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This approach is not about political dogma or a slight to local authorities; indeed, it is quite the opposite. I suspect that many local authority personnel would love to move to a more strategic role that frees them up to commission and focus on the quality of provision. We are failing today's children through too much rigid state intrusion and bureaucratic constraints on our teachers because the wrong, ill fitting structures are in place. We should give all schools the confidence to go forward to become foundation or trust schools. I welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. There is empirical evidence that schools given more autonomy achieve better resultsbetter outcomes for our children.
Local authorities need to work with what will be the outcome of the Bill. We are looking for a real partnership. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, talked about a level playing field. That is what we seek through the amendments. There will be a tough period of transition. This debate is not irrelevant. It is hugely important that we go forward and do what we can to support schools in making that challenging move. I cannot let this Bill get on to the statute book without a significant attempt to persuade noble Lords to take a stand for school freedom and school autonomy. I wish to test the opinion of your Lordships House.
Amendment No. 6 raises the issue of schools, local education authorities and community cohesion. We spent a long time in Committee discussing these issues, in a debate that ranged widely over parental choice and the concept of community schoolsboth in the sense that we have just discussed in Amendment No. 4, and in that a school provides a location for many community services. There may be, on the same site, not just a secondary school but a pre-school, childrens clinics, extended after-school activities, adult education and even, sometimes, old peoples day centres.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, questioned whether the amendment that we have brought back as Amendment No. 6 is in the right place, as Section 14 of the 1996 Act is about establishing new schools. I will return to that in a moment. However, much of this Bill is also about establishing new foundation schools, and it is perfectly viable that we should do so. The noble Lords, Lord Gould and Lord Skidelsky, questioned whether the term community, in its old-fashioned, geographical sense, had any meaning these days, but many others argued that, in some areas of the country at least, community and a sense of belonging are important.
I do not propose to repeat the debate. We can justify using the term community cohesion, which is used in Clause 33(6), which provides that the board of governors of foundation and community schools,
In his winding up speech, the Minister drew attention to the draft regulations and statutory instruments on competitions to replace failing schools with foundation schools. They require those proposing new schools to provide,
I make no apologies for bringing back the issue of community cohesion. In Amendments Nos. 6 and 70, we are arguing that this obligationwhich is in the Bill in relation to foundations for trust schools and in the regulations in relation to local authorities and the adjudicator taking decisions on school closures and competitionsshould be in the Bill explicitly for local education authorities. If Section 14 of the Education Act 1996 is about establishing new schools, and local education authorities are being asked to think about diversity and parent choice, they should be thinking also about community cohesion.
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 daywhere there are recreational facilities for the community, increased participation and a focus for lifelong learningI 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.[Official Report, 5/7/06; col. 298.]
He described some communities as housing deserts. We know very well that these days pubs, post offices and shops are closing on housing estates. They are becoming housing deserts. If we close schools as well, there is no locus for that community to cohere around, which is why we are anxious to see community cohesion in the Bill.
We may bring back at Third Reading an alternative amendment because the Bill does not place a specific duty on local authorities to improve wellbeing and reduce inequalities. If it did, we might not have tabled this amendment, but it does not and we therefore propose that a duty to promote social inclusion and community cohesion should be written into the Bill, at this point for local authorities and in Clause 40 for admission forums.
Amendment No. 70 deals with the same issue as it relates to admission forums. Just as we think it important that local authorities should take an overall view of the promotion of social inclusion within their areas, so it is even more important that admission forumsin a sense the specialised agencies within local education authorities now dealing with admissionsshould be aware and recognisant of exactly the same issues. Schools need to be a vibrant part of their community. Letting them wither on the vine can kill a whole community. It is important that those dealing with schools admissions are aware of the role they play in helping communities to continue to thrive.
Amendment No. 80 tackles a somewhat different area of disadvantage and comes at it from a different angle. Here we are talking about schools forums, which are concerned with the distribution of money that is allocated to a local authority under its dedicated schools budget. The job of schools forums is to share out that money between different schools. In the calculations made on how much government money should be spent by each local education authority at the local level, weighting is given to various indices of
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Members on these Benches feel strongly that the schools which need the extra resources are the ones in areas of disadvantage. It is precisely in these schools that one wants to see extra teachers in the classroom. These children should be taught in small groups and often need individual attention. All this demands more resources because you need more peopleand that costs a lot more money. We feel it is right that where local authorities receive extra resources to help them cope with disadvantage, they are channelled towards the schools which need them. Amendment No. 80 is designed to influence schools forums into doing precisely that. I beg to move.
Lord Dearing: My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment No. 6; I wish I had added it also to Amendments Nos. 70 and 80. The Minister knows from correspondence how deeply I feel about the potential role of schools in the regeneration, nourishment and development of neighbourliness in communitiesespecially in communities of severe deprivation, where poverty creates tensions and communities need a centre where they can come together. Looking ahead, I fear for an increasing division in our society between those who can succeed and those who, through lack of skills and the fast drop in the number of jobs available for them, cannot succeed and live in ghettoes of disadvantage, deprivation and despair. In such areas, I am concerned that the school should survive and be a centre of renewal.
Let me give an example. There is a school in West Camberwell where I am toldI have got it on a piece of paper, so it must be rightthat 70 per cent of the pupils have free school meals; that in six out of seven families whose children attend that school there is no adult in full-time employment; and that 30 per cent of the community are from ethnic minorities. That spells despair and a potential disengagement from and a disavowal of the values of society. It concerns me deeply.
That school had a vision of responding to the situation as a communiversity, in which it raised the standards of the school. It was, I think, in special measures at the time I visited in 2000. It saw its role as lifting its childrens performance, caring for them, their wellbeing, but also engaging with the community. It persuaded some of its teachers and pupils to become
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This is a major issue of societal importance which we need to think about. I share the sentiments of Amendment No. 6. This is not about bussing children from one district to another or about the admission policies of faith schools; it is about schools reaching out into the community, engaging with it and being a part of it.
Amendment No. 70 relates to admissions; Amendment No. 80 relates to cash. The Governmentrightlyhave greater weighting in funding for areas of deprivation than the generality. This is because those kids need more and the Government say that they should have it. Such children are more difficult to respond to and to teach sometimes, but it is not necessarily so that the funding goes from the local authority in relation to the needs of the children of individual schools. I am not arguing for the words of the amendments, but there are important issues of substance here that the Government need to weigh.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I support the amendments and echo every word that my noble friend Lord Dearing has said. He made such an excellent speech that I am going to scrap mine, because he really said everything that I would have liked to say.
Clause 2 as drafted is really rather amazing. It has a whiff of the leafy suburbs about it; you do not feel that it really relates to the real world out there that exists in deprived areas. That is an issue that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord have addressed.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Dearing that the words are not quite accurate, but the intention behind the amendments is very important. I hope and expect to be reassured by the Minister when he replies.
This issue takes my mind back to the time when I served for a very brief period on the Inner London Education Authority, when I and a colleague on the Labour Benches were absolutely of one mind that in the very deprived areas the pay of teachers should be higher because they had a far tougher job and greater responsibility to carry at that time. Above all, the resources must be greater, because it is a far tougher
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So I hope that I shall be reassured that these amendments are not necessary. I particularly support Amendment No. 80, which gets absolutely to the crux of the matter. If school forums in some areas are not doing their duty and not passing on the money that they should be, we have to take rather stronger steps.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I support all three amendments in this group, but I address Amendment No. 80 in particular. To give an example of the known factors for educational disadvantage, there are a number of schools, especially in London but in other areas too, in which a majority of pupils have English as their second language, when English may not be their home language. It is possible, too, that in their homes you would find very few books. It is essential that pupils attending such schools should leave them fully literate and numerate if they are not to continue to be disadvantaged for life, employment and active citizenship. Therefore, I trust that at least something of these amendments will commend itself to the Government.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I hope that I can give the reassurance that noble Lords seek on these amendments. I very much agree with the comments that noble Lords have made about the needs of schools in more deprived areas and the objectives that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, seeks to achieve through Amendment No. 80, which have been supported so widely on all sides of the House.
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