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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not see any reason at all why the Scottish parliament should not pay the most careful attention to anything that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, says. I am sure it will. In fact, in the earlier months, I am sure it will discuss little else. Added to which, it may be that north of the Border they will have an even keener eye to economy. I am also able to deal with any questions about Royal Commissions in Wales.
Lord Renton: My Lords, what about young offenders? Does it not cost more to keep young offenders in the modern institutions which have replaced Borstal than to send a boy to a good public school like, for example, Eton? Would it not be fair to get the parents of the young offenders to make a contribution towards their education?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, an enormous number of young offenders have no parents who care for them and when they do have parents who are interested in them, very often those parents are in the lowest section of our community in terms of earning power and wealth. The average cost per prisoner place in 1996-97--I stress this is average--was £24,271. Some of your Lordships may be able to draw a relationship between that and the fees at Eton; but, alas! I am not.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, bed and breakfast establishments pay tax to the Government which they recoup from their visitors. Could there not be some similar arrangement for those detained at Her Majesty's pleasure?
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I thank the Minister because I believe that we have made quite a lot of progress on this Question. Following on the general tenor of this matter, will he see whether administrative arrangements can be made so that it becomes fairly standard and people expect, if they can afford it, to pay the cost of serving a sentence in prison? That might be quite a useful deterrent for some. Of course, I recognise that the great majority will not be in a position to pay anything. But it should become standard administrative procedure, and not a matter of the court ordering it, if necessary with legislation, to enable it to happen.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the trouble is that the administrative procedures tend to be cumbersome, counterproductive and do not produce as much revenue as is directly available if the courts exercise their full powers. The noble Lord is quite right that it would require primary legislation. This
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. Last May the Government put forward a vision of a modern Britain which the people welcomed in overwhelming numbers. We made it clear then that education was at the centre of the vision.
We argued that everyone should have the skills and self-confidence to help build a successful economy and a healthy society. We promised everyone, not just a few, the opportunity to make their contribution. And we committed ourselves to working with others in a relentless pursuit of higher educational standards--providing pressure and support, identifying and spreading good practice, and, where necessary, finding more money.
We have already shown that we meant what we said. We have established the standards and effectiveness unit in my department, and the standards task force, and identified priorities for action. We have set challenging literacy and numeracy targets for all our 11 year-olds. We have exposed under-performing schools and LEAs to scrutiny, and worked to put things right. We have published excellent Green Papers on children with special educational needs and on lifelong learning.
We know that this requires cash as well as commitment. that is why last July's Budget announced an extra £1 billion for schools, compared with the £182 million increase planned by the last government. Over £500 million from the 1998-99 standards fund will pay for more teacher and governor training, more books and more equipment. Building on our New Deal for Schools--worth about £2 billion over the life of this Parliament--this year's Budget provided a further £90 million for schools' capital to help reduce infant class sizes, and tackle obsolete boilers and outside lavatories.
The School Standards and Framework Bill before the House today complements all these efforts. With the Teaching and Higher Education Bill now in another place, it takes forward our manifesto commitments to strengthen education in England and Wales. Our consultations last summer on the Excellence in Schools White Paper and its Welsh counterpart made it clear that we really wanted to know what people thought. We emphasised our view that partnership and understanding are better than command and control. We listened, and learned, and responded.
The Bill is much the better for it. And as a result of those consultations, and scrutiny in another place, I know that it comes to this House more widely and warmly supported than any education Bill for many years. I shall be asking this House to endorse it so that the Government can get on with the important and exciting policies it proposes.
I now turn to the detailed contents of the Bill. Part I complements the substantial start we have already made on redeeming our historic pledge that by the end of this Parliament no five, six or seven year-old should have to learn in a class of more than 30. That objective is long overdue. All children need the best possible start to their school career. Getting the basics right will underpin their enthusiasm for learning and their prospects of achievement later on.
We shall fund the running cost aspects of this by transferring resources from the assisted places scheme. This is a policy for the many, not the few. We have already announced the allocation of £22 million in the coming academic year, which will benefit over 100,000 children. This will rise to £100 million a year by 2001 when we will deliver our pledge. The Budget last month provided £40 million extra capital to pay for the extra classrooms that LEAs will need to establish more and smaller infant classes.
Clauses 1 to 4 empower the Secretary of State to set limits on the size of infant classes; to set timetables for compliance with those limits; and to pay grants in support. They require LEAs to draw up plans to meet the pledge, and LEAs and governing bodies to exercise their functions so as to achieve them.
These clauses work with the admissions provisions later in the Bill. We have already made clear in another place that we will expect LEAs to use this opportunity to enhance, rather than to constrain, parental preference. We will expect them to expand provision in popular, over-subscribed schools. And children will not be forced to travel unreasonable distances to school because other schools are full. Where necessary, funds will be provided for extra teachers and, in some cases, extra accommodation. Taken together the extra resources we plan, our commitment to parental choice and the proposals in this Bill give us a historic opportunity to make a difference for young pupils. We intend to grasp it.
Clauses 5 to 19 implement other aspects of the Government's standards programme. Much, of course, does not need legislation, and is already well under way. Clause 5 places an explicit duty on LEAs to carry our their functions with a view to promoting high standards in schools. Let me make clear from the very beginning the balance we wish to strike here.
LEAs can encourage schools and challenge them to do better. They can help identify good practice, build partnerships and use their own resources effectively. We consider this a core role for LEAs--the contribution they can make has been ignored for too long. But high standards remain first and foremost the responsibility of individual schools. Every school can improve. Every school should be setting itself challenging targets. We expect LEAs to intervene only in inverse proportion to
Clauses 6 and 7 provide the mechanism for reviewing and raising standards in each area. They require each LEA to prepare an education development plan, setting out how they will work to raise standards, based on consultation with schools and others. My right honourable friend will regulate the contents of plans to ensure that they cover the essentials--including clear targets for improvement--and monitor progress against them. They will provide hard evidence of the capacity of each LEA to get to grips with the issues in its area, in partnership with others.
Clause 8 empowers the Secretary of State to take action if the LEA is failing to perform any of its school responsibilities to an adequate standard. Where necessary, he will be able to direct the LEA's officers to take specified action; or direct them to transfer the function to others--for example, an improvement team, another LEA, or a private sector provider. He can specify the objectives to be met and require LEA members and officers to co-operate with whoever takes over the function. This is a robust provision: we shall tackle underperformance wherever we find it.
I particularly commend to the House the important and radical proposals on education action zones taken forward by Clauses 10 to 13 of the Bill. Education action zones will help raise standards in schools in challenging circumstances, rural and urban. They will provide new and exciting ways for clusters of schools, LEAs, parents, business and community organisations to work together. As test beds for new ideas in a properly controlled environment, zones will have priority access to departmental funding and initiatives. They will be able to adapt the national curriculum to meet local needs--more opportunities for work-related learning or a sharper focus on literacy and numeracy. Each zone will be run with the help of a forum which will set challenging targets and put forward ambitious, innovative plans for meeting them.
There has been considerable interest in this initiative. We have received 60 full applications and have, therefore, decided to accelerate our timetable for the introduction of zones. With an additional £10 million for the education action zones programme, that represents a fivefold increase on our original plan. Subject to the outcome of the comprehensive spending review, we hope to expand the EAZ programme during this Parliament.
It may help the House if I clarify something at this point. We welcome the strong endorsement of EAZs in another place at Second Reading last December. But nothing the Government have done since then to set up the first EAZs this autumn depends on parliamentary approval of this Bill. If Parliament agrees, however, the Bill will help schools make the most of this initiative. Clause 13 will allow zones to attract first-class heads
We expect education action zones to identify much good practice. Some of it will have implications over time for the education service as a whole. Education action zones will help us invent the 21st century school.
In future, LEAs will be able to issue formal warnings to schools where standards are unacceptably low. LEAs can already appoint additional governors, or suspend the school's right to a delegated budget, where a school is failing. The Bill will now allow this where a school has serious weaknesses or has not responded satisfactorily to a formal warning--that is, before problems become so acute that a school fails. The Secretary of State will in turn be able to appoint additional governors--including the chair of governors--in a school requiring special measures. He will also be able to direct an LEA to close a school in these circumstances.
I repeat that responsibility for standards rests first and foremost with schools themselves. The powers are carefully graduated: prevention is better than cure, and gentle nudges early on will always be better than late recrimination. LEA action will need to be based on clear criteria, as the code of practice will emphasise. But these clauses provide necessary safeguards against drift and delay.
The Government, too, will play their part. Parents expect us to provide leadership and commitment, and create a culture of high expectations. So does the taxpayer. If there is to be more money for education, the levers must be in place to ensure that every penny counts: children get only one chance.
I turn now to Part II of the Bill and the new framework for schools. This is a modernising Bill. Parents and many others sent us a clear message both before the election and in response to our White Paper. They wanted us to move on from the divisions of recent years and concentrate on what really matters--raising standards and increasing opportunities for all. Of course, the framework within which schools and LEAs operate is relevant to that. But it had become the preoccupation of too many. We agree.
Clauses 20 to 22 establish three new categories of mainstream school--community, foundation and voluntary, as well as community and foundation special schools. Those categories will accommodate all existing state schools, including former grant-maintained schools.
All schools will have a choice of category to suit their circumstances and aspirations. To minimise disruption, that choice will be phased. GM schools will make their choice first, and move to their chosen category when the new framework is introduced. Parents will be able to steer that choice if they wish, and any disputes will
We have worked hard to minimise unnecessary upheaval for individual schools while ensuring that basic principles of fairness and partnership apply. In particular, the new categories preserve the broad pattern now for Church, GM and county schools on the employment of staff, the ownership of premises, religious education and collective worship.
I am also very pleased that the Churches have worked closely with us on this, and accept that our proposals will safeguard their significant contribution to the education service. Within the voluntary category, existing aided and controlled schools will retain their present characteristics. We have agreed with the Churches sensible arrangements for the composition of Church school governing bodies, for admissions, staffing and other protections for the religious ethos of schools. We have amended the Bill on those points in another place, and will do more when we reach Committee stage in this place.
From now on, all maintained schools and LEAs will enjoy a new partnership in which the clear role of schools in running themselves is understood. The Bill's proposals for school funding and admissions demonstrate that we envisage a partnership of equals, based on good practice and good will.
Clauses 44 to 52 develop the local management of schools regime. All maintained schools will be funded, fairly and consistently, through LEAs. Accordingly, Clause 122 dissolves the Funding Agency for Schools.
Within this framework we intend to bring the level of financial delegation to all schools as closely as possible in line with the level currently enjoyed by GM schools, while ensuring that LEAs retain sufficient funding for their essential functions. This will give all schools equal freedom to use their funds in the drive to raise standards. We shall ensure that schools understand more clearly how their budgets are calculated and can buy back services from the LEA in a straightforward way. We shall issue a detailed consultation paper in due course, and will continue to listen as we develop the underpinning regulations and guidance.
Clauses 79 to 98 provide the framework for open and fair admissions to schools. Everyone must have regard to an admissions code of practice. LEAs and schools will have to consult each other every year on their admission arrangements. My right honourable friend will appoint independent adjudicators to decide disputes between admission authorities. Disputes over religious and denominational criteria will come to him for resolution.
For the benefit of parents, LEAs will publish information about local admissions. We look forward to parents once again having a single, sensible, mutually agreed timetable for making their applications to schools in their area. The constitution of appeals committees will be modernised, to make them completely independent of LEAs and governing bodies.
These clauses also prohibit schools in future from introducing selection by ability. The adjudicator, having regard to the code of practice, will have the power to end existing partial selection where he concludes that it is not in the best interests of other local schools, children and parents. The code will cover giving preference by aptitude--which the Bill will permit--in subjects to be specified in regulations, up to a maximum of 10 per cent. of a school's intake.
There is one further example of our commitment to local decision-making based on partnership. For decades many local proposals for opening, closing or changing the character of schools have come to the Secretary of State for decision. The process is often slow and less than transparent.
Clauses 23 to 33 provide for these decisions to be taken locally in future. They establish a school organisation committee for each LEA area in England. The committee will include representatives of the LEA, the Churches, the Further Education Funding Council for post-16 provision and schools. It will agree a school organisation plan for meeting emerging needs, adding or removing school places. LEAs will determine their own unopposed proposals, but the committee will decide the remainder in the light of the plan and of guidance from the Secretary of State. Where the committee cannot agree, the decision will be made by one of the independent adjudicators who also deal with admissions issues. In Wales, however, the Secretary of State will continue to consider contested proposals until the Welsh Assembly is in place.
I shall summarise briefly other proposals in the Bill. Parents and governors are essential partners in our work. Clauses 35 to 43 give parents more places on school governing bodies, simplify the constitutional arrangements of governing bodies, and emphasise governors' role in raising standards.
Clauses 99 to 102 implement our manifesto commitment that decisions on the future admissions policies of the 165 traditional grammar schools will be a matter for local parents. If a significant number of parents raise a petition, a ballot will follow. Where
Clauses 103 to 104 require all schools to have home/school agreements cementing the vital partnership between parents and schools. They will clarify expectations on attendance, discipline, homework and standards of education. They will not be used in the admissions process itself.
Clauses 105 to 106 strengthen the arrangements for 14 to 16 year-olds to undertake work experience and spend time in further education colleges. I hope the House will welcome this renewed emphasis on employability. Greater flexibility in the learning options available to young people will also support the Government's wider policies on social exclusion. We shall have more to say on social exclusion as this Bill goes forward.
Clauses 110 to 116 introduce sensible arrangements for nursery and other early years provision. We have already swept away the bureaucracy of the nursery vouchers scheme. We announced last month that every four year-old in all but one LEA will have a guaranteed nursery place by September this year. The other, Thurrock, will do so from January 1999. The Bill requires all LEAs, working in partnership with schools, voluntary and private sector providers, to secure sufficient nursery education provision for children in their area, rigorously inspected.
The Bill helps further education institutions and LEAs in Wales to work together effectively. It prevents LEAs from reintroducing the assisted places scheme at local level. It halts the steady loss of school playing fields in recent years. Finally, following a free vote in another place, it abolishes corporal punishment for all pupils in independent schools and children in nursery education.
This is a wide-ranging Bill which implements our manifesto commitments last May, taking full account of intensive consultations since then. It puts individual schools firmly at the front of our drive to create a world-class education service and raise standards for all. But it promises that LEAs and the Government will be there with them, to provide pressure, where necessary, investment and support.
It recognises the commitment of many to improve. But it also provides the levers for tackling underperformance and failure. It introduces a new school framework to end division, promote fairness and foster partnership, and give a stronger voice to parents. It is a framework which the Government are confident will stand the test of time. We are convinced that these proposals are the best way to release the enthusiasm and imagination we need to raise standards and tackle the
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I hope the whole House will join with me in welcoming to our debate today the noble Lords, Lord Hattersley and Lord Dearing, who are to make their maiden speeches. Both noble Lords, in their very different ways, bring much experience to debates, particularly on this subject. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, will forgive me for describing him as a colourful character. I know that the subject of education has been an abiding passion of his, and indeed of his wife, for many years. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is of course the architect of the considerable piece of work that underpinned the Bill that we discussed a matter of weeks ago, and will underpin many of the debates that we shall hold in the future.
If this Bill was subject to a test akin to the Trade Descriptions Act it would fail completely. The Government claim that the Bill is about raising standards and is not about structures. However, on any reading of this Bill, clause after clause deals with structures, not standards. There is a massive increase in bureaucracy and a massive increase in central control. It is now clear that new Labour has given way to old Labour in a big way. The politics of envy are back with a vengeance and, as has become the hallmark of this Government, mean-spirited politics abound.
Much that is best in education is at risk. The survival of grammar schools would be at the mercy of a biased balloting system. Over a thousand schools will lose their grant-maintained status and will be made subject to local government intervention, having democratically voted, school by school, for their own autonomy. If Ministers' responses in another place are anything to go by, selection is subject to an incomprehensible debate full of gobbledegook, which, on the one hand, is underpinned by the personal animosity towards selection of the Secretary of State and many of his old Labour colleagues and, on the other hand, by the confusion presented by the Bill, which appears to preserve the degree of selection which exists at the moment, until, that is, either the powers of the adjudicator are exercised and/or the one-sided balloting process is triggered.
If noble Lords want some amusing reading, I recommend the debates on the Bill in the other place on the distinction between ability and aptitude. If children can be selected on the basis of aptitude in order to match appropriate education, what is so evil about selecting children on the basis of ability? Can the Minister tell us whether, if a child has an aptitude for maths, science and technology, it is not true that that same child will also have an ability for those subjects?
People should be in no doubt about the policy behind the Bill. It is the socialist's dream: egalitarianism and statism. It means that some of the most successful aspects of our education system must be sacrificed on the altar of socialist dogma.
In the Bill 133 clauses and 31 schedules will give rise to 53 sets of regulations, 13 sets of guidance and two substantial codes of practice. The availability of draft versions of the codes of practice and drafts of many of the regulations are essential if this House is to perform its duty as a revising Chamber. In particular, where any regulations, when enacted, affect the future existence or future structure of a school or alter the provision of education for children at a school, the draft version of such regulations should be available to the House before Committee stage. That specifically includes the code of practice and regulations on admissions and all the regulations concerned with the future of grammar schools.
There are so many measures in the Bill that it is difficult to flag up all the areas upon which one would wish to comment. Some of my noble friends will concentrate on specific clauses. For example, my noble friend Lord Pilkington will address the issues of a burgeoning bureaucracy; my noble friend Lady Seccombe will speak to those clauses which deal with grammar schools; and my noble friend Lady Byford will address the issues which relate to governors.
I will say just a brief word on the subject of bureaucracy. I personally have never supported the taking of industrial action in education. However, it was significant that the reason for such disquiet among teachers who recently balloted for such action was the level of bureaucracy. The irony of the Government's response yesterday will not be lost on noble Lords. It was to promise a code of practice--yes, my Lords, another code of practice--to assist teachers in reducing the burden of bureaucracy. And yet, with the level of burdensome activity that will be spawned by this Bill, with its endless co-ordinating committees and numerous forums, where minutes will have to be kept and disseminated, and an educational development planning system which involves a paper chase starting with the school, via the local education authorities, up to the Secretary of State, then back to the local education authorities and back to schools--and all of this paper-chasing to be repeated if the Secretary of State is not satisfied with any aspect of those plans--it will take more than a code of practice to convince teachers that the Government mean business on this issue.
As far as Wales is concerned, I should welcome it if the Minister could list clause by clause all powers reserved to the Welsh assembly. The Minister kindly did that on the previous Bill and I hope that she will write to me on this matter. Meanwhile, the Bill gives us a foretaste of things to come. For example, as I understand it, the Secretary of State for Wales has the power to vary these provisions, so that it could become a very different system from that intended for England. Will the Minister clarify for the House whether the powers ceded to the Secretary of State for Wales are to be devolved to the assembly? Is it the Government's intention to apply to Wales any of the secondary legislation flowing from the Bill in advance of the assembly being established? Not only will I and my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy be deeply interested in the Minister's reply, but I suspect that so also will the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I shall not take sides on the issue
The interventionist nature of the Bill gives much cause for concern, not only for schools generally but especially among church schools. Why, for example, is it necessary for church schools to have to allow 14 days to elapse while seeking local education authority approval for candidates on a list for the appointment of a head or a deputy head? It is a ludicrous proposition. Are the Government suggesting, for example, that Lambeth, Islington or Hammersmith and Fulham local education authorities have a monopoly of wisdom in these matters? Are, for example, grant-maintained schools such as the Oratory, that highly successful school which is educating the Prime Minister's sons, and La Retraite, a Catholic girls' grant-maintained school in Lambeth which has gone from strength to strength since gaining its autonomy, not to be trusted to make staffing appointments without reference to local education authorities?
Has it not occurred to the Department for Education and Employment, and indeed to Ministers, that, where schools have been responsible for their own performance and their own management without reference to or interference by the local education authority, except by invitation, they have managed the appointments of staff remarkably well? Although there have been a number of helpful meetings between those representing Church schools and the department, some concerns still remain and we shall return to a number of detailed points at later stages of the Bill.
The Government's proposal to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds, while laudable in its aim, is not without its problems of implementation. So many questions on this were left unanswered in the other place. What does happen to the 31st child wishing to attend a village school which is many, many miles away from another school? What does happen to the 31st child wishing to attend a church school where there is no alternative church school in the area? Why could the Government not presume in favour of classes of 30 for five, six and seven year-olds while introducing some flexibility, even if it is controlled flexibility, for a school to accept one or two more children as long as it is underpinned by a consensus agreement of head, staff, governors and parents--or are they, too, not to be trusted?
Clauses 10 to 13, a mere four clauses, introduce proposals for the establishment of education action zones. I welcome the involvement of the private and voluntary sectors as partners in education. In fact, I am delighted that it was a Conservative government which pioneered such partnerships with the establishment of city technology colleges, which were the brainchild of my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, who is, sadly, unable to be present today, and in the subsequent development of technology colleges and specialist schools under my noble friend Lord Patten and my right honourable friend Gillian Shephard. They have been
However, I cannot remember such a wilful pre-emption of the will of Parliament as there has been over these proposals. This is one example in a long list of examples where power really has gone to the head of the Government. The contempt shown for Parliament and its processes is palpable. The Bill received its Second Reading on 22nd December. Bidding documents were sent out in January, not with the intention of informing interest groups which may be considering the proposals but inviting applications for the establishment of education action zones, with a closing date of 20th March. During that time, the Bill was still being considered by the other place. Extra finance for action zones was announced in the Budget, followed by a formal Statement to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Education, stating that five action zones would be in place by September this year, with a further 20 being up and running by January 1999.
I have asked on what authority that definitive Statement was made to both Houses, but to date I have not been told. This policy has yet to be discussed by this House and there are many questions to be answered about the implementation of what could be a far-reaching proposal which, if thought through properly and introduced on a more appropriate timescale, could be extremely exciting--although I have to admit to some reservations about a merger of such a large number of schools.
In just 18 weeks' time the first five action zones are to be in place, affecting up to 100 schools. Six of those weeks are taken up by school holidays. The Bill is unlikely to have received Royal Assent before July. Heads and staff will have to cope with planning for the coming academic year. Complicated contracts with private companies and/or other providers will have to be drawn up. New curriculum plans will need to be agreed. The action forum will have to be in place. The sharing and/or re-allocation of responsibilities will need to be determined. Plans for disapplication of teachers' pay and conditions will need to be drawn up; and parents, teachers and other school staff should be consulted. Much of this information should be worked out in outline and in some detail at the time of the application.
For example, what say will parents have, or have they had, in the drawing up of applications? I spoke to a parent recently in an area where I believe an application has been made and she was completely unaware of it. What assurance have parents been given that all this rushed activity will not interfere with the education of their children? Is the Minister really saying that all of this can be achieved in such a tight timescale without any disruption to the work of heads and their staff and the running of schools? If so, there must be a great deal of fallow time in the life of a teacher--a point I simply do not accept.
This is no way to introduce what could be an interesting approach to providing education with a view to raising standards. In fact we shall bring forward amendments to allow single schools to be run in
One of the most incongruous aspects of the Bill is that, where education is failing, the Government are prepared to free schools from the national curriculum, from national pay and conditions of service, and even from local authority control; and yet grant-maintained schools or grammar schools which have proved beyond doubt that they not only can manage without intervention by local authorities but also produce high quality education are to be brought back under control. Where is the logic in that?
One has to take at face value that the Prime Minister is content with the education his sons are receiving at the Oratory School. If so, why is it that he is prepared to see the particular form of home school agreements, which I presume he signed, outlawed by the Bill? And why is it that the instruments and articles of government are not to be tailored to the needs of each school, with the option of adopting model forms only if schools so wish?
There are so many contradictions in the Bill. The Government claim that they want high quality education. Yet they set up mechanisms to destroy the most successful grant-maintained and grammar schools. They oppose selection on the basis of ability. They support selection on the basis of aptitude. They agree to allow selection to continue where it presently exists, but then put in place measures to discontinue selection. What are we to make of that?
They allow parents within areas where there are grammar schools to petition and ballot for their demise but make no provision for parents to endorse proposals to change school structures, including the formation of action zones; and they deny the right of grammar schools to oppose a ballot. They exhort, quite rightly in my view, local authorities to pass more resources down to schools. Yet they have created a massive and costly increase in bureaucracy for local government with little promise of extra funding. They argue for greater simplicity. Yet they have created an unbelievably complex, convoluted and contradictory Bill. They argue that the Bill is about standards not structures, and yet, as we can now see for ourselves, it is about structures and bureaucracies.
Mr. Blair and Miss Harman have abandoned education in their respective local authorities and have sent their children to highly successful and autonomous grant-maintained and grammar schools. Yet they deny that right to future generations of children. What hypocrisy.
The Department for Education and Employment, LEA officials and egalitarians everywhere will rejoice in much of the Bill. The abolition of assisted places, which benefited many children from low income families preceded the Bill; and selection, the autonomy of grant-maintained schools and the very existence of grammar schools by the introduction of a rigged balloting system are all threatened.
It is a politically motivated Bill, egalitarian, statist and centralist in its philosophy: what cannot be done for everyone shall be done for no one. We shall fight vigorously to minimise its effects.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I begin, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, by looking forward to the maiden speeches. I happen to be the leader of a local education authority. The week before last we were privileged to have the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, open a new secondary school--the first secondary school built in my borough for over 30 years. He treated us to a splendid speech which addressed the parents, the teachers, the governors but most especially the pupils who were all present. If we are to hear half the speech today that we had then we are in for a treat. I suggested to the noble Lord that perhaps he should make his maiden speech in this debate today. His only concern was that as it was his maiden speech he was not allowed to be controversial. I should love to know what he would have said but feels unable to say.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, will feel no such inhibitions. If he wishes to be controversial, I am sure that we shall all--perhaps I should say all but one of us--look forward to his speech today.
I thank the Minister for the helpful and fairly detailed way in which she explained this massive Bill. It was no mean task to achieve in the relatively short time available to her. In responding for my party on the Bill, I am conscious that there will be many important aspects with which I shall not be able to deal today, although it is to be hoped that some of them will be referred to by my noble friends when they speak.
The Minister referred to the Bill having received a general welcome in another place. As I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I found it hard to detect any signs of a general welcome. The noble Baroness started by suggesting that old Labour had turned into new Labour and stated that the Bill was dominated by socialist dogma. I am not sure what dominates and distinguishes new Labour, but I am quite certain that it is not socialist dogma. The noble Baroness referred to a paper chase. I thought that that came rather rich from a party which introduced nursery vouchers. She referred to pre-legislative work in the introduction of education action zones. I thought that that, too, came a bit rich from the party which introduced nursery vouchers and extended the assisted places scheme to under 11 year-olds in the face of a general election which was virtually certain to reverse such a move.
My party gives a general welcome to the Bill. In another place we voted for it at both Second and Third Reading. I think that it is a better Bill as it leaves the Commons than when it arrived. But there are still many much needed improvements to be made, and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that we have an important role to play in this House.
Inevitably most of our considerations on the Bill will concentrate on issues about which we are not entirely happy and about some of which we are very unhappy. Therefore I wish to begin by referring to some of the issues in the Bill which come into the category of good. I welcome the emphasis on partnership and co-operation, components that are long overdue and very necessary. I welcome the recognition of the LEA's statutory role in raising standards; and the concentration on standards, although I shall say more about structure and framework later.
We welcome the drive to reduce class sizes. I shall say more about that later. We welcome the introduction of base line assessment; we welcome particularly the final end to nursery vouchers; and, last of all, we welcome the end of corporal punishment. We shall, I hope, hear no more on that subject following the passage of the Bill.
I turn to some of the general concerns we have about the Bill. Here, perhaps I do have a little more in common with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. The Bill, once again, gives yet more powers to the Secretary of State. The Labour Party in opposition joined with us during the passage of the Education Reform Act 1988 in deploring the fact that the measure gave some 500 additional powers to the Secretary of State. I have not yet done the calculation on this Bill but I would guess that there are something approaching another 100 powers being given to the Secretary of State--yet more centralisation.
So much of the Bill is again left to regulations, to codes of practice, to guidance notes, and so forth. I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that that is not acceptable. If it is to happen, such documents must, at the very least, come before the House.
The other area typified by the Bill, but more particularly in the regulations, the codes of practice and so on, which will follow, is the tendency of this Government to be so prescriptive in what they are doing--telling people how to do things, not what they should do. As I have said previously in this House, the role of the politician in education is to provide the framework and the resources and to set the targets. But, above all, it is to let the professionals do the job for which they have been trained. I can reflect this in my own household. I happen to be married to an infant schoolteacher. I am the leader of her LEA. It is my job to provide the resources, and she does occasionally remind me of that. However, it is her job to teach her children how to read and I would not presume to tell her, as a politician, how she should do that--I simply do not know. She has been trained and she does it very much better than I ever could.
I now turn to some of the specific provisions in the Bill; I shall omit quite a number. I have already referred to the desire to reduce infant class sizes, which we wholly support. I wonder what is the view of the Conservative Party on that now. I can remember, not so many months ago, being attacked from the Front Bench
We feel that the Government are not going far enough. We would wish to extend the drive to reduce class sizes to all primary school classes. I remind your Lordships that there are some 480,000 children aged under seven in primary schools but 780,000 aged over seven in those schools. We wish to see the programme extended, and in time, one hopes, it will be. In the meantime, although we strongly support the reduction in class sizes, we have concerns about the effect on the rest of the school.
In common with many of your Lordships we have concerns about how the policy is to be implemented, how rigidly it is to be applied--a point which has already been made--the effect in rural areas, and also about that infamous 31st child to which I am sure we will refer time and time again. These are crucially important matters but I do not wish to lose sight of our overall objective which is to achieve a reduction in infant class sizes.
Another concern I have, which perhaps belongs here, is that the Government seem very willing to legislate, for instance, about nutritional standards for school meals but very unwilling to legislate about minimum space standards in classrooms. I think, dare I say it, that that is an even more important issue. It may or may not be that children do or do not learn better with or without chips but I think it is undeniable that they learn better with a proper educational environment. That is something to which we shall return.
We welcome the proposed inspections of local education authorities. As I said earlier, I am leader of one such authority. I see nothing to fear and quite a lot to be gained from such inspections but I have to recognise that Ofsted has no experience in inspecting LEAs. I hope that the Audit Commission can also be engaged in partnership with Ofsted in such inspections. I believe that the Audit Commission has a very valuable role to play.
The proposals for educational development plans are welcome. I am sure that many LEAs already have them but it is important that they should be promoted. I shall have more to say about the role of the LEAs, particularly in relation to target setting, but I am conscious that we are in the midst of the consultation period on EDPs, which I believe ends on 8th May. That will coincide with the start of the Committee stage of the Bill. I wonder if the Minister can say at what stage she will be able to come to the House with the results of the consultation. It would be especially useful if the Government were able to say what they intended to do as a result of that consultation. In that way our
Next, education action zones. As the Minister will know, those proposals received a very enthusiastic response from my colleagues in the other place. I have to say, perhaps because I am from an LEA, that I am a little more cautious than they are, or perhaps I am just more cautious because I am in this place and not in the other place. I recognise that there is a great potential for education action zones. I am sure that at later stages of the Bill we will pay very close and positive attention to trying to get them more clearly understood and recognised, particularly the role of the LEA.
One specific concern to which I hope the Minister can respond is the need for an exit strategy. It may well be, in some circumstances, that a school will wish to, or need to, leave an education action zone early. What provision will there be to enable that to happen, by consent if that is appropriate? What is to happen at the end of the period of the education action zone when there will inevitably be some mismatch between schools within the zone and schools, probably in the same LEA area, which are not in the zone?
I turn to the rather more controversial and perhaps the "ugly" part of the Bill, and that is the framework. Our attitude to grant maintained status and grant maintained schools is well known. For many years we had that in common with the Labour Party when it was in opposition. It follows for us, although apparently not for the Government, that we now also oppose foundation status. We will return to that, I am sure, in greater detail. I am especially concerned about what I think it has to be said is the changed view of the Government on creating foundation special schools which, at an earlier stage in the Green Paper, they were suggesting were not appropriate--for reasons set out very well in that Green Paper--but which they now seem to feel are appropriate. We disagree. We believe there should simply be voluntary schools and community schools, and that community schools should all come within the framework of a light touch local education authority.
School organisation committees are possibly a good idea. They have a role to play, but it should be an advisory role. For better and sometimes for worse, the local education authority is the democratically elected authority and it should be the authority with the power. There is a valuable role for an advisory body and the partnership which we all welcome, but it is an advisory role. I regret, therefore, the establishment of what is in effect a quango to override the views and wishes of the democratically elected local education authority. We shall return to the membership of the school organisation committees.
I turn next to the other area where we on these Benches used to feel we had something in common with the Labour Party when in opposition. I refer to the whole issue of selection and partial selection. We all recall the speech of the present Secretary of State, not when he was the firebrand leader of Sheffield Council, but only a few years ago at the 1995 Labour Party conference--the "Watch my lips" speech. He must now
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, although from an opposite standpoint from mine, we look forward to interesting but, I suspect, not very illuminating debates on exactly what is the difference between selection by ability and selection by aptitude. I believe that such selection is wrong, and using a different "A" word does not make it right.
I turn now to admission arrangements. It is an enormously vexed question, particularly in smaller LEAs in larger conurbations. Last year, I believe, there were 62,900 appeals against allocation of school places. Those parents felt it was worth going through the anguish and trauma because they were so dissatisfied with the offer that had been made to them, or, in an increasing number of cases, because they were dissatisfied that no offer had been made to them. There must have been many more parents who accepted, albeit unhappily, the offer made to them.
Present admission arrangements are a nightmare. In outer London particularly and some other conurbations, the Greenwich judgment forbids LEAs giving preference to pupils living within their own area. The effect of that judgment has been devastating. In large numbers of LEAs now, over 20 per cent. of the secondary pupils come from outside the area. In some LEAs, it is much higher than that and in some schools it is considerably more than half. I speak with experience of my own LEA.
While we would not wish to discriminate against such pupils, it is increasingly hard for parents within an LEA to understand why their child cannot get a place at their local school--be it selective or non-selective--when a child who lives many miles away can get a place. In my borough in south west London, we have children travelling from Brighton every day to school. That cannot be right. I accept that the solution is difficult, but it must be found and the Bill is an opportunity for us to try to find it.
I have not dealt with many other important aspects of the Bill and I do not have time today to do so. For example, there is the whole question of home-school agreements, to which we shall return; and the role of governors, an increasingly onerous one but one we shall need to debate further. There is the suggestion of having parents' representatives on education committees. In one sense perhaps that is hard to oppose, but it smacks to me of tokenism, serving very little purpose. There is the whole wide area of nursery education and nursery provision which is different from having four year-olds in reception classes. There is the increasingly important and vexed area of exclusions, to which I know we shall pay much attention. I am uneasy about the role of the proposed adjudicator which seems to me rather akin to that of the Department of the Environment inspector in
The most important area which I shall deliberately not talk about is special educational needs. I shall not do so, not because I have nothing to say but because it is extremely important and I know that my noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood intends to refer to it in her speech. My noble friend Lord Addington will move amendments at a later stage to promote our views on it.
In conclusion, we will approach the Bill as a constructive opposition should. We will oppose vigorously those aspects with which we fundamentally disagree. As I said, most of those aspects are ones on which the Labour Party was once in agreement with us. But where we broadly agree--and that is on the greater part of the Bill--we will propose amendments to improve the Bill still further. We want the Bill to leave the House in a better state than when it arrived.
Lord Hattersley: My Lords, it is 34 years since I last made a maiden speech. Back in 1964, I was buoyed up by the brash confidence of youth and total ignorance of how many mistakes it is possible to make on such an occasion as this. Unfortunately, today I enjoy neither of those advantages. The height of my ambition is to make a wholly unmemorable maiden speech.
My apprehension is increased by the fact that since I took my seat in November, many noble Lords have stopped me in the precincts of the House and told me, in the nicest possible way, that I am a known constitutional reformer. I plead absolutely guilty to the charge. That is the product of a misspent youth. At the first political meeting I attended at the age of 11, the local Member of Parliament--second only in my hierarchy of heroes to Sir Leonard Hutton--said, when asked about the House of Lords: "Don't mend them; end them". He became a Viscount four years later.
Having said all that, I hope that I may be allowed to make a couple of comments about the Bill, including my appreciation and understanding of the honour it is to be able to do so as a Member of your Lordships' House. I see absolutely no paradox in having reservations about the institution and unashamed admiration for many of its Members, not least of whom is the other maiden speaker who is to follow me this afternoon. We met over 40 years ago at a lecture given by Professor Milton Friedman. He, having kept the rest of the audience in awe, was totally destroyed when a young man at the back said, "That's all very well, Professor Milton Friedman, but it doesn't make any sense to me". The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, may not find that all noble Lords' speeches are exactly of the kind she would welcome and applaud.
However, while I welcome much of the Bill, there is one part which I find nearly incomprehensible. I ask the Minister three questions which I believe obey the rule of non-controversiality because they are more to do with logic than ideology. They concern, of course, Clauses 93 to 97. I was very nearly reconciled to them when the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, described them as the beginnings of a socialist El Dorado--very nearly reconciled, but even on this ecumenical occasion, not quite.
My first question concerns Clause 97, the clause which allows selection not according to ability, but according to aptitude. Can my noble friend give us a definition of aptitude which is different from the definition of ability? She knows, because she is the great expert on these matters, that in practice whichever test is imposed produces virtually the same result. The same children go to a selective school whether they are chosen because of ability or aptitude. She knows too that choosing on aptitude or ability produces a hierarchy of schools in a specific area. I am sure that both my noble friend and the Government are opposed to the creation of hierarchical schools for many reasons with which I shall not weary the House this afternoon.
My second and third questions concern Clauses 94 and 99 to 101. Is it the Government's view that it is possible--I do not say "desirable"; I say "possible"--for comprehensive schools and selective schools to exist side by side within the same catchment area? That is the presumption upon which some clauses seem to be built. It seems to me to be a matter of logic rather than idealogy that if some schools are selective, by definition those which are next door to them cannot be comprehensive. I shall be grateful if my noble friend will offer me her expert opinion on that matter.
Finally, I have a question in relation to the whole of Chapter II, perhaps the whole of the Bill. The Secretary of State told us time after time that the Bill, like the policy, is based on the nostrum that the Government are concerned with standards, not structures--an idea which, in my view, he recklessly stole from an embarrassing little book on political philosophy from Mr. Peter Mandelson. Surely structure and standards cannot be separated. We may disagree across the House and perhaps on the Front Benches as to the best form of structure and organisation, but we choose the form which we prefer because we believe it produces the best results. There is no distinction between structure and standards. The Minister came very near to saying that in her introductory remarks this afternoon. Many of us will feel immensely reassured if she can confirm that the drive to change structures is intimately related to the drive to improve standards and that the two things cannot be separated.
I do not propose to occupy my final minutes with a litany of praise for those many parts of the Bill with which I agree. There is enough Back-Bench sycophancy in the other place to occupy two Houses of Parliament. I therefore content myself with saying to my noble friend that I ask my questions today in a rhetorical sense in the knowledge that one day I will be able to return to them in a more robust form when the obligation to avoid controversy no longer confines me. All I do today is express my thanks for your Lordships' courtesy and repeat what a great privilege it is on this occasion-- and a few others in the future--to speak in such distinguished company.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I have the privilege of being the first of your Lordships to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, on his maiden speech. I must tell him that his ambition was not realised. I cannot imagine that anything he said would be unmemorable and I am sure that his first speech in your Lordships' House will remain with us. In particular, the questions addressed to his noble friend on the Front Bench will remain with us during the debates on the Bill, especially in relation to aptitude and the placing side by side of non-selective and selective schools. His first point in relation to standards is one that I want to take up later.
I thank the noble Lord for a speech which was full of the wisdom, experience and native wit which we have come to expect from him. I look forward to his enlivening your Lordships' proceedings in the future. I look forward also to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, many of us have sat at his feet in the past and we look forward to doing so again in this House.
I must first declare an interest. I speak as the chairman of the Church of England Board of Education and chairman of the Churches Joint Education Policy Committee. I shall therefore be speaking in this Second Reading debate from the perspective of Church schools. The School Standards and Framework Bill is the most significant piece of educational legislation since the Education Reform Act 1988 and, arguably, since the 1944 Act.
The Churches were major partners in the 1944 settlement. They have continued to make a distinguished and distinctive contribution to the total education provision in this country. Church schools today are widely acknowledged as providers of excellent education. I welcome the Government's support for Church schools and their intention to preserve their place and character. I am grateful to the Minister for articulating those intentions yet again this afternoon.
When the proposals for consultation were published last year, the suggested framework raised considerable difficulties for Church schools. In particular, the placing of controlled schools in the foundation category with former grant-maintained schools was an unhappy arrangement. Grant-maintained schools have deliberately chosen to leave the local education
Other proposals affected the foundation governor balance of aided schools, the religious education arrangements for different categories of schools, the powers of the adjudicator and a range of other issues. The proposed framework meant that, in the Church's view, a substantial shift was taking place which might well jeopardise the future of Church schools. That view was at first resisted by the Government. The Secretary of State assured Church schools in a letter to the Daily Mail last August that they had nothing to fear. Continuing and strong representations were made and the force of the arguments (coupled with media coverage) resulted in a number of changes which are embodied in the Bill.
From the perspective of Church schools it is now a very much better Bill than as originally proposed, as the Minister said in her introductory speech. The categories have been changed so that Church-aided and controlled schools together form the voluntary category. Other issues, many of them quite detailed, have been resolved in consultation. The level of consultation between civil servants of the Department for Education and Employment and the staff of the Catholic Education Service, the Church of England Board of Education and the Free Church Council has been high. That has been matched by consultation at ministerial and Church leader level.
The Churches believe that the majority of our concerns have been met. I thank the Minister, her colleagues in government and the staff of her department for their willingness to listen and to work in partnership with the Churches. I also express the thanks of the Churches for the changes which have been made in the Bill to meet our concerns.
A number of concerns remain, to which I shall refer in a moment. But before doing so, I move from framework to standards and pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. A proper framework is essential for the delivery of standards; the two cannot be separated. The Churches make no apology for the energy we have expended on getting the framework right, particularly in relation to Church schools. Of course we share the aspirations of the Government and the country as a whole for the raising of standards and believe that we need to get the structure right in order to do so.
Church schools are widely regarded as excellent schools, delivering high standards not only of test and examination performance but also of personal development, growth and maturity. I should like to dwell for a moment upon that aspect of education.
People are not tools to be improved and honed in order to make a contribution to a better economic performance. It is a travesty of education to see it in such terms. Each of us is an individual, unique and distinct, with personal dimensions of existence which characterise who we are and where we belong. The significance of the spiritual and moral dimensions and the framework of values in which they are set cannot be
The debate over spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is not peripheral to educational attainment and achievement but at the heart of it. Church schools, undergirded by a community of faith with a common sense of belonging and a shared belief, are able to focus on education in a wide sense, providing a framework of shared values and pastoral concern in the setting of a belief system. That is perhaps something of the secret of their success. In the Churches, we are broadly satisfied with the developing system for monitoring the delivery of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and we wish to continue emphasising the supreme significance of this whole area of education.
Mention of the significance of the individual leads me on to the importance of measuring achievement against potential. To measure achievement in absolute terms and to be dominated by the tyranny of the league tables may well lead a school to exclude subtly, by one means or another, those whose performance may affect such tables. I am thinking here, for instance, of those with special educational needs--I look forward very much to the contributions from the Liberal Democrat Bench on this theme--and those with behavioural difficulties. They need as much attention as any youngster, and responsibility to them should not be abdicated for the sake of a better position in the tables. The majority of schools, voluntary and county, resist this temptation, but we need to be reminded of the importance of this issue.
I indicated earlier that the Churches have a number of continuing concerns. I should like briefly to mention them. The concern mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is not one that we share with the same intensity as she expressed. I refer to the matter of the 14-day period for consultation with the local education authority on the appointment of staff to aided schools. When it was a consultation that had to take place after the meeting of the appointing committee, it was a much more difficult issue, requiring a 14-day delay before a member of staff or a head could be appointed. Now that it takes place at the shortlisting stage rather than at the appointment stage it causes fewer difficulties for the Churches.
However, a number of important concerns do remain, not least the Human Rights Bill and its consequences for voluntary, and particularly aided, schools. The Human Rights Bill embodies in British legislation the European Convention on Human Rights. The Churches, as I made clear in the debates on the Bill, support its thrust but we are concerned that its provisions may work to the detriment of the Churches. Among these issues are those relating to Church schools. This matter was brought up at the Report and Third Reading stages of the Human Rights Bill. During those stages the Lord Chancellor said that it was entirely right that a governing body should appoint or dismiss a senior staff member of a school whose beliefs or way of life were not appropriate to the school concerned. An amendment embodying a similar provision was passed in your Lordships' House at Third Reading.
I saw the Home Secretary over this issue and he invited me to write to him so that he could discuss whether this Bill--the School Standards and Framework Bill--was an appropriate place for some of the safeguards which your Lordships inserted into the Human Rights Bill. I have written in response to his invitation. I should like to ask the Minister whether she is in a position to comment on whether such safeguards are intended in this Bill.
Let me briefly mention a number of other issues. First, on the issue of class sizes, the Churches support this policy but we do have concerns about the impact both upon schools and upon children. This issue is giving cause for great concern among heads and governors. There are practical issues of implementation and there are uncertainties in relation to funding. It is of great importance that these issues should be quickly resolved. Many Church schools serve an identified area or community. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has already said, what will happen to the 31st child in such schools? We need urgently to have answers to the questions that we are raising.
There is an issue over the part of the Bill relating to schools that are causing concern. At the present moment, under existing legislation, the Secretary of State has power to appoint an education association to run a failing school. That power originates in the 1993 Act. At that time we were able to secure two safeguards for Church schools: first, where an education association was to be appointed to conduct a Church school, the appropriate diocesan authority was to be consulted; secondly, where the school in question was a voluntary school, at least one member of the education association was to have experience of voluntary schools.
The power to appoint an education association is to be replaced by the power of the Secretary of State, in extreme circumstances, to appoint additional governors. In the case of a Church school, these governors will be additional to the existing governors, and that includes the foundation governors. Since the foundation governors are already present, we do not press for the Secretary of State's additional governors to include people with voluntary school experience. However, it has to be remembered that if additional governors were appointed by the Secretary of State to an aided school, the foundation majority would be lost. Moreover, where the Secretary of State exercises this power to appoint additional governors, the diocesan authority's power to appoint additional governors is lost. In the circumstances, in order to maintain the status quo, we would wish to see on the face of the Bill a requirement that the Secretary of State should consult the appropriate diocesan authority before appointing additional governors for a Church aided school.
We have continuing concerns in the area of the change of school category. We remain concerned about the proper level of diocesan or Church authority involvement in decisions of schools to change category. We are also concerned about similar involvement in changes within a category. With the new category of voluntary now proposed, changes from controlled to aided or aided to controlled would be within a category.
The Bill will produce a new regime on grant funding for aided schools and also on the recovery of state-funded assets when school sites are sold. The Churches accept the principle of recycling embodied in this part of the Bill but we have concerns about the details of such arrangements and will be raising those concerns in Committee.
Mention has already been made of school organisation committees. There will be a number of groups on the committees. Our understanding is that each of those groups will have a single vote. So the Church of England group will have a single vote on the Committee and the Catholic Church group will have a single vote. Decisions, therefore, are required to be unanimous. That means that the Churches have virtually a veto in that their vote is required to secure that unanimous decision; otherwise the matter is referred to the adjudicator.
It was on this understanding of the voting procedure that we accepted the concept of the school organisation committee in principle. However, we are concerned that the voting requirements are to be left to regulations. While we can accept the Government's assurance that regulations will make the provisions which the Government say they will, the Churches' position is nevertheless vulnerable because, whatever the first regulations provide, they can always be changed in the future if perhaps the rights of the Churches are found by some to be inconvenient. We look, therefore, for these voting requirements to be on the face of the Bill and not left to regulation.
There is an issue, perhaps a rather surprising one, in relation to collective worship. Since the Education Reform Act 1988 all schools are required to have an act of collective worship, and in county schools this must be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character unless a SACRE has determined otherwise. Surprisingly, in voluntary schools there is no such requirement. This gap is perpetuated in the Bill. In community schools and in foundation schools without a religious character, the worship must be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character. In voluntary schools and foundation schools with a religious character, the Bill, as previous Bills, is silent as to the character of their collective worship.
It may be that this is prescribed by the school's trust deed, but that is not always so. The trust deeds of Church of England schools do not invariably contain express provision for collective worship. There is therefore an anomaly here that secular schools will be required to have a broadly Christian collective worship but schools with a Christian religious character will not. For that reason we shall be seeking provisions in the Bill so that collective worship for schools with a religious character is clearly stated to be collective worship which is in accordance with that character. That will not force unwelcome changes on Church schools in multicultural areas; it will merely endorse and validate the existing
I have indicated the areas of concern and we shall be returning to them at Committee stage. I believe that this Bill is vastly improved on its original proposed form. I look forward to working in your Lordships' House to improve it yet further.
Lord Dearing: My Lords, I rise with much diffidence and anxiety, but reassured by your kind words of greeting for which I give my thanks. I am conscious that it is the tradition of the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, said, for a maiden speech to be brief and non-controversial. I am delighted to be able to speak briefly, but to be non-controversial in education will challenge all the expertise that I developed in 33 years as a civil servant when one's proud aspiration--if one was persuaded from one's cupboard to speak--was then to sit down in the sure knowledge that one had said absolutely nothing of any significance whatever.
While I am new to this game, I have to confess that my apprenticeship goes back 40 years to when, on one occasion in 1958, I sat in the Officials Box as a private secretary to Lord Mills, the Minister of Power. He was dealing with the Committee stage of the Opencast Coal Bill. He came to a particular amendment and delivered himself of the very full and expert brief kindly provided by his officials. He thankfully sat down. Lord Ridley, who was well known to be expert on that Bill--whereas it was equally well known that Lord Mills was not--thanked Lord Mills for his long speech, but asked for clarification and amplification. Then followed one of the most agonising ages of my life. Lord Mills rose to his feet to respond. He looked anxiously at the long text that he had been given. I sat there totally unable to help. The silence grew and grew. Then inspiration descended on Lord Mills. He looked Lord Ridley in the face and said, "I thought I had made myself perfectly clear". He said a few more words and sat down and thus outfaced Lord Ridley, thanking him most courteously for what he had said and promising to read Hansard.
That experience taught me much of the character of this House: its courtesy, kindliness and understanding and that a Minister, however gifted--of course, I know from my Civil Service years that all Ministers are outstandingly able and gifted--occasionally needs a little time for reflection. That is the point I shall return to at the conclusion of my remarks.
Mindful of the need to be non-controversial, I carefully scripted my speech last week only to realise to my horror yesterday, reading the evening papers, that the subject I had chosen was leading to industrial action. I found myself looking at my notes this morning in much the same spirit as Lord Mills and thinking what on earth shall I do? I came to the conclusion that perhaps at small risk I might address one or two points in the Bill.
On more than one occasion I have quoted the remarks made by Disraeli about 125 years ago that the future of the people of this country rests in the eduction of the people of this country. We must all applaud a Bill whose
But when I say that, I have a particular concern that in raising standards we should have regard in particular for that 20 per cent. who succeed least in our educational system. As the investment one has in one's education becomes more and more important to one's life, the danger is that, unless we are careful, we shall have a fractured society in which we have 20 per cent. who have lost out as a result of our inability to serve them well in their years of compulsory schooling.
As I read the Bill it struck me that there are three particular sections which appeal to me in that context. The first is its concern in Chapter I with class sizes in the first years of schooling, for it is in those early years that the battle for the beginnings of mastery in the basics of literacy begin to be won or lost. If good progress is not made in those early years the child is handicapped and tends to retrogress in relation to his or her peers because of the gap between him and them in the ability to master our national language. More time with the teacher will be particularly valuable to those children.
Linked to that are Clauses 103 and 104 which are about home-parent agreements. I rank the involvement of parents in the education of their children, in partnership with the school, as being outstandingly important. Perhaps the greatest gift that a parent has to give to a child, apart from parental love in these years, is to be constructively, patiently, lovingly engaged in supporting the school in the education of the child. So I welcome the concept of bringing parents into that kind of relationship with home-school agreements. Paper is fine; but what matters much more is the action of people. I admire so much those head teachers and teachers who go "on the knocker" after school to meet parents and to ensure that they are involved with the teachers in the education of the children.
My third and last reference to the Bill relates, I believe, to Clauses 105 and 106, which give a broadening of opportunities for 14 to 16 year-olds which is so important. Those clauses are concerned with work experience which is valuable to all, giving in controlled, thought-through circumstances an opportunity for 14 to 16 year-olds to take part of their education in a further education college. I have in mind here those young people who have felt that the normal school education had nothing for them. They had, as it were, switched out. They were destined to leave at 16 with the conclusion that education was not for them. What a disaster for their lives!
These openings of opportunities at 14 to 16 years of age give a second chance to kindle interest and enthusiasm and the realisation that the basics of formal education are relevant to the business and enjoyment of life. When I was working in the educational world of schools, I remember contending for the introduction of a version of that impossibly named GNVQ for children between 14 and 16 years of age. I was rather disappointed that the last government would not go with me in the rapid introduction of that opportunity for 14 to 16 year-olds in order to help these young people
From my old trade as a civil servant perhaps I may presume to offer a word of counsel. We should take a little time to get it right. We have a history of being, understandably, in haste but getting it wrong. I believe that spending a little time on getting the procedures right will greatly benefit this well-intentioned Bill.
Baroness Young: My Lords, it is my great pleasure to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, on his admirable maiden speech. He comes to this House with wide experience in the Civil Service, industry and education. We are all very conscious that at the time of the passage through this House of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill his name was constantly bandied about. His report has been constantly referred to and has been read with admiration by all those who follow educational matters. It is a particular pleasure to hear him today. We look forward to hearing him on many occasions. I should like to put to him one question. When I read his entry in Who's Who I was interested to note that his recreations included car boot sales. I was not quite sure whether his interest was as a buyer or seller. He may wish to have a conversation with a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House, whose personal living arrangements have been much in the news, as to whether he might offer him a little advice as a result of his hobbies.
I also offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, to whom I also listened with great admiration. I often read his articles in the newspapers and magazines with very great pleasure. I assure him that I did not believe his speech, which was splendid, to be written either by Mr. Mandelson or Mr. Campbell.
We have before us today a Bill of immense length and complexity. It is almost impossible to master the whole of it unless one has an army of research assistants, which I do not, let alone read and digest all of the documents that go with it. The best that one can do in a Second Reading speech is to try to draw out some of the principles of the Bill--or should I say prejudices?--which lie behind it. We can expect a long and contentious Committee stage as we attempt to examine the Bill in detail--and examine it we must. Like so much of what the Government have produced by way of legislation, many of the important details have been left out or remain uncertain. This kind of policy is now known in Mandelsonspeak as transparency.
I turn to the constitutional issues raised by the Bill. There are at least 53 sets of regulations under the Bill which are still to be tabled. They leave out a great deal of what we have to discuss. I was interested to hear the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon on this matter. I have no doubt that others will make similar comments. During the passage of the Teaching and Higher Education Bill noble Lords found it difficult to discuss much of the Bill because it was simply a skeleton. At times the debate descended into almost a farce. I wonder if we shall see the same thing today.
My noble friend Lady Blatch set out so clearly the problems raised by education action zones. I understand that decisions on these must be taken by April. One wonders whether there is any point in debating them at all in your Lordships' House or whether all of the decisions have already been taken and noble Lords are just here as a rubber stamp. I believe that education action zones are one of the more interesting and important developments in the Bill. They are to do with standards. It would be a very unhappy course of events if our remarks were to be of no account at all because all of the important decisions had already been taken. For a House, whose principal function is to revise Bills, to be left out in this way is a constitutional insult.
The Bill is entitled "Standards and Framework". I agree with other speakers that there is considerably more about framework than standards, although exactly the opposite was promised in the White Paper Excellence in Schools. I am driven to the conclusion that, just as the Labour Party believed for very many years that it could solve all the economic problems of the United Kingdom by a great state plan, it now believes that by this Bill it can solve all of the educational problems by a huge plan all laid out in embarrassing complexity.
We have seen one change after another from the Labour Party. It was entirely opposed to the tripartite system. It was a great believer in comprehensive schools which were brought in with very little experience of them and which it now claims have failed entirely. It now intends to go for something else: community
In this framework there are 66 powers for local education authorities and 77 powers for the Secretary of State. That is a good deal to put on poor teachers who at the end of the road are responsible for delivering what takes place in schools. I am hardly surprised that some threaten to strike. Like my noble friend Lady Blatch, I have never supported teachers who strike, but I understand their exhaustion at the volume of regulations to which they are subjected.
I cannot resist mentioning that the long arm of the Secretary of State has reached down into school meals and school lunches in Clause 107. I shall be delighted to see what comes out of this. I offer a piece of free advice. When the school meals service reaches the proper nutritional standards Ministers should remember the old proverb that one can take a horse to water but cannot make it drink. The truth of the matter is that governments can only provide the circumstances in which high standards can be achieved. All those who take an interest in educational matters know perfectly well that high standards depend more than anything else on the head of the school and the standards that he or she sets, the expectations that he or she determines for the pupils, the leadership that he or she gives to the staff and the co-operation that he or she can inculcate in parents. No exhortations, plans, or anything else, are a substitute for those basic facts.
As we know, good schools are consumer-led. Parents identify with them, as of course we know the Prime Minister and Mrs. Harman have done. Perhaps I may offer a word about school governors. They have an important role to play. I have been a governor of independent schools and maintained schools: of a grammar school and of a secondary modern school. There is much that a governor can and should do. If one has a bad head teacher it is difficult for any governor to put right the difficulties that a school faces. It is no use pretending that sending in a few new governors will put the school right. Schools do not work in that way.
If the Government really want high standards--I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, and accept that they would like to see high standards--we need to look at their track record. In the Teaching and Higher Education Bill they have signalled the end of Oxbridge as internationally renowned universities. The report in The Times of yesterday merely confirms the fears we all had during the passage of that Bill.
The Government have already disposed of the assisted places scheme which meant so much to a number of poor children who benefited from independent schools. I think today of a girl who has just got a place at Oxford, who would unquestionably have failed to get anywhere had she been left in the area in which she lived.
The Bill signals--it is no use dressing schools up in another name--the ending of grant-maintained schools, regarded, of course, as good enough for the Prime Minister's children, and I am not surprised. Although
I have been honoured to be a patron of a grant-maintained school in Lambeth called St. Martin- in-the-Fields. Nearly 90 per cent. of its pupils come from the ethnic minorities. It went grant-maintained in 1993. It has no sixth form. It takes pupils up to GCSE. It has raised its standards. In 1993 only 19 per cent. of pupils achieved A to C grades. But since then, despite difficult circumstances, it has raised its standards and the percentage of pupils achieving those grades has risen to 35 per cent.
To go to that school is to be inspired. It has a wonderful head; a sense of purpose and order; and there is pride in being at the school. What is wrong with that? It is good. Why should we apologise for grant-maintained schools? The Minister read out the letter from the grant-maintained schools organisation that I have also received. I sometimes wonder what lies behind such things. I know, as many of us know, that when ballots were being held for schools to go grant-maintained, teachers, schools and parents were subjected to an endless stream of abuse, and propaganda against the exercise. I suspect that they are being subjected in a similar way now that the Bill is before us.
I make no apology for the success of the grant-maintained schools. I think only of the children who attend them, and the upheaval that the Bill will cause them. They will lose their independence. They will have LEA-appointed governors. There will be restrictions on their admissions criteria, and their financial autonomy is ended. It is easy to talk about co-operation: we all want to see it. It is a pity that we did not see a bit more co-operation when we were in government and Labour controlled many local authorities. There was not much co-operation then from anyone in respect of anything that they did not want.
Let us turn to the grammar schools. They will be subject to ballots. We do not know how the ballots will work. I must read the Minister's speech carefully because it was complicated and difficult to follow. Apparently 20 per cent. of parents will trigger a ballot, but we do not know who will be entitled to vote, what will be the circumstances of the voting, and who will monitor it.
One thing of which we can be sure--bad as it will be for the pupils--the staff will be the ones who will be judged. Just imagine being subject to a vote on whether one's school has done well enough. What would be one's first thought? "I don't think I am going to stay in this school much longer. Not only will there be a vote this year, I may be subject to a vote in five years' time". That will result in total uncertainty for the pupils and for the staff. I am at a loss to understand how that is expected to raise standards. I hope that someone will explain it during our debates. It is the most unpleasant way of trying to finish off the 161 remaining grammar schools.
We shall all enjoy the debates on aptitude and ability. It reminds me of one of the essays that I was asked to write when I was an undergraduate: "What is the difference between aptitude and ability? Discuss". I feel that we may have a long and interesting debate on that subject, but perhaps the Government have the answer to that question. It will be interesting to hear it.
I shall deal briefly with Church schools. I support what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon said about the Human Rights Bill. That is an important matter. It interlocks with this Bill. I shall be interested to hear what amendments the Government will come forward with to protect the Church schools from the effects of that piece of legislation.
Church schools, too, are to change their status. I am astonished by the complicated arrangements which, at the end of the day, will mean that someone called the adjudicator--it is difficult to find out how he or she will be chosen; for what length of time they will be in office; what their credentials will be--will determine all these difficult issues such as the Church schools' admission policies about which parents worry so much. No doubt we can return to that point in Committee.
I should like to mention home/school agreements, with which I agree; the problem of exclusions; and the whole issue of nursery schools, but time does not allow. I shall conclude, because the right reverend Prelate mentioned the point, with the issue of religion in schools. Like many people, I was concerned by the reported remarks of Michael Barker, who I understand is regarded as the Government's leading expert thinker on this issue, suggesting that global citizenship might replace religious values in schools. I hope that that is not the case. Many of us believe that spiritual and religious values have a real place in the education of every child. I shall return with amendments on that issue in Committee.
This is an unfortunate piece of legislation. It will not raise standards. It will unsettle thousands of children, to say nothing of the teachers. It is so far removed from the reality on the ground that it is difficult to bridge the gap. I say those words, not in anger but in sorrow. I have been around this track before, and no doubt we shall go around this track again. There was a moment when we might have reached agreement on education policy. That moment is not now. This is not a good Bill and I look forward to the Committee stage when I shall challenge the Government on some of its detail.
Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, today's debate has been enhanced by the two excellent maiden speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said that the characteristics of this House are courtesy and kindness. His speech indicated that he would add not only to that
Unlike the two noble Baronesses opposite, I welcome the Bill. It is only one of several measures--some legislative, some administrative and some financial--which underpin the Government's claim to put education at the head of their priorities. As was said by the right reverend Prelate, it is an important Bill, probably one of the most important for many years. For me, it is particularly important because it sets the framework for an education system which allows children to begin with nursery and progress through primary, secondary and then further and higher education.
Previously, the school system failed the needs of the nation. There is no legitimate reason why British school children should do less well than their peer groups in other countries. I am sure that they are not innately less intelligent. On the whole, however, British children have not performed as well as those peer groups. Fewer have left school with qualifications and the drop-out of those proceeding to further and higher education has been greater. Surely, that must have something to do with the structure of the system as well as the schools themselves. I hope that the Bill will redress that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made much of the fact that the Bill deals with structures. It dealt more with structures than standards, she said. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the right reverend Prelate also referred to structures. Like my noble friend Lord Hattersley, I believe that structures are very important and inseparable from standards. I hope that the structures now being put in place will be a great help in raising standards throughout the system. They should certainly break down the barriers between systems, particularly between the grammar schools and other schools. We have tried previously to establish parity of esteem; I hope that this time we will succeed.
The Bill is complicated. In that respect, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, although there was little else in her speech with which I agreed. It is not possible to deal with all its clauses today and therefore I shall pick out only one or two for comment. It is important to include nursery education and I welcome that. Nursery education has not been given the required attention, yet research shows just how important early learning is to future progress. I therefore welcome that part of the Bill. No doubt as we proceed through the various stages we shall need to look closely to ensure that enough is being done. However, that part of the Bill, the guidance on the early years, published last year, and money made available in the Budget are to be welcomed.
The second important area on which I wish to comment is the concentration on standards. LEAs and the schools have a duty placed on them to improve standards. I welcome the enhanced role given to local education authorities. I know that that may not be a
While schools retain a large amount of autonomy, surely it is right for local education authorities to have an overall strategic approach to all the schools in their area. I welcome the idea of the rolling programme, which must take into account not only standards, targets and other school issues, but also wider issues which impinge on educational demands. I refer to issues such as demographic, ethnic and changing economic and social factors which are important in the planning of education provision. Balancing the roles of the LEAs and the schools is crucial if the system is to be effective.
On first reading the Bill I thought that it was grudging in the scope that it gave to LEAs. However, the draft code of practice on LEA/school relations clarifies what the balance will be. As we look closely at the provisions we shall have to take into account the draft code of practice.
There are bound to be tensions in many areas--for example, admissions--which need a co-ordinated policy across the LEAs. Admission policy should not be looked at separately from the planning of places. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, commented on that issue. It appears that a number of separate bodies will deal with related problems and I wish to ask my noble friend whether that is necessary.
Furthermore, there are likely to be tensions in respect of exclusions. They affect not only the school involved, but also other schools in the area which might be expected to take in the excluded children. I believe that all noble Lords are concerned about the growing number of exclusions. I understand that the latest DfEE statistics show that in 1995-96 the number of permanent exclusions was 12,500 from primary schools and special schools in England, an 18 per cent. increase on the previous year. That is very important and something which we must take great care to get right. But surely it is an area where the LEA must have a role above that of an adviser. Again, I ask my noble friend whether she feels it appropriate at this time to remove the LEAs' right to overturn exclusions. That is very much part of their strategic role.
Very much welcomed on this side of the House, although I accept not on the other, is the ending of the assisted places scheme and the use of the money to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven year-olds. Smaller classes have a central contribution to make in raising standards. As my noble friend said, surely it is right for money to be spent on the many and not just the few. I believe that spending money in that way on five, six and seven year-olds will be much more beneficial in raising standards across the board.
This brings me to the whole question of admissions and parental choice. There should be a genuine choice for parents to select the school for their children. At present, in many areas, it is more like schools selecting their pupils than parents selecting the school. However, we must recognise that it is difficult to match the choice
However, I am glad that for the five, six and seven year-olds, for the primary schools, there will be no conflict between parental choice and providing a place. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is shaking her head. She asked what would happen to the 31st child of a village school. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon also raised that point, as did other noble Lords. I draw their attention to the point made by the Minister responsible for school standards, Stephen Byers, in the Standing Committee on the Bill in another place on 19th February, when he said that by September 2001 no child will be in a class of more than 30 pupils and where possible children will be in their preferred schools. In rural schools, he added, extra money will be provided for a new teacher so that a child can attend the local school in a class of 30 or fewer. He also said that extra teachers and some additional capital resources will be concentrated on schools which are popular with parents so that more children can attend those schools but in smaller classes.
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