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My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
moved Amendment No. 1:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
"EXEMPTION OF INNOVATIVE PROJECTS
(1) This section has effect notwithstanding anything in Chapter 1 of this Act.
(2) A maintained school governing body may, in consultation with the parents of children at the school, resolve to implement an innovative project which, in the opinion of the governing body, contributes to the raising of educational standards achieved by registered pupils at the school.
(3) Subject to subsection (4), the governing body may resolve to exempt any innovative project from any requirement imposed by education legislation on the governing body.
(4) The Secretary of State shall by order designate any requirement imposed by education legislation on a school governing body as not subject to exemption, relaxation or modification by a governing body, even in the case of an innovative project.
(5) No order may be made under subsection (4), nor may any provision be made in such an order, unless the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales as the case may be is satisfied that such order or provision may be made without detriment to the education at the school of those pupils having special educational needs."
Amendment No. 1 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 4, 7, 8, 14, 15 and 157, which will, I believe, be spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. This is the beginning of what will be a lively and lengthy discussion of the Bill. Despite the Written Answers, the policy papers and the endless missives from the department, the Bill is still strong on powers and central control but light on detail. Much of our effort in Committee will be expended in eliciting details from the Government of how they intend the powers to be used.
Few noble Lords will take issue with the Government's ambition that schools should be more proactive in exploring ways to raise standards. One key way to raise standards is to raise our expectations of children; when more is expected of children, more of them will rise to the challenge. However, at the outset of our debate, I must press the Government to spell out the problems experienced by schools that have led the Secretary of State to take such an open-ended power. What is it that a school is inhibited by law from doing in order to raise standards? I can think of examples such as altering term times and the number of days in the year on which attendance at school is required or the use of particular forms of punishment, which, in any case, is governed by European Union law. However, as regards almost any other aspect of running a school, exemption from legislation is not required.
In order to raise standards one could consider teaching boys and girls separately; various forms of streaming by ability or setting by subjects; homework patterns; lunchtime and after-school curricular activities; methods of teaching; mentoring; the use of technology, including inter-active media; team teaching; rote learning; whole-class teaching; group and individual learning; the use of assistants in the classroom, both paid and voluntary; field trips; town and country visits; in-school and out-of-school project learning; the involvement of outside bodies; intensive special needs teaching by withdrawing pupils from class for all or part of a day; special programmes for the most able and for the least able; and exploring more effective means of recording progress. I could fill many more pages with actions that could be taken to raise standards which do not require any exemption from existing law. It is for the Government to argue their case. So in attempting to raise standards, what proportion of schools have been prevented innovating by a legal constraint? If there were legal constraints, what were they?
I turn to a different point. Although through letters the Government have indicated the way in which the early clauses will be used, they have still not accepted the need to include certain safeguards in the Bill. For example, in answer to a Written Question (HL 3784) the Government indicated that the Secretary of State would consider the impact of any application to innovate on the breadth of provision available. That provision is not in the Bill.
They also indicated that the Government,
"would not in general regard a proposal to suspend the requirement to teach a compulsory subject as standards-raising unless appropriate arrangements were in place to secure high standards in the basics and a broad and balanced curriculum".—[Official Report, 30/4/02; col. WA93.]
They would not in general, but perhaps they would in particular cases. Again, there is no reference to that on the face of the Bill.
Fundamentally, no protection whatever is written into the Bill for children with special educational needs. The Bill is silent on that. Indeed, if the Government mean that no application would be accepted that disadvantaged any other group of children—including those with special educational needs—why not say so and why not say so on the face of the Bill?
Then there is the perennial issue of bureaucracy. With between 23,000 and 24,000 schools applying individually, or even in co-operative groups, where is the army of civil servants to crawl over each application in order to verify the quality of the bids; to check the impact of the proposals on children and surrounding schools; and to test the depth and effectiveness of any consultation?
During a previous debate on education, I said that civil servants in the DfES must shake with excitement when the Bills come forward because it means at least the sustenance of those in post and perhaps a doubling, trebling or even quadrupling of their army. One can only presume that the DfES has not lost its appetite for controlling from the centre.
My amendment and those tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, aim to achieve the same result: that is, to encourage innovation with the aim of raising standards and to innovate, subject of course to the Secretary of State setting out by order in Parliament any requirement that would not be subject to exemption, relaxation or modification. In that way, if the Government believed that a broad and balanced curriculum must be provided and that no other group of children should be disadvantaged by a proposal or any other constraint they wanted to put in place, they could set that out in the order. That would allow schools to operate within a clear framework, and parents, governors and teachers—and under the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, local education authorities too—would be involved in the process.
Most noble Lords who spoke at Second Reading accepted that protection for children with special educational needs was fundamental. That is why it is enshrined in my amendment. If accepted, the amendments would cut out costly and time-consuming bidding processes. Schools would have greater ownership of their programmes and they would be openly accountable to children, to parents and to Ofsted through the inspection system.
Furthermore, there would be no need to time-limit projects. If they were successful, they would continue; if they were not, they would be dropped. They could be self-evaluated by the schools and they could be further externally evaluated by Ofsted. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will accept that a great deal of flexibility to explore ways of raising standards already exists in our schools.
On a more cynical note, I expect that most schools would argue that if there were less central control and bureaucracy and if a greater sum of their core funding arrived in the schools for their budgets, there would be considerably more opportunity, time and money to fund innovative, standard-raising projects.
Finally, there is a legislative tension—even, dare I say, contradiction?—which the Government have not addressed and I am afraid that they will have to do so. Under Section 5 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, LEAs have a duty to raise standards. In this Bill, local education authorities are not even statutory consultees. That matter will have to be addressed. I beg to move.
I rise to support Amendment No. 1 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and to speak to Amendments Nos. 4, 7, 8 14, 15 and 157. In supporting Amendment No. 1, I noticed its similarities to an amendment moved by my honourable friend Mr Willis, Liberal Democrat spokesman for education in the other place. I congratulate the noble Baroness on making good use of that amendment.
I want to speak more generally about the grouping of amendments because it gets to the heart of the Bill. The Government justify the Bill in terms of promoting innovation and diversification in the education sector. The first chapter of the Bill is all about innovation, but at no point have we had a satisfactory explanation of what "innovation" means. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, will try to give us a definition of "innovation" in some of the amendments that they will be moving later, but it is extraordinarily unsatisfactory that when pressed in the other place the best that the Minister, Mr Timms, could come up with was that "innovation" meant doing something new.
I have been looking through the further explanations that we have received from the Government, in particular the guidance, about the power to innovate. I do not find in that any further explanation of "innovation". Innovation is therefore about doing something new, but I return to the point which arose again and again at Second Reading; that, surely, any good school has been doing it since kingdom come! We expect good schools to be innovative in any event.
That is at the root of a series of amendments which I and the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, have put forward. We believe that all schools should be innovative, not just the good schools. We intensely dislike the concept of earned autonomy and we do not believe that it should relate only to the schools which have time to put their proposals to the Secretary of State.
I know that there is a distinction between innovation and earned autonomy and I know that there is a degree to which those who have earned autonomy can act automatically. However, every school must apply to the Secretary of State. Moreover, Chapter 1 relating to innovation is extremely lengthy. When I read the guidance notes I was hit by the amount of time and energy which will have to be spent on examining and vetting each proposal for innovation.
The Liberal Democrats' starting point—I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, shares my feelings—is that good schools are continually innovating and finding flexibilities within the system. I echo the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that within the education system there is little need to legislate to innovate because schools can do most of the things that they want to do.
After talking with head teachers and governors I know that an area in which they might like to innovate is that relating to the curriculum. They would like a little more flexibility. One also knows that many schools with confident heads are already being innovative and finding ways around the national curriculum.
However, some schools are perhaps slightly less innovative, or more diffident, and we want to encourage those. Our Amendment No. 15 is intended to encourage those schools to go forward. We should encourage not only the best schools, but also the average ones. Not only do the best need a push; very often it is actually the average schools that need a little extra encouragement.
Again, we reject the notion of earned autonomy. Head teachers do not necessarily want to be told what to do. For example, with regard to pay and conditions, when talking with school heads and governors, it has been made clear to me that they feel that they already have quite enough flexibility in that area. Many do not want to touch it because they feel that they are walking into an absolute minefield.
On top of all that, it is truly absurd that the Department for Education and Skills should think that every application needs to be vetted by the department itself. It already has something of a reputation for overload. Its staff have far too much to do and thus are not always able to respond as quickly as they might. Perhaps the department has become overburdened with its own bureaucracy. If that is the case, then why take on even more? Again, the notion that even under earned autonomy, schools will have to apply to the department rather than utilising the devolved system already established in local education authorities is quite absurd. At least the LEAs could vet the applications being put forward.
The conclusion we reached was that if anything is needed in this area, it is a broad clause which would give all schools except for those in special measures leeway to deviate from the national curriculum to the tune of something in the order of 20 per cent of their time. The proposal about giving them a degree of flexibility as regards time came from an analogy with planning legislation. If people want to build an extension to their home which amounts to less than 20 per cent of the square footage of the original building, it can be done without having to seek specific planning permission. We thought that the same principle could be applied in the education sector. Thus one day of the school week could be devoted, if you like, to extra-curricular activities.
That principle explains the thrust of the proposed new clause set out in Amendment No. 15. Subsection (1) makes it clear that any proposals would still have to contribute towards raising educational standards. Subsection (2) would ensure a broad and balanced curriculum and limit projects to no more than 20 per cent of time spent away from the subjects specified in the national curriculum. Subsection (3) would allow the Secretary of State, or the National Assembly for Wales, to issue guidance rather than regulations on the general aims in this area. Subsection (4) states that consultation should be carried out with parents and local education authorities. They must be satisfied that the proposals are sound. However, I stress that a school would be required to consult with a local education authority. Ultimately, the authority would not be able to exercise a veto on any proposals.
Subsection (5) covers the procedures for the organisation that would have a veto over the proposals; that is, that they should be subject to the normal inspection procedures carried out by Ofsted. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that any good school would monitor its own progress on new innovations, if a verification by Ofsted suggested that the innovations were not contributing to an improvement in school performance, they would have to be dropped. Lastly, subsection (6) specifies that any school in special measures should not be given such a flexibility. For such schools, it would be nose to the grindstone on the national curriculum—although some might argue that those are the very schools which need a degree of flexibility.
Amendments Nos. 4, 7, 8 and 14 are paving amendments for the substantive new clause set out in Amendment No. 15. Amendment No. 4 would change the wording from "qualifying bodies" to "schools". Perhaps we ought to have included in this grouping Amendment No. 3, to which I shall speak later, because we seek to delete the words,
"in the opinion of the Secretary of State".
Thus Amendment No. 7 would make the end of Clause 1(1) read "England and Wales", making obsolete Clause 1(2), as set out in Amendment No. 8.
Clause 14 requires a little further explanation. It is needed because at present there is no definition of the concept of a "school term" in education legislation. Amendment No. 157 repeats precisely the same amendment, but I have tabled it at this point because I have been asked by Mr Chris Price, who is leading a commission that is considering the school year for the Local Government Association, to put in two amendments. The second amendment, to which I shall speak in due course, is Amendment No. 139. That would pave the way for a standardisation of the school year to be introduced at some stage if it is decided that we should move in that direction. We would then need to incorporate into education legislation a definition of the concept of a school term. Such a proposal would suit us well because in order to define the use of "one-fifth" of a school's time, we would need to be able to define exactly what would be the total time.
We feel very strongly that every school should have the chance to innovate. This new clause would provide a facility for schools to do so; not unreasonably, but within a considered framework.
Having been absent from the House of Lords for the first three days of this week owing to a sudden family bereavement, I was unaware of the opening amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, until rather late in the day when I took my place in the Committee. I apologise for that.
I feel that I must give Amendment No. 1 my full support, in particular subsection (5). The Marshalled List contains many amendments referring to special educational needs and disability. How appropriate, therefore, to insert such a supportive clause right at the beginning of the Bill. It is but a harbinger of things to come. I hope that the Minister will be minded to offer a favourable response.
I, too, have added my name to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. However, I should also like to offer my strong support for the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch. I shall not repeat all the points made so strongly by both noble Baronesses, rather I wish simply to underline my particular concern that we should not create a two-tier system of schools. Some schools might be rewarded with a proposal which in reality is simply plain, good educational practice. Other schools, however, which might already be doing less well, would not be allowed such flexibility. Please let us have the right to experiment and innovate within very carefully defined limits made available to all schools, except perhaps those in special measures.
Secondly, it is important to put on to the face of the Bill that a broad and balanced curriculum must be preserved. It is vital that that concept is maintained. A good many head teachers in the system have their own hobby-horses and would like to do things differently, not least in secondary schools. Some feel strongly that less able or less motivated children should be given rather boring and tedious technical and practical work, with little exposure to academic subjects at which, given the opportunity, they might excel if they happen to be late developers. The concept of a broad and balanced curriculum is one which has been hard fought for over the past generation or so of teachers and schools. It is terribly important to retain it by writing it into the Bill.
We felt that to allow something in the order of one-fifth of school time to be used for experiment was acceptable, but what is done must fall within the concept of the broad and balanced curriculum. Thus the main amendment in this grouping would allow schools to be innovative and to give certain children different kinds of experiences outwith the constraints of the national curriculum.
Finally, I hope that any innovations will be closely monitored to ensure that they really do raise standards. We have all seen people riding high on their hobby-horses, promoting what at the time seemed to be frightfully good ideas. Those people become very enthusiastic; they go to conferences and get very excited about the notion. Ultimately, however, no one asks the question: were the children performing better and producing better work as a result of the introduction of the new idea? We do not want an education service that is full of gimmicks. We want one that genuinely provides ever-increasing high standards for all school children.
I support this group of amendments and wish to say something about teachers as professionals. The Government have said that they respect teachers as professionals and want to encourage them to behave as such, and they have introduced a number of initiatives to help teachers to develop their professionalism.
One of the criteria of a professional is someone whose judgment can be trusted in his or her field of expertise. A second criterion is someone who will keep up with the latest research and the cutting edge of best practice in that field. What nonsense it would be, therefore, to tell teachers that they are professionals and then to tell some of them that they cannot innovate and to tell others that they have to ask a lot of other people before they can do so.
All professionals innovate and conscientiously evaluate the results of those innovations in the interests of the people that they serve. For example, at the moment my dentist is evaluating a new piece of equipment for blasting my teeth with very fine bicarbonate of soda. In that kind of spirit, teachers are innovating all the time. It is important that all teachers should get the opportunity—unless there is a very good reason why they should not—to introduce at least 20 per cent innovation into the curriculum.
For those reasons and many others, I support in particular substantive Amendment No. 15, which has been brought forward by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford, and the paving amendments leading up to it.
I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as the chairman of a committee that recently advised the Church of England on its schools. In commenting, I am assuming that Clause 2, in particular, applies to all schools, not only successful schools. That is important.
I support the thrust of the comments that have been made. I cannot see that it is an effective way of doing business for a government department at the centre to take individual decisions for 20,000 schools about which it knows nothing. That is not an effective means of decision taking. If it is to be done conscientiously it will take an army—and I am not convinced that the army will do it well.
I understand, and engage with, the Government in saying that they want to free up the process more. If I were a Minister, I would be worried about what the blighters might do if the whole 22,000 were let loose with a blanket authority. I would want a handle to be kept on it—but not by me at the centre of the 22,000.
Mention has been made of local education authorities. They know these schools—it is their business to know these schools. It would make good management sense to use the expertise of LEAs and, in the case of church schools, the diocesan boards of education. They should be consulted, certainly, and perhaps they should initially approve proposals, because I am scared about what might happen if this is let loose and the final power is with the governing body. I would want to keep a handle on it.
But I urge the Government to think again about how they can create the right balance between their view of "We must keep a grip on every decision" and letting 22,000 flowers bloom. I urge the Government to think again on that particular point.
As to Clause 6, which concerns the curriculum and the issue of whether all schools or only successful schools should be allowed to innovate, we shall come to that on another occasion.
There has been a long tradition in English education, stretching back almost to the beginning of the last century, that local education authorities and governing bodies run schools. The Department of Education and the old Board of Education were never fitted to take the roles of a Napoleonic education system. Suddenly, the Government have decided to change things. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said. Without making any nasty criticisms, I do not believe that the department has a tradition of doing this. Nor would I say that the model that exists in France, where it has been done, is necessarily ideal. In common with the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Perry, and many others—and a former chief inspector, Lord knows—I urge the Government to think again. They are biting off a bigger cake than they can chew. They will rue it in the end.
I ask the Minister to ensure that, in her reply to the debate, she indicates exactly what the Government have in mind by way of innovation. We are all in favour of innovation in principle. We know that innovation does take place in schools. But clearly the Government have got something very particular in mind when they introduce a clause of this kind, which amounts to a power to facilitate innovation. In all the discussions we have had so far on this particular chapter of the Bill, the mystery remains of what exactly the Government have in mind by way of their hope for innovation. What kind of innovation do they expect?
This has been an interesting beginning to the first day in Committee. Noble Lords have raised some interesting questions, which I shall attempt to address. Reference has also been made to later amendments.
The clause is at the heart of our attempt to change the conditions under which schools and local education authorities can lead our education system. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has rightly pointed out—as, indeed, have other noble Lords—that there are many ways in which schools can innovate. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for putting some of those on the record. But the issue for us is much deeper. We believe that schools and local education authorities are in the best position—because we are able to understand what they are doing—to start looking at ways in which they can move education forward.
Noble Lords have asked me to be specific. I shall try to be, but I shall inevitably refer to a couple of retrospective ideas. The purpose behind the clause is to say that we believe that there are ways in which schools are beginning to innovate and ways in which they would like to innovate but do not believe that they can because of legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that schools can get round the national curriculum. That, in a sense, raises the issue; it is about schools which have got round it.
An example I have used before in your Lordships' House concerns the ability of schools to work more closely with further education and to look at work-place learning. We discovered that schools were doing this, but doing it despite the legislation. A more recent example—we are now in the later stages of the Bill—comes from my own experience of visiting a school not far from here. The head teacher said, "We were delighted to see that the childcare potential is now being recognised in this Bill because for me, as a head teacher, I have long wanted to do something that brought in the children and their families earlier to my school, specifically because I believe it would raise standards. But of course I could not do it".
Different schools will have different ideas. That is the purpose of the clause. I cannot give the Committee a list of what schools may want to do. If we knew what they wanted to do specifically, and we could see the standard-raising effect, it would be in the Bill. This is simply about enabling schools to come forward with their ideas.
We wish to put on record that we welcome the fact that schools can innovate. Nothing in the Bill affects the ability of schools to innovate as they already do, as noble Lords have described. The Bill applies only where schools are prevented from doing so because of legislation. In no way will the Bill attack the freedoms that schools have already.
In theory, Amendment No. 1 would do away with the Secretary of State's role of checking and approving innovative projects. The effect would be that no statutory instrument would be placed, and that, in turn, would mean that there was no public record of the changes made. We believe that there should be accountability and the opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of the use of this power through the placing of statutory instruments. That is secured clearly by giving the role of making statutory instruments to the Secretary of State.
In addition, without the involvement of the Secretary of State, schools and LEAs would in theory be free to change the law at will. It is essential that every proposal under the power to innovate receives scrutiny in the light of the best professional advice.
Without the Secretary of State's involvement, we lose the bigger picture. It would be wrong to allow individual schools to determine what proposals they believe would benefit their pupils without regard to the effect on neighbouring schools and LEAs. Given the breadth of these powers, we believe that it is vital that we retain this broader view.
The Secretary of State also provides protection for the vulnerable. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and I will no doubt debate these issues in more detail, as will other noble Lords. I want to be clear that there are no circumstances in which we would want to approve any project that weakens the position of the vulnerable. Indeed, in determining whether or not a proposal raises standards, the Secretary of State will have regard to the need to raise standards for all children, including those with special educational needs.
But we should also be clear that there is no reason why any innovative project from a school or from a local education authority would be any less likely to benefit children with special educational needs. Indeed, I very much hope that these proposals will lead to innovation for children with special educational needs. We should be encouraging any project that might lead to higher educational standards for this group of pupils.
I turn to Amendment No. 15. As it stands, it would not allow schools or local education authorities to make any exemption from legislation. It would merely allow them to pursue innovative projects within the confines of existing law. As I have said, they are already able to do this and we would, of course, encourage them to do it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to the issue of "four-fifths of the time". Within her amendment that is a key part. There is no restriction on time in the national curriculum. So long as schools complete the programmes of study, they can take as long or as little time as they like and set the school day or term that they consider appropriate for their pupils.
Perhaps I may take this opportunity to reassure the noble Baroness that we have addressed other points in the amendment. Guidance on the power to innovate will be made available to all schools and LEAs. I have placed a draft version of the document in the Library, but perhaps I may summarise its key points.
The guidance currently covers eligibility, exemptions available, consultation criteria against which applications will be judged, the approval of proposals and the evaluation of projects. While we have no preconceived ideas about the sort of exemptions applicants would wish to seek, the Secretary of State would expect all schools applying for such freedom to demonstrate that they will continue to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum.
Applicants are also required to consult those who are likely to be affected by the proposal. Where a school is the applicant, we would expect that to include the local education authority, as well as all those involved in the school, including parents and pupils, and other relevant parties.
Schools will continue to be subject to Ofsted inspections and the accountability framework. Furthermore, they will be required to conduct their own evaluation of their project. We do not intend to rule out schools in special measures from the exemptions, as they are as entitled as any other school to attempt to raise standards and improve education. However, the Secretary of State will be able to make judgments on individual cases.
That brings me back to my main point; namely, the absolute importance of the Secretary of State's role in the process and in safeguarding standards. Amendment No. 4 is at odds with our view that the LEA has a vital part to play and should be consulted whenever a school puts forward a proposal. I appreciate what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has said about the paving nature of some of the amendments, but to deal with the amendment specifically, we believe that LEAs themselves and education action zones should be able to come forward with proposals.
LEAs undoubtedly have a strategic role in innovation, but they also have a direct track record of success in this field. For example, in working with education action zones, in delivering literacy and numeracy strategies, and in turning round schools in special measures, LEAs have demonstrated their potential to have a real impact and make a real difference to standards in their schools.
I want LEAs to be able to build on that experience and, where they have new ideas for innovative ways of raising standards in schools, to be able to come forward with proposals. Their role may be particularly important for projects involving collaboration between schools, where the LEA will be best placed to make that work. I can see no reason, therefore, to exclude other qualifying bodies from the powers under Chapter 1 if they can assist schools in innovating to raise standards. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 concern the role of the Secretary of State in relation to Wales. The Committee will not be surprised that I am concerned that the spirit of the amendment goes against the spirit of the devolution settlement, under which the National Assembly for Wales has devolved authority for most educational matters apart from determining teachers' pay and conditions.
It would seem strange on the face of it if, where a proposal and the power to innovate relate to a matter for which the National Assembly had devolved responsibility, the National Assembly was not allowed to determine whether it believed it would lead to higher educational standards for children in Wales.
Indeed, under the amendment the National Assembly would still be required to lay an order, but would be able to do so only if, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, a proposal would raise the educational standards for children in England and in Wales. The amendment would also extend the test of a proposal in both England and Wales by requiring that a proposal contribute to the educational standards of pupils in both countries. Naturally, we would hope that proposals would have the potential to be applied more widely both in England and in Wales, but there may be proposals that relate specifically to the circumstances of schools in England or in Wales. I believe that this is a sensible approach to take and that it is in line with the spirit of the devolution settlement.
I now turn to Amendments Nos. 14 and 157. Their effect would be to define the word "term" in two places in the Bill. I have listened to the arguments carefully, but remain convinced that it is not necessary to include such a definition in the Bill. I, too, am aware of what Mr Price has been doing, and we have been in discussion both with him and with the Local Government Association.
The word "term" has a clear, ordinary meaning in common usage which will determine its interpretation in the Bill and which is in line with the interpretation sought by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Clause 1 includes a number of definitions which are useful for ensuring that this chapter of the Bill can be understood. The word "term", however, does not appear in this chapter, so this definition would not mean anything in this particular context.
The amendment to Clause 37 would apply the definition to the responsibility to determine term dates in Clause 31. However, Clause 31 sets out not only a responsibility to determine term dates, but also a responsibility to determine the dates of holidays. It follows that there is a clear duty to determine the dates of half-term holidays and any faith or occasional days. Bank holidays are, of course, determined nationally under separate arrangements, and rights in relation to elections—a topical subject—are determined under separation arrangements relating to representation of the people.
I am clear, therefore, that there is no gap. I am happy to place on record our belief that there is no lack of clarity in this legislation. The duties to determine when children should and should not be at school are clear. This should not cause any problems for local education authorities or for schools. I hope that that assures the noble Baroness that the position is as she would like it to be, and that her amendments are therefore unnecessary.
I believe that the power to innovate offers an exciting opportunity for schools and LEAs to come forward with new ideas to raise standards. I hope that with the reassurances I have given, together with the draft guidance that I have circulated, noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.
I am afraid that I am even more concerned about the Bill as a result of the Minister's response. She made no reference to a central question posed by myself and many other speakers. Where will the civil servants come from? Who will monitor and evaluate every single application? Who will deal with the minutiae? This will either be done properly, or it will be done in a cursory way. It will be time-consuming—I would argue that it will be time-wasteful—and it will be very costly. The Minister made no mention whatever of those matters.
The Minister said that these clauses were at the heart of the debate. We all agree about the aim of the early clauses of the Bill; namely, that schools should be free to innovate. We accept the importance of that. The best schools do it as a matter of course. A school is a dynamic; it should constantly seek ways to raise standards. There is no argument about that. That is the heart of the debate—not the civil servants, the bureaucracy or the minutiae of a terribly bureaucratic system, but the fact that we want to support schools in their efforts to innovate in order to raise standards.
The Minister went on to say that the issue was much deeper, but there was no depth in any of the arguments that she used to counter much of what we said. She argued that schools should be free to work more closely with further education. I do not know where the Minister has been, but the schools that I know already do that. There has been a great deal of collaboration with FE. In fact, schools in my area also work with higher education through masterclasses for bright children, visiting professors coming to schools and children visiting the universities. Collaboration with further and higher education does not need to be exempt from regulation.
The Minister also talked about pre-five education. Schools up and down the land are working with playgroups, mother and toddler groups and nursery classes in a more formal and integral part of the school system. I do not understand what the problem is there. In the middle of all that, the Minister said that she could not give precise examples. I am not sure that there are any. We have touched on those areas in which we think that legislation could be relaxed and where some freedom should be given to schools. The Minister's arguments do not stand up against the points that we have made.
What legislation stands in the way of schools working with FE? What legislation stands in the way of them working with higher education? We know that we have legislation coming on 14 to 19 education, which will make more formal arrangements for children to partake of mainstream education both in mainstream schools and with further education. Those issues will be dealt with in that legislation. The Minister does not have a strong argument on that point.
The Minister went on to say that there should be accountability. Schools live in a goldfish bowl these days. They are accountable. A great deal of information is put into the public domain about the performance of schools. They are responsible to their governors and their parents. They have annual meetings and periodic statutory consultation processes. As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said, the local education authority also knows a great deal about its local schools. More formally, schools are also highly accountable through the Ofsted system. The argument about accountability will not wash.
I have no reason to doubt the noble Baroness when she says that the Government believe in protection for the vulnerable, particularly for those with special educational needs, because I know that she means it. That is such a fundamental point that it has to be written on the face of the Bill. I am sure that many noble Lords feel strongly about that and will wish to return to the issue.
The answer to every school's prayer is that the Government are going to send them guidance. Our schools receive guidance by the hour. Our head teachers are up to saturation point. Every day when they pick up the bundle of post from behind the door, their head hangs low, because they should be using their energy and all the time at their disposal to get on with the business of teaching and helping to develop their young people in their classrooms, but instead they have to read missives from the DfEE. I cannot believe that that is put forward as a serious argument against our proposals.
The noble Baroness also said that where the school was the applicant, we would expect it to include the LEA. I have some concerns about the role that the LEA would play, but it is right that it should be informed and consulted. I am more worried about the suggestion that the LEA should be the determining factor. We shall come to that on later amendments.
The Minister has not mentioned staffing at the department or the costs of such a process and how it works. She went on to talk about education action zones. They are innovative by nature. That is why they were set up—to go outside mainstream education and explore ways of raising standards, particularly in the inner cities, although that has been extended to rural areas now. Again, I do not understand why such schools need to move outside the existing legislation.
The Minister also talked about collaboration between schools. What is there in law to stop that? My air of absolute frustration may have been detected in my response to the Minister's comments on the amendments. All I can say is that we should free up schools. That does not mean schools doing as they like, as the Minister argued. We should set the framework within which they can explore and innovate with the aim of raising standards for their children. We should allow them to work with governors and parents, constantly exploring ways to raise standards. There is no worry about a repeat of William Tyndale. It could not happen today. Too much is known about what goes on in schools. They live in a goldfish bowl and are openly accountable. Twenty years ago, the department boasted about the secret garden. I remember the daily battle in the department about control. Let the reins go. Set the framework, give the professionals their head and let them get on with it. Self-evaluation, Ofsted and public information are all there as a constraint on schools doing what they like, to use the Minister's words.
I do not remember the Minister being particularly critical of the detail of my amendment, although I shall have to read her comments. That we shall return to the issue is not in doubt. The Minister made some specific comments about the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I have sympathy with all those amendments, but I do not want to deny the noble Baroness the opportunity to come back and counter the Minister's remarks if she wishes to do so. I hope that the Minister will think again about putting in place a labyrinthine system that is second nature to the department, because it will simply debilitate the energy and resources of people who have better things to do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 9, 21 and 23. The amendments would ensure that the use of new powers by schools was subject to consultation with local education authorities. The Bill allows maintained schools to apply directly to the Secretary of State for exemption from any requirement of education legislation, for example on the curriculum, that is not otherwise provided for in Chapter 2 of Part 1. Clause 4 does not even require the LEA to be consulted.
Local councils have a strategic role to play in promoting and maintaining innovation. The amendments would ensure that local councils were recognised on the face of the Bill by making them statutory consultees when the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales make an order to suspend statutory requirements. That would ensure that one school could not innovate at the expense of other schools in the area without the agreement of the local authority. The amendments would ensure that the power to innovate was translated into greater freedoms and flexibilities for councils as well as for schools, drawing LEAs into the innovation agenda.
Local authorities already have a track record in this field, so it is illogical to exclude them from what we hope will be some of the most exciting advances in educational standards in the future. For example, education action zones, the delivery of literacy and numeracy strategies and the turnaround of schools in special measures are all ways in which local councils have already taken a lead and made a difference in raising standards at local level.
Already seven councils have piloted innovative and creative new projects to increase community involvement in schools. These include the establishment of rural academies and the co-location of a range of facilities serving the wider community on the school site.
These projects illustrate how councils can respond to the innovation challenge and use the opportunities to raise educational standards, particularly by joining up education and other council responsibilities. It would be wrong to suggest that local authorities would stand in the way of effective innovation. Since the Second World War, local government has led the main examples of innovation, such as the delegation of resources to schools, parental rights, delegation of staffing to schools, community education, middle schools and comprehensive education.
Today of all days—the day of the local elections—noble Lords of all parties are aware of how hard it can be to persuade high-quality, busy people to devote their time to the often thankless task of public service. How foolish it would be, therefore, to take away from them the right to be involved in the exciting and stimulating decisions that are ahead when, one hopes, an improved version of this Bill eventually becomes law. Indeed, it would be wrong not to consult LEAs when they retain residual responsibility for school improvement. Section 5 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 gives LEAs a duty to promote high standards in the education of children. Part 6 of the Bill emphasises LEAs' duty to ensure that the national curriculum is taught. Therefore, LEAs must be involved in innovation through consultation.
The Government have said much about deregulation in the Bill. However, shifting primary legislation to regulations made by secondary legislation is not deregulation. Deregulation occurs only when primary legislation sets out the principles and allows local bodies, schools and LEAs to get on and do the job.
As I said in speaking to the first group of amendments, I believe in the importance of letting local authorities know precisely what is going on in their areas, as that might have a very real impact on the provision that they make.
I tabled Amendment No. 24, which is in this group, to insert a new paragraph on page 3. The provision is concerned with applications for orders under Clause 2. We know that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is with us at least in spirit on the provision. In speaking to Amendment No. 1, she said that the Liberal Democrats "would expect" such consultation to occur. However, I think that we need rather stronger provision, and there is a strong case for including it in the Bill. LEAs should be statutory consultees. There is, as I said, a tension in regard to the legal position. In law, LEAs have a responsibility to raise standards, whereas the Bill does not even require that they be statutory consultees. I think that there is a good argument for accepting the amendments.
I rise very briefly to support the preceding arguments. I believe that good chief education officers have a great deal to contribute to the development of thinking in schools. If they have a statutory right to be consulted, they can contribute without hindering. I hope that the Government will feel able to respond to the amendments.
The powers in this clause are intended to ensure that we are able to support schools and LEAs with innovative ideas that could not otherwise be implemented. The powers are in no way intended to increase or centralise power in the Secretary of State's hands. As Members of the Committee will realise, the powers can be used only to respond to the innovative standards-raising proposals put forward by schools and LEAs.
The Secretary of State of course will make an informed decision as to whether to approve proposals on the basis of information provided by the applicant, which will include the outcome of consultation with local bodies. My right honourable friend the Minister for School Standards has already provided in another place an assurance that guidance issued under Clause 4(2) should refer to the need for the consultation to include the LEA when a school, and not the LEA, is the applicant. I am happy to repeat that assurance. Indeed, I have now made available in the Library of the House an outline draft of this guidance. Paragraph 10, on page 2, states:
"In all cases where a school is the applicant we would expect them to have consulted their own LEA . . . If an LEA is itself the applicant neighbouring LEAs should be consulted where the proposal is likely to have a wider impact than the LEA itself".
The Minister seems to be saying that the department will always expect applicants to have consulted the LEA. Some applicants, however, may not have done so. Would it not be fairer to include the requirement in legislation, rather than to throw back those applications with the statement that consultation is expected? Maintained schools in local authority areas will almost never be able to begin the process without letting the local authority know. Why not make the requirement part of the process? The Minister seems to lump LEAs with every other body. One of those bodies could be a group of local shops. Indeed, there may even be a case for informing local tradesmen of certain matters, such as when children are taken out of school for educational purposes. LEAs are a fairly important part of the process. This group of amendments proposes only that they should be informed.
I agree with the noble Baroness that they are extremely important, just as parents, pupils and teachers are extremely important to schools. Although the consultation requirement is not included in primary legislation, I think that the statutory guidance provides considerable reassurance. However, at this stage, I am fully prepared to consider the point further. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
"The purpose of this Chapter is to facilitate the implementation by qualifying bodies of innovative projects".
Amendment No. 3 would change that to read, "to promote and facilitate" implementation.
"Facilitate" is a rather neutral and passive word. In replying to our debate on the overall innovation issue, the Minister said that we wanted to be positive and to enable schools to innovate and improve performance. In that context, the word "promote" is as suitable as the word "facilitate". We believe that it is important to be positive and to promote innovation. We should encourage schools to innovate, and we should say so right at the beginning of the Bill.
Amendment No. 5 is perhaps the more substantive one. In replying on my Amendment No. 4, the Minister seemed to imply that I was forgetting about devolution. Perhaps I should have referred to Amendment No. 5 with Amendment No. 4, as the former removes the Secretary of State from subsection (1)(a) completely. We return to the issue of whether the Secretary of State really has to approve each project. The fact is that the department cannot micro-manage these matters. In replying to me, the Minister said that public scrutiny is not only vital but must be put on the record. She also said that the proposals will be in guidance which will have to be approved by Parliament. Will every proposal have to be laid before Parliament? The degree of centralisation involved in all of this seems absurd.
The Minister went on to say that it would be wrong for individual schools to determine what innovation they think would be in their interests. But what on earth does the department know about neighbourhood schools and what the people in those neighbourhoods think? It is much more important that schools consult parents, local neighbourhoods and local education authorities. The reference in Clause 1 to the opinion of the Secretary of State demonstrates the extent of centralisation and micro-management, and that reference is unnecessary. Indeed, the Minister would be as hard-pressed as anyone else to cite one example of innovation that has not already been dealt with in legislation. This comes back to what I said on Second Reading; namely, that most of the Bill is unnecessary and a waste of parliamentary time when there are other important matters that we ought to discuss. Nevertheless, the Government have given the Bill to us with 210 clauses and 22 schedules and we shall jolly well make them pay for it!
It is absurd that the Secretary of State has to have an opinion on each individual proposal. We believe that that should be eliminated from the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
I briefly reinforce what has been said about Amendment No. 5. There is a fundamental disagreement between what the Government propose and what we are trying to say. The Government propose micro-management on the part of the Secretary of State or people in the department—one hopes with advice from Ofsted—as regards approving or disapproving every single scheme which is submitted. Our amendments suggest that the Secretary of State shall lay down the things which schools can do, not in the form of a detailed list but in terms of the appropriate objectives of innovation. Several Members of the Committee suggested that the Secretary of State should lay down the things which schools cannot do such as remove provision for children with special needs. But if the Secretary of State were to lay down the objectives of innovation and the things which schools could not do, why not just let them get on with it?
I add to the comments of my noble friend. We are back to the fundamental point; that is, that the man in Whitehall does not know best as regards determining the way forward for every school in the country. However, we are in Committee and we are having to table "what if" amendments. If neither Amendment No. 1 nor Amendment No. 15—those are fundamental amendments—is accepted, what then? If Amendment No. 5, which seeks to delete the words,
"in the opinion of the Secretary of State", were successful, it is my view—I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, agrees with me—that a measure such as that contained in Amendments Nos. 1 or 15 would have to be put in its place. Clearly there would have to be some framework within which schools would work. My difficulty is the following. I should like to support the amendment as we do not believe that the opinion of the Secretary of State should prevail. However, if the Government have their way and the scheme is implemented in the way that the Government would like, I should like to add the words "or the Chief Inspector" as that would lessen the workload of the Secretary of State and his department and also the chief inspector is rather better informed about every school in the land. For some time the chief inspector through Ofsted has on a regular basis visited every single maintained school. I believe that the chief inspector is better equipped to understand the matters that we are discussing. If one allowed the chief inspector under certain criteria automatically to give schools the right to innovate that would lessen the incredible workload that will be put in train by the Bill.
If the Minister says that the Government would expect the Secretary of State to liaise with the chief inspector in order to be informed about schools, that would simply compound the system about which we have heard and which we understand the Bill proposes. As I say, I should like to support the removal of the words,
"in the opinion of the Secretary of State", but, if that is not possible, my Amendment No. 6, which refers to the chief inspector, would at least be helpful.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for telling me that I shall pay for the Bill. It is an interesting first Bill for me to take through all its stages. The Committee is being indulgent in trying to ensure that I address all the questions that are raised.
As we are back at the heart of the Bill I make two or three comments by way of an overview. First, I gave retrospective examples. I believe that I said that they were retrospective. The purpose of the power is to seek projects of which we are not yet aware. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said that we should lay down what schools cannot do. However, it is precisely in the area of what schools cannot do that we are trying to look for new ideas. We have an education system of which all Members of the Chamber are rightly proud but we also know that it does not perform as well as it might with all our children. Within that system we seek to enable the people who know our children—teachers and local education authorities—to suggest ways in which they believe our legislation could get in the way of supporting those children. That does not detract from all the existing innovative ways in which schools can develop. As I said, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to many of those. We do not seek in any way to constrain what schools can do already. We simply seek to add something extra. We seek to say to schools and to local education authorities, "If, in the course of looking at how best you can serve our children, you say to us, 'We think that we have something special which is worth exploring'"—
I intervene as this is Committee stage and we shall have no other opportunity to be iterative. The noble Baroness said that we were addressing the heart of the Bill. However, she has just said that the Government are merely trying to introduce more flexibility in case there is something they have not thought of. She also said that she could not think of an example of that. If the noble Baroness cannot think of an example—I gave a long but not exhaustive list of ways in which schools can innovate—what on earth is the point of all this and why is such a strong defence—almost a stone wall—being mounted against what I regard as sensible ideas to allow innovation to take place and to set schools free to innovate without this absolutely strapped around system of bureaucracy?
This is not a stone wall. I am trying to explain that there are issues connected with the way in which we want our schools to take forward education. We want to enable them to think more fully about such matters. The measure is at the heart of the Bill. We are not trying to do anything other than allow schools and local education authorities the right to be creative and the right to come to us to seek change because we believe fundamentally that change should be led by our schools and local education authorities. That is the opposite of a centralising approach.
I turn to the specific amendments before us. I turn first to Amendment No. 3. By introducing the Bill—and giving the Secretary of State the power to respond to schools and LEAs—we have already demonstrated our commitment to promoting as well as facilitating innovation. The promotion of innovation is an aim that the Government share and the Bill in its very essence provides for it.
But to add the words proposed in Amendment No. 3 would if anything increase the role of the Secretary of State in the process. At present, the power is intended merely to allow the Secretary of State to respond to proposals from schools and not to initiate her own. The current balance between the role of the Secretary of State in responding to proposals and schools or LEAs in coming forward with them rightly places the emphasis on promoting innovation at a school or a local education authority level so it is in the hands of those who know what works best.
Of course, we want to do whatever we can to support schools and local education authorities in coming forward with innovative proposals. We decided to set up the new innovation unit which will be established later this year. We hope that that will be important in creating the right climate for innovation and in supporting teachers to develop and share their best ideas. Therefore, I can reassure the noble Baroness that we are at one in believing that the Government should promote innovation. I reassure her that we shall be doing so. I hope that she will agree that it is not necessary in the context of this clause to change the legislation in order to secure that result.
Given the unintended consequences of the amendment and the reassurances that I have given about the Government's commitment to support and encourage schools and local education authorities in coming forward with proposals, I hope that the noble Baroness will agree to withdraw Amendment No. 3.
I turn to Amendment No. 5. I agree with the noble Baroness that innovation in our schools should not be the preserve of the Secretary of State. Schools are and will continue to be free to innovate within the law in all that they do, without any involvement from the Secretary of State or any other central body. I reassure her that this chapter in no way reduces schools' and LEAs' existing scope to innovate. Only when such innovation is prevented or hindered by provisions in education legislation would it be necessary for schools to apply under the power to innovate.
However, if we are to have confidence in our ability to respond effectively to schools and LEAs in a wide range of circumstances, the breadth of the power is necessary. What we are creating is a power to enable the Secretary of State to respond to schools and LEAs where their proposals require the temporary "disapplication" of legislation to work. That is not about centralising power in the Secretary of State's hands. If we are going to give schools and LEAs the freedom to pilot new ways of raising standards, there must be some safeguards and some parliamentary process to ensure that projects that are put forward will contribute to the raising of educational standards. In that context, it is important that schools know the law.
I therefore believe that the role of the Secretary of State is absolutely essential. The Secretary of State must be able to make a judgment before making an order that, in her opinion, in light of all the available evidence and, where necessary, following consultation with the chief inspector—I shall discuss that later—a project will contribute to the raising of educational standards.
As I have already said, the Secretary of State's opinion also provides an additional protection for vulnerable children and means that she would not make any order where she believed that that would be detrimental to the interests of those children. The proposal is not about the Secretary of State acting on her own or ignoring the views of schools and LEAs. But I believe that it is essential that every proposal receives independent scrutiny in the light of the best available professional advice.
While I therefore do not believe that removing the opinion of the Secretary of State would be helpful, I am ready to discuss whether there may be other helpful ways of strengthening the protections that are already in place in the legislation. I hope that in the light of that, the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.
I turn to Amendment No. 6. Clause 2(3) already requires the Secretary of State to consult the chief inspector before making an order. I would expect the Secretary of State to make full use of the chief inspector's expertise—the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, suggested this—where appropriate, in considering proposals from schools and LEAs. However, it is important that we are clear about the fact that it must be the Secretary of State who lays an order. We must not be in a position where the law is in doubt in relation to any school. There must be a clear statement that is publicly available to all that makes clear each individual's rights and duties. That means that whenever an exemption is granted, a statutory instrument must be made. That is quite clearly a role for the Secretary of State in relation to England and for the National Assembly for Wales in relation to Wales.
I also believe that there should be accountability and the opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of those statutory instruments. That is again clearly secured by giving the role of making the statutory instrument to the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales.
Given those arguments, I hope that Members of the Committee will accept that the Secretary of State must be the one to lay an order. It would be strange to have an alternative decision-maker at that stage and it might involve questioning the role of Ofsted. Of course I agree with the noble Baroness that the Secretary of State should, wherever necessary, take into account the chief inspector's views. But I am not sure of the benefit of adding him as an alternative source of opinion prior to the final exercise of discretion. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.
I cannot say that I am totally convinced by the Minister's arguments. For example, as regards using the word "promote", she said, "Yes, of course we are promoting innovation; that is what we are about". However, she also said that she does not want that in the Bill because it would involve centralising. Why? Perhaps it was lucky that the amendments were grouped; at first I did not think so. That is precisely why we want to remove from a later subsection the power involving the opinion of the Secretary of State. We feel that the concept of promoting is more positive but we do not want the Secretary of State to feel that she should do the promoting. We feel that promotion needs to be in the general atmosphere and that it should devolve downwards. We have already argued that it is up to each individual school to innovate.
Nor do I buy the argument that the Secretary of State needs to have the confidence to respond. The argument was that the Secretary of State needs that power in order to protect the vulnerable. However, the Bill's provisions in that regard are incredible. Clause 2(1)(a) refers to,
"conferring on the applicant exemption from any requirement imposed by education legislation".
I stress the phrase, "any requirement". If someone suggested that we should suspend special educational needs legislation, we should not of course do so. That is why we need the opinion of the Secretary of State. We come back to the central question.
When one talks to heads and principals of colleges, the one point about which they want a little flexibility is in relation to the national curriculum. That is one reason why the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and I tabled Amendment No. 15. That is the one area in which heads and principals feel constrained. One might say that they do not need to feel constrained, but there is a degree of such a feeling. Perhaps during our discussion on the Bill we can pass on the message, "You need not feel constrained. You can go off and, so long as you can fulfil the requirements, spend your time doing anything else". That would be splendid. However, it underlines the general feeling that we do not need such legislation.
I am not convinced by the Minister's arguments. I shall read her speech very carefully and we shall probably return to these issues on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I want to respond to a point that the Minister made about the amendment. She said what I feared—and, in fact, what I predicted—she would say; that is, that the chief inspector will of course be consulted. That will duplicate all of the efforts. We will have the Secretary of State, who does not know all of the schools locally, speaking to the chief inspector, who does know all of the schools locally. If the chief inspector can say—this is consistent with the proposed wording—that a proposition from a school or an applicant contributes to the raising of educational standards, that should be the end of the matter. That should not be second-guessed by the Secretary of State, although technically it would be. The order would be laid technically because it is simply a matter of officials laying the order in the House.
I am going to test the Government's nerve on this matter. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
In speaking to Amendment No. 10, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady David, I begin by making some general remarks. Because I did not speak to any of the earlier amendments, I hope that Members of the Committee do not think that I was not sympathetic to what was said. But, if we are to get the Committee stage of the Bill finished before Whitsun, I do not believe that we should all pop up every minute to say, "Oh, yes, we agree with the noble Lord". In that sense, in relation to the previous group of amendments, I was particularly pleased to hear the Minister say that she would talk to noble Lords opposite about some of their concerns.
The amendments tabled in the names of my noble friend Lady David and myself are, in every case, exploratory. We simply seek clarification and, therefore, the amendments amount to questions. I do not know about other noble Lords, but I have been in this House for a great many years and find this Bill particularly difficult to understand. Quite honestly, there are large sections of it that I do not understand at all. I do not know what the Bill is saying, let alone whether I agree with it. Therefore, one reason for tabling some rather tedious amendments is in order to be a good pupil and to learn something.
I turn to one or two other general points. Anyone who is interested in innovation and who knows about the history of education will know that, throughout our history, innovation in our education system has come from teachers in schools. It has come from local education authorities and not from the department. I speak as someone who, for a long time, was the Minister's chief adviser in the department.
My own general judgment is that the way in which to help innovation in our country, and, indeed, the way in which to help education more generally, is for the department to adopt as its maxim, "Let's not get in the way". However, as we discuss innovation, I am concerned that the department seems to want to get in the way. That is what it believes it can do to help. The word "facilitate" appears but, from my reading of the Bill, the department seems to be interested in the opposite—the antonym—of "facilitate". However, that could simply be down to my ignorance because, I repeat, I do not fully understand the Bill.
My general aim regarding this section of the Bill is to try to understand what counts as an "innovation". The reason that my noble friend and I have approached the matter in a rather different way from opposition Peers is that, instead of looking at generalities, we want to look at specifics. In doing so, I have in mind one other difference: I believe that there is a valid distinction between what a school can propose and what it can do. I had always assumed that what went on in a school, subject to various broad rules, was up to the head teacher and the teachers to decide. What puzzles me partly about the Bill is that that seems to be called into question now.
I am still dealing with my general remarks. The Minister that teachers should know the law. I admit that that had never occurred to me in all my life, both as a pupil, teacher and an adviser at the department. If that is now the Government's position, I believe that this matter is much more serious than Members of the Committee opposite have said. It seems ridiculous to me that there should be the notion that before anything is done one had better find out beforehand whether it is legal. I cannot believe that the department really believes that to be the case.
I turn now to the set of examples which I would like the Committee to begin with and my Amendment No. 10. It states that innovation should include teaching methods and, within that, it should include access to computers, IT and that kind of thing. First, I want reassurance that innovation does include them. Secondly, I would like reassurance that that has nothing to do with the department. I take quite a specific example. Teachers may decide that they would rather teach using Powerpoint than blackboard and chalk. I would regard that as highly innovative. It was suggested to me at university that I might use that method, particularly as I never wrote legibly on the board and it was thought that the students might learn something if I used computer methods. It would never have occurred to me to ask for permission at the university to do that. I would like to be reassured by the Minister that no teacher would ever have to ask permission to do so.
More generally, as regards IT teaching, I believe that most of the methods for teaching languages in our schools are out of date and highly ineffective. The result is that many students get very good marks in what was called the General Schools Certificate in my day, but have no facility with the language at all. Modern teaching methods would use modern computer methods. For example, I am trying to learn Italian. I do not do that by looking for a teacher to teach me. I have got tapes, CDs and videos. I interact with the whole system and I learn. I agree that at my age, every time I learn to ask how to get a train from Orvieto to Rome, I forget how to ask what is the price of a room. If I can order a first course in a restaurant I forget about how to order wine. So it is always one step forward and one step back, but at least I am learning something.
My point here is that if teachers wish to use that kind of computer method in schools, it is clearly an innovation. But in what sense do we need legislation for that kind of activity and in what sense do we need the department to be involved? Similarly, as a book addict, of course I use books for all kinds of things. But I know full well that if I wish to acquire information my method is now on-line in many cases and via the computer, and a search engine. It is quite a good way of teaching oneself different things.
If schools began to do that as the norm, in my ordinary use of English I would regard it as an innovation. But what it has to do with legislation is beyond me. I accept that I may be wrong: legislation may be required, but I cannot remotely see why that should be the case.
I put to the Committee the general question whether I am right in believing that these areas are innovative in the correct use of the English language. Am I not also right that this is something that should be happening or ought to happen, and does not require the Minister, the Secretary of State herself or even my noble friend, excellent though she is, to get involved? Am I not right in saying that we ought to stay out of these matters rather than the other way round?
We might well be interested in the diffusion of best practice, which is quite a different question. My best method for improving diffusion would be to get rid of Ofsted, which is unfortunately one of the biggest disasters to hit the education system of our country, introduced by Members of the House opposite. I would restore Her Majesty's Inspectorate at a shot. Indeed, if my noble friend would like a little advice, an amendment to this Bill in one clause to get rid of Ofsted and bring back Her Majesty's Chief Inspector, plus others, would do more good for education than almost anything else I can think of.
To summarise the position, I am simply looking for what counts as innovation, using this amendment as a specific example of whether I am right that it counts and then ask why it requires all the parts of the Bill to let it happen. I beg to move.
I am delighted that the noble Lord is making these inquiries. If he made a few more of schools he would discover that they are doing precisely the kinds of things that he is suggesting that they should do. It is a very good idea to probe, as the noble Lord is doing, to get at the root of what is meant by innovation here.
I, too, welcome the amendment for that very reason. I believe that we are putting the Government on the spot. They have no ideas of their own and cannot think of anything. There is no definition of innovation. The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and his noble friend Lady David, serve a purpose.
Incidentally, the two subjects covered by this amendment are both within my list of things that could be done within the existing law. The noble Lord made a much more important point en passant in addressing the amendment. He referred to teachers having to be conscious every minute of the day as to whether what they are doing is within the law. My view is that until now they have not stopped to think about that, but simply got on with running the schools and teaching the children. I believe that this Bill will make them do just that. There will be a constant looking over the shoulder and wondering whether what one is doing is lawful. Time will be spent by the schools making inquiries as to whether they can teach in a particular way or use a particular form of technology.
The noble Lord made some points about technology. When I studied A-level history I remember making marvellous use of tapes prepared by the best historians in the world. One would listen to three or four eminent historians interacting with each other with the student listening and interacting with the discussions and the teacher. That can now be taken a great deal further. In preparation for further and, particularly, higher education, the student can be left unsupervised by a teacher with the properly organised use of technology. I do not believe that that is outside the law. As the noble Lord has done, I query fundamentally whether we need these early amendments and whether we should do more to encourage and promote innovation—to use the word of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—in our schools and exhort them to do so, but not to put this raft of legislation in their way.
I agree with everything that noble Lords have said about encouraging innovation in schools, and about encouraging schools to use the innovation that they are already able to accomplish. I believe that we are of one mind on that point.
I am conscious of the point made by my noble friend Lord Peston about not getting in the way of such innovation. That is a good maxim in many cases. However, I return to the central point that I am trying to make; namely, that we seek to assist schools that have found something that they wish to do, but which we are preventing them from doing. We hope to enable those schools that want to explore whether the removal of that prevention could assist them. That is the nub of the matter.
I did not mean to suggest that teachers should know the law, and bear it in mind every minute of the day. If we are to suspend legislation for a school, it is important that we do so properly. It must be done by statutory instrument via the Secretary of State so that the law is clear. Perhaps I may take the case of special educational needs, which is something very dear to noble Lords' hearts. It is important that our educational institutions understand the law as it relates to students who have special educational needs. If we were to suspend any kind of law in another case, we would need to be clear in that respect. That is the point I make; not that I expect our teachers to spend their time worrying about the law.
I know that this is a problem for some noble Lords, but we do not have any preconceived ideas of the kind of exemptions that applicants may seek. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peston, and to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for helping us to explore this important issue. I should tell my noble friend that the use of Powerpoint and of white boards—great innovations in schools—is most important. We must enable our schools to use new technology to its fullest and greatest extent.
I should tell the Committee that I have ministerial responsibility for ICT in schools. I am greatly heartened by the work that we are accomplishing to enable schools to go forward in this field. That includes providing as many teachers as we can with lap-tops to facilitate the use of new technology, and thereby support them in their work. We also provide support in the classroom to enable students to learn. In that way, teaching and learning will be enhanced. I accept what my noble friend said about such innovations: they are useful if, like me, you are unable to write on a blackboard in a way that anyone could possibly understand.
My noble friend also talked about languages. As noble Lords will know from previous debates, I can talk for England on the subject of languages in schools. However, I accept that we can use many different ways of supporting our students in a diverse variety of languages, especially by using new technology.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked about her experiences when studying history. She told us about listening to tapes and joining in with the interaction between historians. Through the introduction of new technology, it is to be hoped that students will ultimately be able to watch—and, perhaps, interact—with some of our great teachers and lecturers right across the world. Indeed, perhaps they will even be able to engage in direct conversations with, say, a school in France on the subject of geography or history; in other words, with the use of new technology, they may be able to participate in the process of language learning by taking part in discussions in other countries.
We have great enthusiasm for, and are working towards all such developments. They do not require the power to innovate. However, as we explore these new ways of approaching technology and consider the way in which we want teaching and learning to improve, there may be something that we could do to help and support schools, or education authorities, and enable them to do it in an even better way. That may apply to a particular way in which we are teaching or learning in schools. We are simply saying that we are not prescribing that; we want to look for it. Where schools believe that they have found it, we want them to be able to come forward and propose to us—
Perhaps I may put this to the Minister. Is the noble Baroness not worried that in passing this legislation many schools that are currently engaging in these activities as a matter of course will feel that they must now have permission to continue with them? That is the worrying aspect of the matter. Indeed, rather than encouraging innovation, this Bill may stultify it. Everyone will be writing letters to the Department for Education and Skills, but they will not receive a response for about six months. The whole process could go on for ever.
During my time in the department I have not heard of anyone having to wait six months for a response from the Department for Education and Skills. I pay tribute to the officials who work incredibly hard on our behalf to ensure that they respond within set and very strict timetables. I hope that Members of the Committee will recognise that if you write to the department you will receive a reply within the allotted time. I wish to place that on the record.
I understand the point that the noble Baroness has made, but that suggests that we would somehow use this power to prevent schools from carrying out current innovations. We all recognise that schools may need to be encouraged to innovate in ways that are currently allowed through better understanding. My hope is that the innovation unit will play a part in that process by supporting teachers to spread best practice. Where legislation is halted for a fixed period, it is simply a matter of ensuring that, after four years, schools may apply for a possible extension of three years. We should be allowed to do that.
I turn to my noble friend's question about all the activities he described. If there were something within the power to innovate that could be implemented, schools would be able to apply on that basis. However, many of the activities that he mentioned are currently practised by our schools.
I thank my noble friend for her informative reply, which I shall summarise. I believe she said that the sort of activities that I described did not require permission from this Bill and the Secretary of State because they are happening, and they will continue in that way. Sadly, I suppose that I must admit to being a rather thick pupil because I believe my noble friend used the expression, "Well, what requires the powers to innovate?" I know that it is not easy to answer that question, but I have to ask it. Indeed, we shall have to face it at some time.
What, specifically, are we missing here? This features in the next and the following amendment, where, again, I am fairly certain that I shall be told that such activities do not require the powers to innovate. My question remains: what requires the powers to innovate? I shall, of course, withdraw the amendment at this stage, leaving that question hanging in the air.
I can be much more brief with this amendment, which relates to innovation in another area. By "teaching arrangements", I mean the processes of setting, streaming, and so on. For example, a school that is already setting or streaming may decide that that is not a good way to proceed and may, therefore, abandon the practice. Are those arrangements examples of innovation, or would changes in them be innovative? In that case, would the Bill have any leverage in that respect? Alternatively, would such matters be decided by schools themselves, with the position not changing if the Bill were passed?
Under the heading of "teaching arrangements", perhaps I may raise a point previously mentioned by another noble Lord. I refer to the whole question of the research base for all the activities that schools pursue. Not surprisingly, many activities in which schools engage do not have a research base. If you are "innovative", it means that you are trying something for the first time. Therefore, by definition, you think, "This is a good idea; let's try and do it".
As someone who is totally committed to education and very keen on people trying new things, what worries me is not merely the diffusion of what they discover, and whether or not it works; I also hope that a system exists whereby a school that has found a good way forward—let us take, for example, the great row regarding the best way to achieve literacy—should be able to contribute as part of a research base to enable other people to learn from it. I say that bearing in mind, in particular, a standard social science point that something that works in one school may work for special reasons, and, therefore, cannot be generalised. That issue requires further thought.
"organisation of the school day, week and year", as set out in the amendment, is another one of my favourite topics. I am not quite clear on the law in this respect. My noble friend is in the ministerial position where she can explain the law to us. I have never understood the position where a school decides that it would rather teach certain hours rather than others. I have a feeling that schools are not free to operate in that respect. The same goes for the school week and the school year. However, let us suppose that a school decided, in its judgment, to start school at 8 o'clock in the morning and finish at lunch-time. I have forgotten which country in Europe follows that practice—
Anyway, one not exactly uneducated country operates in that way. Such a school may say, "We have seen them do it. We would like to try it to see if it works". Can my noble friend say whether that would fall within the rubric of this part of the Bill? Is it currently illegal, and needs to be made legal, or what?
Those are the kinds of questions that I have in mind. I do not want to delay your Lordships by going through example after example, but I hope that I have made my argument clear. I want to know whether innovation covers such matters, whether the Bill has leverage on them, or whether this is an area where the Bill turns out to have no play on such matters at all. I beg to move.
This is another opportunity to probe innovation further. The organisation of the school day and school year was an area that I thought may require legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has mentioned the national curriculum. It strikes me that if there is an argument for compulsion, it is an argument for compulsion and not an argument for exemption. Another area is punishment, where we are, in a sense, ruled by European Union law.
My understanding as regards Amendment No. 11 is that paragraph (a) would be within the law, but that paragraph (b) would be outwith the law. I believe that there is an argument for saying that the Government should consider the matter. The irony that springs to mind is that a school that took a radical view about following the European system of an early start to the day and having sport and recreational subjects outside the curriculum in extra-curricular time would probably be turned down, because it would have an impact on other schools around, it would make life difficult for working parents and so on. One may expect applications to come forward for lengthening or shortening the school day, or having a four-day week rather than a five-day week, or teaching for more weeks in the year—a whole host of options—that genuinely schools, their staff, their governors and the parents may consider would make life easier.
Amendments have also been tabled in relation to five and six-term school years. That is an area that may require a change in legislation. It would be interesting to know whether the Government would allow some flexibility in the use of the school year, setting down criteria for how it could be accommodated without the need for the draconian early part of the Bill, which means that schools would have to make an application for almost any minor change in the organisation of the time spent in school by children.
This is an apposite amendment. Only this morning my husband asked me whether there was any legislation relating to the school week. The school of which he is a governor is trying to rearrange its school week. It is considering finishing at lunchtime on a Friday so that teachers can use Friday afternoon as preparation time for the following week. As my husband is a county councillor, he has been asked to find out from the council whether there is any legislation covering this point. Depending on the Minister's reply, I may be able to tell him.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, has raised a profound issue. That is a good example of an area where schools may produce some innovative ideas that may need some relaxation of the law. However, trying to deal with individual schools and their individual ideas is not the way to proceed. If the regulations that currently determine how much of the day, the week and the year children must spend in school are inhibiting good and desirable innovation, why not create for all schools a new relaxed law that allows them, within carefully defined limits, to explore the innovation that the noble Lord has described? We could then see what good ideas they come up with, the process could be properly monitored and researched, as the noble Lord has suggested, and in terms of the outcomes we could see whether the ideas improve pupil performance. We shall then know whether or not we have done the right thing.
This has been an interesting debate. Perhaps we can look at the powers in more detail. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Peston and Lady David for raising the issue and I am delighted to be able to help the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. The law says that there must be two sessions with a break in between. Noble Lords are correct that if we want to make radical changes to the school day, perhaps to what has been described as the continental day, but which is in fact a combination of the German and the French model, we would need to use precisely this power.
Although I accept the thrust and the spirit of what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, we come back to the central point that whatever we do must raise standards for our children. That provision would need to be within the models that one may want to explore. Changes could not be made for convenience or for other reasons, but they must be made in the genuine belief that our children will benefit educationally. That must include children with special educational needs, children who are gifted and talented and so on.
We would look precisely in those areas for schools to come forward with ideas. We would want to allow them to develop the model that they believe would work best for their school. They may want to explore a different model; for example, a model that developed along the French lines—four days of school plus Saturday mornings—or a German model that starts earlier and finishes earlier.
We are trying not to prescribe for schools precisely what we believe the limits should be, but we want them to come forward with ideas. Part of the purpose behind such a move is to enable good ideas that work to come forward in primary legislation and become part of our school system. Noble Lords will agree that we do not want to experiment with our children. We want to ensure that the way in which we approach the situation raises standards. We want to allow schools to come forward with carefully considered ideas that are to the educational advantage of the children. We also want to respond in a positive manner and to monitor the situation carefully.
We cannot know in advance whether an experiment raised standards. Trying to approve matters before they have taken place is like making wild guesses. Is this something we like the look of or not? If we allow limited and carefully controlled innovation and we ensure that it is properly monitored, we shall know after the event—not beforehand—whether it has worked. The idea of approving something beforehand is not an appropriate way to proceed.
I do not believe that schools make wild guesses. Schools consider carefully what they are trying to achieve. Schools already consider carefully innovations that they make, and they carefully consider what they will achieve by taking on a particular measure. That is the essence of the argument. The controls that we have put in place are precisely to ensure that we are not guessing wildly, but making the best possible judgment. That is why this power is important in allowing schools to come forward with and to develop ideas, and it will allow us to assess and to evaluate them, with the schools, to ensure that the ideas raise standards. When we can see that ideas have had an effect, we want to be able to come to your Lordships' House and the other place with legislation.
In answer to my noble friend's question: yes, we want to see the potential to raise standards in those areas explored. I hope that he will accept that response to his amendment.
I thank my noble friend for that answer. I have two brief comments. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is right. We have taken the concept of innovation from industry. An industrialist would regard it as ridiculous if one were to say, "Can you guarantee that this will work?" because by definition an innovation is something that one cannot guarantee. An innovation needs a basis for trying it, although one knows full well that it may fail. If we believe in innovation, as I believe all noble Lords do—certainly the Minister does—we must accept that an innovation may fail, although we hope that it will succeed. I believe that that is the correct interpretation.
I have one slightly dissenting remark. My old friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, used the word "punishment". Whatever else I have in mind in this amendment, I am strictly a non-punishment man. In terms of fundamental philosophy, I believe that, in order to achieve something, carrots are the way and not sticks. Whatever else happens via this Bill, I hope that nothing happens to increase the role of punishment in schools. Subject to that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, we come to the third of our probing amendments to try to discover what comes under "innovation" and "innovative projects". This probe concerns whether parental involvement in schools is included in the scope of Clause 1.
Enormous advances have been made in promoting the involvement of parents in schools, mostly without any legislative backing—with the exception of parental involvement in governing bodies. Parents are welcomed to a range of tasks in schools, and that is good; for instance, helping with reading by reading aloud a story or whatever; helping with sports and with drama. Those are all very good. My question therefore is this. If a school were to ask to be allowed to carry out an innovative project which reduced the level of parental involvement, would the Secretary of State support it? I beg to move.
My Lords, perhaps I can pick up a point made by my noble friend Lord Peston in an earlier amendment. Although the amendments in this series have been taken separately, there is a continuing theme; that is, what is "innovation"? What comes within the scope of the Act in the sense of when does permission have to be obtained from the department and when can an innovation be initiated by a school on its own?
It has taken us three amendments to tease out the fact contained in one of the amendments; that is, that permission has to be obtained from the department if,
"organisation of the school day, week and year", is to be altered. If it takes this House that amount of probing, how are schools to understand exactly what they can and cannot do? There will have to be some detailed guidance provided for schools to know just how they can operate under the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, prompts me to return to the original point of my speech; namely, the mystery of what comprises "innovation" and indeed what stimulated the Government to bring forward this chapter of clauses.
In reply to an earlier amendment the Minister said that she had no "preconceived ideas" as to what might come forward from schools and other qualifying bodies as proposals for innovation. Yet quite clearly behind these clauses there is a conviction on the part of the Government that there is a wealth of ideas out there somewhere ready to be brought forward. Otherwise why were these clauses introduced into this legislation with so much importance being attached to them?
I press the Minister again, at the end of these three noble attempts to elicit some form of innovation that requires statutory relaxation, to explain this chapter of the Bill more clearly. I shall certainly feel a great deal happier if I have some kind of justification from the Government as to why Clause 1 was introduced at all. Surely the Government have expectations and must have examples of the sort of innovative ideas that are currently prevented because of statutory restraints.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, hit upon an important phrase in this context when he talked about the "wealth of ideas". All noble Lords recognise that within our schools system there has indeed been a wealth of ideas which enabled schools to develop and become individual. I believe that all schools have an individual nature in the way that they educate their children which is to be welcomed and enhanced.
But when we talk to schools and look at the history of legislation we find examples where schools could have done things differently that would have been better for their children. I accept that the examples I gave earlier were retrospective—involving education of under-fives and so forth—but they were projects which schools had thought of and would have liked to introduce earlier. So we are all in the same place in saying that schools should be the innovators—they understand what is happening and have ideas—and the department should be the facilitator. We are simply exploring that premise in more detail.
I too am grateful to my noble friends Lady David and Lord Peston for taking us through some examples. There is no need to list them. I am not trying to prevent a discussion on this. But what I shall seek to do between now and the next stage of the Bill is to spell out in a little more detail, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, did at the beginning of this debate, some of the innovations that schools are currently able to put into practice. I shall attempt to find something which I can lay in the Library of the House to help us in our discussions and deliberations.
My noble friend Lady David mentioned specifically the role of parents in schools. We all recognise and welcome parents' involvement in schools. Indeed, in looking at some of our most disadvantaged young people, we find it is crucial to involve parents in a supportive way to work with the schools and with those children from an early age. At the risk of diverting to another topic, it is the essence of Sure Start; it is about trying to involve parents early. I wish to see that translated throughout the school years so that parents are involved. Parents may or may not be able to go into schools and support the children in a specific way. But we want them to make a commitment to the school, to the child's education and to work in partnership with the school to ensure that their children obtain the best possible education from the school and support the school in achieving that.
So parental involvement is extremely important. I cannot imagine therefore a situation where a reduction of parental involvement could possibly raise standards. That is incomprehensible. I know that my noble friend was probing that point deliberately. But I cannot think of a situation where less parental involvement in schools would be an advantage to the school and an advantage in the raising of standards. I cannot envisage a situation where that might happen.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I do not believe anybody was arguing—certainly not the noble Baroness, Lady David—that there might be a reduction of the involvement of parents. The idea was the positive involvement of parents. I agree with the Minister that it is inconceivable that there is in existence any piece of legislation from which exemption would need to be granted in order to promote, encourage and involve parents in the education of their children.
But perhaps I can press the noble Baroness on something she said. The noble Baroness admitted that her examples were from a long time ago. That is true. As I said in my speech, schools working with FE and HE has been going on for a long time and, as far as I know, it has not been against the law to do so. But we are talking about this set of Ministers, this Secretary of State and the noble Baroness herself who is part of the educational team who appear to be saying that they have been pressed by teachers on their visits about the frustration of inhibitions on them to innovate because of legislation. We have asked time and again for examples of that and the noble Baroness has not been able to give them.
So what have all those teachers been saying to the noble Baroness and her colleagues in the department that hinted that there are statutes in place which prevent them from innovating in the classroom?
Perhaps I may supplement what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said. We return to the essential point: trying to find out what is innovative. We have explored various ideas, but the only one that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, has come up with is the organisation of the school week. Yet, as I understand it, there is flexibility. She said that as long as there is a break, the school day can be varied. There must be two sessions with a break in the middle, but otherwise schools do not need statutory exemption. I suppose that they would if they ran one session a day, but provided that there is a break in the middle, they can run a short day.
We have explored many ideas. If I may say so, your Lordships' House is a creative place, and we have been trying hard to think of ideas. But we have been unable to come up with anything that is not already covered in legislation.
I gave a second example in the Bill: the issue of childcare. Schools have been saying that one way in which they want to engage with families—especially in the areas of highest disadvantage—is to be able to provide within the school childcare facilities run not by teachers but by organisations from either the private or voluntary sectors. That would enable children and families to come into the school and participate in it. That is an example. We shall later discuss the part of the Bill that provides for that.
I recognise that I have created some difficulties for the Committee. We are considering areas in which we are trying to enable schools to think about ideas and develop them. Members of the Committee have rightly said that a great deal of innovation can take place. We have focused on the example of the school day. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is right, although there is guidance governing how changes can be made to ensure that parents are kept informed, and so on. That is one example. Before we return to the issue, I shall try to find more examples to satisfy the Committee.
I thought that I had answered the specific question asked by my noble friend Lady David: might we support reducing the level of parental involvement? I was doing nothing other than trying to answer what I thought was her question. I take on board the points made by the Committee and shall of course reflect on them.
I thank Members of the Committee for their contributions to this short debate. I have received an answer to my question and I find it reassuring. I am delighted that my noble friend thinks that the more families are involved in school the better for the school and the families. We have got a little from these three amendments—we have got a little further—although the position is not altogether satisfactory. I thank my noble friend for her reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Bill is scary, especially in Clause 2. The noble Baroness has told us with great charm exactly what the Secretary of State plans to do. My concern is with what the Bill allows a future Secretary of State to do. It is a question not of the Government's intention but of the actual words in the Bill. I must add that it is not the first time that I have said that in the context of an education Bill.
"The curriculum for a maintained school satisfies the requirements of this section if it is a balanced and broadly based curriculum which . . . promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of the pupils at the school and of society; and . . . prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life".
I am glad to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Baker.
I hope to receive from the Minister a clear assurance that the Bill does not open the door to the Secretary of State, or some future Secretary of State, to change that provision of Section 1 of the Education Reform Act 1988, or of Section 2(d) of the Education (Schools) Act 1992, which lays on Ofsted inspectors a comparable duty to report on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils in schools.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the guidance that she sent and the assurance that it includes. I assume that the assurance refers to Clauses 74 and 75, which appear to re-establish and reconfirm the terms of Section 1 of the 1988 Act. Can she confirm that that is the case? Can she further confirm that the provisions of Clause 2 do not enable a future Secretary of State to vary or exclude clauses from the Bill—specifically, Clauses 74 and 75? Finally, does Clause 2 empower the Secretary of State to suspend or vary Section 2(d) of the 1992 Act, which provides for Ofsted? I beg to move.
One problem with the Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred is that most of us can cast our minds back through the plethora of education legislation and think of something that should be inviolate under the Bill—something that should not be exempted even if the school believes that by doing so it could raise standards for its children.
I know that my noble friend Lord Baker, who is looking pleased, was not only Secretary of State for Education at the time but wrote the words cited by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. They are fundamental and profound words that set the context for our young people. I have always believed that education without a spiritual dimension is arid and clinical. It is essential that that should be included, along with all the other factors listed in Section 1. The temptation is now to list other statutes and say that they should be exempt from exemption, if I may put it that way.
I hope that after our debates on all the amendments to this part of the Bill, the noble Baroness will try to persuade her colleagues that their aim of promoting and encouraging innovation in schools can be achieved in a more cost-efficient and operationally effective way. We should then not be worried about some future time when some other Secretary of State may allow schools to be exempt from Section 1 of the Education Reform Act 1988.
I have sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. If the Bill proceeds unamended, we may well return to the matter and propose to insert in the Bill statutes that we believe should be inviolate and should not be affected in any way by any application to the Secretary of State for exemption. The way that the Bill is couched will tempt many of us to table such amendments.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that it is important to ensure that all children receive a broad and balanced curriculum and that sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure that educational standards are monitored and maintained in our schools. I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured by the guidance covering applications for the power to innovate that I have placed in the Library. That guidance clearly states that we would not countenance proposals that led to a diminution in the accountability arrangements for schools. However, we would consider proposals to strengthen or simplify the accountability framework.
I hope that the Committee is also reassured by the criteria set out in the guidance, which clearly state that when considering proposals the Secretary of State will have regard to the need to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of children and society through a broad and balanced curriculum. I am sure that the Committee will accept that as a statement of our determination to ensure that all children continue to receive the breadth of education to which they are entitled.
The answer to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about whether Sections 74 and 75 re-enact the Education Reform Act 1988 is, "Yes". That is currently in the Education Act 1996. I recognise that it is an important point, and, on Report, I shall propose an amendment that will address it fully.
I want to make a short statement about Amendment No. 14. I am not satisfied with the answer that the Minister gave about the definition of the school year. The matter arises again in Amendment No. 139, which is linked to Amendment No. 157. With the Committee's leave, I shall return to the issue when we discuss Amendment No. 139. That would be more appropriate.
I hope that the Minister will find the amendment irresistible. Several of us, representing all parts of the Committee, have argued that it is fundamental that, in any exemption from legislation, we should concern ourselves with protecting the interests of children with special educational needs. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who is not now in his place, was concerned about Section 1 of the Education Reform Act 1988. I wish to make an exception of Section 317 of the Education Act 1996, which protects the interests of children with special educational needs.
Subsection (1) of Section 317 says that,
"The governing body, in the case of a"— community, foundation or voluntary school—
"and the local education authority, in the case of a maintained nursery school, shall"— not "may", which is often used in legislation—
(a) use their best endeavours, in exercising their functions in relation to the school, to secure that, if any registered pupil has special educational needs, the special educational provision which his learning difficulty calls for is made,
(b) secure that, where the responsible person has been informed by the local education authority that a registered pupil has special educational needs, those needs are made known to all who are likely to teach him, and
(c) secure that the teachers in the school are aware of the importance of identifying, and providing for, those registered pupils who have special educational needs".
I hope that the Minister will agree with me that it is inconceivable that any proposal that came forward from a school—single applicant or corporate applicant—would have the effect of invalidating Section 317 of the 1996 Act in any way, just as would have been the case with Section 1 of the 1988 Act.
There is a great deal of insecurity about the vulnerability of legislation protecting children with special educational needs. In particular, the ink is hardly dry on the Act that deals with children with special educational needs. We must put something in the Bill that puts it beyond peradventure that the interests of those children are secure. I beg to move.
I support Amendment No. 16, and I shall speak to Amendment No. 17, which is in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, many of us were engaged last year in putting through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. There is concern—not only on our part but among those who supported our work on that Act, particularly the Special Education Consortium—that we should now introduce such sweeping legislation. I have already referred to the power given to the Secretary of State to confer on an applicant,
"exemption from any requirement imposed by education legislation".
That is what it says in the Bill.
It is vitally important that it is made clear—preferably in the Bill—that that exemption does not include special educational needs provision. We went to a lot of trouble last year to make sure that the needs of children with special educational needs were covered in legislation, so that schools could not wriggle out of their obligations and—perhaps, above all—so that colleges and universities could not wriggle out of their obligations. There is great danger that this Bill will do away with all that.
The education Acts govern the arrangements for children with special educational needs, including children with disabilities to the extent that they need special educational provision. The Acts and the related secondary legislation also cover reporting by governing bodies of maintained schools in respect of arrangements for children with disabilities. The Special Education Consortium recognises that the legislation covering other aspects of the duty towards children with disabilities is not included in the education Acts and, therefore, could not be varied by application under Clause 2. However, an application could be made to vary future education Acts that might include more detailed arrangements for disabled pupils as well as pupils with SEN.
We are grateful for the time given by the Minister and officials to hear the concerns of those fighting for the rights of those with special educational needs. Careful consideration has been given to those concerns. The Secretary of State has given an assurance that she does not intend to vary any duties to disabled children or children with special educational needs. However, that is not what the Bill says. Equally, a commitment from the current Secretary of State does not bind any subsequent—perhaps less benign—Secretary of State.
Reassurances have been given that the approval of the Secretary of State is needed for any variation. That is clear in the design of the Bill. However, the Secretary of State may not be well placed to see what might be the impact of a variation on local provision for disabled children. It is, therefore, extremely important that we get a commitment in the Bill that there will be no exemption from or disallowing of aspects of educational legislation that relate to special educational needs.
I support all three amendments. The noble Baronesses who have spoken have been very eloquent and rather brief. I am afraid that I shall not be quite so brief.
All the amendments are aimed at the protection of the vulnerable, to use the Minister's words. My amendment—No. 22—originated with the Independent Panel on Special Education Advice, of which I am a patron. IPSEA is a member of the Special Education Consortium, which is the source of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. My amendment goes wider than Amendment No. 16, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but Amendment No. 17—in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford—is preferable to my amendment because it covers children with disabilities under the DDA. So, I would plump for Amendment No. 17, but, for the moment, I shall speak to Amendment No. 22.
I am grateful to the Minister for our long and helpful meeting. We all understand the Government's intention to open up the possibility of innovation and progressive development of educational practice by adventurous LEAs. Their aim is to improve schooling for all children by relieving LEAs of certain legal duties. I shall not go into the question of whether, in the case of most children, legislation is necessary; we have had enough of that today. I support the contention made by both noble Baronesses that children with special educational needs already have the freedom; it is the protection of the statement that they need.
I shall try not to be too repetitive, but with regard to the arrangements for the assessment and statementing of children with special educational needs, set out under the Education Act 1996, I need to make two specific points. I shall be boringly specific after the glorious eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, but I am afraid that it is necessary.
Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Peston, reminds me that during the passage of the 1988 Act we were worried about the freedom which teachers were given under the curriculum to disapply it to children with special educational needs. At that point, the worry was reversed. Teachers do have the freedom.
On the positive side, statements already allow educational provision to be tailored for individual children. A feature of that individual tailoring can be relieving LEAs and schools of specific duties which are not appropriate in terms of meeting the special needs of individual children; thus allowing innovation with regard to the education of individual children with statements. For example, under the 2001 SEN regulations, an LEA can apply whatever modifications or even exclusions that it considers appropriate to the application of the national curriculum in respect of an individual child. Furthermore, an LEA can decide upon any provision for his education otherwise than at school. It currently allows a wide variety of provision other than attendance at school; for instance, split placements between schools and specialist units; early attendance at colleges; home-based education with support from the home tuition service, and so forth.
In short, the device of a statement already allows an LEA maximum flexibility to be innovative with educational arrangements to the benefit of individual children with special educational needs. It does not need the benefits which the Government believe that Clause 2 will bring to all our children. Secondly, on a more negative note, there is potential for great hazard in Clause 2 for children whose needs require them to have assessments and statements of special educational needs made and maintained under the 1996 Act.
The Minister spoke about teachers knowing the law and she said how important it was to have an understanding of SEN law. The main purpose of statements is to protect the provision for children with special educational needs. The important point is that that protection depends on a linking together of several separate duties created by separate sections of the 1996 Act: the duty to identify from those children for whom they are responsible those who have special educational needs under Section 323; the duty to assess a child who has, or probably has, special educational needs which require the authority to determine the special educational provision called for under Section 323(2); the duty to make and maintain a statement of special educational needs when assessment shows that to be necessary under Section 324(1); the duty to specify in a statement the special educational provision to be made for the purpose of meeting an individual child's needs under Section 324(3)(a) and (b); and the duty to arrange the special education provision specified in a statement under Section 324(5)(a)(i).
The point is that as with any chain it would take only one of those links to be removed (through an LEA being relieved of one of those legal duties by a future Secretary of State) for children's legal entitlements to special educational provision to be totally undermined. Those entitlements would fall and with them Parliament's settled intention for more than 20 years for provision to protect those children's needs. The Minister described it as the protection of the vulnerable.
I am grateful to the Minister for her most useful guidance as regards the power to innovate. Page 1 contained a cheering piece stating that it was the view of the Government that weakening the accountability framework would not lead to higher standards overall. She stated that proposals may raise standards by strengthening the accountability framework. That is immediately followed by:
"Proposals to simplify or make the accountability framework less bureaucratic will also be considered".
Alarm bells ring as anyone involved in special educational needs knows that it is a common complaint to LEAs that the assessment and statementing procedures are too bureaucratic and too complex, yet a child's legal entitlements to appropriate provision are absolutely dependent on the procedures—the links in the chain—being adhered to.
With regard to children with special educational needs, a removal or simplification of any of the existing procedures set out in the 1996 Act risks undermining children's legal entitlement to a statement which genuinely protects their provision—the ultimate protection of the vulnerable.
I look forward to the Minister's reply and I hope that we shall be able to have a good many conversations outwith the Chamber. For the moment, I firmly support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.
I echo the sentiments expressed by the triumvirate of noble Baronesses who have spoken. I recognise and welcome the Government's attempts to promote innovation in classrooms. I am not against innovation; to stifle it is to lose possibility. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to discuss the issue with the Minister and I thank her for the assurances that she has given. However, my concern is about the effects of the clause in the longer term, rather like my noble friend Lord Northbourne, who is not in his place, when he moved Amendment No. 13. Given the new power, can the Minister assure the Committee that no future Secretary of State will intentionally or unintentionally allow schools to opt out of special educational needs legislation in the name of innovation? As the Bill is presently written, I fear that the Minister may find it impossible to gaze into her crystal ball and offer such a guarantee.
We have come a long way since the Education (Handicapped Children) Act 1970 which gave all children a place in our educational system and I do not want to see us sliding back. To do so would be to lose all the gains towards inclusion, equal access and equal provisions for pupils with special educational needs and disabled children. We could combine innovation and caution, which is what Members of the Committee have proposed. Therefore, I support all three noble Baronesses in their respective amendments.
I, too, support this group of amendments. I hope that at a later stage the Minister will come back with her own amendment which has the same effect. Having quickly looked at the Bill, I understand that the only innovations on special educational needs which could be brought forward would probably weaken the current special educational needs framework. Will the Minister reassure me on that point and give examples of innovations that would not weaken but would strengthen the framework? At present, as regards special educational needs I see the clause being used only to weaken them.
I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, mentioned the Education Act 1970. If good intentions were enough, the matter would probably have ended there. Most of the measures put forward for special education have been in response to need. People make mistakes, they overlook issues and they do not always understand them. We have reached the point at which individual needs must be examined on a case-by-case basis.
If we make exemptions and remove pieces of legislation, we are in danger of opening up cracks down which people will fall. The great advantage of the amendment and current legislation is that people have something to fall back on. There is a constant fear that if provisions are removed many of the defences that we have put in place will disappear.
I hope that the Minister will tell the Committee that provisions will be written down on paper so that a parent can read it and say, "No, this cannot happen. We should receive X amount of help". The history of special educational needs shows that unless there is something on paper to indicate to people what they should do and to whom they should speak, action is not taken. At present, we have a good structure—at least on paper. Please let us know that none of that will be removed.
This is a difficult area to deal with. Both schools and, in particular, local education authorities are under a great deal of pressure with regard to special educational needs. I have much sympathy for the local educational authorities, which have so little leeway in their budgets to deal with the extra demands that arise from having perhaps only two or three extra pupils with autism throughout the entire authority. Those pupils can take half a million pounds from the budget.
Special educational needs is an area where innovation and experimentation is required. We need fresh thinking and new ideas and we need to see how they work. So I welcome the application of the early clauses of the Bill to this area, but I share completely the reservations expressed by the Special Educational Consortium and others about putting at risk the very hard won rights of children with special educational needs. This is an area where we cannot leave things as undefined as they are in the Bill.
For most schools, such a power will be a positive move and will present wonderful opportunities because, by and large, all the motivations in those schools are also positive. However, in the area of special educational needs, where heavy financial pressures must be borne—and even within schools there may be many prejudices and difficulties—I do believe that we have to keep the safeguards in place. I favour the approach adopted by my noble friend Lady Blatch in her amendment. Let us not be wet blankets and say that we shall have no innovation at all in this area, but let us also find a way of incorporating into the Bill a means of ensuring that, whatever experimentation takes place, the key elements of protection are kept firmly in place. We should not allow them to be chipped away.
Beyond that, let us encourage as much innovation as possible in the provision of special needs education because surely we need to do better than we are at the moment. It would be a great pity to lose the right to innovate simply because of the justified fears of the special educational needs lobby when it considers the new battery of powers that will be conferred on special educational needs education. The Government must move on this point and find a way of making the protections sacrosanct, while leaving as much room as possible for SEN education to do better than is the case at present.
I cannot match the eloquence with which so many noble Lords have put their case on this extremely important point. Before I begin, I wish to make one point which I failed to raise in response to Amendment No. 13, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, although I see that he is not in his place. A point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, about the length of the power. Noble Lords should be aware that the power will last for four years, at the end of which it would cease to operate. During that time, a school may apply for up to three years for an innovation to be taken forward, with a possible extension of a further three years. For that reason, it would not be within the remit of future Secretaries of State to take forward this particular power. However, noble Lords should bear in mind that neither election dates nor their outcomes are within my gift.
I recognise the importance of this area and I am grateful to the many noble Lords and representatives of the Special Educational Consortium who have come to see me to discuss these issues. As I said to all those who did come to see me, I was keen that we should have this debate.
I want to make it clear that in determining whether or not a proposal would raise standards, the Secretary of State will have regard to the need to raise standards for all children, including those with special educational needs. However, I have said previously that there is no reason why innovative proposals from schools or LEAs are any less likely to benefit children with special educational needs. Indeed, I very much hope that pupils with special educational needs will benefit from these proposals. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out, we should encourage any project which might lead to higher educational standards and support for this group of pupils.
My only concern with the amendments is that, as currently drafted, they may actually stand in the way of allowing schools and LEAs to come forward with proposals which could benefit pupils with special educational needs. I shall give the Committee an example. If the governing body of a particular school—let us call it a strong school in the context of special educational needs—were to take on the key teaching and learning responsibilities of a weaker school's governing body, it would be important, in strengthening arrangements for those with special educational needs, that the strong school's governing body could lead on this as well. That would require some adjustment to the effects of special educational legislation, to secure proper provision.
I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who spoke so eloquently about the matter, that I hope that we are not yet finished with our support for special educational needs. Indeed, we have put in place a raft of provisions to support our children, although I hope that we have not come to an end in those efforts. I am sure that there will be much more that we can do to support these and all our children in education.
Within that context, perhaps I may give a commitment that, before we return to the matter on Report, I shall look at how best we can ensure that the protections for vulnerable children and those with special educational needs are made clear, not only in this legislation but also in our intentions as to how this power will be used. With that commitment, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I have listened to the noble Baroness with great interest, but I should have thought that this was a matter on which it would be desirable to have the removal of doubt. The incorporation of either Amendment No. 16 or Amendment No. 17 would surely help in that. It would not interfere with the meaning of the legislation. Something along these lines would be desirable.
I have selected one piece of legislation, the noble Baroness has selected another, while the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, has chosen yet another way of approaching the same issue. I should admit at the outset that I am not territorial about my amendment. What we are all arguing for is to ensure that proper protection is brought to bear against the strong feelings of vulnerability felt by those concerned about the provision for children with special educational needs. Because special educational needs has been included in the list where powers may be brought to bear, they could qualify for exemption.
One of the ways around the difficulty would be this. Although I shall withdraw the amendment at the end of my remarks, between now and the Report stage, I would ask the Minister to consider carefully whether subsection (5) of my proposed new Clause 1 might aid us here. For the purposes of clarity I shall quote it:
"No order may be made under subsection (4) nor may any provision be made in such an order, unless the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales as the case may be is satisfied that such order or provision may be made without detriment to the education at the school of those pupils having special educational needs".
I am sure that the provision would need a little rewriting, but it would ensure that nothing in Clause 2 should be allowed to interfere with or have a detrimental effect on the education of children with special educational needs.
I believe that this would also fall into the category covered by the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Adding a provision at the very beginning of the Bill would act as a form of scene-setter for the rest of the legislation. The protection of children with special educational needs should be made extremely clear and I am sure that such a provision is warranted. I put this proposal forward as a suggestion.
I agree with the noble Baroness that there is much scope for innovation in the field of special educational needs. It is an area which already enjoys a great deal of effort on the part of many people, and long may that continue. One would not want to exclude them from being able to apply to raise standards for children with special educational needs.
When the noble Baroness referred to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, she commented on the time-scale of the power. I find it difficult to understand why any form of time constraint has to be incorporated at all. As I said when speaking in support of Amendment No. 1, if a school has introduced an innovation and it is a good idea, why impose a three-year, six-year or any other constraint on it? Surely it should be allowed to continue. If the innovation does not work, then it will be found out. Either parents will become dissatisfied or exam results and school performance will show that it is not working, and through its inspections, Ofsted will discover that something is amiss. Poor innovations will simply fall by the wayside. It would even be possible to introduce a power in the Bill that if, after a certain period, an innovation is not working, then it should fall. However, if it is successful, the thought of 23,000 potential regulations having to pass through the House in order to change the law on the basis of proposals here, there and everywhere strikes me as being an extremely laborious way of allowing for innovation.
In the meantime, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 18:
Page 2, line 33, at end insert—
"( ) No order made in this Chapter shall enable the Secretary of State (in relation to England) or the National Assembly of Wales (in relation to Wales) to introduce or permit the introduction of selection by ability in any schools in receipt of public funds."
We have had some extremely interesting debates on the amendments so far where, although there is still some controversy, there seems to have been a considerable meeting of minds. I now take the Committee into an area where I believe that philosophically we will diverge very strongly indeed. The amendment relates to selection and comprehensive education.
I declare an interest. I have devoted more than 30 years of my life to campaigning for comprehensive education. My children went to comprehensive schools even though my friends at Highgate at the time—not all of them, but quite a lot—talked about "sacrificing your children" and so on. Anyone who knows my children will know that the word "sacrifice" does not apply to them at all.
I was heartened by my noble friend the Minister when, at Second Reading, she averred her commitment to comprehensive education. A similar statement has been made by my right honourable friend the present Secretary of State. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, we are discussing a Bill which one day will be an Act of Parliament. Therefore, what specific Ministers or specific Secretaries of State say at this time is of no relevance whatever. We are discussing the broad generic concept of "a" Secretary of State, whoever he or she may be.
Even bearing that in mind—and here I must be very acerbic indeed—I should have thought that, after five years of a Labour Government with two massive majorities, by now all grammar schools would have gone. Although there are not many grammar schools left, if I had had my way they certainly would all have gone. I regarded them as a blot on the educational landscape 30 years ago; I still regard their contribution to the education system viewed as a whole as destructive, not constructive. But I accept defeat on that. If this Labour Government with this majority are not going to get rid of grammar schools, I cannot imagine that I shall live to see a Labour Government who will.
My concern, therefore, is what the Bill will enable, in the abstract sense, a future Secretary of State to do. On reading the Bill, I cannot see that the Bill does other than empower a future Secretary of State—doctrinal though I may regard such a person—to say, "We believe that an innovation that will raise standards and improve our education system would be one that reintroduced selection by ability". I can see nothing in the Bill to stop that if the Secretary of State were to argue along those lines. I do not want to put the idea into the heads of those who have not thought as cleverly as I have that that is how they may argue, but in the Bill I cannot see anything that could remotely stop such a Secretary State.
My noble friend replying that she does not intend to do it simply is not an answer to the question. In her response I wish to hear my noble friend say one of two things: either that I do not understand the Bill—which I entirely accept; I have said that I am having difficulties with it—or that it could not possibly happen. But if I understand the Bill correctly, a future Secretary of State could do this on the grounds that it was innovative and beneficial. We would then have to amend the Bill—exactly on these or, with better draftsmen's ideas, other lines—so that no Secretary of State could reintroduce reselection on the grounds that it was an innovation that he or she thought was advantageous.
I reassure my noble friend that I am still sticking to my policy; this is a probing amendment. I have no intention of seeking a vote on comprehensives until Report stage, but at least one Member of the Committee will one day go on record as supporting in the Lobbies comprehensive education. I beg to move.
My Lords, I oppose the Bill on the grounds that it gives too much power to the Secretary of State. If the interpretation of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is correct, I would welcome the chance for the Secretary of State to improve many of the disadvantages that exist currently in English education.
Most of Europe will be amazed that the battles of 40 years ago are still going on in the English legislature. "Selection by ability" is a rather general term. It is like saying, "All Catholics are wrong", or, "All Marxists are devils". What it really means is that people should be educated according to their potential. The noble Lord and I share the ideal that every pupil in this country is entitled to a general education. But there comes a time when some want to be economists like the noble Lord, some want to be historians like me, some want to be plumbers, some want to be electricians and so on. They are all entitled to a training that allows them to fulfil their potential.
This occurs in France, in Holland and the Netherlands, in Germany and in Austria. In Germany, for example, people move between the two systems without the bitterness of the kind of class war that the noble Lord describes. If the Secretary of State decided that people over 16 should move in a direction where their particular potential could be realised, that would not be selection by ability. If he or she further decided that they should, for reasons of economy and specialisation, go to specialist institutions—as they do in France and Germany—he or she should be entitled to do so. The noble Lord is being dinosaur-like in the field of education in seeking to deny the Secretary of State this power.
It is interesting that when East Germany joined the West it abandoned comprehensive education, which it had had for a long time, except in Brandenberg and part of Berlin. It was egalitarian—everyone had the choice—but only 9 per cent of Germany followed comprehensive education.
Dare I say that it is somewhat insular to talk in those terms—terms that I have not heard since the 1960s? I speak as chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association. Many of our schools have beacon status awarded by the Government. I deplore the amendment. I admire the noble Lord in many respects; and I am sorry that he is rather like a man who still believes that the earth is flat.
I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. The commitment of these Benches to the principle of comprehensive education is well known. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, this has nothing to do with class warfare but a great deal to do with standards. The contribution of comprehensive education to the increase in educational standards in this country over decades is very well known to those who know about education. With those few words, I support the amendment.
In the interests of balance, as the Government Front Bench will undoubtedly support selection, I should say something in support of the comprehensive principle. I entirely share the affection of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for comprehensive schools. That is where my children are, and I am delighted by it. The way that comprehensive schools work—when they work well—is entirely admirable and is the best solution, where that is possible, to organising schools and education.
But I do not support the noble Lord in the wording of his amendment. Clearly you have to have some schools where you select by ability. If you are going to have a school for young footballers as a football academy, or for people specialising in dance or music and so on, then you have to select by that ability. If we are to offer those kinds of opportunities, clearly selection has a place.
Selection also has a place at some age. At the moment, we allow selection at 16. One can find admirable examples of where that works extremely well. The noble Lord may know the Cambridge sixth-form colleges. There is no formal division between the two, but one has developed as the academic college and the other has developed as the college with breadth. Selection in the process of getting kids into Hills Road does not hurt at all because it allows it to offer a much more focused curriculum on the straightforward academics, whereas Long Road has a much broader and, in many ways, more interesting offering without having the academic hurdles to get over. Such selection has allowed that kind of differentiation to take place.
My objection to a grammar school system, such as is practised in Kent or Buckinghamshire, is that children are not developed at age 11. They have not begun to show their faces. My son is 14, and even at that age I find it hard to know whether he will turn out to be an academic or a rock musician. If he were forced to make the choice at 11, it would be daffy, and I would not wish it upon him to have to make the choice at 14; 16 is probably the right age at which to allow selection by ability. So I see several roles for selection by ability, but I do not share the passion of some in my party for the extension of it. I line myself up behind my idol in these matters, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who did so much good work in introducing the comprehensive system.
I strongly support the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Peston. I have made my views known during both terms of office of this Government, in this Chamber and in writing. All that we are told is that they have to take into consideration the views of parents. That is the official answer, and it is difficult to argue against that.
My question, then, is: how do we assess the views of parents? Do we take votes in the area of a school? Do we write more letters? Do we canvass? What is the system whereby we come to what some would say is the answer to the problem posed by my noble friend?
An argument to which I subscribe, although my noble friend may not, is that if you feel as we feel, and as we have argued for many years, that comprehensive education is the best system of secondary education, then, frankly, we do it. If there is opposition—as there will be—then we have to use the argument and cite the experience to show that what we are saying and doing is right. I only hope that we shall have a longer and more sensible debate on this very important and central issue.
I suddenly like this Bill! I have no philosophical hang-up about selection on the basis of ability. I say to those noble Lords who have supported the amendment, including those on the Liberal Democrat Benches: the Government have left you all behind. We are all Tories now on this issue. There is a great deal of selection in the system. If she makes reference to the matter in replying, the noble Baroness will be able to catalogue the areas in the system where, even since this Government came to power, modes of selection have been introduced.
I remember an incredible debate—which I may later be able to find in Hansard—that took place when we attempted to elicit from the Government their definition of "ability" and "aptitude". It would qualify for the Wooden Spoon Award from the Plain English Society. It was pure gobbledegook. It took a long time, and the debate was extremely amusing, but at the end of the day we were none the wiser.
Perhaps I may draw to the attention of our Liberal Democrat friends the intervention that took place during the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. When she claimed to be against selection on the basis of ability, she was reminded that Liberal Democrats up and down the land were walking in the streets to defend their local grammar schools from being destroyed by the balloting system put in place by this Government. The answer was: "Well, our national policy is one thing, but our local policy is another". All I can say is: if you have a policy, you have a policy. As I say, in principle, I have no objection whatever and no philosophical hang-up.
Teaching children—all children—according to their abilities and aptitudes is what education should be about. Reference has been made to children with special educational needs. It is just as important to meet their needs as it is to meet the needs of those who are highly able.
I know that the Minister will tell us how much the Government are doing to meet the needs of the highly able. But they are being selected for that. Whether they are being selected under the same roof, in a comprehensive school, or whether they are being selected for an academic "hot house" type education in Hills Road or even in some of our grammar schools up and down the land makes no odds. It is important that children are taught and that the education provided is consistent with their abilities and aptitudes.
Being against selection, as the Government claim to be—although in practice they have put quite a lot of it in place—is a mean-spirited policy of envy. We must be thankful for small mercies: the limited amount of selection that was in place when the Government took office is still in place.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, in confessional mode, talked about his own children going to comprehensive school. I shall be equally confessional and say that my children did too. My children have done exceptionally well. The debate is not about whether you like or do not like comprehensive education. I believe that it has its place in the system. We have a great deal of choice in the education system. There are some excellent comprehensive schools; there are some poor ones. There are some excellent private schools; there are some poor ones. There are some excellent grammar schools; and there are some grammar schools that are not performing as well as they might. The debate is not about the structure of a school; it is about meeting the needs of children.
We had a debate in this House on higher education last night and a previous debate on the subject about a week ago. One of the key issues that emerged was how we should prepare young people for higher education. There was agreement on all sides, including on the Government Benches, that another key issue was how we could help children from poorer families to be fully prepared at school level to be qualified for entrance into higher education. I passionately support that idea. But you cannot do that if you turn your back on selection on the grounds of ability.
The Government's determination to deny selection on the grounds of ability makes the policy of inclusion an absolute sham. As I said, bright children from poorer homes will be the losers. It is for them that we should be concerned. When the Government came to office, such children were helped—by the assisted places scheme, by places in independent schools and by places in grammar schools. Then the pernicious system of local balloting was introduced to see whether local pressure groups could get rid of grammar schools. Over every grammar school in the country hangs the sword of Damocles; namely, the fear that signatures will be gathered for a petition in the balloting system that will determine its future. That need not happen only once; it can happen year on year, affecting the children in those schools and sapping the energies of parents and staff, who have to drop what they are doing in order to fend off the possible curtailment of their future.
I hope that the amendment introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will not be supported and that the Liberal Democrats will not enter the Lobby with him at a later stage. I hope that the Minister—who I believe is as concerned about bright children from poor homes as we all are—will at least say that there is a place in education for selecting children on the basis of aptitude and ability.
I had not intended to intervene in this debate. However, I have been moved to do so by the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.
My great regret is that, so far as concerns new Labour, we are all Tories now. The point is that they have not done as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has suggested and stood up for the comprehensive principle. Yes, it was 40 years ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said. For the past 40 years I have been fighting for the comprehensive system. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, put it very well: at 11, you cannot choose. I agree with him: 15 or 16 is the right age. That is when young people have some idea of their own abilities and know where they want to go.
We debated this matter yesterday. I cannot accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said about—
That relates partly to the class system in this country. I think that 14, 15 or 16 are much better ages for selecting.
I cannot accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said about preparation for universities. Across the board, good comprehensive schools are preparing young people for university and they are doing splendidly. Yesterday I was arguing the case for having masters degrees for plumbers. We need a broad range. Schools such as the sixth-form colleges in Cambridge are doing precisely that and are preparing our young people splendidly to go forward.
I know how passionate the noble Baroness is about plumbers. Does she agree that, while we need first-class plumbers, electricians, doctors, dentists and nurses, we also need the academic élite? We need bright academic people. We know from what teachers say about the very bright children in our nursery schools, our primary schools and our secondary schools that unless they can be selected at some time and given an education commensurate with their particular talents, we are failing those children.
I think that the noble Baroness would also accept—because I think that this applies to both our own children—that all the evidence shows that bright children do very well at comprehensive schools and many of them go forward to become very bright academics.
I hesitate to speak in this debate, because it is clearly not my area. I am prompted to do so because there is clearly some confusion about the difference between education and training. Education has to be available to all, irrespective of ability. Training is for people who want to take advantage of their particular aptitudes. Training comes rather later, after a person has been educated to the best of their capacity. That is why I support the amendment.
This has been an interesting debate. I am interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about rock musicians. As a great fan of "Pop Idol", including, I confess, voting at the end—
On that I can support the noble Lord even more. We must certainly have a conversation about that.
In some ways I wish that we were having this debate on a Wednesday afternoon, when we would have the time to delve into the fundamentals of the issue. We share the aim of teaching children of all aptitudes and abilities. The question embroiled in the debate is about the mechanics of how to do that.
I do not believe in a grammar school system, because I do not believe in a system that chooses at 11 those who are to be described as "academic" and go to grammar school and those who, as where I grew up, go to a secondary modern. That does not mean that children should not make choices at older ages. We have always had a system in which children make choices as they get older about the kind of education that works for them. All noble Lords agree on that.
To respond to my noble friend Lord Peston specifically on the amendment, this power, which will last for four years, is brought in by a government who legislated in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to rule out any new selection by ability in maintained schools. We have made it clear that we do not believe that selection by academic ability has anything to do with raising standards. The Secretary of State would not accept a proposal to extend selection to publicly funded schools under this power. As we do not believe that such proposals would raise standards, we would not have the power to use the provision in that way. I can also give a commitment to my noble friend to make that explicit in the guidance on the power to innovate. With those reassurances, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
I remind the Committee that I am a member of the academic élite and I stand second to no one in the Chamber in my capacity for intellectual snobbery. I also apologise to my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey, because he was at least as committed and more directly involved than I was in comprehensive education in Haringey. I accept that he, among others, was at the forefront of what we were all doing. That applies to many other noble Lords.
I also plead guilty to being a dinosaur. Being a dinosaur means that I am a conservative, of course. I think that many things from the past that are old are good compared with things that are new. I have no problem with that.
Suggesting that we are all Tories now shows an ignorance of the history of comprehensives. The Tories were at the forefront of introducing comprehensives in some of their local authorities. It was not Tory doctrine at the beginning of all this not to go for comprehensive. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, as far as I know and unless things have changed, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, created more comprehensives than any other Secretary of State—and quite rightly. It is not true to say that we are all Tories now.
Noble Lords know how much I hate politics. In my judgment, this is not a political matter, but a philosophical division on the nature of education and how we approach it. The question generally is not just about bright children from poorer homes, but about all children. I am as concerned about stupid children from rich homes as I am about bright children from poorer homes. Stupid children from rich homes having inappropriate education inflicted on them because of the class prejudices—if noble Lords wish to press that point—of their parents is just as bad as anything else that I can think of. The issue is what is right for all children.
I have two other points following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He got on to my next amendment, which has ruined it for me a little. The next amendment is about what we should do for the future Beckhams of this world. I shall come to that in a moment. On the issue of rock versus academic, I shall give the Committee one anecdote. When I was very much younger, one of my economics colleagues at LSE said to me, "We've got this young man called Jagger and he has asked me whether he should carry on with his BSc(Econ) or carry on with his group". I said to him, "I take it you advised him that a BSc(Econ) was definitely worth a lot more for the future than playing rock music". He said, "No, I told him if he was good at rock he probably ought to do that". For once, an economist gave some good advice.
Coming to what the amendment is all about, I am still a little lost, because my noble friend the Minister did not reassure me about what I feared could happen. She did not say whether a different Secretary of State could use the legislation in precisely the form that troubles me. I agree with her that we need a bit more time on the issue, so we shall come back to it on Report and talk some more. Given that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 2, line 33, at end insert—
"( ) No order made in this Chapter shall enable the Secretary of State (in relation to England) or the National Assembly of Wales (in relation to Wales) to introduce where it does not already occur, or extend or permit the extension of, selection by aptitude, social class, or religious affiliation in any schools in receipt of public funds."
I am getting tired, even if no one else is, so I hope that we can deal with this amendment reasonably quickly. Amendment No. 18 related to my hope that it would not be possible to extend selection by ability under the Bill. This amendment relates to what forms of selection would be permissible under the Bill. It raises our old friend, the debate on whether aptitude is different from ability. I beg the Committee not to continue that debate this evening. I shall be happy to come back to it when I am feeling stronger, but I can do without that kind of linguistics at the moment. Would the Bill enable the introduction of forms of selection other than by ability? The amendment also anticipates one of the tough areas that I shall get involved with—the question of selection by religious affiliation. I want to debate that, although not in detail under this heading. Would the Bill enable that to be extended? As I promised right at the beginning of today's proceedings, I am viewing this as a straight question to the Minister and to other noble Lords. What forms of selection might be permitted under the rubric of this Bill?
I have one further comment in anticipation of a later debate. I agree that we need to debate age and what happens in different age groups. However, I do not want to do that in this debate, and I hope that other noble Lords also accept that we should postpone debating the issue of 14, 16 and so on until we reach later, relevant amendments. I beg to move.
I have listened very carefully to this fascinating debate. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Peston, but I suspect that he anticipated that someone from these Benches might intervene at this point. I simply tell him that, in visiting hundreds of schools and talking to thousands of head teachers, teachers and parents, I have never come across a school yet that admitted social class as one of the grounds on which it admitted pupils. I also agree that this is not the moment to debate these issues. I should simply like to make a couple of points on the issue of religious affiliation.
I am aware that Amendment No. 19 is only a probing amendment. However, if it were accepted, I believe that it would be a limitation on the freedom of schools and local communities to develop the character of schools and to respond to the needs of the local community. Over the years, time and again, through me and other spokesmen, the Church of England has put on public record its commitment to working in partnership with LEAs, parents and the local community. Consequently, any development of the Church's provision must have local support and agreement. There is a slight danger that, if Amendment No. 19 were accepted, that would be prevented. We believe that a requirement such as that proposed in the amendment in respect of religious affiliation would undermine local decision-making and schools' ability to develop as they see fit in the development of their own life and their own educational standards.
Some would say that the amendment could represent an intolerant attitude, although I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, intended it in that way. Others have told me that they believe it is rather undemocratic. It would certainly enshrine the discrepancy in the ability to exercise parental preference in Church of England high school education in this country. However, this is not the moment to have a major debate on that subject. That will come later, and I look forward to it with more passionate interest than I can say. I simply want to say that we are concerned about the limitation that the amendment, if passed in this form, could put on the freedom of schools and communities to develop.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, would readily admit that, in both Amendment No. 18 and Amendment No. 19, we are fighting over old battlegrounds. Perhaps we should forget those old battlegrounds and certainly not regard them as inhibiting any future development. My own feeling, for what it is worth, is that selection by ability is a matter for a teacher, whereas selection by aptitude is probably more a matter for the pupil himself or herself.
My own experience, ancient as it is now, includes being educated at two comprehensive schools, including, during the war, one of the first comprehensives in Anglesey. I still remember being paralysed by the 11-plus exam, so much so that I could barely write my name on the paper. Even so, I had to pass the exam to get into that old county school, which was formerly a grammar school and was fast developing into a comprehensive school. Even in those early days, there was streaming—an A stream, a B stream and so on—in that school. Then, I had to pass exams—both a scholarship exam and the common entrance—to enter another comprehensive school, namely Harrow. Harrow ultimately was a comprehensive school in the sense that there was a tremendous amount of streaming of pupils with particular aptitudes.
Although, as I say, we should forget the old battlegrounds represented by phrases such as selection by ability and selection by aptitude, such phrases should not inhibit those currently involved in education who may be thinking of innovative ideas.
I am sorry that we are not going to have the debate about the Beckhams, the Jaggers and the Isambard Kingdom Brunels. How do we best respond to the needs of children and young children? It is quite an important issue. If we cannot afford to provide excellence in all our schools for all these different aptitudes, there is an argument for saying—as the Government are doing—let us have some schools that are particularly well equipped in, for example, sport, engineering, languages or information technology, and reserve a modest proportion of those places for the young Beckhams and the young Jaggers.
I do not think that that is antagonistic to the comprehensive principle. It seems to be saying, as sensibly as one can, "We have limited resources and cannot provide the best in all subjects in all our schools. So let us go for good standards everywhere, but, across the city as a whole, provide centres of excellence in particular areas". However, we shall hear more of that.
Although we shall have the debate on faith schools on another day, I should like to make a couple of points now. Amendment No. 19 would, as I read it, fossilise the position. However, society is not static. A small city or big town, for example, might have a complete reorganisation of its schools. Following consultation with parents and others, it may decide, as I know one city has, to close a church school. Another aspect of the reorganisation, however, may be to expand another school and provide places that are distinctively for children from faith homes. Amendment No. 19 would stop that desirable reorganisation of provision in such places.
I should also hope that we are a tolerant society in which we are willing to respond to the wishes of parents and local communities. Specifically, however, and as an advocate of church schools in particular circumstances, I would not want these powers to be used to circumvent the procedures which exist to ensure that we are truly meeting the needs and wishes of society. I would not want the Secretary of State to say, "No, we shall ignore the school's organisation committee, the process by which all proposals must go forward and be considered, and an objective of reaching unanimity". I would not want the Secretary of State to short-circuit that. I would therefore be with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, in not wanting to see these powers used to circumvent existing procedures.
I intervene only briefly, first to declare an interest that I did not expect to declare: I am the president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain. In speaking to a previous amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, remarked on the historical absurdity suggesting that Catholics are always wrong. For my brethren in the faith generally and for my fellow Peers of this faith, I reassure him and the House that we contribute matters that do not show that that absurdity is an absurdity.
Secondly, and much more importantly, I speak because the question of faith schools is of particular importance, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, just indicated. I admire the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, moved the amendment. His enthusiasm is remarkable. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will match that enthusiasm with the measure of care and discretion with which she clarifies the Government's position about safeguarding faith schools. Just as the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, was an absurdity, it is equally an absurdity to suggest that a faith school is not capable of innovation in education.
I support the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. It is a pity that we are not having a longer debate on some of these issues. I fully expect the Minister to support strongly the existence of faith schools and even the encouragement of more. I admire the tenacity and the good humour with which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, always enters into these debates. I have enjoyed engaging in debate with the noble Lord over a number of years. We entered this House on the same List and therefore we are approaching the same anniversary. The Minister gave the noble Lord reasonable assurances on the previous amendment. However, I hope and believe that that will not be the case as regards the amendment that we are at present discussing.
It is right that children of families of a particular faith should be allowed to be selected for schools that support that faith. There is now a growth in the number of ecumenical schools. In Cambridge a Catholic and an Anglican school have been established and are working well. I hope that that process will be encouraged.
I believe that specialist schools have worked well. The Government accepted them and have expanded their number. They have a policy aim to continue to expand that number. I believe that a later amendment will seek to expand the number of subjects that are offered. I refer to arts, music, sport, science and technology and languages. A moment ago I reminisced about various young people who had received a specialist education before we had state specialist schools. As a councillor in Cambridgeshire I helped a talented young violinist when my colleagues on the local authority said that his needs could be met in any of the local schools in Cambridgeshire. There was no doubt that many of those schools had strong music departments. Cambridgeshire prides itself on its good schools. However, the young boy went to Cheetham's school and was successful. The right decision was taken in that case. I am delighted that he went to that school. He enjoyed the specialist education which he received there.
Languages, technology and science have progressed a great deal through innovation—the Clause 2 issue—in our city technology colleges which gave birth to the specialist colleges which I support. There is a strong argument for allowing selection on grounds of academic ability but certainly on grounds of faith and aptitude for specialist subjects. I do not think that I know of a school that selects on the basis of social class. I hope that such a school does not exist. I would not support that as the only criterion for selection. Certainly, we all know areas of the country where groups of people can afford to move to a particular area where schools have a good reputation. However, that is not a case of schools selecting pupils on the basis of social class but of parents being able to afford to move to an area with a school that has a good reputation. Let us make no mistake: if selection is denied, people will find ways to get their children in the best schools. However, that applies only to those who can afford to take certain action. Governments of any political persuasion should do what they can to support the children of families who cannot afford to move to an area with schools that would provide an education to meet the abilities and aptitudes of their children.
As we shall debate faith schools later I do not intend to address them at the moment. However, I wish to comment on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on selection by aptitude, even if we all understand what that means.
When the Bill was debated in another place my honourable friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough encouraged the Government not only to allow all schools to be specialist schools but also to take away the right to select 10 per cent of students by aptitude partly because of the difficulty of knowing what that means but also because this is an area where the Government have already innovated and tried something out which has turned out to be rather unpopular. We know that only 6 per cent of existing specialist schools use the right to select by aptitude. That right has proved itself to be unwanted and unworkable and I therefore agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that we should not extend it.
This is another debate which I sense heralds other debates to come. I shall try to address my remarks to the amendment in order to keep my powder dry for later. Again, we are considering how best to respond to the needs of all children. That is something which unites this Chamber and is something which makes me proud to be a Member of it.
In addressing the amendment let me begin again by saying that the purpose of this power is to respond to proposals which will raise standards. If a proposal comes forward that would not raise standards, it could not be approved.
As noble Lords will know, the admission arrangements for maintained schools are determined locally following a statutory consultation process. Admission authorities for schools must ensure that those arrangements comply with legislation and have regard to my department's code of practice on school admissions. Statutory parties to the consultation may object to the independent schools adjudicator if they are unhappy with any aspect of a school's determined admission arrangements. I cannot envisage a way in which a change to those arrangements could be argued to improve educational standards of children.
The amendment refers to three types of selection—by aptitude, by social class and by religious affiliation. We legislated in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to rule out any new selection by academic ability except for "fair banding" and sixth forms. I have set out the position on aptitude several times. I shall respect the tiredness of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, at this point in the day, but no doubt we shall return to the matter. I can be clear that we would not use the power to change that position. We are clear that any selection on the basis of social class is unacceptable and the code of practice on school admissions makes it clear that admissions authorities for schools should not set admissions criteria which have the effect of disadvantaging certain social groups in the local community. For example, we would not expect to see criteria that give priority for admission on the basis of a parent's occupation or income. I assure the Committee that any request to the Secretary of State for an order which would disadvantage a particular social class would have no chance of success.
As the Committee will be aware, many schools of a religious character give priority for admission to adherents of a particular faith or denomination. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn mentioned that. That criterion forms part of a school's published admission arrangements and as such must be consulted on, as I described earlier, and may be the subject of objection to the schools adjudicator. As I said earlier, we could not envisage a use of the power to innovate to bypass that process.
In conclusion, I do not believe that the noble Lord's amendment is necessary to achieve the protections he seeks. I hope that, given my assurances, he will agree to withdraw it.
I thank my noble friend for that reply. I wish to make a few brief remarks. I say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn that as regards social class and selection we have what we might call the "Mandy Rice-Davies" phenomenon here as regards asking any head about social class; namely, "He would, wouldn't he?" However, anyone who knows anything about the research into school admissions knows that a social class element definitely plays a role in some schools.
I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said; namely, that I am fighting on all battlegrounds, but not as regards every subject. When we discuss the reform of the curriculum and 14-16 education, even I shall reveal some new thoughts. The Committee will have to wait for that.
I turn to selection, particularly by aptitude, which was discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Let us assume that we continue with selection by aptitude, which has been legitimised. That would mean that all of our good footballers were in very few schools, likewise all our good artists and good musicians. We should ask ourselves—we are using our imagination—"Is that the kind of education system that we should like to have?". My view is that we should simply answer "No". I should like all children to attend schools in which some pupils are really rather good at art. In my school, some were but, unfortunately, I was not one of them. The notion that they—or the good footballers or good musicians—would not even be in such a school is the reason I oppose selection by aptitude.
As the Minister is well aware, I am opposed to all that development on the part of the Government. In fact, it is worse than that; I regard that approach as a gimmick, and I believe that it will gradually die. Let us use our imagination and consider what would happen if we went down the path of selection by aptitude: we should end up with an educational system that, broadly, we should find very unattractive.
We shall debate religious schools in due course, but I have a similar view in that regard. If the children of really committed religious people were all concentrated in just a few of our schools, I should regard that as a disaster for our country, let alone for education. That is why I am very concerned about the fact that, overwhelmingly, most children should be in our straightforward, ordinary schools. When we debate religious schools, our debate will not be about religion but about "inclusivity" and where we should like our children to be educated.
That is where I am coming from. I thank the Minister for her answer and other noble Lords for taking part in this debate. This is certainly a theme to which we shall return. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Many experiments will take place under the Bill, but what will become of their results? We shall spend much money, but what value shall we get from that five or 10 years down the road?
Education is littered with experiments that have been tried and funded by the Department for Education but which have been allowed to die because nothing came out of them that was usable by other schools. There was no education pack, no route to follow and no training of other teachers; there was nothing that would allow a successful experiment to propagate in the system and nothing that would allow it even to continue in the schools in which it started. Many approaches have been started, given three or four years' funding by the education department and then left to themselves. Even if a new school wants to pick up some of the approaches, there is nothing that it can turn to.
In addition, many educational theories and practices have been propagated without ever having been properly tested and without their educational value ever having been shown. Such practices were fashionable and the thing to do. They might be what the TES or some other authority said was the right thing to think about this year. Those nostrums propagate, just as has happened in the medical profession in former years. We need to ensure in education, as the Government have done in medicine, that the practice that is propagating around the system has been shown to be beneficial.
The Government have introduced NICE, which is an innovation of which I thoroughly approve in the Department of Health. It is time that in education we had at least something to that effect, if not a body of that format. Educational research has always been extremely thin on the ground. Even when we are confronted with problems such as how best to treat special needs children or whether there are ways of educating dyslexics that are better, cheaper, quicker, more effective and more lasting than others—the Government are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on that every year—precious little research is done on which method works best. Down the years, that has cost us a great deal of money. I know that it takes some money up front to do such experiments, but unless one does the research when one is doing the innovating, at the end of the day one either has to continue with a project that one does not know has any value or one is left with a project with which one cannot do any good afterwards.
That happens right at the core of the department. Ofsted has never done any decent research into whether its reports paint an accurate picture of schools. It has never submitted itself to external verification. It is extraordinary that an institution that was set up to assess how well schools were doing has never permitted itself to be analysed in that way by academics or anyone else. There should be a culture in education—as there is in medicine and other areas—of peer review, of innovations being tested against what other people think of them, of how well practices have actually performed, and of independent views being taken of the products of research and innovation. That is the basis on which we should seek to move forward in education.
As we come to what I hope will be the beginning of a fascinating period of experimentation and ideas in education, we should set out in the right way and with a determination that what comes out of this approach should have been evaluated independently. That independent evaluation should be available to the public, other schools, and those who wish to take a critical view of what is happening. That will allow us to learn from what we are going to do and to take forward the best, not just what appears to be the best presented, when we look at what has been done. I beg to move.
I rise to support Amendment No. 20 on the grounds that there is a need for proper evaluation and transparency. I also wish to speak to Amendment No. 25, which is grouped with it.
Proper evaluation and transparency are both good things, but so is accountability. The purpose of Amendment No. 25 is to ensure that the Secretary of State's decisions in relation to allowing certain schools to be exempt from education legislation are subject to parliamentary scrutiny. That will be done by introducing an obligation for the Secretary of State in England and the Assembly Cabinet Minister for Education in Wales to lay before Parliament or the Assembly, as appropriate, an annual report on the operation of the provisions of this chapter of the Bill. That would allow Members of Parliament or of the Assembly to question what has been done—that would, I hope, be done on the basis of independent evaluation—and to judge its efficacy.
In her earlier remarks, the Minister expressed support for having an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of innovations, so I hope that she will view these amendments with favour. What goes on in schools is of economic value. Undoubtedly, some schools will try to exploit that. It is far better that schools, rather than private companies, should be in a position to innovate. I hope that that will raise standards and disseminate best practice into other schools. But mistakes are often made when things are tried for the first time. It is therefore essential that there is an opportunity in the Bill for Parliament to assess what has been done and to give its opinion on whether that is in the best interests of our children.
When the Bill was debated in another place, it was suggested that one innovation for which schools might apply might be that of charging for their services and ending the right to free education. The Minister assured Members of another place that that was an example of an innovation that would not be allowed. However, the Minister was not forthcoming with other examples of the sort of things that would not be allowed. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, has already pressed the Minister on precisely what sort of innovations really require this legislation. Perhaps the Minister can elaborate on that when she replies. Would the Government accept a reduction in the burden of statistical returns on schools as the sort of innovation for which they are looking? It is all the more important that accountability to Parliament and to the Welsh Assembly, as appropriate, should be mandatory and included in the Bill.
The proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, sounds fine, especially with regard to education, if I may say so. But does he agree that there is a problem in relation to the time factor? He says that the provision has to be made. That is the first thing, and that would take some time. Then there must be an independent evaluation, which, I suppose, would take even longer if it were to be of any value at all. We then come to the publication of the assessment or evaluation. There is also one other stage which the noble Lord did not mention—the consideration.
In many cases, would it not take months and months to come to a decision? The noble Lord may say that it would be well worth it, and he may be right about that. However, does he agree that, if we were to go through all those stages for all or most of the projects in education, that would present a serious obstacle to what he is proposing?
I should like to see the noble Lord propose his system for medicine, whereby doctors would simply do whatever they wanted and would experiment on people in any way that they wanted. They would not be subject to a review of what they had done or be questioned as to the usefulness of what they had done. They would be allowed to publish a paper without peer review, and other people would then be encouraged to copy it if it happened to take their fancy. That is how it is in education. I hope that it will not be in most—
I shall be brief because I know that people are waiting to get on with the next debate. I would not normally support this type of amendment. I believe that evaluation should be carried out at school level. It seems to me that to be responsive to the parents and for validation to be carried out externally through inspection would be the right way to go.
However, I shall support both Amendments Nos. 20 and 25, first, on the grounds that what the amendments seek to achieve would flush out the legislation that acts as an inhibitor, and therefore we should all be able to answer the question that the Minister is unable to answer today. Secondly, the annual report to Parliament would quantify the number of applications. However, I hope that, in addition, it would include the number of schools that would apply which would discover that they did not need legislative exemption at all. Thus, we would know what quantity of work had been involved in implementing the early part of the Bill.
I apologise for rising too early. I lost my grip on how the Committee stage works during the intervention from my noble friend.
The purpose of the power to innovate is to pilot innovative proposals which might be adopted more widely through further legislation if they were successful in raising educational standards. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the use of the power should receive proper evaluation and that, where appropriate, that evaluation should be independent and published. I can give the Committee the assurance that, because we want to learn the lessons of innovation, we shall certainly expect good quality evaluation of projects.
However, I hope that the noble Lord will also recognise that the nature of evaluation will vary enormously, depending on the type and size of project involved, and so on. In some cases, for example, it is possible that interviews with people directly impacted will be sufficient; in others, it will require detailed performance analysis or survey work.
We want to see evaluation that is fit for its purpose, with the proposer—whether it is a school or the local education authority—putting forward the kind of evaluation that is appropriate to the project. They will have the most direct experience of the projects and will have most to learn from the experience of the lessons being put into practice.
We shall, of course, also have a keen interest in the lessons to be learned. We shall work with individual projects to ensure that good quality evaluation plans are in place to meet our need for information and to provide a basis for deciding how similar requests should be dealt with in future and whether more general legislative change would be a good thing.
It may not always be appropriate to require the provision to be in place before a project has begun. In some cases, the development of the evaluation design may need to go hand in hand with the development of the pilot project itself. However, the guidance that I have placed in the Library of the House makes it absolutely clear that applicants will be required to develop an appropriate evaluation strategy. I hope that those reassurances are helpful to Members of the Committee.
Turning to Amendment No. 25, we have also said that the power will end after four years. At that point, we shall want to review the effectiveness of the power to innovate, and so will Parliament.
In addition to what I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about the evaluation of projects, I want to make it clear to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in relation to Amendment No. 25 that I agree that it is important to keep a public record of the use of the power. As I have said before, that is one of the reasons why it is important that the Secretary of State is involved in the process and can lay orders before Parliament. Her involvement ensures that, in every case where the power to innovate is used to disapply legislation, there will be a public record of exactly what has been disapplied, who the disapplication applies to and how long it will last.
I believe that means that there will already be a full parliamentary and public record of the operation within the provisions of this chapter. However, I should like to consider carefully whether Amendment No. 25 or something similar should be introduced on Report. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will not move her amendment.