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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that long list of initiatives. Is he aware that only last week Ofsted issued reports on Excellence in Cities, education action zones and the City Learning Centres and found that for all the good they were doing, nevertheless they were not consistently focused on their main objective of improving achievement?
Given that the average spend per pupil at a school such as Lillian Bayliss in Lambeth of £4,674 per annum in the past financial year is still only half that of an independent school such as some people think appropriate for their children, does he not consider that there is room for future initiatives?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Ofsted report contained some criticism and stated how these programmes could be made more effective. The Government have taken that to heart. However, it also reported on the excellent work that was being done. The noble Baroness referred to the Lillian Bayliss School, which has been in the news in the past few days. She is right; there is an enormous gap between the amount of resources available to the Lillian Bayliss School compared to many schools in the private sector. However, before reference is made to the problems of such a school it should be recognised that in terms of value-added and of improving the educational level of children who come to that school, the school is substantially improving. In all fairness, that should have been recognised.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the biggest single factor which would improve conditions in disadvantaged areas is much smaller class sizes? To do that there would need to be more teachers. Can he confirm, as was reported in the Guardian today, that there are thousands fewer teachers now than a year or two ago? As regards the main Question, surely the Government should make financial provision to the appropriate LEAs to employ many more teachers in such areas.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is an issue of resources invested in teachers. Let me emphasise that last year the Government put £2.7 million extra into education, and that we have a vastly greater number of teachers40,000in the state system than we had when we came to office. I might also add that part of the problem schools found last year with regard to funding was because there has been a substantial enhancement of teachers' pay scales, investment in teachers and the quality of teachers. That surely is exactly the right priority to adopt.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government's policy is to seek to give extra resources to children most in need. The problem with the assisted places scheme, as every noble Lord will recognise, is that many people who were by no means from disadvantaged homes were able to take advantage of it.
Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, does the Minister agree that hill and upland areas could be classified as disadvantaged areas? Schools situated in these areas are out of touch with broadband. By being giving extra grants, would they have access to it in order to assist them to compensate for their isolation?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is an important and interesting question. Certainly, we recognise the importance of modern access to technology for all involved in education in our schools. I should indicate to the noble Lord that we have sought to extend the concept of "disadvantage" well beyond the inner city to the development of cluster programmes in recognising that there are other areas of real need. We seek to direct resources to those areas.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, having been responsible for introducing the assisted places scheme, does the Minister accept that that scheme provided educational opportunities for many people in inner-city areas, which they otherwise would not have had?
Lord Davies of Oldham: Well, my Lords, this concept featured in the general election debate of 1997, in which the noble Lord and his party put their view and value on the assisted places scheme and we put ours on the basis that we intended to abolish it. We did abolish the scheme.
Baroness Billingham: My Lords, have the Government considered taking away the charitable status from independent schools, ring-fencing that money and giving it to the Lillian Bayliss School, and others of that ilk, in order to make a much fairer contribution to education as a whole?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are eager to search for any resources that could be made available to disadvantaged schools. I think my noble friend would recognise that the issue of the charitable status of private education has been the subject of a great deal of examination over several decades. There are many problems attendant upon it. So, although it looks like a straightforward, and, let me say, a just solution, it is not an easy one to achieve.
Lord Elton: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that schools in disadvantaged areas, which this Question is about, have a disproportionate share of disturbed and difficult children whose disturbance and
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. It is the case that, however we provide education through public sources, those who are motivated through private concern, charitable action and voluntary action, often light upon solutions to problems and produce better strategies than we are able to do through our normal bureaucracies. We should take account of and be receptive to that. I take on board the point the noble Lord made.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that new ideas are not necessarily the prerogative of Her Majesty's Government? Much could be learned from looking at some of the best practice in schools in disadvantaged areas. Could I commend him to consider having a look at how Towneley High School in Burnley has turned itself round? With tremendous support from staff, parents and pupils alike, it has turned into a success story in a very deprived and disadvantaged area.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He has highlighted achievement which should be recognised in areas of considerable disadvantage. But, as I indicated in my previous answer, we are aware that there can be illustrations of successful good practice which emerge in a whole range of devolved parts of our education system where we need to take those ideas on board and translate them into general practice.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, would accept that we support very much the point he has just made and want to be associated with it. How do the Government defend assisting young people from deprived circumstances being awarded places at schools such as Eton and top public schools?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I never expected to be asked that question by the Opposition. I understand that the Opposition support that position. We were opposed to a situation where subsidies for private education were given to those who were not necessarily from deprived backgrounds. We are in a partnership in those areas where we can actually identify students with very special needs, where the state system does not have the flexibility in every case to deal with people with such special needs, and we intend through partnerships to take advantage of that situation.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, in view of the debate we had at about 11 o'clock last night, may I ask the Chief Whip what time he intends that the House shall rise tonight? I quote from Chapter 3, subparagraph 3.01 of the Companion, which states:
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