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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I think that I am right in saying that the only circumstance in which that would happen under the 1992 Act would be where a sixth-form college transferred into the FE sector or became part of an existing FE institution. Given that most of that reorganisation occurred in the wake of the 1993 Act, it would be extremely unlikely that we would move into that situation under the terms of this legislation.

Apart from that, there is no specific additional protection. It is not easy to conceive of that situation with regard to a school which provides education from the beginning of secondary schooling through to the post-16 age group. If the noble Baroness requires further information, I shall be happy to write to her.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should be grateful to have more information. The noble Lord's letter clearly stated that, in rare circumstances, a school could become an FE college and/or a sixth-form college which would be for post-16 education. All that I am asking is, in the event, however rare, of a school being considered appropriate to be closed as a school and to become a further education college, what would be the procedure, and what protection would there be for a foundation school against such a proposal. If the noble Lord could write to me about that, I should be very grateful.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Allocation of existing schools to new categories]:

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 50.

Page 114, line 22, after ("paragraph") insert ("1 or").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 50 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 53, 54, 56 to 60 and 89. We had an interesting debate on the subject of community schools becoming foundation schools. One knows that there was some resistance to this procedure on the part of local authorities. I am among those who believe in the freedom of schools to choose. I am sorry that it is not possible for schools, almost at Royal Assent, or at least when the framework provisions come into force, to have the opportunity to make choices. One of the concerns of the Government was that they could not allow so many schools to make that choice so quickly. If the Government believe that that many schools of the number that are potentially able to make that choice will make that choice quickly there must be some view that perhaps it is a good thing for them to do. I believe that it would happen rather slowly, just as schools which are thinking of becoming grant-maintained consider the matter very carefully. They think hard about the degree of autonomy and about leaving the cradle of the local education authority. The idea that all schools will do it immediately is perhaps a worry too far. I still press the Government not to be

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over-cautious and to allow community schools the freedom to make the choice to become foundation schools as soon as possible.

If the Minister who is to respond to this amendment repeats the same answer as last time, I should like to hear an outline estimate as to the date when the framework is likely to come into being. I understand that the period is a year. If that is the case, perhaps the Minister can provide an intelligent guesstimate as to when foundation schools will have the opportunity to exercise that choice.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who has been called away on other business, it falls to me to draw attention to Amendment No. 89 which is part of this group. The amendment is an attempt to provide a period of stability for special schools because of the fears of many people that foundation status will not be desirable and we should not be positively encouraging the change from community to foundation special school status.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the intention behind the amendment moved by the noble Baroness. We also believe that all schools, LEA-maintained and grant-maintained, should have a choice about which category they should be in, but there are compelling practical reasons why this choice should be phased.

The noble Baroness asked about the timetable. The new framework with the new categories will come into being on 1st September 1999. All schools will be able to publish proposals on 1st September 2000. Schedule 2 requires grant-maintained schools to take a decision on whether to accept their allocation or to opt for a different category. Their governing bodies must take that decision; it is not an option for the governing body simply to do nothing. These amendments would impose the same requirement on LEA-maintained schools. They would also be required to take an active decision on whether to accept their category or opt for another. We believe that to require all 23,000 maintained schools to go through this process at the beginning of the next academic year will create a lot of turbulence in the education system. We have therefore decided to phase the choice.

After the moratorium, however, all schools will have the option of publishing proposals to change category. It will last for one year following the introduction of the new categories on 1st September 1999. The advantage of that phasing of choice is that only those schools that wish to change category will be required to take any action. There will be no time constraints on the time by which schools have to publish proposals.

The proposals will be determined locally through the school organisation committees. We regard each new category as equally valid. We will reflect that principle in guidance to the school organisation committees. They will have to demonstrate that they have determined each proposal on its individual merits. They will be required,

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through guidance, to take particular account of the extent of support for any change of category proposals from governors and parents.

The amendments seemed to us to be the most practical way forward. They allow GM schools which will experience the most change under the new framework to choose their category at the outset. LEA-maintained schools, if they wish, will be able to choose a new category after a short period of time. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will accept that that timetable will create less disruption. I urge her to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Baroness did not respond to Amendment No. 89.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I apologise. Amendment No. 89 was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. The Bill provides that the length of the moratorium before a school--mainstream or special--could apply to change category will be prescribed in regulations. We have indicated that we expect the moratorium to last for one year. Our White Paper and technical consultation paper suggested that all special schools should become community special schools, but responses to that suggestion were clear that it would be wrong to deny parents at GM special schools, who had voted for greater autonomy for their school, the right offered to parents at mainstream schools to participate in choosing the school's future category. That was a powerful point. The decision to give special schools a choice of category was made in that light.

We believe that special schools should be treated under the new framework in the same way as mainstream schools. They should have the same choices about change of category. We therefore see no reason why the length of the moratorium should be different for special and mainstream schools. We shall consult on the regulations governing proposals to make changes to special and mainstream schools. If, in response to that consultation, strong arguments are presented that suggest that the length of the moratorium should be different for special schools, Clause 135(7) provides the power for us to set a different moratorium. In the light of that commitment, I hope that the noble Baroness will not move her amendment.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I shall respond to my amendments. I am a little disappointed, but we have an absolute assurance that the procedure will happen one year after September 1999. My understanding is that September 2000 will be the date upon which they can submit a proposal; in other words, presumably they can become a foundation school the following term or the following year (2001). I do not know how long the process will take to make the choice and to become a foundation school, presumably the application could be ready to be submitted on 1st September 2000. It would be helpful to know how quickly that will be processed.

The Minister will not be surprised to know how disquieted we all are by the organisation committees. We are giving them the power to make important

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decisions. If there is any dissention at organisation committee level, the matter goes to the adjudicator who has the power to take a view different from that of the school itself. At the end of the day, the decision is taken by the organisation committee and/or the adjudicator. I have expressed my disquiet on other occasions, and we shall be talking about it in a moment. On the basis that we see a light at the end of this tunnel, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 51 and 52:

Page 114, line 34, leave out from ("decisions") to end of line 35 and insert ("to prescribed persons;
(ca) as to the provision of prescribed information to prescribed persons;
(cb) authorising governing bodies to charge a fee (not exceeding the cost of supply) for prescribed documents supplied by them in pursuance of regulations made by virtue of paragraph (ca);").
Page 114, line 36, leave out ("such") and insert ("registered").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 53 and 54 not moved.]

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