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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am almost breathless with alarm at what the noble Baroness has just said; namely, that we are obsessed with structures. This Bill is almost all about structures and framework. A very small part of it is about standards. We are simply saying: leave the structures as they are. Foundation schools, community schools and voluntary aided schools will be set up, which were already part of the system anyway. I do not know whether the noble Baroness has read the Bill, but it is all about structures. Those are schools that will be structurally changed within the system. Therefore, to make that accusation of me is very strange in the circumstances.

I must ask the noble Baroness some questions. If, according to the rules, she is not allowed to answer, I should be grateful for answers by letter. When the grant-maintained schools become foundation schools or

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VA schools, they will be their own admissions authorities. But who agrees the admissions policies for those schools? Who in the future has the power to modify those admissions policies? Do foundation schools have a right of veto over any change whatsoever that may be suggested by a local education authority or which may come out of an education development plan? That is very important.

My understanding is that a proposal can be made by the local authority to close a foundation school, to enlarge it or to merge it. If that is objected to, as it almost certainly will be, the matter then goes to the organisational committee, which will decide the proposals if the votes cast are unanimous; if they are not, the adjudicator will make the decision. That was the information I received in a Written Answer from the noble Baroness.

However, there is a point that the noble Baroness has not addressed. I know that the LEA cannot change the admissions policies. I have the admissions document in front of me. There are one or two glitches in it. For example, the FAS is still spoken of as though it will remain in being. The FAS will disappear from the scene. Having telephoned an official at the department, it is my understanding that for "FAS" we should read "LEA". One then starts to become worried about some of the ramifications of the content of the amendments.

I remain concerned about the degree of autonomy of grant-maintained schools. The noble Baroness has made much of how these schools became grant-maintained and what were their motives. One matter is not arguable. It is that they have all made a very good fist of running their own schools, of rising to the challenge of full autonomy and running their budgets effectively. They have been so effective that the Government have adopted that approach as a policy.

The general perception and all the rhetoric of the Government during and since the election have been that these schools are treated more favourably; and according to the Government, that has created a two-tier system: what, then, will they lose as a result of becoming foundation schools? It would be helpful if, in a letter, the noble Baroness could spell that out. What will they lose by having their special favoured status--if that is what she believes they have had--taken away? What will be lost by amortising the favourable status across all schools? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 46:

Page 19, line 19, at beginning insert ("(subject to subsection (4A))").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group of amendments modifies Clause 20 which, as drafted, provides that when the new framework is established LEAs will maintain the former grant-maintained schools that are located in their area. That means that in the few cases where, before a school became grant-maintained, it was maintained by one LEA but situated

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geographically in another LEA's area, under this legislation the second LEA will inherit the school rather than the former maintaining LEA.

That will make sense where a school now has little or no connection with its former maintaining LEA, though we have recently become aware of at least one case where the school still has significant links with the former LEA but little or no connection with the LEA in whose area it is located. I trust noble Lords will recognise the fact that the school is Nonsuch High School for Girls and the former maintaining authority was the London Borough of Sutton. That does not mean that by pursuing the amendment the Government are pandering to the revanchiste ambitions of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. It is an amendment which makes sense in these unusual circumstances. We are not simply currying favour with the Lib Dems, though we hope to do so.

We consider that the general principle should still be that a GM school should be maintained in the area in which it is geographically located. However, there should be a mechanism for it to be maintained by its former LEA where that is justified. These amendments will enable the Secretary of State, in those few cases, to make an order providing that the former maintaining LEA should maintain the school rather than the area in which it is situated.

The power will be restricted to the following circumstances. First, that the school, before it became GM, was maintained by one authority and situated in another and that it is still situated outside its former maintaining LEA area; under Amendment No. 235 the former maintaining LEA or the LEA in whose area it is now situated must appeal to the Secretary of State by 30th November 1998. That deadline is needed to ensure that there is enough time to give the appropriate LEA the standard spending assessment credit for its school from April 1999.

To decide such cases the Secretary of State will consider the relative strength of the two connections. It will make sense for a school to be maintained by the LEA on whose scheme its funding is currently based, but there may be other considerations; for example, the school's age range or admissions' policy may fit one LEA's general pattern rather than another. The amendments will enable the Secretary of State, in those few cases, to take account of all considerations and reach a sensible judgment. I beg to move.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I must rise to speak to this amendment. I cannot imagine any noble Lords accusing the Government of in any way pandering to my ambitions--by that stage my colleagues were laughing so much that I was not sure what sort of ambitions the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was describing.

I am grateful to the Minister and his department for attending to this problem. It was acknowledged that this problem, to which attention was recently drawn, was mine and uniquely mine. We have a school which was built before the war to serve what is now the London Borough of Sutton. In those days we were all in Surrey and it was not conceived as a problem.

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Since the London boroughs were formed in 1964, the school has continued to be a Sutton school, albeit it is now GM. But it is located a few yards--literally--on the Surrey side of the boundary. As currently drafted, the Bill would have had the effect of transferring that school from Sutton to Surrey. I was certain that it was neither the intention of the Government nor the Bill arbitrarily to move a school from one LEA to another almost by accident. I am therefore grateful to the Minister for recognising the problem as soon as I drew it to his attention.

The Minister knows that I would have been much happier to amend the Bill to make it clear that that was not the intention for any school. I was told that other schools were in a similar position. I gather from the response of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that that may be so, but that his department is not yet aware of them.

I am grateful for this amendment, which I accept. I can assure the Minister and his department that they will receive one application well before 30th November and I hope that they will look upon it favourably. In moving the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, gave some idea of the criteria which the Minister will use in considering whether or not to make such an order. In this case, I have no reason to believe that it will be opposed in any way. My understanding is that the head of the school--I am sure she speaks for her governors--would wish for things to remain as they are. I understand that, certainly at officer level in Surrey, there is a similar view. But it would be helpful if the Minister could say a little more about what criteria he will use in deciding whether or not to make an order. I would hope that if an application is not opposed it can be readily agreed. In other circumstances elsewhere in the country where there is a disputed application, what criteria will be used to judge the basis of whether or not to make such an order?

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am amused on different grounds. My understanding is that it was a Liberal plot and the Government were going along with and co-operating with it.

I make a serious point. If this can be done by agreement, that is what should happen. However, my understanding is that there is a little controversy on this issue and I think it is important that it should be resolved. What consultation has taken place between the department and the school and the department and the two LEAs? There should have been some consultation, albeit that there is a period of reflection between now and then. I, too, would be interested in the criteria that will be considered. For example, if there is an objection from any of the three parties--one LEA or another and/or the school--how will the Government come to a decision on this matter?

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