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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I hope that it will be thought appropriate if I speak to Amendments Nos. 53A, 54B, 54C and 257F which are government amendments in this group. The purpose of the amendments is straightforward. An important aspect of action zones is that a group of partners work together for a set period of time. Stability in the partnership is important, but there is one particular circumstance where it may be necessary to allow a new school to enter. This is where school reorganisation has created new schools in the area after the zone has been created.

For example, if two participating schools are merged and a new school is created as a result, it is logical that the new school should participate. Amendments Nos. 53A, 54B 54C and 257F all permit the Secretary of State to include newly created schools in a zone. This could be important in some cases and I shall commend the amendments to the Committee.

Perhaps I may refer to the other amendments in the same group which have been moved or spoken to. Amendment No. 53 was moved by the noble Baroness,

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Lady Maddock. All these amendments concern the setting up and dissolution of action zones. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is right: good transitional arrangements for action zones will be essential. We expect all applicants to have considered carefully their exit strategies before they begin. But it is not necessary to take what I fear is a paternalistic stance with these zones. The local partners, with support, of course, from the department where they want and need it, will have put forward the ideas. They will be responsible for implementing them. They will be responsible for ensuring that they are sustainable, or, if not, that they can be ended in a sensible way. To legislate for one body, as does the amendment--the local education authority--to be responsible for devising transitional arrangements to cope with the zone's ending seems to me to miss the point that this is all about partners working together.

Of course, the local authority will have an important role in this. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who knows more than I do about the applications, has confirmed that in 59 cases out of 60. But what about the role of the other partners? What about the schools themselves? I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will agree the principle that unless they are failing, schools, whether within or outside action zones, should be managed by no one but themselves.

It is important to realise that these zones are not just about additional resources boosting performance for a short period of time. The idea is that the zone allows schools in the zone, and their communities, to find different ways of working. We are looking to find ways which continue after the zone ends which can be useful models for other areas which are not zones.

Let me give some examples. Private sponsors will continue to be involved in supporting and helping to advise on the running of the schools. New curriculum models may be found. If these are successful, we would expect the schools in the area to continue to use them. We would also want to feed these findings into reviews of the national curriculum. New models for staffing may have been tried. If those are successful, we want to see whether they can be of benefit more widely.

I turn to Amendment No. 54, which would allow a school to exit in the middle of the term of an action zone. These zones are about a voluntary commitment to schools to work in partnership and try new ways to raise standards. In return for satisfying the Secretary of State that they and their partners have strong proposals for doing this, they stand to receive significant additional support. As well as funds, this will include priority access to many of our standards-raising programmes. Some of these programmes, once established, will continue indefinitely.

The Government are extremely happy to complete their side of the bargain because we know that we shall have tested the local proposals and will want to support them. But it would not be fair for a school, having received significant extra support--I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, recognised the force of this point--to decide that in fact it did not want to meet the higher levels of achievement expected in zones, or

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did not want to continue working in partnership with other schools. Three years seems to us a minimum time for which such a commitment could legitimately be expected.

There is another issue. Zones will be set up in which each school has something to contribute or learn from. In some zones, schools will have much good practice to share with their partners. It would be a pity if such schools left when things became a little difficult. Surely it is better to stick it out for at least three years and make a real difference.

The noble Baroness explained that the amendment only gives the Secretary of State a power; he does not have to use it. It is surely important that the partners should know that they are working together for three or possibly five years. It would be very distracting if different schools were debating whether or not they wanted to continue. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said that this would not happen very often, but the debate about whether or not they would continue might happen more often, and really that would not be a very good thing.

Amendment No. 55 requires the Secretary of State to consult before creating a zone. This was debated in some detail in Committee in the Commons. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment said--and I am delighted to give the same reassurance now--that:


    "We have made it clear at every stage that we expect local authorities to be consulted. Clearly, if an application was made and the local authority had not expressed a view on it, we would take the initiative and ask the local authority why that was so."

Again, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has the advantage over me. She tells me it is possible that this has occurred only in one case. I can assure her that in that case, had we not done so already, we would take the initiative and ask the local authority why it was not supporting the application. When that assurance was given in another place, I understand that the Liberal Democrat spokesman accepted that assurance and withdraw the amendment. I hope that the noble Baroness will do the same.

Finally, and with apologies for the length of this reply, I turn to Amendment No. 54A, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I am sympathetic to the idea that parents will have an important voice in the creation and running of an education action zone, but we really do not need a parental ballot to achieve that. The governing body of each school should be close to the views of parents and of course will have direct parental representation on it. The governing body itself, as the noble Baroness knows, will have to agree to participate and the applicants will have to demonstrate not only the school's agreement but their commitment to working in this way.

We do not really want to have this kind of obsession with structure and procedures getting in the way of innovative policies of education action zones. In the applications we have received--and I look to the noble Baroness to confirm or correct what I am saying--there are tremendous examples of initiatives to improve the way in which the whole community can be involved in education, encouraging children to learn with parents

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and parents to further their own education alongside their children In many of the disadvantaged areas where the zones will be set up, one of the most challenging issues is how to promote the importance of education.

I urge the Committee to allow this task to be undertaken and to allow those working and living locally to make judgments about the need to apply, in discussion with parents, pupils and staff as necessary. But, please, let us not saddle the procedure with unnecessary bureaucracy.

I hope that noble Baroness will in due course decide not to move Amendment No. 54A. I commend the Government amendments to the Committee and, with great respect for the motivation of the others, ask the noble Baronesses concerned not to press them.

Baroness Maddock: I thank the Minister for the long reply he has given and for the clarification of where the Government stand on these issues. I would perhaps take issue with him on being regarded as "paternalistic". What we are trying to do is to ensure democratic accountability. I do not believe that that is paternalism. Perhaps earlier this evening we saw the Government being very paternalistic in the way they were guarding the secrets surrounding people who were applying for education action zones, and so I would take issue there.

The Minister did not quite get to the bottom of how schools would manage so far as resources are concerned if they came out of education action zones. He rather skated around the point. I shall read his remarks carefully, and we may return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 53A:


Page 10, line 5, at end insert ("; or
(b) with a view to enabling it to achieve improving standards in the provision of education once it becomes a maintained school, any new school which has a temporary governing body.").

The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 53. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 54 not moved.]

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 54A:


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