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Division No. 2


Blackwell, L.
Blatch, B.
Byford, B. [Teller.]
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carnock, L.
Chesham, L.
Lauderdale, E.
Leigh, L.
Lucas, L.
Northesk, E.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Rowallan, L.
Seccombe, B. [Teller.]
Swinfen, L.
Wise, L.
Young, B.


Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Burlison, L.
Carter, L.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Elis-Thomas, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Gallacher, L.
Gilbert, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Grenfell, L.
Haskel, L. [Teller.]
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Hoyle, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Islwyn, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Lockwood, B.
McCarthy, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Maddock, B.
Mallalieu, B.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Monkswell, L.
Newby, L.
Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.
Nicol, B.
Orme, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Puttnam, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Renwick of Clifton, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Whitty, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

1 Jun 1998 : Column 110

9.53 p.m.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 110:

Page 23, line 19, at end insert--
("( ) A school organisation plan must set out the ways in which diversity in the style and type of education offered by the schools in the area will be maintained or increased, and the ways in which parents and pupils will be enabled to take greater advantage of such diversity.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 110, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 110A. These are clearly probing amendments. The issues which they cover are dealt with specifically in Clause 25(3). I do not expect the Minister to accept the idea that any alteration should be made to the Bill at this stage.

1 Jun 1998 : Column 111

However, I hope that he will take the opportunity to expand on Clause 25(3) and to explain in particular how it covers the points raised by the amendments.

Amendment No. 110 addresses the question of diversity. Any school organisation committee, local bureaucracy or local organisation of this sort will tend towards simplicity and towards things which are easily comprehensible and controllable. In the past when LEAs have had control over this sort of thing they have tended to be against diversity. Since they will not have quite the control over diversity which they used to, they will control ways in which parents can make use of that diversity.

Jumping ahead, a later amendment, Amendment No. 241, deals with school transport. That is one of the main mechanisms which LEAs use to control access to schools. I shall take the concrete example of schools around Winchester, which I happen to know. Hampshire is not a bad LEA and pursues relatively benign policies. But within Winchester there are three good secondary schools, all, I would say, on a par academically, all with very different characters. Different children will do better in different schools, and parents who take the trouble to look at all three will develop a strong preference for one or the other. They are all within half a mile of each other but, depending on where you live, you can get a bus to only one of them. No effort is made by the local education authority to enable parents to send their child to the secondary school of their choice. If they choose a different secondary school from the one they are allocated they have to do the entire school run themselves. So it is only those parents who can afford to do that--and there are plenty of those around Winchester--who can take advantage of the diversity.

I do not want the Government to spell out any specific nostrums in the Bill, or indeed in the regulations, but I should like them to encourage local authorities to enable parents, where possible, and where it can be done without undue inconvenience, to take advantage of the existing diversity.

In Amendment No. 110A, at the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, earlier, I turn to the question of the consideration which should be given to expanding popular schools. I do not have any difficulty with what Hampshire has done in this regard. But in the case of some of the excellent state secondary schools, particularly around North London, there has been a long history of the local education authorities not putting money into those schools and expanding them but insisting instead that the money should go into the schools that the parents do not want to use. Parents can like it or lump it, there should be only so many allowed in Camden Girls and that is it.

I detect from what the noble Baroness said on Second Reading that there is an understanding in government that support for popular schools, enabling them to expand where that is what the schools want and what local parents want, is an admirable objective. Even if it may mean that other schools shrink, that is not necessarily a bad thing. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will feel able to give me some comfort that

1 Jun 1998 : Column 112

LEAs and school organisation committees, in particular, will be signed in this direction by what the Government choose to put in the regulations. I beg to move.

Lord Rix: As we stagger on, oh so slowly, from school organisation committees to school organisation plans, and as it seems that a member of a local education authority, a person nominated by the Diocesan Board of Education by any diocese of the Church of England, and a person nominated by the Bishop of any Roman Catholic Church are the only people guaranteed a place on such committees, I wish to speak to Amendment No. 111 in the forlorn hope of securing some reference to special educational needs in these new arrangements for organisation of schools.

This amendment would have the effect of ensuring that alongside the draft school organisation plan that is submitted to the school organisation committee--if they eventually exist--there would be an explicit assessment of the impact of the draft plan on provision for children with special educational needs. Excellence for all children--it is such a little thing to ask.

10 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I am glad to be able to support the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on this amendment, especially as I felt compelled to oppose an amendment which he moved on a previous occasion. It seems to me to be entirely right that, at this point in the Bill, there should be specific reference to special educational needs in relation to the draft plan. We are all aware that it is always easy to overlook children who have special educational needs in these days when so much emphasis is laid on the meeting of high targets and the establishment of high standards.

It is perfectly possible to have high standards in relation to children with special educational needs. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, may be interested to know that a society of which I am chairman--the National Society--which originally founded many of the schools that have become church schools, has just set up a fellowship to study the whole area of the spiritual and moral development of children with special educational needs. The Churches have a strong concern in that respect. I would personally be very glad to see this particular amendment on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I should like, first, to support Amendment No. 111 as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. We had a long argument some time ago--it seems like six months ago, but it was not actually as long ago as that--on the inclusion of the word "all" to emphasise the Government's stated commitment to the welfare of children with special educational needs.

It seems to me that this is an absolutely perfect place for us to make that commitment plain on the face of the Bill. It would satisfy many people who have been trying to amend various parts of the legislation if we were to get that commitment clarified on the face of this Bill. Therefore, on those grounds, I appeal to the Government to at least give the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and all those who are concerned about such matters, some comfort by

1 Jun 1998 : Column 113

saying that they will at least take the matter away and consider it as being a potential way of satisfying that demand. Indeed, it would be most useful if local authorities had to show how their proposals would affect that very vulnerable group of people. Of course, not all of them are vulnerable; some of them are just difficult and they also have to be coped with.

Secondly, I turn to Amendment No. 110, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. At the end of the noble Lord's opening remarks, I was quite uncertain as to whether he was talking about the possibility of having a large number of different sorts of schools or whether he was talking about being able to have the same sort of school, organisationally speaking, delivering different nuances of education. In other words, I am not quite certain as to whether the noble Lord's proposal would enable more schools of a different kind to be developed or whether his amendment addresses the question of educational diversity--that is, diversity in the classroom. If it is the latter, then I believe the noble Lord has made an important point.

One of the tragedies that is taking place today because of the demand for high standards, and their measurement by examination results throughout the system, is that diversity of provision which, after all, has to respond to a wide range of different sorts of pupil--for example, those who develop at different speeds, and so on--is in danger of disappearing. We need to pay more attention to the diversity of education within our existing schools. I am really not interested in a huge organisational change regarding whether or not such schools are of one sort or another. However, I am interested in maintaining diversity of provision. If that is what the noble Lord is talking about, I believe that he has made an interesting and important point.

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