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Lord Bach: Perhaps it is the lateness of the hour, but Members of the Committee are becoming somewhat overwrought on the issue. The noble Lord asks for examples. The provision is similar to the funding conditions from the FEFC and TEC funding contracts. There is nothing unusual in what the Government suggest here. The terms will be in the conditions of funding set out by the LSC in the normal way. As I have already said, these funding conditions are similar to those already in existence in law. The obligations go hand in hand with the obligations accompanying the provision of public funds. It is surely the duty of the Government to protect public funds.

Baroness Blatch: I believe that I have already said to the Minister that I, too, think it is the duty of the

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Government to protect public funds. However, as set out, this is an unacceptable power. The Minister still has not told the Committee whether in certain circumstances there could be forced entry, how that would be done or what definition is in place of a person who could be designated to hack into a computer or break into a company to seek access to their funds. It is important that this point is clearly understood. Once we have reached a clear understanding, it is also important that a better form of words is put onto the face of the Bill.

Very small companies are doing their best to co-operate with New Deal programmes and various other training programmes. As it stands, those companies may come to believe that the Bill contains an unwieldy power enabling a person to break into a company to seek information even without any real grounds for suspicion. It appears that such a person has a right of access to a company's equipment.

Lord Bach: The noble Baroness is correct to the extent that I did not reply in exact terms. I did say, and I shall repeat it now, that those terms will be set out in the funding conditions set out by the LSC. However, I accept that the noble Baroness deserves more than that. Following the Committee stage of the Bill, I shall write to her with any further detailed information I can give in relation to the kind of powers being sought here. It is a fair request and I shall try to answer it fairly.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. However, I am not seeking details on the powers being sought; I wish to learn how they are to be exercised. I am also seeking a definition of what kind of person could be designated by the LSC to carry out what in fact will be breaking and entering into private property. However, I shall now withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 65 to 68 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Funding of school sixth-forms]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 69:

    Page 5, line 11, at end insert--

("( ) Where an education authority has existing sixth form provision the Council must make a grant per sixth form pupil consistent with real terms value as defined in the average of the three financial years 1999-2001.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks to persuade the Government to put on the face of the Bill what they have said in practice. On a number of occasions I have invited the Minister to confirm that funding for sixth-form pupils would be sustained per pupil rather than for the entire sixth form in real terms.

On the last occasion that we had an exchange on this point, I recall that the noble Baroness said something along the lines of, "Yes, dependent on the numbers". My proposition does not depend on numbers. If the funding is to be made per pupil, then whether the numbers are high or low the authority will receive real terms funding. However, as I understand the Bill, if the

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numbers begin to fall then the school may fall victim to the possibility of a notice being published for the sixth form to close. However, that is a debate for another day.

For the moment, the amendment states,

    "Where an education authority has existing sixth form provision--

ahead of any publication of a notice to close--

    "the Council must make a grant per sixth form pupil consistent with real terms value as defined in the average of the three financial years 1999-2001".

That is also a point at issue between these Benches and the Government; namely, the Government have taken one year as a baseline. However, we all know of the injustices that can arise out of using only a single year. It is much fairer to take an average over three years. Some schools probably had a very lean year this year and it would be unfair to use that as a base line if it was never meant to be sustained over a period. Therefore, there seems to be an argument for referring to the average over the previous three years.

There is a concern because, as I said earlier, as far as I know, there is no plan to put in extra funding for this provision. The money will be top-sliced at national level and will be given to the National Council, which will then send it down the line administratively to 47 local skills councils, which will then send it down the line to even more local education authorities, which will then fund the individual schools with sixth forms. There will be some dissipation of that money as it goes down the line unless extra money for its administration is found.

If LEAs receive less money than would have been the case had they received it through the normal grant-in-aid from the Government under the present system, they have a painful decision to make. It is difficult to reconcile the Government's promise that expenditure will be sustained in real terms per pupil if it is not matched with the kind of funding which would be needed in order for it to travel from government via a circuitous route through to the schools. There is great nervousness in the schools.

As I believe I said at Third Reading, many of us--and I include myself among them--believe that, although it may take a while, this represents a death knell for our sixth forms. I know that the noble Baroness said with every sincerity at Second Reading that sixth forms will form part of the tapestry of provision for 16-plus education. However, I have known the noble Baroness for a very long time. We met at educational meetings long before she and I came to this place. Indeed, we met back in the days when I was in local government and even before my time in local government. I know that at times it has been a policy aim of the noble Baroness, or at least a policy that the noble Baroness has supported in the past, to move to a tertiary system for sixth-form education. Indeed, that has also been the policy of many of her colleagues who now find themselves in government. Therefore, I believe that there is genuine concern and nervousness among people.

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Lest it be misinterpreted, I do not want anyone to believe that the only provision that I would support for young people who are passing through school is to go into sixth forms. I believe that for many young people that is wholly inappropriate. Very often young people who choose to stay on in sixth-form education have not been properly advised and guided. They could be better placed by moving either into workplace training or into further education. Therefore, I have no wish to be branded as someone who considers that sixth form is the only provision. However, I believe very strongly that sixth forms must remain part of the tapestry of provision of education. That can be so only if they are funded in real terms at the rate at which they have been funded on average over the past three years.

My final point is that there is a very real worry about the ways in which funding will be used to cause the demise of those schools. Certainly, my next amendment, which is linked with this amendment, proposes that,

    "Grants made under this section must be earmarked for individual schools or colleges".

I say that because the schools and colleges themselves are now concerned that money will simply come down in a block. In the past, when the local education authority has held the money, it has funded each school, whether it be a school for 11 to 16 year-olds or for 11 to 18 year-olds.

Now, all schools will be funded on an 11 to 16 basis and that separate funding will come through a separate system--as I said, a circuitous system--which will fund the sixth forms. Therefore, not only will schools be uncertain about what their grant will be for pupils up to the age of 16, but also those with sixth forms will be concerned about whether they will receive a fair allocation for post-16 pupils. Therefore, individual schools and colleges will be extremely concerned about their funding stream. It is important. If the reassurances that have been given already by the noble Baroness could be put on the face of the Bill, fears would be laid to rest and much anxiety would be assuaged. I beg to move.

Baroness Blackstone: I shall take the two amendments in the name of the noble Baroness together. Clause 7 will secure the LSC's power to fund LEAs in respect of school sixth form provision. For the financial year 2000-01, funding for school sixth forms amounts to some £1.22 billion.

In the consultation paper on school sixth form funding which was issued last summer we made it clear that our objective was to raise standards and to tackle poorly performing institutions, which is something that I am sure the noble Baroness would endorse. We are committed to having a strong and effective sixth form sector as part of our drive to increase success for all our young people. We want young people to have the opportunity to gain access to a broad learning programme, including A-levels and vocational qualifications, wherever they live. We also want the funding arrangements for school sixth forms to be as transparent and straightforward as possible.

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I repeat that sixth forms will be part of the tapestry of provision. The noble Baroness asked about views that I may have expressed on this subject at various times in the past. I have always thought, as she has just admitted--she did not want to be misunderstood--that sixth form colleges provide extraordinarily good provision for many young people, as do generalist FE colleges. We seek choice and diversity.

In the consultation document to which I have just referred, we sought views on whether LEAs should in future be funded for school sixth forms by the LSC, or whether they should continue to be funded through the local government finance system. In the light of responses received, in particular from head teachers, we have decided that funding for school sixth forms should be allocated to LEAs by the LSC. The LSC will also fund colleges and other providers of education and training to young people. For 16 to 19 year-olds, schools and colleges tend to provide the same type of teaching, curriculum and qualifications. Broadening the LSC's remit to include the funding of LEAs for school sixth form provision will bring greater coherence to the overall funding of 16 to 19 year-old provision in England.

I can reassure the noble Baroness that individual schools will continue to receive their allocation of funds from the LEA, just as they do now. Those changes will not be introduced until 2002-03 at the earliest, and in planning for them we shall be working closely with LEAs, schools and others. Through that process we shall define more clearly the LSC's role in distributing funding to LEAs and establishing criteria for the allocation formulae for distributing funding down to individual schools.

We have repeatedly said that current levels of funding for school sixth forms would be at least maintained in real terms where student numbers do not fall. I make that pledge again today. But we do not believe, as Amendments Nos. 69 and 70 appear to propose, that primary legislation is the appropriate place for making guarantees of this kind. I do not believe that it is ever used in that way.

We have also said that the new funding system should not constrain the scope for expansion of successful sixth forms. We intend that a rise in pupil numbers should give rise to additional funding. Whether the addition could be on a fully pro rata basis--the key point--would depend on the availability of resources at the time. It would be wrong to introduce a system that takes no account at all of the degree to which pupil numbers may fall or rise over a period of time. Furthermore, I am sure that noble Lords will recognise that it would be irresponsible for any government to give absolute guarantees about the availability of future public funding.

Amendment No. 69 also seeks to define a three-year period--1999-2001--as the baseline against which the real terms funding guarantee for school sixth forms will be set. The noble Baroness raised questions on that matter. I can say to the noble Baroness that we are consulting at present on a number of details around

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the way the changes to sixth form funding will be implemented. One specific question on which we are seeking views is the appropriate baseline period for calculating the real terms funding safeguard. It would be premature to undermine the consultative process by accepting this amendment when we have not yet had the opportunity to consider the views of all those who will be affected by the proposed new arrangements.

Amendment No. 70 would reduce the role of the LEA to a mere post box, rather than continue to recognise, as we do, the LEA function of making allocations to individual schools. It is also unnecessary, given that we have been quite clear that our real terms funding guarantee will apply--again I want to give this reassurance to the noble Baroness--school by school, and not just in aggregate. I would add in passing that I am slightly confused to find a reference specifically to "colleges" in an amendment to a clause concerned with the funding of schools with sixth forms.

In the light of what I have said, and the reassurance I have been able to give, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will not press her amendments.

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