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Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment arises from another helpful letter that I have received, in this case from the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I echo what my noble friend Lady Blatch said about how extremely prompt and helpful Ministers have been in dealing with matters that we raised in Committee. The letter responded to the question whether LEAs could advance innovative proposals in relation to school transport under the powers in Clause 2. The noble Lord said that he was happy to reassure me that his department would be happy to consider any proposals from an LEA or an individual school about the way in which the relevant part of the 1996 Act might be adapted to allow either body to produce an innovative scheme involving local transport. However, he said that he must be clear that the purpose of the powers in Clause 2 as set out in Chapter 1 of the Bill is to facilitate the innovative project that may raise educational standards. He also said that it will be important for an LEA coming forward with such a proposal to demonstrate how it contributes to raising the educational standards achieved by children in England or Wales.
I see that requirement as an obstacle. It effectively prohibits the sort of innovation that I should like to see in relation to school transport arrangements. I have therefore sought in the amendment to broaden the definition so that it allows school transport clearly to come within it. I do not know whether I have succeeded in that regard but that is the aim of the amendment.
I believe it is important that we allow innovation to reach the area of school transport. Several difficult problems have beset school transport over a long period. There is a distance cut-off of two or three miles, or whatever it may be. These days, that is much further than most parents would allow their children to walk routinely and unescorted to school. It results in many parents having to be available to drive their children to school or having to rely on the lottery of there being spare places in LEA transport. They obtain those by paying for them, but there is no right to such places and, therefore, many parents are left without them.
Secondly, the provision would operate against choice in schools. If a local education authority does not actively seek to promote choice, the type of situation arises as it does, for example, in my children's local town of Winchester. There, the three secondary schools are within a short distance of each other. However, if a parent chooses the secondary school for his child which is not his by right, there is no school transport provision. The parent must therefore drive his child to school, even though it would be possible for the school bus, which goes to the allocated school, to trundle on an extra few hundred yards to the other school down the road. That also seems to me to present a source of difficulty.
There is also the problem, which the Bill at least starts to tackle, of transport for post-16 year-olds. Whatever distance they have to travel, those children are left entirely to the mercy of public transport. This week I shall have the pleasure of having three work shadows from Greenhead College in Huddersfield. As the noble Baroness knows, it is one of the best sixth-form colleges in the country. The pupils all report that they and their fellow students have difficulty in arriving at their classes on time because they rely on buses. There is a diverse catchment area for a college such as Greenhead. Students travel considerable distances. If one relies on essentially rural and cross-country buses to make one's journey, one ends up missing, or being late for, classes rather more often than is desirable or acceptable to the school.
All those problems could be solved if a local education authority set out to solve them. But, crucially, first, it would have to be allowed to do so and, secondly, it would have to be allowed to charge. Charging is at the heart of being able to provide a service. One is asking parentsfor example, those who choose a different school for their childrento pay for, in the case of Winchester, perhaps 30 miles of car journeys a day in order to get their children to school. But one is not allowed to charge a penny if the
I believe that this is an area where a little local innovation and good will could go a long way towards solving some very long-standing problems. Therefore, I should like that to be brought within the ambit of Clause 2 of the Bill, and that is what the amendment seeks to do. I beg to move.
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