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I return to the question of costs. The scale of any costs will depend on the circumstances of each case. That will be best worked out locally once the outcome of the ballot is known. When it is clear that there will be change, various mechanisms will be in place to ensure that the consequences are properly worked through. In particular, we are setting up in the Bill new mechanisms for local decision-making on school organisation matters, as Members of the Committee know because we have already discussed them.
Following a ballot for change, if it is felt desirable in a particular area that there should be some reorganisation of the pattern of schools, that will be properly handled through the publication of proposals for consultation locally and for decision in the local school organisation committee. Only that committee, with the adjudicator if needed--and we hope that in most cases an adjudicator will not be needed--will be able to take final decisions. The committee's remit will include looking at the capital costs associated with reorganisation proposals, and considering how those costs can best be met.
Therefore, it would be most misleading for the LEA on its own to be preparing proposals and costings and presenting them as the only solution to the possible changes ahead. I do not believe that that would be helpful to parents. There are of course a number of other parties involved locally, not least the grammar schools themselves, who have their own views. In the new framework the LEA will not be the only body which can publish proposals. Foundation and voluntary schools can also publish proposals in their own right. I imagine that the noble Baroness would not want the LEA asserting plans when, in law, this is properly a matter for schools to publish their proposals on.
There is nothing to stop LEAs or others undertaking contingency planning and telling people what range of consequences might flow from a ballot for change. It is possible that parties locally will want to explain their view of the options and that they will propose to do so in the event of such a ballot. However, I believe that that is best left as a matter for local discretion before a ballot. After a ballot, the implications and options are best examined in the forum which is being specifically set up for the purpose; namely, the school organisation committee. It would be quite wrong to pre-empt all that before a ballot has even taken place on the basis of speculation and hypothesis.
Perhaps I may move on and say something briefly about the noble Baroness's second amendment, which has not really been touched upon in our debate. The amendment says that the ballot administration company will have to get LEAs to prepare a statement to be sent
from a ballot for change. I have already discussed the cost question, but the new element in the amendment is the reference to exam results and key stage 3 results. However, I should point out that they are already in the public domain. Indeed, the information is published every year. It is published both nationally and locally and receives an enormous amount of publicity, especially locally. Any parent can obtain that information easily if he or she believes that it will be relevant. Therefore, what possible justification can there be for putting LEAs to the extra time and expense of publishing information already published?
I realise that the noble Baroness is trying to ensure that parents have information upon which to make an informed case in a ballot. I am sympathetic with that aim. We are certainly not planning to stop any party to the debate issuing information which it thinks relevant to the choice that parents will make, as long as it is factual and objective. However, there is no need to make that a statutory requirement. It is a matter best left for local discretion, drawing on the very wide array of performance information already required to be published. In the light of that response, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Blatch: We now know officially from the department that the information parents will have at the time of being asked for their signatures, and certainly at the time of the ballot, will be pretty sketchy. In fact, they will not know physically, even in outline, what is likely to happen to their schools and their children. Some of the Minister's remarks have given me more cause for worry and will certainly give parents more cause for concern, especially those whose children attend grammar schools.
At this point, perhaps I may address the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, as regards the read-across to GM schools. I should point out to her that those schools were not being closed or reorganised; they were there before and after the ballot in the same form. In other words, a school was not allowed to change its status or be reorganised at the time of the ballot.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I do not really want to pursue the issue, but the noble Baroness must accept that a number of schools went grant maintained in order to avoid being closed. I could give the Committee several examples. I really think that these arguments are well wide of the mark.
Baroness Blatch: Those schools certainly had a time-scale which was better than the one now proposed and they also had a more democratic system in operation. Having been involved in that policy, I can confirm that a great deal of information was made
It would be helpful if the Minister could give one piece of information; namely, the time-scale envisaged. I read both the background paper to the Bill and the regulations, but I cannot discern from that reading the time-scale in which the department is expecting the proposals to be finalised, nor indeed the time-scale over which they will be implemented. It seems to me that the Minister is now talking about the proposals taking up to eight, nine or even 10 years to be implemented. It would be most interesting if we could have that confirmed.
The costs which will result from a ballot to end existing grammar schools will be considerable. I am surprised that the Government are prepared to allow this use of money at a time when every pound is needed, both by LEAs and by schools. To see it dissipated in this way seems unbelievable.
The Minister says that our proposals are unworkable. I agree with the noble Baroness to some degree in that fully-costed proposals may well be difficult to produce, although not in every case. Therefore, I would be entirely happy to see outline proposals on the sort of ideas that an LEA might have if suddenly, overnight, and as a result of a ballot, it had to make reorganisation proposals for what, in the case of some authorities, would be a large number of schools.
The Minister referred to the move to comprehensive education and the reorganisations in the 1970s. I do not know where the noble Baroness was at that time, but I suspect that she was in ILEA and, therefore, would not have had any idea of what was going on in the rest of the country. I can tell her that the most awful reorganisations were proposed. There were proposals to link former grammar schools with secondary modern schools on the other side of a town which would result in children "snaking" through towns and cities. Many schools had to wait for decades for proper reorganisation proposals. Many of the proposals involved heavy costs. However, what was even worse was that bad reorganisation proposals were accepted which did not involve spending a great deal of money. Schools situated great distances apart were merged. Far from transport costs being saved, they rose quite dramatically. Such reorganisations meant that either children "snaked" through a town from one building to another, or staff did so in minibuses. That was an unsatisfactory state of affairs altogether.
We are now getting a hint of what lies behind the Government's thinking. It appears that Kent will have to carry out these proposals on a shoestring. That will be unsatisfactory. If the Government will not allow certain information to be made available to parents when
The noble Baroness referred yet again to the organisation committees and the adjudicators. They constitute probably the most undemocratic proposal that has ever emerged from any government. The organisation committees are not accountable and they are not elected. They comprise placemen. The adjudicators are all powerful. They can override the wishes of any single group on the organisation committees. If an unsatisfactory proposal is submitted, an adjudicator can make a decision on it. The right reverend Prelate is not in the Chamber at the moment. However, it is conceivable that a school with a religious character could disappear from the system altogether.
The noble Baroness said that this matter is best left to local discretion before a ballot takes place. That is precisely what my amendments are concerned with. I want the information to be made available before a ballot takes place. However, it appears from what the noble Baroness has said, that that will not be the case. I partly take the point that a great deal of information is available, but I seek much more specific information. There may be information available for an entire LEA area, but as regards a group of two, three or half a dozen schools, I believe there is a need for succinct information to be made available, drawn from the enormous amount of information that is available for the entire LEA area. I believe that would be helpful.
As regards the information that is permitted to be made available to parents, the noble Baroness has said that provided the information is factual it will be permitted. As the noble Baroness is aware, under the terms of the Bill schools will not be allowed to fight their corner. If the permitted information must be entirely factual, will grammar schools be allowed to produce their school prospectuses which promote their schools and laud their achievements? Such prospectuses may well compare a school's achievements with those of other schools in the area. They may even contain information about other schools in the area. All of that information will be entirely factual and will comprise data that is published by the DfEE and/or the local education authority. Will such information be permitted under the terms of the Bill in relation to a grammar school defending its right to exist as a grammar school?
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