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The Lord Bishop of Ripon: Perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 77 which stands in my name and also Amendment No. 77A which amends my amendment.

Amendment No. 77 refers to the provision which enables the Secretary of State to appoint additional governors to a failing school. This measure replaces the

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existing provision for the Secretary of State to appoint an educational association. Under the existing provision, the authorities referred to in my amendment have to be consulted before the Secretary of State takes that decision. There is therefore a prima facie case for the same arrangements to be in place.

The argument for doing so is not that these authorities should sway the Secretary of State in a decision to appoint additional governors, but to allow the Secretary of State access to local knowledge in deciding whom to appoint. The appropriate authorities may feel that they know the person they think would be right to sort the matter out. But they may have no power to appoint such a person. Amendment No. 77 requires the Secretary of State to consult the appropriate diocesan authority so that with local knowledge of the situation that authority can advise the Secretary of State.

The Minister may say that with good practice this would happen. However, under this provision the foundation majority on the governing body of an aided school would be lost. It seems only proper that consultation should be a right, as is the case at present. The Secretary of State does not have to listen when he consults; he will be free to take whatever action he chooses. But the provision allows him access to local knowledge. It is in everyone's interest to deal with a failing school. A partnership is more likely to achieve a successful result.

On Amendment No. 77A, I entirely welcome the intention of the amendment. I believe that the point is already met by paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 77: that the person or body that appoints the foundation governors would be the appropriate authority in the case of all other religious schools. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a positive response to the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for that explanation. I am not certain that that position is true in every case. The governors of each of the schools may be the appropriate body, but there may be the equivalent of a diocesan authority for Jewish or Moslem schools. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, is not with us, but he has a number of amendments down to protect the interests of Methodist schools. There will be others too.

I do not wish in any way to take issue with the right reverend Prelate. However, when the Minister responds, I wish to be absolutely assured that paragraph (b) totally subsumes my Amendment No. 77A and that no single denomination other than the Anglican and Catholics will be left unprotected by these amendments.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate and to the noble Baroness for explaining their amendments, and I am also grateful to the right reverend Prelate for this opportunity to record the valuable role played by the Churches in supporting their weak and failing schools. They strengthen the local partnerships needed to raise standards.

The power to appoint additional governors is an important element in the range of measures needed to provide support for schools in difficulty: failing schools

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need outside help. In a voluntary school, both the diocese and the LEA can bring in support and expertise by appointing additional governors to the governing body. Where this, and the support of the LEA more generally, is clearly not working the Secretary of State needs the flexibility to move quickly and decisively to bring in extra help.

Before deciding that appointing additional governors is the right course of action, there will already have been discussions with and about the school. Having decided that additional governors would help to improve the school, we shall need to find out about the strengths and weaknesses of the existing governors, to make sure that we appoint the people who can make the necessary contribution. It is inconceivable that we could do all of this without talking to the LEA and the diocese. This will have to be a temporary solution, because the Secretary of State will appoint his governors for a fixed term. What this will be will depend upon the circumstances of each case.

This is not a permanent takeover of the governing body. To be brutal, the school will either be improved or it will face closure. The comparison is made with the power to set up an education association. I suggest that a closer match to this power lies in Clause 19 of the Bill, which gives the Secretary of State the power to direct the closure of a school. Before issuing a direction to the LEA, the Secretary of State has a duty to consult the appropriate diocesan authority, among others. If the Government were to accept the case made for this amendment, consistency would seem to dictate that we would need to have a parallel provision for LEAs to be consulted. The need to consult would have to be extended to all categories of school and not just voluntary-aided schools.

I think this could complicate what ought to be an informative dialogue to find solutions which, up to that point, all parties have failed to find. I am not convinced that a duty to consult placed on the face of the Bill will increase the pace of the improvement of standards in badly performing schools, which is at the heart of this clause. So I am afraid I must ask the right reverend Prelate not to press his amendment.

So far as Amendment No. 77A is concerned, of course I accept that schools of a religious character, other than those listed in Amendment No. 77, provide a valuable contribution. I will certainly ensure, in accordance with the assurance I have already given to the right reverend Prelate, that in appointing additional governors for any such schools, whether they be Jewish, Muslim, Methodist or whatever, we shall be in dialogue with the appropriate authority for the school.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I am grateful to the Minister for his assurance about consultations that will take place. However, I have to say that I am disappointed that he is not willing to see this on the face of the Bill, and I do not immediately accept his argument that there would necessarily have to be parallels in other cases. I do not intend to press the amendment, but reserve the right to return to this issue at a later stage.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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1.30 a.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendments Nos. 74 to 76:

Page 15, line 22, after ("may") insert ("(subject to subsection (9A))").
Page 15, line 23, at end insert--
("(9A) The power conferred by subsection (9) is only exercisable if the following conditions are satisfied, namely--
(a) the relevant document has been sent to the Secretary of State;
(b) the appropriate appointing authority have received a notice in writing from the Secretary of State informing them he has received that document; and
(c) a period of not less than ten days has elapsed since the date of the notice.").
Page 15, line 45, at end insert--
("(13) In this section "the relevant document" means a copy of a statement prepared--
(a) under section 18 of the School Inspections Act 1996, or
(b) under section 17 of that Act, if the school does not have a delegated budget within the meaning of Part II of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I beg to move these three amendments en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Power of Secretary of State to appoint additional governors]:

[Amendment No. 77 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 77A:

Line 6, after ("authority") insert ("and in the case of all other religious schools, the appropriate authority").

The noble Baroness said: I share the right reverend Prelate's disappointment with the answer that he received. The confidence of the denominational sector would be much increased if this provision appeared on the face of the Bill. If the right reverend Prelate returns to this matter at another stage, I may well seek the same assurances as I have sought this evening.

[Amendment No. 77A not moved.]

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [New categories of maintained schools]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 78:

Page 18, line 9, at end insert--
("( ) grant-maintained schools;").

The noble Baroness said: Late as the hour is, this amendment is extremely important to me and to my colleagues. I ought to deal first with Amendment No. 81, which is coupled with this one, since in a sense that is the way I wish to approach this amendment.

School by school, across the country, sometimes against the most incredible physical, as well as mental, opposition to becoming grant-maintained, grant-maintained schools were established and were democratically voted for by bodies of parents. Parents painstakingly went through all the processes that it took. Under this Bill, at the stroke of a pen, or so it seems, they

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lose their status and their autonomy. There is absolutely no case whatsoever in a modern democracy where the views of parents has been cast aside in such a cavalier way

The least that can be offered to these schools is that, should they wish to become foundation schools, controlled schools or voluntary aided schools, it should be a matter for the parents to make that determination. It may well be that overnight the schools will all want to become foundation schools. It may well be--though I suspect that it is not entirely true--with all the measures in place for foundation schools, which are meant to be the successors of grant-maintained schools, although I see a number of significant differences, that all the 1,000 to 1,200 grant-maintained schools will wish to become foundation, or community, or voluntary schools. If that is the case, and the parents support the decision, so be it.

In these two amendments, and in Amendment No. 81 in particular, I ask only this. The parents, of their own volition and against considerable opposition on occasions, having opted for the schools to become grant-maintained, it is only right and democratic that there should be afforded them the opportunity to give up that autonomy and return to local authority control.

The noble Baroness has read a letter a number of times which was written by the Grant-maintained Schools Triumvirate Association. That organisation and many individual grant-maintained schools have viewed realistically the Government's majority. They know that whatever we do in this place, however well we argue our case and whatever the strength of the intellectual underpinning of any argument advanced, another place will reverse the amendment. They do not agree with that; they do not like it. But it is a fact of political life and they have accepted it. They have therefore fought for the best deal possible. It is very much second-best. For many of them, it is decidedly second-best. What they would really like is for the schools to be left as they are, as grant-maintained schools--which surely must be open to them if that is what parents voted for. There is nothing in this Bill which gives parents a pre-eminent role--not in the creation of action zones or any other measure.

In the formation of grant-maintained schools they were given a pre-eminent role. The parents themselves elected that the schools should become grant-maintained. I am simply asking that they should be afforded that privilege, to exercise their own preferences, and for the schools either to remain as grant-maintained or to become foundation, community or voluntary aided schools.

Amendment No. 78 makes it technically possible. It retains the category of grant-maintained school which may or may not disappear over time, depending on how parents exercise their choice. No doubt the noble Baroness will find some argument that, however undemocratic it is, for the purposes of deciding what kind of school it shall be the views and preferences of parents do not count. That will be a great pity. It was a unique opportunity for those parents to vote for the schools to become grant-maintained. I believe they should be afforded an equal opportunity to determine their fate in the future. It may well be that they will want to go down

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the road that the Government wish, which is that they should become foundation, community and/or voluntary aided schools. I beg to move.

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