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Amendment No. 86 requires the Secretary of State to give reasons. I can think of no other case where there is a stronger argument for reasons being given by the Secretary of State to explain why a special school is being discontinued. In almost every case this causes great concern and upheaval to the parents and the children. Therefore, the fact that it is a central government responsibility of the Secretary of State more than proves that in most cases the Secretary of State is required to consider the issue very carefully and should give full reasons for the action he is taking. I hope therefore that on this non-party contentious issue the Minister will consider whether he can accept these amendments.
Baroness Buscombe: I support AmendmentsNos. 85 and 86. We recognise that the SEN amendments would go hand in hand with the measures introduced in Amendment No. 84 which would ensure that no special school could be closed unless there are enough places of sufficient quality to cater for the needs of those children that would be displaced. I will be interested to hear what proposals, and I hope reassurances, the Minister has to offer for the future of special schools in this country.
We are coming to a watershed in the debate on special educational needs provision, and I look forward to a fuller debate on the matter in next week's Committee debates. In the mean time, I hope the Minister can reassure noble Lords that the Government have instigated a reaction to the Cambridge University report, mentioned by myself and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, last week, and the Select Committee report released last week.
as an alteration permitted under Clause 19. Such an amendment is unnecessary since such alterations are not explicitly forbidden by subsection (4). There is also a slight ambiguity in the amendment. It is not clear whether Amendment No. 90 refers solely to the expansion and creation of sixth forms or separately to the expansion of any school and the creation of a sixth form.
Amendment No. 93 prevents the expansion of schools where this would prevent a local authority or school carrying out a statutory duty or function. That seems to be slightly contradictory to AmendmentNo. 90, unless it was intended that Amendment No. 90 would make clear that such proposals were not completely prohibited.
Amendment No. 102 would prevent the approval of certain proposals involving school expansion. We believe that the amendment is unnecessary as Amendment No. 93 would already prohibit such proposals being carried out. Subsection (2) ofClause 20 lists a number of provisions that may be made by regulation. None of them allows for proposals to be automatically forbidden. It would also be totally up to the discretion of the Secretary of State whether such provision was made.
The amendments seem to be based on the assumption that schools expand at the expense of other schools. We need to examine why schools expand in the first place. Surely it is because parents demand the best education possible for their children. At present too many schools do not offer this. Choice is a vitally important lever for raising standards in failing schools because head teachers and governors will realise that if they do not improve the quality of education, parents will be able to go elsewhere. These amendments would undermine that choice. They would allow local authorities to block the expansion of popular and oversubscribed schools and, by extension, result in more pupils attending undersubscribed failing schools.
Amendments Nos. 79 and 80 seek to give local authorities the freedom to establish community schools if they are formed by the merger of any two or more primary schools which the authority proposes to discontinue. Local authorities may seek to publish proposals outside a competition under Clause 10. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the merger of a junior and an infant school into a single school is exactly the sort of situation where such consent may be granted under Clause 10. I should apologise to her and to other noble Lords as my honourable friend Jim Knights letter on this issue should have referred to Clause 10proposals outside competitions with the consent of the Secretary of Stateand not to Clause 11, which covers special cases where a competition is never required; for example, nursery schools.
Amendment No. 82 would extend the additional requirements in respect of rural primary schools, which was added to the present arrangements by an amendment to the Education Act 2005 made by this House. It would extend those present arrangements to all schools. The Government recognise, not least under the influence of your Lordships, which was very plainly felt in a government defeat, the particular importance of rural schools to their communities, and we support and encourage their preservation unless there are strong educational grounds for closure. This is why we already have a presumption against the closure of rural schools in statutory guidance to those who decide school organisation proposals. In addition, we have the provisions in the Education Act 2005 which the House inserted as factors that must be taken into account before any decision can be made.
Those considering making proposals to close any school will look at a range of factors, including those set out for rural schools in the 2005 Actthe impact on standards, pupil number forecasts, the pattern of parental demand and levels of diversityin addition to the factors set out in Clause 15. The body that takes the final decision on such proposals will expect to see hard evidence and well reasoned arguments for closure on these and a range of other grounds.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 85 and 86 to Clause 17. I should make it clear that Clause 17 re-enacts provisions giving the Secretary of State the power to direct a local authority to close a maintained special school on a particular date whenand I stress this pointit is considered that it is in the interests of the health, safety or welfare of the children. I entirely
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Clause 17, even in these limited cases where there are particularly vulnerable pupils at risk and closure is in the interests of the health, safety and welfare of the children, allows for consultation with,
We would expect that to include parents of children attending the school, as indicated in the amendment. We believe it is covered, and I have made it clear for the record how the Secretary of State would behave in those circumstances.
We do not believe that publishing statutory proposals for the closure of schools under the clause would be appropriate, because emergency action may be needed very quickly, and the normal length and scope of consultation may not be appropriate because of the particular health and welfare issues at stake when the Secretary of State decides to proceed to closure. However, the clause already requires the Secretary of State to give notice of the direction in writing to the governing body and head teacher of the school. Before issuing a direction, not only should the interested parties be consulted, as I have said, but a letter giving the direction should clearly set out the reasons for that direction. I believe that answers the other points made by the two noble Baronesses.
On Amendment No. 90, on post-16 provision, Clause 18 already specifies that the prescribed alterations permissible under it may include alterations of any nature except those listed in subsection (4). They do not include the enlargement or the addition of a sixth form. Subsection (3) says that prescribed alterations may include anything that is not ruled out by subsection (4). Therefore, the objective, which the noble Baroness seeks to achieve, is met by the clause.
Furthermore, the illustrative regulations made available to the Committee specify in Schedules 2 and 4 that alterations such as the introduction or expansion of sixth-form provision are among those for which proposals must be published. Enlargements and the addition of sixth forms are significant changes to school organisation for which consultation and the publication of statutory proposals have long been required. This will continue, and it will include consultation with the consultees whom the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, listed.
Amendments Nos. 93 and 102 would, in effect, make it impossible for a school to expand unless that expansion was endorsed by the local authority. I do not want to get into the underlying issue of whether it is a good or a bad thing for schools to expand, but I simply want to make it clearI think this meets the noble Baronesss pointthat local authorities already play, and will continue to play, a decisive part in
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However, we do not believe that a school should be required to have the consent of a local authority before it can submit expansion proposals. That would negate our intention to give schools the capacity to expand appropriately to meet the needs of pupils and parents. We think that schools, including community schools, to which the noble Baroness referred, should be able to submit proposals to expand. Any category of school may publish proposals to expand and to add sixth-form provision. The local authority then decides but, in a dispute between a school and the local authority, the school may in prescribed circumstances appeal to the adjudicator when proposals are turned down by the local authority.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the Minister for that and for his reassurances on quite a number of the issues that I raised. I am particularly pleased to have received clarification of the merger of the infant and the junior schools, because it is good that schools know that they do not have to go through a lengthy competition in those circumstances.
I have one more question to ask the Minister. My Amendment No. 90 was a purely probing amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, seemed to take it at face value, but it was intended simply to be probing, because it was not totally clear whether physical alterations were included. Am I right that Clause 18(2) means that if a community school submits a proposal to expand its sixth form, any such alteration must involve one ... of the following alterations in paragraphs (a), (b) or (c)? That would imply that it has to become a foundation school.
Lord Adonis: The complexity of Clause 18 eludes me at the moment. I will respond to the noble Baroness afterwards. The problem is how the clause relates to the other clauses that also give other powers to other schools to publish proposals. The fundamental point is whether all categories of schools can publish proposals to expand post-16 provision. The answer is yes, they can, and they must be subject to statutory consultation.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I should also say that I am grateful to the Minister for his reassurances about the closure of special schools. He makes it very clear that there will be an explanation of why a special school is being closed and that the pupils will be consulted if necessary. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
During our consideration of the Bill, we have heard some truly inspiring speeches from all sides of the Committee and, indeed, from the Minister on what constitutes education. Members of the Committee have talked about reaching academic and sporting potential, about children with special needs, about learning social skills, about a positive ethos, about developing creativity, and about education being a force for social good.
I do not consider any of these qualities necessarily to be brought about by faith schools. I have tabled the amendment because I know that there are concerns on all sides of your Lordships House about the potential expansion of the number of faith schools under the umbrella of foundation schools. I am a humanist and an associate of the National Secular Society, so it is obvious where I am coming from. However, other noble Lords do not share this stance and will have other things to say. I believe that those of us who are concerned share a similar view; an expansion of faith schools could divide communities when we should be trying to unite and integrate them. Reports on Bradford and Burnley from the noble Lords, Lord Ouseley and Lord Clarke of Hampstead, respectively, pointed out forcefully the need for young people to feel more integrated. Lord Ouseleys report states:
Ninety-six per cent of respondents to an online poll conducted by the Radio 4 Sunday programme in October 2005 thought that faith schools breed segregation. Diverse faiths can be, and are, celebrated in schools and all benefit from learning about other cultures and from mixing with a variety of peers.
What about the parents? My school governing body has parents of three different faiths, which is of enormous benefit to the school. Parents of different cultures organise, contribute to and mix at social events. They benefit, the children benefit and the school benefits. I understand the historical reasons for faith schools, which was admirably described by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, in her speech on Second Reading. However, that was then and this is now, where we are.
Why should we worry that foundation schools will increase the number of faith schools? Non-religious schools have been closing to reopen as faith schools. Eightone in threeof the new academies are controlled by religious interests; three of them replaced non-religious schools. This expansion represents a huge public subsidy. I hope tonight for clarification on the right reverend Prelates Amendment No. 128, on the dispersal of land, and how that will work. It is very worrying that the expansion of religious schools may well decrease job opportunities for non-religious professionals. I would seek clarification from the Minister on the right reverend Prelates Amendment No. 129. What is taught in religious education may not be broad and balanced, and admissions may be carried out on the basis of religion. I am told that faith schools get good academic results. Any selective school gets good academic results. A study by the think tank Iris in 2005 showed that many faith schools take in pupils whose family circumstances are very different from those in the neighbourhoods in which they live. One school, with only 10 per cent of children receiving free school meals, was in a postcode area with more than 45 per cent on free school meals. One faith school had much vaunted GCSE results. In fact, this relied on small class sizes and only six pupils taking GCSE. I am told that faith schools increase parental choice. Choice is rarely possible in small communities. In larger ones choice is often at the expense of others. Faith schools choose their pupils and proliferation of such schools will decrease choice for other parents unless they are prepared to join, or pretend to join, a religion.
I mentioned ethos. I simply do not believe that faith is a prerequisite of positive ethos. Ethos depends on a variety of things: pupil intake, parental support, good teaching, a good pastoral system, links with the community and parents, and so on. I go back to my main concern about faith schoolsthat they separate children out at an early age, when children should be learning to live together for the sake of a harmonious society. I believe that we take great risks when we segregate children and deny them a broad education.
I move on briefly to Amendment No. 205, which is longer than my remarks will be. This is about assemblies and collective worship. Inclusive assemblies can quite clearly have educational value, not least in building a collective ethos by bringing a school community together. They can contribute greatly to pupils spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Many schools provide such assemblies, but the current law, which requires collective worship, is against them in this regard. The Ofsted review of secondary schools in England published in 1998 noted the widespread non-compliance with the requirements for collective worship and remarked that it raises questions about the 1988
What will the amendment accomplish? It would replace the requirement to conduct collective worship with a requirement to hold assemblies that would further pupils spiritual, moral, social and cultural education. Teachers, including non-religious teachers, can and do use assemblies to demonstrate
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into what is of enduring worth and which is characterised by the qualities that I spoke of earlier. If the law on worship in assemblies is changed, new guidance issued under the new law would contribute to better sharing of good practice in the provision of inclusive and educational assemblies, and would represent a new entitlement for pupils that could command wide consensus, quite unlike the current requirement to provide collective worship. I beg to move.
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: In this group, Amendments Nos. 83 and 129 stand in my name and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. I would like to speak to my amendments and, to save the Committees time, to comment on the other amendments in this diverse group.
The Earl of Onslow: Order! The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, had her name to this amendment and, while I have been here, the person who had their name to an amendment has always been the first to speak. I promise that I do not want to be Lord Speaker.
Baroness Flather: I feel that we are at a crossroads. It is time for serious decisions. We have to look ahead 10 or 15 years and see what kind of society we are going to create. We already have a divided society. We already have gross underachievement among many ethnic minority groups, not least Muslim boys. Instead of addressing the needs of those who are underachieving so badly, we are saying that we should put them in separate schools, that we should create a separate, apartheid school for them. Nobody else is going to go to that school. It will be a self-imposed apartheid, which is even worse.
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