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Baroness Blackstone: The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said that that matter arises on the next set of amendments. It may make sense for me to respond to those amendments when we reach them.

Baroness Blatch: I do not see any inconsistency here. This measure will bring about a diffuse accountability. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said that she is in favour of action zones. There is a movement away from local authorities. Those schools will move away from local authorities. The noble Baroness will be greatly enlightened when she sees the list. The schools are to be run by a consortia of third parties. The running of those schools will be such that the LEAs will continue to involve them as part of their education development planning. They will continue to have a role in terms of intervention and monitoring the quality of education. They will continue to employ the staff.

In fact, one wonders just how radical, interesting and innovative this policy is. It sounds as though a third party is being given this exciting and challenging job to do which will change quite dramatically the quality of education in areas of the country which have dogged governments going back many years. But they are not to be given the powers to do that. One either believes in the policy or one does not. If one believes in it, then it seems to me that one should place the necessary responsibility and accountability within that body. There should not be that diffuse separation of functions. The LEAs are losing those schools in one sense, but not quite, and that is sufficiently not quite to tie the hands of the third parties which are there taking on the job of innovating and improving the lot of children in those areas.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I believe that this is an exciting adventure. It is being implemented in the most inefficient, incompetent and

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secretive way. It will not work. I believe that there is serious coercion going on out there and, indeed, I can prove that that is so. It will be for me to bring forward the evidence to sustain that allegation. I shall do so. I also know that there are many people who ought to be aware of what is going on but who do not know the facts. I am not just referring to myself in that respect. I was quite deliberately slighted by the Minister. When I saw the applications, I could understand why it was that I was not meant to see them at this stage.

I have to tell the Minister that I am disappointed by what she said. It would seem that areas of the country where education is failing will have all of these powers to disapply the national curriculum as well as pay and conditions of service. However, the Minister is not prepared to consider the extension of such provisions to schools which are successful and want to be even more so, thereby broadening out opportunities for young people. I shall reflect on the Minister's response. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 53:

Page 9, line 46, at end insert--
("( ) When the three- or five-year period is concluded, it shall be the duty of the local education authority or authorities originally responsible for the participating schools to devise reasonable transitional arrangements either--
(a) to return the participating schools to the control of the local education authority or authorities; or
(b) to establish by agreement with the governors of those schools other appropriate arrangements for the management of those schools.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 54 and 55. However, perhaps I may return for a moment to EAZs. It is not surprising that authorities and other people are interested in bidding for them because it is a way of getting more resources into schools in areas which badly need them. It is right that we have welcomed the idea behind EAZs, but it is also true to say that, during the Committee stage in another place, we proposed amendments which would have ensured that LEAs were very much part of the process and that they would not drop off the end at some future date.

Amendment No. 53 relates to what will happen at the end of the period during which schools are involved in EAZs; in other words, what will happen to the participating schools at the end of the process. The amendment is set out in two parts. The LEA, which is responsible, must devise transitional arrangements,

    "to return the participating schools to the control of the local education authority or authorities",

as the case may be, or,

    "to establish by agreement with the governors of those schools other appropriate arrangements for the management of those schools".

The purpose behind the amendment is to provide at least a skeleton of legislation under which those schools which have been EAZs may return to normal.

Perhaps I may point out to the Minister at this stage that what concerns us most is what will happen to LEAs in the future if many EAZs are established. For example,

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where is the future for LEAs? Perhaps it is part of the Government's plan that they do not particularly want to have LEAs in the future. I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments in that respect because it is a matter of concern to some people.

Education action zones will be established for three years in the first instance. However, with the agreement of the Minister, they can go on for another two years. However, at the end of that period there could be a potential crisis. How will education action zone schools survive that post-zone period? It seems likely that some of their staff will perhaps have been paid rather more than other teachers. If the LEA then resumes direct responsibility for such schools, how will that financial burden be met? We cannot really expect those teachers to accept reduced salaries. So will they just leave? That is one of the areas which we are anxious to pursue when considering what happens at the end of the period for an education action zone.

Undoubtedly benefits will be gained by schools belonging to an education action zone. How can those be retained when a school ceases to belong to an education action zone? What will happen as regards the input from commerce and industry? I hope the Minister will enlighten us on those points. The amendments we have tabled propose alternatives for dealing with this matter. As I said in my opening remarks, we are anxious to get a provision on the statute book to determine the position of a school that no longer has education action zone status.

I now turn to Amendment No. 54. Under the Bill as drafted the Secretary of State can add to the number of schools in an action zone, but there is no provision for a school to leave an education action zone. For example, a governing body may wish a school to be removed, or other participants may no longer wish a certain school to participate in an action zone. This amendment would allow the Secretary of State--where a governing body has asked him to do so--to remove a school from an action zone. The decision to do that would rest with the Secretary of State; there is no question of failing schools removing themselves from an action zone. I know that during the debate in the Commons the Government were concerned that schools might be able to benefit from the extra funding of action zone status and then try to remove themselves from the zone. I believe this amendment addresses that worry. In the rare instance where a school becomes unhappy in a zone and the relationship with others in the zone may have broken down to the extent that the effectiveness of the whole zone may be undermined, the Secretary of State can--under the amendment--permit the school to leave the zone. It is not expected that such a provision would be used often. It would be used only in the rarest of circumstances. Nevertheless we think that it should exist in the event that it is needed. Some discussions we had earlier tonight revealed that we need to consider much more carefully how education action zones will operate.

Amendment No. 55 seeks to ensure that whatever the Secretary of State may do in establishing or ending education action zones, the local education authority is properly and adequately consulted at each stage. We are concerned about democratic accountability in the future

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in the event of an increasing number of education action zones being established. The Local Government Association and my colleagues in another place have supported the Government on the establishment of education action zones, but it is clear that a great deal of detail still needs to be considered as to how schools join education action zones. Tonight some of us have been somewhat concerned at the secrecy surrounding that. There have been suggestions that I and my colleagues may be surprised to learn who is applying for education action zone status. I look forward to finding out who it is.

Obviously there is a great desire on the part of all those involved in education to improve standards in our schools. If there is an opportunity to obtain extra resources to do that and to work together in partnership with others to improve standards in innovative ways, people will want to take advantage of that. I urge the Minister to consider carefully the amendments that we have tabled. We believe they would enable education action zones to operate in a satisfactory way. It has become clear that there are grave concerns among all those involved about how they will operate. I hope that the Government will look favourably on the suggestions here which are intended to be helpful for the future of education action zones.

11 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, has raised some interesting points. Again, they are not covered in the four meagre clauses in this Bill. That there should be transitional arrangements that are appropriate is essential. If at the end of a three or five-year period these schools are to be returned to local authority rule and the education action zones do not enjoy an extension, it seems to me that there have to be proper arrangements. It is a great pity that that is not covered in more detail in the Bill.

I certainly support in principle the point that the noble Baroness is making. How it is done mechanically within the Bill I do not know. But that is simply not covered by the detail that we have before us. So I certainly support the noble Baroness in principle.

On Amendment No. 54, concerning where a governing body does not agree, what worries me is that it is possible for governing bodies in part not to agree even to go into an action zone, let alone disagree with what they see once in an action zone. Again, there is so little on the face of the Bill for us to go by. As I have already said to the noble Baroness, I know some governors of a school who are meeting clandestinely, in one case in a pub in east London, discussing all the details of going into an action zone, and governors on the same governing body are not aware of what is going on.

It seems to me to be important that if these actions zones are to work at all, there should be a body of consensus about the adventure upon which they are about to embark and there should at least be some degree of consensus that they think it is a good idea. What happens once it is up and running where governors do not agree? I understand that if they have

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ceded all their functions to the forum, they cannot be taken back under that arrangement. If they are partially ceded, they can do so, but if they are fully ceded there is a very real difficulty for a governing body that does not agree.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, need not worry about Amendment No. 55. The noble Baroness in this amendment is saying that regard must be had to the views of representatives of the relevant local education authority. I can say that in something like 59 of the 60 authorities the views of the LEAs are well known. When the noble Baroness sees the information she will understand what I mean. There is only one case, as I understand it, where the LEA is almost hostile to the bid. The bid is being conducted by a third party completely outside the aegis of the LEA. That is a very interesting state of affairs. So in terms of having regard to the views of the representatives of the LEA, that is well known.

My Amendment No. 54A brings into the picture the people who in my view matter most; that is, the parents of pupils who are attending the schools which will be part of the action zone. Subsection (4) of this clause states that no order shall be made by the Secretary of State under subsection (1), (2) or (3) except on an application made for the purpose with the consent of parents of pupils and governors at every school.

If the Government are not happy that parents should be involved in this process, then I have very real concerns about this proposition. It seems to me that parents of pupils at these schools are critical to the success of this scheme. After all, the backing that children receive from their home and their parents and/or guardians is essential. If these action zones take place without a body of consent from the parents, it seems to me that the Secretary of State will have started off with a very good, exciting idea that could go very wrong indeed. So I hope that when it comes to Amendment No. 54A, the noble Baroness will feel able to accept it.

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