|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Blatch: I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Baroness. The Minister's answer was disappointing. The noble Baroness began by referring to the increased funding that had gone into schools. That is simply not true. The £3.3 billion this year and the £3 billion-odd in the following two years is subject to unprecedented deductions at national level. Not all of that money finds its way into schools. As a result of the way in which money is allocated by the department, the core funding for schools is simply not getting down to the classrooms. Governing bodies up and down the land, including my own local authority, are bemused as to where this large amount of extra money is in the system. To take just one case, the need to meet this year's teacher pay awards causes great angst among many local education authorities. The schools are very concerned that even if, as the
I turn to the point that the noble Baroness made about the need to avoid different standards for different sectors across sixth-form provision. There are different standards between sectors. While no one wants a different standard of education, everyone wants standards of educational quality to be raised. The truth is that the sectors are different one from the other. As for schools, rural schools are very different from urban ones. It will be necessary to look differently at rural schools and to take different views about what does and does not constitute a weakness in terms of numbers. It is also important to make a distinction between judgments that are made purely on the criterion of value for money as opposed to educational quality. For example, can we have an assurance that if value for money is the criterion it will never stand alone or aside from the importance of the quality of education? If whoever makes the judgment is of the view that a sixth form is simply uneconomic, however well it is doing, and that comparable education can be provided at a sixth form centre or FE college, that will be justifiable grounds for closing it. Schedule 7 does not properly define "inadequate" or "weakness". Those matters are left to the subjective judgment of those who decide. What is the interpretation of "inadequate" and/or "weakness"?
The noble Baroness was confident that it would be all right on the night. My amendment is not about that but about having something firm in statute: either to leave the inspection arrangements and the procedures for closing inadequate schools as they are or to give greater force to some of the assurances to which the Minister has referred.
Parents choose sixth forms of their own volition. Their daughters and sons are beyond compulsory school age. Their choice needs to be given some credence in terms of whether they believe the school is performing well. The noble Baroness also said that reasonable time would be given, and the Minister even referred to the possibility of a two-year period. There is nothing in the Bill which says that. If schools are to be given that opportunity, why not spell out the procedure for that and provide a timescale which allows a sixth form to address some of the critical comments in a report?
As for my next point, I anticipate some glimmer of support from Members of the Committee on the Liberal Democrat Benches. We have never supported organisational committees and the power of the adjudicator. They second guess local authorities and do the dirty work for the Secretary of State so that he has clean hands in relation to any decision to close a school and/or sixth form. I was given assurances by the Minister in writing that organisational committees would not be able to remove a sixth form
The Minister also said that sixth forms should be represented on the organisation committees. That is not necessarily so. There will be heads of schools on the organisation committees; schools will be represented. No provision states that schools for 11 to 16 and 11 to 18 year-olds must be represented. Sixth forms in schools are not there as an entity in themselves. Nothing in the School Standards and Framework Act states that.
Further education is represented. As we all know, the FE element has looked hungrily for a long time at school sixth forms. It is always possible that it comes with a pre-conceived view that if there were no sixth forms in an area it would benefit as a result and would, therefore, have a vested interest in taking a negative view about the future existence of a sixth form.
Will some of the assurances given in good faith by the Minister be forthcoming in amendments to the Bill from the Government to assuage some of the concerns held by those of us concerned about the future of sixth forms as part of the tapestry of post-16 education?
Money will be top sliced at national level, fed through the national skills council, cascaded down through the local schools councils, given to the LEAs, and then to the schools. First, there is real concern about that administratively circuitous route. Secondly, we are legislating for change, and the detail comes later. Once we have legislated, it is a matter of how the system will work rather than whether the schools will take a different view of the system when they know the formula. The schools and the National Association of Head Teachers are in a difficulty. Until they know what will happen, they have given a temporary welcome to the changes with provisos. Those provisos cannot be delivered while the Bill is going through Parliament.
Finally, the Minister referred to funding being a matter for the LEA. That may be so, but it is dependent on the quantum of money that comes down from the Secretary of State through the local councils and then to the LEAs. As I understand the funding document, it will be money for post-16 provision in an LEA area; there will be other calls on that money apart from funding the sixth forms. So if the quantum of money is not sufficient--it may be required for other forms of post-16 education--there will not be enough money for the LEA to do what it determines and would like at local level. There is a practical issue. As always, the aspirational comments are fine. However, in practice the delivery of the service is a very different matter.
The chief inspector has long been aware of the arguments I have put forward and has long ignored them. I believe that a Government who, much to their credit, have introduced more emphasis on evidence-based medicine should do the same for schooling. We have a system for assessing schools which is essentially unchecked and not evaluated. It would not take much to evaluate what Ofsted is doing. We are basing some serious decisions on the future of schools, teachers, and so on, on the judgments of Ofsted. They should be independently and properly evaluated. It is an argument which elsewhere has been accepted by the Government and acted upon. I hope that the Government will take it up as regards education.
Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It is open to him to try again with Her Majesty's Chief Inspector. I suggest that he does so. He is, of course, independent and I am sure he would be interested in any suggestions the noble Lord might like to put to him.
Perhaps I may return to some of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I do not want to rehearse all the arguments about funding for schools. We are now dealing with a specific amendment about the way in which we ensure high quality education in sixth forms. However, I should like to reiterate what I thought I had stated fairly clearly in answer to the noble Baroness's first speech in the debate. What the Government are doing here in no way hits institutions which are small and, by comparison with very large sixth forms, have high unit costs. The judgment we make is entirely about the quality of provision. That is what we expect Ofsted to do. It is not about its cost. I can give the noble Baroness that reassurance.
The noble Baroness referred to the formula and suggested that there may be concerns about the money going down to LEAs from the LSCs. We have had a wide welcome for this change from many of the parties involved. I accept that there are more details, at the very detailed level, to be gone through. I have already said that we are consulting on that. That is common in legislation of this kind.
I do not feel that I can offer to take this issue away. The provision on the face of the Bill is perfectly adequate. I have explained the matter at some length and responded, I think, to all the noble Baroness's questions. Therefore, I hope that she will not press the amendment.
I accept, as I believe I said, that the funding system has been welcomed. But there are provisos, and they relate specifically to the detailed work after the Bill receives Royal Assent. That gives no assurances to those who have these concerns.
I must have one more question answered before deciding what to do with the amendment. The noble Baroness said that there was no question of cost being an issue. Because it is so stated in the Bill, can I take it that cost effectiveness and value for money will not be considerations when making judgments about provision for sixth forms?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page