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Baroness Blatch: The Minister left two questions unanswered and I should be grateful if she could respond to them before I respond to her answer. I refer, first, to the feeding of the money through the local management of schools formula and, secondly, to the definition of "poor" and "poorer" schools.

Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I may respond, first, to what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said and then return to the questions about LMS and the definition of "poor" and "poorer".

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There is no edict, but there is a new duty on local education authorities. Indeed, much education legislation imposes new duties on LEAs. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, was a Minister at the Department of Education and Science, as it then was, and she will have been involved in such legislation. Given that the Bill places a new duty on LEAs, it seems reasonable that a specific grant should be provided in order to support local authorities in fulfilling that duty. It would be wrong not to provide that additional funding.

The noble Baroness also said that she thought that the Bill would lead to the Secretary of State knowing what is happening in every single school. That is something of an overstatement. I do not believe that the Secretary of State wants to know what is going on in every single school at every single minute of the day, as used to be said happened in the French system, where the French Minister of Education could look at the clock and say, "It is now 10 past 10"--not at night, but in the morning!--"and I now know that throughout the land pupils will be looking at their Latin primer". That is not what is intended here. We are trying to ensure that every child of five, six and seven should be in a class with no more than 30 children.

Perhaps I may return to the question about LMS. We shall shortly be consulting on the new LMS arrangements which will include the necessary arrangements to fund schools for this class-size policy. A process of consultation on LMS needs to be gone through to ensure that we have a sensible scheme available.

As regards the definition of poorer schools, again it is impossible to be precise. I do not believe that the noble Baroness can expect me to be precise. We all have a good idea what is meant by that. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: Perhaps I may take the last point first. Either we have to believe the words on the page or we do not. Paragraph 13 of the guidance says:


    "While it is not possible to guarantee all parents that their child will gain a place in the school of their choice, LEAs' class size plans must however not lead to a reduction in parental preference, but to an enhancement of it. LEAs should plan on the basis of enhancing the exercise of parental preference, wherever possible, which would mean: (a) no child should have to travel an unreasonable distance to school; (b) surplus places in poor schools should not be filled by keeping children out of schools that offer higher standards and a better quality of education".

This is a legal obligation on local authorities and on schools. If it has to be interpreted, then I as a parent would want to know what it means. I have a view of what is meant by a poorer school being other than the one where I would prefer to send my child. Where do I stand under the law? At the end of the day someone has to make a judgment and who is going to do it? Will it be the Secretary of State in approving the plans? In that case, is the local education authority expected to say that it refers to each school to which a child may be sent if there is no place in the school of choice? I do not know. It is important because, if these are the words on the page and they are to be the guidance to schools,

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LEAs and parents, we need to know what they mean. I hope that by the next stage of the Bill we will have had some definition.

I take some of the points which the noble Baroness made about distance. Those of us who live in the country were mildly surprised. If one wanted to send the 31st or 32nd child from my village to another school, there would be no bus to take that child at school times to another primary school. There would be transport to the secondary school, but the distances and the directions are different. But if a primary school child has to be sent, there would be no way whereby that child could leave at 9 o'clock in the morning and return at 3 p.m. or 3.30 p.m. Therefore, there would be dislocation of the family. The suggestion has been made that the child can get on a train to go to school. In many communities they cannot even get on a bus unless there is a recognised school run. Even then, all the children are being bussed anyway. Children have grown up accustomed to going to their local village school and the little overflow of one, two or three children does not fit into that situation if they have to be sent on to other villages.

From my village it is easier to get into the local town which is 10 miles away than to get to the next village which is only a mile away. One has to walk there. We also have a dual carriageway to negotiate. It is a very difficult issue. The Government are going to have very real problems. They deal in broad-brush plans, which all sound wonderful, but when it comes to actual policy on the ground where a single child can breach the magic figure of 30, there will be all kinds of practical problems. The answer to some of them has not been given by the noble Baroness.

As regards LMS, I am quite perplexed. We were told by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, as regards LMS and the revenue support grant, that this money would be specific grant. If it is to be paid through LEAs by a formula, that is not specific grant, but something different. If it is formula, then each local authority will receive just its allocation which will come through under the normal formula. That would be expected to meet all the costs of the pledge and flies in the face of the unequivocal promise we were given earlier in some detail by the noble Lord.

In answer to my noble friend Lady Young, the Minister said that it was not an edict. I had a quick look in the dictionary to check the definition. The definition is: "Order proclaimed by authority". This is an order proclaimed by authority to local authorities and schools. It is a statute by which they will be obliged to conform and it cannot be anything other than an edict, so my noble friend was right.

I end with the statement with which I began. We do not argue with the policy intention of the Government but we are seriously worried about its rigidity and the practical implementation of that policy on the ground and the difficulty of sending--I hope that the noble Baroness did not mean it--five year-olds to school on a train. We are talking here about infants and not grown-up children.

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10.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: This discussion about the travel arrangements of small children has perhaps gone a bit far. I said that it was impossible to specify a precise distance which might be regarded as reasonable. It will vary according to the transport arrangements in different parts of the country. I made reference to trains and went on to say straight away that in most rural areas trains did not exist. I have a small cottage in a village in the country which has trains. That is very unusual. For the most part one is considering buses. Nothing I said suggested that small children of that age should be put on trains or indeed buses. Their parents would have to take them where such facilities existed. For the most part, we hope that children will be able to go to schools in their own villages where these facilities exist. I believe that we are making rather a meal of this.

While on my feet perhaps I may make one point absolutely clear. The noble Baroness said that she was confused about LMS. As I understand it, funding would not go to LEAs by formula but by a specific grant, as has been said on a number of occasions. However, they may pay schools through LMS arrangements to ensure that there is fair funding for all schools. Therefore the grant will go to the LEAs. There is to be consultation on this matter so that in the longer term there is a fair funding system.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Before the noble Baroness sits down, I do not wish to burden the Minister with the "country" point but I live in the country. One of the problems of broad-brush government Bills is that people are actually affected. There are people in the country who do not own motorcars. In the area of the country where I live there is no bus or train and I do not drive. I am very well aware of this. The noble Baroness must not dismiss this. The 31st, 32nd, 33rd and 34th child present a problem which the Government must face. The fact that the noble Baroness's village has trains is not a common feature in the country. This is not a frivolous or political point; it is a real point of concern. When one imposes classes of 30 and sends some children away the Government must give thought to it.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Baroness exhorted me not to make a meal of this. This is the policy of the Government. When I was a serving county councillor I was always taught that whatever I did, and whatever policy I made, thought should be given to what it would mean on the ground. Before my time there was a rather good chief education officer, George Edwards, who was well known in the educational world. The noble Baroness may even have heard of him. He often stopped education committees to ask what would happen to little children. I do not believe that we are making a meal of this. We are considering the Government's well-intentioned policy aims. They have taken a view that there should not be flexibility. It is envisaged that children will be moved from schools which would have taken them had there been some flexibility. I have even asked the noble Baroness that where in any small village in the country the parents, governors and staff of a

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school have agreed that the education of the children will not be compromised by accepting the 31st or 32nd child, they should be free to make that decision but that that should be underwritten by the consensus view of all of those bodies, rather than that a child should be put on a country bus or even a country train.


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