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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for taking such care in responding to the prayer against these regulations. However, I have to say that the argument proposed has no merit whatsoever, either as regards the issue of exclusion or the issue of providing information to the press. However bleak the situation is in terms of the number of children who are excluded and/or are truanting, it seems to me that that information should be made available and that the world should know about it. I half agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope--although we shall have to wait to see how this works out in practice--in that I think this measure will move a problem rather than resolve a problem. I am afraid that the explanations that the Minister gave so carefully do not resonate with me at all.
As regards removing the requirement to provide information to the press, I have said on a previous occasion--I repeat it now--that I think the officials at the Department for Education and Employment must have been shaking with excitement at the Bill that passed through this House last year. It was the most centralising Bill. It gave officials handles on control that they have longed for. This measure is yet another example of that. Will the Minister please tell me, if he can, what are the problems? What is the problem for my local education authority in Cambridgeshire in simply responding to a request from the local newspapers, and indeed any other newspaper that wishes to have this information for local people? I do not know of any problems that may arise in this regard.
Since I have taken up the mantle of praying against these regulations I have contacted a number of newspapers and I have not been told that there have been problems. However, I foresee problems if yet another group of officials at the Department for Education and Employment is pre-occupied with requests from every--I hesitate to use the following word--tin-pot little newspaper, from "freebies", local newspapers, provincial newspapers, area newspapers, regional newspapers, national and international newspapers which request, for example, the results of just one authority, or the results of part of an authority, or the whole country's results. That seems to me to be an extraordinary mantle for the DfEE to take on.
The Minister said that the requirement has been removed from local education authorities to provide this information--they have become used to doing that--and that the requirement will be picked up by the Department for Education and Employment. However,
As regards the point about the delay in the collection of the Key Stage 2 assessment results, we were also given a pretty poor explanation on that. The contractors have now collected information year on year. It is not a new phenomenon to get results out to the public and to parents. It is extraordinary and inexplicable that a whole month has gone by without this information being produced consistent with the date that was laid down in regulations. Is there to be a year-on-year adjustment to the date--in which case it will not be helpful to parents--or is this just a one-off for this year because the publication of the Key Stage 2 results is relatively new and consequently we have had to wait an extra month? I should be grateful if the Minister would respond to that and perhaps other points.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I shall respond with the leave of the House. I think there is no doubt that it has been the experience of some LEAs and others that it can be a cumbersome process for each LEA to undertake the task we are discussing. I know from my own experience of dealing with performance tables--although not in the educational field--of the difficulties of trying to co-ordinate the whole effort to make it as effective as possible. Difficulties sometimes arise when one is relying on quite a large number of LEAs to do that. The noble Baroness mentioned what she described as the centralising tendencies of the Department for Education and Employment. I think that in this case the department is relieving a bureaucratic burden, and that that should be welcomed as such. It also allows for--
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. But will he tell me how the DFEE gets this information in the first place? It has to receive it from LEAs, so they still have to do the work.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords, but the measure will still allow a co-ordinated approach as regards releasing all the tables. From my own experience I believe that will reduce an unnecessary bureaucratic burden. However, the substantive point is that at the end of the day, far from having, as might
I repeat to the noble Lord, it is the most incomprehensible answer I have ever had to a question across the Dispatch Box. The work has to be done at LEA level. The LEAs need the information available to give to their own parents, their own governors and their own local newspapers, and in order to go and talk at parish council meetings and other places. Can the DfEE co-ordinate this, given that the requirement--if the noble Lord reads it--is on request? These requests can come in at varying times--all at the same time, in dribs and drabs or much later in the year--and from so many thousands of sources. As I say, each LEA had only to deal with its own information to the newspapers circulating in its area.
It is a wholly unsatisfactory situation. No intellectual thought has been given to responding to the Prayer against the regulations, and it is with great sadness that I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
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