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After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

Admission of children to nursery education at aided and special agreement schools

(" . Where nursery education is, or is to be, provided under this Act at an aided or special agreement school it shall not be lawful for a local education authority to impose or seek to impose any conditions or requirements on the governing body of the school as to the arrangements for the admission of children to receive nursery education at the school.").

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, we in your Lordships' House are aware of the happy event to which the Minister has referred. I wish to offer him and his wife my congratulations and hope that all goes well for them in the week to come.

The amendment arises from the fact that admissions criteria to aided and special agreement schools are set by the governing body. However, it is not the case in law that those admissions criteria apply to children receiving nursery education in the school. Relationships between aided schools and local authorities vary. At times they are excellent. Indeed, in the authority in which the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, has served, there are excellent relationships. However, sometimes they fall a little short of excellence and difficulties arise.

Some aided schools have found that when they established a nursery unit and looked for the funding for it the local education authority insisted that admission to the nursery school should be in accordance with the LEA's preferred criteria and not in accordance with the criteria which the governing body was willing to accept. That creates a great difficulty, in particular if a school is over-subscribed. It might mean that a number of children in the nursery class will be unable to transfer to the reception class. If the criteria were different they would fit the criteria for the nursery class but not for the aided school. The governors would then find themselves under pressure to change their criteria in order to be able to accept in their school children who have been in nursery education. We do not want that situation to arise and the amendment seeks to draw attention to the matter. We ask the Minister to recognise the difficulties which exist. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we support the principle of recognising the role and autonomy of governors of aided schools. However, we are a little unhappy about the wording of the amendment. On many occasions it is possible to seek to reach agreement in the interests of all concerned. I think in particular of a situation which arose in the area for which I am a county councillor. A Catholic voluntary-aided primary school happened to be in the best position to have a nursery unit development but there was agreement all round that on the basis of need the first places ought to be given to the children from the community served by the school and by the adjacent county-maintained school. There was a separation and a distinction between the admission arrangements for the nursery unit and those for both primary schools. Of

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course, it can work the other way round because it might be that the only accommodation is in the non-voluntary-aided school.

I understand that the amendment will not be pressed to a Division tonight. I hope that it will be possible to put forward some wording which will recognise the importance of achieving a consensus while recognising the legal status of the decisions of governors of aided schools with regard to admissions.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his congratulations on doing my bit towards yet further over-populating this planet. I hope that all goes well early next week in more than one way.

Perhaps I may briefly explain why I believe the amendment is unnecessary. The right reverend Prelate will know far better than I that decisions about admission arrangements for maintained schools rest with the admissions authorities. For most county or voluntary-controlled schools, that is the maintaining LEA. We must be careful about the distinction between voluntary-controlled and voluntary-aided schools. It was an interesting lesson in history to discover the difference between the various types of school. For voluntary-aided and special agreement schools, that is usually by virtue of articles of government; that is, the school's governing body. A voluntary-aided or special agreement school can therefore determine its own admissions arrangements. If the right reverend Prelate has specific examples of problems, I should be more than happy to know of them.

However, these schools are required, as the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, made clear, to consult the maintaining LEA should they propose to make changes to their publicised admission arrangements and, although it is important that the maintaining LEA has an opportunity to comment on the proposed changes--again, this is the point that the noble Baroness was making--the decisions in the end rest with the school's governing body. I hope, therefore, that the right reverend Prelate would feel his amendment is not necessary. Of course, if he wishes to have further discussions with my officials before another stage, I would be more than happy for that to take place.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I am grateful, first, to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and I entirely accept the point she made. This amendment sought merely to ensure that admissions criteria should not be imposed on a governing body, but to seek consensus or agreement is of course entirely right in the circumstances that she outlined.

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he is willing to engage in further consultation on this matter, and it may be that we will wish to bring something back in the light of those consultations. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 15:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

Purpose of grants

(" .--(1) No arrangements may be made for or in connection with grants made under sections 1, 2 or 3 above, in respect of nursery education provided during a financial year, in respect of which--
(a) vouchers are to be, or have been, issued to parents or guardians for the purpose of claiming such education for their children; or
(b) any method of funding grants made under this Act is to be, or has been, employed under which calculations of grants are made wholly or partly by reference to the presentation of vouchers by parents or others for the purpose of claiming nursery education.
(2) For the purposes of this section, "voucher" means a document issued on application to a parent or guardian and designated by or on behalf of the Secretary of State as having a value equivalent to a specified sum, whose acceptance (after presentation by that parent or guardian) by or on behalf of a person to whom section 1(4) applies, enables a child of that parent or guardian to receive nursery education within the meaning of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, part of the difficulty in dealing with the debate on this Bill has been that many of the principal objections to the voucher scheme which the Government propose to introduce lie outside the Bill altogether. The legislation presents virtually skeletal powers which can be used to make grants, and that in itself is unexceptionable. The grants may go to the maintained sector, to the private sector or to the voluntary sector, and that is well and good.

The main feature which gives rise to concern for many of us is the creation of the voucher system itself, which will produce enormous financial upheavals within the existing nursery educational system, which is doing quite well as it is. Local authorities will have deductions in advance from their levels of revenue support grant in order to provide the major part of the funding for the scheme, and this makes rational planning virtually a gamble. It is disruptive, it is divisive and, to use the Minister's favourite word, it is unnecessary. We do not have to do it.

The introduction of vouchers is not being accompanied by any proper planning for the filling of gaps in provision nor for the adequate preparation through capital expenditure and training of staff which would ensure that the kind of high levels we are looking for in quality were maintained. The looseness of the inspection regime and the ease with which new providers can get into the system underline the impression that expansion is being sought with insufficient regard for the quality and integrity of the provision.

It is ironical that the pilot schemes are already demonstrating that there is very little expansion outside the maintained sector. It is rather like the parallel I thought of to the student loans legislation, where, for ages, nobody came forward to provide the service and, if I am not totally wrong, the Government had considerable difficulty in persuading anyone to come forward. Certainly, there was no great difficulty in deciding between the competitors. Surely, the most effective way to develop nursery provision would be to

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ask local education authorities to work in partnership with other sectors, deploying such resources as are available.

We put forward this amendment to hear what the Minister says, and the degree to which the Government seek to resist this amendment will give us some idea of the extent to which the real purpose beneath this Bill is not so much educational as political. I beg to move.

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