Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

In respect of Amendment No. 80, on the allocation of funding by disadvantage, Section 47 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 makes provision for regulations to be made that set out how a local authority must determine the amount of funding each maintained school receives in its budget share. Existing regulations made under Section 47 of that Act make provisions similar to those envisaged by the noble Baroness. In particular, Regulation 17(2) of the School Finance (England) Regulations 2006 states that local authorities must ensure—I stress the word “must”—that their funding formula reflects the incidence of social deprivation among the pupils registered at the schools that they maintain.

We have also recently required local authorities and their schools forums to review their local funding formulae to ensure that they are, first, delivering the level of resources we have identified in their overall allocations for tackling the impact of deprivation and, secondly, that such resources are distributed in a way that sufficiently differentiates need among their schools. I hope that we have met the points that noble Lords have reasonably raised in respect of the funding of disadvantage.

On Amendment No. 70, we discussed in Committee whether there should be a requirement on admission forums to have regard to the contribution their schools have to the well-being of communities in disadvantaged areas when providing advice on admission arrangements. I explained then that the illustrative regulations we

17 Oct 2006 : Column 684

provided on the operation of admission forums stipulate that their reports shall include,


I believe that goes a long way to meet the objectives of Amendment No. 70.

Since we published the illustrative regulations on the operation of admission forums we have issued the draft School Admissions Code, which I have circulated widely in the House and which is available in the Library. This makes clear that admission forums should assess how well admission arrangements serve the interests of local parents and children, and that they should do so in their reports. Paragraph 4.10 at page 53 of the draft School Admissions Code states:

The document further states:

I stress “collectively”—

I believe that the objectives of the noble Baroness’s amendment are now fully met in the regulations for the admission forums and the draft School Admissions Code.

On Amendment No. 6, all categories of maintained schools have a duty to operate within the same framework of admissions and local responsibilities. Irrespective of their category, whether it be community, foundation or voluntary aided, they are all subject to explicit duties under the Race Relations Act 1976 to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different ethnic groups. Furthermore, under the Bill it is a requirement on proposers of new schools to show how their proposals will contribute to community cohesion and the trusts of trust schools will be under a specific duty under Clause 33 to promote community cohesion as part of fulfilling their charitable object of advancing education. The Bill also places explicit new duties on local authorities. They will have to ensure fair access to educational opportunity and to promote the fulfilment of every child’s potential in addition to the existing duty to promote high standards. Local authorities are also subject to explicit duties under the Race Relations Act 1976.

Moreover, local authorities will be required specifically to consider the impact of proposed new schools on community cohesion when carrying out their commissioning role under Part 2 of the Bill. Local authorities will be under a duty to have regard to

17 Oct 2006 : Column 685

guidance from the Secretary of State when considering proposals. They will need to consider the extent to which, and how satisfactorily in the circumstances of the community, proposals for new schools promote community cohesion.

In all those ways I believe that the objectives of Amendment No. 6 are met by the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness is satisfied.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I am also most grateful to all noble Lords who supported the amendments. The Minister has offered considerable reassurance. I was interested to hear about a review in relation to the regulations in Section 47 of the 1998 Act. There is quite a lot of evidence to show that at the moment, or until quite recently, the resources that are being provided to meet disadvantage are not necessarily being passed through to the schools that need those resources. I am glad to hear that they have set in train that review, and I will be interested to hear the outcome when it is completed.

In relation to admissions forums, I regret to say that, although I should have, I have not chased up the new regulations that were just issued on the draft admissions code. It is good to hear that the admissions forums have a specific duty to promote social equity and to look to the interests of all parents and children collectively in their community.

Coming back to Amendment No. 6, I repeat what I said earlier that we recognise that in giving an explicit duty to local authorities to promote fair access and equality of opportunity they are moving in the direction of promoting social cohesion. We may come back at Third Reading with an amendment that provides a more explicit power for local authorities, which might be more suitable than the amendments that I tabled. I thank the noble Lord for what he said.

5.30 pm

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I was very reassured by what the Minister said on Amendments Nos. 6 and 80. On Amendment No. 70, as I understood what he said, he did not address directly the point being made. The amendment states:

I should be grateful if the Minister would reflect on whether what he said responds substantively to that point.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, we may bring back an amendment at Third Reading that picks up one or two of these points, and perhaps the Minister might think about it in the mean time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Duty to identify children not receiving education]:

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

17 Oct 2006 : Column 686

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 8:

(a) of a local education authority, in the exercise of any of their schools functions, and (b) of the governing body of a maintained school, in the exercise of any function relating to the conduct of the school, to have due regard, so far as is reasonably practicable, to the ascertainable views of all pupils on matters that affect them, taking account of their age and maturity.””

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 82A, which is in my name and is part of this group. I should perhaps say at the beginning that Amendment No. 8 has been suggested to me by the Children’s Rights Alliance, which represents a number of organisations concerned with children’s welfare, including Save the Children, of which I was for a number of years a trustee and executive council member.

The issue here is consultation with pupils on all matters affecting their school. This has been raised on previous occasions, and I think that the Government accept the principle that pupils should be consulted, which is in line with the obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the view of the Government has hitherto been that a new statutory provision is not required, and they will continue to encourage schools to follow the Working Together guidance. However, the alliance feels that this is not enough. A statutory right is needed to provide a firm foundation for pupil participation in all schools. Steps must be taken to strengthen pupil participation in line with the obligations under the UN convention.

Recent research indicates that the guidance has not led to change. Less than one third of students felt that they were consulted when school policies were discussed. A survey by the Children’s Rights Alliance indicated that of the 99 LEAs that responded, fewer than 45 per cent had taken any action to inform school staff of pupil participation guidance, fewer than 20 per cent had run any training for it, and only 10 per cent had informed pupils of the guidance. Many LEAs did not know which guidance was being referred to.

Everyone agrees in principle with pupil participation. It encourages positive behaviour, and better teacher-student relationships emerge when it happens. Pupils want more of a say. Young people-led organisations, such as the British Youth Council, want to see the introduction of a statutory right. I tabled the amendment to an early part of the Bill because of its importance. There is no need to make a long speech about the principle involved, because I am sure that most noble Lords would agree with it. I hope that this time around the Minister will be prepared to agree that this is a right that should be in the Bill, and I hope that he will be prepared to accept the amendment or will agree to come back with a government amendment to achieve the same result.

17 Oct 2006 : Column 687

Amendment No. 82A is about the involvement of children in the exclusion process. Guidance on school exclusions in England states that in situations where the governing body of a school reviews the exclusion,

In reference to appeals hearings,

I emphasise that the parent should agree.

Although the guidance recommends that pupils be given a voice in the exclusion process, it is not enforceable and not all schools make provision for children and young people to make representations at discipline committees or appeal hearings. Furthermore, the current guidance does not cover the provision of relevant information for children and young people regarding the exclusion. As a result, children are not always in a position to make representations at exclusion hearings, even if they are encouraged to attend. The Government made assurances that the guidance would be updated in 2004. Changes were finally made in September 2006, calling on schools to “allow and encourage” the pupil to give their version of events. However, they still have no right of appeal on their own exclusion, and the guidance has not been strengthened sufficiently to address our concerns on this issue.

The Government rightly place much emphasis on citizenship and taking responsibility for one’s actions. Giving children a voice in exclusion hearings forces them to think about their actions and the consequences of their actions and allows them to explain why they behaved in the way they did. This goes to the heart of being a good citizen.

In a Save the Children consultation undertaken with young people excluded from school, many of them felt a sense of injustice and disempowerment because they were not given an opportunity to put their side of the story. One young boy stated:

Some professionals feel that the current ineffective involvement of young people in the exclusion process can cause them to be unaware of what it is they have done, and this has resulted in their exclusion, making a reoffence highly probable. That serves no one’s interests. In some cases, children are excluded on a false premise. Making false assumptions and denying a child the right to defend himself or herself leads only to alienation and bitterness, entrenching negative attitudes towards school and wider society.

Excluding a pupil, even when it is merited, is very serious indeed, given the impact that exclusion has on a pupil’s life chances. Truancy and school exclusion are in the background of 70 per cent of young offenders. The fact that some pupils are consigned to this fate on false grounds is unacceptable. Giving pupils a fair hearing goes some way to addressing a failure in the system. Both young people and professionals to whom Save the Children spoke when it was doing its survey perceived a lack of standard

17 Oct 2006 : Column 688

procedure and practice in listening to children’s views, resulting in anger and frustration and engendering a feeling of powerlessness and low self-esteem. It is believed that fully involving children in the exclusion process will ensure that they take responsibility for their actions and do not become disengaged from school and from society altogether.

When a similar amendment was debated during proceedings on the then Education Bill in 2005, the Government promised to strengthen guidance, rather than amend regulations. Now the time has come to review whether the guidance is having the required effect. It is about time that we looked at the possibility of including legislative change in this Bill that would give children in England the same rights as in Scotland and Wales. I hope that this time around, the Government will be prepared to reconsider what they have said on this issue. In the mean time, I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, on Amendment No. 8 and have added my name to it. I also support her Amendment No. 82A, to which, I am afraid, I was too late to add my name—but I would have liked to. She rightly said that the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, which does so much to promote children’s rights, believes that pupils need a statutory right to have their views considered in matters affecting the conduct of their school, which has a great impact on their everyday lives. Of course, schools would still require guidance and support to implement the amendment, which would make education law, policy and practice consistent with broader developments in public services and give England’s children entitlements that Scottish children have had since 2000.

I sometimes feel a little frustrated when talking about the voice of the child in your Lordships' House. I often wish that we could hear children themselves standing up in this place to tell us why they would like to have statutory rights to have their voices heard, rather than having to rely on elderly Baronesses such as myself and some of my similarly minded colleagues. However, I am afraid that your Lordships will have to make do with the rather second-rate effort that I have to make on behalf of children.

In Committee, the Minister said that the Government unreservedly agreed with the second part of the amendment tabled at that time, which aimed to remove the current exemption of nursery-age children from the consultation duties on schools and local authorities. Indeed, he has done something about that, for which I very much thank him. I also thank him for his Amendment No. 116 in this group, which accepts the point that these Benches made in relation to the development of a school behaviour policy to which every child in a school, rather than just a sample, should have the opportunity to contribute his views. That is a valuable move forward.

In relation to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, the Minister said that the Government would continue to encourage schools to follow the Working Together guidance. However, encouraging schools to implement that guidance is

17 Oct 2006 : Column 689

not enough. We need a statutory right to pull the situation forward to provide a firm foundation for pupil participation in all schools.

In its recent report on the Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights notes that it has,

of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,

Article 12 of the UNCRC states that all children,

In October 2002, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that the Government,

The Government have certainly done much on school councils and I give the Minister a great deal of credit for that. The committee also stated that the Government,

Now we are moving close to an opportunity for the UK Government to do that, because they must submit their next report to the UNCRC in 2007. Accepting Amendment No. 8 would be considered by that committee a major step towards fulfilling its recommendations in the 2002 report.

5.45 pm

I also very much support Amendment No. 82A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, about the well-being and educational attainment of children who have been excluded from school. We might have debated it later, in the group that starts with Amendment No. 119 on exclusions, although I accept that part of the noble Baroness’s amendment relates to giving the child a proper voice in the proceedings, so there is a case for debating the matter now.

She rightly lays out in the proposed new subsection (5A) the basic principles of well-being and educational attainment, to which we should adhere when making arrangements for children who, for one reason or another, have had to be excluded. She also asks that the child’s right to represent himself in his own right and to have the necessary information to enable him to do so is given to him.

That is important because some children cannot rely on their parents to represent them. Some parents do not want to be bothered or feel intimidated by the system so that they feel reluctant to appear before what seems a frightening panel, as if they are in the dragon’s den, to defend their child. Of course we should do everything we can to encourage them to feel more comfortable in taking part in those proceedings, but we also need to do something about ensuring that the child has its own rights as an individual whose whole life is in the hands of the panel considering their exclusion.

17 Oct 2006 : Column 690

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, the need to listen to the voice of the child is a fashionable concept these days and is very important. But children are only human—at least most of them are most of the time. If you have listened to their voices and then ask them for their opinions, but do not tell them why you have not done what they recommended, they get sore, upset and disillusioned. Every reference to listening to the voice of the child should, wherever possible, include a reference to feeding back to the child information about what happened to their views.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I warmly support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, on listening to the voice of pupils. I hope that the Government will respond warmly to it. However, welcome though it is, I regard it only as paving the way for what has already been done in Wales, where, using the powers of the 2002 Act, school councils have been made mandatory in all ordinary schools. It has been prescribed in regulations that schools’ councils should be properly elected; their functions to comment on matters affecting the school and education have been laid down; their representations must be considered by the head and the governing body—and they are entitled to a response under those regulations.

I recognise that it is early days to form a judgment on the success of what has been done in Wales and I know that the Minister will want to wait for the finally considered views of Professor Whitty before marching on. Perhaps I may quote the views of the head teacher of Malet Lambert, a school that I left many years ago. She stated in a letter to me:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page