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Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 37:

"( ) In section 90 of the 1998 Act (reference of objections to adjudicator or Secretary of State) at the end of subsection (2) insert—
"(2A) Where—
(a) the admission arrangements have been determined by an admission authority under section 89(4), but
(b) a parent wishes to make an objection about these arrangements,.
that person may refer the objection to the local education authority which, after considering the objection, may refer the objection to the adjudicator.""

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I return to this amendment because I did not get a satisfactory answer from the Minister at Report stage and I wish to take the matter a little further. We have brought it back in a slightly amended form to take account of some of the points made.

To remind your Lordships, the amendment is about giving more parental rights over admission arrangements and not only about the admission of a particular child. The amendment would give parents the right to appeal to the adjudicator, an independent body which can uphold an appeal and require a school's admission arrangements to change to reflect the law and code of practice on school admissions.

The many years of experimentation by the Conservative government left a diversity of admissions practices, some of which were fairer than others. LEAs can appeal to the adjudicator but have been reluctant to do so in relation to the practices of particular schools because of a wish to work with schools and build a relationship with them—the schools have sometimes been grant-maintained, and therefore the LEA is anxious to build a new relationship with them, particularly after their reintroduction to the LEA framework following the 1998 Act. Parents have been left somewhere in the middle. The two cases I cited on Report—namely, of schools in Lewisham and Havering—came to light only because the parents concerned appealed to the ombudsman, because the LEA had not appealed.

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The adjudicator is preferable to the ombudsman for resolving such issues. The adjudicator has specialist knowledge of the specific area of school admission arrangements; the local government ombudsman covers all local services outside the health service. The adjudicator works to a fixed, tight timetable; the ombudsman carries out investigations over a much longer period of time. The adjudicator can direct changes to admission arrangements to bring them into line with the law; the ombudsman can only propose remedies. Neither has an appeal system except through judicial review. The adjudicator is the best way of resolving parental complaints.

It is accepted that current primary legislation allows for secondary legislation to give parents the right of appeal to the adjudicator but that the Government are very reluctant to give parents such a right, and they are also reluctant to come forward with new regulations. The reason given is that there was little response from parents to the consultation on school admissions issued on 5th September 2001. In fact, the consultation did not ask directly whether parents' rights should be extended. It was noted in the consultation document that,

    "parents in groups of at least 10 can already make objections to the Adjudicator where admission arrangements include selection for some places, and that selection has been in place since the school year 1997–98 or earlier. We do not presently plan to extend objection rights further, but if you think we should please say so".

The question asked—and all DfES consultation documents have constrained responses now—was Question 12:

    "Do you think rights to object about proposed admission arrangements should be extended in other ways?".

The analysis of the responses to the consultation on school admissions did say that there had been little support to widen the objection further, particularly from voluntary-aided and foundation schools. But to some extent it is to be expected that both might wish to keep arrangements much as they were. In fact, 55 per cent of respondents disagreed overall with giving more parental rights—hardly an overwhelming majority. But at the start of the report it was stated that,

    "the majority of those responding to this consultation have a professional interest in education".

Few responses—only 13 out of 416—were from parents. Elsewhere, the report states that the response rate,

    "is too small to draw any conclusions on parents' views".

The answer, therefore, to the idea that "parents don't want it" is that very few parents have actually been asked. The meagre response rate to the constrained question to a professional audience is one of the three arguments advanced by the Government for not giving greater parental rights.

The second argument advanced was that,

    "Any admission arrangements could potentially be challenged".—[Official Report, 19/6/02; col. 864.]

It indicates that the Government are possibly somewhat afraid of parents taking action to ensure that they get the best education for their children. The objection given at that time was, as I said, that some

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way was needed of sifting such a challenge from parents and of making sure that it did not go directly to the ombudsman. The amendment tries to take account of government fears by requiring the LEA to listen to parental objections and if the LEA agrees with any parental objection to refer the matter to the adjudicator. That takes account of the Lewisham case, where, if the LEA had listened to parental concerns about the school's admission arrangements, the matter could have been resolved a couple of years earlier than it was. The local authority would probably not have been found guilty of maladminstration.

The amendment may not be perfect, but it does try to take account of the Government's fears about giving parents a greater say in their local school system. It is up to the Government now to state whether they support parents in such situations. I beg to move.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, although I understand the intention behind the amendment, the difficulty is that it does not actually do what the noble Baroness wishes it to do. Referral of an objection to the adjudicator would be dependent upon the local education authority agreeing to do so—and it could well be that the LEA is the admission authority against whose arrangements a parent seeks to make objection. However, I hope that I can demonstrate that similar opportunities currently exist for parents to make their objections known.

Parents can already make representations to their local education authority, either directly or to their local education committee via elected members. It is then up to the local education authority to consider those representations and to decide whether an objection to a school's arrangements is justified.

As I have pointed out in previous debates, the issue of whether LEAs should take account of parents' complaints and representations was highlighted in the complaint about the Prendergast school in Lewisham and the finding that the school's practice of interviewing applicants was contrary to guidance. The ombudsman also said that the LEA was guilty of maladministration because it has neglected to object to the school's arrangements to the adjudicator, despite the fact that parents had made the school aware of this. We believe that this emphasises the greater responsibility that education authorities have to consider what is in the best interests of all children in their area.

But governing bodies of individual schools should also consider the interests of their own pupils. Schools which are their own admission authority may already object to another's admission arrangements, and the Bill extends that right to the governing bodies of community and controlled schools. This may be a benefit where, for example, children attending a particular primary school are disadvantaged by a local secondary school's admission arrangements, perhaps because their school is not a named feeder school. Under the new provision, any governing body will be

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able to refer an objection to the adjudicator on behalf of its pupils and parents—not through the local education authority but directly.

I believe that with the role of parent governors and with the governing bodies' interest in protecting and enhancing the children within their care, this is the right place to put our focus, and indeed the reason why we have brought forward the amendment. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will accept that the amendment does not do what she wishes it to do. We believe that individual governing bodies are best placed to do this. We shall, of course, look at this procedure and ensure that it is working well. My door is always open, and other Ministers' doors will be open, to further discussion after the Bill has completed its passage. I have set out the importance of the position and I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Her response does meet completely what is required. Nevertheless, we have taken this proposal as far as we can. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 14 [Inspection of nursery education]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 38:

    Page 174, line 27, at end insert—

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