Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Although I understand the sentiments behind the amendment, I believe that the reasoning for tabling them is flawed.

28 May 2002 : Column 1308

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, may have thought that subsection (2) of Clause 191 related to school admissions policies. It does not. School admissions are governed by the provisions of Part III of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and, subject to the passage of this Bill, the additional provisions set out in Chapter 3, Clauses 44 to 48. The question of whether an individual pupil should be admitted from a primary school to a secondary school will be decided under those provisions. That is, rightly, where the question of parental wishes, to which the noble Lord referred, applies.

Clause 191 is concerned with measures to improve standards. It may help your Lordships if I outline the policy considerations behind it. Significant numbers of pupils in Wales do not build upon their achievements at the end of primary school. By the age of 14—the end of key stage 3—they do not attain the levels expected on the basis of where they had reached at age 11. In other words, there is a dip in performance. The evidence produced by Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales is that the dip in performance at the end of key stage 3 is less pronounced if there has been effective joint planning by primary and secondary schools to facilitate the transition of pupils from one to the other.

The National Assembly for Wales wishes to see best practice in effective joint planning embedded in the life of schools. The clause, therefore, places a duty on the governing bodies of secondary schools and their feeder primary schools to plan together for the better and smoother transition of pupils. It would hardly be reasonable to ask a school to engage in planning when, perhaps, only one child from a particular school at the other end of a large area wished to transfer to the school because of parental choice. That would be an unreasonable burden, and I fear that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, might even accuse us of being over-bureaucratic were we to support it.

Given the reference in the clause to drawing up joint plans to facilitate transition, the National Assembly for Wales will produce guidance that could, for example, allow a primary school in a rural area that sends a small number of pupils to be treated as a feeder school.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, referred to parental choice. Of course, parents may choose to transfer their child from a primary school that has never before served as a feeder. That is not the issue in this case. It is an entirely different matter, to be dealt with according to the wishes of parents. As I explained, the policy objective behind Clause 191 is effective planning between the governing bodies of schools. Subsection (4) requires governing bodies to have regard to any guidance issued by the National Assembly in discharging their functions to draw up transition plans.

The discussion of the noble Lord's amendment has given me the opportunity to reassure him. I hope that, given my explanations, the noble Lord will be able to withdraw the amendment.

28 May 2002 : Column 1309

Baroness Blatch: The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I would look askance at her if she were to agree to such a level of bureaucracy. I hope that she will agree that it is important that there should be succession arrangements for an individual child moving from one school to another, particularly if the child is moving across key stages and even more so if the child has special educational needs. Much time is wasted in the receiving school if the profile of the child and any information about the child's educational needs do not arrive in time. That could certainly be improved.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: As a parent whose children went through the state school system, I cannot disagree with the noble Baroness. Speaking for the Government on the subject of Wales, it is not for me to make judgments on the judgments made on matters that have rightly been devolved to the National Assembly for Wales. Considering the care with which they put forward the proposals, I would be extremely surprised if they did not consider the aspect on which the noble Baroness and I, hypothetically in the context of England, agree.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I am grateful to the Minister for assuring me that parental wishes will feature in this context. With regard to the dip in performance at the end of key stage 3, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, it is difficult to believe that that can be planned out of existence. Surely the individual child and his or her condition has a great deal to do with the position. Nevertheless, I also appreciate that transition at the end of key stage 3 from one school to another is an important stage in a child's life. It is important that that transition should be as easy as possible and as beneficial as possible for the child. I should like more time to consider what the Minister has said and to investigate the matter further.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I ask the noble Lord to consider the child who transfers from primary to secondary school only to find that he or she has to repeat a whole year's work that was covered by the primary school, or the child who transfers only to discover that he or she has not covered the necessary work in order to keep up. That should be overcome by the schools working together.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I agree with the Minister. Of course, the transition is important as my noble friend Lady Blatch said. It has to be planned as well as possible to ensure that the kind of eventuality that the noble Baroness described of overlapping does not occur. I shall consider the matter further and possibly return to it. Meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 346 not moved.]

Clause 191 agreed to.

28 May 2002 : Column 1310

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 347:

    Before Clause 192, insert the following new clause—

(1) The Education Act 1996 (c. 56) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 509 (provision of transport etc.)—
(a) subsection (2) is omitted;
(b) in subsection (3), leave out all words after paragraph (b); and
(c) subsection (4) is omitted."

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 347 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 348. These subjects are entirely separate. I hope that the Minister will not pay particular attention to the drafting of Amendment No. 347. Education Acts are extremely difficult to tackle these days. I set these amendments against the copy of the 1996 Act that I have, but it has been amended by several Acts since then. I have no idea whether the Act that I acquired from the Printed Paper Office is the Act in force or whether the parts that I am trying to amend have disappeared entirely. We may return to that on another day on another subject, but it appears to me that noble Lords should be able to have access to the Act as it is rather than the Act as it was about 10 years ago.

Dealing with school transport is a problem for all local authorities, particularly those in rural areas. Most of them seem to respond with a mixture of resignation and inflexibility. If they generally have quite efficient systems for organising the buses—people would complain if they did not—it is one of the few opportunities that they have for saving money.

But the result is often that parents have a greatly restricted chance to choose schools. The example I know best is Winchester. There are three very good secondary schools there. A pupil is allocated to one of them according to where he or she lives. If a parent chooses another, as many do, then one has to use a car. The schools are about half a mile apart in the middle of Winchester. It would be dead simple for the bus which brought pupils to one school to trundle off to the others afterwards. It would cost very little extra, but it cannot be done because the local authority says that it cannot.

One of the principal reasons why the local authority cannot do it is that there is a prohibition on charging anything. It cannot charge for the extra half mile involved and so there is no way of recovering the extra cost and so it does not do it. The result is that instead of a school bus with 40 pupils on board travelling half a mile, one has 40 parents travelling eight miles each, which is an enormous waste of time, money, road space and the convenience of everybody else.

I hope that what I am proposing here is unnecessary because it will all be possible under Clause 2 of the Bill in that it will be allowable for a local education authority to say that it wishes to dis-apply under the relevant parts of the 1996 Act and to run a new school transport system on a new and innovative basis. People are entitled to have their statutory entitlement free, but if a child lives two and a half miles from the school and wants to use the school bus, that can be

28 May 2002 : Column 1311

paid for. That is for the convenience of everybody because the parents do not have to travel in by themselves and the child gets a lift into school each morning, but pays rather less than it would cost the parent to run a car.

I believe that one would reach a position under those circumstances where it became possible for a local authority to turn its attention to what the parents want rather than to how it saves as much money as possible on providing as little as possible under its statutory obligation to provide school transport.

That is very much the argument I make as regards Amendment No. 347 and I hope that it is one which the Government, if they are not tackling it now, will view sympathetically should a local education authority come to them under Clause 2 and say it is something that it would like to do. One or two experiments exist at the moment which seem to point in that direction. I hope that the Minister can give help on that.

Amendment No. 348 tackles a very small but longstanding problem about who is in charge of discipline on school buses. At the moment it is meant to be the bus driver, but he is supposed to be driving the bus and really has very little ability to control what goes on in the back of it. There can be occasions when bullying and indiscipline occur. At present there is no easy way of controlling such things. I am proposing that we should move to the American model where discipline on school buses is the responsibility of the school. In many parts of the American system there are video cameras on the buses. The tape is handed to the school at the end of the run and if there have been any complaints the tape can be looked at and the school then deals with the matter as part of its discipline. That seems to work extremely well. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page