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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I shall not speak for too long because I know that Members of the

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Committee opposite do not like to hear two voices from the Front Bench. However, mine is a gentle voice and I ask the Committee to bear with me.

This is perhaps one of the most important amendments in the Bill because it deals with the very practical point of the expense of reorganisation. The only reason that I am standing on my feet is to speak in detail about one city, Canterbury, which would be drastically affected by the Bill, and it bears out the points made by my noble friend.

Ofsted--and the noble Baroness knows this--and most people in education say that the ideal comprehensive should have a sixth-form entry. I can assure the noble Baroness that that is what Ofsted says and if she would like me to, I can write to her about that. In Canterbury, there are seven schools showing the whole gamut of the English history of education over the past 40 years. There are the girls' and boys' grammar schools; there is a former secondary school; there is a Catholic school; there is a former secondary modern, now grant-maintained; and there is one other school which I believe used to be a single sex girls' school but which is now co-educational.

There is no doubt that there will have to be amalgamation. This morning I have spoken to the chairman of the Kent education committee. Parents have asked for a costing to be prepared for the whole county. Obviously, that is in its early primitive stages, but he said that I could quote him in this House in saying that it is in terms of hundreds of millions of pounds.

In their ideological thrust to get rid of grammar schools, the Government have forgotten the enormous costs of reorganisation, especially in those counties where grammar schools comprise the normal system; that is, Kent, Buckinghamshire and Trafford. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to say how she can produce good education in those counties without reorganisation.

I was not happy with the noble Baroness's answer that the small comprehensive can work quite well. In other words, they get what they get, so to speak. My view and the view of many in education in Kent is that a large capital cost will be laid on the county; the burden will fall on all schools; and even those who would rejoice in the streets at the abolition of the grammar schools would not wish to see the devastation that resulted unless the noble Baroness can persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be extremely generous.

The point that I make to support my noble friend is that this ideology will cost money. I say to the Government that I hope where their mouth is there is their heart and their pocket.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I was quite amused to hear the noble Baroness insist that local education authorities should publish all sorts of information, because my impression has been that where education authorities have informed governing bodies of the effects of changing from being an ordinary school to being a GM school, that effort has been resented on the part of the noble Baroness's party.

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However, as regards this amendment, there may be some merit in having some sort of regulations governing those ballots. It does not do any harm for people to understand, when they take a vote, what are likely to be the consequences of that vote. Perhaps the Minister will respond on the subject of regulation for those ballots.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: I add my voice in support of the first amendment in particular. The Government are taking credit for leaving the decision as to the future of grammar schools with the parents. At face value, that is very commendable. It reflects that they should know what will be the character of the schooling and that they should have a say in what it will be in the future.

However, the question will be limited solely to, "Are you in favour of a non-selective system or do you prefer that a selective system should continue?" I suggest that it would frequently be the case that unless the cost consequences and implications are brought specifically to the attention of parents, they will be neglected. At first instance, they will suppose that there is no cost implication. Is that satisfactory? I suggest very strongly that it is not because it is the parents who will be paying, along with everybody else.

Therefore, since it is right--and the Government accept that it is right--that the parents should have a say in the future of the schools, and the question is put to them, it must be right that they should be informed of a cost implication. As my noble friend Lady Blatch makes clear, that should be done in outline terms at least, and, as my noble friend Lord Pilkington said, in Kent the cost is likely to run to hundreds of millions of pounds.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is minded to accept the amendment, but if she is not, I hope that she will explain how, in principle, she justifies withholding that information as part of the question which will be put.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I rise to support this amendment. On occasion, I may seem to drift slightly from the specific point of the amendment. I hope that the Committee will forgive me for that, but I do not wish to burden it too often with interventions this afternoon. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will understand if I stray slightly from the very specific point.

In Essex, we are fortunate to have a very small number of grammar schools left. In the county as I knew it, we had eight grammar schools serving perhaps 4,000 out of 100,000 secondary pupils. That is a very small proportion. In the north of the county, we have the Colchester Royal Grammar School and the Colchester County High School, operating in competition with an extremely successful sixth-form college, I might add. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Peston, as to what is a comprehensive system. It is perfectly possible to have a comprehensive system of education which does not consist exclusively of comprehensive schools. There is a very clear distinction. In fact, I suggest that a comprehensive system which does not include a wide

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variety of schools, including some selective schools, probably ceases to be comprehensive because it loses its centres of excellence.

I return to the relevant point of this amendment. Those schools are perforce very small. The largest will have at most four forms of entry and some will have fewer than that. Early in my day, we had to do a great deal in Essex because we had a very rapidly expanding population. When there is a rapidly expanding population, it tends to be the younger sectors of the community who move. That meant that we had a huge child population. Therefore, we had to have a vast building programme for schools. We had to build those schools under the utterly pernicious Circular 10/66 which required--and it may be uncomfortable--that if an LEA were to have a capital building programme, it could build only comprehensive schools. I paraphrase slightly. It was not worded quite like that but that is what it meant.

In those days, the received educational expertise required that an effective and efficient comprehensive school, able to give the breadth and depth of education that was required for all pupils from the ablest to the less able, should consist of eight to 10 forms of entry.

Thank heavens, we have come away from that. But even so, the point made by my noble friend that for a comprehensive school you need a considerable size is valid. You really cannot operate very effectively in comprehensive education with fewer than six forms of entry, albeit you can draw the line in by going down to 11-to-16 schools and then there is not a problem provided that there is somewhere else to send the children--either the FE sector, a tertiary college or a sixth-form college.

What will be the future of a redundant grammar school if we go through the ballot procedure? We will have a strange situation because we will have a small set of buildings taking three or four forms of entry with an intense concentration of high quality, specialist facilities such as laboratories which would not normally be provided. If exclusively unselected children are put in the school the use of those buildings will be partly redundant from the first day and over time they will no longer be used. The real question is how to fit into that small set of buildings a non-selective entry group of pupils to try to make them part of a comprehensive system. To be frank, it is extremely difficult and the cost is likely to be extremely high.

I turn to the practicalities of who makes the decision, assuming we provide all the relevant information. In my county of Essex, for example, the Colchester Royal Grammar School and the Colchester County High School for Girls in the north of the county draw pupils from the whole of that area. Unless one polls every parent across the north of the county one will not be testing a valid area. Places in either school are greatly prized. Both appear regularly at the top of the list of state schools in performance terms.

There is an even more complicated situation in the centre of the county. The King Edward VI Grammar School and the Chelmsford County High School for

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Girls draw across the whole of the county. The county comprises 1.5 million people, with 1.1 million electors, a high proportion of whom are parents. It is an extremely difficult, not straightforward, issue. I sympathise with the people who will have to deal with the decisions at local level.

The issue of resources is important. There has not been generous provision in local authorities for a long time. Where provision has become more generous--and I pay tribute to those areas--it is properly devoted to additional teaching, wherever that is possible, and so forth.

The amendment deals with capital resources. Referring again to that county of mine, there are large areas of development and the population is rapidly expanding. The capital burden is difficult to meet under existing circumstances, and if we impose an additional burden it is likely to be the straw that breaks the camel's back. That is a serious situation which neither the LEA nor anyone else will find it easy to live with.

I support the amendment. One of the dangers we face is that insufficient information will be before those who must make the decisions. The debate might have been easier had we had draft regulations. They may exist and I may have missed them. However, I sympathise with the Minister because had draft regulations existed they might have had to be amended in the light of the points raised during this discussion. I am in considerable sympathy with the difficulty in which the Minister finds herself. We are discussing a Bill which enables something to take place. But it is something which does not exist, and we do not know what it will be. That is always difficult.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: The two amendments seek to add compulsorily to the range of information available to parents. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in Amendment No. 233ZA, is proposing that LEAs publish in advance of a ballot proposals for the reorganisation of schools, with full costings, should the outcome of the ballot be in favour of change. In Amendment No. 233AE, she is proposing that LEAs be required to send parents details of test and exam results. The debate has not focused on those issues; it has focused more on the issue of costs. The noble Baroness also suggests that the costs of an LEA's proposed reorganisation scheme should be made available to parents in a ballot.

I am afraid to say that the proposals are unacceptable for several reasons. Amendment No. 233ZA, which requires the LEAs to publish fully costed proposals in advance of a ballot, is unworkable because the costs cannot be known in advance. Furthermore, in my view, it is unnecessary. Let us take, first, the apparent underlying assumption that any vote for change will necessarily and inevitably involve massive costs. There has been a great deal of hyperbole about that, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, talking about costs running into hundreds of millions of pounds and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, suggesting that they will be huge for a local authority such as Essex. I dispute that.

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Incidentally, perhaps I may correct the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. I sympathise with him for not knowing that draft regulations have been published and are available. I also draw the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, to that fact. The regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. So we shall be able to debate them when they are in their final form.

I return to the issue of costs. The Government recognise that there may be costs in some cases. It may be that some retraining of teachers is desirable to prepare them to teach all-ability classes. It may be that some remodelling of premises is helpful to accommodate new patterns of the curriculum. It may even be that some reorganisation is desirable if it is concluded that once the grammar school becomes comprehensive it should become a different size. Much of the debate has focused on that issue.

None of that is in any way automatic. Equally, there may be some savings; for example, on transport if more pupils can attend their local school. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, mentioned that some pupils in Essex travel long distances. We should remember that over the decades the move from selective to comprehensive education has taken place in most areas of the country without fuss, without disruption and without massive reorganisation. Indeed, a great deal of reorganisation took place under the Conservative Government of Mr. Edward Heath between 1970 and 1974. More grammar schools disappeared during the period when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Secretary of State for Education than during the occupancy of that position by any other Member of the other place. Therefore, this is not a new experience. Some of the interventions of Members on the Conservative Benches have given the impression that the proposal is new or has never been undertaken successfully.

Moreover, the change will take place gradually. The effect of a ballot will not be to change the whole of a grammar school's current pupil population; for the most part, it will affect only the new pupils admitted in the first year of an all-ability intake. That will be more than a year after the ballot result is known. All existing pupils admitted on a selective basis will remain in the school. So change will happen gradually; indeed, in an 11 to 18-year comprehensive school over a period of 11 years and in an 11 to 16-year school over a slightly shorter period of time. That gives ample time for the implications and any associated costs to be considered and phased.

While I am mentioning 11 to 16-year schools, perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that I am not aware of Ofsted having said that every comprehensive school should, ideally, have a sixth form--

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