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Baroness Blackstone: It is certainly the case that this Government will refute any excuses that are made in relation to bad performance. The social factors listed by the noble Baroness are not reasons for schools to shelter behind poor teaching, inadequate use of resources and failure to intervene when early remedial help is needed. Those matters are absolutely vital. The noble Baroness is quite right. A child who does not learn to read at this stage is a child who will fall behind at all the later stages, and will often be one of those who later become disaffected with their schooling, become truants, drop out and then become involved in crime. Therefore the attention that we are giving to the early years is very important. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her support.

At the same time, it would be wrong to castigate those schools in difficult social environments which have large numbers of pupils needing a great deal of help and which receive lower scores than those schools in leafy suburbs, many of whose children are already well prepared to start school and in some cases have already been taught to read at home. They have certainly received a lot of support and attention and may have

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had two or more full-time years in a very good nursery school. So I do not want schools in any way to make excuses. But value-added tables are a much better way of ensuring that all schools are doing a good job. Without them, we cannot tell whether some of the schools that are in a privileged position in terms of entry are doing as good a job as they should be. They should get very high scores, and we shall not know that unless we are able to measure the performance of children when they arrive.

This is a difficult technical area. Measuring the performance of five year-olds when they first enter a primary school, particularly if they have not had any nursery school experience is difficult and tricky. I do not think that I can make any commitment to going down this road at this stage; but I do not want to rule out making progress in this sort of direction in the longer term.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: This is a probing amendment, though we may return to it on Report. To approach it from a broader sphere, the background to the amendment is this. Perhaps I may first take one historical example.

Towards the end of the last century and the beginning of this, the United States of America took people from everywhere in the world, many of whom did not speak English, and through the early school system transformed them into English-speaking Americans who took a great part in the development of their country. That is my first historical point.

The second is this. The noble Baroness touched on this matter and I must say that I welcome the approach that she has taken. Like my noble friend Lord Baker, I welcome the movement of the party opposite towards views of education that I have held for a long time. There is no joy in heaven so great as that for a sinner who converts. As the noble Baroness knows, it is a fact that in the same deprived area--I know the school where my daughter teaches--one school adjacent to another does amazingly better. Similarly, in privileged areas one school will do badly and another will do very well. My amendment may be crude, to use the word of the noble Lord, Lord Peston; but it would go a little way towards helping.

Key stage 1 assesses very important areas--areas that will decide a child's future in later life, as the noble Baroness pointed out. I agree with every word that she said. Similarly, class sizes would be another piece of additional information. I accept, as the noble Baroness said, that these facts are available, though mainly to parents. Similarly, the facts about class sizes are available in local authority documents; they can be gained if one is prepared to approach the authority.

I have no disagreement in relation to the idea of value added--though I share the views of my noble friend Lady Young that it can, if not used properly, become a mask that excludes failure. I have seen that happen in schools. To return to my original statement, there are cases where one school in a deprived area, with people

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from a different ethnic background, does so much better at teaching language and numeracy than does the next one. My amendment would serve to reveal those facts.

I welcome the noble Lord's idea. I am quite happy if the Government wish to add to my amendment a provision in relation to value added. Having been in education, I am afraid that arguments about value added are like those as to how many angels are dancing on a pin. It may mean that this idea is never realised. We have to face the point made by my noble friend Lord Baker: one of the engines fuelling the advance in education has been the performance that has actually occurred in schools. That is what the Government have realised. It is the legacy they have inherited from their predecessors and on which they are building. That said, I shall not force the amendment now. However, we may return to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne): If the next amendment, Amendment No. 2, is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 3 because of pre-emption.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 2:


Page 1, line 9, leave out subsections (1) to (3) and insert--
("(1) The maximum number of pupils that an infant class at a maintained school may contain while an ordinary teaching session is conducted by a single qualified teacher is 30.
(2) The Secretary of State shall by regulations fix the date by which the limit set out in subsection (1) is to be met by such schools.
(3) Regulations under this section may--
(a) impose different limits (subject to subsection (1)), and fix different dates, according to the age groups into which the pupils in infant classes fall;
(b) provide that, in any circumstances specified in the regulations, the limit set out in subsection (1) and any limit imposed by the regulations either is not to apply or is to operate in such manner as is so specified.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment will give the Government their first opportunity to respond positively to the report of the delegated powers scrutiny committee. Perhaps I may at the outset read from paragraph 6 of that report. It states:


    "The committee accepts the need for flexibility in implementing this highly significant change in schools policy, and thus the need for regulations. But regulation-making powers should be used in this area only insofar as they are essential to achieve the necessary flexibility. In the view of the Committee, the most important parameters, including the all-important target of the maximum number of pupils in an infant class, should appear on the face of the Bill. The House may therefore wish to consider whether the Bill should be amended to include the target maximum number of pupils on the face of the Bill. It may also think the use of negative procedure inappropriate for such an important power, and may thus wish to consider amending the Bill to allow for the affirmative resolution procedure".

The Committee will see that the amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List will address both of those recommendations--first, in that the figure 30 should appear on the face of the Bill. After all, in this instance the Government have produced draft regulations whereby they commit themselves to the figure 30. Therefore it should not present a difficulty for them to lay that figure on the face of the Bill. If they

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intend this policy to be in place by 2001, then it is unlikely that they will go for a figure lower than 30 within the period of this Parliament. Indeed, it is likely, if the Government wish to pursue smaller classes in schools, that they will wish to address classes for seven, eight and nine year-olds before going even lower for the infant classes. In either case, the Government would still have to return to this House with primary legislation. Therefore they should accept this amendment.

I wish to refer to a disquiet that I have about this pledge, laudable and desirable though it may be, which, if my newspapers are to be believed, is a disquiet shared by members of the Government. It is that the practical difficulties of implementing this policy are legion. I have always held the view that, if local education authorities and schools themselves had more money, it would be for them to determine their priorities. I suspect that it would be almost inevitable that primary schools and/or infant schools would tend to give priority to younger-aged children. I would trust the local education authorities and the schools themselves to use the money in this way if it were made available. But the Government have hooked themselves on taking control of this policy at national level.

We all know that, where a guarantee is as inflexible as it is in this Bill, the 31st, 32nd or even 33rd child will happen randomly across the country. A school that has 31 children in a class today may have 28 next year. In small schools in the heart of rural England, not only is class size an issue; so too is the age range within a class. In my own village in the county of Cambridgeshire, the school has five, six and seven year-olds in one class, seven, eight and nine year-olds in the second class and nine, 10 and 11 year-olds in the third class. There is a world of difference between a class of 30 five, six and seven year-olds and a class of 30 five year-olds, a class of 30 six year-olds and a class of 30 seven year-olds. In no way does this policy recognise the sensitivity of that very real distinction. If one is measuring the burden on a teacher in the classroom, which is what I believe we should be doing, the burden on the teacher dealing with an age range of three years is vastly different from, and more onerous than, the burden on the teacher dealing with 30 children of a single age group.

I posed the question at Second Reading as to what happens to the 31st child where the school is a long distance from another school or where another school of the denominational preference is not nearby. We know the answer to that now: the answer is that the child will be given a teacher and that the local authority will provide that teacher.

There are huge problems with that. Are the Government saying unequivocally that where there is a 31st child which impedes parental preference, which does not enhance parental preference, which means that a child will travel an unreasonable distance, which means that denominational choice is not nearby, the school will be provided with an extra teacher for one or two children, when numbers in a school can fluctuate downwards or upwards from term to term and from year to year?

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If local education authorities are expected to have that kind of money pre-empted from their budgets on a term-by-term basis, it will be hugely expensive across the country. Pupil/teacher ratios will be vastly changed. This money will come from the education budget. A later amendment from the Liberal Democrats urges that this money should go into the revenue support grant. Once it goes into the revenue support grant, it is clear that every time a teacher is produced for as few as one or two children, that resource is denied to the other age groups, the seven year-olds and upwards.

The practical difficulties with this policy, however laudable and desirable it is, are legion. It is no surprise to me that the Treasury has concerns about it. It is certainly no surprise to me that, as time goes on, the practical difficulties presented by the policy increase. Because of the way in which the Government have chosen to implement this policy at national level rather than allowing local education authorities to operate at their own level, the minutiae of information which will have to go into the plans to be presented to the Government for their approval or disapproval, as the case may be, and the inevitable paper-chase that will be involved as the plans are handed back down to the local education authorities and then back up again, will mean that much needed resources will be dissipated. I believe that it will cause enormous problems.

The report from the delegated powers scrutiny committee is the strongest that has ever been made of a Bill in Parliament. I hope that that message will be well received by the Department for Education and Employment. My own memory of being a Minister in that department is that a Minister, particularly one in this House, has to work very hard with officials to persuade them that this point is important. They have an in-built aversion to affirmative resolution procedures. When we come to the later amendment, I shall argue for that procedure. In the meantime I believe that, if the Government are serious about this policy, it is only right that we should follow the recommendations of the scrutiny committee and put it on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: Before I came into the Chamber this afternoon, I was asked by a reporter what the interesting points would be today. One of my comments was that, having followed education over a number of years, I was a little bemused and I thought he would see Members of the Government Bench and the Opposition Bench saying different things and interpreting things differently from the way in which they interpreted them when they sat on the other side of the Chamber. My second comment was that one never knows what will take anyone's fancy in a Committee debate and what will cause excitement. When I made that comment, I had not anticipated that the excitement would happen so early in the day.

In the past there have been fierce arguments about who believes that children do better in small classes. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, on at least sticking to the policy that was accepted in another place that it is important but is one of a number of

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measures that need to be in place to improve standards. I made an impassioned speech about this matter at Second Reading. Having been a practising teacher, I have no doubt that children can receive more attention in a small class. I have yet to see a parent pay to send a child to a school that has large classes. Indeed, I know that one of the reasons why parents pay to send their children to certain schools is that they know there will be small numbers in the classes. At least we have more or less agreed here today that this is a very important point.

We support the amendment. It has been recommended by the Select Committee that looks into the way in which we deal with regulations and make laws in this place. I believe we should heed what the committee says. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, laid that matter out clearly, and I will not repeat what was said in the report.

The noble Baroness also pointed out that there are knock-on effects from insisting that there should be 30 children in a class. We support that policy, which was contained in the Liberal Democrat manifesto at the last election. We shall discuss the knock-on effects of that policy when we discuss other clauses this afternoon. It is important for us to recognise that not only are there difficulties about where one puts the 31st child; there are considerable difficulties about how one accommodates extra classes in schools. Those will be matters that we shall look at later on this afternoon.


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