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Lord Filkin: My Lords, I fear that this will be a matter on which we shall not agree. That is exactly because the Government's policy is that increased choice of new providers, when there is to be a new school either as a result of an increase in the need for places or as the product of a reorganisation, is in the interest of parents and pupils. That is the explicit reason why with the Bill we have widened the existing legislation, which requires competitions only for additional schools, and widened the circumstances about which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has spoken.
The Bill would require a local authority to invite proposals in a far wider range of circumstances. That would involve a reorganisation in an area where some schools were being closed and others changed to meet changing demands. Of course, that would not apply in
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a situation where an existing school was moving to a new buildingthat would simply be an existing school continuing in new premisesbut it would apply when there was reorganisation, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.
The Building Schools for the Future programme is intended to provide a stimulus for local authorities to examine the shape of provision in the area and to decide where schools will be needed in the future. Often, secondary education reorganisation and the associated competitions will be carried out in the context of the BSF programme.
Many local authorities will take the opportunity to augment the facilities of schools and relaunch them technically as new schools. That is particularly likely where provision is being rationalised and some schools may be closing. We think that competitions where proposals need to be published for new secondary schools are a good thing and will encourage greater choice for parents and greater contestability in the system. The more that schools are involved, the greater the opportunity for new providers to become involved and the greater the need for as many options as possible to be explored. This part of the Bill is trying to achieve thatmore good schools from which parents can choose. Where a local authority believes that a new secondary school is needed, whether to meet a demand for new places or as a result of reorganisation, it will need to publicise the fact and invite interested parties to make proposals to meet the need for the new school.
Potential promoters should have the right to be told about opportunities for new schools and to compete on a level playing fieldI emphasise a level playing fieldbut the local authority will still decide when it needs to reorganise, where the school should be and its size and range. The local authority is in charge strategically of deciding the pattern of education in its area. It will retain its role as the commissioner of educational provision, but the provision may be provided by another provider, if that is what the local school organisation committee decides is best for the area. The legislation will not remove any powers from the local authority, but it will ensure that other providers are aware of the need for a secondary school in the area and aware of the opportunity to submit a proposal.
On Amendment No. 77, we agree that guidance to decision makers on competitions for new secondary schools will have to include the factors to be taken into account if more than one proposal is received. It will be for the school organisation committee or the adjudicator to decide the proposals on their merits, and it would be utterly wrong for the guidance to be so prescriptive as to attempt to override that.
We shall consult interested parties thoroughly on draft guidance in the normal way before it is issued, but some of the factors that are likely to be included are: whether the proposals improve the standards, quality, range or diversity of educational provision; whether they advance national and local transformation strategies; whether the proposals will deliver a broad and balanced curriculum;
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the parental demand for the type of school; whether the proposals represent a cost-effective use of public funds and so on.
Later we shall discuss the processes by which parents can express their views on that. We believe that it is in the interests of parents and pupils that there is opportunity for a wider diversity of suppliers. Therefore, we do not agree with the amendment for the reasons that I have stated.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his replyI suppose I am grateful. It is clear that there is no meeting of minds on the issue.
I believe that the Government underestimate the hurt and harm that can be caused to a community when one is trying to reorganise schools and thrown into the midst of that reorganisation is the lengthy process of a competition between schools. Trying to amalgamate three schools into two is difficult enough. If, on top of that, one says, "The whole thing is up in the air, and we don't know what schools are going to be established or where, as that is up to the competition", incredible turmoil is created for pupils. For a couple of years, the lives of those pupils can be disturbed by uncertainties about what will happen to their school.
We are asking the Government to allow local authorities to pursue their function as a strategic planner in this area, so that they do not have to worry about setting up the competitions and losing control. Effectively, the Government are asking local authorities, in setting up independent schoolsacademies are defined as independent schools, and foundation schools can go their own way to a considerable extentto pursue a strategic role.
The Government are uncomprehending of the realities of life at the coalface of local education authorities. They have no idea what it is like, and they are pursuing a totally ideological agenda for their own purposes. It is a remarkably Thatcherite agenda for a Labour government, and I am amazed to find a Labour government pursuing such an agenda. If that is the way they want to go, the electorate will, in the not too distant future, have a chance to judge the Government. I shall withdraw the amendment and leave the electorate to make up their mind about what they want. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 64 [Publication of proposals with consent of Secretary of State]:
Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 74:
"( ) When considering whether to grant consent to publish under subsection (2), the Secretary of State shall have regard to any representations made by the local education authority for the area in which the school is proposed, and any other local education authority likely to be affected by the proposal."
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as we have heard, the Bill extends the circumstances in which new secondary schools will be subject to a competition. If LEAs or promoters want to establish a new community, foundation or voluntary school without going to
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competition, they have to receive the consent of the Secretary of State. The effect is that no community school can be established without the Secretary of State's consent or until after external promoters have first been invited to submit their proposals.
It is now clear that we have strong reservations about the principle of opening for competition the establishment of new secondary schools. It should be the School Organisation Committeewith the appropriate sources available to itand the LEA which have responsibility for ensuring a coherent pattern of provision without the distractions or pressures from individual lobbies which can have an influence out of proportion to the general need to ensure sufficient secondary school places.
This amendment to Clause 64 was laid to ensure that, when considering whether to grant consent, the Secretary of State will have regard to representations made by the LEAs affected by the proposal. Given the long list of important roles outlined by the Minister in debate on the previous amendment, that seems to be only right. The amendment supports the strategic commissioning role that the Government have themselves set out as being their vision for local authorities in the future enabling them to ensure that any proposal is considered alongside existing planning arrangements for all schools. It would help to avoid unnecessary disruption of local schools and their communities in the "cat among the pigeons" situation outlined by my noble friend Lady Sharp.
Any proposal for a new school should fit with local need. The amendment should encourage proposers to make contact with the local authority so that they become familiar with the school organisation plan to ensure that their proposals fit into the local audit of need for the local communities. It is hoped that that will prevent the proposer putting forward a proposal that could create an isolated learning institution.
I see a parallel here with something that was beginning when I myself was teaching and is happening to a much greater extent nowadays. Many organisations are trying to get involved in education now and many of them are providing very high quality teaching materials for use in the classroom, which relate the curriculum to everyday life and are a practical application of learning. When that first started to happen in the classroom, the materials were not really related to the curriculum. Very soon, those organisations cottoned on to the fact that, if they did not relate those learning materials to the national curriculum, they would not be any use in the classroom. In the same way, it is absolutely vital that proposers of new schools understand the context into which they are making their proposals. This amendment will help.
It is particularly important, as the agenda for children, young people and families requires greater collaboration and joined-up working in response to the Children Act 2004 in which local authorities are the strategic lead. It is very important that potential new providers are part of that process. I beg to move.
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