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Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I was referring to my speech, hanging upon the peg given by the allusion that I was an ex-grammar school boy. I was not. On the competence of the department, I have no doubt that the Minister who is here to defend the department will have answers to all those questions.

Forty years ago tonight, I was leader of Enfield council. During that period, I had the pleasure of serving on the governing body of a local school with Iain McLeod. He and I had a good rapport on all matters relating to the London borough of Enfield. In the middle and late 1960s, we were plunged into the process of comprehensive education. There is a great deal of understanding across the Chamber—but not with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—about the difficulties of managing a situation to which Enfield is no stranger. Because we have some excellent schools and because of the Greenwich decision, it is possible for pupils to have places in Enfield schools to the detriment of Enfield parents who wish their children to go there. That is a fact of life. It is not made any easier by the language used by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, this evening.

Some Enfield children are unable to go to Enfield schools because children from Barnet, Haringey and Waltham Cross have made a case to go to them. The Latymer School Edmonton in Enfield is a first-class school, which was top of the recent published lists because of the quality of its education and results. I simply say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, of course she is the master of her own language, but it does no good in trying to get an understanding, not only from the Ministers but from the people out in the country, when she castigates the decisions that have been made.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked of the simplicity with which these matters could have been put right. In my experience, which is not as great as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, or of many others, it is a constant problem. Some thirty years ago, as a Member of Parliament, parents would plead with me that their child deserved a place in a certain school. It was impossible.

The authority in Enfield has changed hands—it now has a Conservative majority. The same kind of problems and anguish that were visited on Enfield parents in the past few years will continue because there are far too many children for the places available. We will hear from the Minister on the detailed points, but I do not think that the debate or the issue is enhanced one bit by the language used by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, I have always regarded the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, as a friend of mine, and I have great admiration for him, but I think he is being a little unfair when he says that we are looking for something on which to hang a speech.

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I do not like making speeches; I bored your Lordships in years gone by when I was younger, time and time again, and I do not want to bore you again, but I feel very strongly about the Christian ethos in our schools. For quite a long time, when Roman Catholics were a small minority, I and my family fought for the right for Catholics to be educated in Catholic schools. We fought hard and have been very successful. I am occasionally asked to make the odd speech and give the odd prize at the odd Catholic school, so I know a little about this. The bishops of the Anglican and Roman Churches seem to have been hustled—that is the only word that I can think of—into agreeing something which, if they think about it, cannot be right. I find it very hard to understand that a school should have to take children without going into the ethos of their backgrounds.

One of the troubles in this country today is that so many people and so many children quite often do not realise what is wrong and what is right. It could be said that I am out of touch but, as your Lordships know, there are people who think some things are quite all right which we were brought up to think were sinful and wrong, and we know it in our hearts.

We will never get back a question of ethos if we once lose it. To think of denying it to these schools by trying to hustle them to stop interviews is quite impossible, as people in this House, with all their background knowledge, common sense and Christianity, should realise. Indeed, I do not mind what religion people follow—believing and following one's beliefs are the only things that are important. But to tell me that we are looking for something to hang a peg on is not good enough.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I am happy to say that I was not educated in this country, so I do not really have to display the variety of backgrounds that we have seen. I could have come from or not gone to one school or another. But in the 38 years that I have lived here, I have found education, especially school education, to be the most class-ridden and prejudice-ridden subject that I have ever come across. I am astonished by that. It is not as if the old education system—whatever that was—of the glorious 1950s, 1960s and 1970s actually did the country much good. That was when we were known as the sick man of Europe. Therefore, whatever ethos or manners that the school system taught, it was a derided, class-ridden system that harmed the country no end.

In trying to repair the system, we sometimes need elaborate regulations. I am surprised that people say that these are very elaborate—that is the legalese that we have to use. We pass Acts that contain Henry VIII clauses which require us to lay orders before Parliament, and it is not surprising that those orders are very detailed. That is the way that the law functions.

I refer to some recent reforms which sought to remove burdens by annulling certain regulations. I refer to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and documents of up to 300 pages in length that were drawn up just to keep pubs open on New

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Year's Eve. Why do we draw up such documents? I do not know, but if you are going to do it, you must do it properly.

I have read the regulations and I wish to comment on them in some detail. They have one common theme; that is, to try to simplify the admissions procedures for primary and secondary schools. Many people talk about parental choice. It is a fallacy to believe that somehow choice can be permitted in a system in which the market does not apply. We are not talking about buying cheese or bananas but rather school admissions. If, as my noble friend Lord Graham said, a school is popular, it cannot raise the price of admission as that system does not apply in the schools we are discussing. There must be some kind of rationing mechanism in order to allocate places in schools where too many children apply for the available places. How can one do that? Obviously, one cannot do it without consulting other schools. As has been said, a popular Church school in west London is in consultation with 40 different local authorities surrounding it. That is the way such matters should be handled. We want to be just to the people who want to send their children to the best schools, but without being unjust to other people who also want to send their children to those schools. That is a difficult outcome to achieve.

I believe that the admission forums mentioned in Regulation No. 2900 are an excellent idea. The regulation seeks to co-ordinate admission policies of different schools in a wide catchment area to take into consideration the needs of an entire community. If a child cannot go to his school of first choice, the knowledge of all those running the various schools in the community, that of the local education authority and so on, can be co-ordinated to offer the second best choice to the particular pupil concerned. I do not see what is wrong with that as it is obvious that not every pupil can attend their school of first choice in a system which is based on rationing and not on the market. If people are suggesting that we abolish rationing and completely privatise primary and secondary education, that is a different matter. One hears stories of young mothers with small children staggering to a church to attend services when they are not interested in the relevant religion. They attend the services as that makes their child eligible for admission to the relevant Church school. Some people attend such services not through religious conviction but because they want their children to jump the admission queue for a certain school. Distortions occur when people claim to belong to certain religious sects when they are interested only in sending their children to certain schools. We have clearly reached a point when the present system will no longer function unless we take great care to improve it. As I say, I genuinely believe that the admission forums mentioned in Regulation No. 2900 are an excellent idea.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, pointed out, an interesting aspect of the matter is revealed in the relevant Explanatory Note. Like the noble Baroness, I prefer to use the Explanatory Note to Regulation

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No. 2900 as a background to my remarks rather than the body of the regulation itself. It states that one of the roles of an admission forum is,

    "to monitor the admission of excluded children, looked after children, children with special educational needs and children who arrive outside the normal admission round; and to consider any other admissions issues arising".

When we talk about admissions we talk about parental choice, Church schools and grammar schools as if the only thing that the education system is supposed to do is to cater for those who are considered to be the brightest and the best and the rest can go hang. As my noble friend Lord Graham succinctly said, he was not given the best chance in his early days as, due to the way in which the education system was structured, it did not give the bulk of the people the best chance. What we are trying to do is improve everyone's chances.

Noble Lords may wonder why I am discussing secondary school education as I do not usually speak on that matter. I lived in Islington for 25 years and was chairman of the campaign for the advancement of state education. I used to publish a magazine from my house to advance the case of state education. Islington co-ordinated the running of secondary schools to improve quality. I was also chair of Islington Labour education group for a number of years. All my children attended local state comprehensive schools. I took a great interest in secondary schools as a manager and as a governor. Therefore, I am not a johnny-come-lately to the secondary school debate.

As I say, the admission forums are a good mechanism to look after the interests of excluded children. I am also impressed by Regulation No. 2899, which is inclusive, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said. I refer to appeals against expulsion. I refer to the welcome procedure outlined in the Explanatory Note which enables parents,

    "to appeal against school admission decisions, including decisions refusing permission to children already admitted to a school to enter the school's sixth form . . . to appeal against the authority's decision to admit a child who, at the time decision was made, has twice been permanently excluded from a school".

Exclusion from schools has made the headlines in recent times. It is to be welcomed that the Government are laying down detailed instructions on the matter.

I refer to the co-ordination of admissions to primary schools. I do not see what is wrong with that. I refer to the Explanatory Note to Regulation No. 2903 which states that local education authorities,

    "are to refer their proposed schemes to the Admission Forum established for their area and to have regard to the Forum's advice or recommendations before consulting each governing body to whom a scheme is to apply".

That is a welcome proposition which will improve the way in which our schools are run. I refer also to the welcome proposition that local education authorities are to,

    "designate the single day in each year on which their determination as to the single offer of a primary school place which the parents of children in their area are to receive is to be communicated".

Those are good policies.

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Regulation No. 2901 concerns how objections to admission arrangements should be dealt with. The Explanatory Note to Regulation No. 2901 states,

    "in circumstances where the admission authority for a school have determined an admission number for any relevant age group which is lower than the number indicated by the net capacity assessment method set out in guidance".

It is interesting that that relates to the parents' right to object, where parents may think that they have been unjustly handled. If the school has capacity but someone is not admitted, the parents are right to object because, after all, total capacity is the only rationing criterion one can use when prices cannot be used.

There are a number of good detailed recommendations that we should definitely welcome because they will immensely improve the state of our schools.

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