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Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I also rise in an effort to try to persuade the Government to look more closely at the work of the Steiner Waldorf schools. I spoke in Committee on the matter, and I have experience of schools in the constituency that I used to represent. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just mentioned the considerable success achieved by these schools, particularly as regards children who have difficulties fitting into other schools. The Minister talked earlier tonight--this has been echoed by other noble Lords--about partnership and innovation. It is clear that these schools are successful. It is not as if they are asking for a curriculum that is not approved.

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They are saying the curriculum must be approved, but that it may be a different kind of curriculum. Judging from the response we obtained from the Government on a previous occasion, I imagine they will not be willing to go that far. Will the Minister give an undertaking that if the Government are not prepared to accept the amendments, they will establish a dialogue with the Steiner Waldorf Foundation to participate in that foundation's innovative and exciting developments in education? I believe that has occurred for a number of years. I hope the Government will consider establishing a dialogue with the foundation.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Monkswell and echo what has been said on the Liberal Benches. I believe these amendments take further the discussion we had at Committee stage. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will address the question of schools within the school system that deliver the equivalent of the targets of key stages of the national curriculum but within a different timescale and in a different form.

It seems to me that there is an important issue here in terms of pluralism within the system. I draw to my noble friend's attention, as I did in Committee, the study on the aims, methods and curricula of Steiner Waldorf education edited by Martyn Rawson, and in particular to the final chapter of that work which compares in detail the mathematics curriculum, the science curriculum and the language curriculum of the various key stages as delivered within the Steiner Waldorf school system and as delivered within the national curriculum. I believe that proves conclusively that the equivalent of the national curriculum is being delivered. It is time that we moved on from a prescriptive form of national curriculum. As we have already heard, the department may consider it appropriate to do that in certain areas.

Surely here is an internationally recognised school system of high standing, backed by its own specific approach in terms of educational skills, teacher training and delivery and strong parental support. Here we have a strong, pluralistic movement within the school system. Surely that should be recognised. I echo what has been said about the need to have a dialogue between the education department and this foundation to ensure that the benefits of this form of education are recognised within the state system and that they become part of best practice which is available throughout a genuinely pluralistic education system. I hope that the Minister can make some positive comments on this matter. I am grateful to my noble friend for moving the amendment.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am afraid that I shall disappoint my noble friend. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, was right in predicting that would be the case. That is probably because she understands what these amendments seek to achieve. I shall discuss that in a moment. In saying that, I do not in any way want to suggest that Steiner schools do not have a contribution to make, but they are independent schools outside the state system. I shall certainly take back to

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the department the suggestion that there might be some dialogue with them. Perhaps that is something we can pursue.

I am afraid these amendments represent an attempt to change radically the arrangements that this Bill seeks to put into place. They would affect both the framework of schools and the curriculum taught within them.

The voluntary sector originated from independent and, for the most part but not exclusively, religious promoters establishing schools. LEAs have never been able to establish voluntary schools. This Bill continues that tradition. Each of the categories of the new school framework will have distinctive characteristics. Characteristic to the voluntary category will be that new schools can be established only by independent promoters, not by LEAs as these amendments propose.

There are good practical reasons for that. The voluntary category will, as now, consist of schools whose premises are owned by foundations. Having a foundation will be a condition of entry to the category, and there will be two types of foundation: existing private law foundations, whose trustees own part or all of a school's premises, and new statutory group foundations, which Clause 21 of the Bill enables schools to set up. It would not be right for LEAs to use their resources to endow a private law foundation. As for group foundations, those will be voluntary associations of existing schools.

LEAs will have the power to establish community and foundation schools. They will give them enough flexibility to secure the supply of school places in their area. There is no need to enable them to establish voluntary schools. Moreover, it does not make sense for them to do so.

Turning to the amendments which refer to alternative curriculums, the national curriculum sets the framework for teaching in maintained schools. It defines children's entitlement to a rich and varied education, and is therefore central in determining their educational experience. It shapes parents', teachers' and employers' expectations of the skills and knowledge that children will acquire during their school years; and it sets the framework for the Government's drive to raise standards in schools.

The Government's position is therefore to regard the national curriculum as a central plank in our campaign to raise educational standards, to uphold its place at the statutory core of the school curriculum and to adjust it where necessary to help schools play their part in the campaign.

The Government's actions are aimed at making the national curriculum more inclusive and at tailoring it to changing needs in education. The national curriculum remains our benchmark. My noble friend's amendments, however, by seeking to give equal status to other curriculums yet to be specified--he explained that he is applying these amendments to Steiner schools, but they could be picked up by other independent schools--would undermine the place of the national curriculum,

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with the guarantees of breadth, balance and rigour that it provides. Regretfully, therefore, I cannot accept the amendments.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. It has shown that there is wide-ranging support on all sides of the House for the idea of pluralism within our education system.

I perfectly understand that my Amendment No. 81 is probably not very sensible, given my noble friend's explanation. However, I would point out that Amendment No. 195 gives an extra power to the Government to recognise an alternative curriculum. They do not have such a power at present. The Government can only disapply the national curriculum, apply it, or make modifications to it. They have no power to promulgate a different curriculum from the national curriculum.

I wonder whether the Government might recognise that fact and think that there may be an occasion in the next few years when they might see it as beneficial to have the power to promulgate a different curriculum. We do not know what changes will happen within the education system over the next few years. We have the introduction of education action zones, and there are other factors. It would be a pity if we had to wait some years for a relevant education Act before the Government could take powers to promulgate an alternative curriculum.

I recognise the willingness of the Government to communicate and have dialogue with the Steiner movement in particular. However, I hope that they recognise that having the power to promulgate an alternative curriculum could be useful for them in the future. It may be that they will never have to use it; but it would be available in the event that it was useful to do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 82 not moved.]

Clause 29 [Notice by governing body to discontinue foundation or voluntary school]:

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 83:

Page 29, line 40, leave out subsection (14).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Statutory proposals: procedure and implementation]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 84:

Page 129, line 8, after ("prescribe") insert ("the").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 84 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 85 to 88, 125, 126, 198, 202, 208, 215 to 219 and 222 through to 232. These are technical drafting amendments and are specific changes suggested not by Ministers or the department but by the parliamentary draftsman. Clearly, in putting together a Bill of this size there will inevitably be drafting amendments which make the Bill easier for the reader, introducing cross-references or clarifications. This group of amendments all fall squarely into that description.

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I can assure noble Lords that these amendments contain no matters of policy at all. They are the result of a professional suggestion to improve a professional job of work. Despite any hesitations that noble Lords may have, they do not themselves raise policy issues. I beg to move.

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