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Education and Adoption Bill

Volume 599: debated on Wednesday 16 September 2015

Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 1

Schools where pupils do not fulfil potential

‘(1) The Education and Inspections Act 2006 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 59 (meaning of “maintained school” and “eligible for intervention”), in subsection (2), at the appropriate place insert—

“section 60B (Schools where pupils do not fulfil their potential)”

(3) After section 60A insert—

“60B Schools where pupils do not fulfil their potential

(1) A school where pupils do not fulfil their potential is one where the performance of pupils in aggregate on leaving is not as high as might be expected from their performance on entry to the school.

(2) A maintained school or an Academy school is by virtue of this section eligible for intervention if the governing body or proprietor of the school—

(a) have been notified that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, in consultation with the local authority, considers the school to be one where pupils in aggregate do not fulfil their potential, and

(b) have not subsequently been notified that the Chief Inspector no longer considers the school to be one where pupils do not fulfil their potential.

(3) In determining whether a school should be notified, the Chief Inspector will consider the following in consultation with the local authority and, in the case of an Academy school, the person with whom the Secretary of State has made Academy Arrangements—

(a) the availability of qualified teachers in the area of the local authority;

(b) the number of pupils on roll and the unreliability of drawing conclusions about aggregated pupil performance when the number of pupils is small;

(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 pupils on roll and the area in which the school is situated;

(f) the balance of boys and girls in the school.

(4) If an Academy school is found to be eligible for intervention under this section, then the school is to be treated as a maintained school for the purposes sections 63 to 69, and the governing body is the proprietor of the Academy school. For the avoidance of doubt, an intervention under sections 63 to 69 takes precedence over any provision of the Academy arrangements made between the Secretary of State and the proprietor.

(5) The Secretary of State must not make an Academy Order under section 4 (Academy orders) of the Academies Act 2010 for a maintained school which has been notified that it is a school where pupils do not fulfil their potential under this section.””

This new clause updates the concept of coasting schools; it covers all publicly provided schools where pupils do not fulfil their potential and introduces a local professional assessment of factors that can only be assessed with local knowledge.(Kevin Brennan.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement

‘(1) Where, in a report of a school made under section 5 of the Education Act 2005, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills states that in his or her opinion—

(a) special measures are required to be taken in relation to the school, or

(b) the school requires significant improvement

the following actions will be taken.

(2) The Regional Schools Commissioner must consult with the local authority, any trustees or persons representing foundations associated with the school and, in the case of an academy school, the person with whom the Secretary of State has made Academy arrangements, about the school’s governance arrangements.

(3) If the school is a local authority maintained school, then the Regional Schools Commissioner may determine that section 5 (consultation about conversion) applies.

(4) If the school is an Academy school, then the Regional Schools Commissioner may consult with the Secretary of State about whether or not to terminate the school’s academy arrangements with a view to the school being established as a local authority maintained school or by the Secretary of State making Academy arrangements with another person.

(5) For the purpose of this Act, the Regional Schools Commissioner is an official appointed by the Secretary of State, except in the area of a combined authority, and if so requested by the combined authority or mayor, the Regional Schools Commissioner is a person appointed by the combined authority or mayor under arrangements made under Part 6 (Economic Prosperity Boards and Combined Authorities) of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 as amended by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016.”

Schools which receive an inadequate Ofsted judgement may require changes to their governance arrangements. The new clause addresses weaknesses in the Bill by inserting a new clause 7 which removes the assumption that there is only one form of governance suitable for such schools by requiring a local discussion about what is best for such a school and the area the school serves.

New clause 3—Schools causing concern: involvement of parent

‘(1) The Education and Inspections Act 2006 is amended as follows:

(2) After section 59 insert—

“59A Duties of Secretary of State, local authorities, and proprietors to parents when a school is eligible for intervention

When a school is eligible for intervention, the Secretary of State, the local authority, school governing body and proprietor must exercise their functions with a view to involving parents of registered pupils in decisions relating to the school under this Part and the Academies Act 2010.”

(3) In section 59 (Meaning of “maintained school” and “eligible for intervention”)—

(a) in subsection (1) after (c) insert—

“() an Academy school”

(b) after subsection (2) insert—

“(3) In this Part, references to the governing body of an Academy school are to be read as references to the proprietor of an Academy school.

(4) If an Academy school is found to be eligible for intervention under this Part, then the school is to be treated as a maintained school for the purposes sections 63 to 69, and the governing body is the proprietor of the Academy school. For the avoidance of doubt, an intervention under sections 63 to 69 takes precedence over any provision of the Academy arrangements made between the Secretary of State and the proprietor.”

(4) In section 60 (Performance standards and safety warning notice) in subsection (6) at end insert—

“(e) the parents of registered pupils”

(5) In section 60A (Teachers’ pay and conditions warning notice) in subsection (6) at end insert—

“(c) the parents of registered pupils”

This new clause requires parents be involved in decisions about the future of their children’s schools.

New clause 4—Consultation with school community about identity of Academy sponsor—

After section 5A of the Academies Act 2010 insert—

“Consultation with school community about identity of Academy sponsor

‘(1) This section applies where an Academy order under section 4(1)(a) or (1)(b) has effect in respect of a maintained school.

(2) Before entering into Academy arrangements in relation to the school the Secretary of State must consult the following about the identity of the person with whom the arrangements are to be entered into—

(a) the school’s governing body;

(b) the local authority;

(c) the Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Schools;

(d) parents of registered pupils at the school;

(e) the teaching and other staff of the school, and

(f) any other such persons as he thinks appropriate.

(3) As part of the consultation, the Secretary of State must publish all correspondence held by her relating to her choice of the proposed Academy sponsor.”

The new clause would require consultation with a school’s community before a decision on the Secretary of State’s preferred choice of a school’s sponsor is made. This new clause also requires publication of full information about the reasons for the Secretary of State’s choice.

New clause 5—Inspection of Academy sponsors

Before section 9 of the Academies Act 2010, insert—

“8A Inspection of Academy sponsors

(1) The Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills may inspect the proprietor of an Academy school in the performance of the proprietor’s functions under the Education Acts, the Academy agreement entered into by the proprietor, 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 proprietor 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 authority.

(5) Before entering into Academy arrangements in relation to a school to which an Academy order under section 4(1)(a) or (1)(b) 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.”

The new clause would make provision for the bodies which run Academy schools to be inspected. This new clause also requires Ofsted to report on the performance of an Academy chain before the Secretary of State uses his powers to make an Academy order.

New clause 6—Information on performance of academy proprietors

‘(1) The Academies Act 2010 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 11(1)(b) of the Academies Act 2010 insert—

“(c) the performance of Academy Proprietors and academy chains in regards to their management of academy schools, including the impact of this management on educational performance of such schools.””

Section 11 of the Academies Act 2010 requires the Secretary of State to prepare and publish an annual report on academy arrangements and on the performance of academies. The new clause aims to require the report to cover the performance of academy proprietors and academy chains in regards to their management of academy schools.

New clause 7—Performance of academy proprietors

‘(1) When deciding whether to make an academy order in relation to a particular school, the Secretary of State shall have regard to any information on the proposed academy proprietor and, if applicable, the academy chain to which it belongs, which has been gathered—

(a) in order to prepare reports under subsection (1) of the Academies Act 2010, and

(b) in the course of any Ofsted inspection of any school run by the proposed Academy proprietor or of the academy chain to which it belongs.

(2) The Secretary of State shall only appoint an academy proprietor for a new academy if the proprietor, and if applicable, the chain to which it belongs, has a proven record of success in improving schools which are comparable to the school to which the proposal relates.

(3) The Secretary of State shall by regulations define “proven record of success”.”

The new clause would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the information about an academy proprietor and its relevant academy chain before appointing it as an academy proprietor for a new academy.

New clause 8—Inspection of academy chains in England

‘(1) The Education and Inspections Act 2006 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 136 insert—

“136A Inspection of academy chains in England

(1) The Chief Inspector may inspect the overall performance by an academy chain in England.

(2) The Secretary of State may require the Chief Inspector to conduct an inspection in relation to a particular academy chain.

(3) When requiring an inspection under subsection 2, the Secretary of State may specify matters which the Chief Inspector must inspect.

(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations define an “academy chain”.

(5) Regulations under subsection 4 may set out the activities of academy chains that may be subject to inspection under this section.”

(3) In section 137(2)(a), after “authority”, insert “or academy chain”.

(4) In section 137(3), after “authority”, insert “or academy chain”.

(5) In section 137(4), after “authority”, insert “or academy chain”.

(6) In section 137(5), after “authority”, insert “or academy chain”.”

This new clause would permit the Chief Inspector of Ofsted to inspect academy chains, and give the power to the Secretary of State to order such inspections. It would also entitle academy chains to receive the report following an inspection, and require them to prepare a written statement setting out the action they will take in light of the report.

New clause 9—Right of appeal against an academy order

After section 5 of the Academies Act 2010 insert—

“5A Right of appeal against an academy order

(1) An academy order appeal committee shall be established to hear appeals against decisions of the Secretary of State to make an academy order in a particular case.

(2) The following persons shall have the right to appeal to the academy order appeal committee:

(a) parents of children at the school, and

(b) staff of the school.

(3) The Secretary of State shall by regulations define the powers and remit of the academy order appeal committee.”.”

This new clause would provide for a right of appeal against an academy order.

Amendment 1, page 1, line 1, leave out clause 1.

Clause 1 to be replaced with new clause (Schools where people do not fulfil potential).

Amendment 12, page 1, line 1, leave out clause 1.

This amendment would remove the clause that establishes that “coasting” schools shall be eligible for intervention.

Amendment 8, page 1, line 16, clause 1, at end insert—

‘(3) The governing body must inform the parents of registered pupils that the school has been notified that it is coasting.”

The amendment extends the duty to inform parents to those whose children attend the new category of coasting school.

Amendment 13, page 2, clause 2, leave out line 42.

This amendment would retain the right of a governing body of a school to make representations to the Chief Inspector at Ofsted in response to a warning notice, and the obligation of the Chief Inspector to consider such representations and give to the governing body and the local authority notice of his decision whether or not to confirm the warning notice.

Amendment 2, page 6, line 2, leave out clause 7.

Clause 7 to be replaced with new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).

Amendment 14, page 6, line 2, leave out clause 7.

This amendment would remove the duty on the Secretary of State to make an academy order where a school is eligible for intervention because it requires significant improvement or it requires special measures.

Amendment 11, page 6, line 8, clause 7, at end insert—

‘(A2) If requested by a relevant—

(a) local education authority, or

(b) local admission forum,

The Secretary of State may include in such an order provision for the school to adopt selective admission arrangements such as would fall under section 104(2) and sections 105 to 109 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (“SSFA 1998”).

(A3) Section 104(1) of SSFA 1998 is amended as follows—

For subsection (1), substitute “If requested by a local education authority or local admission forum, the Secretary of State may by order permit a school to adopt selective admission arrangements falling under subsection (2) and sections 105 to 109.”

This amendment would allow the Secretary of State to provide for new academies established under this part of the bill to have selective admissions arrangements but only in circumstances where a local education authority or local admissions forum had requested it.

Amendment 15, page 6, line 16, clause 8, after “consult”, insert

“parents of children at the school, staff of the school and”.

This amendment would ensure that parents and staff of the school are consulted before a school is converted into an academy.

Amendment 16, page 6, line 16, clause 8, after “such”, insert “other”

This amendment is consequential to amendment 15.

Amendment 9, page 6, clause 8, leave out lines 18 and 19 and insert—

‘(3) If an Academy order under section 4(A1) or (1)(b) has effect in respect of the school, the Secretary of State must convene a meeting of parents of registered pupils to explain the implications for the school being subject to such an order and take account of the views of parents in respect of the future governance of the school.”

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to convene a meeting of parents where the Secretary of State determines, or is required to, force Academisation.

Amendment 3, page 6, line 19, clause 8, leave out “4(A1) or”

A consequential amendment to new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).

Amendment 4, page 6, line 26, leave out clause 9.

A consequential amendment to new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).

Amendment 10, page 6, line 39, clause 9, at end insert—

“(d) the parents of registered pupils”

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult parents on the identity of an Academy sponsor where forced Academisation is proposed.

Amendment 17, page 6, line 39, clause 9, at end insert—

“(d) the parents of children of the school,

(e) the staff of the school.”

This amendment would require parents and school staff to be consulted about the identity of an academy sponsor prior to academy arrangements being entered into.

Amendment 18, page 7, line 16, leave out clause 10.

This amendment would remove the clause that provides that where a school is the subject of an Academy Order, the governing body and its relevant local authority must facilitate the school’s conversion into an academy.

Amendment 5, page 7, line 20, Clause 10, leave out “4(A1) or”

A consequential amendment to new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).

Amendment 6, page 7, line 33, clause 11, leave out “4(A1) or”.

A consequential amendment to new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).

Amendment 7, page 8, line 5, clause 12, leave out “4(A1) or”.

A consequential amendment to new clause (Schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgement).

I apologise in advance for my slightly croaky voice.

It is good to return to the Bill, which we considered in Committee before the summer recess. We tabled more than 80 amendments, none of which was passed, despite the cogency of our arguments and the excellent drafting. We therefore find ourselves having to submit further new clauses and amendments on Report, given our continued view that the Bill is badly drafted and ill thought through.

Before I deal with the details of new clause 1, let me take this opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) to her new position. We have worked together before, and I look forward to her term of office first as shadow Secretary of State and then, in the not-too-distant future, as Secretary of State. She is the fifth Labour Secretary of State or shadow Secretary of State for Education under whom I have served, in government and in opposition.

I have been accused of coasting. We shall come to that later. Either I am doing something very right or I am doing something very wrong; it is hard to work out which. Perhaps the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate is right. But, like the Schools Minister, I am still here after all these years. “Still Crazy After All These Years” was, I think, a song by Paul Simon. Anyway, we are still here, the two of us, facing each other across the Dispatch Box.

Let me pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). I am glad to see that another former shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), is sitting next to him: it is a wonderful reunion. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central has decided to take a sabbatical from Front-Bench politics, I really enjoyed working with him. I wish him well, and thank him for the hard work and passion that he brought to his role. I look forward to reading the book which I am sure will form one of the fruits of his new-found free time. If it is any sort of political memoir, I do not care what it says as long as I am in it.

New clause 1 deals with

“Schools where pupils do not fulfil potential”,

and should be read in conjunction with amendment 1, which proposes to leave out clause 1. The new clause replaces clause 1, which is entitled “Coasting schools”. The House will recall that when the original clause 1 was drafted, the Government were unable to provide a definition of “coasting schools”, even on Second Reading. In Committee, we were given some draft regulations which made it clear that what the Government had in mind was a purely data-driven exercise.

We believe there is a need to do something about schools that are doing well superficially but are failing to fulfil the potential of their pupils, hence our new clause. In government—my memory is long enough for me to remember what we did in government, as is clear from what I said earlier—we wanted local authorities to identify coasting schools whose intake did not fulfil earlier promise, and whose pupils lost momentum and failed to make progress. That often applies to pupils with special educational needs, or children who get left behind and may become disengaged from their education, but it is equally applicable to able pupils who are not stretched or challenged enough. We wanted coasting schools to benefit from the support of other schools and leaders forming trusts and federations to formalise the benefits of collaborative learning.

I rise to support my hon. Friend’s argument. One of the best achievements of the previous Government was the London challenge, and also the black country and Manchester challenges. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the decision of the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, and his cabinet member, Nick Small, to establish a Liverpool challenge precisely to address some of these issues of standards in our schools?

I join my hon. Friend in welcoming that, and of course he is too modest to outline his own part in the London challenge. I am sure the fact that Liverpool is the part of the country he represents has been influential in the idea being taken up so readily there. I congratulate him and the mayor on that initiative.

We recognise the concern to which I referred, but we are not at all convinced that the way the Government are dealing with this issue in the Bill is the best way forward. They are attempting to legislate on coasting schools in the Bill and then set up regulations that rigidly seek to define them in a way that produces significant anomalies and a whole new way of judging schools outside of Ofsted. By cutting out Ofsted, they are muddying the waters considerably.

The concept of coasting schools has been around for quite a while. It was first used formally by the last Labour Government in 2008 in “Gaining Ground: improving progress in coasting secondary schools”, in which we said:

“Coasting schools are schools whose intake does not fulfil their earlier promise and who could achieve more, where pupils are coming into the school having done well in primary school, then losing momentum and failing to make progress.”

So it is a useful concept, but the Government’s clumsy attempts to translate that directly into legislation has made the term toxic in the space of a few months. Our new clause goes back to the original definition of pupils not fulfilling potential so as not to confuse it with the Government’s rigid data-driven approach.

We accept that schools that need improvement might not be picked up in an Ofsted inspection. Every framework cannot meet every eventuality, but the answer is not to use the definition as proposed by the Government based on a crude formula from raw pupil data. A much better approach is one that involves both the professional judgments of Ofsted and the local authority—or the academy trust, because why should academies escape this measure? Our new clause would create a new section 60B in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and put into its new subsection (1) a definition of a school

“where pupils do not fulfil their potential”

and in subsection (2) make it clear that a school has to be notified following a professional consideration between Ofsted and those with local knowledge. This would apply to both a local authority-maintained school and an academy.

In our proposed new subsection (3) we outline the sorts of issues that should be considered prior to that notification, including “the availability of…teachers”. In other words, schools should not be penalised because the Government have mismanaged the supply of qualified teachers, particularly mathematics teachers, which could affect, for example, EBacc performance in a school. I will return to the question of teacher supply in a moment.

Secondly, while a comparison of pupil progress statistics is important, it must take account of the size of the school and standard errors, and not crudely interpret and apply data. Thirdly, age range is important, especially where there is not a standardised assessment of performance on entry to the school. For example, some areas have middle schools. Fourthly, there is the question of special educational needs. A professional assessment should be made of the progress of pupils with SENs and disabilities. Fifthly, a school may be recruiting pupils from a more advantaged area where, for example, there is the widespread use of private tuition, which can be impossible to discern from raw data. Education Datalab and others have noted that it is virtually impossible for a grammar school to be coasting under the Government’s initial floor standards in the draft regulations.

Gender is important, too. For example, under- achievement of girls in STEM subjects needs to be identified and acted upon, rather than lost in raw statistics.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the major challenges in respect of coasting academy schools for this Bill is a massive overdependence on the role of regional schools commissioners? In my constituency and across the west midlands, there simply is not the capacity of regional school commissioners and their staff to deal with underperforming and coasting academy schools, and what we have here in this Bill is once again an over-concentration on the maintained sector while not doing enough for children in underperforming academy schools.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There seems in the Department to be an in-built bias against facing up to failure in academy schools while exaggerating problems when the school is a maintained school. All we are calling for is a level playing field. We are just saying that every child should have the right to be taught in a good school, whatever that school is, and the Government should not be a propaganda department for a particular type of school structure.

I can see the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) leaning forward. Does she wish to intervene?

The hon. Lady is just very enthusiastic and very keen. I appreciate the attention she is paying to what I am saying.

Our proposed new subsection (4) treats maintained schools and academy schools equally as far as intervention is concerned, which picks up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central. It is right that the same forms of intervention can be used for both types of school—for example, working with an outstanding school or working with a school improvement provider or replacing the governing body with an interim executive board.

Subsection (5) prevents the Secretary of State from making a forced academy order simply on the basis that a school has been notified that its pupils are not reaching their full potential. This should be about taking the right steps for a school, not arbitrary academy targets.

I said I would return to subsection (3)(a) of proposed new section 60B, which deals with teacher supply. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) is not here at present, but he said on Second Reading that

“the real crisis in education is in teacher recruitment and the quality of headteachers”

and that the Secretary of State’s proposals and speech

“have absolutely nothing to say about that.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 642.]

My hon. Friend was absolutely right. This is the real crisis and that is why we are addressing it. We cannot judge a school if it is not able to recruit the right teachers because of a failure of Government policy in relation to teacher supply.

Teacher recruitment has been falling since 2010. Some 10% of teacher training places remain unfilled this year, and one in 10 teachers left the profession last year, the highest rate in a decade. An extra 800,000 students will have entered England’s secondary programme by the next decade. It is predicted there will be a 7% shortfall in teacher training recruitment for next September, the third shortfall in a row. Also, Department for Education published statistics show that for the secondary programme 91% of the target, or 12,943 student teachers, were recruited; that is a shortfall of 2,278 teacher trainees against the target for this term.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures are actually worse than that because they are being masked? School Direct is failing to meet anywhere near its targets in subjects such as mathematics and physics and is making up the numbers in non-shortage areas.

My hon. Friend is right. We only have to speak to headteachers to know the difficulty of recruiting in those subject areas. Again, the Government have failed to face up to this crisis and schools cannot be judged if they cannot recruit the teachers because of a failure of Government policy. According to Professor John Howson, a shortage of more than 6,000 teachers has built up in the past three years. A report from London Councils says there is a need for 113,000 extra school places in the capital in the next five years.

I could go on and on, but I will not detain the House for too long with those statistics. It would, however, be interesting to hear from the Minister in his reply about what the Government are doing to meet this crisis in teacher training recruitment and retention, because that is the real issue out there and they are not addressing it adequately.

That is why we have made teacher supply one of the factors in judging how a school is performing under new clause 1. Ignoring teacher supply as a factor in influencing whether a school is doing well enough in helping its pupils to reach their potential is simply burying one’s head in the educational sand. That is exactly what the Secretary of State is doing in the Bill, and in her wider role. She remains obsessed by her pet projects of free schools and forced academisation, and is diverting ever more precious and scarce resources in the Department to them while failing to address the mounting crisis in teacher training, recruitment and retention. She cannot say that she has not been warned about this.

As always, my hon. Friend is making a persuasive case. Is not the situation even starker than that? Schools are facing a 10% cut to their budgets over the course of this Parliament, yet funds are being allocated to opening free schools in areas where they are not needed. Courses for young people are being cut away and pupils’ choices are being eliminated in order to fund those free schools.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we project the figures over the course of this Parliament, the position is even starker, especially when combined with the reality of the cuts to 16-to-19 education, which even Conservative Back Benchers are now complaining about because of their impact on sixth forms—

Indeed. I recently participated in an interesting Adjournment debate on this matter with Conservative Members. We know that a funding crisis is building up as we speak, and alongside the problems with teacher training and supply, these are creating a perfect storm. There are going to be real problems over the course of this Parliament, and I put on record that we are pointing that out and that the Government should be acting more urgently to deal with the problems that are going to emerge.

New clause 1 would mean that schools could not be blamed for problems that had been initiated by policies of the Secretary of State for Education that had led to a lack of teacher supply in their area. Teacher supply would be a reasonable factor to take into account, rather than simply looking at raw data that tell us nothing about the struggle that a school might be having to recruit high-quality, well-qualified teaching staff.

New clause 1 would also bring academies into the scope of the provision. The Government appear to believe that maintained schools that are experiencing difficulties need a fundamental change of structure, but that that does not apply to academies. They seem to think that academy status is right for failing maintained schools, but it is also right for failing academies. That seems to be the Government’s policy. The Secretary of State’s position is that if an academy fails, the obvious solution is to turn it into an academy. That simply makes no sense.

My hon. Friend recently guided me through my first Bill Committee experience, for which I am grateful. As a novice, being mentored by someone of his experience will no doubt stand me in good stead. During the evidence session, Malcolm Trobe, a former secondary school headteacher and now general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, was asked about the distinction between academies and maintained schools and whether they should be treated differently. He replied:

“No. All schools should be judged effectively on the same range of indicators.”

He went on to say:

“I think we believe in fairness and equality and, therefore, all schools should be treated the same, whether they be academies or maintained schools.”––[Official Report, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2015; c. 15.]

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that expertise and agree that Malcolm Trobe was right?

I thank my young apprentice for his intervention. He is a very quick learner, as he has just shown. He is absolutely right. The central point of our new clause 1 is that academies and maintained schools should be treated equally. There appears to be a presumption by the Government that academies are always superior to maintained schools, even when they are failing academies. In Committee, however, the Schools Minister, referring to me, stated:

“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, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee, 7 July 2015; c. 220.]

He denied it, but I am afraid that no one believes him. Every time Ministers open their mouth, they give the clear impression—through the frequency of their praise of academies over maintained schools, the frequency of their visits to academies and their singling out of one type of school over the other for legislation—that they do not see schools in the way that the Minister described. They see them arranged in a hierarchy by type, rather than by quality of education and performance.

Ministers’ powers over academies are to be found in the various funding agreements, and there is no consistency in those powers. There is also no mention of coasting in any of those funding agreements, so it is unclear how the Minister’s right to intervene in a coasting school, under his proposed definition or any other, could be applied to a coasting academy. People might start to believe his words denying a ministerial hierarchy if he were to accept our proposal to include all schools in this provision.

The shadow Minister will be aware that we inherited the structure of academies from the previous Labour Government. This is an extension of the Blair-Lord Adonis structural reforms to education. Is he now saying that he opposes the reforms that those two individuals introduced?

This is not an extension; it is a dilution of what was an effective, limited and targeted intervention using scarce resources where nothing else had worked before. The Minister knows full well that he is trying to say that the only solution for school improvement, everywhere and on every occasion, is to academise a school, even if there is not a good sponsor available in the area. That is a ludicrous position, and we shall return to this matter later.

Presumably the Minister is going to have to renegotiate thousands of individual funding agreements to ensure that coasting academies do not escape the scrutiny and investigation that he believes to be so important for our schools. Alternatively, he could admit that the coasting schools provisions in the Bill will not apply to academies. The Government cannot go on pretending that academies can continue to exist outside public law on this scale. The previous Government acknowledged that fact, when special educational provision in academies was legislated for in the Children and Families Act 2014 in relation to the duty of an academy trust to admit a pupil with a statement of special educational needs. So it can be done, and such a provision could have been introduced into this Bill. Similar acknowledgement was made under the provisions on pupil admissions in the Education Act 2011.

New clause 2 covers schools with an inadequate Ofsted judgment. This is to be read in conjunction with amendment 2, which would remove clause 7 from the Bill, and with amendment 3, which would stop the ban in consultation on schools judged inadequate, ahead of forced academisation. The new clause also relates to amendments 4, 5, 6 and 7.

New clause 2 would replace clause 7, which covers the duty to make academy orders. The concept of forced academisation when a school is found to be inadequate must rate as one of the most grotesque uses of statute law to control schools ever to be invented by any Government of any political description. The Secretary of State will be required to issue an academy order to approximately 250 maintained schools and then let the school and the local authority argue about when the order should be revoked under clause 12, but that is a waste of time and effort.

According to Ofsted’s management information on inspection outcomes up to 31 July, there were 258 maintained schools and pupil referral units, excluding the three maintained nursery schools that cannot, by law, be academised. There were 287 academies, which is a significant over-representation. Thirty-three of the maintained schools received their inadequate judgment in 2013 and can confidently be predicted to be on their way out of special measures. Forced academisation will disrupt the improvements that are being made. This will not be the case for the 35 academies on the list, which can presumably have their improvements supported in a less public and punitive way. For 2015, only 77 maintained schools have been found inadequate, but 95 academies have received that judgment. This is another example of the academy programme failing, which the Minister refuses to acknowledge. We need a full independent review before any more schools are treated in this way.

As clause 7 stands, the Secretary of State has pretty much an absolute duty placed on her to academise a school that has an “inadequate” Ofsted rating. As we have said, in particular circumstances, with particular sponsors, the academy model works well, but it does not always work well and other models have worked better in some cases. We examined some of those cases in Committee, particularly those that were brought to us by the Catholic Education Service, which is deeply concerned about the rigidity and, dare I say it, the assumption of infallibility on the part of the Secretary of State, as illustrated by clause 7.

In Committee, we discussed some of the alternative approaches to school improvement, and the CES gave us some good examples. I will not go into them in great detail, but it told us about the use of an executive headteacher as a means of school improvement at St James the Great Catholic primary school in London. Despite pressure to academise, the diocese wanted to use the executive headteacher, resulting in the implementation of a school improvement plan with an executive head and teachers from other local schools coming in. The school was re-inspected in June 2013 and whereas it had been grade 3 for three categories and grade 4 in leadership and management, with an overall grade 4, by then it had improved to an overall grade 2. That arrangement continues, with overwhelming support from staff and parents of both schools. That alternative intervention would, in effect, be banned by the Bill, because of the Secretary of State’s delusions of infallibility.

My hon. Friend is making a very important point, because the evidence shows that the most important element in educational improvement is the quality of leadership and of teaching. The example that he gave from the CES is probably about that executive head and his or her ability to lead, and much less about the structures, which tend to dominate debates in here.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. There was a resource available locally of an outstanding executive head to take on the role, but the Bill would require the school to be academised and taken over by sponsors, who may have nothing to do with the local area, the local diocese and the wishes of local people and parents.

We also highlighted how partnership is another alternative way of going about school improvement. The case study sent to us by the CES was that of the Corpus Christi Partnership and the St Joseph’s Catholic primary school in Crayford. Members may have seen that the CES highlighted this case in the briefing for the remaining stages. The school had had a section 5 inspection in May 2012, when it got grade 4 for attainment, teaching and leadership, and grade 3 for behaviour and safety. Overall, it got grade 4 and was in special measures. The diocese brokered a support programme led by the headteacher of St Catherine’s Catholic school in Crayford and the expertise of a number of local schools in Bexley was used to improve the school. It was re-inspected under section 5 in June 2013 and graded 2 in all areas, with an overall grade 2. It was so successful that all the Catholic schools in the area formed a partnership—a school improvement and support board—through which all schools are committed to collaborative working and supporting schools in areas where support is needed. This was about a partnership, instead of automatic academisation, working successfully. Again, that approach would, in effect, be banned by this Bill because of the Secretary of State’s delusions of infallibility.

What about federation as a way of trying to bring about school improvement? Let us look at another case study, that of the Regina Coeli Catholic primary school in south Croydon. Again, a “poor” inspection led to intervention, whereby an interim executive board was put in place. There was pressure from an academy broker, probably on £1,000 a day from the Department—we know from parliamentary questions that that was what some of them were paid—to join a multi-academy trust. The diocese did not agree that that was the best thing for the school and arranged for the headteacher of St James the Great Catholic primary school in Thornton Heath to become executive headteacher for both schools until a permanent arrangement was agreed, which was to join a local federation of schools. Key staff from the other school were used—this included using its deputy to become the head of school—and a federation was joined in 2014. Again, the re-inspection showed much improved performance in the school, with it being graded 2 in all areas and overall. That was an example of a federation being used, instead of automatic academisation, and working successfully. Again, that approach would, in effect, be banned by the Bill because of the Secretary of State’s delusions of infallibility.

As we have established, the Secretary of State holds an ideological position, which says that private sponsors are always better than public authorities and, in particular, better than any local authorities, regardless of the party in control, be it Labour or Conservative. We believe that decisions should be made according to the circumstances of the particular case, based on the evidence—it may well be that an academy solution is the best in some circumstances. The Secretary of State does not believe that, even though she already has the powers at her disposal to issue an academy order, if she wishes to do so. Under the Academies Act 2010 she can make an academy order in relation to any school that has received an adverse Ofsted finding. All she is doing with clause 7 is tying her own hands to one particular course of action, and academisation has to happen even if there is no high-quality sponsor available, even if the local authority has a strong record of improving schools and even if the parents and school or local diocese propose a credible, proven alternative approach. We know from the evidence that we have been given that that is the case.

I wonder how the Secretary of State is going to find all these sponsors to manage the 1,000 more academies that the Prime Minister has committed himself to during this Parliament, given that in the past five years the Government have struggled to convert all the schools that they could have, often because of the shortcomings of the Secretary of State and the Department, rather than because of any opposition locally. There will be circumstances when the academy route is clearly not the best one, but through this clause Ministers have tied themselves to it, regardless of whether it will do the school any good or not. We are all fallible, Madam Deputy Speaker, even you, except when you make a ruling from the Chair, but the Secretary of State should have the humility to renounce her attempt to legislate for her own infallibility and she should accept our new clause 2.

The final proposal the Labour Front-Bench team has made is new clause 3, which relates to schools causing concern and the involvement of parents, and has to be read with amendments 8 and 9. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), who is not here this afternoon, put it well on Second Reading, when she said:

“Amazingly, the Bill says that parents should not be consulted, so the very people who know about a school will not be allowed to have a say. In this country, we consult, we do not dictate, and that is one of the key areas that judges will look at in considering whether a decision is lawful.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 684.]

In new clause 3, we are showing that we are on the side of parents; it would put parents back in the picture when the Secretary of State would purge them from the process. That is why the press release from the New Schools Network about parents’ rights today is so ironic; it comes on the same day as the Government are pushing through the Commons the remaining stages of this Bill, which obliterates the chances of parents to have any say in the future of their local school. Although the Government protest that parents are, from time to time, foremost in their thoughts in their education policies, that is patently not true. In fact, the Government treat parents who want to have a say in the future of their child’s school with thinly disguised contempt—that is probably a bit unfair, because it is not thinly disguised at all. The Minister makes it clear that any parent who expresses concern at how Government policy affects their school is deemed to be an ideologically motivated individual. This Bill sweeps away any pretence that the Government care about what parents think.

New clause 3(2) would insert a new section 59A in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 that sets out the principle that the Secretary of State, local authority, school governing body and academy trust must do everything possible to involve parents in decisions about schools in difficulties. It would bring academies into the Act’s remit as well. Parents at all types of publicly funded schools should be treated equally, and that is what the new clause would achieve. Subsections (4) and (5) would require parents to be informed if a school received a warning notice about its performance, its safety or its teacher conditions.

There is a loose duty under the 2010 Act to consult on an application for academy status. It puts the duty to consult on the school governing body, and the consultation can happen after or before an academy order is made. The consultation is only about whether the school should be an academy. There is no duty on the Department for Education, despite the fact that, in many cases, it will be the Department that has required the conversion to happen. There will be no consultation either on who should be the sponsor. In relation to schools eligible for intervention, clause 8 removes the requirement to consult.

We know what the Secretary of State thinks about parents. On 3 June on Radio 4, she said that this Bill would

“sweep away the bureaucratic and legal loopholes previously exploited by those who put ideological objections above the best interests of children.”

The objections she was referring to here are most commonly those held by the parents of the children affected. Parent Teacher Association UK recently commissioned a YouGov poll of 1,000 parents. Some 85% of them told the pollsters that they want a say in how their child is educated, and 79% want to support their child’s school. PTA UK calls for parents to be involved in a timely way with any developments in the school, but the Bill would sweep away any opportunity for that to happen. Again, it is another example of the infallibility complex that the Secretary of State seems to have. We live in a democracy. Governments do not always know best in every circumstance. She is removing the democratic right of parents and others to influence the future of local schools. It goes against the Government’s purported support for localism where local people have a say on local issues. The Bill would introduce even more centralised control than we already have. It is an extraordinary departure from the normal decision-making processes of Government.

The Secretary of State would make a decision without the need to make any attempt whatever to listen to parents, pupils, teachers, governors and employers—in fact anyone at all who might be thought to have some knowledge of the situation locally. As we heard earlier, we know what the Secretary of State thinks about other people’s views. She justifies that on the absolute presumption that her solution is always infallible, but—as has been demonstrated over and again—that is not true.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that it was the parents’ wishes that a school should fail or that it should be put into special measures by Ofsted? Was that school adhering to parents’ wishes when that happened?

No parents wish for a school to be put into special measures under any circumstances, but that does not mean that they wish to have their right to express their view about the future of the school ridden roughshod over by a Bill that does not even allow alternatives to be considered, even when those alternatives have been proven to be successful. That is the point. Under the Bill, the Secretary of State will be tied to one single course of action, even when other alternatives are available locally that are supported by parents. We want to ensure that parents have that opportunity. It is clear from the Minister’s attitude—in fairness, he has always been clear about this—that he views any objection to anything the Government propose with regard to academies as being ideologically driven by troublemakers, which is his definition of a parent.

To put it generously, there is no evidence that academy conversion is more likely to lead to improvement in an inadequate school than the adoption of other school improvement measures, which is why we should use evidence to determine the best way forward in what I would hope is a shared desire and passion to improve the quality of education in our schools.

There is a case in general terms for consultation. There is also a case for consultation in particular. Parents should not have particular solutions imposed on them without having some say in the matter. We know from Ofsted—this is despite the efforts of Ministers to prevent Ofsted getting at what is really happening in chains—how inadequate some academy chains can be. Parents are entitled to say that that is not a particular regime that they want for their local schools.

Schools are not gifts that can be dished out to Ministers’ friends, supporters and party donors. Government should not leave themselves open to the charge that they have favourites and will support them regardless of any evidence that has been put forward, because that is what this Bill does. Ultimately, it may be that, after consulting the Government, schools may decide that it is right to follow the initial path that they propose, but not to consult at all is wrong in principle.

Finally, I have a few words to say about amendment 11. I do not have time to comment on many of the other new clauses and amendments, but I will comment on amendment 11, tabled by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) and others. It is about the creation of new selective schools, albeit in the form of academies.

I wish to make it clear that it is the Opposition’s view that a system of selection at 11 is not the way to raise school standards or to promote social mobility. I think that that is also the Government’s policy—I am sure that the Minister will tell us whether that has changed. Instead we should focus relentlessly on supporting schools to raise standards for all pupils regardless of their backgrounds. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby said, the most effective way to do that is through high quality teaching and leadership.

Clear evidence internationally, particularly from the OECD and Andreas Schleicher—whom the Government often quote and who oversees the OECD programme for international student assessment scores—shows that school systems with selection for children at the age of 11, and all that that entails, perform less well than non-selective school systems. Far from promoting social mobility, selective systems entrench social division. The difference in the average domestic wage between the top 10% and bottom 10% of earners is much wider in selective areas than it is in non-selective areas.

Schools that select at age 11 are also highly socially selective institutions. Almost all of the remaining 164 grammar schools in this country have fewer than 10% of pupils eligible for free school meals. In 2010, 96,680 year 7 pupils received free school meals from a total of 549,725 pupils in state schools. Of the 22,000 grammar school pupils in that age bracket, only 610 were receiving free school meals. It is undeniable that the poorest children lose out, and that is partly because, in some areas, almost everyone who passes the 11-plus has had private tuition of one sort or another.

I will not go into great detail about the evidence from the past: suffice it to say that the rose-tinted view of the selective system in the past is not true. At its height, at the beginning of the 1960s, a third of grammar school pupils got only three O-levels, and only 0.3% of grammar school pupils at that time with two A-levels were working class. It is therefore a myth that grammar schools were great engines of social mobility. There are many reasons for the great surge in post-war social mobility, but selection at 11 is not one of them. That is why the current Prime Minister was absolutely right in 2007 when he said that those who wanted to expand the number of grammar schools were

“splashing around in the shallow end of the educational debate.”

He went on to say that if his party got into this area, it would be in danger of becoming “a right-wing debating society” rather than an aspiring party of government. That is why the current Government have largely held on to the policy of not allowing more schools that select at the age of 11, although they have permitted a loophole to those that he said were

“clinging on to outdated mantras that bear no relation to the reality of life.”

The Government created a loophole to allow the expansion of selective provision by stealth to locations many miles away from existing grammar schools. We wait with interest to see whether, as the press has speculated, the Secretary of State intends to use that loophole. Given the damage that it does to children’s education overall, we oppose selection at 11 and amendment 11.

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), who gave me a cue to speak at this point to amendment 11, which stands in my name. I have debated this subject with him on more than one occasion, as I have with my hon. Friend the Minister, and I suspect that we will do so again on future occasions. I therefore do not intend to detain the House for long.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West spoke at length about the experience of selection in the 1960s as though it was something that no longer existed, and of which we have no experience today. Of course, I come to the subject precisely because my constituency is in the borough of Trafford in Greater Manchester, which is still a selective local authority area. Furthermore, the state schools in my constituency are probably the best in England and Wales, by any objective measure, and that goes for the grammar schools, the high schools—my hon. Friend the Minister has visited some of the excellent high schools in my constituency—and the primary schools, which are at the top of the table. We maintain high standards throughout, whereas in many areas high performance in primary education then dips at the beginning of secondary education. We also have an outstanding further education college, Trafford College. Whatever it is that the hon. Gentleman thinks might have gone wrong in the past, I submit that it is not going wrong in the borough of Trafford, at least at the moment.

I have great respect for what the hon. Gentleman is saying and for the record in Trafford, but does he agree that the record on standards in schools is rather different in Kent? What he describes for the secondary sector in Trafford is rather different from what we see in another local authority that maintains selection.

Kent is obviously a very big county, and there is a lot of diversity in performance there. I believe very firmly that if we are trying to improve a system, we should look at the bits that are working less well and try to raise standards there, rather than removing the parts that work best. I think that the tragedy of the comprehensive revolution in the 1960s and ’70s was that often the people who suffered most as a result of the destruction of so many grammar schools were working class people in areas where very little of quality was put in their place. The hon. Gentleman will have heard me quote from the pamphlet “A Class Act”, written by Lord Adonis and Stephen Pollard, who was then at the Fabian Society, in which they made that very point.

I am a strong supporter of what this Government and the Government immediately before did to try to raise standards in all schools. I am a strong supporter of academies and free schools. In fact, when I was shadow Schools Minister—the job that the hon. Member for Cardiff West now has, has had for some time and might have for many years to come—I was able constantly to praise the efforts of the then Labour Government to increase the autonomy of schools and create the academy model, building on the grant-maintained schools that went before them. It is regrettable that the Opposition are starting to move away from that bipartisan position.

To return to amendment 11, my campaigning on the subject aims to bring better schools and more opportunity to more children in state schools across the country, as well as to champion the obvious success that is evident in my constituency and in the borough of Trafford. Having been educated at Altrincham grammar school, which is in my constituency, I do not just believe that selective education can bring wider opportunity and social mobility; I know it.

I am not seeking to impose a different model of education on places or communities that do not want it, but I believe in wider choice for parents and a greater diversity of schools. I cannot see why every specialism under the sun should be welcomed today, except for a specialism in teaching the more academic. It is absurd in today’s pattern of educational provision that the law still holds that the man in Whitehall knows best, especially if he celebrates the success of existing grammar schools but seeks to prohibit any new ones, however much parents and communities might want them.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on this welcome amendment. We have heard from the Opposition in another context about the need to encourage partnership and collaboration and to provide consultation. His amendment provides for selection admission arrangements but only if

“a local education authority or local admission forum”

requests it, so it goes down that very route.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. Of course, I was deeply disappointed, if not entirely surprised, that the hon. Member for Cardiff West, having lauded the benefits of localism and urged more reliance on what communities and parents across the country want, then sought to dismiss amendment 11 out of hand, despite the fact that it seeks to ensure that the proposed changes would be possible only in the event of significant levels of local support, as evidenced by the request from a local education authority or a local admission forum.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the current situation in Kent. It is ridiculous that parents in Sevenoaks are having to wait to see whether an application for an annex to an existing grammar school can fit through the Department for Education’s hoops. Kent has a pattern of selection that is popular and well established, and the problem is that demographic changes have led to a mismatch between the location of schools and the location of the communities that depend upon them.

Amendment 11 has widespread support, including from three parties represented in the House, two well respected members of the principal Opposition party, at least two Conservative former Education Ministers, a former shadow Education Secretary, a former shadow Schools Minister—that is me—and at least three former Cabinet Ministers. It also enjoy the support of the current Mayor of London, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), although sadly not in time for his name to appear on the amendment paper. There is therefore a breadth of support across the House for these changes.

Contrary to what the shadow Schools Minister implied, that breadth of support is hardly surprising. In fact, the surprising thing is that there is not more support for selection evidenced in the House, given that opinion polls—they do not get everything right, but they do give some indication, when they are consistent, of strength of opinion—suggest that over 70% of the public, and indeed the majority of voters for all the main parties, would like to see more grammar schools.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that when the question is reversed and the public are asked whether they would like to see secondary moderns reinstated, more than 70% say that they would not?

I do accept that, but I think it is a false choice to offer people, given the advances we have since made in the genuine diversity of school provision. We have so many different types of schools, with so many different specialisms, that it really is not a binary choice. It seems particularly odd to tell people that they are allowed to have schools that specialise in the creative arts or in maths and computing, but not schools that specialise in teaching those on the more academic part of the spectrum.

It is 17 years since the introduction of ballot arrangements for the removal of existing grammar schools, but not a single challenge has succeeded—one took place many years ago in North Yorkshire, but it was defeated by more than 70% of the local population. In areas that benefit from grammar schools, almost no one wants to change that. I find myself going through general election campaigns looking for candidates from other parties who do not agree that the local schools are so good that they should remain as they are.

This amendment is modest in scope. I am almost embarrassed at how modest my aspirations have become in this regard. All the amendment seeks to do is give a power to the Secretary of State and, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), only when the Secretary of State was requested to exercise that power by a local authority or by the local admission forum. It would not force any community to have new grammar schools if it did not want them, nor would it force a Secretary of State to approve any such schools if she did not wish to do so. Local support would be a given under my proposal.

Amendment 11, in its modest scope, would begin to resolve the very real problem of areas such as Sevenoaks, which have selective schools but where changes in the population have impacted on the balance of selection in a particular area. This problem has long been understood. The hon. Member for Cardiff West quoted extensively some of my favourite dicta of the then Leader of the Opposition and current Prime Minister on this subject, but the hon. Gentleman omitted to say—far more pertinent to the subject of amendment 11—that at the same time as that policy position was being set out in relation to selective education generally, it was accepted that there was a significant problem in some selective areas where the pattern of population had changed, and therefore the balance of selection might be affected. It was accepted that perhaps in Buckinghamshire, Kent and other selective areas it might be appropriate to have a new grammar school in order to address that problem.

That was accepted a decade ago. In the previous Parliament the Government were held back by the difficulties and rigours of coalition. Now that we are free of that constraint, I hope the Minister will give me some hope that we might look at ways to return to tackling that difficulty. As I said, this amendment is modest in its scope. As an incurable optimist, I hope that when the Minister responds he will indicate that the Government will welcome my amendment, accept it and see it as an additional important but modest tool in the armoury available to the Secretary of State. But if he does not, I hope he will undertake to look at what can be done by the Government as the Bill passes through the other place, and to look at other ways in which this very real problem might be addressed.

It is clear that there is real demand, both here in this House and in the country more widely. It is time the Government agreed to assist parents and communities in achieving the wider choice of schools that they want. There is a live debate about this subject always, and there will be at least as long as we still have areas like mine which have selective schools that perform so well and deliver for parents, both in the grammar schools and the high schools. I end by making it clear again that I do not seek to impose different schools and different models of education on any community in the country, but it is time we recognised that where communities want to have selective schools, they should be free to have them.

I shall resist the temptation to respond in detail to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), who made his case very powerfully. I disagree with it, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), the shadow Minister, gave. The grammar schools debate is one to which, I am sure, we will return, but I want to focus on supporting the new clauses proposed from the Opposition Front Bench.

The case that my hon. Friend made is extremely powerful. It is about looking at the evidence of what has worked in this country and in other parts of the world. When I intervened on him earlier, I spoke about our experience in government with the London challenge. I want to talk a little about the London challenge, because it shows a different way of doing things from the one which the present Government are following. Academies started in London. A number of academies were created as part of the London challenge. To this day I am proud of those academies that we created in London, in places such as Hackney, which had been badly let down in the past by the education system, and I celebrate the success of schools such as Mossbourne and many others across London that have done so well as academies.

We know, however, that the evidence on academies is mixed. We have to acknowledge that. In Liverpool the schools that are struggling the most at secondary level are the sponsored academies. I do not therefore condemn them for being academies, but I recognise that they face big challenges. They tend to serve some of the areas of greatest social and economic need in the city. Simply making them academies did not, on its own, ensure that those schools would be transformed and do brilliantly. That is why I warmly welcome new clause 1, which my hon. Friend moved. The approach that was taken in the London challenge, very much under the inspirational leadership of Tim Brighouse, was to look at the evidence, broker relationships between different schools in London, recognise the diversity of social and economic conditions in different communities across London, and not to have a one-size-fits-all approach.

As a Minister I spoke to local government leaders in London about academies. Some of those councils were Labour but many were Conservative or Liberal Democrat at that time. There were different views about academies. In local authority areas in London such as Camden and Tower Hamlets that did not want to have academies, we did not take the view that they should be imposed. In both those cases, we have seen real improvement in schools over recent decades. Other authorities, such as Hackney, Southwark and Lambeth, were more open to the creation of academies and that was part of the route that we pursued.

I welcome the fact that new clause 1 recognises that we have to take a sophisticated approach that looks at all the evidence. Data are extremely important. I never have any truck with those who suggest that we can simply ignore the data about a school, but data are only one aspect of the judgment that we have to make. We must look at context and at progress, as the Government have acknowledged—the value that is being added by the school. We have to look at the history of the school and, crucially, at the quality of leadership, teaching and learning in the school. The emphasis on that in the new clause is hugely welcome.

I urge the Government to reconsider an approach which is so highly centralised from London, does not take sufficiently into account concerns in local communities, and regards academy status as the be-all and end-all, when the reality is that we have some great successes from academies and we have some wonderful schools that have chosen not to go down that route. We should celebrate those schools equally. Ministers should visit those schools equally and their role in raising standards for all in our education system should be celebrated by all of us on a cross-party basis.

I look at the primary schools in my constituency, in West Derby in Liverpool, many of which do a fantastic job. I have spoken previously of Ranworth Square school in Norris Green, which has one of the highest levels of deprivation in the country but consistently delivers good results for the children at 11. It is not an academy, it has fantastic leadership and it works well with other schools and with the local authority. Changing that school’s status would make no fundamental difference. Why does the school succeed? It is because it has great leadership, great teaching, and great relationships with the community and with other schools. Sometimes the change that comes through academy status can be transformational. I referred to some of the brilliant examples in London, and it is important that we remind ourselves of them.

Much analysis has been done of the London challenge. It was not all good and all successful, but the main feature of the analyses that I have seen, with which I certainly concur, is that the London challenge worked because it was collaborative and based on evidence. It was collaborative across schools and across communities. Local authorities were involved, but the schools were very much in the driving seat, working with us in central Government. We need that kind of approach elsewhere. Something that works in a capital city cannot be replicated in every part of the country.

That is why the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, and cabinet member Nick Small have decided that we are going to have a Liverpool challenge. They have asked me to chair it. I will be working with schools, business, the further education college, the universities and others. This will be across the piece. Academy schools, local authority schools, faith schools and church schools are a particularly important component of education in the city. The aim is absolutely to raise standards for all young people in the schools. We have seen a big improvement in many of our cities, including Liverpool, over the past two decades, but in recent years we have had a drop-off in our secondary results, with Liverpool falling a bit behind some other cities. The mayor of Liverpool recognised that and has asked for this piece of work to happen.

I mention this because that kind of approach still has value. It is rooted in the community and in local democratic leadership, but it is also rooted in recognising that we have a big challenge on standards. There is no denial of that in the approach being taken.

I genuinely wish the hon. Gentleman every success in his chairing of the Liverpool challenge. Does he accept, though, that the approach taken in the multi-academy trust system is designed specifically to replicate that kind of approach but within a chain of academies, not necessarily inner-city, up and down the country?

I do recognise that. A number of multi-academy trusts have proved hugely successful, and I praise their work. However, we must also recognise that some academy chains have not been successful. That is why I support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) advocating inspection of academy chains on the same basis as Ofsted inspection of local authorities. That is a really important principle. The good or outstanding multi-academy trusts have nothing to fear from my hon. Friend’s amendment, but in the same way that we have challenged local authorities that have not succeeded in education in the past, we must challenge academies and academy chains.

The evidence now shows that we have seen some real improvement in our schools, particularly in cities and notably in London, but we still have some enormous challenges in coastal areas. I encourage the Government and my own party to look at this. Many coastal areas that have faced serious economic decline and big social challenges now have some of the poorest-performing schools; they may be coasting schools or schools with some of the poorest results. It is vital that we tackle that in the same way that the previous Labour Government sought to tackle underperformance in schools in our cities.

I hope that we can do that as this debate moves forward. It will be best done in a collaborative way that challenges the schools and works with them, because that is the way that works. It has worked with the London challenge, and the black country and Manchester challenges, and I hope it will work with the Liverpool challenge in which I am so pleased to have been asked to play my part.

It is a pleasure to take part in this stage of the debate on this important Bill. I, too, support the Government in their intolerance of failing and coasting schools, and their continued restlessness for improvements. Young people have been let down by the system and by their schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas where mobility is being stifled.

I want to speak to new clause 2. I welcome the comments by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). In many ways my comments will chime with what he said. From his experience of my constituency as my predecessor, he will know of the example I am going to use.

We need to look carefully at the assumption that there is a form of governance that is right for every school. We all no doubt agree that any good school needs strong leadership and supportive governors who are there to be critical friends to help to develop its character and to produce, through the quality of the teaching, the results that every child across our nation deserves. Certain types of governance and structure are needed at certain times to be able to provide initiatives, interventions and the rapid improvement that is required, and others are needed at other times to support and complement all the basic skills.

I want to talk about the example of Broomfield school. I declare an interest as a governor of the school at the time when it went into special measures in October 2011. I am now an associate governor—just hanging on, but still maintaining a particular interest in the school. The Ofsted report of October 2011 said:

“The leadership and management of teaching and learning are inadequate…Leaders and managers, including governors, have had insufficient impact in addressing weak provision and poor outcomes in science…Self-evaluation is wide of the mark and the school has an unrealistic view of the quality of provision.”

I could go on and on. Unfortunately it was a damning report on the leadership and the quality of teaching throughout the school. It left the school on its knees, with morale very low. The head teacher resigned and we wondered what to do next. The governors recognised that they too had been criticised for their leadership and needed to take action. They came to me and said, “Can you do something about it?” I looked around at the evidence from the London challenge and other ways in which we could try to bring about rapid improvement. The Department was breathing down the neck of Broomfield school, saying that it might need to intervene and there needed to be an interim board. The LEA was extremely concerned. Indeed, Ofsted was probably concerned, because six months before it had given a “good” classification to the school that hid what was underneath, which was some systemic failures that needed to be addressed.

I looked around and saw that in order to do all that we wanted to do in trying to make rapid improvements, we needed to change the leadership to make it strong. We also needed to see what was around locally and collaborate to try to provide quick advice and support on excellence. I initiated a so-called rapid recovery group that I chaired during the time that we sought to come off our knees and help the school, along with the teachers who wanted to stay and be part of the senior and middle leadership—to be part of the future rather than consigned to the past.

When we looked around we saw that there were outstanding heads in Enfield. At Southgate school—the old school of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby—and others there were excellent governors who were able to get involved; we had excellence on our doorstep. They became part of the rapid recovery group, along with the local authority. We tried to see what we could do without outside intervention, because we could move more quickly than if we went into a longer process that would also have been more destabilising for Broomfield. We were able to take prompt action on appointments and to provide some degree of certainty for the teachers who remained to try to make improvements.

That was the Enfield approach. It worked for Enfield but it would not work everywhere; we had the excellence on our doorstep that enabled us to do it. We benefited from the time that we were given to do it and from bringing on board, not least, the parents, as well as the remaining governors, to look to a brighter future.

In May 2015, Ofsted rated Broomfield as a good school. It said:

“The headteacher provides strong leadership and is ably supported by his senior team...Most students now make at least expected progress or better in most subjects…School leaders work with professionalism and care to support all students, particularly those who are more vulnerable”—

the school has a very challenging intake to deal with. It continued:

“The quality of teaching has improved significantly. A relentless focus on teaching and learning is supported by a programme of high quality training for all staff…Students’ behaviour is good in lessons”—

which certainly was not the case in 2011. It continued:

“Governors are knowledgeable about their school. They effectively support and challenge school leaders to ensure they remain focused on whole school priorities.”

It took us longer than we wanted to get to that stage—the rapid recovery group was not quite so rapid—but we got there. Step-by-step improvement brought the school along, together with the excellent support from within Enfield. It was a good example of collaboration and partnership. We have reached a point where we are good and need to make still further progress. Obviously, as soon as possible we want to be an outstanding school.

I have some sympathy with new clause 2 and the comments made by the Opposition. I want some reassurance from the Minister, who I know from his great experience is relentless in wanting improvements for all young people and to ensure that we are intolerant of failure and coasting schools. I am with the Minister on the broad thrust of the Bill, but I want him to reassure me that there will be time for consultation on the changes and that there will be the opportunity to work with local excellence and to draw on that support—yes, of the multi-chain academies that understand the model of the London challenge and, more locally, the model of the Enfield challenge. We were able to bring that change about through the rapid recovery group. Other schools that have been in special measures around my patch, such as the De Bohun school, have used the collaborative partnership model of the rapid recovery group to use the excellence on our doorsteps to improve. That seems to be working for Enfield, and I want us to benefit from that and set a good example so that schools from across the country can benefit from that excellence.

I was never wholly convinced by the academies programme of the previous Labour Government, but as an educational professional—who worked under London challenge, on which I echo with many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) but would add that the relentless refusal to accept failure was a major part of it—I understood that there were schools that had consistently failed where everything had been tried and where something new was needed. Ultimately, I took the view that it was important for the children, parents and communities that had been consistently failed that I gave the programme the benefit of the doubt. I at least understood the rationale behind it, but the policy of the coalition Government and this Government of wholesale academisation and the establishment of free schools where there is no basic need and purely on the basis of ideology is both damaging and a colossal waste of public money.

I was a member of the previous Select Committee on Education, and we carried out a major piece of work on academies and free schools. We found absolutely no evidence whatsoever that academies improved standards more than maintained schools or improved standards faster. When I say that we found no evidence, I mean that we looked for it. We looked really hard, but it simply does not exist and it is wrong of the Prime Minister, Education Ministers and Conservative Members constantly to over-claim and exaggerate on behalf of academies.

We have seen a wholesale change in the educational structure of this country and if there is no evidence to back up such an approach, it must be based purely on ideology. In what seems the Government’s rush to academise at any cost, schools have been handed over to any academy chain, although some are beginning to fail and are having to be handed on again. The views and wishes of parents, staff, pupils and communities have counted for nothing. A number of high-profile campaigns against academisation by schools and communities in which there is clear evidence, backed up by Ofsted, that those schools were improving and had the capacity to improve further, have simply been swatted away by the current Secretary of State and the former Secretary of State, now the Lord Chancellor, as though they counted for nothing.

I know a number of things as an educationalist who worked in education for 25 years, and schools will not thrive without the support of their communities, yet the Government have simply disregarded the views of countless communities because, as we all know, the current and former Secretaries of State have such a breadth of knowledge and experience in education that they clearly know best. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) when he talks about the sense of infallibility that seems to exist in the Department for Education.

The Government are taking away even the pretence of any need to consult local communities when academisation is proposed. I believe that that is wrong on all kinds of levels. Some of our academies and academy chains are doing a fabulous job, but I have concerns about academy chains, as the Schools Minister knows because we have debated them many times. Some of them are doing a really good job, but there is something dark and mysterious in many of these organisations. They exist on public money but there is little public transparency and very little public accountability.

As a member of the Select Committee, I tried really hard to follow some of that money. We were told constantly that the chains publish accounts once a year, but there was very little detail in them. I tried to find out how much money is being skimmed off the top of the funding given to schools to cover matters such as administration or to go into contracts linked to the members of those boards. I tried to find out how much was being paid on salaries, but with the exception of one person—the one who earns the most, which can mean more than £350,000—I could not find out anything. I could not find out how many people were paid more than £100,000, more than £200,000 or more than £300,000. I could not find out how many were paid a penny less than the one person whose salary had to be reported on. Local authorities are under a duty to transfer public money to schools and only hold back a tiny percentage of funding for the delivery of statutory education duties. There is no such legal duty on chains and it would appear to me, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that they are making large with it.

As a member of the Select Committee, in 2013 I visited the Netherlands, where the former Secretary of State got many of his ideas on academies and academy chains. At the time, the Netherlands were reeling from a scandal involving one of their school boards, which are very similar to our academy chains, that had gone bankrupt. What was causing the concern was not just the bankruptcy of the school board but the slow recognition that when a school board, like an academy chain, goes bankrupt, the assets of the school do not return to the public purse. They belong to the creditors. That means the school, its whiteboards, its laptops and, more importantly, the land on which it was built—and this is really important in places such as London where land is short. Creditors would rush in quickly, knock the school down and sell the land. The children and the community were left with no school and had to fall back on local authorities that did not have the resources to deal with them. The failure of an academy chain in this country is not a fantasy; I think it will be just a matter of time. The assets of those academy chains—of those former public schools that were paid for with money from our taxpayers—will drift off and belong to whoever the creditors are.

I am therefore asking the Government to think again and to consider the whole premise on which their academisation programme is built, the legal and financial basis, and the links with local authorities, children, families and communities. I ask them carefully to consult local communities when they are thinking about changing the nature of the school. A school is really important to a community, as we see when we try to close them down. Communities care about their schools and we ought to give them at least the opportunity to be consulted.

I would like the Government to give the local community the right of appeal to an independent body against the Secretary of State’s decision rather than just assuming that the Secretary of State is infallible. I want only sponsors with a proven record of educational success to be allowed to run academies—now there is a new and great idea. I want to give the chief inspector of schools the explicit right to inspect not only academies and free schools but the chains that manage those schools. This is public money, and to do anything else is not only foolish in the short and the long term but a waste of public funding.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to contribute to this very important debate. I supported the academies programme long before the last Government were elected. I thought that the Labour Government were right to create academies, and it is also right for the current Government to continue with that programme. It is my firm belief that a system that encourages autonomy, focuses on good leadership and draws attention to the ability of schools to work together is all about self-improvement and improvement in general. We should salute and welcome that, and my comments on the proposed new clauses and amendments should be seen in that context.

The current direction of travel is to create more academy trusts and to make sure that each one contains a range of schools that, first and foremost, meet pupils’ needs. My vision of a multi-academy trust is one that has a university technical college, ordinary secondary schools and a group of primary schools. In short, a MAT should offer a wide range of support so that a pupil can move around it, getting the education he or she needs and, above all, deserves. That is the very important direction we should be heading in.

On new clause 2, the fact is that if a school is failing, action needs to be swift. We cannot sit back and watch things get worse. That is the essence of why a Secretary of State should be able to intervene, and they should do so constructively so that the right kinds of governors can be found for the struggling or failing school.

It is essential that we understand that a day wasted getting a school back on track is a day lost for a pupil at that school. If we do the maths and realise how many pupils are at an individual school, we will see that the situation could become terrible. I have seen for myself schools floundering and the local authority, while knowing that something should be done, not having the courage or capacity to intervene. That is why I support the thrust of the powers of intervention by the Secretary of State and do not agree that new clause 2 should stand part of the Bill.

I would go further. Oddly enough, the Education Committee today discussed leadership and governance in schools. We asked the chief inspector of schools about his views and he repeated his belief that leadership and governance are paramount. He is absolutely right, and that is why I set up the all-party group on education leadership and governance five years ago. Yesterday we launched a report about moving governance on to the next step, which is a combination of more skills, greater focus on strategy, and a more federal approach so that one governing body can look after several schools. The National Governors Association, the Secretary of State, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the other place and governors themselves welcome that approach. The all-party group has managed to attract huge support for and interest in making sure that governors are well placed to govern, and the Bill should take that into account. I reject new clause 2.

I can see the logic of new clause 8, but the Education Committee heard this morning that the real issue is the accountability lines between governance and leadership. It is about how a school is run, how it should be led and how it should be held accountable. I do not think that new clause 8 adds anything useful to the actual process of finding out where accountability lies; checking how it works and making sure that governance feels, and is, responsible; and that it ultimately holds a school to account through not only the head, but in other ways. For me, new clause 8 does not make a serious contribution to this debate.

I feel bound to comment on amendment 11, because my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) made a persuasive case. I shall confine myself to these comments. I think that existing grammar schools should certainly be allowed to expand—two in my constituency want to do exactly that—but I do not think that going down the selective route beyond where we now are would be right for our children or, indeed, for our education system as a whole. For the sake of all children who go to school, we must ensure that the thousands of schools we have can become much better than they are now, rather than focus on just a few schools. Amendment 11 would lead us down the track of focusing on just a few schools.

In Kingston and Surbiton, we have the two Tiffin schools. One is just outside my constituency, and one is in it. They are excellent examples of grammar schools, and I would certainly support maintaining them. Does my hon. Friend agree that schools can create a variety of educational models, albeit non-selective ones, within the free schools system? Those models follow the traditional academic grammar school route without the selective element, which is a successful way of preserving the grammar school ethos without the problems of selectivity.

I thank my hon. Friend for his very helpful intervention. That point justifies the free schools programme, which is all about bringing in choice and making sure that parents and staff can make decisions about their school, including about having a school of that type.

On that point, the shadow Minister quite rightly referred to what the New Schools Network has said about parent involvement. I have written about that in the past, and I am pleased that the idea has now been given more traction. On the particular proposal of empowering parents to take action about the leadership of a school, I would say that they should do so only if the very highest threshold is met.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about parents. Is he at all concerned about the way in which the Bill sweeps away the right of parents to have a say on the future of their local schools?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, because it goes to the heart of the Bill. The Bill is largely about schools in which action needs to be taken to get them to a better place. Such action has to be taken urgently, it must be about leadership and governance and, where necessary, it must take the form of intervention. As I have said, the principal focus should be on whether pupils benefit from delay or from action to take their school to a better place.

I do not want to say that parents should not be consulted, because I think they should. For example, there is a strong role for parent teacher associations to play in the interface with the community about a school’s future. I spoke to the chief executive of PTA UK just a few days ago, and I was struck by the role that PTAs can play in such dialogue. When a school is failing, however, we must take action. That is implicit in the Bill. Action is absolutely necessary for any failing school.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned meeting a representative of PTA UK, but is he aware that it submitted evidence to the Public Bill Committee? It stated 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.”

I invite him to comment.

It is absolutely right for there to be engagement, but I think that we are confusing two different things. I would have thought that PTA UK was talking about engagement with the school more generally. I am referring to the issues in the Bill and the specific question of whether intervention should be swift and effective, and the degree of consultation that should be involved.

Of course there should be consultation and the Bill makes clear the role of regional schools commissioners, who should consult fairly widely. The Education Committee will look into the role and capacity of the regional schools commissioners. One question that we will ask is how that consultation process is undertaken. I do not think that that point is at variance with the spirit of the Bill.

On amendment 12, we cannot have coasting schools and when we see them we must act. In the last Parliament, the chief inspector produced a powerful report about the long tail of underachievement, which detailed the problem that many schools carry on coasting without being noticed. It is striking that many of those schools are in rural and coastal areas. That tells us that the mechanism is not in place to properly check what a coasting school is doing. I therefore believe that amendment 12 would take us in the wrong direction.

A coasting school is a very bad place to be. If a school is coasting along then, even if everybody thinks it is doing okay, it is not doing its job properly. It is therefore a real challenge for the teachers and governors to move it forward. Of course, we need to discuss in some detail the definition of a coasting school, but if the teachers and governors of a coasting school are not moving it forward, we must act. I therefore do not believe that amendment 12 is appropriate.

Just for clarity, amendment 12 is consequential to new clause 1, which would replace the Government’s version of a coasting school with the Opposition’s provision. The amendment would not sweep away the need for action to be taken when schools have problems of that kind.

According to the “Member’s explanatory statement”, amendment 12 would

“remove the clause that establishes that ‘coasting’ schools shall be eligible for intervention.”

That is what I read, and I do not think that that should be the direction of travel. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about its connection to new clause 1.

The important point to make about amendment 13 is that if a school is in trouble, appeals from the governing body, which is probably responsible for a large part of those difficulties, ought to be put into perspective. Instead, a governing body should recognise that it has a duty and responsibility to participate in improving the school.

The Bill has a lot going for it. We need to address the issue of school leadership. In my judgment, we need more multi-academy trusts because they provide the right framework for schools to help each other and pursue self-improvement. It is critical that we focus on coasting schools and use powers to ensure that they stop coasting and, instead, do what they are supposed to be doing, which is raising the standard of delivery for pupils.

I rise in support of new clauses 3 and 9, and to make a few remarks about amendment 11.

What bothers me about this legislation is the issue of consultation, which was alluded to by the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), and parental consultation in particular. That is a long-term anxiety for me, because I am aware of local schools in my constituency that have been subjected to horrific bullying by academy brokers to convert to academies, and I would not wish that replicated anywhere else.

Despite having been a member of the coalition Government, I have general reservations about the Academies Act 2010, which I consider inferior to Mrs Thatcher’s legislation on grant-maintained schools. That gave parents a decisive vote on the destiny of the school. Members may recall that during the passage of the Academies Act, I divided the House, with the help of Mr Ed Balls, to try to get parents a better vote in the decisions on the structure, character and governance of the school. The answer of the House at the time was clearly no—parents were not to have such a voice—and this legislation would serve to further reduce the power of parents. Indeed, some of the witnesses who gave evidence in Committee stated explicitly that parents were not the best judges, or any kind of reasonable judge, of their children’s educational destiny.

In the Bill the powers of the local education authority, governors and diocesan authorities are reduced, as well as those of parents. Even interim executives are subject to constraints that they did not have before. Throughout, the common theme is that the powers of the Secretary of State increase, or those of the Secretary of State’s agents, the regional school commissioners, do, although those commissioners were something of an afterthought to the academies programme.

In the Bill rights of appeal are diminished, the duties of consultation are tokenistic and not spelled out, and timescales can be telescoped. We have to ask why the Secretary of State needs to accumulate any more power than they already have. It has been pointed out—including by the Secretary of State and in Committee—that the only real restraint left on the Secretary of State is the duty to act reasonably and the fact that they can be challenged under common law. If we ask why this is happening, the main reason is that we are all identifying poor and mediocre education which, it has been argued, requires immediate action. No day should be wasted as it is precious time that pupils will not get again. There is no dispute about that, but immediate remedial action is not the same as immediate academisation, and that is where the Government appear confused.

It is indisputable—I do not think anybody disagrees—that academisation is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for progress, and as has been agreed across the House, some academy chains are not very good. Some schools get better and improve significantly through effective LEA or diocesan intervention, or some process other than academisation, and many examples were mentioned by those on the Opposition Front Benches.

The Government must be asked why they are such a one-club golfer. One plausible argument might be that despite there being other remedies, the academy route is simply the more probable, or probably effective, way of addressing coasting or failing schools. That is an arguable case if we are going to go by the evidence, but I see no evidence that the Government want to do that. The Prime Minister and the top of the Government give us targets and goals for turning ever more schools into academies, regardless of whether that is appropriate: it must happen.

Let us suppose that we are going to decide policy on the basis of evidence, and that ideology and prejudice will have no serious influence. Nobody—I am sure the Chair of the Education Committee will agree—would dispute that all educational research shows that the biggest factor that influences children’s outcomes and their overall educational destiny is the involvement, support and participation of their parents. If the level of consultation, communication and participation declines, it is not only regrettable but, as evidence shows, unproductive. The Government have a case to answer there.

I turn briefly to amendment 11, on grammar schools, tabled by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady). I went to three grammar schools, two of which were founded round about 1550, and for part of my education I went to the same grammar school as the Minister—Maidstone grammar school in Kent. He started his secondary education there; I finished mine. I have read that he applauds it for its rigour. I have to say it was not always rigorous when I was there. I was taught by a head of French who was going deaf, and bright boys in L stream, as it was called, were encouraged to give up science as quickly as possible in order to concentrate on arts subjects, if that was their bent, so there was evidence of occasional coasting there.

I will not dispute, however, that grammar schools have had an impact on social mobility among the pupils attending them, and I will not dispute that they perform well on all evidential bases. I have another experience, however, apart from the one I share with the Minister. I started my teaching career in a secondary modern in Bootle which, one year after I started, merged with Bootle grammar school and became a comprehensive school. I taught mixed classes of ex-grammar school pupils and ex-secondary modern school pupils, and I honestly could not always tell the difference in terms of their ability and potential.

In the years before, however, pupils who went to the secondary modern, as opposed to the grammar school, had very different outcomes and saw themselves quite differently. When the comprehensive developed into a high school, it was not an immediate success, as much had been unpicked, and I learned that restructuring was not always wise—when something works in an educational environment, it is best to leave it in place. I am therefore actually pretty agnostic about structures, and I have extensive experience of almost every kind of structure, having also taught for a long period in an independent school. There is good and bad in all types of school. What is crucial in any type of school are leadership, morale and parental support.

I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman on that last point, as I am sure would most Members who take an interest in education, but may I bring him to the precise point of the amendment? As an agnostic on structures, does he accept that if the population distribution changes in an area that is selective, an additional grammar might be needed to maintain the existing balance of selection and not drive existing grammar schools to become more selective?

I will consider the hon. Gentleman’s comments carefully. I am certainly happy with the idea of local decision making—I just wish the Government were more comfortable with it—and I think that we as politicians can do little to improve the educational landscape. We can change structures all the time, but they are not what makes a substantial difference: what makes a difference are the things that we normally cannot control or create but which, if we introduce the wrong kind of legislation, we can certainly frustrate.

I rise to speak in favour of my new clauses 4 and 5 and the new clauses and amendments in the names of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns).

We need to make a wealth of important changes to the Bill. It is a great honour to follow excellent contributions from hon. Members who are clearly passionate about educational standards. I do not doubt that the Government share that passion, but the problem is that none of the measures in the Bill will improve those standards. The Bill is based on an overriding assumption that academisation will automatically drive up standards and that the centralisation of power is the way to deliver it. Unfortunately, the Government have been simply unable to evidence that assumption at any stage of this Bill.

As such, the Bill before us today is a missed opportunity—a missed opportunity to address the profound teacher recruitment and retention crisis, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan)outlined, that is predicated on a demoralised, overstretched workforce and a burgeoning young population. It is a missed opportunity to drive up standards in academies where underperformance stubbornly persists—an issue that the Bill inexplicably excludes. It is a missed opportunity to put parents, teachers, assistants and the local school community at the heart of the agenda. That is why Labour Members were disappointed that the Minister refused to take up any of our sensible amendments in Committee, which would have demonstrated a cross-party willingness to drive up educational standards.

Let me explain the contrasting principles behind my new clauses 4 and 5. First, school improvement simply cannot take place without the consultation and involvement of parents, teachers and the school community. Secondly, we must strengthen the accountability system that is, even in its current form, all too lacking, particularly for academy chains.

New clause 5 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 it would give the Secretary of State power to direct the chief inspector to inspect any academy chain and specify which areas need inspecting. That is particularly important for financial stability, where several academy chains such as E-ACT have come unstuck. The new clause, supported by the chief inspector of Ofsted, will go some way towards opening up the accountability system for academy sponsors, which has not caught up with the rapid expansion of academies generally.

The speed at which schools converted into academies or joined multi-academy trusts has increased at a dramatic rate over the past three years. In 2012-13, the Department opened three times as many sponsored academies as in 2011-12, and by December 2014, 3,062 schools had converted to academy status—far in excess of expectations. This, of course, will continue apace under the Bill, as regional school commissioners scrabble to find sponsors in pursuit of centrally set targets.

It is therefore reasonable for systems of accountability to keep pace. That is all the more important because, as we have heard, performance levels among chains still suffer from significant variation. The Sutton Trust concluded in its recent report that the very poor results for pupils of some chains are of urgent concern. These concerns are about what happens not just in the classroom, but in the boardroom. The National Audit Office warned that the inability of Ofsted to inspect academy chains means that there is no independent source of information about the quality of their work, and 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.

The lack of accountability and oversight by an independent body has its consequences—finance, audit and governance systems will suffer without rigorous independent inspections, and in some cases may not exist at all. In particular, the funding arrangements have been found to be open to abuse and conflicts of interests.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Our hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) touched earlier on the issue of transparency. Are you aware of the school in my constituency—the Hewett school, a local authority school—that was handed over to an academy chain called the Inspiration Trust by ministerial fiat against the wishes of the community and the parents of that school? One problem we have with the Inspiration Trust is that it refuses to publish the individual accounts of individual schools. Instead, it simply publishes very basic group accounts. I think there is a concern about conflicts of interests, which are not being highlighted in the way we would like. Will your new clause be able to challenge that and do something about it?

Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman means well, but when he says “your” in the Chamber, he is referring to the Chair, and it is clearly not my new clause, but the new clause of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will rephrase what he said.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) is indeed honourable for giving way. I was wondering whether my hon. Friend’s new clause could tackle the issue I raised.

I am very grateful for that intervention. My hon. Friend raises an example—one he has raised on several occasions—that is exactly the kind of example my new clause intends to address.

The Institute of Education reported on the case of the Academy Enterprise Trust, a chain of some 80 academies, which paid nearly £500,000 into the private business interests of trustees and executives, with the payments ranging from project management to consultancy. In all cases, the services had not been put out to competitive tender and the AET’s accounts demonstrated a serious budget deficit.

The small network of individuals who operate the relatively small network of academy chains act with little oversight or accountability from an independent body. That has harmed, and will continue to harm, the decision-making process. As my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) mentioned earlier, the Select Committee on Education has said that the funding arrangements lack transparency, because the Education Funding Agency acts as both a regulator and funder, and that they are heavily politicised and prone to favouritism. The report went on to conclude that civil servants in the EFA have become highly politicised and that schools may be given preferential treatment, leaving the EFA itself wide open to conflicts of interest. That is in the context, as we have heard, of an accountability system that goes back directly to the Secretary of State’s using private contract law rather than public law and parliamentary accountability, as applies to maintained schools.

Given that background, it is important to raise another concern: the very widespread involvement of Conservative party donors in a number of academy chains. Indeed, four of the top 12 largest academy chains have links to the Conservative party through donations. David Ross, for instance, has donated over £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 goes through. Alan Lewis, a major Conservative donor and vice-chair of Conservatives for Business, was also initially listed as a chairman of the Kings Science Academy, before that information disappeared from the public domain. The academy chain mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) is run by another Conservative party donor, Theodore Agnew. The trust is looking actively—some would argue aggressively—to take over more schools. Without rehearsing arguments for a different debate, it would be fair to say that there are serious local concerns about its accountability, particularly in reference to Ofsted.

Is the hon. Lady seriously criticising these individuals, who are looking to assist in the education of young people, just because they are Conservative party members? If she is, I think this debate has got to a very sad state. I thought, when we were members of the Public Bill Committee, that both our parties were looking to further education opportunities for young people, not simply make cheap party political jibes and pot shots.

The Minister made the same point in Committee when I was raising these issues then. This is not an issue of Conservative party membership; this is an issue of transparency and serious conflicts of interest that have been raised by the cross-party Education Committee. It is not a cheap party political jibe, but one that has been seriously raised about parliamentary accountability and transparency, something Conservative Members are supposedly in favour of.

The Harris chain is particularly relevant, because it has sometimes been chosen as a sponsor by the Department against the wishes of staff, parents, and communities who have preferred other high-performing local options. That brings me to the Minister’s colleague, Lord Nash, who is another Conservative donor. He sits not only in the other place, but in the Department as Minister for Academies, where he is involved in choosing sponsors despite having been involved in specific academy chains. Frankly, there have been suspicions of political favouritism and intervention in these choices, and there are too few safeguards against them.

The vast majority of academy trusts are staffed by people working hard to address educational underperformance, but it is appropriate to ask, as the Education Committee did, 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 scrutiny. Indeed, the Clarke report, following the so-called Trojan horse affair, made a number of very significant recommendations which it appears the Government have yet to implement fully. Recommendation 7 stated that the Department for Education should consider urgently how best to capture local concerns driving the conversion process and review the brokerage system through which schools are matched with academy sponsors to ensure that the process is transparent and understood by all parties. The Government have previously claimed that all the recommendations have been implemented, but perhaps the Minister could comment on how the Bill fulfils them. What we are hearing from education professionals is that in some cases school leaders will go to the Department with recommendations for a preferred sponsor for their school, only to be overruled by the Department.

That brings me to new clause 4, which is intended to put the voices of parents and the local community at the centre of any decision to choose the identity of an academy sponsor. Apart from questions about the principle and pace of the academy programme, there will be questions about the identity, values and track record of particular academy sponsors for particular schools. Labour Members simply do not understand what the Government have to fear from the voices of parents, teachers, governors and support staff. We consult those groups constantly, and we value their input extremely highly. Indeed, the head of the National Association of Head Teachers argued, very wisely, in a blog ahead of today’s debate, that

“removing the right to consultation and engagement with local communities, in my experience, tends to alienate and promote opposition where previously the local community was neutral.”

As we know, the academic evidence shows that when there is parental support for and buy-in to a school, the results of that school are often better. What we are seeing from the Government, however—whether we are talking about the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, the Trade Union Bill or this Bill—is a sustained Tory assault on democracy and free speech, on the very anniversary of Magna Carta. I have to say that it fills me with dread.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Communication and consultation can only be positive, and significantly improve the process of schools’ conversion to academy status.

There is another perfectly legitimate reason why parents have a right to be involved in the decision. As we have heard, there is a stark variation between the performances of academy chains. Parents, teachers, local authorities and the school community could be handing a school over to a chain that might perform markedly worse than the existing maintained school.

In a report that is as detailed and comprehensive as any could be found, the much-respected Sutton Trust demonstrated that sponsored academies are twice as likely to be below the floor standards as other mainstream schools. Half the chains examined by the trust did less well than the mainstream school average. Indeed, in 2014, 44% of the academies in the analysis group covered in the report were below the Government’s new “coasting level”.

Our education system must be a collaborative effort between parents, pupils and schools, and Labour Members believe that it is the right of parents to have a substantial say in how their children are educated. The Conservative Education Act 1996 set out in law the general principle that

“pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents”.

That has been a principle in law since school attendance became compulsory more than a century ago.

It is strange that the Government’s talk of localism and involving service users in decisions does not apply to schools. After the election, the Chancellor of the Exchequer remarked in a speech on devolution that “the old model” of running things from London

“made people feel remote from the decisions that affect their lives. It’s not good for our prosperity or for our democracy.”

He will find some agreement among Members on both sides of the House on that general point, but perhaps the Education Secretary failed to get the memo, as she removed the right of parents and the local school community to have a say in the future of their schools. I ask once again, why are the Government so afraid of the voices of parents and the school communities?

My new clause would go a small way towards repairing the democratic deficit that is opening up as a result of a Bill that puts too much power in the hands of the Secretary of State, and far too little in the hands of our school communities.

It is great to be called for the first time under your stewardship, Madam Deputy Speaker. I rise to support new clause 1.

I have already paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan); let me now extend my thanks to the Schools Minister, who sat opposite me for the many weeks of the Committee stage, and took my interventions very graciously during that period despite my frequent fumbling breaches of protocol.

No one, in Committee or today, has disputed the need to challenge coasting in any school—least of all me, because I went to a school which, by today’s standards, could be deemed to have been coasting. I left with very few qualifications, and, at the age of 25, I had to return to the same state secondary school and take my exams again. I spent a year in a secondary school as a 25-year-old. Anyone who has done that—spent a year with teenagers as a 25-year-old, and had the experience of going through education for the second time—will never, ever allow any other person to go through the same thing, or allow any other person to leave school without the right qualifications. It seems an irony that the school I left and had to return to is in the constituency of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, because the Minister for Schools is the MP for that constituency. This has therefore come full circle now, and I hope that what was Felpham comprehensive school—I do not know what it is called now, but I presume Felpham community college—is doing much better today than it was doing then.

Nobody disputes the need to tackle coasting wherever it is, least of all me, and nobody disputes that academies are the answer in some cases, but only the Government think they are always the answer. That is the nub of why I support new clause 1.

The Government could not produce a single witness in the witness stage of the Bill to say conversion to an academy was always the answer to coasting. In fact their star witness, Sir Daniel Moynihan, a remarkable man who set up and is chief executive of a fantastic organisation, the Harris Federation, was asked directly by me whether he thought academisation is the only response to coasting. His answer was simple: “No,” and he went on to explain why in more detail.

The sum of that, of the experience there has been, and of the evidence given in writing and in person by experts is that academisation is one tool of many, and is not the only tool. I should make a declaration here: I am chair of governors of an academy that has fundamentally transformed the ability of young people to go through education successfully with fantastic outcomes.

My second point is that the regulatory framework that will underpin schooling as a consequence of this Bill is confused and complicated. Given this Government’s philosophical approach to deregulation, it is extraordinary that schools from different sectors—state maintained, academies and the private sector—are all regulated in different ways. This is absurd and it is becoming a regulatory nightmare which will produce some real absurdities.

For example, as a consequence of this Bill, a school could in future be rated as outstanding by Ofsted yet the Department for Education could deem it as coasting. What are parents going to make of this new world? How will they decide where to send their children?

We will have a regulatory framework where academies that are deemed to be coasting by every other measure are not allowed to be converted to another status. The Bill focuses on organisational status as opposed to what we now know works: a focus on standards and educational outcomes. All the international evidence throughout the world shows that a focus on standards is what drives up educational outcomes, yet this Bill completely ignores all that evidence. It is turning into an ideological Bill, which I fundamentally oppose.

It is extraordinary that someone who comes from my background and has been involved in the conversion from local authority-maintained schools to academies should stand here in such opposition to a Bill that refers to academies.

This has been a short, but high-quality, debate, with excellent contributions from Members on both sides of the House.

The Bill is the next step in this Government’s drive to change our education system so that every child, from whatever background and in every part of the country, receives the standard of education they need to succeed in a demanding and competitive world, and where every local school is a good school. The Bill builds on the sponsored academies programme, designed to tackle underperformance through new leadership and governance. It builds on the converter academy programme, designed to liberate highly successful state schools to allow them to flourish and spread their proven formula to other schools. It builds on the free schools programme, designed to encourage innovation and provide a break with failed education orthodoxies.

The Bill also builds on our reforms to the curriculum, pushing up academic standards in English, maths and science in primary schools, our reforms to the teaching of reading and our reforms to GCSEs and A-levels, putting those qualifications on a par with the best in the world. It builds on the measures we have introduced to improve school attendance, to raise the standard of behaviour and to improve the quality of teacher training. All these reforms have been designed to change our schools system so that every child can benefit from a great education. In short, the Bill is about social justice. That is why it now addresses not only failing schools but coasting schools.

In the Minister’s list of Government policies, he omitted to mention the policy on free school meals. Will he put on record the Government’s commitment to that policy over the course of this Parliament, as set out in his party’s manifesto?

The hon. Gentleman will know what we achieved in the last Parliament. He will hear later, when the spending review is completed, what we can commit to in the next few years, not only on that issue but on a whole of range of issues across Whitehall that we have to look at in great detail.

A coasting school is one that is not consistently ensuring that children reach their potential. Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State the power to define which schools will be deemed to be coasting and therefore eligible for intervention. To assist scrutiny of the clause, we have already published draft regulations setting out our proposed definition. They provide a clear and transparent data-based definition, based on a school’s performance data over three years, rather than on a single Ofsted judgment or a snapshot of a single year’s results. Our proposed definition of a coasting school will be based on the new accountability system that comes into place from 2016, but it will be 2018 by the time three years’ data are available under the new system. We do not think it acceptable to wait so long before acting on coasting schools so we have also proposed interim measures for 2014 and 2015, based on existing metrics, so that regional schools commissioners can start to take action in 2016.

New clause 1, tabled by the hon. Members for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe), proposes an alternative approach to identifying and addressing schools that fail to ensure children reach their potential. Subsections (1) and (2) of the new clause propose to set out in legislation a new definition and put the decision about which schools are to be regarded as coasting in the hands of Ofsted and the local authority. This would remove all transparency for schools about what would constitute coasting, meaning that a school would have no certainty about whether it might be deemed to be coasting. The new clause proposes an opaque, confusing approach to the definition of a coasting school, in contrast to the clear definition that we have set out in draft regulations.

Subsection (3) of the new clause includes a number of factors that Ofsted would be required to take into account, such as the availability of teachers in the area, the number of pupils, the reliability of performance data, the socio-economic challenges and the gender balance of the pupil population of the school. I am not sure that those factors should be explicitly set out in primary legislation, because to do so would restrict the ability to respond appropriately and flexibly to the individual circumstances of a school. Regional schools commissioners will of course take into account the challenges a school faces from its intake, along with other issues, when they assess a school’s performance.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West cited a number of examples of maintained Catholic schools in Bexley that had improved their Ofsted rating without becoming sponsored academies, but he omitted to say that seven Catholic primary schools in the borough had expressed an interest in converting, including St Joseph’s, the school that he cited as previously having been judged inadequate. Both the Catholic secondary schools in the borough are already academies, including St Catherine’s, the school that he cited as providing effective support for improving the quality of the education at St Joseph’s.

Where a school does fall within the coasting definition, the regional schools commissioner’s first task will be to see whether the school has the capacity itself to raise standards. In some cases, the school’s own leadership, perhaps a recently appointed new headteacher, may have an effective plan to raise standards. In other cases, more support will be needed. Coasting schools will be able to work with other experienced headteachers, with national leaders of education, with stronger schools in the area and with other relevant experts to raise standards.

I give way again to the hon. Gentleman. I suspect he is missing his Front-Bench role, given his intervention in this debate.

The whole House is. I am just representing the views of my constituents, which is why I am sent here.

The Minister puts great faith in the role of regional schools commissioners. A number of my local schools in Stoke-on-Trent are in special measures and require improvement. They are not at the coasting stage; things are much more serious than that. The regional schools commissioner has failed to help to improve those schools, so why does the Minister think the RSCs will be able to sort out coasting schools, given that at the moment they cannot even sort out schools that require improvement or are in special measures?

Of course the RSCs have been established only recently, and already 60% of all secondary schools in the country have become academies and an increasing number of primary schools are now academies. The transformation of schools from the maintained sector into academisation has been phenomenally rapid. We are now moving a step further forward to ensuring that we do not just tackle failing schools. If this Bill gets through this House—I hope the hon. Gentleman will support it this evening—any failing school, including any school in his constituency that is in special measures, will automatically become an academy, have new leadership and have new sponsorship, driving forward higher standards in that school. He should be supporting the measure.

Having said that, academisation will not always be the default solution for coasting schools, because where it is clear that the existing leadership does have the capacity to improve, they will be given the support and backing to do just that. But having the discretion to make an academy order is important, even for coasting schools, as a backstop provision.

I could cite many examples where becoming a sponsored academy has helped to improve academic standards, but let me highlight just one. In January 2014, Our Lady and St Bede Roman Catholic secondary school in Stockton-on-Tees was judged as requiring improvement by Ofsted. It became an academy sponsored by the Carmel Education Trust. In 2014, only 54% of pupils achieved five or more A* to C GCSEs including English and maths. Under the new sponsorship the headteacher has reported that that figure has risen to 72% this year; which is an increase on last year of 18 percentage points in just 12 months.

I am grateful to the Minister for his work in Committee, where I served, alongside other colleagues in the House. Does he agree that we see that the Opposition’s challenge that this is not an evidence-based policy simply does not stack up when we look at the example he has cited and at academy sponsor trusts such as REAch2, Applegarth, STEP Academy Trust and WISE Academies, which have achieved astonishing turnarounds in a short time? Is this policy not just speeding up what works best?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that, and I was grateful for her involvement in, and contribution to, our deliberations in Committee. She knows what she is talking about, because she is chair at an extraordinary academy trust, the Michaela community school in Wembley, which was established by the formidable Katherine Birbalsingh. It is now into its second year and I recommend a visit to that school to any hon. Member who is interested in education. They will see a school that serves one of the most deprived parts of London delivering education of a quality that will astonish them. It is an astonishingly good school, and I am looking forward to its first set of GCSE results in three or four years’ time.

During the evidence session, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) put the same question to Emma Knights from the National Governors Association. She got this response from an expert who studies this matter day in, day out.

“The main bit of evidence was produced by the National Audit Office last year and it showed that 60% of schools deemed inadequate did improve without any sort of formal intervention because they had exactly that: a school improvement plan, and that worked in 60% of cases. Sponsored academisation worked in 44% of cases”.––[Official Report, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee, 31 June 2015; c. 16, Q33.]

I thank the hon. Lady for allowing me to point that out and to add to her experience and also to make worthwhile the night that I spent putting tabs on to my evidence session notes.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) via me, but I am delighted to respond. Of course sponsored academies are taking on some of the most challenging schools in the country. Where schools are coasting, we want them to do everything they can with the current leadership to improve, but there must be a fast-track method for dealing with schools that have been put into special measures. Our manifesto was very clear that we wanted to ensure swift, consistent action from day one in every failing school. When a school is failing, it needs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), who is the Chair of the Education Committee said, strong leadership and effective governance to ensure rapid improvements, which is delivered by academy sponsorship. That is why clause 7 places a duty on the Secretary of State to make an academy order for any maintained school that Ofsted has rated inadequate.

Sponsored academies have been hugely successful in raising standards in what were failing schools. In 2015, primary sponsored academies open for just one academic year have improved by five percentage points—from 66% to 71%—the number of children achieving the expected level in reading, writing and maths. Those open for more than two years have seen their results improve by 10 percentage points since opening. The proportion of pupils that gained five good GCSEs including English and maths was, on average, 6.4 percentage points higher in sponsored secondary academies that had been open for four years in 2014 than in their predecessor schools. Those are remarkable achievements for some of the most challenging schools in the country.

Will the Minister give the House the figures for maintained schools that have used some of the alternative school improvement approaches that I have outlined and that started off on the same level of achievement as the schools that were converted to academies that he has just quoted? In that way, we can make a proper evidential comparison.

As I said in Committee, these figures are significantly higher than the school system as a whole, which shows that these schools are raising standards. I can give some examples. Individual schools across the country have benefited from becoming sponsored academies. For example, Bramford primary school, which Ofsted placed in special measures in 2012, but which, having joined Griffin Schools Trust in 2013, has made huge improvements. In April 2015, Ofsted judged the school to be good, with Ofsted attributing that to the sponsor trust’s “good leadership and management.”

The hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) quoted Sir Dan Moynihan and his evidence to our proceedings, but he did not quote him when he said:

“Local authorities often do not use the freedoms that they have. There is nothing that we have done in any of our schools that were failing that a local authority could not have done. In every case, the local authority simply did not do it and it had to have someone else take it over and make it better.”––[Official Report, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2015; c. 18, Q38.]

Those are the words of a highly successful chief executive of a highly successful academy chain.

When a school is failing, we need the academy conversion process to be swift. Every day’s delay is a day of weak education for the pupils at a failing school, which was acknowledged by the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) in his contribution to our debate.

It is because for too long they have been languishing as underperforming schools. The authorities and governing bodies that were overseeing them have had their opportunity to improve them over many years. We feel that pupils should not have to waste a single day more in those schools. They need new leadership and new governance, and they need them now.

That is why clause 8 removes the requirement for consultation by a school’s governing body or the proposed sponsor on whether a school should become an academy, in circumstances where the school is judged inadequate by Ofsted or where other interventions have failed to raise standards. That is why clauses 10 and 11 ensure that the local authority and the governing body of a failing school co-operate and help with the conversion process. We have seen too many instances of deliberate procrastination by people ideologically hostile to the academies programme.

Does the Minister share my concern that schools that wish to convert to academy status, such as Bromley Pensnett school in my constituency, are finding a series of obstacles being put in their way by the local authority? Will he ensure that the Bill stops local authorities blocking the improvements that are urgently needed to turn around the schools that need the most support?

Where a school is failing, all those blockages will be removed by the provisions in the Bill. Where a school is good and wants to convert to academy status—the governing body wants the freedom to help the school not only to flourish itself, but to start helping other schools—I am afraid that the Bill still requires consultation with the community, because we think that is the right approach.

The Bill recognises that in limited cases there is a need to consult on the future sponsor for schools that are eligible for intervention. In the case of foundation or voluntary aided schools judged inadequate by Ofsted, clause 9 ensures that the Secretary of State must consult the trustees, the foundation and, for religious schools, the appropriate religious body about the identity of the sponsor proposed by the Secretary of State. In the case of a church school, a diocesan or church school-led multi-academy trust will be the solution in the vast majority of cases.

The Government are firmly committed to enabling diocese and church schools to protect and sustain their ethos. For example, where a Church of England diocese lacks the capacity to sponsor a school at the time it needs support, we may, with the involvement of the diocesan board of education, look to a non-church sponsor. In such situations we will ensure that the arrangements that the sponsor enters into will safeguard the religious character and ethos of the school. We will continue to work closely with the Churches on appropriate arrangements. I am grateful to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), for our discussions on that issue.

Many of the Opposition’s amendments attempt to introduce what I believe to be unnecessary consultations, appeals and processes. Our manifesto was clear that we would be unwavering and swift in tackling failing schools and ensuring an excellent education for all children. By contrast, the amendments would serve only to aid the delaying tactics and obstruction that some ideological opponents of academies attempt to pursue—I assume that is now the whole Labour party, or at least the members who paid £3 to join and now control it.

I turn now to amendment 11, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) and other right hon. and hon. Friends. It would give the Secretary of State two new powers to extend academic selection. First, when a failing school became an academy under clause 7, the Secretary of State would have an additional power to allow the school, and therefore also the new academy, to select its pupils on the basis of ability, if requested to do so by a local authority or admission forum. Secondly, the amendment proposes to give the Secretary of State the power to make an order allowing selective arrangements in any maintained school, when requested to do so by the relevant local authority or admission forum. It does so by amending section 104 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which currently prohibits selective grammar schools unless they were already selective before 1997.

Grammar schools have made a remarkable and sustained contribution to education in this country. They provide an exceptional education to their pupils. In 2014, 96.8% of pupils in the 163 grammar schools achieved an average of at least five GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and mathematics, and 87% of pupils at grammar schools were entered for a foreign language GCSE. This strong academic ethos—a rigorous curriculum and the highest expectations for every child—has been at the heart of the Government’s reforms. Harold Wilson hoped that a comprehensive education system would create a “grammar school for all”, but as Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, has pointed out, the reality was quite different. Several of the grammar schools converted into comprehensives suffered a precipitous decline in standards and, in many cases, a rejection of the value of a strong academic education.

The whole thrust of our education reforms is a determination to ensure that every school delivers the type and standard of education found in the 163 grammar schools. That is why we introduced a new national curriculum, which is more knowledge based and academically rigorous. The new primary curriculum is designed to ensure that every pupil is ready for a more demanding secondary education. For example, pupils are now expected to master times tables to 12 x 12 by the end of year 4, instead of to 10 x 10 by the end of year 6. Punctuation, grammar and spelling are now explicitly taught and tested, and dictation—the art of writing practice—is now part of the statutory national curriculum.

We are reforming GCSEs and A-levels. The new GCSEs are more demanding, and are no longer modular—all exams are taken at the end of a two-year course. Several of these new qualifications are being taught for the first time in schools this academic year. The new maths GCSE places greater emphasis on mathematical fluency and deep understanding, and includes new content to improve progression to A-level—on, for example, rates of change and quadratic functions. For GCSE English literature, pupils will now be required to study a broader range of texts, including at least one Shakespeare play in full and a 19th-century novel. The new history A-level will require students to study topics from a period of at least 200 years. The new science A-level includes strengthened mathematical and quantitative content—for example, understanding standard deviation in biology and the concepts underlying calculus in physics.

In the previous Parliament, we introduced the English baccalaureate performance measure, showing the proportion of pupils in a school entering and achieving a good GCSE in English, maths, science, history or geography, and a foreign language. The result has been a substantial increase in the proportion of young people taking these core academic subjects, from 23% in 2012 to 39% last year. We are going further, with this September’s new year 7 the first to be required to study the full combination of EBacc subjects to GCSE.

While we are on this topic, can the Minister confirm to the House that it is still the Government’s policy to oppose the further expansion of selection at 11?

I shall come to that, if the hon. Gentleman will be patient.

The academies programme is delivering autonomy and freedom from control by local bureaucrats, delivering the change that will help to ensure that the promise of a “grammar school for all” can be delivered. I hope my hon. Friends supporting the amendment are assured that the Government share their commitment to ensuring that opportunity is more widely shared, and that every young person has the academic education they need to fulfil their potential. I believe that this commitment is best delivered by turning around failing schools more swiftly, and making sure that schools that are coasting take urgent action to improve. When combined with our reforms to qualifications and the curriculum, which challenge long-held orthodoxies peddled by the education establishment in the local authorities and university education faculties, I believe these reforms will play a significant role in restoring academic standards, which is what I know my hon. Friends would like to see.

The amendment also proposes to allow the Secretary of State to make an order that any maintained school could become selective, when requested to do so by the local authority or admission forum. I warmly support grammar schools that seek to extend their reach and their capacity by sponsoring other schools and increasing the number of pupils they teach. In the previous Parliament we changed the rules to give schools, including grammar schools, greater flexibility to expand to meet parental demand. As a result, there has been no fall in the proportion of young people in grammar schools under this Government.

Some of the amendments seek to challenge or alter our entire oversight and accountability framework. New clause 2 seeks to alter the accountability and mechanism of the appointment of regional schools commissioners by making them appointees of combined authorities or elected mayors, but the current regional schools commissioners model is working; they are well embedded in their regions and the lines of accountability are clear.

Will the Minister respond to my request for an assurance that there will still be opportunities for continued collaboration and partnership? We heard about the good example of the London challenge, and the Liverpool challenge is coming soon. The Enfield challenge worked because the rapid recovery group involved the excellence that was on its doorstep to ensure that there was rapid improvement.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We want schools to improve, including coasting schools, and we want them to use every method to do so. We want local authorities to use every tool in their toolkit to improve schools under their jurisdiction, and we will encourage and help them to do so. However, when they fail and schools go into special measures, time is up and it is time to take a new direction. If schools are academies, we encourage collaboration between them and maintained schools. We encourage collaboration between academy chains and other academy chains, and within multi-academy trusts.

This is an important Bill that takes our reform programme to the next level to tackle not just failing schools but coasting schools—the complacent schools that for years believed they were doing well enough but in reality were failing to ensure that every child was reaching his or her full potential. If hon. Members have high expectations for every child in this country, I hope they will give the Government the flexibility we seek to take swift action to tackle failure and to address mediocrity. The amendments tabled by the Opposition would hinder that flexibility. I therefore ask Members to withdraw their amendments or, failing that, the House to reject them resoundingly.

I note that the Minister did not respond to my intervention about amendment 11, tabled by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), when I asked whether it is the Government’s policy to permit further expansion of grammar schools. The Minister tried to hide that in the smokescreen of a discussion about the expansion of the current grammar school sector rather than whether the Government have changed their policy on allowing new grammar schools, which was the whole point of the amendment.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3

Schools causing concern: involvement of parents

‘(1) The Education and Inspections Act 2006 is amended as follows:

(2) After section 59 insert—

“59A Duties of Secretary of State, local authorities, and proprietors to parents when a school is eligible for intervention

When a school is eligible for intervention, the Secretary of State, the local authority, school governing body and proprietor must exercise their functions with a view to involving parents of registered pupils in decisions relating to the school under this Part and the Academies Act 2010.”

(3) In section 59 (Meaning of “maintained school” and “eligible for intervention”)—

(a) in subsection (1) after (c) insert—

“() an Academy school”

(b) after subsection (2) insert—

“(3) In this Part, references to the governing body of an Academy school are to be read as references to the proprietor of an Academy school.

(4) If an Academy school is found to be eligible for intervention under this Part, then the school is to be treated as a maintained school for the purposes sections 63 to 69, and the governing body is the proprietor of the Academy school. For the avoidance of doubt, an intervention under sections 63 to 69 takes precedence over any provision of the Academy arrangements made between the Secretary of State and the proprietor.”

(4) In section 60 (Performance standards and safety warning notice) in subsection (6) at end insert—

“(e) the parents of registered pupils”

(5) In section 60A (Teachers’ pay and conditions warning notice) in subsection (6) at end insert—

“(c) the parents of registered pupils” .’—(Kevin Brennan.)

This new clause requires parents be involved in decisions about the future of their children’s schools.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Clause 13

Local authority adoption functions: joint arrangements

I beg to move amendment 19, page 8, line 35, at end insert—

“(3A) The Secretary of State shall lay an annual report before Parliament on the use of the power to give directions under subsection (1), which shall include information on—

(a) how often directions were given;

(b) the safeguards put in place to ensure that voluntary agencies were not adversely affected by actions of local authorities or agencies complying with directions given and an assessment of the impact of the actions and the effectiveness of the safeguards;

(c) the impact of the directions on models of care other than adoption for children in the areas covered by the directions; and

(d) the extent and adequacy of provisions that have been put in place to ensure that post-adoption support, including in respect of mental health, is available for the children and adoptive parents who have dealt with a local authority or agency carrying out the functions within subsection (3) on behalf of a local authority, following directions from the Secretary of State.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay an annual report before Parliament containing information about how she has exercised the power given to her in Clause 13 and the safeguards she has put in place to protect voluntary agencies, other models of care and the provision of post-adoption support.

In Committee, the Labour Opposition sought to persuade the Minister that it was wrong of the Secretary of State to take executive power that would lead to fundamental changes in the country’s adoption arrangements without further reference to Parliament. Indeed, we sought to persuade him that such power should be subject to parliamentary orders, rather than under the right to give directions conferred by the Bill. I accept that we were defeated on that argument in Committee, so today I want to focus on safeguards.

If the Secretary of State is given unfettered power to intervene in our adoption arrangements, it is surely right that she should report to Parliament annually on the way in which she has sought to exercise that power and on its impact. In particular, she should report on the impact on voluntary adoption agencies, the whole area of children in care and the question of support for adopted children and their parents, especially in relation to mental health issues, which a great many people and child welfare organisations consider a major cause of concern.

Is this proposal not unnecessarily bureaucratic? If something went seriously wrong, surely the facts would be in the public domain anyway.

In my experience it is amazing how many facts do not get into the public domain and how many times it is Members of this House who question what happened and ask how a power was used. I am therefore not persuaded by the right hon. Gentleman’s argument.

The Minister said in Committee that it was his intention to change our adoption arrangements by consent and persuasion, and that the powers in the Bill were intended as a backstop to be used sparingly. If that is the case, an annual report to Parliament will not involve too many examples of their use and could hardly be regarded as onerous or unduly bureaucratic. Consequently, I hope that the Minister will have no difficulty in accepting the amendment.

An annual report is important because, although I accept the good intent of the Minister for Children and Families, Ministers and Secretaries of State come and go. The powers that we are granting today are extensive and it is not right that Parliament should lose all control over a matter that affects such vulnerable young people. We are the people who should ensure that there are safeguards. We need to have confidence that the new adoption arrangements are fit for purpose and improve on the existing arrangements.

We can deduce that in cases where the Secretary of State uses the powers of direction, it will be because she has failed to achieve the consensus and the voluntary arrangements that the Minister says are his ambition. In those circumstances, is it not right that Parliament should know what happened and what persuaded the Secretary of State of the need to exercise her powers? An annual report would give parliamentarians access to that information.

We discussed the role of voluntary adoption agencies extensively in Committee. The Minister gave assurances that he wanted to protect such agencies and that he recognised their expertise, particularly in finding families for what are sometimes called “hard-to-place children”. That might mean children with disabilities or learning disabilities, or it might cover a situation where there are several siblings. For years, small, specialised voluntary adoption agencies in this country have pioneered that kind of work. I do not want new consortiums to be developed by local authorities to protect their interests if it leads to a squeeze on those small, influential agencies. That concern was raised by several witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee. We know that when adoption agencies were reorganised in Wales into five regional groupings, smaller voluntary agencies were the casualties.

The Minister was not able to tell us in Committee what steps he would take to protect the voluntary agencies. It is therefore important that we are able to see, in a report to Parliament, what has happened to the voluntary sector so that we can judge whether the Minister has taken adequate steps to safeguard that vital element of our adoption service. It is also reasonable that the report should comment on the effectiveness of the monitoring and inspection arrangements for any new adoption consortiums.

My hon. Friend makes a good point about the importance of protecting specialist services. My wife and I took advantage of one such excellent adoption agency when we adopted our children, so I speak from personal experience. What concerns me slightly is that if we wait for a report to see what has happened, it could be too late. How quickly does he envisage these proposals being implemented? How early would he want the report to be produced, so that it was not too late to protect the high-quality services to which he rightly refers?

I concede the danger that if I ask the Minister to report on the operation of the powers, we will only find out after the event what has happened if agencies have got into difficulty. Obviously, I would much prefer the Minister to come forward today with clearer proposals for the steps he will take to protect those agencies, but without some reporting mechanism, how will Parliament hold the Executive to account?

We heard from witnesses during the evidence session that there is concern about the way that contracts can be drawn up by larger local authorities, as that can have an adverse impact on smaller, voluntary organisations. The British Association for Adoption and Fostering had been going for more than 70 years, but it collapsed during the parliamentary recess with the loss of about 50 jobs—a whole area of expertise wiped out because of the financial climate in some parts of the voluntary sector. The uncertainty created by these proposals is adding to that pressure, so it would be helpful if the Minister demonstrated that he recognised the dire circumstances that much of the voluntary sector is facing.

We must know in an annual report that if the Secretary of State exercises these powers, the expertise of voluntary agencies will not be lost for vulnerable children, that contract arrangements are fair and do not favour larger local authorities, and that they are subject to proper monitoring and inspection. Parliament has a right to such information.

One concern about the Bill is the focus on adoption to the exclusion of all other forms of childcare. In Committee, several Members mentioned special guardianship orders, long-term fostering and kinship care. Many people who work in childcare believe that the Government need to focus more on permanent arrangements, rather than appearing to favour one model of childcare over another.

My hon. Friend mentioned special guardianship orders. I have written to the Minister about the case of Tracy Phillips in my constituency as that highlights the ambiguity in the way that SGOs are treated, affecting things such as child maintenance and so on, and how they fit into the child maintenance system. Could the report cover that, or is there some other way for the Minister and Government to tackle some of the ambiguities between SGOs and other adoption arrangements?

The Department published a report in August entitled “Impact of the Family Justice Reforms on Front-line Practice Phase Two: Special Guardianship Orders”. I also believe the Minister is planning a more extensive review of SGOs.

There are two issues: first, there might be evidence that some local authorities are favouring SGOs in circumstances where they were not originally intended; and secondly, there are financial concerns, particularly for grandparents with SGOs. Local authorities have discretionary powers to provide financial support, but it is inevitably means-tested, meaning that some grandparents, having been persuaded by local authorities, sometimes on the basis of limited information, that SGOs are the best route to go down, and thinking they are doing the right thing by the child or children, could find themselves in dire financial circumstances, with the local authority all too happy to wash its hands of it all. As I said, a report in the summer was illuminating on this subject, and I believe the Minister is planning a further review. I hope he will say a bit more about this problem before the end of the day.

I am glad my hon. Friend has raised that point, and I saw the Minister nodding earlier. I have had cases drawn to my attention of kinship carers taking advantage of respite care using foster care, only to say, because of financial hardship, that they are not taking the children back into their family. Does this not highlight how important it is that the Minister address these issues of funding and support, and that adoption is not the only form of permanence addressed in the Bill?

I agree. I think it is a mistake to appear to favour one model of childcare over another and that the questions of finance and the use of SGOs need more attention.

We have seen that the courts believe it is the duty of social workers to explore all available options for permanence arrangements when placing children, and that adoption should be favoured only when it is clearly the best option and when it has been weighed against other possibilities. There is an understandable fear that if the Minister creates a new range of Rolls-Royce adoption consortia and we end up with a massive flow of resources to these agencies, adoption will inevitably acquire a new elevated status, especially among social workers and cash-strapped local authorities battling to find permanent solutions with ever-decreasing resources. That would be wrong. It would not be in the best interests of the child, it would fail to recognise the phenomenal success that other models of care can achieve, and it would amount to a form of social engineering that belongs more to a bygone era than to the present day. Parliament will have a right to know what impact the Bill is having on other forms of childcare, so it is only right and proper that there should be a routine report on it.

Perhaps more than anything else, what the House needs to know is that the Government’s measures succeed not only in speeding up adoption and preventing children from languishing in the care system, but in ensuring that the quality of the placements leads to long-term better outcomes for the children.

I am full of admiration for foster parents and those who adopt children. It takes special people to take on children who have been damaged by early-life experiences and to nurture them to a stage when they are able to come to terms with the past, if not entirely put it behind them, and move on to make something of their lives. It is rarely an easy journey for those who take on that role. It will often mean tantrums, sometimes violence and other aggressive behaviour, sometimes criminality and often mental health problems.

At risk of drawing too much on my own experience, my hon. Friend has sadly described some of the things that my wife and I have come across, as I know have many other adoptive parents, foster carers and kinship carers. My hon. Friend started to talk about mental health services. Will he join me in making a plea to the Government to make a dramatic effort to improve the quality of mental health services for children and adolescents? The investment and the effort must be made to recruit and train the dedicated staff who are needed. Adoptive parents and foster carers cannot on their own give children—who, as my hon. Friend says, are often damaged—the support and care that they require for their psychological development and other needs.

I am happy to make that plea, and I hope to say a little more about mental health before I conclude. I say in passing that I certainly welcome the decision of the new Leader of the Opposition to create a Cabinet health post specifically for mental health.

What we need to know is that the Government’s ambitions are not just about speeding up adoptions and presenting us with tables showing an increase in numbers. We need to know that the extent of these problems has been properly appreciated and that the need for continuing support for these children and families is built into the fabric of any new adoption arrangements.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children wanted me to table a much broader amendment on children’s mental health. Although I am extremely sympathetic to its ambitions, I concluded after discussion and advice that what we had in mind was probably too broad for the scope of the Bill. If you will allow me, Mr Speaker, it is worth taking a moment to share what it had in mind. The NSPCC asks the Minister to consider amending either the Children Act 1989 or the Adoption and Children Act 2002 by placing a duty on local authorities to ensure that a child receives a mental health assessment at the point they enter care, and to provide immediately the necessary support services to meet the identified needs of the child for as long as necessary, with regular monitoring of the child’s ongoing need for mental health support.

I want to make it clear that I support counselling and proper intervention to address mental health issues as a key element of securing permanence in placements. It is good that the functions to be transferred under the Bill will include the provision of adoption support services, but what these children and their new adoptive parents need is a guarantee from the Government that the necessary support will be available. Having the right to assessment is not enough; what is needed is a right to the treatment, therapy and support identified by that assessment. It seems strange to me that children currently entering our care system are subject to a routine physical health check, but given the trauma that many of them have experienced prior to entering care are not automatically also given access to a mental health check.

If the Minister really wants to make a difference, he will give a commitment today to make it a requirement that all children entering the care system have access to a mental health assessment, and that any treatment, counselling, therapy or support recommended as a result of that assessment will be theirs as of right, and to include those requirements in any new adoption arrangements he makes with local authorities or other bodies.

I have a lot of sympathy with the line that the hon. Gentleman is taking. From talking to a number of my constituents, I am concerned that meeting organisations six or seven times a week is seen as support, whereas adoptive families need actual, real support.

First, I hope the Minister can see that there is a degree of cross-party consent on this point. I certainly agree that what people want is real, practical help. I meet plenty of foster parents and adoptive parents who say they have begged for help and real support. We do not need anything that falls short of that.

There should be a duty on agencies to focus on the mental health needs of these children, and to ensure that their adoptive parents get the real support they need so they are equipped to cope with the enormous responsibilities they take on.

I have some doubts about the proposed legislation: the focus on adoption, perhaps at the expense of other models of care; the risk that smaller voluntary agencies, which are a vital feature of our current adoption arrangements, might find themselves cast adrift by a large, local authority-driven regional consortium; and an anxiety that the monitoring and inspection arrangements might not be all that they need to be. I have a burning sense that the energy being put into the structures should be matched by efforts to address the children’s support and mental health needs.

I hope that for today’s purposes the Minister will feel that he can accept our amendment as a guarantee of the Government’s good faith that they intend to keep Parliament in touch with the developments and changes arising from the Bill. I hope that, in the not too distant future, the Minister will return to the Dispatch Box with proposals to strengthen overall permanence arrangements for children in care and to tackle the legacy of mental health neglect which often persists for children even after intervention by the state in the form of care proceedings.

I do not doubt the sincerity or decency of the current Minister for Children and Families. I hope his adoption proposals succeed, but I hope he will make renewed efforts to address the concerns that I, and other hon. Members, have raised today. I hope he will find himself able to accept that this straightforward and helpful amendment is designed to strengthen the Bill.

May I say how much I agree with what my hon. Friend said, particularly at the end of his speech? I want to see better outcomes for adopted children and I hope the provisions in the Bill will help to achieve that—it is important to say that. As we discussed in Committee, the overall approach to permanence in improving the life outcomes of children, whether they are adopted or in other forms of permanence, must be addressed. I share my hon. Friend’s desire to see the Minister back at the Dispatch Box as soon as possible, proposing improvements in permanence in foster care, kinship care, special guardianship arrangements and residential children’s care, which, as the Education Committee pointed out in its report last Session, has been a cause of particular concern.

Not the least of the issues that the Minister should address is the desperate need for an improvement in child and adolescent mental health services, which the Leader of the Opposition raised at Prime Minister’s Question Time. CAMHS provides vital services. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak that the psychological needs of children entering the care system should be assessed and supported every bit as much as their physical needs. I was heartened by what the Prime Minister said today about the importance of addressing people’s mental health needs as much as their physical needs, and I hope that that will be the Government’s direction of travel in health policy generally.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is also concerned about outcomes, particularly in relation to mental health. Is not time one of the key problems? The fact is that 3,000 children are waiting to be matched with parents, and half of them have been in care for more than 18 months. The time factor is having a severe impact on their mental health, which the Bill seeks to address.

That is an important point. The delay in a child’s being placed permanently, whether through fostering, adoption or any other form of permanence, can certainly contribute to psychological damage, which can be characterised as neglect or in other ways. An improvement in the speed of decision making is essential. We debated that in some detail in Committee. One cause for concern is the problem of delays in the court system, and in the making of decisions on whether or not children should stay with their birth families. I think that professionals, along with the courts, should decide as quickly as possible whether children should stay with their birth families or move into other forms of permanence. The children’s long-term needs must always take priority.

I hope that, as a result of the Bill, the shortage of adoptive parents and the difficulty of recruiting them will be addressed. Perhaps that could be included in the report to which the amendment refers. Perhaps the report could include information about how well the agencies that are envisaged are doing in recruiting in general terms, and also about what has happened to children who have been to some of the specialist smaller agencies that were mentioned by my hon. Friend.

It is evident that unless prospective adopters come forward, very little can be done about adoption, and I hope that that will be one of the outcomes of the Government’s proposals. Approaches such as concurrent planning and fostering to adopt have succeeded in improving outcomes for children who end up in the care system. However, a danger arises from the fact that adoption has been given so much prominence in this Bill—it is the only form of permanence addressed in the Bill. This concern is reinforced by steps such as the closure of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering and the loss of jobs in the sector, as well as the hard times faced by the voluntary agencies and by local authorities due to the financial constraints they face. We run the risk of moving in the wrong direction and jeopardising having the support in place through a well-trained workforce, and having the right numbers of adopters and foster carers coming forward to look after children who end up in care and who need the stability and long-term support that should be available to them.

We should bear in mind the numbers of looked-after children who end up in the criminal justice system. If we go into any of our prisons and ask about that, we will find that very high numbers of prisoners were in care as children. Because they have been let down earlier in life, they end up unable to cope with society and turn to crime and end up in prison. It is a very expensive outcome for society as well as for them personally. It is therefore in all our interests to invest early and to try to solve these problems.

Anything that can be done early helps. Investment in mental health services for children and young people is particularly important, and the Government’s comments on that have been encouraging. The all-party group on looked-after children and care leavers—the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) is a qualifying member as he came to the inaugural meeting, for which I thank him—has looked in previous Sessions at issues around mental health care, in particular for children and young people in care. No doubt it will do so again, and I hope the Minister will be able to attend an early meeting of that group once it is up and running again, to talk about this Bill as well as other proposals that he might be bringing forward on other forms of permanence.

I would be grateful if the Minister would address in his speech today some of the issues around the workforce, the recruitment of adoptive and foster carers, and support for the profession and the voluntary sector, making sure that the specialisms are retained—a point picked up in the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe).

I think there is overwhelming support across all the parties to see success in providing permanence for children who end up in the care system. There are opportunities to make a difference for children who end up being adopted, but I remind the Minister that those children for whom adoption is the right form of permanence are only a small proportion of the children who end up in the care system. We must remember that and make sure we look after all the children who end up in care and do not contribute to a widespread perception that adoption is the gold standard and other forms of permanence are not. We must invest in and support all forms of permanence. I hope the Minister will do that both in the remaining stages of this Bill and in what he does over the coming, weeks, months and years.

I am grateful to the hon. Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for tabling their amendment, and for the other informative and constructive contributions from other hon. Members across the House. The amendment raises the important issue of ensuring that the power given to the Secretary of State in clause 13 is used in a transparent way and takes into account the impact of any action on voluntary adoption agencies, other models of care and the provision of post-adoption support by requiring an annual report to be laid before Parliament. I am pleased that the Secretary of State is in the Chamber to hear the views being expressed on this aspect of the Bill.

It is important to state at the outset that I appreciate the intentions behind the amendment. I agree that we need to be clear about how the power is used and the impact that it has. I can assure hon. Members that the process will be open and fair and that decisions will be transparent. I see that as the main thrust of the amendment, which hon. Members have drawn out during the debate. Be that as it may, the laying of an annual report before Parliament on the use of this power would, in our view, be disproportionate, and I shall explain why we take that view.

I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on leading the charge towards increasing the number of children who have permanent homes. The record increase in the past year provides the best evidence that we are a party and a Government that support families. In regard to the move towards regional adoption agencies, can he assure me that there will not be a one-size-fits-all approach, and that there will be flexibility in the system? For example, in the borough of Enfield, will there be a cross-over into Hertfordshire as well as into the London boroughs? We need to achieve the necessary efficiencies, but we must also act in the best interests of the children.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support, not only for the Bill but for the work that we have been doing in government to improve the adoption system. I can assure him that we will go on to talk about those matters in more detail. This is very much a bottom-up approach to the development of regional adoption agencies. It has purposely been designed to ensure that it has the flexibility that he mentioned, so that local authorities across regions, working closely with voluntary adoption agencies, can come up with the solutions that work best in their areas, based on their collective expertise. Even in the early stages of the process, that is already happening.

Before I set out the reasons why we do not accept the amendment, I want to address the specific issues that have been raised in the debate. At the heart of this has been the way in which adoption fits into the wider routes to permanence for children in the care system. Reforming the adoption system is a key Government priority, but adoption is clearly a solution for only a small group of children who cannot be looked after by their own parents, as the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) reminded us. That is why, in parallel to improving the adoption system, we have taken—and are determined to continue to take—action in relation to other placement types as well.

The reason that the measures in the Bill refer only to adoption is that the adoption system operates on such a geographical scale that the kind of rationalisation envisaged here makes sense. However, if local authorities want to bring together other permanent services voluntarily, they have the freedom to do so. We are also taking action to improve the outcomes of children who have already left the care system. In the last Parliament, we took many steps to improve the support for children in care, including providing funding of nearly £100 million through the pupil premium plus, allowing targeted individual support to be provided for children in care in schools, introducing a new duty on local authorities to appoint a virtual school head, strengthening quality standards in residential settings to make them safer places for children and young people, and launching a cross-Government strategy for care leavers in 2013.

The Minister mentioned the pupil premium plus. I commend him for that, because it has been a very successful initiative in schools, providing support for individual children in care and for former children in care—so adopted children qualify, too. To come back to the point I was making, the problem has been that we do not have the mental health professionals and qualified child psychologists to do the work that is needed in the timely fashion or to the level that is needed—that goes back to the point made by the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland). That is why we need to recruit and train the qualified professionals in those sectors, so that we can make the most of that investment.

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair observation, and I will come on to talk a little more about the need to improve mental health services. The Prime Minister was clear that that was a key Government programme of work that will be taken on over the next five years. To ensure that children are receiving the right type of support when they need it, we need good decision making, good planning for them and an integration of those services around them—that is one of the roles the virtual school head has. This is also why we have embarked on an ambitious programme of reform to social work, making sure that those involved have the key knowledge, skills and practice-based learning to ensure that they are making the good decisions that lead to better placements and better outcomes.

To improve practice where the best permanence option is to remain as a looked-after child, we have also amended regulations in April to introduce long-term foster care as a distinct placement type for the first time. As someone who comes from a family who fostered both short term and long term, I think this is a very welcome step, which gives children who find themselves often for a large part of their childhood in the same placement a sense of family and stability. Together, we have made revisions to the wider statutory framework to ensure that those decisions are made very much in the best interests of those children. I could say much more if more time were available, but a lot of work has been done and will continue to be done in government to ensure that whatever the right permanency placement is for a child from the care system, we have the best system, the best people and the best accountability in place, so that they have the best possible start in life.

The issue of the crossover of adoption into special guardianship orders was raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). He highlighted a case from his constituency, which he has previously raised with me. It is right to say , in response to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, that we have launched a public review of the legislative and practice framework underpinning special guardianships. It is now a decade since they were introduced by the last Labour Government, and it is time for us to have a close and proper look at the consequences of their introduction. For instance, we have seen a sharp increase, of 64%, in the use of SGOs for children under the age of one, which is not what was originally intended or envisaged when the legislation was introduced. We have also seen, through the court judgments of Re B and Re B-S, SGOs often now being regarded as a default option when considering a child’s long-term future. We also have a disparity in respect of the level of assessment that there is of the potential placement for a child in a special guardianship placement, as opposed to adoption. This review is up and running, and is currently out for consultation. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield may wish to know that he has until this Friday to make any comments to that consultation. We will be working carefully with the expert group that we have set up to make sure that, whether in relation to the decision around an SGO or the subsequent support, we make improvements from where we first started.

Will the Minister ensure that he discusses this matter with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, particularly in respect of child maintenance? He will know that the case I raised with him involved two grandparents who ended up getting an SGO but then split up. The grandparent who left ended up with no maintenance responsibility for the child, which he would have had if this had been an adoption. There are arguments on both sides there, but this needs to be sorted out, because the reality in that case is that one grandparent is left with a child with very few means of support. That is clearly something that needs to be sorted out.

We are engaging Government Departments right across Whitehall to ensure that the implications of SGOs are being properly considered. In the scenario that has just been set out, we will need to consider whether we understand fully the consequences of these types of orders being made, and I will ensure that that is communicated to the relevant Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions and that it is looked at by officials in both Departments as part of the review.

We heard a number of contributions on the importance of tackling mental health for children who are adopted and for those from the care system. Clearly, as we see in the parity of esteem in the NHS constitution, that matter has become a much more important and high-profile aspect of the work that needs to be carried out by health providers.

In relation to mental health services for adopted children and children in care, we issued updated guidance in March on promoting the health and wellbeing of children in care, and that emphasised the importance of mental health alongside physical and emotional health. We have also commissioned NICE to produce guidelines on attachment in children, which is often at the core of their inability to find a placement where they feel comfortable. Those guidelines, which will cover both children in care and adopted children, will be published in the autumn.

The children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing taskforce met between September 2014 and March 2015. It had a specific task and finish group on vulnerable children, which included looked-after children and adopted children. It looked at how we can best focus services around their needs. On the back of that taskforce, the Government reported, through the Future in Mind report on 17 March, how we can work locally to transform plans that have a clear focus on the needs of vulnerable children when delivering mental health services. We are also working closely with the Department of Health and key organisations to develop detailed plans on how best to implement that vision. My Department is hosting a meeting next month with experts from health, local government and the voluntary sector to consider how to improve mental health support for adopted children.

There is no doubt that, right across this House, there is a palpable feeling that more needs to be done. We have finally made it an issue that has risen to the top of many of our agendas. We need to capture that moment, use the money that has been committed to child and adolescent mental health services by this Government and ensure that we deliver the types of services for these very vulnerable children at the time that they need them so that the fall-out that we too often see in their lives can be prevented.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. One of the issues that I have raised is the evidence of the prevalence of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders and the very high numbers of looked-after children and adopted children who appear to have that condition. Will he ensure that awareness and support for those caring for those children is part of what he has been talking about?

An essential element of all of this work is that anyone who takes on a child who has had trauma in their early life understands what it is. I am talking about not just its presentation but its causes. As part of that, we need to look at foetal alcohol syndrome, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for the work that he and his new all-party group are doing to raise awareness of that issue. I am happy to engage with him on that matter as I indicated in Committee.

As I set out in Committee, the current adoption system is highly fragmented, with around 180 agencies recruiting and matching adopters for only 5,000 children per year. We do not believe that such a localised system can give the best service for some of our most vulnerable children. As well as being inefficient in scale, it also too often leads to ineffective practice across the system. The introduction of regional adoption agencies will help to address those issues in several ways.

The first way is through matching. It still takes an average of eight months between placement order and match. We know that delays are often caused by an unwillingness to seek a family outside a local authority’s own group of approved adopters. That is simply not good enough. No child should suffer the lasting harm that we know delays cause because the local authority refuses to look elsewhere for a match. That is why we are making £30 million available to pay the inter-agency fee over 12 months for particular groups of children. That will help to ensure that they are matched quickly in the short term while regional adoption agencies improve things in the long term. Successful matching relies on being able to access a wide range of potential adopters from the very beginning, and regionalising adoption would give adoption workers that choice.

The second way is through recruitment. Although we have adopters approved and waiting to be matched, we have too few who are willing and able to adopt harder to place children, which means certain groups of children wait significantly longer than others to find adoptive families. For example, as at 31 March 2014, disabled children were waiting 7.6 months longer than the average child. The current system is not serving those children well enough, and we cannot just accept that as it is. Regional adoption agencies would be able to take account of the needs of a larger number of children when planning a regional recruitment strategy. Recruitment could therefore be better targeted, leading to the right adopters being approved and fewer children having to wait.

The third way is through adoption support. In too many cases the specialist support that many adopted children so desperately need, including mental health services, has simply not been available. In many areas, the number of adopted children is so small that local authorities are unable to ensure that the right provision is available. Regional adoption agencies will assess more children’s needs and give them a greater understanding of what should be commissioned. Commissioning at a regional scale will allow providers to expand their services, provide better value for money for the taxpayer and help ensure that all adoptive families receive a consistently high quality of assessment and provision. That will build on the adoption support fund that we have set up, which is now running, to the tune of £19.3 million. It is vital that adopted children receive the therapeutic and mental health services they need, which is why we have made that significant investment. Since May it has helped more than 1,400 families and spent £5 million, and all but 10 local authorities have already made a bid to the fund, which demonstrates how essential it is for those children.

I would like to set out what work has already been done to help achieve that regional approach. We want to support and work with local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies to help deliver regional adoption agencies. That is why we are providing £4.5 million of funding this year to support early adopters to accelerate their development and early implementation. I am pleased to tell the House that we have already received 30 expressions of interest for that support, covering every region of the country.

I would also like to assure hon. Members that through this process we are carefully considering the impact that moving to regional adoption agencies will have on voluntary adoption agencies, other models of care and the provision of support, which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak rightly raised in his contribution. It is worth noting that voluntary adoption agencies are formally or informally involved with consortia across all regions already. We have been very clear that proposals need to look at how links with other children’s services can be maintained and how support functions will be carried out.

We have also been clear that voluntary adoption agencies have an important role to play. In our paper “Regionalising Adoption” we set out that we are particularly keen to consider models that bring together the best of the voluntary and statutory sectors. Proposals for regional adoption agencies that include voluntary adoption agencies will be looked on favourably, even for those that do not see partnership with local authorities as an option for them. The service they provide in recruiting adopters, particularly for some of the most vulnerable and complex children, will still be much needed by the new regional adoption agencies. That is built on our knowledge of the enormous expertise, service quality and excellent outcomes that voluntary adoption agencies have a record of delivering, as well as our desire and determination to ensure that the move to regional adoption agencies does not adversely impact on them. We will continue to monitor that closely as regional adoption agencies take shape.

Our intention is that, as far as possible, the sector will move to regional adoption agencies by itself. As I said in Committee, this power is simply a backstop measure for those agencies that do not rise to the challenge, as well as allowing the Secretary of State to direct local authorities to have a particular function carried out on their behalf by a voluntary adoption agency if an individual council or regional adoption agency is not doing so effectively.

We are confident that the majority of local authorities will seize this opportunity to deliver their services in new and exciting ways. I am pleased to see how the sector has already responded to the move to regional adoption agencies. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services sees this as a sensible development and Carol Homden, chief executive of Coram, stated in her oral evidence that the Bill will help children regarded as harder to place. The move to regional adoption agencies involves real potential to improve the life chances of some of our most vulnerable children, and I believe the majority of those working in adoption will make this a reality.

As I set out earlier, we have already had 30 expressions of interest for the support available this year. It is hugely encouraging that these bids cover all regions and the majority of them involve a voluntary adoption agency. Each expression of interest is currently being fully assessed and funding decisions will be made by the end of the month. It is also important to note that prior to this programme, we had already seen the emergence of some new delivery models for adoption and some growth of consortia and regional collaboration. For example, Wokingham Borough Council, Bracknell Forest Council, West Berkshire Council and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead have launched a combined adoption service, known as Adopt Berkshire.

This is a move that is already seen as beneficial and we will build on this impressive momentum. Therefore, as noted by Sir Martin Narey in his oral evidence, we expect to use this power rarely, if at all. I can reassure the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak that if the power is required, the decision to use it will be made following extensive and detailed discussions with the agencies involved. These discussions will cover a range of areas, including the role of voluntary adoption agencies, the provision of support and the link with other care options. In addition, I listened carefully to the suggestions made by the hon. Gentleman in Committee, and before making any final decision we will write to any relevant local authority seeking its views and requesting supporting evidence. I can therefore reassure the House that all those involved will have a chance to comment on the proposal before a final decision is taken.

There is no requirement for the Secretary of State to lay an annual report before Parliament about directions issued to local authorities when the direction, as here, is to arrange for another body to exercise a wide range of functions on behalf of the local authority. As such, a more proportionate approach than laying an annual report before Parliament is to discuss directly the use of the power and its impact with those charged with delivering adoption services. We will work with both individual agencies and through the Adoption Leadership Board and regional adoption boards to ensure the effectiveness of this joined-up approach. As a consequence, I hope the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak will withdraw the amendment.

This has been a good and helpful debate which has drawn out some of the issues that surround adoption, not just what is in the Bill. I will endeavour, of course, to continue to work hard for all children in care, whatever their route to adult life happens to be. This is an important step in making sure that adoption and the adoption services function better, more quickly and in the best interests of every child for whom it is the right future.

I am sure we will return to many of these issues in the days and months ahead. For the time being, as a sign of my good faith, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

First, let me welcome the new shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), to her position. I hope she has now had that face-to-face conversation with the leader of her party about her party’s policies. I was intrigued to discover on reading her biography that she and I share the same birthday. I was less happy to discover that she is two years younger than me. All I can say to her about those two years is that I hope she accrues grey hairs at a slower rate than I have done.

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), who is in his place. It might be fair to say that he and I did not always see eye to eye on everything, not least because he is several inches taller than me. It is also fair to say, however, that we shared a belief in the life-transforming power of a great education and a desire to give every child the best start in life. While he will be a loss to the Opposition Front Bench, he is, as we have already heard today, not one to shy away from offering his opinions on education in the months and years ahead. [Interruption.] I warn shadow Front Benchers that he has just promised to do so on a range of issues, so I shall leave it to them to debate what that might mean.

Nothing better demonstrates this Government’s commitment to delivering real social justice than our approach to education. This Bill has one central principle at its heart: that every child deserves an excellent education; an education that opens their minds and allows them to unlock every ounce of their potential. The Bill makes it clear that we are not only intolerant of failure where it occurs but will not settle for mediocrity either. It is the next step of our ambitious reform programme, started under Andrew Adonis and new Labour, who recognised that the most effective method of transforming failing schools is to put in place strong leadership and to give those leaders the freedom to turn a school around. That programme was turbo-charged in the last Parliament, based on the knowledge that heads and teachers—I should include governors too—know best how to run their schools, not bureaucrats wedded to a one-size-fits-all approach. As a result, 5,000 schools are now benefiting from the freedom to tailor the education they provide to the young people they serve.

These reforms, along with the significant changes that we have made to raise standards, restore rigour to the curriculum and improve the quality of teaching—all issues that have been debated during the passage of the Bill in this Chamber and in Committee—are delivering strong results. The number of young people leaving primary school unable to read, write and add up properly has fallen from one in three under the previous Labour Government to one in five today. The gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers is closing. The percentage of 16 to18-year-olds not in education, employment or training has fallen to 7.3%—the lowest figure since records began. A million more pupils are in schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, and that is a million more pupils getting a better start in life. But none of this should give us cause to stand still. Our work will not be complete until every school in every part of the country is providing its pupils with an excellent education. This is the vision that lies at the heart of this Government’s one nation agenda.

That is in stark contrast to what we now hear from the Opposition Benches, where we see a Labour party that has turned its back on the cause of education reform and instead wants to return to the failed approaches of the past. Rather than trusting teachers and heads, the new old Labour party would seize power back for bureaucrats and politicians, denying parents choice, condemning schools to languish in failure, and trampling on the life chances of our most disadvantaged young people. It seems that whereas innovation, creativity and progress were the watchwords of the Adonis reforms, in today’s Labour party they are taboo. I sincerely hope that Labour Members will prove me wrong by joining us in the Lobby in support of this Bill, but I do not hold my breath.

As the Labour party has turned its back on the aspirations of parents and children, we will be their champion, ensuring that every family has the security that a good education brings, and that is exactly what the Bill will do by delivering on our manifesto commitment to turn every failing school into an academy. As we have heard, the measures will ensure that failing schools receive the support and challenge they need to improve from day one. It will remove the bureaucratic legal hurdles so often exploited by those with ideological objections to school freedoms, which have meant that pupils typically have to spend over a year in a failing school before academy conversion takes place.

This is not about waving a magic wand to change the name and structure of a school and assuming that improvement will inevitably follow. Instead, it is about recognising strong leaders who, with the support of expert sponsors, are best placed to bring about the changes their schools need.

The Bill goes further than simply addressing failure; it tackles inadequate progress too, making it plain that simply treading water is not an option and that just good enough is not enough for anyone’s child. The Bill introduces new measures that will allow us to target coasting schools—schools that are achieving results that clear the floor but that are not enabling every child to make the progress of which they are capable, and schools that are failing to stretch the most able or to adequately support those who are struggling.

Coasting schools will be put on immediate notice to produce an action plan for improvement, with local regional schools commissioners deciding what support is needed to turn those schools around. Let me be clear that, as the Minister for Schools said earlier, not all coasting schools will be required to become academies. Some might have the capacity to improve on their own, and for others the short-term support of a national leader of education might be required, but we think it is absolutely right that when a school is not consistently ensuring children reach their potential—whether it is in the inner city, a coastal town or a leafy suburb—we should have the power to intervene.

The Bill is also concerned with improving the adoption system so that some of our most vulnerable children find loving homes as quickly as possible. The current adoption system is highly fragmented with about 180 agencies recruiting and matching adopters for only 5,000 children a year. Such a localised system does not give the best service for those children. It currently takes an average of eight months between placement order and match and that is too long for any child to wait. The adoption measures in the Bill will help speed that up by supporting the introduction of regional adoption agencies. We are committed to supporting the sector to deliver regional adoption agencies voluntarily in the first instance. That is why we are providing £4.5 million of support this year for councils that lead the way in regional adoption agencies.

Before I conclude, let me thank all Members on both sides of the House who served on the Public Bill Committee and all those who provided oral and written evidence. It is also only right and proper for me to pay tribute to the Minister for Schools and the Minister for Children and Families for skilfully steering the Bill through this House. I also thank my Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), and the Committee’s Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), as well as officials in the Department and here in the House for their support.

The education that young people receive will determine the course of the rest of their life. It has the power to be a great life transformer, to unlock hidden gifts and to develop unique talents. Getting that right is fundamental because for most young people this is the one chance they will get. Everything in the Bill has been written with that simple truth in mind. It is about tackling failure, being intolerant of mediocrity, and speeding up the transition to a loving home. Simply put, it is about giving every child the best start in life. I ask hon. Members to support it tonight.

I thank the Secretary of State for her kind words of welcome. It is a pleasure to be the new shadow Secretary of State for Education, a role that I am passionate about. I am sure that she will agree that Secretary of State for Education is one of the great offices of state, and it is great to see two women in these roles today. I was, however, less comfortable with one aspect of being offered this job. Unfortunately, given that I am an October-born, bossy politician who studied chemistry at Somerville, the parallels between Margaret Thatcher and me take another step forward. I very much hope that that is as far as they go.

I pay tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). He has been a passionate campaigner for education and it is an honour to follow in his footsteps. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) for all their hard work on the Bill, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), who has served as the Whip on the Bill and who, I am sad to say, will leave the Whips Office after today. I also thank the many colleagues who served on the Committee and contributed to the debate.

For me, education is personal as well as political. With children at secondary, primary and nursery school, I see at first hand the immense value of an excellent education. It truly is the best investment any country can make. Coming from a family of teachers and headteachers, I have the highest regard for all those in education, who do amazing jobs, often in challenging circumstances.

Education is our route to a successful, rich, vibrant, tolerant and inclusive society and economy, but with globalisation, the digital age, emerging economies with high skills and a shrinking number of low-skilled jobs, we need to ensure that we continue to meet the needs of the next generation.

Labour is committed to excellence in state education, to raising aspirations for all children and to continued increases in standards. We also want an accountable system with strong local oversight, collaboration and support. That should apply equally to all schools, whether or not they are an academy, free school or local authority school. We cannot support this Bill, because it does nothing to meet those challenges and it takes school oversight, parental involvement and support for headteachers backwards. Yet again, the Government seem to want to apply these measures only to local authority schools instead of addressing failure across the system.

The sponsored academy programme of the last Labour Government brought new resources, leadership, partnerships and higher standards to some of the most disadvantaged schools and it was very successful. However, what we have seen from this Government is the wholesale academisation of schools, with little evidence to show that that in and of itself raises standards. Indeed, Ofsted has raised concerns that the academisation of schools can often be a detrimental distraction for school leaders when they could be focusing on other interventions. What is more, the Bill fails to address the very real concerns about whether the Secretary of State is best placed to offer the oversight and support that the majority of schools require, and it does nothing to address failure in academies or academy chains. No parent wants their child to be in a failing, inadequate or coasting school. We should all be intolerant of failure in our school system, but I am far from being convinced that the Bill’s measures will deal with those issues.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak has said, we support many of the Bill’s adoption measures, although we have raised concerns about the threat to specialised adoption agencies.

I shall focus the remainder of my remarks on the schools element of the Bill, which has a number of serious flaws. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West has said, the very narrow definition of coasting schools, which is purely a data exercise, is flawed. It gives no recourse to other information from Ofsted or elsewhere. It could also have serious unintended consequences.

Children not achieving their potential or not being stretched, which may lead one to think that the school is coasting, has long been an issue, but the Bill’s crude measure will potentially exclude many schools that require intervention and include some that do not. That is a major flaw. It also sets up a parallel judgment of schools outside, and often in competition with, the Ofsted framework.

The Bill also fails to devolve powers of oversight and intervention from the Secretary of State; indeed, it concentrates further powers into her hands. Regional schools commissioners are nowhere near an adequate response to that growing problem, which is widely recognised. Although devolution is rightly the agenda of so much public policy, education is going in exactly the opposite direction under this Government and with this Bill.

Another of the Bill’s failings is the exclusion of academy schools and academy chains from required interventions. Many examples have been given, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). The Bill deals only with local authority maintained schools. There is no parallel requirement on the Secretary of State to take equivalent action against a failing academy.

The Bill’s focus on forced academisation is only justified if the evidence supporting academy status as a path to improvement is overwhelming and unchallenged. In fact, there is no such evidence. The Tory majority on the Education Committee was unable to find any convincing evidence that academy status itself led to school improvement, but the Secretary of State continues to maintain that, rather than a useful targeted intervention in appropriate circumstances, academy status is the single magic bullet that will lead to improvement. We all know that it is much more complex than that, and the Bill does nothing to strengthen and speed up other interventions that we know work.

The views of local stakeholders, particularly those of parents, will be completely removed by the Bill. That is the wrong direction of travel, and we cannot support it. It also fails to address major challenges in our education system, such as the growing teacher shortage as recruitment and retention collapses, and it does nothing to solve the crisis in school places.

The Government should develop policy based on evidence and proper analysis. When using individual examples, I am always mindful of the fact that we can all find those that make our point one way or another. On reading the Secretary of State’s speech on Second Reading, I noticed that she gave two or three examples of school improvement to justify the Bill. One such case, that of the Manchester Enterprise academy, stuck out for me because I know that school well and, dare I say, better than the Secretary of State. She cited the school as a clear demonstration of why academising a failing school works, but the situation is much more complex. I do not want to politicise the school, but it is important further to draw out what is happening there because it highlights all the issues we are debating.

First, given the Secretary of State’s clear belief that local authorities cannot be part of the solution in supporting and turning round poor schools, I was surprised that she chose a school whose sponsor is none other than the local authority, in partnership with Manchester airport. The city council has had a great deal to do with the recent success of the school, as indeed it has with all schools across Manchester, in which standards have risen significantly in recent years. She and her Government seem to think that local authorities can never be part of school improvement, but I beg to differ—as her own example shows.

I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to her new position at the Dispatch Box. The school she mentions is in my constituency. It was academised under the previous Labour Government, sponsored by Manchester City Council—a Labour council—as well as Manchester airport and the local Wythenshawe community housing group. It has been transformed under the leadership of James Eldon. The Secretary of State spoke about the Manchester Enterprise academy on Second Reading, so I challenge her to come and see how a local authority has got to grips with turning around such a school.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight such issues, particularly the important role played by the city council. Manchester is at the vanguard of the right hon. Lady’s Government’s programme for devolution. Indeed, some might argue that the leaders of Greater Manchester are closer in outlook to the Chancellor than she is. Why is she not part of that agenda? Instead she is taking education in the opposite direction.

Secondly, had the Secretary of State looked further into the history of the Manchester Enterprise academy, she would have found out what any local representative, such as my hon. Friend, or education professional in the city could have told her—that it took many years after academisation for the school to be turned around. There were leadership changes, financial problems and low attainment for many years after it became an academy. It was not academisation in and of itself that improved the school, but a range of interventions, many of which have been more recent than its academisation.

Thirdly, as the Secretary of State cited this example on Second Reading, I wonder whether she is aware of the school’s results this year. Through no fault of its own—indeed, the school continues to go from strength to strength—its GCSE results this year dropped by 9%. As she may be aware, as in many deprived and challenging parts of the country, the new system of comparative results means that no matter how hard the school works and how excellent the teaching is, results can fall as grade boundaries change, making the gap impossible to close. That comparative results system, with its constantly changing grade boundaries, may result in excellent schools, such as the Manchester Enterprise academy, being labelled as coasting. Has she considered the consequences of that? She will also be aware that schools face a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, particularly in maths and science. That, too, could affect a school’s results through no fault of its own.

The Secretary of State’s example highlights my bigger point. Despite having a whole Department working on her speech and sourcing examples, no one brought the real situation of the academy to her attention. Local representatives could have told her about it. That only highlights the difficult job that she has in being solely responsible for thousands of schools. This Bill and the Secretary of State miss the most fundamental point: we need to devolve oversight for all schools to a level where support, collaboration and accountability can happen effectively. The Bill rejects that and her regional schools commissioners fall well short.

There are 2,024 maintained Catholic schools in England and 386 Catholic academies. As the hon. Lady is speaking on behalf of the new Labour Front-Bench team, may I ask her to pay tribute to our faith schools and assure us that the Labour party is fully committed to their continued existence? In the context of the Bill, will she commit her party to ensuring that if, sadly, an interim executive board has to be appointed, the religious nature of such a school will be preserved?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I reiterate the Labour party’s commitment to faith schools. As he raises the input of Catholic schools, he may be interested to hear that they are opposed to many aspects of the Bill, as we highlighted in Committee. In particular, they are very much opposed to clause 7.

I will spend the coming months listening, responding and developing and setting a course for an ambitious vision for education in this country—something that the Bill fails in. The Bill takes school oversight and parental involvement backwards, and further demonises local authority schools. That is why we will oppose it. It is also a huge missed opportunity for a newly returned majority Government. The Secretary of State has the best and most important job in this country. Is this Bill the best she can do? If I had any doubt as to why the Bill is before us this evening, I do not after reading her interview in The Daily Telegraph this morning. It is clear that the Secretary of State’s primary interest is not raising standards and supporting pupils, parents and teachers; it is narrow political tactics aimed at the Labour party. I am afraid that that is quite a sad and pathetic development.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), the shadow Secretary of State for Education, on her excellent and passionate speech, and thank the Secretary of State for her kind words.

In a former life, before I joined what Engels would have described as the breezy heights of the Back Benches, I tabled a reasoned amendment to the Bill on Second Reading. I tried to develop, on behalf of the Labour party, some common ground with the Government, because we all share a passion for improvement in our schools and adoption system. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) revealed, the Government turned down every single one of our amendments in Committee, which shows that they have no interest in the kind of one nation, consensual government we were told they were interested in developing. That is why it is absolutely right that the Opposition Front Benchers will lead us to vote against the Bill tonight.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central said, there are huge challenges in education today. A recent report by the World Economic Forum puts us 27th out of 30 advanced economies in providing access to learning. As she said, there are immediate challenges in the retention and recruitment of teachers; in improving the quality of teaching, day in, day out, across our schools; in providing more school places in areas where they are needed, as a result both of the baby boom and the Government’s immigration policy; and in retaining a broad curriculum when the Government are cutting school budgets by 10% over the course of this Parliament, which will limit pupil choice as teachers are laid off and courses curtailed.

Broader challenges are facing education across the UK. We must tackle inequality in the early years by supporting parenting, attachment, and early years investment, and we must promote the collaboration, partnership and challenge that we need in an era of school autonomy. It is great that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) has revealed the Liverpool challenge, which is beginning to take his work forward across the country. We must reform the upper-secondary curriculum, and develop a consensus to steer us away from the tired, GCSE model and towards a 14-to-19 baccalaureate model. We must attract high-quality teachers into low-income communities, because that is where they will make a real difference.

Nothing in this Bill—this Government’s first legislative Act in education policy—goes anywhere near addressing those critical challenges for our country. It is, as has been said, a tired, highly political and partisan piece of work and, with great respect to those in the civil servants Box, it has been drawn together rather shoddily over the summer and does not deserve our support. It seeks to resuscitate debates of a decade ago, and I find it sad that Tory thinking on education—which has been rather vibrant in recent years—has now been shown to be dead.

On Second Reading we set out some much needed improvements: action on coasting and underperforming academies and—crucially—academy chains; a quality threshold for new academy sponsors; devolution of power from the Secretary of State to combined authorities; and the end of the assault on free speech among parents. At the heart of this Bill lies dogma. The Secretary of State complained about a one-size-fits-all policy, but what she has brought to the House today is the idea that the answer to every educational challenge is academisation. That is a fallacy. What makes the difference in education is high-quality teaching, strong leadership, a faculty committed to change, and supportive parenting. In many situations a change of structure can afford that, and that was the original vision behind the Labour party sponsored academy programme. However, the debate has moved on, and as the Education Committee recently reported:

“Academisation is not…the only proven alternative for a struggling school.”

It also stated that there is

“no convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools”.

It is right to oppose this Bill as it does nothing to challenge coasting academy schools, thereby letting down tens of thousands of schoolchildren on the altar of political ideology. We know what can raise standards in coasting schools: strong systems of partnership and challenge between and among schools; the professional development of teachers, week in, week out; strong leadership by heads. Instead we have blanket academisation, as if that is the only answer.

The Bill fails to address poor academy sponsors. Too many children have been let down in my constituency and those of my hon. Friends by the Department for Education’s “pile ‘em high” approach to academy sponsors. There has been a massive over-expansion in academy chains, and once again children are paying the price. There is an absence of good-quality academy sponsors, and nothing to show that forced academisation will improve quality. I remain of the view that Ofsted should inspect academy chains, just as it should inspect a local authority.

The Bill continues the remarkable programme to concentrate power in education in the hands of Whitehall. Steve Hilton, who used to be a guru for the Prime Minister, recently criticised the Government for their “soviet” command and control approach to education. The Secretary of State rails against bureaucrats, yet she gives more power to bureaucrats at the Education Funding Agency and Whitehall. The Labour party believes in devolution, which is why our amendments to hand real power to combined authorities in education and devolving schools policy were such a good idea. The middle tier is a real problem with the Government’s approach to education. Their vision of regional schools commissioners being able to solve every problem for academies has been shown to be completely wrong, and there is little evidence they are delivering the sustained improvements we need in schools.

Finally, the Bill launches a terrible assault on civil society. We need power closer to communities, but the Bill wrenches it from the hands of communities and once again gives control to Ministers. The Bill must be seen alongside the charities gagging Bill, the attack on trade unions in the Trade Union Bill and the assault on the free speech of the BBC. Time and again, we see an assault on free speech by the Government. It strikes me as wholly wrong not to allow parents to be involved in the conversation about the education of their children.

We generously gave the Government the benefit of the doubt on Second Reading, but they abused that trust in Committee by rejecting amendment after amendment. They have decided to begin this Parliament as they ended the last one, with a stale and tired debate about school structure, when our education system so desperately needs an inspiring, challenging and equitable programme for the future. It is right that we oppose the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Bill read the Third time and passed.