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Baroness Blatch: The noble Baroness misses three points completely. First, should that happen, the parents will have no idea what the costs will be. If the ballot is successful and schools in Kent have to cease being grammar schools, parents are just saying that they want non-selective education. They are not asked to vote "at any price", or "on whatever it is going to cost". If the ballot goes against the schools, the change will have to take place.

The second point arising from my noble and learned friend's intervention which the noble Baroness misses completely is that the LEA will have no choice. Whatever the spending priorities of the education authority, those moneys will be pre-empted. The LEA's own priorities will have to be set aside. Schools that are presently non-selective but which are high up in the capital programme are likely to lose their place in that programme as a result of having to attend to this pernicious policy.

Thirdly, if I were the chairman of an education authority in Kent, Buckinghamshire or Trafford, I should not want to wait until a ballot goes against an LEA decision to say that there should be a major reorganisation in the authority. From the moment the ballot has taken place, on one single day, and the result is announced, a local authority will have to set about the work it will have to do. A sensible local authority will be looking now at its schools. Kent will have to look at the kind of reorganisation proposals that it would need to put in place in this eventuality.

I hope that this is one point on which the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, will agree with me. Reorganisation proposals are a very long time in the making. There is a mass of consultation to take place and an enormous amount of work to do. A good local authority will do that now. That work is being done at the moment in anticipation of the Government, with its great majority, getting its way with this policy. An assumption is being made. We shall all know about it because there is to be a demonstration outside this place by the group for the advancement of state education, which is ready to begin campaigning against grammar schools. Those people will be active. The local authorities know that and are sensibly beginning to work out the outline costs of reorganisation proposals. We shall bring some of those costs to the attention of the Minister at the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 233ZB:


Page 75, line 31, at end insert--
("( ) The governing body of any school for which provision is made under subsection (2)(a) or (b) for that school to be included in a ballot under this section shall, in the event of a dispute, have a right of appeal to the Secretary of State.").

The noble Baroness said: I hope that this amendment and Amendment No. 233AB, with which it is grouped, are relatively straightforward. The noble Baroness has

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sent me a copy of the regulations, and I am grateful to her for that. In the schedules at the back of the regulations all the grammar schools in the country have been allocated either to whole LEA areas or to areas within local education authorities. It is possible that some of those schools, especially those which have been grouped, may disapprove of a particular grouping. I think it is unlikely that there will have been a mistake, but it seems to me that, where a school is unhappy about its grouping, it should be given an opportunity to make representations to the Secretary of State that it should be put in a more appropriate group and one which is more consistent with its wishes.

Amendment No. 233AB is a very important amendment. If this policy is to be persisted with, we would want the Secretary of State to publish, first, a list of schools (and an attempt has been made to do that); secondly, the relevant groupings (and an attempt has been made to do that); and, thirdly, the geographical areas to which the ballot relates. The latter point is very important. The geographical area will have to be very specific as to houses in streets. It is important for parents who reside in the area and who will be eligible to vote that these lists are all published well in advance of petitions being initiated. When petition signatures are being gathered, it is important to know whether or not someone is eligible. I hope that these lists are now being prepared by the DfEE, in conjunction with local education authorities, who will know the catchment areas of the various schools.

I wish to leave the noble Baroness with a question, which relates to this amendment but also to later amendments. Am I reading the regulations correctly, and is it the case that, where the ballot is an area ballot rather than a whole LEA ballot, it is only the parents of children in the feeder schools that have been announced--as long as those feeder schools conform to the threshold of children who finally transfer to a grant-maintained school--who are enfranchised and not, as with a whole LEA ballot, parents who live within the catchment area of those feeder schools, who may have children aged nought to 16? I accept the nod.

We therefore have the most absurd distinction. Where there is a whole LEA ballot, all parents of children aged nought to 16--and there is some confusion about whether it is 16 to 19, as well--will have a vote; yet in an area where there is only a group of schools--for example, the King Edward Schools in Birmingham--it is only the parents of children in the feeder schools, and therefore the parents of children aged nought to five, who will have a vote, and parents of children aged up to 16 in the areas of those schools will not have a vote. How on earth can the Government justify that distinction? I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I think I can give the noble Baroness 95 per cent. satisfaction that what she is asking for will be achieved; and I think I can explain the 5 per cent. which is the matter relating to feeder schools.

These amendments ask the Secretary of State to do what he is already doing. The information that they request, as the noble Baroness generously

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acknowledged, has already been made available--the noble Baroness has seen it--and the opportunities for discussion already exist.

Amendment No. 233ZB would allow governing bodies of grammar schools to appeal to the Secretary of State against their grouping with other schools for the purposes of a ballot. The draft regulations which we published last week are for consultation. They contain the proposed groupings for all grammar schools. But the key word is "consultation". With the exception of those schools in a selective area, where the ballot is about all schools in the area, ballot groupings are open to discussion. If schools present a system for grouping in the area which offers a better alternative--and this is the direct equivalent of an appeal to the Secretary of State--that will be considered by the Secretary of State in framing the final regulations. I put it to the noble Baroness that the amendment is not necessary.

I turn now to Amendment No 233AB, which asks that the Secretary of State publish the lists of schools and the relevant groupings and areas to which ballots will relate. Again, the noble Baroness has acknowledged that we have already published the lists of schools and the relevant groupings. But there is a difficulty about geographical areas. As the noble Baroness recognised, there is no difficulty in selective areas, such as Buckinghamshire, Kent, Trafford and others. The difficulty is where the geographical area will be determined by the feeder schools.

The noble Baroness is right in saying that the geographical area which will be affected--that is to say, the schools whose parents will be enfranchised by ballots based on the feeder school model--will not always be known in advance of a petition or ballot and therefore it will not be possible in advance to define the geographical area of a ballot on the feeder school model. It will be the responsibility of the ballot administration company to identify the feeder schools, but it can and should do that only when a petition is known to be in circulation. If that were not the case, work would be done in advance of a petition which might well be unnecessary. Feeder schools could change each year, and that would change the area affected. The amendment would require grammar schools to complete this exercise every year, even if there were no local interest in a petition.

We are not using school catchment areas on the feeder school model. We identify specific schools in whole area ballots and we enfranchise the parents of those schools. Whatever the catchment area of those schools may be, that is subsumed in the fact that the parents, wherever they come from, are enfranchised under the feeder school model.

With the exception of identifying in advance a geographical area when the model for the inclusivity or otherwise of the ballot is the feeder school model, everything that the noble Baroness seeks in these amendments will be achieved.

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The noble Baroness suggested that there was some confusion over whether parents of 16 to 19 year-olds could vote. There is no confusion. The ballots are for parents of children up to the age of 16.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord on two counts: first, for what he said in regard to my first amendment. My assumption is that, if a case can be made, groupings can change and the schools will be grateful for that. I am grateful also for the last point made by the noble Lord. But perhaps I can ask the noble Lord a question.

In an area ballot, only the parents of children who attend feeder schools are enfranchised to vote. Why, in the whole LEA ballot, is it not possible to have the same; that is, that only parents of children in all of the schools in a local authority area that feed into the grammar schools be enfranchised?


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