Education Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:09 pm on 26 June 2002.

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Votes in this debate

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 50 [Attendance targets]:

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

My Lords, the Government should have an expectation that pupils will attend school at all times. The attendance target, therefore, for children attending school should be 100 per cent. For the purposes of my amendment, I emphasise the word "target". It is no more and no less than a target. If the Secretary of State does not have a target requiring all children in our country to attend school so far as possible at all times, that would be a pretty poor do. The Government should expect no less.

For schools with poor attendance records, it is a function of the governing body and the head teacher to analyse the problem, to work—where possible—with parents and to develop strategies to improve attendance records. As part of that, and as part of reaching the desired goal of 100 per cent attendance, the school may adopt incremental targets as a management tool to improve the situation.

In the more serious cases of non-attendance, it may be necessary to encourage enforcement of the law, especially where parents wilfully collude with or condone the absence from school of their children. In the case of authorised and unauthorised absences, I refer to the statistics quoted by the Minister in Committee. She said:

"In the last academic year, 0.7 per cent of half days were missed due to unauthorised absenteeism but 6.5 per cent of half days were missed due to authorised absenteeism".—[Official Report, 23/5/02; col. 982.]

We know where the problem lies: with absences that are authorised by our schools. That suggests that the problem lies with the schools.

Authorised absences are those days that are taken out of school by a pupil where the school regards the reasons for absence as unavoidable—for example, an accident or illness—or where the reason for the absence is so serious that the school takes the view that time out of school is reasonable and appropriate; I refer, for example, to a death in the family. Unauthorised absences are those where a child does not attend school, with or without parental permission, and where the reason for such an absence is inexcusable. I use the examples given by my noble friend Lord Lucas at col. 983 on 23rd May, which were that a child might be out buying a hamster or taking a skiing holiday. They rank as unauthorised absences. Any school authorising such an absence should be subject to an adverse report from the inspectorate. Information about all school absences must be included in the school's annual report.

The notion that the Secretary of State can set targets for about 24,000 schools in the land is ludicrous. School governors should make a school's policy for authorised and unauthorised absences and they should make it clear to all parents. Local education authorities and the Government should have only one target for schools; that is, that children should attend at all times.

Schools and their governors should of course remain accountable to parents, the community and, more formally, to the inspectorate. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 3:15, 26 June 2002

My Lords, it is realistic to set targets for improved attendance in LEAs and individual schools, particularly in the most socially deprived areas. However, it is not—here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—necessary to spell that out in legislation. The only acceptable attendance record is, as she said, 100 per cent.

My own experience of sitting for 20 years or so as a juvenile court chairman in socially deprived areas leaves me with little belief in the effectiveness of draconian measures to fine or imprison parents of truanting children, although I accept that that may work in some instances. If parents physically or verbally abuse teachers, firm deterrent penalties are required.

By the time a child gets to court, usually as a result of an offence, the truancy pattern is firmly established and parents are bewildered and unable to exert any authority. In other words, the prevailing anti-school culture of that area has taken a firm hold.

One of the facts that emerged from the Minister's reply to my Written Question on 24th April is that across the whole range of LEAs—from those with the worst average attendance figures to those with the best—truancy in the worst schools in each area is about six times as high as that in the best schools in the same area. That is why more imaginative and innovative schemes are so badly needed. One way—my noble friend Lord Northbourne, who is not yet in his place, has been an advocate of this approach for many years—is to start working with and supporting deprived families from the earliest possible age. We shall come to that later, so I shall leave it for now.

An innovative approach for already disaffected older truants came to my notice recently. I believe that it will be debated during the dinner hour tomorrow. It is run by the skills force of the Ministry of Defence and is funded from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's special fund. Apparently, it shows encouraging signs. The young person concerned gets individual expert help with challenging tasks and training but will receive that only if he or she goes regularly to school. I gather that it has been running in some 13 towns and cities for 18 months. Heads are already reporting less truancy and better behaviour.

I remember many years ago a scheme in Lyon, France, where crime statistics rose dramatically during the long summer vacations. A joined-up offensive from the appropriate public services and private companies provided a positive blitz of stimulating alternatives to crime. It worked. Even longer ago in Japan, it was normal practice—now, sadly, discontinued—for business leaders to take on responsibility for those showing early signs of disaffection. It was their duty to provide the guidance and opportunities that those young people had previously lacked. Again, it worked—crime figures were amazingly low.

That kind of thinking, which produces innovative public/private schemes and involves the practical input of successful individuals with high leadership skills, is badly needed. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that many such schemes are indeed under way and are showing signs of equal success.

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

My Lords, we on these Benches have not put a great deal of emphasis on this issue. By and large, we were convinced by what the Minister said last time. The kinds of programme that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, discussed are precisely the efforts that are being put in place in some of the more difficult areas in which there are great problems with attendance. The target of 100 per cent attendance is obviously one at which we should aim—we all have sympathy with that idea—but the achievement of that figure is by no means always possible. The setting of targets has proved to be relatively successful. This is not an issue on which we part company with the Government.

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 begin by reassuring noble Lords that our belief is that schools should aspire to 100 per cent attendance. We want to tackle the problem of non-attendance head on. That is why we have put considerable resources into dealing with that issue. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Sharp, said, we try to be as innovative as possible and to support the schemes of other government departments and schemes from schools, voluntary organisations and communities. That is why we have also highlighted truancy sweeps, which identify children who are out of school, as an important part of that effort. We did so not least because they send a message to pupils, parents and the wider community that children should be in school, and they can be used to identify parents who are not taking the attendance of their children seriously. They underline the extent of the problem and our determination to tackle it.

Our position is absolutely clear. Children have a right to education and parents have a duty to ensure that their children are educated. Good school attendance is crucial if our children are to achieve at school. Our objective is that all children should attend school every day unless there is an extremely good reason for not doing so. Absence from schools represents a loss of 7.2 per cent of school time. In some schools the situation is even worse than that average.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said, tackling non-attendance at school is a complex and long-term task that requires a number of different solutions. Recently, we have seen that those can extend to the gaoling of a parent. We want to add to the current action that we are taking in this area, and we believe that setting appropriate targets can play a role, both in school improvement and in raising community awareness of the issue. Such targets can provide realistic milestones for schools to work towards. Of course, many schools are already working hard to improve attendance and already set their own targets for improvement with their local education welfare service.

Therefore, through this clause the Secretary of State will be able to set school level targets to reduce all types of absence and not only those which are not authorised by the school, as is presently the case. It is very important that we are clear about this issue. Attendance targets are already in existence, but they relate only to unauthorised absence. We have been in discussion with the Local Government Association and with schools, and believe that it is preferable to widen the focus of these targets in the future and, instead, to have a single target covering all types of absence.

It is, of course, important that schools have the right incentives to take seriously all types of absence. Requiring schools with an above-average level of absence to set targets will ensure that they put their energy into working with parents and with the education welfare service to get children back to school. At present, the targets for unauthorised absence can result in debate within schools as to how each individual absence should be recorded. We believe that that distracts from the real issue. The emphasis should not simply be on why the child is not in school but on ensuring that the child returns to school as soon as possible.

We also recognise that targets can be used to acknowledge improvement and applaud it. I give an example. Ofsted recently said of a secondary school:

"Attendance levels are very good. The high level of attendance makes a very positive contribution".

That school has an overall absence level of 6 per cent. Eighty per cent of those absences are due to pupil illness; 10 per cent are due to unavoidable family holidays; and other absences are due to funerals, religious festivals and events such as child protection reviews. The school continues to take attendance very seriously, putting all possible measures in place to encourage good attendance.

Another example would be a school attended by traveller children. Our policies mean that traveller children are registered at one base school and, when they move around the country, they are marked as taking authorised absence. A target of 100 per cent would, of course, be impossible for the base school to achieve. However, that does not mean that it cannot improve attendance in other areas and set itself targets for that improvement.

Statistics have shown that 45 per cent of all children and 83 per cent of primary school children stopped by truancy patrols were with their parents. There may be a variety of reasons why children are not at school, but the important point is to stress that children miss out on their education if they are not in school for whatever reason.

As I said, the targets will not be additional to existing ones; they represent a widening focus that we know will be welcomed by schools and local education authorities. Some 35 local authorities have chosen to have a local public service agreement target on attendance for 2004 and beyond.

The effect of the amendment would not be that there would be no targets for attendance; it would be that the targets could relate only to unauthorised absence, ignoring other forms of absence. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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

My Lords, I believe that that was a topsy-turvy answer. During debate on the previous stage of the Bill, the noble Baroness told us that unauthorised absences totalled a mere 0.7 per cent. The number of authorised absences—those authorised by the schools—is 800 per cent greater. Therefore, the problem relates to authorised absences. Who is authorising them?

The noble Baroness said that one problem was that parents did not take the issue seriously. We have heard and read about truancy sweeps, which have been very successful. However, we have only been told about absences involving parents walking around shopping areas with their children and other absences involving activities totally unrelated to education which the parents condone. If that is the case, and if such absences form part of the 6.5 per cent, then who is authorising them? The schools must be doing so.

If the Government were really addressing the problem, they would do something about defining "authorised" and "unauthorised" absences, but they have completely left that issue aside. The Secretary of State is simply sitting in Whitehall and taking a power to set a target for each individual school.

My particular objection to the provision is that I believe that responsibility and accountability for what a school does should be vested in the governing body and the staff of the school. As I said when I spoke to the amendment, the issue of incremental targets to improve the attendance of children is a matter for the schools. It is a day-to-day management tool of schools. We are trying to get away from the situation where "Whitehall knows best" and where Whitehall becomes involved in the day-to-day management of schools. I believe that such issues are a matter for the schools.

I am sorry that the Liberal Democrats do not consider that this is an issue for them and that they are satisfied with what the Government say. I believed that they would have agreed that this was a matter for schools and not for someone sitting in Whitehall. We know that the Secretary of State for Education has many issues on her plate at present. Frankly, I am surprised that she is concerning herself with the direct management of schools and setting individual attendance targets for them. Indeed, the fact that the Secretary of State is indulging in setting individual targets below 100 per cent presupposes that she is dealing with the minutiae of individual schools. Where are the civil servants who will become involved in those minutiae in the department?

I believe that there should be an overall target of 100 per cent and that all schools should aim for that. The setting of incremental targets in order to aspire to that overall target should be a matter for schools and governing bodies. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 101) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 105; Not-Contents, 152.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Education Bill

Aye: 103 Members of the House of Lords

No: 150 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 60 [Power to require LEA to obtain advisory services]:

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 3:37, 26 June 2002

moved Amendment No. 102:

Page 40, line 38, at beginning insert "following consultation with the local education authority,"

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

My Lords, Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 are both linked to Clause 60, which gives the Secretary of State powers to intervene and direct a local education authority to bring in external service operators to run a school or a group of schools when such schools have been shown to have serious weaknesses or to be in need of special measures. The Secretary of State may intervene only when he or she is of the view that insufficient progress has been made in eliminating the deficiencies in a weak or failing school, and that the LEA of its own volition is unlikely to act, or when the LEA has a disproportionate number of schools in that position. External partners may be successful schools; successful LEAs; further or higher education institutions; or public, private or voluntary bodies. Their job will be to provide advice to the LEA and/or the school governors.

The two amendments, both of which we moved in Committee, are slightly different in their two provisions. However, we tabled them in order to make good what we believe are deficiencies currently on the face of the Bill. Amendment No. 102 makes clear that, before taking the decision to send in external partners, the Secretary of State must have exhausted the route of internal discussion with the LEA. For the Secretary of State to take those powers is yet another centralising act, undermining the position of the local education authority. It should be the local education authority which acts in such cases. An intervention by the Secretary of State must be an act of last resort. Indeed, that was made clear in the reply given by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in Committee. As we argue here, it would be essential for the Secretary of State, first, to consult with the local education authority in order to assess what the LEA is doing or is proposing to do in such a situation. He stated:

"There are only two possible instances when the power could be required. First, when an LEA is preparing an action plan following an Ofsted inspection which has judged a school as having serious weaknesses or requiring special measures, it may be necessary to require the LEA to involve external support where action is clearly necessary and the authority has no plans to take such action. Alternatively, a direction may be necessary later in the process if it becomes clear that an LEA's recovery plan is not working.

In either case, we shall have been working closely with the LEA in question".—[Official Report, 23/5/02; col. 989.]

The amendment seeks to put the process of consultation on the face of the Bill. Given the assurance that in all cases there will be close consultation with LEAs, it seems sensible for that to be included on the face of the Bill as reassurance to local authorities. The matter is rather crudely and toughly stated in the Bill.

Amendment No. 103 makes it clear that it is the Secretary of State who is responsible for laying down guidance on specifications for such contracts. The contracts will have substantial financial consequences for the LEA. In circumstances when the Secretary of State has intervened, it is right that, where there are local council tax implications, council taxpayers should recognise that the council is acting on the instructions and under the guidance of the Secretary of State.

In Committee, the Minister was quite clear that not only would that happen in exceptional cases but that it would be in conjunction with the local authority and that there would be some agreement. He referred to his own borough, Haringey, where the Secretary of State stepped in and insisted that external contractors were brought in to help run educational services in the borough. The big PFI in Haringey has not been entirely successful. I do not know whether the noble Lord has seen the recent report produced by the Rowntree Foundation about the Haringey PFI and the difficulties that it is causing. That is all the more reason where there are financial implications that it should be made clear to council tax payers that ultimately it was the Secretary of State who was responsible for requiring such levels of expenditure. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is right that I said in Committee that we would be using the powers in Clause 60 only in exceptional circumstances; as the noble Baroness said, as a last resort. We would use the power when other efforts to tackle failure had not worked. In Committee, I gave the figures of how successful policies to tackle failure had been. I think the figure was that around 900 schools have been brought out of failure. That is carried out in partnership with local education authorities.

Amendment No. 102 would impose a duty on the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to consult an LEA before a determination is made to direct it to enter into a contract or some other arrangement to obtain advisory services to help it turn around failing schools. We accept the concern, as I made quite clear in Committee, but we do not consider that the amendment is necessary.

At the risk of repeating what I said in Committee, there are two situations in which we might use the power under Clause 60. First, where it is clear that the LEA may need to involve an external partner to remedy failure where the authority is not considering that action. The second—later down the line—is where an existing recovery plan is not working.

In both cases—this is the fundamental point—the powers will have involved discussion with the LEA. We do not think that there is any benefit in delaying the process further by formal consultation, which is what the amendment involves. In those circumstances, the impetus will be for a rapid turnaround in the school's fortunes, which will involve deliberation with the LEA. If we had to have a full consultation process, we could delay matters. In any case, it would be unnecessary since we will have been considering the best way to tackle the problem with the LEA during the whole process. The key is the difference between the discussions which will have to take place with the LEA under our proposals and a formal consultation.

I turn to Amendment No. 103. We propose to provide guidance on the way an LEA might use external partners to provide advice on turning around failing schools as part of new guidance on tackling schools causing concern. That guidance will establish a framework within which LEAs and schools might work. It will describe the respective roles of the LEA, the school and the external partner and might also include model contracts. But when the LEA enters into an agreement, it needs to have the flexibility to include terms and conditions appropriate to its individual needs. The experience of LEA interventions demonstrates that a solution tailored to the specific circumstances is necessary.

So we do not believe that it would be helpful for the Secretary of State to issue detailed guidance about the terms and conditions she might include in a direction. That would be a centralising move, which is not particularly desirable. Terms and conditions could vary from case to case, depending on the matters which cause the problem in the first place. Therefore, statutory guidance would limit the flexibility available to both the Secretary of State and the LEAs in preparing an appropriate contract or an agreement.

LEAs and governing bodies already obtain advisory services without the need for a direction. Our guidance will help those LEAs and governing bodies to obtain a solution which is suitable for their individual requirements. I hope that on that basis the amendment will not be pressed.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 3:45, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. We felt, in response to the previous discussion of the amendment, that there was a case for including at least the first amendment on the face of the Bill.

I take on board what the Minister has said. We shall think further on these matters. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 103 not moved.]

Clause 62 [Academies]:

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, in Committee, I welcomed Amendment No. 234 tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Walmsley, and I promised to bring forward a government amendment. We want academies to deliver broad and balanced curricula to their pupils. The amendment extends the legislative requirement on academies so that it more closely reflects the requirements placed on maintained schools in terms of the breadth and balance of the curriculum, the emphasis on meeting the moral, spiritual, cultural, mental and physical needs of young people and preparing them for later life. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for bringing forward the amendment which, as he says, repeats entirely the amendment that we tabled in Committee. It will give slightly greater coherence to the Act in that the concept of a broad and balanced curriculum relates to Section 74. I thank the Minister.

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

My Lords, I first declare an interest. Today, I accepted a governorship at one of the new academies that are being formed. I ask the Minister: what was the deficit before the amendment was brought forward? I understand the arguments for the amendment and I understand the points put by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. But has there been evidence of a lack of a broad and balanced curriculum being taught in the academies, in the city technology colleges and in the other schools of that ilk that come under the legislation? What material difference will the amendment make in terms of what is expected of academies? My feeling is that the amendment is otiose.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on her new appointment. I hope that she enjoys her governorship. The amendment is not put forward in the sense of criticism of existing academies, which is what I think she believes, but it is important that we should so far as possible make academies reflect the requirements placed on maintained schools. Those requirements are that they should reflect, in terms of the breadth and balance of the curriculum, the emphasis on meeting the moral, spiritual, cultural, mental and physical needs of young people and of preparing them for later life. In view of our continual emphasis on the fact that academies have to conform to the rules for maintained schools, it is desirable to make that clear in the Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

moved Amendment No. 105:

Before Clause 66, insert the following new clause—

"PROPOSALS TO ESTABLISH ETC.

( ) A proposal to establish, alter or discontinue a school can be made by an admission authority or potential admission authority, the Secretary of State in the case of a City Academy, or the local education authority where the authority is not the admission authority.

( ) All proposals shall be considered and determined by the School Organisation Committee which covers the area in which the proposed school is to be situated."

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, when we tabled an identical amendment in Committee we said that we were concerned that the Bill offends against local democracy by taking power from the LEAs and giving it to the Secretary of State. Logically, perhaps we should also have tabled an amendment to remove the whole of Clause 67 because it is peppered with powers for the Secretary of State to direct the LEA on this, that and the other in relation to what it should do and whom it should consult when proposing to establish, alter or discontinue schools. However, we did not do so.

In her reply, the Minister offered to table an amendment. That appears today as Amendment No. 106, which seeks to remove the words,

"with the approval of the Secretary of State", from line 44. That is welcome and I thank her for it.

The Minister may be surprised that I have tabled this amendment once again. The reason for the amendment is that, given the power vested in the Secretary of State in Clause 67, the words,

"with the approval of the Secretary of State", in Clause 66 are superfluous. Their removal, although welcome, achieves nothing. I therefore wish to debate the amendment again to probe a little further the Government's intentions for the role of LEAs in establishing new schools, and to highlight our view that the power to decide should be in the hands of local people—in this case personified by the school organisation committee. I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify their intentions in the light of the major role to be played by the Secretary of State, as described in Clause 67. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I should like the Minister to go a good deal further than that, although I doubt that she will. It is high time to shoot the old canard that there should be controls on who can start new schools. Schools that open and do not attract pupils cannot exist for long. Why should we want to stop people from founding new state schools? If someone wants to found a state school and to try to live off the amount of money that we are prepared to provide per pupil, good luck to them. Why should not they do that? Why should they have to go through endless committees to do that? Those committees will be stuffed with the kind of people who will think that they may suffer from new schools, such as those representing existing schools.

If existing schools are not providing a good education, or if people want to provide education of a particular religious character or of a type that is not currently available—and enough parents want that to make a new school viable—why should they not have one? Why should it be the business of the state, the local education authority or the schools organisation committee to tell them that they should not provide what they have sufficient parents saying they want?

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 try not to pre-empt the amendment that my noble friend Lady Farrington will be moving, but the purpose of that amendment is to remove the provision that before publishing a notice a local education authority would have to seek the approval of the Secretary of State. That is superfluous and I am delighted that we have been able to table that amendment.

The intention of the new clause is to reverse the provisions in Clause 66. I shall with pleasure turn later to the canard of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Our purpose is to increase the opportunities for a wider range of partners to put forward proposals to become involved in school provision in the state sector. I must tell the noble Lord that anyone can make proposals for a school at any time through the school organisation committee.

In this part of the Bill, we are focusing specifically on the opportunities for new secondary schools. First, it is for local education authorities to decide that a new school is appropriate. They are therefore in the driving seat, which is precisely where we want them to be. Where a local education authority considers that it is important for its locality to have a new school, it must publish a notice inviting proposals from interested parties. That is to ensure that as many people as possible who may be interested can propose their ideas for a new school. Of course, the LEA may make proposals of its own. The proposals will then be considered together and decided by the Secretary of State.

I understand the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that initiatives for new schools should come from those most involved with educational provision in the local area and should take account of the needs of the area as a whole. I also understand the concern that the local school organisation committee should be fully involved. We believe that our proposals meet those concerns.

Everyone will be made aware of the need for a school at an early stage. Everyone will be able to consider how they can contribute to it. The LEA will still be able to make any proposals that it can make at present, and these will be considered alongside any other proposals. Importantly, details of all of the proposals will be published together in a notice in the local newspaper and parents and other local people will be able to comment on the proposals and, indeed, to object to them.

The school organisation committee will not be cut out of the picture. All of the proposals and any comments on or objections to them will be considered by the school organisation committee. The committee will then put forward its views on the proposals to the Secretary of State, who will take them fully into account.

As I said, I have tabled Amendment No. 106, to which the noble Baroness referred, which removes the need for the Secretary of State to approve an LEA's decision to publish. That is important. We believe that our proposals will encourage a greater range of providers to think seriously about establishing new secondary schools.

Should any of your Lordships be interested to know how many new secondary schools are opened, the average is about four per year. New schools are important, but there is no deluge of new schools to give LEAs reason to feel that they are not in the driving seat. We are making this provision because we want to try to encourage innovation across the state sector. I hope that, on the basis of my explanation and the assurances that I have given, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. We shall have to wait to discover how the local authorities involved with that small number of new schools feel in future. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 66 [Proposals for additional secondary schools]:

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 106, I must point out that if the amendment is carried I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 107 because of pre-emption.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 106:

Page 44, line 8, leave out ", with the approval of the Secretary of State,"

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, Amendment No. 106 removes the necessity for an LEA to obtain the consent of the Secretary of State before publishing a notice inviting proposals for the establishment of an additional secondary school, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, recognised in the previous debate. All noble Lords who were present at—or read in Hansard—the proceedings in Committee, at a rather late hour, on 23rd May, will be aware that, as the noble Baroness said, my noble friend promised to consider the issue and table an amendment. An opposition amendment to the same effect was tabled in another place.

That demonstrates that where we agree that there is a better way forward, we are prepared to support it. Having considered the matter further, we agree that there is no real need for the Secretary of State to have to agree in advance that an LEA may invite proposals for an additional secondary school in its area. We therefore seek to remove that requirement. I commend the amendment to the House. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment No. 107, standing in my name. The clause is one of several in this part of the Bill that do not apply to Wales. I referred to that in Committee, when we were discussing Clause 62, which relates to the new concept of academies. Regrettably, that clause does not apply to Wales either. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, told us why. He said that the National Assembly did not want the power to establish academies. I refer noble Lords to column 993 of Hansard for 23rd May. That is short-sighted of the Assembly, and it may live to regret it, particularly if there is substance in the speech given by the Secretary of State earlier this week and in her critique of the comprehensive system.

The clause enables the establishment of new secondary schools—community, foundation and voluntary schools and academies—in England only. My amendment would extend that power to Wales. I am surprised that the Assembly government have not sought the power for themselves. Although we may not need new schools in Wales at present, it is not inconceivable that we may need new schools—and schools of a different kind—in future. Legislation is not just for the present. It should have regard to possible future needs, and it should err on the enabling side. What if there were a major new town development or a major inward investment project, employing hundreds of people and requiring schools of a new and different kind? It may not be likely, in current circumstances, but it cannot be ruled out either. There have been such developments in the past, and it could happen again. It could also be that schools of a different kind from those that we have prove advantageous and that there is a popular demand for them. It would be odd if such a demand could be met in England but not in Wales.

I do not think for a moment that my amendment will be accepted. At least I have had the opportunity to castigate the Assembly government for their blinkered view of Welsh educational needs and their failure to take advantage of what is on offer in the Bill. I would never argue that provision in Wales should always be the same as in England, but I would always maintain that any decision to differ should be well founded and advantageous to Wales. I am far from convinced that that criterion is met by the deliberate opt-out from this clause and others, notably Clauses 62, 65 and 67.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 4:00, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, for the amendment. We welcome it.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, recognised, Clause 66 introduces new procedures for establishing new secondary schools in England. The National Assembly for Wales set out its strategic view of educational needs in its paving document, The Learning Country. That document has been widely welcomed in Wales.

In Wales, as in England, there has been a long-standing commitment to enabling schools to build on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. In Wales, that commitment finds expression in the close partnership arrangements with LEAs and in the Partnership Council, established by the Government of Wales Act 1998, which consists of Assembly Members and members of local authorities. Given that situation, it is right that we should respect the fact of devolution and the decision of the Welsh Assembly that, in the light of its approach, it does not wish to have the powers in this clause. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, will accept that devolution means that we should not second-guess or castigate—to use his word—the judgments that are made, particularly when they have such wide support in the Principality.

Most LEAs in Wales have surplus school capacity, so it is not expected that there will be many instances of a need for an entirely new secondary school, rather than for the replacement of an existing school. However, three new secondary schools have been opened in Wales in the past five years. The noble Lord may be reassured by that fact. As he is aware, all three were established to cater for the growing demand for Welsh-medium education. That demonstrates that existing systems for establishing schools already allow for LEAs to accommodate parental wishes for different types of schooling and to meet changes in circumstances such as rising pupil numbers, to which the noble Lord referred. I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 107 not moved.]

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

moved Amendment No. 108:

After Clause 67, insert the following new clause—

"MAINTENANCE, EXPANSION AND FUNDING OF SCHOOL SIXTH-FORMS

After section 113 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c. 21) (inadequate sixth-forms) there is inserted—

"113A MAINTENANCE, EXPANSION AND FUNDING OF SCHOOL SIXTH-FORMS

(1) Where the Learning and Skills Council for England proposes a change in sixth-form provision, there shall be a presumption that a school sixth-form will not be closed where the governing body of the school proposes that it should continue and believes that it contributes to the success of the school as a whole.

(2) Subsection (1) shall not apply if an inspection has shown that education for those above compulsory school age is of an unacceptable standard.

(3) A maintained school which provides education for pupils above compulsory school age but below the age of nineteen may submit proposals to the relevant authority to increase the number of sixth-form places, and the relevant authority shall provide funding for those places at the same rate per capita as for the existing places, provided that the schools can demonstrate sufficient demand for those places.""

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

My Lords, I shall not rehearse the arguments that we considered at length in Committee, except to say that I still regard this as an important amendment. It is important that we protect sixth forms.

During the passage of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, concern was expressed about the future vulnerability of sixth forms. We were given assurances at the time that there was nothing to worry about. When the learning and skills councils—unelected, appointed bodies—were set up, it was again feared that sixth forms would be vulnerable. We now know that to be the case. There is huge concern about funding. I do not know who is to respond to this debate; it was the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, at the last count. Before he tries to tell us that everything is all right on the funding front, I shall disabuse him of that idea. Since I proposed the amendment in Committee, I have been contacted by so many sixth forms, pleading for the Government to fulfil their pledges on per capita funding and the assurances that they gave on funding for sixth formers. People are nervous about the adequacy of funding for sixth forms.

There are also staffing benefits. Not everybody believes that sixth forms are a good idea. Many believe that tertiary education for 16-plus children is the way forward, and, for a long time, it was Labour Party policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, who was a partner of mine in local government in East Anglia, made no secret of the fact that Labour Party policy was that tertiary education was preferable.

I shall talk about staffing policy. We know that schools that have sixth forms attract staff and that staff looking for teaching posts are often attracted to schools that offer the opportunity to teach children aged from 11 to 18 who will go on to college and university. There is an educational point involved.

My third concern relates to rural schools. Rural schools feel even more vulnerable than many urban schools. Choices in an urban area are much greater. In rural areas, there is the logistical problem of travelling from one school to another, and it is not easy to link up all rural secondary schools with the nearest tertiary college or sixth-form college. The position of rural schools is important.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, said:

"The Bill, together with the regulations and guidance for which it provides, will have the effect of ensuring that the LSC proposes changes to the pattern of sixth form education only where there is real evidence of local need and only where change would clearly benefit the young people in the area".

He went on to say:

"That is why the LSC will be able to make proposals only under clear conditions. Therefore, I want to dispel the anxieties of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that the LSC may be conducting its affairs in some position of prejudice against small sixth forms".—[Official Report, 23/5/02; col. 1031.]

From talking to people in the local skills councils we know that there is a preference for rational post-16 provision. It is felt that if all post-16 pupils were in tertiary education it would be an administratively tidy solution. The Minister continued that proposals would be published only where there was clear, objective evidence for local need. He said that proposals would be based on a clear assessment of the overall need in an area. He then gave the game away by using the phrase:

"by linking the possibility of closure simply to the views of the sixth form concerned regardless of the wider local needs".—[Official Report, 23/5/02; col. 1032.]

There is the rub. We know that the Learning and Skills Council is minded to take the view that it would be better for an area as a whole to have all the sixth formers at either the local technical college, further education college, tertiary college or sixth form college. That could be argued to be in the wider local area's interests. The views of a small number of people who represent the sixth form of a school, which, as my amendment makes it clear, would not be subject to an adverse inspectorate report, must be taken into account. It is still possible for the Learning and Skills Council to come forward with a proposal that in its view is beneficial to the area as a whole but is definitely a disbenefit to a particular school.

If the Minister meant what he said the last time we met in Committee, that schools need not be worried and that there are reassurances, it is important that my amendment is accepted. It says that,

"Where the Learning and Skills Council for England proposes a change in sixth-form provision, there shall be a presumption"—

—no more than that—

"that a school sixth-form will not be closed where the governing body of the school proposes that it should continue and believes that it contributes to the success of the school as a whole".

That does not prevent proposals coming forward, but they would be tested against the case made by the school recognising that presumption.

The second proposed subsection in my amendment proposes the safeguard that, the first subsection,

"shall not apply if an inspection has shown that education for those above compulsory school age is of an unacceptable standard".

The third proposed subsection states that,

"A maintained school which provides education for pupils above compulsory school age but below the age of nineteen may submit proposals to the relevant authority to increase the number of sixth-form places"—

—that is sometimes the salvation of many sixth forms in rural areas—

"and the relevant authority shall provide funding for those places at the same rate per capita as for the existing places"—

—no more, no less. They shall be treated fairly, and on all fours with the existing places. The schools will have to demonstrate sufficient demand for the extra places. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 4:15, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment and to speak to the other amendments in the group that are in my name. We support the amendment because we are worried by what the Learning and Skills Council is doing. When we passed the Learning and Skills Act 2000 we made it clear that we wanted small sixth forms to remain. We passed a clause in the Act which ensured that sixth forms retained spending in real terms at the level they had been receiving it.

That has been important and I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the number of sixth forms that are unhappy with the degree to which the Learning and Skills Council has been throwing its weight around. Noises have been forthcoming in a number of areas which indicate that the council has clear ideas about what it wants to do: sixth form colleges work well, so why don't we have more?

We firmly believe in diversity of provision at the 16 to 19 level. It is horses for courses. Some young people want to get away from school. They want to go to a college where they have a greater degree of freedom. My daughter was one: she benefited enormously from moving out of the school sixth form and taking her A-levels at what was then the local technical college. She enjoyed the freedom and was a well-motivated student; she went on to Cambridge.

Other students do not want to move away and want to be in the more sheltered environment of the sixth form. That may be particularly true of some of the smaller schools. Many schools in rural areas have small sixth forms. We feel the beady eyes of the Learning and Skills Council on some of those schools asking why the pupils cannot attend the further education college in the large local town.

The answer is that it is a leap to some of those children. It often involves a lengthy journey which they may not want to undertake. They may be happy in the environment they know. Sixth form colleges can differ from further education colleges, which often have 10,000 students. Sixth form colleges often have around 1,500 to 2,000 students. Some students benefit greatly from the different environment.

We feel strongly that the current diversity on offer is a strength of our 16 to 19 system. It enables individuals to be suited to the environment they like best. It would be a shame if we were to close some of the smaller sixth forms, which have relatively higher costs than larger sixth forms. The Learning and Skills Council's remit is to make the most efficient use of its resources. Undoubtedly it compares those costs and recognises that it costs as much as £1,000 more per student to keep students in a small sixth form than for them to take their post-16 courses at the local further education college. But that diversity is vitally important. We want a clear assurance from the Minister that the Learning and Skills Council will not close down small sixth forms just because they cost more money and because it believes larger colleges will be more efficient.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 110 to 112. The first more substantive amendment was tabled in Committee. It relates to local accountability on sixth forms. It asks that proposals for changes go before the local school organisation committee and that consultation takes place. It provides an opportunity for assurances that the Learning and Skills Council will operate within local consultative frameworks.

In Committee the Minister replied that,

"The consultation paper on 16 to 19 organisation and inspection that we published in the autumn made it clear that we envisaged that school organisation committees and LEAs, school and college interests must be fully consulted".

He went on to reiterate the fact that there would be consultation, stating:

"We wish to ensure that the process for local proposals takes account of the views of the full range of young people and parents who might be affected by the changes in their local area".—[Official Report, 23/5/02; col. 1033.]

That being the case, I put forward the argument that I made in Committee: if you agree with us, why not put it on the face of the Bill? It would be good to see it in the Bill because it would reassure local authorities that it is not a case of the Learning and Skills Council coming in and throwing its weight around, but that it will listen to local people and organisations. The Minister said in Committee that it should be doing that. If that is the case, why not place that on the face of the Bill?

The final two amendments change "may" to "shall" and are the only two tabled on Report. Clause 68(8) states:

"Regulations may make provision about proposals under this section and may in particular make provision about . . . information to be included in or provided in relation to the proposals".

If the Learning and Skills Council makes far-reaching proposals on restructuring sixth-forms—the new section is headed "Restructuring of sixth-form education"—it is vitally important that information, consultation and so forth are made clear. I should like to see written on the face of the Bill a provision relating to information, but if that cannot be the case, let us at least have it clear in the regulations. Regulations must be made because we need them in these circumstances.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

My Lords, there is probably only one chance in every generation in which to reform, develop and change post-16 education. The historic split between vocational and academic education continues to bedevil the nation. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said:

"But it is the case ... that this nation is under-educated and under-trained.—[Official Report, 18/6/02; col. 615.]

Clause 68, which enables the Learning and Skills Council to make proposals for re-organising post-16 education, is a necessary power in order to achieve coherent and cohesive education provision for all young people from 16 to 19. The system we have at the moment cannot be sound with so many different bodies with responsibility for setting the pattern of school, college and work-based learning provision post-16.

I do not believe that we would tolerate a system in any other area of public life, especially with the work of institutions being important to us as a nation. We must ensure that all young people have the right skills for work and life and I cannot see how that can be done when responsibility is shared by so many bodies. If it means that in the long run fewer secondary schools will have sixth-forms but that young people will have a better education in larger, comprehensive sixth-forms and colleges, so be it. It is more important to put the needs of the nation and young people over the institutional autonomy of schools.

The Bill gives to regulations the circumstances by which the Learning and Skills Council may make proposals. There are always concerns when such important issues are left to regulations. The suggestion in Amendment No. 108, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that a governing body should be allowed to keep its sixth-form where it believes that it contributes to the success of the school, is too subjective. She said that the protection of sixth-forms is as important. That greatly depends on the sixth-form. Perhaps it is important in a rural area because children may not want to travel very far. On the other hand, if the sixth-form is small, opportunities for the children are fewer. The number of subjects they can take is smaller and the competition and stimulation in having a number of brighter young people around would also be absent. Therefore, I do not agree with the noble Baroness on that point.

I strongly believe that one should not automatically say that a small sixth-form must be retained. It must be examined extremely carefully. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that we need diversity. We need a choice of sixth-form colleges, of further education colleges, but the proposal has not been properly thought out and it is important that the Learning and Skills Council does a good job.

People may be worried about what is taking place, but there will be area inspections. The Secretary of State can require the LSC and relevant LEA to prepare a 16-to-19 area plan, which would seem to meet the concerns of Amendment No. 109.

I support the Government's line on this issue, but I want to ask a few questions. Will the Minister confirm that there will continue to be an action plan after every area inspection? Will the plan be subject to public consultation? Will the Minister approve the plan? Will the Minister find additional funding to implement key actions from the plan? I hope that whoever is responding to the amendment can answer some of those questions, but I support the Government's general line on this issue.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I do not see why such decisions should not be left to pupils and parents. We may believe that pupils receive a better education in a sixth-form college than in a small school sixth-form. That would be the decision I would take for my children, but many people believe otherwise and their children do very well. Why do we have to decide such matters at the centre?

Surely, we should be providing a diversity of opportunity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said. If children have the choice, as they do around Cambridge, of staying in a small school sixth-form or moving to one of the extremely good, large sixth-form colleges, and if they choose to stay in their school sixth-form because that is the environment they want and it offers them what they need, why not? We do not need to fund those sixth-forms to excess. I do not see why we should provide an automatic subsidy for sixth-forms. However, if the school decides to run its budget that way because the governors believe it is best for the school, surely that is a decision we can safely leave to them. I can think of many circumstances in which that is right and true for the school as a whole.

I believe that it is fine for the Learning and Skills Council to make proposals and to say, "Why don't we do these things?", but if a school or two stand back for a while and say, "No, we will hang on to our sixth-forms and see how that goes", that will not undermine a great bureaucratic juggernaut that must be allowed to proceed. It seems to me to be all right to provide for children to move to sixth-form colleges but those who do not join immediately can join later. Like the euro, it can accumulate further layers of mud as it rolls along. We do not have to impose these provisions on people at the outset.

Furthermore, it may seem wonderful to be able to save £1,000 a pupil by shoving everyone into a big sixth-form college in some local centre, but in rural areas that will probably cost the parents £1,000 in transport costs. It is not uncommon for parents and pupils to be spending close to £1,000 if they live, say, in rural Dorset and the children have to travel to a suitable FE college because they need FE rather than the local sixth-form. It is an extremely expensive business to obtain further education in rural areas. To impose that additional cost on even more people by centralising academic education in the way vocational education was centralised, and to regard that centrally as a saving when all that is being done is passing costs from the Government to individual parents, is not a constructive way of looking at the issue. I very much support my noble friend's amendment and I was delighted by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I agreed with every word.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour 4:30, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I have one comment to make and two questions to ask. We know that in education as in many other activities there are significant economies of scale and scope. It seems to me to be quite wrong to say that just because someone has a sentimental regard for a small sixth-form we can ignore matters of such fundamental importance. A fortiori, since we are discussing public money here, it seems to me worse than foolhardy to say, "We brush that aside because we like our small sixth forms". It is not a matter which can be left to the school. The school is not given a fixed budget, being able then to choose. It is more complicated. Other considerations rather than those of the school must at least be brought to bear.

Without the amendment, the position is not that suddenly all small sixth forms have to be closed down. Unless I have misunderstood, the proposal does not say that remotely. The amendment goes to the other extreme, saying that none of them can be closed down in practice without a great rigmarole. Therefore, the view that unless we accept this amendment, or something like it, it is the end of small sixth forms and of parental wishes in rural areas seems slightly far fetched. It would be wrong for this House to brush aside considerations of efficiency and the correct use of public money. That is my contribution on the substantial side.

My two questions arise anecdotally so I do not have the evidence I should like. However, people have been in touch with me about the following problem. I have been told that schools are adopting an increasingly selective approach about who is allowed to stay on in the sixth forms. Various people have said that it is yet another example of the damaging effect of examination systems—we have them excessively in our country today—and school league tables. They say that in order to look better, schools are not allowing young people who would like to stay on in the sixth form to do so. First, can the Minister bring us up-to-date? What are the current legal rights of young people who, having been in that school, wish to stay on in the sixth form? What rights do they have? If they have the normal set of examination passes at the age of 16, in what sense can they demand to be allowed to stay on? In what sense can the school say, "No, we do not think you will do well enough in our sixth form and you have to go somewhere else".

Secondly, whatever the current legal rights up to the passing of the Bill, does this Bill change those legal rights in any significant way, not merely for the comprehensive schools, which are my main interest, but also for the multifarious other schools—the rag-bag of schools, as I am prone to call them—which are being introduced? Do the children have the same rights, more rights or fewer rights?

I support the remarks of my noble friend Lady David on the amendment.

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

My Lords, I was reflecting how happy I am to speak from the Dispatch Box having had such supportive speeches from my noble friends on the Back Benches. I appreciated the contribution from my noble friend Lady David emphasising the positive aspects with regard to the Government's policy for 14 to 19 year-olds. I am changing my perspective slightly on supportive Back-Benchers in view of the more knotty issues introduced by my noble friend Lord Peston. I shall address his questions in a moment.

I reassure my noble friend Lady David. The answer to her question is that after an area inspection there would be an action plan. It would be subject to consultation. It is not a requirement legally for it to be approved by the Secretary of State but the Secretary of State is likely to take a keen interest in such an important development in terms of local provision put forward after an area of inspection.

I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has concentrated overwhelmingly on school sixth forms. But let me reinforce what my noble friend Lady David said. This Government are not about closing down facilities and opportunities for 14 to 19 year-olds. The whole concept behind the development of the LSC and of government policy in the Green Paper, 14-19: Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards, relates to how we can extend provision. It is a little strange that we should have the major debate on the LSC constrained within the framework of a rather narrow perspective about what are purported to be threats to small sixth forms.

I hear what the noble Baroness says about schools being anxious about funds. I have never been inside any school or any education institution without it expressing anxiety about funds. Creative people as they are, they can always make use of additional money, intelligently, ably and to the benefit of the community. That is an experience which we expect. But the noble Baroness knows that under the real terms guarantee the Government ensure that every sixth form must have funding at least equal to its previous funding and it is uprated for inflation. So the concept that the LSC has some hidden agenda in order to close down school sixth form provision does not tally with the strategy that the Government are adopting: the passing of the measure relating to the role of the Learning and Skills Council in the year 2000; and extending opportunities for young people.

No single body has the power and responsibility to ensure that planning of local sixth form provision and of other types of 16 to 19 learning can be effectively integrated, or that the organisation of 16 to 19 learning in an area as a whole gives young people a wide range of high quality opportunities that will meet their needs and the needs of their communities.

Clause 68 gives that planning role to the LSC to complement its existing duty under the Learning and Skills Act. But it is not a role that the LSC can exercise in isolation from, and with disregard for, other local interests such as schools and colleges.

I have previously described to your Lordships' House in some detail the statutory procedures which we shall be putting in place through regulations and statutory guidance to ensure that any proposals from the LSC are founded on robust evidence and subjected to full and open local consultation. I hope that I may be forgiven if I do not return in detail to that issue.

It is important to recognise that the LSC will take no decisions itself. It may propose only a local reorganisation that includes changes to sixth forms. The decision will in all cases be taken by the Secretary of State. In making that decision, the Secretary of State will take account of the strength of the evidence that a reorganisation is needed to raise attainment and participation, including whether options other than institutional changes have been considered; whether the statutory procedures have been properly followed, including full local consultation based on a clear analysis of any local weaknesses; the range of options for tackling them; the impact of the proposals on the range, quality and diversity of local provision and on individual schools and colleges; and the degree to which the proposal attracts local support and the nature and extent of any objections.

We have built into our proposals a series of checks and balances to ensure proper analysis of local needs, full and open local discussion and careful and balanced consideration of the options available to raise attainment, participation and range of opportunity.

It is in that context that I want to address myself to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. It is clear that she suspects that there is some hidden agenda of hostility to school sixth forms. The noble Baroness considers that the operation should be on some rational provision at local level. Of course I share that objective. As I have described, the whole concept driving the LSC is to pursue procedures which guarantee that all its decisions are rational. If a school sixth form is providing an education that is valued and meets a sufficient standard; and if, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, indicated, parents and students support that educational provision and are eager to participate, then the rational operation of the LSC will not distort that arrangement in seeking to fulfil some kind of secret agenda for closing down school sixth forms.

We believe that school sixth forms have a vital role to play in our vision of providing diverse and flexible learning for 14 to 19 year-olds. Such sixth forms are well placed to respond to the challenge of developing coherent programmes because they, alone among the main types of providers, can offer continuity over the full 14 to 19 year-old phase between students and the institutions they attend. We know that many parents value such provision and, at least as important, so do students. That is why substantial numbers of students choose to stay on in school sixth forms.

We do not seek to create what the noble Baroness hinted at; namely, a form of tertiary policy with regard to the LSC. On the contrary, we are putting in place a framework whereby a range of provision can be extended and developed according to local needs and local interests. I emphasise, therefore, that good sixth forms that meet the required standards have nothing to fear from the LSC. Institutions which offer their students high standards and which contribute effectively to the range and quality of learning in an area should—and will—be allowed to flourish. It would be nonsensical to do otherwise, both in terms of our aspirations for the 14 to 19 year-old sector and the learning experiences of young people.

In her remarks the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, focused particularly on the possibility of closing school sixth forms. Our proposals are just as likely to result in proposals either to create new ones or to extend the sixth form provision of those which are presently coping successfully but which may have barriers to the extent of their activities.

I recognise the point made by the noble Baroness with regard to rural provision. The matter does raise issues with regard to choice. We all recognise that we can assist in extending the choice and opportunity available to young people which, at the present time, in some rural areas can be very attenuated indeed.

Perhaps I may cite one of our targets to illustrate the point. We want some 50 per cent of our 18 year-olds to enjoy the benefits of higher education. We could not conceive of reaching the target of 50 per cent by 2010 if we were to provide only limited opportunities for 14 to 19 year-olds and if we do not address the levels of drop-out. At this point I insist on making the point that that rate of drop-out is greater than almost any other advanced country. That is why the Government are so committed to extending opportunity. We recognise that there is a gap.

In my view, it ill behoves the noble Baroness to suggest that there is a massive, negative and secret agenda here which seeks to chop opportunity for those already enjoying further education in a school setting, as well as reducing the range of provision on offer.

Clause 68 and the regulations and guidance which will arise from the legislation will guarantee that the voice of individual sixth forms will be heard in the proposal and decision-making processes; and that discussion and consultation leading to local 16 to 19 year-old reorganisation proposals will look openly and thoroughly at local needs and the full range of options for meeting them. In short, the legislation we propose will promote local solutions, debated and considered locally, to meet local circumstances.

Amendment No. 108 takes a wholly different approach by setting the corporate views of individual sixth forms above the carefully analysed and debated interests of young people in the area. I see little in that prescription to promote a rational analysis of local needs and the delivery of a well-planned, diverse and coherent network of opportunities, which is exactly the strategy the Government intend to pursue.

I hope therefore that your Lordships will reject the amendment. I fear that my powers of oratory will not be sufficient to persuade the noble Baroness to withdraw her proposal. However, for a few blissful moments, I rest in hope.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 4:45, 26 June 2002

My Lords, at the beginning of his remarks the Minister pointed out that the real-terms guarantee still holds. Can he tell the House how long that real-terms guarantee is likely to last? Will it hold indefinitely or is there a time limit on it?

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

My Lords, the guarantee is indefinite; there is no timetable with regard to it. However, we recognise that what it does is to ensure that school sixth forms can pursue effectively their strategy to develop educational opportunities against an increasingly changing environment. The Government's policies would not be succeeding unless that environment was changing. However, it is changing very much for the better so far as concerns school providers. That is because of the increased opportunities that will be provided in each local area.

I wish to turn now to the amendments moved by the noble Baroness. They seek to specify on the face of the Bill elements of the process by which the LSC will prepare and consult on proposals relating to school sixth forms.

We do not think that it would be appropriate to write the full procedural details which these amendments suggest on to the face of the Bill. Indeed, we believe that in some cases the processes already in place will be able to deliver more effectively the results which the noble Baroness has identified and which I share with her.

The Government fully accept the spirit and intention that underpin the amendments. In Committee, I offered the noble Baroness assurances about how we shall incorporate into regulations and guidance both the spirit and the detail of the processes which the amendments seek to put on to the face of the Bill. I hope that, with those assurances, the noble Baroness will feel that I have met some of her anxieties.

However, there is one matter that I should like to add to the substance of my assurances. It is evident from this and earlier debates that the circumstances under which the LSC may initiate proposals are a matter of some concern. At the moment, the Bill specifies that proposals may be initiated either as a result of following up on the recommendations of an earlier inspection—to which my noble friend Lady David referred—or, less specifically, under other circumstances prescribed in regulations

That reference to regulations is intended to allow further discussion and consultation before settling on a full specification of circumstances in which the LSC may act. It has always been our intention to ensure that any proposals must relate to the objectives of raising standards of achievement and raising participation in the area as a whole.

Nevertheless, I accept that the breadth of the drafting has raised some concerns, which were voiced eloquently in Committee, about the latitude which it appears to offer and the extent to which it might open the door to reorganisations arising from other issues such as—I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, more than hinted at this—the comparative unit costs of local 16 to 19 year-old education providers.

I can therefore offer to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and to the House a commitment that we shall bring forward at Third Reading a government amendment to ensure that the purpose of any proposals initiated by the LSC under regulations will be to raise achievement, improve participation or extend the range of opportunities available to young people. That will stand as a clear guarantee to sixth forms and to others that the new power for the LSC is a lever to improve standards and breadth of opportunity. We intend to ensure that the amendment we bring forward will preclude proposals that seek primarily to secure other objectives related, for example, to the relative costs of otherwise effective provision or the management of surplus places in an area.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend for a moment. I am a little horrified by his words. Are the Government taking the position that a set of proposals could not be brought forward which would be as efficient as the status quo but rather cheaper in their use of public money? I believe that the Government are saying that that will not be allowed to occur.

As someone who takes seriously the economic use of public funds, I shall be rather horrified if that is the Government's position. I cannot believe that my noble friend is saying that.

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

My Lords, I emphasise that cost considerations are not the driver behind the work that we want the LSC to do. We want an extension in opportunity and provision. Of course costs are involved, but in order to protect the provision for school sixth forms, which we value, we need to have a real-terms guarantee to ensure that schools have adequate funds.

I am sure that my noble friend Lord Peston is with me on that. I recognise that he is rather more highly qualified than I am in the noble art of economics, but he will recognise that the Government are not approaching the exercise as a rationalisation proposal on how to reduce costs. We are thinking of the needs of the country, which are to invest in education and training, which means extending provision. Of course there will be additional costs, but the Government have said since coming to power that education is an important investment area for which such expenditure must be made.

I hope that I have succeeded in reassuring the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that her amendments are not necessary in view of the amendments that I intend to introduce at Third Reading.

My noble friend asked whether students beyond the age of 16 have the legal right to stay on in such institutions. There never has been a legal right, as such. Schools have always had the capacity to decide whether to welcome students post-16 into their sixth form. The only thing that I would emphasise, and I am at one with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on this, is that schools are eager to extend opportunity. It is not a question of gates coming down, particularly when schools have behind them all the commitment of government to ensure that our education system expands rather than contracts.

For the first time, the Bill provides a right of appeal for pupils who are not admitted to sixth forms in their schools. They will be put on a par with pupils applying to the schools from outside. I hope that that reassures my noble friend. I hope, too, that the amendments will not be pressed, but if not, that the House will reject them.

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

My Lords, I hope that it will not destroy the reputation of the noble Lord if I say that he has a charming and persuasive delivery, but I cannot honestly say that I am taken in by the content of his remarks.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and my noble friend Lord Lucas, I do not want to criticise other forms of sixth form education in any way. The noble Baroness, Lady David, and I, know how well that the Cambridge system works. There are successful sixth form colleges, individual school-based sixth forms and very good further education available to young people in the area, who have the choice of all of those, which is important. On the fringes of Cambridge there are smaller schools sixth forms, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas that if they are what parents choose because they suit the needs of their children, who are we to second-guess them?

I rest my case on that. Diversity is a benefit and the more choice in the system the better. There is an arrogance about us when we say, "We think it is not good for your child to attend a small sixth form; a tertiary or further education college is better for your child". I am fighting for diversity and for the right to try, as far as possible, to allay the fears and vulnerability that is now felt by sixth forms.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, confirmed all my worst fears on the issue. She asked why we should have small sixth forms when we could have a much more rational system of provision among larger sixth forms. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, followed that up by talking about cost-effectiveness as opposed to being educationally effective. I was further dismayed when the Minister said that he agreed with what the noble Baroness, Lady David, said. She also referred to the confusion that there has been and said that it is more rational for the Learning and Skills Council to have responsibility for 16-plus education.

There is now greater confusion. A single 11 to 18 school now has to have a learning and skills council; an organisation committee; it must develop organisation and development plans; action plans are needed; and there is an adjudicator for the 11 to 16 part of the school and the LSC for the 16 to 18 part of the school. The local authority devises the organisation and development plan, which must be approved by the Secretary of State. But if, for example, a decision is made to expand or close a school, there has to be a feed across to yet another body—the Learning and Skills Council—to make a judgment about the impact of that on the sixth form in that same school. Yet the headmaster, staff, parents and pupils are all part of one single school.

There is huge confusion and I wonder whether the Minister would like to reflect on the answer that he gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. She asked a pertinent question about the guarantee. I understand that it is not an all-time guarantee. It would help if the Minister would think about that. Secondly, I believe that the guarantee does not extend to increased numbers in the sixth form. It may extend to historical numbers, but when the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, was pressed on whether the guarantee would extend to increased numbers, we were not given an assurance. There is certainly some confusion on the question of funding.

I do not agree with the 50 per cent target, but the Minister went on to say that the Government cannot possibly achieve their target of 50 per cent of the cohort going on to universities without the input of sixth form education. I agree with that. He said that we are not in the business of limiting opportunity, but my fear is just that. There are bodies, including the Learning and Skills Council, which believe that by moving from a sixth form school-based education into tertiary or further education, opportunities will be extended and that it will be more cost-effective. I believe that that is the main attraction for the LSC. It may please the noble Lord, Lord Peston, when I say that we know that it is rumoured among people involved in the LSC that it would be more cost-effective to go for the solution favoured by him.

My fears are current and are shared by many of our school-based sixth forms. Our children are well served by them and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and my noble friend Lord Lucas that we want a tapestry of choice. I believe in diversity. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 108) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 130; Not-Contents, 132.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Education Bill

Aye: 128 Members of the House of Lords

No: 130 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 68 [Proposals relating to sixth forms]:

[Amendments Nos. 109 to 112 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 5:09, 26 June 2002

moved Amendment No. 113:

After Clause 71, insert the following new clause—

"ACTS DONE IN DISCHARGE OF PUBLIC FUNCTION

Where, in consequence of the operation of any provision of the Education Acts (as defined by section 578 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56)), the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c. 21) and of any subordinate legislation made under those Acts, any person other than a local education authority or governing body is or becomes responsible for the establishment or maintenance of any school, the acts done by that person in that regard shall for the purposes of section 31 of the Supreme Court Act 1981 (c. 54) be treated as having been done in the discharge of a public function."

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

My Lords, this is a probing amendment to tease out the Government's intention regarding the role of private companies in education. The effect of the amendment is to ensure that a private company is potentially subject to judicial review, whatever the provision in any education legislation. This will ensure that all private companies are accountable whatever their role in the education system.

The issue has already been a matter for some debate in this House in regard to Clauses 10 and 12. As has been said, even if "for profit" companies are tightly regulated—under the terms of their contracts—in terms of operating under comprehensive equal opportunities criteria, their whole raison d'etre is to make a profit for their shareholders, not to provide a democratically accountable education service. At LEA level, for example, the majority of out-sourcing contracts to date have included bonuses as financial incentives for companies to meet performance targets, although not all contracts have included financial penalty clauses.

By way of illustration, Nord Anglia's interim results to June 2001—the company that has been involved in Hackney, Waltham Forest and Sandwell—show that its annual turnover increased by 9 per cent, to £34 million, and its pre-tax profit increased by 50 per cent to £1.5 million. As, according to Kevin McNeany, 40 per cent of its profits came from running council education services and schools, Nord Anglia made a profit last year of nearly £600,000 from public funds.

There is already some accountability regarding the role of private companies in the system. Ofsted's review of Nord Anglia's running of the school improvement service in Hackney concluded that the service was still discharged unsatisfactorily. Nord Anglia's contract has not been renewed. Hackney education will be run by an education trust chaired by Mike Tomlinson, who is still currently Chief Inspector of Schools. The new body has significant flaws, including a lack of teacher representation, but the ending of Nord Anglia's contract is welcome.

The amendment would properly increase the level of accountability for private companies in line with the public sector. In addition, there are issues for the education service relating to the support given to schools by private companies, the education offered to pupils, relationships with the community, local democratic accountability, financial accountability, profit motive and the situation at the end of the contract.

The question is whether a private company carrying out a public duty should have more accountability. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, this is an interesting amendment, but we do not believe that the law in this area needs further clarification. The effect of the amendment is largely already reflected in common law. Its aim is to ensure that all bodies responsible for maintaining or establishing schools should be subject to judicial review. LEAs, governing bodies and the Secretary of State, in respect of CTCs and academies, are rightly subject to judicial review. Case law has held that independent schools, apart from city technology colleges, are not subject to judicial review.

That seems about right. Parents who choose to enter into a private contract with a school to educate their children for payment have the usual private law remedies against the school. For that reason alone, I would not be happy to accept the amendment, which would bring independent schools under the courts' judicial review jurisdiction. We are content for the courts in this area to decide whether various education bodies should be subject to their jurisdiction. That includes the bodies to which the noble Baroness referred.

We have set up independent appeal mechanisms for most of the usual disputes that arise in education—on exclusions, admissions or special educational needs—to give less formal redress in suitable cases. Judicial review then acts as a fallback if these bodies are said to have got it wrong. I hope that the noble Baroness will recognise that, on balance, the Government's position and the Bill meet the requirements of proper opportunity for justice in case law and that she will therefore consider withdrawing the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 5:15, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I do not think that the situation of an independent school is analogous. Clearly, if parents send their son or daughter to an independent school they will not seek judicial review, but in this case an independent school may be operating in the public sector as a company. That is a different issue. If they operate on a public contract, they will have to meet certain obligations.

We shall look more carefully at what the Minister has said and think about it. We may bring the issue back again. This was a probing amendment, but we may wish to probe a little further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 72 [Interpretation of Part 6]:

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

moved Amendment No. 114:

Page 48, line 40, at end insert "which shall have the greatest flexibility possible for the purposes of interpretation by the teacher within general criteria"

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 115 and 116, which stand in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady David. Noble Lords with long memories will recall that I last spoke to Amendment No. 115 on 21st June 1988—almost 14 years ago to the day. However, I am talking on a different Bill this time.

My starting position, which I think I share with most noble Lords, is that I strongly favour having a national curriculum. It has evolved over the years, but whatever its deficiencies, it has led to higher standards and a more thought-out approach in our teaching. I am not questioning whether we should have a national curriculum.

I am concerned about how we can use the curriculum flexibly. We have discussed flexibility in a broad sense on other occasions on the Bill. I have one or two questions about the treatment of the individual child and providing enough flexibility to take account of their needs.

I start from the negative or pessimistic side. There are two reasons why it is extremely hard to take account of the needs of the individual child or for the teacher to produce the flexibility that I have in mind. One, to which I referred not long ago, is the dead hand of the examinations system. No matter what one says about education principles and the curriculum, anyone with any direct experience of education knows that the system is driven by the examination system. I am afraid that the position is even worse than it used to be, because coupled with the examination system is all the nonsense of league tables and the rest. Part of the motivation of a school is the need to look right in its league table position. The school is judged to an extraordinary and excessive extent by the exam system.

I am not going to the other extreme of saying that we do not need examinations or assessment, but it is worth asking whether we have too much of them. Being able to do examinations is a skill. As someone who was marvellous at it, I think that it is a useless skill. I have believed all my life that many very bright people have been misjudged because they were not good at exams. Their careers were often—I might go so far as to say—blighted as a result of their inability to cope with exams.

We sometimes hear proud parents say, "My son or daughter has umpteen grade this or that at O-level and A-level". The notion that a large number of such grades is a better performance than a few has always struck me as absurd. However, I agree that the examination system is not nearly as absurd as the intelligence measurement system. Whatever else it measures, I have never believed that it measures intelligence.

The examination system is one cause of the difficulty in gearing the curriculum to the individual child's needs. The other—and I am always careful about this—is the expense of gearing the system to the needs of the individual child. As my noble friend Lord Davies said, anyone who has been to a school will know that schools can always use more resources. That does not mean that, willy-nilly, we can simply wave our hands and say, "Therefore let there be more resources". Indeed, I always make the point that, no matter how many resources we give schools, they will still be constrained and have to decide how best to use those resources. One of my worries is that an attempt to deal specifically with the needs of the individual child might be thought to be too expensive.

If I may go into anecdotal mode, I do not usually watch serious programmes on television; I watch mostly westerns and football matches. However, a couple of weeks ago, I watched the first of a three-part set of programmes on ITV to do with children who have mental illness. It was an astonishing programme about a young boy who had a form of schizophrenia. The boy himself must have been enormously courageous to appear on the programme, and the programme deeply moved me. He was amazingly fluent and remarkably mature in his understanding of his own position. He was also clearly very intelligent. Yet, in the end, the feeling that one had looking at this young boy was that the school, possibly doing the best that it could, was simply failing him. It could not offer him what he specifically needed as an individual.

The programme ended leaving me in a state of deep depression, as the school took the view that the best place for the boy was not there but in a type of college that dealt with large numbers of people with that kind of problem. My immediate reaction was that that was about the worst possible decision that could be taken for such a young person. What shocked me was that he seemed overwhelmingly educable and not lacking in any ability to do the right things despite having a form of schizophrenia. Yet the curriculum could not be tailored to his individual needs.

That is an extreme example, but, as we know, schools have many other pupils who need rather more individual treatment than they get. I am not criticising schools or blaming teachers; in a sense, I am blaming the system broadly without knowing quite what we should do. What I am looking for today is some response from my noble friend on the Government's view on flexibility and the interpretation of the curriculum in relation to helping the individual child. Within that, as the Government have rightly placed great emphasis on innovation, will the Government encourage schools not to innovate narrowly but to innovate for young people who have individual needs? I have not used the words special needs because I am not really talking about special needs. I am talking about individual needs and a child's need for quite individual support. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, much of what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has said has certainly struck a chord with me. As strict application of the national curriculum does not work for all children in school, flexibility is important. My understanding is that earlier legislation allowed all schools—but perhaps the measure has been overtaken by later legislation—to disapply the national curriculum for particular children.

I visited a special school in the North East which was truly inspirational in everything it was doing. It was applying the national curriculum to many children for whom one would have thought it inappropriate. Such was the erratic nature of other young people's receptiveness to education—they had the types of problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has referred—that the school had to disapply the national curriculum in order to ensure the necessary flexibility to meet their educational needs properly. I am wondering whether that flexibility still exists. If it does, I believe that the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, can be met.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is opening the door on what should be a very exciting 20 years. A great deal will come out of the review of the 14 to 19 curriculum. If it works, it will start to offer real flexibility to the kids who are going to be part of it. We can see it beginning already. In my son's school, those who are good at mathematics will take GCSEs a year early and then go on to do an AS-level. They will therefore have pocketed that before reaching sixth-form college and have that ability to move ahead.

The 14 to 19 curriculum will also enable broader undertakings. It may take time, but I hope that we eventually have examination systems and timings that suit pupils and their achievement level, rather than operating as a metronomic schedule by which pupils face examinations at the end of each of the last four years of school. All exams should be rather like music exams, which pupils take when they are ready. It is extremely difficult to get one's head round how schools can be organised and timetabled to do that. However, if we move in that direction, schools will be offered much greater flexibility.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that we have to look very carefully at how we measure and restrict schools. Any form of measurement over time tends to affect schools' behaviour, so that they teach to succeed in that measurement rather than simply to teach pupils. I have developed an increasing loathing for the requirement that GCSEs be administered to pupils at 16 and not to pupils in a given year group. That is making it very difficult for kids who are dropping a year behind to find a school that will let them drop a year behind. Such pupils count as part of the school's statistics but have no results, causing real problems in competitive environments such as London.

It is a particular problem when the system provides a totally arbitrary cut-off date to determine pupils' year placement. One day's difference can put a kid in a different year group. If a kid just makes it into the higher year group but is one half year behind in development, he would be much better in the lower year group. However, that cannot be done, and schools will not do it because of the effect on league table results. That inflexibility has long persisted in league tables, and the matter should really be examined. It is starting to cause regular and idiotic problems. We need to be flexible on such matters and ensure that our way of measuring has an effect.

I shall be fascinated to see the effect of value-added league tables when they are introduced. They offer great potential for broadening people's appreciation of what happens in schools. They will affect the way in which schools teach in relation to measurement, particularly at the end of primary school when every extra point in a pupil's grade is the measure of the primary school's achievement and is essentially subtracted from the secondary school's achievement. There will be much tension in that respect.

We should be flexible in these matters. We should not become attached to rigid measurements. We should always consider what is good for the pupil rather than what is good for the system. I hope that that is the direction in which we move.

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

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I should like to echo the words of the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Lucas, that flexibility is a thoroughly good thing. We welcome any flexibility that can be introduced into the national curriculum. That is why we very much welcome the broadening of the concept of earned autonomy—which I think addresses some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. We now have a commitment to earned autonomy which is to start in a large number of schools and which is to be rolled out to almost all schools within a five-year period. That is a major achievement on the part of this House in terms of improving the Bill as it has progressed through the House. I am absolutely delighted that we have done so.

The big problem with targets is, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned, that when you set up a target there are all kinds of unintended consequences in terms of the way in which people react to it. One does have to be careful about that. Our world is now too dominated by targets—the more we can get rid of, the better.

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) 5:30, 26 June 2002

My Lords, it will surprise no one to hear that I was not quite sure how to respond to this group of amendments. I wish that we could spend an afternoon debating the issue rather than discussing it as part of the Report stage of a Bill. I believe that we would discover a great deal of common ground on the matter and have the chance to explore it in greater detail. I hope that my noble friend will recognise that my remarks will be reasonably brief but that does not mean that I would not wish to discuss the issue at far greater length when opportunities present themselves in your Lordships' House and, indeed, in the tearoom.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that we have re-examined all the current possibilities as regards exemption, for example, disapplication. That remains possible and would be used in the way that the noble Baroness described and also in other ways.

Like my noble friend Lord Peston, I am a huge fan of the national curriculum. It has been an important development, particularly as regards ensuring that girls do not follow one set of subjects and boys another, as was the case when I was at school. If for no other reason than that—I could give plenty of other reasons—I remain a fan of the national curriculum. It is important that we are careful about what we do in that area although we wish to retain flexibility.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred quite rightly to our discussions on earned autonomy. I have no desire to rehearse those. I entirely agree with her that we have debated at great length part of what my noble friend seeks. I also agree with her that we have improved the Bill in that context.

I should like to spend a few moments talking about the young man to whom my noble friend referred and the need for flexibility in regard to individual children. It is important that we develop the opportunities for all our children to have the education that works best for them. That applies to children whom we classify as gifted and talented, to children who have learning difficulties and to children with an aptitude or a desire to learn based on particular interests and so on. In other words, we educate all our children and take them as far as we possibly can within a broad education that recognises the individual.

As regards the young man who was mentioned, I refer to what I describe as the continuum of education. That involves expertise that might, for example, exist within some of our special schools for children who have particular difficulties and particular problems. That support should be available in special schools, mainstream schools or in a mixture of both to enable children to get the support that they need. I entirely agree with my noble friend that innovation, and the power to innovate that is contained in the Bill, concerns all children. We look to schools to consider innovation in terms of children across the spectrum of ability and of need. Such innovation may affect some children who do not get from the education system what we would wish them to get.

I turn to the specific amendments we are discussing. To begin with Amendments Nos. 114 and 115, the arrangements for assessing pupils at the end of the key stages consist of national tests and teacher assessments. I say to my noble friend Lord Peston that teacher assessment is an essential part of these arrangements and the outcomes of the assessments are reported alongside the test results. The two have equal status and provide complementary information about children's attainment. While the tests provide the inevitable snapshot of a child's attainment, teacher assessment, carried out as part of teaching and learning, covers the full range and scope of the programmes of study. It is intended to take account of evidence of achievement in a range of contexts, including that gained through discussion and observation. For children working at levels 1 and 2—the lowest national curriculum levels—teacher assessment provides the sole means of statutory assessment. That is an important point.

I believe that there is already a good deal of flexibility in the system. It is for each teacher already to use their professional judgment to determine both the method for assessing and the actual attainment level that each pupil corresponds with.

I know, of course, that there is an argument that national testing in some way reduces the potential for teachers to make their own judgment. I can understand that concern. But we think it is right that in our core subjects and at key points in a child's learning, parents, pupils and teachers should have a national standard against which to measure attainment. I do not believe that that reduces teacher flexibility; rather it complements it by ensuring that consistent standards are applied across the country.

We talk about how many times children are tested. We are discussing with schools how often that is appropriate. As noble Lords will know, there are tests at key stage 1, the results of which are not published, at key stage 2, the results of which are published, at key stage 3 at the age of 14 and at GCSE. Those are the key tests up to the age of 16. I, too, welcome value-added league tables. I am responsible for those within the department. It is important to understand that although they will not provide a solution to everything, they will enable us to determine which schools are genuinely adding value between different stages, which schools do well with children they should do well with in any event, and also to identify schools which may be coasting a little.

I also recognise that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, the 14 to 19 strategy provides real opportunities that we shall have to explore. We need to consider how we measure attainment and how we publish that information. I believe that parents expect to have information and expect to be able to find it. I understand the point that the noble Lord made with regard to flexibility in the matter of testing. I am pleased to tell him that we are considering that matter and ensuring that we keep these matters under constant review.

I now turn to Amendment No. 116. I do not believe that the programmes of study constitute a straitjacket. Teachers are not prevented from covering areas not set down within the programmes of study. As long as the programmes of study are covered, it is for teachers to determine what additional matters and materials they want to introduce into the classroom. And they can tackle the programmes of study at an appropriate pace for children. We are giving schools greater freedom to accelerate through them if that is what their pupils need. But we do want to be sure—this brings us back to earned autonomy—that any school taking on greater freedom is able to use it well and in the best interests of its pupils.

I hope that at some stage we may have a longer debate on this issue. However, I hope that I have said enough to make my noble friend feel that he is able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Peston Lord Peston Labour

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their extremely interesting contributions. I do not disagree—I do not suppose that any of us do—with the need to estimate averages and totals within schools to assess performance. I simply make the point which I believe that my noble friend the Minister made; namely, that any child should be able to ask—no matter what the score for the school is—what about me as an individual? I apologise to noble Lords because, as was rightly said, we could debate this matter at great length and could spend many hours so doing. However, the trouble is that we do not have many hours to spend on it. The Report stage of the Bill is about the only opportunity that I have had to raise the matter.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in case she did not understand the point—although I am sure that she did—that I am not arguing that the national curriculum should be regarded as inappropriate for some young people. I do not think that she would argue that, either. My point is exactly the reverse: that the national curriculum is appropriate but that it must be applied in different ways for different young people.

Finally, I point out how taken I am with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that it would be much better if we assessed people when it was right for them to be assessed and did not say, "On this day of this month you will be assessed on everything that you do". No sensible business enterprise would run itself that way; why our schools have to do so is completely beyond me. We may discuss that issue on another day when a different Bill is before us.

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, which have heartened me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 115 and 116 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 116A:

After Clause 77, insert the following new clause—

"FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE BEFORE THE FOUNDATION STAGE

The Secretary of State may give or make arrangements for the giving of financial assistance to any parent or other person for or in connection with the education or preparation for school of a child prior to his attaining the "relevant time" as defined in section 77(2)"

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 121D. I grouped the amendments because they both deal with the early years, which is a crucial period in a child's development when the brain is being prepared for education.

Dealing with Amendment No. 116A, in her reply to a similar amendment in Committee, the Minister drew attention to the Government's commitment to young children and their parents. She referred to the Government's Sure Start initiatives and the Early Years partnership. As promised, she kindly arranged for me to be briefed on Sure Start and its progress. I was extremely impressed by what I learnt about what Sure Start is doing. It is a multidimensional and holistic programme and there is consultation with parents and professionals. I understand that evaluation is beginning to show some results in the areas in which the programme is working well.

The problem is this: when this phase of the Sure Start programme is rolled out completely in 2004, still only one-third of the nation's children in poverty will be covered by it; two-thirds will not be covered. I say in parenthesis that not all children living in poverty are necessarily in need of support and some children living in rich households may need support. Bearing in mind the huge dividends in terms of physical and emotional health and educational potential, which can be achieved by improving the environment in which a young child grows up during his or her first three years, it is surely extremely short-sighted not to roll out the Sure Start programme more quickly.

If the best way to raise families out of poverty is to bring them into employment, surely investment in the child's early years is doubly important because it enables the mother to go out to work earlier. That is good for the mother and the child.

I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that she and her right honourable friend the Secretary of State will fight as they have never fought before to persuade the Treasury that investment in the very early years is the best investment that it could possibly make.

I turn to Amendment No. 121D. I can be fairly brief because the Minister wrote to me indicating certain assurances that she is likely to feel able to give from the Dispatch Box. On the basis of those assurances, I should accept that the matter had been sufficiently addressed and would not press the amendment. I shall not delay the House for more than a moment because I set out the details of the case in Committee. For the benefit of anyone who was not in Committee then or who cannot remember the issues, I shall summarise my argument in a couple of sentences.

The Soho Family Centre operates an innovative and highly successful centre in Soho, where a group of childminders care for children in premises that are specially equipped for the purpose and shared between them. Ofsted, which recently took over the inspection of such facilities, decided that the Soho Family Centre falls foul of the law in that technically it does not operate in domestic premises, which is a requirement relating to childminders. It felt that it could not turn a blind eye to that technical infringement (Westminster council had done so for many years), and it seemed probable that the centre would have to close.

My noble friend Lady Howe and I were deeply concerned about that for two reasons. First, it would be a great pity if that important facility were closed down. Secondly, it is an exciting and innovative experiment and it would be a great loss if the formula that it has evolved were lost for ever. Under the arrangements that I hope that Minister will advance, the possibility of expanding the formula that the Soho Family Centre has developed would become a reality. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 5:45, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment and to discuss the Soho centre. Both of these amendments and those in the following group, which appear in the name of my noble friend Lord Northbourne, should have had my name attached to them. However, I am afraid that a mistake was made and it was omitted.

I turn to the foundation stage. Amendment No. 116A would ensure that educational finance and other resources can be made available in appropriate circumstances even when—this is the point about the very young generation—the child in question who is under three is not at that stage being provided with nursery education, as defined in Clause 77(2). It is about tackling from every angle the "cycle of deprivation", which, as I have said on another occasion during the passage of the Bill, has been with us for generation after generation and for far too long. The purpose is to ensure that helpful intervention with deprived families can begin at that earliest possible moment, so that by the time the child concerned reaches compulsory school age, his or her chances of benefiting fully from the educational process will be considerably enhanced. I hope that the Minister will assure noble Lords that the ethos that lies behind the amendment can be accepted.

As the Minister knows, I have considerable admiration for the initiatives that the Government are already undertaking to tackle family deprivation. I was at the briefing that was given to my noble friend Lord Northbourne. There is very little doubt that those initiatives—early excellence centres, neighbourhood nurseries and Sure Start—will be successful. We are all eagerly awaiting assessment and dissemination of the results. With the Minister herself involved, in co-operation with health and social services, in the delivery of those plans, I have little doubt that the will and the necessary resources to succeed will be there. However, as is so often pointed out in your Lordships' House, Ministers, however good, come and go. I therefore hope that the amendment will make certain, by spelling it out in black and white in the Bill, that the department's resources can be made available in the pursuit of those valuable educational objectives if other current sources of funding, from health and social services departments, are diverted to other priorities.

I turn to the Soho centre. The concern was to ensure beyond doubt that, while more appropriate new legislation is being devised, centres that are similar to that in Soho can continue their valuable work. I shall not repeat what my noble friend Lord Northbourne said. We saw for ourselves the excellent work that is done for the children and the help, guidance and encouragement that child experts provide to the childminders to improve standards and their qualifications.

The centre has been providing this excellent service in the locality for some time. As we know, it is regarded by many experts as an example of best practice worthy of replication in similar areas where space is at a premium. Frankly, it would be a travesty if the Soho centre were forced to close because of a recent legal interpretation by local authorities that activities conducted on non-domestic premises cannot be defined as "childminding".

Therefore, I hope very much that the Minister can spell out unequivocally that the Soho centre, subject to its continuing work of this very high quality, will be able to continue under its present financial arrangements. If that is so, surely it is unlikely that there will be a need for the amendment to be pursued further.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I rise to support the spirit of both amendments. However, I understand that the Minister may tell us that Clause 13 gives the Government all the powers that they need in order to carry out what the first amendment seeks to achieve.

The House will know that I am very supportive of any measures to—at the risk of being drummed out of the House by the noble Lord, Lord Peston; I know that he hates the phrase—level the playing field. It is most important that we do so, in particular, at the pre-school stage. If the Government ensure that children benefit fully from their education when eventually they reach that stage, that will be a very good investment. Therefore, I call upon the Minister to make available more Sure Start programmes so that all children who could eventually benefit from such services receive them. I also support calls to ensure that the good work of the Soho centre does not have to end.

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

My Lords, I, too, rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. The noble Baroness sent a very helpful letter to the noble Lord, and I understand that she will place much of it on the record for the purposes of this amendment. However, perhaps the noble Baroness will incorporate in her response the reply to some other questions.

On the first page of the letter is a commitment that the Government will, in principle, support models of childcare, such as the Soho centre model, and address the whole issue of domestic and non-domestic premises. The letter states that,

"we would not want the legal or regulatory framework to prevent the development of such arrangements".

My understanding is that they do so at present.

The second indent in that part of the letter states that,

"the primary legislation does not need to be amended to accommodate such arrangements".

However, on the second page, where the noble Baroness refers to having debated the amendment in Committee, the letter states that she,

"argued that the wording proposed made a fundamental change to the childcare definitions in the Children Act".

Therefore, either it is a fundamental problem or it is not. It seems to me that there is a difference in concept between what is said on the first and second pages of the letter.

It is a silly demarcation arrangement. I do not believe that anyone in this House would say that a way does not need to be found and that, frankly, it needs to be found quickly in order to allow the provision of the Soho Family Centre to continue. The fact that a person working in the Soho Family Centre is technically a childminder should not get in the way.

Therefore, with all the promises that have been made to look again at the regulations, at the definition of "childminder" and at the definitions of "domestic" and "non-domestic" premises, and with all the other reviews that are taking place of the Children Act and of the state of the law as it stands at present, it would be helpful to know whether the Soho Family Centre will be allowed to continue legitimately from this moment with the full blessing of the Government. It would also be helpful to know that there will be no visit from the inspectorate to say that what the centre is doing is contrary to the law.

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 begin by addressing Amendment No. 116A. I am very grateful for all the comments made by noble Lords about the Sure Start programme. I shall ensure that those responsible for the programme have sight of those comments in Hansard. I believe it is important to give those people the recognition that they deserve. I agree with every noble Lord who has called for the programme to be extended. I shall talk about that in a moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is absolutely right. Sure Start has been the main route by which we have approached the issues about which the noble Lord has greatest concern. It is a cornerstone of the Government's drive to tackle child poverty and social exclusion. Noble Lords who are not familiar with the programme may like to know that it works with parents-to-be, parents and children to promote the physical, intellectual and social development of babies and children under the age of four, and in particular those who are disadvantaged, so that they can flourish at home and when they get to school. In that way, it breaks the cycle of disadvantage for the current generation of young children.

We set up local Sure Start programmes to improve services for families with children under the age of four. Good practice is spread from local programmes to everyone involved in providing services for young children. In particular, the programmes have been extremely successful in involving parents in managing the scheme. They work closely between the areas of health, education and social care to enable services to—if I may use the term—"join up" most effectively to support parents and young children.

The success of the programme is measured by looking at the level of reduction in smoking among young mothers, at the birth weight of babies and at practical and measurable outcomes for such children. Evaluation is under way. However, I say to noble Lords who are as keen as I am to see the evaluation that whether or not the programme works will become apparent later when the children are educated. Therefore, although we are looking for measurables now, I am also keen that we look for measurables when the children are older. The proof of its success will be apparent in that.

We wanted 500 programmes to be in place by 2004. By the end of May this year, 522 programmes had been announced. When those 522 programmes are up and running, they will reach 400,000 children under the age of four. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, that includes one-third of children under the age of four who live in poverty in England. I accept absolutely that reaching one-third of children in poverty means that we do not reach two-thirds of those children. As noble Lords will be aware, the vast majority of poor children do not live in deprived areas; they live all over the country in every conceivable kind of community.

We have been considering how to ensure that we have a blueprint within the programme—that is, a mainstreaming programme. In a sense, the mainstreaming of Sure Start is the next big area that we shall develop. It includes looking at what we call the "Mini Sure Start" programme—bolting a Sure Start programme on to Early Years and childcare partnerships work. It also includes looking at the role of integrated centres in childcare, Early Years and Sure Start to provide all the different types of provision that we want. In addition, it means focusing on rural communities. There, we need to examine how we can work closely with families who, due to the nature of rural communities, are spread over a distance. Of course, it also means providing an opportunity for all local authorities which are responsible for social care and education to build on a Sure Start model as part and parcel of what they do.

Therefore, we are looking very seriously at how to roll out what, from the early signs, we consider to be a very successful programme. As noble Lords may be aware, I am chairing the childcare review—the inter-ministerial group—on behalf of the Government. These issues form a large part of the work that we are carrying out as part of that review, and they are being pushed forward to the Comprehensive Spending Review. I hardly need to say to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that we consider these issues to be most important.

In terms of Ministers coming and going, I accept that one day I shall be gone. However, I believe that the programme indicates a genuine commitment across government. I know the value that Sure Start has and I know the esteem in which the programme is held across government. On the steering group relating to the programme are ministerial representatives from many different government departments. They have all expressed their support. Therefore, I believe that the programme is valuable and highly recognised. It is, indeed, a cornerstone of the Government's policy.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is right; there is provision for this in Clause 13. We have the power to give financial assistance for the provision of education for pre-school children. That will enable resources to be made available to prepare children for school.

We have taken steps to ensure that the scope of the clause is wide enough to fund the education elements of Sure Start or, indeed, other programmes—this need not refer only to Sure Start but, as I said, Sure Start is important—through the Education Bill. Therefore, there would be no additional benefit gained by the inclusion of the amendment. I hope that on that basis, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw it.

I turn to Amendment 121D. I am grateful for the comments made by noble Lords who received copies of my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, regarding the provision of childminding facilities at the Soho Family Centre. I have spent a great deal of time considering the issues and am happy to put on the record a few assurances that I hope will be relevant and of benefit to the noble Lord, to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and to other noble Lords.

I confirm that in principle the Soho Family Centre model is an attractive one, particularly for some of our disadvantaged communities. The idea of allowing childminders, whose own homes are unsuitable premises for childcare, to use instead non-domestic premises seems eminently sensible. There is an issue about who would take responsibility for ensuring that the premises are suitable if more than one childminder is involved. However, aside from that, we believe that this is worth careful consideration.

Secondly, I confirm that there is nothing in current primary legislation to prevent this type of childcare being established. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, the nature of the wording of the amendment, not the principle behind it, created the problem to which I alluded in my letter. The difficulty at present is that the national standards and associated secondary legislation is not geared towards this kind of day care. However, we have a solution in sight. Given our commitment to review the national standards and related secondary legislation next year, we shall consult, as we always do—it is right and proper that we always consult on such issues—on the standards and shall ensure that the Soho Family Centre is involved in that consultation. It will be important in that review to acknowledge that new forms of childcare are emerging, matching the needs of children, parents and their communities to ensure that the standards are appropriate.

Thirdly, I am keen to ensure that the Soho Family Centre is able to continue its valuable service to the local community without changing the ethos of the arrangements or making the service too expensive for parents because of the additional training obligations and costs of employing childminders.

I can report that Maggie Smith, Ofsted's Early Years director, visited the Soho Family Centre on 11th June and that a possible way forward has been discussed. I confirm that if the centre proceeds with the suggested approach or a similar day care registration proposal, it will not be closed down by Ofsted, nor will it be forced into a substantial change in its finances or ethos.

The proposed approach is to register the childminding service as group day care provision on the basis of the childminders agreeing to work together as a co-operative. It is clearly important to the centre that they preserve the current ethos. Ofsted colleagues will be working with the centre to achieve that. I understand that the next step is for the centre to produce an action plan by September for discussion with Ofsted.

It has been argued that a change from childminder registration to day care registration could make it impossible for the childminders to remain self-employed. Neither the national standards nor Ofsted would require a change in employment status. I understand that the tax authorities will take into account the facts of the working arrangements rather than any pre-conceived notion that childminders are always self-employed and day care workers are always employed.

We have been in touch with the Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership and I can confirm that there are ways in which the transition to day care registration might be supported, both financially and otherwise, in the event that additional costs are incurred.

In conclusion, I hope that I have reassured the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. As I explained, the wider implications of the proposed amendment are far reaching. We want to see a full review. We recognise that when we review the standards under secondary legislation, these will be important issues. Our view is that existing primary legislation allows us to register the kind of service that the Soho Family Centre offers, whether on domestic or non-domestic premises. That includes similar types of provision for people whose domestic circumstances prevent them from being registered as formal childminders.

I undertake that we shall review the national standards and associated legislation next year to ensure that the requirements and framework for childcare regulations are able to accommodate the many different kinds of childcare which parents find valuable, including innovative schemes that do not readily fit the historic patterns of provision.

In the mean time I am confident that we have found a way forward with the centre which means that it will not be forced into radical change which would threaten its viability. I commit that we shall do all that we can to support the centre through any changes which might be necessary in order to maximise the value of the service to the children and parents it serves and to the local community. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 6:00, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her encouraging reply about the Soho Family Centre. I should like to read the details, but I cannot think that we could have asked for more. I am sure that the various people involved will be pleased. Much more importantly, the opportunity for that kind of venture to be replicated will remain open.

As regards Amendment No. 116A, I am grateful for the assurance given by the Minister that powers exist to make the kind of investment which I had envisaged in Early Years. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that I do not believe that Clause 13 provides such powers. I assume that the Minister has some other powers up her sleeve. If the Minister is prepared for somebody to write to me to tell me what they are, I should be grateful. I shall not move Amendment No. 121D. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 116A.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 80 [Curriculum requirements for first, second and third key stages]:

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 116B:

Page 53, line 41, after "citizenship" insert "including the opportunities and responsibilities of parenthood and family life"

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, Amendment No. 116B concerns preparing young people for parenthood. Citizenship education is about learning to be a good citizen. There is probably no single more important role which a citizen performs in his or her life than bringing up his or her children. Those children are the nation's future.

Until the age of three, the nurture and education of the vast majority of children is the responsibility of their parents. Even when a child reaches full-time education, it will spend approximately only 28 per cent of its waking hours in school. The other 72-odd per cent depends, at least for young children, on the parents.

A large and increasing body of research shows that the social environment in which a child spends its early years is highly significant for that child's physical and emotional health and for his or her future achievement in education and employment. Why, then, is the role of being a parent—arguably the most important job that most of us will ever do in our lives—the only job for which we offer young people no preparation? A significant minority of children today come to the important job of parenting without the slightest idea of how to tackle it. Sadly, a number have had no experience of appropriate parenting or of a happy, supportive family life.

Many of us hoped that the Government would take advantage of the introduction of the new citizenship curriculum to confirm and endorse the role of schools in preparing young people for the job of parenthood in future. I confess that schools may not be the ideal place to do that job, but if it is not done in schools, where else will it be done?

In 1997 the Gulbenkian Foundation published a report of an important experiment in parenting education which took place in five schools in Manchester and was carried out by Phil Hope, who has since become a Member of Parliament in another place. A non-stigmatising, non-judgmental scheme of work was developed. It was a great success and was much appreciated by the pupils.

In 2000, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority carried out a survey of children to find out what they wanted from the curriculum. The answer came back that among other things they wanted help with financial affairs and managing money, and the opportunity to consider the implications of parenthood in future.

In 2001 Ofsted produced a report—a rather dashing red report—entitled Sex and Relationship Education in Schools, which urged that education in preparation for parenthood should be a mandatory subject in schools. The object of education for parenthood is not to lecture children about some magic way of being a perfect parent, but to give them help to do what they want to do, which is to give their future children the best start in life that they can.

The programme of parenting education is not about stigmatising teenage mothers, single parents or any other group; nor is it about any single right way of being a parent. It is, quite simply, about helping young people to have the confidence to do what they want to do—that is, to do the best that they can for their children. There is plenty of evidence that that is possible.

Under those circumstances, I am sorry to have to report that the Department for Education and Skills' scheme for the study of the citizenship curriculum at no point mentions parents or preparation for parenthood. The scheme specifically refers to responsibilities in the workplace and in the community but not to those of parenthood. I ask the Minister specifically: why are future citizens' responsibilities in the workplace more important than their responsibility for raising the next generation of the nation's children?

Even in the non-mandatory framework for the PSHE curriculum, there is no mention of preparation for parenthood. There is a mention of marriage and several of relationships. They are both important, but they are only a small part of the parenthood subject. Do the Government really believe that preparation for parenthood is so unimportant that it should be left out even of the non-mandatory PSHE framework?

There is ample good material and experience available to show how this subject can be taught effectively. The department have kindly sent me about 2.5 kilos of material on the subject. That material is prepared by voluntary organisations. It is very good, but it will not carry the same weight with schools as a statutory curriculum or a statutory framework. In an overcrowded curriculum it will get edged out—let us be realistic—or it will get put in the "too difficult" tray.

The single most effective way that the Government could overcome the current problems in schools—disruption in the classroom, violence, opting out of learning, exclusion and teacher shortages, the ways in which society fails the 20 per cent of children in school referred to the other day by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing—would be to improve the environment in which disadvantaged young children grow up in a small minority of the nation's homes. That means helping and encouraging parents.

I ask the question: why are the Government not prepared to start helping prospective parents while they are still at school? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne said. I have an interest to declare. I am heavily involved in a charity called Safeground, which is working with the DfES and the Prison Service to produce an extensive education pack for prisoners on parenting. It received a very good review from NFER in its evaluation. It is immensely popular with the prisoners because these young men know how much they are missing. They can see what has gone wrong but they do not know what to do to get it right. They are desperate that their own children should not suffer from the kind of deprivation which lies in so many in their backgrounds.

However, for 25 year-old men in prison it is leaving it a bit late. If those men had been given a taste of the enjoyment that can be derived from bringing up a family and had been taught how to develop and enjoy a relationship with their children, it would not only have enriched them enormously and perhaps provided them with a considerable motivation not to end up in prison, but it would have given their own children a much better start in life in the time that they were with their fathers before they went to prison. Surely that must be a crucially important thing to do. If one recognises the value of doing that with prisoners, one can surely recognise the value of providing that opportunity much earlier in schools.

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about the relative importance of relationships in the family and at work. If one makes a mess of relationships at work one goes and gets another job. I suspect that that has happened to many of us. But with families one gets one chance. If one gets it wrong, one leaves other people behind in a great deal of pain and distress. It is much more important to talk about families than to talk about work. I hope that the Government will make a change and align their priorities with those of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 6:15, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I also support everything that my noble friend Lord Northbourne has said on the subject. It is crucial, not only for young people who come from deprived areas but for everyone, that proper attention is paid at an early enough age to the important responsibilities, as well as opportunities and joys, that parenthood can bring. Frankly, that applies whether the subject of citizenship is taught as a discrete subject or absorbed into other curriculum subjects by the school concerned.

I, too, thank the Minister for the several tonnes of material that have been sent. It helped to give one an idea of the range of issues that were intended to be covered by the course of citizenship which becomes compulsory from September. I am reassured that, in several of the areas where I had concerns, the course contents—depending on the age or key stage when they are taught—deal with contemporary issues, some of them in a very realistic and helpful way. For example, the media literacy content—a crucial subject in today's world, and one for which Ofcom, I note, is also to have responsibility for imparting to adult citizens—is designed, rightly, to instil a proper degree of scepticism in young people as to the motives behind the message or the image being communicated.

Tolerance—and, indeed, more than that, an interest in and respect for other people's views, cultures and religious beliefs or lack of them—is also of paramount importance for the hugely multicultural world in which we live. When one thinks that in London alone no less than 300 different languages are spoken, the value of discussing those issues is clear.

However, alas, as my noble friend Lord Northbourne has pointed out, little attention is placed on the crucial responsibilities and duties, as well as delights, of becoming a parent, which most young people are almost certain to become in their turn. I am for encouraging young people "to do what they want to do", as my noble friend said, but they also have duties and responsibilities to the community in ensuring, for example, that their children go to school and take advantage of education to fit them for the adult world.

Equally, parental duties apply to both sexes—to boys as dads at least as much as to girls as mothers. Although I am reassured to see that the whole issue of equal opportunities and the changing role of women at work is also covered in the curriculum, I am less sure that there is enough emphasis on the need to share duties at home more fairly than in the past, and especially that there is not enough emphasis on parental duties and responsibilities.

With your Lordships' indulgence, I should like to make one last point on the subject. Although it will be September before the citizenship course begins, I very much hope that there are plans in place to monitor what happens and how the course is received. Feedback will be essential in learning how pupils are reacting to the course and also in learning lessons from those schools which are particularly successful in getting these important messages across. There can be nothing more important in today's world than ensuring the best possible way of fitting young people for the very complicated world into which they will emerge as adults.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support the amendments and agree with noble Lords who said that parenting was probably the most important job that we would ever do. Unfortunately, none of us ever does it right. Even those of us, like myself, who were set a good example of how to do it by our parents, look back on the way in which we brought up our children and know that we made mistakes. I had a relatively privileged background and was set an excellent example, but I made mistakes. How much more important is it that we help young people who have not been set such a good example by their parents to learn how to avoid replicating problems in every generation?

We know that, like problems such as sexual or physical abuse, bad parenting replicates itself in every generation. Efforts to ensure that young people are prepared for the difficulties of parenting and are armed with strategies to help them to bring up their children well represent a good investment. I look forward to hearing the Minister tell us how it will be done. I cannot believe that she will not tell us, in some form or other, that the opportunity offered by the citizenship curriculum and by the possible development of the personal and social education curriculum will not be grasped. We know that good parenting is important, and we must not replicate the problems.

Photo of Lord Quirk Lord Quirk Crossbench

My Lords, I support what was said by my noble friends Lord Northbourne and Lady Howe of Idlicote and by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I have not come across it in prisons, but in young offenders institutions. A high proportion—about 60 per cent—of people in young offenders institutions have had a bad domestic experience. Some of them have talked to me about their confusion and about how they had never learnt how better to carry out the job of parenting. How would they, as 16 and 17 year-olds, learn to do it when they got out?

I support the spirit of the amendment. However, the face of the Bill is not the right place in which to realise the aim of the amendment. It would be better to change the DfES document that defines citizenship to extend it beyond the workplace to that highly important area, the home.

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

My Lords, I come at this from a slightly different angle. It is impossible ever to argue against the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. His concern about these matters is second to none, and we all want to think that we could, by some means, achieve what the noble Lord wants to achieve.

I shall repeat a point that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and I have made many times. There are many children—a growing number—for whom school is the only anchor in their life. Home is not an anchor, and their domestic situation is often chaotic. There is a problem. As a Home Office Minister, I met young people in probation centres or—worse—prison cells and could see the opportunities that they had lost so early in their life. I can remember at least one White Paper that identified all the signs, from disruption of classes by small children through to pupils dropping out of secondary school and standing around on street corners, getting involved in petty crime and, then, more serious crime. At the time, it was called the classroom-to-the-prison-cell syndrome, and it was common.

I am concerned at the way in which the curriculum works. Once a subject has been declared to be either a core subject or a foundation subject, civil servants or others are set to work to determine programmes of study, taking a view about what must be taught and what must be included. They will have something to say about the methodology and more to say about assessment and examination. That is where there is a difficulty.

There are strong feelings about whether teachers should be judgmental about lifestyles. Some people ask whether we should expect teachers to preach about desirable forms of behaviour and about right and wrong. I have some fairly old-fashioned views about that, and I have been shot down in flames in the Chamber many times for being rather narrow and prissy about such things. However, to say that a particular approach shall be the way for all children in all schools and that teachers will teach such programmes of study would be to create a practical problem of delivery. What will be the state's view—for we are talking about state education—of family life and the responsibilities of parenting? I do not know the answer to that.

The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, said that the Bill was, perhaps, the wrong place for the change. If that is so, it might be that the work could be left to a combination of voluntary bodies. In the prisons, there are some wonderful organisations—the Society of Voluntary Associates is one— that work to bring order to the chaos in people's lives.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I am concerned about citizenship, for many of the reasons for which I am concerned about family responsibilities and parenting. I have no concerns about the objective, but I have real concerns about practical deliverability.

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 agree with, I think, every noble Lord who has spoken. The most important job that one does in life is being a parent. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that we do it knowing that we will make mistakes. Indeed, our children will remind us of those mistakes—frequently, in my experience. It is an important area.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, that our children grow up in a complicated world. It seems to me that it becomes more complicated every year, which may be a sign of my age. All noble Lords recognise the importance of ensuring that we offer our young people the opportunity to learn as much as they can about their responsibilities. Many children get their knowledge and information from watching their parents, and they will do well by that, whatever mistakes they may continue to make.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in particular, that there are many ways and many opportunities to talk to people about parenting. I understand and agree with the focus on our young people, but I think that it is important that, wherever we can, we work with people of all ages to improve and enhance their parenting abilities. I pay tribute to the noble Lord for the work that he does. It is also a fundamental part of the Sure Start programme, which helps parents-to-be to become better parents and supports, in particular, those who live in disadvantaged areas, not because they are worse parents, but because they face more difficulties. Parenting orders are useful when children are out of control and parents need guidance and support. We are dealing with many areas of life, about which we are of one mind. We want people to be good parents, whatever definition of "good" we use, and we want to support them.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about the 2.5 kilograms of material that we sent to him, and for the 2.5 tonnes that we sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. However, it is important to ensure that we provide as much information as possible and that everyone knows how much there is.

I take issue with one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said about the role of the voluntary sector. I am a huge fan of the voluntary sector's work in many areas—as, I know, are the noble Lord, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and other noble Lords. The voluntary sector plays a crucial role in providing material to many different organisations and institutions, including schools. We should credit it for the work that it does. We as a department—I am sure that this applied to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, during her time at the department—support organisations that can provide information to schools, as well as doing it ourselves. We are not always the best people to do that. It is important to make that clear.

I shall take the two amendments together. It is important that we give pupils opportunities to learn about responsibilities, whether moral, social, parental or as citizens. That is central to citizenship education at key stages 3 and 4. We set out the statutory requirements for the subject and the programme for study, which is based on the order that we laid on 23rd June 2000, will ensure that from September, pupils will learn about the rights and responsibilities that underpin society. They build on current provision for key stages 1, 2 and 3, so that pupils can consolidate their learning.

As at key stage 3, pupils at key stage 4 will continue to learn about responsibility, which includes parental responsibility, as a tangible, everyday concept. That will complement the framework for personal, social and health education. Perhaps I may give your Lordships some examples of that provision. It provides for pupils to be taught at key stage 2 about the different types of relationships, including marriage and those between friends and families, and to develop the skills to be effective in relationships. At key stage 3, it teaches about the roles and feelings of parents and carers and the value of family life, and at key stage 4 about the nature and importance of marriage for family life and bringing up children, as well as the role and responsibilities of a parent, the qualities of good parenting and its value to family life.

The citizenship programme encourages teaching through discussion of issues of national relevance—such as teenage pregnancy—in greater depth, and learning about individual and parental responsibilities as well as public interest issues. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that that understanding is vital if our young people are to fulfil their social responsibilities as adults and as parents.

As noble Lords will be aware, the role of the national curriculum is to set the broad framework that helps schools to provide a broad and balanced education for all pupils. The Government believe that preparing young people for the role and responsibilities of family life is just as important as preparing them for civic responsibility in the workplace or the wider community. We should not, however, expect schools to usurp parental responsibility in the home. Parents are for most children the principal providers of guidance about parenting and family life.

So we believe that the programmes of study for citizenship at key stages 3 and 4 are the right places to define the scope of teaching. Noble Lords may want to note a specific example in the schemes of work sent to all secondary schools in which, while exploring the concept of rights and responsibilities, pupils are encouraged to identify what kinds of roles they will have—for example, a family member or community member—and what rights, responsibilities and skills will be useful to them as they take on those roles.

We want schools to have the freedom to explore with young people a broad range of issues about which we would all want them to behave responsibly as adults. Alongside the PSHE framework, pupils are already being taught about the opportunities and responsibilities of parenthood and family life. We attach great importance to that, and to ensuring that at every other opportunity we can work with young people—and older people—for whom parenting issues are crucial. That is why there is provision for schools within citizenship to be able to teach about social and moral responsibility. We shall continue to monitor what is happening.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising the issue. If nothing else, it has made me consider and reflect as the Minister responsible for those programmes. I undertake to endeavour to consider those issues during the coming months and to talk further with the noble Lord. No doubt we shall have the opportunity further to explore the issue. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord is reassured and will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 6:30, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that when we have time, I shall have to give her a little education about the nature of parenting courses. It is simply an illusion to think that a well designed parenting course lays down values; it is about discussing values. It lays down facts. For example, a child would probably be taught as a fact that a baby that is constantly hit develops certain characteristics that make it violent. That is a scientific fact. But when it comes to what we do about that and what people want to do about that, young people are encouraged to work out and discuss their solutions, which are often extremely intelligent and sensible. As I said, it is not about trying to dictate a perfect way of parenting because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, no such thing exists.

Turning to the Minister, I thank her very much for such encouraging and helpful remarks. But when I read the framework, it did not read like that. It simply did not say that. I wonder whether the noble Baroness could arrange for someone to show me where she finds what she described in the literature, because it sounded great. But that is not what I read in the statutory framework.

I agree that voluntary bodies have an extremely important role to play. I further agree that it is extremely important to address those issues at all ages. But the long and short of it is that school is the only time when we have the children there, except possibly in the ante-natal clinic. It must be right to make use of that opportunity to begin to encourage them to think about those issues. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 81 [Curriculum requirements for fourth key stage]:

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 117:

Page 54, line 18, at end insert "and

(d) a modern foreign language"

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench

My Lords, in rising to move this amendment to Clause 81(3), I shall speak also to Amendment No. 118 to Clause 81(2). The aim of the amendments is to ensure that the status of modern foreign language study in secondary schools for 14 to 16 year-olds is not demoted. Neither amendment is intended to insist that one size fits all. Under Clause 82, it would still remain open to the Secretary of State to amend or waive those requirements. There is no Procrustean bed here.

The intention to demote the teaching of language is much more explicitly revealed in the Green Paper on 14 to 19 education published this February. It sets out aspirations that many noble Lords will share, but its proposals for the teaching of modern foreign languages are badly matched with those aspirations. There is increasing evidence of how bad is that match. The unintended consequences of the proposal to reduce the status of modern foreign language study for 14 to 16 year-olds, leaving only 11 to 14 as compulsory years, would inflict widespread educational damage, especially to children whose schools do not have the highest academic aspirations.

There is some safety in trying to ensure that the modern foreign language remains part of the core curriculum at key stage 4 with, as at present, a system for exempting individual pupils for whom further language study would not be feasible or educationally advantageous. Languages are not only part of a broad and balanced education, they are vocationally important in many different walks of life. They are not the preserve of an elite; they are something that every child deserves and that many will need in their future employment.

Undoubtedly, we need to teach languages better. There is no dispute on that point, but stopping teaching them will not contribute towards that end. Unfortunately, since the publication of the Green Paper on 14 to 19 education, things have moved rapidly in the languages teaching world—rapidly downhill. I declare a non-financial interest as chairman of the Nuffield Foundation, which has sponsored work on language teaching and a report on which we had a debate on a previous occasion. We have in consequence been in receipt of many comments from language teachers, head teachers and LEAs on some of the changes now taking place.

Let us have no illusions. UK language performance was already in deep trouble before the 14-19 Green Paper was published. That has nothing to do with the special status of being an English-speaking country. Let us make a comparison with the other English-speaking country in the European Union, the Republic of Ireland. More Irish than British schoolchildren take languages to school-leaving level, although the Republic's population is about one-fifteenth of the UK population, perhaps one-twelfth of the English population. I am talking about numbers, not percentages.

In 1999 in the UK 21,333 pupils took French at A-level, and 9,677 took German. In the same year in the Republic of Ireland, 36,871 pupils took French at leaving-certificate level and 10,828 took German. Since schools became aware that language teaching might be demoted to optional status at age 14, some schools have jumped the gun. One northern comprehensive with an almost entirely working-class intake has decided not to take student teachers next year because the head has already decided to make languages optional for year 10 pupils from September 2002.

Previously, all pupils at that school took a language up to GSCE, barring a handful who were disapplied in a proper way under the provisions. Next year, out of a group of 300, 10 have opted for French and 16 for German; a total of 26 out of 300 pupils. One wonders for how long a school in that situation will continue to offer both French and German.

The planning blight is galloping. It may surprise your Lordships that the decision to make languages optional was taken by the school before the consultation on the 14-19 Green Paper was complete; indeed, it had hardly begun. That was possible because the head of the curriculum division of the Department for Education and Skills issued guidance to schools on 18th February under Section 363 of the Education Act 1996, stating that while,

"it will not be possible for changes to the national curriculum to take effect until August 2004"—

—that is, after the Bill's passage; nevertheless,

"disapplication should no longer be considered exceptional provision".

It smacks of cynicism to make arrangements that undermine a subject while consultation about its reduction is in progress. What will be done if the consultation reveals strong and widespread opposition to the proposal? Will the replies to the consultation be made public? Will the damage already being done to language learning in schools and universities—including teacher training—be systematically monitored?

As we debate, the basis of opportunity for young people in England to learn any modern language is shrinking. Fewer pupils will proceed to GSCE, A-level and university. University language departments are being closed with monotonous regularity. Hardly a week goes by without a further degree scheme falling. Fewer teachers are training and entering schools, and so on in a vicious downward spiral.

None of that is necessary, and much is damaging. Above all, it damages the employment opportunities of young people educated in England. All around us, marketing and banking, airports and hotels, call centres and the legal profession, secretarial agencies and, yes, government service, need to recruit staff with language competencies. They recruit from those who were not educated in this country. Yet our young people are not given the basic competencies to enable them to work in Frankfurt or Milan.

In boom times, as we remain, that may leave people educated in the UK with sufficient opportunities, although fewer than their counterparts in other European countries. But what is to happen if the boom times end and employment levels here are less robust than in some other countries of the European Union? Young people deserve a broad, balanced education that supports and does not undermine their employment prospects. The amendment seeks to safeguard that aim. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Quirk Lord Quirk Crossbench 6:45, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I support the amendment. I was reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that when the national curriculum was introduced in 1988 one of its goals was to have common breadth— an unrealistic common breadth, we may say in retrospect—with 10 compulsory subjects. What a long way we have retreated from 1988 to Clause 81, where that common core is reduced to three.

The glaring omission which the amendment seeks to redress puzzles me in view of the Government's record on foreign language teaching. Under the Prime Minister's enthusiastic leadership, the Government have up to now strongly encouraged foreign language learning. I welcome the growth in specialist language colleges—a project with which I was associated in its early years—and the promise of "entitlement" to a foreign language at primary level at some time in the future, whatever "entitlement" will actually mean in practice.

Clause 81 seems a perversely retrograde step that is out of kilter with the general thrust of government policy and indeed perversely widens the gap between public sector schooling and the private sector, where foreign languages will not be downgraded in this way.

Of course it is easy to imagine reasons behind the Government's narrowing of the core. For example, modern language teachers are in short supply, as are those of other subjects in the core curriculum, such as science and mathematics. But EU ambassadors, under the lead of Herr von Ploetz of Germany, have assured us of help with modern language teachers. In any case, the teacher shortage—as my noble friend Lady O'Neill indicated—will be aggravated by falling numbers, which Clause 81 will guarantee; falling numbers at GSCE, A-level and undergraduate level.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, is not in her place, but Universities UK has expressed concern, as the Minister will know, at the bad effect Clause 81 is having through the closure of university language departments.

Yet another reason is the perceived lack of motivation by pupils in anglophone schools to learn a foreign language, given the grossly exaggerated belief that everyone speaks English. Ninety per cent of the world's population do not speak or understand English; a fact that seems to be fully recognised at least by the only other anglophone country in the EU, as my noble friend Lady O'Neill mentioned. In the Republic of Ireland, in proportion to our respective populations, 10 times as many pupils take school-leaving examinations at the age of 17 in German, and 20 times as many in French.

Successive Secretaries of State have rightly deplored the culture of low aspiration that pervades our secondary schools while the present narrow core in Clause 81 moves in the direction of lowering children's aspirations still further. The none-too-obscure subtext tells schools, teachers and pupils alike, "Don't even think of aspiring to the levels accepted without hesitation in the schools of Italy, France, Germany and the Republic of Ireland. While they all expect their pupils to master two foreign languages, don't you even bother to master one foreign language". That modest goal was incorporated in 1988 in the national curriculum, but 14 years on we realise that it is beyond our capability.

What a depressing and defeatist message to come from a Government pledged to improve our educational achievements and, as with health services, to bring the service up to the standards expected in the rest of the EU and widely beyond! There are to be just three years of statutory provision to have one foreign language, with the open invitation to neglect and then drop it; an invitation which, as the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, says, has already been taken on board by many secondary schools in this country.

Photo of Lord Strabolgi Lord Strabolgi Labour

My Lords, I want to say a few words in support of the amendment so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill. I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, who has done so much in this House to harry the Government about this lamentable subject.

I should declare an interest, although not a financial one, as I am president of the Franco-British Society and a former member of the Franco-British Council. The result of the picture painted by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord is most evident if one travels in France. It is unusual to see British tourists able to book a hotel room or order a meal in a restaurant in any language other than English. Many British people now go to France to live and many of them are unable to speak the language. That is not good from Franco-British relations as it causes misunderstanding.

The cultural side has not been touched on today. I think in particular of French literature, which suffers badly in translation, especially in poetry which is virtually untranslatable. An example of the decline would be in publishing. Only 40 years ago in English biographies of French authors all the quotations were given in French. At present, I suppose at the insistence of the publishers with an eye to sales, all quotations have to be given in English translation—and very flat they sound in the case of poetry. One sometimes begins to wonder what all the fuss is about.

Why cannot we provide in our schools the kind of modern language teaching which our European partners provide? Why does it have to be left to the private sector? Would it not be better to spend a little more money as they do in Europe? Why cannot we make more effort to encourage more modern language teachers from abroad to come and work here? There was a French teacher in my school and I have always been grateful to him. Why cannot we encourage retired teachers to return to teaching part-time, especially qualified language teachers?

I hope that the two amendments, which I warmly support, will be accepted by the Government.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I never want to see anyone who taught me French coming out of retirement! I loathed learning French and have always been bad at languages. That is ridiculous because in countries where people have to learn more than two languages everyone does so without any trouble at all. It is ridiculous that we find ourselves in this situation and there is much that we could and should be doing about it and I very much hope that the noble Baroness will tell us many of the things we are intending to do about it. In particular, we should begin learning languages in primary school—it should be second nature to all of us.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, perhaps noble Lords will put themselves in the shoes of the pupils in the comprehensive in the North East. What do they have to gain from learning a language? They are being asked to learn a pretty turgid curriculum which is of little relevance to anyone who expects their life to be centred in the North East of England. I very much doubt whether any of the careers staff have ever thought of suggesting or talking to pupils about jobs in France or Germany—and why not?

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Perhaps I may give him the following example. An airport in the North East is recruiting ground staff in Spain and Scandinavia because no local school leavers have the elementary language skills needed to make announcements. Language learning is not irrelevant to the employment of people who are not going on to higher education. That is one of countless examples.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, yes, but in that case perhaps we should look at the curriculum to see whether what we are including for GCSE languages has any relevance to that kind of career. From what I have seen of what my children are doing, I see nothing of relevance. From the position of those pupils, I can imagine wanting to drop languages because what I was being asked to learn was entirely boring. At age 14, you do not focus on the idea of your career as being part of a local airport ground staff.

It is necessary that effort is made in other directions, particularly by the careers departments and services at an early stage to make pupils aware of the difference it will make to have a foreign language. If we are to move to a baccalaureate system, which I would like to see, a language ought to be part of that. It should be recognised by those considering going on to higher education that they must take a language with them; that that would be part of what they were expected to bring as a portfolio into the future.

There is much that we can do other than what is proposed in the amendment. My wishes would be to go in exactly the opposite direction; to take mathematics and science out of level A because if you are not going into a career which needs mathematics or science, you have studied almost everything you need by the age of 14. Apart from in my degree, I have not in ordinary life used any mathematics that I had not learnt by the age of 14. I enjoy science, but the science knowledge that I need in everyday life I had probably learnt by the time I was 12.

The point of slimming down the core curriculum is to give us the opportunity to broaden and diversify, and to ensure that what is in the middle is the stuff that needs to be there. I believe that these subjects belong where they are going to be—that is, at the second level—but that is against the background of us as a nation needing to be 10 times better at languages. However, I do not believe that the amendment is the way to achieve that.

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

My Lords, we had a lengthy discussion on some of these issues in Committee. We then agreed that there was little difference between core and foundation subjects. Indeed, under Clause 80 modern languages is not one of the core subjects; it is one of the foundation subjects.

I understand that foundation subjects must be part of the curriculum. In terms of key stage 4, Clause 81 provides that modern foreign languages shall be a compulsory part of the curriculum. The issue which the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, rightly raised is that under Clause 82 we are moving forward to the 14-19 proposals and the consultation paper raises the possibility of people dropping modern foreign languages more easily than they can under the current disapplication procedures, which are limited. Those schools which are jumping the gun should not be doing so. I hope that they will be duly reprimanded.

I endorse the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, about the teaching of modern foreign languages. The Minister has been leading up to the task force. I hope that she will speak positively about the teaching of languages. The example of Ireland puts us totally to shame. It is appalling that a country with only 2.5 million people is putting more people through French than this country with almost 60 million people. It is vitally important that we do something to regenerate and revive the teaching of modern foreign languages in this country.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 7:00, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I support Amendments Nos. 117 and 118 which would put a modern foreign language back into the core curriculum. Sadly, I follow the view of my noble friend Lady O'Neill and others that the present situation as regards language teaching is deeply worrying. The Cambridge Language Centre points to the Government's own Green Paper and sets out the sorry state about which we have already heard: the shortage of modern language teachers; A-level entries down from 1991–92 and so on. The clear urgency for dramatic improvements is there for all to see.

Does the DfES's own paper on language learning provide an answer to this problem? I am sorry to say that in my judgment it does so hardly at all. As is so often the case—one finds this at its worst in election manifestos—it is strong on rhetoric, ambitions, aspirations, challenges, "we wants" and "will be" as though defining a need or expressing a desire is the equivalent of providing a solution.

Frankly, the situation calls for drastic and immediate measures if it is not to deteriorate. It is already deteriorating fast. I must emphasise again that in language learning it will be 10 years on, 2012, before long-term plans are fully operational for primary school pupils, rightly identified by a number of people as the key time at which to start language learning. Noble Lords will note that at that stage, they will be entitled to learn a foreign language, not automatically taught one.

In reply, can the Minister give your Lordships some idea of government thinking and a real action plan for the long and short term. For example, are the Government likely to follow up some of the helpful suggestions put forward by the retiring German ambassador, Dr von Ploetz, and a number of his EU colleagues? It is suggested that the UK embarks on an urgent programme to recruit language teachers from abroad. He is concerned, as I suggest we all should be, that with the use of modern methods, using the Internet and so on, school exchanges with other countries will become increasingly problematical with British pupils unable to communicate in any meaningful way in the language of their opposite numbers while—surprise, surprise—foreign pupils at the other end will be only too happy to practise their English.

Of even more significance—an important example was given by my noble friend Lady O'Neill—he points to the statistics. One in 10 companies is currently losing contracts because of their workers' inability to speak a language. It is not alarmist to say that by continuing along this complaisant path we put our own citizens at a considerable disadvantage in today's increasingly global job market. And, alas, government policies do nothing to correct that sharp downward trend. On the contrary—it is the nub of the amendment—the Cambridge Language Centre puts it this way:

"The Government damages its own ambition, and is defeating its own purposes. It does so by reversing today's promises of languages up to 16 and by not maintaining modern foreign languages with the 14-16 core subjects alongside English".

What is absolutely clear is the result. Again, we have heard plenty of examples. However, it is spelt out explicitly in the response from the Nuffield Languages Programme. Paragraph 4.1 says that,

"there is ample evidence that removing languages from the core curriculum would lead to an immediate and substantial fall in the number of young people learning a language after the age of 14".

Indeed, to make matters even worse, as my noble friend Lady O'Neill pointed out, the Government are not just anticipating but accelerating that process by jumping the gun. It strikes me, too, as cynical that even before the consultation period had been completed, let alone the Bill passed, the Government are steaming ahead with these damaging proposals, thereby increasing the divisiveness of the present system.

There is already in existence a system of so-called "disapplication" which enables children who are unsuited to be exited from the language programme. So why is there need for that system to be extended and accelerated, particularly when it is clear that virtually every independent school will continue to teach foreign languages as part of the basic curriculum? Not simply Ireland, but all European countries will be doing the same. That is hardly the best way to encourage "inclusiveness" in this country which is one of the Government's major objectives. It is in order to prevent those consequences that I fully support the two amendments.

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

My Lords, I add my support for the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, who makes the case for all of us who believe that it is an important subject.

What is more disturbing is the way in which the department has jumped the gun. To issue guidance from the department during the consultation period regarding flexibility about the application of language teaching in secondary schools seems questionable. It would be helpful to have some comment on that.

I touch on an aspect of language teaching which has not been raised. I take issue with my noble friend because I know the North East very well. As Minister I had responsibility for a part of the North East, Teesside, for a very long time, as the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, knows. One of the features of teaching languages to young people, in particular those who are not particularly academic—the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, referred to young people who are not necessarily high flying academics—is that it increases confidence enormously. There is something about language teaching which enables young people to feel more confident about themselves. It is not the same as the more traditional subjects that they expect to be taught in schools. There is a benefit.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who is not in her place, referred to core and foundation subjects. One distinction is that the core subjects are always full subjects. They are never half subjects as foundation subjects can be. They are also assessed throughout the key stages. Where it applies in a key stage, a core subject is assessed, in many cases formally tested, and that information is made public. It is public information at key stages 1, 2, 3 and 4. Therefore, they are different. One will see the foundation subjects in the secondary curriculum, in particular the post-14 part of the secondary curriculum. But some of the subjects are half subjects and sometimes there is even flexibility about whether they should be applied. As I have said, there is a difference here. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, seeks to make the teaching of modern foreign languages more secure in the curriculum than would be the case if it is left as a foundation subject.

I referred to the deputy head of curriculum in the department and said that he was "jumping the gun". It would be helpful if the noble Baroness could explain why a missive has been sent from the department allowing the subject to be disapplied not only in exceptional circumstances, but presumably at the whim of a school. We know that some schools have already disapplied it. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, referred specifically to one school. I suggest that that is by no means an isolated case; rather it is increasingly the experience in our schools.

The figures comparing Ireland and this country are terrifying. It is the first time that I have heard about them. When we consider the percentage of the respective populations, they are worrying. However, as our world becomes ever more global and job opportunities become available between continents rather than simply between countries, if we are to equip effectively our children for the 21st century—whether or not we enter the European Community—then we ought to eliminate as many barriers as possible. Opportunities need to be increased. I give the amendment my full support.

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) 7:15, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I shall begin my remarks by confirming for the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, that since 1988 there have been three core subjects in the national curriculum. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, pointed out, Clause 81 will re-enact without change the existing provisions for key stage 4. Just like core subjects, foundation subjects are compulsory.

As chair of the languages strategy group, I wish to pay full tribute to the Nuffield Foundation which forms a core element of the group. I could speak to noble Lords for a good hour or so on this subject; indeed, it deserves that length of time. However, I am also conscious that we are considering the Bill on Report and that I shall be keeping noble Lords in the Chamber for several more hours to ensure that we finish this stage of our deliberations.

As I said to my noble friend Lord Peston, I shall frame my remarks in a way that I hope will answer some of the key questions that have been put to me, but which will not be taken by noble Lords to mean anything other than a desire to address the amendment as tabled and still allow noble Lords sufficient time to debate all the other amendments.

Perhaps I may confirm that when in the autumn the languages group publishes the languages strategy, I trust that we shall then have an opportunity to debate these issues at far greater length.

As I have already mentioned, Clause 81 re-enacts the provisions of Section 354 of the Education Act 1996 in relation to key stage 4 only. We seek here to develop our ideas on the 14 to 19 curriculum. I should make it clear that we have only just finished consulting on the proposals set out in the 14 to 19 Green Paper and that we are not yet in a position to take any decisions on this. It would be inappropriate, therefore, to alter the requirements of the curriculum at this stage.

It is also worth making the point that, so far as the Government are concerned, schools are required to teach the curriculum as it stands. This Bill re-enacts the curriculum. A school cannot disapply the entire year. The only disapplication that is allowed is the disapplication that is currently in existence. Several noble Lords have referred to specific schools which have, so to speak, "jumped the gun". I should be delighted to be told the details of those schools so that we can look into it. No decision has yet been taken. So far we have put forward proposals. Letters have been written in support of retaining modern foreign languages as a compulsory subject, and letters have arrived in support of the Government's initial proposals. Those responses are being looked at and we shall make the relevant statements at the right time. However, we are not yet in a position to do so in terms of this part of the Education Bill.

We are in the business of creating within key stage 4 the opportunity for greater flexibility. That is from where the proposals in the Green Paper arose. One interesting element is that, for the first time, we now find ourselves moving towards a national languages strategy. I do not believe that we have ever had such a strategy in the past. To that end, I take issue slightly with the tone of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, in her remarks.

When previously we debated the question of modern foreign languages in your Lordships' House, I believe that no fewer than 11 languages were proposed by noble Lords as being the most important languages to be studied. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was absolutely right to comment that we live in a global economy. In today's world it is no longer enough simply to say, "We shall offer one language to all children and that will have to suffice". We want to find a way forward. To that end we are looking at the model from Ireland.

We want to develop a languages strategy for all our citizens. Within that strategy we have made it clear that our focus will be on primary school age children. Any noble Lord who has studied foreign languages will know that the earlier children begin to learn a language, the more likely they are to continue with that language and to be able to learn other languages. In itself, language learning is a skill that we want to ensure our children command.

We want to recognise the global economy. We should also recognise that some of our children are bilingual, trilingual and multilingual. That is perceived in the main as a problem rather than as something to be celebrated.

We are working very closely with the Nuffield Foundation to establish a system of language grading similar to the grading system used in music. Such a system would enable any language to be accredited. Thus when people apply for a job requiring language skills, they need not say, "I can order coffee in nine languages"; they will be able to demonstrate something more substantive. Grading will form a central plank of our proposals. It will not be aimed only at primary school age children; it will be for everyone. If someone wishes to learn Portuguese or Italian, then they will have an opportunity to do so. I am most grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for providing us with high levels of support on establishing a grading system.

We must ensure that we introduce a system that makes full use of the available technologies. Within a short time it will be possible for a Spanish lesson to be taught by a teacher living in Spain. Such technologies will help to address some of the issues with regard to teacher shortages. Students will be able to participate in a science lesson taking place in Nantes, or perhaps a geography lesson in a school in Milan. All this is eminently possible and is currently being explored in the department, working with supportive organisations.

Every education Minister has or will attend a national languages strategy group meeting in order to discuss with the eminent members of that group the ways to ensure that language learning is considered across the entire education system. I should say to noble Lords in the best possible spirit that we cannot possibly decide that the future national languages strategy should rest on compulsory education between the ages of 14 and 16 years. It is a much bigger issue than that.

I am working towards a strategy of which we shall be proud. I have discussed this with the former German ambassador, Dr von Ploetz. He has commended our work and even asked me to autograph our interim languages document. We are also talking to the French ambassador, M. Bernard, who I believe is to visit the languages group. Indeed, we have made contact with representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office across Europe to ensure that not only will we work together with regard to teachers, but that the assistants programme is revitalised within our specialist schools. We have a raft of ideas to work on.

I hope that noble Lords will forgive my enthusiasm for this subject. I would not wish us to focus on this particular part of the Bill, seeing it as evidence that somehow the Government refuse to take seriously the issue of language learning. We need a national languages strategy and we are committed to providing your Lordships' House and the country with one by the autumn. We are working closely with expert colleagues to achieve that end.

Against that background, in drafting Clause 81 we have taken care to ensure that the current requirements are reflected. We have not anticipated the outcome of the 14 to 19 consultation. We have given our commitment to consultation. Furthermore, we shall give your Lordships the opportunity to debate the orders under Clause 82, as they are subject to affirmative resolution, and we shall take into account the concerns expressed by noble Lords. I have invited everyone to give their views on the 14 to 19 strategy. No decisions have yet been made. We shall ensure, whatever happens with the 14 to 19 strategy, that there is a national languages strategy, which I hope your Lordships will feel able to commend.

Much has been made of the fact that we have set a date of 2012 for the entitlement of all primary age children. It is an end and not a beginning. If we make a commitment and set a time to it, we want to ensure that we can fulfil it. If entitlement is to mean more than basic French—it should mean a lot more than that—we need to ensure that we can deliver it.

On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, will feel able to withdraw her amendment. I thank her for raising the issue and pay tribute to the Nuffield Foundation. I look forward to further debates at greater length on these issues.

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

My Lords, I wish to pose two questions following what the Minister has just said. First, it is clear that the noble Baroness has a natural enthusiasm for language teaching. Most people have now been led to believe that something exciting will come along for the teaching of languages in primary schools. If there is to be flexibility for 14 to 16 and 19 year-olds who are now dropping languages, where is the cohort of young people who will be sufficiently competent to go on to teach languages in not only secondary but primary schools? We are talking about an increase from 3,000 or 4,000 schools to 24,000 schools who will require language teachers. That strikes me as an example of the mismatch between aspiration and ability to deliver.

My second question refers to the fact that it seems that anything is up for grabs in terms of flexibility at key stages 3 and 4, except citizenship. Why is there no flexibility in that subject? In all the answers that I have received to Written Questions, it is a compulsory subject. It must be taught, and it must be studied by all young people. It is extraordinary that the status of language is being reduced, whereas there is no allowance for flexibility in the new language of citizenship.

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, citizenship is an important subject. Nothing has changed. Schools are not allowed to start dropping languages as of now. We have made no decisions, but have simply suggested ideas. I shall write to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on the issue of guidance. I shall also write to the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, which I meant to say in my remarks. The position is clear: the law is the law, and these subjects will continue to be taught.

We shall be doubling the number of teachers of primary-school French. Because we have not been teaching languages in primary schools, we do not yet know how many teachers will be available. We want to think creatively about using people who have language specialisms, but who are not necessarily qualified teachers. Thinking of the music example, there are opportunities to teach languages in primary school.

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her enthusiastic remarks and the raft of ideas, which are interesting.

It is clear that the amendment cannot speak to the real issue that is of such concern far beyond this House because the material lies beyond the Bill in the Green Paper. It is not a myth that we are suffering from acute planning blight. If one is deep in a hole and has only a rickety ladder by which to climb out, it would be a pity to burn the ladder before one has got out of the hole. I fear that that might be what is happening on this issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 117A and 118 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Brightman Lord Brightman Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 119:

Page 54, line 24, at end insert ", and

(f) geography"

Photo of Lord Brightman Lord Brightman Crossbench

My Lords, I shall be brief. This is a repeat of an amendment that I moved and then withdrew at the Committee stage. Its purpose is to give a student in a grant-maintained school a statutory option to study geography up to school-leaving age, instead of stopping at the age of 14, as at present, and as under the Bill. As I said in Committee, geography is not only a matter of knowing the countries of the world and their features. It impinges on some of the most important problems of the age, such as global warming, environmental degradation, racial conflicts, economic migration, retreating ice caps and glaciers, disappearing rain forests, disastrous dams and other potential hazards.

If we dismiss geography from the national curriculum at too early an age, we shall end up with fewer trained geographers and we shall be less well equipped to deal with the problems that I have mentioned.

When I withdrew my amendment in Committee, the noble Baroness the Minister responded readily to my suggestion that we might meet to discuss the future of geography in the national curriculum. That meeting has taken place, and I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for allowing me almost an hour to discuss geography with her.

The Minister followed our discussion with a letter to me recording the interview and summarising her views on the proper place of geography in the national curriculum. I shall quote a few lines from her letter, which reads:

"I agreed with you at our meeting that it would be good to see a position where any child wishing to study geography during key stage four"— that is up to school leaving age—

"would be able to do so . . . I want us to work together to promote and enhance the teaching of geography".

I could not have expected a better response to our discussion.

As matters stand, many if not most grant-maintained schools offer geography up to school leaving age on a purely voluntary basis. They do not have to do so by law. My amendment, if it were accepted as part of the national curriculum at key stage 4, would require a grant-maintained school to offer geography up to the age of 16 to those students who wished to study it. That would avoid a highly undesirable situation, which can obtain at present, in which a student of geography may have to change schools to continue his geographical studies.

I turn to another subject area concerning the difference between core foundation studies and other foundation studies, which are referred to in Section 354 of the current Education Act 1996 and in Clauses 80 and 81 of the Bill. In Committee on 28th May, I commented (at col. 1187 of the Official Report) on the apparent absence of any definition of those expressions and the need for a definition. I have since learned that the expressions stem from Section 2 of the Education Reform Act 1988, now repealed, where they also appear without definition. Despite the inconvenience of having no definition of core foundation and non-core foundation studies, I have come to the conclusion that it would be a mistake and unhelpful to put down any amendment at this stage.

I had a duty to declare my interest in geography. I regard myself as having discharged that duty in Committee. Therefore, I shall not bore your Lordships by repeating it. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:30, 26 June 2002

My Lords, I have enormous sympathy with the case that has been put by the noble and learned Lord, but perhaps I may pose a question. The letter from the noble Baroness was very warm and enthusiastic—indeed, it was both sympathetic and empathetic—in regard to geography being important and wanting to encourage it and develop it in the curriculum at key stage 4. However, if it is to be offered as a subject for young people to study as of right, it has to appear somewhere in legislation for a child to be able to exercise his or her right to learn geography if it is being singled out as an entitlement in secondary schools. Therefore, the letter on its own is not enough. If the terms of the amendment are to be acceded to, then the amendment itself ought to appear on the face of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, it is quite clear that geographers are better organised than historians. Personally, I would put history up there with geography, or even a little ahead of it. What is crucial is that people learn to study people. Our education needs to include not merely mathematics, sciences and dry facts; it should get down to the interaction between people and an understanding of how people work. We are going to live the rest of our lives among people. The more that we know about them and the more we know about ourselves and where we are coming from, the better. But I place my hopes in Clause 82.

Photo of Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve Crossbench

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I have anxieties about history, as I do about geography. These are based once again on a proleptic reading of the Green Paper, which talks about an entitlement to "a humanities subject" for 14 to 16 year-olds. I suppose that history, English literature and geography may be asked to compete for their place in a school.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, sadly, the answer seems to be the humanities GCSE, which unfortunately is now prevalent.

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 try not to detain the House for long. I was delighted to meet with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. Indeed, it was a great honour for me, and I enjoyed our discussions. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that my letter goes on to state:

"But we will need to consider very carefully the implications for schools of delivering entitlements—and, as the Green Paper notes, where changes to the curriculum are envisaged, there will be consultation on the detail of the changes. I am sure you will agree that we must proceed with care and that I have been as positive as I can be at this point".

I am happy to give the noble Baroness a copy of my letter if it would be of use to her.

Clause 81 re-enacts the provisions of Section 354 of the 1996 Education Act, in relation to key stage 4 only. It lists the subjects of the national curriculum that are currently compulsory at key stage 4 and which were last revised in 2000. Although geography was included as a foundation subject in the 1988 Act, it was never implemented at key stage 4. The subject was removed in response to the review of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in 1993 as a means of providing schools with a greater opportunity to offer a curriculum that meets the distinctive talents and aspirations of individual pupils. Currently, schools are not required to offer geography at all, although most do.

As I said, we recently concluded the consultation, and it would be inappropriate to alter the current curriculum requirements at this stage, before responses to the consultation can be fully considered and without the benefit of a consultation on this particular change.

As the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, has said, the relevant proposal in the Green Paper is that pupils should have an entitlement to a subject in the humanities and a subject in the arts which schools will be obliged to make available to pupils who wish to take them. At this stage, we are still considering responses to the consultation and have taken no final decisions on curriculum changes. Therefore, while I cannot give the noble and learned Lord the assurance that he is seeking that all pupils will have an entitlement to geography under the new proposals, I hope that he will be reassured from my letter and from my remarks that our proposals to offer all pupils an entitlement to choose a humanities subject represent an advance for geography from the current statutory position.

This House will have the opportunity to debate any future changes to the curriculum, and no doubt to discuss the merits of history, English literature, geography and other subjects. Such discussions are important. We shall obviously have debates in this House before any changes are made. Meanwhile, with genuine respect, I ask the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Brightman Lord Brightman Crossbench

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for all that she has done, and 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. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.36 p.m.

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