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Baroness David: These regulations were made in 1981. That was not by a Labour government.

Lord Henley: I did not say it was by a Labour government. The noble Baroness is right to remind us that

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we were lucky enough, even as far back as 1981, to have a Conservative government. They were made by a Conservative government on that occasion. Much has changed since then in the world of education. Perhaps I may give just one--

Lord Tope: I thank the Minister for giving way. I accept that much has changed in the education world, as elsewhere, since 1981. But will the Minister tell us what exactly has changed that means that a child in 1996 or 1997 requires less space than he or she did in 1981? What changes is he referring to that mean we should have more crowded conditions for our children?

10.30 p.m.

Lord Henley: Put very simply, the changes we have seen since 1981, which, I hope, as we continue this process of Damascene conversions, we shall see the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and others welcoming, are, for example, LMS and grant-maintained schools--changes that allow much more to be devolved through the schools themselves. As I said, if the noble Lord was listening to me, we believe it right that the governors and the LEAs are in the best position to make appropriate decisions, and decisions in relation to school premises. That does not mean, as again I made clear, that we shall not be publishing guidance. However, it does mean that they should make those decisions. That was not necessarily the case in 1981.

Having said all that, I hope that the noble Lord will now accept that his proposals are not necessary on this occasion. I therefore ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Tope: I am less than convinced by the Minister's arguments. I am a strong supporter of LMS, if not GMS. But I really do not see how that means that children require less space then they did in 1981. What the Minister is saying is that, in the Government's view--

Lord Henley: If the noble Lord will bear with me, at no point did I say that children require less space than they did in 1981. What I said was that it was more appropriate that decisions of this sort should be made without being over-regulatory, as my noble friend Lord Skidelsky put it. I said that these decisions could, and should, be made by the schools and the LEAs themselves and there was no need for a central diktat from government of the sort that the noble Lord and the party opposite seek. On this occasion we have not heard from the official spokesmen of the party opposite. A strange silence seems to have crept over them which I fail to understand. We now feel that it is appropriate that the schools and the LEAs make decisions--with guidance, yes, but not as a result of government diktat.

Lord Tope: I understand what the Minister is saying. He is saying it is no longer appropriate to set minimum standards and that, if a provider can get away with providing less space than would have been required had the 1981 regulations been in effect, then so be it.

The point I made earlier was that because the value of the voucher is less than the cost of the provision in many cases the pressure upon a provider to reduce space

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in order to maximise the value to that provider of the voucher will be all the greater. It seems that the talk about LMS and GMS is a smokescreen. The need for minimum standards--not maximum standards, not a prescription or over-prescription, but simply minimum standards--is all the greater, not less, with the introduction of this scheme.

The Minister referred to the 1996 school premises regulations. In our view, they do not provide satisfactory standards of space and so on for young children. That is why we deliberately chose to go for the 1981 regulations--and we are immediately accused of being over-prescriptive and over-regulatory. The point has been made by my noble friend Lady Seear, among others, that these "terribly prescriptive, centralising" regulations were actually introduced by the same deregulating Government who are still in power, albeit for a short time to come.

The Minister has been far from convincing. I note what he says about the publishing of guidance. I believe that guidance is a lot less satisfactory than regulation, but we will certainly look at that guidance with interest and consider what he has had to say. For the time being at least, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 15:


Page 1, line 14, at end insert--
("(2A) Nursery education falling within subsection (2) above includes educational provision by parents in their role as a child's first educator and arrangements made under this section may include grants for parenting education programmes which support parents in that role.").

The noble Lord said: The Committee will be surprised to hear that this is an important group of amendments. In rising to move Amendment No. 15, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 20 which is in my name.

These amendments are about the role of parents in the education of their children. The Bill as it stands makes no reference to the role of parents. I think it is generally agreed that one of the most important factors--perhaps the most important factor--in a child's success at school is parental support, encouragement and involvement. Some parents give this naturally. Some lack the confidence to give it, or the skill; and some are put off by schools which are unwelcoming. Parents from insecure and disadvantaged homes particularly need to be helped, involved and supported. This is a very worthwhile investment.

Troubled and damaged children who slip through the education net cost society very dear indeed in the end. A place at an EBD day school costs about £11,000 a year and at a boarding school £22,000; and we are told that these new secure units will cost £100,000 a year. If we compare that with the very low cost of keeping parents in the picture, interesting them in their children's education, empowering them with the confidence to become involved in helping their children and firing them with enthusiasm, any government who fail to make this small investment in parents will, in my view, be guilty of wasting a great deal of taxpayers' money later on.

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Amendment No. 20 is designed to ensure that parents will not be excluded from being providers of nursery education just because they are parents, if they can provide education to the standards which are required in other ways. I beg to move Amendment No. 15.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: We on these Benches support the importance of involvement of parents in the education provision for children and in particular the very important role of parents in early years education. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, even if one were merely to look at this in terms of the costs to society, the involvement of parents would be a valuable financial consideration.

Far more important than that is the quality of life. The quality of life of young children and the relationship between parents and children with regard to a child's educational future is often dependent on the fact that many parents experienced their own education within the context of seeing themselves as failing. There are many parents who are afraid of school. Their memory of school is of an environment in which they never felt they could succeed. The worst examples of extreme professionalism will have an environment in which parents' sense of inadequacy can actually be reinforced by the attitude of the educators, the professionals, who prevent parents from developing confidence in this new role.

During my contact with the education service, both in the playgroup sector and in particular in nursery schools, nursery units, reception classes and infant schools, I have seen excellent, outstanding examples of parental involvement projects being highly successful in terms of the confidence they have given to parents, and in terms of the confidence they give to the child, because as parents we all know that children tend to imitate rather than listen. If the child grows up in an environment where he or she observes that the parent is uneasy in the school environment, where he or she hears the parent saying, "We will not gain any benefit from this", it can undermine the child's first steps in education. But when the environment is good and the parents are involved right from the beginning, the child learns in a new environment and the parent benefits.

I consider this amendment to be one of the most important amendments that we are discussing tonight. It is critically important that we take seriously this area and this element. It gives me great pleasure to support Amendment No. 15.

Baroness David: My name is also to this amendment and I support very strongly what the noble Lord and my noble friend said. Parental involvement has been a theme to which I have returned time and again in this Chamber. We know that many parents are very much lacking in confidence. We also know of the excellent work that is going on in such places as the City Lit, where a great many parents of foreign extraction who do not speak English need to be given a great deal of confidence. If they are taken into the schools and helped, it does a great deal for the children's education.

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This is an extremely important amendment. I hope that the Government will see their way to accepting it.


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