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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, had it not been for the conventions of the House, I, too, should have walked

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into the Lobby--not, I hasten to say, the same Lobby as the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Hattersley. I should have gone through the other Lobby, and for very different reasons.

In his introduction to this short debate the Minister said that the Government wanted a fair and workable set of regulations. Again for different reasons, I do not believe that they are fair, and they are certainly not workable. They will result in chaos for local education authorities, parents and children, and, as we must not forget, for staff as well. They represent a war of attrition on some fine schools in our country.

I commend the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. I have always had the highest respect for him. Throughout the whole of his career he has been politically honest, and on this subject particularly so. He makes no secret of the fact that, had he been master of the drafting of the Bill, it would probably have included a clause regarding the abolition of grammar schools, which would have been followed through by the necessary regulations to see that provision through. That might also have been the case for the noble Lord, Lord Tope. It is interesting that it is almost the policy of the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, by stealth.

I do not share the noble Lord's pessimism about the threshold, as did the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and my noble friend Lady Perry. I am not at all sanguine about the 20 per cent. figure in terms of signatures to trigger a ballot. I believe that that is eminently achievable, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, also believed. Those of us who have been involved in campaigns know that one can gather the signatures over a long period; they can be gathered collectively by many groups of people. I therefore do not see this as an insuperable hurdle. I therefore put all vulnerable schools on notice that they need to be vigilant from the outset. The organisation with which the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, is involved is already active, and CASE is definitely active.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, agreed that franchises for the ballots are all right. He said that more or less anybody who is relevant and who needs to be consulted will be, and will be given a voice. However, many schools will be affected by these changes. The outcome will not be known until the ballot has taken place and the result is announced. Some schools will disappear as a result of these changes.

I have looked at the size of these schools. I shall run through the figures. One school has two forms of entry, two schools have one form of entry; five schools have two forms of entry, 53 schools have only three forms of entry and 76 schools, four forms of entry. Dealing with six forms of entry--and that is still a small school for a comprehensive--it is only seven schools out of 166. Thus almost all the schools are not viable as fully comprehensive schools. It means that they may, disappear completely, especially in those authorities with many spare places. I see that the noble Lord shakes his head, but it is a possibility. They could be taken out altogether and the children could be dispersed around the authority.

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12.30 p.m.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. She is confusing the difference between a grammar school and a comprehensive school and a viable school based on its size. My understanding is that a comprehensive is a school which has a comprehensive intake of pupils without selection. Grammar schools in the secondary modern system effectively segregate pupils by some form of alchemy.

Whether a school is viable because of its size has nothing to do with whether it is grammar, comprehensive or secondary modern.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord has examined the sizes of schools across the country. If he has, he will find that, where a school deals with a relatively narrow ability band, it tends to be smaller. Where a comprehensive school deals with a range of subjects and abilities, with the number of departments necessary to deal with every ability within an age group and with the small sizes of sixth form entry, more often there are seven, eight, nine, 10 and even 11 forms of entry. The truth is that many of the schools as comprehensives--which they will need to be within two or three years of a ballot--will not be viable. There will have to be a reorganisation. Some schools may disappear completely, some may be merged with other schools. I suspect that that will probably be the outcome. There may be all kinds of reorganisation problems, but that they will have to be reorganised is a certainty in many areas.

The Minister said that the guidance is not yet prepared or published; nor is the ballot information code. I believe that I am right--although I should like to think I am wrong--that the regulations will be implemented 14 days after some date next week when the regulations are passed in another place. If that is so, then signatures could legitimately be collected with a petition for what is left of this academic year ending in July 1999, with none of the advice and information that will be necessary. It would be helpful to have confirmation of that from the Minister when he replies.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that he and the Liberal Party stand four-square, behind the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, but, as a stepping stone to what the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, hoped for, they stand four-square behind the Front Bench. That is at national level. I have many Liberal colleagues who live in areas where there are grammar schools. They will be as active as many of the other people who support the continuance of their grammar schools. It is not enough to say, "We have a policy and it is unequivocal except at local level". It is at local level that it will matter.

On the point about Conservative, Liberal and other parties being active, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is wrong. The guidance, regulations and law will prevent the grammar schools and the local authorities from acting in a particular way. But there will be no constraints on other bodies. There will be no constraints on CASE, for example, which will argue vociferously and actively and will be materially involved in ensuring that grammar schools do not exist

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at the end of the process. But other organisations outside LEAs and grammar schools will fight the other way. We know that grammar schools will not be allowed to produce anything other than factual information. But it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us the meaning and interpretation of the clauses in the Act on information to be provided by third parties.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, argued--and rightly presumed that I would join him in arguing--that there is an impact on an area where there are mixed schools, including grammar schools. However, it is not quite as he suggests. I hold here a table of the achievements of all local education authorities throughout the country. Where there is a mix of grammar schools, comprehensives and modern schools, those schools appear in the top 58 LEA achievers in the country. The bottom 71, with the exception of nine schools, contain authorities that are 100 per cent. comprehensive. It is clear from that that where there is a healthy mix of choice and diversity, all schools and the whole area of the LEA do better. The converse will apply. When we take out the high achieving schools, including many secondary modern schools which do extremely well because the staff deal with a relatively narrow ability band and are therefore able to be more effective in educating young people--

Lord Hattersley: My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way? I shall retain the self-denying ordinance in not arguing the merits of comprehensive versus selective education. The question I raised under this heading was the influence of the grammar schools on the whole local authority area. This debate needs the answer to a different question which the noble Baroness has not given. Does she believe that, since the grammar schools affect the education of the whole area--beneficially in her view and detrimentally in mine--the ballot should be in the whole education area? That is the nub of the argument which the noble Baroness has not addressed.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, we start from different points. I agree with the noble Lord that ballots have no basis in logic. There is no intellectual explanation for the difference between the franchises. My point is that I would not do what the Government seek to do, which is starting a war of attrition on such schools. I believe that they make a valuable contribution to the education of young people in this country. There are young people better suited to a fast-track academic education, just as there are children suited to a different type of education. I do not disagree with the Government's basic aim of raising standards in the country, but if I were the Government I would retain my fire, energy and resources for concentration on that part of the education system that does not work and is not delivering good education to our children.

My next point is that there is nothing in the regulations that refers to the kind of reorganisation that will have to take place as a result of the ballot. The question on the ballot paper is a rigged question. It is a rigged ballot. We all come at it from different angles. The noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, believes that it is rigged one way; I believe that it is rigged another. If a

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person is asked in a market square, "Do you believe that school X or a group of schools should accept children of all abilities?", that does not suggest that the school may not exist at all, following that ballot. It is a rigged question. My noble friend Lady Perry made a good point when she referred to parents who would wish their children to go to a highly popular, highly successful grammar school. When asked, "Would you like your children to go to the school, irrespective of their ability?", the answer will be "Yes".

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made an important point. When a question is posed to which people are asked to give an answer, the result of which will be serious one way or another, as it will mean either the continuation of the school or its demise, it is important to understand the consequences of the answer. If the answer is "Yes, I should like my child to go to St. Olave's School", the chances are that it may not even exist as a school. Therefore the question is dishonest and misleading and I believe that from the outset the whole thing is rigged. I have received a letter only today from the Birmingham schools that the Minister will know well. The Minister has shown his prejudice against those very fine schools quite publicly. They, too, say that the question is misleading and does not clarify exactly what someone is voting for when he or she comes to vote. Therefore, even at this late stage--because there is no urgency about this matter--the noble Lord would do well to withdraw it and have a longer period of consultation.

Other noble Lords have already said that the catchment areas are very wide. Children will be dispersed equally widely if they cease to attend those schools. The notion that somehow it will raise standards in the area when one or two children at most will go into any class in a rather wide area is absurd. What will happen is that those children who enjoy a fast-track academic education suited to their abilities and aptitude will lose out.

I believe that the regulations come into force 14 days after the commencement of this order and that the order will commence as it passes through another place. I should be glad to know from the Minister whether I am reading that wrongly. But I believe that the initial period will be only a part year. One question that springs to mind is what happens if a petition is completed by the end of July during the school term and, at the end of the petition period (as it is known in the jargon), the ballot takes place either in the holidays or at the beginning of the new term. Some of the children whose parents were signatories to that ballot during the previous academic year may have moved on. There will be new parents who would not have been eligible to vote. It would be helpful to have clarification of where the eligibility of parents sits with all of that and what will happen in that situation.

Further, there is no definition of a parent. Perhaps I have missed the point and the matter is dealt with

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in the primary legislation, but I am fascinated by paragraph 4(3) on page 6 which provides:

    "A parent of the following description is not an eligible parent--

    (a) a parent falling within paragraph (1)(a) or (2) who on the date in question is resident outside the United Kingdom"--
I understand that--


    (b) a parent who is not an individual".
Can a parent be a group or more than one parent? What disqualifies a parent who is not an individual? What is a parent who is not an individual?

Reference is made to breaches of a ballot. I understand all of that. There must be some means of knowing whether the rules have been obeyed. If not, parents are given an opportunity one way or the other to appeal to the Secretary of State to make a judgment as to whether the ballot should be declared void. I should like the Minister to comment on an article in the Financial Times of 6th November which contains some very interesting coded messages. The usual senior government sources state that they cannot say that the decision of parents will be upheld in every case. Should parents vote to abolish the 11-plus Mr. Blunkett would recognise "that they had expressed a view" but he would use quasi-judicial powers to make the final judgment on the basis of academic standards, not on the basis of breaches or anything else. It would be helpful to have clarification of what decision would be taken where there had been a ballot with no breaches of the regulations and what it would mean.

Reference has been made to what would constitute fairness and reasonableness of information. We must await the information. It would be helpful to know when one is likely to see that information. Some grammar schools believe that as a result of their cessation there is likely to be a physical reorganisation of schools in particular areas. One has to think only of an authority like Kent where a very large number of grammar schools will go out of existence at the same time. One knows that there will be considerable reorganisation and that the local education authority is already working on some possible proposals and determining the costs. If the grammar schools concerned make intelligent estimates of the kind of reorganisation that follows such a ballot, is that deemed to be unfair or biased information? If its information is based on papers published by the local authority will that be considered fair or will it fall foul of the rules?

Referring to paragraph 16(1), as I understand it the five-year moratorium runs from the date when the ballot result is announced. I understand that the petitioning could start some time before the fifth year; it could start in the petitioning period, which would be in the previous academic year. It would be helpful to know when that would be.

For example, if a ballot result was announced in June 2000 my understanding of the regulations is that the next ballot could take place in June 2005. Therefore, petitioning could start in September 2004. Is that right? If a ballot was held in September 2000 and the next ballot could take place in September 2005, what would be the petition date? That would be the first few days of

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a new academic year. What would that mean for eligible parents, eligible schools and the petitioners, who would presumably want to be active as soon as possible? One knows that where a ballot is successful there will be a continuing war of attrition against those schools.

For the Minister to say that there has been a move from one signature to 10 signatures to trigger the requirement for all schools to prepare registers and LEAs to produce the information is not much of a concession. It would be helpful to know when we shall see this information, just how much bureaucracy would be involved and who would have to meet the costs of providing it. Suppose that all of the parents in Kent ask for the registered list. Will the schools or LEAs be reimbursed for the cost of that provision? I can envisage a large number of people wanting to see that list. What facilities will be made available for perusing those lists? It is very important for the schools themselves to make sure that those who sign do so legitimately and within the correct period. Can we have some idea of the cost of reorganisation and to what extent those plans will be made available to parents before they sign rather than when they sign?

I am sorry to refer again to the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley. Further, a very important point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. There is an interesting tension between those who want all of the grammar schools to go and those who do not. I am reading a little between the lines. Mr. Adonis at No. 10 appears to be slightly worried and has written about the continuation of grammar schools. I believe that he would like to see them continue and hopes that the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, is right that the hurdle is too high and the task too great to bring about the end of grammar schools. Yet the Secretary of State and his unreconstructed colleagues in the department want to see them go. It is helpful to know exactly where the department and the Government as a whole stand on this matter and what they want to see happen as a result of this policy.

I believe that the regulations only confirm that the Prime Minister's place, as I believe he would wish, will be secured in history but not for what he would like to be remembered. He will go down in history as a constitutional and educational vandal. I have no pleasure whatever in having to stand back and watch these regulations pass through this House today.

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