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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, he repeated his statement from paragraph 30 of the document making it clear that an admissions authority may not refuse to admit a pupil because it feels unable to cater for his or her special educational needs. If the authority feels not only that it is unable to cater but that it cannot cater for such needs, it does the child

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no favour to be required to accept. What will happen in the case of a school which cannot meet the special needs of the child?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is part of a general policy on improving access and inclusion of SEN children in mainstream education. Therefore, there are obligations concerning the provision of support and access which will be part of the whole policy. In relation to a particular example, access to a school of first choice may not be guaranteed if there were a genuine objective and clear reason for being totally unable to meet the particular requirements of the child. That would be true. But the intention is clear here that we should make that support and access available and the admissions authority would not be able to refuse a child with special educational needs of whatever sort.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I want to make only one tiny caveat. The implications of these amendments did not relate only to children with special educational needs without statements. They related to all children with special educational needs. Apart from that, I thought that much of what the Minister said was extremely useful to us and I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 167:

Page 66, line 33, after first ("of") insert ("any of").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 89 [Reference of objections to adjudicator or Secretary of State]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 168:

Page 67, line 32, at end insert--
("( ) Where the adjudicator or the Secretary of State decides that an objection referred to him under this section should be upheld to any extent, his decision on the objection may specify the modifications that are to be made to the admission arrangements in question.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 168A:

Page 67, line 42, at end insert--
("( ) Any decision of the adjudicator shall be taken with a view to promoting, for the admission authorities for maintained schools of any prescribed description--
(a) consultation and discussion between admission authorities over the determination of admission arrangements;
(b) the coordination of admission arrangements including common timetables and common application forms;
(c) compliance with parental preference to the maximum possible extent;
(d) the provision of efficient education and the efficient use of resources.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment sets out the criteria to which the adjudicator must have regard in resolving local disputes about admission arrangements. I should say at the outset that this is a probing amendment and my intention in moving it is

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to give the Minister an opportunity to provide further information about the role of the adjudicator in the admissions process.

We have already made clear our view about adjudicators, and I am sure that we shall return to that. But if we are to have them, we need to be clearer than we are at present about their role. That is because at present the Bill is silent on the factors which the adjudicator will take into account in reaching decisions. It is not clear whether the adjudicator will be required to have regard to the effect of his decisions on factors such as the supply of school places locally, parental choice and the efficient use of public money.

The department's interim guidance is not clear about how adjudicators will approach disputes; about co-ordination among admission authorities; and the compatibility of admission policies across LEA areas. It is not clear whether the Secretary of State's power to impose a common admissions system, as has recently been exercised in Hertfordshire but is to be repealed by this Bill, will pass to the adjudicator.

Will the Minister confirm that the DfEE's statutory admissions code, when it is issued early next year, will strongly encourage adjudicators to take into account the wider implications of decisions about an individual school's admission arrangements for other local schools? Will he confirm also that the need to co-ordinate admission procedures for the benefit of parents, children and the environment--for example, as regards travel to school--will be paramount in the Government's new policies on admission arrangements? I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am very fond of this amendment. I take it as being the Liberal Democrat Party's response to the consultation which has been provided in the consultative draft--the interim guidance on schools admissions. The noble Lord has looked at the key principles on pages 6 and 7 of the consultative draft; he has paraphrased some of the key principles there; he has added to them in other cases in a most helpful way. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord.

For example, paragraph (a) of his amendment which refers to,

    "consultation and discussion between admission authorities",
is very close to the words in paragraph 13 of the key principles. Paragraphs (b) and (c) are very close to the wording in paragraph 8 of the key principles. I have not yet found the equivalent in the key principles to paragraph (d) about the provision of efficient education and the efficient use of resources. But it is a valuable addition and contribution. We are grateful to the noble Lord for it and we shall include that formally in the submission from the Liberal Democrat Party to our consultation process.

The noble Lord knows perfectly well that we are working towards a statutory code of practice and that its final form will be settled next year, following the use of the interim guidance and the consultative process which accompanies it. To that extent, it would be entirely

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inappropriate for us to include his wording or ours on the face of the Bill at this time. It would stultify--indeed remove--the value of the consultation process into which we are entering.

I know, because I said it earlier, that the noble Lord is aware of the important point in this respect; namely that the adjudicator must have regard to the statutory code of practice in reaching his decisions. If and when the statutory code of practice reaches the same conclusions as the noble Lord has in his amendment, I think he will then be entirely reassured by that position.

While on the subject of the powers and responsibilities of the adjudicator, perhaps I may refer back to a question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when we were considering an earlier amendment. She asked whether there was special provision for the character of foundation schools. I am not sure that my answer was clear. I can tell her now that there is no special provision for foundation schools, but the fundamental principle which may reassure her is that the adjudicator's admission decision must reflect the school's existing character. If the noble Baroness is worried that the adjudicator may change the character of the school in question, she may set her mind at rest. That is not within the power of the adjudicator.

On the basis of the welcome that I have given to the noble Lord's contribution, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am not sure whether the rules have been breached as we are now talking about a different amendment. However, I am grateful for the noble Lord's explanation, even though I do not understand what he means by "character" of the school. If a foundation school is its own admissions authority and its admissions policy has to be agreed, does the foundation school agree its own admissions policy and, thereafter, will it be open to an adjudicator to vary or modify it in any way? If it is not, is its admissions authority an absolute power to that school?

As I said, I do not understand the word "character" in this context; indeed, it would have to be defined for me. Presumably the modification of admissions arrangements does not necessarily mean changing the character of the school. If standard numbers or age ranges are changed, it is important to understand exactly what the Minister means by the word "character".

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the character of a school is defined in statute. I shall write to the noble Baroness indicating exactly where.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I am sad and confused. I am sad that the Minister should apparently be so surprised that my amendment was so helpful. I have spent the past 10 days on the Bill trying to be helpful to the Government and very occasionally, they recognise that fact. Indeed, the noble Lord was so surprised at one of my amendments in Committee that he agreed to take it away and consider it; and tonight we had precisely the same amendment tabled in the name of the noble

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Baroness, Lady Blackstone. Therefore, I do not know why the noble Lord should still be surprised that I am helpful.

I am now confused because a little further on in his response the noble Lord offered to include something in the Liberal Democrats' response to the consultation. The Minister's help to us is extremely welcome. However, before he is really able to contribute to a Liberal Democrat response, there are one or two other steps that he will need to take first. If he wishes to discuss such matters with me later, I shall be only too happy to do so.

I made clear in moving the amendment that it was a probing amendment. I think it has probably probed even deeper than I thought in that we have discovered some secret inclinations of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that we had not hitherto suspected. I do not wish to press the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 91 [Publication of information about admissions]:

[Amendments Nos. 169 and 170 not moved.]

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth moved Amendment No. 171:

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