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Baroness Walmsley: I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I also asked whether Clause 179 would apply to trainee teachers in nursery schools. Perhaps he could respond to that point.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I apologise to the noble Baroness. She did indeed raise the point with me whether student loans, covered in Clause 179, would apply to trainee teachers in nursery schools. It would depend on the regulations governing the loans.

The noble Baroness also asked about LEA functions with regard to school lunches, school milk provision and so forth. In response to her question about whether there are any implications in terms of the provision of free school meals to part-time pupils in nursery schools, the clause would remove the entitlement of children whose attendance does not span the lunchtime period. I am sure that the noble Baroness will recognise that that is reasonable. This was done in response to LEA concerns about the impracticality of meeting the requirement when the child is not in school or the school is not open.

Any children currently receiving free school meals will of course be protected. Children currently attending stand-alone nurseries are not entitled to free school meals. The Bill rectifies that where such children attend over the lunchtime period. In due course, when funds become available in the period 2004–05, the entitlement will also be extended to non-maintained settings.

I hope that those responses have now covered most of the points raised by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Blatch: I realise that it may have been tiresome for the noble Lord to have to go into such detail, but it is extremely helpful for those who follow our debates to know exactly what are the Government's responses to all the questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.

I turn to the response that the Minister has just given to the noble Baroness in regard to student loans. My understanding from every policy statement made by the Government when referring to concessionary arrangements for teachers was that they were related to specific subjects. Indeed, those subjects have even been named. Given that people in nursery schools do not teach specific subjects as such, then when the noble Lord said that it would depend on the regulations, the policy does not include nursery school teachers. Should I take it from the noble Lord's response that the policy might be extended or that the Government are about to make another announcement?

Lord Davies of Oldham: I may have been slightly less precise than I ought with regard to the regulations on student loans. As the noble Baroness will know only too well, the issue is that the loans are subject to very significant revision and review which is being carried

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out by the department at the present time. However, I do not want to raise the hopes of the noble Baroness that we have extended the criteria in this respect. That is not the case.

Baroness Blatch: My interpretation is not the central issue here, but I think that teachers in nursery education may well have misinterpreted what the noble Lord has said; namely, that this is all about regulations. In fact, I understand that it is about pending policy.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank the noble Lord for his detailed answers. I should like to study them before seeking to respond and consider whether any of these issues will need to be brought back on Report.

I wish to make only one comment. The noble Lord said that under Clause 44 in Chapter 3, nursery schools will not be represented on admissions forums. It will be well known to Members of the Committee that the notion of schools forums is not much favoured by noble Lords on these Benches. However, we feel that if they do come into existence, then maintained nursery schools should be represented on them. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 156 and 157 not moved.]

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 158:

    Page 24, line 17, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 37, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 38 agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 159:

    After Clause 38, insert the following new clause—

(1) The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 91 (special arrangements to preserve religious character of foundation or voluntary aided school) after subsection (1) insert—
"(1A) Before proposing any special arrangements, and at intervals of no more than five years where such special arrangements are in force, the governing body shall take note of any relevant guidance issued by any religious authorities which the governing body acknowledges as having influence over the school.""

The noble Lord said: I wish to begin by saying that I do not have any particular attachment to the wording of this amendment. It seeks more to find out what might be possible rather than to provide a recipe for a particular solution. I wish also to say that I am a strong believer in the right and the desirability of having religious foundation schools in this country. They make a great contribution to our nation's education system.

However, by such a school I refer to one in which the teaching and ethos of the school accord with a particular religious point of view. I do not see that that

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has to imply that the school becomes a ghetto which only members of that religion can attend. It may appeal to some, but I think that in certain circumstances that may be quite a destructive way to run a school, in particular for local communities. For myself, I cannot see why an adherence of, say, over 50 per cent to a particular religion plus control over the religious beliefs of the key teaching staff should not suffice to ensure that a school is run according to a particular religious ethos. In going any further than that, a school in the maintained sector ought to take account of the effect that becoming a religious ghetto has on the surrounding community.

In the course of my business as the publisher of the Good Schools Guide, I have seen a large number of parents become extremely upset when they found that they had been excluded from their neighbouring schools. This can take place from inner-city London to leafy Hertfordshire. It is extremely difficult, when it so happens that your local school is one religion and you are not, that you then have to go a long way to locate what may be considered to be a less good school. This is now happening in the maintained sector. We do not have religious hospitals and we do not have party political schools. The system in a sense imposes a considerable inconvenience on those who are not of a particular religion. The question then arises: is such inconvenience and hurt to the local community justified by the freedom which we choose to accord to religions to run state schools?

When the Bill was considered in another place, amendments were tabled, I believe, by the Liberal Democrats proposing that there should be regulations covering what proportion of a school's intake could be selected on religious grounds. I cannot see how that would work in practice. How can that be judged when one is sitting in the centre? When dealing with a particular case on the ground, it might not matter. It might be perfectly acceptable for a particular school to comprise entirely one religion. That may not cause any noticeable diminution of the educational opportunities for the rest of the community. For myself, I cannot see that it matters that the London Oratory is entirely Catholic. It is easy to travel around London and gain access to many other schools. I cannot see that it is important to regulate to ensure that half the pupils in JFS should not be Jewish.

On the other hand, there are schools in leafy Hertfordshire which used to be open to all religions, but are now closed to all but one faith. Considerable local upset has been caused. This must be something for local decision and, again, I do not see why this power should be given to local education authorities because that would go against the whole thrust of how we are seeking to introduce greater freedom for schools. My personal inclinations, too, err towards greater freedom for schools.

I look on the amendment as another way of tackling the problem. When this point was discussed in the debate on Second Reading, the Bishops were loud in their belief that there was a social dimension to their mandate, that they did have to take the effect on local

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communities into account, that local opinion was important to them and that it would influence how they wanted to run their schools. I believe that that is also as true of the Roman Catholic Church, as it is true of the one or two Muslim schools with which I have had opportunity to discuss this matter.

Given that that is the case and given that these major religions will account for the great majority of religion-based schools, and that Parliament and the media have ways of influencing what attitude the great religions will take towards the schooling of which they are in charge, it would be right to use those means to seek to change the way in which some Church schools have closed their doors to certain other religions and thus to have an effect on the disadvantages that that policy has brought to local communities.

I should like a system whereby the Churches have a power over the schools within their flock. They should be able to ask those schools to have regard to guidance which they had formulated on balancing the needs of the religion to which their members are adherents and those of the local community. They should be able to ask the governing body, not too frequently, to come to a decision based on that guidance. It should be of sufficient comfort if we are then able to take the Church of England or any other Church to task in the context of any perceived hurt as a result of putting that guidance into practice.

We should not try to regulate centrally on how religious schools manage their intake. From what was said at Second Reading, I believe that such a system would produce a situation with which I felt comfortable. I hope that we do not have to go down the road proposed as regards regulation. I look forward to hearing what other noble Lords have to say. I beg to move.

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