Education and Inspections Bill

– in the House of Lords at 4:16 pm on 5 July 2006.

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

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause-

"PRIMARY DUTIES IN RELATION TO HIGH STANDARDS AND THE FULFILMENT OF POTENTIAL

For section 13A of EA 1996 substitute-

"13A PRIMARY DUTIES IN RELATION TO HIGH STANDARDS AND THE FULFILMENT OF POTENTIAL

A local education authority shall ensure that their functions relating to the provisions of education to which this section applies-

(a) promote high standards, and (b) promote the fulfilment by every person concerned of his educational potential.""

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

I speak to Amendments Nos. 1, 8 and 10. Amendment No. 1 attempts to strengthen the commitment made in the Bill to the high standards of education and the promotion of the potential of every person attending our schools. I say "person" because our Amendments Nos. 8 and 10 seek to clarify the definition of children and young adults attending our schools. I prefer to define those children and young adults as people. I have teenage sons and a teenage daughter who I know would seriously object to being referred to as "children".

Amendment No. 1 first and foremost reinforces the duty to promote high standards in schools and the fulfilment of potential. While the Bill states that as an intention, I remain wary of its precise wording. My amendment is prompted in part by a letter from the Minister in another place to my honourable friend Nick Gibb MP. The Minister stated that, as the Bill stands, local authorities will have a duty to act "with a view to" promoting high standards, fulfilment of potential and fair access, which I will address in a moment. He added:

"As the duty is to act 'with a view to', it will be a 'target duty'—that is confirmed by Parliamentary Counsel".

He went on to say that the clause would be the,

"overarching expression of the Government's aspiration that improvements in standards should benefit children from all backgrounds and circumstances".

While that principle is entirely in line with the thinking from these Benches, I believe that we are in danger of expecting aspiration to produce a reality.

The amendment would place a solid duty on local education authorities to promote high standards and the fulfilment of potential. The key word is "promote". This is not a duty to produce high standards—that is the job of schools, not local authorities. A direct duty, as laid out in my amendment, would instil in every local authority a working function of promoting high standards and the fulfilment of potential.

My amendment also omits the reference to "fair access" added to the Bill in another place. I confirm to the Committee that that omission is in no way an attempt to prevent children from all backgrounds and walks of life having access to whichever school they wish. Rather, I did not see the merit of its inclusion. Clause 1(1)(c) states that local authorities need to ensure,

"the fulfilment by every child concerned of his educational potential".

Paragraph (a) provides that high standards must be promoted. The net effect of those two paragraphs will, if they are successful, be to ensure that each individual child receives an education that fulfills his potential to a high standard.

I should be grateful if the Minister could inform the Committee precisely what the inclusion of "fair access" contributes to those aims and could give me a precise definition of "fair" in this context. I fear that although it may look perfectly harmless in the Bill, the inclusion of a fair access clause without the appropriate definition could encourage local authorities to stifle diversity in favour of the "deadening uniformity" that the Bill is intended to get rid of.

I want to ensure that the Bill is remembered for its effectiveness, not merely its intention. I look forward to the Minister's response on both those matters and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

I rise to speak to Amendment No. 2 standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Plant and the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. They asked me to make plain that they are very sorry not to be in the House this afternoon. They are members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am also a member, which is paying an important front-line visit in the context of its current inquiry into human trafficking. I have, as it were, leave of absence to be here. In that context, it may be appropriate to mention that our concern arose as a result of our examination of the Bill in the Joint Committee on Human Rights. There has been a great deal of correspondence with the Minister and we very much appreciate his always fulsome replies.

The purpose of my amendment is to make the same provision for a statutory right to education in England and Wales as is made for Scotland in the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc. Act 2000. I know that my noble friend will argue that that right is well established in the first protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights and in Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. If that right is established in those conventions to which we as a nation have voluntarily put our names, why on earth not spell it out clearly in the Bill? The purpose of the amendment is to state categorically the right of the child in this context from which all else will follow. It also spells out the responsibility of the local education authority to ensure that that right is fulfilled.

The drafting of the Bill, it is fair to say, is a little tentative. It talks about target duties and,

"so far as it is possible".

The amendment would provide that the basis of everything in our educational policy was the right of the child to education, established in law, which is paramount, and that that is the fundamental point of reference. We think it would strengthen the Bill. I feel very excited about much of what is in the Bill, but it is a pity that we have not taken the opportunity to spell out in it what we subscribe to in the conventions, and I do hope that my noble friend will feel able seriously to look at this.

Quite apart from his correspondence with the Joint Committee, the Minister has been good enough to have full correspondence with me as well, which I greatly appreciate. I know that he and the Government attach considerable importance to the ruling of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, in the Ali v Lord Grey School case in 2006, which rejected the Court of Appeal's finding that the article had been breached by an unlawful exclusion and outlined the way in which the law in England and Wales fulfils the convention rights. As the Minister pointed out in his letter to me, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham,

"explained that the responsibility for ensuring education rests on what has been called a 'fourfold foundation':

The first element being the duty of parents under Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 to cause their children to receive efficient and suitable full-time education either by regular attendance at school or otherwise;

The second element is the Secretary of State's duty under Section 10 of the Education Act 1996 to promote the education of the people of England and Wales;

The third element is that the LEAs are required by Section 13 of the Act to secure that efficient education is available to meet the needs of the population of their area; and

The fourth element is to maintain the schools themselves; each school is under the direction of its governing body, who must conduct the school with a view to promoting higher standards of educational achievement at their school".

We would all applaud that, but what it simply does not state is that the child has a fundamental legal right to education. We have missed an opportunity to state something that would put everyone in the position of having to ensure that that right is fulfilled.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

I speak to Amendments Nos. 6 and 9, both tabled in my name and in the name of my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth.

Amendment No. 6 would correct an anomaly between academies and other publicly funded schools in the admission of pupils with a statement of special educational needs. At present, with an LEA-maintained school, parents can expect that, if the LEA agrees with their expressed preference, it will direct a school to take their child. However, with an academy, the child may not be admitted to the parents' preferred school even where the LEA agrees with the parents' stated preference. There follows a convoluted and time-consuming process, with mediation arrangements to resolve the disagreement between the LEA and the academy, followed by an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, followed ultimately, if necessary, by a ruling by the Secretary of State. It seems unnecessary to take so many steps and for there to be so many more hurdles to jump through for parents of a statemented child who want their child to go to an academy than for parents who want their child to go to an LEA-maintained school.

The question whether academies take more statemented pupils than do maintained schools is rather different from the question of whether there is an unequal process. The extra hurdles faced by parents who want an academy place for their statemented child are still extra hurdles, however many statemented children there may already be in academies. The Minister said at Second Reading that he and his colleagues are looking to see whether they can make further changes in this area, and I look forward to hearing the result of these deliberations.

Amendment No. 9 is about support services and the impact that good support services can have on ensuring that every disabled child and every child with SEN can achieve their educational potential. No child can achieve their educational potential on their own. For disabled children and children with SEN, support services providing training, support and advice to teachers are crucial to supplement and complement the expertise that exists in any school. As noble Lords will know, training in SEN and disability is not required in initial teacher training, which makes ongoing access to such training all the more crucial for teachers. Ofsted's 2005 report on the impact of LEA support and outreach services sets out how support service staff can bring in knowledge and skills which are usually unavailable in a mainstream school, and make a major contribution to a pupil's progress.

However, support services are under threat. The practice of delegating funding directly to schools to support disabled pupils and pupils with SEN, while helpful in many ways, means that for some LEAs it is very difficult to maintain support services. In some cases, support services are not being purchased by schools because they do not have enough money to buy the services back. In other cases, it is because teachers are not aware of the support available to them or do not understand the difference it could make. According to Ofsted,

"delegation of funding to schools reduced the LEA's capacity to provide targeted support for school improvement where the standards achieved by pupils with SEN were too low".

That reduction in capacity could have a real effect on pupil outcomes.

Amendment No. 9 places a duty on LEAs to make sure that support services are available. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer some reassurance that the support and expertise, which make such a difference to the progress of disabled children and children with SEN, will continue to be provided.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills 4:30, 5 July 2006

Before I speak to my Amendment No. 7 in this group, perhaps I may make one or two comments about what has been said on the earlier amendments. First, I must express surprise that the Official Opposition want to remove the reference to fair access from the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said that she felt that it might stifle diversity, but on these Benches if we were given a choice between diversity and fair access, we would choose fair access any day.

I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on the need to give every child a right to an education. Our Amendment No. 24 on the education authority being the provider of last resort for children not receiving a suitable education would achieve roughly the same thing. I support the noble Lord's wish to put this principle, based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, at the beginning of the Bill. We also support the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I feel very sad that the evidence about the activities of some academies means that we need his Amendment No. 6. On his Amendment No. 9, I hope that he will support our Amendment No. 183, which requires SEN training for teachers at every stage of their training.

Amendment No. 7 would tie the highly desirable objective of promoting individual fulfilment to a personalised learning approach and access to the appropriate resources. When a similar amendment was debated in another place, the Minister said that personalised learning was a key part of the Government's proposition in Clause 1. We agree with that and welcome it. He also pointed out that new funding would be available to support personalised learning. We welcome any new funding, but we question whether it will be enough. I shall say more about that later. The Minister then pointed out that the amendment would rule out some other local authority functions that also have a bearing on a child's attainment, apart from teaching and learning, such as those concerning admissions systems, transport, pastoral support or extended services.

Our intention in tabling this amendment is to probe the Government on the practicalities of fulfilling their welcome commitment to personalised learning. It is certainly not intended to rule out all other local authority functions that have a bearing on a child's attainment. Perhaps if we pursue this amendment, we ought to change it to "teaching and learning" and other support.

However, the DfES has stated that personalised learning complements and delivers aspects of the Every Child Matters agenda. The outcomes of this, which focus on giving every child the support they require whatever their needs, abilities, background or circumstances, link closely with the possibilities created by personalised learning to tailor learning and to tackle all the barriers to learning. The 2005 White Paper, Higher Standards, Better Schools For All, discusses personalised learning in detail. It refers to an education system that focuses on the needs of the individual child. However, the provision of personalised learning outlined in the White Paper focuses on,

"intensive small-group tuition in literacy and numeracy for those falling behind...and extra stretch for the gifted and talented".

It seems to focus on outcomes rather than the whole child. While these two aspects are critical, I suggest that the document reflects a narrow view of personalised learning which focuses largely on its provision. For example, too many children struggle with their communication skills, those of listening and speaking. We need a national strategy to help all schools deal with that issue.

A commitment to personalised learning has very wide implications for the workforce and for the curriculum. The school workforce remodelling agenda, with its impact on the role of the teacher, the management of a wider range of professionals and on the organisation of a range of resources, has considerable implications for the way learning is structured in the future, both in and out of school. The NUT document, Bringing Down the Barriers, argues that two conditions need to be established for personalised learning to succeed. It states that a fundamental review of the national curriculum and its assessment arrangements is essential to meeting the aspirations of personalised learning and that young people need to be able to experience and teachers need to be able to provide much more one-to-one teaching. So these are the very broad implications of the Government's new commitment to personalised learning. Can the Minister assure us that they will be looked at and that there will now be an entitlement for every child to personalised learning so that he or she can fulfil their educational potential, and that schools will have the appropriate resources to actually deliver it?

Photo of Baroness Warnock Baroness Warnock Crossbench

I support what has just been said and express my particular support for Amendments Nos. 7 and 9. One of the main aims of the Bill is to enable children to have personalised learning, which would entail local authorities having a statutory duty to ensure that the services are available. I am thinking in particular of services such as speech therapy which cannot be supplied by the regular teacher, however well trained. At the moment it lies in an ambiguous area because local authorities often claim that they cannot ensure the provision of speech therapy that children urgently need.

Communication difficulties can be the most terrible obstacle for those children with severe disabilities in this area being educated in mainstream schools. Without learning the skills of communication, they really cannot possibly fulfil their educational potential. This is an example of where a statutory duty on local authorities to enable a child,

"to have access to such teaching and learning support as may be appropriate", is a matter of crucial importance if the Government's general policy is to go forward. I strongly support Amendments Nos. 7 and 9.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I should like to take this opportunity to explore what the Government currently understand by the words "educational potential". How broad a definition of "educational" are they intending here? Do ball skills come under education, or is it merely being able to get through the numeracy hour that counts as education? What boundaries do the Government currently set on this? What do the Government mean by "potential" and how is a school or local education authority supposed to assess it? What instruments are to be used and what measure may an LEA apply to say "Yes, we have done this. This child has fulfilled their educational potential"? If we are putting a duty on authorities, we must give them some ability to know that they have fulfilled it. However, I do not really see how it can be done.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

I am confused and should like some guidance from the Minister. My first point concerns Amendment No. 1, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on primary duties. I am not entirely clear what a primary duty is. The Education Reform Act 1998, which I regard as an important anchor point indeed for the education system, states that the Secretary of State, the local education authority and/or the governing body have to,

"exercise their functions...with a view to securing that the curriculum for the school...promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society; and...prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life".

I think that that is a supremely good definition of education. Would Amendment No. 1 in any way change the emphasis? Would that definition remain in place if Amendment No. 1 were accepted?

Secondly, I entirely support the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in asking the Minister whether he will kindly give a clear definition of fair access. Is fair access going to be defined in regulations? If it is, could we please see a draft of the regulations or have an idea of what they will say? I am not suggesting that there are not reasons for having a general, sweeping idea of fair access, but it will be very difficult when it has to be applied. There are not and never will be infinite resources for education, and choices therefore have to be made. Gifted children, for example, concern me very much. What is fair access for a gifted child? Is it simply fair access to a more or less "bog standard" school, or is it access to a school that will stimulate that child and cause him to succeed and fulfil his potential? I believe that nearly all children—not all children, but nearly all children—thrive on competition provided the competition is such that they can succeed at least from time to time. That inevitably implies that children must learn alongside other children of more or less equal ability and who have received more or less the same training and experience in life to give them a chance to be able to compete and to stimulate one another to succeed.

How will that be secured? In very large schools, it may be possible to secure it by having forms of streaming and dividing into different sectors within the school. However, we have at home, in a house belonging to my family, a small school. At the moment it has 12 pupils and is thinking of increasing the number to 18. These children have a very special need and cannot cope in a big school. They have failed in a big school—they have been a disaster in a big school—whereas they are doing very well in this small school. Small schools cannot provide for a huge range of academic ability.

What about ability in subjects that are outside the academic curriculum? I know of two children who have quite exceptional musical ability. What is fair access to schooling for a child who has quite exceptional musical ability? These are the kinds of question that have to be answered, and I think we need to know the kind of answers that the Government are going to give.

Photo of Baroness David Baroness David Labour

I should very much like to support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. It seems strange that we do not have such legislation already. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to support it and put it into the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench

I should like to say a brief but warm word of support for Amendments Nos. 6 and 9 in the name of my noble friend Lord Rix. Amendment No. 6, whether we use the words "fair access" or not, would ensure that parents of a child with a statement had the same rights of access to an academy as they do to any other publicly funded school, which is surely right. I particularly warmly support Amendment No. 9. My noble friend has explained very clearly the value of these support services, which offer training and advice. I feel that they are crucial, perhaps particularly regarding autistic spectrum disorders. Many teachers do not really understand the problems surrounding these disorders and it is only when the support services come in and give hands-on support and training that they realise how to deal with them. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, her Amendment No. 183 will also come from the other side in dealing with the problem, in that it will ensure that teachers at all levels will have an understanding of special educational needs.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench 4:45, 5 July 2006

I support Amendments Nos. 6 and 9. In listening to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I remembered how extraordinarily complex this issue is. While I do not necessarily agree with the implications of some of his comments, I hope that through discussion of this Bill we give some thought to implementation as well as the principles of fairness and access. I am acutely aware that while I stand here and we discuss access and the needs of such a wide range of children and abilities, there are large numbers of youngsters who simply cannot get a statement. They are excluded from getting what now they should have by right by a series of different interpretations of varying guidelines. I hope that in the course of the Bill's passage we not only think about what we aspire to, but work towards what we should already have on the ground.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

I follow what the noble Baroness has just said and commend it very much to the Committee. I am sorry that we have not been able to take Amendment No. 1 with Amendment No. 3, in the same discussion, because Amendment No. 3 puts particular emphasis on the well-being of children and matches it up with the substantial objective of fulfilling children's educational potential. Because we have not taken them together we perhaps do not draw sufficient attention to the point made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley that the issues of well-being and fair access are very much part of what one wants to see in an educational system. One difficulty with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is that it puts almost the entire emphasis on the issue of academic standards and of potential being fulfilled, in that rather specific and somewhat limited sense.

We live at a time when our schools are rightly continually driven to higher academic standards, but also when having league tables and the business of testing and examination lead to the great danger that we may leave out a large number of children who, when they have been left behind in primary school or the early stages of secondary school, gradually become more and more incapable of competing and holding up with the rest of the school community, as the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, have implied. We must give great attention to statemented children, but also to a whole group of children above them who for one reason or another may find themselves bewildered by or not engaged in schooling—the children who do not get five GCSEs and so find themselves gradually drifting backwards. That is a group who are doing badly in our education system.

One other thing that I want to say relates to the well-being of the child. We live at a time when, socially, there are huge pressures on children. I am sure that we are all aware of the real distress that many children go through—in the most extreme case because they become carers for their own parents or, in less extreme cases, because their families have broken up or they have been moved frequently throughout their young lives, when the emotional strains on them are very great and it is difficult for them to cope. There is a real danger in the present structure of our education system, with its tremendous emphasis on passing a whole steeplechase of tests and exams, that we will lose sight of some of these personal difficulties that children face. That is where Amendment No. 3 and my noble friend's Amendment No. 7 could put emphasis on some of the other factors that stand in the way of children properly learning.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, referred to problems of concentration for some children, which is becoming more striking among not only children with learning difficulties but those with other reasons why they find it difficult to concentrate, which may be related to their home circumstances, or to a very mild form of Asperger's or other things of that kind. Will the Minister give us some view of his understanding on the balance between these very significant and important objectives for education—on the one side, academic attainment and, on the other, the well-being of children? How, by looking at the issue of personalised education, can one go much further to help children at a very early stage to understand learning difficulties and emotional problems that may stand in the way of their attaining their full potential?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

I did not mention the word "academic" at all. I suggest the noble Baroness reads the amendment again to note that I am talking about the need to promote high standards and the fulfilment of the educational potential of everyone concerned, which might not mean academic potential at all. We are talking about the whole broad spectrum of the educational front. In putting down this amendment I have not sought to talk about the academic side. I am talking about that individual child's educational potential.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

I support Amendment No. 9, tabled by my noble friend Lord Rix. I hope I have understood him correctly. A report, The Costs of Inclusion, was published in May this year by the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Education. It was commissioned by the National Union of Teachers concerning inclusion in schools. Its final words are:

"The most striking aspect of this study is the goodwill of teachers who believe in inclusion and try to make it work but do not find their goodwill repaid by the level of professional support they deserve".

The report says that it is clear that many teachers will still carry an unsustainable workload, and that,

"The evidence demonstrates unequivocally that the needs, interest and potential of many children with special needs are not being met".

I strongly support my noble friend's amendment.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

I shall speak briefly in support of the two amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. These young people with special educational needs are the ones who should concern us most. I believe they concern this Government very highly, and the Government have made that clear in introducing their White Paper. I therefore hope the Minister will be able to respond positively.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

These amendments all relate to the fundamental duties on local authorities in Clauses 1 to 3 to promote fair access and the educational potential of all children, including those with special educational needs. They therefore go to the heart of the purposes of the Bill, and indeed the purposes of education at large. They are a very good place to start in our deliberations.

This Bill should also be seen in the context of the Childcare Bill, which some of us have spent a good part of the past two months debating, and which goes to the heart of the welcome comments by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about what we are seeking to do in our education system. There is no end point. We will never reach a stage where we believe the full educational potential of the entire cohort of young people has been realised. That is something we are working towards, but it will be a long road.

We are seeking to promote both higher academic and educational standards and much more intensive support, within the education system and services provided by the state at large, for the wider social, emotional and physical needs of children and their families. That is encapsulated in the work we are doing in childcare: the development of this whole new area of the welfare state in under-five services, and the ambition that every community should, as in Scandinavia, have its own under-fives' centre that focuses on precisely the early identification of needs that the noble Baroness mentioned, and tackles parents' needs in terms of additional support right at the beginning of a child's life, so that you embed at the beginning of the process the support that they need to succeed. The Bill needs to be seen in a holistic way in conjunction with what we are seeking to do with childcare and the wider Every Child Matters agenda.

Amendment No. 1, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, would, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, noted, introduce a new formulation of Section 13A of the Education Act 1996, entitled:

"Primary duties in relation to high standards and fulfilment of potential", in addition to a different new formulation of Section 13A, entitled simply:

"Duty to provide high standards and the fulfilment of potential", which the existing Clause 1 would add. I am not clear whether the noble Baroness intends to create this hierarchy of duties, which would in practice be confusing in view of the overlap between the two sets of duties, but that is not the issue. The issue is the substantive points that she is raising about the content of the new proposed duties.

The most notable difference between Amendment No. 1 and what is in Clause 1 is that it would remove our proposed duty on local authorities to ensure fair access to educational opportunity. I understand from what the noble Baroness said about her anxiety on the promotion of diversity that this may be based on her and her colleagues' concerns that the fair access duty could be seen to favour community schools over other categories of schools, or to imply a forced introduction of banding or other mechanisms by a local authority, which would be highly controversial in the context of individual schools.

I hope that I can provide reassurance on both points. The fair access duty in Clause 1 applies in the context of all local authority functions relating to the provision of education. There is no case whatever for it leading to local authorities favouring one type of school over another. Indeed, one of the implications of fair access is that local authorities should be entirely fair-minded in their approach to all suppliers of education in their area and not seek to favour one over another.

All admission authorities, which include local authorities themselves in respect of community schools, will by law have to act in accordance with the new stronger school admissions code, whose aim is to promote fairer access than often applies at the moment. Local authorities will continue to be required to publish admission arrangements for all maintained schools in their area, and to work with the governing bodies of all schools which are their own admission authorities to ensure fair admission arrangements. That is another aspect of their duty to promote fair access. There is no implied power whatever for local authorities to use the fair access provision to favour community schools over other schools.

The noble Baroness and her colleagues are also concerned about banding. Local authorities will not be forced to introduce banding in admission arrangements, although many may choose this option to promote fairer access to educational opportunity in pursuit of their duties under Clause 1. Neither will local authorities be able to force community schools to introduce banding—I know that is another concern of the noble Baroness—as we intend to table a government amendment, in response to concerns raised in another place, that would require the agreement of a community school's governing body before banding could be introduced at that school.

I fully accept that fair access is ultimately a matter of judgment which local authorities will have to make; it could not be otherwise. There is no single yardstick of fair access. It is a judgment not only about admissions procedures but about the allocation of resources that goes to the heart of decisions that local authorities have to take month in, month out. The important point about Clause 1, which replaces the existing duty for local authorities simply to provide sufficient school places, is that local authorities should be required to make that judgment and to explain it openly in their communities, whereas there is no such obligation at present.

I turn to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Judd. In passing I pay tribute to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which rightly obliges us to give very careful consideration to all issues which have implications for human rights. The noble Lord and his colleagues do sterling work in that respect. I will reflect on what he has said. As always, he made a very powerful case. However, as he said, I have written to him setting out why we believe that there is a legally enforceable right to school education for every child at the moment. Inevitably, because I have been writing to noble Lords, I shall summarise the arguments that I have made in those letters, which have been played back to me in noble Lords' remarks. I hope that he will forgive me if I do that to put it on the record.

The right to education is guaranteed by Article 2 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, and for children by Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United Kingdom is a party to both of those, so these rights hold force in all parts of the United Kingdom. As my noble friend recognised, Scotland has gone down the further course indicated by him in its statutory provisions. We do not believe that there is a need for us to do so in England because existing legislation and case law achieve the same purpose.

In the recent case referred to by my noble friend which was considered by the Appellate Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, set out fully how the responsibility for ensuring that education in England and Wales fulfils the convention rights, based on what Lord Wilberforce, in an earlier judgment, had called the fourfold foundation, is met. First, there is the duty of parents under Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 to cause their children to receive efficient and suitable full-time education either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. Secondly, there is the Secretary of State's duty under Section 10 of the Education Act 1996 to promote the education of the people of England and Wales. Thirdly, there is the requirement on local education authorities under Section 13 of the Act to secure that efficient education is available to meet the needs of the population of the area in question. Fourthly, there is the fact that all state schools are under the direction of a governing body which must conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement. Taking those four together, they achieve the fundamental right to education that my noble friend wants.

My noble friend has also raised separately the issue of the right to education for children who are informally excluded from school. Under Section 19 of the 1996 Act, a local education authority must make arrangements for the provision of suitable education at school or otherwise for those children of compulsory school age who, by reason of illness, exclusion from school or otherwise, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them. The Government take this duty further in the Bill by adding a new duty on local authorities, to which we attach considerable importance, to identify children who are missing from education. In my time as a Minister, that has been one of the most concerning aspects of educational provision that has come my way, including some very concerning Ofsted reports on the way in which local authorities seek to identify those who have slipped through the net entirely in terms of educational provision. That is also part of the reason why we support, against the concerns that have been raised elsewhere, the information-sharing database, which will ensure that local authorities have comprehensive data on the children in their area so that they can ensure that they are placed at and attend a school.

The duty is encompassed in Clause 4, which places a duty on local authorities to make arrangements to enable them to establish, so far as it is possible to do so, the identities of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education. The duty applies in relation to children of compulsory school age who are not on a school roll and who are not otherwise receiving a suitable education.

Amendment No. 6, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is about special educational needs and academies. I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss this and other matters with him yesterday, with colleagues from the Special Educational Consortium, on whom we depend greatly for advice on these and other matters. Academies are fully inclusive schools, which are required by the terms of the model funding agreement—a contractual agreement between the academy trust and the Secretary of State—to admit pupils with special educational needs on an equal basis with others. Academies must have regard to the special educational needs code of practice and any guidance issued by the Secretary of State relating to Sections 316 and 316A of the Education Act 1996.

Parents with a child who has a statement of special educational needs can make representations for them to attend an academy, as they can in respect of any other state school or independent special school. The local authority is bound to consider those representations, and if it agrees with the parents that the academy is a suitable placement for the child, it will inform the academy that it proposes to name it. In this situation, academies must consider precisely the same criteria as those set out in Sections 316 and 316A of the Education Act, as would the local authority in determining whether to place a child in an academy. Academies therefore are in a comparable position to other mainstream schools, as they can only refuse to be named if admitting the child would be,

"incompatible with the provision of efficient education for other children and no reasonable steps may be made to secure compatibility".

Furthermore, if a local authority names a provision other than an academy in a child's statement of special educational needs, the parents of that child already have exactly the same right of appeal to the independent Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal as they would for a maintained school and, if following a SENDIST ruling an academy is named in a statement, the academy should admit the child.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, asked me what further steps we were taking to ensure that this right was enshrined. We have agreed with the president of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal that the Secretary of State would, as a matter of course, uphold the decisions of SENDIST, which means that academies will be placed in the same position as maintained schools in the enforcement of SENDIST decisions. That is the legal position. The data support the view that academies are fulfilling their special educational needs duties fully, as the noble Lord recognised.

Amendment No. 9 is tabled by the noble Lord. The aim of the special educational needs framework and the support that is provided to children with special educational needs and disabilities is precisely that all such children should be able to reach their full potential. This is reinforced by Clause 1, which states that local authorities should exercise their functions with a view to,

"promoting the fulfilment by every child concerned of his educational potential".

"Every child" includes every child with special educational needs and disabilities.

Schools and local education authorities have duties to identify, assess and make suitable provision to meet a child's individual learning needs. Local education authorities in particular have a duty, where necessary, to assess children's special educational needs and to draw up SEN statements and then arrange the educational provision set out in the statements. Through a thorough multi-agency assessment, a child's individual needs can clearly be identified and the provision tailored to help that child to reach his potential.

Regulations governing the provision of SEN information by local authorities require that the published information provides an explanation of the provision expected to be met from maintained school budgets and that which the local authority expects to provide itself from central funds. This means a clear indication of the actual services available from the local authority, and local authorities also have to keep under review their general arrangements for meeting children's special educational needs—this, too, includes the SEN support services they provide.

Providing specialist support services from the local authority centrally is one way of making those services available, as the noble Lord recognised, but of course it is not the only way. Such services can be provided by one authority on behalf of a group of authorities, or they may be located within a school or a collaborative of schools. For example, this week we announced that we have granted specialist status to a further 14 special schools under the specialist schools programme to recognise their specialist expertise in meeting particular needs and to enable them to do a good deal more outreach work with other schools in their communities. A key requirement of the funding is that they should share their specialist expertise with other schools, particularly mainstream schools—that was strongly welcomed in the specialist schools community. We wish to take such arrangements further and steadily to bring more special schools within the specialist schools policy, as one way of ensuring that these centres of excellence are available more widely.

Amendment No. 7, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, would alter the duties on local authorities in relation to high standards and the fulfilment of potential by more narrowly defining how the fulfilment of educational potential might be achieved. We do not believe that it is right to limit the duty in this way. I completely support the noble Baroness's desire to make a strong point about the need to focus on more personalised teaching and learning. We entirely share that objective. We need to secure personalised learning for an education system that enables every child to fulfil their potential; only by that means will we narrow achievement gaps and realise our Every Child Matters ambitions.

The noble Baroness said that this would require a good deal of investment and I fully accept that. There has already been a 50 per cent increase in education spending since 1997 and we announced in last year's White Paper an extra £565 million earmarked specifically for personalised learning; in addition, my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced a further £365 million in his Budget this year to enable schools to go further in providing for more individualised learning in schools, including, as the noble Baroness said, small-group and one-to-one tuition—but not excluding other forms of provision, including extended schools. Increasingly, schools will make that provision by becoming extended schools to meet the needs of their pupils.

We fully accept the noble Baroness's observation that there would be further implications for the workforce and the curriculum. This will change over time. Another important area in which this will apply is the development of new specialised diplomas, which will come in 14 vocational lines and will be introduced from 2008. They will significantly extend the school curriculum, the opportunities available to pupils and the ability of schools and local authorities to meet the educational potential of all children. The Bill contains an entitlement to those specialised diplomas but I believe that over time we will wish to make available more such provision as resources allow and as educational philosophies develop.

Amendments Nos. 8 and 10, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, would require local authorities to exercise their education functions with a view to promoting the fulfilment of every "person" rather than every "child" concerned. I understand that the noble Baroness tabled the amendments because she wants young people to be called "people" rather than "children", and I completely sympathise with the objective. Legally we could have used the word "person", and Section 13A of the Education Act 1996 uses that word. However, because this relates to the Every Child Matters issues raised by other noble Lords, I should stress that we used the term "child" rather than "person" because we wanted to align the duties in Clause 1 with the Every Child Matters agenda and, in particular, with the requirements of Section 10 of the Children Act 2004, which specifically refer to children.

We want there to be no doubt—this meets the points raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Williams—that the Bill and the Every Child Matters agenda go hand in hand and that the one reinforces the other. Noble Lords who spent a lot longer than I did attending to the passage of the Children Act 2004 will know that this establishes local authorities' duties to promote the well-being of children in their area in so far as they relate to the five Every Child Matters outcomes, which include education, training and recreation. We want the wording of the two sets of provisions to be as compatible as possible.

Once we have established this important principle, it goes without saying that we cannot just add a reference to,

"promoting the fulfilment by every child concerned of his educational potential", without also defining more clearly whom this is intended to cover, as the existing duties in Section 13A of the 1996 Act are couched in terms of "persons" rather than "children". Because of that, the definition of "children" in subsection (2) of new Section 13A sets out precisely what that word means, and I fear that it will include, like children of a similar age, the noble Baroness's children.

I hope that I have made a reasonable attempt to meet the points raised in this important and interesting debate.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 5:00, 5 July 2006

I thank the Minister for that helpful and detailed answer. I omitted to ask him whether he will inform the Committee—or perhaps he will write following this debate—of the Government's response to The Costs of Inclusion report that I mentioned. If he would not mind writing to me, I should find it helpful. The report calls for an independent review of inclusive practice, which it says is now essential. If there is a government response to it, I should be grateful if he would send it to me.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

I am not breaching any confidences by saying that tomorrow the Select Committee on Education and Skills in another place will publish its report on special educational needs, and it will cover many of these issues. The Government will, of course, be required to respond fully to that report and they intend to do so. Our response to the report will also be a response to the same issues raised in the University of Cambridge study, to which the noble Earl referred. I shall of course keep the House informed of our response when we make it.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

I thank my noble friend for the very considerate response to my amendment, and I am encouraged that he will go away and consider it seriously. I shall not go over all the arguments again, but perhaps I may make two points as succinctly as possible. First, he returned to the judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, but that was about how the obligations under the convention were fulfilled. The point that I make in the amendment, which I consider to be important, is that we are not saying that we are doing this because we have obligations under some convention; the convention is there because this is something that we believe is right. If in our society we believe that it is right to recognise the fundamental right of the child—full stop—to education, then it seems to me that it would be good and would strengthen the Bill to say that right at the outset, and then everything else follows on from that. It is about how we fulfil that right. It is not the case that we have to introduce arguments, if challenged, about whether we will have obligations under conventions here and conventions there. We are saying that this, at the heart of our education policy, is the right that we recognise, and everything follows from that.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 5:15, 5 July 2006

I do not think that the noble Lord mentioned whether he is prepared to give the Committee a sneak preview of the regulations on fair access. I detected a fair amount of enthusiasm in the Committee for the idea of having one if it were possible, so that we could understand more clearly what the Government propose.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

I thank the Minister for seeing me and members of the Special Educational Consortium yesterday afternoon in time for a refreshing cup of tea, which was much needed in yesterday's heat. I am sure that he will understand when I say that I should like to read his response in tomorrow's Hansard, together with my colleagues from the SEC, before we decide whether to take any action on Report.

In the mean time, I shall not press my Amendments Nos. 6 and 9.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I do not know whether the noble Lord will be able to answer the questions that I raise on the meanings of "educational" and "potential" and how they will be measured. If the noble Lord wishes, he can write to me, or I could raise the matter again on clause stand part.

The reason I am interested in "educational" is that the Government have said that they want to raise the level of funding to that of independent schools. There is a different definition of education in independent schools from that in state schools. It is a much broader acceptance of what education means in the generality of independent schools. Indeed, within state systems there is a lot of variation between the old grammar school model, which is pretty narrow, and other, much broader schools, which to my mind are much more exciting. If the Government are putting a duty on LEAs, what is it?

In measuring potential, we are getting into very sticky water with the introduction of contextual value added. In a way, it says that a kid of Afro-Caribbean background has less potential because of that thana child of Caucasian background. I feel deeply uncomfortable about that, and it is now being incorporated in the Ofsted definition of whether a school is fulfilling the educational potential of its children.

I very much want to know where the Government stand on that and how potential will be assessed. I do not expect the Minister to go into absolute, crystal-clear detail, but I want to know what the Government think. What is their opinion; what is their ambition on these things? How do they see this changing and developing the educational system over the next few years?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

That is a very wide issue, and I am happy to write to the noble Lord, which may be the best approach rather than giving him a potted version now.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for his response to my amendment and the others in the group.

I reiterate that the purpose of our AmendmentNo. 1 was to strengthen the commitment to high standards of education and the promotion of the potential of every child attending our schools. Again, I stress that I was talking about educational potential, not necessarily academic attainment, which can mean different things for different children. We would support what the Government are trying to achieve in a holistic way.

Perhaps it was the reference to primary duties that led the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to pull me up on this. Perhaps I should not have used the words "primary duties", but I did so to try to add weight to the emphasis on the need for high standards and fulfilment of educational potential. The important thing is to try to shift the duty on schools to achieve that potential. Let us remember that, under this Bill and certainly beginning with the White Paper, the local education authority is supposed to be the commissioner not the provider. A solid duty is being placed on local education authorities to promote high standards and the fulfilment of potential, and to ensure that it is the school which carries out that duty and produces high standards and achieves fulfilment of potential among its pupils. That is the purpose behind our amendment.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for articulating rather better than I did the need for clarity in the phrase "fair access". It concerns us, not least because the proposed new Section 13A(1)(c) mentioned in Clause 1 covers the issue of fair access, in requiring all children to have the chance to succeed and their educational potential fulfilled. Fair access is a necessary component of that goal and one could argue that to have the phrase in the Bill is otiose. Following on from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will the Minister consider writing to us on, or mentioning later this evening, the possibility of noble Lords seeing a draft of the regulations spelling out the definition of "fair access"?

For now, however, I thank the Minister. I accept his explanation of why the word "person" is not sensible, in that he wants to ensure that there is clear consistency with other Acts and the holistic approach to education, so we must stick with "children". I will have a tough time explaining that to my children tonight. On that basis, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Clause 1 [Duties in relation to high standards and the fulfilment of potential]:

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 4, at beginning insert-

"(1) A local authority which is both a local education authority and a children's services authority shall ensure that their functions as a children's services authority relating to improving the well-being of children in the authority's area are exercised with a view to ensuring that the authority support their duty under section 13A of EA 1996 (duty to promote high standards in primary and secondary education).

(2) A children's services authority shall ensure that their functions relating to the provision of children's services must be exercised by the authority with a view to-

(a) promoting high educational standards; (b) in the case of a local education authority in England, ensuring fair access to educational opportunity; (c) promoting the fulfilment by every child concerned of his educational potential; and (d) supporting the improvement in the well-being of children in the authority's area."

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

I shall speak to the amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who unfortunately cannot come today, myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.

The purpose of our amendment is formally to underline that the Every Child Matters agenda, as set out in the Children Act 2004, is directly relevant to the educational attainment of every child, and that the educational purposes of the Bill will not be fully achieved unless the agenda is part of its provisions. The point was argued by speakers from all three parties in the other place and taken to a vote in Committee. The amendment has the support of the Every Child, Every School coalition, which, as the Minister knows, is widely drawn and includes local authorities which would be given responsibility to give effect to our addition to the clause.

I imagine that the Minister will tell us that this is unnecessary, because there is already sufficient legislative provision. I offer two thoughts on that. First, there is a plethora of legislation making so many demands on so many busy people that, as a necessity, they must prioritise and decide what to do. An example which may be familiar to the Minister is the emphasis given in the past—and, I hope, the future—to work experience, and how, with the subsequent emphasis on enterprise education, it has taken second place. That is the kind of thing that happens when such a weight of initiatives descends upon busy people.

I have not counted the number of times the Bill refers to it being supplemented and complemented by guidance and regulation, but there are 480 pages of draft regulations and guidance. When that hits people outside, what do they do? They must prioritise. My concern is that the Every Child Matters part of what is necessary for the educational success of a child will get overlaid.

Secondly, the children or young people who will suffer most from any such sidelining are those who need the help most, who need their well-being and their education to be seen as a whole. I am thinking of children from fractured and disorganised homes where the parents are heavily burdened—perhaps both of them are at work—so there is stress and anxiety and the child's needs are great.

When this matter was discussed in another place, the Minister, Jacqui Smith, recalled the words of the former Secretary of State for Education and Skills, who told the Education and Skills Committee that the White Paper that heralded the Bill was,

"all about driving up standards for the most disadvantaged children".

She went on to say:

"We have made it clear that we are happy for the measure to be applied when judging the success of the reform programme as a whole and the White Paper and the Bill in particular".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 28/3/06;col. 52.]

It is because of the concern, felt strongly on all sides of the House, for precisely those children that I consider this amendment necessary. It is for them. I hope the Minister will give constructive consideration to this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench

In view of the groupings, I must point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 4 is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 5 to 9.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills

I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, who is not in his place, on Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 5 and 22, which are tabled in my name.

The Bill is about education, but when putting duties on local authorities and schools in order to improve standards, we must continually emphasise that that must always be done in the best interests of the child and to promote his well-being. That is what we say in Amendments Nos. 5 and 22. It could be that to cram a child for exams might improve his grades, but at the same time, it could make him ill. That would not be in his best interests and that is not what we want schools to do. Subsection (1) of the new clause inserted by Amendment No. 3 will ensure that the Bill, and the role of the local authority outlined within it, work towards the improvement of the five well-being outcomes for children set out in the Children Act 2004, not just educational attainment in isolation. Subsection (2) of the new clause stresses the importance of education in supporting the wider Children Act outcomes.

Local authorities have already embraced the provisions in the Children Act 2004 that created integrated children's services and gave them a duty to improve outcomes for all children. More than 130 local authorities now have directors of children's services and local authorities are in the process of developing children's trusts to deliver better and more integrated services for children. Integrated services are also being reflected in the inspection regime through joint area reviews and the creation of the single inspectorate in the Bill. If that approach is to be embedded within all children's services, the Bill needs to support the Children Act explicitly and reflect the joined-up approach being taken on the ground at local level.

When amendments related to Every Child Matters were moved in Committee in another place, the Government stated that the Children Act 2004 is sufficient to ensure that schools co-operate in the delivery of Every Child Matters. Practitioners tell me otherwise. They tell me that unless they have a proper, explicit duty, they just pay lip service. We on these Benches tried very hard to get schools included in the duty to promote well-being, but the Government resisted our efforts. Practitioners tell me that they regret that we did not succeed in our efforts. However, Amendments Nos. 5 and 22 reflect the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which enjoins all governments at all times to give priority to the best interests of the child. I believe it is a good thing to have the duties explicitly set out in Clauses 1 and 3.

In another place the Government told us that the provisions are not necessary as Section 10 of the 2004 Act already places a duty on local authorities that is far more powerful than the one our amendment proposes. The Bill focuses on schools and not just on other children's services, so it really should be explicit. If the Government have an abhorrence of duplication, perhaps they should remove about half of the Bill, which re-enacts measures, powers and duties which schools and local authorities have.

When the matter was being debated in the Commons, my honourable friend Sarah Teather, Member of Parliament for Brent East, said that schools are about preparing well rounded young people for life. From a personal point of view, she very much regretted that she had missed out on some of the things that schools can give to children when she was concentrating on the academic things to achieve her very high grades. She pointed out that those who run schools should have at the front of their minds the well rounding of young people. Therefore, I believe that we should have these words right at the front of our Bill.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 5:30, 5 July 2006

I rise briefly to support the amendment. In doing so, I reflect on the words of the Minister at the beginning, with which I very much agree, that this is part of a context of Bills and Acts. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that we sometimes need reminding what all these things are and have been about.

I support the amendment partly because it ties in with a later amendment about the duties of governing bodies in relation to Every Child Matters. Anything that supports Every Child Matters being enshrined constantly in the Bill is very important.

The amendment is more dynamic than the current wording. I am glad—I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—that the word "well-being" is there. We really will not get higher standards in our schools unless we focus on wider issues of welfare and well-being. Not all children are in school—some are truants, some are young carers and some are excluded. We ignore those children at our peril.

Last week the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, which I chair, had presentations from three directors of children's services from various parts of the country. They carry out their duties in very different ways—different configurations of services and different staffing structures—but have at the core the well-being of the child. All those working with children are now expected to work towards the five outcomes, and this work is inspected by the joint area reviews and Ofsted.

I go back to the issue of well-being. Well-being must be in the functions of any school and any local authority. This amendment seems to tie in these responsibilities successfully. Therefore, I support the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham Bishop

We on these Benches agree that the well-being of children is and must be paramount. That is already enshrined in law in Section 351 of the Education Act 1996. It describes the purposes of education as being the,

"spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils ... and of society".

We strongly support that.

We regret that the five Every Child Matters outcomes, which the Government have rightly promoted since the Children Act 2004, do not fully spell out that primary purpose of education and the care of children. I echo the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey.

None of this is inconsistent with attention to high standards in literacy and numeracy in education. Indeed, the most disadvantaged children are those best served by that attention. Surely, education is the best and, indeed many would argue, the only real means of overcoming disadvantage. That is why the Churches have been and remain committed to promoting and providing education and why we are so pleased that the vast majority of the new Church of England secondary schools, like the academies we are promoting, serve the most disadvantaged in our society.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

As the right reverend Prelate has just said, we entirely agree that the well-being of children is paramount. In a sense, that is why I am not minded to support the amendments. I want to explain why.

In essence, the principles and objectives behind the amendments are already covered by the Children Act 2004, and the Bill must be read in tandem with that. We fear that the inclusion of a well-being duty in the Bill could upset the balance of the Children Act, which places a duty on each children's services authority to promote the well-being of children in the area to help them to achieve their optimum outcome in education, training and recreation.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in particular, would place a target duty on local authorities. In the light of our first amendment, we do not feel minded to support that because we believe that it is the duty of schools to carry out that role. It also reduces the educational slant on local authorities' duties. We fear that it could skew Clause 1 in favour of welfare rather than educational attainment. That is the wrong set of priorities for the Bill. The Bill should focus on educational attainment.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

I was not going to speak at this juncture, but my noble friend has allowed me to speak before him. I disagree fundamentally with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, with whom I usually agree.

It seems extraordinary to me that, in the Bill, the only place where we spell out the five outcomes of Every Child Matters is under the provisions about recreation on page 6. Those are the outcomes that will underpin a child's emotional, physical and social well-being, which are the things that enable a child to learn. The Minister has heard me say this on other occasions during discussion of other legislation, but unless we look after the emotional well-being of our children—this case has been put far more eloquently by my noble friend Lord Dearing and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, than I ever could—they will never make the best use of their education.

I have spent most of my working life having what is probably a very skewed view of young people at the disadvantaged end of life and whose emotionaland physical well-being is often marred. As a consequence, they are in the schools at the bottom of the pile. Unless well-being is high on the agenda and we can take welfare to heart, education will simply not be attained by those children whom the Government so strongly aim to bring up to the same high standards that we want for all our children.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

Perhaps I may respond tothe noble Baroness, Lady Howarth—the joy of Committee is that we can speak as often as we like, so let us make the most of it. I hope that I have explained clearly that there is an existing duty in the Children Act, which is powerful. Our concern is that reference to that duty in the Bill could weaken that, leading the courts to question why we felt it necessary to clarify that in certain cases in the Bill. I understand where the noble Baroness is coming from.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

In one sentence, I believe that it would strengthen it.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

Again, very briefly, I support the amendment. We have gone over this point many times, but it was felt above all during consideration of the Children Act 2004 that the educational side was perhaps not as fully involved in the rest of the services that were going to be working together, and I wish to draw attention to the fundamental point about the well-being of children.

I am particularly concerned about special needs children, and the second part of the amendment, on promoting high educational standards, is particularly important for them. They must have the right attention and the right resources to see that they get that attention in schools. As we know from a number of reports that we have read, particularly from the National Union of Teachers, there is great concern about that. I am sorry that I, too, must disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. Nevertheless, on this occasion I really do think that the amendment needs to be incorporated into the Bill.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

May I offer an explanation of my misdemeanour to the noble Baroness? My strong feeling, which is based on thinking about my home city, is so often that social deprivation and problems at home are a great obstacle to a child's success in education. You cannot have what you want without considering this. It is a fundamental building block. That is what I am trying to get across. This is fundamental to the educational objective.

Photo of Baroness Warnock Baroness Warnock Crossbench

I support what my noble friends Lord Dearing and Lady Howarth have said, and remind your Lordships how things have come on since the 1970s when the committee on special educational needs was set up. The members of that committee were expressly forbidden from asking whether social deprivation was connected in any way with special educational needs. We shall prove how much we have advanced since then if we can have right at the front of the Bill the need to consider the well-being and welfare of the child alongside educational considerations. I believe that there is no one who does not understand that a child is not in a position to learn if their welfare and emotional needs are not considered. The two things go closely hand in hand. I very much support any amendment that would spell this out and make it absolutely clear.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

I now realise that I am in the customary position of Ministers speaking from this Dispatch Box of agreeing with all the substantive points about policy that have been made in the debate. Indeed, I very rarely disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who speaks such great common sense in these matters. I should say that the Government share entirely the objectives that he set out in his speech, but point out that the law does not need changing to achieve those objectives; it achieves them already.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, suggests that the Bill duplicates existing legislation in many places. I stress, because this is a crucial point about the Children Act 2004, that, where the Bill duplicates existing provisions, it repeals them, and brings them together in one place for ease of reference or consolidation. I do not believe—this is crucial to the discussion—that the noble Baroness or any other noble Lord would wish to repeal Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 and incorporate it into an education Bill. I know exactly what the reaction would be if I put that proposition to your Lordships. It would be duplication. I have discussions with our lawyers all the time about what such duplication means. It means that, if these matters become matters of contention, you are asking the courts to choose between two different sets of duties laid out in different Acts, the wording of which is very similar but not precisely the same because they are in different contexts in the two Acts. So that is, in substance, my answer, but it is not to do with the objectives set out by the noble Lord, which we entirely share.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, seek to tease out the relationship between the duties placed on a local authority acting in two different but inextricably linked capacities: first, in its capacity as a local education authority carrying out functions in relation to the provision of education; and, secondly, in its capacity as a children's services authority, carrying out its functions in relation to improving the well-being of children.

The objective of these amendments is to ensure that there can be no confusion between the duties placed on local authorities in this Bill and the Every Child Matters agenda. Educational standards and well-being go hand in hand and this Bill has been consciously framed—as I said in response to a previous amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe—to reinforce the Children Act 2004 in respect of the Every Child Matters agenda, which is central to all that we seek to achieve for young people.

For local authorities to fulfil their Every Child Matters and educational duties effectively, they need to be as joined-up as possible in their various complementary activities. That is why we have brought together education and children's social services departments into children's services departments, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, each with a single director of children's services. That is a major development on the past situation where there were separate directors of the two services. It is also why we want to see one set of complementary statutory duties to apply to local authorities. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, would support that objective. It is why Clause 153 enables us to eliminate entirely the terms "local education authority" and "children's services authority". They would be replaced throughout legislation with the single term "local authority", which would encompass the educational and the social services roles. That is the whole purpose of this later provision in the Bill.

We therefore are not attracted to the juxtaposition proposed in Amendment No. 4 of different duties assigned to local authorities in relation to the provision of education, on the one hand, and the provision of children's services, on the other. We want a single set of duties on authorities acting in a far more joined-up way than has often been the case, which, again, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, would support. The key issue is that local authorities take all of those duties seriously. We can put them as much as we like in Bills, but they must be taken seriously. We seek to achieve that with the reforms that I have just mentioned; that is, the creation of single children's services departments, supplemented by the development of children's trusts, which seek to instil more services in a complementary relationship with local authorities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, tabled Amendment No. 5, which would add a duty of well-being. This issue, again, is of vital importance, which is why we have already made provision in legislation for it. Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 already places a duty on local authorities which is far more powerful than that set out in this amendment. Every local authority which has education and social services functions under Section 10 is required to promote co-operation between the authority, its relevant partners and such other persons or bodies as the authority considers appropriate in order to improve well-being, as defined by the five Every Child Matters outcomes, one of which is education.

Re-stating aspects of that duty in the Education and Inspections Bill would serve to weaken the existing duty in the Children Act, as it could lead the courts to question why it was felt necessary to add it again and, in particular, whether we were seeking to qualify or circumscribe the existing wide-ranging duty by relating it mainly to educational provisions. In any event, to have the same duty expressed in two pieces of legislation is undesirable for the reasons that I have given.

As I said earlier, Section 10 of the Children Act obliges every local authority in England to promote co-operation between the authority, its relevant partners and such other persons or bodies as the authority considers appropriate. Those five outcomes are very clear: the physical and mental health, and emotional well-being, of children; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; the contribution that children make to society; and social and economic well-being. It goes without saying that these five outcomes promote not only the well-being of children, but also the best interests of the child, which is the second half of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. So we believe that Section 10 also meets this objective.

Taking Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 together with the provisions of this Bill will, we believe, meet the objectives which have been so well made in the course of the debate.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills 5:45, 5 July 2006

Before the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, rises to respond, perhaps I may make three points. First, our Amendments Nos. 5 and 22 are not like Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 which seek to repeal and amend the 1996 Act; nor would we want to repeal or amend Section 10 of the Children Act 2004. Can the noble Lord confirm that an alternative approach—it is one we might consider at the Report stage—would be to mention in this Bill the duties under Section 10 of the 2004 Act in order to emphasise the importance of the well-being and the best interests of the child without falling into the trap he has outlined? Would he like to respond straight away or shall I make my other two points?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

We are in Committee and so I am happy to respond immediately. I know absolutely what my legal friends will tell me on this issue: that there is no need to mention in one Act the existence of another. The law is the law and the repetition of it in one Act does not give it any stronger force in another Act. I can hear the lawyers saying that even as the noble Baroness speaks.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills

That brings me nicely to my second point. The reason why it might be desirable to do so is to provide clarity for those reading the various Acts. The need to read one Act in the context of other Acts in terms of education policy is now becoming so complicated that perhaps we are reaching the point where we should have a codification of education policy, and possibly even codification of the policy relating to other services for children. Certainly regarding education, it is now almost impossible to consider the issues in any new Bill that comes before us without recourse to a great pile of other Acts on the desk beside one. I wonder whether the Minister might consider that.

Perhaps I may make my third point on an issue that I neglected to mention earlier. One of the many reasons why we wanted to put the well-being and the best interests of the child into this Bill is because of its concentration on consulting parents. The interests of the child are not always properly expressed by a parent's response to any consultation. It is the child who should be at the centre of this. Of course parents are vitally important and should always be consulted, but the child has to come first. That is among the many reasons why we want to put these words into the Bill.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

I thank the Minister for his reply and I am delighted that there is no difference whatever in the Committee on the objectives. My only concern is that when the 720 pages of this Bill, its regulations and Explanatory Notes descend on a children's services director, he will remember that there is a Children Act 2004 as well. What do you do when 720 pages of legislation land on your desk? You have to get on with it. I worry that in getting on with this, the other legislation will be overlooked. Let us think about it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 to 10 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Duties in relation to diversity and choice]:

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 2, line 11, leave out "powers" and insert "functions"

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

Amendment No. 11 would adjust the wording of Clause 2 to reflect more accurately the role of local authorities in carrying out their duties in relation to diversity and choice. It is not clear to me how the functions that the local authority will carry out under this clause are powers. A local authority may well perform functions or tasks which achieve diversity in school provision and opportunities for parents' choice, but I do not see how they will involve use of their powers. The Oxford English Dictionary describes functions as,

"the mode of action by which it fulfils its purpose", and as "official duties", whereas power is described as:

"Possession of control or command over others".

This amendment seeks to establish firmly that local authorities play a functional role only in terms of local schooling. This is a drafting amendment which I sincerely hope the Minister is able to accept. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

I may be able to deal straightforwardly with the amendment by saying that I propose to accept it. The purpose of Clause 2 is to ensure that local authorities exercise their functions under Section 14 of the 1996 Act with a view to securing diversity in the provision of schools and increasing opportunities for parental choice. I pay the noble Baroness the highest accolade possible by saying that parliamentary counsel believes that her change is an improvement to the Bill's wording. I have never heard that said before. I am happy to accept the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

Perhaps I may respond by saying three cheers to parliamentary counsel. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his response and pleased that he can accept my amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 2, line 12, at end insert-

"( ) encouraging all schools to become foundation, voluntary or foundation special schools, and to acquire a foundation"

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

I wish we could continue in that vein but fear that we will not. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 12, 122 and 123.

Amendment No. 12 would require local authorities to exercise their functions with a view to encouraging all schools to become self-governing and to acquire a trust. Amendment No. 123 would place this duty on local authorities and the Secretary of State. This builds directly on the wording of the White Paper which committed the Government to that at paragraph 2.5. It states:

"At the heart of this new vision are Trust schools. Trusts will harness the external support and a success culture, bringing innovative and stronger leadership to the school, improving standards and extending choice. We will encourage all primary and secondary schools to be self-governing and to acquire a Trust".

These amendments reflect the vision of the education system expressed by the Prime Minister and Ministers over the past few years. In his speech of 24 October, the day before publication of the White Paper, the Prime Minister said:

"We need to see every local authority moving from provider to commissioner, so that the system acquires a local dynamism responsive to the needs of their communities and open to change and new forms of school provision.

This will liberate local authorities from too often feeling the need to defend the status quo, so that instead they become the champions of innovation and diversity, and the partner of local parents in driving continuous improvement".

This was not a new aspiration; indeed, it was the basis for DfES policy from as early as July 2004, when the Government published the five-year strategy for children and learners, which said:

"Local Authorities should recast themselves as the commissioner and quality assurer of educational services, not the direct supplier, a role which enables them to promote the interests of parents and pupils far more confidently and powerfully than the old days of the Local Authority as direct manager of the local schools and colleges".

It was repeated in the 2005 Labour manifesto, which said:

"We want all secondary schools to be independent specialist schools".

The policy came to full fruition in the White Paper, paragraph 9.3 of which states:

"We will support local authorities in playing a new commissioning role in relation to a new school system, at the heart of their local communities, and responsive to the needs of parents and pupils. They will support new schools and new provision where there is a real demand or where existing provision is poor. This is a very different role from acting as a direct provider of school places. We recognise that in many ways it is more challenging. But it also offers the scope to ensure that communities receive the education they deserve and aspire to".

One could argue that the drive towards the new strategic role of local authorities goes even further back than that. After all, the 1992 Labour manifesto stated:

"We will reform the Conservatives' scheme for the local management of schools. All schools will be free to manage their day-to-day budgets, with local education authorities given a new strategic role".

Clearly, the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, now wishes that he had not made that commitment, but the present Government have taken it to its logical conclusion. The Prime Minister stated in the foreword to the White Paper:

"Our aim is the creation of a system of independent, non-fee paying state schools".

Our amendment would place this commitment into statute.

We seek reassurances that the dilution of the proposals since the publication of the White Paper does not signal a desire by Government to abandon the trust school model and the independence that it brings. We feel that placing a target duty in legislation will ensure that decision makers bring about the creation of the system of independent, non-fee paying state schools to which the Prime Minister is committed.

This is not to say that there have not been encouraging signs from the Government. We are particularly excited by the new role of the schools commissioner. The role of the schools commissioner is, according to the advertisement for that position, to,

"champion Trust schools within the context of the reforms set out in the Higher Standards, Better Schools for All White Paper".

The candidate briefing pack for the role stated:

"As the Schools Commissioner you will champion Trusts and Academies and advise the Secretary of State on the use of her powers".

The pack also lists functions of the schools commissioner. These also point to a strong duty to encourage the development of trusts and academies. For instance, the schools commissioner will be expected to:

"Champion Trust schools and Academies as key levers in raising standards, particularly in deprived areas...Identify suitable potential partners for Trusts and academies and facilitate the matching up of schools with partners and sponsors, particularly supporting schools in disadvantaged areas...Work with business foundations, educational charities, schools, local authorities and other partners to help identify the right solutions".

Final-round interviews were supposed to take place at the end of June, so I would be interested to know when the appointment of the schools commissioner will be announced. The description of the role is extremely encouraging. However, we feel that the move towards the system of independent state schools would be strengthened all the more if we placed an explicit duty on local authorities and the Secretary if State to encourage its development. Such a duty would be perfectly complemented by our amendments on community schools, which we shall come on to later today.

Finally, I would like to address the new clauses that I have tabled after Clause 32, Amendment No. 123. The first of these would define "self-governing school" and "Trust school". While the Department for Education and Skills refers to the proposed,

"foundation school with a foundation", as a trust school, as evidenced by documents such as What Trust Schools Offer, the phrase does not appear once in primary legislation. I am sure that there are reasons for this. I suspect that it may have partly been due to a desire to downplay the radical nature of the schools by disguising it as an already existing category. But it is evident that the new trust schools are more than just foundation schools. As the Prime Minister said on 9 February:

"Trust schools bring together the freedoms of foundations with the governance of voluntary-aided schools harnessing the investment of external partners we have already seen with specialist schools and academies".

The radical difference between trust schools and foundation schools can also be seen from the models suggested by the Government; for example, the What Trust Schools Offer document gives the examples of a group of local schools working with a trust and a group of schools spread throughout the country working with a single trust.

The potential for the development of national chains of schools run by business or charitable foundations is quite unlike anything that takes place at the moment. We feel that the proposed trust school deserves recognition in law beyond the description of,

"foundation school with a foundation".

Our amendment also states that,

"A foundation, voluntary aided of foundation special school shall be known as a self-governing school".

The distinction between community schools and self-governing schools is essential to the rationale for this Bill. The ability to govern themselves and set their own ethos is one of the main reasons why voluntary-aided and foundation schools flourish. We feel that placing the term "self-governing" into the Bill would demonstrate a stronger commitment to the vision of a system of independent state schools than at present exists. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 6:00, 5 July 2006

I seek clarification from the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, who seems to be very busy this evening and somewhat got at. I read again recently the Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House, and at least one member of the party opposite spoke about the concern for the expansion of faith schools. If, as the noble Baroness says, it is seeking for all schools to become foundation or independent schools, surely that will increase the number of faith schools. There is a precedent for this. Since the academy programme began, one in three of the new academies is controlled by religious interest groups and three of these replaced non-religious schools. Is it the policy of the party opposite to increase the number of faith schools?

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

Perhaps the simplest way in which to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is to say that our policy is that there should be freedom for schools of whatever nature. If they happen to be faith schools, that is fine. If the parents and the governing bodies want them, that is fine, too.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I think that I was probably the Back-Bencher to when the noble Baroness referred. I am disappointed not to find an amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, or someone else on that side of the House, dealing with faith schools, although I may not have spotted it. I was looking forward to having a serious debate on that subject, and a couple of my amendments touch on it. Allowing faith schools is one thing, but allowing them to select pupils who are only of that faith is something very different. Faith schools are an extremely constructive concept, but when they are allowed to become ghettos and to separate pupils in one way or another from the rest of the surrounding community, they can be very destructive. I hope that we will have a chance to discuss that matter later.

Photo of Lord Skidelsky Lord Skidelsky Crossbench

I do not quite agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, but the duties of LEAs in relation to encouraging diversity and choice need to be spelt out a bit more fully. The Bill imposes a duty to consider parental representations. Clause 40 says:

"A local education authority in England shall provide advice and assistance to parents of children in the area of the authority".

But parental preferences depend on having adequate information, and there seems to be an information deficit somewhere in this Bill.

How are parents to know about the schools in their area? What information about the availability of education provision is to be supplied to them and by what means? Admittedly, they can go round schools and find out about them, but what are the duties of the local education authority to supply information to parents about the diversity of schools in their area—the results of schools and their educational philosophy—in order for them to exercise their choice? Perhaps I have missed it and it is there but, if it is not, I hope that the Minister will give some thought to creating that information mechanism. I have some ideas of my own on how that might be done, to which I shall refer later—but in the mean time, I shall be grateful for a reply.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

I apologise to the noble Baroness for not being present for much of her moving of this amendment; I took a brief respite. I hope she has not already answered this point: there is a concern that, with the increasing autonomy of schools, some of the children with special educational needs we were talking about earlier might suffer some disbenefit. It is plain that schools need to work in partnership together if we are to provide better services for these sorts of children, especially special schools with mainstream schools. That does not necessarily impede what the noble Baroness is seeking to do, but I would be grateful if she could say something about that point, if she has not done so already.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills

It will hardly surprise your Lordships that from these Benches we have very little agreement with what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has said. As far as the Government's vision is concerned, we see—to some extent—the point of local authorities being commissioners of education. We do not object to that.

We do not share the vision of independent state schools but, to pick up the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, we see schools as serving communities and being part of a system that serves communities. That will become apparent as we argue through some of our later amendments. We feel it is important that, as part of that system, schools are not set apart from each other to too great an extent. Yes, schools want a degree of autonomy, but the freedom they want at the moment is freedom from direction by central Government. The constant burden of bureaucracy imposed on them is creating chaos in our education system and putting a huge burden on our teachers.

We want our schools to serve our local communities and collaborate with each other. There is no need to set them apart in their terms of governance in this way. In no sense do we think it necessary to set them up as separate foundations. They work perfectly well, and have done for many a long year, as state schools, as we used to call them, although now they are called maintained or community schools. We are happy with them working as community schools, and we think the term emphasises what we want from them: a service within the community.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

Surely the point is that they have not worked well for many a long year. There is a whole collection of schools, even in some high-powered Conservative LEAs, that continue to perform miserably. The whole LEA structure of one familyof schools has consistently produced some bad performances that are very hard to deal with, whereas individual schools in all sorts of parts of the country which have taken their fate into their own hands, having had the luck to get a good headmaster and senior management team, have managed to make immense progress. That is the motor to improvement that has proved itself, whereas LEAs have not.

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Labour

I hope we will not accept this amendment. Everyone knows that where we have ended up in the Bill, in comparison with where the Government started off in the White Paper, is the result of much controversy, heated debate and almost ideological positioning in the other place. The current Bill is a sensible balance. It is a compromise between the richness the Government believe can result from a diversity in educational provision, be that foundation schools, academies or faith schools, and the acceptance that there is a role for community schools. There always will be a role for them; they will be part of that rich tapestry of provision. The amendments seek to upset that balance; not just Amendment No. 12 but, as a natural consequence, Amendments Nos. 122 and 123 as well. I believe the Government have got the balance right when they say in Clause 2 that:

"A local education authority in England shall exercise their powers under this section with a view to...securing diversity in the provision of schools, and...increasing opportunities for parental choice".

Those are two sound principles, which I believe are followed through in the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills 6:15, 5 July 2006

I think a reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is required. Obviously there are some good schools and some bad, but by and large outside our inner cities—which have often been Labour-controlled rotten boroughs—our community schools have frequently worked extremely well. There are variations. We all know that the key issue is the leadership of the school. I entirely endorse the moves made by the Government to ensure proper trainingin leadership for schools, and we have seen a considerable improvement in that leadership as a result of their activities. Over the course of the years many of our local education authorities have served us extremely well. The problems are concentrated in metropolitan areas—and, if I might say so, concentrated where there have been rotten political boroughs.

Photo of Lord Smith of Leigh Lord Smith of Leigh Labour

I must respond to that point. As leader of a Labour metropolitan authority, I hope the noble Baroness was not referring to mine as a rotten borough. The comment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, identifying local authorities as the cause of educational problems, was controversial. It is much more about economic disadvantage and parents not being able to support their children. All local authorities want to do well, although not all do as well as others. I accept that some local authorities have been too complacent, and have not challenged schools about the way they deliver services.

I hope my noble friend will resist this amendment. I think it is going the wrong way. The Bill is alreadya compromise. It has gone far enough. Local authorities will need to be providers because I do not see a great number of people wanting to come in and provide the services, and in those challenging inner-city areas it will be particularly difficult.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

If I may say so, my noble friend Lord Smith has made my speech for me. I welcome the noble Baroness's support for the post of the schools commissioner, who has an important role to play in the way she described. She asked me specifically whether the final interviews have taken place and when an announcement will be made. The final interviews having taken place, an announcement will be made in due course.

I want to try and avoid getting into these wide-ranging debates. I accept that there is general agreement across the Committee, if I can try and bring us together, that not everything has worked perfectly, and I did not take the noble Baroness as thinking that it had. There is a good deal of room for further improvement. If that were not the case we could pack up and go home, and we would not need the many hours I can see in front of us.

Many local authorities have done excellent work. I have visited Wigan and seen my noble friend's team in play, and I pay tribute to them. We all accept that in some cases there has been too much complacency, to use his word, regardless of the political control of the authorities. I gently point out to the noble Baroness that her party now controls some of the great cities, and some of them still have improvements to make in their schools. I hope we can regard the improvement of education as a shared endeavour across the parties.

I move to the detail of the amendments. Amendment No. 122, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, seeks to add definitions of trust schools and self-governing schools to the Bill. She rather flabbergasted me by saying that she thought the reason we had not put these definitions in the Bill might be because we were trying to hide the fact that there were trust schools and self-governing schools. If that were the case, there would have been no policy initiative in which the Government had been less successful than in attempting to hide the concept of the trust school. If the soldiers getting into the Trojan horse had been marked as the praetorian guard of trust schools, they would not even have got into the horse, let alone penetrated Troy and stood any chance of getting out again. There is no desire whatever on our part to hide what we are seeking to do. We could not have been more explicit. Trust schools do not appear in the Bill for very precise legal reasons. I need to get into the realm of technical detail here to satisfy the noble Baroness on why we have done this, but I will do so briefly.

It is not our intention that existing foundation schools with foundations—that is the phrase used in the Bill to describe trust schools—of which there are around 90, will be trust schools as they are understood in the Bill. Yet they would be captured by the noble Baroness's proposed definition as their foundations were not established under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. A trust school is in fact—as is explicitly stated in Clause 18 and the following clauses—a foundation school with a charitable foundation with particular characteristics acquired under this Bill, not under previous provisions. The phrase,

"a foundation school with a foundation", is used throughout the Bill precisely because "trust school" would cover existing schools if we used the term to refer to all foundation schools with foundations in the way that the noble Baroness proposes.

The noble Baroness's amendment would unpick and require the redrafting of a huge volume of existing primary and subordinate legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that she wished we would undertake more consolidation. I love the idea of having everything in one place but—having brought before the Committee a Bill which already extends to 248 pages, and will be much longer when we have all the regulations to which the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, referred—I hesitate to think of the reaction if I were now to propose such consolidation, including the bringing of all the provisions in respect of existing categories of schools into a consolidated Bill. Therefore, we do not think that sensible.

Similarly, the definition of "self-governing" proposed in the amendment would not be helpful in the Bill. This definition ignores the differences between separate categories of school, each of which has its own legally distinct governance arrangements. Of course, the Government encourage and themselves use the informal use of "self-governing" to characterise the range of schools which are not community schools. The noble Baroness quoted the Prime Minister in that regard. Last year's White Paper uses the term in relation to foundation and trust schools. But for the reasons I have given it would not be appropriate to include the term in legislation over and above the detailed provisions which already exist for the distinct categories of schools concerned.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 12 and 123. The duty in Amendment No. 12 would require local authorities to encourage all schools to become foundation, voluntary or foundation special schools and to acquire a foundation. It will not surprise the noble Baroness to hear that, for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Young, that would not be appropriate. It would be a step too far. It would not be appropriate in all cases for a local authority to encourage all schools to become voluntary or foundation schools with a foundation. The way in which these amendments seek to impose this self-governing model in all circumstances would work contrary to the policy of giving schools the freedom to decide for themselves how they wish to develop to meet the needs of their pupils, parents and the wider community.

Equally, requiring local education authorities to promote particular categories of schools in all circumstances would be inimicable to the very diversity and contestability we want to promote in the interests of parents and pupils, which might in some circumstances include the legitimate promotion of a community school. For those reasons we do not wish to go as far as the noble Baroness proposes in the amendment but, as she knows, we are going a long way in the direction that she wishes.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for his response to my amendments. I have listened to him with some care, but I want to reflect further on his response and read it in Hansard. I accept that the Government are proud of what they have achieved on trust schools thus far. Indeed, I believe that at Prime Minister's Questions today the Prime Minister praised specialist schools and the concept of diversity and choice. We commend that and believe that it is a step in the right direction. However, a more courageous stance was taken in the White Paper. Many of the points set out in the White Paper, which are not included in the Bill, are achievable. We should continue to strive to achieve those things.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, commented on children with special needs. As I said in my opening remarks to this group of amendments, local authorities should recast themselves as the commissioners and quality assurers of educational services and not be the direct suppliers. That allows them to focus on promoting the interests of parents and pupils far more confidently and powerfully than in the old days of the local authority, and allows them to play a much more strategic role, which the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, asked for back in 1992. I refer to the schools commissioner, the role of the school improvement partners and, particularly with regard to special needs, the choice advisers. We have tabled later amendments which seek to take that point further. The choice advisers will give advice to parents on schools in their area. All those constituent parts lead in the right direction. We want more choice and diversity but the right advice and information must be available so that parents can find out what different schools offer to prospective pupils.

I want to touch briefly on the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. It is my understanding that becoming a foundation school cannot lead to a change in the religious character of the school.That is explicitly ruled out by Clause 18(4)(a), so encouraging the establishment of foundation schools does not necessarily equate with having more faith schools. We have to be careful about that. We will perhaps discuss the noble Baroness's amendment later tonight but I stress that we recognise the great benefit that charitable organisations bring to the school system. Charitable organisations enable schools to strike out as independently run state schools with their own distinctive ethos. Independence, combined with the power of parents to choose, provides the great driver for better standards.

I was concerned that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that what the Conservatives are trying to achieve—which is what I believe the Government are trying to achieve—is setting schools apart from one another. That is not the case. I mentioned chains of schools. All over the country schools are encouraging other schools on best practice, giving advice and counsel and demonstrating through their own success ways in which other schools can raise their standards. We should all be proud and pleased about what is happening in that regard. People in all communities want to get involved in their local schools. The more we free up schools to allow them to develop their own ethos, set their own budgets, set their own style and allow head teachers to fulfil their role as leaders of their schools, the better it will be for communities and our children. It is disappointing and depressing that the Liberal Democrats want to hang on to the dead hand of bureaucracy. We should free up local authorities to play a much more powerful role in strategy, rather than having simply to provide each child with a school place and seeing that as the extent of their duties. The focus on a more innovative approach will allow local authorities to be more dynamic. I find the Liberal Democrats' approach depressing, and I hope that they may come to see it our way, as it were, as they listen to the debates on this Bill.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 6:30, 5 July 2006

I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me for intervening, as I am really here as an observer and it is with some trepidation that I move into the field of education. As a member of a county council local education authority for some 12 years, I feel obliged to point out to her that local authorities have not managed schools in the way that she describes for well over a decade. Certainly, during all my period in Suffolk County Council the move was towards freeing up the local authority.

The noble Baroness must accept that, if local authorities are to be given the sort of strategic powers that she describes, they have to have a locus to be able to do that. If the schools are entirely free, the local authority can set all the strategies in the world that it wants, but it will be powerless to do anything about them. There is always a balance to be struck between the freedom of individual schools and the role of the local education authority as the strategic provider. It is about where that balance falls. In defence of the comments from these Benches, I point out to the noble Baroness that that sort of direction or micromanagement of local education authorities has been a thing of the past now for quite some time.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

I failed to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and I am anxious that he does not think it was any discourtesy. There are provisions later in the Bill about choice advisers and new duties on local authorities to promote information about schools in their area. When we come to those provisions, that will be the opportunity for us to debate the very important issues that he raised about how one ensures that citizens in each locality, particularly those who are less advantaged, have proper access to the information that they need to make informed choices.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

We will continue to agree to disagree with the Liberal Democrats. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills

I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 14 and 15, which are grouped with Amendment No. 13. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said that we needed to explore the concept of diversity. This group of amendments to Clause 2 raises that whole question in relation to diversity and choice. In particular, the amendments explore the concept of diversity.

What is meant in the Bill by diversity? In current government-speak, diversity means a range of different types of school: faith schools and non-faith schools; academies; voluntary-aided schools; foundation schools; all sorts of different specialisations at secondary level. Indeed, it means everything but—in the famous words of an aide at No. 10—the "bog standard comprehensive", or, which I would prefer, the common or garden community school, which has served many a community in this country very well over a considerable period of time.

Why are the Government and the Opposition so opposed to LEA-maintained community schools? I do not really understand why they have taken so against them. The average parent says that what they want in a secondary school is a good local school. The debate about diversity is partly about secondary schools, although it arises also in relation to primary schools. Parents want their children to go to a good local school. What is a good local school? I do not know how others would define it, but I was interested in a policy paper that I received from CASE, which set out features of what it considered to be a good local school. It makes 10 points about good local schools, but I will not read all 10 of them. The first points are interesting, and they pick up many of the points that I was making earlier and which are seminal to the concept of a good local school. It should,

"be an integral part of the local community, fostering constantly evolving shared cultural values and aspirations...Be a place where all parents and pupils feel welcomed and valued, irrespective of their ability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, social background and educational needs...Provide a happy, secure and supportive learning environment where pupils and parents feel cared for and respected as individuals and where diversity is celebrated...Provide a range of learning challenges necessary to help all pupils to become autonomous learners, who can arrive at their own view of the world, take control of their own lives and make their own choices as confident, responsible future citizens in a tolerant, multicultural society".

Those first four points sum up very well what we are looking for in a good local school.

The premise on which the Government are working is that one gets that good local school only if there is competition between schools. The fashionable word is "contestability"; that there are other schools and that they compete with each other. At Second Reading, several speakers questioned whether there was any evidence to show that competition necessarily made schools any better. In some senses, the Government contradict themselves in simultaneously arguing that there should also be collaboration between schools. If you are setting schools in competition with each other for pupils and resources—that is effectively what is happening—it is difficult simultaneously to get those schools to collaborate with each other. We have no problems with the collaborative model. In many senses the federations and much that underlies this Bill, such as the school improvement partners, pick up the notion of best practice of stronger schools helping weaker schools. We are completely happy with that.

The Government's vision of the process is very much London-centric, looking at schools in the metropolitan area. We see education as a system. As my noble friend Lady Scott stressed, if you are going to have a strategic authority and if there is a system, it needs some hand to guide it. We were the political party that pioneered local management of schools and devolving responsibility to schools. We have no problems whatever with that model, but it needs to have some central steering coming from a local education authority. The management is better coming from the community, through the local education authority, which is accountable to local people, rather than having the micromanagement of schools that we have seen from central government over the past 10 years or more. There is a vision of local accountability and schools linked up with one another; nursery centres linking up with primaries; primaries with other primaries and feeding through to secondary schools; and secondary schools working not only with each other but with further education colleges and local higher education institutions. That co-operative model is one with which we are happy.

This brings me to the central issue raised by this group of amendments. Amendment No. 13, the first amendment, seeks to insert the words "where appropriate" into line 13, so that Clause 2 would then require the local education authority to secure,

"where appropriate...diversity...in...provision".

That picks up the London-centric issue, because the vision of multiplicity of offerings between different types of primary and secondary schools is very much London-centric. It is a vision based on major metropolitan cities in which parents can get to many schools without too much difficulty. But in many parts of the country there is a limited choice—at most two or three secondary schools are accessible, and only then if you are prepared to travel, often two or three miles across town.

In country districts there is often only one secondary school available to you. What do you do if it does not meet your needs? What do you do if it is a specialist sports college and you want a specialist language college? We would argue that in rural areas it is often inappropriate and impossible to provide the sort of diversity that the Government have in mind.

The second amendment in the group, Amendment No. 14, seeks to remind people of the important role of further education colleges, especially in post-16 education. We recognise that local education authorities are not responsible for further education colleges, but, in looking for a diversity of provision, further education colleges should not be ignored. Many post-16 students with not very successful school careers find new incentives in the courses that are available in further education colleges and often achieve quite highly. It is notable that colleges achieve a high popularity rating from their students. These young people enjoy being treated as young adults and the greater freedom of the comings and goings that they get in a further education college. We should also remember that further education colleges make, and will make, an important contribution to the key stage 4 curriculum that we shall consider later.

The third amendment, Amendment No. 16, argues that the key choice is not parental choice—that is often not on offer, because we have schools choosing parents, rather than parents choosing schools, where there is a shortage of places. The key issue is pupil choice. Although we will consider key stage 4 later, we Liberal Democrats would argue that this issue is where we really need to place the onus on choice. Just as those who move on to college at 16 enjoy the freedoms that they experience at college, so this sort of choice in relation to curriculum and career options needs to be available to all. Parental choice is something of a chimera and the real choice is pupil choice. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I am as depressed as ever by the Liberal Democrat vision of a grey, uniform mediocrity among schools, with no opportunity for diversity or innovation—or the spark of difference. Therefore, I start from a position of rather favouring the Government's Bill as it stands, but I should be very interested in the reply that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will give.

Some of the points made in Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 might be tackled better by amending Section 14 of the 1996 Act, because it addresses these issues, but they are not well addressed by these amendments. Section 14 has not led, by and large, to a great diversity in the curriculum provision between schools. In fact, there has been a general drift to uniformity and some of the more interesting diversifications have tended to be snuffed out. That is partly due to the pressure of the examination system that we have adopted, but there seems to be a general slow move in that direction.

I would be delighted to see some greater duty on local education authorities, biting on Section 14 in some other way, to have a sharper attack on the curriculum diversity offered by their schools. The odd state school offers the IB, international baccalaureate, for instance. That should be enormously encouraged. Diversity does exist in the state system and I do not share the depression expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about our rural areas.

My children were in the Winchester state school system, where there is considerable diversity of provision in terms of size of primary schools and the style of their management. When you go into Winchester itself, there is a school that is laid back, a school that is academic and a school that is disciplinarian. All of them do well and different schools have different strengths. What was noticeable about the Winchester system at the time that I used it was the obstruction by the local education authority of parents who wished to make any kind of choice other than the school that was allocated to them. You had no access to school transport over to the next school in Winchester. If you did not want to go to your allocated school, you had to drive the seven or eight miles in yourself—you could not take the bus seven miles in to your allocated school and then get a little "hopper" on to the next one half a mile away up the hill.

The difficulties put by local education authorities in front of parents who wanted to exercise choice meant that it was fine for middle-class parents like me to exercise it easily, with perhaps some inconvenience, but a lot of people who were not so well off found that difficult. There is no such thing as a "good school" that is a good school for everyone. Yes, a school can be good, but different children thrive in different environments, with different curricula, with different attitudes to discipline, with different opportunities. No school can be perfect and wonderful at everything. Event the best schools that I spend my life looking at through the Good Schools Guide have many faults. Choosing the faults, attitude and style of the school is one of the great reasons for offering choice to parents, particularly the parents of kids with any form of special educational needs.

Although we might like to think that the provision in all state schools is wonderful and uniform, it is not. There are a lot of wonderful schools, but there are some real horrors. When you really care about a vulnerable child, you should give the parents a chance to make that sort of choice for their child, essentially by doing what this Bill will do—encouraging local authorities to make it more possible for parents to choose between what is there. Yes, if you live in the outer reaches of Cumbria, your choices are limited, but then you enjoy the beauties of Cumbria and you have to offset that against those limited choices. The basic principles that the Government are aiming for are entirely right and I very much hope that they will stand firm.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Huyton Baroness Morgan of Huyton Labour 6:45, 5 July 2006

I hope that we do not accept these amendments. One of the big steps forward in the Bill is the attention that it gives to putting parents' wishes and their representations more firmly on the statute book. That is important because, as someone who has been both a provider and a receiver of state education, I feel that the danger is that parents often feel like pawns in the system and are completely powerless at the moment. Taking that new provision out of the Bill would be a retrograde step.

I am also sceptical about the suggestion that all parents just want whatever their local school provides. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that many parents do want a good local school, but they want to use their local school if it provides the education that they want for their kids. That is not the situation in many cases and we have to empower parents to have the opportunity to look at provision other than in their local school. That is what the Bill provides and it is a significant step forward.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

It may be helpful for me to comment while we are discussing curriculum diversity. I wonder whether it would also be helpful to think about the means of assessing school performance, school league tables and the added-value element of those. I expect that we will discuss this further in relation to diplomas, but perhaps we should consider how we can better assess schools so that they can provide qualifications. I am thinking in particular of children with special educational needs, who might not fit well with getting five GCSEs but could qualify in some other way, and the school could get credit for that child's achievement.

Photo of Lord Skidelsky Lord Skidelsky Crossbench

I am a bit puzzled about why the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is so sceptical about choice and diversity in education. Presumably, she would accept that they are valuable in many other areas of life, and it is the way that the independent sector works. It is not that they are all different, but all schools have some variations and parents and children have the freedom to choose which sort of school they prefer. A catchment area really should be a laboratory of educational ideas and practices, and the Bill goes a little way towards making that so.

I suspect that underlying the noble Baroness's attitude is the supreme value that she attaches to social cohesion. I agree that social cohesion is very important but it should not be at the expense of a good education for individual children. An education Bill is first and foremost about education and, inthat context, social cohesion is secondary. This amendment, and particularly Amendment No. 16, would give too much power to local authorities to object to new types of schools on the grounds that they damage social objectives.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

Perhaps I can begin by taking this issue head-on because I think that it will feature more in our discussions in due course. The claim made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was that these reforms and what we are seeking to achieve in the Bill are somehow driven by the situation in London. She seemed to have in her mind a picture, widely shared but entirely erroneous, that in England there are essentially two types of communities: London, which has a high concentration of population, large numbers of schools and higher levels of parental dissatisfaction; and non-London, which has lower population densities—the noble Baroness seemed to have a vision of communities being served by a single school for the most part outside London—higher levels of parental confidence and "the good school", the model of which she set out in the quotation that she gave from the document produced by CASE. I entirely accept the elements of the good school that she described. To be blunt, I think that they are motherhood and apple pie—no one would disagree with those elements. But it is a question of what schools do beyond that in terms of curriculum diversity and diversity of ethos and mission—the things that they do above and beyond providing as good an education as they can in all those fundamental areas, including their social responsibilities, to meet the needs of their pupils.

On London versus non-London, I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I inject some statistics into the discussion, but I think that they may be useful for our future debates and they completely reply to the point that she made. The figures are that 41 per cent—nearly half—of households in England have five or more secondary schools within two miles, not only in London but in a large swathe of England, and 65 per cent have five or more within three miles. Three miles is a perfectly acceptable distance for parents to envisage taking their children to school. Only 14 per cent of households have just one secondary school within five miles. So, with great respect to the noble Baroness, I think that the position that she wanted to paint as the norm outside London is the exception, even outside London. The fact is that at the moment there is already a substantial degree of choice between schools in the system. Indeed, that will be the case in almost any country with a population density such as ours.

I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, sending the results of international research that we published this week on school reforms in other parts of the world. It included Scandinavia, which in general is going down the line that we are seeking to follow of giving incentives to schools to offer greater diversity and choice to meet the wider range of needs of parents. It is a system where we expect all pupils to succeed in school and not, as was so often the case in the past, where a large proportion of them dropout without succeeding or gaining academic qualifications.

To my surprise, one of the findings of the research related to Finland. I had had a vision of Finland similar to that described by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, at Second Reading. I thought that perhaps it was a great haven of social cohesion and tranquillity which did not involve any competition between schools. I was all ready to argue, as was argued when Finland was mentioned in another place, that that country is highly exceptional andthat Finland and England do not have many characteristics in common. In fact, the statistics in that paper are very revealing. In Helsinki, which is the part of Finland most like our country, half of parents expressed preferences for secondary schools which were not the local schools that they were allocated by the local authority. I am planning to go to Finland in September and, on Report, I will report back more fully about it. I know Sweden very well and have looked at its education reforms, but I am always in the market for looking at experiences elsewhere and I have paid close attention to them. But I suspect that we will find that in the parts of Finland which most resemble the communities in which most people live in England, the pressures for parental choice and diversity will not be greatly different from those that apply here.

If I may inject facts into the debate and invite the noble Baroness to reflect on them, we may achieve a greater consensus on these issues as the Bill proceeds through the House.

Amendment No. 13 would qualify the duty on local authorities to exercise their functions in relation to the provision of primary and secondary education with a view to securing diversity in the provisionof schools only where appropriate. If "where appropriate" means weakening the duty, for all the reasons that I have just given and as was ably set out by my noble friend Lady Morgan, we do not agree with that.

However, if by saying that local authorities should exercise their powers with a view to securing diversity in the provision of schools where appropriate the amendment simply means that they must act reasonably and within the limit of their powers, which makes perfect common sense, then of course I accept that, and that requirement is already set out in the Education Act 1996. The new duty to secure diversity in the provision of schools is framed in the context of local education authorities' existing duties under Section 14 of the Education Act 1996 to secure schools which are sufficient in number, character and equipment to provide for all pupils the opportunity of appropriate education, and the section then goes on to define "appropriate education".

Amendment No. 14 would require local authorities to exercise their powers in relation to the provision of primary and secondary education under Section 14 of the 1996 Act with a view to securing diversity in the provision of both schools and colleges. We are very sympathetic to the aims of the amendment. The Government are committed to increasing diversity of provision, with more specialist provision and increased opportunities for individual choice. We want that to extend to the further education sector as well as the school sector, and that theme ran through our further education White Paper this March.

However, for technical reasons, the Bill would not be the place to promote that duty. The duty in Clause 2 to secure diversity bears on local authorities' duties in Section 14 of the Education Act 1996, which relate only to securing the provision of primary and secondary education. Responsibility for securing the provision of education for learners above compulsory school age, including from further education colleges, rests with the Learning and Skills Council under the Learning and Skills Act 2000 and not with local authorities. The amendment would therefore place local authorities under a duty to secure diversity in the provision of colleges which it would be impossible for them to fulfil. But the objective of ensuring diversity in college provision is one that, in principle, we entirely share.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

Perhaps I can persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the Minister that the good work that they have done in new Section 13A(1)(c),

"promoting the fulfilment by every child concerned of his educational potential", which applies to Section 13 of the Education Act 1996, might usefully be extended to Section 14. The wording there is quite weak. It refers to,

"such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable".

If that were strengthened by the concept in subsection (1)(c) of new Section 13A, under Clause 1 of the Bill, that would be a considerable improvement in the direction in which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is trying to take us in Amendment No. 15.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills

I thank the noble Lord for his suggestion. I do not have a copy of the 1996 Act to hand and so cannot look at it, but we will consider it and perhaps come back on Reportwith something of that ilk. I thank him for his interventions. I suspect that we shall go on throughout this Bill disagreeing with each other, but that is fine.

I thank the Minister for his response and take on board his comments on further education colleges. I recognise that the Act applies to local education authorities, which I mentioned when I introduced the amendment. I said that I realised they were not directly under the responsibility of local education authorities, and implicitly, therefore, I recognised that technically the amendment was defective. However, I thought it was worth—indeed, it has been worth—throwing it in for discussion.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, sees us as trying to impose a grey world. We are not against choice, but we believe that under the current system much parental choice is a total chimera and we do not think that that will change. The Government are offering the country a system similar to that existing in London. Parents have the whole of the Greater London area to choose from, which has created chaos. Around 55 per cent of parents and children get their first choice of school in Greater London, whereas outside Greater London it is closer to 90 to 95 per cent.

I take on board the Minister's statistics, and was surprised that as many as 65 per cent of households have five or more secondary schools within a three-mile radius. I recognise that in a town such as Guildford, where I live, there are five secondary schools, and there is that choice. In some senses, my vision of the community working together is based on somewhere like Guildford, where, by and large, there is a lot of collaboration and co-operation, but where issues arise over parental choice. My party is concerned about curriculum choice and the range of such choice available to pupils. That is a key issue.

I shall read carefully what various people have contributed to this debate, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat 7:00, 5 July 2006

moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 2, line 14, at end insert ", and

( ) ensuring that the education provided in schools in its area shall contribute to social inclusion and community cohesion in that area."

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

The amendment concerns social inclusion and community cohesion, which should be borne in mind in the decisions that affect the education provided in schools.

I take the point that these are regarded by some Members of the Committee as of secondary concern. Let me, therefore, step back to the original concept behind the community school, which I still believe to be of great value in a society such as ours. We live in a society which is multiracial, multicultural and in many ways divided. The community school came out of a socially profoundly split society, and one in which four-fifths of children went to a secondary modern school and one-fifth went to a grammar school. The community school was invented and designed to overcome that profound social division, which in my view deprived a large proportion of our children of any opportunity to take their education further, or, indeed, to achieve their full educational potential. I believe it is still the case that in many quarters children do not have the opportunity even today to meet their full educational potential.

My noble friend Lady Sharp spoke about her own strong belief in community schools. The Bill, as I understand it, goes beyond secondary schools and embraces primary schools as well. I find that a troubling development. The primary school was about educating a child to develop a sense of belonging to a community and the world of other children in that community. It was, and is, the concept of teaching children tolerance, inclusiveness and understanding. It is a very important part of what it is to be a young child.

I shall start at that point. I am frightened—perhaps the Minister can reassure me—that the introduction of trust schools and other schools at the primary level will go a long way indeed to fragment our society, which is not so strongly cohesive that it can risk that kind of fragmentation.

In secondary schools, the argument for some specialisation is strong, especially over the age of 14. However, many of us would want to see schools offering both vocational and academic courses, so that we begin to heal the ludicrous division between them, which has so distorted and deformed English education—though not Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish education in the same way. It is a rather specific feature of the English school.

Taking the view that what matter more than anything else are parental opinion and parental choice, I find it so extraordinary that in the Bill, which has tried to bring together contradictory concepts in a desperate attempt to make a single entity out of them, there is no level playing field between the community school, the trust school, the foundation school and the academy. That is the central point.

I shall not go on about this now because there are many later amendments, but, throughout, the Bill favours those schools that are alternative to the community school. It does so by providing them with much more money, by not obliging them to follow the national curriculum and by allowing them to go ahead without any form of ballot or parental preference being expressed. I find that objectionable. If someone wants to say that that comes back to social inclusion and community cohesion, I say that is an element in it, and that is why I waited to speak on this group of amendments rather than earlier. If there were a level playing field, parental choice would operate. It would operate between well-off parents and not well-off parents, southern parents and northern parents. But the Bill is not like that. It does not create that kind of basis of choice. One has to ask why.

I do not accept, because it simply is not true, what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, about grey uniformity. From the beginning secondary schools in this country have been amazingly diverse—not just individual schools with an ethos often created by their heads and teams of school teachers. That has always been true. All of us know that there are brilliantly good schools in every single category, and some very bad schools. That is as true—dare I say?—of private schools as it is of academies, community schools or any other group of schools you care to name. If people do not believe me they can read the conflicting reports on academies, for example, where some are said to be near failing and others are doing brilliantly. Go and read the reports from Ofsted inspectors about individual community schools. Some are excellent; some are poor.

There is a general problem, as was rightly said by my noble friend Lady Sharp, with inner-city schools. Incidentally, that is a problem anywhere you go in the world. None of us has been able to solve it satisfactorily so far. If the academies can solve it, that is wonderful. The jury is still out and there is no final verdict on the issue.

We speak of the Bill as being about parental choice. As I have said, it could be, but it is not an open and fair choice at present. We speak of it being about improving standards. All of us want to see that, but we also want to try to ensure that standards are improved in the light of the need to maintain social inclusion. It is a very difficult set of requirements to combine. We would be less than honest with ourselves if we did not admit that there are real problems.

I like Amendment No. 18, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, because it puts the school right at the centre of the community and asks what it can do for that community. Parents are particularly hard pressed, overworked, overstressed and often have little opportunity to give careful thought to exactly which school their child will go to—because they do not have the time to learn enough about those schools—in exactly the areas he speaks about. Those parents are least able to exercise choice because their lifestyles make it difficult for them to do so. We all know that.

For a while, I represented one of the poorer ends of Crosby, a very poor part of Liverpool, Seaforth and Waterloo. Parents constantly spoke of how difficult they found getting to parents' meetings to discover exactly what was going on, and how scared they were of going to see the headmaster or headmistress to ask questions about their children. A great problem is that parents do not have equal power, articulacy or influence. Anyone serious about the education system must therefore see how that can be dealt with and compensated for.

I approve of the Government setting up a system whereby people can advise on choice. But when all is said and done, if we are to raise the educational level of the children about whom many of us were speaking, there must be a general improvement in the educational system, not one specific to trust schools or particular academies. I refer to those children with special needs and to the 60 per cent in the middle, neither of whom have the financial advantage of being able to choose between every possible kind of school, and to those living in such cramped conditions that talking about parental choice is frankly a bad joke.

That is why I am concerned about this Bill, and why we feel that there are contradictions at its very centre. I repeat: one of the great problems we will come to later in the Bill is that the parental choice playing field is in no sense level. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

I speak to Amendment No. 18. It is a great pleasure to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.

A major strand of the Government's thinking is diversity, choice and enabling parents to make choices in the best interests of their children's education on the basis of good information, which will lead to more children going to good schools. A second theme is the objective of making all schools into good schools: where a school is unsatisfactory or failing, to provide for decisive and swift action to remedy the faults which stand in the way of it being a good school. To some extent, a principal advantage of letting market forces work is to exert pressure on underperforming schools to lift their game.

I shall argue a point brought out by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. We must have some regard to a school within a community framework, particularly where the community is socially and economically disadvantaged. As schools increasingly become places for the extended school day—where there are recreational facilities for the community, increased participation and a focus for lifelong learning—I see them becoming valued and important centres of community life. That is especially true in poorer communities, where people do not go outside their community much. They can be housing deserts, with little to bring people together to develop a sense of community; estates where young rascals—if I may so describe them—get up to damaging mischief because they have nothing better to do and no sense of belonging or responsibility to the community. Amendment No. 18 may not be well worded, but we must take the needs of these communities into account.

Another of the Government's themes is, rightly, parental involvement. The more you can involve a parent in a child's education, the better it is for the child. There is lots of evidence on that. However, if a child is moving into a comparatively middle-class area, can we see parents who are not well educated and who live in social disadvantage feeling articulate or confident enough to go to a parents' meeting and stand up and fight for their child and class interests in such an arena? I have my doubts.

Some of these young people, particularly the boys, are not doing well at school. Because the school in their community has failed, they must move to a school in a better-class area further away. It may be within two miles, but those are two miles in which they are more likely to truant and become a nuisance to themselves. They are possibly well into truancy already, but the more difficult it is to get access and keep a finger on them, the greater the risk. These are supporting arguments for caring for communities which have nothing much going for them.

I argue that local authorities—and, in another amendment, admissions forums—should take the value of a school in a community like that into account. If it fails, they should replace it with a new school on the same site or in the community, to keep the community alive rather than educationally abandoning it. They should exert a moderating effect on death by attrition through loss of numbers while the process of regeneration and re-establishing a school takes place. It is the kind of consideration we can all understand. It is a question of how we can give effect to what I have in mind.

Photo of Lord Gould of Brookwood Lord Gould of Brookwood Labour 7:15, 5 July 2006

It is a great privilege to follow those words from such an expert in this field.

I say first how much I agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on the early days of selection. When she was Secretary of Sate for Education, while I was trying to make my way in politics, I was pleased with what she did and supported her. Now, however, times have moved on. I shall respond to the two arguments that have been put.

The first is that people really just want a good local school; the second that people who are disadvantaged or less well off are unable to choose. Both those assumptions are, in large part, false. People do not want a good local school. More and more, they want the best possible school for their children. The idea that parents will now in some way just accept a good local school has just gone. Parents and children do not want that anymore. They want the best education, opportunity and the best chance to fulfil their lives' potential that they can get. You can only get that through diversity and choice in the system.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

I absolutely agree that parents want the best school for their child. My point is that the Bill presents them with a choice heavily weighted by the fact that trust schools or academies are likely to have a great deal more money spent on them. They will therefore be able to employ more teachers, and have more equipment and often brand new buildings. They are not choosing between like and like. They are making a heavily biased choice. Many parents would like to choose a good community school, but are not being offered the choice on the same basis.

Photo of Lord Gould of Brookwood Lord Gould of Brookwood Labour

This is a balanced Bill. The key is that the Government in their strategic role for local authorities do everything they can to ensure a level playing field. Evidence from across the world shows that choice works when there is intervention to protect and support the disadvantaged. That is why this is a changed and balanced Bill. If it produces inequality, that would not work, but we have moved on from the idea of the good local school as the noble Baroness was describing it.

The second element is choice. The polling evidence is that people who are less advantaged want choice more. I believe the future for education and public services is empowerment. People from all strata of life—the kind of kids I went to school with at a secondary modern, not a posh school—are able to choose the school they want. If people are empowered, they will make the right choice. The idea of "We know best for people" has gone.

For that reason, I strongly support the Bill, and I commend to the Committee the point made by my noble friend that it is a balanced Bill. Reassurances are built into it and the drive towards fairness is essential to it. It should be supported.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

I am in serious trouble here because I cannot think of anything that the noble Lord, Lord Gould, said that I disagree with. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, but that is not such a surprise to me. However, I am not sure that these sentiments belong in Section 14 of the 1996 Act. If I understood the noble Lord, he is concerned about the importance of schools to the community. He feels that LEAs should be careful before they rip schools out and should take care to support them and give them added emphasis because they are important to the community, whether in a Hampshire village or the suburbs of Liverpool. I agree with that and perhapsit is somewhere in education legislation. If a Government ever get round to providing us with an updated, consolidated set of education legislation so that we can find the right place without an army of advisers, we may find somewhere to put it in the Bill. If the Minister is feeling kind towards the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, I hope he will direct us in the right direction.

I find it difficult to understand what Amendment No. 16 is about and what it would require local authorities to do. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and I was not calling schools grey—I was calling the Liberal Democrats' vision of what schools should be grey, but perhaps I misunderstood it. I would never call schools grey; I spend my life celebrating their achievements.

What are we asking LEAs to do in terms of Section 14 of the 1996 Act, which relates to the provision of new schools, to ensure that schools contribute to social inclusion? When we come to admission arrangements, I shall be arguing a radical line because it is important that schools are open to every section of the population. I have lived most of my life in middle-class parts of London and "community" is a diverse word there. There are schools that draw a particular community. I can think of a good primary school that draws children from the Kosovo Albanian community that is widely spread over north London. In my patch of south London, communities are not a matter of this or that street, but are broader and interwoven. It is hard to devise admission arrangements that provide for social inclusion and community cohesion without getting very odd arrangements for admission and the provision of schools. I am not clear how they would work, and that worries me because they might work in ways that we do not want.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

I warm to the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. In my experience, they relate to the realities in too many of our deprived communities. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I reflect for a moment that the first amendment I spoke to in this Committee was about putting the right of the child to education at the centre of the Bill. If the potential of our young is to be fulfilled, the ideal is to have teachers and the community pulling together. It is important for the school to be the focal point for the community. It should be a place in which parents feel at home and, ideally, a place in which they see things happening that are relevant to their own fulfilment. I do not believe a school's activities should be limited to what goes on with the children in the classroom. There is potential for activities for parents as well, particularly if a lot of capital resources are put into a school.

What worries me is when I think of communities in disadvantaged west Cumbria—the county in which I live—where dedicated teachers put everything into preparing a parents' evening and only two or three parents turn up. I referred to this at Second Reading. That is not the experience of many Members of the Committee. We operate our own lives in a different context. Therefore, when my noble friend Lord Gould says that we have moved on and that parents want the best possible education, I agree that that is true for a lot of parents. But I am concerned about children whose parents are so much at the bottom of the pile that they do not turn up to parents' evenings, who take no interest and have no aspirations for their children. That is wrong in terms of social equity and social justice, but not to address, it is short-sighted because it may deprive us of some super people who could make a great contribution to the future of our society. From that standpoint, we need to hear more from the Minister and his colleagues about their commitment and drive to get resources effectively into the most deprived and disadvantaged communities in our midst.

In the end, politics is about priorities. Among my noble friends, I hardly dare use the old word because it will identify me as belonging to a previous age, but in my political philosophy socialism is about priorities. We have to make choices and the priority is getting resources to the most deprived. Without, I hope being cynical on this or being regarded as irresponsible, there is some evidence that the brightest children will always look after themselves if they have a reasonable social background and will do well one way or another. Of course we want to maximise that opportunity, and I do not take an extreme position. What really matters is the need to concentrate our attention on what we are doing to free children from the poverty trap. On the coast of Cumbria the situation continues from one generation to the next; it becomes institutionalised. That is the depressing feature. We need to hear more about this.

I make another broader point that relates to the issue. I am a governor of the London School of Economics, and have been for a number of years. One of the things I enjoy most as a governor is that I am able to serve on the committee on access, which is about extending access to the school to a wider cross-section of students. Today I spent nearly three hours at a summer school for children from inner London schools. The committee is also about enabling children to get better opportunities in higher education, whether or not it be at the LSE.

In the committee on access, one of the things that we worry about and can get terribly concentrated on is where we stand on the balance between the private and the public sectors of education. It is something to worry about at the LSE because we are very attractive to the private sector. We ask, "Are we getting enough people from the public sector?". But then we say, "Hang on a moment. When we look at our figures from the public sector, what are we talking about?Are we talking about advantaged middle-classpublic sector schools in advantaged middle-class communities, which might in all sorts of ways be schools in the private sector, or are we talking about how we really provide horizons for those trapped in something completely different?".

I must say that today I came away from one of the liveliest sessions that I have encountered refreshed, challenged and cheered by what I experienced with these young people. I was looking at them and I could not help thinking that this question was very relevant because there is an element of self-selection, however we try. Some will get to that summer school, but the ones that perhaps should most be there will not. The issue always is what the Government can do to ensure that we keep the most deprived, the most disadvantaged and the most entrapped central to our vision, and how we are trying to assist them.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 7:30, 5 July 2006

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, could get the LSE to design an A-level economics course which is not as incredibly boring and tedious as the one my son has just sat.

Photo of Lord Skidelsky Lord Skidelsky Crossbench

I oppose this amendment for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas: it is unclear what duties might be imposed on local authorities to contribute to social inclusion and community cohesion. It is unclear what these things mean, and the duties they involve are even less clear. What is clear is that we have a confused view—and I admit to sharing it—of what we mean by community. It is hard to follow the moving speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. Underlying their views is essentially a static notion of community as a geographically narrow place where a settled group of people live and work for most of their lives, and where the school, like other buildings or institutions, is at the centre of that communal life. Yet most communities are not like that today, and, if they are, they are becoming increasingly less so.

We have geographically scattered communities. How many jobs will people have in a lifetime? How many times will they move house? Professor Amartya Sen talks of multiple identities. It is not that sort or world. Increasingly, people want good schools for their children and the appeal of a local school to a local community is becoming less significant than having a good school to which they have access.

I agree that social inclusion is important in the traditional sense whereby everyone should have access to good schools, but that is not the same as having a local school which is at the centre of an old-fashioned community. In that respect, this amendment is somewhat misguided.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Spokesperson in the Lords, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

A couple of years ago, as a member of the board of the Audit Commission, I was part of a team that looked at work on choice in public services. The public survey showed that there was not unalloyed joy at the idea of choice in public services. Most respondents expressed concern about how they could make those choices, whether they would have the right information to make them. They were concerned that the choice agenda was a way of removing responsibility to provide good services and leaving it to people to make choices—in other words, shifting responsibility to the consumer to make the right choice rather than it being for the state to provide services.

Respondents were very clear that they might take one set of views when they were shopping at Tesco or Sainsbury's but they did not want to make those sorts of choices on education or health. That said, these Benches feel that if one takes a market view of public services and if choice is to be a big issue, we want genuine choice in a free market. The skewing of the market proposed in this Bill is such that, if this were a private sector concern, the Office of Fair Trading would leap in almost immediately.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Gould, and the Minister that we do not want to take away from people the choice to remain with their local school if they want to. Please do not remove that by starving it of resources in order to spend those resources somewhere else. Let us have a genuinely level playing field.

Further to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, we must accept that not all parents are either able or willing to exercise choice and to go through these processes in the same way. We must never see the situation where a child's future is decided by the aspiration of the parents and not by their own ability or their worth.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

I was not going to speak in this debate, and I realise that time is pressing on, but I just want to make a point that is crucial to the core of the Government's Every Child Matters agenda. In that agenda, the school is seen as a central place for the delivery of many services. That goes back to the discussion about what a school is and what it is to its local community.

I went to school an hour's distance from where I lived on my working-class estate. That meant that my parents never went to anything, even if they might have done anyway. My local primary school in my village in Norfolk is the centre of our community life, and I can see the Every Child Matters agenda working beautifully in terms of extended schools. However, this issue needs to be thought through as we look at the range of academies and trust schools. We must ask whether we see this central tenet of the Every Child Matters agenda in every place or whether we are absolutely clear that in some schools it simply cannot work.

Photo of Lord Smith of Leigh Lord Smith of Leigh Labour

I want to comment on the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, for two reasons. I think that he will recall that at Second Reading I made similar comments about the importance of schools being at the heart of the community. I therefore support that. However—not daily but periodically—I have had to think about decisions such as those to which he referred.

About five years ago, it came to our attention that a school serving an out-of-town council estate primary school was producing poor results. Parents were beginning to vote with their feet, moving off the estate, even though that was inconvenient for them, to go to other schools where performance was better. We examined that and I listened carefully to the remarks of my colleagues. I was sympathetic, so we kept the school open and the local authority gave it additional support. I must report to noble Lords that, two weeks ago, the school was put into special measures. So I feel responsible for the fact that for five years, despite all the support, because of all the problems on the estate and in the school, where market forces were ensuring that better parents moved off the estate, and so on, I had not been offering children the quality of education that I felt I should.

I have great sympathy with the concept of the school being at the heart of the community. I believe that. But we must also ensure that we are providing good-quality schools, because we cannot support schools that are not providing that basic quality of education.

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Labour

I did not intend to speak, but we should be careful that we do not patronise people by saying that they either cannot or do not want choice. It comes across to me that, somehow, the only people who can exercise choice are well heeled middle-class or upper-class people. My children went to their local primary school. I have stood in a playground and listened to parents—ordinary, working-class parents—talk about what they want for their children. It did not seem to me that they were disinterested in choice.

It is not an either/or situation. I reject the idea that the Bill is skewed to undermine community schools or to deny them funds. What would be the motivation for a Government who believe in Every Child Matters and have spent enormous sums on schemes such as Sure Start and on legislation such as the minimum wage to do that? There may be all sorts of reasons for arguing against some of this legislation, but not, in my view, some of those adduced by the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott and Lady Sharp.

Although I respect the sincerely held views of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, about community schools, the Bill is not designed to say that we do not want good communities. Of course we do, but there will be circumstances in which schools fail to meet the needs. We know that that is true. I incline to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, that what we want is a sort of laboratory of education. There is no set end to what we are trying to achieve. There is value and richness in diversity of provision. It is true that some parents will probably need help in making a choice; that is there in the choice adviser. We should not deny them that; we should not say that there is only one solution to the problem. I do not believe that there is. I believe in good community schools but I believe that good foundation schools, good trust schools and good city technology colleges also have something to add to that rich mix.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

I know that we want to move on as swiftly as possible, but The Costs of Inclusion has raised again the long-standing concern that sometimes schools that are successful at including pupils—difficult, challenging pupils, perhaps—are the victims of their own success. A primary school head teacher says:

"The problem is that we are becoming a victim of our own success. It's word of mouth and then because we do so well with special needs we create a demand and then this imbalances the proportion of children we're able to cope with".

I am concerned that we might have a good local school that is very socially inclusive and follows the values of Every Child Matters, which might find itself beginning to perform poorly in educational results because it happens to be taking on the more challenging pupils. Then it dips down: parents opt to go to another area and the school does not get the support that it needs. I should like some reassurance on that point. That feeds back to what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about different playing fields. It seems unfair that a school that is being inclusive and working hard in that area, struggling for a long time and working as best as it can, should lose out because another school that opens nearby has more money and more flexibility to benefit it. That is my concern.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may respond briefly to some points. To the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, yes, the amendment is probably in the wrong place. To the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, you have a model of society that is valid in many places, but in others it is less so. There are communities that are static because of the people who live there, the lack of opportunities in the area and the kind of premises in which they live.

On the point about a good man trying to help a community and it going wrong, I am very much for government policy. Be impatient. Give him a year and then shut it and start again. I would be ruthless in the interests of the children. So there is nothing between us on that. I am just saying that there is an issue here that should weigh in the scales. I am not saying that it should be mandatory; I am just saying that it is a factor that should be taken into account when decisions are made.

To the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who hails from West Cumberland, I say that I have not been to Workington for many years but, when I used to go to West Cumberland and Workington in particular, that was the kind of community that needed a lot of help, for the reasons that I have given. On the policy behind the Bill, I described the White Paper as visionary. The Bill is less so. I am for the Bill. I am just bringing into the calculus another element which has validity in particular circumstances and should be weighed.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords (Further & Higher Education), Education & Skills

I shall seek to justify Amendment No. 16 as well as Amendment No. 18. In fact, Amendment No. 16 was tabled before Amendment No. 18, and the Committee will see that my name and that of my noble friend Lady Walmsley were added to Amendment No. 18, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, because we very much agreed with it. It is probably the better of the two amendments. Amendment No. 16 derives from the Select Committee on Education and Skills. One of its recommendations was:

"We propose that a new duty be placed on all schools to promote social inclusion and community cohesion through all of their institutional policies and procedures, including their admissions policies".

Later, in Clause 32, there is a commitment for foundation schools to promote social cohesion, but not for local authorities to do so. The amendment concerns a duty placed on local authorities. When the provision in Amendment No. 16 was discussed in the Commons, the Minister, Jacqui Smith, responded:

"Moreover, local authorities will be required specifically to consider the impact of proposed new schools on community cohesion when carrying out their new commissioning role. Local authorities will also be under a duty to have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State when considering proposals. That will make it clear that they must consider the extent to which, and how satisfactorily in terms of the circumstances of the community, proposals for new schools promote community cohesion".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E; 30/03/06, col. 117.]

The idea of the amendment is to carry that forward. It is not sufficient that that is in guidance; we want it written in the Bill. Recently, we put through this House the Childcare Bill. There is a commitment at the beginning of that Bill to reduce inequalities. We all agree that that was a good commitment because those early years are so important, but the later years are also very important.

As we have described, in those later years the quality of education that children receive plays a vital part in their life chances. We know that, to date, for one reason or another, those who come from the most disadvantaged homes have generally experienced the least good education, not least because society has not sought to put effort and resources into that sector of education. If we want to improve the educational performance of this country, and do something about the shocking statistic of one in five leaving primary school unable to read and write properly, it is vital that those who come from those disadvantaged homes, many of whom have special educational needs of one sort or another, get a disproportionate share of the resources to counter the imbalance in educational provision.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

I stand between your Lordships and dinner, which is a slightly perilous position to be in. I have to overcome my temptation to be very brief, because the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, raised some important philosophical issues that require me to reply to them. I cannot let them pass, not least because my noble friend Lord Judd also raised the same issues in some ways and asked whether we were sufficiently committed to the principles of inclusion and investment in our most challenging communities. We are, and I should say a few words about that at the outset.

My best way of replying to the noble Baroness is to say that I believe that she has two misconceptions about the Bill, which I shall describe, if I may. The first is understandable; it has been quite common in the debate, and was reflected in the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. It confuses the legal category of core community school, which is simply a school with a certain set of governance arrangements about the precise composition of its governing body, about who does and does not own the assets, and about how admissions are and are not administered, with the concept of a school that plays a full part in its community and is absolutely inclusive and community-minded in its mission.

I entirely accept that when secondary moderns and grammar schools were a normal part of the system it was argued—indeed, the noble Baroness sought as Secretary of State to promote policies to change this as we moved towards comprehensive schools—that whole categories of schools were not community-minded because their whole philosophy in interacting with their community and admitting pupils did not seek to embrace the community which they served, although I accept that the community which schools serve is to some extent a fluid definition. As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, says, we do not have narrowly defined communities. However, and I cannot make this point sufficiently strongly, all the categories of schools in the Bill are absolutely community-minded in their mission. All the incentives on them are to be so. There is no distinction in that respect between schools that are called community schools and those that are called foundation schools, academies or trust schools. They all have to operate within the same framework of admissions and local duties, which they may perform better or worse in each case. The noble Baroness said that, and I fully accept that, but there is no particular reason why a school called a community school will simply, by virtue of its governance, be more likely to be better or worse in those respects than another school.

All these schools have duties to promote community cohesion, and there is no inherent reason why one should perform better at that than another. All of them have a duty to do so. The question is: which form of governance in the particular context of the school that we are talking about is most likely to produce a good school and do more to promote cohesion and the engagement of its community than any other? I took my noble friend Lord Smith, who as leader of a local authority has more experience of this than any other noble Lord, to be saying that you sometimes have to be prepared to take really quite drastic action in the governance and leadership of a school. Such action might include a change in the school's legal category if you want to relaunch it in a way that will bring a completely new infusion of governing energy. Indeed, my belief is often that changing the category to one that gives much more of a sense of ownership of objectives on the part of the governors, which you are more likely to get in categories other than community schools, may be worth while. But that does not mean that any of these categories of school are less community-minded than others, or that they have any fewer duties towards special educational needs and disadvantaged pupils, to whom the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred and who are so dear to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. I hope that I can establish that as a first point and invite the noble Baroness to reflect on it.

The second point made by the noble Baroness, which I strongly refute, is the notion that the Bill somehow creates an unlevel playing field in the unfair distribution of resources between schools. I absolutely refute that notion. On revenue funding for schools, all schools, whether academies, voluntary-aided schools, community schools or trust schools, must be subject to the same fair funding arrangements that apply to other schools. Local authorities determine what their fair funding arrangements should be. They have to produce a formula that must respond to essential requirements that are laid down by central Government, but those requirements give a weighting to such things as deprivation factors and ethnicity. Beyond that, the local authorities determine the fair funding formula. That formula then applies equally to all categories of school.

In so far as central Government intervene over and above that on the revenue support side, they do so to help to tackle disadvantage through programmes such as Excellence in Cities and the London Challenge, which cross my desk every day—allocations that we make that go overwhelmingly to schools in deprived areas that face challenging circumstances, often to support the kind of turnaround strategies to which my noble friend Lord Smith referred. The overwhelming majority of those schools are community schools, because that is where the largest category of schools is.

On the capital side, however, the noble Baroness is right that certain priorities are set in the allocation of capital funding. Academies have been given priority in capital funding, not in revenue funding, because overwhelmingly they have been subject to failure, often acute failure, in the most deprived communities in the country. We think that it is right as a matter of policy for those schools to be able to get access at the front of the queue. They are almost overwhelmingly community schools—they become academies to give them a governance structure that is more likely to raise standards—and get that access to capital so that they can get the buildings that we want all schools to have in due course. Even in that respect, the overwhelming bulk of our capital programme in the next 10 years will go to a programme called "Building schools for the future". Our commitment to the renovation of the school system, particularly in deprived areas—my noble friend Lord Judd can preach this to the students at the London School of Economics—is without precedent in the history of Labour Governments. We are now spending £5 billion a year on capital renewal in our schools, compared with the £700 million we were spending as a country in 1997, and that figure will rise significantly further in the next few years.

The criteria for allocation in the "Building schools for the future" programme, which is where the overwhelming bulk of the funding is going, are focused first on areas of greatest need, such as those in my noble friend's authority. Large numbers of very deprived areas are getting the allocation. The programme is in those areas prioritising the more deprived schools, the majority of which are community schools by legal category. I therefore completely refute the notion that there is an unlevel playing field in the allocation of public resources either in revenue funding or in capital funding. In capital funding, discretionary decisions have been taken, but all those decisions have been taken in favour of schools in the most deprived areas that face the greatest challenge so that they can become better community schools in the true meaning of community schools, which are schools that serve their community well and provide a high standard of education. I hope I have given the noble Baroness some things to reflect on and which go to the heart of this debate in its widest sense.

We do not believe that the specific elements in the amendments are necessary, because we believe that they are embedded in the duties in Clause 1 and in the legislation in any event. The key aims underpinning the Bill are to increase equality of opportunity and access to high standards of education for all. Clause 1 accordingly places explicit new duties on local authorities to ensure fair access to educational opportunity and to promote the fulfilment of every child's potential in addition to the existing duty to promote high standards. We want to ensure that every school provides an excellent education and that every child achieves their full potential, and nothing we can do will help schools better to promote social and community cohesion in their work than by succeeding in eliminating education inequalities based on class and background. We believe that we achieve that purpose in the Bill.

Elements of discrimination, such as disability, race relations and the treatment of different ethnic groups, which might threaten cohesion, have not come up in the debate, although I understand the argument that we need to go beyond them. Schools, like other public institutions, are covered by statutory duties in that respect. They are also covered by the new disability legislation, which includes a requirement on all schools, whatever their category, to produce disability equality plans—a new legal requirement that will bite from this December. They are of course also subject to the Race Relations Act 1976 to eliminateunlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different ethnic groups.

On the competition requirements in respect of completely new schools, we could not be more categoric. The regulations and statutory instruments that we have laid on the operation of school competitions to replace failing schools, which have closed in the sort of circumstances referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, state that those putting forward proposals for new schools, whatever the legal category of school, must provide:

"(a) a description of what the proposals are intended to deliver in terms of community cohesion;

(b) the objectives which the promoters intend to set to further the aims of inclusiveness and partnership working".

In the draft statutory guidance for decision makers on competitions for new schools—also made available to Members of the Committee—Section 7 on community cohesion, inclusiveness and partnerships, sets out factors which should be taken into account, including, first,

"the extent to which, and how satisfactorily in the circumstances of the community, the proposals [for new schools] address the need to promote community cohesion"; secondly,

"the extent to which the proposals take account of the needs of families and the wider community", and, in particular, satisfy the need for extended services identified in the authority's notice inviting proposals; and, thirdly,

"the extent to which the proposals contribute to delivery of the Every Child Matters agenda, including the health, safety, enjoyment and achievement of children".

That is in the guidance that we have put out. I do not believe that it could be more explicit in meeting the particular concerns raised by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.

On the basis that I may have helped to dispel some misapprehensions about the Bill and made clear that the commitments to community cohesion are there, I hope that it will not be necessary to pursue the amendments.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat 8:00, 5 July 2006

As it is late, I have not risen to the bait, but I would not have said what I said without having very carefully looked at the Bill. I do not want to detain the Committee now, but at a later stage I may go back to the reasons why I believe that there is not a level playing field. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I beg to move that the House be resumed. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begins not before 9 pm.

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

House resumed.