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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 194:

"( ) Powers under these regulations shall not be used in such a way as to interfere with the admissions procedures of schools that select pupils by ability or aptitude."

The noble Baroness said: This amendment specifies that any admissions arrangements shall not,

    "interfere with the admissions procedures of schools that select pupils by ability or aptitude".

I know that there are philosophical objections to the idea of any selection on the basis of ability, but there are schools that, under the current system, are allowed bona fide to select pupils by ability. Of course other schools have now been added to the system that are allowed to select by aptitude.

The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that the powers under these regulations are not used in such a way that they would interfere with the admissions procedures of schools selecting by ability and/or aptitude. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am happy to give that assurance to the noble Baroness. Co-ordinated

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admission arrangements will not affect the current rights of schools which are their own admission authorities to decide their own admission policies, apply them to applicants, identify those who meet their admissions criteria, and in what order. I am happy to make the position clear.

However, the amendment as drafted would go further than that since it rules out any changes in admissions procedures. We believe that admissions "procedures" are not confined to schools' admission policies, but include all aspects of the processing of admission applications, such as timetables, where application forms are to be sent, how any potential multiple offers are dealt with, transmitting offers and so forth. Inevitably, co-ordinating admission arrangements will mean changes in such processing aspects. The amendment would undermine our objective of assuring that each child is offered a single place.

I hope, therefore, that with the clear assurance that nothing here would disturb admission policies, the noble Baroness will recognise that her amendment would raise some difficulties and that she will feel able to withdraw it.

Baroness Blatch: I think I take the point made by the noble Lord about admission procedures in his response. I think that the noble Lord knows what I am asking for by way of this amendment and I think that he has given me the assurance that I seek. I am not quite sure whether the admissions procedures of schools that do select by ability and/or aptitude could be affected by the regulations.

However, I take on trust what the noble Lord has said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 195 to 197 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 198:

    Page 31, line 43, at end insert ", or

"(c) that in considering admissions to a particular school, no admission authority shall be permitted to take into consideration information relating to parental preferences other than the fact that a parent has expressed a preference for that school, and that no local education authority shall supply an admissions authority with information relating to parental preferences other than that which they are entitled to take into consideration"

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 198. I am concerned that the admissions arrangements should be managed in as parent-friendly a way as possible. At last, for the coming year, we have a situation with UCAS applications whereby universities will not know to which other universities people have applied. There had been a growing practice for some universities automatically to refuse admission to candidates who had applied for Oxford or Cambridge because they wished to see only those candidates who had placed themselves first. I do not think that that was constructive so far as the students were concerned. The process became a competitive

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system for universities seeking to admit the best candidates and thus was antipathetic to the best interests of students.

In the private sector, that process is a common means of competition between schools. If the school is in the second rank, an early admissions date is set, scholarships are offered to anyone one considers will get into the schools of the first rank, and the cut-off date for acceptance is set before parents can know whether they have a place at the school they would prefer their child to attend.

The private sector is the private sector. It will have many ways of making parents' lives difficult under those circumstances. I suppose that all is fair in commercial competition. Life should not be like that in the state sector, but in some places it is. For example, in Kent—I understand why the schools do so—if one wants to get into one of the better non-selective schools, one must put that school first. If one puts a grammar school first, one never gets a chance.

I hope that under the arrangements described today by the Minister we shall have a system whereby a school which receives an application from a pupil will not know to which other schools that pupil has applied. The school does not need to know. It simply needs to know that the pupil has applied to that school. The school matches the pupil against its admission criteria and decides whether the pupil should be accepted. It is then up to the LEA, or whichever body is co-ordinating the admission arrangements, to say, "Yes, this pupil has received two offers under the scheme. The offer he or she ends up receiving is A or B". That means that everything is as good as it could be for the pupils. There is no prejudice. For a parent who wants to put a non-standard school first, there is none of the terrible competition and difficulties attached, with the possibility of losing any chance of a place in their neighbourhood school.

Parents who are Catholic may want a chance of a place at a Catholic school 20 miles away which is heavily over-subscribed. If they did not manage to achieve that, they would be content for the child to go to the neighbourhood school. However, because that school is over-subscribed and they put it second, they are off the list. I do not think that that is the way things should be in the state system. The state system should look at an application on its merits as though it were the only application for that child. All the school should know is that a child with these qualifications wants to go to that school; and the school should decide on that basis. The "unders" and "overs" and double offers should be dealt with by the LEA on the basis of its published scheme. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will agree that my amendment is unnecessary. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me, but I am not sure that I understand. If I do understand, I am not sure how the system will work. How will the Catholic school 20 miles away know why that parent wishes to have a Catholic education for the child? In the case of specialist or faith schools, or schools of a religious

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character, the admission authority will need to know slightly more than that the parents had a preference for that school.

The Churches went quickly for the comprehensive principle. I do not think that there is a single voluntary-aided, Church-sponsored grammar school left. I do not comment on whether that is good or bad. If a parent from a deprived area, who was a practising member of whichever Church or faith it happened to be, wanted his child to go to a school in the leafy suburbs which was seen by some to be élitist, how could the governors of that school know that the parents were members of that faith community, or wanted the specialism that might be required, if this amendment is agreed to as worded? I pose that as a question because I may not quite understand what the noble Lord has in mind.

Lord Lucas: I did not intend the words of the amendment to be capable of the construction the right reverend Prelate gives them. A parent expresses a choice by saying, "This first, that second, and that third". A school should not know that it is the third choice. It should be able to have information necessary to satisfy its other criteria: where the parent lives; their religious background; special educational needs; and anything else that is important in deciding to admit the child. The school should not know whether it has been the first, second or third choice, merely that a preference has been expressed for the school.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: I really do not believe that the amendment before the Committee actually says that; it just refers to "parental preferences". It could limit the social mix that I know the noble Lord is very keen to see evolve. I hope, therefore, that he will withdraw the amendment, and perhaps return later with another composed of different wording.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. Indeed, he has presented rather more effectively the case that I intended to make. Perhaps I may begin by expressing a segment of agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I believe that LEAs should only share information about the order of preference if it is relevant to the admission arrangements of a school. Regulations and guidance will ensure that that is the case.

My reservations about the amendment follow directly on the argument advanced by the right reverend Prelate; namely, that schools will need to know more than just the preference. Indeed, they will need to know why a parent has chosen that school in the context, for example, of denominational choice. In passing, I should point out to the noble Lord that I do not believe that school admissions are quite comparable to those that apply to UCCA. However, I accept his arguments about the previous practices that obtained with regard to university entrance. Like the noble Lord, I welcome the changes.

Once again in this House, when we are discussing admissions to secondary schools, I regret the fact that higher education has been brought into the argument.

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All too often, our education debates are suffused with information about higher education so as to detract from the point at hand. I shall not, therefore, follow the noble Lord too far down that road. However, I wish to emphasise exactly what the right reverend Prelate indicated.

I share the objectives of the noble Lord, and recognise exactly what he is trying to achieve. But, unfortunately, the amendment would leave us in a position where appropriate information would not be available to the school authorities seeking to make the decision. That would occur especially where the parent was seeking admission for a child to another smaller school outside the immediate local authority. In such a situation, the sharing of such information would be directly in the interests both of the parent and of the child.

I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that he has at least had the opportunity to express a sentiment which I significantly share. However, he must realise that the present amendment has certain defects. On that basis, I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

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