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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I have the Act in front of me. Does she agree that, in a completely new proposal, which was the formulation of grant-maintained schools, on the face of the Bill, clause by clause--from Clause 52 to Clause 105--were the details of the setting up of those schools? In relation to action zones we have four clauses, no regulations, and just some woolly, broad outline consultation document. There is a vast difference between the detail that is on the face of the Education Reform Act 1988 and what is on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not agree with that. When the Education Reform Bill was introduced, it had 147 clauses and 11 schedules. It totalled 169 pages. On Royal Assent, it had grown to 238 clauses

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and 13 schedules, totalling 284 pages. I do not intend to do with this Bill what the government of the noble Baroness did as regards that Bill.

The Conservative Opposition seemed to be having a little difficulty in making up their minds whether the Bill is "old" Labour or "new" Labour. That suggests to me that we might have it about right, with a subtle blend of the best of the two. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby for describing us as pursuing a middle way. I think that he had got it about right.

I shall now take us through the various clauses in the Bill. The Government said that they would use savings from phasing out the assisted places scheme to reduce infant class sizes. As early as last year we made it clear that the savings would be for revenue expenditure. Sadly, the previous administration allowed primary class sizes to rise during their last years in office, leaving us with the scandal of 500,000 infants in classes of over 30 in 1997.

The comments of noble Lords opposite implied that parents presently have an inalienable right to get their child into the school of their choice. That is patently not the case, but this Government are determined that their policy on infant class sizes will boost parental preference, offering more parents the chance to get their child into the school of their choice. Extra teachers, and, where necessary, additional capital, will be targeted on popular schools offering high standards of education. The Secretary of State last month announced that £40 million of additional capital funding is also being made available this year. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that we shall be providing sufficient funding to meet our pledge on class sizes.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, we are aware that children in rural areas may have only one school within a reasonable distance. It is therefore important that they should be able to attend that school. Despite what the noble Baroness implied, children in rural schools should be entitled also to a place in a class of 30 pupils or fewer. That is why the Minister for School Standards said in another place that such children would have to be admitted and funding provided for another teacher. LEAs are being consulted on the practical difficulties there.

I turn now to education action zones. The noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Blatch, were concerned that we were pre-empting legislation. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, used rather colourful language in arguing that that was a wilful pre-emption of the will of Parliament. That is entirely wrong. I could remind noble Lords opposite that this is not the first time that, in anticipation of parliamentary approval, preparatory steps have been taken in relation to implementing major government policies, whatever the colour of the government. But that is not the point that I want to argue here.

My point is that a good part of what we want to do can be achieved voluntarily. Notwithstanding that, we took care to say in the official's letter of 5th January:

    "The legislation needed to create Action Zones was introduced into Parliament in December, and Ministers are hopeful that the high level of support that we found for the policy through the White Paper consultation will help to smooth its passage into legislation.

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    In the meantime you should bear in mind that all of the references to legal powers within Action Zones are subject to Parliament's agreement. We refer to applications in this document which will be treated as expressions of interest until parliamentary approval has been given".

The new legislation will give significant additional powers to governing bodies within zones enabling them to be more radical. Perhaps I may point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that it is needed to give zones the fullest scope to try out new and innovative ways of raising standards. The provisions on the face of the Bill allow zones and the action forum to be created and to give governing bodies particular powers to help zones to be innovative. For example, we will permit schools within zones to disapply the teachers' pay and conditions document, allowing them to find radical ways to reward excellent teachers, such as a bonus linked to performance. We are keen to see good forum partnerships developing to run zones. Perhaps I may reassure my noble friend Lord Peston that even if an action zone is led by a business, the LEA will normally be involved. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, did not like that proposal and did not appear to want the LEAs to be involved. The noble Lord is not now in his seat.

Contrary to the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, the LEAs will retain their statutory responsibilities in the EAZ areas. In addition, each forum will prepare an action plan and financial memorandum to specify accountability for the duration of the zone. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, spoke of the establishment of deterrent machinery. We have received 60 applications to set up zones. That does not suggest that the machinery that he described has been a deterrent. Perhaps rather than his scornful denunciation of our actions, he might wait to see the results. He may well find that in freeing up existing arrangements to allow more experiments, interesting developments will occur.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, does not like educational development plans, but they are absolutely central to raising standards. Noble Lords opposite have made a great deal of the importance of standards as against structures, yet they appear to be dismissing the central plank of the Government's proposals to achieve just that. They have been welcomed by both LEAs and the teaching profession and they are in stark contrast to the proposals of the previous government which so singularly failed to raise standards across the system. They focused only on grant-maintained schools, as the noble Lord admitted.

As regards a more specific point about EDPs, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked when we could give him a summary of the results of the consultation. I am advised that it will take the department about a month after 8th May to consider fully the response. Therefore I expect to be able to elaborate on that in Committee or on Report during June.

I turn to the abolition of grant-maintained status and the new schools framework. Noble Lords opposite made much of grant-maintained schools and their wish that they should survive. Perhaps I may remind them of what has been said by the grant-maintained joint monitoring group which represents all the main GM organisations. The group wrote to me at the end of last week stating:

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    "We wish to place on record our support for many of the measures within the Bill. We join the Government in looking forward to the new framework, not backwards to old divisions. We believe, like the Government, that self-managed schools will play an important part in driving up school standards and securing financial prudence".
The letter goes on to state:

    "During the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons we worked constructively with Ministers on important points of detail. We were impressed with the Government's openness and willingness to listen to arguments and make changes in the Bill where necessary".
That is what the GM organisation believes. Like us, it is looking forward to new partnerships within the new framework.

Contrary to what noble Lords opposite said, in no way does the Bill, by introducing the new framework, deny parents or their children who are pupils in grant-maintained schools the right to a good education. That is patently a ridiculous claim to argue. The grant-maintained initiative has demonstrated the extent to which schools can manage their own affairs and we wish to build on that. Again, contrary to what noble Lords opposite claim, schools self-management is central to our reforms. We want to increase budget delegation for all schools towards the GM level and to ensure that LEA intervention is kept to an essential minimum, a matter which the LEAs also understand. But the GM/LEA divide is not a sensible basis for a school system. Opting out has divided schools and LEAs and distracted them from their central task of raising standards. That is why we are committed to establishing a new framework for the organisation of schools. To do that, we must move forward from where schools are now. The new framework recognises the different traditions and aspirations of individual schools but it replaces privileges for a few with fairness for all.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness because I am most interested to hear what she has to say. Is she saying that grant-maintained schools have failed to raise standards? If so, how does she explain their success on any measurement that has been given in league tables? Does she really believe what she is saying; namely, that the new foundation schools will be as free to determine their way of conducting their business within the school as grant-maintained schools?

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