|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The effect of the amendment would be to remove the provisions for parental petitions and ballots to decide the future admission arrangements of existing grammar schools. It would take power away from parents and place it back into the hands of the local authority. We believe that that would be wrong.
We have made our position clear many times. We do not support selection by ability at 11. We do not wish to see it extended. We continue to believe that parents, rather than Ministers or local government, are best placed to decide whether grammar schools should continue to select their pupils by ability. I want to make it clear that we think that is the right thing to do and we have no plans to abolish grammar schools.
The noble Lord talks about standards rising. We want to see, and are seeing year on year, higher standards and higher achievement in all our schools. We are pleased about that and have set it out in Every Child Matters. We have a duty towards the majority of children. This is an opportunity to pay tribute to those who ensure that happensour teachers, parents, the pupils themselves and everyone who works in the education system.
If shall answer some of the noble Lord's questions if I can, but let me remind the Committee that parents were first given the right to ballot on whether schools should opt out of their local education authority and be grant-maintained. That is very much a plank of the party opposite. We have to ask, in terms of the amendment, why should parents be denied the right to ballot on the future of selective admissions?
Lord Hanningfield: Does the noble Baroness agree that if we are going to have elections that might be best done through the Electoral Reform Society? They could be properly conducted under better rules than the current procedure, which gives rise to the anomalies that I instanced and which could lead to abuses of the system. It might be better to have fairly orthodox and well regulated ballots.
Baroness Andrews: The Electoral Reform Society is involved at a very early stage. Once 10 or more people notify the Electoral Reform Society that they intend to raise the petition, the ERS must set the threshold for that petitionthe number of parents who must sign the petition in favour of a ballot to form the 20 per cent required for the ballot to be held. That is a very important safeguard. We recognise that raising a petition is a significant task. It is only right that it is established that there is a genuine desire for a ballot among a significant proportion of parents. That brings with it costs. We understand that and are prepared to support the costs in that sense.
18 Jan 2005 : Column 714
The noble Lord asked specifically about the nature of the question asked. We believe that the question is straightforward. We do not believe that it needs changing. It is a straightforward question: should the schools cease to admit on academic ability? Obviously, the implications of ending academic selection in grammar schools would be different in each area, but legislation allows any area or school to produce fairly presented factual information on the implications. Guidance on that is available in the ballot information code and in our guidance. So again we believe that safeguards are built in.
I do not want to say very much more because I believe that we have addressed the issues raised. To reiterate, we believe that parents should be the ones who decide whether their local grammar school should continue to select pupils on the basis of academic ability. The amendment would remove that right. We do not believe that that is right, and we hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Hanningfield: I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I was pleased to hear, as we have heard before, that the Government do not wish to close existing grammar schools. Some people say that academies will be like grammar schools. I am sure that some people have that fear. I might not have that fear, but academies are a type of school that some parents might wish to choose. I would have liked the Government to have thought more and to have taken this opportunity, if we are going to have ballots, at least to make them slightly more satisfactory than they are now. But I hear what the noble Baroness says. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) In schedule 8 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (changes of category of school), in paragraph 2(2) after "modifications" insert "except that in all cases the School Organisation Committee must approve of the change of category"."
The noble Baroness said: This amendment brings us back to foundation status and school organisation. Last time, we spoke about that in relation to Schedule 10, which concerns proposals under Section 65 for the establishment of secondary schools. Schedule 12 is a ragbag of subsequent
18 Jan 2005 : Column 715
amendments required to earlier education Acts. This amendment fits in with that rather splendidly by requiring an element to Schedule 8 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.
I have raised the issue previously: we are considering the whole question of changing school categoryin particular, changing from community schools to foundation schools. As I spoke at some length last time, I do not want to do so this time. Currently, the rules governing a change of school category are found in secondary legislation. As has been demonstrated by recent government consultation on fast-tracking of foundation school status, it is possible for a community or voluntary-controlled school to grant itself foundation school status without wider community approval of the change.
We propose in the amendment that the change should be subject to approval by the school organisation committee. As we also know from our earlier debates, that committee was established under the 1998 Act to take a community view of the local development of the school system. It is wrong that the Government have now decided to bypass that body for no apparent benefit. As I explained earlier, we have grave reservations about the acceleration of that process of consultation over the establishment of foundation status. We are by no means convinced that what are now community schools benefit from becoming foundation schools. We are worried about the knock-on effect of that on democratic accountability.
"are community schools, the community of interest is the LEA, because there is that link between them. If a school wants to become voluntary aided or a foundation school, it will be for the school organisation committee to agree or disagree with that change of character".[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee A, 5/2/98.]
In short, we do not think that the amendment has anything to do with the subject of the Bill or of Schedule 12. The change of category regulations have already been made. Rather, we feel that the amendment is designed effectively to frustrate the intention set out in the Government's five-year strategy to allow schools to become foundation schools by a simple vote of their governing body, followed by a short consultation. We consulted widely on those proposals, including local authorities and dioceses, and are currently considering the responses.
18 Jan 2005 : Column 716
In our view, the change in category of the school is not always so significant a change that it requires an external decision-maker. The school itself will be the same size and cover the same age range, so I cannot see how it significantly alters the pattern of supply and demand in the area such that the school organisation committee could be engaged. If that is the case, what criteria will the school organisation committee apply? Presumably, it will be whether it thinks that foundation schools are a good or bad idea.
With the greatest respect, Parliament hasthe Government haveestablished a policy position on that. So it would be a sham for the school organisation committee to be engaged in that, when it has plenty of other extremely important and challenging business to do, without undertaking that bureaucratic process.
Foundation status may not affect the size or age range of the school, but we hope that it will have a significant impact on the attitude and ethos of the school. We want schools to take responsibility for their own character and future and, as I said, have more of the levers of control and resources under their governance better to get excellent outcomes for their children. They own their land and buildings; they employ their own staff; they may have a foundation, and we are consulting on whether that foundation may have a majority of governors on the governing body, as voluntary-aided schools do.
We think that those responsibilities will make it easier for schools to develop a distinctive ethos and make them more responsive to changing demands, but there are proper safeguards in place. Admissions will be governed by existing legislation and guided by the school admissions code of practice. The governing body of the foundation school may make changes to the school's admission arrangements only after consulting in accordance with regulation. If there is disagreement, the local authority or any other school can object to the schools adjudicator about the admission arrangements. The buildings are not owned in the sense that they can be sold off and the money spent; disposal would require the consent of the Secretary of State and proceeds would normally return to the local authority.
Let me underline the point about admissions and the importance of effective arrangements. The former Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Charles Clarke, in a speech that he made in November, set out the position extremely clearly. He said:
"By September 2005, every Admissions Forum should develop and agree a protocol covering their area for the admission of hard to place children. We will issue guidance and examples of good local agreements and will make consequent changes to the School Admissions Code of Practice".
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|