the proposals will raise standards. She may neither impose, nor instigate: she may only respond to schools and LEAs with good ideas that benefit pupils. And, of course, existing freedoms to innovate are not reduced.

Schools and LEAs will be able to propose a wide range of changes. We do not have a fixed wish list—those on the ground will lead the way. We expect that proposals for legislative change will often be on a small scale. For example, if a school wishes to introduce a continental day, then it may simply need to be freed from requirements to register pupils in the afternoon and have a break between sessions.

In recent years, schools have wanted new flexibilities. Some of these can be given permanently under this legislation. In so doing, we are seeking to preserve important existing safeguards, while enabling schools more easily to develop the arrangements best suited to their needs.

First, there will be new opportunities for schools to do more to support other schools. Under Clause 23, there will be new freedoms for schools to federate, so that, for example, weak schools can benefit from the effective leadership and management of good schools; small schools can work together more easily; and schools can formalise close links.

Under Clauses 10 to 12, schools will be able to give others the benefits of their strengths by joining together to provide LEA services where the LEA chooses to contract these out. On the same basis, schools will be able to join together to purchase goods and services, so creating economies of scale.

Governing bodies of different schools will be allowed to form joint committees under Clause 29 to carry out some of their work together. That could mean partnerships to develop specialisms, to maintain shared sites or to work together in any of a range of areas where schools can benefit from sharing strengths.

So at the heart of the Bill are measures to support schools to work together ever more closely. From informal approaches; to joint committees; to full federation—the Bill creates a range of options. Schools will have far greater freedom to determine for themselves their preferred model of governance; and they will be able to tailor their approach to suit their circumstances.

Secondly, through Clauses 34 and 35, schools will gain significant new flexibilities in staffing. This is not flexibility for flexibility's sake. It is fundamentally about the quality of education that we are offering to our children. It is about helping schools to put in place new ways of delivering the more individualised education that we all want to create. In short, it is about raising standards to benefit all children. As a result of the Bill's provisions, schools will be able to share staff and so share good practice, with perhaps several schools benefiting from a strong subject department—for example, modern foreign languages, music and ICT. There will be new opportunities for schools to make use of other skilled professionals, such as lecturers from further and higher education. And schools will have greater freedom to involve properly trained assistants in supervising classes.

The Bill recognises in Clauses 128 and 129 the fundamental importance of qualified teachers, there to teach our children and young people. But it recognises too the valuable contribution that properly trained assistants can make in strengthening support for pupils and reducing workload for teachers.

This Bill creates a flexible framework within which schools can develop the model of staffing that best suits the needs of their pupils.

Thirdly, Clause 25 makes it possible for schools to become "extended schools". It will enable those that wish to do so to provide additional services to the community, such as childcare or adult education. We know that the local school is at the heart of many communities—associated with care, with teaching and learning and with safety for children. Many schools have wanted the opportunity to be directly involved, often in partnership with others, in providing high quality services. They know that the provision of services for the family and the community helps to support their children and helps to raise educational standards for all.

Fourthly, there will be even greater freedoms for the best schools, as set out in Clauses 5 to 9. The best schools, defined against their achievements with the students they have, compared to similar schools, will be able automatically to gain greater autonomy over the curriculum and over teachers' pay and conditions. We will define the qualifying criteria at a challenging level—perhaps 10 per cent of schools will initially meet them—but they will be objective criteria, to which all can aspire. There will be no compulsion to use this earned autonomy, but where schools believe it can improve standards for all their pupils, they will be able to take advantage of it.

Let me be clear that none of this will be freedom without accountability. Far from it—in the interests of children, we must not discard the accountability framework, which is at the heart of our approach to school improvement. And there must be powers to intervene when things go wrong, because our interest here is that every child has the opportunity to succeed.

So our simple principle continues to be: intervention in inverse proportion to success. And just as that principle suggests that we should free the best schools to achieve more, so it means that we must intervene decisively where necessary to bring up the standards of the weakest schools in the system.

Ofsted estimates that over a quarter of a million children have received a better education because failing schools have been tackled. Some 850 schools have come out of special measures since 1997 and the number of schools in special measures has been sharply reduced, to around 300 now.

We now want to step up our efforts, finding new ways to tackle failure in the hardest cases on the one hand; and new ways to ensure that weak schools do not slip into failure on the other. Our principle is simple: we must give children the quality of education that is their right as quickly as possible.

The Bill gives us new reserve powers to deal with the very hardest cases. If, for example, the problems at a school are deep-seated, and the LEA has not been able to solve them, then the powers in the Bill could be used to involve another partner in turning the school round. That could be a nearby successful school, another LEA, or one of a range of public, voluntary or private sector bodies, which have the capacity to help schools to raise standards. If the governing body is part of the problem, Clause 54 provides powers to replace it with an interim executive board for the period of the turn-around.

Through this Bill we are going further still. We already have in place a range of measures to challenge and support weak schools that are not in special measures. But as the number of schools in special measures falls, we are preparing to raise the bar and to take powers to intervene if necessary to prevent a weak school falling into failure. Through these measures we will continue to help schools to turn failure into success; weakness into strength; and raise the minimum standard.

The funding we have given schools is an important part of the equation that results in better standards for all. Capital investment alone is three times higher than in 1996-97. More goes directly to schools. So we believe that it is essential that resources raised nationally for education should be passed on locally to education. That is why Clause 40 contains a reserve power to require local authorities to set a minimum level of schools budget. My honourable friend has made clear in the other place that where an LEA plans to passport funding increases in full, there will be no use of this reserve power. Indeed, we expect this power to be used very rarely. But we do believe that we have a responsibility to ensure that increases in government education funding benefit schools as we intend.

So there is more funding; a greater proportion going directly to schools; and now a backstop to ensure that money for schools reaches them. And the Bill creates a schools forum, so that, where it is appropriate, schools can play their part in taking decisions about the level of delegation in an authority.

Furthermore, we will build on our reforms of the Standards Fund, which are breaking down bureaucracy for schools—welcomed by schools. Through Part 2 of the Bill, we are sweeping away a number of powers for the Secretary of State to pay grant, and putting in their place a single, simple power. The savings in time and effort are clear.

All of this is essential if we are to ensure that every child receives a sound basic level of education. But we have never believed that this alone is enough. What we want to achieve—what we know everyone involved in the education service wants to achieve—is an education system more closely tailored to helping each individual to fulfil his or her potential. That idea permeates this Bill and our recent Green Paper on 14 to 19 education.

We are seeking to create a new, coherent 14 to 19 phase of education that will enable each individual to develop more fully their talents and aptitudes. We are committed to consulting very widely on how best to achieve that goal. In this Bill, we separate key stage 4 of the national curriculum from the other key stages, and so create the framework that will enable the conclusions of that consultation for the curriculum to be implemented.

As we move towards a more innovative system, more closely tailored to the individual, we want to move towards greater innovation in the provision of new schools. So this Bill introduces a new approach to the supply of new secondary schools. When a new school is needed, any interested party will be able to bring forward a proposal and have it considered on an equal basis with all others. It will create a level playing field between those who have traditionally promoted new schools and potential new partners for the schools system. Through this process, we will encourage new thinking as well as new partners for the education service. I assure the House that the basis for decisions will be the quality of the proposals for the education of our children, the value for money that they provide and the opinions of local people.

Whatever the framework of schools, fairness in admissions is critical, too. Through the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, the Government brought forward major reforms of admissions law, strengthening arrangements that ensure that all children are treated fairly. Research evidence has shown how positively parents have responded to the reforms; and we are now in a position to build on them further.

We remain committed to ensuring that admissions policies work in the best interests of all, and that parents' preferences are met as far as possible. Clause 44 will now make admissions forums compulsory, with an advisory role, so that in every area they can make recommendations about the best way to serve the interests of local children and parents. We plan to include on the forum the elected parent governor representatives to offer advice from the perspective of parents.

Clause 46 will introduce co-ordinated admissions arrangements in every LEA area, so that every child receives a single offer of a place at the appropriate time and, most importantly, no child is left without a place at the end of the admissions round. As we continue our reform, we continue to put the interests of parents and children first.

The Bill also takes forward a number of other reforms. Though I will not spend long on each, they are none the less of great importance. The first are the steps we are taking to enable the repayment of student loans for teachers of shortage subjects. This is one of a range of measures that we have discussed many times in your Lordships' House to attract and retain high quality graduates to our teaching profession.

We are also taking the opportunity to strengthen the workings of the exclusion appeals panels to support better behaviour in schools—an issue of great importance to our teachers, which we are addressing in a number of ways, not least in bringing support to the classroom from other professionals.

We want, too, to continue our transformation of early education and childcare. Already our commitment that every four year-old whose parents want one should have an early education place has been met in full, and we are on target to complete our pledge for every three year-old.

There are a number of measures in the Bill to build on our commitments: to ensure proposals are published if a nursery school is to be established or closed; to ensure our registration and inspection of nursery education and childcare is efficient and high quality; to provide for each nursery school to have its own governing body; to place a duty on LEAs to carry out annual reviews of childcare provision in their area, and to establish and maintain an information service.

Finally, the reforms in this Bill of the regulation of independent schools will overhaul an out-of-date system and implement the recommendations of the Utting and Waterhouse reports. They have very widespread support from the independent school sector. In many respects we are simplifying and clarifying legislation to make it more transparent and more usable.

Before I finish I want to say a little about what is not in the Bill. First, the Bill does not water down our commitment to inclusion. Noble Lords have heard me say before that it is our firm belief that the inclusion of every child in mainstream education who wishes, and is able, to be there is paramount. Secondly, there are no measures in this Bill to promote faith schools. Within the Bill we seek to ensure that those who put forward proposals to a school organisation committee and are not represented on that committee shall have the right of appeal to an independent adjudicator in the event that their proposals are turned down. Thirdly, this is not a Bill that seeks to centralise but to devolve: to devolve to our teachers and governors the kinds of flexibilities that will enable them to improve the education they offer to our children.

The past five years have seen teachers, young people and all those involved in education achieve remarkable things. They deserve our praise and gratitude. But we must not rest until we have an education service that leads the world, until every teacher has enough support to tailor their work to the needs of every child and until every child achieves their potential in full. This Bill is reform for a purpose. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:32, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out the details of the Bill. I say at the outset how much I look forward to working with the noble Baroness on what I believe is her first major education Bill. The noble Baroness has earned a reputation for diligence and fair-mindedness in debate. Both attributes no doubt will be called upon in considerable measure over the next few weeks as the stages of the Bill unfold.

My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy, when winding-up the debate for these Benches, will deal with those aspects of the Bill relating to Wales and my other Front Bench colleague, my noble friend Lady Seccombe, will record her concern about child protection issues.

We on these Benches support the aims of this Bill—to give schools greater autonomy, to support teachers, to promote innovation and to involve new partners including the private sector. However, as I shall point out, this Bill will not achieve those aims. It is centralising and puts unprecedented powers in the hands of the Secretary of State.

Detailed scrutiny and revision of the Bill by Members of this House is crucial in order to restore some parliamentary democracy which was almost absent from another place. A pernicious procedure called, menacingly, "the knife" has been added to that of the guillotine. The "knife" has been used liberally to eliminate discussion on large parts of this Bill. That is a constitutional outrage. The irony will not be lost on all those who are involved in the world of education; that is, that the elected Chamber, when considering this Bill, chose to ride roughshod over the democratic process whereas the appointed Chamber will, as is customary, be assiduous in carrying out its duty to scrutinise and revise legislation and to hold the Government to account. It would seem that time can be given to debate fox-hunting, but not enough time can be allowed for consideration of a subject that affects the daily lives of all families throughout the land. Such a dereliction of duty by the Government tells us much about their so-called priority, "Education, Education, Education"!

It has been said by some—and with, I believe, some force—that this could be the last education Bill. Certainly, if one looks at the power to be taken in Clause 2, any education statute, past, present or future, could be altered or swept away by order of the Secretary of State.

On the face of this Bill there is no protection for the rights of a child enshrined in previous education Acts of Parliament and no protection for children with special educational needs, even though we have only recently passed an Act of Parliament for young people requiring special educational needs. Those who care for such children are naturally concerned about the power in Clause 2 which allows the Secretary of State to exempt any piece of education legislation. We are looking to the Minister not just for reassurance across the Dispatch Box, but for it to be placed on the face of the Bill.

There is hardly a mention in the Bill of parents or parental rights, even in the consultation process. If we are to consider giving the Secretary of State wide powers to alter the nature of schooling in this country, parents, staff and local education authorities must by right be consulted.

The Bill is a massive contradiction; it advocates an extension of autonomy and freedom but within a strait-jacket of central power and prescription wielded by the Secretary of State. Without more detail no one can predict the impact of this Bill, containing, as it does, the mother of all Henry VIII powers.

All of the detailed implementation of this Bill will follow by order, guidelines, circulars and regulation entirely at the whim of the Secretary of State. That is serious because we know that changes are afoot by the Government to reduce the powers of this House in relation to secondary legislation. Even as the rules stand at present, we are unable to amend secondary legislation and therefore it is essential that the scope and qualification of these powers are made clear on the face of the Bill. Certainly, there will have to be greater use of the affirmative resolution procedure.

We shall almost certainly hear from the Government today that there is no way that the Clause 2 powers will be used to invalidate important rights and safeguards set out in previous statutes. However, let us record again what Clause 2(1)(a) states:

"On the application of one or more qualifying bodies ... the Secretary of State (in relation to England) or the National Assembly for Wales . . . may for the purpose of this Chapter by order make provision—

(a) conferring on the applicant exemption from any requirement imposed by education legislation".

There is no restriction or limitation on any part of any previous statute. Indeed, the true interpretation of this clause, as I have pointed out, is that any education legislation, past, present or future, can be exempted by order. In fact, this, or any future Secretary of State, could by order change the whole nature of education without the need for primary legislation. That cannot be right. There must be some qualification for the use of that power.

One of the claims made by the Secretary of State for this Bill is that it will,

"set out plans for supporting teachers to raise standards in secondary schools".

The Secretary of State will not impress teachers by making that claim against a background where the pupil-teacher ratio in secondary schools has worsened; where there is a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention; where there are problems of discipline in the classroom; at a time when far too many temporary supply teachers are employed in our schools and when an unprecedented number of teachers are being required to teach children subjects for which they are not trained; when the burden of bureaucracy and additional responsibilities which detract from teaching is not lessened but increased by this Bill; when the Government have not fully funded the teachers' pay and performance awards; when post-16 examinations are in disarray and when, according to the financial appraisal of this Bill, some of the additional costs are to be met from within councils' and schools' own budgets.

As the Secondary Heads Association has said,

"The Bill is a ragbag of peripheral proposals which fail to address the central concerns of school leaders—teacher shortages, excessive workload, inequitable funding and the failure to finance the next stage of the Government's own performance pay system".

While I am on the subject of finance may I say that any control over the wholesale confiscation of funding by the Secretary of State is singularly absent from this Bill. Unprecedented sums of money from the overall budget for education are held back by the Secretary of State. The costs of running the department have soared. The number of civil servants in the department has grown and the number of pet schemes which require excessive bureaucratic work from schools and LEAs has proliferated. Why does not the Department for Education and Skills set an example by improving its own cost-effectiveness and pass the benefit to schools where it will really add value?

The more funding held back by the Secretary of State and local government, the more the core funding for schools is reduced. It is no surprise that each time the Government boast about the additional money that they claim will go into education, teachers at school level are baffled about why they are not benefiting.

While we do not support the taking of industrial action by teachers, are the Government not troubled in particular about the possible ballot by members of the NAHT and the Secondary Heads Association? Whatever plans the Government propose for the School Teachers' Review Body, the Minister will know that there is great anxiety about the Government's negative response to the STRB's 2002 recommendation, which was that:

"Sufficient resources should be made available to ensure that teachers who meet the (Government's own) performance criteria for progression on the upper pay scale can in fact progress".

It also recommended that the grant should be,

"increased to enable a substantial majority of teachers to progress".

That the Government have not done. It is a fact that taking into account teachers' basic salary, plus the shortening of the "mainscale" costing a further 0.5 per cent, plus fees for membership of the General Teaching Council and 1 per cent additional pension contributions—not to mention the additional financial burdens arising from the Bill—there will be a large shortfall in the funding of our schools. To claim that it can be made up from within budget without serious adverse effects on the education of children is deeply misleading.

Another measure in the Bill that will dissipate yet more funds is the establishment and servicing of admissions forums and schools forums. Why oh why must schools be subjected to attendance targets? The target for attendance should be 100 per cent. Authorised and unauthorised absences are already recorded and inspected by Ofsted. What is the point of adding yet more bureaucracy?

The clauses dealing with earned autonomy on the basis of performance are unnecessarily complex. Why should schools have to apply and be subject to assessment—that is another costly and bureaucratic diversion—in order to exercise autonomy? Grant maintained schools proved the success of self-management. Surely there should be a presumption of autonomy for all schools, unless a school is giving cause for concern. Schools are more openly accountable these days, thanks to many of the reforms that the Conservative government put in place and which have been accepted by the present Government. Also, thanks to the work of Ofsted, there is now enough information to record and identify those schools that would not qualify for local autonomy. So why not cut Whitehall control and give the cost savings to schools?

Why should schools have to apply for flexibility at key stage 4, when all secondary schools should be able to operate a more flexible approach? In fact, the Bill appears to be in conflict with the recent proposals for the 14 to 19 age group.

When it comes to exemptions under the Bill, I ask the Minister: what is the status of compulsory subjects such as the core curriculum, religious education and daily worship and the newly imposed subject of citizenship, about which we have reservations, especially if proposals come forward that link the dropping of those subjects with the raising of standards? There is nothing on the face of the Bill to protect them. If the answer is that that will be addressed in secondary legislation, I say to the Minister that she must spell out on the face of the Bill the scope and limitations of earned autonomy.

It is clear that the clauses dealing with the formation of companies have not been thought through. Ministers in another place did not answer adequately many of the searching questions and points that were put by my honourable friends. I must ask the Minister: what is the liability of governors, head teachers and other partners if a company fails? Who assesses the risks? If it is the Secretary of State who does so, would he or she be the guarantor—as with the new Railtrack—of a company by government guarantee?

Also, if local authority consent has to be sought before a company can be set up, would the Government consider making it clear that, where a consent by a local authority is withheld, reasons should be given?

The subject of exclusions, which is addressed in the Bill, is, we can all agree, a serious issue and the proposals are to be welcomed. Indiscipline in the classroom rates very highly on the list of reasons why teachers are leaving the profession. The Warwick report, which was commissioned by the National Union of Teachers, confirms that very strongly. The U-turn performed by the present Secretary of State following the restrictions that were put in place by the right honourable Mr Blunkett was welcomed by teachers. However, in a consultation document, the Government promised to extend the range of parenting orders. The NAHT and others welcomed that because problems that are thrown up by disruptive and violent parents are also serious. There is no proposal to that effect in the Bill. I ask the Minister: is that because any changes relating to parenting orders must be dealt with in a criminal justice Bill? If that is so, I suggest that, rather than waiting for parliamentary time, an amendment to amend the relevant Criminal Justice Act be put into this Bill. That is a perfectly acceptable procedure and there does not appear to be any argument about what is needed. Schools certainly require that change as soon as possible.

Is it the case that governors will no longer have an involvement in the appointment of staff? If so, I must record my concern and intention to return to that matter in Committee. However, the Minister may agree with me that the involvement of governors in the appointment of staff is important. My reading of the Bill may be incorrect.

I cannot hide my dislike of the unaccountable learning and skills councils. To learn that the Government intend to hand over the reorganisation of post-16 education, including that of sixth forms, is alarming. We were given reassurances on many occasions in this place by the Minister's predecessor that school-based sixth forms were not under threat from the establishment of learning and skills councils. There are already problems of funding which have not been resolved. However, as many teacher representatives have said, the learning and skills councils could ride roughshod over local decision-making in relation to sixth-form provision. One's suspicions are certainly aroused by the proposal that the learning and skills councils are tempted to look for a tertiary solution for all post-16 education. The Government's plans will raise the level of anxiety among schools, especially those with small but viable sixth forms. It is a known fact that for many teachers a school with a sixth form is a particular attraction. We will do all that we can to persuade noble Lords to remove that proposal from the Bill.

On a separate but related issue, can the Minister confirm that sector skills councils, which were announced by the Secretary of State last October, are still to be set up? If so, when, and what is their justification?

One also cannot help but conclude that the Bill is a further step on the road to regional government and involves an end for shire counties. Would the Minister care to prove me wrong on that point?

The way in which the education system is now regulated is over-burdensome and the Bill makes matters even worse. The labyrinthine system of councils, committees, forums and advisory bodies, most of which are unaccountable, together with the required plans, information returns, assessments and endless second guessing of local authorities and schools, has become complex and inefficient, not to mention the fact that it has become costly. When one takes into account the cost of the time spent providing information and statistics, much of which gathers dust in the DfES, plus the cost of the time given by heads, teachers and all those who sit on those bodies—I refer to endless meetings and the hours spent consulting, co-ordinating and co-ordinating the co-ordinators—it is not surprising that there is a shortage of funding for the running of decent, high-quality schools in which teachers can teach and pupils can learn.

As if all that is not enough, I understand that under race relations law yet another statutory code of practice is being produced requiring schools to admit quotas of ethnic minority children to reflect the racial mix of the local population and to record the national origin of all children. That would require unacceptable intervention into parental choice. Head teachers have been sent a 73-page document, which they believe has not been thought through, and which is designed to cause even greater tension between schools and parents. It has even been said that there could be conflict between the CRE document and education law. Our schools can do without even more tension.

I can hardly believe the U-turn on governing bodies covering more than one school. During the passage of the School Standards and Framework Act, the Government were so determined that each school should have its own governing body that it overturned an amendment that was agreed to in this House for Church, junior and infant schools to continue to have a joint governing body. That arrangement had been in existence for more than 100 years. That was a mean-spirited act of spite, and it will be undone by this Bill.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It is a fact that many of the education reforms that were introduced by a Conservative government, and which were opposed tooth and nail by the then Labour opposition, have been adopted by the present Government. Therefore, we are fully in support of the extension of city technology colleges, which are now to be called academies. I am pleased that the rural areas may also benefit from that development.

However, we shall be vigilant in ensuring that the academies have all the freedoms enjoyed by CTCs. I take this opportunity to congratulate, and thank most warmly, my noble friend Lord Harris of Peckham on the impressive support that he has given to their development. Not only has my noble friend been involved from the outset with their development by providing generous funding; he has also taken a practical interest in their progress. My noble friend has now embarked on another project to establish one of the new academies in his home town of Peckham. Ever since my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, who will speak later, established the first tranche of CTCs, the partnership between education and the private sector has been a great success.

The Government's plans to pay off student loans for newly qualified teachers in shortage subjects will inevitably cause tensions. For example, religious education has been a shortage subject for a very long time and yet it has never been included in the Government's qualifying list. There is also the inequity of waiving student tuition fees for postgraduate students and not for Bachelor of Education students. How can that be justified?

No doubt an amendment along the lines of that discussed in another place will be tabled in relation to faith schools. We shall never support the imposition of quotas which force schools to accept children who do not share the schools' religious commitments. The Government have caused some confusion about whether or not there is to be a considerable expansion of faith schools. My own view is that the present system works well. Whenever a request to establish a faith school is received, it is considered on its merits.

This is an unwieldy Bill. It is very fragmented and impossible to cover adequately in the time allowed. Therefore, I look forward to debating its next stages. Although I predict that it will provoke lively debate and will be time-consuming, I know that the Minister will give a fair hearing to those of us who have concerns and wish to improve the Bill. Meanwhile, we shall support its aims: to promote diversity; to allow for innovation in order to raise standards; and to provide more freedom and autonomy with accountability to our schools. However, we shall not support increasing Whitehall control and unnecessary interference and bureaucracy.

Heads and their teachers will not hold their breath in anticipation of a new dawn in education from the Bill. There is already a discernible groan about this ill-thought-through legislation. Teachers are restive and their concerns are more immediate. We must be conscious of that as we fulfil our duty to scrutinise and revise the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 3:52, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for her clear exposition of the Bill and I look forward to debating with her over the next few weeks all its complications. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I regret very much that the other place dealt so little with the detail of the Bill. I echo the noble Baroness in pointing out the irony that it is we, the unelected Chamber, who must provide the true scrutiny of the Bill.

We on these Benches share with the Government a desire to improve the quality of primary and, in particular, secondary education, as embodied in the Bill, and the reform of the 14 to 19 curriculum. But I cannot hide my great reservations about the Bill as it stands today. There is very little in it that I welcome unreservedly. The proposals for paying off loans to those training to be teachers, I welcome. The institution of a proper curriculum and the Government's regime for early years, I welcome. I also welcome extending the community role of schools, giving pupils a proper voice, and introducing some kind of order into the chaos of admission procedures.

But in other respects I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in saying that this is a ragbag of a Bill. It brings together bits of legislation which the department considers useful but there is no rhyme or reason in gathering them together in the Bill as a whole.

I have three main reservations about the Bill. My first question is: is it really necessary? What is the Bill for? Let us consider the Government's present agenda on education—the provision of specialist schools; bringing in private sector and not-for-profit providers; and extending the number of faith schools. All those can go ahead without new legislation. But the Bill does nothing to address the biggest problem faced by the education profession at present; that is, the recruitment and retention of teachers.

The one aspect of the Bill which is really required—legislation for the reform of the 14 to 19 curriculum—is surely premature. A Green Paper has just been issued and we are going through a period of consultation. Is it not an insult to this House to bring forward proposals on that issue before the consultation period has finished? Do we really need a Bill of 210 clauses and 22 schedules when all those other matters are proceeding? As I said, the main agenda is, in any case, being taken forward.

The Minister made clear in her exposition that the Government see the main purpose of the Bill as promoting innovation and encouraging diversity. But, again, I raise the question: do we need a Bill in order to achieve that? What good school does not constantly innovate and do new things? Yet, when pushed in Committee about what was meant by innovation, the Minister, Mr Timms, came up rather lamely with the response that "it implies something new". Why must we legislate to encourage schools to do new things? In some senses, the Minister provided the answer because she presented the Bill as a measure of deregulation. Schools are to be given permission to innovate in ways which break the current rules of the game set down by Ministers. She presented it as "setting them free".

Is that not an admission of the shocking state in which we now find ourselves—an admission that the labyrinth of rules and regulations that we have now wound around our schools and colleges stifles innovation and creativity? Is it not also naive to think that more rules and regulations will help the situation, especially when, as in so much of the Bill, it is a question of granting plenipotentiary powers to the Secretary of State? Clause 1 says it all:

"innovative projects that may . . . in the opinion of the Secretary of State".

Is that not a case of "Please Miss, may I have permission to innovate"?

Surely we know better than to regulate to innovate. Have we learnt nothing from the Soviet experiments in eastern Europe? Over the past 10 years, we have set up a panoply of targets and performance indicators; we have consumed valuable and potentially creative management time in filling up forms to satisfy the bureaucrats that the targets have been measured and met; and we have created further rules and regulations to reinforce the whole process. And then we wonder where the innovation and creativity have gone.

Surely the lesson that we learnt from the Soviet Union was that all such top-down planning and bureaucracy stifled creativity—or, rather, that it drove people into finding creative ways around the performance indicators. Now, here we are, just like the Soviets, trying to legislate for innovation. The answer is not further rules and regulations which give the Secretary of State powers to decree who may and who may not innovate; it is to set the whole lot free. We should be legislating to encourage every school to innovate.

I return to where I started. Creativity and innovation are in the genes of every good teacher and every good school and have, in the past, characterised all that is best in our education system. They have been stifled by the regime of rules and regulations imposed over the past decade. Yes, we need to set our schools free, but that should include every school and not only the one in 10 envisaged by Mr Timms when he was pressed in the other place as to who should benefit. Only 10 per cent of schools will benefit from earned autonomy. Above all, that freedom should not be at the behest of the Secretary of State. That is my first main reservation about the Bill.

My second main point concerns the heinous concentration of powers for the Secretary of State. Henry VIII clauses abound in the Bill. There are two different aspects of that. First, time and again they give powers to the Secretary of State: power to decide who may innovate; power to set up companies; and power to lay down the allocation of schools' budgets. But they also confer power to lay down the detail by secondary legislation and by regulations and guidance, which cannot be amended by this House.

If the Government had their way, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned, we in this House would not have the power to question or to delay secondary legislation. Not only would that prevent Parliament from fulfilling its scrutiny role, but it is also a lazy way to legislate. It indicates a failure to think through clearly what is wanted, allowing half-baked ideas to emerge in the legislation, such as the power for school governors to set up companies, described by the National Association of Governors and Managers in an editorial as an idea "from out of this planet".

Secondly, concentrating powers in the Secretary of State takes power away from the accountable, local democratic institutions. It is no secret that this Government have little time for local education authorities. Nor did the Opposition when they were in government. Over the past two decades, successive education Acts have diminished the powers of local education authorities and have given powers to the Secretary of State to deal directly with schools. There it is again.

I have already instanced the power of the Secretary of State to decide who may and who may not innovate, but the matter goes further than that. There are powers to finance schools directly; powers to determine how much a local authority has to spend on schools; the setting up of the new unnecessary and wholly unaccountable schools forums to allocate the budget between schools; powers to set up academies; and powers to appoint interim boards of governors.

In effect, that accretion of power to the centre amounts to the nationalisation of our education system, which, traditionally, used to be one of the main responsibilities of local government. Now it is to be all but removed from local democratic control. That is a dangerous path. Not for nothing was the control of education in post-war Germany vested in the La nder and not in the federal government. In the 1930s we saw how dangerous it was to have a malign, totalitarian regime dictating the education agenda. I know that the Minister will assure me that neither she nor her colleagues are malign in any sense. I shall believe her when she says that, but we may not always have such a benign government. That is a dangerous route. The Liberal Democrats have always believed that decisions should be taken as close as possible to those who are affected by them.

It is interesting to note that the Euro-barometer indicates that those countries that are most satisfied with their education systems are the Scandinavian countries. They run education at a local level. In that regard there is something to be said for taking lessons from countries such as Sweden and Denmark. They delegate decisions down to a local level. It is also somewhat surprising that currently the DTLR is encouraging local authorities towards greater flexibility and yet their colleagues at the DfES are decreasing the degree of local autonomy given to local education authorities.

My third reservation is about hierarchy and diversity. Can we separate the two? Sadly, in Britain we never appear to have been able to divorce education from the class system. From Victorian England we inherited the hierarchy of the public schools with their classical education for the upper classes; the grammar schools which do their best to mirror that system for the middle classes; and the elementary schools and, post-1944, secondary modern schools for the lower classes. In the 1960s the movement for comprehensive secondary education was, in modern parlance, a massive attempt to develop a more socially inclusive system of secondary education in Britain. Where it was followed through, as in Scotland, it has achieved considerable success. Compare, if you will, success rates in Scotland in GCSE and its equivalent with success rates in England; look at post-16 participation rates; and look at the class profile of those going on to university and you will find that in Scotland, where the comprehensive agenda has been pursued without the hang-ups of its English counterparts, it has performed very well.

In many parts of England the comprehensive principle is working as well as it is in Scotland and comprehensive secondary schools are providing high quality, stimulating and exciting educational opportunities for their communities. But, that is not always the case, particularly in our cities. The Government's chosen response has been in this, as in other areas, to opt for competition. The Bill paves the way for that competition.

In addition to the programme for specialist schools, the way is now open for other groups from both the private and the not-for-profit sectors, including the faith communities, to promote new secondary schools with voluntary-controlled or voluntary-aided status. The agenda is—I understand this—to offer choice through diversity. In many ways it is an exciting agenda. Communities which have seen little or no new investment in school buildings since Victorian times and have been making do with those towering Victorian three-deckers for decades, are seeing new investment, new schools, and new ideas burgeoning.

However, can we really be confident, amidst all this diversity, that investment is going where it is most needed? With the specialist schools' agenda and its requirements for co-funding, we have already seen a tendency for investment to go into those areas where middle-class parents can find the sponsorship and co-funding required. Can the Minister assure us that such new investment will go where it is needed? Is there not a danger, in the competitive world that is being created, that all the prizes, all the earned autonomy, will go to those schools that are regarded as "good"—predominantly middle-class schools which are already confident and capable of handling experiments—leaving the problem schools in problem areas as persistent poor performers and poor relations? Far from cementing those schools into their communities, is there a danger that such diversity will fragment the whole situation much further, setting school against school, and, dare I say it, faith against faith?

That brings me to the final issue of faith schools. Other noble Lords will have much to say in this debate and in Committee on the subject and I look forward to hearing them. In the other place the Secretary of State has stressed that there is no clause in the Bill that directly relates to faith schools and I hope that this issue will not dominate debates in this House, for there is so much else in the Bill that I regard as objectionable.

However, I share, with my colleague, Phil Willis, who led the debate on the Bill for our party in the other place, an uneasiness about the degree to which this Government have changed the agenda overnight and, bearing in mind the well-established and well-respected compromise between Church and state, which has stood the test of time since 1944, they have made it known that they would welcome substantial numbers of new faith-based secondary schools. It is totally reasonable that Parliament should be given an opportunity to debate such a marked change in policy and, as the Government have provided no such opportunity, my colleague used this Bill as a vehicle by which to initiate such a debate in the other place.

On these Benches, we are concerned that such schools should not only serve their faith communities, but also their local communities and should not, as in Northern Ireland, segregate effectively one faith from another, allowing deep-seated prejudice to be passed on too easily from one generation to another.

I have made it clear that we on these Benches have many difficulties with the Bill. We contend that it is of quite unnecessary length and, in so far as it has a purpose—namely, to reform post-14 curriculum—that it is premature. We are still in the midst of consultation. In addition, it is a bad Bill, in that it continues the process of concentrating power in the hands of the Secretary of State, giving her wide discretion to rule by regulation and guidance which cannot be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny. It also further diminishes the decision-making powers of democratically elected local authorities. If that were not enough, we contend in addition that, far from helping to build communities and ensuring that their schools are embedded within them, the measures being promoted by the Bill risk fragmenting communities and setting school against school. Our greatest fear is that, far from helping those whose needs are greatest, the rewards and the resources will go disproportionately to those who are already successful.

As we take the Bill through its stages in this House, we shall constantly try to make it a better Bill; to restrict the powers of the Secretary of State; to disperse power down to local education authorities and schools; to encourage all to innovate, but also to work together as communities; and to ensure that the rewards and the resources go to those who need them most.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench 4:10, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I apologise for not being in my place at the beginning of the debate. I had an engagement to speak in Barnsley at a diocesan conference organised by the diocese of Sheffield. I shared the platform with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed. My doing so may reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that neither of us is in the business of setting faith against faith. I had limited faith that my train would arrive on time and warned the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, that I might be a little late.

I want to be brave and welcome the Government's policies. I have some reservations. I am particularly concerned that we should do more to help those who are doing least well in our schools. Fundamental to that is the freeing up of the system to enable the schools to respond to existing needs rather than to provide a curriculum into which they should fit. That is particularly relevant when pupils are becoming young adults and are not prepared to accept that something is good for them. They vote with their feet. I believe that it was the chief inspector who reported that 10,000 just disappear; and many more stop listening.

I welcome the freeing up of the key stage 4 curriculum to respond to those people. I welcome, and have respect for, the new thinking that the Government are attempting on a vocational approach. I have one reservation. A reading of the Green Paper is fundamental to understanding the Bill. The paper raises the question of whether the standard should be called GCSE (Vocation). Vocational education must have high esteem. But if the two are put in the same basket, the very characteristics that make a vocational approach to education so valid will be lost through having to conform to the mores of the academic standards of a GCSE. We shall lose what we seek to achieve.

I want to be a touch wicked. With regard to the various categories, I understand why the Government are saying, "Let loose the top performers in those categories". But for those schools which are doing best, the school curriculum is not a problem. So why do we need to free them up? Is not the real problem the schools where the system is not working? Do not they need to be freed up to offer an education that is apt for those children? Perhaps it is not beyond the bounds of thought that an LEA might have some discretion under Clause 1 of the Bill. If the school has a good head and comes forward with a good programme, there should be more freedom to adapt the curriculum in order to engage those children in education.

A principal objective of any education is for the child to switch in to education before he leaves school. For him to say, "I have shaken the dust of school off my sandals and never again" is a disaster. Our principal objective should be to engage those who are faring least well and who will be a burden to themselves and to society all their lives.

We are all concerned about the 60,000 prison population. I understand that the figure is 70,000; I am out of date. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has commented that time spent idly in prison is badly spent. Of course we must keep people safely in prison if they are a danger to society. But one of the reasons why they are in prison is that they fared so badly in education. They had nowhere to go. Let us use the time constructively to help those 70,000 into education and to become useful citizens rather than returning to prison in a year or two.

That is my principal concern. On that basis I encourage the Government to promote vocational education and open up the barriers between schools and FE. I welcome their concern about FE teachers and heads being qualified to be good at their job. I have this fear. Some 14 year-olds will go into FE institutions and have a bad experience. Perhaps I may counsel Government: in your concern to introduce change—for example, on vocation or with regard to foreign languages in primary schools—abate your enthusiasm until you have teachers who can do a good job and have the equipment they need. We remember the design and technology issue under the noble Lord, Lord Baker. We needed to change the nation's thinking about design and technology. But I used to go into classrooms in primary schools which had ordinary desks and no kit. The teachers were as bewildered as the students. It was and is a good idea but it has to be done well and that takes time. So the Government must take time over these changes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, opposed the idea of attendance targets and said that the aim should be 100 per cent. As noble Lords may remember, once upon a time I was chairman of the Post Office. We had an excellent medical service which undertook a lot of statistical analysis. It demonstrated a close correlation between attendance at school and attitudes to attendance throughout working life. The proposal does not relate to playing truant but to the kind of absence which is authorised. Believe me, different parents have different attitudes on whether the child should turn up that morning. I do not want penalties; I do not believe that the Government want them. Perhaps there could be a John Harvey crate of champagne for a school which improves its achievements. Schools should try hard to improve attendance levels.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. For the purpose of recording statistics for the department, the authorisation is that of the school and not that of the parent.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

My Lords, the point I make has some value. High attendance must be promoted. My father bequeathed to me his school prizes. There were prizes for attendance. We need to care about attendance because a lot of children just do not turn up at school and that is a disaster for us and for them.

I like a great deal of the policies that the Government put forward but I have concerns—they are shared by others—about the extent to which they will be given effect through regulation from the department. Could not more be given effect by the affirmative resolution procedure? Could not the Government set a framework in which local authorities exercise discretion with powers to intervene if they are used badly? I hope that the Government will respond to the idea that local authorities have something to offer: they are close to schools.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, hoped that the House would not spend too much time on faith schools. To some extent, I am the cause of that subject being an issue. A couple of years ago, I was invited to chair a committee to advise the Church of England on its schools. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn will doubtless have something to say on behalf of the Church. I am unable to do that. However, perhaps I may refer to the meeting I attended with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, this morning in Barnsley. One of the reasons that my committee suggested more Church schools is because there are seven dioceses without a Church school—I believe that there are 71 LEAs without one—including the diocese of Sheffield. There are 8,000 children attending a Church school but not one is a secondary school. The governors in a former mining village have proposed a secondary Church school. The proposal is being discussed by the diocese and the local authority. The proposal is that the school should serve the existing community but because there is a surplus of places the excess will be offered to Christian families outside. Because there are quite a lot of primary Church schools, some pupils will come from those schools into the secondary school. But there is no question of quotas. The situation is very relaxed. There is no question of doing other than welcome children of all faiths.

In July 2000, long before the riots in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley, my committee issued an interim report. We recommended to the Church of England that it should pursue a policy of welcoming children of other faiths. We said that,

"new Church schools should always have a substantial core of Christian teachers and pupils from Christian families, so that they are in effect a living Christian community, but that they should also serve the whole community of which they are part, welcoming pupils from all backgrounds and faiths".

The final report—if I may respond directly to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—explicitly says that the Church in making proposals for the Church of England should not destabilise another faith school. It recommends an ecumenical approach. It recommends special care for social hardship areas, offering service where people have least in life. It is a recommendation of inclusiveness. I shall say no more on that matter.

The Government consulted well by issuing a flotilla of Green Papers before presenting the Bill. I have read five of them and I hope to read the remaining two shortly. I hope equally that the Government will listen to such good counsel as is offered from the Benches around them in this House. I hope that there is the will on the part of the Government to take time to consider the wisdom available to them and to use it well.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 4:22, 11 March 2002

My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to listen to and to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. I am very happy that he arrived on time from Barnsley to be "a touch wicked". There is much vigour already surrounding the Bill. I look forward to the vigorous progress of the Bill in its various stages.

I, as do we all, wish to ensure high standards in education for all children and young people. Improvements have certainly been made in schools since my own children were pupils and I was a teacher. Many of these improvements I now see as a school governor.

The improvements in schools are due to developments in structures, systems and support for teachers. There has always been good practice and innovation in teaching. There have always been schools with an ethos which supports learning; an ethos built on productive interactions between teachers and teachers, teachers and pupils and pupils and pupils. Many good schools have always been, and always will be, ahead of legislation and have innovated in ways which have benefited children, parents and their communities.

The inner city primary school where I am a governor, and which the Minister visited last week, has many spectacular achievements, including good academic results. Part of its improvement is due to legislation and part is due to talented leadership. Some of what is in the Education Bill is happening already. But the Bill also, as the Minister said, introduces new measures and possibilities and seeks to build on good practice and tighten up legislation.

I want to restrict my contribution today to the issue of school governors and their responsibilities. That is mainly contained in Part 3 of the Bill. I shall also refer to the need for more participation by children and young people in educational systems. I shall not go through Part 3 in detail but I want to speak about school governance because it is my experience that it is important in relation to standards, to local involvement in the management of education, to support for schools, and, where necessary, intervention to improve performance. Indeed, Clause 20(2) of the Bill states:

"The governing body shall conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school".

Where governors do not focus on delivery of high standards and are part of a school's problem, there will now be the possibility of removing them from office. That is perhaps an unlikely scenario, but one which has certainly been relevant in the past.

An issue raised by the Minister was the power of an LEA or the Secretary of State to provide for governing bodies to consider interim executive members to address serious weaknesses or special measures. That reflects a determination to drive up standards. My reading of Clause 34 of the Bill is that governors certainly play a part in the appointment of staff.

Chapter 1 of Part 3 of the Bill implements the consultation paper The Way Forward—A Modernised Framework for School Governance. It establishes instruments of governance and regulations about the control and occupation of school premises and measures to enable more than one school to federate under a single governing body if they so choose. That could have enormous advantages in relation to links with communities and community involvement and in relation to productive collaboration between different types of school. Nursery schools will be required to have a governing body and could form part of a federation. Primary/secondary liaison could be enhanced. I take on board the concerns of the Special Educational Needs Consortium and recognise that special educational needs must continue to be supported—as they are now—through dedicated special needs governors. But we can discuss that issue at later stages of the Bill.

Chapter 2 of Part 3 refers to new financial arrangements as they apply to school governors. The governors will need training and support to carry that through. Financial management of schools is complex. Indeed, if they are to have the power to form or invest in companies to deliver services they will require even more training. Relevant training for governors is built into the Bill.

Chapter 3 discusses admissions, exclusion and attendance. In my experience, these areas can cause confusion and distress for schools, parents and children. Co-ordination of application processes across LEAs and the involvement of parent governors may help. It is important that exclusion panels will have to consider the interests of the whole school community and not just those of the excluded pupil. The appeal panel may be constituted to reflect that.

I turn to the issue of pupil participation in school systems. In November last year, following the report Schools—achieving success, the Department for Education and Skills together with Save the Children met with young people to talk about secondary education. It was clear from the young people's comments that they felt that they should have a say in the systems of their schools. Such involvement encourages ownership of systems and a commitment to make them work for all pupils. It tells young people that democracy is important and beneficial. It is a lesson in citizenship. The White Paper and the SEN code of practice support pupil participation. The White Paper states that the Government will,

"encourage students' active participation in the decisions that affect them, about their learning and more widely".

The SEN code of practice states:

"Pupil participation should be the goal for all children and opportunities for participation should expand as pupils develop".

An amendment was put forward in another place at the Committee stage of the Education Bill which asked school governors to seek to ensure that the views of young people are taken into account in schools. The amendment was well received by all parties. I shall not go into further detail on pupil participation, but in Committee I shall discuss the issue widely and table a suitable amendment. I hope that there will be sympathy for it.

To conclude, a large section of the Bill is devoted to the powers of school governing bodies. It is clear that at a local level the Government take school governors seriously. These issues will require detailed discussion at a local level. That process will be healthy for schools and for their governing bodies as I think that it would be healthy to encourage pupil participation. I look forward to further discussions on these issues in your Lordships' House and in wider contexts.

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative 4:30, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I wish to comment on three aspects of the Bill: the 14 to 19 curriculum, exclusions and faith schools. Before doing that, I would say, en passant, that the Bill was treated very shabbily in the Commons. For such a lengthy Bill, with literally hundreds of clauses and schedules, it had 40 hours of debate. The Bill that I introduced in 1988, which was called the "Great" Education Reform Bill—at least, I called it the "Great" Education Reform Bill—had 200 hours of debate in the House of Commons, and was debated for almost the same time in this Chamber. As the Government Chief Whip is present, I would say that the only concessions on that Bill were made as a result of debates in this House, although we had a huge majority in the House of Commons. I hope that that has set a very happy precedent.

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

My Lords, I have only just read the quotation that says that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch,

"remembers being shocked that the 1988 Education Reform Act arrived in the Lords with only a quarter of its clauses scrutinised".

Photo of Lord Baker of Dorking Lord Baker of Dorking Conservative

My Lords, it did not seem so, I can assure the noble Lord. I was up night after night after night. We had a huge Report stage and a long period for Lords amendments. But the noble Lord will have to do quite well to improve upon what we did, let me assure him of that. The other extraordinary aspect is that the Welsh clauses of the Bill were not debated at all. That was an inverse victory for devolution.

I shall speak first about the 14 to 19 curriculum. I welcome the relaxation of the national curriculum for some 14-year-old pupils. Noble Lords might think it strange that I, the author of the national curriculum, should say that. However, I advocated that change some five years ago. By the age of 14, many pupils have decided where their interests lie in education. At the age of 11 that is often not at all clear, so that is not a good age at which to transfer children. Fourteen year-old children can make much better decisions on whether they wish to pursue an academic or a more vocational education. I welcome, therefore, the proposals that there should be a relaxation in respect of certain pupils.

However, the Bill does not go far enough. I do not want the relaxation to be a cop-out in favour of easy studies. The Government should devise a new system for 14 to 19 education that enables a 14 year-old pupil who gives up certain subjects to enter into a contract that will ensure that he or she continues in education and work from 14 to 19. There should be a rebirth of the old form of apprenticeship. In addition, I hope that the Government will decide to give big support to the sort of vocational training that society needs: electrical engineers, motor mechanics, electronic engineers, computer programmers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, agricultural and horticultural workers. I would welcome a move by 14 year-olds into those vocational studies. Please may they not find it too easy to do such courses as media studies, peace studies, third world studies or other forms of social studies, all of which are fascinating and interesting, but are neither intellectually demanding nor likely to lead to a job. The Government have a good deal more to do in respect of the relaxation of the curriculum for 14 year-olds.

I welcome the Government's U-turn on exclusions. The previous Secretary of State, on coming into office, said that he would make it more difficult for governors and teachers to exclude unruly children, on the basis that once excluded, they are in an even greater mess, so one should try to keep them in mainstream schools. Fortunately, and correctly, that policy has been changed. It is welcomed by the teachers' unions, head teachers and teachers, because the capacity of an unruly child to disrupt the rest of a class's education should not be tolerated—it is as simple as that.

That change in itself is not sufficient. The Government will probably realise that, as a result of the inclusion of this clause, there will be more exclusions. Excluded children are usually provided with a pattern of home tuition, which can be good, but is often inadequate. The Government must be much more positive in this regard. Anyone in the education world will say that one can detect whether children will be unruly and difficult during their primary ages, usually between five and eight. Endless education studies prove that to be the case. Much more intervention is needed at an early age. When one is considering excluding a 12 or 13 year-old boy or girl, one is dealing with someone with set behaviours of disobedience and unruliness. There is a need to devise a system that involves much greater scrutiny of children between the ages of five and eight, whereby they can moved into special schools.

There are a few of those schools in our country, including a very good one in north Oxford. They deal with very difficult children with behavioural problems, who have perhaps attacked a fellow pupil, stabbed a teacher or who simply shout out all the time. Pupils attend those schools for various reasons: psychological disturbance, a physical impediment, a lack of parental control or the fact that they behave in unruly ways with their peers. Those children should be identified and sent to such schools, not for life, but until they have been taught the lessons of integration, as happens at the school in north Oxford to which I referred. The Secretary of State and education Ministers must realise that that is their obligation.

I have misgivings about the Bill's proposals on faith schools. When I was Secretary of State, I visited several exclusive Muslim and Jewish schools—I do not believe that there were Sikh schools during my time. They were independent schools. Some were very good, some barely adequate, and others appalling. I was asked sometimes, not very strenuously, whether those schools could be state-maintained. I always turned down those requests, as did my successors in Conservative governments until 1997. I did that because the Butler settlement of the 1944 Act was essentially a religious settlement that, I believe, settled the position not for the foreseeable future but for ever. So, I did not welcome the idea of establishing new faith schools.

The Labour Government coming into power in 1997 decided to change that policy. I am unsure why they decided to change it to provide for new faith schools because, during all my years in the Commons, I do not remember any major debate being initiated by the Labour Party in favour of faith schools. An element in the Labour Party was always strongly opposed to faith schools. The humanist element of that party believed that all education should be secular, and another element opposed selection anyway. Therefore, the matter never came on the agenda. In 1997 the policy was changed, and the Secretary of State decided to accept proposals to convert independent faith schools to state-maintained faith schools. It was suggested to me last week that that has nothing to do with education, but with the positioning of marginal seats in inner-city areas.

I see that someone on the Benches opposite is nodding. I did not intend to be so ungenerous to the Labour Party, because I am feeling generous today. However, in the debate in the House of Commons, several Labour MPs who spoke, and who came from inner cities with large immigrant communities, were opposed to faith schools. For whatever reason—perhaps they simply gave in too easily to the arguments—they decided to open up the lists for new state schools. I am not against Church schools; I went to one. My primary education was conducted at Holy Trinity School in Southport, which was a wonderful Victorian redbrick school, next to a Victorian redbrick church, "a three-decker", as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guilford, said. That school gave me an excellent education, as noble Lords can see. Therefore, I am not opposed to the concept of Church schools, but my school was an Anglican Church school, which today would be called a voluntary controlled school. It was a relaxed, inclusive school.

My closest friend at that school was a young Jewish boy, and I remember that he took me back to his flat, where his mother explained to me how they prepared meat, the candles and the celebrations of religious observance. I would never have understood that if that boy had attended a separate Jewish school. My attitude to toleration probably began with those thoughts and experiences. Religion was not thrust down. We were taken to church twice a year, during Easter week and Christmas week. We started the day with a hymn and a prayer. Most schools in those days would have started with a hymn and a prayer or some sort of song. That school had what was the attraction of being an Anglican. There was forbearance, acquiescence, tolerance, an absence of fervour, enthusiasm was constrained and there was a commitment but not a crusade. Those are the elements I find attractive in Anglicans. That attitude permeated most Church primary schools and still does.

So I would have kept those things as they are. I feel that, with the creation of new faith schools, there will be a move towards exclusion. I know that the movement which the noble Lord, Lord Dearing—my very dear friend Lord Dearing—supports says that the 100 Christian schools he wishes to establish will be inclusive. I am sure that that will be the intention. However, I cannot help feeling that such will be the enthusiasm in the communities for those 100 schools that they may be overwhelmed by applications from Christian parents to take up the places. I am sure that Muslim parents will want to see their children attend Muslim schools for very good reasons—so that they are not only taught about the Koran and Islam, but also about the habits and behaviour in Muslim life. They will also learn that the Islamic religion is a religion of peace, forbearance and tolerance, which are good lessons to learn.

I am not against all of that. But I cannot help feeling that it will be difficult for children who are non-Muslims to attend schools which have such a strong ethos. Indeed, in the debate in the House of Commons, the two Asian Members of Parliament who spoke—Dr Kumar and Mr Khabra—were both against new faith schools.

I appreciate, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said, that he wants the new faith schools to be inclusive. There is an easy way to achieve that, though it is a little technical. There are two types of faith school: voluntary aided and voluntary controlled—the school that I attended must have been a voluntary-controlled school—the difference being that in a voluntary-aided school the governing body is controlled by the relevant religion. The governors are the employers of the teachers and the diocese can dictate 100 per cent preference in terms of selection. For that they contribute only 10 per cent of the cost—it was 15 per cent in my time.

The admissions policy of voluntary-controlled schools which are also faith schools does not require the intake to be 100 per cent based on their religion. Instead it reflects the normal local education procedure. That means that such schools reflect the community which they serve. Around 40 per cent of Church of England secondary schools are like that.

The test for those people who want new faith schools would be for them to be prepared to be voluntary controlled. That is the test. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, will measure up to that test and agree.

Finally, perhaps I may say something about why I believe that that is the way we should go. Our society in the inner cities today is under enormous pressure for all the reasons that have been well documented and of which Members in this House are well aware. There is a real danger of community fragmentation. I do not say that inclusive schools will solve that overnight. The problems of housing, employment, racism and attitudes of parents are complicated and come together. But the existence of new faith schools, which will tend to be more exclusive, will tend to reinforce the tendency to parallel communities. I do not believe that that is the best way for our society to go forward over the next 20 or 30 years.

Your Lordships should appreciate that the children of those who attend the new schools will also attend them and their children's children will attend them. Is not that how the troubles in Northern Ireland started?

When I was returned as an evacuee after the war, I went eventually to St Paul's School. Dean Colet founded the school in 1509—an inspired aim when one considers that it was a time of one universal Catholic faith—for the children of all nations and all countries indifferently. Over the years that school extended admission to boys without any distinction of race, nationality or creed. That should be the ideal to which we aspire.

Photo of The Bishop of Blackburn The Bishop of Blackburn Bishop 4:45, 11 March 2002

My Lords, following the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, I should perhaps declare that the whole of my education was in non-Church schools and the whole of my teaching career was in non-Church schools, and I think I had a very good education none the less. I hate to do battle with a former Secretary of State and correct him, but it is not right that a diocese has control over the admissions to voluntary-aided schools; that is a matter for the governing body of those schools.

However, that said, it is surely commendable that the Government seek to raise educational standards in secondary education. Although aspects of this Bill will require the most careful scrutiny in this House, from these Benches we welcome the Government's desire to promote innovation; new forms of partnership with greater flexibility in the provision of schools; and the increase of community services to be provided by schools. That said, we shall work with other noble Lords to ensure that decisions are taken at the appropriate level, which may not necessarily be by the Secretary of State.

We have real concerns about the number of matters which are to be dealt with by regulation rather than on the face of the Bill in primary legislation. Of course, we welcome heartily the Government's wish to build on what has been achieved in recent years at the primary level. It has been a great joy for me in the past year to share in the opening of new facilities in a whole range of primary schools in my diocese, and in east Lancashire often to share that privilege with the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Blackburn, which in itself is a symbol of the ability of faith communities to work and co-operate together.

However, that progress noted, as we debate this important Bill we must not forget the continuing and pressing need to address the pressures under which many head teachers and teachers are working this day; the need to boost their morale; to renew their sense of self-esteem as well as to promote the vocation to teaching. We must ensure that the effects of this Bill on our schools will serve to support rather than undermine dedicated teachers.

The Church of England has a long-established and continuing concern for the education and well-being of all the nation's children, and not least for their spiritual and moral education. That is enshrined in legislation by the separate committee and vote given to the established Church in the arrangements for the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education, which seeks to regulate the teaching of that subject in the community rather than in Church schools.

Again we believe that our long experience in the provision of schools means that we have a significant contribution to make when it comes not only to the provision of schools, but also to achieving success in education. Although preparing the young for the world of work is a laudable aim, we believe that education, not least at secondary level, is about living rather than simply earning a living; about contributing to society, rather than learning how to achieve what one wants for oneself.

What is it that makes a good school? What is its "success"? Is it academic success? Is it good pastoral care and concern for the pupils? Is it the appropriate disciplinary measures? Or does it include a sense of spiritual awareness and sound moral values, for no school or education system is value free? Quality education must include all those things.

I wonder whether the Government were surprised by the way in which, in another place, their desire to improve standards in secondary education in this Bill seemed almost to be high-jacked by the debate on what are now to be called "faith schools", once termed "schools of a religious character". The powers to create such schools already exist. This Bill has little to say on the subject. Yet the debate on the issue has dominated the press. As chairman of the Church of England Board of Education I have been happy to engage in it, although listening to some it would appear that Church schools are responsible for most of the evils which beset urban life today.

The Secretary of State was surely right when she said in another place that Church schools were being used as scapegoats for wider and more profound concerns. Of course, the reality is that, while negative points have been made in this debate, parents are continuing to choose Church schools in this year's admissions round, and parents are not fools; they know a good thing when they see it, even if they cannot always put their intuitive feelings into words. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the very debate has increased the pressure for places by drawing attention to the quality of many such schools.

I believe that I should make it clear that the official policy of the Church of England has been stated recently over and again on the subject. It was reaffirmed by His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Times Educational Supplement on 11th January this year, by the General Synod of the Church of England in November 2001, and last January by the House of Bishops, that Church of England Schools should be distinctive of their Christian foundation, but inclusive in their pupil intake.

It has to be said that most of our 4,700 schools achieve that aim in rural, urban and suburban settings. Their link with the local community through the Church is often second to none. However, with only 150 secondary schools randomly located across the country we simply do not have enough places to meet parental preferences. This leads so easily to the accusation that Church secondary schools are exclusive and admit only the children of church-going parents. Surely the answer to that charge from the opponents is to call the bluff of the Church of England, and to enable it to create more secondary schools to meet local parental need, as was suggested by The Way Ahead working party, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. We owe the noble Lord an enormous debt for this, and many other recommendations in the field of education. That would be my answer to the Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough, who represents part of the country where, until last year, there was only one Church of England secondary school between York and Harrogate and the Scottish Border—one in whose foundation I played a part in 1972.

In their White Paper, the Government rightly saw and supported that argument. Given the number of faith community secondary schools, it really will not do to lay at the door of the Churches and of the Jewish community this charge of segregation. Church schools, like the Church itself, are multi-racial and multi-cultural. If people do not believe me, I suggest that they go and visit the Archbishop Michael Ramsey school in Camberwell, or Archbishop Tenison's School in Kennington.

In my own diocese in east Lancashire the Church primary school is often the only place in the normal course of events where Muslim and Christian communities, Asian heritage, and indigenous communities meet. Burnley, which is in my diocese, experienced riots last summer, but it is the one town in the diocese of Blackburn with no Anglican high school at all. Similarly, Bradford had no Anglican high schools until recently. Most of the racially-segregated schools in this country happen to be community schools, which serve particular communities or local neighbourhoods. That is just how it is.

Before we went to Lancashire, my wife was head teacher of a large, what we would today call "community", first school in Dewsbury that had nearly 400 pupils—all Asian heritage, all Muslim in faith. That was not a Church school. The history of England and Wales is not the history of Northern Ireland. It could be said that the presence of faith schools, in which the name of God is honoured and religion respected, has enabled a tolerant society to flourish in this country. Religion may, sadly, get caught up in war, but the most oppressive regimes suppressing the freedom of people in the 20th century in fact denounced faith and embraced atheism. I have in mind Stalinism, Nazism, Pol Pot, and Communist China, among others.

Surely the Government are right to say that what is permitted for Christians and Jews should also be available where need is proved for Muslims and other world faith communities. It is simply part of the ongoing development of education in our land. If they are not very careful, those opposed to the establishment of new faith schools come close to saying that the members of some world faiths cannot be trusted to run good, sound schools. Surely, in a society where independent Muslim schools are mushrooming, it would be better to invite them to come into the maintained sector and be subject to the national curriculum and Ofsted inspection. Like many others, I believe that the Government's policy on this matter is enlightened in meeting the needs of a pluralist society.

Those opposed to faith schools, and those who seek to undermine them, must address the question as to how community schools can be enabled to provide that spiritual and religious awareness that so many parents, whether or not they have faith themselves, require for their young. This question is touched upon in the helpful National Union of Teachers' briefing for this debate. My diocese has been under great pressure from other faith communities to provide places in our few secondary schools from parents who feel that, in some community schools, the very fact that their family practise a faith would be questioned, or even derided. I know that some would like to see a percentage of places for those of other faiths, or of no faith. In principle, that is not a problem for the Church of England, but it may be very difficult for schools to work out in practice—a point well made by the Catholic Education Service. It would create a new category of so-called "exclusion"; namely, have faith and, therefore, cannot be admitted to a faith school. That would be arrant nonsense.

In welcoming the broad scope of the Bill, with its emphasis on raising standards and the professionalism of teachers, perhaps I may turn, briefly, to some of the more technical aspects of the legislation. Among our principal concerns is the need to safeguard the foundation and distinctive qualities of schools with a religious character. While understanding the need for flexibility, we have a real concern, shared with others, that too much is being left to regulations. We shall want to pursue some of those concerns in Committee.

Given our desire that Church schools should be distinctively Christian, yet committed to inclusiveness, we regard it as absolutely fundamental that the Christian foundation of our schools in the maintained sector should continue to be securely recognised in law. Therefore, with regard to the provisions under Clause 18 relating to governing bodies, we wish to provide for a foundation majority of at least two in voluntary aided schools, and for three foundation governors, or a quarter of the governing body to be foundation governors, whichever is the less, in voluntary controlled or foundation schools.

On staffing, which is dealt with in Clauses 34 and 38, we believe that the role of the governing bodies in aided schools in appointing and dismissing staff must be preserved, particularly where that relates to the safeguarding of the religious character of the school.

We welcome the proposals for federation, but we wish to ensure that the religious foundation of an individual school is not so weakened. We should seek to provide for the consent of the relevant religious authority before federation takes place. Regulations in respect of school forums should specify representation of voluntary aided schools. Again, where an "interim executive board" is established, we should like an assurance that the religious promoter is appropriately involved in its establishment. In welcoming the proposals for the inspection of independent schools, we ask that the inspection rubric includes reporting on their religious character, if they have such a foundation.

Finally, like other Christian Churches, the Church of England's whole approach in developing provision is one predicated on partnership with the local community. Therefore, we request—and would welcome—an amendment to the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 1991 that would give diocesan boards the power to give advice to governing bodies of Church of England schools on admission policies, to which advice they must have regard. This would be in line with our historic responsibilities within the maintained sector, and our renewed commitment to promoting Christian education in an inclusive context. We welcome much of the Bill, and very much look forward to the debate that will ensue in your Lordships' House.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 4:58, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Second Reading of such an important Bill, and in such a thoughtful debate. Given the choice of 229 clauses, I have decided that it is wiser to stick to two unifying themes that I believe run across the Bill, and the positive choices that they offer schools. I should declare an interest. I am the director of a national charity, Education Extra, which works with schools precisely to help them to innovate during out of school hours so that they can expand the school day and develop new programmes of learning and teaching to help children, especially those who are not doing well in school. On that basis, I can say with some conviction that I believe that teachers and head teachers will welcome much of the Bill.

Having been slightly alarmed by some of the headlines in the educational papers recently, I took the precaution of assessing my own very small straw poll of head teachers over the weekend. I was pleased to see that their reaction was not, "This is terrible. Estelle Morris is turning into Stalin"; on the contrary, they said, "This is an opportunity for us to be more creative." That has been echoed by the Campaign for State Education.

The Bill demonstrates that the Government are learning some lessons. One of those lessons is the fact that elephants cannot tie their own shoelaces—and that things cannot be left to the DfES. Schools alone have the knowledge and skills to bring ideas forward from their own ecology and climate. That should be welcomed. In recent years, we have heard so much about the threat that schools would be stifled by bureaucracy. Schools are tired of having changes imposed on them; this Bill sends the opposite signal. In Clause 1, it sends that signal to all schools and, in particular, to aspiring teachers that schools are creative places and that they are the people who can make things happen and who know what children will respond to and what they need. The Bill is a green light to teachers and says to them, "Bring us your ideas; let us see whether we can help you". It is an invitation to all schools, not just 10 per cent; but the condition is that knowledge and practice must be shared with other schools that may not be at the same stage of development.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, said that innovation did not require deregulation. I agree; in many cases, it will not. Many of the powers that schools have to innovate already exist. However, as I visit schools, I find that many teachers simply do not know what powers they have. One of the things that holds back schools that are not successful and prevents them innovating is the sense that they may be out of order if they do. It is also clear to me that the criterion will not be how novel the innovation is; the ultimate test will be whether it will raise standards of achievement. It is safe to raise such questions. We are no longer operating in a failing education system, but in a system in which there is, to quote the Financial Times,

"a solid framework of standards in place that should ensure that overall quality is maintained".

The FT is doing nothing more than drawing on the words of the chief inspector and the praise that he lavished on schools for the improvements in leadership, management and standards.

I know that there are concerns about the scope and meaning of innovation, the relationship between innovation and earned autonomy and the scope of the regulations that will implement so much of the Bill. For now, however, it is important to recognise the logic of what is proposed. By definition, innovation means doing things for the first time. The Secretary of State cannot second-guess what schools will come up with. Innovation, however, is not a licence for careless or risky experimentation.

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

My Lords, will the noble Baroness admit that, in the first clause, schools are required to seek permission from the Secretary of State to innovate? Will it actually come from the bottom up, just like that?

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the intention of the clause is that the schools should bring their new ideas to the Secretary of State for her consideration, so that she can judge what is required of the school to put it into effect. We will have to follow up that matter in Committee.

In respect of innovation, the Minister gave the example that the Bill might enable schools to make changes to the school day. That is an interesting example. The enemy of innovation, in many schools, is lack of time. Many schools already use hours outside the school day for wonderful programmes of extra-curricular activity, but there is a barrier to what they can do under the present structure. The Ofsted report makes it clear that schools that offer after-school activities bring tremendous opportunities to their young people to achieve more. Research bears that out. How much more effective it could be if the whole afternoon were available to the school to offer programmes of extra-curricular activities—covering everything from sport to citizenship to extra study support—available to everybody, including the families, and if schools could use their staff and their budgets more flexibly.

There are many challenges in making the Bill work as effectively as possible. Schools will need support, and I ask the Minister to say something in her summing-up about the work of the schools innovation unit and how much it will support the work of schools. There are issues relating to the time limits on innovation; the evaluation of innovative programmes and decisions on what happens afterwards; and, at various stages in the Bill, consultation with local authorities. As my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen said, there is a great opportunity to listen to the voice of the child, to make sure that that innate wisdom about what works in the classroom is fully taken into account.

There are often—not always—resource issues that cluster around attempts to innovate. There are also issues relating to sustainability. Above all, however, there is a need to ensure that schools which have the confidence to go for the extra opportunities share them effectively with others. The Ofsted report showed that the gap between the best and the worst-performing schools was widening. The Bill proposes greater opportunities for partnerships. That is the antidote to diversity. Diversity need not mean disadvantage. I hope passionately that innovation will not run out at the point at which we are looking for ways to ensure that the stronger schools and the schools about which the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, spoke so passionately can genuinely get the extra help that they need from the schools that can lead. Sometimes, it is not easy for schools to ask for help, to borrow from each other or to know where to go. We must examine that part of the policy closely.

There is also the question of which schools will get the status and advantage of earned autonomy. I am pleased to see that, in the policy statements document, the Government said that they would review the proposed criteria for earned autonomy and that consideration would be given to using value-added data alongside performance data to help to identify successful schools. I hope that that will happen as quickly as possible. I would argue strongly that some of the most effective lessons can be learnt from some of our most successful schools, which, day in and day out, are fighting a battle in hugely disadvantaged areas, where the added value comes from getting the child to turn up at school and stay there to acquire what it is necessary to learn. It is in such schools that the flexibility of the key stage 4 curriculum will be particularly useful, because they will be in a position to pioneer many of the things that schools in other circumstances want to do.

I have been pleased by the welcome that your Lordships have given to Clauses 25 and 26, which create a legal framework to make it possible for school governors, if they so choose, to set up new partnerships between schools, families and communities. What is proposed is not new. There is a fine tradition of schools working with communities and families, but there has never been a legal framework to allow governors to do that. The Bill provides that, and signals to schools that greater partnership with the community is welcome. It is not an extra burden on schools; it is not a distraction from the business of educating children. It is part of a coherent strategy for raising achievement that would bring extra support and extra capacity to schools and might even create more time for them to get on with their job. It has been widely welcomed, and it is worth saying that, every day, schools must deal with children whose ability to learn is completely impaired by their family and community circumstances. I am told by those who know that, every week in every primary school, 13 instances are referred to the head teacher that are not child-related but relate entirely to the adults who are looking after them.

A health centre on a school site would cut down on absences. Family learning centres on sites would help parents to know how to support their children. Skill centres would help adults to get jobs. The schools will win, because such integrated services will support their work. The community will win, because the schools will be playing such a powerful role in regeneration. As the Minister said, it could make a massive difference to childcare, freeing schools up in a way that has not been possible before to offer after-school childcare clubs to working parents, for example. What a boon. In the past, governors had to go through the hoops of setting up voluntary management committees; now, they could do it more easily, and we could meet our national targets.

Finally, I welcome the Welsh clauses. Among the clauses special to Wales are those providing for a separate curriculum for Wales, for special needs, for partnership agreements between local authorities and schools, and giving help to schools to work closely together across the transitional divide between primary and secondary schools. The clauses will be extremely welcome in schools across Wales because, as the Minister has said, they fit the needs of a distinctive small country. She described it in the paving document as "a learning country"; that is a very splendid title for the Welsh part of the Bill. It makes the Welsh commitment to lifelong learning transparently clear.

Like other noble Lords, I look forward, in a conditional sort of way, to the next stages of the Bill. In Committee we shall tangle with the definitions relating to scope and powers. I agree with the Minister that this is reform with a purpose. I hope that we shall all be able to support that.

Photo of Baroness Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative 5:10, 11 March 2002

My Lords, it is, indeed, a pleasure to welcome the parts of the Bill on which there is obviously a great deal of consensus in the House. I know that the Government are working hard to raise standards in education and there is no question that their motives are laudable. Many aspects in the Bill command approval. I welcome the increased powers and functions of the General Teaching Council which takes the GTC beyond its advisory role and brings it closer to what we hoped for when it was first introduced.

I also welcome the encouragement of federations of schools—I believe that that will be a good thing—and, like the previous speaker, I welcome the extended services that schools will be able to offer. I welcome the commitment of the Government to increased autonomy for schools and the freedom to innovate. It is therefore profoundly disappointing to find that the Bill seeks instead to impose enormously wide-ranging new powers on the Secretary of State, with increased centralisation.

The past 20 years of experience of managing people in the education, and mainly the higher education, service have convinced me of one truth which I learnt in a very humbling way. It is that decisions get progressively worse the further they are away from the people who actually have to implement them. The people who are implementing the decisions are the ones who should take them and make them. I thought that the Government also believed in devolving decisions to schools.

Therefore, why is the Secretary of State taking powers, for example, to intervene even more extensively than at the present time, over the heads of school governors, and over the heads of Local Education Authorities? She will impose on schools which, in the Secretary of State's opinion, are considered to be weak interim executive governing bodies to replace the properly constituted governing body of a school or impose a minimum schools budget on LEAs.

The Secretary of State is taking the direct power to approve an innovation in those schools which, in her view, are successful schools. We find in the Bill that she will do that by modifying existing legislation. Clause 2, as other noble Lords have said, gives the Secretary of State extraordinary powers. In my long time on the Delegated Powers Select Committee, I do not believe we ever saw a Henry VIII clause which actually allowed the Secretary of State to grant to institutions exemption from any requirement imposed by education legislation. That drives a coach and horses through all previous legislation in the field of education. Why is she taking those powers? If schools cannot innovate within existing legislation, then amend that legislation for all schools, not just for ones which are considered successful in the view of the Secretary of State.

It is wrong to parade as giving greater freedom to schools the granting of freedom on this very limited and centrally controlled basis. It is the Secretary of State taking to herself the power to decide which schools can break the law, if I may put it that way. She will exempt some from the requirement to meet the law and other schools will still be required to battle on.

I beg her to think again. If there is something wrong with the existing law—whether it is about teachers' pay or the national curriculum—which is making it impossible for schools to innovate, please change that law. The Secretary of State should not be allowed the power to change it for certain schools only. The failing schools, or the weak schools, will be the subject of the draconian powers to which I have just referred.

My second concern is about the separation of key stage 4 from the other three key stages. Clause 82 gives the Secretary of State new powers to alter or remove the requirements for the fourth key stage; that is, the 14 to 16 year-old phase. We now have the Green Paper on 14 to 19 year-olds, which was promised at Second Reading in the other place, so we have a clearer view of what the Government intend by Clause 82 in taking that power.

I hate to disagree with my noble friend Lord Baker who felt that this was a wholly good thing. It could be a wholly good thing, but I have a very great fear that it will simply be replacing selection at 11, which we all long ago decided was a wholly wrong and foolish thing to do for our country. It will be replacing selection at 11 with selection at 14. When children reach the age of 14, schools will effectively be required to sit down with them and classify them. Let us just reflect for a moment. The brightest will be able—just as the boys at Eton are able—to bypass GCSE and pass straight on to A-level. If they are very bright, they can take special extra questions at A-level and achieve distinction. That abolishes the AEA qualification which will be offered to some pupils for the first—and incidentally, now the last—time presumably this year.

That is fine. The bright kids are well catered for and I am always happy to see bright kids catered for. We need the bright kids and their needs are very real. Meanwhile, we are told, the less motivated, the less academic are going to be put, at 14, into a vocational stream. They will be the ones now who take the GCSE, which apparently is such an inferior examination that the bright kids can skip it.

What sort of message does that convey? Can anyone seriously believe that it will achieve the parity of esteem that the Government say they want for vocational and academic education, and which I most sincerely want? We need parity of esteem between vocational and academic education. We need it for the sake of the country; we need it for the sake of the economy; and we need it for the sake of the kids themselves. However, we are saying to the less motivated kids, to the less bright kids, and to the ones who are failing that they can become the vocational stream and that the academic bright kids can go into the other stream.

I once taught high school in the United States and experienced exactly that same system in the state of Massachusetts where the kids were classified at the age of 15. I can remember little 15 year-old lads in tears saying to me, "Please, Miss, do not send me into the commercial stream. Please do not send me into the vocational stream". They were in tears because they knew that that would classify them forever as second class.

Someone referred passionately to the virtues of Sweden recently, where they have 32 lines or streams. One has only to visit a Swedish high school to see the gradations. In the vocational streams the teachers look down at heel and second class and the kids look down at heel and second class. Sweden has not achieved the goal of parity of esteem either. It is a desirable goal but one can reach it only if the vocational subjects are spread right across the curriculum.

Having disagreed with my noble friend Lord Baker I should like to pay him fulsome tribute for establishing not only the national curriculum in the 1988 Act but also for the reform of examinations which turned the GCE and the CSE into one common examination.

As an HMI in the 1970s and 1980s, I can tell noble Lords that there was nothing more depressing than a head teacher showing one around and saying, "This is the GCE stream". There sat the bright kids, smart and knowing that their futures were assured. Then, "This is the CSE stream". Those classes comprised poor little kids who wondered why they were there and what they were doing. What would a CSE offer them in future years? Lastly, "This is the non-examination stream. They drop out, of course". Why should they not?

Keith Joseph used to agonise about the bottom 40 per cent. That bottom 40 per cent were those who left school with no qualifications and who very often had long been truanting. The introduction of a national curriculum meant that all children had access—access which I passionately believe is so important—to the same curriculum for as long as was reasonably possible. Thus every child had an opportunity to do well, even if he or she only developed later on. Indeed, some pupils blossom at 15 or 16 years old.

We can attribute the extraordinary leap ahead in the rate of staying on after the statutory leaving age of 16 to the common GCSE examination. The percentage rose from 60 per cent to over 80 per cent. The GCSE gave far more children a realistic chance of achieving something which would have real coinage in the world outside. Furthermore, the huge expansion of higher education during the early 1990s, over which my noble friend and others presided, was built on the foundation of more young people staying on post-16 and more, therefore, being motivated to take their A-levels and move on into higher education. Please, please do not unscramble that and take us back to a two-tier system between 14 and 16 years old.

My second concern is over who is to teach these vocational subjects to the 14 to 16 year-olds. Over my years of inspecting schools and institutions of further education, I saw some wonderful and inspired teaching of vocational subjects—usually, I have to say, in further education. I also saw some appalling teaching of those subjects—teaching that was boring, repetitive and enough to switch anyone off. Why is it assumed that putting a label on a course and calling it "plumbing" or "engineering" (I should add that only a few days ago the Engineering Council bent my ear on this subject; it is deeply, deeply insulted at the suggestion that the subject is to be something for only the non-motivated and not very bright) is the way to address lack of motivation among kids, in particular if they are then taught in a very boring way?

Alternatively, teachers may have no experience of the application and reality of the subject and thus they may fail to inspire. In post-16 teaching, joint arrangements can be agreed with local further education colleges. The regulations are different and it is possible to bring in people who are excited about teaching vocational courses and use their resources well to teach 16 to 18 year-olds. From the existing pool of school teachers, where are we to find people who can inspire and demonstrate with enthusiasm the wonder of some vocational subjects to 14 to 16 year-olds?

The test of the Bill is whether it will provide genuinely equal access to a broad curriculum for all children, thus maximising the opportunity for all children to achieve and to get to where they want to go. I believe that it will fail in that. It will create a dangerous, two-tier system for the post-14 year-olds. In other aspects of the Bill, which I have not touched on in my remarks, it will create a two-tier structure for schools, with academies and specialist schools acting as magnets and drawing to themselves the brightest of kids and the best of teachers, while the rest are left with what we have been told is the "bog standard".

I hope that I am wrong in my concerns and that the Bill will succeed. However, I ask the Minister to think again very carefully about what is being done with post-14 education.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat 5:24, 11 March 2002

My Lords, sitting as I was like a greyhound straining in his slip, I was so moved by the final words of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, that I rose to my feet. I must apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark. As a former HMI she knows so much more about this topic than I do. Her speech, which we have just heard, was most interesting and full of detail.

My noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford referred to the "hierarchic" class system in England. I am glad that that comment came from an English lady, not from myself. Living as I do not too far from the border with England, I have always been intrigued and slightly amused by the hierarchical and stratified nature of English society. If one attended a social function of some kind in England, the first question one would be asked—so that one could be placed in the proper position within the strata—was, "Where do your children go to school?". Because I would reply, "They go to the local comprehensives in Wales, of course", I would notice a certain degree of switching off.

I regard this Bill from a Welsh angle and it is the Welsh provisions within it that are my main concern. However, perhaps I may comment first on some of its general provisions. A theme running through the legislation seeks to fulfil a certain desire to stratify the English education system. I refer to "earned autonomy", so that only one in 10 schools can achieve the imprimatur from the Secretary of State to become more flexible and to experiment a little. Then we shall have "specialist schools" which will divide one kind of student from another—and all the prizes are to go to the "good schools", as my noble friend put it. The divisions between such schools and the "bog standard" comprehensives will only increase. Thus this Bill, rather surprisingly for a Labour Government, seems to move us closer to a stratified society in England.

As my noble friend pointed out, that has not been the experience in Scotland; and, looking back over my own life in Wales, it certainly was not the situation there. I went to the local grammar school. In my day, some 45 per cent of young people attended grammar school. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, with whom I spoke only a short while ago, told me that the level was 50 per cent in Denbigh. I am sure that it was even higher for Rhyl Grammar School, which my father and my wife attended, as well as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. Wales had a great tradition of grammar schools, which an awful lot of people attended.

The system had its limitations. We were brought up to believe that our first role was to become teachers. However, girls might become nurses. One way of escaping that kind of career was to become a lawyer, which is why noble Lords will find on these Benches and on the Benches opposite Welsh lawyers in far too great a number. The law provided an escape route from our upbringing. However, it is funny to note that the businessmen, the successful entrepreneurs in my home area today, are those who failed the 11-plus.

My four children went through the local comprehensive system which followed on from the kind of school I attended. I have to say that, within the system—comprising various comprehensive schools for 11 to 16 education, and then on to colleges of further education for 16 to 18 year-olds—all of my children received an excellent education. They also maintained their roots. They know where their home is: home is where people do not speak with a funny accent and it is where they return to see their friends. They are part of the community—and those community values underpin so much of the strength of Welsh society.

It is for those reasons that I welcome the work being undertaken by the National Assembly for Wales—I should remind noble Lords that the Liberal Democrats are in coalition with the Labour Party in the Welsh Assembly—in the production of The Learning Country, a White Paper which sets out the Assembly's total commitment to comprehensive education—and nothing else. In this party we have always fought for that and it is what the party opposite used to fight for before it started to introduce divisions, as is being done in this Bill.

In its report, Children and Young People: Framework for Partnership, the National Assembly for Wales has proposed that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child should underpin all service provision for children and young people in Wales. It is further proposed that all primary and secondary schools should establish school councils because it is believed that children should be listened to. I hope that that is something which will be further developed.

We are developing in our own way in Wales. We do have specific problems. We need to increase the skills base. Certain areas of our economy require skilled workers who, traditionally, we have not previously produced. However, by various means, the National Assembly for Wales has taken the matter forward—for example, by the introduction of the baccalaureate; the provision of a Welsh curriculum, a matter referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews; and the development of student support. Just as in Scotland, the coalition government in Wales are introducing learning and maintenance allowances for 16 to 18 year-olds, and learning and maintenance bursaries for students. We believe that it is very important that no one should be prevented continuing in education because of a lack of funds.

I welcome the Bill because it puts these matters into legislative form and gives the Welsh Assembly the tools to put its policies into effect. It is much more effective that these policies are being put into effect not by a Secretary of State with a political adviser and a group of civil servants behind him, but by a democratically elected body which will discuss what it is going to do. It will come together to consider the issues and the solutions, and put them into effect.

The only problem is that we have to come to Westminster to get the primary legislation to be able to do so, but we have put forward the proposals in the Bill with consent across the board. Not even Plaid Cymru dissents from the way in which we are developing education in Wales.

I have only one further comment on the Bill. An increase of faith schools in Wales would be unthinkable. I recall a colleague of mine who was educated in Belfast in a well-known Protestant school. He told me that he met his first Catholic at the age of six and his second Catholic at the age of 15. If we are to have a multiracial society, are we seeking the development of different cultures as separate streams, or are we seeking some kind of integration? We can accept faith schools as they are at the moment but, if we are seeking integration into a truly multiracial society, the development of faith schools must be entirely contrary to what we wish to achieve.

I confine myself to the Welsh provisions in the Bill. I welcome them and I shall support them as they pass through the House.

Photo of Lord Moser Lord Moser Crossbench 5:33, 11 March 2002

My Lords, the recent Ofsted report—an excellent document—paid tribute to the considerable progress made in our educational arrangements during the past two years. However, it also stated that we were still failing a great number of children. It is to that aspect that I wish to devote my remarks.

Before turning to the two issues I want to talk about, I should say that, in reading the Bill, I share the sense of puzzlement. On the one hand is the most welcome stress placed on more autonomy and flexibility and a greater emphasis on innovation and so on but, on the other, how we translate those worthy principles into something that is good for all schools and not only the successful ones remains a puzzle. How we give the local communities, where schools belong and thrive, their due involvement is another puzzle. But perhaps the Committee stage is the right time to talk about those issues.

The two matters I shall refer to relate to the unsuccessful part of the system. I declare an interest in basic skills in that for another week or two I shall be the chairman of the Basic Skills Agency, which has been prominent in the field. It is at the lower end of schooling—primary schools—and not least in tackling the problems of literacy and numeracy, that the Government deserve every possible credit. Enormous progress has been made and it looks as though the Government's key target for literacy—which is that 80 per cent of 11 year-olds will achieve level 4 or above at key stage 2—will be achieved, with a similar target for numeracy.

Eighty per cent is a very big number, but so is 20 per cent. I am more worried about the 20 per cent who will not achieve those targets. This remains a serious problem because it means that 20 per cent of children are unfit to go into secondary education—the toughest transition of all—because they lack the basic skills of literacy and numeracy to cope with the enormous problems of the secondary curriculum. Moreover, just when one may have been hoping that the problem of adult literacy and numeracy was on its way to solution, further inflows into that pool look inevitable.

The recent report which bears my name shows that some 7 million adults in this rich country have poor basic skills, which is shocking. It has shocked the nation and has led the Government, I am happy to say, to a promising strategy for a solution. The hope was that by stemming the flow of more illiterate and innumerate children from primary schools into secondary schools, that number would not grow—but we are not yet anywhere near that point, with 20 per cent still a problem.

That is the first point I wish to stress, simply to illustrate that, in spite of the enormous improvements made at primary level, there is still quite a long way to go, which will cost a great deal of money. There is no doubt that the greatest problems are at secondary level and I very much welcome the Government's decision to focus most attention on that sector.

The second point on which I wish to comment is the structural change foreshadowed in the Bill. The underlying principle is diversity and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, diversity is one thing but hierarchy is another. What are we facing? We have specialist schools; a new layer of advanced specialist schools is promised; there are academies replacing earlier city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts; and we have faith schools. I will not speak at length on those. Other noble Lords have mentioned them and no doubt there will be further opportunities to do so. But I share the view of those who stress the overriding importance of strengthening social cohesion in every possible way within our increasingly multi-cultural society and who see, certainly in single faith schools, a move in the other direction.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, there is too much hierarchical emphasis to these structural changes. We are rather obsessed with categories and hierarchies, a kind of infection of the league table virus from which we all suffer. The problems are obvious. Let me take specialist schools as an example. By the end of this year there will be 1,000 such schools out of a total of 3,500 secondary schools. Those selected will have considerable additional resources, so it will not be surprising if they do better than the others. They will be able to employ better teachers and have better facilities and they will probably have more motivated children and parents. However one phrases it, that means a two-tier system. As we are on this route, I can only express the hope that in due course all schools will have the advantages of this top tier.

The proposals for specialist schools give rise to another issue. They are rightly required to take poorer, weaker, struggling local schools under their wing. However, as Ofsted states in its report, that approach has yet to bear fruit. Moreover, is it not a mistake that, although the specialist schools have to link to five local schools, only one has to be a secondary school. Will the Minister comment on that? Would it not be better, given that primary schools are on the whole in better shape than secondary schools, for the arrangements to be changed so that specialist secondary schools have to link to perhaps four local secondary schools rather than primary ones?

The new academies are another privileged category, although they replace the previous schools of that type. I believe that they owe their origins in part to the American system of charter schools and private ownership and management developments. I have some links with the American education system. I remind your Lordships that in the United States neither experiment—neither the charter schools nor the financially managed school—has been claimed to be a total success educationally, which is what ultimately matters.

I am particularly worried about the potential influences of private ownership, which has yet to be tested. It is one thing for the PFI or PPP to spoil our London Underground system, but let us at least ring fence education from the negative effects of private involvement.

There is one common thread to the structural changes. Schools are graded as successful or not. If successful, they receive more money and so will become more successful; and that will perhaps means more freedom and flexibility.

My concern is with the other schools. The hope must be that in these hierarchies more resources and attention will gradually be directed towards the struggling and weaker schools. It is no good merely hoping that the poor schools will learn by some kind of osmosis from the success of the better schools. The evidence is against that. It does not work that way. In introducing the Bill in the other place, the Secretary of State stressed,

"the responsibility to raise standards in our weakest schools".

We are still missing a range of policies that will focus attention on secondary schools at the lower end.

Finally, I want to focus on two issues of disadvantage—those who remain short of basic skills and the schools that remain short of being favoured. Time is too short to talk about the things that matter most. I refer, for example, to the curricula—I am rather cheered by the new 14 to 19 consultative document—and above all to the teaching profession.

Nothing is more important in any education debate on any educational agenda than the future of our teaching profession. It is full of devoted, committed people. But there are still enormous problems of recruitment, retention and morale. These have recently been discussed in this House. I hope that there will be further opportunities for debate. The problems are vast. Of those who joined the teaching profession, in five years' time only half will be still be in it. That says everything and is not acceptable.

On a general point, everything that has been mentioned in the debate depends on resources. Fortunately, we are climbing up the resources ladder from the days when this country spent less than 5 per cent of GDP on education. I believe that the figure is now closer to 5½ per cent. That is still far short of the 7 to 8 per cent that is spent by some countries.

I was delighted, as was everyone involved in education, when the Prime Minister famously announced the three priorities for his government. The Government have been true to those priorities. I have no doubt that education belongs at the top of the political agenda—not only because it is basic to the quality of life of every one of us but because it actually helps to determine our future economic health. In that, it differs from other key priorities. Of course health and transport deserve every possibly priority and what can be spent on them must depend on our economic health. The same is true of education. But education is different because it actually determines our economic health. That difference needs always to be remembered.

Photo of Lord Sheppard of Liverpool Lord Sheppard of Liverpool Labour 5:46, 11 March 2002

My Lords, the first serious political opinion I ever held emerged from living and working in the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s. It was that the segregation that divides cities into vast one-class quarters is very damaging and needs to be tackled. When I moved to south London as Bishop of Woolwich, I saw the beginning of another segregation—by race. When I came to Liverpool, I saw both class and race segregating people—but, thank God, I saw determined efforts beginning to remove the bitter divisions between Protestant and Catholic that had marred the city.

Segregation is a serious issue. In my years in Liverpool, it was a high priority to me to seek to break down divisions of whatever kind—Protestant-Catholic, black-white, Christian, Jewish, Muslim. So I understand the anxiety expressed by some noble Lords about an increase in the number of faith-based schools. But I welcome that increase, and the variety that it can bring to our schools.

The accusation is being made that an increase in the number of faith-based schools will add to segregation. But are those critics suggesting that segregation has not already happened? The segregation that I met in east London had nothing to do with faith-based schools, and in so many cities the origins lie in completely different places. Housing, jobs and fear have created segregation. In some areas, 90 per cent of the children in county schools are Muslim. That is reality. So is the fact that Muslim communities have founded, and would continue to found, their own independent schools.

To say that segregation would be removed by a thoroughgoing secularism would be nonsense. Perhaps I may quote from the Runnymede Trust report on The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, chaired by my noble friend Lord Parekh. The report states:

"There is a tendency in western democracies to believe that secular society provides the best public space for equality and tolerance ... but secular society tends to push religion to the margins of public space and into the private sphere. Islamophobia and antisemitism merge with a more widespread rejection of religion, which runs through a significant part of 'tolerant' society, including the educated middle class and the progressive media".

The report says that anti-racist organisations frequently appear insensitive to forms of racism that target religious identity.

Tolerance and respect for other faiths grows from confidence and security in one's own identity and faith. Bringing schools in from the private sector means that some requirements can be made. One of the words of the moment in education is "clusters"—the idea of schools making links with other schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, said that setting up faith-based schools would set school against school. She made no mention of what the Secretary of State has been saying about a "family of schools".

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

My Lords, I did not say that the idea would set school against school; I said that there were some who feared that.

Photo of Lord Sheppard of Liverpool Lord Sheppard of Liverpool Labour

My Lords, I want to take that fear very seriously and I understand it.

My noble friend the Minister spoke about a culture of collaboration. A cluster of schools sponsored by different faiths and the local authority can be highly creative. Moving out from the secure base of belonging to a school in which their own faith is taught, children can meet others and work out what tolerance and respect mean. Pretending that religious faith is not there will not do that. Clusters can be a significant way of beginning to build some bridges. The Church leaders in Liverpool used to meet—and still do—with our opposite numbers in Belfast and Glasgow twice a year for 24 hours. Perhaps 10 years ago, our Belfast colleagues gave us a presentation on the EMU programme—education for mutual understanding—which is required of all schools in Northern Ireland. The Protestant child who was mentioned earlier who did not meet a Roman Catholic from when he was six until the age of 15 would not be able to do that today.

As I dare to mention Northern Ireland, no doubt if we could start all over again we would not start precisely where we are now. The same is true of Bradford. However, programmes such as EMU begin from where we are. Last week I rang Bishop Walsh, the Roman Catholic diocesan bishop in Belfast, to ask whether the programme continues. He said that it does, with enthusiastic support from schools. As we might expect, the links are easier and more successful in the areas where sectarian passions are not the strongest, but even in those areas where it is most difficult, the programme makes a beginning. There are a number of areas in other cities where we need to make a beginning. EMU is part of the required curriculum. It is cross-curricular, appearing especially in history, English, drama and RE. The EMU co-ordinator in each school has to make a report to the governing body every year. The programme insists on links between schools.

I could see such a programme being appropriate in other parts of the UK. I hope that Muslim leaders, for example, might echo the comments of the Roman Catholic bishops in Northern Ireland last November, that EMU sets out,

"to address issues of conflict and overcome the all-pervasive culture of silence on the causes and consequences of division".

Opening up the possibility of Muslim schools in the maintained sector sends a strong message of inclusion to that community. Many of their young people feel disenfranchised and excluded from places of influence and power. Our message to those young people is, "We want you as full citizens".

Let me say a little about Church of England schools. When I first became a bishop, as Bishop of Woolwich, I was made aware of criticism of Church schools in London of the kind that Frank Dobson has been making in another place. It was claimed that they created sink schools by creaming off the nice children. During those years, I learnt that any successful schools were in danger of doing that—faith-based or secular. I saw two Church schools that took more than their share of children with special needs. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn mentioned Archbishop Michael Ramsay school in Camberwell, which did just that, and no doubt still does.

Our ideal is that Church of England schools should not be simply for the children of Church families. Pressure on admissions has sometimes made them more like that, but the traditional C of E school has always wanted to serve the neighbourhood more widely. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has encouraged the Church of England to increase its number of secondary schools. If that happens, I have no doubt that it will make that traditional dream more possible.

When I moved to the North, I saw Church schools—in Wigan, for instance—that were clearly for the whole community. Lancashire taught me to be much more enthusiastic about Church schools than I had been in London. Archbishop Warlock and I in particular worked for a joint school with the Roman Catholics. It was very difficult for years because the population of Liverpool was declining and falling rolls meant that no new schools were being opened. However, I have been invited this May to celebrate five years of the joint Anglican and Roman Catholic Emmaus School—a large, two-form entry primary school, which is the first new school that Liverpool City Council had built for 25 years. I am also delighted to learn that a new city academy high school is proposed in the inner city in Liverpool, to be sponsored jointly by the Anglican diocese and the Roman Catholic archdiocese.

When these discussions take place, we seem to speak only about the Bradfords and Oldhams—places with large Muslim communities. There are also cities and towns with smaller Muslim communities that would find it very hard to run their own school. That is also true of Sikh and Hindu communities, in which parents are often glad to send their children to a school based on another faith. We have been glad to offer places to those who are not part of our Church. I well remember the leaders of the Muslim community coming to ask for our help when Liverpool education committee went co-educational. I am glad to say that our Archbishop Blanch Girls High School has for some years been happy to include a number of Muslim girls. Another school in Liverpool with a most honourable tradition in that respect is a Jewish high school—King David school—which has included perhaps 30 or 40 per cent of gentile children, with its particular appeal of specialising in music.

When my noble friend replies to the debate, I hope that she may be able to tell us that there will be a realistic programme along the lines of the Secretary of State's hopes for a family of schools and her own phrase of a culture of collaboration—perhaps through a programme building on the experiences of EMU from Northern Ireland. That would help pupils to feel secure in their own identity and worth and to experience steps in building mutually enriching relationships with others.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 5:58, 11 March 2002

My Lords, one of the problems with this debate is that there are so many good speakers that it is almost impossible to nip out for a cup of tea. However, I see that this is one of the exceptions. The Benches are emptying rapidly. Be back quickly, my Lords, because I shall not be long.

I have an interest to declare, as many know, as the editor of the Good Schools Guide. I am also one of the sponsors of a local school in its bid for technology college status. I am participating actively in the campaign that the Government are taking forward.

I shall save most of my comments for Committee. I am fond of detail. Many subjects have been raised today and I look forward greatly to debating them. I welcome many aspects of the Bill, although, along with many others, I note the tendency to do much more by secondary legislation and to give many more powers to the Secretary of State—a tendency that is twinned with a proposal to diminish the powers of this House to consider secondary legislation. If we are to go that way with Bills, we must go the other way with the powers of this House and give it much greater power to deal with secondary legislation.

Along with my noble friends, I am concerned by the trend towards centralisation. We have in the Department for Education and Skills a great fondness for pet projects and budgets of a few hundred million pounds given to this and that, and involving centralised control from the centre. The sort of thing we are telling local education authorities not to do and preventing them doing is springing up in the Department for Education and Skills. That is a trend which ought to be sat on. It is not the best way to run schools. We are producing a plethora of plans and forums—and even more in this Bill, all of which take the time of the most senior people in a school and the best people in a local education authority to formulate and then to make work. There are so many around at the moment that they cannot possibly work well. That cannot be the right way to go. We have a lot of good people out there in schools; we ought to give them more responsibility. We ought to think of the Department for Education and Skills much more as a centre of expertise, of initiation and encouragement—not of control in the sense of having to dot every "i" and cross every "t" but more in the sense of an enlightened Ofsted watching what is going on and lending a helping hand, or insisting on lending a helping hand, when something is clearly going wrong. We should not think of it in the sense of day-to-day control, ever looking upwards, even for little things. If I want to change a school day, I have to apply to the Secretary of State. That is utterly ridiculous and is the wrong way to go.

I am glad to see that we are slightly opening the door on new schools, but I am sorry to see that LEAs are to remain the gatekeepers for that. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, hymned Denmark as an example of a Scandinavian school system. If parents in Denmark get together in sufficient numbers, they have a right to start their own new state school. There are no controls on school numbers. If parents want to create a school with a particular character to suit their wishes and the needs of their children, they may do so. That has not led to a vast expansion in the number of schools, any more than the freedom to make jam sandwiches means that we are flooded with jam sandwiches as there are natural economic constraints on these matters. However, that process leads to a much more dynamic and much more parent-centred school system and one where the state has no control over what kinds of schools are created, where they are created and what their underlying religious, or any other, philosophy is. That works extremely well. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, having raised the subject of Denmark, will feel able to support me in Committee when I shall try to move a little further down that road.

One of the advantages of a Bill as diverse as this one is that you get a chance to ride a few of your own hobby-horses in Committee. I give the Minister advance notice that I shall be out there on one called "statistics". One of the great failings of a department for education which is supposed to know about these things is the statistics it produces. Take the performance tables. Every year or so it changes the bases. Does it provide historical data? No. The Scots do. When the Scots change the bases, they redo the historical data. You can get a time series. You can see how schools are doing. When the bases were changed again this year, no historical data were provided. I can get nothing out of the Department for Education and Skills to enable me to look back. That is destructive of a proper understanding of the way schools are going. If performance tables are meant to be out there so that we can, as the noble Baroness said, "judge" a trend, a trend is what we should be given and not a lot of discontinuous measurements on different bases.

We ought also to pay more attention to research. There are some wonderful projects going on. Beacon schools constitute one such project that I am enormously glad this Government have carried out. It has been sitting there waiting to be done for years and I am glad that the Government have done it. But what data are becoming available on how that system is being used, what its successes are and on what it takes to be a good beacon school? There is nothing on the DfES website. That is absolutely the kind of research that ought to be carried out to make the best of that kind of initiative. There is little good educational research; there needs to be a lot more. I shall come back to that particular hobby-horse in Committee.

The General Teaching Council's first disciplinary action is interesting. The Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 sets out the crime of unacceptable professional conduct which means conduct which falls short of the standards expected of a registered teacher. The first person to be accused under that rubric has two particular crimes against him. He handed to a registered inspector a folder of correspondence between himself and the head teacher; in other words, he told an inspector what was going on in the school so that the inspector knew what was really happening. He also handed to Edexcel correspondence between himself and the head teacher which constituted a formal complaint about the running of the GCSE mathematics examination; in other words, he told the authority responsible for running the mathematics examination what was being done wrongly in his school. I find it totally astonishing that the first case to which the GTC turned its attention involves closing the gates on openness as if it is saying that it should be illegal for a teacher to blow the whistle and, indeed, if you blow the whistle, you risk your entire career and you could be prevented teaching ever again. I hope that we shall be able to add a small amendment to that bit of the 1998 Act to make it clear that that kind of action is to be praised, and not condemned as a crime.

I turn to religious schools. I find myself aligned with my noble friend Lord Baker on that matter. I have severe doubts about the effect that religious schools have. One can see too may examples—Oldham is one of them—where religion has been used to exclude children of another faith and deny them a part in the community. The schools ask, "How can we turn away Christians"? However, if a school is to represent the community and to be the kind of school which the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, wished, it has to turn away children of its own faith community. I have no difficulty with schools which hold to a faith and all the things of the spirit that faith can bring. However, I refer to the issue of having only children of that particular faith in that school. If a private school wishes to do that, it should be permitted to do so. Most private religious schools, except perhaps some that represent minority religions, admit children of all faiths because they need the money. By and large it is only in the state system that religious schools are exclusive. If you want a decent school in some parts of London, you have to convert to Catholicism about three years before you conceive, go to mass every day and produce a certificate from a priest to get access to state money to pay for the education of your child. That seems to me entirely wrong and not the way in which the state should disburse its money. It is fine to permit a religious-based school to control its intake, but it is not fine to make little exclusive sects at the expense of the taxpayer and all of us.

I have seen some fascinating research. People have carried out controlled experiments in which pupils in one class have been taught nothing about racial and religious division while pupils in another class have followed a course designed to improve tolerance. In every case the class that is properly taught is less racially tolerant: as they know what the enemy is like. They find it easier to pick out points of difference and to see others as different because they understand more about them. However, if I were brought up with a Jewish boy or a Muslim in a mixed community, it would be ridiculous for me to regard them as different as I would recognise immediately so many points in common. To bring up people separately builds in differences. You can afford a little of that in a society, but once you start to treat large groups in a society in that way it becomes dangerous over the long term.

We shall have a great deal of fun talking through the curriculum. What Lord Denning said about prison education should inform a good deal of what we say. There is a great deal of understanding and innovation taking place as regards how to bring kids back into education who were lost to it when at school. If we can understand a little of the successful experiments in that area, we may understand a little about what we should have done in schools to stop that situation arising in the first place.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 6:09, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that only a week ago I spoke at a Catholic sixth form college in London, at which 50 per cent of its 850 students were from other faiths—25 per cent were Hindu and 10 per cent were Muslim. I hope that he realises on reflection that the caricature that he painted of Catholic schools is extraordinarily unfair.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I did not give a caricature and my point did not apply to all such schools but to very many of them. I see many schools and know that some schools are as the noble Lord described. However, to give a counter-example, there was an excellent sixth form college in Bristol that the Catholic Church closed because it could not find enough Catholics for it. As he will remember, that caused a great furore at the time.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, the noble Lord makes the case for the integrated nature of Church schools and Church education. As he said, if there are not enough people from a particular denomination, those schools simply do not survive. The figures show that across the country, more than 20 per cent of those in Catholic schools come from outside the Catholic Church. That does not bear out the proposition that he placed before your Lordships' House.

I declare an interest by virtue of the chair that I hold at Liverpool John Moores University and as a foundation governor of the Liverpool Bluecoat School. Perhaps more relevantly, before going to another place, I spent seven years as a teacher. For five years I worked in the state sector with children with special needs, and the two years before that I worked in the voluntary aided sector in a Church school in Kirby, on the outskirts of Liverpool. I strongly welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, on the nature of those schools in that area. I am a product of Church education myself and my four children are currently being educated in a Church school. I therefore recognise what he and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said about the way in which those schools have risen to the challenge—I stress that it is a challenge—of ensuring that we do not slide into sectarianism or division. We need to draw out the best—the generosity of spirit—that is deep inside every person and which is waiting to manifest itself if only it can be drawn out.

In broadly welcoming the general thrust of the Bill, I shall at this stage raise only two questions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who said that there will be plenty of time at later stages of the Bill to debate our many other questions. My first question is about the general level of morale—many people in the teaching profession feel a sense of devaluation. My second question involves the question of ideology.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that we must concentrate most during the passage of the Bill on the immediate needs of teachers. I entirely agree with her. The National Union of Teachers says that of every 100 final-year trainee teachers, 40 will not enter the classroom and a further 18 will leave the profession within three years. The Government's own figures, published in February, put the number of vacancies over the past year at more than 5,000. Although there are 7,000 more teachers than 12 months ago—I congratulate the Government on that and welcome the figure—we are still not keeping pace with need.

Mike Tomlinson, the Chief Inspector of Schools, candidly admits in his annual report that mathematics, science, foreign languages, religious education and design and technology have all been adversely affected. He said:

"Where a subject is taught by a high proportion of teachers with limited qualifications in the subject, this lack of subject knowledge manifests itself in lower expectations, weaker teaching, and less effective learning in the subject".

It is suggested that there are now fewer than 20,000 maths specialists in England and Wales, compared with 40,000 some 20 years ago. Academic reports into the causes of that problem cite stress, abuse, administrative overload and long hours as contributory factors in repelling potential teachers. Accelerated and never-ending pressure for ever-improved results—that issue has already been raised—also plays its part as a negative force.

In September, school rolls will swell by about 40,000 pupils. That will require 2,000 extra teachers just to keep class sizes at their present levels. Alan Smithers, who is director of Liverpool University's centre for education and employment, has warned that,

"staff may be expected to teach outside their subject or the continuity of children's education could be put at risk by a succession of supply staff".

The significant increase in the use of supply staff is one of the least-observed changes in our schools and one which I should like to be capped in the Bill. Of the 465,000 teachers in the UK, 19,000 are supply teachers. That figure is up from 12,000 in 1995. Education Data Surveys has put the costs to schools at around £600 million, with agencies taking some £200 million of that. One London school has spent £37,000 on supply staff and it is estimated that it costs schools up to £200 per day simply to hire one supply teacher. That raises questions about the effects not only on school budgets but also on stability and quality. I would welcome the Minister's response to the chief inspector's comment that supply teachers,

"perform less well than any other category of teacher; with less than half of their lessons being good or better compared with two thirds of the lessons of qualified and permanent members of staff".

It is especially sad that that should be so when general standards have been improving significantly. It is also sad that the problem is at its worst in what are already the most disadvantaged areas.

The cost of recruitment is also becoming wholly disproportionate. Last summer, one head teacher spent more than £35,000 on agency fees in an attempt to recruit staff. Others have had to fund visits overseas to find teachers. Whether those costs come from the Government's recruitment and retention fund or from school budgets, it is money that could be better used. Liverpool University's research claims that pupil behaviour is the second most common reason given by teachers for leaving the profession. No one would disagree with the Warwick University study—it has already been referred to in this debate—which reported that 80 per cent of teachers believe that pupil behaviour has deteriorated during their time as teachers. I hope that the Minister will tell us, perhaps when she replies tonight, how the Government's new initiatives on exclusion and problem pupils are developing.

Teachers need to be retained and new ones recruited; that, rather than over-reliance on supply teachers, is what we need. If the immediate haemorrhage is to be averted, it will require more drastic measures to reduce teacher workload and to enhance the professional status of teachers. That will need to be accompanied by less emphasis on targets—that point has been made by several noble Lords—and more emphasis on the children who are being educated and on the vocational calling of the teaching profession.

If it is important to address questions about teachers' status and morale, it is also important to avoid an overly dogmatic and ideological approach, which can undermine schools and teachers. In so far as the Bill seeks to free teachers and schools in that regard, I welcome that. However, the imposition of a mandatory quota, which we fought in another place, is the reverse of that trend. That is an affront to schools in the voluntary aided sector and such diktats should be vigorously resisted. I congratulate the Government on having done so.

At the end of World War II, many aspirations were properly met in what Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, described in another place as the historic concordat between the state and the Church. That became the foundation of the Education Act 1944. That legislation was the fruit of a remarkable partnership between a Conservative and Anglican, R. A. Butler, and the Labour Member, Chuter Ede, a Free Church man. Butler was President of the Board of Education and Chuter Ede was his Private Parliamentary Secretary.

It is extraordinary that that legislation—it is perhaps the most important legislation of the 20th century—has stood us in such good stead for so long. It stands in sharp contrast to the overly partisan, ill-considered, meretricious and often contradictory changes that central government and local authorities have imposed on education during the 50 years that followed. Among many other things, the 1944 Act provided a small grant towards the cost of building Church schools.

Following that Act—the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, mentioned this—the Church of England decided to scale down significantly its commitment to education. Of the 9,000 Church of England schools in existence in 1944, nearly half have closed. However, in total in the UK today, there are 6,384 religious primary schools and 589 secondary schools of different denominations. All but 40 of them are Christian. What signal does that send—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, in this regard—in multicultural, multiracial Britain? The suggestion is that some Church schools may exist—no noble Lord has argued that we should close down those schools—but that people from other faiths will not be permitted to have similar schools. I notice that a noble Lord on the Back Benches opposite is shaking his head and suggesting that that is what he supports.

Following the publication of the report of my noble friend Lord Dearing, the decision of the Church of England to create new faith schools is, I believe, a welcome recognition of the need to change. Many people, some of only nominal belief, want an education which offers more than places in the academic league tables. The Church of England has some 775,000 places in its primary schools but only 150,000 places in its secondary schools. Clearly there is an unmet demand.

In another place it was suggested, and implied again in an earlier speech today, that the allocation of places in the present system is based upon hypocrisy. One honourable Member in another place said:

"Many people suddenly find a faith and start going to church"— a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—in order to get their children into Church schools. It is true that some Church schools are over-subscribed, and parish priests and vicars provide affirmation of Church commitment. But who is to say how deep is another person's faith, and who is to question a person's desire to return to it or to prevent him from transmitting his belief to his children?

According to Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi—I agree with him—

"Denominational schools have a great strength. Often they have a clear ethos that gives consistency and power to the lessons they teach".

He adds that a survey of 34,000 teenagers in England and Wales, carried out by the Jewish Association for Business Ethics, found that children educated in such an ethos,

"are less likely to lie, steal or to drink alcohol illicitly . . . the evidence is that teaching about the morality of everyday life does make a difference".

The imposition of arbitrary quotas will undermine ethos but it will also undermine the self-governance which allows Church schools to determine their own composition. And such questions must be determined locally according to local needs and circumstances.

As I heard personally from teachers working in Church schools in Oldham—a part of the country referred to during the debate—they place a great premium on preparing their children for active citizenship and for the responsibilities that that entails. To imply otherwise illustrates a profound ignorance of what goes on in those schools.

Lorna Fitzsimons, the Member of Parliament for Rochdale, said in a very good speech in another place that when she looked into the disruptions and rioting that had taken place in Oldham, she found that those involved had not been educated in Church schools; they were children from non-integrated state schools where it may certainly be the case that the whole basis of teaching citizenship should be reconsidered.

I end with a quotation from the Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols. In a trenchant and hard-hitting statement he expressed his anger at the caricature of Catholic education, saying that Catholic schools are the fruit of "a struggle" to which Catholic parents,

"have contributed financially for many generations".

He said:

"Admission quotas could effectively undermine the cohesiveness of the school".

In welcoming the general thrust of the Bill, I hope that, when we come to consider it further, we shall resist the temptation to break the concordat and the trust that exists between faith schools and the state; that we shall recognise the extraordinary contribution that these schools make; that we shall strongly affirm them as a valued and integral part of the provision of education in this country; and that we shall not add to the pressures that already affect the teaching profession.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour 6:23, 11 March 2002

My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate. I welcome some parts of the Bill, not because the Bill is long and complex, which it certainly is, but because I believe that it takes some steps in the right direction. It consolidates some law, introduces new freedoms for schools and LEAs to get on with the job and introduces new legislation which I believe will be of benefit to children, young people, schools, their communities and local government.

However, I have three main concerns which I shall speak about shortly. I start with three positive aspects about the Bill: the opportunities for local government; the opportunities to reform 14-to-19 education; and the opportunities for new forms of governance.

I turn, first, to the subject of local government. There is much in the Bill for local government to do, although it does not appear that all those involved appreciate that. I know that there are concerns about the imposition of a minimum schools budget, and I look forward to hearing the Government justify that new power for the Secretary of State.

Although the new power may detract from the freedom of local authorities to determine local needs and allocate resources accordingly, education is a national service and there has always been an element of national responsibility in spending on what is a national investment in our future. I hope that local authorities will be able to use the new responsibilities in the Bill positively.

The duty to co-ordinate admissions arrangements gives LEAs a responsibility to overcome some of the problems with the present admission arrangements. I should have liked to see the Government do more in relation to admissions. Who will determine the criteria for admissions? Where is that to go? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer those questions. Part 1 of the Bill allows LEAs, together with their schools, to propose new ways of working—innovation to raise educational standards. Innovation has to be welcomed. I wish that perhaps education law had not become so restrictive and that the innovation that occurred in Cambridgeshire under Henry Morris could have happened without recourse to the Secretary of State. There are concerns about how the new powers to innovate will affect teachers and young people. I look forward to the debates which we are bound to have on that issue.

I welcome the Government's Green Paper on 14-to-19 education, Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards, and the parts of the Bill which support it—particularly the new definition of secondary education in Clause 170—which will enable vocational education to take place off school premises for children at the end of their secondary education. I shall be interested in the debates on the new powers for the Learning and Skills Council to rationalise sixth form provision. I have always felt that small sixth forms are uneconomic and that they do not provide a wide enough choice of subjects for children to follow. Again, I look forward very much to what I imagine will be heated debates on that subject.

I have known many attempts to develop educational provision for the 14-to-16 group, particularly during the last half century. All have been found wanting in some respects, but I hope that the proposals will provide a coherent system which meets the needs of young people. I like the greater flexibility.

I welcome the Bill's provision for new forms of school governance, particularly with federated schools and extended schools. Cambridgeshire pioneered extended schools more than 60 years ago with the creation of community colleges. Those secondary schools provided not only education for young people but learning opportunities for adults. One of the great challenges of education today is how to get schools to work together for the benefit of all the young people in an area, and those not so young as well. That could be assisted by federating schools. I look forward to hearing from the Government how that will be done while still preserving the character of individual schools.

I have three concerns about the Bill, two of which mainly relate to what is not in the Bill. I am concerned about the additional bureaucracy, workload and central powers in the Bill, and about the DfES's transforming secondary school programme and whether it will cause disparity of funding between schools. Lastly, I am concerned about the policy on faith schools.

I turn to the issues of bureaucracy, workload and central powers. There will be an increase in workload. Every new Bill, especially one which is 210 clauses long, requires new things to be done, new strategies to be worked on, new ways of funding and new targets to be met. I want schools to provide education and I want teachers to teach and not fill out forms. I support what the Government have done with the teachers in reviewing workload. I hope that it is successful, but I want to know whether the Bill will help or hinder the work of schools.

Along with the additional workload, the Bill also gives the Secretary of State more powers. I hope that we shall be able to scrutinise those new powers in Committee. I am not against shifting legislation from the statute book, but it does need care so that the key principles of what is being attempted are set out in primary legislation while the details are in secondary legislation or, if possible, abandoned altogether. At present the detail in regulations can be enormous. The school government regulations is a sizeable book covering 57 regulations and six schedules. The accompanying DfES Guide to the Law for School Governors is a large A4 folder. I hope that we can find ways of reducing the amount of legislation if not in this Bill perhaps in the next one. Are we to have a consolidated education Bill? We certainly need one.

I know that Opposition parties will make much of the taking of central powers and additional bureaucracy. I hope that the Government will be able to defuse the debate by recognising that much detailed work needs to take place to reform the nature of education legislation. Perhaps the Government will make proposals about how education law will be reformed; otherwise, I fear that that may take up much time in Committee when we should be discussing the new proposals.

While I wish to support the thrust of the Government's proposals on transforming secondary education, I am concerned that there will be back-door selection by secondary schools that receive Beacon or specialist school status. Although there is not much in the Bill about improving secondary education, I am concerned about the academies and how they may disrupt the existing arrangements for school choice. The Bill also gives the Secretary of State new grant-giving powers to reward schools that have achieved a new status.

I am concerned that there should be equality of funding between schools and that the Secretary of State should not use those powers to fund schools more generously because of their perceived performance. I would have thought that as a basic principle—one that the Labour Opposition used to oppose grant-maintained schools—pupils should not have more money spent on their education because of the accident of which school they happen to attend. The Higher Education Consortium for Special Education is anxious about that.

The Government do not need to legislate to bring about more faith schools or to extend the range of faiths that have voluntary-aided status. A century ago the future of Church schools was the main educational debate in England. This year is the centenary of one of the major pieces of education legislation which brought religious schools under the management of the local authorities. The Education Act 1902 affected the politics of the rest of the decade, with various Liberal government attempts to undo it, mainly stopped by the House of Lords. I suspect that in the next century this House will still be debating faith schools.

I want to quote from an article on exclusion and inclusion, by Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize winner. He finds that faith-based schools are divisive and damaging, as I do, despite the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Sheppard. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, towards the end of his speech, was moving in that direction as well. The article states:

"the public policy of placing children in faith-based schools . . . may sometimes come with a severe reduction of educational opportunities that could help informed choice on how to live. The purpose of education is not only to inform a child about different cultures in the world (including the one to which his or her family may, in one way or another, belong), but also to help the cultivation of reasoning and the exercise of freedom in later life. Something very important is lost if the doors of choice are firmly shut on the face of young children, on the misguided belief that tradition makes choice unnecessary . . . You may think I am talking about Madrassas in Pakistan, or religious schools here, but I am actually talking about also Britain. Such has been the state of confusion about identities, and the force of the implicit belief that a person has no choice over priorities regarding his identity, that nothing particularly wrong is seen in the lack of choice for children in the new dispensation regarding 'faith-based schools' (Muslim or Hindu or Christian) in the new multi-ethnic Britain. The human right that is lost in this is, of course, the children's right to a broad education that prepares them to choose, rather than just to follow".

As a postscript to that—Amartya Sen mentions children's rights—I raise a point that I have often raised in this House, that is the right of children to express their views and to have them taken seriously within education. When in opposition during the passage of the Education Act 1994 Labour advocated strongly in both Houses for the right of pupils to be consulted about matters that affect them. We lost the argument then but society and politics have moved on. These days there can be few politicians who reject the logic and principle of listening to children and including them appropriately in decisions about their education and about the running of their schools.

Increasingly, children and young people are encouraged to take active roles in their local communities and in improving the design and delivery of public services. The Government have issued guidance to all government departments requiring them to produce action plans for involving children and young people in developing policies and services. The time is now absolutely right for children and young people to be given a statutory entitlement to consultation about decisions in education that affect them. Scottish children already have such a right, introduced through the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act 2000.

I am aware that the Government have offered guidance on that, but that is not enough. Such guidance will simply encourage good schools and others will leave it to gather dust. It has to be on the face of the Bill, as in Scotland. I hope that the Minister can comment on that in her reply.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach Conservative 6:36, 11 March 2002

My Lords, although I am not sure that I agree with all the reservations expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady David, I wholeheartedly agree with her questions on the meaning of certain parts of the Bill. I believe that elaboration is required.

I want to touch on three aspects of the Bill. First, I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said in her forceful speech, that it would be churlish of those on this side of the House not to recognise that the Bill has many good aspects. Its objective is to raise standards in secondary schools in England and Wales, which we wholeheartedly welcome. For 20 years I have been arguing for four of the proposals outlined by the Minister. The first is greater delegation to head teachers, to classroom teachers and to governors.

When I was a special adviser in Downing Street, my Minister used to say, "Brian, teachers know far more about what to do in a classroom than you and I and we should not be as prescriptive as we look like being in legislation". Looking back, the legislation was far too prescriptive. The Bill gives greater flexibility on staffing; on the sharing of staff, with good departments linking up with departments in other schools; on employing people from further and higher education; on having trained assistants in the classroom—not equivalent to teachers but complementing them; on having greater flexibility in governance; and on encouraging innovation. The principle of delegation is to be welcomed.

Similarly, there should be a lighter touch on regulation when it is clear that a school does not need the degree of regulation that is in place. I was trained as an economist. If one considers secondary education as an industry, one sees that it is an extraordinarily regulated industry. To the extent that this Bill deregulates, it is excellent.

Thirdly, and perhaps a little contentiously, I feel that a major aspect of the Bill is extending diversity. I have never seen diversity as fundamentally opposed to the comprehensive principle. The kind of schools that we need in this country should be sufficiently diverse so that in a city a child can have a choice and say, "I want to go to a school that suits my needs best of all". I have seen the whole movement—city technology colleges, specialist schools and now academies and so on—as an attempt to extend that principle. If I were being romantic, my ideal would be a situation where every school in Britain was a specialist school. By having choice between specialist schools, we could help individual pupils realise their potential. Fourthly, greater transparency in funding appeals to me. We on this side of the House support the idea that money given to a local authority and an LEA gets into the classroom.

I believe, therefore, that the Bill has a logic to it. It states that we want to raise standards in secondary schools; and that we shall do so by delegating more, having lighter regulation, flexibility and different kinds of schools and ensuring that the money gets to the classroom. In saying that, noble Lords may feel that I should be speaking from the other side of the House. However, on reading the Bill on Saturday evening—it is not the best time to read a Bill as complex as this—I suddenly felt dismayed. On the one hand, the Bill puts forward these great principles. Nevertheless, I felt that they were being anchored in a sea of bureaucracy.

I give some examples. If a school wants to apply for exemptions on the curriculum it has, first, to consult the parents. If it wants to apply for exemption on pay and conditions of teachers, the Bill states that the school has to consult each teacher in the school and any others who may have an interest. A school cannot start a company without the explicit permission of the LEA. Further regulations will be introduced in which the LEA may be the supervising authority for the company. Providing community facilities seems an excellent idea. Again, the school has to go to the LEA; and again the LEA can issue regulations. There are two new advisory bodies: the schools forums; and the admissions forums. Again there will be more meetings and more regulation.

From talking to teachers, heads and governors, I believe that they want to be told: "This is what you have. Get on with it". The last thing they want is to be given freedom and alongside that freedom extra responsibility in terms of consultation, being part of new bodies and so on.

My next reservation—it has been mentioned forcefully already—relates to the Henry VIII powers that the Bill gives to the Secretary of State. I recognise that once one deregulates in this way, the Secretary of State has to have certain powers. If we give schools powers, for example, to borrow money and to start a business, what will be the implication on the school if it goes bust? It is wrong to attack the issue simply as centralisation. A measure of centralisation is necessary. In the deregulation by the Conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s, we introduced an element of centralisation in order to make deregulation effective. But as my noble friend Lady Blatch said so forcefully, under Clause 2(1) the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales may by order make provision,

"conferring on the applicant exemption from any requirement imposed by education legislation".

That is a massive change from everything we have known. I am not constitutionally opposed to a degree of centralisation but surely some constraints could be imposed on the freedom we are giving the applicants in that provision.

My next point relates to Wales. I may part company from two previous fellow countrymen who spoke on the subject. Parts of the Bill relate to England and Wales, parts to England only and parts to Wales only. I seek guidance from the Minister on what this House can and cannot do in Committee in relation to Welsh issues. In this House, I have supported strongly, and believe in, devolution for Wales. However, I have a problem about why certain clauses of the Bill apply to England only and not to Wales. My problem is this. The Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in Wales issued a paving document—it has been referred to already—entitled The Learning Country. That document is similar to a White Paper but totally different from the Bill. I am told that the Bill has not been discussed in a plenary session of the Welsh Assembly: that a statement was made and a few questions asked. The Education Committee took something like two hours to discuss the Bill.

The powers in Clauses 62 to 67 on academies, city colleges, and additional secondary schools relate only to England. I find it inconceivable that Wales could not also benefit from them. I find it inconceivable that some form of specialist school more suited to the community would not be as relevant in Swansea, Bridgend, Cardiff, Newport and the valleys as to England. I have no desire to question the integrity of the devolution process. We must respect the wishes of the people of Wales with respect to Welsh legislation. I do not question that. However, if an amendment were introduced enabling the Minister for Education in Wales to have the provision included in the Bill, it need not be taken up. But at least we would have passed primary legislation so that if the Minister changed her mind or another Minister of State came in with a different view, he or she would be able to do that. As drafted, the Bill is a missed opportunity for Wales. I should like to hear the Minister's views on the subject.

Thirdly, on the issue of faith schools, rarely do I find myself in disagreement with my noble friend Lord Baker. However, on this issue there is a nuance of difference. The White Paper was more fulsome on faith schools than the Minister today. The White Paper states that we wish to welcome faith schools with a distinctive ethos and character into the maintained sector where there is clear local agreement. I believe that the present debate over faith schools was introduced by the wonderful report of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. What comes out of that report is that faith schools are very popular with parents. That is something we have to accept. Why are they popular with parents? As the right reverend Prelate said, they are popular partly because they have a distinctive ethos: a moral and spiritual basis for education. It is partly because of discipline and partly an expectation of good academic results.

As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sheppard, mentioned, most faith schools are genuine community schools. Church of England schools are there to serve the community as well as to teach Christian faith. They are not there to proselytise. We must remember that the Church of England became serious about education in 1811. It did so specifically to help poor communities which were suffering because of industrialisation. That was their rationale. Catholic schools were built up in the 19th century in order to help poor immigrant families and to bring them into an inclusive community. As the right reverend Prelate said, the Archbishop of Canterbury has made it clear that Church of England schools should not exclude people of other faiths and of no faith. The House of Bishops has said the same. I worship at All Souls Church, Langham Place, which is just at the top of Regent Street. We have a Church of England school. Forty-seven per cent of its pupils are Muslim. More than 50 per cent are from non-Christian faiths; 14 per cent are of no declared faith; only 35 per cent are Christian; and 12 per cent are Anglican. The reason that Church schools work is that they manage to bring together the home, the parish and the school. That is a tremendous advantage. Why interfere with it by having something like a 25 per cent quota?

I recognise that there are objections to Church schools. Some come from people who are declared to be secular. Amartya Sen may well be in that category. They feel that a secular foundation would be a better one. This is a great subject. We cannot go into it in any detail now. It seems to me that, as the Secretary of State for Education and Skills said, we are in danger of making Church schools a scapegoat for other problems.

Can anyone really believe that the lack of integrated schools in Northern Ireland is the reason for the issues which it faces when it has had, frankly, hundreds of years of discrimination against the Catholic community? Likewise, can people feel that in some of our inner cities—in towns of northern England where one has second generation immigrants who find it very difficult to find jobs—that faith schools can somehow explain the problem rather than the issue of poverty?

I would encourage anyone who has not done so to read the report of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. There is an enormous amount of good will in faith schools. My experience of them has been that they are not narrow, proselytising bodies but that they are there to serve the community. Far from being divisive in our society I believe that they can be integrative. Therefore, I commend them to your Lordships.

Photo of Lord Plant of Highfield Lord Plant of Highfield Labour 6:52, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I shall devote most of my remarks to faith schools. I welcome many of the provisions of the Bill. I should also like to say a few brief words, partly inspired by what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, about the diversity that the Bill will encourage which will not turn into rigidity, particularly at the age of 14.

I say that with some feeling since I failed the 11-plus. At the age of 14 it was assumed that I was someone of a practical bent. That turned out to be a completely false judgment. My first piece of career advice from the local authority careers adviser, so that I could begin to think about what I should major on in school, was that I might like to think of becoming a mastic asphalt spreader. As time went on, I became an academic philosopher. I do not know whether that has been to the benefit of the philosophical world, but it has certainly been to the benefit of the mastic asphalt spreading industry.

However, I do believe that it is very important that children in schools have many opportunities for change throughout their career. We do not want to be committed to lifelong learning beyond school with lots of new opportunities and so forth while the regulation of the school curriculum makes such changes less possible for young people.

I want to use my speech to express some anxieties about the provisions in the Bill which would allow for the potential expansion of faith-based schools. I fully accept that there are important arguments in favour of the establishment of such schools, but I still have misgivings. I want to make it clear from the start that my misgivings are not based on some kind of aggressive secularism. I have been a faithful member of the Church of England throughout my life. Indeed, I was accepted for ordination in that church in the 1960s. That was going to be my second career after mastic asphalt spreading. But, as time went on, I felt that I was not capable of the priesthood either.

My wife's first teaching post was in a Church of England school. My three sons attended Church infant to primary schools because they were our local schools. My youngest son is currently doing his teaching practice in a Roman Catholic school in Woking. A daughter-in-law teaches in a Church school. So I am not coming at this issue in an aggressively secular way. Nevertheless, I have qualms about the proposals in the Bill.

So, what are the arguments in favour of the expansion of state-funded faith schools? I think that we can distinguish five separate arguments. First, there is parental choice. Parents who profess strong moral and religious beliefs are entitled to have their children educated in a school where the ethos and the teaching represents their deeply held convictions.

Secondly, there is an argument about fairness and justice. The state has supported the establishment and maintenance of schools for Roman Catholics and members of the Church of England. Therefore, in fairness, other denominations within Christianity, and other religions, should be able to use public funds to support education, consistent with the values, ethos and teaching of those religions.

Thirdly, there are the results of such schools. It is argued that the schools produce good academic results; they have high standards of educational attainment, high levels of discipline and low levels of truancy and exclusion. Supporters argue—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was saying this—that there is a close correlation between the religious and moral ethos of these schools and those types of attainment.

Fourthly, in many areas of British society we are witnessing a decline in a sense of discipline, moral responsibility and moral authority. If society is to sustain high moral standards, that cannot be done primarily by the state. It has to be the job of parents, churches and schools in some kind of relationship. It is then claimed that Church schools bring together parents and schools in a common moral enterprise, and that that will have an impact on strengthening the moral fabric of society.

The fifth argument is the one that is I suppose reflected in the Runnymede report, which my noble and right reverend friend Lord Sheppard mentioned. It is that a sense of cultural and religious identity is essential for those who come from groups within society with a strong sense of those things. It is important that that is capable of being maintained rather than eroded through the educational system.

It is no part of my case to underestimate or belittle the importance of these arguments. What I want to do, however, is to look at the other side of the coin. It is surely vital for our society, as the noble Lord, Lord Moser, said, to have a sense of its own identity, of the common values that unite it—a sense of social cohesion. Collective action in both peace and war ultimately has to draw upon common beliefs and values—a sense of common citizenship.

At one time in British society these values and beliefs may have been a matter of tradition and habit. We shared, by and large, the same kind of moral heritage. Society was more homogeneous in cultural, religious and ethnic terms than it is now. In our day we cannot just assume a sense of common civic culture and a sense of civic virtue. It has to be worked on and created out of the many diverse groups that make up British society.

Given the importance of a sense of social cohesion, it is very important that we do not go too far down the road of emphasising what is sometimes called "the politics of difference"—what separates us rather than what unites us in the exercise of a sense of common citizenship. One of the central values of citizenship in a pluralist society of the kind in which we live has to be mutual respect and toleration. These concerns with common identity, common values, mutual respect and toleration are not just theoretical issues, as we saw from the riots in northern cities last year.

No doubt those with a strong belief in the expansion of faith-based education will hold up what they sincerely regard as an ideal and practical picture of how faith-based education, far from undermining a sense of common identity, will in fact enhance it. I think that that was precisely the point that my noble and right reverend friend Lord Sheppard and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, were making. Those coming through to adult citizenship from faith-based schools will have a strong sense of their moral responsibility and identity through their membership of the faith community which has also been sustained by faith-based education. From this they will engage actively in common and civic tasks in society. On this view, there is no conflict between the recognition and, indeed, the funding of difference and the emergence and upholding of a sense of common identity. So, parental choice, religious identity and common values can all be held together.

If this ideal picture were to turn out to be the most likely one, I would have no practical qualms. However, I am worried that this may not be quite how things turn out. My worry is that faith-based education may not continue in the rather benign way that the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, experienced in Southport, because the fastest-growing areas of religion are of a fundamentalist and dogmatic kind. That is not just true of Islam, although we talk rather glibly so often of Islamic fundamentalism, but it is also true in the context of Christianity and, for all I know, of Judaism as well.

I have absolutely no objection to people holding their religious beliefs in a fundamentalist way. That is fine, but if faith schools that cater, or come to cater, for forms of fundamentalist forms of religion were to be established, there would be genuine concerns in respect of public policy and for a sense of common citizenship and common identity. The reason for that is simple: a fundamentalist regards it as unreasonable to disagree with his or her beliefs, "If I know the truth, why should I tolerate or respect dissent?". However, respect for others, toleration and a recognition that it is reasonable to disagree on such matters as religion are among the common values that are essential to a liberal democratic society marked by pluralism. They are essential features of the social cohesion about which the noble Lord, Lord Moser, talked. Yet fundamentalism does not recognise the reasonableness of disagreement between people over precisely those deep values of religious belief. So, although we must take into account parents' beliefs and choices, we cannot be indifferent to the potential consequences of such choices on the common values without which society cannot be sustained.

Indeed, it could be argued that faith communities, including those who hold their beliefs in a fundamentalist way—in the sense that I use the term—will receive state support if the Bill goes through, precisely in terms of the recognition of mutual tolerance and reasonable disagreement. After all, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, said, perhaps the most persuasive argument for the extension of faith schools to religious minorities would be on the basis of fairness and justice—the very ideas that are founded on a sense of mutual toleration and a recognition of reasonable disagreement. It would be odd, to say the least, to use such arguments in favour of the extension of religion-based schools if the ethos and teaching of some of those schools did not embody the very principles that have justified their own funding.

Critics of the position that I outline would say that fundamentalism in schools can be constrained through Ofsted inspections and other measures. I doubt that. Although I am sure that Ofsted does an exceptionally good job in monitoring teaching standards and delivery, it is difficult to gauge a school's ethos on the basis of limited and infrequent inspection, partly because an ethos is not codified.

How might we respond to concerns about the possible use of faith schools by fundamentalists and those who wish to exclude people from other faiths? Constraints on the further development of faith schools are needed. That might be done through the proposals that my honourable friend Frank Dobson made in another place; I can see the difficulties of that approach. It might also be done by means of voluntary controlled schools, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, or through more informal procedures such as those that operate in Northern Ireland, which were mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sheppard. If we are to go down that track, I should like to see the emergence of multi-faith schools rather than single-faith schools only.

It is important that schools play a full part in their community, that they should not be exclusionary bodies, and that we learn respect and mutual toleration through, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, living with people of different beliefs, not just learning theoretically about those beliefs. If we are to facilitate and endorse faith-based schools, we must at the same time examine ways to ensure that they are neither exclusionary nor fundamentalist in terms of excluding a sense of reasonable disagreement.

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench 7:06, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I am not alone in seeing the Bill as something of a curate's egg. Many noble Lords have welcomed its aspirations to reduce the lockstep of the middle school, to open secondary schooling to greater diversity, and, above all, to find ways to reach young people who are so disaffected that they disrupt others' education. In addition, many have welcomed the aspiration to better vocational education, and I ought to welcome all those aims. However, like many others, I query the means by which that is to be achieved, by taking so many extensive Henry VIII powers to the Secretary of State. In particular, I wish to focus on the degree to which the curriculum is legislated on in the Bill. That is prescribed at a time when consultation is being carried out on a Green Paper that raises the very questions the answers to which have been written into the Bill.

If the proposals in the Bill at present were to go through, they would impose considerable damage on a range of young people. In particular, they would damage that cohort of young people who may aspire to higher education, but for whom that is quite a stretch and a leap.

Noble Lords will not be surprised that the clauses to which I refer are those that specify the academic content for the curriculum at key stage 4. Clause 81 reduces the core subjects for that stage of education to mathematics, English and science. The study of a foreign language is to be made optional at age 14, with decisions to drop foreign languages to be made at age 13. Foreign languages are not the preserve of an academic elite. In this world, more people are bilingual or multilingual than are monolingual. Languages are, in the way and in the end, much more like vocational subjects than those that should be preserved for an academic elite.

One might argue that the Bill is neatly structured to make those worries irrelevant, because Clause 82 would allow the Secretary of State to waive or amend Clause 81; therefore, why should we worry about the proposal in Clause 81? Perhaps Clause 81, or better still, Clauses 81 and 82, need not stand part of the Bill at all. However, I speculate; that matter is for later.

I declare a non-financial interest as chairman of the Nuffield Foundation, which funded an inquiry into languages in the UK. We did not fund that because we thought that everything was all right, but because the foundation believed that there were serious problems with language teaching in the UK. The inquiry identified those problems and made substantive proposals for their remedy. However, to be blunt, it did not occur to those who worked on the inquiry, or those who gave information to it, that a Government that were ostensibly committed to education, would take the view that the remedy to current problems with language teaching in the UK was to stop doing it, rather than do it better.

The foundation joined many others in urging government to set out a language strategy that links different stages of education and meets both employment and cultural needs. A language strategy of course needs to set out objectives, and at that the Green Paper is quite good and so is the Bill. But it also needs to set out stages for implementing those objectives and appropriate methods and provisions for teaching. Nobody imagines that the change can be instantaneous owing to the present lack of language teachers, the consequent lack and growing lack of university language entrants, the consequent cutting and closure of university language departments that is taking place, and the consequent reduced flow of language graduates into the schools. It will take political will to reverse that downward spiral. But I fear that when it comes to languages the Bill and the Green Paper have only a strategy of surrender rather than political will.

In thinking about the importance of creating a language strategy in what is admittedly a difficult situation, we might take some courage from the example of France. France is a country that was not always known for excellent teaching of foreign languages. In fact, they were pretty bad at it, like ourselves. We know a lot more now, thanks in particular to the energetic involvement in our debates of the Ambassador of France, M. Bernard. It was only in 1989 that France set out its language strategy and made a commitment to teach all young people—I stress, "all" young people—two modern foreign languages. During the 1990s in France primary language teaching was introduced, and since 1998 study of two foreign languages has been compulsory for all. French children start one foreign language at the beginning of their primary education, when they are most receptive to this delightful skill, and another at the start of their secondary education. Yet we propose to make universal provision only for three years of learning one language. They order these things better in France!

The Green Paper gestures towards the introduction of primary language learning, which deserves wholehearted support. But that is not to be universally introduced until 2012. In the meantime, after age 14, young children are to have only a language "entitlement", in the words of the Bill. Schools will be required to offer a foreign language to those who want it. Will a school have done enough if it provides for teaching only of one foreign language? Does that constitute the "entitlement"? Even more ominously the Green Paper suggests that 14 to 16 year-olds should have an entitlement to study what is called rather coyly, "a humanities subject". Will a school have done enough by teaching history but no English literature, or English literature but no history? Apparently these entitlements are the new way of referring to reduced opportunities and provision.

Pupil choice is an important principle in schooling. But we know that a good education, particularly in the middle school years, cannot be based solely on pupil choice. Many pupils would give up mathematics at age 14 if they were allowed to. But the Bill does not propose that it be allowed. Language learning too needs persistence across time. So much will still not be prescribed, but this reduction of middle school core requirements is to be resisted.

Allowing young people to give up foreign languages very early might be educationally timid, but perhaps it would not be immediately harmful to all young people, provided that they made a choice in their own best interests. But the incentives will be for young people to choose subjects in which Grade As and Grade A*s at GCSE are more easily earned, and the incentives for schools seeking to improve their position in the famous league tables will be the same. Able and well advised young people in good and ambitious schools will know that dropping out of language learning early will jeopardise their futures. However, equally able but less well advised young people in less secure schools may discover that too late.

If the proportion of each age group who go on to higher education is to grow, we need an Education Bill that pays attention to those pupils. An unintended consequence of this Bill would be that able young people in less good schools will drop out of academically important subjects too young. That may later have serious consequences for their future. I do not think that it is likely that all universities will allow their matriculation requirements to drift downwards with the proposed weakening of the middle school curriculum. So able young people who ill-advisedly opt out of languages may later face formal as well as substantive obstacles when they seek to move on to higher education. Clause 81 of the Bill in particular—but the Green Paper in many paragraphs also—risks damaging able pupils in weaker schools by undermining their preparation for higher education. I believe it will jeopardise any plan to expand university intake.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour 7:15, 11 March 2002

My Lords, it is 15 years almost to the day since I first arrived in your Lordships' House. There is one problem I have never been able to solve; namely, when is it best to speak. It is a great honour to speak at the beginning but then one has nothing to look forward to. It is a great privilege to be the last speaker, as my noble friend Lord Hattersley will be. The trouble with that, of course, is that the only people who will be present are those who have taken part in the debate, all of whom are tired and bored and only there because the Companion says that, as a matter of courtesy, we have to be here for the wind-up. To speak in the middle one suffers the indignity of having one's friends come up and say, "I am terribly sorry I will not be there, but of course I shall read your speech in Hansard tomorrow".

I have three preliminary remarks to make, one addressed to the Opposition—again to my old friend the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who arrived at the same time as I did and with whom I have debated with great pleasure over a great many years. We can complain about secondary legislation and the powers of the Secretary of State, but there is no possibility that the official Opposition can because they are the ones who started all this. I sat exactly where the noble Baroness is currently sitting when we were dealing with the deregulation Bill. Curiously enough, I used exactly the phrase she did; I referred to it as a "constitutional outrage". I also added, for want of using a cliché, that one day we would be in power, that they would not be and that the chickens would come home to roost because we did not know before then that we could do that sort of thing.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Nobody, but nobody, has ever taken a power to sweep away all legislation in a specific subject, in a specific area—education—past present and future. This is unique in government-taking powers.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, no, it is not. The real point is that chickens come home to roost. The difference is that what they did, we are doing in spades. So we can complain, but the noble Baroness cannot.

I turn to another of my old friends, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. Again she made many remarks with which I agree, but I felt that her suggestion that what this Bill does is take us on the path to Nazi Germany is really going too far. My noble friend the Secretary of State will be subject to quite a bit of criticism on this Bill, but to see her as a successor of Joseph Goebbels is not appropriate. I hope that my old friend will withdraw the remark.

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

My Lords, perhaps I can remind my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that what I was saying was that in post-war Germany it was an important principle to decentralise power.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, there is nothing wrong with decentralising as long as it does not involve professors, which I had to put up with at one point. I am simply saying that a reference to the possibility of another Nazi Germany with this Bill is simply absurd.

Lastly, addressing another of my old friends, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, who again made a speech much of which I agreed with, she reminded me as a former HMI that one thing this Bill does not do, but which it should do, is to abolish Ofsted and bring back Her Majesty's Inspectorate and some of the people who both knew about education and, more importantly, cared about it.

Perhaps I can now get down to business. I have great difficulty with this Bill. I can see all the bits but I cannot see the whole, as other noble Lords have said. What seems to be lacking is anything resembling a philosophy. Perhaps I can therefore trouble your Lordships by enunciating one or two of my philosophical ideas in this area. What I have and what matters to me, first of all, is a commitment to education, and I regard that as something that is valuable in its own right. I do not doubt the economic benefits of education, which again my old teacher, the noble Lord, Lord Moser, referred to; I do not doubt the social benefits. But more important is the simpler, albeit now regarded as old-fashioned, view that it is a good thing to be an educated person.

No matter how rich one is, if one is not an educated person and one who appreciates the correct things, one's life is poverty-stricken. Nothing disheartened me more than reading in the paper not long ago that one of England's most brilliant young footballers, who will be playing for us in the World Cup in a few months time and who earns millions every year, proudly said that he has never read a whole book from beginning to end. What a dreadful state of affairs we appear to have in our society when we are told such things.

Secondly, in education—for me at least—equality is of the essence. I do not mean that those of us who lack flair or brilliance or other specific aptitudes can hope to achieve the same as those who are so privileged. I mean that all of us are as valuable in education as everyone else. We are all worth educating. I add that I have been convinced throughout my adult life that all of us ought to be educated in the same schools. I do not resile from that view today and shall never resile from it. I believe that the form of our education system should be comprehensive; that there should be a curriculum that all children follow, but within which there would be sufficient flexibility to cope with different speeds of learning and different interests; and that resources should be allocated not to give more to those who already have most but to give more to those who have least.

Try as I may, I can find nothing in the Bill that sets out the Government's commitment to comprehensive schools and their antipathy to selection. I am sure that the fault is my own. Ever since I have been here I have always had great difficulty in reading legislation. Therefore, I rely on my noble friend the Minister to help me out on this subject when she responds. As most of our children actually attend comprehensive schools—or what are called comprehensive schools—and the Government make a strong claim about rising standards, it is reasonable to infer that comprehensive schools have been a success. So it is also reasonable to expect that comprehensive schools ought to be reinforced in a piece of Labour Party legislation and not undermined by all the fancy new forms to which the Bill refers, the need for which has never been established.

I turn to the curriculum. I believe that I follow what the Bill says in that respect—largely, it seems sensible. However, I am rather lost on what it says on the subject of languages. I am also a little lost as regards history. It looks as if you can also drop history at the age of 14, but perhaps my noble friend the Minister can confirm that in her response. It also looks as if the role of languages will be downgraded; indeed, there has been more information on this in newspaper reports than appears in the Bill. However, we have already heard useful comments on that subject today.

I am absolutely certain that we need to reconsider new ways of acquiring foreign language skills. The traditional method that most of us experienced in school—the class of pupils sitting at desks with the teacher standing in front—failed for most of us. Whatever else we say, there must be better way of teaching the subject. Indeed, we know that there is. I know from personal experience that the use of tapes and videos, and being forced to express myself in the foreign language, is the way to do it. If that is what the Government propose, I totally support them.

I am doubtful about two matters. The first, which worries me, is that this seems to imply that such teaching would not be available in schools from now on. Secondly, following the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, it seems that it will not be provided for a large number of children. There is a great problem with the curriculum: if you are to introduce new methods, you have to drop some old ones. The laws of arithmetic still hold. In the case of foreign languages, it might make sense if those who demonstrate skill in, say, French could drop the subject, but we all know what will happen. It is precisely those who do not demonstrate such skill who will drop the subject. It seems to me that we ought to reflect upon that possibility. I wonder whether that is the way forward.

However, I believe that the Government are trying to go in the right direction as regards the curriculum. I also think that the same applies to vocational skills, though I entirely accept that we must be careful how we approach the matter. When I was at school the cleverest boys all wanted to be doctors. That is what you did if you were clever in east London. But in order to be doctors they had to be adept at dissecting frogs. One of the reasons that I did not become a doctor was that I could not even face the thought of a frog, let alone face the prospect of dissecting one. If people who dissect frogs are regarded as intellectuals, I do not understand why those who have the ability to strip down a car engine or rebuild a computer are not held in exactly the same esteem.

As various speakers said, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, if people have such vocational skills they still require the appropriate fundamental engineering and physical principles at the same time; in other words, doing it but not knowing why is not satisfactory in education. That is a vitally important point.

I am faced with my usual problem. I have written down many points to raise, which following the example of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, noble Lords will hear in Committee rather than tonight. However, I feel obliged to say a few words about what are called "faith schools". I regard the expression as neither grammatically nor epistemologically satisfactory. When we debate the subject in more detail we shall look for a more appropriate expression. I have said nothing about them substantively; and, indeed, I have said nothing about the other phenomena that are beginning to litter the education field.

I should like to make a few remarks on the subject tonight while saving my heavy artillery for later. First, I simply see no serious argument—I have heard none today—in favour of expanding the number and range of such schools. We have been told that there are Christian schools and a few Jewish schools, from which we are told we must infer the need to use public money to provide Sikh, Muslim, Greek Orthodox and goodness knows what other schools. We may have to do it. However, it does not follow logically from the fact that we have some schools of that sort that we must have more of them, as well as different ones. That case needs to be made in some other way.

We have also been told that parents want such schools. I do not wish to be cynical, but what I find astonishing is the number of parents who suddenly discover that they are truly religious in order to get their children into schools that do not let in rough boys, blacks or those sorts of people. Again we shall look into the matter at a later stage. There is a good deal of evidence to consider, both on the social nature of these schools and on why parents choose them—

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I realise that the noble Lord is making his case in a very measured way, but I believe that he should reflect further upon the remark that he just made about how admission into Church schools would be sought because they would not, for example, permit the admittance of blacks. If the noble Lord thinks about it, he will realise that many Church schools were built in order to accommodate immigrants. He will find that large numbers of children in Church schools come from many racially diverse backgrounds.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

Yes, my Lords; they certainly do. However, I am questioning the attitude of parents. I should add that the Church has nothing to apologise for in terms of the history of education in this country. I have forgotten which speaker made the point, but if we are worried about who was involved in education some 100 or 150 years ago, there is little doubt that the Church of England has to apologise to no one for the contribution that it has made. I am not attacking the Church on the matter. However, I will be attacking religion on a completely different basis when we meet again in Committee. I am not attacking the Church: I am talking about what it is that parents are selecting.

It just happens that the best argument that I have heard for the extension of faith schools came from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and was repeated by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Sheppard. It appears that we are to have these restrictively constructive schools. My right honourable friend said—and I believe that my noble friend repeated the argument—that if we are to have them, we would be better off having them within the maintained system rather than in the private sector. That at least seems to be an argument worth reflecting upon, though I have not got much further with it. If my noble friend the Minister takes that view, she ought to generalise it completely to the whole of the private sector and ask why we do not bring in the latter in all its different forms in the same way.

As I said, I shall reserve most of my remarks on this hotchpotch of,

"city technology colleges, city colleges for the technology of the arts . . . city academies", and so on. I am not in the least surprised that noble Lords opposite are in favour of such innovations; indeed, they are all Tory phenomena. I cannot see any connection between them and the Labour Party.

I shall conclude my remarks. I am sorry that I have spoken for 14 minutes, but I have two urgent questions for my noble friend the Minister. One is whether she has seen the case of the Cooper's Company School, which appears to use interviewing techniques to achieve academic and social selection in practice. I read her department's statement on the matter and I was not convinced by it. However, the Minister could easily convince me.

More serious is the story that appeared in the Guardian on Saturday about the school in Gateshead that has been taken over by a group of creationists. I stand second to none in my support for freedom of thought and expression, however idiotic it is. The people in this case can believe anything that they like, but I say in terms that such people are not fit to be allowed within a million miles of our schools or the education of our children. What will the department do about that? Does it have the power to do anything about it? If not, should it not reflect on such matters? Does not the Minister see that, if she and my right honourable friend go down the proposed path, those chickens—to return to today's cliché—will definitely come home to roost?

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 7:31, 11 March 2002

My Lords, after that marvellous description from the noble Lord, Lord Peston, of how to do one's own warm-up and then pick a fight on one's own ground, even if it does not appear in the Bill, I shall try to be as brief as I can.

Most of my comments are not inspired directly by the Bill either; they are inspired by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. I felt, with that Act, that I might be able to excuse myself from the education debate for the foreseeable future, at least. I thought that we had covered most of the relevant things. There was something in the legislation to cover everything. Now, we have a Bill that says that we can ignore parts of it, in the context of primary education. So, we have a problem: is it the case that certain parts of the Bill do not apply? I cannot find them. If we are handing out awards for lack of ability to read Bills, I may even be ahead of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. However, I cannot find it in the Bill and nor can any of the people who have been advising me. If that is not taken into account, we have wasted a great deal of our time.

The Minister is aware of the issue. She was in at the last stage of that process. She looks fairly comfortable, so I hope that we will get some assurances. However, if we suddenly say that we have something here that makes it possible to suspend activities for 20 per cent of the school population—20 per cent of the adult population, as we always forget, when we discuss education—generally in the schools in which those people will get the best support, there is something fundamentally wrong with the thinking behind the Bill and with the department. It is removing people. It is a fundamental error that that has not been made clearer. I give the Minister every opportunity to correct me and show me what I have missed. If I have missed it, so have many others.

If it is not part of what is going on, there is something wrong with the whole process of education. It means that we cannot deal with any problem without someone in the education system saying that it is inconvenient for us to deal with our social responsibilities, so we shall ignore them. If that applies to the whole system of government—not only education—it is something that should not be happening, especially when it is done in a spirit of innovation, creativity and raising standards. There is something of an intellectual obscenity there.

I hope that the Minister will show me that it is not happening and say whether the Bill says that such things can be done when the regulations come into force. If we come around to the idea that everybody else should have a go at secondary legislation, I will sing, rather badly, a song that has already been gone through several times. However, there are a couple of issues. First, where does secondary legislation fit into our process and should we be given some warning about it? Secondly, can we simply ignore a fundamental part of the Government's thinking because it is inconvenient?

I hope that I will get some answers. If not, I will take up a lot of the Minister's time in Committee.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench 7:35, 11 March 2002

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, bemoaned the fact that he had hit the tea-break. I can only bemoan the fact that I seem to have hit the dinner hour.

Having listened to four and a half hours of debate, I have heard a great deal of discussion of faith schools. I realise what a terribly mixed-up childhood I must have had. My prep school in Hornsea in Yorkshire was a Church of England school and my best friend was a Primitive Methodist. I was then sent to Bootham School in York, which is a Quaker school, where my best friend was of the Jewish faith. At the outset of the war, we were evacuated to Ampleforth, which, as noble Lords will know, is a Roman Catholic school. There I made no friends at all. The Roman Catholics made me extremely jealous: after they had been to Mass they could go out and play cricket on Sundays, whereas those of us who were members at that time of the Society of Friends could only stay inside and write letters. Such are my thoughts on faith schools from my experiences of many years ago.

I thank the Minister for her explanation of the Bill and the thinking that lies behind it. As president of Mencap, however, I have, on behalf of the children with disabilities for whom Mencap speaks and also the wider group of children with special educational needs, concerns about the possible unintended consequences of the Bill. The doubts cast on the proposed overarching powers of the Secretary of State by that triumvirate of noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch, Lady Perry of Southwark and Lady Sharp of Guildford, backed by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, induced a quick bout of atrial fibrillation. However, I recovered quickly, and I can comment only that, as the shelf of educational law continues to fill, we must watch carefully for the potential of new provisions for undermining the equal access and equal value provisions that we have secured so very recently.

Last year the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act fulfilled many of our ambitions for children with special needs. The emphasis was on education in mainstream settings, while carefully preserving the special school option for children for whom it is in the shorter or longer term the best option. The combination of education and disability rights legislation gave grounds for optimism that all children would get fair access to good and appropriate education across the range of mainstream and special schools.

If we are to move further away from the broad concept of mainstream schools, through specialism and flexibility, we must look closely at the small print to see what losses might offset the gains. The right to education in a mainstream school will be rather shallow if large numbers of schools cease to be mainstream. The Education Bill, according to what the Secretary of State in another place said at Second Reading, is,

"intended to build on the excellent work that schools, governing bodies and all those who serve our children have achieved in the past four years in taking forward the standards agenda".—[Official Report, Commons, 4/12/01; col. 190.]

None of us would decry standards in education. My definition of standards would be as follows: a curriculum; teaching skills and resources; teaching materials; and measures of achievement that enable every child, however severe their disability, to achieve their potential and enjoy their childhood.

We have only one childhood, although Master Shakespeare would have it otherwise. They should be golden years, if not necessarily the best of our lives. I hope that we have left behind any notion that standards are only a matter of academic success, leading to economic prosperity. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is in his place. I am sure that he will agree with me that for many of our severely disabled children eye contact with the teacher and the exchange of understanding smiles are success enough.

Since we cannot decry standards, we cannot decry innovation, diversity and schools pooling their resources in federations where they so wish. All those feature of the Bill have something to commend them. However, to put it bluntly, my concern is that those spearheading innovations and diversification and those creating new federations may see catering for special needs as someone else's problem and a distraction from their main task and that the flexibility they enjoy will let them get away with this.

Policy in the field of education is an emotive and challenging subject, as no doubt the debate will show. I hope to secure some measure of agreement on special needs by deliberately not taking sides on selection and specialist schools and by not starting from the perspective that there is no place for special schools. Dogma needs to allow space for reason and eventually for evidence. In education, as in most areas of policy, one size does not fit all—particularly for children with complex needs.

The specialist school programme is central to the policy of quality through diversity. In 1999, 11 per cent of all state secondary schools—some 395 schools—were designated as specialist schools. The Government have set a target of 50 per cent of all secondary schoolchildren being educated in specialist schools by the year 2005. Up to 10 per cent of admissions to those schools can be selected on the basis of ability or the rather more speculative "aptitude".

The Bill provides a framework for specialist schools and encouragement for other schools to join their ranks. While my main concern is that becoming specialist should not be a pretext for becoming exclusive of special needs, I want to acknowledge that for some children with special needs a school's specialism may actually be an attraction.

Two schools in Birmingham, a mainstream and a special school, have jointly earned specialist status as an arts college. They are a model of good practice, where pupils with special needs and non-disabled children have fully integrated sessions and performances. That success in combining specialism and inclusion shows what is possible. It also shows what we should be trying to achieve if we believe in the best for all children and not the best just for some children. Unfortunately, there is evidence that we need to try harder.

Research both from Ofsted and from Sheffield Hallam University indicates that specialist schools are not taking their fair share of pupils with special educational needs. I am not aware of any evidence that they are recruiting support staff to help them work with children who need support in their specialist subjects. Given the doubt that this research casts on selective admissions policies and practices, I would welcome an assurance of better things from the Minister.

Specifically, I would welcome the assurances that children with special educational needs will not be consigned to the non-specialist, less favoured schools, and that schools applying for specialist status will have to demonstrate high SEN standards and commit themselves to improving access and curriculum support for children with special needs.

Across social policy there is a difficult balance to be struck between freedom to innovate on the one hand and caution on the other. I have said that I do not want to stifle innovation; to stifle innovation is to lose possibility. We can combine innovation and caution if we do something about what seem to be largely unaccountable admissions processes and make them more accountable. Writing in attention to special needs as a condition brings in that conditionality.

The concept of federation is an interesting one and no doubt we shall explore the detail at some length in Committee. At this stage my feeling is that federation offers an interesting possibility for alliances, for which I am sure it was not primarily intended. Federation could mean effective alliances between mainstream, specialist and special schools. However, as has been well said, when the elephant dances with the chickens the partnership can be a little unequal. There are real grounds for concern that that sort of federation might be bought at a price—that price being the loss of dedicated special needs governors currently valued by special schools. Beyond that, there is the risk of loss of a separate special needs head teacher. That combined loss would reduce the status of special needs work and diminish SEN expertise.

My request is that the special needs implications of federation should be carefully thought through, clearly expressed and specifically consulted on locally before decisions are taken. Where federation goes forward, there should be a requirement to have dedicated special needs expertise at both governor and leadership level. That will help ensure that special needs work is not reduced to a minor corner of a federation which is looking in other directions.

I turn to the other collective innovation—the admissions forums which local education authorities are required to set up. In my younger days, in that extraordinary mixed-up education of mine, it would have been "fora", but let that be. Collective responsibility for regulating the admissions process makes sense. However, we also need to make sense of the relationship between the new forums and the existing requirement to monitor admissions of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities.

I hope that the Minister may be able to clarify what will be the impact of regulations on forum responsibilities for special needs policies. It is essential that when schools are working corporately, as well as when they are working separately, they should be helping to develop policies which help ensure the best possible appropriate education for children with special educational needs.

In conclusion, I want to underline my concern for a strategic approach to combining the potentially good things in the Bill with the quite definitely good things already secured through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act. A conflict is not inevitable. A modest degree of specialist selection—accountable, fair and regulated—is compatible with the inclusion of children with special educational needs. However, selective schools creaming off children with obvious talents and no obvious special needs is not so compatible.

We have come a long way since the days before the 1970 Education Act which gave all children a place in our education system and filled the gap left by the 1944 Act. In 1981 and 1993 and in last year's Act we moved further forward. I do not want to see us sliding back, as there is always a risk of so doing when we legislate for children in general and for excellence in particular areas, without specific regard to special educational needs and disability.

I look forward to the Minister's response and to the assurance that the Bill will offer opportunities and not threats for children with special needs. As long ago as the 17th century Francis Bacon commented that:

"a wise man will make more opportunities than he finds".

I am certain that in the 21st century, a wise noble Baroness will do no less.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Conservative 7:48, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I know that my noble friend Lady Blatch and other noble Lords have already referred to the matter of scrutiny. As I consider it of the utmost importance, I hope noble Lords will forgive its repetition. My point is this. As each Bill reaches your Lordships' House from another place, a most worrying feature is becoming more and more prevalent: the scant scrutiny that it has had.

Amendments have been submitted and rejected without debate. It appears that business managers in another place seem more enthusiastic in getting Bills completed than in allowing Members to perform their legitimate role. Whole sections are not debated at all through the use of the "knife", as it is called, or by use of the guillotine. Thank goodness we are able to do our duty and, in so doing, can try to improve a Bill so that it leaves this House in a better and more acceptable form.

This Education Bill sadly comes into the category of needing extreme care. I believe that it requires very detailed consideration as many of the proposed measures would make it a Bill to end all Education Bills. I say that because it would transfer power to the Secretary of State to do practically anything he or she wished through secondary legislation. That must be bad for democracy as well as, in this case, being bad for the children it is meant to serve.

It is not possible to refer to every issue, so I intend to concentrate on those that give me the most anxiety. The Bill professes to decentralise and give more independence to schools, but in fact the opposite is the case. I want to see real freedom given to head teachers and schools. So many organisations, including the DfES, are like Big Brother breathing down the necks of head teachers. The bureaucratic burden they impose has become intolerable and teachers are voting with their feet and leaving the profession. It is not surprising that the National Association of Head Teachers has stated that:

"Greater autonomy for successful schools is all spin and no substance".

Where have we heard that before? The association went on to say that,

"the idea that head teachers have to prove to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State is highly prescriptive and over bureaucratic. As far as the NAHT is concerned all schools other than those in special measures or serious weakness should be self-managed".

I am sure that all noble Lords want to see successful schools that are enthusiastic and innovative. However, should we not only want them to be so, but expect that standard to be the norm? Being a successful school in government terms will qualify a school to be allowed to practise self management, but I should like to see a system in which only weak and failing schools would be denied that facility.

Teacher shortages are frighteningly high, with around 5,000 vacancies. In some areas the number has doubled since last year. One has only to look at the Times Educational Supplement to see how grave is the problem faced by schools. The addition of another tier of bureaucracy with the imposition of school forums and admission forums will only exacerbate the situation.

For myself, one of the most important and worrying issues is the future of sixth forms. My experience as a governor of an independent school has taught me the significant value of a sixth form in staff recruitment terms. Teachers of high calibre relish the extra challenge of more advanced work with pupils preparing for university. I have always believed that senior pupils over 16 years old contribute enormously to the school in their final two years. They become role models for the younger ones and as they take on responsibilities in the school, they also become good ambassadors for the school. I believe that it would be criminal to take measures to reduce the number of those precious places. My view is that exactly the opposite should apply, with every encouragement given to heads who expand their sixth forms.

I turn now to what I consider to be a matter of vital importance and urgency and in consequence to flag up our intention to table amendments in Committee to strengthen the law in respect of child protection.

I am sure that many noble Lords are aware of the haunting and horrifying case of Lauren Wright, whose stepmother and father were convicted of her manslaughter and wilful neglect last October. Lauren, aged six, attended her two-teacher primary school for 16 months before she died. Despite the fact that she lost four stone in weight during that time, and at her death weighed only two stone, and that she regularly appeared with bruising, her tragic plight was not reported to the relevant local authorities either by the head or the assistant teacher. It is difficult to believe that such brutality could be seen and not acted on.

The issues raised by the case are to be presented to the Victoria Climbié inquiry by an all-party group of Norfolk MPs. One of the proposals in their submission will be some changes in the law. The MPs have accepted suggestions from the Norfolk director of education who, rightly concerned about the implications of the case for the management of his LEA, has made two proposals.

The first is that DfES Circular 10/95, which requires schools to have a designated teacher for child protection issues—Lauren's school did not—should be strengthened so that there is a specific requirement for head teachers and governing bodies to have regard to it. The second is that regulations dealing with head teacher appraisal should give the LEA a locus in regard to the advice given to governing bodies so far as child protection is concerned. Currently no day-to-day managerial link is in place between LEAs and head teachers, which is acceptable given the increasing powers of self determination in schools, but which gives LEAs no disciplinary or other powers in this highly sensitive and often multi-disciplinary area.

My right honourable friend Mrs Gillian Shephard has been invited to attend the Climbié inquiry to put these and other points on behalf of the all-party group of Norfolk MPs. I know that she has already approached officials in the DfES who are working on the Bill, and that she has also written to the Secretary of State.

In conclusion, I believe that this important Bill fails to tackle the genuine problems throughout our schools today. It tinkers around the periphery and, at the end of the day, I just cannot see that there will be any improvements. Teacher shortages and a very real crisis of discipline are catastrophic for the education of our children. Local people and parents appear to be locked out of decision making in the future, while in their place added numbers of unelected placemen will be given unfettered powers. There is therefore much serious debate to be had in the later stages of the Bill as it proceeds through this House. I believe that it is our duty to scrutinise all the issues and I look forward to working with the Minister in the weeks ahead.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 7:56, 11 March 2002

My Lords, it does not surprise me in the least that this is a Bill to which noble Lords have wished to contribute their considerable expertise. What we have all heard so far augurs well for a continuing lively debate in the future. I am not certain that I envy the noble Baroness on the Government Front Bench who has to sum up the debate, but having listened to her introduction, I am more than confident that her remarks will be professional, expert and enthusiastic.

I should like to start by saying that my own contribution will be much more modest. I am very much an amateur, one who over the years has become involved on the fringes of education in a number of different capacities: as a parent, a care committee worker, a governor and manager, a co-opted member of the ILEA and a pre-school playgroup enthusiast.

I should also like to say how refreshing it is to see educationalists and most, but not quite all, politicians concentrating on trying to deliver what is really important; that is, quality in education, education for today's changing needs—they are changing rapidly—and, above all, education that the individual young person recognises as necessary for him or her and relevant to their future role. Clearly noble Lords are not wholly in agreement on all aspects of the Bill, but gone for good, I certainly hope, are those ghastly ideological battles over comprehensive versus selective education. The guiding principle is, as surely it always should have been, parental and, increasingly, individual pupil choice.

It was not all that long ago that educational opportunities were mainly for boys, although not of course for all boys. The Victorians thought that education was far too stressful for girls, so they were among the first group of disadvantaged. One hundred years later, the 1944 Butler Act—I was glad to hear it referred to by at least two noble Lords, because it is referred to in rather disparaging terms in the Green Paper—granted free education for all. That was a major step for both sexes, not least because, well ahead of other organisations, it repealed the requirement for female teachers—not male teachers—to resign on marriage. Where would the teacher shortage be today if that rule had not been abolished?

However, I have to say that it was the 1972 Act which provided the real breakthrough for the 50 per cent of our population that is female. By raising the school leaving age to 16, girls who would have previously left school at the earliest possible moment stayed on long enough to take national examinations and began to be taken seriously in employment.

I mention this because, among the many other areas considered in the Bill, the White and Green Papers and the Bill itself are quite rightly concerned, for all our sakes— and above all for our future competitiveness—to tackle the unequal educational attainment, commensurate with their abilities, of those from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is on this issue that I wish to concentrate.

This has been a problem for at least as long as I have been alive. Indeed, I remember the famous speech by Keith Joseph in 1974 in which he made us all focus on the "cycle of deprivation". It was howled down, but it was absolutely right.

Today's figures, quoted in the Green Paper, are depressing but instructive. Fewer than 20 per cent of young people from the lower socio-economic groups go to university; 70 per cent from the highest. Only 13 per cent of the same group achieve two A-levels, or equivalent, at 18. So the earlier in a child's schooling potential problems are spotted and resources mobilised the better. Only last week, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out how much cheaper and more humane it is to spend £5,000 or £6,000 on a child at that stage rather than £25,000 a year when they reach prison.

For me, the most depressing aspect of my time as a juvenile court magistrate in London was to see the first time a child or young person was brought to court for a criminal offence. All too often—I would say 99 times out of 100—a totally unacceptable record of truancy had by then been established which was almost impossible to break. Alongside that would be the problem of disruptive behaviour in school. Often the two problems go together because, as teachers will privately admit, they are often quite thankful when the pupil does not turn up and make teaching impossible and influence other children's behaviour.

Here I rather agree with the points made, perhaps rather obliquely, by the noble Lord, Lord Moser, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on where the money should be spent. Should it really be given to schools that are doing well, doing better, or should it be placed where the job of teaching is double the job it might be in such schools?

One of the most vivid lessons I learnt was as a care committee worker for ILEA in the East End. The head of the brand new Stepney Green comprehensive gave a talk on her role as the head. She was asked how she spent her time. "A very large part", she said, "with the first year, getting to know the 25 per cent or so who have problems. By the end of the first year I've reduced that to 10 per cent, and they are with me for their whole school career". "How on earth can a head possibly justify spending that amount of time?", she was asked. "Easily", she replied. "If I did not do that then the 25 per cent would swiftly become 30 per cent, 40 per cent, and eventually take over the whole ethos of the school".

So, for the sake of the community as well as the individual, exclusion and truancy have to be tackled. We know that the figures in some areas are appalling, so the overall figures may look fairly bland. These same, often very bright, youngsters' energy has to be channelled into far more productive outlets and, equally early, work begun with their families within the community.

Statistics show, alas, that it does not help a child educationally to have been in care. The education attainments of such children are among the lowest. I shall quote only one more horrendous statistic—that is, that 40 per cent of young prisoners have been in care. It is clear that a different approach is urgent.

There are, of course, real concerns about some aspects of the Bill. A number of these concerns have been referred to already by noble Lords and I shall not go into them again. There is a concern about teacher overload and, with a 20 per cent drop-out rate within the training and first year of teaching period, it is a crucial issue.

I have some concern about governing bodies. For many years now I have watched the growing importance of their expanded role. I say "expanded" because at the time when my noble and learned kinsman Lord Howe of Aberavon and I joined the initiative of Tyrrell Burgess and Anne Corbett as founders of NAGM, the National Association of Governors and Managers, governors then had a fairly minimal role and little influence. Now, of course, it is different. NAGM now represents a great many governors and managers and plays a key role in monitoring what goes on.

Surveys undertaken over the past four years reveal that NAGM members, too, are showing increasing signs of overload, even though they enjoy and are very committed to the work that they do. There is a belief that they are being asked to take on inappropriate responsibilities and are being swamped with paperwork and bureaucracy. On the other hand, there is a fear that some of their most valued and useful functions may be reduced or even taken away. I have in mind their crucial role in connection with appointments, above all, of senior staff. I hope that the Minister will give firm reassurances on these points.

But, that said, I am rather attracted by the flexible plans for educating 14 to 19 year-olds—although not in regard to language, which I think is entirely wrong. But I shall leave that aside for the moment. The determination to use today's incredible technology, combined with younger people's more critical approach to the choices before them, to help create personalised packages—spread over time between schools, FE colleges and local businesses—for the most deprived as well as the brightest pupils is admirable. The delivery side will be difficult.

The important decision to introduce citizenship from September is long overdue. We have to do much more to educate people in tolerance and respect for other people, other races, other faiths, other ages and even other interests. That ties in with what many noble Lords have mentioned already about faith schools, to which I shall certainly come back on another day.

Equally, we have to teach the young from an early age about how important for the individual is a democratic system of government, which will survive only if each one of us plays our part in supporting it. We need, of course, to know about our rights as citizens, but even more important are our responsibilities.

It has been good to see that many schools now involve pupils in working for those in need within their own communities. It is also true of many universities. For example, LSE students—I declare an interest as a governor—go to schools to encourage bright pupils with no background in higher education to raise their sights. But, equally, every student and every pupil could and should experience this kind of voluntary action throughout their educational career, not only for the benefit of the community but for their own benefit.

I shall stop there because other noble Lords wish to speak and everyone wishes to end fairly rapidly.

Photo of Lord Mitchell Lord Mitchell Labour 8:09, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I must declare two interests. The first is that I am a trustee of the Learning Foundation, the remit of which is to ensure that every child in this country has his own portable computing device. The second interest is that I am chairman of a company engaged in the financing of computer equipment to schools and institutes of higher education.

I do not want to be over dramatic about this, but, to me, the Bill has a certain 20th-century flavour about it. It is good stuff, of course, and long overdue, but I am aghast that it lacks even a passing reference to the technological onslaught that is about to change education for ever.

I do not know how many words there are in the Education Bill. I would hazard a guess at around 100,000. I scoured the document for three specific words which were important to me, and which would have given me some hope: "IT", "computer" and "laptop". It will come as no surprise that I did not find one. I did the same with the Explanatory Notes, and with the briefing document put out by the Department for Education and Skills. The results were the same. It is all a tad disappointing. Yet my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said that IT will do for education what penicillin did for medicine and what the combustion engine did for transport. She puts it well. So why is IT omitted from the Bill?

I want to paint a picture of how the classroom of the not-too-distant future will look. Before doing so, perhaps I may correct a common misapprehension. The computer in the classroom is not a replacement of the teacher; nor does the idea seek to diminish teaching skills. We see information technology as a complementary tool, capable of dramatically boosting the effectiveness of our hard-working teaching professionals. In short, used well, the computer ought to make teachers' lives much more productive and mean that their pupils are better taught.

By and large, today's classroom has changed very little since Victorian times. The child sits facing the teacher. In general, he or she learns a subject at the same speed as his or her peers, and at the same level of complexity. Usually, parents are not engaged in the learning process and too often they are actively discouraged from participating. Teaching media today are very much what they were 100 years ago: chalk, textbooks, blackboards and exercise books—hardly the stuff of the 21st century.

A frightening percentage of boys are disengaged from school and a surprisingly high proportion of children do not attend school at all. That may be due to behavioural problems, personal illness or family illness; or it may even be because they are bullied at school or abused at home. The IT revolution will help those children to become re-engaged.

The schoolroom of the future will be different. All children will have a laptop which will be connected to the school's own network through wireless. There will be no cables and no physical restriction where the child works within the school.

The same network will be available from home on the Internet. That means that a child will be able to access the curriculum, continue his homework, check his marks, and go over what he may not have fully grasped at school.

Blackboards will become whiteboards and will be interactive. The teacher will not use chalk but a pointer, or even his own index finger, and very soon just his voice, in order to write, to cut and paste, to colour and to design. Such intelligent whiteboards will appear on the student's screen whether he is in the classroom or 500 miles away.

In rural areas, the secondary school child will not have to journey to school every day, but will be able to "hot desk" in a primary school or community centre, under supervision but remote from his school. In schools which are not able to provide a wide curriculum, video-conferencing will provide an effective alternative. The teacher's own computer will enable him to monitor how each child is doing on a constant real-time basis.

Education content has lagged behind some of the very real IT developments that are happening up and down the country, but now dramatic progress is at hand. The BBC, which has been a leader in distance learning, is close to launching the entire curriculum online. This development will be amazing in its effect. Other companies and institutions are also doing some brilliant work. We in Britain are very good at producing this type of content. Once the equipment is installed and broadband is connected, and once the content has matured, e-learning will really take off. Today, we are on the cusp, and we can expect very rapid change.

Having painted one picture (of the classroom of the future), I should now like to paint another, and that is of the school leaver of the future. Every child will be, and will need to be, computer literate. That does not mean that they will have learnt about IT as they might learn about history, but that they are familiar with using IT for their lessons and in their lives both at school and at home. By 2010, most jobs will require IT knowledge. Jobs which today are still based on craft skills, very soon will require an in-depth knowledge of IT.

Perhaps I may give just one example. Today, expensive, top-of-the-range cars have more computer processing capability than was on board the "Apollo" spaceship that landed on the moon. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that some modern cars require formidable IT skills. They have GPS navigation, voice-activated phone connections, SMS texting and will soon provide for speech-recognised e-mails—and that is even before the engine is turned on. In consequence, it is no longer acceptable for car mechanics just to be handy with a spanner. Today, and certainly tomorrow, they will need to have in-depth knowledge of automotive IT systems. Lawyers, doctors, soldiers and—yes, my Lords—even parliamentarians are going to need advanced IT skills. These skills are becoming the key to living and working in the new century—and school is the place where they need to be taught.

To most children, computers are fun. The computer-games generation is used to screen-based interaction. It is an exciting and interesting medium to learn and it reduces boredom.

So I ask your Lordships to imagine this. Difficult children, or children with domestic problems, or health problems, will soon be able to learn anywhere, at any time, and at their own pace. Children who are unable to come to school for a variety of reasons will now have the freedom to keep up with their studies at home or in a hospital.

We talk endlessly about the knowledge-based economy. We hear politicians telling us till they are blue in the face that Britain in the 21st century needs modern skills if we are to compete in this new world. We know that the new technologies are the key to our future success. But so often we forget what is happening out there in the real world.

What I should like to have seen in the Bill is a statement of the vision of e-learning and a requirement for every child eventually to have his or her own portable computing device. I should like to have seen that enshrined in legislation. There are, I believe, 9 million schoolchildren in this country. I am told that in English schools there are approximately 100,000 laptops. That makes it about a 1 per cent penetration. It is clear that we still have a long way to go.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 8:17, 11 March 2002

My Lords, I listened with interest to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell. He may be aware of the Care Zone project run by the Who Cares? Trust, an innovative Internet access for looked-after children, with high levels of security.

I warmly welcome the clear and emphatic commitment to inclusion given by the Minister in her opening remarks. I noted that my noble friend Lord Dearing gave the Bill a warm reception, and he is the expert in this area.

However, I am very concerned that the guidance on exclusions has been all but removed from this Bill. After a near quadrupling of exclusions in the 1990s, the report by the Social Exclusion Unit on truancy and exclusion published in May 1998 recommended:

"Clearer guidance, with legal force, to cut down on inappropriate exclusions".

Such guidance was introduced in the previous Education Bill, and exclusions have since fallen by close to a third.

I am particularly concerned about what might be taken to be a weakening of resolve towards looked-after children. They are 10 times more likely to be excluded than other children. The outcomes for these children have been unacceptable. They grow up to represent about a third of rough sleepers and 32 per cent of male young offenders. The prison population stands at an all-time high, of approximately 70,000. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred to this. It is second in size, in relation to population, only to that of Portugal in the European Union. Without the socialisation offered by mainstream education, without the benefit of educational qualifications, a care leaver is likely to be nigh unemployable, illiterate and qualified only for the prison system. Yet only 5 per cent of children enter care after any involvement with the criminal justice system. On the continent they do far better. In Germany, 50 per cent achieve the Abitur, which is the German equivalent of A-levels.

An important finding of the Social Exclusion Unit report on teenage pregnancies was that early pregnancy was closely related to a lack of hope for the future. Without education and the prospect of employment, there is little motive to postpone beginning a family. This may be one important factor in the sad fact that an exceptionally high rate of teenage pregnancy is experienced by children in care and those leaving care.

Exclusion from education puts tremendous pressure on foster and residential placements for looked-after children. There is a far greater risk that a placement may break down. If such children have experienced neglect or other abuse in the past, this is a retraumatisation. They experience the rejection that they received from their parents once again. Anyone involved in the field knows how damaging repeated breakdown of placements is and how regrettably common their collapse is.

Some years ago I assisted in workshops for children who had been excluded from mainstream schooling for unacceptable behaviour. Nothing that I have done before or since has been as stressful. There are increasing numbers of children with conduct disorders. Children are increasingly growing up with a father who is largely absent in their early years. That can lead to children who are particularly challenging, especially if the mother is struggling with poverty, ill health or isolation. For some children, mainstream education is inappropriate. There need to be effective assessments of children to ensure that they are capable of regular schools. Schools need to be resourced so that children with particular needs are noticed early, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, requested, and that those needs are met before the child becomes too powerful and disruptive to staff and to fellow pupils.

The second key recommendation of the Social Exclusion Unit report on truancy and exclusion is that by 2002 all excluded pupils should receive a full-time education. Even if there were now adequate numbers of places in pupil referral units of high quality to receive increased numbers of excluded pupils, an increase in inappropriate exclusions would still be a seriously retrograde step. If a child can cope, or can be helped to cope, mainstream education is by far the best option. Integration is greatly to be desired for that child, as long as he does not disrupt the education of other children. Furthermore, there are doubts that there will be sufficient pupil referral unit places. Other provision is patchy.

I know from my current experience with children and young people how easy it is to turn away from the challenging ones, unwittingly. I know that I tend to spend my time with the better educated children with a background more similar to my own. How many head teachers have, for instance, experienced life in the care system or are of Afro-Caribbean origin? I strongly suspect—and anecdotal evidence supports this—that a few head teachers, perhaps unknowingly, have little time for such alien and sometimes problematic children. Perhaps I am giving my own faults to others.

More importantly, there is the ever-increasing pressure on schools for better academic results and success in academic league tables. Many teachers recognise that that affects exclusions. That factor is heightened by the Bill. It is all too easy to envisage children being excluded inappropriately or failing to be admitted, their parents being encouraged to withdraw them or the children being made to feel unwelcome because of their threat to the school's examination record.

The Government have already achieved a great deal. The 2001 Ofsted study, Raising Achievement of Children in Public Care, states:

"The raising of awareness of the needs of children in foster care or children's homes has led to the development of strategies to avoid confrontation and subsequent exclusion in all but the most extreme cases. This has resulted in an overall reduction of exclusions by up to 70 per cent in some areas, and this is reflected in the retention in school of children in care who may well otherwise have been excluded".

I am concerned that the removal of most of the guidance on exclusions from primary legislation may send the wrong signal to schools. A loosening of the legislative framework may be perceived as an easing of the commitment to retain challenging children in mainstream schools, provided they do not disrupt the learning of others. I look to the Minister for an assurance that that will not happen and that the process of exclusion will remain fair to all, rigorous and allowing proper appeal.

Photo of Lord Hattersley Lord Hattersley Labour 8:26, 11 March 2002

My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Peston set out the advantages and disadvantages of speaking at different times of the day, he did not say that speaking very late in the day enables one to cannibalise other people's good points and, perhaps more importantly, to avoid their errors. I shall not say under which heading it comes, but I do not propose to say how enthusiastic I am for improving educational standards. I take it for granted that that unites us all. The argument concerns how best that should be done—whether by a system of secondary education that aims to meet the needs of all our school students, or by a system of secondary education that is geared to the needs of a minority and therefore neglects many others.

I fear that that involves me in what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, described as that ghastly ideological debate about comprehensive education—described by other people as the democratic process. In my experience, people who reject and resent ideological debate normally assume that everybody should share the ideology that they prefer. I hope that she will forgive me for pursuing the line to which she so strongly objects and saying how encouraged I was, on that point of the success of the system that I prefer, to read the first paragraph of the Secretary of State's speech when she introduced the Bill for Second Reading in the other place. The first paragraph rejoiced that the OECD had just congratulated Great Britain—no, England, as distinct from Great Britain, which is very important in this context—on the improvement in and quality of its secondary education. She gave some other statistics about how well secondary schools were doing. I can only assume that it is because she overlooked a line in her prepared text that she did not go on to say that that was the achievement of the comprehensive system, which has dominated secondary education in this country since the 1970s, when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, achieved the all-time record for creating the most comprehensive schools in one year.

When we receive congratulations on how much our education has improved and how well it is doing, it is down to that system. Indeed, the explosion in higher education—which has made the Robbins principle no longer possible under the old financing schemes and has put the Government in such a quandary about how to finance higher education—is the achievement of the comprehensive system in this country.

It is therefore very much to my regret that the Government have spent so much time in the recent past denigrating the comprehensive system—examples of which I shall gladly give the Parliamentary Under-Secretary if she doubts that that has occurred—and now consciously eroding it. They consciously erode the comprehensive system in this Bill under Part 5.

It is no surprise that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, supports Part 5. Mr Willis, the Liberal spokesman in the House of Commons, said that if it had been introduced by a Tory Government, it would have been denounced by the Labour Opposition. He was in part wrong. It was introduced by a Tory Government and it was denounced by a Labour Opposition. We have now taken it over and extended it in a way that I believe is disastrous to the principle of comprehensive education. I hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has noticed that noble Lords on every side of the House have expressed extreme concern about those provisions. Their principal objection is that they encourage informal, surreptitious and—how shall I describe it?—covert selection in secondary education.

That began with the creation of the specialist schools. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said that he—I believe that he used the word "romantically"; a romantic economist is a contradiction in terms but there we are—looked forward to the day when all comprehensive schools were specialist schools. If that could happen, it would be a quite different issue. However, the Government aspire to 50 per cent of schools being specialist schools. Yet the Parliamentary Under-Secretary used the awful cliché in her opening speech—I do not object to the cliché but to the thought—that she wanted there to be a level playing field. What do we mean by a level playing field? Do we mean a level playing field between some comprehensive schools which are specialist and are given a half million pounds bounty and the rest of the comprehensive schools? So far as the Bill is concerned, there is no level playing field between the generality of comprehensive schools and those which are called city colleges, technology colleges or academies. I shall explain to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary why that is.

I know very well that on those occasions when the Government say that they support comprehensive education sometimes they cannot even bring themselves to say those words and they call it inclusive education. That reminds me of one of the great moments of the 1987 general election campaign when the present Secretary of State for Industry sent me an agonised message which stated: "Delete from all speeches the word 'equality' and substitute the word 'fairness'". The two matters are not, of course, the same, nor is inclusive education necessarily the same as comprehensive education. When the Government bring themselves to support it, they say that it is going on even though there are selective schools side by side. They say that Kent is a comprehensive county and there are some comprehensive schools side by side with grammar schools. That is a contradiction in terms. It is like saying that someone is part pregnant or that medical equipment is semi-sterile. You either have non-selective education or selective education. What the Government have to understand is that by encouraging the development of schools which are special in the public mind—whether or not they are special in their literal performance—they are encouraging covert, informal and in many ways the most insidious selection, because that is what happens. Parents see schools which have different names, extra money and which claim to be specialist in one form or another. The articulate, self-confident, determined parents talk their way into those schools which may be outside their normal catchment area. That has been done by a number of notable figures, none of whom I propose to mention this evening, and it encourages selection due to the abilities, determination and the self-confidence of the parents concerned.

In a free society you cannot stop parents doing that, nor would I wish to do so. What I object to is the Government facilitating that and providing what speaker after speaker has called the hierarchy of schools. It is a formal hierarchy of schools which makes informal selection unavoidable. We are also extending selection in another way. We are extending it by the 10 per cent rule, which is to apply to every specialist school—soon to be 50 per cent of the schools in the country—and to all the city academies and the city technology colleges. From time to time the Government in their more reckless moments say that that is not really selection because selection by aptitude and selection by ability constitute quite different things. No honest person can sensibly believe that. Were the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to attempt to argue that case this evening, I would refer her to a reply given in this House by her predecessor in this Government when I asked her to distinguish between the two things. The reply of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was a paragraph of gobbledegook which she concluded by saying that it may not satisfy anyone but it was what the previous government asked officials to find out and that was the best that they could do. In my time in politics I have never heard a Minister be so dismissive about her own reply. That was the moment when the idea of a distinction between selection by ability and selection by aptitude went out of the window. The truth of the matter is that this Government are covertly increasing the number of selective opportunities in secondary education. That is deeply detrimental to the education of the whole country.

My noble friend Lord Peston said that he could not detect any philosophy in the Bill. We rarely disagree. When he was my special adviser many years ago—in those days we did not have political advisers but special advisers—

Photo of Lord Sheppard of Liverpool Lord Sheppard of Liverpool Labour

What was the difference, my Lords?

Photo of Lord Hattersley Lord Hattersley Labour

My Lords, the difference was that the special advisers knew something. The Permanent Secretary asked him what he thought his role was. He said that his role was to give spurious intellectual justification for my political prejudices. As I say, we rarely disagree but he is wrong to say that there is no philosophy in the Bill. The philosophy of the Bill is the Prime Minister's philosophy of meritocracy. The able, the industrious, the determined surge ahead and we do not have to worry much about the rest. That is a philosophy which I find offensive to all the standards and all the beliefs I hold.

I wish to say a few words about faith schools. That is another example of "new speak". We used to call them religious schools and I propose to call them religious schools tonight. I do not share some of the concerns of my noble friends as regards faith schools. Certainly, in a free society faith schools should exist. However, faith schools existing is rather different from faith schools being promoted by the Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said. If the Secretary of State for Education is right and if she means what she says and they will be created only if there is a real demand for them in an area, although I am not an enthusiast for faith schools, it is difficult to deny that right if there is a real demand. However, I should like to know how the demand is to be assessed. I do not think that the demand can be represented by the views of the Episcopate or the views of the mosques in the area; it has to be the views of the people. I notice that my noble friend Lord Dearing nods his head. He mentioned the absence of a faith school in South Yorkshire. In fact there is a faith school called Notre Dame, but he was thinking of faith schools in rather more limited terms. I believe that I know South Yorkshire at least as well as he does. I see no upsurge of demand from the people of South Yorkshire for a faith school.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

My Lords, I am no expert on the wishes of parents in that part of Yorkshire. However, the papers I was given at this morning's meeting show that of the 8,000 children in Church of England primary schools, the parents of 3,200 of them had explicitly asked for the opportunity to send their children to a Church of England secondary school. I agree very much—I believe that the Government have said this—that it is a matter of whether the parents want that and, I would further say, provided there has been full consultation and agreement with the LEA and it has been through a schools organisation committee and there has been full discussion and, hopefully, a unanimous recommendation.

Photo of Lord Hattersley Lord Hattersley Labour

My Lords, I do not want to detain the House too long by giving a reply to that intervention which in a sense it deserves. However, I am sceptical about the genuine demand of parents for that education. I understand the genuine demand of parents to send their children to Church primary schools, but I also know, as my noble friend Lord Peston said, that part of the demand for a place in a faith secondary school is because that is regarded as a bit special. Therefore, the demand has to be genuine and have a religious rather than a social base. I do not understand how the Government can assess that and that worries me. How can the Government assess which Church should be allowed to develop faith schools? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn referred to world faiths of every kind. Would the Government approve a Jehovah's Witness school or a Seventh Day Adventist school? I cannot see constitutional propriety of any kind in the Government having a list of acceptable religions and other religions with which they will not do business.

That situation has enormous dangers, some of which my noble friend Lord Plant mentioned. I spent 33 years of my life representing a constituency which, by the time I retired from the House of Commons, comprised almost entirely Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus. What my noble friend said was certainly borne out by my experience; that is, the people who push hardest for faith schools have the most fundamental view of their religion and the most, dare I say, extreme interpretation of what their religion demands. I say only that there are immense dangers in going down that path. However, I doubt whether the Government will go down it.

The noble Baroness who speaks for the Liberals said that on reading the Bill she sometimes wonders what it is really about. If she will forgive me for saying so, her naivety astounds me. The Bill's principal purpose is declaratory. Governance has changed during the past four years. There are not just two arms of government, the executive and legislative; there is the executive arm, the legislative arm and the declaratory arm. The most important of the three is the declaratory arm. The Bill demonstrates that the Government are not somehow held back by the old principles of equality, equal shares and democratic socialism, which brought many of the Government's supporters into politics in the first place.

I do not believe that the proposal about faith schools will be put into practical operation because of the associated difficulties. The proposal is in the Bill to create an impression. More importantly, the impression that is being created in the secondary field is bound to increase covert, informal selection. That is a fundamentally bad thing for the future of this country. I shall try to develop that theme in Committee.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 8:41, 11 March 2002

My Lords, this really is a terrible Bill. It is riddled with the fear of losing control and lack of trust in communities, local government and the biggest body of professionals in the country. It has potential for selection and discrimination and suggests a lack of belief that a public service can deliver high-quality education with creativity and efficiency without much meddling from people who are committed primarily to profit. I shall never accept that state-run public services cannot deliver innovation and efficiency, given a level playing field with the private sector.

I can hardly believe that a government of the Labour Party, with all of its heritage, could have brought forward such a Bill. No wonder many Members on the Benches opposite are looking and sounding very uncomfortable. I am tempted to say, "Tony Crosland, thou shouldst be living at this hour". I am also tempted to say to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that we could easily make room for him on these Benches, at least for the passage of this Bill.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness's party is far too Left-wing for me!

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford ably expressed the reservations felt on these Benches about the Bill. I was disappointed to notice that the Secretary of State did not remain at the Bar to hear her. As my noble friend said, Parliament needs to introduce legislation to deal with a large number of important constitutional issues and with matters relating to the way in which government is run and is answerable to the people of this country. However, this is the moment that the Government choose to introduce a largely unnecessary Bill, which nevertheless will take many parliamentary days to scrutinise properly. It is vital that we do so in this place, because the democratically elected House has had totally inadequate time in which to do so. However, I should prefer it if we did not have to do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, nicknamed the Bill as "The last ever education Bill" because the powers that it will give to the Secretary of State are so draconian that she may not need ever to come back to Parliament again—she will have all of the powers that she will ever need to control schools from the centre. I hope that the Bill is not the "Second to last ever education Bill" or a paving Bill for total deregulation of schools. The word "deregulation", as it has been used in this context, means the centralisation of power in the hands of the Secretary of State. The Minister referred to the fact that it will set schools free. Now where have I heard that before? However, that involves 180-degree spin because the Bill does entirely the opposite.

Local education authorities, which represent the needs and wishes of local people in their own communities, are being subject to death by a thousand cuts. I am beginning to wonder why the Government claim to desire more people to take part in elections when at every turn they are taking away the powers and freedoms of local authorities and putting them in a straitjacket.

The Bill will create a de facto national education system. It condemns the comprehensive ideal to the history books, it undermines the principles of local democracy, it introduces more selection by faith, specialism and postcode, it creates a two-tier system in which schools serving the most challenging and deprived communities are penalised for their poverty and it attacks the very foundations of one of our most important public services.

The Bill is also an attack on the whole principle of comprehensive education. As the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, said, that has delivered unprecedented success over the past 30 years. As I have said previously in your Lordships' House, if the Government want a bit of novelty, why do they not try committing themselves totally to comprehensive education and to funding schools properly and believing in them? That would indeed be a novelty. The comprehensive principle has been adhered to much more closely in Scotland, with the result that Scottish education shows better results across the spectrum of ability than we have here in England. We heard from my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, about a similar commitment in Wales. However, we welcome the proposals in Parts 1 to 5 of the Bill to give heads and teachers greater professional freedom. But why ration that?

The Government claim to want schools to innovate. I go into schools every week and I find that every good school already manages to innovate, despite the tendency in recent years to specify exactly what they do in so many areas. The fact that the Bill will allow only 10 per cent of schools to innovate with their "earned autonomy" is not likely to extend innovation. Only the schools that please the Secretary of State—presumably those that please her with the type of innovation that they are proposing—will be allowed to do it. Besides, that sets school against school and particularly disadvantages those in challenging areas. In a situation of teacher shortage, what is going to happen to those schools that already find it hard to get teachers? Are they the ones that the Secretary of State will allow to offer attractive pay packages? And where will they get the money—out of the books budget, which they need to compensate for the fact that the children do not have books at home; out of the buildings and maintenance budget, when many of those schools are already in a terrible state? No, my Lords, schools already have quite a lot of flexibility to vary the pay of good teachers and they do not need any more. What they need is the performance-related pay scheme to be fully funded. However, that is a matter for my Question next Monday, so I shall leave the matter for now. They also need the power to be flexible about the curriculum in order to respond to local needs with protection of a minimum curriculum entitlement.

One of the problems with this part of the Bill is how one defines "success". We must challenge the narrow criteria of success involving five A to C GCSE grades, as is favoured by the No. 10 Policy Unit. Amazingly, in her introduction, the Minister claimed that the Government can find out how successful a school is at the touch of a button. That is far too simplistic. How can one measure motivation, loyalty and curiosity at the touch of a button? What about added value? Why is not achievement of added value in the Bill as a qualification for all of the Secretary of State's sweeties?

The Liberal Democrats have just completed a survey of 244 so-called failing schools; that is, those with less than 20 per cent A to C GCSE grades in the past three years. The vast majority have good Ofsted reports. They are not in special measures but they are trying to cope with huge problems. We found that those schools have three times more pupils eligible for free school meals than the national average. They have twice as many children with statements of special educational needs. They have more than three times the national average for unauthorised absence and 50 per cent more for authorised absence. On average, 4.3 pupils were permanently excluded from each of the schools last year, compared with the national average of 1.5 per school. Significant numbers of those schools are secondary moderns—the product of a selective system such as operates in Kent. Many of them are producing enormous added value but they are being measured in terms of absolute value. All are likely to be denied the freedoms available in Part 1 of the Bill.

The very schools which need to innovate and which need to offer radical change, especially to the curriculum, are those excluded in the Bill. On that and many other aspects of the Bill, the Government speak with forked tongue. That is why we on these Benches shall challenge the Government's policies on specialist and faith schools. While they are not referred to directly in the Bill, Parts 1 and 5 provide the over-arching legislation for those schools.

I hope that noble Lords will not misunderstand me. Liberal Democrats are not opposed to schools having a special ethos so long as they do not select. But we want all schools to develop their own personality and areas of special excellence. However, that should be for the schools to choose; it should not be for the Secretary of State to offer a limited menu of specialisms to a maximum of half the schools. Why should a school not be able to offer a community ethos as a specialism or a special needs specialism or a citizenship specialism? What about another category—a school which specialises in teaching children how to think, learn and make life decisions? Some of us believe naively that that is, in any case, the prime purpose of any school.

How can a Labour Secretary of State justify a system that puts a £50,000 price tag on entry to the specialist club and then limits entry to only half our schools by 2005? We on these Benches believe that all schools, excluding those with special needs, should have access to that money. Only nine out of the 244 schools in our survey had achieved specialist status, although many had tried. Naturally, they were attracted by an extra £0.5 million; but in the brave new world of the two-tier education system, they were denied.

I remain concerned about the expansion of faith schools. Historically in this country, the only way in which to obtain an education was in a faith school. That was yesterday. We are legislating today for a multi-cultural community of schools tomorrow. To promote an expansion of schools that select on the basis of faith is to deny the reality of the composition of our country today. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has a very naive impression of how admission to Church schools works and would work in future. I believe that there is more than one way to skin the equality cat than to open more faith schools. I consider that to be the wrong way.

The structure of our education system should be based on two key principles. From what he said, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will agree with them. The first is equality of access to the best possible education for all our children of whatever faith or none. The second is a system which promotes racial harmony and understanding, not awareness of difference, ignorance and division. Expansion of the ability to select on the grounds of faith may achieve the first of those but, crucially, it will not achieve the second.

As many speakers have said, parents want not faith schools but good schools for their children. The fact that many are prepared to put themselves through a faith test in order to get their children into good schools and then abandon that faith vividly demonstrates the point. Perhaps I may now challenge two myths. Not all faith schools are excellent schools, and many state schools do promote a set of moral values. The Churches do not have a monopoly on morals.

I was delighted that the Church of England recently conceded that schools operating admissions policies which discriminate against non-Christian children or children with no faith are wrong. But, sadly, the Secretary of State seems prepared to allow that situation to continue. The Liberal Democrats will propose an amendment to the Bill that makes it unlawful for any school in receipt of state funding to deny access to a child from its local community on the grounds of faith or lack of faith.

My noble friend Lady Sharp referred rightly to the increased central powers taken by the Secretary of State. I agree with her very much. Nowhere is that more evident than in relation to local authorities. It is as if the No. 10 Policy Unit wants to abolish them but does not have the courage to do it. For example, by increasing the Secretary of State's powers to determine the minimum amount that LEAs should delegate to schools, Clauses 39 and 40 make a mockery of decision-making at the local level, despite what the Minister claimed at the beginning of the debate. Likewise, it should be the LEA's decision to close a failing school. Such a decision should not, and cannot, be made by the Secretary of State.

There are a number of inconsistencies, too. My noble friend Lady Sharp referred to the differences between government departments in their attitude to local decision-making. There are other inconsistencies. Schools can form private companies and can presumably operate commercial activities that LEAs cannot. Although their activities will be monitored by the LEA, such companies will be directly accountable to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can set up a commercial company to supply services and goods to schools but the LEA cannot. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised a number of questions about this part of the Bill. We on these Benches have similar concerns but we shall return to that matter in Committee.

Typically, the one area where interference would be welcomed is in addressing our teacher shortage. A key principle in any state education system is a sufficient supply of high quality teachers and their retention in our school system. Yet nowhere in the Bill is there a strategy to deal with the long-term retention crisis. Instead, the Bill sets school against school in the matter of attracting teachers. The noble Lords, Lord Moser and Lord Alton of Liverpool, highlighted that, despite the Government's claims of rising teacher recruitment, the total shortfall against target since 1997-98 in secondary teacher training is a staggering 14,208.

However, with the exception of paying off student loans, where is the evidence in the Bill that the Government are serious about retention of teachers? Why is there no statutory time off for professional development? Why is there no legislation to allow primary teachers more non-contact time? Why is there no commitment to a new teacher's contract? And why is there no national retention and deployment strategy? Do the Government not recognise that in a buyer's market teachers will be attracted to schools which they see as offering stability, freedom and career progression, and that it will be increasingly more difficult for schools in challenging circumstances to compete in the new regime of the education ration book? We share with the Conservative Benches concerns about the power of the learning and skills councils over sixth forms and the side-lining of the wishes of local people.

However, there are aspects in the Bill that the Liberal Democrats welcome. Indeed, much of the Bill simply consolidates legislation. We welcome the opportunity in Part 6, for example, to discuss the inclusion of a statutory curriculum for the foundation key stage and to open up discussion about the key stage 4 curriculum. However, I suspect that we shall concentrate on the 14 to 19 curriculum. I believe that it is a significant example of the "mother knows best" attitude of this Government that they are trying to legislate before the consultation on 14 to 19 education is complete.

As a party, we are extremely concerned at the marginalisation of the arts and humanities at key stage 4. We hope that the question of maintaining breadth as well as specialism will be explored later in our debates. That said, huge parts of the Bill concern us on these Benches. But my main concern is that this is not a Bill of equality of opportunity—a matter that was a primary concern of my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby when she was Secretary of State for Education. I echo the concerns of my noble friend Lord Addington and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, about the position of pupils with special needs.

This Bill denies the ethos of the Labour Party, founded to battle social exclusion. It is up to this House to try to make a silk purse out of sow's ear. I hope that the House will improve it and send it back to the No. 10 Policy Unit from whence it came.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative 8:59, 11 March 2002

My Lords, we have had a fairly lengthy but lively debate on various aspects of the Bill. The bulk of the Bill relates to both England and Wales, but parts of it apply to England only and parts apply to Wales only. I hasten to add that that is not the reason why the Guardian described the Bill as a "rag-bag", but because it hands so much power to Ministers. The division of the Bill in the way that I have described highlights differences of approach to education in England and in Wales. I shall be told that that is one of the natural consequences of devolution, as children are the natural consequence of marriage.

I begin with the familiar themes in the Bill, themes that I remember being discussed and acted upon in the 1980s when my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking was Secretary of State for Education and I had a modicum of responsibility for education in Wales. Raising standards in schools, increasing variety in the kind of schools permitted in the state system and ensuring that schools received their proper share of the education budget were high on our agenda. It will not please the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, that the present Secretary of State appears to have learned something from our Committee sessions on Conservative education Bills in the 1990s in which she was a regular participant. Parts of this Bill are based on the continued application of those innovative and successful Conservative reforms that instituted assessment of pupils at key stages and so on. I welcome that, but I detect a weakening of resolve, a softening of rigour in certain areas, which is regrettable.

"The Bill's key theme is innovation: freeing schools to try out new ideas, to excel and to work with other schools to lead change in secondary education".

That is a direct quotation from the glowing summary of the Bill produced, I am told, by a special adviser in the department. At first sight it appears to be a brave admission that Whitehall does not necessarily know best, but on further examination we find that almost every innovation, almost every change of step, has to be approved by the Secretary of State in England or the National Assembly in Wales. It is clear that the spirit of that great control freak, Henry VIII, runs rampant throughout this Bill.

One can hope that such centralised control will not be a totally dead hand on new ideas and that the proposals emanating from schools and other qualifying bodies will survive the ever-sharp axe of the bureaucratic executioner. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, put it rather more positively than I have.

Other themes from the past have been developed in England, if not in Wales: school businesses, specialist schools and so on. The theme that attracted most attention, although there is no direct reference to it in the Bill, is the extension of the Church schools concept to faith schools. Over the centuries, both Christian religions—Catholic and Protestant—and the Jewish religion have been active educators. We owe to them the transmission of the Judaeo-Christian fundamentals of our Western civilisation. Religious schools have been in the state system since 1944. Their record of achievement has been good and they have been valued by the parents who send their children to them.

Other faiths, outside the Christian tradition, that also set great store by education, now permeate our multicultural society and, in fairness—I almost said "logically"—they should be supported by the state where there is a clear local desire for such support, provided that they are not fundamentally opposed to the state itself and the democratic foundations that sustain it. Arguably, it is better to have them within the state system than outside it. I understand that there are four Muslim schools, two Sikh schools, one Greek Orthodox and a Seventh Day Adventist foundation within the maintained sector. I see the Minister nodding.

The social implications for the future of a significant extension of faith-based schools may be immense and must be carefully thought through, but we are a tolerant society. Without tolerance and freedom under the law, we should be very impoverished. We have to rely on the intrinsic benevolence of the faiths themselves to ensure a good social outcome. I hasten to say that that is a personal contribution and not a statement of the party line.

I should be neglecting my duty in this House as an Opposition spokesman on Welsh Affairs if I failed to draw attention to the uniquely Welsh aspects of this England and Wales Bill. Some 32 clauses apply to Wales only. We do not have a Welsh equivalent of the glowing England clauses summary but, thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, we have a documentary guide to the Welsh clauses, and some of us have had the benefit of an oral briefing from the Assembly Minister for Education, Jane Davidson.

The Welsh sections of the Bill are the outcome of a consultation last year on a wide-ranging document titled The Learning Country, which has been referred to in the debate. That consultation ended on 16th November, six days before this Bill was introduced in the other place. It is hard to believe that any late responses were taken into account, but be that as it may, the Welsh approach which focuses on high standards, the removal of barriers, evidence-based policies, partnership and the celebration of the professional judgment of teachers, have been welcomed by the National Union of Teachers. That union says:

"In the NUT's opinion, these principles are far more visionary than the arid notions of autonomy and diversity".

So someone is pleased by the Welsh approach, although I am bound to say that the ultimate verdict of the NUT on the Bill is that it is a curate's egg.

In the other place there were complaints of a difference of approach between the Welsh and the English sections of the Bill. At Second Reading Ministers barely mentioned Wales in their opening and closing speeches, and that has been the subject of complaint from the Government's own Benches. Indeed, the Welsh clauses have hardly been discussed at all and I take issue with the noble Baroness for not mentioning Wales in her opening speech today.

However, my main complaint is that the Welsh contents of the Bill have still not been discussed at a plenary session of the Assembly. My noble friend Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach is right. In response, it is argued that the Bill is largely enabling—I would say permissive—and that the Assembly will have ample opportunity to discuss the secondary legislation which will make the Bill operative in Wales. Is this the best way to proceed—for Parliament to give the Assembly a plenitude of powers which it may or may not use; and if it does, it may not do so in a way that Parliament anticipated? It would surely be better if we had a clear sense of the Assembly's preliminary views to guide us.

There is widespread concern about the extent of the powers given to Ministers in the Bill to exercise through secondary legislation subject to negligible parliamentary scrutiny. If this is true of England, it is certainly true of Wales. We shall not even see the secondary legislation that emanates from the Assembly. We shall have nothing to do with it.

The Education Network (Ten) refers to,

"the vast amount of secondary legislation arising from this Bill", and states that,

"it will be difficult for Parliament to debate the measures adequately, as their outcomes in practice will depend so greatly on the subsequent regulations".

It continues that,

"there will be a further avalanche of consultation on the individual Statutory Instruments through which the regulations will be introduced, scrutinising and responding to which will be a major task for people already overstretched by implementing policy—despite one purpose of the Bill being to lift such burdens of over regulation".

It concludes that the Bill is a highly centralising measure despite its stated purpose of facilitating local innovation and initiative. Others, including the Local Government Association, have come to the same conclusion.

What appears to be happening is that we are giving carte blanche to Ministers to do as they please. In Wales, for example, there is talk of abolishing tests at 11 as well as seven and of forgetting the proposition that schools can form businesses. The emphasis there seems to be on partnerships, especially with LEAs. Some of our larger schools could well form and run businesses that could support the drive for innovation and benefit other schools as well as themselves.

What exactly is to happen to the 14 to 19 age group is still a mystery despite the Green Paper and will presumably remain so until the Government announce their conclusions in the summer. But there is concern about the involvement of the LSC and its Welsh equivalent, ELWa, and sixth forms feel very much under threat. I note, for example, that under Clause 135 further education colleges in Wales are to be prevented from providing higher education courses without Assembly approval and are to be constrained as to the numbers on such courses. The Government's general policy is to extend and enlarge access to higher education by all possible means, and institutions have taken them at their word. Higher education institutions in Wales rightly pride themselves on their success in this field. What have the Assembly government now got in mind? What lies behind the clause is uncertain.

As one would expect, there are distinctly Welsh clauses relating to the national curriculum, clearly intended to ease transition from one stage to the next. Precisely how this is to be achieved is not clear. Special educational needs also feature prominently. There are questions, of course, about regional provision, particularly its accessibility. Wales is to have its own SEN tribunal to hear claims of disability discrimination against schools. I sense that that is right, provided there are sufficient cases to justify it.

There has been talk in Wales about a pilot Welsh baccalaureate. Such a pilot would be possible under the Bill. Although many educationists may favour such a development and the broader approach to education implied, it is important to remember that qualifications must be recognised and respected by higher education institutions and by employers, not just in Wales. Qualifications that are not genuinely comparable with existing qualifications can be a handicap to a young person's progress in higher education or in finding a job.

There is no significant reference in the Bill to parents, which I find strange in view of their critical importance. The Bill offers little to address the fundamental problems of low teacher morale and the increasing teacher shortages, with the exception perhaps of Clause 180 which proposes to pay off student loans for some teachers. One cannot avoid agreeing with the view in The Times that the Bill somehow misses the point so far as concerns teachers and head teachers. It represents a detached autocratic approach to the problems in schools today. Its ultimate answers to all problems appear to lie with the Secretary of State or the National Assembly. Local education authorities and the teaching unions are all complaining that they are left with very little discretion.

I find the Bill curiously unfocused; it sounds an uncertain note. We are bound to examine it very carefully at every stage and test the validity of the Government's approach.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards) 9:14, 11 March 2002

My Lords, this has been a wonderful debate. I have listened with great interest to every contribution. I have been pleased that, however guarded, there have been noble Lords willing to welcome the purpose and initiative behind the Bill. I recognise that I always should listen, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has said.

I have been interested in the geography. We have ranged from the Soviet Union and post-war Germany, to Scotland and Wales via the USA, Sweden and Denmark. I have learnt that elephants cannot tie up their shoelaces, but they can dance with chickens. I have learned that what I am doing may not be equated—and rightly so—with events in Germany. I was interested in the Times Educational Supplement. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, says, if the TES is to be believed, that what we are trying to do is,

"open to comparison with Gosplan, the Soviet planning ministry".

I say that in answer to my noble friend Lord Peston who was worried that we might be equated with Nazi Germany. No, it is the Stalinist Soviet Union.

I was fascinated to hear the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, talk about his experiences of going to parties and being asked where his children go to school. I would say to him very gently that perhaps he is going to the wrong parties. That might be worth thinking about..

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is fond of detail and particularly of statistics, made me feel rather squeamish for a moment, particularly as I am responsible for performance tables. Value added is something to which I am extremely committed.

Like my noble friend Lord Peston, I am pro-education, pro-equality and pro the comprehensive system.

My noble friend Lord Mitchell talked with great passion about there being no mention of IT in the Bill. I hate to disillusion my noble friend, but if he turns to page 54 of the Bill he will see that there are two such occasions. In fact, my noble friend is right: "computers", "IT" and "laptops" are not mentioned, but "information and communication technology" is mentioned in Clause 80(3)(b) and again in Clause 81(3)(b) in relation to the curriculum. My noble friend made the important point that the world that our children are growing up in—and the education that they receive—is a different world certainly from the one in which I grew up. I do not agree with my noble friend's analysis that the teaching media have not changed. Blackboards are becoming whiteboards.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has said on a number of occasions, we share a passion for ICT. I am well aware of the advances which are before us. Not only is the technology of a car now more advanced than was that of the "Apollo" mission, but those greetings cards that play a tune when opened are further on technologically than was the "Apollo" programme.

I was pleased that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned the Carezone project which works with children in care and which I have been pleased to take forward within the department.

I could spend a great deal of time on the various contributions, so I begin my detailed remarks by apologising to those noble Lords who I fail to answer properly. I say at the outset, and I shall repeat this at the end, that I shall be available to any noble Lord who wants to discuss any aspect of the Bill. I shall ensure that officials are available also.

Some noble Lords began their contributions by talking about the timetable in the Commons. I have made it my business to examine in precise detail the Commons' timetable. Although I know that noble Lords feel that there were missed opportunities, I have to say that the Government made repeated offers to extend the programme. The first offer was made very early on, in the third Committee sitting and extra sessions were available. Despite that, I recognise the will of this House to examine legislation in detail. I am more than happy to go through this legislation word by word if that is what your Lordships want.

My noble friend Lady Andrews raised the question of the role of the school innovation unit in reference to the Bill, particularly with regard to the early powers—the power to innovate and earned autonomy. I advise my noble friend and other noble Lords that the unit is being established. Its purpose is to support schools with innovative practice. We have described it as an incubator for innovative practice. It will be made up of practitioners. I believe that they will make a great contribution.

I turn to the power to innovate and to earned autonomy. I want to spend a moment or two just clarifying precisely the difference between those two elements of the Bill. There was confusion about that in another place and a little confusion here. Let me make it clear: the power to innovate is for any school or local education authority; it is not for the most successful only. Any school may apply to the Secretary of State to relax regulatory requirements for a fixed period if that is necessary to carry out projects to raise standards. We have created the power in this way precisely because we believe that schools in the most challenging circumstances may benefit from it. As this experimentation in education will directly affect our children, it is important to ensure that there will be a professional assessment of whether the project would raise standards. It should not under any circumstances be a free-for-all.

We are saying that autonomy would be available to schools which meet specified performance criteria and that it can be applied only to issues relating to the curriculum or pay and conditions. Essentially, the purpose of the Bill is to allow that to become an automatic provision for schools, thereby freeing them up to be able to do that. As I said earlier, those powers do not allow the Secretary of State to impose anything on anyone; they will only allow her to respond to those that are put forward to her.

Several noble Lords, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Rix, raised the question of special educational needs and inclusion. The Special Educational Needs Consortium has asked us to give reassurances, and we would be delighted to meet it to do so. However, I wish to record a couple of those reassurances immediately. The only permitted variation to the disability legislation would be one that would strengthen provision for children. In considering the effectiveness of the innovative approaches that are adopted, we wish that every child will benefit.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The Bill does not say that. It does not exclude any single piece of legislation on education, from time immemorial to the present and in the future. There is, therefore, no safeguard to say that a piece of legislation could not be changed by the Secretary of State. Let me give an example: a school could make a legitimate application to the Secretary of State based on the claim that if it did not have in the school certain children with special educational needs it could improve its pupils' education. Under the Bill it is technically possible—although probably unlikely, knowing the present Secretary of State—to agree to that application. There is, therefore, no absolute safeguard for the contents of that Bill or any other Education Bill.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Indeed, I am trying, by virtue of giving those assurances, to point us in the direction that we will pursue as we take the Bill through. I draw noble Lords' attention to policy documents that we have produced on the legislation to date.

In regard to special educational needs—we believe that some of the issues that we raised in the Bill, for example, the ability of schools to federate and the school forum, particularly the admissions forum—will be opportunities to meet more effectively the requirements of children with special educational needs. That is because, when the requirements of children with special educational needs are put forward, it is always an issue that some schools have taken numbers of those children while others have not. We hope that, by looking more collectively at their needs, we will be able to ensure that we spread good practice, that schools are geared up to support those children and that their needs will be considered fully in their locality.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the point we are making is that that would be technically possible under this Bill unless there were some other form of legislation. What happens now and what has been the practice in the past is that people do not understand the conditions and make assumptions. That is the background as to why we have had to introduce legislation in the past. It is not because teachers are basically evil or because the system has not worked; it is because people have not understood what is going on. Current legislation makes them go away and think about it and do something about it. That is the kind of assurance we need in this Bill, not merely a statement of good intentions. That simply has not worked in the past.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

My Lords, we will return to this in detail. But we have the SEN code and the legislation; that has not changed. Within the power to innovate, noble Lords will have the opportunity to look at the guidance, to look at what the Government are proposing and to table amendments if they so wish.

I want to move on to the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and the case of Lauren Wright. In the course of the debate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, raised this at the beginning, I have been able to obtain copies of correspondence. The right honourable Gillian Shepherd MP wrote to the Secretary of State. This is a desperately tragic case. We recognise the importance of the issue and will look carefully at any amendments that are tabled. I give no promise to accept them. As the right honourable Gillian Shepherd has already said, we need to ensure that they fit within the legislative framework. However, we can assure noble Lords that we take the matter extremely seriously.

I turn to the issue of schools forming companies. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that she understood that LEAs cannot form companies; in fact they can. They already have the powers to do that and we expect them to take an active role in school companies as they are set up.

I want to focus on the three circumstances in which we envisage the power being used. The first is that LEAs will be able voluntarily, if they wish, to contract out a wide variety of their education services. Where schools wish to get together to run the services, it makes no sense to exclude them. But we need a legal vehicle to do that. We believe that forming a company will be the simplest and best vehicle.

Secondly, we want schools to pool their resources to become more efficient purchasers. We are currently running pilot projects in that area. If schools form a company it will be easier for them to do that and so benefit from the economies of scale.

Finally, we want schools to be able to form joint venture companies to prepare PFI and PPP schemes more easily. Noble Lords will be aware that I will be working with the Church of England to develop its plans on improving its stock of smaller schools that would otherwise not benefit from this investment. We hope that the experience from this approach will help to shape potential future ventures.

I turn now to the issue of school governance. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, rightly pointed to the fact that, having de-coupled schools, we now give them the power to "re-couple". There is a difference in that we now offer the choice. We recognise that for some schools it will be an important opportunity. Other schools which have moved away from being together because of earlier legislation, in my experience and from talking to them, will generally decide to stay that way. Quite often, where there is an infant and junior school and the junior school was the dominant partner, infant schools valued the opportunity to have their own governing bodies and move forward. But we recognise that in some communities and in some schools it is an important opportunity.

Noble Lords raised the question of the role of head teachers within staffing. We are looking, with governors with whom I have talked over the past few months and the Way Forward Group, to the recognition that head teachers would play the key role in appointments outside what we describe as the leadership group. We also expect school governing bodies to take a slightly different role in relation to staff dismissals. Instead of there being two committees, there will now be one which will deal with appeals. We will place head teachers in the role of being the chief executive of the school in that context.

I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn is interested in that area for schools within the Church. We will return to that topic and, I hope, have conversations as to how to put it into practice. In terms of federations, which the right reverend Prelate also raised, we expect the governing bodies of schools to decide whether that is the route down which they wish to go. They will of course be aware of the character, the ethos, the status of their school and I am sure will wish to ensure that it is fully recognised. We shall of course discuss further the ways in which we can consult on interim executive boards.

I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was generally happy with what we are trying to do. Though we recognise that governors have had an increased workload, part of the policy behind the Bill is to ensure that we deal with that effectively and give them a more strategic role, which noble Lords will welcome.

A number of noble Lords rightly raised the issue of school staffing. As several speakers pointed out, it is not simply a matter of financing, though that is important. There are other issues that affect the way in which we staff our schools and the expectations that we have for our teachers. In terms of the role of the STRB it is important to get this right. We have looked into the matter at the request of the review body, and we have at its request put forward the proposals for debate.

We recognise the challenge of performance pay, but we believe that we have made the right, and significant, contribution in that respect. We need to pursue this at present. We do value our teachers. We are conscious of the number of supply teachers who are in our schools. In January 2001—the latest information that I have—there were 19,000 short-term supply teachers working in schools compared to 410,000 regular teachers; that is, about 4.5 per cent of the total number. We understand what Ofsted has been saying about this, though I pay credit to many supply teachers who perform an important task and carry forward their work professionally.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised the issue of non-contact time. As she is aware, we have been looking into this matter. More generally, I should add that we recognise these issues as being very important. Part of the Bill's purpose is to encourage our teaching staff to stay; to give them the power the innovate; to look at the way in which we organise our school staffing; and to support them in other ways.

Noble Lords were a little, though not terribly, interested in the issues surrounding the advisory forums. We recognise that these bodies are not perhaps as understood as might be the case. I hope that we shall get to grips with the detail during the passage of the Bill. We are trying to make it clear that there is an opportunity here for schools to work with LEAs in an advisory capacity on some of the issues of science. There are details to be discussed, to which we shall no doubt return. We believe this to be an important move—one which some schools and LEAs have already begun to develop.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, raised the question of the criteria for admissions. When considering admissions I am sure we all agree that it is most important for every child to have a place. The admissions authority is the LEA for voluntary, controlled and community schools, while the governing body performs that role for voluntary-aided and foundation schools. As regards academies, I can tell the House that the admissions policy is set within the funding agreement. Therefore, it fits into the admissions criteria of other schools.

During the course of the debate we returned on several occasions to the issue of exclusions. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked why parenting orders are not included in the Bill. We are still deliberating on how best to take this forward. I shall be very happy to have some discussion with the noble Baroness as to her thinking on the matter. It is not forgotten. It is an important part of our thinking and policy. The question is how best to do it.

The general comments that were made in the course of this debate raise the question of the role of exclusions within a broader strategy. There is a difference as regards the position of children who cannot be educated within a mainstream school and have to be removed because their behaviour is too difficult—the main reason for exclusions in this context. From September of this year they will have a place in full-time education. I know that many noble Lords will have been worried that exclusion would mean a child being out of the school system and, if you like, roaming the streets, which is something that we should not encourage under any circumstances.

We have put in place another raft of measures designed to support teachers when considering the behaviour of children and ensuring that they are able to cope within a classroom environment. We have discussed some of these measures in this House previously. It is about the role of learning mentors and it is about the role of some of our classroom assistants. In a group that I am chairing within the department we are also looking at how we can more effectively bring some of the expertise of professionals, especially in the health service, closer to schools. I believe that that will make a difference.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned children in care. The noble Earl is right: most children in care are there because of abuse or neglect. They are vulnerable children. The noble Earl said that exclusion was just part of their story; that is true. We are examining the issue of educational attainment for such children carefully among departments. In particular, we are investigating whether they have the opportunity to sit the examinations in the first place and, thereby, increase their attainment. That is an issue of great importance, to which, I am sure, noble Lords will wish to return.

It is not the case that the Learning and Skills Council is inherently anti-sixth form. I have answered questions in the House by saying how much we value the importance of the role of sixth forms in schools. We are simply making sure that we have a rational view. The Learning and Skills Council will be able to make proposals only where there is a problem. I am interested in ensuring that small schools with small sixth forms have the opportunity to collaborate with others. That can extend the opportunities for children with their studies.

The 14 to 19 curriculum was referred to by many noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, raised the question of the legislation itself. Clause 81 re-enacts Section 354 of the Education Act 1996; it does not change anything in the curriculum. In particular, it does not make anything optional. The Bill simply re-states what is in the foundation subjects. For "foundation" one should not read "optional". That is not what we are describing. As we have a consultation on the 14 to 19 strategy, we want the results of that consultation to be enacted in the Bill. That is why we have taken key stage 4 and described it slightly differently—in order to put it in its place in the Bill.

Noble Lords have raised the issue of languages and will be aware from previous debates that I am working closely on that matter. That is why we produced a document on language learning at the same time as the 14 to 19 strategy. It is not true that it will take until 2012 to have a full primary entitlement. I hope that we will have moved substantially towards that in a short time. It is simply that it is important to hold us to account on what we are trying to do. The purpose of the languages strategy is to consider lifelong learning of languages, focusing on primary education but offering opportunities to every citizen who wishes to take up languages. In your Lordships' House I have described a system rather like music grades that we might use.

We talk about academic and vocational education. I have said before that those are false issues. Some of our most vocational or academic people, in a sense, cross over: wanting to be a doctor or a teacher is a vocation, but those people need to achieve high academic standards. It is important that we do not maintain a system that says that vocational education is somehow inferior. In the 14 to 19 strategy we are trying to provide the flexibility that will enable us to offer children and young people genuine choices; it is not about selection at 14, which the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, was particularly worried about. It is not about classifying children or saying that the less able will take vocational GCSEs. It is about a tailored education that is appropriate for our children.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, for not mentioning Wales in my opening remarks. I shall endeavour to make up for that during the passage of the Bill. The noble Lord described many of the joys of devolution. It is true that the National Assembly for Wales will make its own decisions. In the Bill there are separate clauses for Wales which will be appropriately dealt with. In that discussion, the noble Lord will have the opportunity to raise any issues. It is worth saying that the Assembly Government fully supports the Bill, and the Assembly will debate secondary legislation. Whether they choose to debate the Bill itself in plenary session is a matter for them, not me, as noble Lords will appreciate. But, of course, the United Kingdom Parliament remains responsible for primary legislation in Wales, while the Welsh Assembly is responsible for secondary legislation. Therefore, this House is in order to scrutinise those parts of the legislation that relate to Wales. We have worked very closely with the Welsh Assembly government to reach the provisions that reflect the policy aims of both administrations and the Bill is supported by them.

Noble Lords have spoken at length about centralisation and I know that we shall return to this in greater detail. I draw noble Lords' attention to the report from the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform. We shall be picking up the points that have been made but my reading of it is that it is fairly supportive in terms of how we have tried to do this. It is a matter of opinion whether what we are doing is centralising in order to put power in the hands of the Secretary of State, or sweeping away some of the issues that have prevented our good schools—indeed, all our schools—from being able to look to their future and to innovate.

The matter of attendance has been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and other noble Lords, as being important. I was delighted to learn while sitting here that my noble friend had 100 per cent attendance from the age of 11 to 18. That is something we should all commend him for. However, the links were very firmly made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, between those who end up in our penal system and the attendance issues. When we come to that part of the Bill we shall look carefully at what kind of attendance we are seeking in order to understand the difficulties for schools and the need for us to think very hard and very carefully about how best to ensure the highest possible attendance for our children and the role of parents and schools within that.

Some noble Lords welcomed the work of the academies and the work that we are undertaking within the Bill to expand outside of city academies. As I said before to the noble Baroness, Lady David, academies are subject to the same admissions rules. In the context of their discussions concerning different kinds of schools, the noble Lord, Lord Preston, raised the question of funding for the schools in greatest need. There are significant sources of funding for weak schools.

The Schools in Challenging Circumstances programme provides additional support for approximately 500 schools which face the biggest challenges, but are not in special measures. Excellence in City provides additional support. There is considerable targeted support for those schools.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, before the Minister leaves that subject, can she explain to the House how it is possible to have additional sums of money for special schools for a proportion only of schools, which is bound to attract better teachers and better opportunities to move on to the innovations that she talks about? Can she explain why that does not bring about a two-tier educational system?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pre-empted me as I was moving precisely onto the issue of specialist schools. The noble Baroness said "special" schools but I believe she was referring to specialist schools in this context.

We have said that we want all schools to become specialist schools and I want to spend a moment describing how the Secretary of State described specialist schools recently. When I walk into a school I realise that every single school is different. There are many aspects that are the same, but there are differences. One of the things that we all notice about schools, from our own experience, is that there is often an area of the school which is stronger than the others. It can often be a particular department within a school.

The purpose of looking at specialism is not to take away from being a good school; it is simply to add on. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, referred to the school of the future and the role of ICT. We want schools to develop and grow that which they are very good at to enable them to share it with other schools. We said that we want 50 per cent to become specialist schools simply to give a figure on what we are trying to achieve. That is not a figure that debars the other 50 per cent. It is a figure that we hope to reach.

I recognise the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and others raised; namely, funding. We have said that we would not want that to stand in the way and that we have had discussions with the Technologies Colleges Trust and others in order to ensure that that does not prevent schools from participating in the programme.

Specialist schools are required to spend a third of their money within the community. The noble Lord, Lord Moser, asked why the provision was for only one secondary school and the rest for primary schools. That is a good point and I shall seek advice on precisely how we have developed the programme in that way. Obviously it is important to recognise that our primary schools should be able to benefit from knowledge of and links to specialist schools. That is not something from which I would wish to move away. That point addresses the diversity that we want to see in our schools and I shall return briefly to that point towards the end of my remarks.

Briefly, because I am conscious of the time, I turn to the question of pupils' rights to consultation. We are looking at this and we are aware of the need to consult with young people. Whether that should be put on a statutory basis is a matter that we shall need to discuss.

I turn now to the issue of faith schools. There has been an important debate in your Lordships' House in which many noble Lords have spoken with great passion. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, said that he believed that the Butler Act had settled the position. With respect, I would say to him that the world has changed. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn mentioned the attractive attributes of faith schools, as well as the tolerance that can apply. I believe that that is an attractive trait in all schools, not only in faith schools.

I am pleased that no move was made by noble Lords to lay society's ills at the door of our schools. I know that noble Lords are far too experienced to do that. I recognise, when it is said in your Lordships' House that parents know a good thing when they see it, that I want all schools to be "a good thing" so that all parents have the opportunity to recognise that good thing.

I was much taken by the view of my noble and right reverend friend Lord Sheppard of the tolerance that comes out of security and identity. I was very much reminded of the work of Steve Biko, whose writings helped me to understand the need to develop a separate ethos from which one meets others; that is, from a position of strength and security. I am sure that we shall deliberate on that again. I recognise the work of my noble and right reverend friend Lord Sheppard from when I was 17 years old and living in Liverpool. I attended a conference at which he addressed us on precisely the issue of tolerance.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke of the generosity of spirit in many of our faith schools. I would agree with him, as I would agree that there is a generosity of spirit in many of our schools more generally. I was taken by the speeches of a number of noble Lords, including that of the noble Baroness, Lady David, who discussed the need to be pragmatic. Parents have chosen to educate their children by sending them to Church schools or schools with a faith ethos for a long time. I believe that they will continue to do so, whether or not such schools are in the maintained system.

My noble friend Lord Peston raised the issue of the Cooper's Company School. I understand that the school was found to be interviewing inappropriately; namely, that it was not interviewing purely to establish the religious grounds for attending the school. I believe that the school has accepted the position and has changed its criteria accordingly.

I was most taken by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, and how mastic asphalt spreading led him to becoming a priest, but that later he was drawn to philosophy. There is an issue surrounding the need to ensure that faith schools are wanted by the community. Indeed, the only basis on which the matter has been raised in the Bill is to ensure that, where a school does have the support of the community but perhaps does not achieve the support of the school organisation committee, there will be an opportunity to go before an adjudicator and ask for the position to be looked at. However, as I have said, it is only in that context that the Bill touches on the issue of faith schools.

We think that it is important to be pragmatic. I would prefer to see faith schools in the maintained system. I make no bones about that. I want to ensure that schools teach the national curriculum, that they teach girls and boys equally, that they teach citizenship and that we are able to influence the work they undertake on inclusion. To respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that is what I think is important in a multicultural society.

My noble friend Lord Peston mentioned creationism in a school in Gateshead. Rather than take up the time of the House at this point, I shall write to him. My noble friends Lord Hattersley and Lord Peston raised issues of ideology and philosophy. There is no time to debate them at this stage and I am only sorry that we have not had the chance to do so. I should welcome the opportunity to do that. I hope that either or both of my noble friends will consider initiating an appropriate debate in which we can discuss what we mean by the comprehensive system.

For my part, I shall state my philosophy in 30 seconds. The comprehensive system does not mean that all schools are the same. I believe in a comprehensive system, but one where every child has the opportunity to achieve. We have not yet finished the task before us. Our comprehensive system has done a great deal, but still too many of our children do not achieve in the way in which they should. Therefore diversity rather than hierarchy—which of course the House would expect me to say, but I shall be happy to debate that at greater length—is the way in which we can help to improve the standards of all our children. I do not believe that more of the same would necessary solve—

Photo of Lord Hattersley Lord Hattersley Labour

My Lords, did I understand my noble friend to say that there is not time to deal with the central point, which has been raised by nine noble Lords during the debate, about the creation of a hierarchy of schools? It has been the major issue of contention during the debate. Surely she does not mean that she will not deal with it at all.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards)

My Lords, I would happily deal with it. I was trying to make the point that the issue of ideology and philosophy is worthy of more than a comment in a winding-up speech from a Minister at the end of a long debate. It is worthy of a debate in itself and I would be more than happy to discuss the issue. I have not had the opportunity to discuss it with my noble friend—nor, indeed, do I believe we have ever formally met—but I would be very happy to do so in debate at any time. I am simply saying that the subject is worth more. My point was meant as a compliment to the issue, not to detract from it. This is an issue at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.

It is through diversity for our children that we shall provide the right kind of education. Noble Lords have referred to the need to ensure that children get the education that is appropriate to them, that suits them, that will enable them to achieve. That is what we are trying to do. We may argue and disagree during the proceedings on the Bill about the means, but we are united in the recognition that we are seeking something that will benefit all our children. I should say to my noble friend that I will be here when any opportunity arises to debate the philosophy behind that in more detail.

My noble friend also raised questions about selection, aptitude and ability. No doubt we shall discuss those issues at great length. I hope that I can give him the answer that was felt not to be appropriate from my predecessor.

I would describe aptitude and ability in the context of children as follows. If you have a child, as I do, who can build Lego models and make them look perfectly symmetrical, and can turn a pile of Lego bricks into an engineering triumph, then I believe that he has an aptitude for either architecture or engineering. He is also very good at science at school; he has an ability for science.

Let me conclude by saying that we have produced policy statements which I hope will address some of the concerns raised. I am much taken by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Moser, about the 7 million adults who do not have basic skills. Whatever system of education we put in place for the future we need to ensure that that is not repeated.

We recognise the value that we should all place on our teachers. We will have the opportunity to debate many issues. As usual, noble Lords have given me a flavour of what is to come. I look forward to it enormously. I hope that the debate will make the House feel that I am worthy of standing in this position. We all know that our children will grow up in a world that we cannot imagine. I hope that our deliberations in setting out an education agenda for the future will give them the kind of education they deserve.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.