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Volume 403: debated on Monday 14 April 2003

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To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the (a) cost of and (b) number of visitors to each website operated by his Department and each agency and non-departmental public body for which his Department is responsible in each year since its establishment. [107599]

The costs and number of visitors to each website operated by each Department and each agency and non-departmental public body for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is as follows:

Ten members of staff in the Department for Education and Skills have taken leave under the provisions of the Parental Leave Directive since its introduction. The Department welcomed the provision as supporting its commitment to family-friendly policies and helping its employees to achieve a better balance between work and home life, thus improving the recruitment, retention and motivation of its staff.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what powers he has to override (a) schools admissions decisions and (b) the design of school catchment areas. [108474]

School admissions decisions, such as setting admission arrangements and oversubscription criteria and deciding which children should be allocated a school place in accordance with those arrangements, rest with the admission authority for the school in question: the local education authority for community and voluntary controlled schools, the governing body for foundation and voluntary aided schools.My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can intervene only in limited circumstances. First, if a school governing body or local education authority is acting unreasonably or in default of a statutory duty, he may—if he thinks this expedient—direct them to put things right. These direction powers might be used, for example, to secure a child's entry to a community or voluntary controlled school if the governing body had refused to comply 'with the decision of the LEA (the admission authority) to admit that child. Secondly, if a LEA intends to direct the governing body of a foundation or voluntary aided school, which has refused to admit a child, to admit him or her, and the governing body refers the matter to the Secretary of State, he may uphold the LEA's decision to make the direction, or decide that the child should be admitted to another school instead.Many admission authorities use catchment areas to help decide which children should be admitted, if there are more applicants than places. The Admissions Code of Practice includes catchment areas in its list of common and accept able over-subscription criteria. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would only direct an admission authority to make changes to its choice of catchment area if he was satisfied both that the admission authority had acted unreasonably in the very strict sense the courts defined in the 'Wednesbury' case, and that it was expedient for him to intervene.