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Baroness Andrews: I rise briefly to support the amendments in principle and also to elaborate a little on why the views of carers in particular need to be given more prominence.

If we look at the performance of children in care, we see huge disparities in terms of their achievements. It is critical that we are more pro-active, both in involving carers themselves, who are notoriously reluctant to take part in the formal arrangements that are often made for parents, but also to make it as easy as possible for their views and experiences to be collected.

In the joint guidance for children in public care published 18 months ago, which followed the QPO initiative, 15 different reasons were identified as to why children were failing to thrive in schools. They included a lack of information being available—there is obviously a crucial problem here—as well as a low value being put on education traditionally within the care services. Things have improved a great deal.

I welcome the admission forums as a positive step and as a way of introducing transparency and confidence to parents. I do not share the fears of Members opposite that they will simply be a talking shop. We have had nothing which can inform parents as to why admissions are determined the way they are and what arrangements there are for fairness and equality. They are absolutely justifiable.

Four years ago hardly any local authority in the country knew where its children in public care were. I was astonished by that. Two years ago only half of all local authorities knew what those children were achieving in schools. There is a "Bermuda Triangle" regarding information about children in public care. If the admission forums have the power to invite information and potential representation—I do not know whether they would have that power—it could be positive. We should take the opportunity that the

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Bill presents to encourage carers to be involved and schools and public authorities to know what is happening to children in public care.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I entirely support the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in his intention to protect the interests of children in public care. I agree with him that these are some of our most vulnerable children. Members of the Committee will be aware that most children are in care because they have been subjected to neglect or abuse. Therefore, they are extremely vulnerable and need to be protected.

As my noble friend Lady Andrews has said, it is only in recent times that we have enabled ourselves to get to grips with the issues facing these children. We are beginning to target them as a group to ensure that they achieve an education and that they are able to take their place in society with the best possible support.

Therefore, we consider it right that responsibility for ensuring that admission arrangements work for all children should rest with the admission forums for that particular area. One of their responsibilities will be to broker arrangements for ensuring that vulnerable children, including those in public care, have fair access to local schools. All admission authorities will be required to have regard to any advice given by the forum.

One of the key functions of the admission forums will be to advise on local protocols to aid the swift placement of vulnerable children. We shall shortly be consulting on proposed regulations that will give admission forums responsibility to consider the issues relating to the issue of children in public care, and how to ensure that such children are placed in schools that meet their social, pastoral and academic needs. Subject to parliamentary approval we also propose to give extra guidance on suitable protocols in the admissions code.

In addition, we propose through regulations to introduce a requirement that social services are included as a member of admissions forums and to explain in the admission code that they should be in attendance for consideration of all aspects relating to vulnerable children and in-year admissions.

Finally, we also propose to consult on the possibility of recommending as good practice that all admission authorities give top priority on their over-subscription criteria and on any waiting lists to children in public care.

I am well aware of the issues surrounding the way that we want Ofsted to be involved in this matter. It is looking at the role of local education authorities which have the remit to ensure that these children are cared for in terms of education. The good news is that the picture is beginning to look more positive. We have a long way to go, but it is looking increasingly positive. I am a member of a group chaired by my honourable friend Jacqui Smith from the Department of Health. That group is specifically looking at support for children in care. I shall be very pleased to pass on the noble Earl's comments about the role of Ofsted and his

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general views, if that would help. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for her very helpful and full reply to my concerns. In particular, I thank her for the welcome news about the inclusion of social services on the admission forums and about the top priority which is to be given to children in public care. I shall reflect on what she has said and consider what further steps need to be taken at the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 181 and 182 not moved.]

Clause 44 agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 183:

    After Clause 44, insert the following new clause—

(1) Section 86 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) (parental preference) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (3) after paragraph (c) there is inserted "; or
(d) if compliance with the preference would result in an unsustainable balance between boarding places and day places at a maintained boarding school.""

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 183 addresses a small but significant issue, particularly for those who represent service interests. State boarding schools cater for some 700 families of servicemen and women. Essentially, the difficulty they face is an inability to ring-fence a certain number of places for boarders. That places the financial viability of the schools at risk. If during the course of a year a number of pupils decide to switch from boarding to day places, the boarding house can become uneconomic to maintain.

Perhaps I may set out the problem. Let us take a school with an admission number of, say, 120. Over the five years—years seven to 11—the school may therefore expect to have five times 120, that is 600, pupils. Let us suppose that 300 boarders and 300 day pupils were the optimum balance based on classroom and boarding accommodation. That would appear to imply 60 day pupils and 60 boarders per year, but that is incorrect. The pattern for demand for boarding places differs from that for day places. Schools often want to take in a smaller total number in year seven and subsequently grow by taking boarders into later years, following the actual numbers that apply. They may want to take in only, say, 40 boarders in year seven, but to take in extra boarders in subsequent years in response to demand—with often particularly strong demand in years nine and 10.

Furthermore, boarders often apply much later in the academic year than do day students, as the need for a boarding place is not always predictable well in advance because of an unexpected posting overseas, a change of job or even a change in family circumstances. Under current legislation, an appeals panel may allow appeals from unsuccessful day

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applicants and force the school to take in 80 day pupils and 40 boarders. That may prevent or limit the ability of the school subsequently to take in further boarders to fill its boarding capacity, because its classroom capacity is fully taken up. That is to say that, even though pupils could be accommodated for boarding, they could not be taught in the classroom.

The solution favoured by the Minister—this has been elicited from correspondence—is to have different admission numbers for each year. For example, in year seven, there could be 60 day pupils and 40 boarders, equalling 100 children; in year eight, no extra day pupils and 10 extra boarders; in year nine, no extra day pupils and 12 extra boarders; in year 10, no extra day pupils and 12 extra boarders; and in year 11, no extra children at all. That totals 600 in all.

There are two real problems with such a solution. The pattern of demand is not sufficiently predictable, and if it varies from the above numbers of boarders, places could still be given to day applicants, as occurs at present. Secondly, there would be nothing to prevent any or all boarders unilaterally switching from boarding to day status. Thus, such a solution can never adequately safeguard a school's ability to provide boarding. The only solution that will adequately protect state boarding schools is for them to be able to ring-fence a certain number of places as boarding only.

I cannot understand the department's reluctance to do something practical on those lines. I know that it is sympathetic, but it needs to do something to resolve the problem and prevent the possibility of some of those schools going out of business altogether. That would affect only the small number of schools with boarding places and would not create an issue for other schools.

I understand that this was another clause that was not discussed at all in another place, which is unfortunate. Nevertheless, I also understand that the Liberal Democrats were sympathetic to the case made and I look forward to their support for the amendment tonight. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I rise to say briefly that yes, we entirely support the amendment. In fact, we tabled an alternative amendment to achieve the same thing. It is an important issue for that small number of schools that are state boarding schools as well as day schools. The problem is that because they cannot ring-fence boarding places under existing legislation, there is nothing to prevent parents from accepting a boarding place and then unilaterally declaring that they want it to be taken up as a day place.

For example, in one school last year, an admissions appeals panel allowed 13 successful appeals from day applicants to fill up the boarding places. That is not a major problem, but it is a problem. A small number of schools offer boarding places as well. They provide a useful service to service families, families of people who go abroad unexpectedly, families that have suffered bereavements and families in which there have been separations and divorces. There are all kinds

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of issues. A boarding place can be a useful thing, and those schools serve a useful purpose. We hope that the Government can come up with a solution to that little problem.

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