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Baroness Blatch: That is helpful. I shall bring forward an amendment to make the position clear. It will be helpful if the noble Baroness will again confirm this. A school may be deemed to be smaller than is desirable for a fully comprehensive school. The point is not hypothetical; the situation will occur in some of the counties deemed to be whole ballot counties. It may not be convenient for good educational purposes to merge it with another school of the same religious character. Will that school be protected? Will the school continue to exist as a school with a religious character, however inviable the numbers, but in a non-selective form as opposed to a selective form?

If the noble Baroness will give me that guarantee, I shall ensure that an amendment is tabled at the next stage of the Bill to ensure that the protection spelt out by the noble Baroness is built into the Bill. It will be a material constraint on local authorities when they reorganise their schools.

Baroness Blackstone: I have said that the school organisation committee, on which there is Catholic representation, will make decisions about this kind of issue. It will be up to the school organisation committee. In a certain area, the Catholic Church, the local education authority and other bodies involved in deciding the nature of educational provision may decide that there was a case for a merger. I shall not give an absolute guarantee that they will never make that decision. It would not be right for me to do so. We

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have set up provisions in the Bill for school organisation committees to resolve those questions. We should be flexible. For me to say now that that will not happen would be incredibly inflexible. It would go against the proposals in the Bill for the new school framework.

Baroness Blatch: I apologise again to the Committee. I am not in a mood to be flexible. I am arguing for the survival of a school which may have had its grammar school status taken from it but which is nevertheless a school with a religious character. In the light of the earlier answers given by the noble Baroness, we wish to be certain that those schools would survive in some form with a religious character.

The noble Baroness's final answer worries me even more. Let us consider that those on the organisation committee who represent the Churches vote that the school should survive and retain its religious character as a non-selective school, but the remainder of the committee, or even one other body on the committee, votes to the contrary. The local education authority may vote to the contrary because it will have financial constraints placed upon it. In the case of Kent, they will be severe. Unlike the understanding that the Church had originally, there is no veto for the Church; we tried to achieve that provision. Therefore, that case will go to the adjudicator, who can overrule the Church and ensure that the school is merged with another school, in the process losing its religious character.

We need some guarantee from the noble Baroness that the school which loses its grammar school status will not lose its religious status in any new arrangements. If the noble Baroness does not do so, we shall bring forward an amendment to protect the religious character of a school under the reorganisation proposals.

Baroness Blackstone: I shall certainly not bring forward an amendment. The noble Baroness said that she cannot be flexible. We think it is sensible to be flexible and to have legislation that is flexible enough to take on board possible substantial changes in the population of an area where there may be a big decline, for example, in the number of Roman Catholics.

I should remind noble Lords that we are talking about seven schools. There are only seven selective Catholic secondary schools in the country. I cannot give a guarantee that every school will continue for all time even if it were felt that it was quite the wrong size, or that it did not have enough pupils to fill its places.

The great majority of Catholic schools is expected to be either voluntary aided or foundation schools so they will be able to publish their own proposals for change. The local education authority cannot publish them.

In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Young: We have had an interesting, short debate on this matter. I should like to make two points about this issue. I am disappointed that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon did not feel able

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to say anything in support of this. It is not, I regret to say, the first time and no doubt not the last time, that that will be the case. Nevertheless, one soldiers on in this difficult world. I am reminded of a local example of something rather similar to this and it does not give one confidence.

It is a good idea when discussing these schools to go back to what would happen on the ground. Almost certainly, most of these grammar schools will be either two-form or three-form entry schools. They will be small schools. That is therefore a relevant factor in whether they convert into a viable comprehensive. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, but many educationists think that that is too small. It is certainly too small to support a sixth form. So one is looking at something very different.

I had not appreciated that Clause 27, which was referred to, applied in this circumstance. I thought that that clause was about mainstream schools and their alteration of status. That is rather different from these particular grammar schools and the voting procedures. I am bound to say that the way we have understood that the school organisation committees will operate, as we debated last week, with the final decision being taken by the adjudicator, with no redress for anybody, does not inspire confidence in every case.

I am very sorry that the right reverend Prelate and the Government feel that they cannot move on something which really matters. However, I shall read in Hansard what has been said, and I shall consider whether to come back to this at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 233 not moved.]

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233ZA:


Page 75, line 31, at end insert--
("( ) Before any ballot under this section takes place, the local education authority or authorities within whose areas the relevant grammar schools referred to in subsection (2)(a), (b) or (c) are situated shall prepare and publish fully costed proposals for the reorganisation of schools consequent upon a successful ballot and such proposals shall include capital expenditure, setting up costs and predicted annual revenue costs.").

The noble Baroness said: I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 233AE. We talked, in passing, on the previous amendment about the work that a local education authority will have to do under the regulations if a ballot is successful. Kent will probably be the largest re-organisation and the one which will cause a great deal of anxiety to the local authority. Equally, I take a small local authority like Trafford, which will also be a whole LEA ballot. Should one ballot be successful, all the grammar schools in that area will cease to exist. It will be important for the local authorities to set about producing proposals almost immediately, which will reorganise schools in such a way that there will be a fully comprehensive system in those areas.

We all know just how costly that will be. We also all know that local education authorities will have their programmes and their priorities already determined, and

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not just for the current year, because most local authorities plan well ahead. They will have their plans laid down for one, two or even three years. The re-organisation proposals resulting from a decision by a ballot to cease selective education in the whole of an LEA area or part of an LEA area will pre-empt all their capital programmes, and indeed revenue programmes, because there will be revenue costs also.

A parent, who has not had much to do with grammar schools in Kent may be stopped in the market on a Saturday morning to sign a petition. That parent may happily sign away that he would support non-selective education in the authority. He may be blissfully unaware that in doing so he has put his signature to the demise of a large number of schools in that authority, at a stroke and that the local education authority will incur substantial expenditure.

We are compiling information at the moment about how many of these schools own their own land and their buildings. Local education authorities will need to buy into their properties and their land. In areas where the land is held by trustees, it may well be that local authorities will have to make other provision. Mergers are costly; reorganisational plans are costly and the costs will have to be met. It seems to me to be important that when being asked to vote, parents should know that they are not just voting for a fanciful philosophical idea; but that they are voting also for some very substantial costs that will fall upon that community as a result of the decision.

It is incumbent upon the local authority to place before the parents either an options paper, or certainly the proposals that would ensue from a successful ballot, so that as the signatures are called for, the parents know the full picture.

The other important issue is the academic and other achievements of the schools. Now that the information is readily available and in a form that is publishable, the achievements of the schools affected, directly or indirectly, including the grammar schools and all other schools around, should also be made available in a form that is understood by the parents. They will then have some understanding of what the achievements are in the area and what may be at stake. They can make their own judgments about what to do with the information. But it is information which is material to the question that will be asked of parents. They will need to consider the repercussions of signing up to a petition that will trigger a ballot if the requisite number of signatures is achieved. In the case of Kent that would result in the cessation of education in a large number of schools, which would give rise to a set of proposals which would be costly to the local education authority.

There is no case for arguing that that information should not be made available in outline form. No one can produce it in detailed form because clearly consultations will have to follow. It is important that parents have the full information in outline form before they sign up to the death of the grammar schools. I beg to move.


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