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The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and to all other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am also very grateful for the Minister's assurance. I shall want to reflect on both the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the Minister's reply. I believe, however, that Amendment No. 2 provides the assurance I seek on spiritual, moral and cultural education, thereby

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protecting both RE and collective worship. As I said, however, I shall very carefully read those comments. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 6:

    Page 2, line 44, at end insert—

"(4A) The Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales shall refuse an application for an order under this section if it appears to the Secretary of State or the Assembly that the proposed order would be likely to have a detrimental effect on the education of children with special educational needs."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3 [Variation or revocation of orders under section 2]:

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Clause 4 [Applications for orders under section 2]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 8:

    Page 3, line 39, leave out "consult such persons as appear to the" and insert—

"(a) in the case of an Education Action Forum, consult each local education authority by whom any participating school, as defined by section 10(6)(b) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31), is maintained,
(b) in the case of the governing body of a school maintained by a local education authority, consult that authority, and
(c) in any case, consult such persons (or other persons) as appear to the qualifying"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 10:

    After Clause 4, insert the following new clause—

(1) Where the Secretary of State has made any order under section 2 in any academic year, he shall—
(a) prepare a report on all the orders made by him under that section in that academic year, and
(b) lay a copy of the report before each House of Parliament.
(2) Where the National Assembly for Wales has made any order under section 2 in any academic year, the Assembly shall prepare and publish a report on all the orders made by the Assembly under that section in that academic year.
(3) In this section "academic year" means a period beginning with 1st August and ending with the next 31st July."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 12:

    Before Clause 5, insert the following new clause—

(1) Regulations shall designate curriculum provisions as attracting exemptions for all maintained schools, subject to subsection (2) and section 74(1).
(2) Regulations may prescribe circumstances in which a school or category of school will not benefit from automatic exemption under subsection (1), in which case section 6 shall apply.

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(3) The regulations in subsections (1) and (2) shall not be made unless laid in draft before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we now come to the part of the Bill that deals with earned autonomy. In moving Amendment No. 12, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 13 and 18.

I have deliberately separated the issue of curriculum from that of pay and conditions. First, they are different issues. Secondly, some would prefer to deal separately with disapplications for curriculum matters as against pay and conditions matters, rather than to roll them all up as one proposition, as the Bill provides. The separation is therefore really just for the ease of those who take different views on different aspects of the Bill's provisions.

As I said, we do not wish to stifle schools' aspiration to take greater responsibility for the management of curriculum matters and pay and conditions matters. My amendments presume in favour of all schools enjoying the freedoms, except for those which the Secretary of State deems unsuitable. However, I shall not rehearse all the arguments that were deployed in Committee when we had a very full debate. I also appreciate that time is more precious on Report, which does not allow an iterative process. Nevertheless, I shall repeat what my Amendment No. 12 does not do. It does not remove the Secretary of State's discretionary power under Clause 6. However, it does presume in favour of all schools having the power of exemption, limited only by objective criteria which would be published and well understood by all.

The effect of my amendments would be the introduction of simple, clearer and more open procedures and would reduce yet again the level of bureaucracy necessary to support the Government's proposals. It is ludicrous to suggest that only 10 per cent of schools would qualify to exercise these freedoms. First, that percentage is not only cautious; it is also arbitrary. Secondly, the open accountability of schools is a sufficiently good safeguard to remove the Government's fears about whether schools that are well capable of managing their own affairs should have the freedom to do so. It is another case of central control and central bureaucracy, both of which I believe are unnecessary.

As I said, I note that there is more support for freedom on curriculum management than there is on pay and conditions. That is why we are addressing the issues separately. My colleagues and I support schools which meet the criteria being given the opportunity, within set limits, to exercise self-management over both curriculum and pay and conditions. Although those limits clearly have to be within the Secretary of State's fiefdom, I believe that there should be an automatic trigger to dispense with the need constantly to submit applications.

It is incumbent on the Government to say why they believe that only 10 per cent of schools would qualify. It may be because this is a pilot scheme and Ministers want to see how it works. However, the record book is littered with schools that are capable of taking charge of their own affairs. As we know, some schemes promoting

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curricular freedom will result from the Bill. Such schemes will increase the type of flexibility in schools that can benefit young people. Moreover, the Bill now contains an obligation—both at its beginning and its end—to offer a broad and balanced curriculum. The Bill therefore contains a caveat, which I know the Liberal Democrats support, on a broad and balanced curriculum.

Nevertheless, I believe that the Government could let go of the reins and trust schools. If only 10 per cent of schools qualify, such a tight parameter will be drawn around schools that they will simply not be allowed to enjoy the freedoms provided in the Bill. We support those freedoms and we believe that they should be extended to all schools that are competent to exercise them. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in her Amendment No. 12 but not in her Amendment No. 13. We on these Benches have long argued that, like the right to innovate, the right to experiment with the curriculum should be open to all schools and not limited to a few. The noble Baroness's words just now about letting go of the reins and trusting schools summarised very well our position.

The teachers with whom we have consulted on the issue of innovation have made it clear that the key innovation is the right to innovate on the curriculum. They were much less concerned about other issues. Although they would like to experiment, they still regard the national curriculum as something of a straitjacket. As for the national curriculum, the days of what were called "the secret garden" are very long gone. In those days there was no national curriculum and teachers taught what they wanted to teach. In the 1970s, when I was a campaigner on the issue, one simply did not touch on the curriculum and suggest that teachers might approach it more broadly.

Equally, I accept that the days of the highly prescriptive national curriculum, as it was when first introduced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, are now gone. I accept that the national curriculum as set out in Part 6, comprising Clauses 72 to 92, is a much more flexible instrument. However, it is still only relatively flexible, particularly if the objective is innovation and new ways of teaching. Teachers need to be encouraged to think more widely about the curriculum, across horizons, rather than be channelled too narrowly within it. In that regard, one would like to go back a little way back to "the secret garden" and trust the professionals whom we now train very hard and very well. We ensure in the teacher qualification process that teachers are not put in charge of a classroom until we are confident that they are able to take charge.

The national curriculum provides teachers with a broad framework, but let us give them the opportunity to vary it. In earned autonomy, the Government are saying, "We will give them the ability to vary it. But we will do that only for schools which we judge to be good". Schools will be judged by how well they do against performance indicators such as the key criterion of

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whether pupils at key stage 4 obtain five GCSE A to C grades. However, although schools are considered within free school meals bands and judgments are therefore made about schools in tougher and in easier areas, the fact is that earned autonomy will go quite disproportionately to schools that are already succeeding.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, mentioned, in the regulations and in our discussions in Committee and those in another place, it was envisaged that only 10 per cent of schools would be touched by those earned autonomy regulations. For us that is not enough. That is a key issue. We should like to see earned autonomy, in terms of curriculum experiment, rolled up much more widely to every school. The amendment that I tabled in Committee suggested every school except those in special measures or showing signs of serious weakness, which perhaps need to be excluded. As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, mentioned, the power to innovate is there for those particular schools. Since that amendment was not agreed to, the power to innovate is still there. Therefore, they could use the power to innovate.

However, on the curriculum the provisions are much too narrow. If we want to try and inject a feeling of innovation and dynamism into schools, which is what this is supposed to do, it is too meritocratic. It is "jump a little higher doggy and we'll give you a bone". I do not like that attitude. I do not think that we want that in our legislation. Therefore, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

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