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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes, I am saying that I do not believe that a divisive system of allowing schools to opt out has raised standards overall, and there is plenty of evidence to support that.

Baroness Young: My Lords--

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it will be very difficult for me to reach the end of this debate, with 30 speakers and as many questions having been asked, if there are too many interventions.

To answer the noble Baroness's second question, we believe that foundation schools will have virtually the same degree of autonomy as grant-maintained schools have had until now. Indeed, they will have many of the key characteristics of grant-maintained schools, as will

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voluntary-aided schools: they will own their own premises; employ their own staff; and take primary responsibility for their own admission arrangements.

Every school will have a choice of category. Grant-maintained schools will have that choice when the new framework is established and any school will be able to seek an alternative category from about a year after that.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that the Government will not favour or promote any category and no category will have unfair advantages over another. I am afraid that the previous Conservative government could not in any way make that claim. Under this Government, every school will receive fair funding from LEAs through the new LMS arrangements. Every admission authority, school or LEA will be bound by a code of practice on admissions and every school will work in partnership with the LEA and other schools to raise standards.

On the relative performance of grant-maintained and LEA schools, I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that it is true that on average, grant-maintained schools achieved better test and examination results than LEA schools. But it is true also that GM schools have tended to serve more privileged areas than LEA schools. That is the explanation. There are many good GM schools but there is no evidence whatever that those schools are good just because they are grant-maintained. It is true that the government of which the noble Baroness was at one time a Member lavished additional spending on GM schools and that may be another factor in relation to their relatively good results.

While I am addressing my remarks to the noble Baroness, I should say that the suggestion that simply changing the governors of a failing school will change everything about what that school does is a travesty of what are my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's views and intentions.

I turn for a moment to an issue raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon on the change of category by Church schools and diocesan involvement. Grant-maintained Church schools will be required to consult the appropriate diocesan body before choosing their category in the new framework. About a year after the new framework is introduced, any school will be able to seek an alternative category but I reiterate that the governing body of a Church school will be required to consult its diocesan body before doing so.

The place of city technology colleges was raised by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. The White Paper Excellence in Schools said that CTCs were to retain their status as independent schools. That means that like other independent schools, they will be outside the proposed new statutory schools framework. However, we have said that we shall develop a particular approach for CTCs so that they are part of the broad family of schools with fair admissions and funding. That is extremely important.

Perhaps I may now turn to the organisation of school places. I was a little surprised by some of the remarks made by noble Lords opposite. For example, the noble

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Lord, Lord Skidelsky, wants us to be less dirigiste, while the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, mentioned subsidiarity. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, claimed that this is a centralising Bill. However, we are devolving very important matters here in relation to the reorganisation of school provision. We believe that it is vital for local interests to have an opportunity to make their views known. We are introducing a new principle of devolving decisions to a local level, and I believe that that principle has been widely accepted. Indeed, our proposals are a practical means of achieving that aim.

The most important aspect of our proposals for the school organisation committee is partnership. There has always been a partnership in the provision of school places locally between the LEAs and the Churches, and more recently that has included grant-maintained schools and the Funding Agency for Schools. Our proposals give formal effect to that partnership. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is unable to support it.

I accept what some noble Lords opposite said; namely, that we cannot leave this matter entirely to LEAs. Indeed, we realise that to do so would fail to recognise the existing position of a whole range of players providing education locally; nor would it give sufficient credit to them for the advantages that their diversity brings to our school system, or give the necessary assurance to those who might object to the proposals.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and my noble friend Lady David mentioned the issue of special schools, especially foundation special schools. The White Paper Excellence in Schools proposed a single category for all special schools--that is both LEA and grant-maintained--but respondents to the document argued very strongly that parents with children in grant-maintained special schools who voted for greater autonomy for their schools were not being given the same rights as parents with pupils in mainstream grant-maintained schools. Therefore, we have responded by including a new category of foundation special schools in the Bill.

Perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and my noble friend Lady David about exclusions. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, raised questions about admissions. The majority of children admitted to special schools will, as now, have statements naming the school. Of course, some pupils in special schools will not have statements, but the admission arrangements for foundation schools--where the governing body will be the admission authority--will be subject to regulations.

The noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Rix, were concerned that the Government should do the very best possible to support pupils with special needs. Perhaps I may reassure both noble Lords that the new structures will reflect that aim. I agree that we should be judged by our ability to meet special needs, including ensuring that they are taken into account in all education development plans.

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The issue of linking designation of schools with a religious character to collective worship was raised. The right reverend Prelate raised a point which would relate the content of collective worship in Church of England schools or denominational schools to the religion or denomination specified. Hence it would be explicit that worship in a Church of England school should have a Church of England character, even when the school's trust deed is silent on the matter. One purpose of the order is to define the nature of religious education in a school whose trust deed is silent. I hope that our comments on that reassure the right reverend Prelate.

I now turn to admissions. I was grateful for what my noble friend Lord Peston and other noble friends said in welcoming the fact that the Bill sets out a clear framework to achieve fair school admissions locally. I think that the elements are clear: local consultation and determination of arrangements, and an independent adjudicator to decide disputes.

Noble Lords opposite made much of the argument that there is too much bureaucracy involved in this Bill. As my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath mentioned--I think even the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, alluded to this--a great deal of bureaucracy was introduced by noble Lords opposite, in particular as regards the national curriculum and national assessment. It took the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to rescue them from the mess they got into in that area.

I shall now say a few words about selection. The previous Government's White Paper on self-government for schools proposed extending the power of schools to select pupils--the "grammar school in every town" pledge. Only 2 per cent. of respondents supported the proposals and 69 per cent. were strongly opposed. That is why we are not legislating for balloting on new grammar schools. The noble Baronesses, Lady Blatch and Lady Young, seem to have forgotten that the previous government certainly thought that ability and aptitude were different. Their final education Act referred to admission arrangements admitting only pupils with high ability or with aptitude. What is even more telling, they commissioned research on the strength of their belief in the difference between ability and aptitude. They launched that research in May 1996. The then education and employment Secretary said that it was

    "to help specialist schools which want to identify a pupil's aptitude for the specialist school, as opposed to ability".
Therefore the memories of those on the opposite side of the House are a little lacking tonight.

I say to my noble friends Lord Hattersley and Lord Peston, who asked about this matter, that the researchers defined "ability" as an all-embracing factor which suggests whether a candidate will be able successfully to undertake a course of study, and "aptitude" as being narrower, determining whether someone has the capacity to be trained and developed.

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