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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, before the Minister sits down and with the leave of the House, is the Minister saying that, whereas it is a good idea to express in law the maximum class size for Key Stage 1 children, she does not think it necessary to stipulate a lower age for such classes when they contain two stages or more?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, yes, the Government believe that that is a matter for LEAs. There should be some flexibility here. It is clearly

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common sense that where teachers are having to teach across more than one age group that should be taken into account.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I do not want to be a bore, but she did not deal with the qualification and numbers of teachers in classes of 30.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord was here for the previous group of amendments when I talked about the importance of the quality of teachers. I have just said that it is important that with young children there should be adequate additional adult help in the classroom of the type that I know that the noble Lord has espoused for a long time. I accept that. I hope that that answers his question.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Ampthill): My Lords, Amendment No. 2 having been agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 3 to 6.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 2, line 4, at end insert--
("( ) No limit under this section shall be effective to prevent the admission of a child to a denominational school where--
(a) the parent of the child has expressed a desire for the child to attend a denominational school;
(b) the admissions authority of a denominational school have expressed a willingness to accept the child, notwithstanding the provisions of this section; and
(c) no alternative place is available within a reasonable distance in another school of the same denomination.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 8 and 9. Many parents throughout the land who choose denominational schools are worried. It is important to clarify what we believe to be the Government's intention. Where the parent has expressed a desire for his or her child to attend a denominational school, and where the admissions authority--in other words, the school itself, because under the new arrangements the school itself will be an admissions authority--has expressed a willingness to accept the child, notwithstanding the provisions of this clause, and where there is no alternative place available within a reasonable distance in another school of the same denomination, the school should be free to accept the child.

Amendment No. 8 goes a little further in saying that where it is considered that disapplication is in the interests of parental choice--in other words, of the child being accepted--disapplication can be supported only if it is decided in a ballot by a majority of parents for the time being at that school.

Amendment No. 9 provides again that the provisions can be disapplied where a brother or sister is seeking a place at the school. These are all practical manifestations of the policy. We know that there is concern, especially among the local authorities. Parents are just beginning now to get in touch with us about

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their concerns as to how this will work in practice. We know that some parts of the Church, for example, are concerned about how it will work in practice.

We are trying to exercise some foresight by saying to the Government that with these provisions, where everyone concerned is agreed, and where parental preference can be satisfied, especially when one is talking about an extra one, two or three children, it is important that the parents' wishes are acceded to.

There is real concern now that parental preference will have to be compromised. The Government's statements are unequivocal: parental preference will not be compromised. If that is the case, the amendments should go a long way towards reassuring parents that they will get the school that they wish for their child, particularly where the choice is a denominational one. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, it is with some hesitation that I speak in opposition to the amendment. I am aware of the concern that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, have for denominational schools. I have no doubt of the integrity of their motives in moving the amendment. The noble Baroness referred to some parts of the Church. I was not clear to which parts of the Church she was referring. Those parts of the Church with which I am in touch do not support the amendment.

On previous occasions, I have said that we are anxious not to drive a wedge between denominational and county schools. It would be unfortunate were such a wedge to be driven, especially if it were to happen in relation to class sizes. It would be an odd situation if class sizes were limited to 30 in all schools except denominational schools. We do not wish church schools to be excluded from this provision.

I recognise that Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 provide other circumstances in which classes might conceivably be larger, but in terms of the overall category of schools, church schools wish to be in the same position as all other schools.

I did say that I was not sure with which parts of the Church the noble Baroness had been in touch. I remember exchanges on this issue we have had previously in your Lordships' House during the Bill's passage. In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, claimed to speak on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. There was an exchange on another issue when I was speaking on behalf of the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Churches. I need to make it clear that the Roman Catholic, Anglican and free Churches work closely together on these matters. The staff of the board of education which I chair, the Catholic Education Service, and the education secretary of the Free Church Council meet to discuss issues. We met to discuss this issue. When we visit Ministers, as we do frequently, we do so not as separate denominations, but as the Churches together. It is out of that shared experience that I speak on behalf of the Church of which I am a member and the Catholic Education Service.

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Others in your Lordships' House might want to make other representations on behalf of other Churches. The Catholic Education Service and the board which I chair are not prepared to support the amendment. We do so in the understanding, and against, I believe, an undertaking, that the proportion of denominational places will be maintained; the reduction of class sizes is not to be used as an instrument for reducing the number of places in denominational schools.

It is against that background that we welcome the additional finance that has been made available, not least for church schools. We look forward to the announcement of which church schools will benefit from the finance that has been made available. Against that background, I oppose the amendment.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, perhaps I may repeat for the sake of emphasis an important point made by the right reverend Prelate. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is aware that where a differential is made--the right reverend Prelate described it as a wedge between the two types of schools--there can be considerable agitation. If parents are refused a place for their child at a particular school while the church school--if I may so describe it--which is often just half a mile along the road, admits a child, that causes a great deal of anguish. People see differential treatment being given to their children. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that that causes many parents a great deal of concern.

Secondly, if we feel that 30 is the correct limit for good educational purposes and reasons, that should apply to denominational schools as it does to any other school.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am minded to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, and the right reverend Prelate. I accept that it must be right that church schools should not wish to crowd in children to the disadvantage of those children. The Church of England has a different point of view from the Jewish religion and the Roman Catholic Church. As I understand it, the Church of England takes the view that Church of England schools are for all children, and its objective is to provide the best possible education with a Christian background.

The concern, particularly of the Catholic and Jewish communities, is to ensure that children of parents who adhere to those faiths have the opportunity of an education set in the context of that faith. It is important to stress that that is the objective of this amendment. I do not think it is a terribly good amendment, but I would be very much encouraged if the noble Baroness were able to say in replying that very careful consideration will be given to ensuring that, as far as is humanly possible, children from particularly the Roman Catholic and the Jewish denominations will have the opportunity of receiving an education in the context of their parents' faith.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I do not know about Church of England schools in particular because I have not lived in England. It sounds as if the

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Church of England, and perhaps other Churches that are agreeing with them, are falling into a trap when they are embarrassed by what they see as a conflict between fairness for children and what works for them in education.

There is no question but that Church schools work best of all for the children whose parents' motivation for them being there is that they want that particular ethos for their children. If those children are kept out of a school because of parents who choose on the basis of the nearness of the school, that is very sad. I am sorry to hear the Church say that, because it is probably a mistaken perception. I see their embarrassment; I think I understand it, but I believe it is a mistake and I wish that they were not opposing this concept, even if the amendment itself is not what they particularly fancy.

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