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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I begin by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that Beckham's left foot is not bad, either. We hope to see it in action a great deal. I was smiling to myself about that example
Members of the Committee have covered much ground in relation to specialist schools. Before turning to the amendment, I want to make a few observations. We are dealing here with comprehensive schools. We are celebrating things that are the same about our schools and which we relish but also their differences. The specialist school model gives schools the opportunity to demonstrate the icing on the cakethe ability to provide something above and beyond a good education for all children.
On a visit to Stevenage last Friday, I met the head teachers of seven secondary schoolsall of whom are considering applying for specialist school status. Stevenage is a new town that perhaps suffers from low aspirations and schools with a high number of children having special educational needs compared with the national figure. Those head teachers were keen on a collaborative model to develop specialisms that they could share between themselves and beyondincluding all the primary schools in the area. That education model is supported by the LEA and involves working closely with the chamber of commerce and other partners.
We discussed the kind of education that children will need, particularly in a world in which technology has revolutionised how information is sought and found. Perhaps there is a need to prepare today's children differently. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, was at Stevenage. He and I have discussed on many occasions the issue of teaching modern foreign languages and how to prepare children beyond the model of French, German and Spanish for the global economy. Allowing schools to offer their local communities something extra, in addition to a good education, is good in the context of the kind of education that children will need in future.
The regulations state that with some of the specialisms that we have now schools should be allowed to select a maximum of 10 per cent of children by aptitude. I return to the example given by my noble friend Lord Peston. Some children really can draw and are superbly talented in the visual arts. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we might allow a few such children to attend a specialist school. That is not to say that such a specialism would not be offered broadly in the community.
Ninety-four per cent of schools do not make use of selection by aptitude and maybe never will, but that option is worth having in recognising that children are different. It does not mean that we want to return to the days when differential education meant that one received either a good education or practically nothing. Within a system that is geared and designed to give the best that it possibly can, specialist schools have a roleparticularly in disadvantaged areas.
It is true also that the Government's aspiration is that one day every school will be a specialist school and will work together with others if it wishes. Some schools might choose different routes. It is about what
We do not accept the amendment. If a community feels that selection by aptitude is not the right kind, there are opportunities for parents to lobby the admissions authority or for that authority to object. In light of that, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: We have had a useful debate. I did not expect much support from the Official Opposition and am delighted at that which I received. Neither did I think that the Minister would concede the amendment.
We must be careful not to be too urban-centred. There are real problems with the concept of specialist schools in rural areas, where only one secondary school serves the population. The concept is something of a smokescreen because it is essentially a matter of obtaining more money to provide some schools with additional resources. I am delighted that the Minister will spread the goodies around, which is vitally important. More money needs to be spent on secondary schools.
I take on board the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Lucas. Dancing and music are talents that children develop at an early age. Few benefit from attending highly specialist establishments, such as the Yehudi Menuhin school for violinists, which produced the Young Musician of the Year. The majority of kids attend school at age 11 and develop their ability. By the time that they are 14 or 15, they know whether they are going to be a Beckhamwhereas at age 11 there may be no signs.
Lord Peston: I am not under the impression that Mr. Beckham or any of our other talented footballers have got where they are as a result of attending a specialist school. The case is completely unproven so far as I knowlet alone whether Mozart went to a specialist school. On reflection, the whole thing is preposterous.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I think that Mozart had a specialist father. The great thing is that the Beckhams of this world did not attend specialist schools and that the comprehensive system served them well.
I pay tribute to the comprehensive system. When I arrived at my grammar school, the pupils were rapidly streamed and I was told firmly by the lady in charge of historyI majored in historythat third or C grade children should not be attending the school because they were not up to a grammar school education. Today, 50 per cent of children achieve five A to C
The noble Lord said: The amendment would restore something that the Bill appears to remove-a provision that exists as part of Circular 11/99 but is not in the Bill. It is right that children should be excluded from pupil referral units only in exceptional circumstances. It is the job of PRUs to deal with children as they are. If units start to exclude children on the same basis that would be justified in an ordinary school, they are not doing their job. I would like the policy back where it was before the Bill.
Much the same applies to Amendment No. 214. A school's right to exclude and the parents' right to information and to make representations are in the legislation as currently draftedone against the other. In this Bill, we find only the school's right to exclude and there is no mention on the face of the Bill of the parents' right to information and representation. I believe that the two should have equal status and, therefore, I should like that provision to be put back into the Bill.
The wording of Amendment No. 214 has an additional effect in that it seeks to give parents the right to information and representation for short-period exclusions. The reason for that, of course, is that short-period exclusions are allowed to add up to a reason for permanent exclusion. One can find examplesthere have certainly been documented circumstanceswhere children have received a series of short-term exclusions but their parents have not received information as to the reasons and have had no right to information or to make representations. Suddenly, those exclusions are accumulated into an allegation of misbehaviour over a long period, the child is excluded permanently and one suddenly finds oneself falling off a cliff. That does not seem to me to be reasonable.
If something goes wrong with a child in school or if something happens which requires a child to be excluded, even for one or two days, then the parents should be involved, not least because there may be reasons for it and because the school may not appreciate that the child has a special educational need or a particular characteristic. There should be a dialogue between the school and the parents. It should not be open to the school simply to exclude a child without saying why or involving the parents. It is enormously important that that relationship is kept going.
Amendment No. 215 has two completely different parts. I do not know why they were lumped together. The first gives the Government the right to issue guidance. They can do so at present but the Bill appears to end that right. Again, I believe that this is an area where the Government should have an influence on what schools are doing. They should be able to issue guidance, but I am concerned that the Bill appears to remove that right.
The second part of the amendment provides an opportunity to tease the Government over Clause 50, in which they set targets for attendance. One of the principal problems that schools have in relation to attendance is that parents take their children out of school for holidays. Schools have no sanction against that. One can take one's child out of school for a couple of weeks and there is nothing that the school can do. Schools are generally grateful when parents are polite and ask permission first. But how can we hold a school to account for something over which it has no power?
Therefore, I believe that if we are to measure schools by what they achieve in terms of attendance, logically we must give them the power to do something about it. But I do not see how that can be done. Perhaps the best answer is to remove Clause 50 and not to have attendance targets. Frankly, attendance targets should be set at 100 per cent and schools should be doing their best to achieve that. To set an attendance target of 92 per cent, which is approximately the current national average, seems to me to permit and encourage children to take off 8 per cent of their school days. If they have not had their ration towards the end of June, they should take off an extra couple of weeks in July in order to ensure that they reach the 92 per cent average. I simply want to understand why the Government are setting targets without giving schools the power to act. I beg to move.
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