Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lucas: I am grateful for the support from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I find myself in agreement with certainly everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, and with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said. I did not, of course, find myself in agreement with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said. But then much of what he said addressed parts of my amendment that were there purely for the sake of discussion. I am quite aware that the drafting of my amendment is deficient and would cost local authorities a quite unreasonable sum of money.

Nonetheless, the core argument remains to be confirmed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will confirm that that is the truth; namely, that the local education authority will have control over transport policy, and will therefore effectively have a stranglehold on schools' admissions policies and on the school

8 Jun 1998 : Column 839

organisation plan--because whatever other people work into those by way of adjudicators, panels or committees, all a local authority has to do is to say, "Fine, but we are not going to provide the transport for that", and it wins. If that is the way in which the Government see this provision operating, I am grateful for the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spelling it out so clearly. If it is not, I shall be grateful if he will say why not.

Lord Whitty: I thought I had said why not; and the "why not" has also been referred to in the courts. Local authorities have to act reasonably in refusing to provide transport in cases where parents have made a reasonable choice for their children. That requirement to act reasonably greatly constrains any local education authorities which attempt to use the non-provision of transport to sabotage parent choice. I believe that is what lies behind the noble Lord's amendment.

Perhaps I may respond briefly to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. Clearly, an overall move to the provision of greater public transport includes school transport, and all those social costs have to be borne in mind. I would add that a large proportion of the congestion costs caused by home-to-school individual transport are caused in areas which are below the statutory walking distance, let alone duplicating the provision of local authority transport which does exist.

Lord Lucas: Perhaps we should procure that all children have to run to school! I thank the noble Lord for his reply. We shall read it with great interest in Hansard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 88 [Fixing admission numbers]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 216B:

Page 67, line 44, at end insert--
("( ) Where a school is required to refrain from allocating places up to its full admissions number so that places are available for late admissions, the local education authority shall treat such unallocated places, for the purposes of funding the school, as if each two such places equalled one allocated place.").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to the Question whether Clause 88 shall stand part of the Bill.

We now turn to admission numbers. I believe I am right in saying that the admissions authorities will be free to raise admission numbers above the standard number, and that there is no provision for the local education authority having to agree that before it can be done.

Am I also right in thinking that, with that increase in admission numbers, the additional resources will flow on a per pupil basis; and that, however much the LEA may disagree about admission numbers or whatever arrangements are eventually arrived at by the adjudicator, it will be the local education authority which ends up with the bill and the responsibility? If there is anything that the noble Baroness can do to elucidate the working of this policy and say where under the new arrangements the responsibility will lie, I should be most grateful.

8 Jun 1998 : Column 840

Amendment No. 216B addresses a practice of local education authorities in particular of saying, "Right, your admission number is 200, plus 20; the 200 is the number you are allowed to admit, the plus 20 represents the others that we can stuff into a school if they happen to turn up later--in other words, you must keep 20 places in your school free in case we have use for them later because that is convenient for ensuring that the system runs through the whole county". That means that a school must provide the resources and space for an additional 20 pupils and receive under LMS no remuneration for that.

This amendment asks the Government: first, is that a practice that they expect to continue; and, secondly, would they agree that, where such a practice is imposed, it should be reasonable for the local education authority to give the school some remuneration for keeping places open? I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: I shall first address the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, before turning to the question of why this clause should stand part of the Bill.

Admission authorities are not currently required to keep places empty for late admissions, nor will they be required to do so under the new arrangements. Where places are held open by schools for short periods, this does not result in any alteration of funding because that is calculated on the basis of pupils present at certain dates rather than pupil load over the year. However, if it does appear that there is a need to permit education authorities to adjust funding to recognise places held open, this would be a matter to be dealt with in the regulations to be made under Clause 46 governing the calculation of schools' budget shares. It would seem inappropriate to pre-empt the outcome of the current consultation on funding by writing a requirement of this kind into primary legislation. On the whole, the Government do not think it a good idea for places to be kept open. We would expect local education authorities and schools, where they are admission authorities, to fill their places where they can.

I turn now to the reasons why this clause should stand part of the Bill. The clause contains provisions for the fixing of admission numbers at maintained schools and gives effect to Schedule 23, which sets out arrangements for determining, reviewing and varying standard numbers at maintained schools. The clause largely reproduces the provisions existing under the Education Act 1996 but with important changes to enable LEAs to comply with the infant class size provisions set out in Clauses 1 to 4 within the time limits that we have set ourselves.

If we are to have a system for admitting pupils to schools which allows maximum parental choice, it is important to have a system for setting admission numbers in relation to the ability of the school to accommodate pupils. The standard number is the minimum number of pupils the school must admit, if asked to do so, in the normal admission age group. But admission authorities are free to set admission limits above this if they choose to do so--I believe that was one of the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas

8 Jun 1998 : Column 841

asked--and they must then admit pupils to that level. However, they may not set an admission limit below the standard number. Again, the noble Lord asked about that. The clause provides a mechanism through which increases to the admission number may be proposed by the LEA or the governors where they are not the admission authority for the school. Where this is not agreed, the governors or LEA may apply for an increase in the standard number. That protects the interests of all those involved in the organisation of places.

It is clearly important that these arrangements should not in any way restrict the effective implementation of the class size policy. The clause therefore provides that admission authorities must not set an admission limit above the standard number if it would conflict with those class size limits. It further requires admission authorities to review the existing standard number and apply for a reduction where it is set at a level which would be incompatible with meeting class size limits. The clause also gives the Secretary of State the power to disapply the standard number for a transitional period while a review is being carried out and a reduction applied for. I hope that the noble Lord sees the purpose of having the clause as part of the Bill and that I have answered his questions.

Lord Lucas: All my questions but one have been answered. Is my understanding right that, if a school which is its own admission authority chooses to increase its admissions number, the LEA has no say in that and no ability to get that wound back down again? With that agreement by way of a nod, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 88 agreed to.

12.15 a.m.

Schedule 23 [Determination, variation and review of standard numbers]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendments Nos. 217 to 219:

Page 195, line 41, at end insert--
("(6A) If--
(a) by the end of such period as may be specified in or determined in accordance with regulations, the committee have not voted on the question whether to vary the standard number under sub-paragraph (1), and
(b) the body by whom the application was made request the committee to refer the application to the adjudicator,
they shall refer the application to the adjudicator.").
Page 195, line 42, leave out from ("If") to end of line 43 and insert ("the committee--
(a) have voted on any matter which (in accordance with regulations under paragraph 5 of Schedule 4) falls to be decided by them under sub-paragraph (1) by a unanimous decision, but
(b) have failed to reach such a decision on that matter,").
Page 195, line 45, at end insert ("(6A) or").

The noble Baroness said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall move Amendments Nos. 217 to 219 en bloc. I beg to move.

8 Jun 1998 : Column 842

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 23, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 89 [Appeal arrangements]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page