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Baroness Blackstone: I thought that I had already clearly explained that it is the Government's intention to meet parental preference, especially one of this sort where there is a double reason why parents might want to send a child to a particular school: first, because it is a denominational school and they are members of the Church concerned; and, secondly, the fact that a sibling is already in attendance. It is our intention to ensure that children aged five, six or seven are in classes containing no more than 30 and that they are able to attend a school of their choice. I have already said--and my noble friends made it clear in the earlier discussion--that we will make the resources available to make that possible.
Baroness Blatch: I have two questions for the Minister. She said that the defence as regards the provision for SENs is referred to in the guidance document. I notice that a good deal of the guidance document does not in fact feature in the draft regulations document. That is a worry for us and one to which we shall certainly return on Report. The noble Baroness said that the reason for it is that SENs very often appear outside the cycle of the normal admission arrangements. However, that is also the case with gypsy families, with many children who have just arrived in a village and with the children of military families who have just returned from a posting in another area. Indeed, children are always arriving and leaving outside of the normal admissions policies.
It seems extraordinary that the policy allows for the payment for the 31st child if it is a child without special educational needs, but if a child arrives with special educational needs he or she is not part of what I will call from now on, "the McIntosh formula". The Minister referred to local education authorities and said that it is not a question of there being no money available because LEAs will be asked to provide. However, do the LEAs which are asked to provide in those circumstances--not the 31st child without special educational needs but the 31st child, or more, with special educational needs who is put into a school thereby breaking the 30-maximum barrier--come under the reimbursement programme? In other words, do they fall under the McIntosh formula? It seems to me that LEAs will be quite anxious if they believe that they will be expected to provide every time a child with special educational needs is assigned to a school where the maximum limit of class size has been broken.
Paragraph 13 refers to parental preference. The noble Baroness said that where possible parental preference must be met. Paragraph 13 does not state that local education authorities should meet parental preference where possible, but places a responsibility on them to enhance parental preference and go beyond that provision at present. There is an inconsistency in the answers given by the noble Baroness. We know that a
Baroness Blackstone: I have just said that we shall sustain parental preference in those circumstances. As regards a child with special educational needs, I should make clear that any exceptions made for these reasons will apply for the remainder of that academic year only. That is clearly set out in paragraph 8 of the document. As regards the point about resources, any child with special educational needs who is placed in a mainstream school will require additional resources--at least in most cases--but that applies at present. We would expect LEAs to make that provision. There is nothing new about that and it will continue under this legislation.
Baroness Blatch: What is new is the new policy which involves applying a pledge; namely, that no class shall contain more than 30. We have heard of a number of exceptions to the 30 rule, which trigger a new teacher, except in the case of children with special educational needs where that does not apply. The noble Baroness argues that that is because those children have entered a school outside the admissions cycle. However, that is the case with many other children. I have given examples of children of military families and gypsy children who enter schools outside the admissions cycle. If they are accepted, they will trigger a new teacher. Will the 31st special educational needs child trigger the McIntosh formula?
Baroness Blackstone: It is unusual for people in the military to send their children to a new school half-way through a term. These days military personnel can normally place their children in a new school at the beginning of a school term. Gypsy children move around and there has always been a difficult problem as regards adequately accommodating their needs. As regards special educational needs children, they constitute an exception to the pledge. They are not part of the pledge. I have made it clear that an exception is being made for those children who need to have an appropriate school place made available for them in a mainstream school--the most appropriate school for them--within the school year. As I said, that is an exception to the pledge. The local education authority is expected to provide those resources. They are not in any way part of the pledge. I hope I have made that clear.
Baroness Young: We have had a good discussion on these important issues concerning aided and foundation schools. I am sure the Committee is glad of the further information that has been forthcoming, particularly on the point of the 15 per cent. capital costs. I note that the right reverend Prelate nods his head. However, there is always a downside to all these matters because once one gives up one's proportion of the money, one loses many of one's bargaining counters. However, that is a matter for the Church which will determine what it wants to do.
None of us knows for certain how all this will work out because we are entering new territory, irrespective of whether it is a manifesto commitment. I admire the confidence of the noble Baroness; I wish I had it myself. She said with complete confidence that the Government undertake that every parent will have their choice of school and at the same time no class will comprise more than 30. Let us hope she is right. It will be interesting to see what emerges as regards the appeals procedure. As regards the aided and foundation schools, what will happen when a child is admitted in error, when perhaps the child's parents are not committed? It will be interesting to see how that develops in future.
I apologise to my noble friend Lady Carnegy if I misinterpret what she said. However, I should have thought that as a general rule in life when introducing a new policy it is a good idea to check whether it is already in operation and to ascertain how it works in practice. The Scottish experience indicates perfectly clearly that parental choice does not operate for many parents. I suspect that that will be the case with the measure we are discussing. Regrettably it can be seen that this Government say everything which they think people want to hear. They think that by saying it often enough they will be able to bring it off. I do not think they will be able to do so. I believe many parents will find that they may obtain 30 in a class but they will not obtain parental choice. This is a matter for the future--
Baroness Blackstone: I should make it absolutely clear that I did not say that every single parent will always obtain their preference. I said that under existing provisions a number of parents cannot obtain their first preference where a school is hugely oversubscribed. Nothing that we are doing under this legislation will alter that. I said that we will do everything we can, working with local education authorities and the Churches, to ensure that we maximise the degree of parental preference. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I made it clear that if there is a double reason why a child should attend a particular school--it may be a denominational school and the child's parents are members of the Church with which the school is associated and there is a sibling at the school--we should try to accommodate that, but I did not say that every single child or every single parent will always obtain their first preference. That has never been the case and it never could be in the case of oversubscribed schools.
Baroness Young: I accept what the noble Baroness has said but I believe she certainly gave the impression that that was what she meant. A year after the coming into office of this Labour Government we have come to understand that this is the case as regards almost every issue. Some people are taken in by their talk, but "old hands" see through it immediately. We have had a good debate. I said this was a probing amendment and that I would not press it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.