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Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has given us an interesting exposition of British and French educational history. However, he is reading far too much into the amendments which we propose. I cannot see that he can draw the conclusion that we are seriously diluting the decision of this House on the basis of the amendment tabled by his noble friend Lady Young. Indeed, in most respects the wording is the same. Our amendment clearly refers to spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development. I believe that the noble Lord is reading too much into it.

Statements made in another place and elsewhere by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State show clearly that we attach great importance to spiritual development, as does the House. As I indicated in my opening statement, we must bear that in mind in developing the national curriculum and its outcomes. If behind the noble Lord's accusation of secularisation he believes that we are squeezing our religious education, it is no part of our strategy. I am happy to confirm that we have no plans whatever to get rid of statutory religious education in our state schools. Apart from anything else, it can make a significant contribution to the spiritual and moral development we are discussing here.

The decision of the Commons and of the Government not to require a report on the matter does not in any sense undermine its importance. In other instances, noble Lords opposite have argued that we are imposing too many bureaucratic report-writing duties on schools and we have applied that criteria in this and other respects.

The new clause in Amendment No. 50A recognises the main concerns of this House. We have considered them and tabled an amendment which in no way represents the revolutionary change in our school curriculum that was suggested by the noble Lord. As one who, one way and another, owes a great deal to Methodism and to Marx, I believe that we have struck a balance between the secular and spiritual aspects, both of which are important in a child's development and preparation for adult life. That is why we have written both spiritual development and citizenship into the clauses. That is the correct indication that we should be giving to schools and the noble Lord greatly exaggerates the implication. I commend the amendment.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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After Clause 42, insert the following new clause--

Statement on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils

(" . The governing body of every maintained school shall publish, once in each school year, a statement on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of its pupils which shall--
(a) describe how the school intends to promote such development;
(b) describe what targets the school has set for this development;
(c) describe what means of assessment will be used to monitor this development; and
(d) report upon the achievement or otherwise of those targets.").
The Commons disagreed to the amendment for the following reason--

Because the amendment would create an undesirable additional burden for schools.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 52 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 52A.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 52 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 52A.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.



Clause 120, page 91, line 24, leave out ("Subject to subsection (2),").

The Commons disagreed to the amendment for the following reason--

Because the amendment would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further reason, trusting that this reason may be deemed sufficient.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 139 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 139A. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 140 and 140A.

The Government's position on independent schools is clear. We want to put aside the divisions of the past and to foster partnerships between the maintained and the independent sectors. Partnerships involve mutual benefit to both sectors. We are supporting pilot partnership schemes now. The regulations provided for under this clause will allow LEAs to foster similar partnerships, developed at genuinely local levels between schools. We shall be consulting on those regulations in due course. But buying full-time places for particular children in the independent sector is not a partnership. It should not be necessary for LEAs to ship out their most able children to the independent sector in order to fulfil those children's needs, and LEAs should be directing their resources towards ensuring that that is not necessary.

The Government's intention in introducing these provisions into the Bill, as I have said in previous debates and as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made clear in another place, is to prevent

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the replication of the assisted places scheme at a local level. Provision for pupils with special educational needs will not be affected by these proposals. We do not build partnerships between the maintained and independent sectors by funding places to take children wholly out of the state sector. A child does not need to take the whole of the curriculum at an independent school in order to benefit from its facilities for a particular activity, any more than a pupil at an independent school could only benefit from, say, language facilities at a maintained school by studying full time there. The partnerships that we have supported are based on precisely this sort of imaginative co-operation between the two sectors, and we shall look to see them flourish. I give noble Lords the example of a partnership of three schools in Kent--one maintained and two independent--in which all the schools will develop their modern language provision by building on the maintained school's excellent ICT facilities, and the independent schools' very good existing links with schools in Europe.

I repeat that the regulations we intend to make will do nothing to inhibit partnerships of that kind. I hope that noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches opposite in particular will be reassured that local education authorities will continue to have the discretion to develop such partnerships within the policy framework that I have outlined. They will have every opportunity to explore the detailed implications of this further with us when we consult on the regulations later on.

Having said that, I make no apologies for reiterating the Government's view, which I believe noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches share, that the thinking behind the assisted places scheme is divisive. The Education (Schools) Act 1997 provided for it to be phased out, in keeping with our manifesto commitment to do so. These provisions flow from that commitment: we are clear that local assisted places schemes would be equally divisive. I do not believe that it is appropriate for this House to revisit last year's debates in this way. LEAs should be, as the Government are, devoting their resources to the benefit of the many and not the few. That is what the regulations under this clause will secure, and why another place has offered privilege as its reason.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 139 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 139A.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, as the Minister said, the reason given by the other place for disagreeing to our amendment was that,

    "the amendment would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons",

and no further reasons have been given. However, that is not so; indeed, there is no way at all in which the amendment would alter the financial arrangements made by the House of Commons, so it is not true. Moreover, there is an arrogance about producing that and no other

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reason. The Minister knows that that is not the case, and I shall explain why. This is not new Labour, this is true Labour: the mean-spirited politics of envy.

Perhaps I may tell the House the history of this sorry saga. The abolition of the assisted places scheme was approved by both Houses of Parliament. Local authorities, which are obliged to provide for all the children in their care from the least to the most able, turned their minds to ways of providing for bright children from low-income families where they could not provide a fast-track academic education. At least one enterprising local authority--namely, Surrey--created a partnership with the voluntary and the private sector and established a scheme which would not increase local government expenditure at all. But such was the blind prejudice of the government that a clause was inserted in the Bill to prevent local authorities introducing such a scheme.

My understanding is--it certainly was when I was a member of a local authority; and, indeed, has always been--that local authorities have an obligation to meet the educational needs, special or otherwise, of all children within their area of responsibility. The special needs of some children derive from learning difficulties, while those of high ability may benefit from a fast-track academic curriculum. Indeed, the schools Minister is supposedly seeking ways to address the educational needs of very bright children, even to the extent of saying that they should be treated differently. However, having attacked assisted places, grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and selection, I have to say that one has to take such intentions with a pinch of salt.

When the assisted places scheme was abolished, those of us who disagreed profoundly with the Government nevertheless had to accept that Parliament as a whole had endorsed that proposition. What was extremely disappointing was the totally cavalier way in which the Government reneged on their commitment to those families whose children were awarded places at schools which catered for primary through secondary age ranges. Reassuring letters were written by Ministers and reassuring public statements were made by Ministers and indeed by the Prime Minister, but still children were made to abandon an assisted place prematurely. That is another example of rhetoric not matching practice.

When the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke on the last occasion when the matter was discussed, he said that 140 applications had been received and remained to be considered for keeping assisted places and that 100 applications had been acceded to. My understanding is that that is not correct. If the Minister cannot correct the situation today, I hope that he will write to me and say whether those 100 applications have been agreed to.

The point of the amendment passed by the House of Lords was to allow local authorities to address the educational needs of the full spectrum of children from the least to the most able by having the flexibility to use public and/or private provision. Indeed, the scheme advocated by Surrey Country Council was particularly enterprising. It brought together in partnership the

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voluntary, the private and the public sector at no extra cost or even at a lesser cost, thus producing a saving to the local authority. The idea was to establish a fund by voluntary contribution to provide bursaries for bright children from low-income families to attend independent schools. The cost to the local authority would in fact have been equal to or less than the cost of educating the child with the authority's own schools. So the Government's claim to financial privilege is simply misplaced.

When referring to local authorities' wishes to assist able pupils to receive education within the independent sector, the schools Minister claimed:

    "Regulations made under Section 518 of the Education Act 1986 already give local education authorities the discretion to pay the whole or part of tuition fees ... and other expenses relating to the attendance of a pupil at a fee-paying school".

The schools Minister went on to say:

    "If the local authority wants to use the money that it raises locally for this purpose, that is for it to decide. It"--

that is to say, the local authority--

    "will be held accountable by Surrey people, if that is how it wants to spend money from the education budget. The authority has the freedom to exercise that power".

That is precisely what the House of Lords amendment would have achieved.

However, my honourable friend Nick St Aubyn in the other place referred in Committee to the partnership scheme in Surrey and invited comments from Ms. Estelle Morris, the schools Minister. She said,

    "The department looks forward to receiving details of those plans and to hearing how children can be given more opportunities than at present. That is exactly the sort of co-operation that we want to see".--[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee A, 5/2/98; cols. 346-7.]

The Minister went on to say at col. 351 on the same day,

    "We welcome the partnership that is clearly being made in Surrey with the private sector, that is exactly what we want in the interests of children".

How can the Minister endorse the enterprise of Surrey County Council and then insert a clause in the Bill to outlaw such a scheme? There are a number of authorities--I believe that Bromley and Surrey are among them--where it would be more tax efficient to purchase places in the independent sector than to build extra classrooms and provide extra teachers for these children coming back into the state system. As I said, the reason given is plainly wrong. I ask the Minister to reconsider the reasons given in another place.

At col. 505 of Hansard on 15th July the Secretary of State for Education referred to a "manifesto commitment". The manifesto commitment--with which I take no issue at all--was to abolish the assisted places scheme in order to pay for more teachers to meet a class size pledge for five, six and seven year-olds. That has been done and the money is being saved at the moment, although as we all now know from the comprehensive spending review, it will not be enough. However, the manifesto pledge did not state that no local authority will provide for bright young children from low income families within the private sector. That was not a

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manifesto commitment. The Secretary of State then said in the same column,

    "The debate is not about reaching partnership agreements".--[Official Report, Commons, 15/7/98; col. 505.]

It is precisely about reaching partnership agreements between local authorities, the voluntary sector, the private sector, the independent schools and the families. In the same column the Secretary of State said,

    "we should not waste each other's time. Enough time has been wasted in this Session putting this and other Bills on the statute book".

I do not regard considering and reconsidering Bills as they go through both Houses of Parliament as wasting time. I regard it as part of the democratic process. But as we know, that process irritates the present Government. They do not like it. They regard serious consideration of legislation as a waste of time. That is not a view I share.

My honourable friend Mr. St Aubyn in another place put it succinctly. I end my comments by quoting what he said at col. 506 on 15th July:

    "Labour Members may ask what this has to do with the amendment. That is a very good point. The amendment does not ask the Government to rediscover or reproduce that £40 million a year. It simply asks the Government to accept that local councils, with the support of local schools, parents, charities and sponsors, should be allowed to take advantage of the chance to give some local children for whom the idea is appropriate their best opportunity in life. That chance should not be denied by the prejudice that Labour Members have displayed not only in this House but in another place".

I disagree profoundly with the reasons given by another place; namely, that this is about financial privilege, when not one single extra penny of taxpayers' money at national or local level is to be spent as a result of meeting the terms of the House of Lords amendment.

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