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Baroness Blatch: I am not sure where the noble Lord has been living since being involved with the education department because for some time there has been a shortage of specialist RE teachers. There is a shortage of full-time music specialists teaching music across the curriculum. I am not talking about teachers who take individual musical instrument tuition. Therefore, I am really talking about class-based music teachers and certainly heads of music departments. I should like the noble Lord to think again about the matter and to perhaps bring some statistics forward on Report.

The Minister also referred to the subjects as non-core subjects. Design and technology is a foundation subject, but not a non-core subject; RE is a compulsory subject; and music is a foundation subject. Information and communications technology is not a core subject; it is a foundation subject.

Can the noble Lord tell me why there is no distinction for and no discrimination against medics, whether they work in the private health sector or the National Health Service, and yet there is discrimination against teachers?

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am concerned at this time with the Education Bill and not health matters. Therefore, I have not looked up the position with regard to medics. So far as concerns the independent education sector, given that in many areas significant fees are charged of students, it seems a little odd that the noble Baroness should ask for a state subsidy to ensure that there are sufficient teachers. The

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independent sector in many areas is well resourced and has the responsibility of ensuring that it is properly staffed. It is not a matter for the state.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord may be concerned only with education, I am concerned with consistency of policy across government. I am also concerned with a level playing field. I am not special pleading in that sense. I just think that there is no level playing field here between being a medic receiving a concessionary bursary, irrespective of where he works. We are talking about when medics are students in training and teachers when they are students in training and the debts that they build up. I am talking about a level playing field and consistency of government policy. But the noble Lord is unable to defend the consistency of government policy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 179 agreed to.

Clause 180 [Education action zones]:

On Question, Whether Clause 180 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Blatch: I use the mechanism of seeking to take this clause out of the Bill in order to raise with the Minister one or two areas of concern about education action zones. EAZs, as the noble Lord knows, were set up in 1998 to allow local partnerships using private investment to raise standards in disadvantaged urban and rural areas. The total cost of the project was £155 million between 1998 and 2002.

Despite hoping to raise up to 25 per cent of the value of the Government's grant, a report by the National Audit Office found that by 1998-99 the total value of business contributions received by the zones amounted to only half of what the Government expected.

Education action zones were also criticised for failing to have any effect on standards in secondary schools. The Ofsted press release of 5th March 2001 stated that,

    "the work of the zones has had no significant impact on standards in secondary schools".

We welcome the aim to improve standards and achievement in some of our most difficult schools. But to have any lasting impact on pupils' futures these initiatives must be shown to have had a tangible effect. Far from being successful, education action zones have proved to be a severe disappointment, both in getting businesses involved and in bringing innovation into the classroom.

Large sums of public money have been spent on these expensive schemes without any proper positive evaluation of whether the zones have any effect on our schools. There is a question mark over whether the zones have really achieved all that was expected of them.

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The first 25 of the 73 existing education action zones were established by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment in 1998-99. The Comptroller and Auditor General stated in paragraph 2 of his report:

    "The Department have developed a strategy to assess what impact the Zones are having on local education standards, and are required to report progress and achievements to the Secretary of State in December of each year".

What is that strategy? Who performs the assessments? Why can we not have the reports? We were told that there would be a report each December. We are now in the fourth year and I have yet to see a single annual report. Paragraph 8 of the report states:

    "in the early days of the their existence, some Zones were spending large sums of public money before they had sound financial controls in place, creating risks of poor accounting, impropriety or poor value for money. In addition some Zones experienced difficulty in raising the expected level of business contributions. Further, there were some instances where Forum members did not even know or did not understand their role and responsibilities".

It is true that the report finds that,

    "The Department responded positively to those issues".

However, it goes on to state:

    "The Department and the Zones will need to remain vigilant to ensure that risks to financial control and corporate governance are well managed to avoid irregularities or improprieties that could detract from the Zones' educational achievements".

The report identified the following issues:

    "Forum members must have a basic understanding of accounting disciplines and procedures and, where appropriate, access to qualified professional advice".

Do they have that?

    "Each Zone should have procedures to ensure that their purchasing decisions are competitive and that business partners do not gain any commercial advantage through their position on the Action Forum".

Do we know whether that has been effective?

    "Zones should attach conditions to the grants that they award".

Are they now doing that?

The report continues:

    "We consider that there are a number of wider lessons that can be learned from the establishment of the Zones that can be applied to other government programmes involving the setting up of innovative new bodies".

I think that I have said enough to demonstrate that there are real concerns. There was a rocky start. The involvement of businesses has not been as the Government predicted. It would be helpful to know what happened to those annual reports and whether we can see them.

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, advances trenchant criticisms of education action zones. But as she knows, they are under contract to continue for another two-and-a-half years in some cases. The intention behind the Bill is to seek to effect improvements against a background in which the noble Baroness has identified some legitimate criticisms of how the zones have operated, although in some areas she has been more than a little harsh.

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The noble Baroness will have noticed that primary school standards have risen in inner city areas where the education action zones have been effective. She must also recognise that her criticisms may be valid against some education action zones but are not such as to justify a general onslaught on them. In any case, she must recognise that our intention is to create a framework in the Bill in which we can learn from past mistakes and improve the operation of the zones.

The noble Baroness asked one or two specific questions. She asked: do the zones now have professional advice? The answer is yes. There are conditions on all grants to education action zones. Zones themselves attach conditions to the grants that they make. I confess that I am a little perplexed by her statement that she has not seen an annual report. The annual report was issued last year and is a public document. I shall ensure that she is sent a copy. Another report is due for the coming year and for the further years during which the zones continue.

The noble Baroness has presented a bleak picture of education action zones. Some have had considerable success. There is no doubt that educational standards are rising in a number of specific areas and education action zones have played their part. The clause is in the Bill to give us a framework within which we can learn from the original conception of the zones. We seek to improve any weaknesses against that background.

I hope that I have given the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, an assurance that she can have the information that she referred to earlier. We do not share every aspect of her criticism, but we recognise when such criticism is justified and have suggested a framework for improvement.

11.45 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord accuses me of presenting a bleak picture. I have referred only to the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, which is an official report from which I read verbatim. The noble Lord appears to have an advantage over me as he has seen the annual reports and I have not. I am referring not just to the outstanding annual report. I want to see all three reports. Presumably a fourth will be added very soon, so it would be nice to see all four reports.

I am a regular writer of Questions for Written Answer on this issue and I am usually told that the Answers are coming, but then so is Christmas. The noble Lord says that education action zones are under contract and that their intention is to improve. He also doubted my statement about standards in secondary schools. I was quoting verbatim from the Ofsted report. It would be helpful to know what information the Government have to refute Ofsted and the Comptroller and Auditor General's report.

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