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Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 1, line 22, at end insert--
("(4A) Nothing shall be taken to prevent, or to afford any right of appeal against, a refusal by any authority or person to provide (or continue to provide) a child with a place for nursery education at a maintained school if the reason for the refusal is that a relevant condition has not been complied with in relation to the child; and this subsection applies even if the child has been provided with, or offered, a place at the school before the commencement of this subsection.
In this subsection--
(a) "a maintained school" means a school maintained by a local education authority, a grant-maintained school or a grant-maintained special school, and
(b) "a relevant condition" means a prescribed condition designed to facilitate the determination of the amount of grants payable under arrangements under this section.").

The noble Lord said: Again, I beg to move a technical amendment. It responds to views which have been expressed by a number of local education authorities and, I hope, will be welcomed by them.

In nursery schools and classes it is possible for admissions authorities--either LEAs or governing bodies--to place conditions on the places they offer to children. It may be therefore that an admissions authority offers a child a place in a nursery school with a condition that relates to the presentation of the nursery

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education voucher to the school. The law on admissions is not quite the same for reception classes in primary schools.

The purpose of the amendment is to clarify the position in reception classes and to ensure that reception classes, nursery schools and nursery classes are all on an equal footing. We propose giving admissions authorities a power to place conditions on the offer of reception class places. This is a power. It is entirely up to individual LEAs and governing bodies to decide whether or not to exercise that power.

Let me also make clear that this new power is very tightly drawn. There is no question of allowing admissions authorities to impose any sort of condition--only conditions that are prescribed and allow the amount of grant payable under this Bill to be determined.

Of course, all four year-olds are entitled to a nursery education voucher. Therefore, there is no reason why parents of eligible children should not get their vouchers or present them to schools. With that brief explanation I hope that the noble Lord is prepared to accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: This is an interesting and potentially helpful amendment. It gives an insight into the potential human cost of the voucher arrangements. The purpose of the amendment is to allow any person or authority to refuse to admit, or if in attendance to exclude, a child from nursery education in an LEA-maintained or grant-maintained school if the voucher is not produced. It seems to me that there is a flaw in the arrangements which this amendment has the potential to remedy. If a child is in a part-time maintained place in the morning but goes to a voluntary and private part-time place in the afternoon, because the morning place is free the parent can choose to use the voucher for the afternoon provision. This amendment gives legal sanction to excluding the child from the morning session if the parent has not produced the voucher.

However, the human cost of excluding a child--perhaps a three year-old--who has already settled into a nursery class ought not to be underestimated. The provision can also be used to exclude a child whose parents have not presented a voucher for any reason, no matter how genuine. The child may be a new immigrant whose parents are not in receipt of child benefit. There is also the prospect that grant-maintained schools, who are fully in charge of their own admission arrangements and finance, may wish to exclude children whose parents do not produce vouchers immediately, whereas an LEA school may take a more humane approach to the receipt of vouchers and give parents warning of the consequences of not producing it. It may increase the divide between LEA and grant-maintained primary schools.

I believe that there are two issues which need a little more probing. First, can the Minister define "any authority or person" in the second line of the amendment? Does it mean that the LEA can direct voluntary schools to refuse to continue to educate a child whose parents do not have a voucher? Can the head teacher of a maintained school exclude a child

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whose parents have not been sent a voucher, even though the LEA may be prepared to wait for another couple of weeks for the voucher to be presented? Are these matters that can be dealt with within the confines of the LMS scheme?

Secondly, the amendment refers to "a relevant condition" as a condition to do with payment of grants, but the precise nature of any conditions will be subject to regulations. Can the Minister state what the regulations will prescribe? For instance, how much notice will a parent have before a child is excluded? Will children who are not on the child benefit database be excluded from the provision? It is worth noting that there is a retrospective provision in the amendment. A child can be excluded under the provision even though he or she has been admitted to school before the commencement of the provision. Can the Minister offer any help on those matters?

Lord Henley: I believe that at this time of night it would be rash of me to attempt to answer the detail of the noble Lord's questions. I prefer to write to the noble Lord in greater detail. It may help if I explain what would have happened without the amendment. That may give the noble Lord some idea why we felt it necessary to table the amendment. The objective of the amendment is to make a link between the voucher and place in the maintained school. It has been drawn to our attention in Phase 1 that there is room for clarification and giving equal treatment to nursery schools, nursery classes and reception classes. The consequence is to ensure that each school receives funding for the four year-olds that it takes. I believe that that is only right and proper. I believe that that will be welcomed by the LEAs who have brought it to our attention in Phase 1. If the noble Lord agrees, I prefer to write in greater detail to him.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 1, line 22, at end insert--
("( ) A grant made under arrangements under this section may be made to the governing body of an aided or special agreement school in respect of expenditure incurred by them in the provision or alteration of premises or equipment for the purpose of providing nursery education at the school, and such grants shall be made as if they were grants under section 281 of the Education Act 1993 (grants by Secretary of State in respect of aided and special agreement schools).").

The noble Baroness said: I move Amendment No.27 in the absence of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon. The amendment addresses the need of voluntary-aided primary schools to receive capital funding to extend or alter their premises to make new nursery education provision.

The amendment arises because of the desire of local education authorities to make provision for nursery classes in voluntary aided schools. As a member of the local education authority in England with the largest number of voluntary aided schools, I speak from personal experience when I say that the LEA is not responsible for the costs of this provision and may not make provision from the capital expenditure approvals.

17 Jun 1996 : Column 130

The building costs have to be found by the schools' trustees, governors and dioceses, although 85 per cent of the cost is grant aided by the DfEE. Frequently however, the DfEE has refused to find the 85 per cent, and that has caused much frustration. In certain years the Government have advised voluntary aided school governors and diocesan authorities not to submit bids for funding of nursery provision. The reason is that the Treasury has been reducing education capital spending significantly over recent years and nursery education provision has not featured high on the list of urgent priorities in the voluntary aided school sector. The amendment attempts to address the imbalance.

I cite the example of a local authority of which I am a member, Lancashire County Council. In looking at the provision of nursery schools, classes and units, the authority has attempted to evaluate the areas of greatest need taking into account that the most appropriate need on the list of developments would be a voluntary aided school. That has often been thwarted by the actions of the DfEE. I beg to move.

Lord Henley: The amendment is intended to empower the Secretary of State to make capital grants under Clause 1 to the governing body of an aided or special agreement school. I can assure the noble Baroness, in her role as the right reverend Prelate--I welcome the fact that the Church of England is moving further forward - that grant will continue to be available to voluntary aided and special agreement schools under Section 281 of the 1993 Act as now, subject to the need to prioritise bids in the light of the need to ration scarce resources.

I understood that that was the kind of reassurance that the right reverend Prelate was seeking. I hope it is the sort of assurance that the noble Baroness, in her role as the right reverend Prelate, is also seeking. If that is the case, I hope that she will be able to withdraw her amendment.

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