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Lord Swinfen: I thank the Minister for what she has said. I will read her reply very carefully, as will my noble friend Lady David. We will consider whether it is necessary to come back at a later stage of the Bill, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 36 and 37 not moved.]

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 4, line 43, at end insert--
("( ) No education development plan prepared under this section shall include proposals to--
(a) discontinue sixth form provision at a particular school;
(b) introduce pupils of the opposite sex into any age group or teaching group in a particular school in which that school currently offers single sex education; or
(c) eliminate selection by ability, in part or in whole,
unless the proposals submitted within the education development plan have previously been accepted by the governing body and parents of the school concerned.").

The noble Lord said: These issues, as noble Lords opposite will know, are very sensitive. School communities take many years to form themselves, and part of their achievement lies in the traditions of the past and the manner in which those are grown. To destroy those traditions often means the destruction of a good school. It has happened many times in the past 30 or 40 years.

Let me examine each of the issues. First, let me take the sixth form. As noble Lords opposite may remember, there was an intense battle fought some years ago over a school in London, the Oratory school--which I am told is so popular that parents go long distances across London in order to send their children there. So it obviously had some value. There was a proposal from the local authority to discontinue the sixth form. The then headmaster fought a long battle against his own diocesan authorities and the local authority. With the help of his trustees, his sixth form was retained. I think we would all acknowledge, especially those parents who take long trips across London, that it was a worthwhile battle. The school was, and remains, excellent. I point to that as one example of what can happen if you try to behead a school.

Secondly, I turn to the matter of single sex education, regarded by people who choose such schools--in many cases for their daughters--as particularly important. To destroy that tradition breaks a pattern which parents have deliberately chosen. Thirdly--and I realise that this will raise opposition from noble Lords opposite--a school develops its character by the manner in which it selects its pupils and chooses its staff.

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I am suggesting, not that changes cannot be made-- I emphasise that point--but that in the case of these particular issues, equity and common justice demand that the governing body and the parents of the school concerned are consulted. Ballots are to be in vogue later in the Bill. I assume that the Government believe in consulting parents. I therefore hope that the Government will give attention to these matters. We on this side feel strongly about them and shall be very interested in the Minister's reply. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen: I speak briefly in support of the amendment, in particular on the question of single sex schools. Members of certain religious communities specifically forbid their daughters to mix with the opposite sex without being properly chaperoned. That is of particular significance in relation to single sex schools. It would cause considerable distress to members of those religious communities were they to be forced to send their daughters to mixed schools.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for tabling the amendment. I have visited schools, as, I am sure, have other noble Lords, where those from religious minorities find suitable places particularly for their daughters. I know that there are varied views on whether schools should be of mixed or single gender. I think the received wisdom is that, on the whole, girls flourish in schools that provide for their gender only and that boys do not do so well in schools for their gender alone. Nevertheless, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, is important.

Lord Belstead: Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a question. I am afraid I am revealing that I have not done my homework in the way that I should. Am I right in thinking that the three limbs of the amendment--that an educational development plan shall not include proposals unless the governing body and parents of the school concerned have been consulted if it affects the discontinuation of the sixth form; if it introduces pupils of the opposite sex into any age group; or if it eliminates, say, selection by ability--are presently part and parcel of the changing of the character of a school and that therefore those issues presently fall under the well-tried provisions of public protestation if necessary and final decision by the Secretary of State? I apologise if I have got the matter wrong.

Secondly, the question of Church schools has been raised. What about the question of transfer age? Transfer age may be 11 or, in a middle school system, 11 and 14. That has affected the character of schools. Is a different procedure envisaged under Clause 6?

Thirdly--and this possibly reveals the reason for my suspicion--what does "or otherwise" mean in line 21 on page 4? Subsection (2) of Clause 6 states:

    "An education development plan shall consist of ... proposals for developing their provision of education for children in their area ... by ... raising the standards ... or ... improving the performance of such schools, or otherwise".

What does that mean?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I hope that I can set the minds of noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate

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at rest fairly rapidly. It is the Government's intention to be much more strict than this amendment would provide. Perhaps I may ask noble Lords to look at the wording of the amendment, and I shall read out what is the Government's intention.

It is the Government's intention that no education development plan prepared under this clause shall include proposals to discontinue sixth form provision at a particular school, introduce pupils of the opposite sex into any age group or teaching group in a particular school in which that school currently offers single-sex education, or eliminate selection by ability in part or in whole. Period. Not whether or not the education development plan has been accepted by the governing body and the parents of the school concerned--but period. Under no circumstances will an education development plan do any of those things. That is not the purpose of education development plans. The plans are about raising standards.

Separate legislation already exists, or is planned in this Bill, regarding school organisation. It is referred to in Clause 25, which provides for the school organisation plan, and later in Clauses 94 and 98 dealing with the character of a school. That is not what education development plans are for. Noble Lords can be entirely assured that none of these issues will be included in them.

Baroness Blatch: That is a pretty unequivocal answer. However, I want to press the noble Lord further so that we get it absolutely, unequivocally, on the face of the Bill. If a local education authority took the view that it would be an educationally sound proposition to rationalise sixth form education and not have sixth forms in schools but another form of provision; or if its view was that co-education was preferable because it believed that educationally it was more sound, or that selection by ability was thwarting good education under that local authority, is the noble Lord saying that, even if it had come to those views on educational grounds, that would have no place whatever in an education development plan?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I hope that local authorities would never come to those views except on educational grounds. Yes, it would not occur in an education development plan. If they took that view, then they would make other proposals which are dealt with in other legislation and later in this Bill.

In direct response to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, the statement of proposals is about developing education, first, by raising standards, and secondly, by improving performance. Those are non-exclusive examples, and if the LEA has other ideas for raising standards and improving performance then it can include them-- but not about organisation, not about selection, not about single sex schools, not about selection by ability.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Would the Minister like to give me an assurance that he would be prepared

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to put on the face of the Bill in the clauses regarding school organisation committees that they would not break the conditions in this amendment?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: If the noble Lord cares to put down an amendment to Clause 25 or a later clause, we shall consider it. But it is hardly for me to anticipate what will happen in the debate on those later clauses.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I should like to put this on the face of the Bill and therefore I wish to ask the opinion of the Committee.

7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 38) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 53; Not-Contents, 110.

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