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The Lord Bishop of Ripon: The Churches through their formal structures do not support this amendment. The number of selective Church grammar schools is very small. There are seven Roman Catholic grammar schools and an even smaller number of Church of England grammar schools. Both Churches believe that a wider ballot is necessary than is provided for in the amendment. We do not believe that different treatment should be give to Church schools from that given to other schools in the maintained system. We adopted that stance in relation to grant-maintained schools and we adopt it in relation to this proposal. Neither Church sees its schools as being in isolation from the total provision in the neighbourhood. Therefore, we do not agree with the narrowing of the petition and ballot community. The Churches must have regard for all schools, not just grammar schools.
Referring to Church of England schools and its tiny number of selective grammar schools, it is inappropriate that petition and ballot should be limited to feeder primaries of the same religious character. I take as an example St. Olave's, Orpington, which is one of the small number of such schools. Its feeder schools exist not only in the catchment area of Orpington but in a wider historic area that extends through to Southwark. Moreover, those feeder schools are not simply of a religious character. There is a variety of primary schools, both voluntary and county, that feed both that grammar school and other grammar schools. Therefore, the ballot should at least include all feeder primaries of any secondary school and not just the Church feeder primaries.
The Roman Catholic Church takes an equally strong line. Perhaps there have been some crossed wires. I am aware that the Catholic Education Service has been consulted about this amendment and expressed concern. Neither the cardinal nor the bishop, David Constant, chairman of the Catholic Education Service, supports this amendment. Two Roman Catholic dioceses are particularly affected. Both believe strongly that a more general ballot within the authority is necessary, not one restricted on religious grounds. Their reasons for maintaining that position are quite simple; namely, if Roman Catholic schools are to be the only ones voting
The noble Baroness moving the amendment made one point that I did not understand. I thought I heard her say that the ballot might result in the school losing its religious character. I do not see any such possibility in the Bill. Surely, even if a ballot were to be successful and a school ceased to be selective it would remain an aided school. I do not see any possibility of its religious character being lost.
Lord Mowbray and Stourton: Is it not somewhat odd for the right reverend Prelate to speak for other Churches? Are there not enough Roman Catholics to speak for Roman Catholics? I am slightly surprised to hear the right reverend Prelate speak as though he is the spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: It was the Catholic Education Service who approached me to ask that I make this point forcefully. Therefore, I speak with its authority. That body mandated me to make reference both to the chairman of the Catholic Education Service and to the cardinal.
Lord Northbourne: The amendment confuses me. I believe that there are two completely different points at issue. The noble Baroness can perhaps clarify the position. Does a Roman Catholic grammar school subject to a ballot in which the parents vote to cease being selective automatically and without question become a Roman Catholic non-selective school? If so I would have difficulty supporting the amendment. On the other hand, if there is any doubt on the matter, I strongly support the very important point that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, made.
Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I might immediately respond to the point just made in order to clear up any possible misunderstanding. It is essential that the Committee is clear that a ballot cannot change the religious character of a school. Even if the parents balloted that it should become non-selective it would remain a Catholic school.
Baroness Blatch: The noble Baroness raises an interesting point. There is absolutely nothing in the Bill to protect the life of a school once it has ceased to be selective. Perhaps the noble Baroness when she replies will identify the part of the Bill which provides that protection. I run through what happens in practice. If a single ballot takes place in a county such as Kent-- a county with the most schools and one with schools of religious character--it will be incumbent on the local education authority to reorganise education in the whole of Kent, because a very large number of schools will
Let us consider a relatively small school with a religious character which is joined with a comprehensive non-selective school which does not wish to have a religious character. No provision in the Bill restrains local education authorities so that existing schools with grammar school status may survive in their new guise as schools with religious character. I have been through the Bill page by page and word by word. There is no constraint on the LEA. There is no provision on this issue in the regulations. We know that local authorities will be obliged to produce their own reorganisational plans to introduce comprehensive education in the whole of Kent, for example.
I understand the arguments put on behalf of the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church in opposing my noble friend's amendment. I am deeply surprised that there has been no attempt by the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church at least to preserve the existence of a school with a religious character under the non-selective arrangement. If the noble Baroness can tell me that that provision is in the Bill, and that constraint on LEAs when making their reorganisational proposals is codified, I shall withdraw my objections.
Baroness Blackstone: Perhaps I may answer that question immediately. It is clearly specified in the Bill under Clause 27(11)(a)(i) and Clause 32(2). I do not know whether the noble Baroness would find it helpful for me to state what Clause 27(11)(a)(i) provides. It makes absolutely clear that,
Baroness Blatch: If a school is to be merged with a school of a non-religious character--the grammar school may be too small to be a fully comprehensive school--and it is not possible to find another school in the immediate location with a religious character, does that mean that whether or not the school likes it, because of the constraints of Clause 27(11) (which I believe refer to something else) that school will have a religious character--Catholic, Anglican, or both?
Baroness Blatch: The Committee must forgive me for pressing the noble Baroness. We are making legislation here. A school may not be viable in size and ability range and therefore needs to become a comprehensive school. When one has a reorganisation as large as that in Kent, Trafford or Buckinghamshire, the likelihood is that there will be mergers. It is the only way to cope. If a school is not viable in size as an all-ability comprehensive school and has to be merged with another school, or closed and the children dispersed around schools in the area, what can an LEA do?
Baroness Blackstone: The noble Baroness asks questions of a very hypothetical nature. I think it highly unlikely that where the parents of children in a Roman Catholic grammar school chose for it to become non-selective, it would then not be viable. There are many small comprehensive schools around the country. Some are in inner city areas, and in small towns. I am absolutely clear that even though the school is small, if it is what the parents want the school will be able to survive as a non-selective school. There may be some question about whether it should continue to be a school for 11 to 18 year-olds if the sixth forms are small. But changes would be made only in dialogue with the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Catholic Church would be the authority that would take the main view about the future of the school in those circumstances.
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