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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: Perhaps the Minister will allow a comment on what he has said. He did not treat Amendment No. 182, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on its merits; he simply told us that it was not the right amendment for this particular part of the Bill. He provided reassurance about other aspects of the law, and that of course was comforting. But can he tell the Committee whether he believes that Amendment No. 182 could sensibly be moved to another part of the Bill?

Lord Davies of Oldham: It is for the noble Lord to see whether he can find another part of the Bill where the amendment would be more appropriately placed. Clearly it does not fit into this framework. I am conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is always motivated by the concerns of the group of children and their parents on behalf of whom he speaks. We shall of course consider an amendment in detail when it is placed more appropriately in the Bill.

Lord Rix: I thank all Members of the Committee who have spoken so cogently and splendidly in support of, or at least have commented upon, the amendment which I have just moved. I am most grateful to them all. I am grateful, in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for bringing up the question of my Amendment No. 182. I shall, of course, go away and seek advice from Mencap and the Special Educational Consortium as to a more suitable place for the amendment to be placed in the Bill. I am sorry that the Minister could not find the necessary place in his brief. But no doubt he will write to me on the matter, if he is so minded, in the next day or two.

I am also extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her suggestion, which has been taken up by the Minister. I am sure that it will prove very fruitful in future discussions on special educational needs and disability.

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I am delighted to have received so many assurances. Again, in consultation with Mencap and the Special Educational Consortium, I shall see whether I need to return to these amendments in some form or another at the next stage of the Bill. However, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 177 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 178:

    Page 30, line 15, at end insert "but need not accept that advice".

The noble Baroness said: I hope that I can be brief in speaking to this amendment. It refers to LEA and admission authorities which, I understand, under the law will have to have regard to any relevant advice given to them by the admission forum. My understanding of the phrase "having regard to" is that it gives statutory underpinning to any advice that is given by the admission forum to the LEA and the admission authorities. In principle, I have no argument with that. My amendment states,

    "but need not accept that advice".

I am almost certain that, if I were in the Minister's shoes, I would say, "No, this is not going on the face of the Bill". I shall understand if that is the answer.

However, I believe that it is important to have on the record that all that is being proffered is advice. Of course, such advice could be challenged in any tribunal and it would be important for the admission authority and/or the LEA to prove in a court of law that, in coming to whatever decision or conclusion it reached, en passant it had had proper regard to the advice that it was given. But it would not necessarily in law bind the LEA or the admission authority to accept that advice. I should be grateful to have confirmation of that on the record. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I rise briefly to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just said. I am reminded of the debate about community health councils and the reasons that Parliament decided that community health councils had outlived their usefulness. One reason that the Government decided that they could do without CHCs was that they had become talking shops. They said that they were ineffective in championing the cause of patients and users of the health service. It seems strange to me that in the context of this other legislation we are setting up something that is not dissimilar. I have a fear that they will have a limited life expectancy. When people discover that the real decisions are still to be made by local councillors, they will properly go to their local councillors who will represent their interests to the local education authority.

Although I am all in favour of people being involved wherever possible on the ground—participation and involvement is crucially important—I return to the point about the devaluation of that process if we simply create talking shops. On the wall of my study at home I have a poster that says, "God so loved the world that he did not send a committee". Although I realise that committees are an essential part of our

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civic life and of our political existence, nevertheless we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in committees. Sometimes we know that they can be extremely futile.

I hope that further consideration will be given to this matter before Report stage. If all that is to be given on many of these issues is advice, and if people know that the real power and the real decisions will be taken elsewhere in local authorities, they will be reluctant to serve on such bodies. It is already difficult to find people to serve as school governors and in local authorities where they feel that their powers have been emasculated, so why on earth should anyone want to serve on one of these advisory forums?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: On Amendment No. 178, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, was correct in her assumption that had she been standing here she would not want to put that particular phrase on the face of the Bill. The Bill does not require admission authorities to accept any advice that the admission forums may agree to give. Quite deliberately, the clause says that such bodies should have regard to the advice, as the noble Baroness has pointed out. Those words are carefully chosen so as to leave those who receive advice some discretion. They do not have to follow the advice without question, but we would normally expect them to do so unless there were a good reason not to do so.

Perhaps I can give an example. If an admission forum made a recommendation at odds with the fundamental character of a school, such as that a single sex school should become co-educational or that a grammar school should cease to be selective, the admission authority could reasonably reject that advice after giving it due consideration. In that sense, the current drafting already provides that an admissions authority need not accept advice. I am happy to make that clear. I hope that that satisfies the noble Baroness.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I hesitate to sound excited about admission forums because I remember what happened when I said that I was excited about schools forums, but I genuinely am excited about them. That is partly because as a parent I have been on the receiving end of one that has worked well. They are not meant to be part of a large bureaucracy and I take the noble Lord's point about committees.

We are thinking about the meetings taking place twice a year. They will consider how the arrangements are working; the impact on children, on parents, on vulnerable children, on children with special educational needs and on those who arrive from outside the area; and how best our most vulnerable and challenging children can be shared, in the best sense of that word, between the different schools so that they come together. The task will not be onerous but the forums are meant to do a real job. The experience of parents on the receiving end of those that are already in place and working well is a happy and

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positive one. On that basis I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured and able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: Of course, I shall withdraw the amendment. I take with a slight pinch of salt what the noble Baroness has said about this being a committee that will have a light touch and meet only occasionally. Subsection (3) states:

    "Regulations may make provision—

    (a) as to the constitution, meetings and proceedings of an admission forum and of any such sub-committee,

    (b) as to the manner in which advice is to be given by a forum, and

    (c) as to the establishment by local education authorities of joint admission forums".

Of course, it will have sub-committees. So I am not absolutely certain that they will be anything like that. I believe that we shall see here the establishment of something that will be a talking shop. No doubt, two or three years down the line we shall see the monster that has been created. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 178A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 179 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

The Earl of Listowel moved Amendment No. 180:

    Page 30, line 19, at end insert—

"( ) Admission Forums shall seek the views of carers of children in public care and make these known to the admission authorities."

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 180, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 181. The purpose of these two probing amendments is to ensure that children in public care are gaining fair access to the better performing schools. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, referred to two similar amendments. Without wishing to make a case of special pleading, I ask the Committee to bear in mind that these children do not have parents to act as advocates for them. In that sense they are unique.

Currently those children are not gaining fair access to the better performing schools. Schools preoccupied with league table performance are averse to accepting needy children. There is a concern that many schools are prejudiced against children in public care. Such children are often still perceived as "bad", when in fact they are "needy".

Children are taken into public care throughout the school year. The better performing schools are unlikely to have places available mid-year. Better performing schools are of particular benefit to looked-after children. An ordered school environment helps to remedy the experience many of these children have had of a chaotic family environment and often an unsettled experience in public care. Good schools can help remedy the lack of clear boundaries the child has experienced, as well as put right the child's interrupted schooling.

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I thank the Minister for the draft regulations. I welcome the inclusion, among the topics for forum deliberations, of arrangements for ensuring that vulnerable and challenging children are fairly shared. I ask for clarification: does the reference to "parents" also apply to carers of looked-after children?

Can the Minister assure the Committee that her measures are sufficiently robust? There has been a problem in engaging the interest of carers of looked-after children in the education of their charges. Can the Minister assure the Committee that forums will seek out, welcome and encourage the views of such carers? Can she assure the Committee that forums will give active consideration to the inclusion of carers or care agencies among their membership? What safeguards are there to ensure that admissions forums seek the views of carers of children in public care and reflect the needs of those children in any decisions they make on admissions?

Given the impact of admission arrangements on school improvements and school performance, what role does Ofsted play in reporting on the fair distribution of vulnerable and/or challenging children between local schools? I beg to move.

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