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Lord Tope: My Lords, in your Lordships' House, I am used to following the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I usually try to be more positive in my response. I shall do so again today. However, I share some of her concerns and I admit to a growing irritation over the past 48 hours and a growing feeling that this initiative received more and more publicity not only on the day of the announcement but even the day before the announcement. It seems to me that this Statement is now something of an afterthought rather than, as I believe it should be, the first action, followed if necessary by all the glitzy publicity.

I want to try to be positive and to give a welcome to the general thrust of the Statement. I say that for two reasons: first, because it recognises the special position of some inner city schools. It is turning towards praising and raising rather than the previous practice of naming and shaming. I certainly welcome any additional resources which may be coming to inner city schools, indeed to any schools.

Secondly, I welcome it because it recognises that gifted children also have special needs. My first question is whether the Government intend to review the provisions of the 1996 Act in that regard actually to recognise that special needs include those children with particular gifts,

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a point which we discussed in your Lordships' House when that Bill, as it then was, was going through this House. Do the Government intend to review that?

Not all inner city schools are disadvantaged and certainly by no means all disadvantaged and/or gifted pupils are in inner city schools. While I recognise that any initiative must start somewhere, I must ask the Minister when the Government expect to be able to extend that programme to the many schools in suburban and other metropolitan areas and in particular rural areas which face very real problems similar, albeit in very different settings, to those which we are addressing today in our inner city areas.

Much of the Statement and the booklet--I have had the opportunity to glance quickly at it--have a rather familiar ring. There is extensive reference to initiatives already announced by the Government. Some have been announced by the Government several times. Indeed, I sometimes liken the Government to a cow which has seven stomachs. This Government seem to have to regurgitate each initiative at least seven times and announce it each time before it is finally digested.

Perhaps I may repeat a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in a different way. How much of the money is being announced for the first time today and how much is money previously announced as specific initiatives or as part of the education settlement generally? To the extent that any of it relates to part of the previous education settlement, schools all over the country will have been expecting some share of that and will feel some disappointment--I put it no stronger--that even that small funding will not be coming their way. I return to my earlier question: when is this programme expected to be extended?

What will be the delivery mechanism of the funding? How will the funding reach schools, and, perhaps more importantly, the pupils at whom it is targeted? Will it be on the basis of need? Or will it be yet another bidding process which does little in recognition of need but responds much more to those who are good at putting in bids? I hope the Minister can tell us what the delivery mechanism will be and how it is to reach those for whom it is intended.

Finally, reference has been made to the 800 mentors. I believe this to be a welcome initiative, provided it is done properly and well. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us where the 800 mentors are to come from-- I nearly said "800 Ministers"; God forbid!--and who they will be. What training will they receive? How will they be able to carry out their jobs? I believe that in another place the Secretary of State made reference to the fact that such mentors would also use volunteers. I believe my question is even more relevant. Who will these volunteers be? What training will they have had? What is the extent of their professionalism? What supervision and support will they receive? This is a very welcome initiative but only if done properly. If done improperly or badly, it could be disastrous.

As always with such initiatives, it begs more questions than it answers. However, I conclude by giving a general welcome at least to the recognition that gifted children also have special needs, wherever they live.

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5.22 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for at least welcoming the increase in specialist schools. However, I am sorry that she was disparaging about so much of the package. It is designed to provide additional support for schools in our inner cities and to ensure that pupils in those schools are stretched and taught in such a way that all fulfil the potential of which they are capable. That includes the most able pupils and also those who are disaffected and not at present getting what they should from their experience in our secondary schools.

I emphasise that the Government's announcement today is not just about gifted and able pupils but also those at the other end of the spectrum, including those who are disruptive in our schools. We want to ensure that such pupils do not disrupt the education of others but that they are adequately taught in special units pursuing a full timetable and then brought back into the classroom as soon as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, was a little more welcoming but somewhat unfair in suggesting that there is not very much that is new in the announcement made today. I should like to correct the noble Lord. I believe that when he has had the opportunity to read what we are setting out to do he will see that a great deal of what is contained in the document published today is, in fact, new.

I turn to the more specific questions. The noble Baroness made some scathing remarks about the intention of the Government to abandon selection in some areas but reintroduce it in others. I remind her that the Government are not reintroducing selection here but making it possible for pupils in all schools, wherever they are, to have the kind of programme that is appropriate to their needs. That will be done partly through setting but also through after-school activities, Saturday activities and ensuring that they have access to programmes provided by neighbouring specialist and beacon schools.

There is no suggestion in what has been announced today that large numbers of pupils will be "bussed". They will be able to benefit from the teachers in beacon schools visiting neighbouring schools and providing the best practice that such excellent teachers are able to provide, supporting the training of teachers in schools that have not been designated as beacon schools, and so on. Therefore, I believe that the noble Baroness is wrong to suggest that, somehow or other, as a result of focusing more on the needs of gifted pupils, we will be moving large numbers of pupils around.

The noble Baroness was very dismissive of the excellent after-school and Saturday activities already in place. These are the kind of programmes that have been paid for, quite often, by people who send their children to private schools. I cannot imagine why pupils in our state schools should not benefit from additional provision of that sort. It seems to me highly desirable to make such provision available. I think the noble Baroness was a little "over the top" in her suggestion that all pupils are so exhausted at the end of the school day that they cannot benefit by such programmes.

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The noble Baroness asked about the funding of the initiative, as did the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Perhaps I may explain that the cost of the initiative will be about £350 million. It will be funded with approximately £150 million of new money provided for in the Budget and £200 million out of the existing settlement secured under the comprehensive spending review.

I believe that this is an enormously welcome announcement for teachers. It means that they will have access to resources they have not had in the past. The noble Baroness said that she was unable to obtain information about the breakdown of the £19 billion of additional money. Of course, the Government have not yet announced how all of that will be spent. They have not yet announced how the third year of the additional £19 billion will be spent. However, the Government have published countless documents of one kind or another concerning the first two years. I have tried to ensure that the noble Baroness is sent copies of all such documents which have been made public.

The noble Baroness also asked about education action zones. She said that no information was provided about their performance. Perhaps I may say that it is still early days. The Government are evaluating the education action zones but most were established only recently and are part of a larger programme. It is rather too soon to give any clear cut indication of how they are performing. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that they are hugely more successful than the noble Baroness suggested. I deeply regret her extremely hostile remarks about the great effort that has been put into the education action zones. I am surprised because I had thought that the noble Baroness welcomed them.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked about mentors and where they will come from. Those additional staff for inner-city schools will be recruited from a variety of different professions. Some will be additional trained teachers; some will be youth workers; and some could be from the educational welfare service. They will come from different backgrounds and will be expected to work with all children who require mentoring. That includes those who are in some difficulty in deciding to commit themselves to their work and their learning as well as those who are very able. In particular, we want to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We want to help able children from disadvantaged backgrounds who may need advice about access to post-school education, including university. I am glad that there was some welcome for the proposals to develop university summer schools. I regard that as a very important initiative. It will encourage young people from homes where there is no tradition of higher education to make the most of their talents and abilities.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in so far as the Statement relates to pupils in comprehensives in inner-city areas it confirms the totally disastrous nature of the decision taken by this Government to abolish the assisted places scheme, a decision taken purely on the basis of ideological bigotry? Will the Minister accept from me that the assisted places scheme, introduced in 1979 by, among others, my noble

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friend Lady Young and myself, had the main and specific aim of providing educational opportunities for bright children living in inner-city areas, working through the old grammar schools? Sadly, the Statement shows that inner-city comprehensives, through no fault of their own, have been unable to provide such opportunities. How many children does the noble Baroness estimate have had such opportunities taken from them by the decision that this Government took? Is it not time that the Secretary of State apologised to them and their parents for the opportunities that they lost?


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