Education and Adoption Bill (Tenth sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: † Mr Christopher Chope, Sir Alan Meale
† Berry, James (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con)
† Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)
† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)
† Drummond, Mrs Flick (Portsmouth South) (Con)
Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab)
† Fernandes, Suella (Fareham) (Con)
† Gibb, Mr Nick (Minister for Schools)
† Haigh, Louise (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)
† James, Margot (Stourbridge) (Con)
† Jones, Graham (Hyndburn) (Lab)
† Kyle, Peter (Hove) (Lab)
† Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma (South Shields) (Lab)
† McCabe, Steve (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
† Nokes, Caroline (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
† Pugh, John (Southport) (LD)
† Timpson, Edward (Minister for Children and Families)
† Tomlinson, Michael (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)
† Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con)
† Walker, Mr Robin (Worcester) (Con)
Wilson, Sammy (East Antrim) (DUP)
Fergus Reid, Glenn McKee, Joanna Welham, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 14 July 2015
[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]
Education and Adoption Bill
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 74, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(2B) The Secretary of State may use the power to make regulations under subsection (2) only once in any 12-month period.”
This amendment would provide that the Secretary of State may only use the power to make regulations under subsection (2) once in any 12-month period.
Amendment 79, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(3B) In section 182 (Parliamentary control of orders and regulations) in subsection (3) before (a) insert—
“() regulations made under subsection (1) of section 60B (Coasting schools).””
This amendment would require regulations about notifying schools that they are coasting to be subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
Mr Chope, welcome back for the final furlong of our race to the end of the Bill—via the beginning. This group of amendments relates to clause 1, but fear not: we have disposed of most of the rest of the Bill in your absence and are getting near the end.
Amendment 73 would require the Secretary of State to make the regulations that define a coasting school. Amendment 74 would provide that the Secretary of State may use the power to make regulations under proposed new section 60B(2) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 only once in any 12-month period. Amendment 79 would require regulations about notifying schools that they are coasting to be subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
At present, all that we know about how Ministers intend to proceed comes mainly from Department for Education press releases and from some of the exchanges that we have had in Committee. No comprehensive draft of the regulations is available. Given this level of uncertainty and the savage criticism of the initial definitions received, there is a need to pin Ministers down on some clear and transparent procedures, which is what we are seeking to do now.
The amendments say that regulations should be made; it should not be an option that Ministers proceed on the basis of informal letters or other imprecise forms of guidance and discover what they have got wrong only after a couple of months have passed. Elsewhere in the Bill, as we debated earlier, the Ministers are very keen to use the word “must” in relation to what Ministers do. We encountered that in clause 7, which we debated before clause 1. Under clause 7, Ministers “must” make an academy order in certain circumstances, but in clause 1, Ministers seem to want to leave the options open in relation to making the regulations on coasting schools and having them subject to parliamentary scrutiny. At this point in the Bill, we have the word “may” instead of “must” and we would like to find out a bit more about why that is the case.
Given that the initial draft is a bit muddled—
I am grateful for that assurance, but it prompts the question why the word “may” was used here rather than “must” and the word “must” was used elsewhere rather than “may”. Of course, these are draft regulations; they are not regulations themselves, although the Minister has put it on the record, helpfully, that it is at the very least the Government’s intention that Ministers will issue regulations. We cannot just assume that things will come out all right on the night. We need to ensure that precise procedures are in place to ensure that the Government get this right.
As for amendment 79, if the Ministers, who may issue regulations, decide to go ahead and do so, there is a question about how those regulations will be used. Are they to be advisory for regional schools commissioners? Will the regional schools commissioner be able to overrule what the regulations say about a coasting school? Will the regional schools commissioner be able to notify a school that it is coasting on the basis of his or her professional judgment, even though regulations do not indicate that it is? What happens if the Secretary of State has not made regulations? Will the regional schools commissioner be able to notify a school that it is coasting on the basis of his or her professional judgment?
Interestingly, since this morning’s proceedings, when we discussed the status of regional schools commissioners quite extensively and I predicted a problem because they were not properly set out in statute—the way they are selected is rather informal, like the bad old days of the quango state in the 1980s and 1990s when Ministers phoned their friends, members of the same club and so on to ask them to be the heads of various bodies—we have heard that one of the regional schools commissioners has been stood down. There are now not eight but seven in post. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case—I see that he is seeking inspiration as we speak—and shed some light on it? It is very pertinent to our discussion about the role of the regional schools commissioner in the regulations on coasting schools. What happens if all of a sudden they start falling like ninepins because they have not been through a rigorous, open and transparent selection process, but have been chosen at the whim of Ministers? We would be very grateful for any light that the Minister could shed on this breaking news from the Education and Adoption Bill Committee. We need to get this right and require Ministers to justify the final shape of the regulations to Parliament, hence the proposal for an affirmative resolution procedure.
Has my hon. Friend noted that education legislation passed under the previous Labour Government applied parliamentary accountability to regulations of this importance? The affirmative resolution procedure applies, for example, to the designation of a rural primary school, or repeal of school travel scheme provisions, under clauses 15 and 80 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. These are important matters, but surely no more important or controversial than these regulations, with the sweeping changes that they imply to our school system.
I am not surprised that my hon. Friend, with her usual copious research and command of detail, has spotted that. I am a big fan of the affirmative resolution procedure. I am not going to say that in every case the previous Government applied it as vigorously as they should have—I have made that point before—but I am a big fan of the affirmative resolution procedure because it is important that Parliament should scrutinise the Executive closely. It is something that you have done assiduously yourself, Mr Chope, on many a Friday and on other days of the week. It is important that we have the opportunity to debate these matters and have an enjoyable discussion, as we are having now, on the detail of Government policy. On that basis, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
Clause 1 creates a new category of schools eligible for intervention, as we discussed this morning—coasting schools. Clause 1 also gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations defining schools deemed to be coasting and therefore eligible for intervention. We have provided the Committee with draft regulations setting out our proposed definitions. Amendments 73, 74, and 79 relate to the process by which the Secretary of State will make these regulations.
Amendment 73 seeks to go further than the power provided by clause 1, by placing a duty on the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out the definition of “coasting”. As I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for Cardiff West, the amendment is unnecessary. We have already said that we will make such regulations, and we have provided an indicative set of regulations to show precisely how we intend to use this power and give the opportunity for the details of those indicative regulations to be debated in Committee.
Amendment 74 seeks to restrict the number of times that regulations can be changed, so that they can be amended only once in any 12-month period. We intend to keep substantive revisions of the regulations to a minimum. The published draft sets out long-term definitions for both primary and secondary schools, based on reliable metrics. Schools need clarity and certainty about the circumstances in which they would be judged to be coasting. Making frequent substantive changes to the regulations would create confusion and an unnecessary workload for teachers, something we are trying to tackle with great energy at the moment.
It is important that the Secretary of State retains flexibility to amend the regulations in future if necessary. If we were to alter the coasting definition or make smaller, technical changes, the most sensible point to do so would be as the relevant performance data are published. Since primary and secondary data are published separately at different times, it could be necessary to alter the regulations twice in any one year to give schools clarity on the relevant coasting level as soon as possible. The amendment would therefore be too inflexible, leading to primary schools having to wait until secondary results were published before finding out their coasting level. However, as I said, we intend there to be some stability in the definition of coasting schools.
Amendment 79 seeks to make the regulations subject to the affirmative procedure, and so require parliamentary debate before the regulations are laid for the first time and before any subsequent amendments to them are made. The negative procedure is in keeping with much delegated legislation on education, and I see no reason to adopt the approach in the amendment. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley gave some examples of education regulations that are subject to the affirmative procedure, but that is not consistently the case. For example, section 94(1) of the Education and Schools Act 2008 permits the Secretary of State to make regulations to prescribe the standards that independent schools must meet to be registered; the negative procedure applies to those regulations.
I have already set out plans for further public consultation on the draft regulations. Any future changes would also be subject to wide and comprehensive public consultation. The negative procedure provides the House with the opportunity to pray against amended regulations, something that I am sure the hon. Member for Cardiff West has done in the past, as I have. That leads to a debate in which any serious concerns can be discussed.
The negative procedure therefore provides the necessary flexibility that is appropriate for regulations of this kind while retaining an opportunity for debate whenever hon. Members feel that necessary.
Proposed new section 60B(2) of the 2006 Act makes it clear that if “coasting” is to be defined, it will be defined in regulation:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations define what ‘coasting’ means in relation to a school for the purposes of subsection (1).”
Subsection (1) of the proposed new section deals with whether a maintained school is eligible for intervention. So unless the word is defined in regulation, the regional schools commissioner will not have the power contained in the 2006 Act—in all those different sections; 60, 60B and so on—to intervene in such schools.
If, as suggested by the hon. Gentleman, the Government tried to define “coasting” in guidance or letters, that definition would not take effect for the purposes of the clause and would not give the regional schools commissioner the power to intervene if the school was eligible for intervention.
Will the regional schools commissioner be able to notify a school that it is coasting in his or her professional judgment, even though the regulations indicate that it is not coasting? In other words, after the regulations are laid, is it possible for regional schools commissioners to exercise a judgment based on their professional beliefs, or do they have to rely on regulations in order to deem a school to be coasting?
If the regional schools commissioner wants the powers that are available in the 2006 Act that apply when a school is eligible for intervention, a definition of coasting other than that which is in the regulations will not be sufficient. However, the regional schools commissioner may well feel, based on his experience and the experience of the headteacher board, that a certain school is causing concern, which may trigger an informal intervention with the school. We will be issuing for consultation revised guidance on schools that are causing concern.
However, we rely on regional schools commissioners to use their experience and therefore on the headteacher boards to talk to schools when they have a concern. If they want to use a specific power in the Education and Inspections Act 2006, the school has to fall into one of the following categories—first, a failing school, secondly, a school that has received a warning notice but has not met the conditions in it, or a coasting school. The school has to fall within one of those definitions for RSCs to be able to use the intervention power.
I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman and that he will now be able to withdraw the amendments.
I am disappointed that I did not think about tabling an amendment in relation to regional schools commissioners that are causing concern, given the breaking news that we heard earlier, to which the Minister did not refer in his response. Perhaps he needs a little bit more time to do so and by the end of our discussion of this clause we can have some more information, because it is entirely pertinent to the issues that we have under discussion. I think that the Committee ought to be told what is going on in relation to regional schools commissioners and why we hear today that one of them has either stood down or been stood down—I am not quite sure which it is and what the detail is. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us more very shortly.
Just to put the hon. Gentleman out of his misery, the regional schools commissioner to whom he is referring, has not stood down, but has resigned through his own choice. These people are very talented and we are very grateful to Paul Smith for the energy and enthusiasm that he has brought to his role. His contribution has been greatly valued. We will be advertising for a replacement, but people of his experience and talent are sought after in the educational world. I suspect that many of our regional schools commissioners will be approached by all kinds of educational institutions because of their ability and talent. I hope that that will not happen, but on this occasion it has happened and we are very grateful for the tremendous work that Mr Smith has carried out over the last period.
I am grateful to the Schools Minister for his response, and I apologise. I did not realise that there was a distinction between standing down and resigning, but obviously there is. It is a subtle distinction that is lost on me, but I am sure that we will hear some more about why he stood down at some point in the near future. I congratulate Mr Smith if he has been poached by some other employer for his great talent. It is a wonderful thing if that is the case, although the timing seems a bit odd, while we are completing the Committee stage of the Bill, where we are discussing all these matters. As the Minister pointed out earlier, this is a very new system and regional schools commissioners have been in place for a very short period of time. However, if it is the case, as the Minister has intimated, that Mr Smith has been headhunted and offered a higher job elsewhere, we should all congratulate him on that. If there is any other reason behind his leaving his post, I am sure that we will find out what it is in due course.
That is probably something that is for the Minister to answer, rather than for me to speculate on. I am not a mind reader, but he may well have something to tell the Committee about that in due course. It is a serious matter, and I accept there may be a very good reason for Mr Smith’s departure. However, up-to-date information about regional schools commissioners is pertinent to the Committee’s proceedings, given that they featured so much in our discussions—even though their role is not set out in statute—and that so many of the Bill’s provisions will be implemented by them. It is right that the Committee has the most up to date, breaking news on regional schools commissioners and their current status.
It is not our intention to press matters to a vote on this particular group of amendments. Given that this is the last day of our proceedings, I hoped that the Minister might have felt generous enough to make a traditional Government-type concession on the negative resolution and affirmative resolution issue that we often debate, as a gesture towards the rest of Parliament. Perhaps further down the parliamentary line we might be offered that little titbit for all our efforts in Committee. However, at this stage, the Minister is obviously feeling that he needs to be a little tighter with his concessions than we had hoped for at this stage of the Bill. He is a good-natured and generous-hearted individual, so who knows—down the line we may be able to get that concession from him and others.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment 75, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(2C) The Secretary of State in making regulations under subsection (2) must use comparable definitions of coasting schools which are in use outside the United Kingdom.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State in framing regulations which define coasting schools to use international experience of defining coasting schools.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 76, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(2D) Regulations under subsection (2) must specify, if used in the definition of ‘coasting’—
(a) the minimum pupil roll of a school,
(b) a school’s admission arrangements,
(c) the age range of pupils in attendance at the school,
(d) the handling of data about pupils with special educational needs or a disability,
(e) information about the socio-economic characteristics of the area where the school is situated,
(f) the role of professional advice which the Secretary of State must consider.”
This amendment would require specific factors to be included in the regulations which define a coasting school.
Amendment 80, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(3C) In section 182 (Parliamentary control of orders and regulations) after subsection (3) insert—
‘( ) A statutory instrument which contains regulations under subsection (2) of section 60B (Coasting schools) may not be made unless—
(a) the Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority certifies that Official Statistics used to determine whether a school is coasting are used in a statistically correct manner, and
(b) a draft of the instrument and the certificate have been laid before each House of Parliament, and the draft instrument approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.’”
This amendment aims to ensure that any Official Statistics used in the definition of a coasting school are used in a statistically correct manner and provides that a report is to be submitted to Parliament confirming that this is the case, and requires a draft of the regulations defining coasting schools to be approved by each House of Parliament.
Amendment 75 would require the Secretary of State, in framing regulations that define coasting schools, to use international experience in defining coasting schools.
Amendment 76 would require specific factors to be included in the regulations that define a coasting school. Amendment 80 aims to ensure that any official statistics in the definition of a coasting school are used in a statistically correct manner—a recurring theme of the Committee’s discussions—and would provide for a report to be submitted to Parliament confirming that that is the case. It would also require a draft of the regulations defining coasting schools to be approved by each House of Parliament.
Ministers are usually keen to make international comparisons, particularly in relation to the far east and jurisdictions such as the state of Singapore and the city of Shanghai in the People’s Republic of China. The Minister for Schools will have read the recent blog from the Institute of Education, which addresses the broad issue of how areas such as Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong are moving away from the categorisation of schools simply according to academic results. The blog says:
“Whilst the systems of Shanghai and Singapore previously used public league tables to rank schools, these have been abandoned in favour of a more supportive and developmental role…In Hong Kong, Territory-wide System Assessments, as part of the accountability mechanism, is meant to inform policy and school improvement rather than make comparisons.”
I commend this article. I am not going to read the whole thing, but it makes interesting observations about the changes that have been happening in places such as Singapore in recent years, which seem to contradict some of the categorisation of their approach that Ministers have outlined in recent years.
Much has been made of the need to base policy on best practice from around the world. Ministers need to be able to tell us which jurisdictions, if any, operate the kind of system that they are advocating here. Which jurisdictions operate the system based on a rather crude categorisation of schools according to their results, and on intervention that is based not on support and improvement, but on allocating blame and imposing structural changes including—preferably, from the Minister’s viewpoint—academisation?
The Institute of Education at University College London recently established a unit to study the far eastern educational superpowers, as we might call them. The Government have a great interest in that work. The unit is staffed by Professor Paul Morris and Dr Christine Han, both of whom have spent a long time in the far east studying and helping develop school systems. We know about the Minister’s love of international comparisons. During the passage of the Education Act 2011, we debated the subject many times in relation to, for example, standards in qualifications and participation in international surveys. Professor Morris and Dr Han have written about coasting schools and what can be learnt from international best practice. We would like to know where school systems like the one proposed in the Bill are used.
Amendment 76 would ensure that many factors are taken into account before a judgment is made about whether a school can be identified as coasting. For example, I think we all agree that statistical data are much less valid in a small school. Most obviously, the current draft criteria seem to make it almost impossible for a grammar school to be found to be coasting—rather difficult to believe, but that would appear to be the case—and much more likely that a secondary modern school in a grammar system would be found to be coasting, which seems to defeat the object. How many grammar schools does the Schools Minister expect to be coasting, under his definition? I assume that he has made some kind of assessment of how many are likely to fall into that category.
The nature of the challenge faced by a school as a result of its intake needs to be taken into account. Pupils with significant SEN are likely to make less than average progress. We know that and we debated it a little bit this morning. For example, the data for a primary school with a SEN specialism unit will be seriously affected as those pupils will be a significant proportion of the school roll. To what extent is that taken into account?
It is established that, statistically, pupils from more challenging socioeconomic backgrounds tend to make slower progress. We can discuss, as we did a little bit this morning, how we try to tackle that statistical reality. Nevertheless, it still features in our debate about the definition of a coasting school. The judgment on a school should not just be data-driven. There should be a requirement to seek professional advice about the quality of the school’s work beyond pure data.
Amendment 80 would ensure that any official statistics in the definition of a coasting school are used in a statistically correct manner. We should all welcome and support that. It would also ensure that a report is submitted to Parliament confirming that that is the case. The amendment would require a draft of the regulations defining coasting schools to be approved by each House of Parliament. We have had substantial discussions about statistics, and more independent assessment of the way in which the Department for Education uses statistics would be very welcome. An amendment to ensure that official statistics in the definition of a coasting school are used in a statistically correct manner would be helpful to everyone—Ministers, Opposition Members, parents, governors, schools commissioners, pupils and local authorities—concerned with the running of a school and concerned about a coasting school in their area. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response. If he does not accept the amendment, what steps will he take to ensure that any statistics are used in a statistically correct manner?
Amendments 75, 76 and 80 apply to clause 1, which introduces new provisions to allow the Secretary of State to identify schools that are coasting, so that regional schools commissioners—all seven of them—can provide them with the challenge and the support they need to improve.
A coasting school is one that does not consistently ensure that children fulfil their potential. If we are to ensure that every child receives the best possible start in life, we should give regional schools commissioners the power to intervene so that these schools improve and offer a higher quality education to their pupils.
The definition of coasting is based on published performance data, so that the basis for determining whether schools are eligible for intervention is objective and transparent to schools and the public. It will apply from 2016, looking back to data from 2014, 2015 and 2016. The definition for each of those years will be based on the same data and measures as the existing floor standards for the same years. These measures are already familiar to schools, and are already used for school accountability.
Amendment 75 would require the regulations that will define coasting schools to use definitions already in use in other countries. We want to compete with the best education systems in the world, and we look closely at other countries to learn from international best practice. International surveys show that reform is essential. Our 15-year-olds are on average three years behind their peers in Shanghai in maths, as assessed by the Programme for International Student Assessment survey. We are the only OECD country whose young people do not have better levels of literacy or numeracy than their grandparents’ generation. This international evidence informed our recent announcement that when the new reformed GCSEs are taken for the first time in 2017, a good pass will be a grade 5 on Ofqual’s new grading scale. This means that the new good pass will be more demanding than the present grade C, and broadly in line with what the best available evidence indicates is average performance in high-performing countries such as Finland, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
The Minister mentions international comparisons and draws attention to the outcomes that are achieved by other countries. Is not the real lesson that these countries have a focus on standards, which has delivered their outcomes, whereas the Bill proposes a focus on organisational status?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. It is always a combination of standards and structures. Structures do help. They give autonomy to professionals, they improve accountability, and they allow the types of intervention that are set out in the Bill and that were legislated for in 2006 by the then Labour Government. We have to do that together with a standards agenda, which is why we have rewritten the primary curriculum. There is now a much more rigorous and demanding curriculum for maths, English and science. That is why we have reformed GCSEs and A-levels to ensure that they are more demanding, and that they start to deliver the kind of education that employers and colleges demand. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need a combination of both. The Bill deals with the structural side of the reform programme, but we certainly need to do both and we cannot rely on only one or the other.
International benchmarks are valuable because they allow us to compare the performance of our education system as a whole with those in other jurisdictions. They are less suitable for underpinning comparisons of individual institutions between countries. PISA and other international benchmarking assessments are based on a sample approach. They would therefore be inappropriate for school-level accountability, including identifying individual schools that are coasting or failing. While international comparisons should continue to inform our expectations for young people and guide our reforms, as they have done, the amendment would require the Secretary of State to take an unworkable and inappropriate approach to the use of international evidence.
Amendment 76 seeks to require the regulations defining coasting schools to include other factors, such as the number of pupils in a school and their socioeconomic background.
Some other jurisdictions use performance data to evaluate school performance, but we are not aware of a definition of “coasting” in use internationally that could be used as the amendment proposes. Relatively few education systems internationally have the quality of reliable performance data in the public domain that we have in this country.
Amendment 76 would require the regulations defining coasting schools to include other factors, such as the number of pupils in a school and their socioeconomic background. Some of those factors are relevant when reaching a considered assessment about whether to intervene and what action to take, and that is what regional schools commissioners will do.
Although schools will not be identified as coasting until 2016, the Department already uses discretion and takes additional contextual school data into account when making decisions about school improvement. For example, Morgan’s Vale and Woodfalls Church of England voluntary-aided primary school in Wiltshire applied to convert as a stand-alone academy. It was due to open in September 2013 but its key stage 2 results fell by 10 percentage points. As our policy is to allow only schools that are performing well to convert without a sponsor, we looked carefully at the school’s circumstances before deciding whether to allow it to open as an academy. It is a small school with fewer than 90 children on roll, and only 12 pupils took the test in 2013. The Department recognised that each child’s performance would have a significant impact with such a small cohort. Given that context and that the school had a track record of performing above the national average in previous years, Ministers at the time decided to allow the school to convert. In 2014, 100% of pupils achieved level 4 or above at key stage 2.
While many of the factors proposed in the amendment are ones that regional schools commissioners will take into account when deciding what action to take for a coasting school, it would not be appropriate to specify them all in the regulations that define coasting. It is important that the definition of coasting is simple, transparent and based on established, published performance data, so that schools and others can easily identify whether they are coasting and understand the basis for determining that.
I am reminded of our debate this morning about schools in leafy suburbs and whether the attainment level is appropriate for pupils of those schools. In particular, the hon. Member for Hyndburn referred to the 85% attainment level. However, only a small proportion of primary schools would fall into the category above 85%. Only 16% of schools currently have 85% or more of their pupils achieving the new, higher expectation of an equivalent of level 4b. When we add to that the fact that a school needs to achieve that for three years, it becomes a very small proportion.
We want all pupils to reach the level of attainment that makes them ready for secondary school. We therefore make no apology for having an attainment level, because we want to push the level up so that more—in fact, all—pupils are ready for secondary school when they leave primary school.
It will be less than 16% because we have to take into account the three-year requirement. As my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South pointed out, other tools can be used to ensure that those schools are performing well, one of which is Ofsted. Ofsted is quick to point out in its judgments when schools are not delivering for every ability range, which can lead a school to go into special measures despite having high attainment levels.
Amendment 80 would require a certificate from the UK Statistics Authority each time regulations are made, to certify that statistics have been used correctly. The data published in performance tables have been used for many years to assess schools’ performance and hold schools to account for the outcomes that they achieve. Those are the data we have used for many years to set the floor standards that determine when schools are failing to achieve our minimum expectations, and the data used by Ofsted in inspections and by schools to evaluate their own performance relative to others and to identify areas for improvement. The data are classified as official statistics and published in official statistical first releases every year. The DFE is currently working towards the designation of the data as national statistics. That is the highest quality mark that the UKSA can give official statistics. I am, therefore, very clear that the data we will use to define coasting schools are robust and independently verified. In light of that and the other arguments I have made, I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
That was interesting. We have discovered that, in bringing forward the proposals on coasting schools in clause 1, the Minister does not have any international model or comparisons in mind. He told us that, although other jurisdictions use data, he could not name one that took this approach towards coasting schools. That tells us that the Government are carrying out something of an experiment. It is not based on previous experiences elsewhere. Somebody always has to be first but, when embarking on an experiment with schools that will have an impact—one hopes, a positive impact, as the Minister intends—on the education of young people, it is wise and better to pilot it properly. That is especially so if it is a groundbreaking experiment that has no international example to call upon. At least amendment 75 has drawn out that fact; that this is a completely new approach that is not based on the high-achieving jurisdictions that Ministers are often keen to cite as evidence in support of their approach to education policy. That has been helpful.
In relation to data, no one doubts that these are official statistics; we understand that. It is not the raw data that count but how they are processed. We have seen that time and again during our discussions. What counts is the way data are contextualised and processed. That is why we called for a check on that from the body set up to verify statistics independently and appropriately by Government, namely the independent UK Statistics Authority. It might have been appropriate for the processed data rather than raw data to be subject to some stamp of approval from the UK Statistics Authority to ensure that the actions being taken are justified by the statistics. I will not press the amendment to a vote at this stage, but it has been a significant feature of our discussions.
We have also learned a little more from the Minister. We now have seven people holding the very important position of RSC. As our deliberations on the Bill progress, they expose the need for further scrutiny and transparency about the actions and work of regional schools commissioners. At this stage, in order to proceed and get on to the clause stand part debate, although there are many issues that we have not discussed, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
As we have discussed, the clause enables the Secretary of State via the regional schools commissioners to identify schools that are coasting, and gives her and the relevant local authority power to intervene in those schools when necessary. The Government’s manifesto was clear that, as well as moving more swiftly to tackle failure, a commitment to every child receiving a good education means that we must also tackle those schools that have been coasting.
The principles behind our coasting definition have been clear. We want to capture those schools where data show that over a three-year period they are failing to provide an acceptable level of education. Clause 1 would give us a regulation-making power allowing the Secretary of State to set out precisely what criteria sit behind the principles. The Committee has been able to consider the draft regulations in detail, but this debate has been helpful in reiterating some key points.
First, the draft regulations will not identify any school as coasting until after a school has performance results for 2014, 2015 and 2016. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question about the number of grammar schools which fall into the definition, it is very difficult until we have the 2016 results.
I should also point out to the hon. Member for Cardiff West that progress 8 and the new primary progress value-added measure compare pupils with others who have the same prior attainment. Grammar schools with a high-attaining intake will be compared against others with the same level of intake, as will schools with tougher and more challenging intakes. No school can be judged as coasting until 2016 results are available, so it would be wrong for us to try to estimate the number of grammar schools that might fall into the coasting definition.
Secondly, another principle established during this debate is that a school will only be coasting if it falls below the set level for three years. Thirdly, the draft regulations propose to set levels from 2016 against the new, robust accountability measures that will exist both for primary schools and, through progress 8, for secondary schools. For 2014 and 2015, prior to these new systems being in place, the regulations specify interim levels for these two years only. These levels have been set against the existing accountability measures that schools knew they were being held to in those two years. We are not applying the new accountability systems retrospectively.
We have committed to consulting publicly on the coasting definition in the regulations after the summer recess and will also use this opportunity to gather views on whether and how it might be possible to define “coasting” in pupil referral units and special schools.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West raised the issue of a school with a large special educational needs unit. Such schools will not automatically be excluded from the coasting definition. The presence and impact of a SEN unit is of course exactly the type of issue that we would expect the regional schools commissioner to consider when deciding whether a school that falls within the definition of “coasting” has the capacity to improve sufficiently or whether it requires support and challenge. The RSC will look at the data intelligently and at the circumstances of the school based on their experience and the advice of the headteachers’ board.
I am grateful to the Minister for referring back to that point. That almost seems to suggest that a school with a large unit of this kind is almost certainly to be categorised as “coasting” because of the rigid nature of the assessment. Does the Minister see how dispiriting it might be for a school that is doing work with children with special educational needs to find that it is deemed to be coasting due to the rather rigid definition in the regulations?
We want all pupils, regardless of their background or any special educational need, to do as well as possible. That is why it is important for the regional schools commissioner to look at the standard of SEN education as well as non-SEN education being delivered to pupils. So I do not apologise that a school with a large SEN unit will perhaps fall within the definition of coasting. Remember that the definition is based on prior attainment, and a school that takes a child with low prior attainment and manages to deliver a high-quality education will see very good progress levels recorded in their metrics.
Clause 1 provides that, once a school has fallen within the “coasting” definition and the Secretary of State has notified it, it will be eligible for intervention. We have been clear however that, unlike failing schools, in which intervention will be automatic and from day one, coasting schools will be given the opportunity to demonstrate that they can improve sufficiently.
Regional schools commissioners will take into account the context of the school—as I have just said with regard to schools with large SEN units—and will look at its capacity to improve sufficiently before deciding what support or intervention may be necessary. Some coasting schools may have the capacity to improve and, where this is the case, they should be given the opportunity to improve. Other coasting schools may require additional support and challenge from a national leader of education or a strong local school, but where a coasting school has no credible plan or is not improving sufficiently, the regional schools commissioner will be able to bring in an established academy sponsor.
Clause 1 reflects the Government’s commitment to social justice alongside other measures in the Bill. The clause should ensure that schools improve and children get the education that they deserve. I therefore move that the clause stand part of the Bill.
To reiterate what I said on the first group of amendments, we do not have a problem with the concept of trying to deal with coasting schools and schools that, although superficially doing well, are not meeting the needs of all their pupils in as effective a way as they can. There is a laudable aim behind what the Government are trying to do. The clause seems deceptively brief and simple, but it raises a series of issues that go to the heart of why there are flaws in the Government’s approach to improving coasting schools and schools more generally.
At the heart of the approach, I am sorry to say, there is a degree of political posturing. It seems that Ministers can, by legislating at the stroke of a pen, transform thousands of schools because they have a unique insight into what needs to be done. It seems that they have an insight that the tens of thousands of heads, teachers, parents, governors and others involved in the schools have for some reason never discovered.
Before we go into the detail of the muddle that is in the clause, it is useful to stand back and look at the fundamentals of the approach. We have already heard in debates on the amendments that the most effective school systems internationally are realising that the simplistic approach to ranking schools in order to praise some and blame others has had its day. We see that in Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Such approaches have had a part to play, but a lesson is emerging from the highest performing jurisdictions in Asia that perhaps times have moved on.
Nor do such effective systems agonise about school structures in the way that we seem to in this country as we try out different forms of governance. They get on with the fundamental task. The point that we have always made, which is at the heart of any attempt to improve our school system, is that we should try to improve the quality of teaching, learning and leadership within our schools. In other words, we need to design the systems to support teachers, rather than continually blame them. We need to focus on helping teachers to learn how to improve what they do.
I am afraid that we have been subject in recent years to the big man theory of education reform, which is that a great person will come along and transform everything. I prefer what I like to call the Sir David Brailsford approach to improvement. He was the coach of the very successful UK cycling team in the Olympics. He brought about that wonderful success through the accumulation of marginal gains over a period of time, and through understanding that we get improvement by tweaking what is wrong and improving the quality of staff and resources that are used to bring about improvement.
It is politically beguiling for Ministers to be able to claim to have transformed our schools system at the stroke of a pen, but it does not work that way. We all know it. Ministers in their heart of hearts know it. Certainly anybody who has ever worked in education and has been at the frontline in a classroom knows that improvements come about over a period of time. All the mantras and sloganising about instantly transforming schools overnight is a little misleading. We need quality leadership, quality local authorities and quality academy sponsors, and we need to work on developing those together, in partnership. That is the way forward.
It is instructive to look back at the coasting schools initiative started by our party at the latter end of the Labour Government, in 2008-09. No one can deny that some schools achieve well but do not do well enough. That is why we signalled our support for doing something about this, and we were in the process of doing so. The broad definition back then was that coasting schools had an intake that did not fulfil its earlier promise and could achieve more. We probably share some common ground with the Minister on that.
However, the current approach seems to have departed from that insight and is rather rigid. We thought that identification of coasting schools was better done by those who were close to the schools, which is why we wanted local authorities to be involved, taking into account local factors and individual circumstances. We heard earlier about schools with a large special educational needs unit. That should surely be taken into account in some way, shape or form before a “coasting” judgment is made, given the negative impact that the judgment could have if it is not justified.
Our proposals recognise that many factors can affect a school’s raw data. The word “coasting” is not always a fair description of a school with relatively high attainment but below-average progression. It cannot be a one-size-fits-all strategy, and that is why we asked local authorities to get involved in identifying schools appropriately. Such an approach is very different from the simple data-driven exercise that seems to be at the heart of the regulations. It will be interesting to see how the consultation that the Minister outlined pans out over coming months.
It has been suggested that the Government’s criteria will constitute guidance to regional schools commissioners—seven of whom, as we heard, are left out of the eight—rather than being applied automatically. We heard something about that from the Minister, but if it is the case, each commissioner will be asked to make judgments about several thousand schools, of which they can hardly have a detailed knowledge. We are concerned about regional schools commissioners’ capacity to carry out those functions.
When we were in government, we selected criteria that would support the identification of schools to which the definition “coasting” might reasonably apply. The Government seem, at least initially, to have selected criteria that are almost perfectly designed to miss the very schools that they say they are targeting. When the “coasting” definition is first introduced, any secondary school with an attainment level of above 60% for the GCSE measure will be exempt, even if they should be getting 80%. Why are they exempt at the beginning of the process? If it is so urgent for us to get this right from day one, why are those schools exempt? Would it not mean that they were coasting if they got 60% but should be getting 80%? Any primary school getting 85% of students to level 4 will be exempt, even if they should be getting 95% and lots of level 5s. Why? If that is the case, does it not mean that the school is coasting?
As far as progress measures are concerned, we know from research—my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley raised this issue earlier—that pupils starting at a lower level make slower progress, even when they are taught in the same school as pupils starting at a higher level. The Government’s measures, as outlined, will lead to the identification of schools with challenging intakes and will let off other schools with more favourable intakes, at least at the beginning.
At the extreme, it seems virtually impossible for a grammar school to be found to be coasting, but the Minister was not able to tell us about any number crunching that the Department has done on that. Why? It does not seem logical to assume that grammar schools cannot be coasting. Does the Minister think that there are no grammar schools that are currently coasting? And if he does think there are some that are coasting, why has he not more quickly devised a means to attempt to identify them, using some other means than these data, which will not enable us to do so, particularly in the early years?
This is what the Secretary of State said about all this:
“For too long, a group of coasting schools, many in leafy areas with more advantages than schools in disadvantaged communities, have fallen beneath the radar.”
So, according to the Secretary of State, at the heart of this policy are those schools in the “leafy” suburbs, which have strong intakes. She gives a very strong impression in her remarks that this policy is all about dealing with those coasting schools, and that they are to be found mainly in “leafy” suburbs, and have strong intakes. However, the point is that they will meet this measure, and yet they will still be failing their pupils in terms of their progress.
Some schools in “leafy” suburbs will meet the “coasting” definition, and some that are not in “leafy” suburbs will be above the “coasting” level. But many, many schools in “leafy” suburbs, which seem to be the hon. Gentleman’s main concern, will fall within the definition of “coasting” schools, notwithstanding the attainment levels of 60% for secondary schools and 85% for primary schools.
The Minister touched on the issue, saying that the Bill would pick up on underperformance and coasting in areas of affluence. I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the evidence given to the Committee by Rebecca Allen from the University of Central London. She said:
“My concern about the metrics that have been chosen to define coasting schools is that they display exactly the same type of what I call a social gradient. By that I mean that if a school serves an affluent community then it will not be judged to be coasting using these metrics.”––[Official Report, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee, 29 June 2015; c. 7, Q2.]
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is exactly the problem with this Bill?
Yes, and my hon. Friend has cited in an exemplary way the oral evidence that we were given, in order to bring home that point. It is a real point, and I am sure it is one that will emerge very strongly during the discussion of the Government’s draft regulations. That is because these schools are supposed to be the “coasting” schools, as defined by the phrases used by the Secretary of State, and not the ones with weaker-ability intakes, which seem to be destined, as per the evidence we heard from witnesses at the oral evidence sessions, to be hammered by the new definition.
However, there was a big difference in the approach that we had proposed previously. There was an interesting article recently in Schools Week by Laura McInerney, which I will quote from:
“Labour define coasting schools as those with GCSE scores above a threshold BUT have below average progress. Labour’s plan specifically targets the schools doing well in terms of their GCSE pass rates but whose pupils, having come in with average-to-high ability rates, only come out with Bs or As – rather than A*s.”
She went on:
“This compares to the current Conservative definition which specifically protects these sorts of schools by stopping any school above a 60% GCSE pass rate threshold from being considered as ‘coasting’. As datalab’s research shows this helps stop schools in wealthier areas – ‘the leafy suburbs’ – from being hit.”
I know that the Minister will go on to argue that if this is a problem—he does not seem to accept that it is—it will all disappear after 2018, because at that time “coasting” schools will be defined only by a progress measure. So, if we have got a problem here, I assume he will say, first, that it is not really a problem, and secondly, that if it is a problem at all, it will go away in time.
The problem is that schools with high-ability intakes tend to progress more quickly than those without such intakes. We should all be passionately interested in why this is. I think we can agree that we want to find ways to tackle that. Presumably, the Minister is hoping that Government policy is the way to do that so that people from a lower start can progress as quickly as people who have started from a higher level. We can debate that and have different views about the best way to achieve it, but I am sure it is an aim that we all share. However, that is not what the Secretary of State was talking about in relation to coasting schools when she made her remarks. In the absence of any other approach to coasting, the Government will end up targeting only schools with poorer intakes, rather then those in the leafy suburbs, which I thought was supposed to be the central point of the policy, certainly according to what the Secretary of State said.
What do the Government intend to do about these schools once they have been identified? We are told:
“Those that can improve will be supported to do so by our team of expert heads, and those that cannot will be turned into academies under the leadership of our expert school sponsors”.
The suspicion remains that forced academisation is really what this is all about, particularly in view of the academy performance targets that the seven remaining regional schools commissioners have, and of the point that was made in the Conservative manifesto.
There is also no sensible account in these proposals about the interaction between Ofsted and these measures. This came up in our oral evidence sessions. Are we going to get schools rated good and outstanding one week, only to be deemed to be coasting the very next week? How will staff, parents and pupils make any sense of it if they receive a letter from the school saying, “Our school has been rated ‘good’” or “Our school has been rated ‘outstanding’” one week, and the very next week they get a letter saying, “Our school is deemed to be ‘coasting’”? How will they, let alone the general public or the media, make any sense of it? What kind of headlines would it produce in the local papers for Members of Parliament concerned about schools in their constituencies? Will the Minister explain how that kind of situation would be managed? Would it have been better for some kind of interaction to be thought through between Ofsted and the coasting regulations and the way in which regional schools commissioners react to the coasting definitions? Could they have been made to interact more effectively so that such apparent anomalies would not arise? Perhaps the Minister is not worried about it, but it seems to me that it will cause confusion in the system.
My hon. Friend makes a point about the forced academisation of some schools in the “leafy” suburbs. Some schools in the “leafy” suburbs to the north of me are very small. We talk about class sizes of 30; I am not sure that some of these have school sizes of 30. Is an academisation process in those “leafy” suburbs unwelcome and perhaps financially unviable? Do they need to remain within the local authority education system?
My hon. Friend is better placed than me to comment on the schools in his area and his constituency, but he makes a very valid point when he say that the size of schools should be taken into account when considering these kinds of interventions and approaches.
A big difference between the approach that we favoured towards coasting schools and the current one is that we proposed a comprehensive package of support to help these schools improve.
Of course, it is perfectly possible for a small school or a school of any size to be coasting. The problem is that if we define coasting simply in terms of data, we know that data can be skewed when there is a smaller sample. It commonly happens that a relatively small difference, for example in the nature of the intake, can make a big difference in smaller schools to the result of an Ofsted inspection or the coasting regulation. The hon. Lady is right that any school might be in that category and we need a little more subtlety in the way in which we apply the data.
There is also the question, which we have discussed elsewhere, of what will happen to coasting academies. It remains to be seen where all the experts, heads and sponsors are to be found. More importantly, nowhere in the Government’s proposals is there any analysis of what will actually change in classrooms. Our concern was to focus on learning outcomes and approaches, rather than simply on structures. It was a serious attempt to address how to improve teachers and teaching and how to motivate and encourage pupils—and to have some resources to match that.
The initiative’s intention is laudable, but the execution is flawed. It is based on the Government’s view that change in structure is all that is needed. We do not think it will identify the right schools. We do not think it offers a proper analysis of why schools might be coasting or many useful suggestions about ways in which schools might be improved, other than the inevitable desire to force them to be academised.
Much of the Bill is less about action and more about seeming to act. Out in the real world it will make precious little difference, except to contribute more to the disillusionment that is so widespread in our schools, unless there is a better definition of coasting. I will quote Laura McInerney of Schools Week, who states that,
“if you truly want to find the real coasting schools then you wouldn’t begin with a definition, as is currently proposed until 2018, which protects those schools above a certain GCSE threshold. Instead, you would go after schools that have high GCSE pass rates and very low progress rates, just like the Labour plan suggested in 2008”.
Why have Ministers chosen to take this approach rather than an alternative approach, which truly would have identified those schools that the Secretary of State said she wanted to identify?
Let me briefly address some of the hon. Gentleman’s points. On “coasting” and “outstanding” schools, Ofsted’s judgments are a snapshot at any one given moment, whereas the definition of coasting takes into account three years of figures, so there will be discrepancies because of that, particularly if the Ofsted inspection took place some time ago.
Yes, and the data two or three years ago may be very different. It is only over three years that the definition of coasting kicks in and the school may have been below the level of coasting for two of those years, but Ofsted will not have regarded it as coasting, because it felt that there was capacity to improve, although in the third year the school failed to improve sufficiently to be taken out of the definition. As the definition of coasting permeates the education system, I think we will find that more and more people will take it into account as part of their analysis of data, when this type of analysis of schools is conducted.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the 60% attainment level not being fair, because it will exclude schools in affluent areas that have poor progress from the definition of coasting. We could have taken the approach of retrospectively applying the progress 8 measure to the years 2015 and 2014, but we felt that was not the right approach in assessing and applying the definition of coasting. By 2018, three years of progress 8 data will be available to regional schools commissioners, of whom, by the way, there are still eight, notwithstanding my tongue-in-cheek comment about there being seven, because Paul Smith does not leave office until December 2015 at the very earliest. In 2018, there will be three years of data but we felt that it would be wrong to retrospectively apply that.
We want primary schools to achieve the figure of 85% of students getting level 4s. If we had taken the Schools Week or the Labour party approach to looking only at schools above 85%, we would have ignored that whole tranche of schools with attainment that was above the floor but below the coasting definition—above 65% but below 85%. That would be a mistake because schools with between 35% and 15% of pupils not achieving level 4b in reading, writing and maths need to be addressed. We are keen to do that.
I hope that I have said enough to persuade the Committee to support this important clause. It is designed to deal with coasting schools and allows us to take the powers that we need to ensure that those schools receive intervention. If Opposition Members feel that we should include more schools in the definition of coasting or if they feel strongly that we should apply a retrospective measure to defining coasting in 2014-15, I urge them to respond to the consultation, or to respond now.
It is a bit early to respond to the consultation. For the record, although it is not our intention to vote against clause 1, because we think that coasting is an important matter, we reserve the right to come back to some of these issues on Report when we have had more of a chance to look at the regulations and hear other people’s responses.
On the basis of that intervention, I hope that Members agree that clause 1 should stand part of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Bill is intended to improve the overall quality of education received by children in England, and to improve the efficiency of adoption services. Clause 14 sets out consequential omissions to legislation as a result of the amendments made by the Bill. Those omissions are to three Acts: the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which was known as the ASCL Act to the irritation of the Association of School and College Leaders; the Education Act 2011; and the Children and Families Act 2014.
The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 includes a schedule that adds a subsection to the Education and Inspections Act 2006 relating to local authority powers to appoint additional governors where a school is eligible for intervention. This Bill removes that subsection. Consequently, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act will now be changed because it has redundant provisions. The same schedule applies to the definition of “working day” in part 4 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which relates to intervention powers of the local authority and the Secretary of State. As the Bill removes the “working day” definition, it should likewise be removed from schedule 13 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act.
The second Act that requires changes is the Education Act 2011, which makes amendments to the power in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 for the Secretary of State to direct a local authority to give a performance standard and safety warning notice. It also inserts a new section into the Academies Act 2010, concerning consultation on academy conversion. It is necessary to remove these sections from the Education Act 2011 as the Bill removes the changes it makes to other Acts.
Finally, the Children and Families Act 2014 inserts a section into the Adoption and Children Act 2002 concerning the recruitment, assessment and approval of prospective adopters. As that section is removed by the Bill, it is necessary to remove this section from the Adoption and Children Act 2002. The changes are technical but they are required to avoid confusion.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Transitional, saving and consequential provision
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 65, in clause 15, page 9, leave out lines 20 and 26.
This amendment is a consequence of the amendment on page 9, line 17 (amendment 64).
Amendments 64 and 65 would empower the Secretary of State to make orders by statutory instrument consequential to the provisions of the Bill. Clause 15 specifically allows an order to make changes to previous primary legislation. This does require affirmative resolutions, and other orders are subject to the negative resolution procedure. Implementing the legislation through clause 15 includes a Henry VIII provision to amend other primary legislation, and with these amendments we are probing the Government’s thoughts on that.
Clause 15 gives the Secretary of State the power to “amend, repeal or revoke” any existing legislation—including legislation made in this session—through secondary legislation, where changes are needed as a consequence of any provision of the Bill. Amendments 64 and 65 seek to remove this provision. Such powers of amendment are not unusual. For instance, they exist in the Education Act 2005 and the Education and Inspections Act 2006, both of which were passed by the previous Labour Government. They allow us to make changes to existing legislation that will be consequential to the new Act once it has Royal Assent. This will be necessary if, for instance, definitions in existing statute no longer make sense, or if a new legal provision makes existing law redundant. As I said, the Department has already identified some technical amendments to current legislation that will be needed as a result of the passage of the Bill.
The Committee will see that there is a complex chain of interactions between different pieces of education legislation. We want to ensure that we can identify other similar consequential changes that are necessary. The provisions that the hon. Gentleman seeks to remove enable this approach. Given these explanations, I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff West will be prepared to withdraw his amendments.
It is always worth pausing when there are Henry VIII-type provisions within a Bill. However, having heard the Minister’s explanation of the Government’s intent, it is not my intention to press these amendments to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With your permission, Mr Chope, I would like to consider clauses 16, 17 and 18 together. These are technical clauses which set out when the provisions in the Bill will come into force, their extent and the title by which the Act will be known, subject to Royal Assent. Clause 16 provides that the Bill applies to England and Wales only. As hon. Members will be aware, England and Wales are a single legal jurisdiction. However, as the explanatory notes set out, the provisions of the Bill apply only to schools and local authorities in England, as education is devolved to Wales. It will be for the Welsh Government to take a decision to apply these new provisions in Wales. The Bill does not apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have their own legal jurisdictions. They legislate for themselves upon educational matters.
Clause 17 provides for the commencement of the Bill, subject to Royal Assent. Clauses 1 to 14 will come into force on days appointed by the Secretary of State in commencement regulations. As we have discussed, the provisions for failing and coasting schools will come into effect at different times. No child should spend a single day in a school that is failing to provide an acceptable standard of education. For that reason, we will implement the provisions for failing schools as soon as possible after the Bill receives Royal Assent. For coasting schools, the draft regulations are clear that we will not identify any school as “coasting” until the 2016 results are available, and the relevant section will be commenced accordingly.
Clause 18 sets out that the Bill should be known as the Education and Adoption Act, should the Queen give her consent. That is considered to be a logical title. I therefore move that these clauses stand part of the Bill.
I am happy to allow these three clauses to be debated together.
Thank you, Mr Chope. I am happy to concur with your decision from the Chair to do that. I do not have much to say, other than to point out that we discussed earlier in the course of the Bill that the Government are now proposing to water down the proposals for so-called “EVEL”—English votes for English laws—and since they had two sets of proposals for EVEL, I said that this might be categorised as the lesser of two EVELs. Now it seems that that might be reversed and that some of the concessions given with regard to EVEL earlier in the course of our parliamentary procedures might be withdrawn because of a hissy fit from the Leader of the House following the SNP’s decision to vote on the foxhunting regulations.
I raise that because clause 16—perhaps confusingly, for some Members—says that this Act extends to England and Wales, being the legal jurisdiction. That throws up why the Government’s approach to all this could fall into confusion; perhaps it needs to be taken at a steadier pace, with some sort of constitutional convention. I raise the point that it could be technically possible under this Bill—although highly unlikely—that a school located in Wales could seek to open an academy in England. It might be technically possible; I do not know. Certainly, the issue of legal jurisdiction mentioned in clause 16 raises a lot of interesting questions; but I am not going to press them at this stage.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 16 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 17 and 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
New Clause 2
Duty to inspect Academy sponsors at prescribed intervals
(1) After section 5 of the Academies Act 2010, insert—
“Duty to inspect Academy sponsors at prescribed intervals
(1) It is the duty of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills—
(a) to inspect under this section every Academy sponsor in England to which this section applies, at such intervals as may be prescribed,
(b) to publish a report of the inspection,
(c) report on how far the education provided by the Academy sponsor—
(i) promotes high standards,
(ii) ensures fair access to opportunity for education and training, and
(iii) promotes the fulfilment of learning potential by every person in attendance at an Academy sponsored by the Academy sponsor,
(iv) meets the needs of disabled pupils and pupils who have special educational needs.
(2) The duty in subsection (1) does not apply where an Academy sponsor sponsors a single school.”—(Kevin Brennan.)
Currently the law does not provide specifically for the Ofsted inspection on academy sponsors, sometimes referred to as Academy Chains, or Multi Academy trusts. This new clause corrects that omission.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 4—Inspection of Academy sponsors in certain cases—
After section 4 of the Academies Act 2010 insert—
“4B Inspection of Academy sponsors in certain cases
(1) The Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills may inspect the overall performance of any Academy proprietor in performing their functions under an Academy agreement, and any ancillary functions.
(2) When requested to do so by the Secretary of State, the Chief Inspector must conduct an inspection under this section in relation to the person specified in the request.
(3) Such a request may specify particular matters which the Chief Inspector must inspect.
(4) Ancillary functions shall include any function that may be carried on by a local education authority.
(5) Before entering into Academy arrangements in relation to a school to which an Academy order under section 4(A1) has had effect with an Academy proprietor with whom the Secretary of State has existing Academy arrangements in relation to one or more other schools, he must receive a report from the Chief Inspector on the overall performance of the proprietor in performing their functions.”—(Louise Haigh.)
I apologise to anyone watching who might have got excited and thought that we had reached the end of the Bill when we got to clause 18. It is indeed the final clause in the Bill, but by convention we now move on to discuss any new clauses, of which there are two. They raise a substantial issue, on which we will be interested to hear the Minister’s response. Opposition Members consider that this is a fundamental lacuna in the current arrangements regarding the inspection of schools. I will be speaking to new clause 2 and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley has a new clause of her own, to which no doubt she will wish to speak.
The reluctance of Ministers to allow any normal public scrutiny of academy chains is of long standing. The Secretary of State and her predecessor consistently refused to allow Ofsted to inspect and make an overall judgment on chains. This new clause is intended to address that omission. The current Secretary of State sought to muddy the waters somewhat by arguing that,
“I am satisfied they”—
that is, Ofsted—
“can inspect constituent parts, they can particularly inspect school governance and support that chains are offering to schools within the chain. They can also do batch inspections.”
However, Her Majesty’s chief inspector’s response to that observation by the Secretary of State was unambiguous. He said:
“I do not have the powers to inspect and report on the overall effectiveness of multi-academy trusts.”
He went on to say:
“Of course it’s not just accountability to Ofsted that the DfE has a problem with. When asked in a PQ to publish the internal grades given by the DfE to chains, the response was that ‘The disclosure of this information would prejudice, or would be likely to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.’”
When people want to find out what grades the DFE gives to academy chains—these organisations that are charged with looking after the schools that our children attend—it would seem that, almost uniquely in the education ecology, their grades are not to be exposed. Pupils’ grades, schools’ grades and teachers’ grades are exposed but the chains’ grades are not to be exposed because the disclosure would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.
When asked through a freedom of information request for the same material, the reply from the Department was:
“Sponsor grades are subject to change”—
which is hardly surprising—
“and therefore the release of this potentially misleading information would not be in the public interest.”
That is an astonishing statement. Because the grades are subject to change, it would not be in the public interest to release them, because the grades are potentially misleading. I just do not understand how that can be the case. Either the grade is correct or it is not. If the grade is correct, it is not misleading to release it. If the grade changes in due course, that is good, possibly, if it is an improvement, although it might be a deterioration in the grade if an organisation is having problems. To suggest that it is potentially misleading to release the information simply because it is subject to change is of course absolute nonsense. Just imagine a school trying to make that argument stick in arguing with inspectors or anybody else. I would venture to suggest that it is hard to imagine Ministers showing much sympathy with that argument if it was put forward by a school.
The reality is that disclosure would prejudice not the conduct of public affairs but the conduct of private affairs and the reputation of Ministers. A big question mark might be raised over their policies if that information were put in the public domain because we know from Department for Education data that hardly any academy chains are above average in relation to pupil progress. We know that if we combine local authorities and academy chains, 47 out of the best-performing 50 are local authorities. We know from what Ofsted has been able to dig out—despite the restrictions placed on it—how poor the performance of some of those chains has been, including chains such as AET, Kemnal, the School Partnership Trust and Oasis. We heard earlier about the focused inspection on schools in the Collaborative Academies Trust, which said:
“Too many academies have not improved since joining the trust. Of the five academies that have had a full inspection since joining the trust, only one has improved its inspection grade compared with its predecessor school. Two have remained the same and two have declined. This means that, at the time of the focused inspection, there were not yet any good or outstanding academies in the trust. Leaders fully accept that improvement has not been fast enough.”
I accept that I could equally have read out a poor Ofsted rating for a poor local authority. I perfectly accept that that is the case. That is not the point. We want to know why Ministers are reluctant to allow Ofsted to do what it wants to do, in its independent capacity as an inspectorate, and inspect academy chains fully. We know that the DFE has had to stop 14 chains from taking any more schools. We have here a Bill that anticipates, according to the Prime Minister, more than 1,000 new sponsored academies being created during the course of this Parliament, but it does not provide any mechanism of public judgment on the quality of their sponsors who are ultimately all funded by the taxpayer.
There is no legitimate reason that we can see for Ministers not to accept this new clause. If they do not, it can only be that they do not have any confidence in those policies, and certainly no confidence that those policies would stand up to the kind of public scrutiny that we are calling for. Surely that is not the message that they want to send out to the public, who are, after all, ultimately bankrolling this brave new world that the Minister does not want to be subject to scrutiny. He may have seen an article that appeared in the TES last Friday under the headline, “Academy sponsors admit the schools ‘are not a panacea’”—I mentioned it earlier in our proceedings, but it contains some further interesting observations. It states:
“Academisation has swiftly become the cornerstone of the new government’s education agenda, with swathes of ‘failing’ and ‘coasting’ state schools facing conversion.
The expansion of the academies programme was always going to be controversial for those who argue that it represents a loss of democratic control and local accountability for state education. But a TES investigation has established that there are also serious doubts within the very organisations that ministers will be relying on to make their plans work.”
So the article raises serious doubts from the organisations themselves. It goes on to say:
many of them, in talking to the Times Educational Supplement—
“have revealed major misgivings about funding, capacity and the government’s ability to manage the expansion.”
Furthermore, it relates:
“The head of one large academy chain told TES that under the coalition government, DfE officials were ‘queuing up’ to hand over schools in special measures to willing academy sponsors. At one stage, officials even lost track of the number of academy orders that had been signed off.”
I cited the same quotation earlier as well.
I raise a couple of further points from the article. It went on to say:
“‘The two most successful academy chains, Ark and Harris, have also had the most investment,’ they added. ‘It’s an interesting point. If you don’t have a hedge fund or a Lord Harris, how do you grow as a chain? Where are they going to get these chains that will take on all of these schools rated inadequate?’”
It was a head of one of the smaller academy chains who made those remarks. Another person went on to say that the Education Funding Agency,
“don’t know their left hand from their right”.
The point I make is that there is a lot of criticism out there. Just how quickly the Government can respond remains to be seen, but one academy chief executive quoted in the article said:
“We’re building a system as we go along, but the EFA, the DfE and Ofsted don’t all agree on what good looks like. That needs to change—and quickly.”
There are real issues out there in relation to the inspection of academy chains and different views about how well they are performing. The Department for Education’s response, in that article, is inadequate. Judging by ministerial responses during the debate and the fact that the DFE cannot even publish consistent lists of free schools with the all-important ESTAB and URN numbers—let alone the name, charity number and company number of the academy trust behind each free school and academy—it seems, to me, to suggest that the DFE is having a problem with the administration of this system. Yet it claims to be up to running the two separate national education systems in this Bill. There is no reason why chains should not be inspected.
I refer briefly to the Education Committee, which looked into the matter of inspecting academy chains last year, and the exchanges that were reported on 15 October 2014 in The Guardian. At that time, the then Chair of the Education Select Committee, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), was questioning the Secretary of State about allowing Ofsted inspectors to question the leadership of academy chains and, indeed, to inspect them. He said, as reported by the Guardian:
“It’s absurd. It would be like trying to judge an army by only talking to people at the front line, and not having a meeting with the generals in charge”.
That was the comment from the Chair of the Select Committee to the Secretary of State. The following exchanges are all as reported by The Guardian. The Secretary of State’s reponse was:
“I’m not entirely sure that visiting the head office is actually going to yield more than going and talking to the people who are actually running the chains”.
That was her response to the point from the Chair of the Select Committee. He responded:
“You’re kidding me. If you wanted to know what was going on at Shell you’d be quite happy to be told: no, don’t go to the head office, just go round and visit their refineries.”
That is the Conservative Chair of the Select Committee on Education, speaking to the current Secretary of State last October. She again maintained that
“going to look at an office is not actually going to help”.
The Chair responded:
“That’s a bit trite, isn’t it? It’s not the office, it’s the people. Trying to find out who runs the organisation.”
There were further exchanges in that regard. The Secretary of State referred to the view of Her Majesty’s chief inspector. She said:
“I’ve had one conversation when we discussed it—”
before the Chair cut in and said:
“Did you do any listening? I am sorry to be so rude.”
There is clearly an issue of concern not just to Opposition Members. The Conservative Chair of the Education Committee was clearly exercised by the Government’s position regarding the inspection of academy chains. Like the Conservative Chair of the Education Committee it seems, we see no good reason why Her Majesty’s chief inspector should not be allowed to inspect the chains itself. Why is the chief inspector not allowed to inspect the chains? We need to hear more about that and a better response from the Schools Minister than we heard from the Secretary of State at the Select Committee. Does the DFE have something to hide? Why is it so intent on preventing the independent inspectorate from doing its job?
In another time and place, I was a fan of the original clause 4, but in this instance I prefer the new one. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn notes that on this matter I am on message.
As hon. Members can see, new clause 4, in similar fashion to new clause 2, would place a new duty on the chief inspector of Ofsted to inspect the overall performance of any academy chain, to ascertain whether it is carrying out its functions appropriately, and give the Secretary of State power to direct the chief inspector to inspect any academy chain and specify which areas he may wish to inspect.
In addition, before an existing chain takes over a new school under the powers in the Bill, the chief inspector would have to produce a report detailing the proprietor’s overall performance in performing its functions, including those that relate not only to the running of individual schools, but to the overall management of the group of schools and the support services it provides, in particular where those are equivalent to the roles performed by a local authority for other schools.
New clauses 4 and 2 go some way to opening up the accountability system within academies that have taken some time to catch up. The speed at which schools converted into academies or joined multi-academy trusts over the past three years has increased at a dramatic rate. In 2012-13, the Department opened three times as many sponsored academies as in 2011-12. By December 2014, 3,062 academies had converted to academy status, way in excess of expectations.
We heard in evidence session how some multi-academy trusts now provide their own shared services, even their own pupil referral units within the chain in the case of the Harris Federation. Some have their own training schools, replacing functions that universities perform, let alone local authorities. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect that proper rigorous accountability of the chains, which administer a significant proportion of the new schools, should follow such a rapid expansion. That is all the more important because, as the Committee has heard, performance levels between chains still suffer significant variation, with the Sutton Trust concluding in its report:
“The very poor results of some chains…for pupils…comprises a clear and urgent problem.”
In that context, Sir Michael Wilshaw called for the specific power that we are trying to lay down in the new clauses: that Ofsted be given specific powers to inspect academy chains. Such powers are already available so that it can inspect children’s services at a local council, for instance. The Secretary of State gave Ofsted directions within its existing powers to inspect academy chains, but not to pass judgment, instead focusing more narrowly on the group of schools within the chain. This is particularly concerning given the record of poor performance of some academy chains that the Sutton Trust rightly remarked upon.
To be fair to the Minister and the Government, during the previous Parliament they produced a detailed analysis of the performance of both local authorities and academy chains, which demonstrated that of the 20 academy chains, only three had added value above the national average, and some showed signs of serious underperformance and, occasionally, even a dramatic fall in performance once a conversion had taken place.
The National Audit Office warned that Ofsted’s inability to inspect academy chains means that
“there is no independent source of information about the quality of their work”,
and it called on the Government to ensure that the Department has
“an independent source of information for assessing the quality, capacity and performance of academy sponsors.”
Perhaps even worse, the funding arrangements by which academy chains receive all their public funding has also been found to be open to abuse and conflict of interest. The Education Committee said that the system of funding arrangements whereby the EFA acts as both a regulator and a funder
“lacks transparency, is heavily politicised and prone to favouritism”.
The Committee’s report concludes:
“Civil servants in the EFA have become very politicised”,
and schools may then be given preferential treatment, leaving the EFA wide open to conflicts of interest. That is in the context, as we heard earlier, of an accountability system going directly back to the Secretary of State using private contract law rather than public law and parliamentary accountability, as applies to maintained schools.
Given that, it is important to raise another concern: the widespread involvement of Conservative party donors in a number of academy chains. For example, David Ross has donated more than £250,000 to the Conservative party. He runs the David Ross Foundation, which has 30 academies incorporating primary, secondary, grammar and special schools, and is looking to take over more, especially if the Bill is passed.
Arpad Busson, the founding chairman of Ark Schools, gave £75,000, perhaps from the taxes he avoided as a non-dom, and of course the former Conservative treasurer, Lord Fink, is also heavily involved in the Ark chain. The Minister will be aware of the concerns raised downstairs by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) about the Inspiration Trust, an academy chain led by another Conservative party donor, Theodore Agnew, and whose Norwich federation board is chaired by a former Tory MP.
Is not the hon. Lady aware that all the gentlemen whom she listed are following in the footsteps of philanthropists in the United States in giving large sums of money and large amounts of their time and experience to the public good to raise academic standards in academy chains? She should applaud those individuals, not criticise them.
I absolutely applaud philanthropic activity. If that is genuinely the motivation of those individuals, I will certainly pass that on. My concern is around the conflicts of interest that independent auditors and the National Audit Office have raised about the Education Funding Agency, and those that are clearly apparent among these institutions. I do not think it is inappropriate to ask, as the Select Committee report did last year, what processes the Minister has in place to guard against certain trusts being given preferential treatment if, as we expect, the Government refuse to allow independent scrutineers to judge for themselves.
The context is important and demonstrates that the oversight and accountability of academy chains are far from ideal. Of course, some of the concerns are about wider issues, but our interest, especially in the Bill, is primarily in ensuring high quality education for all our children. New clause 4 goes some way to address that specific point.
A couple of examples from the Institute of Education report show the consequences of the lack of accountability directly for the management and oversight of schools. One interviewee described a case where a headteacher had spent more than £50,000 on a one-day training course run by a friend. In another case, one executive head was also the member of the wider chain, meaning that the executive head could appoint the board, which would then undertake performance management on their own school. Although the report states that that is clearly not widespread practice, it highlights how crucial it is to have an independent assessment and judgement of academy chains, and that is exactly what the new clauses seek to do.
New clauses 2 and 4 relate to inspection arrangements for academy trusts and sponsors. I agree that it is important that multi-academy trusts, including those led by sponsors, are held to account for their performance. The main way in which this should be done is through the individual Ofsted inspections of schools within their chain. The funding agreement with the Secretary of State allows the Department to take action where Ofsted finds that individual academies within the chain are failing.
The Secretary of State and the chief inspector at Ofsted agreed the arrangements for focus inspections of multi-academy trusts earlier this year. The agreement set out that there was no need to extend Ofsted’s remit to provide them with additional powers to inspect multi-academy trusts. These arrangements enable the assessment by Ofsted of the overall performance of a multi-academy trust, including the contribution and role that the sponsor plays in supporting and leading the effective governance of the trust and the improvement of its schools.
The core of these inspections is based on the inspection of a group of individual academies governed by the trust. In addition, Ofsted can seek the views of all the academies under the trust on the support they receive and use any data and information that they have about the trust and its academies. Ofsted uses this information to reach a view about the overall quality of the support and governance that the trust provides to its academies.
We therefore recognise the importance of holding academy chains to account, which is why we published a statistical working paper in March 2015 putting forward new measures for multi-academy trust educational performance. We have undertaken to make access to information about multi-academy trust performance more transparent and easier to access. We will improve the performance tables to ensure that they allow access to information on overall multi-academy trusts. A cycle of inspections is under way and Ofsted has so far inspected four multi-academy trusts and published reports on three.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley is enamoured of new clause 4, which also proposes requiring the chief inspector to provide a report on the performance of the trust before the Secretary of State can enter into a funding agreement with it in respect of an additional sponsored academy. This is also unnecessary. The Secretary of State already subjects sponsors and their trusts to thorough scrutiny through the regional schools commissioners before they are approved to take on sponsored academies. They consider all new sponsor applications in their regions, approving those that demonstrate that they have the capacity and expertise to turn failing schools around.
We are always looking for more sponsors of academy groups. The vast majority of sponsors to which the hon. Gentleman refers are existing schools that are graded good and outstanding by Ofsted, so they have a track record of high academic performance. It is not surprising that when those schools apply to become sponsors, they get through the system, because they have already shown an exemplary track record of delivering good quality education to their pupils.
Regional schools commissioners apply a rigorous assessment process, benefiting from the advice of the headteacher boards. That ensures that prospective sponsors have a strong track record in educational improvement and financial management and that their proposed trust has high quality leadership and appropriate governance. The majority of sponsors are high-performing schools, which have been subject to rigorous assessment by Ofsted.
After sponsors are approved, they remain under careful monitoring by the Department, which takes account of the trust’s capacity and track record in turning round the performance of academies, before allocating them to any new sponsored academies. Where academies are not making sufficient progress, this is challenged. Where it is clear that the trust is not improving the school, we will not hesitate to take action and re-broker it to another stronger trust.
The hon. Member for Cardiff West referred to the article by Warwick Mansell, in which he said that the DFE had published combined league tables of local authorities and academy chains and that the top 47 out of 50 were local authorities. He noted:
“That might not be a fair comparison”.
Mr Mansell’s claim is based on a partial reading of the statistics. Actually, that is exactly the accusation that the hon. Gentleman has laid at my door in these sittings—erroneously, I should add.
It is not surprising that there are many more local authorities than sponsors in the list, but there are only 20 academy chains in the analysis, compared with 100 local authorities. The working paper refers to two aspects of performance—current performance and improvements—and, on improvements, academy chains make up 10 of the top 50 slots. Given their relative numbers, they are disproportionately more likely to be among the top performers.
I think that the Minister said something different, but I understand his subsequent point so I will not press that any further. He did say, however, that I had said that that was perhaps not a fair comparison. Would it not be helpful if he sometimes said that about some of the comparisons he has regularly made, which have been criticised by the UK Statistics Authority?
As I said, the UK Statistics Authority was confident that what had been said by Ministers in the media and in the House was fine. When I have referred to the statistic about the improvement in sponsored academies over the past four years, I have compared that with the national improvement just to put that number into perspective. I have not claimed what the hon. Gentleman said I had about that figure, but a 6.4 percentage point improvement in schools’ GCSE results is stark compared with improvement of just over one percentage point in the system as a whole.
We are confident that the arrangements are effective and that they provide clear information about the effectiveness of the trust and enable appropriate decisions to be made in allocating sponsored academies. We are therefore clear that new clauses 2 and 4 are unnecessary.
The point is that they are being inspected by Ofsted, but through batched inspections of academies within a chain. It can also look at the quality of core services being provided by head office to those schools. It will look at the quality of the school improvement service and ask questions to the academies while it investigates the schools. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause.
I thank the Minister for his response, but we remain unconvinced. We do not quite understand why the Government have not given way, because quite a lot of points have been made, including by the cross-party Education Committee, on that. I was not really convinced when the Minister said that academy sponsors could be inspected. After all, Sir Michael Wilshaw was quite clear that he was extremely keen to have this power, and it would be useful for Ofsted to be able to do that.
We had no explanation of why academy sponsors’ internal grades, which are compiled by the DFE, are not made available to the public. Why should academy sponsors be allowed to coast and hide the assessment that has been made of their progress, achievement or attainment? Why are they exempt while everyone else has to be held to account, particularly when vast sums of public money are being given to sponsors to run schools and when the Government envisage a vast expansion of the money given to academy sponsors to run schools? That is the very purpose—or at least one of the likely consequences—of the provisions in the Bill. We therefore remain unconvinced that new clause 2 should not form part of the Bill.
My hon. Friend is right. We have seen a deep reluctance from the Department for Education to engage properly at times with the freedom of information legislation in its reaction to requests for information from members of the public, journalists, Members of Parliament and others.
We see that sometimes in the way in which parliamentary questions are answered, as I have highlighted. I appeal to Ministers to ensure, when they are going through their red boxes, that they send back inadequate responses if the drafting is the cause of the problem, or not to redraft them in a way that makes it necessary for Members such as myself to ask pursuant questions. That is a waste of public money, but it is what we will do until we get the answers. We could all save ourselves some time and misery by behaving differently.
The Government should publish the grades given to academy sponsors because that information is in the public interest and taxpayers’ money is being spent. We are talking about the future of our children and people being given funding to run some of our schools. It is perfectly reasonable for Her Majesty’s chief inspector to be given the power to inspect academy sponsors. The Education Committee has supported that request. On that basis, I would like to test the view of the Committee and ask my hon. Friends to join me in supporting new clause 2.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
On a point of order, Mr Chope. As we have reached the end of these proceedings, I thank you and Sir Alan for your careful chairing of these 12 sittings. When I say the figure 12, I am slightly hesitant now about whether I have got the mathematics right. It is all to do with adding back the denominator and the numerator when calculating what the denominator is. I shall stop digging and say that it has been a very good series of sittings. I thank all hon. Members on both sides for their attendance and their contributions. The hon. Member for Cardiff West persistently seeks examples of high performance, and I think it fair to say that the Committee has been an example of detailed and effective scrutiny of an important Bill.
I know from personal experience how much the burden of these debates falls on the Opposition, particularly on the Front-Bench speakers. Some 80 amendments were drafted by the Opposition and a staggering zero made it into the legislation. A less generous person might define that as a metric that should lead to special measures, but I think that it would be grossly unfair to regard either the hon. Member for Cardiff West or the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak as anything other than outstanding performers in this Committee. There was nothing coasting about any of the interventions by my hon. Friends or Opposition Members. I particularly thank both Whips—the hon. Member for Hyndburn and my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge—for keeping us all on track.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester for his efficiency in delivering in-flight refuelling, though on occasion, as just now, a little sooner would have been helpful. I thank both the Clerks and the Doorkeepers for managing the Committee. Last, but not least, I thank the officials from the Department, the lawyers and the Bill team who did so well in drafting the Bill that it leaves Committee as perfect as when it entered. Finally, I wish everyone a pleasant final week before heading off for a relaxing holiday and an intensive period in our constituencies over the summer Recess.
Further to that point of order, Mr Chope, I thank the Minister for his very kind remarks. He is courteous, as always, and he knows what it is like to sit on this side of the House. I have to say that having a score of 0 out of 80 when you honestly could not have tried harder is probably the worst school report you could get. However, I am grateful that he leavened that assessment with his kind remarks and I sympathise with the few problems he had with his maths towards the latter stages of the Bill. Now he knows what it feels like when he goes round schools in the country testing children on their times tables as they wander innocently through the corridors. Perhaps he will have a little more sympathy for them in future if they stutter slightly at his now infamous testing when he goes around looking at schools, occasionally terrorising pupils—not intentionally, I am sure—by asking them to recite their times tables.
I, too, thank everyone whom the Minister thanked. I thank you, Mr Chope, and Sir Alan for your chairmanship of the Committee and for keeping us in order throughout our proceedings. I thank my hon. Friends, all of whom made a great contribution, especially my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. It takes a great deal of work to scrutinise a Bill in opposition and there is a degree of whipping as well as presenting of amendments to be done. I also thank the members of staff and volunteers, because in Opposition, as the Minister for Schools will know, we do not have the Rolls-Royce service of the civil servants available to us. I thank them for their contribution to our proceedings. We have to rely a little bit on our wits and on limited resources—rather like the schools commissioners—and also on volunteers in order to carry out our duties. I thank the volunteers who have helped us, and also the Clerks of the Committee, the doorkeepers, the police and everybody else who has helped our proceedings. I thank the members of the public who have attended and followed our proceedings from a distance for their kind interest. I also thank the witnesses who gave evidence in our oral proceedings, and those who have taken the trouble to submit written evidence, for which we have all been very grateful as it has helped us in our efforts to scrutinise the Bill.
The Minister said that the Bill was perfectly drafted, and it emerges from Committee unscathed. This is true, although it is not unusual in the Commons. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Bill as it progresses to Report after the summer recess, and then goes to another place. It may well be that some of the fruit that we have attempted to shake from the tree with our efforts here in Committee in the Commons may be picked up and bear further fruit in the other place at a later stage. When the Bill eventually returns to us, if it has not been amended on Report and Third Reading in the Commons, it may well be that their lordships in due course will come up with some suggestions as to how the Bill might be amended and improved. I hope that I have not forgotten anyone.
I thank the Minister and the shadow Minister, and I shall report their kind and generous comments to my fellow Chairman, Sir Alan. Members of the Committee on both sides have made our collective job much easier than it might have been. It seems amazing that it is only 15 days ago at the first sitting that we were concerned about whether there would be space for us all to sit down. I can report that the Chairman of Ways and Means said today that from now on there will be a default seating arrangement in the Boothroyd Room. This means that it will be laid out for a Standing Committee to take evidence, and if it is changed the room will be put back into the original form, so no subsequent Committee will have that problem.
I add my thanks to the Clerks and particularly to the Scrutiny Unit, which had a big job to do on a Bill that was published very shortly after the general election. Without the Scrutiny Unit, we would not have been informed and able to ask questions during the oral evidence sessions. I thank the doorkeepers, Hansard and everyone else who has ensured that our proceedings have gone so smoothly. Thank you, too, to all Members, particularly new Members. I hope that they are wiser as a result of this experience of serving on a Standing Committee. There is a steep learning curve and, while I will not say that there is no room for improvement, I would certainly say that a lot of progress has been made.
Bill to be reported, without amendment.
Written evidence reported to the House
EAB 22 UNISON
EAB 23 NASUWT
EAB 24 Local Government Association
EAB 25 Peterborough Diocese Board of Education
EAB 26 National Governors’ Association
EAB 27 St Helens Council
EAB 28 National Union of Teachers
EAB 29 David McNaught
EAB 30 Independent Adoption Panel Chairs
EAB 31 Richard Harris
EAB 32 Parents Want a Say
EAB 33 Coram
EAB 34 Local Schools Network
EAB 35 Stockport Education Partnership Board
Education and Adoption Bill (Ninth sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Mr Christopher Chope, † Sir Alan Meale
† Berry, James (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con)
† Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)
† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)
† Drummond, Mrs Flick (Portsmouth South) (Con)
Esterson, Bill (Sefton Central) (Lab)
† Fernandes, Suella (Fareham) (Con)
† Gibb, Mr Nick (Minister for Schools)
† Haigh, Louise (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab)
† James, Margot (Stourbridge) (Con)
† Jones, Graham (Hyndburn) (Lab)
† Kyle, Peter (Hove) (Lab)
† Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma (South Shields) (Lab)
† McCabe, Steve (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
† Nokes, Caroline (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
† Pugh, John (Southport) (LD)
† Timpson, Edward (Minister for Children and Families)
† Tomlinson, Michael (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)
† Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con)
† Walker, Mr Robin (Worcester) (Con)
Wilson, Sammy (East Antrim) (DUP)
Fergus Reid, Glenn McKee, Joanna Welham, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 14 July 2015
[Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]
Education and Adoption Bill
Power to revoke Academy orders
I beg to move amendment 61, in clause 12, page 8, line 4, at beginning insert
“Except where an Academy Agreement has been made under section 1(3),”
This amendment is to establish the implications of this clause where an Academy Agreement has already been made.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 62, in clause 12, page 8, leave out lines 9 to 12
Requires any Order revoking an Academy Order to be made by a statutory instrument which has to be laid before Parliament.
Amendment 63, in clause 12, page 8, line 12, at end insert—
‘(4) The Secretary of State’s power in subsection (1) does not apply where the Secretary of State can revoke an Order under section 570 (Revocation and variation of certain orders and directions) Education Act 1996.”
A probing amendment to see if the existing mechanism for revoking orders which do not have to be made by statutory instrument applies.
I understand that you are not with us this afternoon, Sir Alan, so I take this opportunity to thank you for chairing our proceedings over the past few days. I speak for everyone when I say that we will all miss our get-togethers, but good things have to come to an end. Thank you for your fair chairmanship of our proceedings.
We now come to amendments 61 to 63, which relate to clause 12. Amendment 61 is designed to establish the implications of the clause where an academy agreement has already been made. Amendment 62 would require that any order revoking an academy order be made by a statutory instrument that has to be laid before Parliament. Amendment 63 is a probing amendment to see whether the existing mechanism for revoking orders that do not have to be made by statutory instrument applies.
Under section 4 of the Academies Act 2010, the Secretary of State has the power to make an academy order in two sets of circumstances: first, where an application for an academy order has been made in respect of the school, such as with a voluntary conversion; and, secondly, where the school is eligible for intervention within the meaning of part 4 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which has subsequently been amended.
The statutory guidance, “Schools causing concern”, makes it clear that conversion to sponsored academy status should be considered the normal means of improving a school where it has a history of sustained underperformance. Clause 12 inserts new section 5D into the 2010 Act. It allows the Secretary of State to revoke any academy order in relation to schools eligible for intervention. The explanatory notes give the example of a situation where the Secretary of State decides that it would be better to direct the local authority to close the school.
With amendment 61 we are probing on where, in the process of creating an academy, the power to revoke applies. Does it lapse when a funding agreement is signed, for example? That is not immediately obvious to us from the wording. If it does not lapse then, that radically undermines the position of academy trusts. If they have a seven-year contract, they might reasonably expect some clarity.
Given the implications of the clause and the potential for controversy, amendment 62 would require a statutory instrument to be laid, which could be prayed against. Would that not prove a useful safeguard in the circumstances?
We tabled amendment 63 to explore whether there are two bits of potentially contradictory legislation here. We look forward to the Minister’s explanation.
May I add my thanks to you, Sir Alan, for your professional and courteous chairing of the Committee? I am sure you will miss our deliberations as we go into the summer recess.
Amendments 61, 62 and 63 relate to the power in clause 12 for the Secretary of State to revoke academy orders. The Bill strengthens the Secretary of State’s powers to turn around failing schools by bringing in sponsors with the necessary expertise to raise standards. The Bill simplifies the process of conversion and reduces opportunities for ideological obstruction, ensuring that the necessary improvements to schools are secured more quickly.
There will, however, be rare circumstances where an academy order needs to be revoked. As the hon. Gentleman said, clause 12 addresses that by inserting new section 5D into the 2010 Act. That will allow the Secretary of State to revoke any Academy order issued to a school that is eligible for intervention. The Bill requires the Secretary of State to make an academy order for every school judged “inadequate” by Ofsted. The vast majority of those schools will become sponsored academies as a result.
Under clause 1, other schools will become eligible for intervention because they are coasting or, under other provisions, have failed to comply with a warning notice. In those circumstances, the regional schools commissioners may decide that the best strategy to tackle underperformance is for the school to become a sponsored academy. Those schools will also be issued with an academy order.
There might, however, be a small number of exceptional cases where the Secretary of State decides not to pursue academy conversion after an academy order has been issued. A school may, for example, prove to be unviable because of falling pupil numbers. As the hon. Gentleman alluded to in his opening remarks, in those circumstances closure would be more appropriate. One such example was Wakefield Pathways school, which was judged to require special measures in November 2014. After undertaking our due diligence, and with agreement from the local authority, the Department decided not to pursue sponsored academisation. The school’s falling pupil numbers meant that it is not considered to be viable and the children will be supported to move to other schools.
There may be other examples in the future. There may be an instance where a school has gone from “outstanding” to “inadequate” due to a specific safeguarding concern but that issue has been quickly resolved. In such a case, the Secretary of State may not view academisation as in the interests of the school or its pupils. She would be able to revoke the automatic academy order using the power in Clause 12.
In amendment 61, the hon. Member for Cardiff West seeks to remove the power of the Secretary of State to revoke an academy order after a funding agreement has already been signed. I understand that this is a probing amendment, to see at which point the power lapses. We do not believe that the amendment is necessary. Once a funding agreement has been signed, the academy will open. It is important to have the power to revoke an academy order prior and up to the point of the funding agreement being signed and an academy opening, for the reasons I have set out; but it would make no sense to have a power to revoke the academy order after this point.
Amendment 62 would require any revocation of an academy order to be made by statutory instrument. This is an unnecessary complication. We anticipate that the Secretary of State will use her power to revoke an academy order only in a very small number of exceptional cases. For each of these cases, of which I have already provided examples, the case for revoking an academy order is clear and straightforward. This amendment could create unnecessary and costly delays when the Secretary of State has determined that a school should be closed because it is not viable.
Amendment 63 would remove the provision in clause 12 enabling the Secretary of State to revoke an academy order, on the basis that she already has other powers regarding revocation and variation of certain orders and directions under section 570 of the Education Act 1996. Given our aim of simplifying the streamlining of the processes for turning around underperforming schools, it is important that there is a clause contained within the Education and Adoption Bill that applies specifically to the revocation of academy orders. The Bill is clear that the Secretary of State has a duty to automatically make an academy order for every school judged “inadequate” by Ofsted. It is only right that it should also contain a power that relates specifically to academy orders and permits the Secretary of State, in the exceptional circumstances which I have described, to revoke an order. It is important that these processes are clear on the face of the Bill and available for exceptional circumstances as they occur.
In view of this I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel reassured and withdraw his amendment.
Before we call Mr Brennan again, I have indicated to Mr Jones and Mr McCabe that it is okay to remove their jackets if they so wish. Other members are entitled to do the same, although no more.
Well, Sir Alan, we are all very grateful that you are protecting the interests of public decency at the same time as chairing our proceedings.
The Minister is right: these are probing amendments. We are trying to find out what the Government’s thinking is here and how far along the road this revocation could take place. He has given a further example to the one given in the explanatory notes. We would be interested in due course, perhaps, to hear about other circumstances in which a revocation order might be brought into play, but he has extended that in his remarks. I am not entirely clear until what point the power to revoke exists. I do not want to extend this into a clause stand part debate, but does the Minister have anything to add on whether the power to revoke exists only until the signing of the funding agreement? Unless he knows the answer now or I missed him saying it, I would be happy to hear it later.
The clause gives the power to revoke an academy order made on the grounds that a school is eligible for intervention. The Bill is clear that the Secretary of State must make an academy order for every school judged “inadequate” by Ofsted. The vast majority of those schools will become sponsored academies as a result. There will be other schools that have become eligible for intervention through being a coasting school or failing to comply with a warning notice, for which becoming a sponsored academy is also the best way of bringing about sufficient improvement. They will therefore also be issued with academy orders.
There might, however, be a small number of exceptional cases where the Secretary of State decides not to progress with academy conversion. Such a case might, for example, be where a school is not considered viable and closure is appropriate, or where a school has gone from “outstanding” to “inadequate” only because of a specific safeguarding concern that has quickly been resolved, rather than concerns about leadership or standards, so the school does not need the additional support and leadership of a sponsor.
When an academy order is made for a school that is eligible for intervention, through the new sections of the 2010 Act inserted by the Bill, the governing body and local authority have a duty to facilitate the conversion and comply with directions given by the Secretary of State. Where the Secretary of State made an academy order in relation to a school that was eligible for intervention and has subsequently decided not to proceed to enter into academy arrangements, it is desirable that she provides certainty for all those involved by revoking the order and telling those involved that she has done so.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 12 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
I beg to move amendment 66, in clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert—
“(a) in subsection (1) after (c) insert—
“() an Academy”;
This amendment would include Academies in the definition of maintained school in Part 4 (Schools causing concern) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 67, in clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert—
“(a) in subsection (1) after (c) insert—
“() a Pupil Referral Unit”;
This amendment would include Pupil Referral Units in the definition of maintained school in Part 4 (Schools causing concern) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.
Amendment 77, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
‘(2E) A maintained school under this section does not include—
(a) a maintained nursery school,
(b) a community or foundation special school, or
(c) a 16-19 school.”
This amendment would exclude certain maintained schools from these provisions.
We now finally come to the very first clause of the Bill, on the very last day of our proceedings. Clause 1 creates a new category of school eligible for intervention: coasting schools.
Although we have left this clause until last, we have probably had more submissions of evidence on it than any others. We have had external stakeholders’ views from, among others: the Institute of Education; the editor of Schools Week magazine; Professor Becky Francis, who spoke to us during an oral evidence session; the National Union of Teachers; the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers; Unison; the Association of School and College Leaders; PTA UK; St Helens Council; David McNaught, a former headteacher in Sheffield City Council; the Local Government Association; the Alliance for Inclusive Education; Bill Griffiths, a headteacher, primary consultant and national leader; the Association of Teachers and Lecturers; the Local Schools Network; Professor Gorard of Durham University; Alison O’Sullivan, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services; Russell Hobby of the National Association of Head Teachers; Dr Rebecca Allen from Education Datalab; and Robert Hill, visiting senior research fellow at King’s College London.
We have had a lot of interest in the clause, so it is right that we scrutinise it thoroughly today. I want to make it absolutely clear from the outset that we do not have a problem with the concept of a coasting school or the need to do something about schools that might be superficially doing well but are failing to fulfil their pupils’ potential. I said as much, as many colleagues will recall, on Second Reading. We do not have a problem with that construction at all. In fact, hon. Members will be aware that when we were in government, we wanted local authorities to identify coasting schools whose intake did not fulfil earlier promise and whose pupils had lost momentum and failed to make progress. Often, this is related to children or pupils with special educational needs who get left behind and can be disengaged from their education, but it is also applicable to able pupils not being stretched—not being challenged enough. In the latter stages of our time in office, we were developing plans for coasting schools to benefit from the support of other schools and leaders and to form trusts and federations to formalise the benefits of collaborative learning.
We therefore absolutely recognise the concern. However, we are not entirely convinced at this stage that the way in which the Government are dealing with this issue currently by attempting to legislate in this way in relation to coasting schools will necessarily work well. Furthermore, the draft regulations, which rigidly seek to define coasting schools in a way that produces significant anomalies and a competing means of judging schools beyond the inspectorate of Ofsted, is not necessarily the best way forward. That is why we seek to stress-test the Government’s approach vigorously and why we believe that the Government, as I said earlier, introduced the Bill before they had done enough work on defining exactly what they meant by a coasting school.
Amendment 66 would extend the provision of the Bill to cover academies. By amending clause 59 of the 2006 Act it would, in effect, extend all the provisions in this Bill to include academies. It seems to be the Government’s view that maintained schools that are experiencing difficulties need a fundamental change of structure, but that does not need to apply to academies.
When the hon. Member for Southport who is in his place this morning asked the Minister last week if:
“Coasting schools are to be forced to become academies. What is going to happen to coasting academies? Are they to be forced to become schools?”—[Official Report, 15 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1.]
he got very short shrift from the Minister. It seems that if academy status is right for failing and ultimately coasting maintained schools, it is right for failing or coasting academies too. However, they just get to “evolve”—I think that is the word the Minister used last week—possibly with a new name on the door.
This is very strange given that the Schools Minister told the Committee last week:
“The hon. Gentleman is also wrong to say that we see schools as a hierarchy with academies at the top and maintained schools at the bottom. We do not”.—[Official Report, 7 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 220.]
That statement was considered so unusual that it merited a story in “Schools Week”, as a result of what the Minister said. He actually went on to name some good maintained schools, after some prompting by me that he should adopt the one in one out policy of naming a good maintained schools after naming a good academy and conversely, naming a bad academy after a failing maintained school, possibly. I very much welcome that. However, it all turned out to be a little bit too good to be true, as apparently one of the schools he named, Roxham primary school, is in fact an academy, not a maintained school. Still, I suppose it is the thought that counts and we should be grateful for the fact that he believed that it was possible that a maintained school could be good; even if, as in this case, that was not actually true.
The impression that has been given by Ministers in the frequency of their praise for one type of school rather than another, and in their singling out of one for legislation over another—as is pertinent to these amendments—is that they do see schools in a hierarchy by type rather than by quality of performance—that is what people think.
One of the other ways in which they do that is through the use of statistics. We have had some exchanges during the course of our proceedings about statistics. I note from Warwick Mansell’s article in today’s Guardian that I am not the only one who has been concerned about the way in which Ministers use statistics. In fact, Warwick Mansell complained to the UK Statistics Authority about the use of a statistical publication released by the Department for Education in December, which was seized on by Ministers as a way of advocating more academies. The publication showed, quite correctly, that SATs results from 2012 to 2014 improved more quickly in sponsored academies than in non-academies.
Regular listeners and watchers of our proceedings will know that we have previously picked up on the issue of comparing sponsored academies with non-academies; there are some problems with making that comparison. Warwick Mansell took it as far as complaining to the UK Statistics Authority on the same grounds as those we mentioned last week, writing that,
“differences in results gains may not have been anything to do with whether the schools were academies or not. Rather, they seemed to be part of a general trend, for all schools, whereby those starting off with poor results in 2012-13 closed the gap on those that had been formerly ahead.”
It turns out that non-academies starting with the same generally poor test results as sponsored academies in 2013 registered faster improvement in 2014. Somehow or other, the Department for Education release on the statistics neglected to mention that. I do not know whether civil servants did not notice it or whether Ministers decided not to feature it, but that was the case.
As mentioned in Warwick Mansell’s article, the UK Statistics Authority has said that the Department for Education should, in future,
“state that the data as presented could not be used – by ministers and others – to imply a ‘causal link’ between academy status and improvements in test results.”
I hope that everybody heard that because it came from the UK Statistics Authority—the independent body set up by the Government to test the use of statistics by Ministers.
I would hate the hon. Gentleman not to include the full findings from the UK Statistics Authority, because it did say:
“The Authority has reviewed these uses of the statistics and concluded that the comments made by Ministers on the Today programme and in the House of Commons did not misrepresent the statistics.”
I am very grateful to the Minister for that clarification. I am sure that, in future, he will not imply a causal link. In time, perhaps we will see what the UK Statistics Authority makes of our exchanges. It is a timely reminder for us all to use statistics in the appropriate manner.
Currently, the only powers that Ministers have regarding academies are in their funding agreements. Given the way that funding agreements have changed over the years, there is no consistency in those powers. Some, but not all, mimic the language of the 2006 Act.
Coasting is not mentioned anywhere in funding agreements because the concept is only being introduced through this Bill and is not applicable to academies. It is not clear how the Minister’s right to intervene in coasting schools, under his proposed definition or any other, can be applied to an academy. The model funding agreement echoes the 2006 Act. It does not echo the Bill. No reasonable reader would imagine that the coasting provisions could be read into the existing funding agreements.
It seems that the Minister has a choice. He could accept our amendment, which would bring academies within the scope of the Bill, or he could renegotiate several thousand individual funding agreements to ensure that coasting academies do not escape the scrutiny and intervention that he thinks is so vitally important—not because they are maintained schools, but because coasting educational establishments have an impact and an effect on children.
A wider issue is the use of private law to manage academies that are causing concern. Becoming “of concern” is a private contract law matter between the Secretary of State and the academy trust, but public law is used to identify, support, manage and improve provision in maintained schools that are causing concern. The Government should be asked why they do not want to bring academies causing concern into public law. Under the coalition Government, certain academy matters were brought into public law, when they were faced with the reality of managing a public education service by contract law—the situation that we are rapidly moving towards.
There are several examples. One of the most important is special education provision in the Children and Families Act 2014. An academy trust had shown it did not have to admit a pupil with what was then called a statement of special educational needs. Another is pupil admissions in the Education Act 2011. The Minister and I both served on the Bill Committee for that. We argued very strongly for and achieved direct power of the school adjudicator over admission arrangements. That was a welcome development. There are several minor examples such as infant free school meals in the 2014 Act. Can the Minister explain why he wishes to use inflexible private contract law to manage academies causing concern when by amending the Bill we could make matters much more straightforward?
Amendment 67 is about pupil referral units or alternative provision, as they are often now called. They are similarly not covered by the 2006 Act. This applies to both local authority maintained schools and to alternative provision academies. There does not seem to be any particularly good reason why alternative provision should be outside the terms of the Bill, given that the units are increasingly taking on the characteristics of schools with their own governance and financial arrangements. In this respect the scene is very different to that in 2006. At that time, pupil referral units were usually fully controlled units of the local authority rather than autonomous schools. However, the criteria currently proposed would of course be entirely inappropriate for pupil referral units, so if they are to be included, there would need to be a significant rethink on definitions and criteria. The Bill presents an opportunity to address this anomaly and this amendment is to probe further the Government’s thinking on this matter.
While the Bill generally seems to have been ill-conceived—the fact that it has been dealt with in this back-to-front fashion shows how ill-prepared the Government were—does it not seem remarkable that alternative provision, the very pupils for whom one would have thought we would have the maximum concern, is relegated to two lines at the bottom of the Government’s explanatory statement, saying that they will consider the possibility of consulting on it later? That shows that the Government have not given any consideration to the needs of that particular group at all.
Yes. My hon. Friend again puts it more eloquently and accurately than I could have. There is a general concern about a lack of attention to pupils with special educational needs and disability needs in a lot of the Government’s thinking, not just with regard to the Bill and this particular provision but more broadly.
The Schools Minister answered written question No. 2637 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) on 22 June. We thank him for that answer, which stated that
“pupil referral units…will…not be eligible to be defined as coasting schools.”
It would, however, be possible to use secondary legislation under section 19 of the Education Act 1996 to include pupil referral units in the definition. The Minister said in Committee on 9 July, column 273, that he would consider extending the clause 7 duty to academise to pupil referral units using secondary legislation. We would welcome further clarity from the Minister on pupil referral units as well as his response to the remarks made by my hon. Friend in his intervention.
I am sorry to have to disagree with the hon. Member, because I have agreed with everything that he has said up to now, but there is another special problem with pupil referral units in so far as their population is very volatile; it changes all the time. A longitudinal assessment over three years might be quite hard to accomplish to help decide whether a school is coasting.
The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point and, as I said, we are probing the Government’s thinking about this. We must not lose sight of the fact that it is equally important—if not sometimes more important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak said—that provision is excellent for pupils in pupil referral units, pupils with special educational needs or disabilities and so on. We should have the same, if not more, passion about schools for them, as we do for schools in general. However it is achieved, it needs to be achieved—I think that we can probably agree on that.
Section 59 of the 2006 Act explicitly included all the types of school in amendment 77 in its definition of “maintained school”, and that definition is carried forward into this Bill. The draft regulations can be applied only to mainstream primary or secondary schools, however. The data used are obviously not applicable to either a nursery school or a 16-to-19 school, because they are based on key stage 2 and key stage 4 outcomes. Equally, the criteria are entirely inappropriate for special schools, where the same nationally set rates of progress cannot be expected. It is important that the legislation is explicit and accurate and that draft regulations cover the circumstances of all schools that are to be covered. Either the Bill or the regulations need to be changed, and we would be grateful if the Minister would clarify this matter.
May I add my thanks for your excellent chairmanship during these proceedings, Sir Alan. I rise in support of amendment 66 in the name of my hon. Friends. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State outlined the intention that,
“No child should have to put up with receiving an education that is anything less than good”,
before going on to say that,
“The measures in the Bill are designed to speed up the process by which underperforming schools are transformed”.—[Official Report, 22 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 638.]
Clause 1 specifies, however, that only a maintained school can fall under the proposed coasting regulations and, as we know, there is no provision whatever about transforming failing academies and failing academy chains, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West has already made clear. Indeed, under one of the measures of coasting—below 60% of pupils achieving grade A* to C at GCSE—the figures from the DFE performance tables are revealing.
The number of academies and free schools not meeting the 60% benchmark has almost trebled in the past three years, whereas the number of maintained schools failing to meet it has halved. They now very nearly match each other, with the number of maintained schools missing the benchmark falling from 1,445 to 854 and academies rising from 214 to 558. I appreciate that this is just one benchmark of the new coasting definition, but it is telling that the Government have chosen to focus their new performance measures entirely on maintained schools when, under their own terms, there is a clear issue with academies, and failing academies in particular, especially given that there were proportionally more inadequate academies than maintained schools as of April 2015. Further, and finally, as my hon. Friend mentioned, Opposition Members have serious concerns that this Bill will, yet again, leave academies free of direct parliamentary scrutiny, to be dealt with via private contract law behind closed doors. We hope that this amendment will go at least some way to increasing the scrutiny of academies and will allow standards to be raised for all schools.
The provisions in clauses 2 to 12 will allow us to tackle failing schools more swiftly. They build on the success of the academies programme established by Lord Adonis and expanded by the coalition Government, and this approach has contributed to a dramatic improvement in standards—over a million more children are now in “good” or “outstanding” schools than in 2010. Those measures will accelerate the process of intervention in failing schools by removing bureaucratic obstacles and making it more difficult for ideology to stand in the way of necessary improvements.
However, our commitment to social justice means that we need to go further. If we are to ensure that every child, regardless of background, receives the high-quality education to which they are entitled, we cannot settle for tackling failure only once it has arisen.
Clause 1 introduces new provisions to allow the Secretary of State to identify schools that are coasting so that regional schools commissioners can provide them the challenge and support that they need to improve. A coasting school is one that is not consistently ensuring that children reach their potential, whether in the inner city, a coastal town or a leafy suburb. In these circumstances, we believe that regional schools commissioners should be able to intervene so that all pupils receive the best start in life. Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations defining those schools deemed to be coasting and therefore eligible for intervention. To assist the Committee’s scrutiny of this clause, we have published draft regulations setting out our proposed definition.
No school will be identified as coasting until the end of 2016, when there will be three years of data available—for 2014, 2015 and 2016. A school will be deemed to be coasting when its performance data fall below an expected level in each of the previous three years. For secondary schools from 2016 onwards, the relevant measure will be progress 8. This is a robust metric, and it has been well received by schools and headteachers. It reflects our commitment to social justice by measuring the progress of all pupils in a range of subjects, rather than only the number of pupils falling above or below the C/D threshold. Progress 8 will be introduced from 2016, so by 2018 schools will be deemed to be coasting only if they have fallen below a level set against this strong metric for three years.
On a point that I raised during the evidence sessions, the Minister talks about progress 8 measurements, but will he go on the record and tell us where an assessment of parental contribution is included in the measurement of coasting schools? The issue of coasting schools in my region is largely in affluent areas and relates to the work that parents do that substitutes for the work of teachers. Will he address that point?
It is my view that the background of a child and the support, or lack of support, from parents should be irrelevant. The school should be helping children, regardless of their circumstances. So if a child does not have support from parents when they attend school, the expectation is that the school will make up that help. That is the purpose of the pupil premium. This is significant extra funding— £1,300 for every child in a primary school, nearly £1,000 for every child in a secondary school—because we are determined that, whatever the background or ability of a child, they should get the best education possible. That is the core social-justice objective behind all our school reforms for the past five years.
The Minister refers to the pupil premium, so we gravitate back to deprived areas, not affluent areas. In affluent areas, some children will receive the pupil premium, but far fewer. In some cases, it will be next to none or none. I am talking about affluent areas where the pupil premium is negligible. What about schools in those areas that do not receive the pupil premium and where the work of teachers is being substituted by the efforts of parents at home? How do we make an assessment of those two pillars of a child’s education?
Children from more deprived backgrounds attending those schools will also be expected to achieve well. That is why we are using a progress measure so that the school will benefit from helping those children to achieve well, regardless of their starting point. The metrics will reflect the support given to those children. The new metrics, which move away from focusing on the C/D borderline, or the level 4c/3a borderline in primary schools, will give schools in affluent areas more incentive to help children who start school at a low level than the previous metrics, which have been in place for a number of years.
It strikes me that we do not have any measure of tiger mums or tiger dads in all this. They play a crucial role in a child’s education, complementary to the education system, the school and the teachers. Where that effort is being made by tiger mums and tiger dads, how do we measure a coasting school?
No one should criticise parents for taking an interest in their children—we should be encouraging it throughout the population. The more children are read to by parents in their early years and throughout their childhood, the more effective readers those children will be in later life. It is a good thing for parents to support their child’s education, and we need to encourage rather than penalise that. I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to say that schools may actually be coasting, but the metrics and the performance of that school may not reflect that fact because it is masked by the help that parents give to children at home. [Interruption.] That is a valid point, but if the metrics show that all the children at that school are—by hook or by crook—achieving the expected level or beyond by the time they leave primary or secondary school, then that is a good thing.
We are worried that pupils are not progressing to their maximum potential. If the schools to which the hon Gentleman referred are not delivering a high level of achievement for those pupils who do have support from home, then that will be revealed in the progress measures. If a child starts primary school at age four or secondary school at age 11 with a high level of attainment because they have had support from their parents and the school is not adding value beyond the help that they already had before starting at that school, that will be reflected in the progress measures, both progress 8 and the progress measure at primary school.
The Minister draws on a point that was raised in the evidence session, which was the accelerant or social gradient that occurs in most affluent communities. He talks about measuring from the beginning to the end and seeing an improvement, and otherwise a school will be defined as coasting. However, we heard in the first evidence session that there is an accelerant in this. There is a social gradient, in which affluent kids bound onwards. Their educational improvement is not just linear but actually accelerates. Therefore, there will still be a problem in measuring the level of improvement for those children.
I will have to think further on what the hon. Gentleman says. I remain confident that the progress measure will reflect a lack of progress by pupils, at whatever speed and whichever point during their school career they make or fail to make the progress that they should be making, given their starting point. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about Rebecca Allen’s evidence in our first evidence session. She said that in non-affluent areas there might be a disincentive for schools to recruit high-ability teachers. She felt that those schools were unfairly penalised by the metrics that we used, and we were therefore compounding the problems that those schools faced by making it difficult for them to attract highly able teachers. The argument against her viewpoint is, of course, that you cannot have lower expectations for schools in more deprived areas than for schools in leafy suburbs. That is why we are determined to tackle coasting schools using the same metrics in more deprived areas as in affluent areas. We expect every child to receive the same quality of education as a child in a leafy suburb, regardless of their background.
I am sure that we will also discuss many of these points later in the clause stand part debate. What did the Minister mean when he said earlier that the level of parental support should be irrelevant—I think that was the word he used—because of the pupil premium? Is he really suggesting that a payment of £1,320 could compensate for a lack of parental support at home for pupils attending school?
We want it to be irrelevant. Of course, it is not irrelevant so far as the child is concerned. Supportive parents who encourage the children to do their homework and to read, who read to their children and take them to museums and theatres and around the country on trips, will of course all impact on the child’s education and ability to learn. However, if we want an education system that is needs-blind and tries to remedy all the problems that a child may face as a result of their background, we need to have very high expectations of every school, regardless of where it is situated and regardless of its intake. That has been the drive behind many of the education reforms implemented over the past five years, and behind the concept of the pupil premium.
The reason for the pupil premium is to provide extra funding for schools that face the challenges that the hon. Member for Hyndburn described. That is why significant sums of money totalling £2.5 billion a year have been allocated to schools, particularly to schools serving deprived areas. We want very high levels of expectation in schools.
I can take Opposition Members to schools that serve challenging areas and deliver the education that we want for every child in this country. They are managing to do it. I admit that they are fewer in number than we would like, but the Government’s ambition is to expand the number of schools that deliver high-quality education in areas of deprivation so that every single child reaches the expected level or beyond. Given that it can happen— for example, at the King Solomon Academy or the Ark Priory primary school in London—I do not see any argument, whether from Rebecca Allen or from the hon. Member for Hyndburn, that cannot be countermanded by those examples. We believe strongly that every school in every area is capable of delivering the high-quality education that we see in the best schools in the country.
If the pupil premium is the chosen means for compensating for the difficulties or deprivation that some children suffer, how concerned is the Minister that the National Audit Office has said that there is no evidence that the pupil premium is having any meaningful impact on achievement? The NAO is deeply concerned about how ineffectively it has been spent in some areas.
Of course I am concerned about those conclusions. The pupil premium enables schools to adopt approaches that will ensure that every child progresses and achieves the level of education that we all want. However, it is also a matter of what happens in schools. Combined with the pupil premium, we have policies, for example, on phonics—the most effective way of teaching children to read—that evidence from around the world and from this country shows are effective. We are looking at evidence about how to teach children mathematics. We have had teacher exchanges between Shanghai and this country. Shanghai is three years ahead in mathematics achievements for 15-year-olds. We are looking at methods that bring about results. In the Shanghai approach, every child achieves what they call “mastery”. They manage to achieve the same level of fluency as the brightest children in the class, and we want to bring that approach to the United Kingdom. It costs money, of course, but it is not just money; it is also approaches.
Sir Alan, I really want to hear more about Shanghai, but will the Minister explain the point about the pupil premium first? Perhaps we can come to Shanghai later. He said that the pupil premium was the instrument he was using to compensate for these concerns. What about the fact that the NAO says that there is no evidence that it is doing what the Minister claims?
Well, we want to ensure that schools have the resources to enable them to tackle poor performance among children from poorer backgrounds. We want to help those children to achieve as much as, if not more than, children from leafy suburbs. It is a matter not simply of resources but of the approach to education. We have established the Education Endowment Fund, which is looking at methods and bringing evidence-based approaches into our education system so that we can see what is effective in helping children to achieve most effectively. So it is not a one-club approach. It is a multi-club approach that looks at the best ways to deliver education to help all children.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is now up to the governing body to look into the effectiveness of the pupil premium and to report on how it is being spent? It needs to analyse what effect it has on the achievement of the children who get the pupil premium and the school as a whole.
My hon. Friend is right to describe her experience in Portsmouth. One requirement of the 2012 School Information Regulations, introduced by the previous coalition Government, is that schools state how they have spent the pupil premium and how effective they have been in raising educational standards for eligible children.
I shall move on to explain the definition of “coasting” for the purposes of clause 1. I have already set out the situation for secondary schools for 2016 onwards. I now want to set out the position for primary schools for 2016 onwards. For a school to be identified as “coasting”, it has to fall below both the attainment level and the progress measure. In 2016 the attainment threshold will be 85% of pupils meeting the new expected standard in reading, writing and maths. The progress measure will be calculated by comparing the results of pupils with similar starting points.
The key measures incorporated into both the primary and secondary coasting definitions will be introduced from 2016, giving schools time to prepare for the new arrangements. It will, therefore, be in 2018 that each school has three years of data reflecting those metrics. It is important, though, that we do not wait until 2018 to tackle coasting schools, so the draft regulations include interim measures for 2014 and 2015 data that reflect current accountability measures.
That approach will allow regional schools commissioners to begin identifying coasting schools from 2016 on the basis of three years’ data. In 2014 and 2015 only, a secondary school will be below the coasting level if under 60% of pupils achieve five or more A* to C grades, including English and maths, at GCSE; and if the percentage of pupils making expected progress is below the national median. We are not applying progress data retrospectively because that would be unfair for schools that have made curriculum choices that were reasonable for the accountability regime applying at the time of their choice.
A primary school will be below the coasting level if under 85% of pupils achieve level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics, and if the percentage of pupils making expected progress is below the national median.
Clause 1(3) would require the Secretary of State to notify a school when it is deemed to be coasting and, therefore, eligible for intervention. Once a school falls within the coasting definition, regional schools commissioners will consider whether the school has the capacity to secure the necessary improvements without formal intervention. In some cases, the school’s own leadership, perhaps a recently appointed head, may demonstrate that it has an effective plan to raise standards without significant external support. In other cases, more support will be necessary.
Coasting schools will have the opportunity to work with national leaders of education or stronger schools and other relevant experts to improve their performance. Where appropriate, the regional schools commissioners will use formal powers of intervention, including the new power in clause 4 to require the school to enter into arrangements such as collaboration with another school, or entering into a contract with another organisation to receive advice. Finally, clause 1 would also give regional schools commissioners the power to make an academy order in respect of a coasting school.
An explanatory statement sent to the Committee last week was clear that we will consult further on the definition of coasting, as the Bill progresses through Parliament and before regulations are finalised. That wider consultation will build on the discussions that we have already had with key organisations, many of which the hon. Member for Cardiff West listed as having an interest in the issue and submitting written evidence, including the Association of School and College Leaders, the NAHT, Ofsted, the National Secular Society and the Catholic Education Service.
Amendment 66 seeks to apply the statutory framework for defining coasting maintained schools to academies. Underperformance should not be tolerated in any school, whether maintained or an academy. There are now 5,043 open academies and free schools, the vast majority of which are successful, despite what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley said. In the small number of cases where we have had concerns about the performance of an academy, free school or sponsor, we have taken swift action to require improvements. Since 2010, we have issued 108 formal warning and pre-warning notices. Where it is clear that the capacity to make necessary changes does not exist, we will make new sponsor arrangements, as we have done in 75 cases.
Chatham grammar school for boys is one school that has benefited from a change of sponsor initiated by the Department. In June 2013, Ofsted deemed the school inadequate, and it was transferred to Rochester grammar school’s Thinking Schools Academy Trust. Its new sponsor, Rochester grammar school, is an outstanding school that is in the top 1% for attainment nationally. Its executive principal, Denise Shepherd, is a national leader of education. When Chatham grammar school for boys was re-inspected in September 2014, Ofsted found it to be good and commented:
“The executive principal provides exceptional leadership. Her swift actions to address inadequate teaching and leadership have resulted in rapid and sustainable improvements.”
A further example of the Department acting quickly to address performance issues is Minerva academy in Paddington, which was judged to require improvement by Ofsted in January 2014. We had concerns that the sponsor did not have the capacity to bring about sufficient improvement. It was therefore arranged for the school to move to a new sponsor—REAch2 Academy Trust—in September 2014. At a monitoring inspection in March 2015, Ofsted commented:
“The REAch 2 trust has provided the school with extensive challenge and support.”
It said that
“the academy trust acted quickly to review how effective the school was in its work with pupils and parents. They identified where the school was in its journey towards becoming a good school and in tackling the areas that required improvement…the trust, the local transition board, leaders and staff have a sharp understanding of where the school is and what is necessary to improve the school.”
“The comparison between pupils’ books from last academic year and this year is striking…Senior leaders have focused quickly on eradicating any inadequate teaching. This has been achieved and pupils across the school are making faster progress, as a result.”
Is there a cost for this commendable action whereby the Minister intervenes to switch sponsors for a school that has been lumbered with an inadequate sponsor? Some contractual arrangements must presumably change as a result of the switch. What is the average estimated cost, and who picks up the bill?
I will come back to the hon. Gentleman on the figures in a moment, but I want first to talk about the powers to intervene.
As my noble Friend Lord Nash made clear when he gave evidence to the Committee, we will be just as rigorous in identifying academies that fall within our coasting definition as we will be in the case of maintained schools. Just as I have outlined for maintained schools, any academy that falls within the coasting definition will be challenged and required to demonstrate that it can improve sufficiently or face further action.
The Minister describes commendable vigilance by the Department or heads of academy chains, but there will come a day when academies are perfectly standard, with lots of them right across the country. They may even form the larger proportion of the educational system. He is setting up a regime for identifying coasting schools, and he needs to make it future-proof. Is it not a very weak scheme if the only future-proof element is relying on the vigilance of future Ministers—Ministers who may not belong to his party and on whom he may not be able to rely to be vigilant?
The Minister must have a view on what will happen come the day when the majority of schools in this country are academies, some of which will be coasting. Do we not need an automatic trigger to indicate to the Department and other interested parties when things are not going as they should? To rely on the personal intervention of the Minister, Department or academy chain itself is a very weak system.
I do not agree, because we have established a network of regional schools commissioners. There are eight regional schools commissioners spread throughout England and they are supported with advice from local headteacher boards. That is the mechanism through which the Secretary of State and her Ministers can ensure that we are addressing failure in the academy system. The system is designed to address failure, not to intervene in success. Where schools and academies are successful, we do not want regional schools commissioners to intervene; we want to allow the devolution of power to the frontline, to teachers and headteachers.
I accept the Minister’s point; my own is simply this. In the Bill, there is an automatic trigger whereby one can identify coasting schools and address them in a particular way. Academies have no such automatic trigger. In terms of future-proofing the Bill, whether it be the schools commissioners, the academy chain or the Minister who have to act on the coasting element in academy chains or academies, there does not seem to be provision to avoid any lackadaisical approach by any of those parties. If they are not vigilant—and that is the only thing that the Bill in its current form relies upon—academies will coast and the intervention will not happen.
There are several points there. When one is dealing with a state education system one needs the elected officials to be vigilant—whether at local authority or national level. That is inherent in our democratic structure. If people are misguided enough to elect a Government in which Ministers are not vigilant, people have the right—as Nick Ridley famously said—to vote for unemployment. In a democracy, people have the right to vote for inadequate Ministers. I say that they ought not to do that; they ought to vote Conservative at every election to ensure that that will not be the case, but people in a democracy have that right and we see the consequences around the world.
On a more serious point, we will be updating the funding agreement to contain a comparable clause that defines the coasting definition. Of course, as the hon. Member for Cardiff West says, we cannot rewrite all 5,000 funding agreements, or however many there are. The way the system has worked is that those funding agreements have gone through an iteration process, so that when they are renegotiated and renewed, and when new schools obtain funding agreements, they will always be required to adopt the latest draft. Even before those provisions in the funding agreement, regional schools commissioners are very vigilant. They were appointed on the basis that they would be vigilant in identifying and tackling underperformance. They will now be guided by the definition of coasting in the way that they assess underperformance in the academy schools.
Does the Minister recognise that accepting cases where academies have to be brought within public law provision shows that, in a system where more and more schools become academies, relying only on funding agreements is a completely inadequate approach? It was all very well when academies had targeted intervention with a limited number of schools, but when the majority of secondary schools have become academised, as they are now, it starts to look inadequate. That is why the Government have had to accept some provision of public law over academies.
I do not accept that. We now have more than 1 million pupils in good and outstanding schools, compared with 2010. Much of that was a consequence of the academies programme: 60% of secondary schools and an increasing proportion of primary schools are now academies. That is why we have a situation in which so many schools are now good schools. I am just trying to find the proportion of school academies that are rated “good” and “outstanding”—I will come back to that in a moment. However, as hon. Members are aware, academies are charitable companies. They operate in accordance with the terms of the funding agreements between the trusts and the Secretary of State. This was a regulatory regime that the last Labour Government established. The contractual funding agreement between the academy trusts and the Secretary of State includes a clear, formal framework for action where there are concerns about the performance of an academy. We have demonstrated that we will take—and are taking—these steps. Given this separate robust framework, it is unnecessary and inappropriate to apply the statutory regulations to academies, as Opposition Members propose.
We want the academies regime to be as similar as possible to the regime that applies to independent schools, with the exception that, under the funding agreement, the academies are funded by the taxpayer and are therefore free to parents and pupils. We want professional autonomy for headteachers and teachers. That is a key feature of the academies programme and has been successful in ensuring that we now have more than 1 million pupils in good and outstanding schools in this country.
Amendment 67 would apply the coasting regulations to pupil referral units. The definition of a maintained school, to which the regulations apply, does not include pupil referral units at present. However, the Secretary of State has the power to extend any legislation that applies to maintained schools to pupil referral units under section 19 of and schedule 1 to the Education Act 1996. We want all schools to support their pupils to achieve their potential. The explanatory statement to the Committee confirmed that we plan to consult about possible approaches to addressing coasting in alternative provision, including how a coasting pupil referral unit might be defined, in due course.
Amendment 77 would exclude special schools, maintained nursery schools and 16-to-19 schools from the scope of clause 1. The Bill follows the definition of maintained schools in section 59 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which includes community or foundation special schools. Special schools should provide excellent education for their pupils, and we have high expectations for what children with special educational needs can achieve. It would be inappropriate and unfair, however, to apply exactly the same expectations of pupil performance to special schools. At present, for instance, we do not apply floor standards to special schools. Our explanatory statement was explicit that we do not intend to apply the same coasting definitions to special schools as are proposed for mainstream schools. We intend, however, to consult on whether and how to identify special schools that are coasting.
Some 1,100 academies and free schools are rated outstanding, and 2,231 are rated good. I think the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley referred to this, but only 3%, or 144 institutions, are inadequate. Many of those have come from challenging low starting points, having previously been failing schools.
Maintained nursery schools fall within the definition of maintained schools to which proposed new section 60B applies. However, in practice, maintained nursery schools do not fall within the coasting definition in the draft regulations. Our proposed definition is based on key stage 2 and key stage 4 results—assessments pupils take at the ages of 11 and 16.
The 16-to-19 institutions do not fall within the proposed coasting definition, nor the wider intervention powers that exist in the 2006 Act or the Academies Act 2010. Amendment 77 would exclude 16-to-19 schools from the definition and is therefore unnecessary.
We are tackling underperformance in 16-to-19 provision through other approaches. We have committed to introducing new headline performance measures and more rigorous minimum standards in 2016 so that accountability is based on robust performance data. Those measures focus on: progress, attainment, progress in English and maths GCSEs, retention, and destination data. That provides a comprehensive and rigorous way to compare schools and colleges and to hold them to account. Given that rather long explanation, I hope that Opposition Mems will withdraw their amendments.
May I point out to all hon. Members that while we have had a lively, informative and questioning debate, with a lot of participation, we have only three and three quarter hours to go? We have 15 amendments, six clauses and the Bill itself to debate before we conclude by 5 o’clock this afternoon. I question whether Members should spend a lot of time on stand parts. It is entirely up to you, but we should try not to repeat ourselves so that we can draw out more information on the Bill.
You are quite right, Sir Alan, to point out the time restrictions on us, although I am confident that we can have a thorough debate on clause 1, including clause stand part, and dispose of some other clauses more swiftly than we will necessarily dispose of this clause, which is at the heart of the Bill. The Minister said a number of things—more general points about the nature of the progress measure and so on—that will form part of the clause stand part debate, so I will not respond to them now.
Order. Mr Brennan, may I point out that it is the job of the Chair to ensure that the House is informed as much as possible on any particular Bill? What you do with the Bill in Committee is entirely up to you, on either side, but it might best serve the House if we became more informed of the contents of the Bill.
Thank you, Sir Alan. Of course I will follow your guidance. I am sure that we will manage to get through with your help and assistance.
I notice that in the Minister’s response to this group of amendments, he departed somewhat from the promise he made last week to adopt a one-in, one-out policy when mentioning the performance of schools. I am afraid that when he did mention the performance of an academy school, we did not get a similarly balanced response, highlighting a high-performing maintained school, although I mildly teased him about naming a maintained school that, in fact, was an academy.
I hope that the Minister instructs his officials to give him plenty of briefing material on high-performing maintained schools because that matters. It sends a signal to teachers, pupils, parents, communities and so on that Ministers care about it when their schools do well. It sends the message that Ministers think it is important, significant and should be celebrated, whatever kind of publicly funded school it is. Whether it is a maintained school or an academy, achievement needs to be celebrated equally, particularly as there are many examples, as the statistics have shown.
We can argue about the exact nature of the performance of the two different sectors, but there are many examples of great performance from schools in the maintained sector, as there are from academy schools. We should hold that achievement on an equal basis and be even-handed. I am happy and pleased to celebrate the performance of any school that is doing well by its pupils, whatever its structure. I hope that the Minister agrees with me.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. In September, I will write to every primary school in the country that gets 100% of its pupils through the phonic check that ensures that those children are reading fluently. I will also write to every primary school, regardless of whether they are an academy or a maintained school, where more than 95% of pupils achieve well in the phonic check.
Any praise that is equally and fairly distributed to schools for their performance will be most welcomed, I am sure, by everybody concerned.
Earlier, I indicated that amendments 67 and 77 really just probe the Government’s thinking. I think that the Minister understood that. It is not our intention to divide the Committee on those amendments. However, we remain concerned that there is not really a credible explanation of the way forward in relation to how academies will be included in the new regime of coasting schools. An opportunity has been missed to ensure that we have a robust system that would be applicable to all schools, regardless of status.
The Minister said that we need an education system that is needs-blind. I agree with that. We also need an education system that is, in a sense, structurally blind to the type of school that we are talking about. If a school is deemed to be eligible for intervention because it falls under the coasting regulations—we will argue later about whether the definitions are right—that eligibility should apply to all publicly funded schools.
Although the Minister said that he wants academies to be regulated as private schools are, there is one huge difference between academy schools and private schools: academy schools are funded by public money. We have to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being equally well scrutinised and spent on education in one form of taxpayer-funded school as in another.
In the absence of a credible explanation of how the coasting schools definition will apply and be enforced in relation to academies, and given that the Minister has admitted that it is impossible to amend the thousands of funding agreements for academies to achieve that, and that we have already brought academies into the public law system where there have been issues in the past, I will ask my hon. Friends to support a vote on amendment 66.
Question put, That the amendment be made:
I beg to move amendment 68, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, after “notified”, insert “in the prescribed manner as set out in regulations made under subsection (1A)”
The Bill does not address how and in what manner a school will be informed that it is coasting, or who should advise the Secretary of State on whether to notify a school that it is coasting. This amendment requires the Secretary of State to set out in regulations referenced in a new subsection (1A) how this will be done.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 69, in clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(1A) The Secretary of State must make regulations to define the manner in which a school governing body will be notified that he considers the school to be coasting.
(1B) Regulations made under subsection (1A) will require the Secretary of State to submit the advice of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills and the Regional School Commissioner to the school governing body.”
Amendment 70, in clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(1C) Regulations under subsection (1A) must—
(a) give the governing body and the maintaining local authority fifteen working days’ notice of the Secretary of State’s intention to notify the school that it is eligible for intervention,
(b) give the governing body and the maintaining local authority five working days to respond to the notice, and
(c) require the Secretary of State to consider any responses before confirming or otherwise the notice.”
This amendment aims to ensure there is a procedure of prior notification of an intention to notify the school it is coasting, and to provide for time for the local authority and school governing body to send responses for consideration by the Secretary of State.
Amendment 71, in clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(1D) Regulations under subsection (1A) must—
(a) require the governing body to inform all parents of registered pupils of the Secretary of State’s intention to notify the school that it is coasting,
(b) require the Secretary of State to convene a meeting for parents to explain the implications of the school being notified that it is coasting.”
This amendment aims to ensure parents know that the Secretary of State is intending to notify the school that it is coasting and to provide them with an opportunity to have their questions answered about a coasting notification.
Amendment 72, in clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(1E) The Secretary of State may not make an Academy Order under section 4(1)(b) of the Academies Act 2010 in respect of a maintained school he has notified under subsection (1) until two calendar years after the school was notified.”
This amendment prevents the Secretary of State requiring that a school be academised immediately after it has been notified that it is coasting.
Amendment 81, in clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
“(1F) Regulations under subsection (1A) and meeting the requirements at subsection (1B) relating to the advice of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills may include a requirement to take account of surveyed views of parents of registered pupils at the school about the quality of education provided by the school, and also those of parents in the immediate vicinity of the school whose children are not registered pupils at the school.”
The amendment allows Ofsted in advising whether a school is coasting to report the views of parents who choose not to send their child to the local school.
Amendment 78, in clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(3A) In section 73 (Interpretation of Part 4), at the appropriate place insert—
‘Regional Schools Commissioner is an official appointed by the Secretary of State, or in an area of a combined authority, and if so requested by the mayor, the mayor elected under arrangements made under Section 107A (Power to provide for election of mayor) Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016.’”
Legislation does not define the Regional Schools Commissioner. This definition provides such a definition and for the devolution of responsibility for the function to combined authorities with elected mayors.
Amendment 68 reflects the fact that the Bill does not address how and in what manner a school will be informed that it is coasting, or who should advise the Secretary of State to notify a school that it is coasting. Amendment 69 would require the advice of Her Majesty’s chief inspector to be taken into account.
Amendment 70 aims to ensure a procedure of prior notification of intent to notify a school that it is coasting and provide time for responses. Amendment 71 aims to ensure that parents know that the Secretary of State intends to notify the school that it is coasting and provide an opportunity to have questions about a coasting definition answered.
Amendment 72 would prevent the Secretary of State from requiring that a school be academised immediately after it has been notified that it is coasting. Amendment 78 reflects the fact that legislation does not define the regional schools commissioner. It would provide for that and the devolution of responsibility for the function to combined authorities with elected mayors.
Amendment 68 is intended to probe the Secretary of State about requiring him or her to set out in regulations how and in what manner a school will be informed that it is coasting. Amendments 69, 70 and 71 address the fact that the Bill gives us no indication how the Secretary of State will actually carry out the process of deciding that a school is coasting and informing a school of that decision.
Amendment 69 requires the process to be included in the regulations, then requires the Secretary of State to share the advice of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector and of the regional commissioner with the school concerned. Amendment 70 allows the school to make representations and requires the Secretary of State to consider them. Amendment 71 requires the governing body to inform parents of the decision and to explain in a public meeting the grounds for the decision and its implications for the school and parents.
That seems to us to be the basic process to which the Government should commit. The proposed criteria for coasting are at present entirely data-driven. It is universally recognised that they are flawed and I think the Minister has admitted that a lot more work has to be done on them in the months to come. In the 2009 initiative that I mentioned earlier, the Labour Government at that time asked local authorities to identify their coasting schools, taking into account local factors and individual circumstances, and to commission the right support in each case for those schools. That was not a crude data-driven exercise; it was a matter of considered educational judgment on the basis of a range of criteria. We believe that is how it is best done and why the views of professionals, such as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, should be sought.
The Parent-Teacher Association in its written evidence has expressed its concern. It argued in its submission, initially in relation to clause 8 but also applying to amendment 71, that the Bill:
“signals to parents that their views aren’t to be considered and positions them as unimportant, despite the prevailing research that confirms their engagement as important to their child’s education”.
The voice of parents seems to be completely missing from the debate, except where parents have been characterised as dark forces trying to undermine the Government’s intentions during the course of our debate.
This is an opportunity for Ministers to say what the role of parents is in helping their schools to improve, especially given the Secretary of State’s speech to the National Governors Association conference in 4 July, which looks to excluding parents from school governing bodies. For example, will the Government adopt the idea that we put into legislation in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 of having a mandatory parents’ council in trust schools? We would really like to hear from the Minister what he thinks is the parents’ role, other than to be obstructive to Government policy.
Amendment 72 prevents the Secretary of State requiring that a school be academised immediately after it has been notified that it is coasting. This is another probing amendment. Ministers have said that schools should have the opportunity to demonstrate that they can improve. We believe that if this initiative is just seen as a short cut to academisation, it will lose its value and credibility. The Government should come clean about this, because the Conservative manifesto stated on page 34 that coasting schools would be forcefully academised. It said:
“We will turn every failing and coasting secondary school into an academy”.
From what the Minister has said and from what the Bill explicitly says, that manifesto commitment is not, apparently, being brought into play by this piece of legislation—or is it? This amendment is probing to find out whether that commitment is lurking in the background surreptitiously in relation to this Bill, or whether the Government are serious in that they do not intend to implement that part of the Conservative manifesto word for word. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that.
Regarding amendment 78, devolution to cities in the form of combined authorities has been trumpeted by the Government—as we have heard at earlier stages of the Bill—particularly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at every opportunity, but in many respects this policy is likely to create even more confusion. It is unclear whether it applies outside cities. There is no coherent plan for combined authority areas, but merely a piecemeal development as to which areas pick up the proposals, so we will probably end up with weird boundaries and perhaps some areas left out. There is no consistency about the responsibilities that combined authorities will have. As a result, central Government will have responsibility for various services in some areas, but not in others, and that will be constantly changing. And, of course, it is a process that is not seen as a constitutional principle, but as a favour from the Chancellor of the Exchequer if and when he feels like granting it.
Nevertheless, precedents have been set for the devolution of transport, economic development, health, police and fire services to combined authorities. Programmes through the Skills Funding Agency are also proposed to be devolved, which are in the education area, and yet here we are, considering a Bill that goes in totally the opposite direction. This is a further step towards a totally centralised education system, with every significant decision being taken by Ministers or their appointees. We need to know why our great cities can be trusted to run their own affairs in so many areas but there is no suggestion that they should be allowed any say over schools and the education system in their area.
May I take the hon. Gentleman back to amendment 72? His amendment says that there should be a delay of two calendar years between an academy order being issued and a funding agreement being entered into. Is he saying that we should wait two years before we take action? Is the Labour party not as impatient about improving standards as we are on the Government side? Is two years, as far as he is concerned, an adequate and sufficiently short period of time in which a school can languish as a coasting school before action is taken?
No, the amendment does not say that. As I said at the outset, we tabled the amendment to probe the Government’s real intentions, because the Government have said that they want to give schools an opportunity to improve if there is a coasting finding under the regulations, and yet that seems to be at a disjuncture with what was said in the Conservative party manifesto. So we want to know whether the Minister has changed his mind about what is in the Conservative party manifesto, or whether the Bill will implement what is in the manifesto, but not say that that is what it is doing. I want to hear what the Minister has to say about that. I am as impatient as he is to make sure that we improve schools—all schools, as I said earlier, including maintained schools and academies—on an equal basis.
Amendment 78 says that we should consider whether using combined authorities is a good way forward. It provides for mayors of combined authorities to exercise the responsibilities that have been delegated to regional schools commissioners, just as they will take on the role of police and crime commissioners. Such a change would go with the grain of what the Government claim is one of their central strategies. It is surely clear by now that running an education system through central control is not the way forward. Even academies find the EFA and the Department for Education a source of endless frustration, because they really do not have a grip on what is going on.
There was an article in The Times Educational Supplement on 13 July, in which academy sponsors talked about their qualms about the rapid expansion of the academies programme and how they were being pushed to take on schools at a rate that they did not think appropriate:
“DfE officials were ‘queuing up’ to hand over schools in special measures to willing academy sponsors. At one stage, officials even lost track of the number of academy orders that had been signed off.”
So there is concern out there in relation to that level of bureaucracy and centralisation, as expressed in the article in The Times Educational Supplement. Interventions can also promote conflict between Government and local communities. We have just had an example of regional schools commissioners allowing a school in Redditch to change its age range in a way that will completely disrupt the local three-tier school system, despite 92% of consultees being opposed to that change. There is an interesting article about that in Schools Week of 10 July, which shows the kind of tension that can emerge between central Government and local communities unless there is a better relationship than has been outlined so far in relation to the Bill. This is what happens when there is no accountability to local communities, so we would like to see a step towards stronger local accountability.
There is also the issue of the commitment given in the schools White Paper issued by the Government in the previous Parliament—“The Importance of Teaching”, published in November 2010, on the commissioning role of the local authority. I asked the Secretary of State when she planned to implement the commitment that was given in paragraph 5.39 of the White Paper to consult with local authorities and academy sponsors on what role local authorities should play as strategic commissioners when all schools in an area have become academies. I asked on 22 June in a written question, No. 2886, which areas have no maintained secondary schools and when the Secretary of State was going to start the consultation. The Committee might, I think, be quite shocked to hear that the Schools Minister’s reply was not entirely forthcoming. Can the Minister state whether the 2010 White Paper commitment still stands, what conditions are likely to be opposed, and whether it would be better for consultations to start now, as local authorities might then encourage the remaining maintained schools to academise in order to be in a commissioning role? I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the status of that White Paper commitment—has it been abandoned or does it still stand?
Amendment 81 proposes that the Ofsted framework contain an additional requirement for the inspection of schools. It would require Ofsted to survey parents who live within a school’s catchment area but have chosen to send their child to a different school. It is intended to provide Ofsted and the school with richer information about the views of local parents—views that seem to be largely absent from the Bill. It would apply to both primary and secondary schools and we propose a consultation process for determining the weighting and reporting of the survey data within the final inspection judgment report.
It occurs to me that this would be a perfect opportunity to address some of the points raised earlier by our hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn. If parents are having to pay for additional services to compensate for the inadequacies of the school, it might be masked, as we have heard, by the assessments. If parents were able to reveal that information it would give the Minister access to a whole new range of data that we might otherwise miss.
Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend is right. It seems to me that it is important to understand what parents think about local schools and why it is that parents might choose to send their children to schools other than the one in their local area. It would give a bit more contextual information that could be useful for school improvement, a positive purpose. I wonder whether the Minister has considered this approach; it was something that was mentioned in our 21st century schools document some time ago. I should be grateful for the Minister’s response on that.
Amendments 68 to 72 and 78 all relate to how the Secretary of State will notify a school that it is being considered to be coasting. Clause 1 would insert proposed new section 60B into the Education and Inspections Act 2006. This provides that where a school has met the definition of coasting and the relevant regional schools commissioner acting on behalf of the Secretary of State has notified the governing body of that school that it is considered to be coasting, then the school will be eligible for intervention. The Bill takes the power for the Secretary of State to convert all coasting schools into academies. We are fulfilling the manifesto pledge to ensure that all failing and coasting schools become academies, unless of course the regional schools commissioner is convinced that the school has the ability to turn itself around so that it is no longer coasting.
The Minister refers to all coasting schools. However, in my experience and drawing on my past comments, I do not believe that all coasting schools will fall under this remit or fall foul of the guidelines and regulations, because they are themselves subjective. These are the Government’s regulations and the Government’s definition of what it means to be coasting. I must place it on the record that this is a subjective measure, and some schools in affluent areas where there are excellent parents will be coasting. It is to my disappointment that those schools will probably not cross the Minister’s desk.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point that there are some schools in affluent areas where the attainment level is so high that they will not fall within the definition of coasting. His argument is of course that those children have high attainment because of their parental and family backgrounds. However, this will be caught in due course, particularly at secondary level when the only measure to define a coasting school will be the progress measure.
The Minister’s answer is illuminating. He says that this will eventually be caught at secondary school level. Surely that is unacceptable, and those children should also be given the best education at primary school level. Primary schools that are coasting should be caught too, because early years education is fundamental. We should not have to rely on coasting schools being caught at secondary school level. It seems to me that the Minister has highlighted a flaw in his own argument.
At primary school we have an attainment level as well as a progress measure. The attainment level is 85% of pupils at the school achieving the expected level in reading, writing and maths. That is a very high level of attainment, and in due course that level can be raised. We spent the previous Parliament tackling failing schools. As a result of measures that were regarded by many Opposition Members as controversial, centralising and draconian, 60% of secondary schools and a rising percentage of primary schools are now academies. More than a million pupils are now in “good” or “outstanding” schools as a consequence of that policy. In this Parliament we are continuing that remorseless tackling of failure. That is why the Bill brings in an automatic academy order in the case of a school in special measures.
We are also now turning our attention to coasting schools, which is a development of what happened in the previous Parliament. We are taking it a stage further. As a first stage we have an attainment level of 85% and a measure of progress, so that schools with lower attainment but very significant progress will not fall within the definition. If the hon. Member for Hyndburn wants to press us to have an even more rigorous definition of coasting—and I hope he will respond to the consultation measure—we are always happy to be pushed to do more faster when it comes to tackling failure and underperformance in our schools. We felt that this was a fair definition, with a very high level of attainment in the first instance.
Does my hon. Friend agree that although Labour members of the Committee have mentioned the Conservative party manifesto, this is but one measure in a package with which the Conservative party aims to drive up standards and improve schools? Other measures such as fairer funding will also help in this area. Fairer funding for our schools in Dorset will certainly be a welcome measure as part of a package.
My hon. Friend never misses an opportunity to advocate on behalf of his constituency. He did it within days of arriving in this place and he continues to do it, arguing for fairer funding for those local authorities which, for historic reasons, have an unfair system. In fact, I am surrounded by hon. Members who continue to make this point, which has not failed to register with me and with the Secretary of State.
The Minister rightly makes a clear distinction between primary and secondary schools. Secondary schools have larger catchment areas, are under greater scrutiny and are more likely to be identified as coasting. He draws on the issue of primary schools and I concur with his comments. I am deeply concerned that this is an issue about deprivation when, actually, it should be about schools in affluent areas. That is where coasting occurs and the Bill should be targeted at affluent areas where coasting schools exist. There are smaller schools, primary schools with small intakes in affluent areas, where the parents are doing the bulk of the work and the teachers, in some cases, are not stretching themselves and stretching the middle-class, or more wealthy, affluent pupils. I want the Minister to focus on that. He is right to say that the greatest problem of coasting may occur at primary school level in affluent areas. Let us move away from deprivation and focus on affluence, because coasting primarily occurs in affluent areas, in my experience.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. These are issues we have addressed and considered. A step-by-step approach is needed to tackle under- performance in our schools. We tackled failure in the last Parliament; we continue to tackle failure in this Parliament. We now have a definition of coasting for primary schools that includes attainment, but it is a very high level of attainment: 85% is a high measure of attainment in reading, writing and maths, combined with a progress measure. We think that that is the right approach for now.
Of course, we are always open to people responding to the consultation process, but our focus has been and remains on areas of deprivation. If Members are as concerned as we are—and I do not doubt that the hon. Member for Hyndburn is—about social justice and ensuring that young people from deprived areas get the best education possible, they will accept that it is necessary to focus the resources of the Department on areas of deprivation. That has been and remains our focus, but we are also open to hearing responses to the consultation process.
I do not disagree: that is why we are looking at the progress measure of schools in affluent as well as more deprived areas. Regional schools commissioners will be looking at all schools where there is under- performance—we are determined to tackle coasting schools wherever they occur.
The hon. Gentleman, as always, makes a pithy intervention. The hon. Member for Hyndburn makes the very valid point that we have to address coasting schools and failure wherever they exist, but my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South is also right to say that we can use tools other than the definition of coasting to tackle underperformance. There are other measures that help schools deal with underperformance that do not always use the accountability regime but show how good schools around the country are delivering high standards of education. They include using synthetic phonics approaches to teach reading, Shanghai maths or a knowledge-based curriculum. Those measures and our other reforms to the curriculum and the examination system are all designed to raise standards right across the board.
Amendments 68, 69 and 70 would require the Secretary of State to specify in regulations exactly how and when she will make the notification. They would also add several procedural requirements to the notification process.
The measures that we have used in the definition of coasting are objective and transparent; they are not, as the hon. Member for Hyndburn said—or it may have been the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak—subjective. As the Secretary of State set out on Second Reading, the coasting definition is based on several principles. First, it is based on pupil performance data, not a single Ofsted judgment. Secondly, it takes into account the progress pupils make and whether they achieve their potential based on their starting point. Finally, it will be based on performance over three years—identifying schools that have been coasting for a period of time—rather than on the basis of a single set of results. The coasting definition is therefore based on data with which schools will already be familiar, and which headteachers and governors will already be monitoring each year. Schools will be able to assess for themselves whether they meet the coasting definition and most coasting schools are likely to identify that they meet the definition as soon as they receive their assessment or GCSE results, even before they receive notification from the relevant regional schools commissioner.
The regional schools commissioner’s notification to a school is the beginning of a process. Where headteachers and governors have an effective plan to ensure sufficient improvement, they will be given the time and space to do so. Only where the capacity to improve sufficiently is not evident will the regional schools commissioner require the school to accept additional support. Academisation with a sponsor will not be the right decision for every coasting school and some will have the capacity to bring about sufficient improvement themselves so that they are no longer coasting and need no further intervention.
Once schools have been notified that they are coasting, they will be allowed time to develop an improvement plan and to discuss it with the regional schools commissioner. If the regional schools commissioner agrees that the plan is likely to deliver improvements in academic standards, they will be allowed time to implement it. We will publish a new version of the statutory guidance on schools causing concern for consultation, reflecting the changes in the Bill and setting out how regional schools commissioners will exercise their discretion to support schools and decide when further intervention is necessary. Where appropriate, regional schools commissioners may signpost coasting schools to sources of school improvement support such as national leaders of education or the NAHT’s Aspire programme.
Amendment 69 proposes that the advice of Ofsted should be provided together with the advice of regional schools commissioners to governing bodies of schools that are considered coasting. The coasting definition is based on data, not Ofsted judgments. Ofsted judgments will of course remain significant for other purposes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South said. They will determine when a school is failing and help to identify where other interventions may be necessary. Regional schools commissioners will want to consider recent Ofsted findings when deciding what action may be needed in a coasting school. In my view, amendments 68, 69 and 70 are therefore unnecessary.
Amendment 71 would require the governing body to notify parents when a school is deemed to be coasting. It would also require the Secretary of State to convene a meeting with parents to explain the implications.
The coasting definition uses performance data that the Department publishes. Parents are able therefore to monitor a school’s performance and challenge it if they are concerned that it is not performing well enough or that it meets the definition of coasting. Where a school is taking action to raise standards, it will want to engage staff and parents in discussions. We do not believe that it is necessary to include this requirement in legislation or require the regional schools commissioner to convene meetings directly. Schools should have the flexibility to engage with parents in the way most suitable to their circumstances. There is no requirement for local authorities or the Secretary of State to interact with parents in this way when schools become eligible for intervention via any other route under current legislation or elsewhere in the Bill.
I take the point that the hon. Member for Cardiff West raised about the importance of parental involvement. Parents have a very important role to play: they hold school leaders and governing bodies to account locally for what the school is doing to ensure that it makes progress. They challenge headteachers and governors where they do not think that enough is being done. As I said, performance data are available, so they can be used to hold schools to account. Schools will want to engage parents locally in their actions to bring about improvements. We believe that it is right for schools to make that decision about how and when to consult parents and that it is not a matter for legislation.
Amendment 81 would require the regional schools commissioner, when deciding whether a school should be considered to be coasting, to take account of views gathered through surveys of parents of pupils at the school, and also parents of pupils not at the school but who live in the immediate vicinity. Regional schools commissioners will have discretion to use additional information to make their judgments about whether and how to act in coasting schools. That may often include the views of parents and the local community. However, it would not be appropriate to specify in regulations exactly what information they will take into account. The regional schools commissioners must have discretion and flexibility to make their own judgments.
Amendment 72 would prevent regional schools commissioners from making an academy order in respect of a coasting school until two calendar years after the school was notified that it was coasting. Where headteachers and governors have a robust plan to ensure sufficient improvement, they will be given the time and support to do so. Only where the regional schools commissioner judges that a school does not have a rigorous plan and sufficient capacity to improve, and that the school’s becoming a sponsored academy is the best way to bring about improvement, will the regional schools commissioner make an academy order.
The regional schools commissioner must have discretion and flexibility to make that judgment. Where he or she judges that a sponsored academy solution is necessary, there should not be a delay of up to two years before that improvement can happen. That delay would do nothing to benefit pupils. I therefore oppose the amendment, although I take the point that, so far as the hon. Member for Cardiff West is concerned, it is a probing amendment and does not reflect any real desire for a two-year delay in taking action to deal with a coasting school.
Amendment 78 would insert a definition of regional schools commissioners, defining them as officials appointed by the Secretary of State. It also proposes that an elected mayor of a combined authority should be able to appoint the regional schools commissioner for their area in place of the Secretary of State, if they request that power. It is not necessary for regional schools commissioners to be defined in the Bill, because in all cases the powers and duties are held by the Secretary of State. The regional schools commissioner will exercise those powers and duties on her behalf. The accountability for decisions remains unchanged—the Secretary of State remains fully accountable to Parliament for decisions made by the regional schools commissioners.
Opposition Members have proposed that elected mayors should be able to appoint regional schools commissioners. They already receive local support and advice. Each regional schools commissioner is advised by a headteacher board of academy headteachers to ensure that local knowledge and expertise informs their decisions. They operate locally: they are based in their regions, and are on the ground visiting schools and meeting local authorities and dioceses. They often run events locally for schools and sponsors in their regions. Regional schools commissioners also operate openly and are accessible to the public, and parents can and do write directly to them with local issues and concerns. Regional schools commissioners and headteacher boards have been operating for less than a year, but we have already seen the substantial benefits of their work with academies and sponsors for their regions.
The current structure for regional schools commissioners, with eight large regions, has been designed to spread expertise and experience in improving schools across wider geographical areas. For example, London has a strong track record of school improvement concentrated within the city, with some very experienced sponsors working there. Dividing London into three different regional schools commissioner regions, along with wider areas outside London, has enabled the spread of that expertise into those wider areas. The Committee has already heard about this in oral evidence from Tim Coulson, the regional schools commissioner for the east of England and north-east London. Aligning regional schools commissioners with the potentially much smaller areas covered by elected mayors might make that spread of expertise more difficult. Regional schools commissioners already work closely with local authorities in their regions, so we would expect them to work just as closely with combined authorities under an elected mayor. We therefore regard amendment 78 as unnecessary. I hope that, following those remarks, the hon. Member for Cardiff West will not press his amendments.
One could observe that the last example is not a very good one, because in the case of London, the elected Mayor would cover all three of the regional schools commissioners that the Minister said were responsible for parts of London. However, I accept his point about his intentions for areas that should be covered by regional schools commissioners.
The issue of accountability will inevitably return. History shows us that Ministers being responsible for appointing officials with a great deal of influence and power is not ultimately an effective or appropriate way to run public services. We found that in the 1980s and 1990s with the quango-isation of a lot of the state. Appointing people to positions of great influence and power with command over public resources simply through a phone call from the Minister to someone they happen to know, have met down the club or think are particularly good is not a sustainable system in the longer term.
I accept that the system that the Minister has set up is new. However, with the powerful positions that he is creating outside statute, simply by virtue of their being appointed by the Secretary of State in a not terribly transparent manner, accountability will have to be more than accountability to a group of academy heads. Having said that, the amendments are probing, so I do not intend to press them to a vote.
We did not hear much from the Minister about the status of the White Paper from 2010. Will he respond to my points in writing?
I apologise for omitting that. The commitment in the schools White Paper was to consult on local authorities’ role in school improvement when they do not have any maintained schools left. As yet, there are no local authorities where all maintained schools have become academies, so there has been no need to consult in the way set out in “The Importance of Teaching” White Paper. We continue to consider the important evolutionary role of local authorities. We will consult on how the role has changed in the statutory guidance on schools causing concern, and discuss that with local authorities at a national and local level.
I thank the Minister for that. It is helpful to know that the matter is still under consideration and that the White Paper commitment has not been completely wiped out as a result of subsequent changes. I will certainly reflect on his comments, which I welcome.
I would also like the Minister to consider my point about the role of parent councils. We feel that parents are largely missing from the Bill. They have been referred to as more of a hindrance than a help to the educational system, and he needs to reflect on that.
On academisation, there is likely to be a rapid expansion as a result of the Bill. Although the Minister said that the Government were implementing the manifesto commitment, that commitment appeared to be an assumption of automatic academisation of coasting schools. I welcome the fact that, according to the Minister’s remarks, that is not his plan. There are real concerns about the system’s capacity to deal with a rapid increase in the number of schools eligible for intervention, and there is a potential problem.
The TES article I mentioned earlier pointed out that only 3.6% of sponsorship applications have been rejected by the DFE. That is a very low percentage of rejections and suggests that the DFE is so desperate for sponsors that its quality control is not high enough. That is reflected in the failure rate among some sponsors. We cannot gamble with our children’s futures.
We will deal next with amendment 73 to clause 1. However, we have reached the witching hour of Question Time.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Margot James.)
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.