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Lord Whitty: As far as gender and ethnic balance are concerned, clearly we are saying that there will be a general guidance that there should be no undue variation, but we are not operating on mathematical formulae. Therefore, any intervention would be only if there was a serious distortion of the gender balance and the community ethnic balance. We do not propose mathematical formulae here or rigid rules. But clearly one could have a situation where there is a severe imbalance which no doubt the department would draw to the attention of those proposing the forum.
Baroness Blatch: I do not follow that. Who would intervene? The noble Lord has already said that the schools are their own entities. They have control over who they put forward. The DfEE will have its two appointees. Who will intervene; and under what power will that body intervene if it believes that there is an imbalance?
Lord Whitty: There will be an ongoing relationship between the education action zones and the department. At the end of the day the department would intervene, but I am sure that these matters can be dealt with on a consultative basis. We are not asking them to meet a specific formula. We are asking them to be reasonable about the balance of the membership of the education action zone.
On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, the issue of special educational needs would be included in consideration of the proposals from those putting forward the action zone. The curriculum still provides equal opportunities for all pupils, including those with special educational needs. Therefore any proposition
On representation, the main point is not the exact balance of the membership, but how it raises the standards for all pupils in the areas. In agreeing the membership, the Secretary of State will bear those objectives in mind rather than any mathematical formula.
Lord Rix: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask about Amendment No. 58. The noble Lord states that the Secretary of State can intervene in the education action forum if appropriate people are not placed on the body. Why cannot we make sure that someone with expertise is specifically included--someone who has regard to special educational needs? Someone in the education action forum will need to make a sound assessment of a course of action, an experimental approach--a change in staffing or a change in curricula. Such assessments require experts. They do not require a well-meaning person with some knowledge. They require someone with specific knowledge.
I should have thought that the simple amendment, Amendment No. 58, which stands in my name, that of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, took care of that neatly and would satisfy the special educational consortium.
Lord Addington: The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is right. The commitment which the Government have given is not strong enough to guarantee that one will have the people with the knowledge to be able to respond, and quickly. If a mistake is made with special educational needs the child invariably loses years of schooling. When examinations dictate the way one's life may progress, that is an important omission. One must have a person who responds quickly. Expertise will enable that to occur. In these zones, such expertise will be vitally important. You have a person who will be under even more pressure than is normal. I would suggest that something very like what the noble Lord has proposed is actually essential.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I support the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and wish to make just one additional point. There is a vast difference between a forum listening to those who may be experts and a forum having among
Lord Whitty: The forum will have access to expertise in this area. I have already given a commitment about what the forum's proposals will need to take into account before any approval of the provision for special educational needs. It is the same commitment as that given by my noble friend on Second Reading. We are anxious not to specify too tightly the membership of the forum. Clearly, were there to be a major absence of anyone with expertise on these fora, the Secretary of State may well want to intervene, but the original proposers of the action zone will come up with their own propositions for membership, which need to be flexible.
Therefore, we are not happy about specifying in the Bill a range of people who should be represented, beyond saying that each school should have the right to be represented on that forum. Clearly, some of the representatives from the schools will have special educational needs expertise. If that should be absent, clearly some intervention would be necessary; but it is not always appropriate for a forum to have a senior representative with ESN experience. If the proposers themselves come up with something positive, then that will be part of the package that the Secretary of State and the department would have to assess. We would have to assess whether that needed to be rectified in a particular instance. However, if we put a provision on the face of the Bill, it would introduce inflexibility in an area where we want to have maximum flexibility.
Lord Rix: I thank the Minister for that response, but I am not happy with it. Clearly, as I am not moving these amendments I can only say that I shall have to return to this matter at the Report stage.
Lord Tope: This has been a useful debate. I can understand--indeed, I share--the Government's desire not to be too prescriptive in the membership of the forums. I can understand that each forum, if it is actually to be a workable body, should not be too large, although I could not quite understand how the Minister got to the number 50--I think he suggested it could rise to that number--because it would need to be a much larger action zone than I understood was envisaged to reach the figure of 50, even if all these amendments were accepted.
We are not talking about prescribing whether it should be this businessman or that businessman, this person from here or there: we are talking about three additional categories of people, all of which are important. One is the local education authority, or authorities if it covers more than one area, where we are talking about two people. If, as it seems, they are going to be there anyway because they are involved in the education action zone, that is good. There is no harm therefore in it being in the Bill. I did not understand why the Minister said how inappropriate it would be to have them there if they had opposed the setting up of the education action zone. If that is what he said--and
It must be in the LEA's interests, and particularly in the interests of the EAZ and the schools, that the LEA then works co-operatively with that zone. It certainly will not have any right of veto, but it should work co-operatively. It is not too dissimilar from what has happened in a number of areas with grant-maintained schools. LEAs have sometimes opposed the establishment of a GM school; but once that has gone ahead a productive partnership has ensued. It does not necessarily mean that people have changed their original views, but they work together in partnership. I therefore suggest that having the LEA represented on the education action zone is important whatever the original stance, but it is particularly important if it has been one of initial coolness or even hostility that they should learn to work together in partnership.
Similarly, teachers are enormously important to the success of any education action zone. We are not talking about a teacher representative from every school; we are talking about two teachers from schools within the zone. If an education action zone is to be successful, it is important that the teachers "own" it; that they are part of the zone in every sense and play a part in directing the practice and policy. Therefore teachers are an important category to be prescribed.
I do not need to add anything further to what has already been said about a representative for special educational needs. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is absolutely right. The right reverend Prelate was right to say that access to expertise--which I should certainly hope such people would have--is very different from having that expertise among the membership. It is not the same at all. That is the point made in this amendment.
At this time of night and at this stage of the Bill I shall not press these amendments. However, I remain very unhappy with the replies given. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, has already given notice of his intention, and we shall return to an examination of this matter at a later stage of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.