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The Government originally proposed that, in addition to other elements of independence, these schools should also be given freedom over their admissions, just as current foundation, voluntary-aided and voluntary-controlled schools have freedom over their admissions within the general code of admissions. However, that position was substantially modified in response to concerns expressed in the House of Commons. In consequence, in the Bill and in the newly issued code of admissions, we now see considerable tightening of admissions procedures, with all kinds of practices that were allowed in the past, such as interviewing or requiring expensive and unusual uniforms, now regarded as bad practice. Admissions authorities are now required not simply to have regard to the new code of admissions, but to adhere to it.

Research evidence, to which I referred in Committee, shows that where schools can set their own admissions criteria, there tends to be greater selectivity and social segregation. On Tuesday, we discussed amendments dealing with faith schools and the problem that residential segregation mirrored by segregation in schools leads to segregated communities. For these reasons—the changes in school structures and admission arrangements and worries about social segregation being involved in schools—there is a strong case for commissioning a review of the impact the changes will have; whether schools are becoming more or less segregated as a result of the changes that will be made; whether the new admissions arrangements are succeeding in achieving a more equitable social mix; and whether they are throwing up other problems.

In Committee, the Minister agreed and said it is important that we keep the national effects of admission arrangements under review. He then pointed out that the schools commissioner will be required to make a report to the Secretary of State every two years using the reports for the local admissions forums. However, procedures got a bit muddled at that point, and I was unable to respond to the Minister on this issue. If I had been able to do so, I would have pointed out that the schools commissioner, who has just been appointed, is hardly an independent authority. The press release

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announcing his appointment made clear that his primary role is to support and promote the development of trust schools. Indeed, it is notable that although the press release lists five responsibilities—promoting trust schools; identifying suitable partners and sponsors for those schools; working with local authorities to help them develop their role as commissioning agents for school places; ensuring local authorities are meeting their duties to promote parental choice, greater diversity and fair access; and working strategically on reorganisation with a small number of local authorities—gathering admissions forum reports and reporting on what is happening is not one of them.

I have therefore brought this amendment back. The timescales are now realistic—in Committee, I agreed that the timescales in the original amendment were unrealistic—and I urge the Government to consider it very seriously. They are introducing great changes, and it is right and proper that there should be a full, independent review of those changes after they have been made. That review cannot be independent if it is written by someone employed by the department specifically to make those changes happen. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Sharp. I apologise for my inability to be here on the first day of Report on this fascinating Bill. I shall be brief. My noble friend has put her finger on a great need in the Bill.

In his interesting contribution, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, gave some of the reasons why an independent review is crucial. He pointed out that how parents choose schools is greatly affected by where they happen to live. We all know that property around a school with a good reputation often shows a much sharper increase in value than could be explained simply by the nature of the territory itself. For example, in my own area, the very high rating of a school in the league tables has led to a substantial increase in property prices in its catchment area. That is not a good reason for admission but one of the factors that have led to quite sharp social distinctions between schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also referred to the importance of trying to move towards ballots as a way of making admissions to schools fairer. I think that all of us recognise that the Government have committed themselves throughout the Bill to those who have criticised it on the grounds that admissions might once again become selective—and there are great pressures in that direction.

A great deal of tension is implicit in the Bill. Because of league tables and the publication of tests, parents nowadays have a much clearer idea which schools are doing well and which are not doing so well. Articulate and well informed parents able to interrelate with the education system will therefore have an informed view of what school they want their child to attend, therefore the pressures are much more towards such parents than ever before. Without a careful review of admissions and the admissions structure, it will be very difficult to determine whether

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the Bill has carried out the Government’s intentions. I have always been very concerned that the pressures on the education system after the Bill is enacted will be very hard to reconcile.

My noble friend suggested that there should be an admissions review. I agree with the Minister that the original timescales were far too short. Three years seems a very sensible period in which to determine whether what the Government have pledged is emerging, and it is important for the Government to commit to their own beliefs by indicating their willingness to engage in such an independent review.

As my noble friend Lady Sharp pointed out, the schools commissioner is not an adequate channel for this purpose. He is bound by the nature of his job to commit very heavily to government policies. Therefore, the case for an independent review, and one which brings in the groups of people my noble friend has referred to, seems very powerful. I strongly support the case she has made out.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is concerned that our proposed process for reviewing admissions arrangements is not sufficiently robust. I hope I can satisfy her that that is not so. First, as she said, the Bill will make the admissions regime much tougher. The new code is much more stringent in the requirements it places on schools and the limitations it places on practices, such as interviewing, that we do not regard as desirable but that none the less were taking place. Schools must act in accordance with it; it is not sufficient for them simply to have regard to it. The Bill strikes out certain practices, such as interviewing, that were permissible. So the regime governing admissions is both fairer and tougher under the Bill.

Secondly, admissions forums will have the power to produce a report on the effectiveness of admissions arrangements. That will include judging the extent to which local admission arrangements support diversity, including the ethnic and social mix of schools. On our first day on Report I read out the guidance given in respect of those admissions forums, which is very clear on these duties, as is the new draft admissions code which has come out since that guidance. Paragraph 4.10 says:

It goes on to say that admissions forums should assess how well the admissions arrangements,

That is a significant move forward from the previous regime.

Thirdly, the new school admissions code requires admission authorities to adopt arrangements which support social cohesion and diversity. Forums will have a new right of objection in cases where arrangements do not comply with requirements in the code or follow its guidelines. The forums can lodge objections with the adjudicator, which is a new power that gives a much more immediate local response to perceived unfairness in admissions practices than was possible before.

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4 pm

In addition to those three measures, fourthly, we come to the schools commissioner and his role in undertaking the national review of fair admissions. The noble Baroness thinks that we do not go far enough and proposes an independent body but, in fact, we have gone considerably further than before. Before the appointment of the schools commissioner with his duties in respect of fair admissions, no national body had such responsibility, whereas under the new regime the new schools commissioner, Sir Bruce Liddington, will take account of admission forums’ reports and other data to produce a report every two years on how local admissions support fair access. In doing so, he will consult all the groups set out in proposed subsection (4) of the amendment, and the Government have undertaken that we will lay his report before Parliament, where it will be subject to the scrutiny of both Houses when it is so laid.

In conclusion, the time to judge whether the regime is working is when the schools commissioner has laid that report. I note that in her amendment the noble Baroness does not envisage her independent review being completed within three years anyway, so if the new regime that we intend to put in place, which is a significant advance, is found not to be sufficiently robust, the time to return to it is when we see how it is actually working. We should not do what we fear would happen under the amendment: set in place yet another layer of bureaucracy in the system, over and above that which we are already introducing with the admissions forums and the schools commissioner.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he address the single issue of the apparently conflicting responsibilities that the commissioner will have?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the commissioner has a number of responsibilities, but we do not see them as conflicting. I think that it is a point of difference between us; we have never accepted that the promotion of trust schools will lead to any loss of equity in admissions in an area. On the contrary, the obligations on schools, including trust schools, to have equitable admissions arrangements will be stronger after the Bill than before. For example, the new trust schools will have to act in accordance with the code of practice on admissions, whereas all schools, including community schools, had only to have regard to it before.

I do not accept that there is a conflict between the different roles. On the contrary, the expertise that the commissioner develops, which will be detailed because of his other work involving responsibility for the operation of the schools system locality by locality, will make him singularly well equipped to review fair admissions. As I say, if that proves not to be the case after the commissioner's report has been laid, it will then be perfectly reasonable for noble Lords who are concerned to return to the issue. I hope that the House will not prejudge the effectiveness of that regime, which has every prospect of offering success.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response to the amendment. He says that this is a very great advance on what has gone

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before, but he must recognise that the Bill is making considerable changes to the structure of both the schools system and the admissions system. He has already noted the substantial changes that have been taking place in the admissions system.

I grant that the schools commissioner will lay a report before Parliament, but I put it to the Minister that we are calling for an independent review, rather than for someone within the system to carry out the review. In that sense, our proposal would not add an extra layer of bureaucracy; it is, if I may say so, a practice used frequently by the present Government. When you have a problem with modern languages, you find someone to come in to do an independent review to advise the Government. That is precisely what we are suggesting that the Government should do. Given the substantial changes taking place, when we see how the system is working down the line, it should be reviewed but not by someone employed by the Department for Education and Skills, who would be parti pris to what is taking place.

There is a very strong case for an independent review. I take on board the Minister’s point that the commissioner will have responsibility for gathering up the local reports. The local reports are interesting, of course, but equally they apply only to a particular locality. What is happening in a locality is interesting, but one wants a report that takes an overarching view of all the different areas involved and that can draw a conclusion about how far the new code of admissions and the new structures in schools are doing what the Government rightly say they set up themselves. Clause 1 says:


That is the objective set out at the beginning of the Bill. Given the changes the Government are making, we are asking for the chance to have an independent review.

We are not totally happy, but we take on board what the Minister says and will think about it. We may bring this back at Third Reading but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 40 [Role of admission forums]:

[Amendments Nos. 60 to 73 not moved.]

Clause 45 [Restrictions on alteration of admission arrangements]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendment No. 74:

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The noble Lord said: This amendment and Amendments Nos. 75 to 78 are minor amendments to Clauses 45 and 46. Cumulatively, they enable the schools adjudicator to consider, when he makes a determination on an objection to admission arrangements, whether his decision should be binding for the full period permitted by regulations, or whether a lesser period is more appropriate. This gives him the flexibility to make sensible determinations that take account of local circumstances.

Amendment No. 150 gives the authority for Clause 42 to be commenced by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Adonis moved Amendments Nos. 75 and 76:

““the required number” means such number as may be prescribed or such lesser number as is specified by the adjudicator or the Secretary of State under section 90(5B)(bb) in relation to a particular change.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 46 [Objections to admission arrangements]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendments Nos. 77 and 78:

“(bb) if, in relation to a maintained school in England, he considers that any change required ought not to be protected under section 90A for the number of school years prescribed under section 90A(2), that section 90A is not to apply to that change or that the change will be protected only for such lesser number of school years as he may specify,”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Adonis moved Amendment No. 79:

(1) If the parent of a pupil at a community, foundation or voluntary school requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from receiving religious education given at the school in accordance with the school's basic curriculum, the pupil shall be so excused until the request is withdrawn. (1A) If the parent of any pupil at a community, foundation or voluntary school other than a sixth-form pupil requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious worship at the school, the pupil shall be so excused until the request is withdrawn. (1B) If a sixth-form pupil requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious worship at a community, foundation or voluntary school, the pupil shall be so excused.”

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(4) In subsection (3), after “subsection (1)” insert “or (1A)”. (5) In subsection (5), after “voluntary school” insert “and is not a sixth-form pupil”. (5A) Where a sixth-form pupil who is a boarder at a community, foundation or voluntary school requests that he be permitted- (a) to receive religious education in accordance with the tenets of a particular religion or religious denomination outside school hours, or (b) to attend worship in accordance with such tenets on Sundays or other days exclusively set apart for religious observance by the religious body to which the pupil belongs, the governing body shall make arrangements for giving the pupil reasonable opportunities for doing so.” (a) receives religious education unless withdrawn from receiving such education in accordance with the wishes of his parent, and (b) attends religious worship unless withdrawn from attendance at such worship- (i) in the case of sixth-form pupil, in accordance with his own wishes, and (ii) in any other case, in accordance with the wishes of his parent.” (8) In this section “sixth-form pupil” means any pupil who- (a) has ceased to be of compulsory school age, and (b) is receiving education suitable to the requirements of pupils over compulsory school age.””

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 79A to 79K, as amendments to Amendment No. 79, not moved.]

Schedule 5 [Funding of maintained schools]:

[Amendment No. 80 not moved.]

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 81:

(a) initial teacher training, (b) assessment for induction or as a main-scale teacher, (c) assessment for threshold or as a senior teacher, (d) assessment for suitability as a headteacher, (e) assessment as a higher level teaching assistant, shall be required to demonstrate an understanding of special educational needs and disability legislation.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we move now to a large group of fairly cohesive amendments on special educational needs. In moving Amendment No. 81, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 82 and 82B, which stand in my name, and shall make a few comments on others along the way. First, I will give three short quotes from the Government’s response to

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the Education and Skills Committee report on special educational needs, which was published only a couple of weeks ago. I should like to demonstrate that I accept that the Government are moving in the right direction.

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