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Page 2, leave out lines 3 and 4 and insert ("shall be obliged, subject to circumstances specified in regulations under this section, to secure that that limit is complied with in relation to that class.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak to Amendment No. 6 and my noble friend Lady Maddock will speak to Amendment No. 22.

The effect of Amendment No. 5 is to make clear that LEAs and governing bodies are under a statutory duty to comply with class size limits, subject to tightly-defined exceptions set out in regulations. That would make it easier for the Secretary of State to use his powers contained in the Education Act 1996 to direct governing bodies to comply with those limits.

The purpose of the amendment is to probe the wording in the Bill which simply says that LEAs and governing bodies,

I wish to press the Government on what they mean by "with a view to securing". I am sure that most schools--probably all schools--would wish to comply with the class size but there are 13,000 schools with infant

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classes. It is a near certainty that some of them, at some stage, are going to feel either that they cannot achieve it, for some of the reasons we have been talking about, or that they have other priorities. Will it be a sufficient defence for them to say, "We have tried to do so; we have acted in accordance with the Act in trying to comply, but we cannot do so"--or even, "but we don't want to do so"?

I am probing what the words "with a view to" mean. Do they mean, "You must do it" or "You must try to do it and you must demonstrate that you have tried?" There is an important difference. Given that 13,000 schools will be in that position, it is inevitable that, sooner or later, one, or probably more, will test that. The effect of the amendment, if passed, would be to make it clear that that is a statutory obligation.

I understood from an earlier answer from the Minister that the body responsible for non-compliance is the local education authority, although I thought I heard just now that the body responsible is to be the local education authority and/or the governing body. I should like to probe that a little more and here I speak as the leader of a local education authority, at least for another two days, and subject then to the will of the people. An LEA has no local leverage to require a governing body to meet the pledge. Having to be responsible for non-compliance is a bit hard if you cannot do anything to bring about the compliance. The amendment would deal with that problem.

I turn now to Amendment No. 6. At Second Reading and on many other occasions, I have made it clear that my party would have wished to extend the reduction in class sizes to all primary classes. I do not intend to return to that point specifically in this Bill except to reiterate that that remains our policy. We accept that if priorities have to be chosen, it is right to start with infant classes. Therefore, we fully support the policy that will be enacted under this Bill.

However, we remain concerned about the possible effect on junior classes and about what may happen if reducing infant class sizes has a deleterious effect on junior classes by increasing their size. When the Bill was being discussed in another place, the Government made it clear that they would not expect schools to accommodate the pledge on class sizes for infants by increasing class sizes at key stage 2. I am sure that they would not expect that--none of us would--but that may well be the effect. We are anxious to discover what the Government will do if that should come about. What will they do when they see education authorities' development plans which appear to have that effect? How serious are they in their intent? Do they still intend to fund plans which could have the effect of disadvantaging seven to 11 year-olds?

I happen to be a governor of a junior school. It is physically separate from its infant school, but I know that this is a matter of concern there. We need to know from the Government how serious they are about

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these proposals. I leave my noble friend Lady Maddock to speak to Amendment No. 22, and I beg to move Amendment No. 5.

Baroness Maddock: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 22, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Tope. This amendment goes a little further than did my noble friend in his other two amendments. It seeks before the next general election to extend the Government's policy on reducing infant class sizes to all children from the age of five to the age of 11. It assumes that by the beginning of the financial year 2000-01, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, will have reached the end of his commitment to stick to Tory spending plans.

In another place the Minister responsible for school standards, Stephen Byers, said, at col. 79 of Commons Hansard:

    "Obviously, as the class size pledge rolls on year by year, it will benefit seven, eight, nine and ten year olds. This will be a clear consequence ... We do not intend to deliver it for key stage 2 children by way of regulation. Those who know how schools operate will be conscious of the practical consequences of introducing a class limit of 30 for five, six and seven year olds".

It is for precisely that reason that we have tabled Amendment No. 22.

If one establishes a reception class of below 30, it is naive and simplistic to expect that group to stay intact as it moves up the junior part of the school. That is an over-optimistic view. We know that when schools are strapped for cash they will make different arrangements. They will be required by law to limit the size of their infant classes. We heard explicitly this afternoon about how the law will bite. However, if schools make different arrangements because of cash difficulties, other children may suffer, irrespective of the assurances we have been given to the contrary. We believe that such assurances must be backed by cash. We do not think that it is unreasonable to ask that priority should be given to improving education by extending the policy to pupils at key stage 2.

I hope that the Government will agree with us in principle. They may find it difficult, with the footsteps of the Treasury behind them, to commit themselves to it, but I hope that they will agree with the principle. Before the general election, their cry was, "Education, education, education". We, as a party, were also committed to education. Therefore, I hope that the Government will agree with us. Indeed, they seem to be in a fairly good financial position at the moment. The Treasury coffers are doing much better than anticipated, so I can see no reason why the Government cannot make some commitment. I hope that they will look favourably on this proposal. It is a little pie-in-the-sky to think that one can insist on infant classes of fewer than 30 children, but fund only that part and that there will be no effect on the children subsequently.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: I wonder whether the noble Baroness can explain where the extra money will come from. For two years and at the last general election the Liberal Democrats claimed that their party would

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increase spending on education by the equivalent of one penny extra on income tax although the Government are already spending more. Where will the extra money come from? Clearly, we are going far further than her party promised at the last election.

Baroness Maddock: I am happy to respond to the noble Lord. His intervention reminds me of being in the other place. This is the way in which we used to debate matters there. There is a dispute about the figures. We as a party do not accept the noble Lord's figures. Indeed, in the other place and elsewhere we have vigorously expressed our disappointment about current spending on education. We believe that the Government have misled people. They are not spending as much as we would like on education.

Lord Whitty: We have some understanding of, and sympathy with, the reasons behind this group of amendments, but we do not believe they are necessary. The intention of the Bill is clear. We do not seek to finance the limitation on infant class sizes by a knock-on "deleterious"--I think that that was the word that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, used--effect on junior school classes.

Perhaps I may deal first with Amendment No. 5. At first sight, it seems an obvious amendment, seeking to place a duty on LEAs and governors to secure compliance with limits rather than just to exercise their duties so as to secure such compliance. I am sure that the amendment is intended to be helpful, but I hope that I shall be able to reassure the noble Lord that the present wording of Clause 1(4) already suffices. I should also record the fact that our own legal advice has been that the noble Lord's amendment might in practice weaken the duty on LEAs and governors to secure smaller infant classes. The amended text would constitute a duty on those bodies, but it would be one of many duties, and there would be no indication that that duty takes precedence over any others. I am sure that that was not the noble Lord's intention, so perhaps it is better if I explain why the present wording should suffice.

The Bill is drafted to require LEAs and governing bodies to perform all relevant functions under the Education Act with the objective of ensuring that class size limits are met. In response to the noble Lord's question about where the responsibility lies as between the governing bodies and the local education authorities, I advise him that each of the bodies concerned will have to perform all of their relevant functions so as to secure compliance with the class size limits. If the limits are not met then the responsibility will be with whichever of those two bodies was in breach of those duties. I reassure the noble Lord that each of those bodies will have to perform its relevant functions to secure compliance with those limits. When they both do so those limits will be achieved. Therefore that is an obligation and not a pious aspiration as, I believe, the noble Lord was hinting. In the light of that I hope that the noble Lord will accept that the present drafting makes that obligation clear and that his amendment, if anything, might weaken those obligations.

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Amendments Nos. 6 and 22 are concerned with the size of junior or key stage 2 classes. The noble Baroness clearly wishes to ensure that the benefits of class limitation apply to key stage 2 pupils as well as to infants whereas the Bill clearly restricts its specification to limits for infant classes. However, the noble Lord's amendment is concerned simply that LEAs and schools may allow key stage 2 class sizes to rise in order to free funds and resources to pay for more infant teachers. I recognise the logic of that concern and in doing so I would not wish to suggest that we believe that there are grounds for LEAs to behave in that way and drawing resources from other areas of funding to meet the infant class size element. The Government are determined that that should not happen, but we believe that the amendment, as drafted, does not represent the best way of ensuring that it does not happen.

The Secretary of State's power to specify the information that will be required from local authorities in their initial statements, together with his power to approve or reject those statements, represents a sufficient safeguard. I am not sure whether the noble Lord has yet had an opportunity to consider the draft regulations and guidance that were issued for consultation on this issue last week. If Members of the Committee have not had such an opportunity, it is perhaps worth my drawing attention to a couple of the points in those documents.

In the information to be provided by LEAs we specify that their initial statements of their strategies to meet these objectives must contain measures that they are taking,

    "to ensure that smaller infant classes are not delivered at the expense of key stage 2 classes".

In paragraph 19 of the draft guidance we make the position abundantly clear to LEAs that,

    "plans will not be approved that show reductions in infant class sizes being achieved at the cost of increases in key stage 2 class sizes arising from a transfer of funding from junior to infant classes".

These documents are still in draft at this stage and I would obviously welcome any proposals for improving or strengthening the drafting. The difficulty with the amendments to the Bill as such lies in linking cause and effect at school level. It will be necessary to prove that a change in key stage 2 classes which were considered to be a disadvantage had arisen directly and solely from action to cut infant classes. In some cases I suppose that that would be obvious. It might be clear that if four junior classes of 30 were changed to three classes of 40, then it is pretty obvious that a transfer is taking place. But in many cases the link would not be so evident. We believe that the most effective way of ensuring that there is no risk of disadvantage to other age groups in the delivery of the infant class size pledge is through the initial approval of the statements produced by the LEA and then through the effective monitoring of the measures taken on the ground by the LEA and the school. I hope that the noble Lord accepts that that is our intention.

I shall now deal with Amendment No. 22. I wish to make it clear that our principal approach is that the Government are committed to providing higher

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educational standards for all pupils. We have established a clear priority here in placing limitations on infant class sizes. That is why our pledge to the electorate was focused on this group. The intention of the Bill is to deliver that pledge. There is plenty of evidence that class size at that stage in the education process is the most significant. That is the point at which chances of educational success can so often be determined. Research shows that the benefits of having been taught in small classes early on can still be observed even where the children concerned were later taught in larger classes. Therefore, that seems to us to be the clear priority. The extra funds that we have provided for schools this year will help to maintain teacher numbers at all stages, but we are not convinced of the priority needs or case for imposing statutory limits on older year groups.

I turn to what the noble Baroness said and to the quotation from the Chancellor. While we have no plans to impose class size limits on junior classes, the progression of pupils through primary schools will, in time, mean that in practice most junior classes will contain 30 or fewer pupils. In typical one or two-form entry schools, children are likely to remain in their groups of 30 or fewer as they move through the school. In addition, junior schools and class sizes will benefit in the short term from the £835 million extra funds for schools in England that the Government have provided. In the longer term they will benefit from this automatic progression although I do accept that there will be situations where that does not apply because of particular complications in individual schools.

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