Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I am troubled and confused about Amendment 138. It states:

"No Academy may select more than 50% of its pupils on criteria based on religious characteristics".

It goes on to say that those who attend will be required,

It seems to state that half the school population should not be of any particular faith but that all the school population must take part in the school's religious life. To my mind, that is wrong. I strongly support the view that parents should have the right to withdraw their child or children from the religious life of a school if they so wish. At the moment, Catholic schools that convert to academy status retain their existing admissions arrangements. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, would mean that 50 per cent of the pupils would not be admitted on the basis of faith. This makes no sense whatsoever and is really discriminatory. My noble friend Lady Massey made the point about public funding for faith schools. The Catholic church, like others, pays a great deal of money towards supporting its own schools in any event. We should bear that in mind.

Amendment 140, moved by my noble friend Lady Massey, states,

I am sure that it is not my noble friend's intention, but that would put at risk every Catholic school and faith school in the country. What is the point of having a

18 July 2011 : Column GC415

Catholic school, or a faith school of any kind, if there is to be no provision based on faith, belief or religion in deciding the admissions policy? I am sure it is not her intention-I am sure it would never be the intention of my party-to close every faith school in the country, but that is the risk of this amendment.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I remind the Committee that the issue of parents who try to move into areas near schools is not confined to faith schools. I remember the distant days of people of the most surprising political background being able to afford houses near Holland Park because it was not a bog standard comprehensive. That has gone on for quite some time in a variety of communities; it is not confined to faith schools.

I support Amendment 138. The direction of travel is the right one, to open up the community, and it seems compatible that those liberal churchmen and women whom I know would want this. There may be a practical problem. If this is seen as a restriction in terms of faith background, I am not sure that Muslim schools would be able to fill all their places. We would have to be a bit careful about that formulation. On the second part of Amendment 138, if we have faith schools, that seems to me to be part of the deal. If my parents had decided to send me to a sports academy-God forbid-part of their understanding would have been that I would spend hours in the gym and on wet, cold, miserable sports fields. Although I might never have forgiven them, that would have been part of going to that kind of school. The same applies to technical schools and other sorts of schools. I think it not unreasonable that a faith school with a particular ethos and direction should say to parents, "You understand that this is how we do things here". Then you inspect them independently and see whether they do it in a fair and reasonable way.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has said, and I support Amendments 138 and 140. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in her characteristically charming way, may have gone a little far in wanting to end all faith schools in our country. The view I have taken consistently in my political life is that one should live with the existing faith schools and make them more inclusive, but I have always resisted the creation of new faith schools. When I had responsibility for these matters, I did not approve an exclusive faith school, and I think it was a mistake on the part of the Labour Government in 1997 to open up that possibility again.

Why do I say that? During the war, I went to an Anglican primary school in Southport. I loved it. It was a Victorian building and I had, as the basis of such education as I have had, a Victorian education. The school was right next door to the church. However, religion was not thrust down our throats. We went to church twice a year, at Christmas and at Easter. Of course we started each day with a hymn and a prayer, but everyone did that in those days. It was really a community school and embodied for me the great attractions of Anglicanism. Belief was a comfort rather

18 July 2011 : Column GC416

than a passion and there was a welcome absence of fervour. It was, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield said, a community school which included everybody. My closest friend was a Jewish boy who was the son of a refugee. When I went to see his family, his mother explained the Jewish faith to me. I believe strongly that in schools, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists should all sit alongside each other, play alongside each other, eat alongside each other and go home on the same bus together, because that way lies tolerance, understanding and forbearance. If one moves away from that, one creates intolerance and all the troubles of a divided society.

It was interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, speak, because he recalled the debates we had four years ago when the policy of the Labour party, I am glad to say, was that in all new faith schools, 25 per cent of the pupils should come from outside the faith. It was a view expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in the House of Lords, and I shared it. It was not shared by the leaders of my party, but they were mistaken in that. They are not always mistaken, but they were mistaken then. I campaigned with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to support the view. Unfortunately, the Labour party was rattled by a quite unscrupulous campaign by the Catholic church-I see the noble Lord is nodding so he must have been part of it-in which it tried to pretend that this would undermine all Catholic schools in the country for ever. But it was only for new Catholic schools, and the Catholic church had founded only two new schools in England since the war. The Catholic church thought that with all these Poles coming into the country, there would be lots more Catholic children in future, although I think that that particular ambition has been dashed. It was a quite unscrupulous campaign and the Labour Party gave in and surrendered.

The amendments were drawn up. I had seen the amendments ready to be tabled saying that new faith schools should ensure that 25 per cent of their intake was from outside the faith. During those debates, the present Archbishop enunciated the policy of the Anglican church, which has been developed by the right reverend Prelate today, and said that for new Anglican church schools, 25 per cent of the intake should be from outside the faith or of no faith. That has now been extended to 50 per cent, and I do not disagree with that at all. It is the best way to go forward.

If, during the next five to 10 years, we see the establishment of faith schools, particularly of the new faiths in our country, we are going to have very exclusive schools that I think will create divisions in society, particularly in our towns and cities. I favour very much the idea of all new schools at least being inclusive and extending that slowly to all schools. In fact, that is the reality. Very few Catholic schools today have 100 per cent Catholic pupils, so they are part of the policy. Why do you not announce it? There must be a direction somewhere from on high that you do not. The Anglican community of faith schools is very inclusive today-by nature, it always is. As the right reverend Prelate said, some of these schools are 100 per cent Muslim but they still have the rigour of teaching that comes from a belief. That is very important.

18 July 2011 : Column GC417

I know that I am not going to persuade the Minister to agree with us because I think that they are going to approve some new faith schools. I must say that that would be a profound mistake.

7 pm

Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Many of us have a strong interest in faith schools. I speak as a practising Anglican. I am heartened that on the whole the debate has not reinforced the view that we would take comfort from the ghettoisation of schools. They should be able to exist in our society, give of their own merits and receive of their own experiences from other citizens of different faiths. Some of the most impressive schools that I have seen-without exception, as it happens-have been Anglican schools that have a high Muslim component because that is what has happened to the demography in that particular area.

I want not to prolong the debate but to widen it slightly into a different consideration that can also be met by Amendment 138, to which I am sympathetic. If I may avert to the interest of noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, in wider issues of community cohesion, on which she has a strong record, many of us would be committed to that.

It has always seemed to me that the debates that we have about multiculturalism are often misconceived. The ideal that I want is people who believe in something and have a body of beliefs that they exemplify and wish to express along with fellow believers in their own school. They thereby have an ability to look within their own community but at the same time reach outwards to other communities. They are not doing it in an exclusive or inhibitory way; they are saying, "This is what we stand for but we listen to you, respect you, welcome you in and enjoy having you as participants". I therefore feel strongly that as our society evolves we ought to be getting to a position where people may have their inner beliefs that will differ in many ways, or their own particular characteristics, but at the same time they are prepared to share a common citizenship, a common space and a common respect. The way that these amendments are conceived may help us to lead towards that. There should be no ghettoisation but a sensible inclusion-that is the way that I hope this debate is now going.

Lord McAvoy: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend, as he says in this debate. My noble friend Lady Massey has cited Northern Ireland. If you want, and I normally do, we can go back to 1176 when the Welsh allowed Pembroke, otherwise known as Strongbow, to first invade Ireland, and that was the start of the Troubles-English and Norman interference in Ireland. It is a long-term issue.

What is coming across to me from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and certainly from my noble friend Lady Massey, is that faith schools-especially Catholic schools, it seems-are an inherently bad thing; they do bad things and they are not good for society. Among colleagues here there is a certain detachment from reality because that is not how they are perceived outside. It is completely unfair-

18 July 2011 : Column GC418

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords-

Lord McAvoy: If you will let me finish, it is completely unfair to portray them in the way that they are being portrayed here at times.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. I think he will find when he reads Hansard tomorrow that at no point have I said the things that he is accusing me of.

Lord McAvoy: It may be that the noble Baroness has not heard me clearly. I am saying that inherent in these amendments is the idea that faith schools are a bad thing. Folk may not like that, but that is what is coming across loud and clear. For instance, there has been no answer to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who quickly picked up the point that the trait of moving house is not confined to faith schools or Catholic schools; it seems to be a trait throughout a whole host of schools. Yet, there has been no mention of that or any drawing back of the implication that this happens only in Catholic schools.

Society is evolving. Last week, I revised my opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I certainly remember him from the 1980s and I did not like his politics, but last week I thought that he was great. However, this week I have revised my revision and he is back to being a bad man again. Certainly for 800 years we kept the faith in Ireland, I can tell you. In saying that there should not be any more faith schools, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, makes a point and he is asking us to trumpet it. I think I mentioned last week that there is a fairly large Roman Catholic school in Scotland where, if my memory serves me correctly, about 10 per cent of the pupils are Muslim. It is working and it is great-it is doing well for everyone.

I have mentioned the phrase "detachment of reality". I say to noble Lords who have tabled these amendments and who have spoken in the manner that they have: let society evolve and let things happen. No one should take active steps against what they see as the badness in faith schools. I say to noble Lords in all sincerity, honesty and frankness that the more you try to enforce this, the higher the wall will go up, because there has been a lack of trust that is based on British history over the past 500 years. I am sure that noble Lords will be glad to hear that I shall not go into all that, but that lack of trust is based on 500 years of British society. One thinks particularly of the Catholic community. If noble Lords try to enforce it, it just will not happen. They should go the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, of letting things evolve, although I disassociate myself from his wish not to build faith schools. On the other hand, if you make a big issue of it, that may happen anyway, and if so, and if that is what people want, that will be a good thing. However, I do not accept that faith schools are a bad thing.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is completely unworkable. It would cause strife and animosity and would make the original ethos of the school seem dictatorial towards the new component of the school. That would take us back. I say again that if we want to move forward, the way ahead is consensus. We should convince people that

18 July 2011 : Column GC419

going in a particular direction is right. Go that way and all the community will come together. Go in the opposite direction, and the community will be divided.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I am as eager as anyone else to help the Committee to move on quickly, so I shall be brief. I was not going to intervene at this stage but, having been Minister for Education in Northern Ireland for two and a half years, and during my watch having authorised the institution of the Lagan integrated school, I feel that I have an interest that I should put before your Lordships.

The most heartening things that I have heard have come from my right reverend friend the Bishop. As I see it, the process of integration is already going on in established faith schools. It seems to me that what we do not want behind the movement for these amendments is an animosity towards religion. We want an animosity in favour of good education, and here I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said. In other words, a good school is always going to be a magnet. Whatever its theological background, people are going to move there to get their children into it, and the same applies to a school that is not a faith school. You are not going to end that with any amendment of this sort. It is in fact competition working its influence on the educational market. Therefore, I say only that if we are to have amendments at Report they should be designed to foster, rather than smother, the movement to inclusivity within faith schools that we have seen, and which I believe to be thoroughly healthy.

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, this is our second debate this afternoon on faith. Like the last one, it has been thoughtful and stimulating. I want to start with the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield who reminded us first about the tradition of the churches and other faiths providing education being a longstanding one in our country. He also wisely warned us against the dangers of generalisation.

There have been a couple of times this afternoon where we have teetered on the edge of generalisation, and the right reverend Prelate sensibly and calmly brought us back from that. He also used powerful evidence to show the contribution that faith schools make. It is the Government's position that they provide high quality school places and, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords, that they increase choice for parents and that they secure better results overall, which is one of the reasons why they are popular with parents.

Therefore, my starting point in replying is to say that I will, perhaps not surprisingly, be arguing for the status quo. We think that faith schools should be able to teach according to the tenets of their faith and to have admissions policies that reflect that ethos. The right of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their religious beliefs is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, as we have heard, and we are committed to maintaining that right. The exceptions in the Equality Act that have been discussed today exist to allow faith schools to continue to provide education in an environment conducive to their religious ethos and in accordance with parents' wishes. We see no reason to remove them.

18 July 2011 : Column GC420

However, those exceptions do not mean that schools with a religious character can discriminate at will. All maintained schools and academies must comply with the schools admissions code, as we have already discussed. They may give priority to applicants of a particular faith only when oversubscribed and they must admit all applicants without reference to faith-based or any other criteria when they cannot fill all their places. Schools with a religious character, irrespective of their faith, are subject to the same checks and inspections as all other schools and, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, many of these schools have a very good record of reaching out to their local communities and promoting diversity. I remember that Church of England schools score more highly on community cohesion than community schools, which is a fact worth reminding ourselves of.

So far as maintained schools converting to academies are concerned, we set out the principle at the time of the Academies Act that they should convert on an as is basis. Therefore, the process of conversion to become an academy is not in itself a way of increasing the number of faith places available. New academies, including free schools-this is a question I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen-will be able to apply faith-based admissions criteria only to a maximum of 50 per cent of their pupils and, again, only if they are oversubscribed. We were clear about that at the passage of the Academies Act, and I am happy to restate that today.

Overall, we see no reason to change the operation of maintained faith schools and academies. As many noble Lords have said, things are evolving in their own way. They are popular with parents, they are beneficial for pupils and they are an important part of the education landscape. However, we recognise that we need to strike a balance. That is why, with the expansion of the academies, we have been careful to ensure that there is no overloading of the system with religious-based schooling, which is why we have put in the 50 per cent limit.

I think we have struck a fair balance and that faith schools have served us well. I would therefore ask the-

Baroness Morris of Yardley: I agree entirely with the position the Minister has outlined. I just want to invite him to explore one point on which I think the Committee would like some reassurance. It is the point raised, to some extent, by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. The position that the Minister has just defended is the position as it was up to 10 or 15 years ago, and a lot of schools with faiths other than those which we are used to seeing are now coming into the system.

I remember at a meeting or two ago of this Committee that the Minister gave an assurance that he would not let creationist schools go ahead, and that is a religion. Yet his opening comments, however, were about the degree to which a religion is right to teach their faith in school. As we move forward-and there are more schools with a religion other than those with which we are familiar-how worried is the Minister and what actions is he taking to make sure that the position he is at ease with now continues?

18 July 2011 : Column GC421

7.15 pm

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I take the underlying point. In my comments, I made reference to the importance of inspection. That is not simple, because inspectors need to know what they are looking for if they go into a faith school where one might think there is cause for concern. It is not always straightforward, but inspection is one way of addressing this.

As to setting up new schools and free schools, about which noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, have concerns, oddly enough I think that because that whole process is being set by and overseen by the Government from the outset-we have due diligence and ways of exploring these questions, which we will do carefully and rigorously-that area is of less concern than perhaps that of independent schools and maintained schools. I am not at all dismissive of the point that the noble Baroness raises. I hope that inspection and the Secretary of State's powers on academies to make sure that everything is operating correctly will provide some reassurance. We should not stick our heads in the sand about the issue. I was headed towards asking the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, to consider withdrawing her amendment.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, as ever, this has been a fascinating and wide-ranging debate. We are evolving in this, but evolution sometimes needs a little helping hand. I accept the historical role played by the church in education but we have become a different society from the one that we were many years ago. I continue to have fears about ghettoisation. Of course I am not seeking to close faith schools. I am not sure how I gave that impression. I am just seeking to ensure that faith schools are more open, and I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in all this.

In following up the question of my noble friend Lady Morris, which I was also going to ask, I hope that the Minister has no fears that some free school could be set up somewhere and designed solely to promote a faith of one kind or another. I am not so convinced of that. I accept the historical influence of faith schools, and I am not seeking to go back on that. However, we have to continue our vigilance about our schools-be they faith schools or otherwise. As always, I would wish to strike a balance. I hope that at some point we can discuss with Members of the Committee of all faiths some of the issues that came up in my previous amendment and try to reach a greater understanding. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 103 withdrawn.

Clause 34 agreed.

Schedule 10 : School admissions: consequential amendments

Amendment 103ZA not moved.

Schedule 10 agreed.

18 July 2011 : Column GC422

Clause 35 : Duties in relation to school meals etc

Amendment 103ZB

Tabled by Baroness Hughes of Stretford

103ZB: Clause 35, page 34, line 4, at end insert-

"(1B) Subsection (1A) shall also apply where a local authority in England sub-contracts out the provision of school meals."

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I shall be very brief, and I am grateful to the Minister, who has written to me on this matter. My amendment simply sought to make sure that the provision in the Bill relating to charges for school meals included situations where the local authority was contracting out the provision of the meals as well as providing them by directly employing people to cook them. The Minister has assured me in a letter that that is the case. I just want to get that commitment on the record. It states:

"Sections 512ZA and 533 of the Education Act 1996 provide powers for local authorities and governing bodies to charge for school lunches-they are still responsible for this if they contract out the delivery of the meals. Clause 35 of the Education Bill will not change this, so all school meals, whether delivered by a contractor or by the local authority or governing body will be covered by the clause".

On that basis, I will not move the amendment.

Amendment 103ZB not moved.

Clause 35 agreed.

Amendment 103A not moved.

Amendment 104

Moved by Lord Lucas

104: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause-

"Music licensing

After subsection (1)(g) of section 173 of the Licensing Act 2003 (activities in certain locations not licensable) insert-

"(ga) on the premises of a school or college"."

Lord Lucas: The amendment is self-explanatory. As I have had a very clear and supportive e-mail from the Government today, which I hope has been widely circulated, I shall leave it at that and beg to move.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: I support the amendment and have read the helpful letter from the noble Lord, Lord Hill. I restate how much I agree that getting schools to apply for licences in the past has been a very unwieldy way to get them to put on fairly simple forms of entertainment. I very much support the Live Music Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, to which the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, referred. I am very pleased to hear that the Government will be supporting it in its progress through Parliament. That obviously goes much wider than dealing with live music in schools; nevertheless, it will be helpful.

When I said to my colleagues that I was also very pleased that the Government had committed to looking at the Licensing Act 2003, they said, "You're going to regret saying that, because it took us for ever to get a half-decent balance on licensing music and alcohol provision. Good luck to you". My instinct is that we

18 July 2011 : Column GC423

should look again at the Licensing Act. I am pleased that the Government will be doing that, and I look forward to that debate.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, my name is added to the amendment. I just say to my noble friend that, although I urge him to continue to look kindly on removing the need for licensing from schools and colleges, perhaps this is an opportunity to look more widely at some of the other places where young people need licences, such as small sports clubs, and so on, where if they have even a radio playing in the background, they must get a licence. We need to encourage young people, not make life more difficult for them. I hope that, in their consideration of the issue, the Government will look more widely than simply schools and colleges.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I know that many in this House share my noble friend's view that public performance of music should not be licensable in schools. We agree that schools currently face unnecessary bureaucracy when they organise events such as school plays, concerts or swimming galas, and we are taking steps to address that. We heed the warnings of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, but we have announced our intention to consult on Schedule 1 to the Licensing Act 2003, which currently regulates the public performance of live music and performance of other creative and community activities, such as dance, plays, film and indoor sport. Our intention, subject to the consultation, is to deregulate those activities as far as possible in schools. That is possible through secondary legislation.

The Government have also expressed clear support for the Live Music Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, which completed its Committee stage on Friday. I know that, because I was there. It seeks to deregulate in certain circumstances the provision of live, unamplified music in most locations and live, amplified music in workplaces such as schools, as well as licensed premises such as public houses, subject to restrictions on audience size. These planned changes will free schools from the unnecessary bureaucracy they currently face and allow them to use music in a sensible way to deliver the best possible education for their pupils. On the basis of that reassurance, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am very content with that reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 104 withdrawn.

Amendment 105 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 106

Moved by Lord Blackwell

106: After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause-

"Duty to provide for the needs of high-ability pupils

In determining the nature of their educational provision, all maintained schools, Academies and free schools must have regard to meeting the special learning requirements

18 July 2011 : Column GC424

of children within their admissions group who have or subsequently demonstrate high ability or aptitude for learning."

Lord Blackwell: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 107 and 119. Given the hour, I will try to be brief. These amendments relate to points I made at Second Reading about the importance of providing a proper learning environment in our schools for children of high ability and high aptitude. Although they all relate to that, they are not consequential, and therefore at subsequent stages of this Bill it may be appropriate to consider them separately. I must also make it clear that none of these relates to the admission procedures of schools. In the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, they talk about how best to teach all the children who come through the school door.

Amendment 106 puts a duty on schools simply to provide for the needs of high-ability pupils. I use the terms "high-ability" and "high-aptitude" because I want to make clear that we are talking about latent as well as demonstrated capability. It is clearly important that standards are high for all children and we make all schools excellent, but we must make sure that the most able children are properly catered for. This is an argument about fairness, that these children, like all children, should be able to fulfil their potential. It is also an argument about what is important for the nation because the most able children are those from whom our future leaders in all spheres of activity often come. If we are going to compete on a global stage, we need to make sure that the most able children have the highest possible standards against global competitors. We need that to apply to children in the state sector, not just those children who are able to go through the private sector.

The amendment does not prescribe how schools should make educational provision for high-ability children but clearly one of the most common ways of doing that is through streaming or setting. The latest figures from Ofsted are for 2006-07, and suggest that 14 per cent of children in primary schools are setted or streamed, excluding PE. In secondary school that rises to 46 per cent, but that means that 54 per cent are not setted or streamed. Interestingly, in maths 78 per cent are setted or streamed, in contrast to 51 per cent in languages and only 34 per cent for geography. The question that that raises is why standards are considered less important in geography or languages than they are in maths. If streaming or setting are appropriate to deal with high-ability children in maths, are they not equally important for other subjects, particularly for those children who need to get high grades in a number of subjects in order to progress to the best universities?

This is not the time for a long debate about this. I recognise that there are counterviews, including the argument that other children benefit from having high-ability children in the same class. The counter to that is that there is evidence that both sets of children can benefit if they have teaching best suited to their aptitude and ability. In any case, it is important for the whole of society that the most able children are allowed to excel. Putting this duty on schools without prescribing how they do it would require them to address the question of how they are providing for the needs of

18 July 2011 : Column GC425

the most able children and allow them to defend whatever method they believe they have to fulfil that requirement.

7.30 pm

Amendment 107 is a further thought on that subject. It recognises that not every school will have sufficient numbers of high-ability pupils or the resources or skills to provide a high quality set or skill catering to their needs. There is evidence that you need a group of 20 or more high-ability children in order to have peer group pressure and indeed to afford the teaching resources to focus on their learning environment. This amendment would allow a number of schools in an area to group together to provide a high-ability learning environment for children from across those schools, just as now a school in one area may provide Russian A-level because not all schools can provide that. Pupils from other schools go to that one school for their teaching. That method would allow schools to group together to provide a high-ability class, and the amendment recognises the practicality that subsidised transport may be required to enable children to get from one school to another.

This is not about admissions criteria, though. These schools would all be mixed-ability admissions, and it would be for teachers within the school to decide which children could benefit from being part of a high-ability group. It would not be set at a specific age. As has often been said, children develop at different ages, so this would allow for children to be moved into the group at any age that was thought appropriate for them to benefit from it. It would be a practical way of allowing that need to be met.

Amendment 119 would require Ofsted in its school inspections to inspect how schools were performing the duty of providing a learning environment for high-ability children. It would therefore follow on from Amendment 106 in making that part of the criteria that Ofsted would use in evaluating schools.

I hope that these amendments are reasonably straightforward. I am looking for the Minister to indicate the extent to which the Government are sympathetic towards these aims and the extent to which legislation in this form would be helpful so that we can take a view on whether and how they ought to be pursued on Report.

Lord Lexden: My Lords, I vigorously support Amendment 107, on which my name appears. It would be even better if subsection (1)(c) in the amendment included the words "independent schools" after the word "academies".

Speaking on an earlier amendment, I laid stress on the importance of partnerships between independent and maintained schools. Nowhere is co-operation more likely to be valuable on both sides than in the areas covered by the amendment. In subjects like science and maths, independent schools can really help to raise standards and prospects for high-ability pupils overall because of the successful results that they achieve. In modern languages, for example, almost 50 per cent of top grades go to pupils from independent schools. Let that expertise be shared widely in order to break

18 July 2011 : Column GC426

down even more of the barriers between the two sectors. Independent schools see themselves as part of our national education system. Their inclusion in co-operative ventures of the kind envisaged by the amendment would be greeted by them with considerable enthusiasm. For those reasons, I support Amendment 107.

Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the intention behind these amendments, but I have a few issues about the solution to the problem. I want to ask a particular question that the Minister might address in her response. In the past we assumed that very bright children will succeed despite school and that we should not put in a place a system where they could succeed because of their schooling. I am very much in favour of the proposal that all schools should try to meet the needs of all their students. I have often thought that the most able 2 per cent to 3 per cent of young people in this country have special educational needs in the broadest sense, and that they need to be supported. So I am entirely on board with the idea. I welcome the debate, and although I will have to look at the amendments more closely, raising the issue is a good thing and this should be a feature of our education system. We should ask schools to address the particular needs of this group of children just as we ask them to look after the less able.

I welcome what the mover of the amendment said in terms of not wanting to go back to selection, and I can see that the amendment is not about that. However, I think that there must be a more imaginative approach than creating what is essentially a high ability stream within a school. I am no great researcher, but I know that all the evidence shows that separating children in schools is not the best way of raising standards. With reference to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, work has been done about children working with those in the independent sector. I remember an innovative scheme that was set up under the Excellence in Cities programme in Manchester. Sixth-formers from state schools took an undergraduate module with students from Manchester University, or it could have been the Open University, I cannot quite recall. That was not an isolated scheme.

All I would encourage is more general thinking about how to provide for really able children who need to be pushed. What, in the first part of this century, can we do that has not been done before to raise standards? I would be much more interested in using new technology to set up master classes with the best in the world, even if they are located on the other side of the world. We should free this debate up in order to be more creative than we have been in the past, and therefore my question for the Minister is this: why did they abolish the Young, Gifted and Talented Programme? It was the one scheme that made every school in this country identify a number of students who were thought to be gifted and talented. It brought about cultural changes in schools; some schools had said, "We haven't got any bright kids", while others had said, "We've got too much on our plate with our struggling kids", so there was a group of children whose needs were not being met. Over the years that the programme was in operation, we began to change the culture of every

18 July 2011 : Column GC427

school in the country. It was not perfect, but it got on to the agenda in every school that the needs of the most able, by ability or aptitude, also have to be met. It was sad that the Government chose to abolish and destroy the programme, which would have been a good hook on which to continue the debate. I would not mind an explanation of why it was done and what will take its place.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, perhaps I can just warn against being too prescriptive. It is important that schools do this in a way that is most appropriate. I certainly join others in encouraging schools from different sectors to co-operate with each other, but I will give just one example of why I think this is so important. I have two grandsons, one of whom is brilliant in English and terrible at maths, while the other is terrible at English and brilliant in maths. They both came from the same gene pool. A child might be in a high-ability group for one subject but not for another, so we have to let schools take account of that.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I know that we are short of time, but I would like to interject that when we talk about giftedness, we are not just talking about academic ability. Schools should be urged to recognise that some children are immensely gifted with their hands, with technology, at sport, in music and so on.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I recall articles published in Scientific American and New Scientist not so long ago which looked at chess grandmasters. The articles identified that they had spent so much of their lives playing chess that they had become geniuses in the chess arena and suggested that genius derived from people spending an awful lot of time doing whatever they were most passionately interested in. I should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that, for example, a young man who is passionate about science can have the opportunity to study science at playtime and after school, and that the staff within the labs will make the equipment available for him to use. I should like an assurance that, where young people are passionate about using their hands or whatever, there will be the necessary flexibility and resource in schools for them to follow their passion and spend a lot of time doing it.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I endorse the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the need for innovation in this area and, in particular, for linking up with local universities and perhaps local colleges. That is very important.

While we are talking about other areas-the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, mentioned children being brilliant at other things-perhaps I may get in a plug for something that will be happening in this country in October. I refer to the World Skills Competition, at which those who are brilliant at doing all kinds of things with their hands and so on will be exhibiting their skills. It is the skills Olympics. I hope that a number of Members of this House will go to ExCeL to see the exhibition.

18 July 2011 : Column GC428

Lord Lucas: My Lords, about 5,000 English sixth-form school pupils a year take Open University modules, which is a very good approach to this matter and something that we will come to on the 25th. Those modules are not reflected in the performance tables, and the data on the performance of these children are not available to celebrate their achievements and those of their schools, as I think should be the case. It should be possible for children who are capable of taking on these things to be allowed to expand and flourish, and for schools to be rewarded for that in a way that they understand-that is, through recognition and, indeed, money. At the moment, the YASS scheme seems to exist on the good will of schools and their interest in the attainment of their brightest pupils, rather than on any great support from the Government.

It is wonderful for me to find myself agreeing with my noble friend Lord Blackwell. I have often found myself in opposition to him but I think that he has struck a very clear note here and I am very happy to support him. Of course, I agree with other noble Lords that there are many ways of doing this, and mathematics taught as a mixed-ability subject can be very strong. I recommend my noble friend to the works of Professor Jo Boaler on that subject. We know from the Oxbridge admissions statistics how much we are generally failing in this area. We need to do much more to give the brightest children from the poorest backgrounds the education and ambition that they deserve.

However, as it is fashionable to talk about international comparisons, I also point out that Singapore reckons that half of its most crucial entrepreneurs were in the bottom 10 per cent at school, so it is not just the bright children who need our attention.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, this debate has been a model of brevity. We have got in an enormous number of points in a very short period. Perhaps we could learn something from that. Therefore, I shall not prolong the debate, given the lateness of the hour and the fact that most of the points that I was going to make have been covered.

The debate has underlined for me that the whole thrust of the Government's future schools programme is based on school autonomy and that we are rowing back here in talking about schools needing to co-operate. Someone pointed out that local authorities used to provide some of that element of co-operation for specialist education, whether it was for specialist GCSEs and A-levels or whatever. We are trying to reinvent the wheel when some of those mechanisms were already there to provide at least some of that.

I very much agree with what has been said. I had a similar question to that of my noble friend Lady Morris concerning what happened to the gifted and talented scheme.

My only other concern relates to the wording of, particularly, Amendment 106, which talks about,

as being the only area for which we should make special provision. Again, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and others, who said that talent goes far beyond academic talent. If we are to pursue this, I hope that the mover of the amendment

18 July 2011 : Column GC429

will look to broaden it out. I am not trying to water it down, but talents and gifts come in all sorts of forms. As much as we need leaders who are academically bright, we need sports men and women who are world leaders, and there are lots of different ways in which we want our children to excel and eventually to provide leadership in this country. Therefore, I have a concern about the wording of the amendment, although I think that there is an enormous amount of agreement around the Room about how we should go forward on this issue.

7.45 pm

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, education is about helping every child to make progress and reach their full potential, and that includes those pupils who have a high ability or aptitude for learning. There are many ways in which schools can support and challenge those pupils with the highest ability, including, as my noble friend Lord Blackwell pointed out, setting and streaming. Where setting is done well and is regularly reviewed, it can raise standards, and teachers are free to do this. He asked, if it was so good to stream pupils in maths, why it did not happen also in geography. The answer is the numbers taking those particular subjects. You need a critical mass for each subject in order to make streaming an effective tool.

Schools target their resources in the way that they feel will be of most benefit to their pupils. That could include the provision of extracurricular activities or outreach programmes with local universities or colleges. We have removed much of the ring-fencing of funds that restricted schools' ability to make their own decisions about how to drive their improvement.

Today, in response to the Bew report, we have announced that higher level tests for year 6 pupils will continue to be available for schools to stretch the most able pupils, if they wish. We will consider how to incorporate results from these tests in performance tables to give credit to schools that support their highest attaining pupils. Within a slimmed-down national curriculum, it is possible for schools to design a wider curriculum that best meets the needs of all their pupils: for example, pupils with a particular aptitude for languages taking more language subjects.

My noble friends made the important point about children from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular. One of the key points about the pupil premium, which is given to support schools in helping those pupils, is that we have given schools the freedom on how to spend it. Schools could, therefore, use those funds towards additional support for high-aptitude or high-ability pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them succeed. School governing bodies already have a duty to promote high standards of educational achievement and the well-being of all pupils at the school. I hope that my noble friend will understand that we are not attracted to a particular further duty.

In Amendment 107, my noble friend also seeks to promote greater co-operation between schools to provide for the needs of this group of children. We strongly support collaborative working between schools in the interests of their pupils, be those children with a particular

18 July 2011 : Column GC430

interest, aptitude or need. As my noble friend said, there are many positive examples, such as schools providing a particular qualification at one school and pooling their interested pupils so that there are enough to warrant the course. We have had examples of Japanese or some specialist forms of learning where classes can be put together to provide a quorum to follow a particular programme. Schools have the necessary powers and freedoms to do this without new primary legislation.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Jones, asked why we got rid of the gifted and talented scheme. It was actually the previous Government who took the decision to end the gifted and talented scheme. Our strategy for education is about raising standards for all pupils, and that of course includes pupils with natural ability or aptitude. As my noble friend said, those children are our future leaders in business, our future doctors and teachers, our future engineers and scientists. I agree with my noble friends Lady Perry and Lady Sharp that it is also about those with the creative and manual skills. I entirely endorse their enthusiasm for the World Skills Competition in October, where we will see some of the most skilled young people from our country and around the world. We must not forget the abilities and aptitudes in those practical skills as well.

Schools already have the necessary freedom to work together to ensure that all the pupils in their care get an education that stretches and develops them. That is backed up by accountability through Ofsted inspections. More performance information on the progress that schools make with the highest achieving pupils will be part of that. With those assurances, I hope that my noble friend will consider withdrawing the amendment and supporting our approach.

The Earl of Listowel: Before the noble Lord responds, I think that I am right in thinking that a Select Committee of this House, when discussing science education, drew particular attention to the lack of lab technicians and the difficulty that that posed for young people to spend time in the lab to do experiments. I encourage the Minister to consider that issue and consider what progress has been made since that report was published two years ago.

Lord Blackwell: I thank my noble friend for her response and thank the other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Some extremely helpful and interesting comments came in this brief exchange. It is clear to me that the amendments could be improved, if they were to be pursued. Obviously, I will want to reflect on what the Minister said about what the Government are already doing and come to a view on whether more should be done that the amendments would encourage. We may want to return to them on Report but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 106 withdrawn.

Amendment 107 not moved.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, this may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn until Wednesday at 11.45 am.

Committee adjourned at 7.52 pm.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page