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Page 58, line 30, leave out ("and those appointed by the local education authority") and insert (", those appointed by the local education authority and any co-opted governor nominated by a minor authority").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 78, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 79 [Code of Practice]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 208B:

Page 59, line 4, at end insert--
("( ) The code shall require that educational criteria must have priority in determining the admission arrangements of schools.").

The noble Baroness said: We come now to a part of the Bill the effect of which will impact on every school and on every category of school in the land. There are

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therefore two things I wish to say at the outset. First, to put on record the importance of this part of the Bill and the important practical consequences of the way in which it will work; second, what an outrage it is that we do not see a draft of the admissions code of practice.

It is alleged, and it is even claimed that someone close to the DfEE was overheard to say, that "Whatever happens, do not let the code of practice out in draft while the Bill is being discussed in the House. It will only give rise to even wider debate". The even wider debate is one which we should be having in relation to the department's intention for devising and composing a code of practice we ought to be able to see in draft.

I feel as strongly about that as did the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh about a code of practice on a previous Bill, when the Opposition quite rightly refused to move on with the Bill unless Members had the code of practice in their hands while they discussed a very important aspect of a Bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Quite accurate, my Lords. We tried to refuse to move on but we were in a minority, as we still are in this House, and we failed.

Baroness Blatch: Let me remind the noble Lord that he did not fail. The noble Lord will know that the code of practice was produced for a stage of the Bill and it was in people's hands. It was not only in the hands of Members of this House but also in the hands of people outside this House, with interested groups. Before this Bill has completed its passage through the House, both on Report and at Third Reading, I am making yet another plea that we have a draft of the code of practice in the hands of Members while we discuss this important issue.

The issues which will flow from the code of practice cover very important matters such as parental preferences; the admissions arrangements which will be overseen by admissions authorities and a definition of who they will be; the objections to the adjudicator--we have talked a lot about the adjudicator and the absolute powers of the adjudicator--and the way in which it will impact on schools which have a religious aspect to their foundation; publication of admissions; the fixing of admissions numbers; appeal arrangements and the powers to direct, which are very considerable, to admit children to specified schools; to give directions under Section 91 and, of course, the way it will impact on nursery provision.

I cannot say too strongly just how important I believe Part III of the Bill is. I want to underpin all that will flow from the Bill. I am sure that whichever Minister replies to this amendment will ask why one should put on the face of the Bill that "educational criteria must have priority in determining the admission arrangements of schools". I am too old a hand in both local and national government to know that it is not always educational criteria which motivate changes of admissions policy. It can be money. It can be the state of buildings. It can be philosophical objections to types of education; the existence of sixth forms or the reorganisation of sixth forms. It can impact on selection and the selection policy. It can impact on so many

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things. I believe that this House should have as a paramount consideration--and that does not in any way diminish the importance of considering costs--that even where a decision is to be made it should first be measured in terms of whether it is an educationally sound idea, an educationally sound policy, ahead of the other issues of cost. If a policy is to be propounded under the code and exercised by a local authority and costs are allowed to override educational considerations, we should have no part of that. For those reasons, I wish to have that provision on the face of the Bill.

I ask to be reminded about the code of practice. I understand that in the Bill it is dealt with under the negative resolution procedure. I wish to be certain that this code will come before the House under the affirmative procedure. I believe that I have already secured that but I should like confirmation of it. If I have not secured that, I apologise in advance for the omission and I shall attend to that matter on Report. However, my memory tells me that I may have covered that matter already. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I start by echoing what the noble Baroness said about the importance of this part of the Bill. As she rightly says, admission policies affect all children in all types of school. Over the years, they have caused more agony and anguish for parents, children and those running our schools than almost any other single issue.

The code of practice to which the noble Baroness referred, which is the subject matter of Clause 79, reflects our approach to managing diversity in admissions through advice, co-operation and adjudication rather than through conflict, as has happened too often in the past. The advice in the code will not be a dogmatic, centralised view on what every school's admission policy should be. It is designed to give practical advice on a range of admission issues and on the new legislation. That advice will be drawn up only after discussion and consultation with our education partners and a draft will be laid before both Houses.

The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation endorsed our approach in the Bill to the statutory basis that we are giving to the code. Its focus will be on working to achieve fair and objective admission arrangements. We shall start the discussion and consultation process shortly.

Ministers have said in another place that we shall be issuing interim guidance on admissions before a draft code is produced. We shall first consult on a draft of that interim guidance. That interim guidance will be an important document. Not only will it give advice on the arrangements for the operation of the next admissions round where practicable, but it will foreshadow the new admissions framework under the Bill. That will enable everyone to prepare for the new arrangements in timely fashion, subject to Parliament's approval. The consultation on the interim guidance will also start discussion on the content of the draft code.

I stress that we shall be fully involving interested parties when preparing the draft code before issuing it for further consultation and eventually laying it before both Houses.

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The noble Baroness raised the point about timing. We shall consult shortly on the draft interim guidance, certainly in good time for that draft to be available to your Lordships' House on Report. We shall then produce a draft code for consultation in the early autumn and shall seek to lay the draft code before both Houses early in the new parliamentary Session. We anticipate that it will be published early next year. I confirm that, as the noble Baroness suspected, the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation is content with that method of parliamentary scrutiny.

I turn to Amendment No. 208B which we are now debating. The Bill requires us to consult fully on what should be included in the code of practice and for a draft of the code to be laid before both Houses. The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation thought that those provisions were entirely appropriate.

It is not our intention to pre-empt public consultation or any scrutiny by Parliament by stating on the face of the Bill, as this amendment would demand, the specific criteria which the code should or should not say take priority. The purpose of the Bill is to support improved standards in all schools. We agree that educational issues should be considered above other issues when making decisions about the provision of education. That might be in school place planning or in the drawing up of educational development plans.

Our aim is for all children to benefit from the improved educational standards that we are seeking at all schools. But we are today debating the arrangements for admitting children to those schools. Admission authorities should choose the criteria that best serve the parents and children. The noble Baroness mentioned a number of non-educational criteria which I believe she acknowledged were appropriate; for example, she talked about money, about costs, about the state of buildings and about selection policy. She also made a philosophical point which I did not fully understand. However, there are other criteria which are not strictly educational. I have in mind the popular criterion of sibling links which many schools give, or the impact of priority for local children. Further, many Church schools give priority to children from a particular faith or denomination. We support the right of such schools to continue to give priority to children of a particular denomination and have built appropriate safeguards into the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will know that the Bill as a whole is devoted to the raising of educational standards. I can assure her that the admissions framework, including the code of practice, will support that objective. On the basis that I have been able to give the noble Baroness the assurance, without pre-empting what the code of practice will say, that education issues should be considered above others, I hope that she will find it appropriate to withdraw her amendment.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: I am not happy with the Minister's reply. The noble Lord said that we will have draft interim guidance, but I do not believe that he said what it will cover in terms of how it will differ from the

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information to be covered by the draft code of practice; in other words, is the draft interim guidance something akin to a draft code of practice? If it is not, what is the distinction and what will it cover? As for timing, it is as I suspected all along; namely, that we are not going to see the draft code of practice until well beyond the turn of the year. Of course, my private information suggested that we would not see it and that we would not see it for the good reason that it would give rise to wider debate.

The Minister said that the scrutiny committee was content with the situation. However, that is only the scrutiny committee. What I want to know--and the noble Lord did not answer my question--is whether the code of practice will come before this Chamber under the affirmative resolution procedure? If not, whatever the scrutiny committee may find, I want to know this information for my own purposes. I believe that it should be put before both Houses under that procedure.

The Minister said that he saw no reason why it should not be on the face of the Bill. Between now and the Report stage, I may well return to the words used by the noble Lord when he talked about the importance of discussing legislation on the face of the Bill, which is in nature skeletal and framework legislation and which then paves the way, for example, for more detailed codes of practice. There is also the importance of having details of the Government's intentions in the hands of Members as they discuss such matters on the Floor of the Chamber. I believe that the argument for me is as strong on this Bill as it was for the noble Lord on the other legislation.

The Minister referred to issues regarding admissions policy which are non-educational. He mentioned money, cost, which amounts to the same thing, and sixth forms. When I was working in local government and went through the painful process of reorganising or even closing schools, I personally made a commitment on every single occasion. My commitment was always this: if, at the end of the day, the alternative provision offered to any child was not at least comparable to the education that he or she was receiving--or, indeed, better than the education that he or she was receiving--then, whatever the cost benefits of the changes, we should not proceed with them. On the basis of that, every time we entered into a reorganisation as regards money and/or costs (if that was the initial motivating factor) we always made it a paramount consideration that, first and foremost, the decision should be educationally sound. If it then produced a cost benefit, so much the better.

The Minister said that he did not understand the philosophical point that I made. I can tell the noble Lord that a number of local authorities across the country do not believe in school based sixth forms. Sometimes great pressure is applied by further education colleges in this regard. Understandably they believe that if it were not for school based sixth forms, sixth form education could be arranged more effectively in an educational sense and more cost effectively. As we all know, the unit cost of a sixth form place is rather greater than the unit cost of a sixth former being educated in

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further education. It is conceivable that within an organisation plan there could be reorganisation of sixth form provision for acceptable reasons and, to some people, unacceptable reasons. It is important to keep at the forefront of people's minds that educational considerations should supersede some philosophical objection or whim, or an objection on the ground of cost.

The noble Lord also referred to popular schools, sibling links and faith denominational links. However, in each of those cases there is an educational argument. Schools are popular because of their high educational standards. People want places at those schools. As regards sibling links, it is quite obvious to those of us who have more than one child that having them settled in the same school--if that is what we wish--results in a better educational output because the family and the children in it are settled. However, that is not always the case. Some families benefit from having siblings in different schools. That is part of the facility afforded to parents. As regards faith denominations, that matter is very much tied up with education. It is an educational consideration. I do not regard popular schools, sibling links or faith denominations as being outside the remit of my amendment. The noble Lord did not think it was necessary to include the provision on the face of the Bill. He dismissed some of the points that I made. I profoundly disagree with his view. I believe the provision should be included on the face of the Bill.

On Question, amendment negatived.

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