Education Bill

– in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 19th June 2002.

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Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 44.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour 9:16 pm, 19th June 2002

moved Amendment No. 81:

Page 29, line 16, after "prescribed" insert—

"( ) advising all admission authorities on how to provide a non-selective school system,"

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, having lost a fair amount of time, your Lordships will probably prefer me to be as brief as I can. In moving Amendment No. 81, standing in the names of my noble friend Lady David and myself, perhaps I may immediately thank the Minister not merely for answering my question on what the membership of the forums would be, but actually handing me a piece of paper containing all the information.

That piece of paper also contained a very interesting sentence which may affect how I organise the next few years. It says that the chairman of the forum could, if it so decided, be an independent person. I am certainly an independent person and what I need to do is find a forum that is looking for a possible chairman because it looks very interesting. I just mention that en passant.

The Minister said in terms, at col. 212 of Hansard on 14th May, that,

"as an individual as well as a Minister, philosophically [I] do not support selection by ability at 11".

Again at col. 637 of Hansard on 11th March of this year she said,

"I am pro-education, pro-equality and pro the comprehensive system".

I can find no better sentence to convey my own views on this matter. Though I shall not weary your Lordships with other quotations, that is certainly also the view of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State who said in terms that she supports the comprehensive schools.

The question before us, therefore, is why there is so much selection in our education system, some of which is overt and a great deal of which is covert. Why is it that some of us are so worried that selection will increase with the introduction of all the new forms of school that have been placed before us in the past few years?

When we think of selection by ability at 11, we are not looking at something that is new or something about which we are completely ignorant. This subject has been around a long time and has been studied in great depth. It is no longer a matter of anecdote or anything else. It is something that education researchers know about. The considered view is that selection at 11-plus is socially divisive. Much worse than that, it damages individual self-esteem. Worse still, it places unreasonable pressures on pupils and teachers in primary schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked about disruption, which she thinks is due to the ballots, but it is known overwhelmingly that the 11-plus exam disrupts teaching and learning at a very important stage in the primary curriculum.

We also know, as a matter of research, not of anecdote, that because of the dynamics of child development, the selection at 11-plus not only of itself does not work properly, it reinforces rather than reduces inequality of opportunity.

The worst thing about selection at 11 is that although we all have experience of failure in life, happily a few of us do not have that experience until we are quite a bit older. Many of us campaign for the abolition of selection at 11 because it is appalling to inflict failure on a young child. When I was 11 an enormous number of children were immediately branded as failures. I know that we all experience failure, but for it to happen at 11 is cruelty beyond acceptability.

That is the background to my position and it leads to at least one suggestion, which is all that my amendment is about. My noble friend Lady David and I, along with others, think that an admission forum could, first, look at what is happening within the area on selection, and so on. Secondly, it could advise the admission authorities on how to set up a genuinely non-selective school system.

This is a minor proposal. It is not my way of saying that we should get rid of selection because it is too cruel. The amendment is simply saying that we should use these forums in an advisory capacity but in a way that would be immensely helpful. It would lead to local debate and bring out these issues in a balanced and interesting way that would lead to action.

That is the reason for tabling the amendments. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, would expect me to rise to the bait, but I shall be brief.

I would be impressed if I thought that the argument was all about the age at which selection takes place. The noble Lord concentrated a great deal on the inappropriateness of selection at 11. If that were the issue, we could have a serious debate about the appropriate age for selection on the basis of ability. But I think that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, would fundamentally disagree with selection on the basis of ability at any age.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

No, my Lords, That is not my view and it never has been.

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

My Lords, then I am impressed. There is a serious debate to be had. As we know, in the independent sector, selection takes place at 13-plus, rather than 11-plus. There may be some hope in the idea of a debate on the issue. Certainly there is selection at age 16 and there is a great deal of selection at age 18 on the basis of ability. That is how people move into the world of tertiary education.

My short intervention has at least elicited from the noble Lord something on which we can build in future debates.

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

My Lords, I shall confine myself to replying to the amendment. As my noble friend Lord Peston said, the amendment would require admission forums to advise all admission authorities on how to provide a non-selective system. We simply do not see it as part of the job of admission forums to promote specific changes of character in schools, or in local education authorities.

Noble Lords are well aware that we do not believe in selection by ability, but we do believe that children with a particular talent—for example, in the arts or in sport—should have the opportunity to develop that talent. A small proportion of schools select by aptitude, but most do not. Of course, selection by aptitude of a minority of talented students will occur only where a school is oversubscribed and the oversubscription criteria will be applied.

I agree that forums should advise on how well particular admission arrangements work, including selective arrangements. We expect admission authorities to have regard to that advice. However, it is for admission authorities to determine admission arrangements. We believe that such arrangements should be a matter for local decision. Existing provisions, and those that we are introducing under this Bill, are designed to encourage local discussion with a view to reaching a consensus on admission arrangements that will work in the best interests of local parents.

We already have in place a framework for local consultation on proposed admission arrangements, with the possibility of objection to the adjudicator if admission authorities consider that particular admission arrangements determined by others are undesirable. Under the provisions of the Bill we are also strengthening objection arrangements and extending them so that community and voluntary controlled school governors may also object to admission arrangements at foundation and voluntary aided schools.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that the provisions set out in this Bill, together with the existing framework, will enable local partners to agree a local system for admissions that will work well for local parents and children. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her response. There is no difficulty about my withdrawing the amendment, but I am disappointed by her reply because I thought that my noble friend Lady David and I had put forward an amendment that could make a constructive contribution to the role of the admission forums.

Perhaps I may respond a little to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Selection has to take place—as, indeed, does choice—at various stages in one's education and career. The point is when. The research evidence available overwhelmingly tells us two things: first, that we should do this as late as possible; and, secondly, that we should always ensure that systems exist in order to rectify errors. Let us take, for example, 16 as an age for the purpose of this argument. Someone might be given certain advice at that age; indeed, I was. I was told that I would never be a hot-shot pure mathematician and that I ought to do something else in the sixth form.

We have all had that sort of experience. Such comments were made in the form of advice, and we took it because that was how we reacted to our teachers. However, there was never any sense of failure involved. It was not a matter of grading us, or telling us that we were worthless; it was advising us what we could do. But there always existed a way—in the case of pure maths, for me, it did exist—of discovering that one had received the wrong advice, and means through which one could put it right.

The real point here is not to say that we should never select, because life is full of selections. On Friday morning 11 young Englishmen will be selected to play for England, while another 11 will be told "You're not good enough". I am sure that they will be very disappointed. But selection is of the essence in the case of a football team. The point about education is that selection is precisely not of the essence; indeed, it is exactly the opposite of what we want at the age of 11.

If, in due course, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who is more influential in this House than I am, could manage to secure us a good debate on selection, I should willingly take part in it. We could then discuss the whole philosophy of it, as well as the practicalities. However, I promised to be brief in my remarks. I shall not, therefore, pursue the matter ad nauseam. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 81A and 82 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 82A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 45 [Admission numbers]:

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

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 84 to 87. These amendments fulfil the promise that I made to noble Lords in Committee to return on Report with our own proposals to address the concerns of those who represent state boarding schools. We share their concern to safeguard the long-term viability of maintained boarding schools, but also think it most important that all schools make clear to parents, in their published admission arrangements, how many places can be applied for and in what circumstances. These amendments, as now drafted, will achieve both objectives.

They will allow maintained boarding schools to have separate admission arrangements, and, therefore, separate admission numbers, for their day and boarding places respectively. The changes already made in Clause 45 of the Bill, replacing standard numbers with admission numbers facilitate that. If a school takes that route, day-place applicants would be ineligible for boarding places, and vice versa.

So, for example, where a parent expresses a preference for a day place at a school that offers boarding accommodation, the admission authority could refuse that child admission if all the day places up to the published admission number have already been allocated to higher priority day-place applicants, even though there may still be boarding places available. We believe that this approach will help schools to keep places available for those who specifically want their child to board, whether during the course of a normal admission round or later. And parents would know where they stand.

However, where boarding school places remain empty in the relevant year group, there is nothing to prevent admission authorities from accepting a greater number of day pupils, or vice versa.

I understand that the State Boarding Information Service welcomes the amendment and is grateful for our recognition of the importance of the state boarding sector. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 9:30 pm, 19th June 2002

My Lords, I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will join me in opposing Amendment No. 87. It reads:

"References in this section to the determination of any number include references to the determination of zero as that number".

What is wrong with zero? Why not have one or two or 59 in the amendment? Zero is a number. It has one or two interesting properties that other numbers do not. But it is a perfectly ordinary number. That reinforces my prejudice against the Civil Service. Presumably it is full of classicists and just because the Greeks and the Romans did not have a zero they think that zero has something improper about it. It is a perfectly good Hindi concept. It was brought to us through the Arabs and the Italians in the 12th to 13th century and has been part of our mathematics for a long time. It is a number. Why are we trying to define it especially as a number as though there were something odd about it?

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, was quite right at our previous session to point out the logic that "or" includes "and", although of course ordinary English has this odd concept "and/or" as if it does not. Legislation manages to avoid that. I really do not think that we should commit a similar fallacy just because there are not enough mathematicians in the Department for Education and Skills.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that I read the amendment and assumed not that the draftsman or the civil servants were mad or ignorant but that there must be some very clever legal point. Often when I do not understand something, the lawyers go back to primitive times when—the noble Lord will be aware—people had great difficulty with zero as a number. It is special because it is the only number that can be added to another number leaving the other number still the same. That troubled people enormously.

However, I decided not to speak on the amendment simply because I do not want some smart alec advising the Minister to get up and say that if I only knew about legal drafting, I would know how important this is.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I am younger and more foolish than the noble Lord, Lord Peston.

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

My Lords, I hesitate to get into this argument because I do not claim to be a mathematician, but I thought that if one added a zero to a one it became 10, and that that was a different number from one. That is as far as I intend to go in intervening between my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Peston.

I want to thank the Minister most warmly. I argued the case for these amendments on the last day of Committee. The noble Baroness gave her word that she would go away and think about the matter. I know that STABIS, the organisation representing state boarding schools, is particularly grateful for the work of the noble Baroness. I want it recorded that I am grateful for what has happened. I accept these amendments—zero or no zero.

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

My Lords, I, too, in Committee tabled an amendment about boarding schools. I know that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just mentioned, STABIS is delighted with the amendments. They answer its case precisely. It is extremely grateful. I thank the Minister very much for doing this for us. We are very grateful.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships and delighted that we have been able to table the amendments. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the Bill manager is a mathematician and that the noble Lord is absolutely right that it would cancel conventional drafting if we were to do that in any other way. I shall now sit down.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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

moved Amendments Nos. 84 to 87:

Page 30, line 2, leave out from "greater)" to end of line 5 and insert "there is substituted—

"(5) No prejudice shall be taken to arise for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) from the admission to a maintained school in a school year of a number of pupils in a relevant age group which does not exceed the number determined under section 89 as the number of pupils in that age group that it is intended to admit to the school in that year; but this subsection does not apply if the conditions set out in subsection (5A) are met in relation to the school and the school year.

(5A) Those conditions are—

(a) that the school is one at which boarding accommodation is provided for pupils; and

(b) that the determination under section 89 by the admission authority of the admission arrangements which are to apply for that year includes the determinations mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 89A(1A).

(5B) Where the conditions set out in subsection (5A) are met in relation to a maintained school and a school year, no prejudice shall be taken to arise for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) from either of the following—

(a) the admission to the school in that year as boarders of a number of pupils in a relevant age group which does not exceed the number determined under section 89 as the number of pupils in that age group that it is intended to admit to the school in that year as boarders;

(b) the admission to the school in that year otherwise than as boarders of a number of pupils in a relevant age group which does not exceed the number determined under section 89 as the number of pupils in that age group that it is intended to admit to the school in that year otherwise than as boarders.""

Page 30, line 12, at end insert—

"(1A) Such a determination under section 89 may also, if the school is one at which boarding accommodation is provided for pupils, include—

(a) a determination of the number of pupils in each relevant age group that it is intended to admit to the school in that year as boarders, and

(b) a determination of the number of pupils in each relevant age group that it is intended to admit to the school in that year otherwise than as boarders."

Page 30, leave out lines 13 to 16.

Page 30, line 22, at end insert—

"(4) References in this section to the determination of any number include references to the determination of zero as that number.""

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 46 [Co-ordination of admission arrangements]:

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

moved Amendment No. 88:

Page 30, line 30, leave out "arrangements" and insert "dates"

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

My Lords, the amendment would change the word "arrangements" for "dates". As I said in Committee, the arrangements for admissions and actual admissions of pupils are one of the most important functions that any school carries out. A school that is its own admissions authority must act within the law. Once the criteria are set they must be fairly applied. If they are not, the procedures can be challenged. The most vexed aspect of the arrangements is the setting of dates by which parents know whether their child has been accepted for a school place. Different dates operating in an area causes real confusion. That is why the factor in greatest need of co-ordination is the setting of the date by which all schools should make offers.

I want to make a point about the response that I received from the noble Baroness in Committee. She said:

"The main difference a co-ordinated scheme will make to foundation and voluntary-aided schools is that, rather than put forward the offer themselves, they"—

I assume that "they" means the schools themselves—

"will notify the relevant education authority as to which schools are eligible".

How can a school say which schools are eligible? I do not understand what that means. She continued:

"Each local education authority will then check in relation to all pupils resident in its area the potential offers to be made".

I am not sure what that means. How do they check the potential offers to be made to all pupils resident in the area—unless in plain English that means that parents will make their bid for a place and the local education authority will consider those bids and try to reconcile them with the places available? But what is stated there simply does not make sense.

The noble Baroness continued:

"Applying the rules applicable to the co-ordinated scheme in question".

So I think that what the noble Baroness is saying is that schools may be their own admissions authority but, nevertheless, the rules must be applied according to the scheme in question. So I do not agree that schools will not be much affected on the basis of what the Minister herself said. She continued:

"the education authority will then decide what offer will be made to those who would otherwise receive multiple offers, or none, and then the local education authority will transmit the single offer of a school place to residents in their area".—[Official Report, 14/5/02; cols. 271-2]

Again, I am not sure what that means. Will a "guesstimate" be made of those who would otherwise receive multiple offers? No parent will have received a multiple offer because, under that system, offers will not have been made. How are LEAs to assume which parents would otherwise have received multiple offers or none? I received a confusing response from the Minister and clarification would be helpful.

I return to my original point. It is important for those schools that are their own admissions authority what arrangements they can make. If there were a co-ordination of dates, that would make their position much more simple. What happens at the moment is that one school will have a date at one stage and parents will receive one set of information while still hoping for information from another school of their choice. There is a great deal of playing one school off against another, which causes confusion. It would be helpful to have some explanation of what the noble Baroness said at cols. 271 and 272. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I apologise if I was less than helpful in my previous remarks. Perhaps it was late.

Let me spend a moment explaining the effect of the amendment and addressing the points, I hope more succinctly, raised by the noble Baroness. The whole purpose of the clause is to provide a co-ordinated and simplified admissions process that will result in all local parents in the local education authority's area being offered a single school place at the same time. We know that this is what many parents want. The amendment will not achieve it.

As drafted, the amendment will not achieve what the noble Baroness seeks to achieve—that is, that parents should know by a single date whether or not their child has been accepted for admission. All that the amendment would effectively do would be to co-ordinate the date within a local education authority's area on which children are physically admitted to school.

Under current legislation, parents often apply to several admission authorities for their child to be admitted to a school and may receive a number of offers, or sometimes no offer at all. Simply co-ordinating the date on which children are admitted to school would not prevent the situation, which often arises at the moment, where some parents receive and hold onto several offers of a school place for their child while others do not receive any.

However, under the new provision the published co-ordination scheme for an area will give the date on which parents will be offered a school place for their child, either at a preferred school or, if that is not possible, at an alternative available school. This will be an improvement on the current situation, which causes unnecessary distress and uncertainty for many parents and children. I am sure that, like me, noble Lords would not wish that to continue. We want to build on the existing framework because we believe that it will provide a smoother process. Co-ordinating the date of admission but not the arrangements for admission will not achieve that.

I gave an assurance in Committee—I reiterate it—that foundation and voluntary-aided schools should not and need not be concerned about our proposals to co-ordinate admission arrangements. Under any agreed scheme, the governors of such schools will continue to be the admission authority, receiving all applications from parents and applying their own published over-subscription criteria before deciding which applicants are eligible for a place.

The local education authority will send out the letters on their behalf—that is the role that the local education authority will play. Where parents have more than one potential offer, the local education authority will simply apply the co-ordinated scheme agreed by all the admission authorities in the area to decide which single offer of a school place will be made to all the parents in its area. The most obvious example will be where parents put down preferences. If a child is eligible to be admitted to more than one school and there is a place, in such cases it will be parental preference. But it will be for all the admission authorities to decide the specifics of that.

I hope that that puts more succinctly the situation of those schools. They will continue to decide which children are admitted. If there are more children than places, the local education authority will apply the co-ordinated scheme and send out letters. It does not affect in any way the admission arrangements for those schools. I hope that on that basis the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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

My Lords, I accept the Minister's point that my amendment reads "arrange dates for admission". That is certainly not what I intended. I intended that there should be a date by which the preferences were responded to by all schools in an area. That would get over the problems of multiple applications and multiple offers. I shall have another look at that issue between now and the next stage.

I also accept the Minister's explanation about schools which are their own admission authorities. But I took the words on the page to mean that the main difference that a co-ordinated scheme will make to foundation and voluntary-aided schools is that, rather than the schools putting forward the offer themselves, the schools will notify the relevant education authority as to which schools are eligible. That is not what the Minister has just said. I understand her now to be saying that the schools will notify the LEA that, for example, Mr Jones's daughter, Alison, has been offered a place under the criteria that apply; and a letter goes out to Mrs Jones saying, "Your daughter, Alison, has been offered a place". That is not what this says. It says that the school will notify the relevant education authority as to which schools are eligible—it is probably "which children are eligible" rather than which schools. So it was confusing.

However, I understand that my amendment is defective. I shall look at it again between now and Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Early Years and School Standards) 9:45 pm, 19th June 2002

moved Amendment No. 89:

After Clause 46, insert the following new clause—

"REPEAL OF POWER TO MAKE CERTAIN SPECIAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR PRESERVING RELIGIOUS CHARACTER

Section 91 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (special arrangements to preserve religious character of foundation or voluntary aided school) shall cease to have effect."

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

My Lords, when the Bill was considered in Committee, I said in response to a proposed amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we would be bringing forward an amendment on Report to repeal Section 91 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.

Special arrangements under Section 91 of the 1998 Act permit aided and foundation schools with a religious character to preserve that religious character by rejecting applications from families not of their particular faith or denomination, even where they have places available. As noble Lords may know, faith schools usually give priority for admission, if they are over-subscribed, to applicants who are adherents of their faith. In that situation, a Section 91 arrangement has no additional effect.

Where it makes a difference in practice is where, for example, fewer Roman Catholics apply for a Catholic school than there are places available. If that happens, a Section 91 arrangement would allow the school to keep places it cannot fill with Catholic pupils empty—even though there may be a demand for those places from non-Catholic families. In our view, keeping places empty when there is a demand for them is incompatible with parental preference and wasteful of resources.

We have discussed this proposal to end Section 91 agreements with the Roman Catholic authorities, whose schools it is that make use of Section 91 agreements, and the Catholic Church is happy for the benefits of Catholic schooling to be extended to other families who appreciate and want those benefits, as long as demand from Roman Catholics can continue to be met. I beg to move.

Photo of The Bishop of Blackburn The Bishop of Blackburn Bishop

My Lords, I support the amendment. I do so with the full backing of the Catholic Education Service, as the Minister has said. I pay tribute to the way in which the Minister and her officials have dealt with this issue. It is a matter of making schools more inclusive where possible, and that is very much in the spirit of what we have been talking about in earlier debates. I greatly welcome the amendment and hope that it will be accepted.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, this was a bit of good news when the Minister announced it in Committee and I am delighted to see the amendment now.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Admission arrangements]:

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

moved Amendment No. 90:

Page 134, line 28, at end insert—

"(3A) In subsection (3)—

(a) at the end of paragraph (a) there is inserted "or", and

(b) paragraph (b) is omitted."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 91:

Page 134, line 28, at end insert—

"( ) After subsection (3)(c) there is inserted "; or

(d) if the child has been identified upon an assessment requested by the head teacher of the school as having significant emotional and behavioural difficulties and the local education authority responsible for maintaining the school is unwilling or unable to provide to the school such resources as may reasonably be considered appropriate to meet the needs of the child""

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the purpose of this amendment, as in its previous incarnation, is to amend the School Standards and Framework Act to establish the right of heads to refer pupils for assessment prior to entry to the school if they have reasonable grounds to believe that they have significant emotional and behavioural difficulties, and to encourage the provision of adequate resources to support schools in meeting the needs of these pupils.

During discussion on this amendment in Committee, we were gratified by the support from the Minister and from the noble Lords, Lord Northbourne and Lord Alton. However, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, had a problem with it, since he felt that it might lead to "playing ping-pong" with a child. Perhaps I can set the noble Lord's mind at rest. The game of ping-pong only begins when a child is placed in a school without any thought at to what is required to meet his needs. This amendment seeks to prevent that by ensuring that the child's needs are properly identified and catered for, so that three or four months down the line the school does not find itself having to exclude the child. The child would then be placed in another school without a proper assessment of his needs. He is then expelled, and so the tragic human ping-pong game goes on.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said in Committee, it is very often an issue of adequate resources. Additionally, teachers and heads can be frustrated by a lack of support from the LEA for one reason or another. This amendment seeks to ensure that there is a professional assessment of need followed by an impartial judgment on what resources are necessary to meet those needs. As the Minister has rightly pointed out on several occasions, the Government are providing more resources to support pupil behaviour in mainstream schools. On 25th April, the Secretary of State announced a new package of £66 million. This amendment would ensure fair and impartial deployment of those resources according to the needs of the pupil and the school. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on it. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I am a little surprised that this amendment has been tabled again. As I said in Committee, the thrust of this amendment is that some decision would be made about a child's suitability before he or she had even obtained a school place. That is not the direction in which we want to see education move in this country. We do not want schools to have grounds for refusing admittance to this group of children with special needs. We think that this could be abused, to the detriment of these children.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has quite rightly talked about the ping-pong situation facing some children in school, and acknowledged that we are very concerned about children with challenging behaviour. We have put £178 million into schools specifically to cover issues arising from behavioural problems. I acknowledge that more needs to be done. However, we want to achieve that within a context of an inclusive system in which such children at least get a chance to get through the door of a school and the opportunity to prove themselves.

We already have in place a system for assessing and supporting children with emotional and behavioural difficulties through the special educational needs framework. The SEN code of practice sets out a systematic process for schools to identify and provide for children's special educational needs in school.

It is not clear from the amendment how head teachers could identify which children seeking admission to the school should be assessed for any emotional and behavioural difficulties they may have. There is also a real danger that any such assessments could be somewhat subjective. If a school is approached about taking a child, either by the child's parents or the LEA, head teachers cannot possibly know what that individual child is like. It is therefore entirely conceivable that their initial conclusions about the child would be unfair, being based on nothing more than perhaps word of mouth, family reputation, or worse, simply where they live—by postcode. Furthermore, if a child's apparent behavioural difficulties were related to a disability, "screening" the child for admissions purposes could be unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

We also consider that if the LEA were to be required to undertake the additional assessments that this amendment requires, it would significantly increase the burdens on their child psychology services. In a normal admission round, such assessment could delay the whole process and would be unfair to other children, particularly if a place had to be kept open for a particular child until an assessment were completed. Of course, a school can always request a statutory assessment of a child's special educational needs once that child has been admitted to school.

Accepting this amendment could lead to significant numbers of such children being out of school needlessly, for an indefinite period. I do not believe that that is what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, wishes to achieve. I agree with her that we can do much more. However, this is not the amendment that would achieve what I believe she is searching for. In the light of that, I hope that she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. She makes two particular points to which I respond as follows. First, if there were a right to an impartial assessment and an entitlement to the resources to meet that assessment, there could be no grounds for refusing admittance to the school. So I believe that the consequences which the Minister fears would not occur.

Secondly, the Minister said that the information received about the child might well be wrong. Every secondary school receives information from the previous school. We have no reason to believe that that information is incorrect or has not been compiled after considerable thought as to the helpful and constructive information that needs to be passed on to the next school in the interests of the child.

Frankly, the lack of child psychiatry resources is no reason to refuse an amendment of this kind which is aimed at ensuring that children with special needs have the appropriate resources based on a proper assessment of their needs. However, I shall read carefully what the Minister said and consider whether we need to bring the measure back. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 91A not moved.]

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 92:

Page 135, line 11, at end insert—

"(8) After subsection (9) there is inserted—

"(10) Where a care order is in place with respect to a child, and the local authority designated by the order names a maintained school as the school at which it wishes education to be provided for the child in the exercise of the authority's functions, the governing body of the school shall admit the child to the school.""

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, the purpose of my amendment is to ensure that children in public care have fair access to our better performing schools. Currently, they are disproportionately placed in less successful schools. Local education authorities would have the power to direct maintained schools to accept looked-after children in exactly the same way as they now have the power to direct schools to accept children with special educational needs.

I hope that a little background may be helpful. That children in public care experience an unacceptable level of instability in their lives is acknowledged. The Government have set a target that fewer than 13 per cent of such children should experience more than three placements a year, but that still allows 15 placements in five years and is in any case uncertain of success.

Looked-after children frequently face changes of social worker. For those in residential care there is again an unacceptably high level of turnover of staff. A good school placement is essential in ensuring that the home placement endures. Once school fails, home is likely to follow. So, stability is crucial. It is crucial that these children have access to schools that are most likely to meet their needs. Often these will be the better performing oversubscribed schools. These schools often provide pastoral care that is second to none as well as academic success.

In Committee the Minister said that local education authorities already have the necessary powers. It is true to say that local education authorities have the power to direct head teachers of many schools to accept children with care orders. Local education authorities can also direct governors of voluntary-aided and foundation schools to accept such children, but only if every other school in the locality has already refused admission. Local education authorities can but rarely apply that power because seldom does a child meet that requirement.

I welcome the news that admission forums may establish protocols to protect the interests of looked-after children and that social services will be involved in discussions affecting looked-after children. I welcome the Minister's decision to strengthen the education code to prioritise admissions of looked after children. I am pleased that the Government's Social Exclusion Unit will report shortly on means to improve the educational achievement of looked-after children.

I apologise as I must be tiring noble Lords. I am speaking at too great length. I take this matter very seriously. I have spent much time today concentrating on preparing the amendment. I am aware that noble Lords have been present for hours going through the Bill thoroughly. I am keeping noble Lords occupied late in the evening. That is most inconsiderate of me. However, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me as this is an extremely important issue and could make a great deal of difference to the most vulnerable children in our society.

However, there is no guarantee that admission forums will be introduced. The education code applies only to normal admission periods at the ages of five and 10. I am advised that at least 50 per cent of looked-after children seek admission outside those times.

The Social Exclusion Unit will probably allude to the increasing number of out-of-county placements for looked-after children. Local authorities are short of foster parents and look abroad for them. Children in public care are given even lower priority by foreign schools or foreign local education authorities because they tend to be seen as alien transients. The Social Exclusion Unit may propose solutions to that problem, but we do not yet know what the solutions are likely to be. This amendment has the potential to make a big difference in that regard.

The Minister expressed sympathy for my concerns in Committee, and I was grateful for her response. Surely, therefore, she is prepared to accept this modest proposal, which has the potential to make such a difference to the lives of looked-after children. The amendment may help the Government to exceed their educational target for children in care. Perhaps the Minister would be good enough to remind the House what that target is. I cannot remember off the top of my head, as she may not. It would also be helpful to know their target in relation to no more than three placements per annum per child. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 10:00 pm, 19th June 2002

My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Listowel. He has absolutely no need to apologise for again raising such an important matter at the Report stage of the Bill.

We all know that looked-after children have failed dramatically in relation to educational attainment. My noble friend seeks some visible action on the face of the Bill to ensure that positive treatment is given to looked-after children. It has always been one of my worries that once children are in care, particularly if they have no contact with parents or relatives, their own interests are not catered for in any way.

I cannot remember which Bill specifically stated that any child in care should have a friend—I do not mean a legal friend—appointed to be an advocate or to whom he or she could relate. I should like to see that as a first part of the system for prioritising these children and ensuring that their educational attainments, which I am sure are much greater than those shown in the statistics, are maximised. With that in mind, I very much support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, there is a step change between lucky and unlucky children in ordinary families and those in care. Ordinary families who are lucky enough to have their own children on board should have no difficulty contemplating the idea of doing something special for children in care, to try to help them when, so early in their lives, they have ended up in such difficult and unhappy circumstances. Putting them in the right school is one of the least and easiest steps we can take.

I do not feel comfortable with the drafting of the amendment. One cannot confer on a local authority an absolute right to put a child into a school. There is more to it than that. One might approach the problem concerning conditions of entrance by saying that children were deemed to have satisfied any requirements relating to their residence or primary schools, so that they would be considered to be within the catchment area—not that that particular phrase works any longer—and therefore could be considered for entrance to the school best suited to their needs. As part of their entry criteria, many schools allow for the possibility of a child demonstrating an overriding medical or other need to be at that school.

Perhaps we might also approach this problem by saying that children in care should, prima facie, be considered to have such a need where it is part of the entry criterion of a school that they should be considered on that basis. However, I should like some effort to be made to see what we can do to move in the direction that the noble Earl suggests.

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

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in saying that the noble Earl has no need to apologise to the House. We have had a number of debates about looked-after children. It is clear that society's record towards such children is appalling. My goodness, we owe them something, do we not? Partly thanks to a very disturbed education, their achievements are currently very low indeed. It is absolutely right that we should consider what we can do best for their education.

In discussion in Committee, the Minister said that she was well aware of the needs and difficulties of children in public care and other vulnerable children. She said that the Government would therefore attempt to assist their admission into popular schools in other ways. If those needs and difficulties are recognised, along with the need for such assistance, then why must we rely on other ways? The drafting may be defective but, to some extent, the intent of the amendment is surely something for which we should aim.

The other ways described by the Minister, such as revising the code of practice to strengthen the position of looked-after and vulnerable children, are welcome and may reduce the need to rely on the duty of governing bodies to admit such children, as the amendment would require. But the creation of a clear duty towards this most disadvantaged and vulnerable group which applies equally to all schools, regardless of category, is surely the only measure that will guarantee an immediate and dramatic improvement in their chances of gaining access to our most popular schools.

It seems to me that there is no case for rejecting the amendment. The strongest reassurance offered would not apply in the majority of cases, and the other ways of meeting this acknowledged need might well be unsuccessful if foundation and voluntary-aided schools sought to get around the measure and resist it. There appears to be no disagreement over the desirability of opening up access to the full range of popular schools, nor over the need to do so. Therefore, why is there reluctance to adopt the one measure that would achieve that outcome?

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

My Lords, I want to make a slightly different point. But, first, I join all other noble Lords in saying that we really should not apologise for bringing a subject such as this before the House. It seems to me that that is what we are here for. Of all the children who have been very badly let down, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, particularly, I am sorry to say, by local authority care, young looked-after children have been the worst affected.

I am assuming that, because of the way that the amendment is worded, we are talking about a child who may be the subject of a care order but who may not necessarily be the subject of a statement. If a child were the subject of a statement, first, the school would be named in the statement and, secondly, the receiving school would have no power in law to reject the child. The child would have to be received so long as there were room in the school for him.

Therefore, we are talking about a child who is not subject to a statement and who would therefore fall short of requiring provision for special educational needs. However, we all know of many children in that category who may not have a statement requiring special educational needs but who, nevertheless, need a great deal of social support. Some looked-after children are fostered with supportive families and others are in residential homes and are very well cared for in a stable environment. There is a good relationship between the child and the staff, and the staff show a genuine interest in the child's life outside the residential institution. But, sadly, very many children fall outside that category. They do not have a stable fostering placement; nor are they in the type of residential care home that properly looks after their social, and every other, need. When a child who is subject to a care order is placed in a school without any domestic support, the school will also need support to make proper provision.

There is a great wringing of hands over what should be done about looked-after children. They have a propensity for more truanting, entering a life of crime, behavioural problems or even resorting to drugs. The more we can do to anchor the young child and provide the framework in which he or she can grow and develop, and to support the school in providing for that child—much more so than with a child from a supportive home—the better.

I am not sure that the amendment's wording is right and that there is not a statute somewhere that obliges a school in law to accept children if the school is designated. I am querying the gap between the child who is statemented, where the law is clear cut, and the child who is not statemented but is subject to a care order. I support the case made by the noble Earl.

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

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has hit several nails on their heads. I join all noble Lords in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I am more than delighted that he constantly keeps these children at the forefront of our discussions. The noble Earl and I have met five times to talk through the issues. I am in full agreement that we should seek to protect this vulnerable group of children and I completely understand the concerns that inspired the amendment.

Social Exclusion Unit work will be helpful as we deliberate on policy. I sit on a group with my honourable friend Jacqui Smith, the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and social care. I was concerned about these children long before I became a Minister and the low level of expectation that we have of them.

I explained in Committee that a school that is not oversubscribed is under a duty to comply with parental preference—in this case, the corporate parent's preference. If the school is full, the local education authority could decide to admit a child who is the subject of a care order to a community or voluntary controlled school because the LEA is the admission authority. Alternatively, the LEA has the power to direct the governing body of a foundation or voluntary-aided school. There are limits to the use of that power and the noble Earl and I have discussed them. Good LEAs do not find that an issue or a handicap. The special education needs code applies at any time. The noble Earl's information that it applies only at the ages of five and 10 is incorrect.

Noble Lords have spoken eloquently about the particular needs and difficulties of children in public care. We intend to take them into account when we revise the admissions code of practice later in the year. We intend to recommend to all admission authorities, subject of course to consultation, that they give top priority to looked-after and vulnerable children in their oversubscription criteria and place them at the top of any waiting lists.

We intend to prescribe in regulations for England that admissions forums must discuss the admission arrangements for children in public care. Forums have an important locus and we want them to take it seriously and think beyond the child being admitted to a school. We shall be consulting shortly on proposed regulations that will give admission forums responsibility for considering issues relating to the children in public care and how to ensure, by means of local protocols, that such children are placed in schools that meet their social, pastoral and academic needs.

I have great sympathy with the intentions behind the amendment but it presents technical difficulties. I do not want to promise anything but will continue to talk to the noble Earl about our policy. As I have said in relation to some of these issues in your Lordships' House and outside, we need to consider policy rather than legislation. I want to consider how best to take this matter forward. I promise to do so with the noble Earl before the next stage. I hope that we shall all agree the way forward for these particularly vulnerable children.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 10:15 pm, 19th June 2002

My Lords, that is a sympathetic and helpful response. I am grateful for the several occasions on which we have discussed this matter together. I am somewhat reassured by what the Minister has said. I shall study carefully her responses. However, I am anxious that we may be missing an opportunity to put into statute protection for these children that sadly in the past has been missing. There is a great deal of competition for the best schools. Some schools are oversubscribed by five to one and if these children are to get a look in and are not to be fobbed off, something stronger than what the Minister proposes, although welcome, may be necessary. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

moved Amendment No. 93:

Page 136, line 40, leave out paragraph 6 and insert—

"6 (1) Section 90 of the 1998 Act (reference of objections to adjudicator or Secretary of State) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1)(b), for "consulted by the admission authority under section 89(2)" there is substituted "who were, or would but for subsection (2A) of section 89 have been, required to be consulted by the admission authority under subsection (2) of that section".

(3) In subsection (2), paragraph (c) is omitted."

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

My Lords, I have tabled Amendment No. 93 because on re-reading the Minister's answer to me in Committee I did not consider that she had given due weight to the equity issues involved. Groups of 10 parents already have the right to appeal to the adjudicator in cases where admission arrangements allow for partial selection and where that selection was enforced prior to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The Minister said on 23rd May:

"We gave parents that right because we believe that they should have the opportunity to make their views known when such partially selective arrangements are an issue".—[Official Report, 23/5/02; col. 922.]

That right has now been extended to allow parents to object over admission numbers, where the admissions number, determined by the admissions authority, is lower than the one indicated using the new capacity assessment formula. However, it does not allow parents to appeal when the admission procedure—the original right of appeal was all about procedures—is de facto partial. The case of Prendergast School to which I referred in Committee involved a foundation school that supposedly did not have a partial selection procedure and yet was pursuing practices that overtly flouted the code of practice and could de facto have resulted in partial selection.

The Minister's argument against change was that it was predicated on three strands of argument. First, she said that consultations had not indicated that there was any strong feeling among parents for such an extension, but there was a low rate of response to the consultation document. I believe from the Government's report about the consultation that there were only 416 responses in total of which only 13 can be said to have come from parents. In other words, 3 per cent of the responses were from parents. Most parents were unaware that that consultation had taken place. As the report says,

"the majority of responses were received from those with a professional interest in education".

In the foreword to the report, the Secretary of State acknowledged that she knows how important school admissions are to parents and to children and yet parents did not participate much in the consultation. The strongest objections in fact came from the voluntary- aided and foundation schools and the professionals involved there precisely because these are the categories of schools in which some of the less desirable admissions arrangements occur and to which there might be objections.

The second strand of argument that the Minister used was that the Prendergast case was one of maladministration and that the decision in that case would, it was hoped, send out a very clear signal to local authorities. In that case Lewisham Borough Council were found guilty of maladministration, but as the ombudsman pointed out, the case had been brought there and to the attention of the DfES as early as 1998 and nothing was done in spite of the fact that the governors continued to flout the objections raised by the LEA and the DfES.

As the ombudsman said:

"Given the Council's failure over a protracted period to change the School's position, the Council's failure to refer the matter to the Adjudicator ... was in my view maladministration. It also seems likely that had a referral been made then the Adjudicator would have determined that at least some of the admissions criteria should be changed. Had this happened, the outcome may have been very different for the children of these complainants".

That indicates that it affected the children. The ombudsman then went on to say:

"I believe the policy should have been reviewed at least in time to govern admissions for September 2001. The failure to do so was maladministration".

The report came out in April of this year. The governors have now reviewed it. The ombudsman continued:

"I welcome the Governors' recent review of the School's admissions arrangements in the light of these objections and also their decision to stop using interviews. However, the School's new policy will not come into effect until children are admitted in September 2003".

In other words, the children were unnecessarily affected by delays, which the ombudsman condemned as,

"further maladministration by the admissions authority".

The point I make to the Minister is this. It took four years for the parents to register these quite fair complaints, even though both the LEA and the DfES knew about them, and only then through the lengthy procedures via the ombudsman. The adjudicator procedures are there in order to deal with unresolved issues. The checks and balances already written into the Act prevent abuse by any over-litigious individual parent, but if a group of 10 or more parents have the right to appeal a case of pre-existing partial entry arrangements, then surely the backstop of allowing parents to go directly to the adjudicator ought to be there in a case such as this when there is de facto partial selection.

Finally, the Minister seemed to misunderstand the effect of the amendment. She referred to the possibility that one group of parents might object to criteria that others found acceptable, such as a priority for siblings. But that was not the issue. The amendment affects only who is able to refer objections to the adjudicator in order that he or she may determine whether arrangements breach the code of practice. Sibling priority plainly does not. It would not affect at all the grounds on which the adjudicator made his determination. That is determined by the contents of the code which is a matter for the Secretary of State.

In the light of these three objections it seems to me that the Minister should reconsider her answer. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

My Lords, I strongly support the noble Baroness. I added my name to the amendment at Committee stage, but I could not be present. The noble Baroness has made a very strong case. It is grossly unfair and parents should have this right. It is a very strong case and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will grant that that is so and change her mind about it.

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

My Lords, I make no comment on the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, because I disapprove of the adjudicator and the whole adjudicator system. There is almost no other category of person who can make an objection to the adjudicator. There is no appeals system. The adjudicators have absolute power in anything they determine. They can modify something or alter a proposition which comes from the organisation committee. I believe that the House will have to return to this matter and do something about it. There is dissatisfaction with the way in which the adjudicator system works and it leaves a great deal to be desired.

I do not know how the Minister will deal with that particular question but if it is agreed to—and I make no comment on whether it is right that it should be—I believe that there will be a long line of categories of people who would want the same opportunity.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, I am grateful to all who have contributed to the debate and I shall try to deal with the careful arguments presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. Perhaps I may speak first to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The position of the adjudicator and why there is no appeal system is because the concept of the adjudicator is a less significant version of the concept of the ombudsman. There is no question of appeal because there is an authority above. Therefore, the implication so far as the adjudication is concerned is that the person should be independent and not subject to a secondary review.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for giving way. There is no comparison with the ombudsman who takes and hears evidence and does a great deal of investigative work. The adjudicator does not operate like that.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. What I was seeking to identify was the concept of the independent position of the adjudicator. On the question of dependency, it would be an odd system if one had an appeal system dependent upon that, in the same way as one could not conceive of an independent structure in regard to the ombudsman with a subsequent concept of appeal. I was merely seeking to make that point.

However, on the more general issues on which the noble Baroness did not vouchsafe any views because of her well attested position of objecting to the concept as a whole, I shall try to reply as fully as possible to the issues which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, raised and which were supported so assertively by my noble friend Lady David.

First, I note that sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) of the amendment are in the same terms as paragraph 6 of Schedule 4 which clarifies that the bodies who may refer an objection about admission arrangements to the schools adjudicator include those who should have been consulted about proposed admission arrangements as well as those who actually were. That duplication simply reflects the different drafting structure needed to introduce sub-paragraph (3), which is the substantive change that this amendment seeks to make.

Sub-paragraph (3) would remove the Secretary of State's power under Section 90(2)(c) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to prescribe the type of objection about admission arrangements which parents of a prescribed description may refer to the schools adjudicator. Our choice would then lie between allowing parents or parent groups to object to every aspect of every school's proposed admissions arrangements or not allowing any to object at all.

Under present regulations, parents in groups of 10 have the right to refer objections to the adjudicator, but only one type of objection. They may object if an admission authority—the school's governing body in the case of foundation or voluntary aided schools, otherwise the LEA—proposes to retain partially selective admission arrangements that are of a type that could no longer lawfully be introduced. Examples of partial selection that could not now lawfully be introduced include any selection by ability, and selection by aptitude in excess of 10 per cent.

We gave parents that right of objection because although the 1998 Act did not prohibit such arrangements where they already existed, it did seem right to allow parents to raise with the adjudicator whether such arrangements continue to be in the interests of local children and parents. Similarly, as noble Lords are aware, we believe that it is for parents to decide the future of selective admissions to existing grammar schools through a ballot and petition process.

As I explained in Committee—I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was not entirely convinced—our admissions consultation asked whether rights to object about admission arrangements should be extended in ways other than those proposed in the consultation document. As the consultation document proposed extending parents' rights of objection in a limited way—enabling parent groups to object where an admission authority intends to set an admission number which is lower than our new net capacity assessment formula indicates—I am sure that the consultees will have had the issue of parents' objection rights in mind when they replied. Yet only just under one third of respondents thought that we should go further than we had proposed, and not all of those suggested going further in the direction of this amendment.

As was also explained in Committee, existing legislation allows us the flexibility, through regulations, to extend parental objection rights further in the future if the need to do so is agreed. Amendment No. 93 would deprive us of that flexibility.

I ask that noble Lords consider the potential practical effects of the amendment. Any admission arrangements could potentially be challenged by parent groups during the annual consultation round, even if they included only the type of over-subscription criteria which the admissions code states to be commonly used and acceptable—siblings already at the school, distance from the school, medical or social grounds, catchment areas and transfer from named feeder primary schools. We would also need to impose quite burdensome or potentially expensive additional requirements on admission authorities to publish their intended admission arrangements so that parents could see them and have the chance to object. The partially selective arrangements to which parents may presently object are published in local newspapers.

I appreciate the intent behind the amendment. But it would create significant difficulties in its practical application. I hope therefore, on the basis of that response, the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 10:30 pm, 19th June 2002

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. But I do not believe he was listening to what I said.

The Minister brought up again the whole question of a poor response. But as I pointed out, only 416 people replied to the consultation document and only 13 of those were parents. Yet the Government claim that there was consultation.

The Minister raised again the point on the criteria. I agree that the drafting of the amendment may not be correct; I agree also that the Government already have the power; but the Minister could at least have said that they were thinking of shifting the power in this way.

The Prendergast decision is actually a stain on the Government in many senses. The DfES knew in 1998 about the sorts of procedures that were taking place and for four years both the local authority and the department allowed it to proceed until finally it was referred to the adjudicator. It seems to me that there is in equity a case for allowing groups of parents to appeal. As I pointed out, the criteria are decided by the adjudicator. The parents cannot question the criteria; they can only question the procedures that schools use in interpreting them.

However, I shall leave this matter for the moment. I am not satisfied with the Minister's answer. As I say, I do not believe he listened to my remarks. I hope that he will read what I said, as I shall read carefully what he said and we can perhaps talk about it a little more. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

moved Amendments Nos. 94 to 97:

Page 137, line 1, leave out paragraph 7.

Page 139, line 39, leave out "(9)(b)" and insert "(9)"

Page 139, line 39, at end insert—

""(9) Such children shall, in addition, be taken into account for the purposes of—

(a) the references in section 86(5), (5B) and (9) to a number of pupils, and"

Page 139, line 41, after "admit" insert ", or to admit either as boarders or otherwise than as boarders,"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 98:

Page 139, line 42, at end insert—

"Selection by aptitude

( ) In section 99 of the 1998 Act (general restriction on selection by ability or aptitude) subsection (4)(b) is omitted.

( ) Section 102 of the 1998 Act (permitted selection: aptitude for particular subjects) shall cease to have effect."

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Amendment No. 98 would remove the ability of specialist schools to select up to 10 per cent of pupils on aptitude. I should make it clear at the outset that we do not oppose more schools choosing a specialism, becoming particularly excellent in that specialism and sharing their expertise with other schools.

Indeed, at an earlier stage in the Bill, my noble friend Lady Sharp proposed widening the range of specialisms. Those schools provide a healthy measure of diversity in our schools system. We oppose the selection of pupils at 11 on any basis, but particularly on one that has no research or evidence base to show that it can be done accurately at that age. The noble Baroness gave no evidence in her response in Committee that that can be done.

As we said in Committee, it is unnecessary, and it has proved unpopular as only 7 per cent of schools with a specialism use the power. It is worrying, however, that the retention of this power gives an advantage to voluntary-aided and foundation schools, as we know that out of 24 schools that had used it, 19 fell into that category. As nobody really knows how to select by aptitude, we fear that as the number of specialist schools increases, the power will increasingly be used to select by ability under cover of selection by aptitude.

I well remember our debate on this issue in Committee and, in particular, the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that it was about the "politics of envy". It is no such thing. Our objection is rooted in the firm belief that properly resourced and well-managed comprehensive schools can serve children well right across the ability range. There are major academic and social advantages in their doing so.

Sadly the retention of the ability to select on so-called aptitude, combined with the Government's specialist schools programme, will reduce choice for many children, bar those few who are found, by some means, to have the aptitude—it sounds a bit like the knowledge, rather than the aptitude. That will apply especially in rural areas where there is only one secondary school within reach.

Schools will choose pupils, rather than the other way round, and 10 and 11 year-olds will be subjected to yet more tests as if there were not enough. Is that really what the Government want? I really hope that the Minister will see the sense of getting rid of this discredited and little-used power to save me having to bring it back at Third Reading. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, we had an interesting debate in Committee, following which the amendment was withdrawn, and we have had an equally interesting opening speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley now. I am sure that she will accept that I would do a lot to stop her bringing the amendment back again, but unfortunately not what she wants me to do.

I accept entirely her support for specialisms. Our debate and conversations around the issue of schools with specialisms have moved a long way, and I am grateful for the dialogue that we have had. I understand the position held by the noble Baroness. She is absolutely right that there are only a few schools—I have a figure of 6 per cent rather than 7 per cent. The difference between us is that there are certain circumstances when a school is over-subscribed; it does not apply if a school is not over-subscribed. There is a small percentage of students who have a particular talent—I use the word "talent" deliberately. I searched for a word that works better for me than something that is quite nebulous. Such students might be allowed to come into a school. Noble Lords will know that we have been careful about the specialisms to which this applies. I have talked about the performing arts and sport. Does the next David Beckham exist out there? I hope so, as we may need him before too long.

We are trying to find a figure that represents a comparatively small number of pupils—say 10 per cent—that safeguards parents' wishes to get a place at their local school and gives those children with a particular talent for the subject in which the school specialises the opportunity to be admitted to that school which might otherwise not have been possible. We have said that such schools are under no obligation to select by aptitude in their admission arrangements. An over-subscription criterion can be applied only if there are more applications for a school than it has places available.

I understand that there are parents who do not think that that is appropriate, but there are others—and I can say this because of the letters that the department receives—who believe that it is sensible that children with an aptitude for a school's specialist subject should have the opportunity to attend that school. I find it difficult to understand why such children should not be able to do so.

We are committed to the comprehensive system, but we are also committed to modernising it and creating diversity. Allowing schools this small flexibility that will enable some pupils to benefit from their expertise in a particular area is one small part of our drive to achieve that aim. With that in mind, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.

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

My Lords, am I wrong in thinking that the amendment applies only to nursery schools? There has been much talk about schools accepting 10 per cent of children on the basis of an aptitude for a particular subject, but my understanding is that that does not apply to nursery schools. This part of the Bill seems to relate only to nursery schools. Indeed, the whole of the previous Clause 13 is certainly about nursery schools.

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

My Lords, I am not aware that that is the case. I do not believe that I have been given any false information in that respect. But, obviously, if that is so, I shall write to the noble Baroness and clarify the position. As far as I know, neither the mover of the amendment nor I in replying to the amendment believe that the way it is positioned has that effect. The noble Baroness is very experienced in these matters. I shall, of course, look into the matter in the mean time.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. I stand before the House as a living, breathing example of why this is a daft measure and, indeed, could be dangerous. When I was aged about 11 or 12, I was thought to have a budding talent for languages. Anyone who has ever heard me speak French will know that that was a mistake; and so it turned out to be. It transpired that I had a talent for the sciences. If my whole career had been based on that incorrect and misleading premise, there might have been some kind of disaster in my educational outcomes. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 49 [Exclusion of pupils]:

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

moved Amendment No. 98A:

Page 33, line 11, at end insert—

"(ba) requiring that, as part of any such consideration, the responsible body show by way of documentary evidence following recommended practice laid down in the Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs that it had—

(i) considered whether the child has any special educational needs, and

(ii) that it made appropriate provision for such needs."

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 98C. I shall not speak to Amendment No. 98B, which, on looking at it this evening, appears to me to be complete rubbish. It is certainly nothing like the amendment that I intended to table. I presume that it was a slip of the pen, but I score zero for drafting on this occasion.

I believe that I have also made a mistake in the drafting of Amendment No. 98A. At the end of the first line, the amendment refers to "the responsible body". Under this clause, I thought that that would be a reference to the school, but I now suspect that it would refer to the disciplinary committee. Clearly, I mean the school in this part of the amendment, because it is the school that has the responsibility to assess people regarding special educational needs, not the disciplinary committee. I apologise to the House for having made those errors.

I return to the substance of the amendments. Amendment No. 98A is concerned with special educational needs and exclusions. My understanding of the amendments moved earlier by the Minister is that the new clauses relating to SEN and the considerations to be given to special educational needs do not extend to this aspect of the Bill. I also understand that no additional protection is provided as a result of the amendments moved by the Minister earlier on Report for children with special educational needs who face exclusion.

Therefore, where a child appears in front of the disciplinary committee for exclusion, I am trying, by way of Amendment No. 98A, to ensure that the school must show the committee that it has conducted a proper investigation into whether the child has special educational needs—and, if so, that it has made proper provision for such needs—and that the exclusion is being sought despite the school having operated properly in that regard.

At an earlier stage, the Minister made reference to the latest statistics for exclusion. She said that it appeared that children with SEN were now much less likely to be excluded. There are some funny aspects to those statistics; for example, the number of pupils with SEN in pupil referral units does not appear to have decreased at all. Indeed, it has gone up slightly. Why that should happen if referrals of children with SEN are going down is not apparent to me. My understanding is that the matter is being looked at by statisticians. We shall know in a few weeks or months, perhaps, the reason behind that anomaly.

In any event, we should recognise that undiagnosed special educational needs are not uncommon in the school system. They can be disguised. Many break out in the form of behavioural difficulties. Certainly, in some of the better special schools for dyslexia that I have seen, it is very noticeable that the kids arriving in the first year have noticeable behavioural problems that are not fundamental. They are merely by-products of their dyslexia not being observed or properly treated and/or of the way that other pupils in the school have treated them as a result of their dyslexia. We should be particularly careful in relation to exclusions to make sure that a child who may have special educational needs has been properly assessed.

Amendment No. 98C returns to a subject that we discussed in Committee. The Bill, as it is now before us, has the school's right to exclude, but there has been chopped out, in comparison with previous legislation, the parents' right to information, appeal and guidance. That is now to be consigned to secondary legislation. I do not think that that is the right balance. It leaves matters for parents far too uncertain. In this kind of matter appearances and status are important. Parents and pupils count. In legislation, their voice should be equal to that of the school.

In relation to the particular aspects of the proposed amendment, I say that the school should have a duty to inform parents and the pupil, whoever is the relevant person or persons in a particular circumstance, of the opportunities that they have to deal with the situation in which they find themselves. Therefore, they are told of the period of exclusion and the reasons for it. They are told of their right to make oral or written representation about the exclusion to the disciplinary committee of the governing body.

The amendment is in response to the noble Baroness's criticism of an amendment which I tabled in Committee. That stated that the parents should always have the right to say something to the disciplinary committee. There are occasions when many little exclusions suddenly end up in an application for a permanent exclusion, and the child's parents had no previous chance to discuss their child's case with the governing body or with any other kind of appeal forum within the school.

I can see that the noble Baroness is saying that if I put things in the way that I did in my amendment in Committee that would create difficulties. I seek to provide the opportunity for the flexibility of secondary legislation or guidance to address the fact that, where a kid is continually excluded for a day or two, there ought to be proper consultation between the school and an opportunity for parents to make representations in order to make sure that the child's circumstances are properly understood.

Paragraph (d) is an additional suggestion. Where a child is going to be permanently excluded, the parents ought to be pointed in the direction of the support and advocacy services. The noble Baroness and I both discussed those matters in Committee. They are available to such parents in those circumstances. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I want to speak briefly, but with some feeling, about one of the points made by my noble friend. I refer to the issue of where exclusions are made and no attempt is made to assess the child's need. In this year of autism awareness, we know that at this moment—because we are all receiving a good deal of correspondence about the issue—a record number of people with autism are being expelled or "excluded" from school, which I believe is the contemporary name for it. For the family, that is really distressing. They know that they have a problem with their child; they are banging their heads against the wall to make someone take notice of them. I am in correspondence with a lady from Hertfordshire who has been battling for years with the local authority for proper provision for her son, who has autism.

We have a real opportunity here. If the amendment is not perfect, we can discuss doing something about it by Third Reading. My noble friend Lord Lucas has a point. A good teacher will know whether the problem is wilful naughtiness or wilful difficult behaviour or whether the child is uncontrollable and apparently incapable of managing its mood swings. An attempt should be made by someone within the education system to make a proper assessment so that, if the child is excluded, it is excluded on proper grounds and not simply because it is in need of other forms of treatment.

One has only to consider the occupants of our prison cells throughout the country to understand how many young people have ended up in a life of crime and have been taken into custody. What they need is some form of assessment and medical help.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendments Nos. 98D and 98E, which are in the group. Previous speakers have put the case most eloquently. My amendments are on similar lines and I hope that they give the Minister a choice of drafting as to the preferable direction to take.

The purpose of Amendment No. 98E is to encourage schools to consider an assessment, especially of educational needs, before excluding a pupil. Its effect would be to oblige disciplinary committees and independent appeal panels to take account of action taken to assess a child and to meet any assessed needs in their deliberations. Two reports of the late 1990s found that approximately 90 per cent of excluded children presented with special educational needs.

Clearly, as we have been hearing, many excluded children are not having their special educational needs recognised while at school. There is a dearth of educational psychologists—to which the Minister alluded earlier—to provide the statutory assessment for special educational needs, but it is possible for certain specialist teachers to provide less formal assessments and, following that, to increase resources to meet the recognised need. Again, the Minister mentioned earlier the recent increased investment in learning support units and behaviour support units.

The final paragraph of my amendment addresses concern that has been expressed about dissemination of information. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, covered the point adequately. The Bill does away with a statutory duty on head teachers to advise parents of excluded children of the existence of, for example, the Advisory Centre of Education. That paragraph would ensure that the parent or carer received adequate information.

I turn to Amendment No. 98D, which is similar to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. In Committee, the Minister spoke of the need for schools to communicate with parents and said:

"legislation must be in place to secure the key rights and duties of all parties".—[Official Report, 23/5/02; col. 952.]

The amendment seeks to do just that. My amendment differs from that tabled by the noble Lord in that it would write into the Bill the parent's right to make representations to the disciplinary committee and to appeal to the independent appeals panel. I believe that that is a difference, although I must check.

Also, following concern expressed by the Minister in Committee that governors may be over-taxed—again, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, approached the problem in a different way—the amendment allows the term of exclusion that would trigger the right to make representations to be determined by regulation. Exclusions can have a significant impact on the direction that a child's life takes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, pointed out. If the Minister rejects our amendments, how is she to recognise the gravity of the situation?

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

My Lords, we on these Benches thoroughly support this group of amendments. They concern an important issue that society needs to think about very carefully.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, I support this group of amendments, in particular Amendment No. 98C which has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Quite apart from the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the need for assessment—which is clearly very important—as early as possible to save the other horrors which occur all too often in prison cells, there is the important aspect of human rights legislation. It will be increasingly important that visible and transparent ways of ensuring that everything has been made available to individuals who are likely to be disadvantaged are written into legislation. On that point, as well as for the more humanitarian reasons, I strongly support the amendments.

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

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by rather bizarrely referring back to the previous amendments. I want to clear up the issue of whether or not they referred to nursery schools. The amendments I moved earlier introduced a new heading within the schedule. The amendments moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, would have come after that heading. That is why, at first glance, it looked as though we were referring to nursery schools, but we were not. The noble Baroness was right in what she did. I apologise for this but I thought that it was worth dealing with that issue straightaway.

Let me deal, first, with Amendments Nos. 98A and 98E. I sympathise with the sentiments that lie behind the amendments. Noble Lords will know from the conversations that we have had outside the Chamber that I am constantly looking for areas that we need to cover in legislation. We are talking about issues of policy and guidance, and it is in that spirit that I shall address the amendments.

I take these issues extremely seriously. As noble Lords will know, within the department it is one of my policy areas. I wish to clear up the issue of whether or not the amendments are appropriate and get the facts out of the way.

Discipline committees and independent appeals panels must consider two simple questions: whether the pupil did what it is said that he did that prompted the exclusion; and, if it is concluded that the pupil did, whether permanent exclusion is a reasonable response to the pupil's behaviour. That is the essence of what we are asking our appeals panels to do.

The current guidance on exclusions already makes it clear that, other than in exceptional circumstances—I repeat, other than in exceptional circumstances—schools should avoid permanently excluding pupils with statements of special educational needs. It also requires head teachers to say, when reporting exclusions to discipline committees and education authorities, whether the pupil has a statement or is on the special educational needs code of practice. I believe therefore that special educational needs is being taken into account appropriately in these matters and that any further detail on exclusions in the context of special educational needs is best left to the additional guidance that we wish to give.

I am happy to give noble Lords an assurance that I shall look again with my department and my officials to ensure that the guidance is as clear as possible on that point. I am always ready to discuss the detail of the guidance with noble Lords and to seek their views and advice on it.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to the recent figures in regard to the issue of permanent exclusions. In Committee, I said that we had gone down from 6.1 times more likely to be excluded to three. That is also a reduction from 18 per cent of the total number of excluded children to 8 per cent. I want to make it absolutely clear that the figures are not as low as we would like, but, as I said in Committee, they are moving in the right direction. We are checking with education authorities that that is the real situation. We are beginning to see the effects of the drive to reduce exclusions and the measures that we have put in place to improve the arrangements for identification and for making appropriate provision for children with special educational needs. I am the first to say—and the Government would be behind me in saying—that we are not there yet. We have not finished the task. But in the way in which one looks for real measures to demonstrate achievement, I am pleased that we may be beginning to see that. I shall, of course, keep noble Lords informed as we delve into the figures and make sure that that is indeed the case.

I also believe that the wide range of practical steps we are taking to support schools and education authorities in building pupils' social and emotional competence and in improving behaviour in schools will have a positive effect in reducing exclusions. I am thinking of the 1,000 on-site learning support units that we have set up; the 3,500 learning mentors working to keep vulnerable children in school and on track with their learning; the new multi-agency behaviour and education support teams that we are piloting in 34 areas; and the role of the Connexions service. What I want to say more than anything is that I believe that we have the right approach in order to be able to build on this work. It is that approach that I want to champion as the way in which we should take matters forward rather than the need to change statute.

In relation to Amendment No. 98E, head teachers are already required to provide the name of an officer of the local education authority who can give advice and the telephone number of the Advisory Centre for Education's exclusions helpline. I acknowledge the valuable work that ACE does. I know that my officials are always happy to discuss with the centre the feasibility of additional advice lines and indeed have had such discussions. We remain committed to keeping the service level under review so that we can ensure that all parents who need ACE's advice have access to its service.

From January 2002, local education authorities have been required by law to arrange for the parents of children with special educational needs to be provided with advice and information relating to special educational needs and to make arrangements for resolving disagreements between schools and parents and the local education authority, including the appointment of independent persons to facilitate the avoidance or resolution of disagreements. Local education authorities must make these arrangements widely known to parents, head teachers, proprietors of schools in their area and any others whom they consider appropriate. I believe that these arrangements are beginning to have an effect and that they will prove to be very effective in providing support for parents.

The approach I want to take is through guidance and through the work that we are doing—building on what we are beginning to see. I hope that in the light of my reassurances, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will not press their amendments.

I now turn to Amendments Nos. 98C and 98D. Existing subsection (3)(a) of Clause 49 already places a duty on the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring prescribed persons—which will include the parents of an excluded pupil—to be given prescribed information relating to any exclusion. Subsection (3)(a) is broad enough to encompass the matters which are the substance of the noble Lord's amendment. I can assure both noble Lords that the period of the exclusion, the reasons for the exclusion, and the parent's right to make representations will certainly feature in the regulations that we make under subsection (3)(a).

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that there is no difference in legal effect between primary and secondary legislation. Therefore, I believe that there is nothing here that would lower the status of these rights. They will have the same force.

Similarly, the existing subsection (3)(c) of Clause 49 already places a duty on the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring local education authorities to make arrangements for the relevant person, including the parent of an excluded pupil, to appeal against the decision of a discipline committee not to reinstate a pupil who has been permanently excluded. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to accept those reassurances and that, in the spirit of what I have said, he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. I feel that she and I are disagreeing in some measure, not on the substance of the approach but on the style, and on whether this should be in primary or secondary legislation. The noble Baroness has said a good deal that I should like to consider. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 98B to 98E not moved.]

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

moved Amendment No. 99:

After Clause 49, insert the following new clause—

"PARENTAL BEHAVIOUR

(1) If a parent or guardian of a child registered at a maintained school behaves in a manner which—

(a) exhibits violence towards a member of staff of that school, whether or not on the premises of the school, or

(b) disrupts the normal functioning of the school, he shall be guilty of an offence.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(3) Section 8 (parenting orders) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c. 37) is amended as follows—

(a) after subsection (1)(d) there is inserted—

"(e) a person is convicted of an offence under section (parental behaviour) of the Education Act 2002";

(b) in subsection (2) after "444" there is inserted "of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) or section (parental behaviour) of the Education Act 2002"; and

(c) after subsection (6)(c) there is inserted—

"(d) in a case falling within paragraph (e) of that subsection, the commission of any further offence under section (parental behaviour) of the Education Act 2002"."

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

My Lords, I return to my bid to extend parenting orders. I have read very carefully what the Minister said in Committee about parenting orders. In that debate, she said that the department consulted last autumn on extending their use. She went on to say:

"We have made it clear, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, that we intend to pursue this option when a suitable criminal justice Bill is available".—[Official Report, 23/05/02; col. 979.]

It was also said that we would return in legislation to the issue of disruptive or violent behaviour by pupils.

I am sorry that I did not pick up on this opportunity earlier, as this is a God-given opportunity to make that provision. We all know how difficult it is to get a legislative opportunity. All we would have to do is convert my amendment to cover children rather than parents. I simply wonder whether the Minister would consider making that conversion on Third Reading. I believe that there would be support on all sides of the House for the provision.

We should take advantage of this opportunity. It is not uncommon to use one Bill to amend another. It certainly would be appropriate to make the provision in this Bill as this is legislation about parents and children. This is a very good opportunity to make the change. Moreover, if the provision did appear in a criminal justice Bill, it would appear way at the back as a miscellaneous item and bear little relation to the main thrust of that legislation.

The substance of the Minister's case against my amendment was that—having consulted on parenting orders for violent parents as opposed to violent pupils—various statutes already provide for remedies against violent parents, and all that is needed is more effective enforcement. I certainly agree that much more could be done on enforcing the law. When it comes to enforcement, I believe that not only schools and education authorities but even neighbours living close to schools are remiss. I also agree that the law offers some remedy. As the Minister said, people can resort to the Criminal Justice Act 1998, the Criminal Damage Act 1971 or the Harassment Act 1997 to deal with the type of activity indulged in by violent parents.

Nevertheless, I make another appeal to the Minister to consider extending parenting orders. I was not thinking of parenting orders as in any way a substitute for those Acts. That legislation will remain on the statute book as a remedy to deal with violence by parents. However, there is a case for adding to the number of remedies. We should extend parenting orders because, almost as night follows day, a parent who is violent on school premises is almost certain to be a pretty awful parent. We know the scenario. The parent goes to the school because a child has been badly dealt with, loses his temper, thumps the teacher, or runs amok and damages a lot of property out of simple rage. We know that the chances are that the children of that parent are going to suffer pretty miserably when they get home. I think that there is a real issue of vulnerability in relation to the children.

I am not arguing that this provision should replace current laws which are there to be used if a parent is wilfully disruptive, damaging and violent. However, as I said, I think that a parent who is violent on school premises will not be a good parent. I therefore believe that there is a very strong case to extend parenting orders as an addition to the remedies mentioned by the Minister. I believe that there is a very strong case for supporting my amendment. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, we shall indeed examine the issue of converting parenting orders to cover pupils. I am not sure whether that is technically possible, but I thank the noble Baroness for the suggestion. I shall come back to the point. Obviously, we are at one with the noble Baroness in wanting to ensure that parents who are violent or abusive in schools are dealt with. I agree absolutely with the noble Baroness's central point. I accept that a small number of parents are violent and abusive towards school staff. I share the feeling of all noble Lords that that simply cannot be tolerated. It is our duty to ensure that we use the full force of the law to tackle the problem. I am absolutely sure that we are all agreed on that.

However, the question is whether we should extend parenting orders to tackle the problem, as proposed in the amendment. I fully understand all the points that the noble Baroness made. However, let us be clear what parenting orders are because that explains why, in the light of consultation, we now believe that extending parenting orders is not the right approach.

A parenting order is designed to help a person better to manage their disruptive child. An order typically requires a parent to attend parenting classes. The point of the parenting order is to help a parent to control their child better. It does not concern a parent being a bad or disruptive parent; it concerns a parent's needs better to manage their disruptive child.

Although I can see what the noble Baroness is getting at, the amendment is not the right way to tackle the matter. I am of the view that children who behave well in circumstances where they have disruptive parents ought to be given a medal. As I say, parenting orders are designed to help parents with disruptive children; they are not about parental behaviour. I believe that parents who assault teachers do not need their parenting skills improved; they need punishment. If someone punched a nurse in a casualty department, we would not expect that person to be made subject to a parenting order. We would expect that person to receive the full weight of the criminal law and for the nurse and his or her colleagues to know that they were fully protected by the law. So we have concluded that the extension of parenting orders is not the right answer.

So the question is whether we have the legal sanctions in place or not. I believe that we do. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, indicated a number of ways in which we can bring the weight of the law to bear in such situations. Following the consultation, and having decided that parenting orders are not suitable for aggressive parents, we are taking vigorous steps to make sure that the existing sanctions are better known. We are urging schools and LEAs to pursue the appropriate measures in every single instance of parental violence, threat or abuse in school.

We hope that we have sent a clear message across the education service in recent months that we shall not tolerate that kind of behaviour. There is no excuse for parents or anyone else ever to assault a teacher. We are urging schools and education authorities to take all proper action to protect teaching staff. Those who assault teachers must be prosecuted.

As part of our drive to deal robustly with the problem, we have just recently consulted a wide range of organisations about our approach on the matter including the National Association of Head Teachers, the Secondary Heads Association, all the teacher unions and the Association of Chief Police Officers. They share with us the wish to get out the strongest possible messages and to ensure the highest level of support for schools. We know that, as employers, LEAs will want to act decisively, including pursuing prosecutions, where teachers are threatened or assaulted in the course of their duties. And we are pressing them to do so.

I understand the noble Baroness's concerns. As I say, parenting orders are designed to deal with disruptive children, not parents. I know that the whole House is united in agreeing that our teachers and staff deserve the fullest protection. But I believe that our efforts will be best directed to ensuring that we enforce fully the powers we currently have. I hope that on that basis the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 11:15 pm, 19th June 2002

My Lords, I understand much of what the noble Baroness said. However, I am sorry that she does not consider that there is a case for extending parenting orders and using them as an additional measure to the measures that are already in place.

I wish to make two points. First, I hope that some thought will be given to extending parenting orders for violent pupils. It seems to me that this is a God given opportunity to use the Bill to fulfil that promise to teachers. Secondly, I am beginning almost to despair as regards this matter. The distress among teachers, and the pressure on me from the education establishment to extend parenting orders to deal with the matter we are discussing, have been very great. I despair of the lack of knowledge as regards what can be done. Teachers feel vulnerable. They are being thumped and injured by violent parents in the classroom.

I wonder whether there is a case for teachers to take action against a school, or against an LEA, for its reluctance to take protective measures on behalf of the teacher. I am not quite sure who, in a particular incident, is responsible for taking action on the part of the teacher. Some people are very fearful of taking action in case they end up in court and receive very large legal bills. If our teachers are to be protected, they need to know that they can look to those who are responsible for them, such as their line managers, their head teachers and/or the LEAs—we know from earlier debates that the LEAs are the employers—for that protection.

I do not believe that there is anything between us in terms of the aims and objectives that we want to achieve. However, I shall give further consideration to those matters before the next stage of the Bill, as I know the Minister will. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Government Whip, Lords in Waiting (Whips)

My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

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

House adjourned at sixteen minutes past eleven o'clock.