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Baroness Byford: If I may return to my amendment, it would have been immensely helpful to all of us debating in the Chamber tonight if a code of practice had been available. It is rather a shame that we shall have to wait until next year before it will come into being. However, having said that and having listened to the Minister's response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 211 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 211A and 211B:

Page 61, line 11, leave out ("made by") and insert ("for").
Page 61, line 16, after ("shall") insert ("(despite anything in subsection (2))").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move these two amendments together formally. I have already spoken to them.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 81, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Lucas: I signalled my intention to oppose the clause as an opportunity for the Minister to elucidate how she sees under the new regime the two opposing and irreconcilable forces of parental choice and what the schools want being dealt with and, so far as possible, reconciled. The noble Baroness will know of enough examples of how schools and local authorities use preferences to fight for what they want and how parents use preferences to try to lever things their way to enable me not to have to go into great detail. I would prefer to listen to the Minister and then seek clarification if I feel a matter has not been covered.

Baroness Blackstone: The clause is a straightforward restatement of the existing parental preference provisions currently set out in Section 411 of the Education Act 1996. That Act consolidated existing legislation, as I suspect the noble Lord knows--the right for parents to say which school they would prefer their child to attend and the duty on LEAs and schools to comply with that preference, unless any of the specified

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relief supply has, of course, been enshrined in legislation right back since 1980 and was the cornerstone of the noble Lord's party's parental choice policy.

In a nutshell, the clause consolidates all existing provisions relating to parental preference. It incorporates two changes introduced by the previous government in the Education Act 1997. The first relates to twice excluded pupils and makes clear that the duties to comply with the parents' preference is to supply it in such cases.

The second prevents partially selective schools from keeping selective places unfilled where demand for places at the school exceeds the places available and not enough applicants meet the selective criteria.

We have, of course, now agreed some minor technical amendments to subsection (6). These clarify the procedures whereby two or more schools may enter into an agreement to co-ordinate their respective admissions timetables and procedures for that agreement to be approved by the Secretary of State. His approval can give schools added flexibility over meeting parents' preferences.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is interested in the interaction of the provisions on parental preference and the new admissions framework. I hope I can reassure him and the Committee that the new admissions framework will safeguard the right that parents have enjoyed since 1980 to have a say in the school placement of their child. This clause carries forward that right, together with the duty on school admission authorities to comply with parental preference, unless they can show that this would prejudice efficient education or efficient use of resources, or in the case of selective or religious schools that applicants do not meet any selective or religious criteria. This means that normally, if a school has space, eligible pupils must be admitted. I hope that helps the noble Lord.

Lord Lucas: Yes, that will satisfy me for the moment. We shall come back to any conflicts that attitude might create under later sections.

Clause 81, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 82 and 83 agreed to.

Clause 84 [Procedure for determining admission arrangements]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 211C:

Page 62, line 38, at end insert--
(" (1A) The admission arrangements shall, in respect of any admissions made otherwise than under the provisions of sections 86, 94 and 95, give an over-riding preference to children who are resident in a designated area and whose parents have expressed a preference for the school in accordance with section 81.
(1B) In this section "designated area" means a geographical area determined by the admissions authority.
(1C) A designated area may include parts of the areas covered by more than one local education authority.
(1D) More than one school may include the same geographical area in its designated area.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 211C and to speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 211D, 211E, 213BA and 214.

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Amendment No. 211C introduces the question of how admission arrangements are to interlock. I have chosen to set out in this model something which will be familiar, and that is designated areas or the idea that schools should have a particular area which they are supposed to serve. This is going back into history, but my reason for putting it in this amendment is that it appears to have been revived by this Government in the context of further education, that is if the trade rag FE Now! is to be believed. The FEFC has decided that FE colleges should have local catchment areas and that colleges should not be funded for students which they bring in from outside those catchment areas. That is taking the concept of catchment areas a long way and certainly further than I would intend to in this clause.

I do not pretend to have any particular attachment to the ideas that I have set out here. I merely wanted to take an idea, see how far it would run and use it to elucidate what the Government's plans were for ensuring, or going as far as they can to ensure, that there are not gaps in the provision which individual children fall through. In other words, every child has a right to attend a school which is sensibly located and has a sensible provision according to where they live and what their abilities are. I shall be interested to hear how the Government intend to achieve that.

Amendment No. 211D is intended to allow the Government to elucidate how subsection (3), paragraphs (a) and (b), are intended to work. What kind of area less than an LEA is the Government contemplating? What kind of regulations and opportunities are they thinking of putting in place? How do they see them working?

Amendment No. 211E is similarly probing. It is intended to discover how the arrangements between a local education authority, an admissions authority and the adjudicator will work. What will be the restrictions on the adjudicator? What terms of reference will he have to work to in contemplating the kind of admission arrangements which the admissions authority will have to set out? What allowance should be made for the capriciousness or agenda which the adjudicator will bring to it?

Amendment No. 213BA is merely the adjunct to Amendment No. 211C, which reflects the ideas set out in terms of the instructions which the adjudicator may receive. Amendment No. 214 suggests that the adjudicator will also need to be given instructions as to how he should regard the need of schools which have a religious character to maintain that in respect of their admissions policies. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for explaining his amendments. I appreciate that they form a coherent whole, even though it is an investigative whole. Amendments Nos. 211C and 211D would require the admissions authority to draw up areas and give priority in allocating school places to parents who live within those areas and to express a preference over and above out-of-area parents, except where the school operates special religious or selective arrangements.

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Amendment No. 211E would prevent an admissions authority from being able to vary its admission arrangements during a school year, even following a major change of circumstance. Amendment No. 213BA would also require the adjudicator in making decisions to have regard to children being resident in the designated area of the most convenient local area schools and to have regard to the whole country being divided into areas.

Amendment No. 214 to Clause 86 refers to references made to the adjudicator by the school's governing body when the LEA does not agree to the school's proposed special arrangements. In prescribed cases covering denominational or religious criteria, the adjudicator must forward the reference to the Secretary of State for him to determine.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised this interesting and complicated debate about the link between geography and meeting parental preference. In speaking to the previous group of amendments he sought to see how the Government would resolve the conflict, as he put it, between parental choice and what schools want. We will never resolve that conflict. It is not even as though there were a simple question of parental choice, because different parental choices may be in conflict and different requirements of schools may be in conflict. That is why we have this enormously complicated section of the Bill, which is complicated even without setting out on the face of the Bill the contents of the code of practice.

These are issues where the best will sometimes be the enemy of the good and where the best for one person will sometimes be to the detriment of another. I admire enormously the principles on which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, dealt with admission policies when she was in local government, if she got through her time in local government and achieved what she said she achieved. I believe she said that, whenever there was an allocation to be made other than to the first parental choice, the alternative would be--perhaps I may finish my understanding of what she said and, if I am wrong, then she can correct me--at least as good in educational terms as that which would have been achieved by the first choice.

10.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord did get it wrong. I was talking about reorganisation policies. I was talking about closing schools, merging schools, changing the nature of schools, where children, as a result of those changes, had to be given an alternative provision. In every single case cost was not the prime factor; rather, it was the soundness of the alternative educational provision, which had to be at least comparable, if not better.

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