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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, perhaps with the permission of the House I shall be allowed to give an explanation. I am prepared to accept the criticisms of the noble Lord as regards the wording of my amendment. If necessary, I will come back at Third Reading with a revised version. The noble Lord is always helpful over my amendments. However, I am concerned about a school closure. If a school closure is put before a school organisation committee and the diocesan representatives disagree, I am opposing the matter being left entirely to the adjudicator. That is my position and I am prepared to reword the amendment. I thank the noble Lord for his assistance.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I thought that that was the case. I am glad that we are clear about where we stand.

If we take what the noble Lord means rather that what the amendment says, we do not accept that it is right for one of the partners to be given an absolute veto over the decisions of the committee in the way that the amendment proposes. There must be a way of reaching a resolution in respect of which there is consensus. That is the whole purpose of the school organisation committee exercise.

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The Church groups will have the same opportunity as all other groups to register their views and should have no greater powers of veto than other groups if we are to maintain and continue the existing balance of powers and responsibilities.

I will now qualify that statement. The House will be aware that in the context of class sizes we have recently made a commitment that our intention to reduce infant class sizes will not lead to a reduction in the relative numbers of denominational places within an authority. In the same way, the guidance we shall issue to adjudicators to assist them in the difficult task of reaching decisions will make it clear that where the relevant Church group on the committee has voted against closure of a denominational school an adjudicator, in taking the final decision, shall not reduce the proportion of denominational places within the authority. That goes slightly further than the "take into account" phrase which the right reverent Prelate used, and I hope he will agree that it is in accordance with a letter which my noble friend sent to him yesterday. I hope he will agree that it meets the points which he raised in particular.

Therefore, that does not mean that we can accept this amendment. It would disrupt the balance of partnership between local providers, a partnership that we are trying to maintain. But with the commitment that I have given to including in guidance to adjudicators that the proportion of denominational places within the authority should not be reduced, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, will feel able not only to withdraw the amendment but not to put forward a better amendment next time because the points required by the Churches have been met.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about grammar schools. Let us discuss those when we reach our discussions on that. We must not assume that a closure would necessarily flow from a ballot on grammar schools. I really believe that it is better to discuss the issue fully in context rather than dealing with it now.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his assistance in drafting my amendments. The problem will arise if no consensus is reached on the school organisation committee. Secondly, denominational schools are extremely different from other schools in that situation since there are many people in the country who feel passionately about attending their denominational schools. It may be that Roman Catholics feel more passionately about that than Anglicans, but certainly many Roman Catholic families feel extremely strongly about that.

I am rather mistrustful of the promise which the noble Lord gave to the right reverend Prelate but I shall look very closely at what he said. The Minister said that denominational places would be provided in a local authority area. I think of a county like Kent, which is enormous. Perhaps the Minister will add, which would please me somewhat more, that denominational places will be provided within travelling distance. If a denominational school were closed in, for example, Maidstone or Canterbury, it may be necessary to travel

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40 or 50 miles, because sometimes those schools do not exist nearby. Therefore, I ask the Minister to meet the spirit as well as the letter of the law.

It is late at night and I shall consider this matter. I do not promise not to come back on Third Reading. I may do. However, I shall read what the Minister said and I ask him to send me a copy of the letter that was sent to the right reverend Prelate. I am a free negotiator. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 27 [Proposals for establishment or alteration of community, foundation or voluntary school]:

Lord Monkswell moved Amendment No. 81:

Page 25, line 31, after ("community") insert (", voluntary").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 82 and 195. The genesis for these amendments is the representations that we have received from the Steiner Waldorf community and, in particular, the debate that was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in Committee on the amendments which he put forward at that time.

The other point I make is that another aim of these amendments is to assist the Government by providing them with new powers. I shall briefly present the amendments and present some arguments for them.

Amendment No. 81 inserts the word "voluntary" in Clause 27(1). The effect of that would be to give the LEA power to bring forward proposals for a new voluntary school where the people who would normally promote such a new voluntary school do not necessarily have the expertise nor the resources to scramble through the bureaucracy of education legislation.

Amendment No. 82 amends Clause 27 to give authority to the promoters of a new school to ask the Secretary of State to sanction an alternative curriculum to the national curriculum. Amendment No. 195, which is an amendment to the Education Act 1996, provides that an alternative curriculum to the national curriculum may be promulgated by regulation and applied to certain designated schools.

In researching the background to these amendments, it became very clear to me that the Government have the power to promulgate a single national curriculum and that they also have the power to disapply it or to apply it with some modifications. However, the Government do not have the power to promulgate an alternative curriculum to the national curriculum.

While the key purpose of these amendments is to provide a mechanism for schools such as the Steiner Waldorf schools to become part of the state system and receive some public money while retaining their distinctive school ethos and curriculum, there is also another aspect that I should like to highlight; namely, the saving of public expenditure. I shall give the House two examples. The first is an existing Steiner school with, say, 400 pupils. If it gets into financial difficulties, it would have to close, leaving 400 extra pupils to be educated totally at taxpayers' expense. However, if it could become a voluntary school which received some

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money from the state and some from the Steiner community, the schooling of the children would be undisturbed and public money would be saved.

My other example is the development of new voluntary Steiner schools. I believe that there is a significant demand for such schools throughout the country. The provision of some public funds would actually reduce the number of children attending state schools totally funded by taxpayers. I hope that these amendments will overcome the technical flaws identified by the Government in Committee and that they will build on their acceptance of diversity in education.

In conclusion, I should also point out that we have heard about the development of EAZs and the fact that the national curriculum might be disapplied. I hope, therefore, that the Government recognise that, by accepting my amendments, they would have a mechanism to ensure that an alternative curriculum within those zones could in fact be promulgated by them rather than having a situation where no curriculum was promulgated, thus leaving things in limbo. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I should like to express my support for the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. The Government appear to have buried all their past prejudices and to have moved into the area of pluralism; indeed, that is certainly the case with education action zones, although they have a blind spot about GM schools, which is such a pity.

I believe the point that the noble Lord is trying to make is a general one for pluralism but the specific hook upon which it is hung is the Steiner Waldorf schools. Here we have a group of schools attaining comparable results at GCSE and at A-level. It seems to me that we should worry less about the route to that if at the end of the day the attainment is at least comparable and in some cases better than many of our own schools. We ought to be open minded about them coming into the mainstream sector.

Further, they do have something offer. I believe that they have a curriculum which is conducive to some young people who are for one reason or another not suited to and are misfits within mainstream education. Again, we should be looking at innovative ways of tackling that kind of issue. Therefore, I should like to support a blow for pluralism.

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