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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the code states that head teachers have no role in the admissions process. Those are the words in chapter 7 of the code, and there is a full stop at the end of the sentence.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the code seeks to emphasise there that we do not expect individual

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students to be interviewed by head teachers and then be selected by them. Heads play their part in governing bodies. It is absolutely clear that heads are involved in a school's admission policy. How could they possibly exercise their dual authority and responsibilities to a school if they did not influence the governing body significantly in relation to the school's admissions process?

Another dimension of this debate which aroused considerable passion was whether the regulations suggested to Catholic authorities that interviews were no longer permissible. That is not the case with regard to the ethos of Catholic schools. The Government were approached by the Catholic authorities, which, like the Anglican Church, took the view that interviews were no longer regarded as the best basis for admission to faith schools. The code merely responds to that initiative. As the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, indicated, better ways exist than interviews to ensure that the ethos of schools is protected and there are better ways of ensuring that the requisite information is received in evaluating the student. I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Of course, everyone involved in the process must have regard to the code. The code refers to all the Acts of statute that must be obeyed and by which everyone is obliged to act. Where in statute does it say that interviews cannot, should not and may not take place? The code cannot ban them; they must be banned in legislation. I cannot find that in the regulations and I do not believe it was set out in the Bill that became an Act. Therefore, will the noble Lord tell me which law a school will be breaking if it includes interviews as part of its admissions process?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the school will be offending the code, which derives from last year's Education Act. It was not the first education Act to have implied a code of this kind, and this is not the first code that we have had. The code is a derivative of its predecessor, which embraced a large number of the same concepts. For a considerable period of time—ever since the introduction of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998—we have had to have admissions procedures.

We are cogniscant of the fact that admissions procedures arouse controversy. Nevertheless, 96 per cent of parents are offered a place for their child at a school for which they have expressed a preference. That is good news but we know that we can do better than that. Our research shows that parents find the process of choosing and applying for school places less stressful and easier when admission arrangements are co-ordinated. That is the basis of the new code and that is why it was presaged in the Act passed last year.

It was felt that, through the construction of admissions forums, more effective communication could take place with people in a locality so that they would better understand the co-ordination of admission arrangements. That would result in one obvious benefit. Parents fill in one form for all the

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available schools and they include their order of preference. Instead of parents having to weigh up whether or not a school is likely to offer their child a place, holding that position against an alternative choice and often being in considerable distress in balancing one possibility against another, we are now ensuring that there is co-ordination in the admission arrangements of a local authority area. That benefit from the code was presaged in the Bill which became an Act and it was generally approved of in the House.

We recognise that a number of questions have been raised about many other parts of the regulations. If the noble Lord will forgive me, I have a considerable argument to deploy in respect of the admissions forums regulations. I shall also seek to answer the questions properly addressed to me, many of which came from the noble Lord's Front Bench. I emphasise that the admissions forums regulations make provision for the establishment of forums, which will ensure that co-ordination exists across the local areas. I emphasise once again to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that local devolution will ensure that such areas can be smaller than the local authority.

With regard to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about co-ordinating arrangements and the legal obligations in respect of parents' preferences, of course the obligations will be honoured. Parents express a preference. The LEA simply sets up a co-ordinating scheme in deciding which single offer should be made where a child is eligible to be admitted to more than one school. Of course, a place will usually be offered at the school which the parent has ranked the highest. That is why the majority of places across the country are allocated according to the first choice of the parents involved. Controversy inevitably occurs where that does not obtain.

There will also be a single offer date. All parents will find out the results of their application and will receive an offer of a place at the same time. That is significantly better than our current arrangements and is the basis upon which the code is established.

The regulations also clarify the conditions under which a proposal to vary an admission number, following approval of statutory appraisals, need not be referred to the schools adjudicator. Therefore, we are ensuring that the admission arrangements for each school and the numbers involved are public and are recognised as part of the overall provision for the local authority.

The objection to the adjudicator's admission numbers—a matter addressed to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—replicates the existing provision whereby parents can object to standard numbers variations through the statutory proposal system. The adjudicator will consider such an objection, as he does all others. Therefore, we are not changing the role of the adjudicator with regard to the crucial matter of the numbers which each school makes available.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, also raised questions on a number of other issues. I shall deal with one aspect, which my noble friend Lord Brennan emphasised strongly. The noble Baroness also referred to the article in today's Daily Telegraph. That is not based upon fact. Nothing is imposed by this Government that makes issues connected with the interview process compulsory for Catholic schools. We have been involved in consultation on the best procedures for selection and for ensuring that the ethos of schools is maintained.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, also asked about the adjudicator's powers so far as concerns grammar schools, colleges of technology and academies. The powers of the adjudicator are not extended by these regulations; it is not possible to remove selection. As she recognises, the only way that selection can be removed is through a ballot sought by parents—a process which, as she knows only too well, thus far has been pursued on only one occasion.

The noble Baroness also raised the question of additional burdens on schools and reference was made to the LEA composite prospectus. That is not an additional burden and there is no new requirement here. LEAs already publish prospectuses with all their schools' admissions arrangements and this regulation merely updates that.

I take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we should have additional information on the basis of "value added" with regard to schools. We could not make that provision now because at present we do not have a full range of value-added statistics. The noble Lord will know that in certain areas the statistics relating to schools were first published only recently. However, in due course, value-added information will become available and the noble Lord is right to say that it should be made available. He is also right that we should encourage the development of modern technology, such as websites, so that parents can consult and obtain the information that they need on-line. All that lies a little way in the future. However, we recognise the validity of the case that the noble Lord makes and shall seek to respond to it as and when we can.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the first question that I asked of the Government when they were first elected in 1997 was whether they would reply to my Written Questions by e-mail. I received a similar reply to the one that the Minister has just given. They still cannot do it. I hope that the Department for Education and Skills can do better.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I take on board what the noble Lord has said. I have heard him mention that he received such a reply before. I was not seeking to repeat it verbatim. I was expressing the intention that as much as possible we seek to make education information available on-line. He will be aware of the enormous drive to put computers in schools. We shall make the information available to parents as rapidly as we can, although he will recognise

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that the quality of the information with regard to value added requires a substantial amount of work. For that reason it is bound to come out in discrete areas.

A noble Lord: Is the noble Lord going to sit down?


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