Education Act 2002 (Modification of Provisions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2002

– in the House of Lords at 6:22 pm on 27th January 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 6:22 pm, 27th January 2003

rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 2nd December 2002, be annulled (S.I. 2002/2953).

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

My Lords, in moving the first Motion standing in my name, I shall speak to all the following regulations. I and my noble friends on these Benches and those to whom we spoke during the passage of the 2002 Bill feel entirely vindicated. We predicted that numerous regulations and guidance notes would be spawned by the Bill and they have. Ministers responding to concerns about the introduction of admission forums argued that it would be straightforward—merely reflect best practice—and be simple to apply. We now have nine sets of regulations, and perhaps more to come, two voluminous jargon-written codes of practice with endless cross-references to further guidance and other statutes, and the constant threat of the heavy hand of the adjudicator and/or the Secretary of State.

Many schools of all categories and other relevant interested parties are baffled about the laying of the codes of practice before Parliament which, for reasons I shall explain, we are unable to deliberate upon today. I shall deal first with consultation. A mere 25 days was given for consultation, which was wholly inadequate. The Government breached their own guidelines and code of practice on consultation when they said it should last for at least three months. Previous consultation is no substitute for what are now to be regulations couched in law. The date of 18th September is early in the term for primary and secondary schools. To invite them to respond to such a complicated set of regulations and two large documents in only 25 days is more than any school can cope with.

However, only 637 out of 20,000 were told about the process. The Campaign for State Education, which is anti-choice and anti-selection in education, was consulted. The Campaign for Real Education, which is pro-choice and for selection in education, was not consulted. The Secondary Heads Association was consulted. The National Association of Head Teachers was not consulted. The hierarchy of the Anglican and Catholic Churches were consulted but they did not consult their Church schools, nor did the Government. Of the only 187 written replies, 94 were from local education authorities which in turn did not consult their schools; 50 were from schools which happened to know about the process or were some of the lucky 637; 16 were from Churches and other faith organisations; 17 were from education and children organisations; and only 10 came from parents and other individuals. Consultation has been limited and has been arbitrary.

One argument used by the Minister—perhaps it will be repeated today—was an intention to cut down on bureaucracy to schools. There are two responses to that. First, when the law effects real changes to parents, children, LEAs and schools they should know about it. Secondly, a simple letter explaining the nature and import of these changes to local authorities, schools and other relevant interested parties informing them that regulations and codes had been laid—better still, that they were to be laid, thereby giving notice—and access via the website, or hard copies from the department, should have been made available.

I turn to the incompetence of the department. I called the department before Christmas, as did Dr Marks, the education researcher, and Mr Nick Seaton from the Campaign for Real Education. All of us were told by an official at the department that he could not tell us when the documents would be published and when the code would be laid. The code had been laid on 15th November.

Subsequently, we were told that these documents could have been seen on the website, but they disappeared from the website. I was telephoned by a number of schools—three on a particular day—and by the Campaign for Real Education asking me for news of the codes of practice. Eventually, I telephoned the department and spoke to three different officials that morning. They did not know when the code would be produced. Later that day, I was telephoned by an official who told me that it had been published and laid before Parliament on 15th November and that it was then too late to lay a Prayer to Annul.

The official was puzzled as to how I and others had been misled. I was offered an apology, which I accept. Nevertheless, we were misled—and not only us, but schools, too. Those points alone—the poor and patchy consultation and confusion over the introduction of the code—provide good grounds on which to take the regulations away and reconsider the matter further.

Head teachers, teachers and governors will continue to take a jaundiced view of ministerial promises to cut the level of regulation and bureaucracy. Even now, it is not possible to understand what problem the Government were seeking to resolve by introducing admission forums underpinned by copious secondary legislation, plus two volumes of codes of practice. Ministers from time to time boast about the numbers of children or percentages of pupils who receive their first preferences for choice of a school. If there is a problem—and it does not appear that there is—it is that there are not enough good schools and places. Clearly, when one looks at the competition for entry to the city technology colleges and grammar schools, the problem should not be resolved by this over-mighty, over-bearing and complex set of regulations and codes of practice, but by the expansion of those places, which would gain greater pupil and parental support.

Where a school is over-subscribed, playing around with the admissions system will not allow access for more pupils. The system proposed simply removes control from heads and governors and puts it into the hands of admissions forums, but more seriously, into the hands of an unelected, unaccountable, government-appointed adjudicator. Worse, there is no appeal, other than resorting to expensive judicial review to challenge any decision made by an autocratic adjudicator.

Who in the education system, especially heads and governors, has the time to interpret the convoluted legalese of these documents? Why should a third person intervene when, if an admission goes wrong, it is the school governors and the head responsible for the response. Should fault be found to lie with a third party outside the control of the school, will the costs of any litigation, appeals process and where necessary, the remedy, be met by the Government?

Local education authorities will not be obliged legally to operate the model scheme. However, it is clear from reading these documents that there is pressure to do so. I should like it made absolutely clear that they have no obligation whatever to use the model scheme.

Referring to Paragraph 52 of the annex to the code, why should any school be forced to adopt a home school agreement, if the parent is not required to sign it as a condition of access? Why should a school be forced to take a pupil whose parents are not even prepared to sign up to the way in which the school is run?

Paragraph 7(32) actually says:

"Head teachers have no individual role in school admissions".

Head teachers have no individual role in admitting children to their school? No wonder such emasculation is affecting the recruitment and retention of head teachers.

I refer to the Explanatory Note regarding the eighth set of regulations on the list. I use the Explanatory Note because it is impossible to use the legalese of the regulations themselves. It says,

"They [the local education authorities] are to refer their proposed schemes to the Admission Forum established for their area and to have regard to the Forum's advice or recommendations before consulting each governing body to whom a scheme is to apply".

Having regard to the advice is one thing, but the code should make it clear that that advice is not binding. The Explanatory Note goes on,

"Authorities are also required to consult other local education authorities with a view to securing, so far as is reasonably practicable, that their respective proposed schemes are compatible with each other".

My own local authority is bound by Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex. Are we talking about masses of consultation countrywide? In a London authority, there are schools which will have to talk with 40 local education authorities.

As regards those same regulations is Paragraph 2 of the Schedule places a duty on local education authorities,

"in relation to dealing with and determining parents' applications for schools, and paragraphs 3 and 4 place reciprocal duties on participating governing bodies. In particular, where it appears to the authority that a child in their area may be eligible under individual admission arrangements to be offered admissions to more than one school, or is not eligible to be offered admission to any school, they are required to determine . . . what single offer the parent of that child should receive".

What happens to the legal obligation to take note of the parent's preference?

As regards the second set of regulations, and Regulation 2(5), if a school has met the conditions to earn exemption from the duty to consult, why is it necessary for the local education authority to inform the Secretary of State? The heads, the governors, the parents, the local education authority are the local people. So why do they need to tell the Secretary of State? Why must all those who would have been consulted, had there not been the exemption, have to be notified? If there is no change, what is the point of having to consult?

What on earth is a composite document? It reminds me of a trade union document, as I read this. The composite document has to be produced. They can be separate for primary and secondary. They can be produced, two or more separate ones, for different parts of an area. They have to be produced by the 1st October and made available to anyone who wants them. Who will pay for that and if there is to be no charge, then clearly the cost will fall on the local authority, so what is that cost?

Every governing body must provide specified information no later than such time before the time required for publication of the prospectus, which is 1st October. Where are the schools going to find the time in that very short period from the beginning of the Autumn term to be able to provide all the necessary information?

In the fourth statutory instrument on the list, there is a reference in Regulation 4 to,

"the relevant school organisation".

It would be helpful to know what that relevant organisation is.

There is also further on in the Explanatory Note, a reference to,

"the relevant committee".

It would be helpful to know what that is. Is this covered in the terms of an adjudicator? My understanding was that the adjudicator dealt with those issues that could not be dealt with by the organisational committee. It would be helpful to know what that means.

The fifth set of regulations on the list prescribe: the manner in which an appeal is to be constituted, the duty of the admissions authority to advertise for lay members, the procedure an appeal panel is to adopt when hearing appeals, the relevant considerations which an appeal panel is to take into account, the payment of allowances to appeal panel members and arrangements to indemnify appeal panel members against expenses.

Who pays for all of that and what are the costs?

I turn to the sixth set of regulations. Regulation 6 deals with tenure of members. Regulation 7(5) says:

"the office of chairman and vice-chairman may be held by a person who may or may not be a member of the forum".

Is that really the case?

My final detailed point is about the adjudicator. Any parent may object to the adjudicator about a school where the admissions capacity is lower than the net capacity of schools. I assume that the adjudicator makes this decision alone, that there is no appeal against that and that is an autocratic decision on the part of the adjudicator. Can a parent object to city technology colleges, city academies, specialist schools, schools of partial selection and also grammar schools?

It is worth recording the lengths to which the Government will go in their philosophical objection to selection by ability or even their perception that a school could be selecting by ability. The codes and regulations are littered with prohibitions, checks and unsubtle comments which will exert pressure on parents and schools. Those who will be affected are bright, talented and academically able young people. Those most affected will be those from poorer homes, unable to make alternative arrangements, either by paying for private education or moving house to a better catchment area.

What powers will the adjudicator have over grammar schools? What can a parent complain of and what is the limit of the adjudicator's powers over grammar schools? Delaying preferences on the preference before test requirement will disadvantage many children, again, some of them bright children from poorer homes. Does this requirement apply to CTCs, academies, partial selective schools as well as grammar schools? Why not allow all applications to selective schools, either in part or whole, to take place first, giving all parents of children a level playing field to apply? Then, following allocation to selective places, parents could state their preferences for all the other schools which would also create a level playing field. Again, the children most likely to benefit would be bright ones from poorer homes.

If Ministers are not aware of the deep disquiet among Church schools, they should be. Under present regulations, interviews form part of the admissions process; they have done so for decades. If the Anglican and Catholic hierarchies were concerned about a perception that there was a lack of objectivity—or, worse, a perception that interviews are used to breach the rules on selection—and they knew it not to be the case, they should have stood by their schools and defended them; they should not have deserted them. If the Church hierarchies believed that interviews should be banned, they should have convinced the governors, heads and parents of their own schools and not done a deal with the Government.

There is an excellent article by John Clare in today's Telegraph. I know that everyone wants to go to a party, and so I shall not read it out in full. It states:

"The head teachers complain that they were neither informed nor consulted—and nor were Catholic parents or governing bodies.

'We believe good, conscientious, Catholic parents who are trying to bring their children up in the faith in the face of enormous odds will be aghast when they realise what their bishops have done', said one Catholic head teacher . . . 'We believe that parents have a right to an interview and an opportunity to represent at interview their commitment to Catholic education and how they meet the criteria of the school'".

The article continues:

"'Although we write to parish priests for references, our experience has shown that these references alone are frequently not reliable', he said. 'Without an interview if would be more difficult for us to determine the degree of practice and commitment.

There is a serious danger'"— this is an important point—

"'that the references from priests would determine which applicants would be offered places, and the admissions process would be less reliable. In many cases, parents would be relying on the reference-writing skills of their priests, and there would certainly be a significant rise in the number of appeals'".

And of course the schools would be held responsible.

Popular schools draw their pupils from a wide catchment area, particularly popular Church schools. It is true that at least one London school has to liaise with 40 local education authorities and independent schools. The way in which this system overlays those procedures is absolutely monstrous and unacceptable—but the voice of such schools was not heard in the consultation process.

It would take a genius to interpret the rules and regulations governing "class-size prejudice". The code of practice, which is meant to be an explanatory document, does not help.

I have merely scratched the surface of the points I wish to make about these regulations. I know that there is to be a party and that there are some fairly anxious noble Lords behind me, so I shall not labour the issue. But let the Minister be in no doubt that what I have said is but a fraction of what I would have said had there been more time.

Finally, I cannot do better than to quote from a letter sent to the headmaster of a former grant-maintained school. After listening to a speech made by David Bell, the head of Ofsted, the headmaster of another school said:

"His [David Bell's] statement that schools are now more autonomous than ever before beggars belief. My experience, and I am now in my 26th year of headship in the maintained sector, is exactly the opposite: we now have less autonomy than ever. LEAs may no longer have the whip-hand but central government certainly does. The system is now tightly controlled by a system of regulation so complex, overbearing and labyrinthine that to call it Byzantine would be a serious understatement".

Those are not my words. As a Member of the Opposition, the House would expect me to say something like that, but those are the words of the headmaster of an exceptionally good school who feels absolutely outraged by what the Government are doing in these regulations and codes of practice. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations laid before the House on 2nd December 2002 be annulled [SI 2002/2953].—(Baroness Blatch.)

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 27th January 2003

My Lords, we on these Benches share the unease of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, at the peremptory consultation procedure in regard to the codes of practice that underlie these regulations. The time allowed for consultation was totally inadequate and the time of year at which it was undertaken was most inconvenient for all heads. We cannot expect to have proper consultation on codes of practice as important as these at that time of the year and over so short a period. It was thoughtless of the department to proceed in that way. If it intends to introduce these kinds of procedures, the department should give a little more thought to the best way of consulting people. If the Government want to get codes of practice and regulations that have a reasonable chance of being implemented onto the statute book, they should carry with them those who have to implement the regulations. Nowadays we seem to place more emphasis on the whole idea of ownership, and that is an issue that the department should think about to a greater extent.

Having said that, I have read through the regulations and I believe that they implement the Act we passed last year. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, they embody all the bureaucratic details that we predicted because of the degree to which the department is trying to micro-manage them, but, broadly speaking, the regulations derive from the changes brought about by the Act. We had lengthy discussions on those changes during the debate and we on these Benches are broadly supportive of them.

We are glad to see the more inclusive arrangements for admissions. We supported the whole concept of admissions forums, but I have one question for the Minister. I understood at the time the Bill was passed that admissions forums would relate to a local area, not necessarily to an LEA area; for example, that in Surrey we would take a group of schools within Guildford and establish an admissions forum to cover the Guildford area. This has been happening within Surrey, where we have tended to work with schools on admissions in local areas which have been broken down to provide geographical cohesion. It is quite clear that the regulations are concerned with LEA-wide admissions forums rather than in terms of breaking down areas, and I wonder whether the Minister wishes to say anything about that.

Regulation No. 2897 seems unnecessary. It relates to the publication of the information that LEAs, heads and governors are required to produce. Do we really need to tell LEAs that they must publish the names and addresses of schools; that heads have to publish the names and addresses of governors and so on? That seems to be teaching LEAs, heads and governing bodies to suck eggs. However, the Government have made it quite clear that they do not trust them to do these things and have decided that it is necessary to go into this kind of detail.

I am sad about that because, as I said, there are aspects of the regulations which we welcome—particularly in relation to the inclusion arrangements. We also welcome the fact that these arrangements cover simultaneously a whole range of schools—voluntary aided and voluntary controlled, foundations and CTCs. I know that the Conservatives are not happy to see this, but we are pleased with the more comprehensive regulations and, in particular, with the attention given to looked-after children and children with special needs in regard to admissions regulations.

Sadly, we accept that, ultimately, the regulations have to be detailed and bureaucratic. They fit in with the whole ethos that the Government are pushing forward. It is sad, but we on these Benches are prepared to back the Government in bringing the regulations forward.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative

My Lords, I can assure the House that I shall not keep anyone from their social engagements. I shall be brief. I wish to speak to these regulations because I have been approached by many people, through the various posts I hold, to express the deep distress that they feel about the way in which this issue has been carried through.

I need not dwell on what my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, have said about the consultation period. It was—I use the word advisedly—a disgrace. I am a governor of a Roman Catholic school, surprisingly. The Roman Catholic hierarchy had not a chance to consult each other because such a short time was allowed for consultation immediately before Christmas. I cannot speak for my own Church, but the same case applied. I am president of the National Grammar Schools Association which represents almost all the grammar schools. Not a word was sent to us. I am also a member of the National Association of Head Teachers. I seem to be unfortunate in the Government's spotlight as regards this matter.

I speak for four Roman Catholic schools of some excellence. The regulations will hit denominational schools hard as interviews are forbidden. As the Minister knows, denominational schools take their pupils from a very wide area. People from Downing Street go to Fulham, for example. The scope is even wider in the country. Priests in very large Catholic churches cannot know in detail the family situation. There may be six masses in the morning in an urban area with hundreds of people attending. How can a little cyclostyled letter, which is often what it is, give the headmaster the knowledge that he needs? The headmaster of a Catholic school, but not in London, I hasten to say, asked me this. The Government have done something which is quite wrong to denominational schools in the interests not of religion but of bureaucracy and interference.

The Government profess that they are not hostile towards grammar schools. They say that it is up to the communities. If they want to vote against them, that is all right, but the Government want to be counted out. These regulations do enormous harm to grammar schools because there is selective entry and the regulations make it impossible for parents to have second choice of the most decent school in the area. In essence, if a pupil fails to gain entry to a grammar school it goes to the school with the least pupils. That is not parental choice. It is an awful dilemma for parents. I cannot understand how a decent, democratic government can do this sort of thing when they are not prepared to abolish the schools themselves.

I wonder how these much-vaunted specialist schools can exist without interview or approach. For example, I may wish to go to a language school, but it would not know whether I know French from Dutch or whether I am interested in languages. What if I want to be a plumber and I find myself at a language school? How are the Government going to organise that?

These proposals are a disgrace. I rarely become passionate about these things. I have been approached by so many people. There is a lack of consultation; lack of care for parental choice; bureaucracy and control from the centre. The only people who will benefit are of the independent sector because those who have money and who cannot get their child into the school of their choice will choose other schools. The Labour Party's policies kept me in a job and gave me a pension for 40 years and the same will apply to my successors.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as editor of the Good Schools Guide. I am enormously disappointed by these regulations. They do nothing for parents, as my noble friend Lady Blatch and the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, have said. They make life more difficult for parents. They reduce choice in a practical sense and they inhibit the free exercise by parents of their choice which, in the end, is what drives schools' policy. It is difficult for parents and ultimately it will be damaging for schools in taking this route.

The regulations are a monument to bureaucracy. It is astonishing to have regulations which go into the detail of prescribing the order of examinations in which GCSE results are to be published. Does one have to go after every jot and tittle in regulations such as these and leave nothing for the schools as to how they choose to express themselves. They have to study the regulations to make sure that they have not put an English exam where it should not be, say, after biology rather than at the beginning. Why do these things need to be specified? The situation is the same throughout the regulations. There is far too much unnecessary detail.

I also find it sad that these are such backward-looking regulations. Last week value added examination results were published nationally for the first time. But there is no requirement in these regulations to publish value added data at all. We have the old-style results, but there is nothing about value added. But schools generally have a great deal of value-added information, which would be of great interest to parents beyond the examination results published in the league tables. If we had value-added results on the same basis as the publication of straight examination results published by schools, parents would have a great deal more information about how schools were performing in individual subjects and a greatly improved ability to compare schools, particularly when they have different catchment areas because the raw figures are always distorted by the quality of intake. But by not providing school by school value added results one is again making things much more difficult for parents seeking to choose between schools.

My own particular hobby-horse is the Internet. The year 2005 is supposed to be the time when we have electronic government. The composite prospectuses are to be published by local education authorities. They cannot pretend that they do not have the money and that they are not on the Net. The prospectuses do not have to be published on the Net or made available in an electronic form, yet nothing is being done to make it easier for parents to gather information on schools and compare them. It is astonishing how backward-looking the Government are and how full of froth and air on electronic government when the chance occurs to put something into practice. There is not even a requirement to publish e-mail and web addresses for schools. I find that astonishing and extremely disappointing.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for drawing attention to the absence of my colleagues. They have been invited to No. 10 in order to tell the Prime Minister many things. I never intended to go. The first time I went there was in the company of Pierre Trudeau, John Conteh and Robert Morley. I am sure that my colleagues who have gone to No. 10 tonight will have an equally good evening.

The intriguing thing is that although my colleagues are absent, how is it that 25 Members of the Conservative Benches are here for regulations of this kind?

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to reply. I am surprised that he asked that question coming, as he does, from the same city and when he knows the disaster which will occur to parents choosing a school. He and I had the advantage of a system where he went to a grammar school as I did. Why does the noble Lord believe that we should not worry about this matter?

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, one is always looking for pegs on which to hang a speech. I come from Newcastle upon Tyne and I was born on Scotswood Road. I passed the 11-plus to go to a secondary school. It was not a secondary modern. I went to an elementary school and then passed the exam. But because my dad was means-tested and I was the eldest of five kids, I could not go. Two years later I got the chance to sit an examination to go to a technical school. I passed that exam, but I could not go. It was only when the Open University arrived in the late 1960s that I had the opportunity of testing what I had always felt—that I had a degree in me. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, had the same privilege as I did to sit on the governing council of that university and I know that she will speak highly of that body.

Everyone has spoken with a detailed knowledge of the regulations. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has asked many questions. I have every confidence that my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham will be able to respond to them. I was somewhat puzzled because the first part of her statement deal with the discourtesy contained in the consultation procedure. I shall remind the noble Baroness of many issues raised when she was the Minister on this side of the Chamber. Whenever issues of this kind were raised there were constant complaints about the quality of the consultation which had taken place. I can remember my noble friend Lady Blackstone, my noble friends Lord Peston, Lord Morris and others raising these kind of issues, but not in detail. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was out of order when she talked about the incompetence of the department in this procedure. That may well have been the case, but I do not think that it is on for any Member of this House to castigate the civil servants who are here to look after our interests.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:00 pm, 27th January 2003

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for giving way. I cannot remember a single occasion since I have been a Member of this House when only 25 days were given for a consultation process. Nor can I remember such arbitrary handing out of the documents to be considered, which will impact on every parent and child in the land.

Secondly, I was not looking for a debate on which to hang my speech. I have spent a lot of time this weekend that I would rather have spent with my daughter working on these documents. It has taken a lot of hard work, and I positively resent what the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has said. We care about this issue passionately. If the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, goes back to the statute book, he will find that I had this kind of debate when the Bill was going through Parliament.

Finally, when I have to make three calls to the admissions section of a department which professes not even to know what I am asking, I have the right to call that incompetent.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour

My Lords, I was referring to my speech, hanging upon the peg given by the allusion that I was an ex-grammar school boy. I was not. On the competence of the department, I have no doubt that the Minister who is here to defend the department will have answers to all those questions.

Forty years ago tonight, I was leader of Enfield council. During that period, I had the pleasure of serving on the governing body of a local school with Iain McLeod. He and I had a good rapport on all matters relating to the London borough of Enfield. In the middle and late 1960s, we were plunged into the process of comprehensive education. There is a great deal of understanding across the Chamber—but not with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—about the difficulties of managing a situation to which Enfield is no stranger. Because we have some excellent schools and because of the Greenwich decision, it is possible for pupils to have places in Enfield schools to the detriment of Enfield parents who wish their children to go there. That is a fact of life. It is not made any easier by the language used by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, this evening.

Some Enfield children are unable to go to Enfield schools because children from Barnet, Haringey and Waltham Cross have made a case to go to them. The Latymer School Edmonton in Enfield is a first-class school, which was top of the recent published lists because of the quality of its education and results. I simply say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, of course she is the master of her own language, but it does no good in trying to get an understanding, not only from the Ministers but from the people out in the country, when she castigates the decisions that have been made.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked of the simplicity with which these matters could have been put right. In my experience, which is not as great as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, or of many others, it is a constant problem. Some thirty years ago, as a Member of Parliament, parents would plead with me that their child deserved a place in a certain school. It was impossible.

The authority in Enfield has changed hands—it now has a Conservative majority. The same kind of problems and anguish that were visited on Enfield parents in the past few years will continue because there are far too many children for the places available. We will hear from the Minister on the detailed points, but I do not think that the debate or the issue is enhanced one bit by the language used by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

Photo of Lord Mowbray and Stourton Lord Mowbray and Stourton Conservative

My Lords, I have always regarded the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, as a friend of mine, and I have great admiration for him, but I think he is being a little unfair when he says that we are looking for something on which to hang a speech.

I do not like making speeches; I bored your Lordships in years gone by when I was younger, time and time again, and I do not want to bore you again, but I feel very strongly about the Christian ethos in our schools. For quite a long time, when Roman Catholics were a small minority, I and my family fought for the right for Catholics to be educated in Catholic schools. We fought hard and have been very successful. I am occasionally asked to make the odd speech and give the odd prize at the odd Catholic school, so I know a little about this. The bishops of the Anglican and Roman Churches seem to have been hustled—that is the only word that I can think of—into agreeing something which, if they think about it, cannot be right. I find it very hard to understand that a school should have to take children without going into the ethos of their backgrounds.

One of the troubles in this country today is that so many people and so many children quite often do not realise what is wrong and what is right. It could be said that I am out of touch but, as your Lordships know, there are people who think some things are quite all right which we were brought up to think were sinful and wrong, and we know it in our hearts.

We will never get back a question of ethos if we once lose it. To think of denying it to these schools by trying to hustle them to stop interviews is quite impossible, as people in this House, with all their background knowledge, common sense and Christianity, should realise. Indeed, I do not mind what religion people follow—believing and following one's beliefs are the only things that are important. But to tell me that we are looking for something to hang a peg on is not good enough.

Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour

My Lords, I am happy to say that I was not educated in this country, so I do not really have to display the variety of backgrounds that we have seen. I could have come from or not gone to one school or another. But in the 38 years that I have lived here, I have found education, especially school education, to be the most class-ridden and prejudice-ridden subject that I have ever come across. I am astonished by that. It is not as if the old education system—whatever that was—of the glorious 1950s, 1960s and 1970s actually did the country much good. That was when we were known as the sick man of Europe. Therefore, whatever ethos or manners that the school system taught, it was a derided, class-ridden system that harmed the country no end.

In trying to repair the system, we sometimes need elaborate regulations. I am surprised that people say that these are very elaborate—that is the legalese that we have to use. We pass Acts that contain Henry VIII clauses which require us to lay orders before Parliament, and it is not surprising that those orders are very detailed. That is the way that the law functions.

I refer to some recent reforms which sought to remove burdens by annulling certain regulations. I refer to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and documents of up to 300 pages in length that were drawn up just to keep pubs open on New Year's Eve. Why do we draw up such documents? I do not know, but if you are going to do it, you must do it properly.

I have read the regulations and I wish to comment on them in some detail. They have one common theme; that is, to try to simplify the admissions procedures for primary and secondary schools. Many people talk about parental choice. It is a fallacy to believe that somehow choice can be permitted in a system in which the market does not apply. We are not talking about buying cheese or bananas but rather school admissions. If, as my noble friend Lord Graham said, a school is popular, it cannot raise the price of admission as that system does not apply in the schools we are discussing. There must be some kind of rationing mechanism in order to allocate places in schools where too many children apply for the available places. How can one do that? Obviously, one cannot do it without consulting other schools. As has been said, a popular Church school in west London is in consultation with 40 different local authorities surrounding it. That is the way such matters should be handled. We want to be just to the people who want to send their children to the best schools, but without being unjust to other people who also want to send their children to those schools. That is a difficult outcome to achieve.

I believe that the admission forums mentioned in Regulation No. 2900 are an excellent idea. The regulation seeks to co-ordinate admission policies of different schools in a wide catchment area to take into consideration the needs of an entire community. If a child cannot go to his school of first choice, the knowledge of all those running the various schools in the community, that of the local education authority and so on, can be co-ordinated to offer the second best choice to the particular pupil concerned. I do not see what is wrong with that as it is obvious that not every pupil can attend their school of first choice in a system which is based on rationing and not on the market. If people are suggesting that we abolish rationing and completely privatise primary and secondary education, that is a different matter. One hears stories of young mothers with small children staggering to a church to attend services when they are not interested in the relevant religion. They attend the services as that makes their child eligible for admission to the relevant Church school. Some people attend such services not through religious conviction but because they want their children to jump the admission queue for a certain school. Distortions occur when people claim to belong to certain religious sects when they are interested only in sending their children to certain schools. We have clearly reached a point when the present system will no longer function unless we take great care to improve it. As I say, I genuinely believe that the admission forums mentioned in Regulation No. 2900 are an excellent idea.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, pointed out, an interesting aspect of the matter is revealed in the relevant Explanatory Note. Like the noble Baroness, I prefer to use the Explanatory Note to Regulation No. 2900 as a background to my remarks rather than the body of the regulation itself. It states that one of the roles of an admission forum is,

"to monitor the admission of excluded children, looked after children, children with special educational needs and children who arrive outside the normal admission round; and to consider any other admissions issues arising".

When we talk about admissions we talk about parental choice, Church schools and grammar schools as if the only thing that the education system is supposed to do is to cater for those who are considered to be the brightest and the best and the rest can go hang. As my noble friend Lord Graham succinctly said, he was not given the best chance in his early days as, due to the way in which the education system was structured, it did not give the bulk of the people the best chance. What we are trying to do is improve everyone's chances.

Noble Lords may wonder why I am discussing secondary school education as I do not usually speak on that matter. I lived in Islington for 25 years and was chairman of the campaign for the advancement of state education. I used to publish a magazine from my house to advance the case of state education. Islington co-ordinated the running of secondary schools to improve quality. I was also chair of Islington Labour education group for a number of years. All my children attended local state comprehensive schools. I took a great interest in secondary schools as a manager and as a governor. Therefore, I am not a johnny-come-lately to the secondary school debate.

As I say, the admission forums are a good mechanism to look after the interests of excluded children. I am also impressed by Regulation No. 2899, which is inclusive, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said. I refer to appeals against expulsion. I refer to the welcome procedure outlined in the Explanatory Note which enables parents,

"to appeal against school admission decisions, including decisions refusing permission to children already admitted to a school to enter the school's sixth form . . . to appeal against the authority's decision to admit a child who, at the time decision was made, has twice been permanently excluded from a school".

Exclusion from schools has made the headlines in recent times. It is to be welcomed that the Government are laying down detailed instructions on the matter.

I refer to the co-ordination of admissions to primary schools. I do not see what is wrong with that. I refer to the Explanatory Note to Regulation No. 2903 which states that local education authorities,

"are to refer their proposed schemes to the Admission Forum established for their area and to have regard to the Forum's advice or recommendations before consulting each governing body to whom a scheme is to apply".

That is a welcome proposition which will improve the way in which our schools are run. I refer also to the welcome proposition that local education authorities are to,

"designate the single day in each year on which their determination as to the single offer of a primary school place which the parents of children in their area are to receive is to be communicated".

Those are good policies.

Regulation No. 2901 concerns how objections to admission arrangements should be dealt with. The Explanatory Note to Regulation No. 2901 states,

"in circumstances where the admission authority for a school have determined an admission number for any relevant age group which is lower than the number indicated by the net capacity assessment method set out in guidance".

It is interesting that that relates to the parents' right to object, where parents may think that they have been unjustly handled. If the school has capacity but someone is not admitted, the parents are right to object because, after all, total capacity is the only rationing criterion one can use when prices cannot be used.

There are a number of good detailed recommendations that we should definitely welcome because they will immensely improve the state of our schools.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak briefly on a particular point arising from an observation in the letter of the angry head teacher quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Before I do so, I thank her for the opportunity to consider this important matter again.

I spoke to the head teacher of the Star Primary School in Newham near Canning Town this morning. She had taught for 30 years and been a head teacher for 18 years. From what she said, my clear impression was that she felt that head teachers were more in control now than they had been in the past. If I understood her correctly, she put that down to their having more control over the spending of the money that they received.

That may have been peculiar to that head teacher's position, because she was in an education action zone and various other zones. It is a deprived area—it has a high level of free school meals—so it is a beneficiary of many additional funding streams. Perhaps there is another issue about increased regulation if head teachers are more in control of funding. I look forward to hearing in the debate some more clarification on that subject.

Photo of Lord Brennan Lord Brennan Labour

My Lords, the small group of my Labour colleagues who will speak tonight will enjoy two distinctions in the parliamentary history of this House. The first will be our unique numerical presence—small but powerful—and the second will be the fact that each of us, at different lengths, has something important to say.

I speak as a volunteer, not a conscript, to make three points. Access to education is the objective of all decent families for the benefit of their children, but that access needs to be achieved in a way that balances the autonomy of schools and the ability of people to exercise a choice to try to get into good schools.

First, I am dismayed by some of the comments made about the faith background to the regulations and how they may affect faith schools. I attended the debate on the Bill on admission forums, and I do not recall anyone suggesting that the relevant part of the Bill or the regulations would act as a vehicle to undermine, in broad terms, the ability of faith schools to regulate the number of pupils from their own faiths.

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

My Lords, that is why the schools are also very cross. I too was present at those debates, and I think that I supported the noble Lord in what he said then. However, I can tell him that nothing in those debates indicated that interviews as part of the process of faith schools were to be abolished. One of my questions is to ask where in the legislation is the basis for banning interviewing as part of the process, rather than it simply being in the code of practice.

Photo of Lord Brennan Lord Brennan Labour

My Lords, to return to the point that I was making, I do not regard the regulations as some back-door opportunity to subvert the right of faith schools to regulate in decent proportion those numbers of children in their schools from their own faiths. If I am wrong, I invite the Minister so to state. If I am right in thinking that the regulations are not such a back door, I am sure that he will make that abundantly clear.

My second point goes to the issue of interviews. I understand from my own experience that, in times past, admission to faith schools has not been solely determined by interview. Therefore, we do not have a state of affairs in which an existing system of admission by interview is being abolished, to repeat the phrase used by the noble Baroness.

I wish to make a practical point as a lawyer. It seems to me an illusion to think that faith schools throughout this country can manage entry by interview alone. The numbers will be enormous, and the practicality of it fraught with difficulty for the schools and the teachers. As a lawyer, I am afraid to say that the interviews, especially for those who were disappointed, would become the vehicle for appeals and, perhaps even worse, judicial review.

It is an ideal that children and their families should be interviewed, of course, but it is hopelessly impractical. I simply do not recognise the validity of any suggestion that the bishops in my Church, the Catholic Church, have deserted their faith schools or been hustled into something that they do not approve. That is simply not the case as I understand it.

On my third proposition, I invite the Minister to give his express views. Autonomy for schools and choice for parents need to balance, in terms of regulation. The one must be fairly set against the other. I must confess that having nine sets of regulations seems a volumetrically excessive attempt to achieve that balance. They are so complex in their detail as to suggest that there may be trouble with them. I invite him to confirm that, in view of the comments made by the Opposition, in the course of the coming year the implementation of the regulations will be reviewed, and that changes will be made if necessary. In introducing such a new system of debate about admissions, it would be wrong to give the impression to people that the system was fixed and irrevocable.

Those are my three points. First, will the Minister confirm that the standards of faith schools will not be subverted by the regulations? Secondly, interviews are not the only route. Thirdly, in due course the effect of the regulations should be reviewed. The objective that I first described should be the objective at the end of such a review. Is the system working fairly, so that people are being given a choice—so that parents who want their children to go to faith schools know that they will go to such schools? I would not dream of voting for any regulations that subverted that democratic principle.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative

My Lords, I share the noble Lord's view. I do not think that anyone said what he suggested they had done of Roman Catholic bishops; it was that they did not have much time. I am sure that he will support me when I say that Roman Catholic parents who cannot afford independent schools should have the same rights as parents who can afford independent schools to send their children to the faith school of their choice.

Photo of Lord Brennan Lord Brennan Labour

My Lords, I heard the intervention, but I must confess that I did not entirely follow it. I understand that the present set of regulations seeks to allow a reasonable opportunity for parents to make application to the school of their choice. Irrelevant to that is the ability to pay or not, which I am afraid reflects the economic facts of life.

Photo of Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Lord Pilkington of Oxenford Conservative 7:30 pm, 27th January 2003

My Lords, I do not want to help the people in Downing Street any more; many others have done that for them. My point was that a person who could afford independent Catholic education could send their child to Downside, Ampleforth or wherever. However, if the child's education were dependent on a chit from the parish priest, very devout Catholics could fail to get into the state school of their choice. That is where I support the noble Lord on review.

Photo of Lord Brennan Lord Brennan Labour

My Lords, I confess that I still do not understand the comparison between a rich person who can pay for their child to get into a school and those who are not rich and need to approach a priest for a chit, as the noble Lord called it. The fact is that in times past entry to Catholic schools and other faith schools has worked with reasonable efficiency. I do not accept that the regulations are cloaked with the dire effects that Opposition Members have suggested.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative

My Lords, I have listened to this debate with great interest. Everyone seems to agree for different reasons that this is an important issue. It is therefore difficult to understand—this is the point that still worries me—why there was not time for consultation, particularly of the people who would have to operate the arrangement and those who will have to suffer from it or—this may be so—benefit from it. If this is worth doing, it is surely worth proper consultation.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who participated in this debate. It is far better to be here than at some rumoured party at No. 10. I have enjoyed every moment of the debate.

I hope to respond adequately to the wide range of points. I shall begin with consultation, which was raised last—it was also raised first, by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I shall endeavour to answer the wide range of questions raised by the noble Baroness. Should I fail in any respect, I assure her that I shall write to her with the answers to any questions that I may have omitted to answer. At the start of this debate, I was in the blissful state of hoping that we were engaging in a limited debate to which I could give extensive time and consideration to the noble Baroness's every question. However, she will recognise that I should need to speak for three-quarters of an hour to respond adequately—I must respond to a number of other contributions—which would bring considerable criticism on me.

I shall deal first with consultation. We sought to ensure that admissions for 2004 should work on the basis of the new arrangements. Working back from 2004, we are fiercely constrained by parliamentary procedures and time limits in terms of the stage at which we must table the code. Our difficulty involved the 40 days of parliamentary time available for praying against the code. I give a straightforward apology to the noble Baroness, who should have been informed that the code was to be laid. I gather that such an undertaking had been given but it was not fulfilled. That is a straightforward apology.

It was necessary to lay the code on 15th November in order to meet the parliamentary timetable, and it was up to the Opposition in this place and another place to pray against the code if they wanted to do so. Laying the code at that date in order to get the principles in place for January and therefore the implementation of the new arrangements meant that the timetable for consultation was more limited than we should have wished. We recognise that that placed considerable pressure on people who wanted to respond.

We set out so far as we could to meet the needs of those who deserved to have been, and should have been, consulted. We were aware of those who have a direct interest in the matter. We targeted admission authorities because they would have the most direct interest in the changes to the regulations, and we consulted LEAs as the admission authorities of community and voluntary controlled schools. We consulted a representative sample of foundation and voluntary-aided schools that were responsible for admission to their schools, and a smaller sample of other non-admission-authority schools. We are open to the criticism that we did not have a consultation process that meant that every school in the country was consulted directly. That would have been a gargantuan task. Our process of consultation involved all those most directly affected as admission authorities. We did the best for them in our time frame to ensure that the consultation was carried out.

We acknowledge all of that. The Act was passed, as noble Lords will recall, in July last year. The time frame in which to implement the regulations has been more limited, which imposes constraints. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, suggested, the regulations and the code fulfil the concepts, ideas and themes of the Bill that was before the House last summer and which passed into law at the end of the summer. She said that within the framework there now appeared to be only a reference to local education authorities, rather than to sub-divisions of such authorities, which would be more appropriate in terms of admission arrangements. I give her that assurance. We recognise her example from the Guildford area and that, more widely across the country, it might be appropriate if the admission authorities were a sub-division of the local forum and not the local authority in total.

We are dealing with a code, the regulations prior to the code and a framework that was embodied in the Act, which was duly passed by both Houses. We are committed to ensuring that the admission arrangements work to the best possible extent for all parents and children in an area. That is our objective.

Inevitably, the moment at which one uses the word "admission"—to say nothing of "selection", which was raised earlier in our debate—the House responds with considerable passion; those are fundamental issues in education. That is perhaps why we had a larger number of participants in this debate than would normally be expected for such orders. Views have been expressed with considerable passion. I respect those views entirely; I entirely respect the views of my noble friends Lord Graham and Lord Desai, who emphasised why we regard certain processes of selection as unacceptable. However, that does not apply simply to us; I need not reiterate the old and obvious fact that it was Conservative administrations who ended selection in more authorities than Labour governments have done. There is consistent emphasis from the Conservative side on choice, but they also know that parental choice does not hold sway in relation to selection but the decision of the school about whether the student should be accepted by the school authority.

There was a word from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about headmasters and headmistresses not being involved in the selection process. That is merely because the regulation refers to the legal concept of the governing body being responsible as a legal entity for admission. The headmaster and headmistress play their part within the framework of the governing body and under the arrangements that the governing body makes.

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

My Lords, the code states that head teachers have no role in the admissions process. Those are the words in chapter 7 of the code, and there is a full stop at the end of the sentence.

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

My Lords, the code seeks to emphasise there that we do not expect individual students to be interviewed by head teachers and then be selected by them. Heads play their part in governing bodies. It is absolutely clear that heads are involved in a school's admission policy. How could they possibly exercise their dual authority and responsibilities to a school if they did not influence the governing body significantly in relation to the school's admissions process?

Another dimension of this debate which aroused considerable passion was whether the regulations suggested to Catholic authorities that interviews were no longer permissible. That is not the case with regard to the ethos of Catholic schools. The Government were approached by the Catholic authorities, which, like the Anglican Church, took the view that interviews were no longer regarded as the best basis for admission to faith schools. The code merely responds to that initiative. As the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, indicated, better ways exist than interviews to ensure that the ethos of schools is protected and there are better ways of ensuring that the requisite information is received in evaluating the student. I give way to the noble Baroness.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Of course, everyone involved in the process must have regard to the code. The code refers to all the Acts of statute that must be obeyed and by which everyone is obliged to act. Where in statute does it say that interviews cannot, should not and may not take place? The code cannot ban them; they must be banned in legislation. I cannot find that in the regulations and I do not believe it was set out in the Bill that became an Act. Therefore, will the noble Lord tell me which law a school will be breaking if it includes interviews as part of its admissions process?

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

My Lords, the school will be offending the code, which derives from last year's Education Act. It was not the first education Act to have implied a code of this kind, and this is not the first code that we have had. The code is a derivative of its predecessor, which embraced a large number of the same concepts. For a considerable period of time—ever since the introduction of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998—we have had to have admissions procedures.

We are cogniscant of the fact that admissions procedures arouse controversy. Nevertheless, 96 per cent of parents are offered a place for their child at a school for which they have expressed a preference. That is good news but we know that we can do better than that. Our research shows that parents find the process of choosing and applying for school places less stressful and easier when admission arrangements are co-ordinated. That is the basis of the new code and that is why it was presaged in the Act passed last year.

It was felt that, through the construction of admissions forums, more effective communication could take place with people in a locality so that they would better understand the co-ordination of admission arrangements. That would result in one obvious benefit. Parents fill in one form for all the available schools and they include their order of preference. Instead of parents having to weigh up whether or not a school is likely to offer their child a place, holding that position against an alternative choice and often being in considerable distress in balancing one possibility against another, we are now ensuring that there is co-ordination in the admission arrangements of a local authority area. That benefit from the code was presaged in the Bill which became an Act and it was generally approved of in the House.

We recognise that a number of questions have been raised about many other parts of the regulations. If the noble Lord will forgive me, I have a considerable argument to deploy in respect of the admissions forums regulations. I shall also seek to answer the questions properly addressed to me, many of which came from the noble Lord's Front Bench. I emphasise that the admissions forums regulations make provision for the establishment of forums, which will ensure that co-ordination exists across the local areas. I emphasise once again to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that local devolution will ensure that such areas can be smaller than the local authority.

With regard to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about co-ordinating arrangements and the legal obligations in respect of parents' preferences, of course the obligations will be honoured. Parents express a preference. The LEA simply sets up a co-ordinating scheme in deciding which single offer should be made where a child is eligible to be admitted to more than one school. Of course, a place will usually be offered at the school which the parent has ranked the highest. That is why the majority of places across the country are allocated according to the first choice of the parents involved. Controversy inevitably occurs where that does not obtain.

There will also be a single offer date. All parents will find out the results of their application and will receive an offer of a place at the same time. That is significantly better than our current arrangements and is the basis upon which the code is established.

The regulations also clarify the conditions under which a proposal to vary an admission number, following approval of statutory appraisals, need not be referred to the schools adjudicator. Therefore, we are ensuring that the admission arrangements for each school and the numbers involved are public and are recognised as part of the overall provision for the local authority.

The objection to the adjudicator's admission numbers—a matter addressed to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—replicates the existing provision whereby parents can object to standard numbers variations through the statutory proposal system. The adjudicator will consider such an objection, as he does all others. Therefore, we are not changing the role of the adjudicator with regard to the crucial matter of the numbers which each school makes available.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, also raised questions on a number of other issues. I shall deal with one aspect, which my noble friend Lord Brennan emphasised strongly. The noble Baroness also referred to the article in today's Daily Telegraph. That is not based upon fact. Nothing is imposed by this Government that makes issues connected with the interview process compulsory for Catholic schools. We have been involved in consultation on the best procedures for selection and for ensuring that the ethos of schools is maintained.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, also asked about the adjudicator's powers so far as concerns grammar schools, colleges of technology and academies. The powers of the adjudicator are not extended by these regulations; it is not possible to remove selection. As she recognises, the only way that selection can be removed is through a ballot sought by parents—a process which, as she knows only too well, thus far has been pursued on only one occasion.

The noble Baroness also raised the question of additional burdens on schools and reference was made to the LEA composite prospectus. That is not an additional burden and there is no new requirement here. LEAs already publish prospectuses with all their schools' admissions arrangements and this regulation merely updates that.

I take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we should have additional information on the basis of "value added" with regard to schools. We could not make that provision now because at present we do not have a full range of value-added statistics. The noble Lord will know that in certain areas the statistics relating to schools were first published only recently. However, in due course, value-added information will become available and the noble Lord is right to say that it should be made available. He is also right that we should encourage the development of modern technology, such as websites, so that parents can consult and obtain the information that they need on-line. All that lies a little way in the future. However, we recognise the validity of the case that the noble Lord makes and shall seek to respond to it as and when we can.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, the first question that I asked of the Government when they were first elected in 1997 was whether they would reply to my Written Questions by e-mail. I received a similar reply to the one that the Minister has just given. They still cannot do it. I hope that the Department for Education and Skills can do better.

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

My Lords, I take on board what the noble Lord has said. I have heard him mention that he received such a reply before. I was not seeking to repeat it verbatim. I was expressing the intention that as much as possible we seek to make education information available on-line. He will be aware of the enormous drive to put computers in schools. We shall make the information available to parents as rapidly as we can, although he will recognise that the quality of the information with regard to value added requires a substantial amount of work. For that reason it is bound to come out in discrete areas.

A noble Lord:

Is the noble Lord going to sit down?

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

My Lords, as ever I am seeking to be fair to participants in the debate as well as to colleagues who have joined us a little late. I am mindful of the fact that if I were unfair to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in my attempt to answer her questions, she would upbraid me the moment she gets to the Dispatch Box, so perhaps I am saving time by answering the questions as fully as I can.

We have had an interesting debate on the code. As I have indicated, we would have wanted wider consultation before the introduction of the code. We did our best to consult all the major parties. The noble Baroness always makes the point that all schools should be consulted on everything at all times, while at the same time saying that all schools should have the minimum amount of bureaucracy, mail and paper coming through their doors. I shall leave that small contradiction for another day.

I appeal to the House to recognise that in the code the Government are implementing legislation that was duly considered at great length last year—I participated in one or two of the debates—and passed by this House and the lower House. The code merely implements the principles that that legislation brought into force.

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

My Lords, there are many happy bunnies on the Government Back Benches. They have all been to their party—

A noble Lord:

My Lords—

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

My Lords, perhaps I can tell the noble Lord a story. I was approached by the Minister's Chief Whip and asked to keep all the speeches on this side of the House to a minimum. We tried to arrange it so that I would speak, then my noble friend Lord Pilkington, followed by perhaps one or two others. I was told that the speech from the Front Bench opposite would be brief so that everyone could go to their party uninterrupted. However, there has been the most successful filibuster that I have ever witnessed.

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

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness would recognise that a 21-minute opening speech may also be considered part of the filibuster.

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

My Lords, the Minister and the Chief Whip knew that there were nine regulations and a code of practice and that they could not be dealt with quickly. I could have talked for another 20 minutes because I am unhappy about so much in the regulations.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Pilkington that the consultation was a disgrace. It was not right, at the beginning of term, to give primary and secondary schools nine regulations and two voluminous codes of practice to respond to in 25 days. The Minister has just told my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth that the reason for that was to put the regulations in place by 2004. The Minister's code of practice says that the LEAs will be obliged to have co-ordinated schemes for the 2005 intake, so there was no hurry for the consultation to take place. As a result of consultation the time was extended, so they could have had more time and it would have been possible for there to be a better response.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, speaks for the Catholic Church, and for Catholic church schools. I implore the noble Lord to talk to some of the heads, particularly of the London schools, which would not entail a long journey. They are outraged because they did not know about this matter. I was one who was told that the code had not been published when it had been. The heads did not know about it and when they looked at the website it was not there. They regard the matter as important for some of the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Pilkington. They are very cross that a response was given by the head of the Catholic Church and the head of the Anglican Church without any consultation with them whatever. I speak for them and I believe that they should be supported. There is no one else to speak up for them. The Government will not, nor will the Liberal Democrats, so I shall; I am not ashamed to do so.

The Minister made one point that I welcome. He said that the article in the Daily Telegraph was not about making anything compulsory for faith schools. That is not the case. I welcome that. The article was written because John Clare of the Daily Telegraph, myself and the heads of the faith schools believe that from now on they will not be allowed to interview for admissions. That is not in law; it is not in the regulations; it is in the code of practice only and codes of practice are not law. They explain the practice and they refer to statutes but they are not law. Therefore, it will be possible for faith schools, if they wish, to have regard to the code of practice and to take the view that admissions should form part of their process. I welcome what the Minister said, that nothing in that is compulsory and therefore we need not be concerned.

The Minister did not say what are the limited powers of adjudicators or what powers they had over grammar schools. It would be helpful if he could write to me on that point.

I suggested a way of keeping down bumf for schools: a letter to all schools and all relevant bodies telling them that there were to be laid before Parliament nine regulations and two codes of practice and that if they were interested they could gain the information from the website—it would be helpful if that were continuously on the website—and if they wished they could have hard copies. The Minister said that the relevant people who had a direct interest were informed, but that is not right. The National Grammar Schools Association was not informed and a large tract of the regulations deals with admissions to grammar schools.

The answer was extremely disappointing so I wish to seek the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 70; Not-Contents, 130.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Education Act 2002 (Modification of Provisions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2002

Aye: 68 Members of the House of Lords

No: 128 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.