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Education and Inspections Bill

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 12 July 2006

House again in Committee on Clause 6.

Page 4, line 41, after “activities” insert “which are”

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 46, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 47 and 48. Amendment No. 48 ensures that the opportunities to participate in positive activities secured for young people under Clause 6 include sufficient youth work activities. That was a particular concern raised at Second Reading, and we entirely share it, because youth work has never been more important. It is met by the new duty on local authorities, which I hope is agreeable to the House.

Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 are minor amendments that improve the clarity of the drafting of the new duty to avoid the unhelpful interpretation that the duty could be fulfilled by securing access to any amount, however small, of educational leisure time activities, so long as it resulted in some improvement in well-being. I beg to move.

I strongly support Amendment No. 48, and with it the amendment tabled from the Liberal Benches, Amendment No. 49. Personal and social development is crucially important for young people today. Personal development is about how to relate to yourself, while social development is about how to relate to other people. These are key life skills—they are particularly key in employment and wealth creation and in family formation and child rearing. The latest Ofsted report from 2005—although there is another one cooking at the moment—suggests that the majority of schools are not satisfactorily delivering personal and social education today. The report suggests that about two in five schools are giving an entirely satisfactory delivery of this subject. I accept that it is not an easy subject to develop in a classroom.

What has happened is that the Government’s enthusiasm for citizenship and the general enthusiasm for sex education has led to citizenship and sex education almost taking over from the rather more general subject of PSHE.

Now that the noble Lord has developed his remarks, I understand what he is talking about—which is personal, social and health education in schools. That is not the subject of this amendment, which is about youth work being promoted—

I am talking about this now because I may not be able to be in the Chamber when we come to talk about it, and it seems to me that the two subjects are very closely linked. The Government are inserting personal, social and health education here for out-of-school activities and then, under Amendment No. 67 they are removing personal, social and health education from the curriculum of key stage 4. That subject will arise under Amendment No. 67 and the amendments tabled by the Liberal Benches.

Personal and social education are hugely important. Can the Minister explain why the Government are putting it in here and taking it out in the later clause? I am not unsympathetic to the idea that it may be the better place to have it. Since we are in Committee, I shall not say more now but shall wait to listen to what the Minister has to say. If necessary, I shall come in again with all guns blazing, if we do not get a satisfactory answer.

As someone who was concerned about these matters at Second Reading, I welcome greatly the moves that the Government have made. It is a very good illustration of how my noble friend listens to argument and responds to it. I express appreciation in that regard.

From these Benches we too welcome these amendments, but I think I see what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is getting at. The position of personal, social and health education in the curriculum is an issue we will be coming to somewhat later. Many of us feel it should be mandatory. The noble Lord is right, however, that the personal and social development of a young person does not just happen in a classroom; it happens through leisure, sports, social and interactive activities outside the classroom as well. That is why I particularly welcome the Minister’s commitment to resourcing activities of this sort.

I rise to support these amendments. There is no question that youth work benefits the community and would be a welcome addition to leisure-time activities. I am hopeful that the Minister can reassure us that no burdensome spending requirement will be imposed on local authorities in order to meet this requirement. While the inclusion of youth work is to be welcomed, we hope it can support inner city sports initiatives such as Inner Cities Cricket, where young people are taught cricket by volunteers, and the National Cricket Council, which has provided cricket bats and red balls.

I am grateful for the welcome my amendment has received. We regard it as an entirely appropriate response to the concerns that have been raised, and it was always our intention that youth work should be a key priority in the extension of leisure-time, recreational and positive activities for young people. Having it in the Bill in this way will ensure that it receives that priority.

Now that I understand the noble Lord’s point, I completely accept the connection between youth work and personal, social and health education. I have been fishing around in my papers, but I cannot find the text of Amendment No. 67—someone else must be moving it. I assure the noble Lord, however, that there is nothing the Government are doing in the Bill that in any way lessens the focus of schools on PSHE. On the contrary, we are seeking to promote it steadily in the classroom with a set of measures that I will explain when we come to debate PSHE, including significant additional resources and priority for this area of the curriculum.

With regard to the requirements for key stage 4, PSHE is not yet a statutory subject at any key stage, so the Bill would not make any change that would affect it in that respect. I will look at Amendment No. 67, however, and perhaps the noble Lord and I might speak further about this outside the Chamber. I assure him that there is nothing we are doing in the Bill that in any way lessens the focus of schools on the important area of PSHE. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Page 4, line 44, after “activities” insert “which are”

Page 5, line 6, at end insert-

“( ) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a)-

(a) “sufficient educational leisure-time activities” which are for the improvement of the well-being of qualifying young persons in the authority's area must include sufficient educational leisure-time activities which are for the improvement of their personal and social development, and (b) “sufficient facilities for such activities” must include sufficient facilities for educational leisure-time activities which are for the improvement of the personal and social development of qualifying young persons in the authority's area.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 49 not moved.]

Page 5, line 31, at end insert-

“( ) a local authority must have regard to the access requirements of qualifying young persons with a disability”

The noble Baroness said: In speaking to Amendment No. 50 I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 51 and 53 in this group. Amendment No. 50 is intended to ensure that positive leisure-time activities are accessible to disabled young people. Mencap has done some research, and the sad fact is that eight out of 10 young people with a learning disability do not attend any after-school club. Seven out of 10 children and young people with a disability were made to feel uncomfortable at their local leisure centre, and only one in five after-school clubs have any young person with a disability attending.

The amendment is therefore not simply about ensuring that there is adequate wheelchair access; it is not just about physical accessibility. It is also about ensuring that there is appropriate signage or symbols so that disabled people know where everything is. It is to ensure that young people with a learning or physical disability feel there is a safe environment for them.

Such young people are particularly vulnerable to bullying. That often also prevents them from taking part in after-school activities, so they need to feel safe or they will not have the confidence to take part. We might also need to look at the special school transport that often has to be provided for disabled children, to ensure the arrangements made for school transport do not preclude their attendance at after-school clubs or leisure activities during non-school time at leisure centres.

We have a concern that, if this is not clearly stated in the Bill, local education authorities might provide or commission leisure activities that are perfectly suitable for the majority of young people in their area, but not quite good enough for the young people who are most vulnerable and who need access to them—not just physical access, but every other kind of access as well.

I heard recently from Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the Children’s Commissioner for England, what a scandal it is that in this country we do not ensure that children with disabilities have full access to all the facilities that add so much to the quality of life of able-bodied children. He believes that we lag behind other developed countries in that respect. For that reason we have tabled this amendment again—it was tabled in another place at an earlier stage of the Bill—because it is only when you put a legal duty on a local authority that it feels obliged to direct some of its budget at the problem. The Minister in another place said that he felt it was for local authorities to decide how the budget should be spent and which young people would be prioritised, but we feel that for these most vulnerable young people the duty should be explicitly laid out in the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 51 and 53 are probing amendments to seek clarification of the power in the Bill for local authorities to charge for services but also to allow them to provide financial assistance to enable free access for certain deprived young people to facilities and activities in the local area. The amendments also provide us with an opportunity to clarify how these provisions are intended to work with the Youth Opportunity Card and the Youth Opportunity Fund, about which I shall be asking the Minister in a moment.

The amendment was suggested by Barnardo’s, which believes that young people from low-income households and those leaving care should be able to access these facilities and activities free of charge. No child should miss out on these educational and leisure-time facilities to improve their well-being. All these issues come under the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters agenda.

We are probing to clarify the guidance to be given to local authorities on the level of charges for leisure services under this clause, and how these new provisions will interact with the Youth Opportunity Card. Very little detail was given on this issue in another place. The Minister, Phil Hope, said:

“it is up to local authorities to ensure that financial barriers do not prevent young people from accessing the sort of facilities and recreational opportunities listed in the clause”.—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 18/4/06; col. 238.]

Will the Minister confirm that if the costs of provision mean that some children are excluded from activities provided under this clause, under those circumstances local authorities will not fulfil their duty as set out in the Bill to secure access to recreational activities because, by definition, some would not have access to those activities if they were too expensive? Will he explain how the ability to charge for services under the clause fits with the Youth Opportunity Card? Will he give an assurance that the guidance on the circumstances under which local authorities can give financial assistance will include, and stress the needs of, young people from low income families, children in care and care leavers, such as we have specified in our amendment?

The Youth Opportunity Card and the Youth Capital Fund were announced as part of the proposals in the Green Paper, Youth Matters, in July 2005. We very much welcome this additional money to make these facilities available for young people. However, we are very concerned to know how these things interact. I hope that the Minister can elucidate that subject. Leisure facilities that are used only by middle class children and children from families which have the money to enable them to take full advantage of those facilities are not real community facilities. We hope that these will be real community facilities and that local authorities will make decisions that ensure that the most vulnerable children have every bit as much access as those children from more advantaged homes. I beg to move.

I am broadly with the noble Baroness in all the objectives she is seeking to achieve. I hope I can assure her that they are included in the Bill and in the intentions of the guidance under the Bill.

On Amendment No. 50, it is vital that young people with disabilities are able to access positive activities in their leisure time. It is also true, as the noble Baroness said, that young people with disabilities often face additional barriers in accessing such provision, and it is essential that those barriers are reduced. However, young people with disabilities are already included under the duty in the Bill, which clearly states that local authorities must secure access to sufficient positive leisure time activities and facilities for all young people in the authority’s area so far as reasonably practicable. “All” includes young people with disabilities.

Furthermore, in securing access to sufficient positive leisure time activities, local authorities will also have to take into account their new responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, including young disabled people. In that Act, positive steps that they must take to see that the duties under the Act are met, such as disability equality plans, are set out. Guidance will also make clear that the consultation required in new Section 507B(8) should include the views of disabled young people, as well as those of any other group of young people who might legitimately claim to face greater barriers to participation in the local area, whether physical, cultural, social or economic.

We also know from research among young people that a lack of information on provision creates major barriers to them participating in positive activities. This is particularly important for young people with disabilities, who may have difficulty accessing information or who may need to know about the accessibility of facilities or the availability of trained coaching staff. Guidance will therefore make clear the need for authorities to consider and address the information needs of disabled young people in their response to subsection (9).

On Amendments Nos. 51 and 53, there can be no doubt that for some young people costs are a barrier to participation in positive leisure time activities, although not all providers of positive activities make charges. For example, local authority youth work provision is often entirely free. Under subsection (5), local authorities may provide financial assistance to facilitate access for qualifying young persons to positive leisure time activities. We do not think that it is right to remove local authorities’ discretion to determine who should or should not be eligible to receive financial assistance. It is through local analysis of needs and the consultation required by this legislation that local authorities will determine how best to secure access to sufficient provision for young people. Authorities will need to determine when this should involve subsidy or payments to individuals, where the funding required should come from, and to whom it should be paid. They should not be bound by a prescriptive list that will inevitably leave out some young people who may be equally deserving.

The same argument applies to Amendment No. 53. The local authority should retain the discretion to determine when to exercise its charging powers and who will be subject to charging. I stress that should a local authority, by charging for services and provision, prevent young people securing access to sufficient positive activities, it will have failed in its duty set out in new Section 507B, which contains an inbuilt safeguard against charging becoming a barrier to participation.

In response to the other questions posed by the noble Baroness, I assure her that guidance on the circumstances in which local authorities can give financial assistance will include young people from low income families. Guidance will also make clear how local authorities should give priority and assistance to children in care and care leavers.

The youth opportunity card, which the noble Baroness mentioned, is a potential vehicle through which young people could pay for leisure time services and products. If the pilots that we are undertaking prove successful and the card is made available nationally, it would not preclude or change the way that a local authority uses the power to charge, but it would offer an alternative method of payment for chargeable services. It could, for example, enable payments to be made invisibly, thereby reducing the risk of stigma that is commonly associated with financial support for disadvantaged young people. It could also enable local authorities to top up the provision that is available for such young people up front, which would encourage them to take part in local activities in the first place. I hope that deals with the issues raised by the noble Baroness.

Perhaps I may press the Minister on one point. I think that I am reassured that such matters should be in the hands of the local authority, but can we be assured that there will not be a postcode lottery, whereby some local authorities will charge more or less than others? A club that I know is opening its facilities specifically for disabled young people, rather than ordinary able-bodied young people, and that is that club’s contribution to this problem. Presumably, that should be encouraged.

It is by the very nature of allowing local discretion that there may be some local variations, but we intend that guidance will make clear the circumstances in which local authorities can give financial assistance and that that will include young people from low income families, children in care and care leavers. Our expectation is that those services must properly be accessible to all of those groups.

I am most grateful to the Minister for his reply and I am much reassured by it. I thank him for his confirmation that if it can be shown that the charging regime disadvantages young people who do not have the money or the ability physically to access those facilities, authorities would not be fulfilling their duty. It would be a pity if one had to rely on monitoring such an organisation and then have to prove that it was preventing those young people from having access before something could be done about it. I hope that the guidance will make it very clear to local authorities that they need to focus their attention on the most vulnerable young people in the first place to prevent the need for that monitoring—and then looking for redress.

I have a local authority in mind which made all its swimming pools freely available to all under-16s. The ability of young people to learn to swim—a very important skill, particularly in areas with rivers or that are next to the sea—went up and up. Making those facilities freely available really does make a difference to the way in which young people access such facilities and that can be very important. I am most reassured by most of what the noble Lord said. For the rest, we just have to hope for the best. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 51 to 54 not moved.]

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Before Clause 7, insert the following new clause-


No local education authority in England may establish a new community school.”

The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 63, 69, 70, 71, 72, 76 and 89.

These amendments, if accepted, would represent a substantial step towards achieving the new strategic role for local authorities that the Government have set out, not just in the Higher Standards, Better Schools for All White Paper, but in the Department for Education and Skills’ Five-year Strategy for Children and Learners and the 2005 Labour Party manifesto. Amendment No. 55 would prevent local authorities in England establishing new community schools. This is an important amendment that goes to the heart of what the Bill sets out to achieve.

Key to that vision was removal of the power to establish new community schools. Yet, since the White Paper was published, the Government have retreated from their bold aims, and for no clear purpose. Indeed, the ability to establish new community schools completely undermines the very basis of the new commissioning role. The Government perhaps recognised that fact when, in the regulatory impact assessment, they stated:

“At present, some authorities have tended to regard schools as “their” schools and to regard other categories of schools as being outside the local family of schools”.

That is also implicitly acknowledged in the report of the House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee on the White Paper. The committee summed up the goal of the Government as follows:

“The Government is aiming for a clear division between schools as independent providers of education and local authorities as commissioners, enablers and strategic planners”.

The committee’s argument, which the Government seem to have accepted, is that unless all schools are forced to become self-governing, there is no justification for a ban on the establishment of new community schools.

Following that report, the Government retreated. Community schools could be proposed but only with the consent of the Secretary of State. As the Bill stands now, several local authorities will be given the right to establish new community schools although a similar number will be forbidden from proposing such schools. The remainder will need to seek the Secretary of State’s permission.

By removing the right to establish new community schools we would return the Bill to the vision set out in the White Paper. The Government should not fear accepting this amendment because they should realise that they will have our support. I should add that notice of my intention to oppose the question that Clause 8 stand part of the Bill is consequential on the amendment. If the Government were to accept this amendment, Clause 8 would fall.

Amendment No. 63 tackles the issue in a less explicit way by removing the rights of local authorities to establish a new community school through a competition. Amendment No. 76 to Clause 10 would prevent local authorities establishing community schools outside competitions. I invite the Minister to accept at the very least Amendment No. 76. It will ensure that all new community school proposals would have to be decided on through a competition. I would like clarification of the grounds that the Secretary of State will use when granting consent under Clause 10. I would appreciate it if the Minister could confirm that the procedure under Clause 10 is, indeed, for use only in exceptional circumstances. Will he guarantee that local authorities that are forbidden from proposing community schools under Clauses 7 and 8 will not be granted permission to proceed under Clause 10?

Clause 8 deals with the circumstances under which schools will be permitted to propose new community schools. The Government have helpfully provided draft regulations: the School Organisation (Community and Community Special Schools in Competitions) (England) Regulations 2006. Those set out that a local authority will be prevented from establishing new community schools where it has an APA of one or where it has an APA of one and more than 15 per cent of schools are eligible for intervention or less than 15 per cent of schools are foundation schools, voluntary schools, academies, city technology colleges or city colleges for the technology of the arts. Schools with an APA rating of four will automatically be permitted to propose new community schools. All the others will need to seek the permission of the Secretary of State.

A consequence of the Government accepting our amendments forbidding the establishment of community schools is that Clause 8 should not stand part of the Bill. Our amendments to Clause 8 seek to place greater limitations on the circumstances under which a local authority can propose a new community school.

Amendment No. 69 would prevent a local authority proposing a community school if such provision would result in less than one third of places in schools in the authority being provided through self-governing schools. It is very important that local authorities ensure diversity and choice by promoting the development of self-governing schools. Out of 150 local authorities, 86 local authorities have no foundation primary schools and 73 have no foundation secondary schools.

That approach differs from that of the Government in that our amendment refers to the number of places in schools while the Government’s draft regulation refers to the absolute number of schools. We would be interested in probing that a little. Why refer to the absolute number of schools when, ultimately, it is, in the words of the White Paper, increasing the number of places available at good state schools? That is the priority.

Another point where our amendment differs from the approach of the Government is by applying the target on diversity to all local authorities, not only those with poor APA ratings. We are unconvinced that the good performance of local authorities truly justifies exception from the rule on diversity, particularly with the insignificant proportion—15 per cent of schools—which the Government believe should be schools other than community schools. Only a handful of local authorities will be affected by this provision.

If we exclude academies and city technology colleges and concentrate solely on maintained schools, out of 3,385 maintained secondary schools in England, around 65 per cent are community schools and 35 per cent are not. There are relatively few local authorities where fewer than 15 per cent of maintained schools are not community schools. January 2005 data indicate that only six local authorities would fail to meet this target with regard to primary schools and only 21 local authorities would fail to meet this target with regard to secondary schools. If we included academies and city technology colleges and took the APA rating into account, I am sure that the numbers prevented from seeking consent from the Secretary of State would be even lower. I would be interested to know what estimates the Government have made of the number of local authorities that would not be allowed to seek the Secretary of State’s consent under these regulations. I would also like to know on what basis the 15 per cent is chosen, as increasing the proportion even slightly leads to large increases in the number of local authorities that are prevented from seeking consent. A five point increase to a minimum of 20 per cent doubles the number of authorities that would not meet the diversity target, and if we increase the target to one-third of schools, 77 local authorities would have insufficiently diverse secondary schools.

Amendment No. 70 means that local authorities would have to demonstrate that the establishment of a community school would raise standards more than the establishment of a foundation school. I feel this is very important. This is what the Bill should be about, not so much about structures, but about raising standards in our education system. It will demonstrate that the principal justification for the establishment of a new community school must be the provision of high quality education for pupils. If a local authority cannot demonstrate that a community school will raise standards more than a foundation school, I see no reason why the local authority should be allowed to go ahead. The 1997 Labour manifesto stated:

“The judge and jury of LEA performance will be their contribution to raising standards”.

Both these amendments reflect the fact that foundation schools perform considerably better than community schools in terms of academic achievement. For example, if we consider the most recent GCSE results, at community schools 24.9 per cent of pupils received no GCSE passes at A* to C; that is, nearly a quarter of pupils. In foundation schools that figure dropped to 19.6 per cent. The proportion that received five or more good GCSEs, including English and maths, was 38 per cent in community schools; in foundations schools it was 44.2 per cent; in voluntary aided schools it was 49.1 per cent; and at city technology colleges, which are independently run and enjoy the greatest freedom among schools, only 3.6 per cent of pupils failed to pass any GCSEs at A* to C and 65.9 per cent of pupils passed five or more GCSEs. The results are here to see. Indeed, at the Thomas Telford City Technology College, which has an intake that is representative of the national ability range, 100 per cent of pupils achieved 12 or more GCSEs at grade A* to C, and that figure includes English and maths. The pattern displayed by the value-added results is identical.

Our next amendments attempt to ensure that local authorities make a real effort to bring about the new vision of the education system. They reflect the Government’s statement in response to the House of Commons Select Committee report that:

“It is important that local authorities seriously consider all alternatives to secure the best education for their community … and do not just promote local authority community schools as the default option”.

Amendment No. 71 states that where a local education authority wishes to propose a community school, it must simultaneously publish proposals for a foundation school. This would ensure that the adjudicator could always choose to reject a proposal for a community school in favour of a foundation school. It also reflects the commitment the Government gave in the White Paper at paragraph 9.11 that:

“We will expect local authorities to … make their own proposal for a self-governing (Foundation) school, if they cannot find a suitable promoter, in keeping with the commissioner role”.

This emphasises the new commissioner role of the local authority and ensures that an application to propose a new community school does not become the default option for local authorities who do not take their new role seriously. It may be possible for a local authority to use the failure to receive permission to propose a new community school as a justification for inaction and failure to promote choice and diversity. This amendment would remove that possibility, and, I believe, supports what the government are seeking to achieve.

Amendment No. 72 also promotes the new role for the local authority by requiring local authorities to provide the adjudicator and the Secretary of State with a notice setting out their reasons for publishing proposals for the establishment of the community school and, where applicable, their reasons for not publishing proposals of their own for the establishment of a foundation school. That ensures that local authorities justify their decision to propose the establishment of a new community school if they cannot justify the choice of community school over a foundation school.

Finally, Amendment No. 89 to Schedule 2 would give the adjudicator an explicit right to alter a proposal for a new community school into a proposal for a new foundation school. That would ensure that where the adjudicator considers the proposal for a new school, he is aware of his right to accept the proposal with modifications, and therefore is able to accept a planned school as a foundation school instead of a community school.

This is partly a probing amendment. The adjudicator may already have these powers, and perhaps the Minister could expand on that. By explicitly including the power in the Bill, the Government could, with appropriate guidance to the adjudicator, ensure that all such proposals are examined to see whether a self-governing school might be a more appropriate solution to the needs of the area than the community school. I beg to move.

I rise on behalf of these Benches to raise some objections to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. The amendment would do two things. First—and I will come back to this point—it would substantially remove the element of valid parental choice. Either we mean parental choice or we do not. If we decide to abolish the alternative option of a new community school, what we are effectively doing is determining the range of choice before a choice has even been made.

Secondly, the amendment would remove the last barrier between the Bill and the possibility of an education Bill that would satisfy the Conservative wish to return to some form of selection. Therefore, this amendment is of the greatest significance and importance in determining the true purpose of the Bill. I, for one, look forward with very great interest to what the Minister has to say about it.

The Conservative Party played a large and extremely constructive part in the creation of comprehensive schools. Even today, in many shire counties comprehensive schools work extremely well and have brought to a large number of children opportunities that they would not have had under a selective system. They have been issues of pride to the county councils and councils that administered and ran them, and have enabled literally thousands upon thousands of youngsters to access tertiary and higher education who never had the opportunity before.

I believe that the comprehensive system in this country has been extremely badly served in its treatment by a very sophisticated public relations system which has given it nothing like the credit it deserves for the remarkable strides it has made and has concentrated on the failures of a very small number of schools. One of the things I remember, having been a Secretary of State, is that the proportion of failing schools in England and Wales is relatively small, probably about 200 to 300 schools, and that it is not a characteristic of one particular sort of school—the so-called community school. It is a characteristic of every single category of school. Regardless of whether we are discussing independent private schools, selective schools, secondary modern schools or comprehensive schools, there has always been an element of failure.

One of the jobs I had when I was Secretary of State was to insist that failing private independent schools be closed. There was a proportion of failing private independent schools; there always will be. One of the wisest remarks ever made by a thinker on education—Michael Rutter, in his famous book—was that in every category there are failing schools and good schools. The key question is what makes a good school, not to assume that one category will define one school as good and another as bad.

The community school is exactly what many parents would choose. We will come to later amendments concerning the centrality for my party of a fair choice being made by the parent—and, where it is appropriate in secondary schools, in consultation with the pupils. That should be the acid test of which schools should be allowed to go ahead. We do not seek to weight the choice; we would not remove a particular category of school from the list; in the last analysis, if we believe in parental choice, it must be valid and made genuine. With great respect, Amendments Nos. 77 and 55 would make that impossible.

I said to the Minister—he took some exception to this, and I now better understand why—that I believe that the playing field in the Bill is not exactly level. He conceded that that was true of capital provision, because academies undoubtedly have some preference for capital buildings. Indeed, they have some preference for new and fine buildings. The average cost now is very high, above £20 million, well above what would be the case for a new community school.

The Minister argued with great force that that did not apply to revenue. I should have explained earlier that when I referred to some—how can I put it?—bias in the playing field, I had in mind specialist schools rather than trust schools, where there is clearly a small but nevertheless relevant revenue element between specialist schools and community schools that are not specialised. But that was not all that I meant. I was not speaking purely about financial considerations; there are several others. The national curriculum will not apply to independent state schools, as I understand it. School pay and conditions will not be determined nationally and applied to the school, the school will have a greater degree of discretion on the matter. I am not clear whether SIPs will apply, but if they do, they will be set by the governing body and not by the local authority or, for that matter, the Secretary of State.

In addition, the community school is uniquely saddled by having to seek the permission of the Secretary of State, with a very small number of exceptions—the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has spelled out just how small that number will be. None of us want a poorly performing local authority to set up a new school. I hope that none of us would want poorly performing sponsors of an independent state school to set up a new school. We believe that the same provision should apply across the board, not to one section only. Then there is the issue of how far Ofsted inspections will apply rigorously within the independent state trust schools.

I believe that there has been a very powerful public relations lobby against community schools and in favour of trust schools. One rather amusing example, which I find painful although amusing, appeared in the Times Educational Supplement on 6 June about “a lavish dinner” at which the heads of community schools were invited to apply for trust status by no less a figure than Sir Cyril Taylor. I cannot remember many lavish dinners being offered to heads of state schools not within the circle of those invited to move towards trust status.

It goes far beyond that. There has been a consistent barrage of criticism of our comprehensive schools. That brings me to the second part of what I want to say. I will not go on for long; I know that there is time pressure on the Committee, so I will not repeat the speech, but I want to make this point.

The Minister, who is a very fair-minded man, was kind enough to make available to us the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit study entitled, School Reform: a Survey of Recent International Experience. That is very fair of him and it is a very fair and objective report. The report throws very grave doubt on how far comprehensive schools have done less well than their selective alternatives. I went very carefully through that report. I also went through another report, called Education at a Glance, which covers a much wider range. It is published by the OECD and relates to the figures for 2005. It shows what I was trying to argue earlier; there are really good schools and really poor schools in each category—it does not depend on the category. Perhaps I may remark briefly on the matter.

The OECD statistics go beyond the ones with which the Minister kindly provided me by including additional countries that are not covered by the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit. They show three things very clearly. First, among countries with selective systems, some of which go back a long way, the Netherlands does very well. It is not in the very top group, but it is very close to it, and it has had a selective system for very many years. Incidentally, it has a very diverse selective system, which includes faith schools, schools set up by parents, and many others, but it puts the emphasis on selection—it is a selective system. At the other end of the spectrum of selective systems— rather surprisingly, given what a powerful and rich country it is—is Germany, which comes out very close to the bottom on both literacy and numeracy, and comes out worst in relation to the impact of social group, occupation and income on educational achievements. Germany has been devoted for a very long time to the three-track system of Hochschule, Fachschule and Technische Schule in a way that has not changed for many years, and it is surprising that it has a very poor record, according to OECD indicators.

Let me be equally fair. In the group that is called “strongly parent-related”—that is, where parents are free to make choices—Denmark comes out as a basically comprehensive but very poor system, largely because it gives almost total freedom to parents to choose whatever sort of school they want, from independent to comprehensive, but it does not have the sort of rigorous inspection that we have in this country.

Finally, we come to the comprehensive group. At one end is Norway, a country with little discipline and a great belief that it was doing well. It is wrong; it is not doing very well according to the OECD indicators of mathematical and literacy achievement. At the other end is Finland, a country that does the best in Europe over the whole spectrum and that has nothing but comprehensive schools and only a tiny percentage of about 2 per cent who opt out of the system. It is simply rubbish to pretend that a system determines the standards that children achieve. That is not true. What happens and what matters is whether schools have good heads, a good vision and a good sense of commitment, and, on behalf of many thousands of teachers and many hundreds of head teachers in this country, I resent the attempt to run down the major achievements of our comprehensive schools.

I conclude by saying that, according to the OECD indicators in this thick book, which I shall put in the Library for anyone who is willing to see it, the United Kingdom actually comes out extraordinarily well. The Minister may want to take some credit for that, although the figures date back to 2000 when 85 per cent of our children were in comprehensive schools and before the system began to fragment into academies and all the rest. That 85 per cent of children in the comprehensive system achieved seventh position out of 41 countries tested by the OECD for literacy, and roughly the same for numeracy. Among the very highest placed industrialised large countries, we were exceeded by countries such as Korea, Finland, which I have already mentioned, and one or two others, sometimes but not always including the Netherlands. However, in our ability to include all our children and our capacity to rate highly according to these demanding OECD indicators, called PISA—the programme for international student assessment—the validity of which no one has questioned, the United Kingdom has come out surprisingly well. Instead of taking credit for that, we run down those very parents and teachers who have achieved that. Yes, we should achieve more, but we should not understate what we have done, and, above all, we should not fall into taking part in what is in essence a political football game on the field of education.

I hope that the Government will reject this amendment. I hope that they will go further and assure us that they are completely objective in the way in which they conduct their competitions between schools and that one school is not weighed against another. In our view that implies that—I will come to this on a later amendment—ballots will be conducted in which parents can legitimately take part, and that the Government will respect parental ability to choose and to have a preference. At least publicly, they state over and again that they believe that. If they accept this kind of weighting, that belief will not add up to anything very much in real terms. I oppose the amendment.

Once again I have the enormous honour of following the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who I have looked up to for so many years. I still do. First, this is not about selection against non-selection. Selection should be finished, gone and buried. Secondly, comprehensive schools have done a remarkable job. But I ask: have they, for every kid in our country, done the best possible job? I went to state schools. My kids go to state schools and they have done well. I did not do very well at school. However, there is no question that there were pupils in my kids’ schools who could have done. The comprehensive system could have done a lot better, and we could move on and produce a better system.

In the noble Lord’s view, is there any system which has done absolutely all that it can for every child within it?

The question that we have to ask—I was involved as a young socialist in trying to get rid of the local grammar school—is whether the system that we went through is the best system. Could we have done better? That was my question, which I think it is reasonable to ask. However, in respect of the amendment, it is absolutely wrong to suggest that no more community schools should be built or developed. That cannot be right. I believe that the strength of this Bill is that it is not a political football. Its strength is that it has taken not this route nor that route, but a sensible, balanced and reasonable way through the middle, which tries to balance the extremely important claims and demands that have been made for community, cohesion and fairness with the requirement now to give our kids more diversity and choice.

I, too, have read a lot of the literature on education in the world today. The greatest amount of diversity and choice, surrounded by a context of local authority and governmental intervention, which ensures fairness for disadvantaged children and the protection of their rights, seems to work best. That appears to be the way forward. It is in Sweden, which has not been mentioned. It is clearly wrong just to say, “Let us move to choice and forget about fairness”. It is also wrong to say, “Let us look to fairness and forget about choice”. We need to find a way of liberating the potential of those kids who do not get a fair chance and have not had a fair chance under the comprehensive system of the past 20 years. We must liberate their potential within a framework of fairness and communities which are supportive and enabling. This Bill does that. The nature of the discussion from both sides of the Committee indicates that most of us feel that it does. Therefore, I ask the Committee to reject the amendment, as well as those which are to come.

This has been an interesting debate and it is not over yet. I want to refer to the start of the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, when introducing her amendment. She talked about how undesirable it was that local authorities should regard the schools in their area as “our schools”. I think that that is very desirable. It means that those schools belong to the community, which is represented by the elected members of the local authority. It is a good thing if a school represents the community.

Does the noble Baroness therefore relish the idea of exclusion, because that is what I am saying? Declaring that you are either in the family of schools or outside it is to exclude a large body of pupils.

Certainly not, and my subsequent remarks will make that clear.

The noble Baroness also spoke of the vision of the White Paper. I am afraid that the vision of the White Paper was unaccountable chaos—unaccountable to the local community. Moreover, the changes the Government were forced to concede, bit by bit, to get the Bill through another place will make their original vision much more accountable to the local community. Competition seems to be the panacea for all ills. The noble Baroness talked about maintained independent schools, and the Government refer to trust schools as maintained independent schools. So far as I am concerned, they are independent of the local authority, independent of the community, and independent of parents. Very few parents have any role at all in the governance of those schools. In that respect, they are also independent of children because they can turn them away willy-nilly if they wish. They are dependent on the state only for funding, because in pretty much everything else they can do what they like.

The noble Baroness also said that unless a community school could demonstrate that it would raise standards, it should not be allowed to go ahead. I do not disagree with that, but I would also like to see the same criterion applied to a trust school or an academy. We have tabled an amendment on those lines to which my noble friend will speak shortly. Unless a trust school or an academy can demonstrate that it really would improve standards in the community, it should not be allowed to go ahead.

My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby quoted a number of pieces of research in her inspiring speech, but one piece she did not mention was the work of the Sutton Trust. Its research considers voluntary-aided and Church schools, and shows quite clearly that their intake is skewed towards the middle classes with results that correlate closely with the income of the parents. We all know that, in this respect, choice is a very good thing for parents. If parents are sufficiently interested in the education of their children that they take great care over the choice of school, they are much more likely to play a positive part in their children’s education—and that will make a big difference to children’s achievement.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, asked whether we are doing the best possible job for our children. In some cases I agree with him that we are not.

I am sorry—the noble Lord, Lord Gould. The way in which to help all comprehensive schools to be as good as the best is not to take away their links with the local authority, but to support and resource every one of them, while encouraging every local authority to show the leadership required that will enable schools to support each individual child in fulfilling its own educational potential. That is what we need to do to make sure that our schools are as good as those in Finland, to which my noble friend referred. What is the difference between the Finnish system and that in this country when both are basically comprehensive systems? As she pointed out, in Finland there is very little opting out because the vast majority of schools are comprehensive schools. They get their share of the higher achieving children as well as of those who need more help.

In this country we do not have that system: we have independent schools, voluntary-aided schools, grammar schools and secondary modern schools in some areas; that is the choice of the local people and I would not take that choice away from them. But that is the crucial difference. If you are going to compare a comprehensive school in Finland with a comprehensive school in the UK, you have to look at its intake and at the support it is being given. The vast majority of comprehensive schools in Finland have an intake completely spread across the whole ability range.

It is not diversity and choice that matter; it is quality. If I go and buy a car I do not want a choice of a red, blue, green and purple clapped-out Mini; I want a choice of a Rolls-Royce—and that is what we should be making of all our comprehensive schools.

I have a slight difficulty in replying. I have this group of amendments, which seek to forbid the establishment of new community schools; I have the next group of amendments, to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, which seek to extend the right for community schools to be established; and I have also heard the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, which I think was more in support of her noble friend. I am trying to work out whether to reply to both groups of amendments now or to reserve my reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, because I assume she is going to make another speech on her next group of amendments.

If the Minister would find it easier, we on these Benches would be perfectly happy if he were to postpone his response. My noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford will move the next group of amendments but, if the Committee would find that more convenient, we would have no objections at all.

I am very happy to do that, in which case I can reply to the noble Baroness helpfully—she said that I try to be fair-minded, and I shall be as fair minded as I can—on one or two points and I hope that it will reflect her remarks.

I agree with a good deal of what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about the way in which education policy is portrayed. I find myself often at the receiving end of this. Any Minister who has to read some of the claptrap reported in the newspapers about standards in state schools, and who constantly has to reply to it, is familiar with the difficulties that we face often with our media.

I have the highest regard for the noble Baroness, who is grappling with the issues that we are all grappling with to improve our schools, but I think there is a fundamental confusion in what she said in regard to what she called comprehensive schools and what she called community schools. With the exception of grammar schools, which these provisions do not affect at all, all the categories of schools that we are discussing today are, in her understanding of the term, comprehensive schools.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that there were free-for-all admissions. There are no free-for-all admissions: all these categories of schools will have to act under this Bill in accordance with the code of practice on admissions. They will all have to observe the pay and conditions document for teachers, observe the national curriculum, undergo Ofsted inspections and have the SIPs we talked about earlier, whether they are trust schools or non-trust schools. I think there was a fundamental misconception at the root of the noble Baroness’s remarks. We are not talking about selective systems against non-selective systems, so the comments about comparisons between the Netherlands and Germany do not apply in that sense. We are talking about a greater diversity of school management and tying it within a basically comprehensive system. Her party’s proposals would limit that.

I am giving a partial reply, so perhaps I can delay commenting on one or two points. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that she did not want to remove any category of schools—that she wanted fairness between them. With great respect, that is not the case. Her Amendment No. 92 would prevent the establishment of trust schools because it would forbid trusts and trust bodies from effectively appointing the majority of the governors, which is one of the elements behind a trust school. A trust school, where it wishes to do so, is enabled to operate in its governance terms like a voluntary-aided school. In an addition to Clause 18, by forbidding any reduction in the statutory proportion of elected parent governors on a school governing body, Amendment No. 92 would in fact make it impossible to establish a trust school within the meaning of the Bill. So it is not the case that the Liberal Democrats favour, as it were, fair competition between them. They are seeking to eliminate a category of school which, as the figures given by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, show, there is good evidence to think has, in some local contexts, a fair chance of providing a higher quality of education than the existing schools in their governance arrangements. I say that as the first stage of my reply; we will wait and see what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has to say.

The noble Baroness talked about misconceptions. I fear that there are a lot of misconceptions about trust schools and what they are seeking to do. As they are met, I believe that we can overcome some of the prejudice that has been so evident in our debates.

The amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, would forbid local authorities to promote new community schools. Our approach to this issue is fairly well rehearsed. We strongly support diversity, greater self-governance and the role that foundation and trust schools can play in bringing those about. However, we also recognise that there may be a case for a new community school in a particular instance; we have listened to concerns in another place and have defined the circumstances in which that might take place.

The illustrative regulations in Clause 8, which I have made available to the Committee, set out criteria for the circumstances in which a local authority may publish proposals for a community school without the need for explicit consents; they also set out when the Secretary of State’s consent would be required and when a local authority would be disqualified from publishing proposals.

The noble Baroness asked which local authorities would not be able to put forward proposals on the basis of the criteria that we have laid down. A local authority with an APA rating of 1, which is poor, would not be able to publish proposals for a community school. That also applies to the 10 local authorities with an APA rating of 2, with fewer than 15 per cent of foundation or voluntary schools or more than 15 per cent of schools in Ofsted category 4—the category of failure. So the Secretary of State would have discretion with regard to a large number. Equally, there would be no need for explicit consent for the 11 local authorities that have an APA rating of 4, which is excellent. There would be no need for consent for 11 authorities; it would not be possible for 10 local authorities to publish proposals; and the Secretary of State would have discretion in the other cases.

This goes to the heart of the noble Baroness’s concerns. I know that she would wish us to go further regarding the requirements to promote diversity. However, the right to publish a proposal for a community school, which is what we are talking about in the clause, is very different from meaning that that new school will be a community school. The right to publish a proposal is the right of the local authority to enter a community school into an assessment and competition that will be made, into which other proposals can also be entered. In the event of a local authority publishing a proposal for a community school, the decision on which proposal should succeed is made by the independent schools adjudicator, who will weigh, on the basis of their educational merits, the quality of all the proposals. Those proposals could include a voluntary-aided school, a foundation school and a trust school, as well as a community school.

Under Amendment No. 70, local authorities could promote a community school only where the Secretary of State was satisfied that that would lead to higher standards. That is a judgment that needs to be made; it will be made by the adjudicator, who will decide on the proposals on the basis of standards.

Amendment No. 72 would require local authorities to set out their reasons for wanting to promote a community school rather than a foundation school. In practice, a local authority will need to do this. It will need to demonstrate to the adjudicator that the community school that it is proposing will offer improved education, better than any existing or realistic alternative. In practice, the local authority will have to establish a case and, of course, the reasons. If the adjudicator is not satisfied that the local authority has made this case, the guidance that the department will issue will make it clear that the proposal should not proceed, even if there is no alternative proposal immediately before the adjudicator.

Amendment No. 76 would prevent the Secretary of State from giving consent for a new community school outside a competition. The noble Baroness asked for my assurance that this would happen only in exceptional circumstances, and I can give that assurance but we believe that there are exceptional circumstances. For example, a junior school and an infant school, perhaps sharing a single site, may want to amalgamate to form an all-through primary. The authority might consider in that case that a competition was not necessary—a strong case could be made for that—and apply for consent to bring forward proposals outside a competition. We do not want to disturb existing successful arrangements. That would be quite inappropriate in a Bill that is seeking to promote higher educational standards. We can conceive that there will be exceptional circumstances where it would be appropriate for the power to be used and for there not to be a requirement for competition for changes that are not brought about by failure or because completely new places are required.

Amendment No. 89 to Schedule 2 would place a duty on the adjudicator, in deciding proposals for a new community school, to consider whether it would be desirable to alter the proposals to make the new school a foundation school. The noble Baroness said that it was a probing amendment. We do not think that it is a practical proposition. If promoters were interested in developing a foundation or trust school to meet the needs of the area, they would at the point at which the adjudicator was making the decision already have had the opportunity to bring forward their own proposals in response to the notice inviting proposals for the new school.

Equally, however, if the community school proposal is not judged by the adjudicator to be satisfactory, the adjudicator can turn it down, as I have described, and other proposals could be entered in a new competition if a decision was taken to proceed with one. We believe that that is the best and most practical procedure, not least because the adjudicator would be in no position to know whether partners might wish to promote a foundation or trust school if he deemed a community school proposal to be unsatisfactory. When he was making that decision, he would have only the one proposal in front of him. I believe that the position that we have reached is satisfactory.

The big point that I would make to the noble Baroness is the need to distinguish between the proposals being promoted for community schools. Where local authorities have a good track record in standards and diversity, we believe that their taking such a course of action is appropriate. I will be quite frank: we have been persuaded of that course by the debate in another place and by the representations made by my right honourable and honourable friends in another place. A strong argument can be made for competition in that respect. If there is to be fairness in competition, local authorities with a good track record should be able on the same basis as other promoters to promote their proposals. However, that is distinct from the process of deciding between alternative proposals, which would in that case be done by the independent schools adjudicator whose only mission under this Bill is the promotion of the highest educational standards.

I end where I began: all the categories of schools that we have been discussing are comprehensive schools. The fact that one is called a community school, a trust school, a foundation school or a voluntary-aided school does not affect that. We are not seeking to change the comprehensive admissions philosophy, which we believe is right for this country, but we want to enable greater diversity in the management, ethos and character of schools within comprehensive bounds, all focused on the enlargement opportunities and the best possible results for pupils.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that no single international model works. As one who has spent quite a lot of time looking at international models, I agree with that. There is no off-the-shelf model.

They do not work entirely according to the categories of selection versus comprehensiveness—that is all.

None of them works as a model that we can emulate, I agree. But international elements are well worth studying, including the clear trend in developed countries towards greater diversity in the provision of schools. Equally, we are not seeking in this Bill only to look at international evidence; we are looking at successful models in our own country. Any serious analysis of the data would lead one to believe that that approach is right. There should be an option to promote schools that have different management structures from the classic community school. Doing so can in certain circumstances give new energy, drive, focus, mission and ethos, and it will not endanger the comprehensive principle.

I thank the Minister for his response. I have written lots of notes in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Gould, but much of what I wanted to say has been said for me by the Minister.

I did not expect a great response to my Amendment No. 55. However, I think that it was worth flying a kite, not least to make the point that we are here trying to support the Government to achieve what we and clearly the Government believe is right, which is, as the Minister has just said, to increase diversity and the management ethos and to focus on improving standards in our schools for all our children’s future.

With all due respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I feel that her speech was somewhat predictable. I resent the notion that somehow because I for my part and from these Benches am doing all that I can to help to raise standards in these schools, I and others are somehow running down all that these comprehensive schools have achieved. I went to one myself. All that I will say is that I think that, without streaming, I would have sunk without trace.

There is no question but that much has been achieved, but we need to do more. The results that I quoted earlier from some of the schools that have been allowed to flourish speak for themselves. As the noble Lord, Lord Gould, said, this is not about selection. It is a shame in some ways that the Government have felt the need to move away from the White Paper, but of course I understand that that was necessary to get the Bill through in another place and maybe it is necessary to get the Bill through in this House. I do not want to do anything to prevent the Bill from getting through in this House, because I believe that it is a step in the right direction.

I keep remembering the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, at Second Reading, who said that this is an interim measure. It is actually a step in the right direction. It is not saying that what has been happening hitherto is wrong; it is saying, “Let us be bold and brave and courageous and try to make it better still for our children’s future”. We all want our children to have better than we had; it is a parent’s right to feel that way—and all of us who are parents feel that way. This is not a political football. At Second Reading, I said that if we could only take politics out of education we would all be a lot better off and this country would be better off—but that is probably never going to happen.

The Government are making a step in the right direction. I have listened with care to what the Minister said about a number of the amendments that we have proposed this evening and I accept his reply. I obviously want to read in Hansard with care the detail of his response to some of my questions about competition and proposals for community schools. But for now I am pleased to feel that we are for the most part trying to achieve the same thing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Invitation for proposals for establishment of new schools]:

Page 6, line 35, leave out “from persons other than local education authorities”

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 56, I shall speak to the other amendments in the group. It might be useful if simultaneously I dealt with Clause 8 stand part, which is logically linked to this series of amendments. I pick up where the last debate left off, because this series of amendments would do precisely the opposite to the series proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. From our point of view, rather than prohibiting the establishment of new community schools, these amendments would establish what we regard as a level playing field between community schools and others and leave it open to a local education authority to propose a new community school where that seems sensible and a feasible way forward.

In proposing these amendments, I think that all of us are very concerned about providing the best education possible for the children of this country. In our debate last week the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, mentioned a fact that I find an indictment of our current education system: 20 per cent of children leave primary school unable properly to read or write. We all know that, once they have left primary school without functional literacy or numeracy, their chances of surviving in secondary school are very small. They are the ones who also have difficulties in the secondary school environment. We also know that that group of children disproportionately comes from disadvantaged homes, and many of them have special educational needs of one sort or another.

One feature of the Finnish system that has not been mentioned is that they assess children, as we do, when they enter school, though not through formal tests—in fact, they have very few formal tests until they are 18. Where they find that children have special educational needs, they concentrate resources to try and counter those children’s disadvantages and make sure that by the age of 10 or 11 they are as close to their contemporaries’ level as they can be. They know that if they do not succeed at that point, it will be very difficult for those children to make their way further on. It is a question of pouring in extra resources.

I congratulate the Government on their Sure Start initiatives, which are moving in the right direction. However, the Minister knows that I do not think we have put the necessary resources into the primary sector, particularly the early stages. The failure of the Government to follow through on the Steer report and get parent and pupil support workers into primary schools is a great mistake. A concentration of support at that stage is sorely needed, for pupils and for parents, and would replicate what is there in the Finnish system. It could help to remove this incredible black mark on our system.

I shall talk about my amendments. In response to criticisms in the other place, as we know, the Government conceded the case for community schools to be established in certain circumstances. We shall be looking at those circumstances in more detail a little later on. We have two opportunities to deal with this, Amendment No. 68 and the Question whether Clause 8 should stand part. For the record, however, from the point of view of these Benches the conditions written into Clause 8 are so circumscribed that they remove all discretion from local authorities.

We do not oppose the idea of competition for new schools, and we are happy to see local education authorities required to compete with other proposals, including those from parent groups. We are unhappy, however, at the degree to which the balance under the proposals put forward by the Government is tipped against community schools and in favour of other providers, and the degree to which the trust school proposals move away from local accountability.

Many of these amendments deal with Clause 7, which is about proposals to establish new schools, and the subsequent clauses, dealing with how those proposals under Clause 7 are to be published, considered and carried forward. It might be helpful if I quickly run through these amendments. Amendment No. 56 takes out from Clause 7(1) the prohibition on LEAs making proposals for new schools. Amendments Nos. 57 and 62 add community schools to the list of schools falling into subsections (2)(a) and (5)(b)(i).

Amendment No. 57A asks that the knock-on effects of expanded sixth-form provision on other schools and colleges in the area be considered. We shall look at that issue when we discuss alterations to schools.

Amendment No. 64 would take out Clause 7(5)(b)(ii), which refers to Clause 8. Amendment No. 68 would add a new clause, to which I shall speak in a moment. Amendments Nos. 74 and 78 would make it clear that the local education authority may proceed to publish its proposals in its own right without having to seek permission from the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 91 applies to alterations to schools under Clause 18 and makes it clear that, should a foundation school wish to reverse the process and become a community school, it can do so, whereas under the Bill it is prohibited from doing so.

In some respects these clauses about new schools may seem rather irrelevant because over the next five years we face a drop of half a million in the number of secondary school pupils in this country. The issue is likely to be—as it has been with primary schools over the past few years—one of closing schools, not opening new ones. But this, and the final amendment in the group to Clause 18 on alterations to schools, raises the whole question of the link between this Bill and the programme of building schools for the future. How far do the Government intend to use that programme of rebuilding to force schools down the foundation trust route? Will an LEA seeking to replace an existing community school with a new building be told that unless it is prepared to make the school into a foundation school, it will get no new building?

I am glad to hear that the answer is no.

I wish to elaborate on Amendment No. 68. The proposed new clause defines the grounds on which the Secretary of State can withhold consent to a proposal from a local education authority to establish a community school—it would replace Clause 8—namely, the Secretary of State has to believe that a community school would not improve the education of pupils in the area.

The White Paper had proposed that all new schools would in future be academies, foundation schools or trust schools, and that there would be no new community schools. As we know, this has proved to be highly controversial. The case for local authorities retaining their powers to propose new community schools was well made by the authors of the alternative White Paper, the members of the Select Committee and many others. In response, the Government have accepted that there may be occasions where a community school may be the best option to meet local needs. Therefore, the Bill now proposes that local authorities will be able to propose a community school, provided that the Secretary of State gives consent. Proposals will be decided by the adjudicator, as the Minister made clear.

In Committee in another place, the Minister said:

“The regulations will allow local authorities with an annual performance assessment of 4—the highest score—to enter a community school into a competition automatically, without the need for the Secretary of State’s consent. We should trust those high-performing local authorities to decide what type of school would best serve the needs of their communities. Currently, there are 11 local authorities with an APA of 4 … three groups of local authorities will not be permitted to propose a community school: local authorities with an APA of 1, which are those with the poorest performance in children’s services; local authorities with an APA of 2 and in which less than 15 per cent of schools are foundation or voluntary schools; and local authorities with an APA of 2 and more than 15 per cent of schools in Ofsted category 4—in other words, badly-performing authorities that either have a large proportion of schools that are failing or have low levels of diversity”.—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 20/4/06; col. 317.]

“Diversity” here means 15 per cent of foundation and voluntary schools. The remaining 130 local authorities—there are 11 in category 4—will be able to enter the competition with the Secretary of State’s consent. That means that only 11 local authorities are currently able to enter a competition for community schools without the Secretary of State’s veto. This is demeaning, limiting and limited. The new clause that we are proposing provides that the Secretary of State should only withhold his consent to the publication of proposals if he is satisfied that the proposals would not lead to an improvement in the education of the pupils concerned.

It is for those reasons that we question whether Clause 8 should stand part, and we wish to substitute for it our Amendment No. 68. I beg to move.

I rise briefly to follow up on the discussion by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, of different models of education provision. The Minister will recall from our debates on childcare provision my particular concern that the emphasis on moving swiftly to what is now a majority private provision has not necessarily benefited children in terms of staff stability, training and support. I say this as a challenge to the model that the Minister is following. It was not surprising, when he responded to the noble Baroness, that he said that the Finnish model was very interesting but that we should also look at the best models in this country. When we look around the world, we see that increasingly education systems are becoming more diverse in the models of provision that they provide.

The Finnish model is particularly interesting because it is a comprehensive model. Its real emphasis and investment has been first on teachers, in terms of very long and developed teacher training. Another interesting and distinctive aspect is that children do not start their education until the age of seven, and therefore the opportunity for relating with their families is much more important there. Pre-school does not start until the age of six. In the first years of schooling they have shorter school days, so again they have more opportunity to be with their families.

I am putting this forward to challenge what seems to be the prevailing presumption that our model of provision of education is the one that we should be pursuing. It may be the right one; but from my experience of being involved in caring for vulnerable children, what is most striking is the appalling consequences of not having properly trained staff working with children. The most important thing, which the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, made clear on Second Reading, is the need to keep a single-minded focus on supporting and developing those professionals working directly with children and young people, and not to be distracted from that.

I feel moved to say that because to my mind we overlook that in this country. We are a culture that puts particular emphasis on generalism, on being flexible and on taking on different roles. That is an important model for us. The idea of specialism, of a deeply well educated and focused professionalism, is also very important. For children and particularly for vulnerable children, we need to think much more deeply. I say that in the light of a letter that I received recently from the Minister, saying that children in children’s homes are cared for by staff only 23 per cent of whom have any relevant qualification. Get the education and training of our teachers and support right—I know that it has been improving significantly—and you will be going an awfully long way to delivering improved education for our children.

I very much agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. It is certainly the case that one of the distinguishing features of the Finnish system is that it requires all its teachers to have a postgraduate degree. That seems to be a crucial factor in the quality of the education in that country. I pay tribute to the Government for some of the steps that they have taken in that direction, not least in the training of head teachers and senior management staff, but, as a country, we must press much further with in-service training of teachers to ensure that they keep up with the many demands made on them.

I rise to say a few words about Amendment No. 57A regarding sixth forms. It is a probing amendment. My noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford pointed out that we are confronting a decade of dramatic decline in school rolls. We all know that one of the things that makes a sixth form viable is an adequate number of pupils to maintain a range of choices for young people who are going on to take A-levels, NVQs or whatever the higher qualification may be. If the size of a sixth form falls below a certain point, it simply becomes uneconomic to offer a range of alternative courses, and the sixth form then constricts rather than broadens a youngster’s education.

I make no bones about my worry that if a range of trust schools, in particular, academies, are created in a local authority area—most of them will expect and want to have a sixth form because it is part of the traditional prestige of a secondary school which many people involved very much prize, although the Minister may say that that is not true—that may bite into existing sixth-form provision, which will make it difficult for those secondary school sixth forms to be viable.

I have in mind the more disadvantaged local authorities that have set up sixth-form colleges or, in some cases, tertiary colleges to try to meet the needs of their brightest, most ambitious and aspiring youngsters who want to go on to try to get A-levels and other advanced qualifications. I am frightened that in certain circumstances those sixth-form colleges could be undermined. The Minister will know well that they have a good record in secondary education of achieving outstanding results in parts of the country such as Devon, where it is difficult to sustain a sixth-form among a lot of small towns and villages. There have been notable results in those sixth-form colleges.

I shall not press the Minister now—he may wish to answer the point on a later group of amendments—but the issue has been neglected in our discussions thus far. It is extremely important that every last boy and girl who wants it can get sixth-form or tertiary college provision and I am troubled by the difficulty already experienced by some authorities, where the sixth forms are only just viable, as to what might happen if new ones open.

I wish to respond to a couple of points. It is almost as if some kind of Scandinavian Utopia exists. We should be comparing like with like. Would that the UK was identical to Finland. I do not know whether I really do want it to be identical to Finland but if it was, we would have to accept a slightly smaller population—about 5.2 million—and a country that was ethnically homogenous. That is hardly the case in the UK, where income inequality is one of the lowest in the OECD. I do not agree that Finland is a country that we could aspire to and match, due to the factors that I have just mentioned,.

I agree that the international report mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is interesting. I have not looked at the OECD report, but I will do so. The international report states that following the reforms of 1998,

“Finns are now free to choose which school their children are educated in”

and that many parents in urban areas now exercise choice. That is a really interesting scenario. The report also states:

“Choice is now exercised by many parents in heavily urbanised areas of Finland—for example in Helsinki in 2002, approximately 50 per cent of children entering secondary schools at ages 12 and 13 requested a school other than the one they were allocated to”.

Not all the people who value choice are in the highest socio-economic groups. That is interesting. Even in Sweden, another much vaunted and justifiable example, there is no firm evidence of the impact of reforms, but a decade after the reforms, Sweden has one of the least ability-segregated school systems in the OECD. In areas where children have been encouraged by their local authority to choose and have been given support and information to help them to choose, the least well off appear to take advantage of the choices. So often we hear it said that parents do not want choice, but I believe that is invalid.

We on these Benches are not arguing against choice. We are arguing that in that choice there should be a level playing field to establish new community schools alongside voluntary-aided schools, trust schools and so on.

Perception is everything. When I listen to the noble Baroness, I cannot help feeling that she worries about choice. I agree we should not denigrate community schools or comprehensive schools. Many of them have achieved startling successes, but neither should we go in the opposite direction and suggest that somehow trust or foundation schools will be totally untrammelled and free of any accountability. I have heard it alleged tonight that they will not be subject to the national curriculum—that is not true. They will be subject to Ofsted inspections.

We are trying to find a balanced approach. Are choice and diversity wanted by parents? I believe that they are, not just in the UK system, but also elsewhere in the world. Has that choice the capacity to benefit children? Again, I believe it has. It is not the only answer, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, rightly says. We are in a dynamic situation, not a static one, as I believe the Government have recognised. We are being invited to go from one end of the spectrum to the other. On the one hand, we are being invited to suggest that no community schools are allowed to take part in a competition and, on the other hand, it is suggested that practically all of them are. Where should we be? Between a rock and a hard place, between the Buscombe and the Walmsley positions, if I can caricature it in that way. I believe that the Government have got it right when they say that a proportion of the higher or better performing schools should be able to propose a community school for competition. It is a balance and a compromise.

It seems to me that it is pejorative for the noble Lord to speak of the higher performing schools, as though by definition community schools are low performing schools and voluntary-aided schools are not. I know there is some evidence—the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, cited some evidence—to indicate that there is higher performance in voluntary-aided schools, but when one looks at the Sutton Trust research one sees that that is very closely linked to income.

Perish the thought that I should be pejorative. I should have said “local authorities” rather than schools. I am not attempting to be pejorative at all. The Government had to make an assessment. We know that some local authorities are failing authorities. We have to be honest. We know there are significant numbers of children who are failed in our current system. That does not mean that I believe, or anyone else believes, that the vast majority fit that description. We are trying to find a way forward which we believe will raise standards in all schools. I think that the Government have got it right with their compromise. The Liberal Democrats believe that they have not, that this goes too far and that there is too much diversity and choice. There is a judgment to be made. I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

I hope that noble Lord, Lord Young, will come further in the Buscombe direction than the Walmsley direction, given that Buscombe has been quoting from the Labour manifestos for 1992 and 1997, the 2005 White Paper and ad infinitum. I feel that I am almost seeking to do the noble Lord’s job for him.

This may sound very controversial, but it has been nagging at me that there is a feeling that if one is going for anything other than a community school, one is somehow leaving the community and that the local authority body that sets schools up and manages them is somehow intrinsically linked with a local authority and therefore with the community. As a punter, I never felt any connection with my local authority until I became a representative of it. I hope I am making myself clear here. Most people who live in towns, villages or cities feel a real sense of connection not with their local authority but with the place that they live in and the community as a whole. To somehow feel that if one moves away from management by the local government structure one is leaving the community is fictitious and completely wrong.

I have spent my political life in what Roy Jenkins called the radical centre, and never have I felt more in the radical part of it and the central part of it than in the debates we have been having on the education Bill. It is my great regret that I should be parting company with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who was in the radical centre, but on this issue has moved to the less radical zone. I think she would still see it as the centre, but is less prepared to contemplate change.

My noble friend Lord Young made an excellent speech and the case for change is compelling. If we take a hard-headed, realistic approach to our educational performance in the past 20 years, three things stand out. First, there has been remarkable progress in that time. When the GCSE was introduced in 1988, only one-quarter of 16 year-olds were getting five good GCSE passes. It is now 55 per cent. That is the scale of the progress we have made as a society over that period, and it is very welcome. But 55 per cent is 55 per cent and becomes 45 per cent if English and maths are included. They are the core skills that teenagers require if they are going to be likely to succeed in employment thereafter and to avoid the scenarios that we were discussing earlier in our debate. But while we have made great progress, we cannot be complacent.

In looking at the international evidence to which the noble Baroness referred, three things become clear: our average performance as a country has risen substantially in the past 15 years, and that is to be applauded; our top 25 per cent are as good as the top 25 per cent in terms of performance anywhere in the world and we have a fantastic top end in the state and private systems; and the gap between our highest and lowest performers as large groups—not just the extremes—is much higher than in the rest of the OECD and is still at proportions that cause concern. That is why these reforms and the preparedness to consider them are important. We have higher average achievement and very high top-end achievement, but we still have a very long tail of low achievement which is unacceptable, as are the disparities in performance. We have higher performance, but there is still much to do.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, put his finger on the third key priority, and I come back to it time and again, as we are spending so much time discussing structures and legal reforms in the Bill: we will achieve nothing without steady investment in our teachers, our head teachers and our support staff. As I said on Second Reading, the Government are making huge additional investments in those areas—in qualifications, salary levels and staff numbers. That investment is going into schools and resulting in more and better teachers irrespective of category of school.

In response to the noble Baroness, I re-emphasise that we are talking about trust schools, community schools, voluntary-aided schools and foundation schools where the investment in people and facilities is equal and the pay and conditions apply equally across the different categories of schools, as does the curriculum and inspection.

Putting all that together, I say to noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches that we come back to their Amendment No. 92. They accuse us of not having a level playing field. However, I believe that the proposals we have set out provide a good range of opportunities and rule out local authorities from promoting community schools only where their own performance is of a level where I think any reasonable-minded person would think that they are not suitable to promote schools.

One category of new school that we are talking about is the trust school, which is basically the application of the tried, tested and largely successful voluntary-aided model outside the faith sector. The Liberal Democrats’ Amendment No. 92 would forbid that model being established in the state system. So there is not a level playing field as far as our colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches are concerned.

Liberal Democrat Members also make the confusion—which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, put her finger on—that a community school, in its engagement with the community, is to be judged only by the degree to which a local authority controls the school, the number of governors it appoints to the school and the degree to which governors on the governing body are elected by parents. Although we think it important that parent governors play a role in the school, use of the criterion alone is a fundamental misconception of what necessarily makes a good school or a school that is absolutely committed to community cohesion and engagement in the community.

I do not want to rehearse everything I said in response to the previous group of amendments. Perhaps I can briefly address the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, of sixth-form provision. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was absolutely right to say that the demographics mean that there will be a smaller secondary population over the next 10 years. However—and this is a key point in understanding trends in post-16 provision—on the basis of a rising performance in schools, particularly in schools where it is rising faster than the trend, it is an absolutely realistic expectation that the number of post-16 students will continue to increase and will probably do so substantially.

Because we have historically had such a poor record in participation beyond the age of 16, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that that will increase over the next 10 years. Indeed I think that we would be defeatist if we did not work on the assumption that we will have a declining secondary population overall, but with a rising population of pupils staying on at school and in college beyond the age of 16. It is the lowest-performing schools that have the lowest rates of post-16 participation, and they tend to be schools without sixth forms—or, to think of it in more modern terms, post-16 provision. Post-16 provision will increasingly be collaborative; it will not be the free-standing sixth form trying to offer the whole range of qualifications and courses but a post-16 provision which may well be shared with other schools or the local college.

I believe that it is absolutely right that we should be seeking to promote more post-16 provision in schools, much of it on a collaborative basis, provided that it is linked to realistic assumptions about increases in the post-16s staying-on rate on the basis of school improvement and the rising proportions gaining qualifications. That is a realistic scenario to which we should be working.

The noble Baroness referred to the excellent sixth-form colleges—and I pay tribute to them. The sixth-form and tertiary college sector has been one of the most successful parts of our education system over the past 20 years. The sixth-form college sector is bursting at the seams it has been so successful. Colleges that were built for 1,000 to 1,500 students are in some cases now catering for well over 2,000 students. One outstanding sixth-form college I visited recently in Winchester has substantially more students even than that. The idea that colleges of that kind, which are now supremely successful, cannot co-exist and, indeed, add significant value to the work of schools in developing collaborative provision is wrong. We need to have a sensible scenario that puts a value on collaboration.

I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way for a moment. I fully agree with everything that he has said, but I am concerned that there are still some parts of the country where the staying-on rate is well below the national average. I agree that it may well improve but if there are 500,000 pupils coming out of the secondary system, while coincidentally in some parts of the country there has been a low staying-on rate that is only slowly beginning to improve, there is a danger that the first-rate sixth-form or tertiary college may find it difficult to continue expanding in the way that he was talking about.

Obviously I accept that we need to behave sensibly in this area. The Government seek to behave sensibly in all these areas. There will be a role both for thriving tertiary and sixth-form colleges but also for steadily more post-16 provision in schools.

On what the noble Baroness said about the history, let us be clear what happened. It was the grammar schools and the more successful schools in the system as it was in the 1960s and 1970s that had sixth forms. By and large, it was the secondary modern system that was 11 to 16. To my mind, it is not the model for the future to have schools that stop at 16. All our emphasis in the education system must be to promote staying on beyond the age of 16.

Few Members of this House would, without serious thought about what will happen beyond the age of 16, want their child to attend a school that stops at the age of 16—that does not have a sixth form or teachers who are capable of teaching post-16. On the principle that I always observe in education policy that what I want for my children I should want for people at large, my presumption is that we want steadily more schools to have a stake in post-16 provision, taking real ownership for the destination of their students beyond 16 and having real intent to push them into participation beyond that age—which probably means having some element of provision.

On Amendment No. 57A, FE institutions are already consulted when it is proposed that schools add sixth forms. The effect of proposals on existing provision is taken into account. At the moment, proposals must be published and consulted on. That will not change under the Bill.

I think that I have covered most of the points raised through the amendments. In conclusion, as my noble friend Lord Young said, we have struck a sensible balance here between allowing local authorities that have a good track record and can show that they support the principle of diversity to be able, in appropriate circumstances, to promote community schools while ensuring that there are strong incentives for diversity, especially in areas where local authorities are lower performers. That is the basis of the amendments that we tabled in another place, Clause 7 and the guidance that backs it up. If the Liberal Democrats cared to withdraw Amendment No. 92, so that we can have trust schools, we might find ourselves almost approaching a point of consensus.

I take issue with the Minister about Amendment No. 92, which, as far as we are concerned, merely requires that there should be a larger proportion of elected parent-governors on trust school bodies. We find it very odd that the trust school model diminishes the role of elected parent-governors. I cannot see that that would prevent a foundation being set up. But we will come to that in due course; we are certainly not going to withdraw that amendment now. However, as for Amendment No. 56, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 57 and 57A not moved.]

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before eleven o'clock.