My Lords, the House will be aware that I am now the Minister in charge of this Bill rather than my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, in whose name the Bill was introduced. I am happy to assure the House that I, too, believe that the provisions of this Bill are compatible with the convention rights and I would have been content to sign the necessary statement had I been in a position to do so when the Bill was introduced.
This Bill will grant more freedoms to schools, give more responsibility to teachers and help to ensure that standards rise for all children. Last week we had an excellent debate on the measures contained in the gracious Speech. Rereading the whole debate over the weekend—that is the kind of pastime that I now find myself reduced to—I found that there was broad agreement on the need to trust professionals more, to reduce the bureaucracy that they face and to give them more opportunity to drive their own improvement and deploy resources in the most effective way. It is precisely those freedoms that the measures contained in the Academies Bill will help to deliver.
I have had some very thoughtful discussions with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln and others about managing expectations for this Bill, so let me be clear from the outset that the Bill does not in our view represent a revolution in our school system. Rather, it builds on what has gone before. We can trace its roots to the reforms introduced by my noble friend Lord Baker through the Education Reform Act 1988, which led to the opening of the first city technology colleges in the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, it was under a Labour Government that the pace of reform really picked up—I recognise that contribution very clearly. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 saw the beginning of the academies programme and the education White Paper of 2005 built on it. I hope that I will not embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, by saying what I said in his absence last week—how much I respect his achievement and what high standards he has set for those who have come after him. I am happy to pay tribute to him and to my other predecessors, who should feel pleased at the good that they have done through the academies programme and the thousands of children’s lives that they have already changed for the better.
I am not arguing that academies will always be the answer. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, reminded us in the debate on the gracious Speech that many outstanding schools are not academies and that not all academies are outstanding—and she is, of course, right. Overall, however, academies represent one of the best and fastest routes to school improvement. They have transformed some of the worst-performing schools in the country into some of the best and, in doing so, they have transformed the prospects of tens of thousands of young people. In 2008-09, academies saw GCSE results increase twice as fast as the national average.
It is also clear that the extension of the academies programme that we now propose seems to be what the previous Labour Government intended to do. In a speech given the day before the publication of the 2005 White Paper, the then Prime Minister, the right honourable Tony Blair, said:
“We need to make it easier for every school to acquire the drive and essential freedoms of Academies … We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self-governing independent state school … All schools will be able to have Academy style freedoms … No one will be able to veto parents starting new schools or new providers coming in, simply on the basis that there are local surplus places. The role of the LEA will change fundamentally”.
It has taken five years, but this Bill is giving effect to what the previous Government intended.
It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves why we need reform. Despite the best efforts of previous Governments, 81,000 11 year-olds still left primary school last year without achieving the required standard in reading. Half of young people left secondary school without achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths. In the last year for which we have data, out of 80,000 young people eligible for free school meals, just 45 made it to Oxbridge.
Raising standards is not simply about structures, a point made well in last week’s debate; it is about the quality of teaching, which is why we will also build on the previous Government’s excellent Teach First programme. At a time of great pressure in public spending, we have prioritised investment in education by protecting front-line spending this financial year for Sure Start children’s centres, 16 to 19 learning and, of course, schools. However, giving schools and teachers more freedoms will help them to do the job that they came into teaching to do.
The Bill will give all schools—including, for the first time, primary schools and special schools—the opportunity to apply to become an academy. I stress “opportunity”; this is largely a permissive rather than coercive Bill. Its aim is to help schools across the spectrum, from the very worst to the very best. Schools already rated as outstanding by Ofsted may have their applications fast-tracked and may open this year if they wish. In return, we will expect every outstanding school that acquires academy freedoms to partner with at least one other school, to raise performance across the system.
Schools that are really struggling will see government intervention. There has always been a focus in the academies programme on the weakest schools, which will continue. The Bill will therefore allow the Secretary of State, where a school is struggling, to remove it from the control of the local authority and reopen it as an academy. That will mean that we should be able to deliver faster and deeper improvements in deprived and disadvantaged areas. For the schools in between—those doing well that could do better—academies will present a real opportunity to achieve excellent results through the core freedoms that all academies enjoy: making their own decisions about the curriculum, teachers’ pay, the length of the school day and how they spend the money that is currently spent on their behalf by local government. Again, it will be for head teachers, governing bodies and school trustees to decide whether to apply.
I was struck by the following sentence in the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, last week:
“There is a good argument for successful schools being given more managerial autonomy and flexibility, provided that that is on the basis of fair admissions, fair funding and a recognition of their wider school improvement responsibilities”.—[Official Report, 3/6/10; col. 382.]
That fair statement summed up well what we are trying to achieve with the Bill.
I shall say a few things about what the Bill will not do. It will not help just a small proportion of pupils in leafy suburbs. The original focus of the academies programme on underperformance and deprivation will remain a key feature. The Bill will not allow a small number of schools to float free above the rest of the state school system. It should help all schools to improve standards by increasing the number of heads inspiring other heads and teachers learning from other teachers through greater partnerships between schools. It will not impinge on a school’s unique ethos or religious character if it becomes an academy. We want to give schools greater freedom and the preservation of a school’s unique ethos will be an important consideration in deciding whether to apply for academy status. That is also why the legislation ensures that, for foundation schools and voluntary schools with a foundation, consent must be gained from the trustees of a school’s foundation before it can apply to become an academy.
The Bill does not provide a back door to selection, which is, I know, another concern of some noble Lords. While the small number of schools that are currently selective will be able to keep their selective status, non-selective schools, if they choose to become an academy, will not be able suddenly to become selective. A fair and open admissions policy will mean that intakes at academies will be diverse, inclusive and drawn from the local community. We will aim to ensure that the position with maintained special schools is mirrored. We want a special school that converts to an academy still to take only children with statements. The Bill will not disadvantage any maintained school financially, nor will there be extra funding for academies that maintained schools will not get.
The Bill will not create a two-tier school system; indeed, we believe that it will help to close the gap in our current system. Most important, while it is not catered for in the Bill currently before noble Lords, we will also target resources on the poorest through a new pupil premium. That will take money from outside the schools budget to make sure that those teaching the children most in need get extra resources—for example, to deliver smaller class sizes, more one-to-one tuition, longer school days and more extra-curricular activities.
In concluding, I will update noble Lords on the response that we have received from schools so far. In a little more than a week, more than 1,100 schools have expressed an interest in applying for academy freedoms. More than 620 outstanding schools, including more than 250 outstanding primaries and more than half of all outstanding secondary schools, have expressed their interest, along with more than 50 special schools. There seems to be real demand for the measures set out in the Bill. Our aim is to meet that demand and to ensure that heads and teachers have the freedoms that they want and need, that parents have the choice of a good local school and that a child’s background does not dictate whether they succeed. I know that this is a vision shared on all sides of the House. I am pleased to present the Bill for your Lordships’ consideration and I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction. Although it was his maiden speech plus three days, I welcome him again. Just to be absolutely clear, it is a delight to respond to the Minister at Second Reading.
Labour’s academies programme supported some of the most deprived communities and children in our country. The academies programme was targeted at schools which were failing their pupils and communities by not raising aspirations enough. When a school underwent a change to an academy, we usually insisted on a change of leadership and always on an injection of outside expertise from a sponsor. Sponsors that were not existing successful education providers or charities had to make a significant financial contribution. We were extremely grateful to those that did. We normally provided extra support in the form of additional resources to improve facilities and to drive up standards. It was a really significant programme of school improvement. We are very proud of the contribution of my noble friend Lord Adonis.
This was about transforming failing schools, strengthening school leadership and creating hunger for success for some of our most deprived children. As the Government recognised, GCSE results in academies have risen faster than in their predecessor schools and faster than the national average. Some academies have not succeeded: that is true. We understand the challenge that many schools face. However, several academies, as the Minister pointed out, have been established in deeply deprived communities and have become some of the best-performing schools in our country. They deliver GCSE results on a par with—and sometimes better than—schools in much more affluent areas, showing that it is possible that the negative link between aspiration and deprivation can be broken. This is what the Labour academies programme was about.
The Bill represents a new approach. It simply does not compare with the Labour academies programme and does not provide all the support that we used to give to deprived schools. We are very proud of what the programme has achieved. The programme at which we are looking does not represent a continuation of Labour’s programme. Labour is proud of the achievements of the pioneering academies. As the Minister rightly pointed out, when we were in government we committed to doubling the number of academies to 400. In so doing, we committed to create real benefits for the most disadvantaged children. However, I note that in the impact assessment for this Bill, the Government have struggled to demonstrate real benefit resulting from their policy of rolling out a scheme which was designed to transform failing schools to the highest performing schools in this country. There is a real issue there.
I believe very strongly that there is a good argument, as the Minister stressed—and we should make no mistake about this—for successful schools to be given more autonomy and flexibility, provided that it is clearly on the basis of fair admissions and funding, and a recognition of, and commitment to, their wider social improvement responsibilities. When in government, we understood that to excel schools need to be interconnected with their communities and supported by their local authorities. It seems to me that unless robust safeguards are in place, there will be serious implications for local communities, local children’s services and, indeed, for the schools which are left behind. There are real issues about which the Minister needs to think carefully, as I know he will.
The Minister must answer the question: will creating so many academies in already successful schools create a two-tier system? He tells us that it will not, but we need to know what the safeguards are to ensure that that is not the case. Funding for schools is allocated to local authorities on a formula, taking into account local costs, needs and deprivation. Some funding is retained by the local authority to pay for services centrally provided by it to those schools and their pupils. This includes such things as school travel, school meals, special needs, statementing, pupil referral units for children excluded from school, school library services, jointly provided sports, music facilities or teaching as well as advisory support for teachers and schools. These are very important services.
The new academies will, in a similar way to the existing academies, receive all their per-pupil funding as well as their share of the local authority central funds. As the need for these services varies, and already outstanding schools are often less likely to need particular kinds of support than other schools, this could create funding shortfalls in support of the remaining local authority schools. A real issue needs to be thought through there. The per-pupil amount received by academy schools would, as a result of this, be greater than that for neighbouring schools. As the budget for centrally provided services will fall as a result, these other schools will lose important support. We need to understand where the Government are going with that. Under the existing academy scheme, this creates a transfer of extra funds to those schools most in need of extra support. However, under the new scheme, where most new academies will already be outstanding schools, resources will be shifted to those schools which are already performing well. This is the two-tier threat to which Dame Margaret Eaton referred when she voiced her concerns about a possible two-tier system and disadvantaged children losing out. At no point does the coalition explain the impact that this may have on other schools in the area. There must also be clarity on the impact on nursery education, and on care for three and four year-olds, because this is causing a great deal of concern outside your Lordships' House.
As with funding, we need clarity on the admissions code. Local authorities are the admissions authorities for all schools except academies. There is a great deal to be said about academy agreements, which I do not have time to go into here. Greatly increasing the number of academies will have implications for admissions planning. The Government must be clear about how they will respond to this. There are implications particularly for children in care who currently have priority. Will that be maintained with a much greater number of academies? There are implications, too, for disabled children and those with special needs. How will they be catered for by the new model? For example, parents of children with autism are already reporting problems with the admissions arrangements for current academies. How will this translate across the system? In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats were particularly concerned about fair admissions and said that they would replace academies entirely with sponsor-managed schools accountable to local authorities and not to Whitehall. I would be interested to know the Liberal Democrat view. I know that they want to position themselves separately, as well as being part of the coalition.
Our academy programme was one part of a national approach designed to ensure that every school in this country was a good school. This approach led to a significant fall in the number of schools failing to achieve the 30 per cent benchmark that we set of five good GCSE results. That number has gone from thousands in 1997 to hundreds now. It is a significant improvement, and I am glad that the Minister acknowledges the achievement. The Government have also said that schools under Ofsted special measures for a year or more will be converted to academy status if they do not improve. This represents fewer schools than those that were covered by Labour's National Challenge programme, in which schools were supported and challenged to improve or faced intervention, including the possibility of conversion to an academy or a national challenge trust. If this is the extent of the coalition’s school improvement programme—I am sure the noble Lord will tell me that a lot more is going on—we should know. We should know in much greater detail how the new academies will be expected to fulfil their responsibilities to partners in their community and to promote school improvement.
I agreed with my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley when she said that it is the quality of teaching that makes the most difference to children from poor backgrounds and disadvantaged areas. I am glad that the Minister, too, liked that contribution. Like my noble friend, I look forward to hearing much more from the coalition Government about the policies that will help with that. When in government, our aim was to make teaching a masters-level profession, with time off to train and a new teaching masters qualification. We enshrined in our Children, Schools and Families Bill a licence to teach that incorporated both time off for continuous professional development and an ongoing assessment of teacher training and development; but sadly, the Conservatives objected to that in wash-up.
This is not part of what I would see as a progressive education policy. I recognise that the Bill is permissive and not coercive; but, as ever, it will be what is not in it that will give greatest cause for concern. It has not enshrined the aspirations that we had in government for a progressive academies programme; and it does not represent a good place to start the coalition Government’s programme. If the teaching unions, Matrix Chambers, early-years specialists, local government leaders and parents’ groups are to be believed, the Bill will need an awful lot of attention in your Lordships’ House. We shall need to work really hard to get it into the kind of shape that it needs to be in before we can comfortably send it down to the other end. With my noble friends Lady Royall and Lady Crawley and our Back-Benchers, I look forward very much to working with the Government to get the Bill into a much better shape.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Minister to his new position. I spoke on Wednesday, not Thursday, last week, so I did not have a chance to do so on that occasion but I am glad to have the opportunity now. I am afraid that I heard only the last half of his maiden speech, but I read it all and agree with everyone else that it represented a most auspicious beginning in this House. I am sure that we shall all enjoy working with him.
It is possible to have more than one view of our education system—it depends on what you choose to look at. This was graphically illustrated when we debated the previous Government’s Children, Schools and Families Bill in this House last March. On the one hand, the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, could claim that we had the highest ever standards of education in this country. She pointed to the increased capital investment, the 4,000 new, rebuilt or significantly refurbished schools, more than 40,000 more teachers than in 1997 and more than 20,000 support staff.
On the other hand, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for the Opposition, made great play of the fact that 40 per cent of pupils leave primary school without being able to read, write or add up properly; half of all pupils do not get five good GCSEs, including English and maths; and every day more than 300 children are suspended from school for assaulting another child. On Thursday, the Minister described this state of affairs as unacceptable and referred to the fact that the UK has fallen from eighth to 24th in maths, from seventh to 17th in reading and from fourth to 14th in science. In his speech introducing the Bill to the House this afternoon, he gave further evidence of ways in which the education that we provide in our schools is not coming up to scratch. A major extension of academies is therefore the Government’s prescription but I very much welcome the non-dogmatic way in which the Minister introduced it.
In the debate last Thursday, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, described herself as “deeply suspicious” of the Government’s expanded academies programme. I do not know whether I would go as far as that; I would rather describe myself as agnostic. The local authority system has a proud tradition and provides a framework within which consistency can at least be aspired to. With the proliferation of academies, there are understandable worries about the development of a two-tier system, although I suppose that the more academies there are, the less risk there is of that happening. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said in the Guardian recently, the coalition may underestimate the role of state action in promoting equality. I think that the evidence on academies is equivocal and that the jury is still out on how effective they are, but this is the Government’s approach. We must hope that having a greater diversity of institutions will help to drive up standards and we must work to make academies as fit for purpose as we can.
The Academies Bill is largely about the process that has to be gone through to establish academy status. As such, it contains relatively little about how an academy has to conduct itself. According to Clause 1(6), it must give an undertaking to provide a,
“balanced and broadly based curriculum”,
“education for pupils of different abilities”.
According to Clause 1(5), it must be organised,
“to make special educational provision for pupils with special educational needs”.
However, there is nothing about how the academy is supposed to do that, and it is to this omission that I wish to direct the rest of my remarks. In other words, the question that I wish to address is how the Bill can be disability-proofed and what we need to do to make it fit for purpose to meet the needs of pupils with special educational needs. I should declare my interest in these matters as a vice-president of the Royal National Institute of Blind People.
Twenty-one per cent of children have some form of special educational need. The latest evidence shows that the overall percentage of pupils with special educational needs across academies is 33 per cent—considerably more than the average for England as a whole, which stood at 18 per cent—and that 12 per cent of children with special education needs achieve five GCSEs at A* to C level, compared with 57 per cent of their peers. These statistics vividly demonstrate that a key test of the Government’s academies policy will be how they improve outcomes and experiences for children with special educational needs.
The coalition Government’s commitment that all new academies will operate a fair and non-selective admissions policy, as well as Clause 1(5), is a positive sign that the Government believe that addressing the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities should be a priority for academies. However, as presently drafted, the Bill does not go far enough or into sufficient detail as to how academies are supposed to do this. Academies do not have the same duty to use their best endeavours to meet the needs of children with special educational needs—a duty which Section 317 of the Education Act 1996 places on maintained schools. There is a lack of clarity as to whether the special educational needs code of practice must be followed.
The most obvious way of remedying this deficiency would be to require that Part IV of the Education Act 1996 should apply to academies as it does to maintained schools. This contains what is commonly known as the SEN framework, which makes provision, so far as pupils with special educational needs are concerned, for the assessment and statementing process, admissions, delivery, the need to have regard to the SEN code of practice and so on. Exclusions and discipline, as they relate to pupils with SEN, are dealt with elsewhere in education legislation. As we go through the Bill, I shall seek amendments to ensure that the SEN framework applies to academies as it does to maintained schools.
Organisations representing disabled people and the field of special education have a number of other concerns about the Bill. They feel that there is a lack of accountability in the arrangements of existing academies. Funding agreements can be inaccessible to parents and cannot be used to obtain a remedy if there is a problem. Those organisations want parents to have a strong voice in the new system, whereby they can work with academies to ensure that their children get the right support, the challenging curriculum and the positive outcomes that they deserve. The SEN framework in current legislation gives parents the means to ensure that their child’s SEN are met. These principles remain valid. Academies are independent schools that are funded directly by the Secretary of State and are accountable mainly through the funding agreement, rather than the education Acts.
This raises important questions about how academies will be accountable to parents of children with SEN and disabilities. Empowering parents to engage with their child’s education is key to driving up standards and is something which the Government should wish to foster. I am sure that the intention behind the academies programme is not to reduce the role of parents in relation to their child’s education; however, there remains the problem that, even where the statements contained in a funding agreement are clear, they do not offer parents the same right to redress and protection that is offered by the current legislation. Here again we need to import into the academies framework the protection for the parent’s voice contained in the current legislation.
There are concerns, too, about what will be the effect of weakening LEAs, which is bound to be the result of a great expansion of academies. Local authorities currently offer a range of specialist support services for low-incidence special educational needs, such as hearing and visual impairments. Schools cannot be expected to have that specialist expertise to address every individual need, so the ability to access external services is critical. As schools increasingly receive funding direct from central government and local authority education functions are reduced, it is critical that this specialist expertise in SEN and disability is not lost.
A body with an overview of local need, such as an LEA, is able to plan services that, due to low demand, an open market would be unlikely to be able to provide at a reasonable cost. It may prove significantly more expensive for schools to commission these specialist services on a case-by-case basis—always assuming that the expertise is not lost in transition as the LEAs wind down their role and academies gear up for meeting special educational needs. That is what happened in the transition to local management of schools some 20 years ago, and we need to learn the lessons of that experience. I would welcome the Minister's clarification of the Government's view on how the strategic role of local authorities is to be maintained and what alternative ways of commissioning specialist support services are envisaged if local authorities no longer provide them.
Finally, there are a number of other, more detailed requirements applying to maintained schools that benefit children with special educational needs and disabilities, some of which do not apply to academies. Examples of those requirements include the following. Maintained schools are required to ensure that their special educational needs co-ordinator, or SENCO, is a qualified teacher. Maintained schools are required to participate in behaviour and attendance partnerships, which seek to reduce the number of children with special educational needs who are permanently excluded from school. Also, the Local Government Ombudsman can consider the actions of maintained schools that are failing to make provision for pupils with statements.
Those are just some of the aspects of the special education legislation that is intended to protect the interests of the most vulnerable children in our school system—children with special educational needs. These aspects are present in current legislation but are signally absent from the Academies Bill. Along with organisations that are versed in the field of special education, I shall be anxious to seek substantial amendment of the Bill in order to ensure that the protections that exist in current legislation for children with special educational needs are imported into the academies legislation.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate in my capacity as chair of the Church of England Board of Education and the council of the National Society which, next year, celebrates 200 years of delivering excellent education across all communities and throughout the country. I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has consulted us and co-operated with us as this Bill has made its way to this particular point in the process.
There is much in this Bill that we welcome. We want to be helpful so that it can be fit for purpose—a phrase already used several times in this debate—and enable us to continue to fulfil our long-standing commitment to first-class education for all as an expression of our calling to promote what Jesus called,
“life in all its fullness”.
The Church of England is the biggest provider of academies—27, with 15 in the pipeline. We are in the business for two reasons only. First, it is a key part of our mission to the most disadvantaged communities in our country. Secondly, it is part of our desire to create 100 new church secondary schools, as recommended by the late Lord Dearing in his report in 2001. Currently, no fewer than 34,000 children, all in areas of significant social deprivation, are being educated in Church of England-sponsored academies.
However, the proposals before us today significantly shift the basis on which we have engaged with the academies programme so far. We identify entirely with the Secretary of State’s desire to encourage greater independence for schools with a good track record, but not if outstanding status is largely attributable to particular admissions policies or at the expense of neighbouring schools. That would skew the academy culture towards the more privileged and away from the more disadvantaged in our society, so the Church of England’s commitment to disadvantaged pupils and their families—the reason for our being in the academies programme at all—would be diluted. We welcome the Minister’s reassurances on that point in terms of the Bill’s intentions but, as it stands, we must remain sceptical.
Of course, we welcome the provisions in the Bill for the automatic transfer of religious character and for the protection of land and title, which mirrors that of the current wave of academies—although there are a number of technical issues about the transfer of land, trust deeds, capital and even VAT to which I am sure that others will refer in this debate and which need further attention.
Whether any of our church schools choose to convert to academy status will be greatly influenced by how such issues are resolved. If in the detail the devil resides, we will definitely be supping with the devil on a regular basis over the next few weeks.
The question of what determines the religious character of the school is key. Ethos, values, and curriculum design will all be of critical significance, but so will three matters directly pertaining to the Bill: governance, admissions and partnerships. Let me spend a little time on each in turn. The Bill gives no detail about governance arrangements for schools converting to academy status. Who will make those decisions, and will the role, rights and influence of the Christian foundation of the school be protected?
With regard to admissions, I note that the Bill provides for current admissions policies to transfer, including for selective grammar schools. The original purpose of academies was for them to be schools for the local neighbourhood and for admissions policies to reflect that. The new wave will include schools drawing in Christian applicants to the possible exclusion of local people. We would encourage the Government to look again at how admissions to academies—not least among them, Church of England academies—can be essentially inclusive rather than otherwise. Again, we hold ourselves in readiness to assist in helping inclusion to be part of the DNA of academies of all kinds.
As for partnerships, we are concerned about how benefits consequent on partnerships between schools and the local authority and, in relation to church schools, the diocesan boards of education can be provided within the new arrangements. That will especially apply to strategic planning for the provision of good quality, well resourced and well funded schools in a particular locality. That is especially important as there is no provision in the Bill for consultation with parents or local communities when academy status is pursued on the fast track.
On the other hand, we warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to encouraging partnerships between high-performing academies and weaker schools. In fact, we would wish that to be a requirement, rather than a mere expectation. I may well press that point in Committee.
How many academies will be created as a result of the Bill, on what timescale, and in which locations remains to be seen. Where this will leave local authorities, schools still in contact with local authorities and schools with very denominationally specific admissions policies remains to be seen. What all these structural changes will actually do to enhance teacher morale and performance and promote effective leadership and governance remains to be seen. Whether these new freedoms deliver fairness and appropriate democratic local accountability remains to be seen, and we look forward to reassurances on those points from the Minister when he sums up the debate.
Finally, the priority given by this new Government to education in our schools is to be welcomed and applauded so long as being seen to do something quickly is not at the expense of being sure of doing it well.
My Lords, I must declare two interests: I am the chairman of the Edge Foundation, the largest charity in our country promoting technical, practical and vocational education, and I am chairman of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which was established to promote and develop the new technical academies, university technical colleges. I draw no remuneration from either charity.
It comes as no surprise that I am in favour of the Bill and of extending academies, in that they are the heirs of the city technology colleges that I established in 1986. They were revolutionary in that they were the first schools that were truly independent of the local education authority. They had distinct advantages. First, they were free from the LEA. Secondly, the head was in charge. Thirdly, they controlled their own budgets, particularly on pay and conditions. Fourthly, they had freedom to introduce changes; for example, they started at 8 o’clock in the morning with breakfast and went on to 8 o’clock at night. Those were revolutionary changes in the 1980s, and most local authorities objected to them for other schools. Fifthly, there was some freedom in the curriculum, although most followed the national curriculum, and there was a big emphasis on computer technology. In those days, there were only two or three computers in every school, but we wanted every child to have access to a computer. Sixthly, there was industrial and commercial support. My Ministers and I raised more than £44 million from industrialists such as my noble friend Lord Harris, who was one of the first to take over a very rundown school in Croydon and who has now sponsored 10 academies. To bring not only the cash but the commitment from industry and commerce—I know my noble friend puts that in—was a breakthrough in educational terms.
At the time, the Labour Party was totally opposed to city technology colleges. They were the cuckoos in the nest and were to be destroyed at the first opportunity. Fortunately, David Blunkett and Tony Blair came to like them—they believed they invented them and I do not complain about that—and developed and expanded them substantially and improved the standard of education in our country enormously.
The big argument is whether city technology colleges hit other schools, as the Minister said. They did not. They became beacon schools that other schools aspired to copy. That was the pattern right across the country, so I believe that the fears that the shadow Minister expressed are groundless. She expressed the view that in future academies may not want to do failing schools. On the contrary, I think there is a big opportunity. For example, the Edge Foundation has sponsored three academies with amounts totalling nearly £5 million. The first was a school in Milton Keynes that was failing appallingly. Only 19 per cent of pupils got five subjects at GCSE and 80 per cent of the children had a reading age that was two years lower than their chronological age. The gifted head teacher, Lorna Caldicott, has already started the teaching of basic reading using phonics, and a catch-up is happening in that school. It has been going on for nearly four terms and has been remarkably successful. That school also provides real vocational courses for youngsters that are very popular.
This school and the other academies have increased teaching hours. The Minister will discover, if he has not discovered it already, that teachers cannot work more than 1,265 hours a year. That is imprinted on my soul because I agreed it with the unions in 1986 to settle the strike. It has not changed; it has survived, remarkably. That means that most teachers teach only 25 hours a week. This school has won an extra hour a day, which means 30 hours’ teaching a week, principally by abolishing many of the meetings that teachers went to and other tasks that they were doing. The advantage of an extra hour’s teaching a day is that on a five-year teaching course you gain a whole year’s extra teaching. I hope that the Government will spread that throughout the whole educational system.
The second academy was in Nottingham in a very depressed area. Again, it has a gifted head, Graham Roberts. Again, only 14 per cent of the school gained GCSEs at 16. It has established very strong business links already. There are various things that these schools can do. This school got all the students to design their own uniform, so uniforms are accepted. They wear uniforms up to 16, and from 16 on they dress smartly, as for the office.
The third academy was in Telford in a very depressed area indeed. Edge put in £500,000 for a skills centre in a separate building in the school. This now has catering equipment, and youngsters of 12 and 13 make their own buffet lunches, help with the canapés and begin to acquire skills. These are the sorts of things that academies can do for failing schools and will continue to do.
What is left for the LEA to do, as my noble friend Lord Low asked? I will be even more ambitious than him about special education, because I think that it is the one role that should be left quite specifically to LEAs. I hope that the Government will look at this very seriously. The first thing that they have said is that they will look at the definition of special education. I find it very difficult to believe that 20 per cent of students and pupils at schools are classified as having special educational needs. I say that from my personal experience, because during the war I went to a Church of England primary school in Lancashire. In those days, I am absolutely certain that one in five of my classmates did not have special educational needs. I do not know whether this was the luck of Lancashire, but it was certainly not the case that one in five had special educational needs. Looking at the definition of special education is therefore the first thing to do.
Having made local authorities responsible for special education, I must say to my noble friend Lord Low that I would encourage them to establish more special schools. He will know that I have for several years been president of a charity that maintains one of the leading blind schools in the country, and I am greatly in favour of more special schools. The policy of inclusion has not worked well. The author of the policy—Lady Plowden—used to be in the Chamber. She is on record as having said that her recommendation was the biggest mistake of her life. It has been a mistake, and special education will be a very real role for local authorities in the years to come.
Finally, I will plug the schools that Ron Dearing and I worked to establish before he unfortunately died: technical academies for 14 to 19 year-olds, not for 11 to 18 year-olds. We believed that 14 is a more natural age at which to transfer. They are really a revival of the old technical schools that went down with comprehensives, but differ in two very important respects. First, they are for 14 to 18 year-olds, because 14 is a better age at which students themselves can select which school they want to go to. Secondly, they are adopted and sponsored by a university. That increases their status in the eyes of the students, of their parents and of business.
We have three such academies on their way. The first is Aston, which will open in two years’ time. The University of Aston wants to tutor and mentor pupils at 14, 15 and 16, and I think it is the first time that a university has ever done this. Twenty are waiting. I will not ask my noble friend for a commitment on these today because he will have to speak to the Secretary of State and his department, but I hope that we will have a network of these colleges across the country in the next few years. They will be of real interest to youngsters, many of whom are pretty disengaged at their local comprehensive schools at 13 and 14 and do not want to continue their studies but want to do something more practical.
In these schools, they will start at 8.30 in the morning with a trowel, hammer, welding machine or spanner in their hands, and in the afternoon they will do English, maths, science and IT under the same roof. I do not suggest that all new academies should be technical academies, but I would like a good share of them to be because they are already proving to be very popular. I therefore warmly support this Bill and the opportunities that it will give to make substantial improvements to the education system of our country.
My Lords, this Second Reading is in some ways a continuation of last week’s debate on education in the gracious Speech, when some noble Lords expressed concerns about the proposals for academies. My noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley and I reflected on what makes a good school. We spoke of dynamic leadership, a positive ethos and good classroom practice. I remain convinced that, given sufficient resources and support, local community schools can provide those qualities. As we know, many do.
Earlier this year, a MORI poll showed that 96 per cent of the public want a good local school under the local authority. What is the sense of spending millions of pounds when a satisfactory structure for schools exists and standards have risen and are rising? Of course there are problems, but I am not convinced that academies will necessarily address all of these. As the noble Lord, Lord Low, kindly reminded me, yes, I am suspicious.
Some Liberal Democrats have been critical of academies. I am not making party-political points: I realise that they have had to make compromises. However, I hope that one of those compromises will not entail potential damage to the education system. I am simply saying that there are concerns and I hope that the Government will heed those concerns. I hope that there will not be a headlong rush to bring in academies. I am with the right reverend Prelate in maintaining that speed of implementation can be a serious enemy of due process, which involves careful debate and consultation—about which more shortly.
This Bill needs a great deal of clarification and amendment. I know that this House, with its usual incisiveness and concern for children, will begin the process of improvement. I will comment briefly on some aspects of the Bill that trouble me and later I will work with others to formulate amendments in those areas of concern.
On structures, there is currently a framework that ensures that all those with a stake in a school are represented on the governing body. I am a school governor. It is unclear whether such arrangements will be compulsory for academy schools. The British Humanist Association, of which I am a member, states that one-third of academies have religious sponsors. The Academies Bill forces a state-maintained school with a religious character, a faith school, automatically to become an independent school with that religious character—again, more on this shortly.
All land and facilities transfer to the private ownership of an academy. There is concern that this may remove facilities, such as school playing fields, from availability for use by local communities outside school hours. I seek assurances that academies will still have some duties to co-operate with the community in their local area.
A number of existing requirements apply to maintained schools to benefit children with special educational needs, as eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Low. Some of these do not apply to academies. Exclusions of children with special educational needs are disproportionately higher in academies. The fact that academies have not made significant progress in reducing such exclusions suggests that more needs to be done for these children.
No formal consultation through a Green Paper or White Paper or other mechanism for consultation is apparent. Clause 3 enables any governing body to apply to become an academy under an academy order without any consultation with the local authority, teachers, parents, children or the wider community. The lack of consultation with parents of young children in particular has the potential to impact on education and well-being. Parental involvement in schools, particularly in relation to children at an early age, is crucial.
The Children’s Rights Alliance points out that Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child gives children the right to express views on all matters affecting them and to have these views given due weight. Failing to consult students on matters that may substantially alter the character and curriculum of their school is a significant backward step with regard to implementing Article 12.
On funding, around one-third of all state-funded schools are faith schools, with the majority being primary schools. For the first time, this Bill will permit those primary schools that are high performing to become state-funded religious academies. The BHA is concerned that, once a faith school has become such an academy, it will not need to follow the national curriculum. Does this mean that a Catholic academy would be allowed not to teach sexual reproduction in biology or wider sex education? There is the potential for religious authorities to use restrictive teaching in line with their religious ethos. The BHA wants protections to prevent academies from teaching creationism, giving unbalanced religious education and having narrow and subjective teaching across their curriculums.
The same concerns apply to whether this Bill will have an impact on the employment of hundreds of teachers, teaching assistants and non-teaching staff who are currently employed by faith schools that then become academies. UNISON points out that school support staff will be directly employed by the new academies, thereby taking them outside all recognised pay and conditions agreements. This leaves them much more vulnerable to worse working conditions and lack of protection.
Primary and special schools are very dependent on local authorities for a whole range of core services to ensure that they can meet the individual needs of their pupils. They are worried that the removal of the link to local authorities and shared budgets will have an impact on the availability of specialist support for children. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Low, covered this most eloquently. Local families of schools will be broken up. How will this issue be addressed? By getting direct funding from Whitehall, academies will benefit from a 10 to 15 per cent increase in funding. Will this result in corresponding cuts to the local authority funding that provides specialist services and jobs?
The issue of charitable status raises many concerns. All academies automatically become charities. However, I understand that they will be exempt from Charity Commission regulations, thus making them less accountable. In January this year, when the previous Government tried to introduce this exempt status, the Charity Commission said that it was a retrograde step.
On standards, the NUT states that there is no independent evidence to show that academies deliver significantly improved results. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ fifth annual report on the academies programme, published in 2008, stated that a judgment on academies as a mode for improvement was not yet possible. A 2010 report highlights that academies are allowed to opt out of publishing data on how students are performing in specific subjects, so it is impossible for anyone to assess how their improvement is reached. The Association of Colleges points out that academies do not necessarily offer an affordable or wide range of quality provision at level 3, the A-level equivalent. The data show that in 2008 some academies—there were 42 of them—did not have all subjects available, including geography. The point scores for academies are not high when compared with sixth-form and FE colleges. The average point score in 2009 for level 3 was 800 for sixth-form colleges, 683 for FE colleges and 678 for academies.
Academies and free schools are based on a system used in Sweden. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study reported on trends in average scores from 1995 to 2007. Scores in Sweden were lower. We need to ensure that excellent schools work with underperforming schools to raise standards. In my view, there is no need for a completely new system.
The Bill states that all new academies will follow an inclusive admissions policy. Does this mean that all academies will be required to have regard to the school admissions code of practice and the SEN code of practice? The National Children’s Bureau seeks clarification in relation to academies’ admissions policies for vulnerable groups of children, including those in care and those with special educational needs.
I have many questions on inspections. Michael Gove has stated that schools rated as outstanding by Ofsted would be exempt from further inspections. He has also said that schools would be in a position to choose to hire consultants to review their performance. The recent example of the Shireland Collegiate Academy in Birmingham, which had been rated as outstanding but, when it became an academy, was judged as inadequate by Ofsted, should serve as a warning against the assumption that simply becoming an academy will guarantee high standards. The Government have proposed an early warning system if the data indicate that an academy is experiencing problems, but who is to be responsible for such a system and how will it work?
We shall explore many of these issues at a later date. In the mean time, I hope that the Government will think seriously about whether this Bill is financially and, above all, educationally entirely appropriate.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to his new post and look forward to working with him on this and other legislation. Your Lordships’ House has a duty to scrutinise legislation and on these Benches we shall continue to carry out that scrutiny while conscious of the different responsibilities that come with being partners in the coalition Government.
After the monumental Bills in the previous Session, it is something of a comfort to have only 16 clauses to consider, although that may be a false comfort, as there are many broad areas in the Bill where the devil will be in the detail. It is to be hoped that these will be clarified during debate and that we shall have time to consider the advantages and sort out any unintended consequences of implementing this major piece of legislation.
The rationale behind the Bill is to implement the academy model in order to achieve school improvement and higher attainment. There have been some great successes among academies set up under the old model, which involved sponsors and setting up the schools in disadvantaged areas, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, set out. These are new types of academies and I share concerns that the speed of implementation leaves little time for consultation with stakeholders, including parents and governors.
We welcome measures that free schools from centralised bureaucracy and allow teachers to use their professional skills and judgment about what works best for the pupils in their schools. Every class has a different dynamic as pupils respond and learn in a variety of ways. Teachers have to adapt and improvise in order to encourage the potential of each individual class and child. All that diversity has to be guided towards achievement against national standards, leading to nationally recognised certification. The Bill brings forward proposals for a new type of school to try to find the balance between freedom and accountability.
With new ideas in education, it can pay dividends to start with a pilot, with a small enough number of schools participating to enable progress to be monitored, evaluated and improved before the measures are rolled out more widely. Change is disruptive in the short term, even when it turns out to be of long-term benefit, and each generation of schoolchildren has only one opportunity of primary and secondary education. Little would be lost and much could be gained by starting with fewer schools as volunteer guinea pigs in order to ensure that the template was truly fit for the majority of schools. Perhaps the Minister will say whether thought was given to opening this academy status initially to a more restrictive number of schools so that lessons could be learnt from their experience.
We shall be discussing the role of parents in the academies. The Explanatory Notes state that parents will not lose any rights that they currently have, but we know that existing academies tend to have fewer parent governors than other schools. It is not clear whether parents will have any say over a school becoming an academy. We hope that there will be reassurances on parents’ involvement with academies.
I follow the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in wishing to explore in more detail provision for pupils with special educational needs. Questions need to be raised, including whether the SEN statutory framework will apply to the new academies, how the new admissions policy will work for children with SEN and whether all academies will be required to have trained SEN staff. I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said about that. Currently the local authorities have an important role in co-ordinating the needs of those with SEN. Who will be responsible for that co-operative working in the academy structure? We know that children with autism, for instance, are more at risk of exclusion because their behaviour may be difficult to manage. What measures will be put in place to ensure that they are not disproportionately affected by exclusions from academies? Who will be responsible for arranging and funding SEN transport? Some local authorities have extensive—and, indeed, expensive—systems for ensuring that pupils can access the most suitable schools in the area. There is a danger that services currently supplied at regional level will be fragmented if academies operate independently.
Both primary and special schools tend to be smaller than secondary schools, with smaller administrative resource. As they take on academy status, it is not only SEN tasks that will fall to them but a range of other responsibilities, including property management, admissions policy, staff employment and health and safety. These duties may well require additional training. What provision will be in place to enable them to cope with such responsibilities? There is expertise within local authorities, and academies may wish to contract back a range of services to the local authority, but these are matters that they will need to discuss, negotiate and agree on. In many parts of the country, schools have strong partnership relationships. It would be valuable to maintain such collaboration, but it may not be straightforward in the more competitive world of academies.
Perhaps I, too, may touch on the charitable status of academies, which the noble Baroness raised. The Bill provides for academies to have exempt charity status and thus not to be regulated by the Charity Commission. They would not need to provide accounts, public benefit reports or any other information to be displayed on the public register of charities. We would welcome clarification of the rationale for this. May we assume that charitable status, among other things, would carry with it a duty to share facilities with other schools in the area, where that would benefit less advantaged pupils?
There are enthusiastic supporters of academies. The coalition Government are committed to tackling educational inequality and giving greater powers to parents and pupils to choose a good school, with the ultimate aim, surely, that all schools should be good schools. As we proceed to Committee stage, we shall work co-operatively to ensure that the new academies open opportunities to all and that the choice of a good school does not become the preserve of the more articulate but is extended, with fairness and responsibility, to disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils. We look forward to the detailed scrutiny ahead.
My Lords, I support the Bill. First, however, I declare an interest as chair of St George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London, which has been an enthusiastic advocate and implementer of the widening participation agenda. We started early, long before Alan Milburn advocated that the profession should take it more seriously. We have used what I know some have described as social manipulation to ensure that we recruit, from the widest possible number of state schools, the very best medical students and health scientists. The policy has been enormously successful, and the recruits that we have had as a result of this “social manipulation” have been extraordinarily successful in becoming excellent doctors and health scientists. However, I do not really like the social manipulation that we have to go through to do it, because of the extraordinary variability of the quality of the schools from which our applicants come. We need a step change to ensure that there is not this variability of quality; everybody needs to ratchet up.
What I like about the Bill is that it is intended to move us from a system of direct performance management by local authorities to an autonomous, regulated system. This is what we have been trying to do in health policy, and I entirely support it. I particularly like the proposals to allow these schools to set their own pay and conditions for staff and to change the length of the school day and the terms, as well as a wide range of other provisions which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, so eloquently described. I know that we shall hear from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about what has happened in the schools that he has sponsored. These are freedoms that we should now give to so many other schools.
I also like the potential for creating a broader range of 14 to 19 year-old technical schools, an area which we have neglected so much in recent years. The idea of free schools is encouraging, although I hope very much that they will in due course be able to make a profit, because we see from evidence from the United States and Sweden that that degree of competition, and the ability to have profits to reinvest, really gets schools to make their mark.
Conferring academy status on a school will, of course, not automatically improve it. Turning a poor school round will take even a good head teacher far longer than one year. All schools in tough areas need support, but the Bill provides the structural context in which teachers can get on with teaching. There is ample evidence from abroad that competition for pupils and the market agenda is to the good, as long as we have key regulatory systems in place to monitor quality. Is the Minister confident that the regulatory system currently available will be adequate to monitor the performance of these schools?
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, in an article in the Guardian last week, made the observation:
“This choice agenda is in some ways little more than a shift in power, from local authorities and schools, to parents”.
That is exactly the point, I should have thought, and all to the good. But it also brings me to the dangers, and I echo some of the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, repeated.
Around one-third of all state-funded schools are schools with a religious character or faith schools, and this number is growing, with some minority religions and Christian denominations running new schools or taking control of the increasing numbers of schools in the state sector or of academies. Many faith schools are exclusive, most are divisive, and all are counterintuitive to social cohesion. Despite claims of inclusiveness, many have control of their own admissions, creating school populations that are far from representative of their own populations in religious or socio-economic terms. Many also discriminate in their recruitment and employment on religious grounds; applicants can be rejected and teachers barred from promotion because they are not of the right religion or of no religion or because of their sexual orientation. Teachers can also have their contracts terminated while in post, if their conduct is deemed incompatible with the tenets of the school’s religion. In addition, many faith schools teach—instead of the religious education taught in community schools, which I believe is a crucial part of the curriculum; we need to know about each other’s beliefs—their own syllabus, which the law permits to be confessional and which does not have to include learning about other religions or non-religious philosophies.
I draw attention to Professor Ted Cantle’s interim report last year on community cohesion in Blackburn and Darwen following the 2001 Oldham riots. He pointed out that the level of segregation in schools is high, growing and more extensive than the level of residential segregation would suggest, with the number of faith schools a particular issue. Although the report calls on faith schools to reconsider their admission policies in the light of the impact on cohesion, some schools in the towns have already made it clear that they do not intend to change their policies. At the launch of the report, Professor Cantle stated that faith schools with religious admission requirements were,
“automatically a source of division”.
Freedom for parents to educate according to their principles is one thing. Freedom for a faith group to exert an influence on the very structure of the community is another. At the medical school, we do have difficulties when people come from segregated schools of faith; some things have to be changed and restructured, and they have to be re-educated in another way of thinking. This is profoundly concerning.
I support this Bill very strongly because of the general policy direction, but the Government must think very carefully about what may be created in the name of parent power. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me that my fears will be guarded against.
My Lords, when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, started CTCs in the late 1980s, I agreed to sponsor a school in Croydon and one jointly with the church, Bacon’s, in Bermondsey. The school at Croydon was one of the worst in the country, with a GCSE pass rate of only 9 per cent and only 400 pupils. Of those 400 pupils, 60 every year were expelled—that is 15 per cent. The teachers on average lasted only six months, so there were supply teachers. We were letting the children of our country down. Now the school has 1,200 pupils, and the spend on it in those 20 years has been only £2 million. This year we had 2,000 applicants for 180 places. Over the years, the school achieved “most improved” school in the country twice, and last year had 99 per cent of five A to Cs, 84 per cent including English and maths. Some 15 per cent of the children come to the school from as far as Lambeth. More importantly, 147 out of 165 children went on to university.
When we took over the school, most of the teachers were replaced. There were 40 there, and we took 30 new teachers on, five of whom are now heads of our other academies.
Last November, under the new Ofsted rules, the Harris City Academy Crystal Palace, as it is now known, achieved an outstanding Ofsted report of 30 grade 1s. It is one of only two schools in the country to have achieved that so far. The 15 schools that had become CTCs saw their GCSE results improve by 43 per cent, against the national average of 34 per cent. Since 2001, the CTCs that achieved five As to Cs including English and maths had seen a rise of 12.6 per cent compared with 8.6 per cent for all other schools. Remember that most of the schools were failing schools.
Academies began in 1998-99, and again proved very successful. There are now 203 academies of which we—the Harris Federation—sponsor nine and one with the Church of England. Approximately 20,000 children attend our academies, six specialist schools and four primary schools.
We took over a failing school in September 2008 in Bexley. A third of the school was condemned—unusable. In just one year—two terms with the children—the GCSE results for five As to Cs with English and maths have gone up from 17 per cent to 42 per cent, and we expect them to be 65 per cent this year. The rate of five As to Cs has moved from 47 per cent to 92 per cent, all in the first year. This year we expect 95 per cent. That proves that failing or unpopular schools can be turned around quickly by motivated staff and pupils, strict discipline and creating an environment to learn.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for all the help that he gave us to achieve the opening of eight more academies. It has been fantastic; no one could have done a better job for us. All those were failing schools when we took them, with 35 per cent of the schoolchildren on free meals, against the national average of 12.9 per cent. In a short time—two to three years—five of the schools have now been judged outstanding, one good, and one satisfactory with outstanding potential. We took two of them on last September, and we have our own team inspecting them; in the next 12 months, we expect them to receive at least good and probably outstanding status.
Harris academies’ exam rate of five As to Cs last year was 84 per cent compared with the national average of 67 per cent. Bear in mind that five of the schools were failing badly less than three years ago. In Croydon alone we have three academies, with 4,500 applicants for just 600 places. Because we are so oversubscribed—as much as five or six times—we are always accused of taking the best pupils, but we do not. We put them into 10 bands and take 10 per cent from each band. I am dyslexic, and 10 per cent of our children are dyslexic as well. That is why our value added is pretty impressive.
Bermondsey, Merton and South Norwood are all in the top 2 per cent in the country—outstanding. Crystal Palace is in the top 4 per cent—the children, who start there at 11 and finish at 16, are at a better standard than those at other schools—and is outstanding. Falconwood is in the top 6 per cent—outstanding. Peckham is in the top 15 per cent—good. East Dulwich girls’ academy is in the top 25 per cent—satisfactory with improvement.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, allowed us to operate one centre across the three academies for our sixth form, which has been very successful. It has been agreed that we can put the sixth form of all our schools together. By 2012 we will have 2,000 sixth-form students and we hope to get at least 80 per cent of them to university. I am a great admirer of and believer in academies. There should not be failing schools in the UK. If there are, we are letting our children down. I thank our head teachers, staff and support staff for making all our schools so successful. I hope that, over the next few years, the Harris Federation will have as many as 25 successful schools in south London. I support the Bill. We want to give a better education to our children in this country.
My Lords, I am sure that this is the first of many days that we will spend on this subject. I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, who is, I am sure, coming back. He has a great and very important job. I declare my interests. I advise the charity ARK, which sponsors and runs city academies. I also serve as a school governor of a city academy, and chair Future Leaders, a charity which intensively trains prospective head teachers for challenging urban schools and receives government funding via the National College.
I am an academy enthusiast. I share much of what the noble Lords, Lord Baker and Lord Harris, have just outlined. My experience is similar to theirs. When I started to read the Academies Bill and the Explanatory Notes, I sat down to summarise what I think the new Government’s overall strategic approach should be. This goes for academies and beyond. The Government should set clear desired outcomes for the system as a whole and its constituent parts. They should give as much autonomy as possible to teachers, parents and pupils in pursuing those outcomes in the most appropriate way for them, while at the same time reserving the right of control to get the basics in place and intervene when pupils are failed. They must properly fund the education system, recognising the needs of the most disadvantaged. They must hold institutions and professionals to account. This is not a question of being top-down or bottom-up, but of being clear about where the state can be effective and where it needs to give others the power to deliver. The state needs to be intrusive where the basics are not in place and where there is failure, both obvious and hidden. However, in other areas, genuine and lasting achievement is most likely to be brought about by the teachers, parents and pupils for themselves.
From 1997, the Labour Government dramatically improved the education system, increasing resources and giving three-year funding agreements to allow head teachers to plan properly. They cut class sizes, rebuilt the schools estate—remember outside toilets and leaking roofs—and regenerated the teaching profession, improved standards and brought new expertise and diversity into the system. More pupils leave school with a good set of qualifications and there are far fewer failing schools. Underlying literacy rates have improved significantly and schools serving disadvantaged communities have improved faster than the average. There is stronger accountability and more transparency for parents when choosing schools. What often worked best was a combination of investment and reform—for example, in relation to the teaching profession, where much was achieved, though there is still some way to go. As an aside, I do not quite understand why the abolition of the GTC will raise the standing and standard of the profession. By all means, reform and strengthen it—it needed that—or even replace it, but do not leave a vacuum.
One reform was particularly controversial—particularly, I remember, with some Members opposite—and that is the one that we are talking about today. That was the attempt to foster dynamism to deliver excellent schools where there was failure, leading to the concept of city academies. The idea, we now know, was simple: to create independent state schools with support from business, successful individuals who wanted to put something back, universities or independent schools. Each school would have its own ethos, clear behaviour codes, a focus on literacy and numeracy, and high aspirations for all pupils. The controversy was huge both inside and outside the educational establishment. It is important to think first about the rationale that underlay those original academies. They were, above all, a means of getting the best schools into the areas that needed them most. They were not conceptualised as a way of extending market reforms to education. It was not about competition per se but about seeking to replace failing provision and providing a spur to achieve higher results across the piece. It was about trying to give some of the best to those who were denied even the average, and largely it has worked. There are now fewer failing schools than at any time since records began and we have high-performing providers effectively delivering outstanding education in areas that have been blighted by unacceptable standards. What is more, GCSE results in academies are improving faster than the national average. The evidence now tells us clearly that outstanding schools can overcome a pupil’s background in determining outcomes. That is crucial.
There has also been a massive investment in new and renovated school buildings. Those are part of the equation; amazing buildings do not deliver great education, but poor or dingy buildings sap morale, limit the curriculum and perpetuate the divisions in the education system. We should not underestimate the effect of investing in the fabric as well as in the teaching. I will never forget talking to a girl at one of the first academies I visited who said, “I never believed I could come to a place like this”. “This” included the tangible results of the investment she saw around her every day. Great principals, such as Sir Michael Wilshaw at Mossbourne, talk very clearly about how building design actively contributes to curriculum delivery and behaviour standards. I know that finances will be very tight going forward, but let us not underestimate the effect of the environment on behaviour or the delivery of the curriculum.
For me, the next big push would be to extend the principles behind city academies to coasting schools and poor primaries. We need top-notch providers to replace poor management teams at schools which may be above national benchmarks but are still below what we should be expecting. The Labour Government had announced that chains of academy providers and successful school operators would be able to take over coasting schools. This is important not just for reasons of improving schools across the system but because of equity concerns. Even in schools where more than 30 per cent of pupils achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths, it is still on the whole the poorest students—those who are eligible for free school meals—who perform worse. Tackling this debilitating achievement gap must remain a priority. I am somewhat unclear about government plans in these schools. Will there be a strong push on these schools or will it just be left to the market? Will the hidden underachievement be left? My fear is that these are not the schools that will grasp the chance to become academies. They will be left somewhere in the middle. They are not the failing schools but they are not the schools that will grab this process and run with it.
In this context, therefore, I was surprised that the only new priority seems to be to allow outstanding schools to become academies. I would appreciate clarity around that. I am in favour of excellent schools gaining more freedom in their operations but have some questions. I hope that this legislation is not rushed through without the proper time that we need for scrutiny. If we want a big increase in academies, we need to ensure that the detail is right. First, what is the plan for admissions? In the Explanatory Notes, we read:
“Academies are all-ability state funded schools”.
However, the Bill seems to suggest that existing selective grammar schools may become academies. I do not understand this and how it fits into the statement that academies are all-ability schools. I have to confess that a sceptic may think that the 1922 Committee had to be thrown something to keep it quiet. I am sure that there is more of a rationale behind it, but I should like to know what it is.
Secondly, the new Government need to be clear on accountability. I make no apology for the regimes of testing, targets and national programmes that Labour introduced. They produced a level of discipline in the system, a focus on driving up literacy and numeracy standards in primary schools, a relentless spotlight on minimum standards in secondary schools and a level of transparency for parents choosing a school. Going forward, there needs to be an even stronger system that measures both performance and teaching, builds confidence in standards and gets beyond a narrow focus on borderline grades. As the Education Select Committee recognised before the election, that means getting Ofsted refocused on teaching and learning and making sure that head teachers assess individual teacher effectiveness. It means that the whole system and the wider public need properly bench-marked data to underpin standards. It also means that we need to instil the principle that it is just as important for a student to move from a B to an A as it is to move from a D to a C. In relation to outstanding schools, reduced inspection will put greater pressure on somewhat imperfect measures. There is a real need to move beyond the A-to-C measures and value-added.
Ultimately, accountability must be more than data measurement and teacher-level assessment. It is about politicians and local authorities having the courage of their convictions and booting out providers that are not getting the job done—whether they are the local authority or an academy sponsor. Supply-side reform is pointless unless we can change supplier. No one can be exempt from performance measurement. The current funding agreement covering academies in effect bestows conditional stewardship. That is spot-on as an approach for the future, and I wonder whether it will continue. The Labour Government had announced that parents were to be given the mechanism, through a ballot, to demand change of leadership in schools. Have the new Government looked at that issue?
The third question relates to fair funding. What is proposed for the academy funding regime? It is important to see the detail. Fourthly, what are the proposals for proper oversight of academies? Clearly the YPLA is in limbo; but has an alternative been proposed? Will the oversight duty go back to the department, and if so, how will that cope with large numbers of schools? Beyond an occasional Ofsted inspection, what will be the scrutiny—and in particular what will be the improvement proposals—if an academy is struggling? Is the assumption that there will be something like a one-way valve, and that once a school is doing well it will happily continue to do so? We all know that this is the case often—but by no means always. In the event of failure, action is needed quickly to halt the decline. We do not want this to reach the level of special measures.
Fifthly, what are the proposals for public and parental consultation when a school is transitioning into an academy? While current procedures are arguably overcomplicated, it would be wrong not to have wider consultation. Sixthly, it appears that transferring schools can carry forward surpluses. This is a good thing if it encourages careful financial management: but what happens about deficits? It would be wrong if Ofsted-defined outstanding schools with deficits could transfer and lose the deficit while gaining the freedoms. For this category of schools, will strong finances be part of the gateway?
Sixthly, will the Government learn from the mistakes that a previous Government made in relation to grant-maintained schools? These were independent of the local schools community, there being in effect a regime of divide and rule, and were unfairly—favourably—funded. In particular, will there be tight and specific requirements that outstanding academies must take on school improvement roles? I do not mean woolly words, but something precise. We have heard reassuring words on this, but we would all be grateful for clarity that the requirements will be tight.
Finally, I am anxious that, in tough economic times, we should spend wisely and pool resources and expertise. Reforms will have to be well planned and not dogmatic. Competition mechanisms in education will necessarily be slow, because parents will not constantly move their children in and out of schools. Strong interventions from the centre will remain vital in driving up standards. In some areas, new schools will be the answer—no doubt we will debate that. However, a slow drift downwards in the number of pupils attending schools in an area may damage the education of many pupils—again, unless there is strong, transparent accountability and fast action. In many communities, focused inspection, rigour and new leadership of existing schools may be what are needed.
Our goal should be simple: the best teachers, leaders and schools for all children, combined with a focus on the children who need them most. Academies can play a great role; but the devil, as always, is in the detail, and I look forward to seeing those details in the coming weeks.
My Lords, I add to the welcome given by many noble Lords to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, as he takes over his challenging position. I wish him well in his dedication to trying to get the best education system that we can. It is appropriate to begin my short speech by referring to the Prime Minister’s speech earlier today, which set out in dire terms the economic situation that we face. It is important in this debate—and in all debates that we will have on public services—to reflect on the effect of those dire circumstances on public services. When I speak today about the Academies Bill, I will very much bear in mind, as I hope all noble Lords will, the effects that we are likely to see, not this year when we are still living in what one might call the aftermath of the election honeymoon, but in the coming years, of the severe cuts in public services on education, health and other services. We bear those in mind when we talk about the best way to handle education.
I should add that in my view, as a member of the coalition, we all accept compromise here. However, because we accept compromise and because we are trying to bring together the best heritage of both parties, it is all the more important that Parliament in no way abdicates its role of scrutinising, examining and, wherever possible, improving legislation. In some ways, at the beginning of a very new kind of government, we need that role from the House of Lords and the other place more than ever before, and I shall address my remarks on the Academies Bill bearing that very much in mind.
Perhaps I may roll back for a minute and talk briefly about what I think were the real achievements of the Labour Government. Particularly in the early years of new Labour, they included, among other things, the excellent training of teachers, and not least of head teachers, so that they would fulfil their leadership role. They also included the creation of hundreds of teaching assistant posts. In the rather more academic discussion that we are having, we should not forget that teaching assistants have probably done more for deprived children—children who are deprived not only because of the poverty of their background but also because of their emotional and other needs—than for any other group in the community.
Quite often, we speak about attainment in education as though education is unrelated to things such as housing, health or the opportunity to move out of one’s immediate circle. These things have a great deal to do with educational poverty and they are one reason why, when we finish talking about how wonderful academies and other school systems are, we should never forget that, even today, the social background of a child is still the single most significant factor in whether he or she achieves the outcomes that we all want to see. That is hard to understand because it means that we cannot look only at education. However, it is very important to say it because it is what the whole challenge is really about.
I believe that in the second part of its time in office, Labour made the great mistake of pursuing attempts to control to an extent that could not be justified. Here, I declare an interest as the chairman of the judges of the Teaching Awards, which provide awards for the most outstanding teachers in the country, whether they are in state schools, faith schools or, indeed, independent schools. They have taught me a great deal about the challenges of teaching. In that second period, new Labour made the great mistake of accepting not so much local authority control—the Bill talks a great deal about that—but far too much central government control. That was where the control over teaching really came from, and the regime of testing, examination and endless monitoring made it very difficult for creative teachers to be creative. I welcome what has been done in this Bill to strip away that bureaucratic control over teachers and to recognise the importance of their contribution. I also welcome in the Bill what I consider to be the very important recognition of the leadership provided by head teachers.
Having said that, I turn to a number of troubling questions that arise from the Bill. In many ways the Bill is very loosely drafted, perhaps because some of the details have not yet been fully worked out. Some of the questions that I wish to ask have already been asked by other noble Lords but I want to emphasise them yet again.
The first question, which although not necessarily the most significant is very important, arises, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, pointed out, from Clause 1, where there are direct references to academic agreements and also to a new child on the block known as “academic arrangements”. I am troubled by what those are. They appear to make very few demands of an academy. They are expressed in subsection (6) but very broadly. So far as I know, they do not include requirements about admissions or about provision for educationally troubled or challenged children; nor, so far as I know, do they include many of the requirements that are implicit in academic agreements, yet Clause 1 refers to both almost as though they were the same thing. They clearly are not. Therefore, my first question to the Minister is: what is an academic arrangement? What forms of accountability are there? How far can we be sure that the admissions and other codes are implicit in academic arrangements, and how is the academy concerned to be accountable for the money provided to it by the Secretary of State?
There is also a second question, which has been raised by a number of noble Lords. What now constitutes accountability? Governors of academies are appointed usually by the proprietor of the academy or will be in the future, but it is not at all clear where the governors will be drawn from and what contribution they can necessarily make to the running of the academy. They may be outstanding, but not all have been outstanding successes and there may be a weakness at the level of the governing body. How does the Secretary of State see the accountability of academies that are governed by an arrangement, as distinct from an agreement, and how will he deal with the problems that therefore arise?
The third question was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and others, including my noble friend Lady Garden of Frognal. What happens to schools that are not academies, which are not accepted as academies or do not apply, and which at the other end will benefit to some extent from pupil premium? I deeply believe in the pupil premium; it is one of the best ideas that Liberal Democrats came up with. In the present straitened financial circumstances it is not clear how they will be financed. The danger is if they are financed by running down existing programmes, such as ESN, monitoring and one-to-one programmes rather than adding to them. Related to that is the serious issue of exactly what incentives will be provided to maintain schools that will continue to be the largest section of our educational system for quite a long time.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, in an excellent speech, referred to the original motivation behind academies, a motivation which, among others, motivated the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. It was that academies should provide an alternative route for children in the most deprived communities or in the most challenged personal situations. The decision by the Secretary of State indicating that he will accept academies if they are from outstanding schools leaves the huge question that the right reverend Prelate asked. What then will happen to the least advantaged children who do not get a pupil premium as they are above the pupil premium level and will no longer be likely to see academies in the more impoverished and desperate parts of our community?
I have two final questions. The first was raised forcefully by my noble friend Lady Garden, who talked about the almost total absence of any degree of parental involvement in future academies, let alone the possible free schools where we could have a great deal or very little. It will not do to write parents out of the system. They are as crucial as schools in raising children with a capacity to learn, to love knowledge and to be good citizens. They are at least as important as schools. The big division that is emerging from this Bill between the role of parents and the role of teachers and governors shows that we are looking at a very troublesome issue.
Last of all, I say simply that we should approve and be pleased by the extent to which the Bill will raise the pressures on teachers and, in particular, the endless flow of directives, requirements and orders, which was the serious downside of new Labour’s achievement in education. It is not surprising that we have seen a slow decline in the past couple of years in comparative tables with other countries, to which the noble Lord, Lord Low, referred because we have probably reached the end of what one might describe as the bureaucratic model. The new model must be democratic, not just managerial. We have a strong obligation in this House to ensure that as we pass the Bill through its essential and important processes, that democratic, responsive and accountable element is very clearly seen to be there.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming the Minister to the Front Bench. He was a valued colleague of mine in No. 10 and I am confident that he has the qualities to thrive in this House, notably courtesy and a willingness to listen.
Let me also set out my interests. About four years ago, Dulwich College, of which I am chairman, agreed to become the lead sponsor of an academy on the Isle of Sheppey, in partnership with Kent County Council and the Diocese of Canterbury. I spent many hours in the laborious planning work, although that is nothing compared with the effort that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, must have put in. The Isle of Sheppey Academy opened last autumn. It is one of the largest in the country, with some 2,500 pupils, and is almost certainly one of the most complex. It is a single academy on two sites, divided into five schools. Already, less than a year into its existence, one can see changes in the spirit and energy of the place, the behaviour of pupils and the commitment of staff. This can be corroborated by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, whom I accompanied to the opening of one of the schools—it is named after his grandfather, who pioneered powered flight on the Isle of Sheppey.
While only 25 per cent or so of pupils achieved levels A to C at GCSE last year, the academy confidently predicts that there will be a significant improvement this year. This has taken place while operating in the rundown and, in places, decrepit premises that the academy inherited. A £50 million rebuild programme is two years away. The improvement has been achieved by better governance, invigorated leadership and engagement with the community. The key to success is, therefore, people issues more than the buildings. I can vouch for the power of academies to transform the quality of education provided—and to do so quickly. In general terms, I welcome the proposals to extend further the academies programme. I congratulate in particular the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on developing this initiative in a way that enjoys extensive cross-party support.
Nevertheless, I have some significant reservations about the particular proposals before us. First, the initial phase of the academies programme was rightly focused on schools that were performing worse and in poorly served communities. It seems likely that opening the doors to a much wider range of applicants will mean that a queue will form outside the department. Priorities will need to be exercised. In my view, it is essential that the schools most in need of a lift should continue to be put at the head of that queue.
Secondly, we must not fall into what philosophers would call the fallacy of composition—believing that, because something is true of one unit, it is true of all such units taken together and that, because academies are good, the system is best if all schools are academies. It does not follow that if the number of academies increases sharply the remaining system will continue to function effectively. The optimum system does not necessarily emerge from the sum of atomistic decisions. There are some strategic obligations to ensure that there are enough places in the right places—that, for example, all the sixth-form provision does not congregate in the leafier parts of the borough—that collective facilities such as pupil referral units are provided and that there is fair and adequate provision of school transport. Most important is that children with special needs are provided for, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned. None of these is guaranteed in a world of atomistic decision-making. Special needs provision needs to be looked at very carefully. Academies, while they are independent in governance terms, are still publicly funded and must accept an obligation to take their fair share of SEN children. Academies must not be allowed to turn their backs and place the burden on the schools that remain with local education authorities.
Thirdly, there is a serious naivety in the department’s description of the freedoms to be enjoyed by an academy. One is the ability to vary pay and conditions for staff, which is, of course, necessary in order to fill another of the freedoms—the ability to vary the school day or year, to which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, referred. In major cities, many academies have been created by closing a failing school, dispersing pupils and staff to other schools in the area, rebuilding the school and then reopening it. Sheppey was different. The predecessor schools closed in July 2009 and reopened in September 2009 on the same site, in the same buildings, with largely the same staff, other than the leadership team. The legal advice was that this was a transfer of undertakings to a new employer. As a result, about 80 per cent of the staff remain on their old contracts, variations of which cannot be made without negotiation. It will take a number of years as staff turn over to convert staff to new conditions. While it has proved possible at Sheppey to raise the motivation of staff—I am told that absenteeism is now among the lowest in the country as opposed to the highest—it has added to costs and a number of staff have been retained on old and in some cases expensive pay rates. It seems clear that many of the new wave of academies will be conversions of existing schools and not creations of new ones, so there needs to be a recognition of the constraints that that may impose.
Fourthly, I have a great deal of concern about the haste with which the new wave is being pursued. The Explanatory Notes state that the Bill will make it possible for outstanding schools to convert to academy status very quickly, possibly by September 2010. Frankly, that timetable is seriously misguided, even if it is reinterpreted to mean giving the go-ahead by September 2010 for implementation a year later. It shows no recognition of the complexities involved. The granting of academy status is being treated as though it were school prize winning—if you have good enough marks you can just turn up and collect your reward. That is a recipe for complacency. The granting of academy status should be seen not just as a reward for past achievement but as an opportunity for future improvement.
Candidates should not be invited to write a “Yes please, me too” letter, of which we have had a thousand already; they should be required to reflect on how they can turn these freedoms to advantage. They should think about their governance structures rather than simply carrying on with existing boards that were created in a different regime. The opportunity to bring in new sponsors with new ideas must not be skipped. At present, an accreditation committee examines applicants from aspiring sponsors. Apparently, in Clause 8, it will be replaced by a new regulator appointed by the Cabinet Office. An aspiring academy also needs to think through afresh its ethos, the curriculum that it offers, its policies on a huge range of issues and how it will co-operate with the community. There are in practice six weeks left until the end of term. A school cannot do a thorough job of preparing its prospectus in that time, let alone get it approved by the department and the as yet non-existent regulator. We should not be encouraging schools to skimp on this important work.
At a more mundane level, a host of relationships with the local education authority need to be renegotiated, such as HR, payroll and property and grounds maintenance. The value of surpluses or deficits needs to be established and audited. There appear to be no obligations to consult the local authority. While I accept that the local authority should not have a veto over whether the school leaves its control, that local authority still has rights. When an academy pulls out of a local authority-provided service and turns to an alternative provider, the local authority could be left with surplus staff and it is entitled to advance notice to enable it to manage that situation.
A serious hole in the Bill is that there is no obligation to consult parents and the wider community to explain the academy’s ambitions. Nor is sufficient time being allowed to consult TUPE-ed staff. That is an omission and may prove to be dangerous judicial review territory.
The last time that I spoke in the old Parliament was on the Personal Care at Home Bill. Along with a number of others, such as the noble Lord on my left, I argued that excessive haste was leading to bad policy-making even where the underlying principle was sound. I was hopeful that we would see a more considered approach, particularly from a coalition that aspires to a five-year mandate. I hope, therefore, that more time will be taken and that the laudable aim will not be spoiled by an overhasty timetable.
My Lords, at about the height of his popular fame just over a century ago—a fame hardly diminished today—that distinguished private detective, Sherlock Holmes, was returning by train from an investigation of a crime in the southern counties, bound for Charing Cross. In the southern suburbs of the metropolis, he pointed out to his companion and biographer, Dr Watson, the large four or even five-storey buildings that stood every few miles in the vast sprawl of terraced housing that was and is south London. He was pointing out the schools. Some of them would have been national schools, as they were called in those days—that is to say, Church of England foundation schools built for the education of the whole community. Others would have been local authority schools. Either way, he declared that such schools were beacons of hope standing out amid their drab surroundings and that the education that they would provide would transform society and, Sherlock even said, eliminate crime.
That the Government today, of whatever political hue, continue to be deeply concerned with the problem of delivering Conan Doyle’s admirable aspiration, put into the mouth of his sleuth, indicates that the late 19th-century liberal confidence in the delivery and effects of education has been seriously knocked, despite everybody’s best efforts. In last Thursday’s debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, noted the constant structural reform of our education system with which all Governments since the Second World War have been preoccupied. As the Minister said at the beginning of today’s debate, changed structures will not necessarily deliver everything. Sometimes schools and the quality of education can be transformed even within present structures.
I say that not to oppose Second Reading—indeed, I support the Bill—provided that we recognise that structures alone cannot deliver a good education without an ethos of purpose and common good among pupils, parents, teachers, governors and support staff. I strongly support my noble and right reverend friend the Bishop of Lincoln in stressing the significant stakeholding of the Church of England not just in faith schools narrowly conceived but in education for the whole community. Not for nothing were the Church of England schools fostered, as we have already heard in this debate, under the auspices of a body called the National Society. Perhaps it was a National Society for a big society. Our concern here is not self-interest; it is disinterested in the original meaning of that word. With my noble and right reverend friend, I think that there is both space and need now for a lot of discussion with all stakeholders in the academies project as it moves forward.
One matter concerns me. What of rival academy projects? What of the possibility, as has already been mentioned, of an academy project in effect, to put it crudely, killing off a neighbouring school? Here I am given some encouragement by the Minister in his introductory speech, but let me tell the tale of a school. Already this afternoon, your Lordships have heard the late Lord Ron Dearing mentioned several times. Among his many achievements was considerable assistance to the Church of England in the revitalisation of Church of England schools, but he was also the saviour of a particular school, a Church of England high school in my diocese of Guildford. Church schools, especially church high schools, are not necessarily located, as some sometimes suggest, in the plush suburbs. The particular school lies at the centre of a genuinely deprived locality in Surrey. It was failing. However, the co-ordinated efforts of staff, pupils, governors, parents, the diocese and the local authority inspired and—those of your Lordships who knew the late Lord Dearing will know what I mean—badgered by Ron Dearing turned it around. An academy route was not at that point a possibility, but had there been a rival academy project I doubt whether that school would have survived. Today, it is flourishing and successful in and beyond its local community.
Academies will help towards a better education, but I invite the coalition Government to continue to talk, as I know they are beginning to, with all the educational stakeholders especially about local strategic planning of academies, rather than simply allowing naked laissez-faire competition.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate for a number of reasons. The first is that it is terrific to welcome an Education Minister back to the government Front Bench after the rebranding and renaming of that department. It states quite clearly what the department is about. It is great to have an Education Minister and an education Bill. The second is that the Academies Bill is clearly focused. It has just 16 clauses and two schedules. It is an outstanding example of what legislation should be. It is clear and focused, which is significant because it reduces the potential for reams of Department for Education guidance and other edicts to interpret what the Minister said or should have said at Second Reading, in Committee or at Third Reading. It allows clarity about what is intended from the Bill.
I also welcome my noble friend to the Front Bench because of the skills he brings. He has significant experience of government from the inside—the Civil Service end. That will be important because there needs to be a sense of urgency about what the Bill is trying to achieve with its two-pronged strategy. We will improve education overall in the country by doing two things: by freeing people at the top to be able to excel and improve beyond what they are currently doing and by directing attention to the bottom to try to raise standards there. I shall return to Clause 4, which particularly refers to academy orders, the main focus of the Bill. It is also a great statement for this new coalition Government to have an education Bill as the first Bill to be considered in this House. I am particularly proud that it is starting here and that this coalition Government are putting education at the heart of what they are about.
Much has been said about what goes into making a successful school and academy. People have rightly focused on the fact that outstanding teaching makes a major contribution. However, there are other elements. There is discipline within the school. I know that in a cosy world we do not like to focus on it too much, but if children in the classroom are prepared to listen and teachers do not have to spend their time on crowd control but can deliver their lessons, the chances of success are increased immeasurably.
There is also the added value of the leadership that comes from the sponsor. I found the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, inspiring because of what has been achieved in the schools, academies and city technology colleges that he has set up. It brought in one of the most critical dimensions: the importance of expectations. I grew up in an inner-city comprehensive school in Gateshead on Tyneside. There was a world of expectation there, not for the academic side, but about football matches. There was an expectation that people would succeed and that the school would perform well in a sporting capacity. Not surprisingly, the school produced many great footballers, among them Paul Gascoigne. What would happen if you shifted the same expectation on to academic standards in maths, English and science? What could you achieve? A lot of people at that time took the view: “Be careful. If people are from a tough background, they cannot necessarily achieve or excel”. The reality is that whatever you expect is often what you get. If you go in expecting academic excellence, and expect people to compete for places at Oxbridge and at Russell group universities and to go on to be scientists, professors or partners in global law firms, that is what you will get. If you go in expecting them not to do that and to fail, that is what you will get. Expectations are critical in this area.
I will focus on two elements. I very much enjoyed the contribution, as I always do, from my noble friend Lord Baker, who initiated this process with the city technology colleges, which were a huge success in Gateshead, where I was. The performance of that local education authority took it from being about 115th out of about 116 in the country at one point to being 10th in the country. That was an outstanding performance. The city technology college—the Emmanuel City Technology College, of which I had the privilege of serving as a director for some time—was a beacon of excellence. It was outstanding to see what it achieved.
My noble friend the Minister might like to consider another element: catchment areas. This has not necessarily been touched on yet, so I will introduce it as a concept. The city technology colleges had wide catchment areas. You were allowed to apply to go to one from a broad area, so parents and children had to choose seriously to go to a given school. That act in itself made a huge difference to the school and the atmosphere in it. Immediately the school was filled with people who had one thing in common; they all wanted to be there. That makes a difference. Currently, you go to the school that is nearest and no thought is given to which school is best for your child. When people shop around for a car, a fridge or a flat screen TV, they do not just go to the shop that is nearest to them; they shop around seriously. When it comes to a child’s education, which is one of the most important things that can ever be provided for, it behoves them to look at different options and to find a school that will be suitable and bring out the best in their child.
My final point relates to the definition of a failing school and the circumstances in which the Secretary of State may issue an academy order. Clause 4 refers back to the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which stipulates in Section 60(3) that a school is eligible to be considered for that intervention if,
“the standards that the pupils might in all the circumstances reasonably be expected to attain”,
were low. That does not have the clarity that I enjoyed in the Bill. There is a need for an objective standard, which could be what Ed Balls set out as Secretary of State almost two years ago to the day when he said that there should be 30 per cent A to C grades, including in English and maths. He said:
“We don’t want to see excuses about poor performance, what we want to see is clear plans to raise standards in every school with a clear expectation that if by 2011 there are still schools stuck below 30 per cent ... and there’s not been a radical transformation at that point, our expectation will be that the school closes and reopens as a national challenge trust or academy”.
There seems to be remarkable cross-party consensus here. I would say to my noble friend the Minister that that was a clear statement from the previous Secretary of State—why do we not take it as read? He was referring to potentially 635 schools which failed that test nearly two years ago. We should say to those schools in those areas, “You have had your chance and you had your notice from the previous Government. If you fail to reach that standard by next year, you will be handed over to another education provider”—which I hope will be very much like that led by my noble friend Lord Harris.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the way in which he has introduced his first piece of legislation. His speech was very conciliatory and I think that the ensuing debate in Committee will be much welcomed by the rest of the House. I look forward to taking part in that Committee stage with him. I also want to put on record my congratulations to the academies, which have done some magnificent work over the past decade, and to the city technology colleges which did the same in the preceding years. I also make clear my admiration for the work of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who has contributed to this debate, and the chain of academies which now bears his name—the Harris chain—and operates in some of the most challenging areas of London. They have transformed opportunities not only for his students but for their families, communities and every generation to come—because that is the way it goes. I am in awe of what he has managed to achieve.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, was right when he said that the Bill’s origins lay in the city technology Bill of the 1980s. They can be traced through the city technology colleges, Grant-maintained schools, Specialist schools, academies these sorts of academies and free schools. You are left thinking that if something was meant to be that good back in the mid-1980s, why did we not just get on with it and do this before in the past 20 to 30 years? Why did we need five categories of school, with five titles and umpteen pieces of legislation, to try to get all schools to be like these schools, which are meant to be the ideal? When I look at the description of each of these categories of school, I see that they all say the same. They are intended to build a school system of independent state-funded schools that are free from local authority control. The key words are “independent”, “free” and “free from local authority control”.
I differ with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and the Minister in that I do not think there has been an even-handed approach to the issue of category of school throughout those 30 years. I do not accept that previous Governments—certainly not previous Conservative Governments—introduced city technology colleges or grant-maintained schools without an ambition that they would become the norm. I believe that they had that ambition but that they did not introduce the legislation necessary to make it a reality. They went to the ballot, and they sought external funding for city technology colleges. This Bill is another attempt to establish a norm without showing the necessary courage and making the necessary provision to make it happen.
Over the past 30 years we have had a period of not knowing, of uncertainty and flux. These independent state-funded schools exist alongside other structures of school. They are also excellent and I always make that clear. I often speak in favour of local authority-maintained schools, because excellence is found in every structure. But these independent schools have always been the favoured child. They were the favoured child of both the previous Tory Government and the previous Labour Government—my Government. They are also the favoured child of this Conservative Government. This favoured child has never quite achieved its potential. It has never quite taken over or grown to the extent necessary to make independent free schools the norm rather than the exception.
The Minister was right. I believe that it was the intention of some members of my party—including my former party leader, for whom I have the greatest respect and affection—to make these free schools the norm. They were wrong, and that is where I disagreed with them. But regardless of whether it was the intention, the truth is that the academies are now focused on the least affluent schools in the most deprived areas and not on the rest. Given that so many schools which are not academies are also successful—some are as successful as the academies, and some are more so—what is the justification for speeding up the move to academies? When Ofsted has already described a school as outstanding, what is the justification for changing its structure from community school to academy?
There are three key questions here. First, what evidence is there that a system that is in its entirety independent, with schools free from local authority control, will be more effective than what we have at the moment? The evidence which the Minister quoted is that schools that had been underachieving and were turned around improved their attainment more than the average across the nation. I am sorry, but that is to be expected given the attention that they had. Quite honestly, with all that we put into the academies, if we could not have turned them around, we would not have deserved to hold the job. Moreover, it is not only academies that can do that. It is not a trick and we know what to do with underachieving schools. You put in damn good head teachers and let them attract really good staff. You support them and give them some more money. You monitor them, but you let them get on with it. It was not the freedom of the academy status that caused the improvement in results, but something quite different which I shall come back to. So my first question is this: what is the evidence that there will be a systemic improvement and not just improvements for individual schools?
Secondly, what will be the effect on the rest of the education system, which will consist of an increasingly small maintained sector? Thirdly—and for me the key question—is it really worth focusing the attention of the Secretary of State, of the department, of local government and of both Houses on going through this structural change? As the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, said, this will be a big move. What is the justification for taking the focus of the whole machinery of government and the education service away from teaching and learning and putting it on whether to apply for academy status or not? The only justification for this Bill is if the noble Lord can prove that, in itself, it will improve the quality of teaching in the classroom. I am glad that there is agreement across the Chamber that it is that which makes the difference. Which clause in this Bill means that schools with academy status will see improved teaching and therefore improved learning? There is actually nothing about teaching and learning in the Bill; no mention is made of them. So I am left to conclude that the intention of the legislation is that these freedoms will somehow improve the quality of teaching and therefore the quality of learning. I do not believe that and I have never believed it. Indeed, that has been the cause of some of my unhappiness with some of the things that my own Government have done.
I want to look at this in a little more detail. Many of these freedoms are illusory. The letter sent to schools by the Secretary of State does not set out a long list of extra freedoms because many of those freedoms are already available to maintained schools. It is not the local authority that stops schools using the freedoms they have; it is fear of the accountability mechanism. The problem is not that schools do not have enough freedom, but that not enough schools use what is available to them.
As we have heard in some speeches, the Government feel that two specific freedoms will do the trick: freedom from the curriculum, and freedom from the local authority. Whether teachers should have control of the curriculum is a different debate for another time. I do not think that they should. The knowledge that we pass down from generation to generation is not the responsibility of teachers to decide; it is a responsibility for us all. It is a civic responsibility and duty. What I know is this: a poor teacher does not become a good teacher just because you change what they teach. Changing the history syllabus will not make a poor teacher a good one.
As for freedom from local authorities, it should be noted that they do not run schools or have such powers over them. I find it incredible that both the Minister’s Government and my own Government have spent two and a half decades removing the powers of local authorities. When I was Secretary of State I intervened on underperforming local authorities by outsourcing to private or third sector contractors probably more often than any other Secretary of State. Having achieved that and changed the role of local authorities, why do we still talk about them as though they are still running schools? It is as though we do not want to claim the success we have had in terms of local authorities. We have had successes in our party, and the Minister’s party has had successes as well. Academies under the Labour Government were successful not because they were free to develop their own curriculum or because they were free from their local authorities, but because they were a small group of disadvantaged schools in disadvantaged areas that were given a lot of high quality attention and clear focus.
Let me list some of these things. Those schools attracted some of the best head teachers in the country, along with some of the finest teachers we can offer. They did so because they were seen as the place to be. If I had been a young teacher when the academies were introduced under Tony Blair, I would have gone for them. They were the sexy sort of school, the club where things were happening. If I wanted to get on, that is where I would have sent my first job application. That is also why, when it was set up, Teach First operated predominantly if not solely in the academies. The academies had banded intakes. They changed overnight in a very good way by taking not only children from the local area but—as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, described—by ensuring a mixed ability intake. Every single academy has that sort of intake. The schools were given external support by the department, from sponsors, from the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and from anyone else who wanted to contribute. Quite frankly, far from being free, independent schools, the academies were the most monitored, watched, weighed and measured we have ever seen in this country. And the result was that they improved in the way that the Minister described. But unless we understand why they improved, we will get it wrong again. They did not improve because they were given extra freedoms; they improved because they were supported and given the best quality leadership and teaching. I see nothing in the Bill that can possibly make those advantages available for every school that applies to become a city academy. Indeed, by the very nature of what my Government did, they cannot be replicated until you have more good teachers and school leaders being given lots more support and a bit more in the way of resources.
If this Bill is passed, there will be consequences for the education system. Many noble Lords have talked, first, about the important role played by local authorities and how they need the capacity to fulfil it, and, secondly, about the fragmentation of the schools system. To tell the truth, I object to the notion that schools which become academies will be made to link with other failing schools. Why would anyone think that that is the preserve of the academies? It is what schools are already doing and is one of the greatest achievements of the last Labour Government. They joined schools together to teach each other and enable all to learn from the best. Church schools, community schools and special schools link in with each other. We do not need an Academies Bill to ensure that underperforming schools are supported, because that is already being done. So we must not allow the academies to be seen as the group that makes it happen.
I shall finish with some questions, many of which have already been referred to by other speakers, but one or two of which have not. On admissions, like other noble Lords, I would welcome an assurance that the admissions code of practice will apply. I can see, even though I might not be thrilled about it, how it is possible legally for a grammar school to be transferred into an academy and still be allowed to select under existing legislation. What I cannot see is how Clause 1(6)(d) can state that academies must have,
“pupils who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated”.
I do not know of one grammar school that draws wholly—100 per cent—or even mainly from the area in which the school is situated. Will the Minister clarify that, in the future, grammar schools will have to accept pupils wholly or mainly from the area in which they are situated?
Secondly, there are two routes for funding: academy agreement and academy financial assistance. I do not know why the second route has been introduced, or indeed what it is for and how it will be used. Thirdly, I add my voice to the others which have said that we must consult parents and look at charitable status.
My final question—which I have not heard mentioned; I may have misread the legislation—is what does the Minister envisage will be the role of sponsors? Does he believe that, with 1,000 applications of interest in gaining academy status by September this year, and with six weeks of the school term left, he can put in place sponsors for each of those academies? That external sponsorship, that external eye on the role of education, has been a power of good. I look forward to the rest of the debate today, certainly to the Committee stage, and to gathering responses to my questions when the Minister replies.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister on his innovative introductory speech—his first speech introducing a Bill. I have been taken aback at the prospect of taking part in a debate which has so far featured many people with knowledge, expertise and distinction in education which surpass mine. It has been a long time since I earned my crust as a teacher and most of my experience of education since then has been as a local politician, a governor and a parent. I wanted to take part in the debate because the Bill has great consequences for local democracy and local communities which go wider than simply the school system, important as that is.
It is a great privilege to follow the two former Secretaries of State for Education who I have most admired over the years—my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. I almost stood up and said, “I agree with nearly all of that; I have not much else to say”, after the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, sat down.
The basic problem with this legislation is that if there is an overwhelming view in the Government that the system of governance, control and management of schools—the system as a whole as opposed to individual schools—is to change, where is the vision of what the system will be like in five, 10 or 15 years’ time if the proposals the Government are putting forward come about? That is one of the important points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. If academies are to become the norm, the system of academies will have to change from what it is now and from what it is in the Bill. If every school in the country becomes an academy, it is horrendous to think that they will all be subject to control from Whitehall; that there will be no system of local involvement and local control and that local education authorities will disappear. A single national bureaucracy is not the way in which schools should be organised and managed.
I am surprised and have a little regret that this is the first Bill to be tabled by the coalition in this House. The Bill has certain commendable features—it is slim, it is short and is quite elegant in the way that it is written. This is unusual because the Bills we normally get here are fat and the opposite of elegant. However, the effect of its introduction will be more complex than is being suggested and may well be divisive. People have referred to the two-tier system but it may be more complicated than that; it has the potential to be divisive between the parties of the coalition. However, I am told that we can engage in constructive criticism and I shall do so. I shall be more constructively critical than I will be on other Bills, not least because these proposals do not feature in the agreed coalition programme. I find it slightly odd that it is the first Bill to be brought forward.
As this is Second Reading, I want to touch on one or two broad themes. The first concerns the idea of the big society. Like others, I have been trying to find out what the big society is, particularly since the coalition was formed and I thought we might have to do something about it along with the Conservatives. I still have not really found out what it is all about but I am still trying. No doubt we shall get some tuition about it in your Lordships’ House. It seems to be about devolution, decentralism and localism, to a large extent, and the involvement of local people and groups in their communities and societies. However, if you are devolving power and setting people free, who is it that you are setting free and who will be involved? Many of today’s contributions have pointed out that when it comes to involvement in basic decisions about which schools should become academies, quite large and important sections of local society seem to miss out. It does not seem sensible to legislate for the governance and control of schools without looking at the school in the context of its local community. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, said, schools need to be interconnected with communities. This is absolutely fundamental and we shall have to probe the issue in Committee.
There has been a vast amount of consultation, particularly in deprived areas, over the past decade or more, a great deal of which has fallen into disrepute because people have simply been consulted about the same things by different consultants year after year. However, consultation on real decisions about important local matters surely has to take place; it is almost inconceivable that there should not be a system of formal consultation and discussion with parents. However, this issue goes wider than parents. When decisions about institutions such as schools are made, the people taking those decisions—I take it this is all part of the big society—are taking them not only for the people in those schools at the time but they are taking them in trust for the future generations of children who will go to those schools. Therefore the wider community is just as important as the parents of the pupils who are at the school at the time the decisions are taken.
The question of the use of community facilities which schools or local education authorities own and control is crucial. For a long time there has been a great deal of talk about the need for the facilities that schools provide to be available to the wider community and not only to the school. This is very difficult to do because there are questions of cost, control, supervision and so on, but the best schools do it. Part of the raison d’être of new schools has been to provide facilities—sporting facilities, educational facilities, arts and so on—to the wider community. The question of whether this will be required of academies, how it can be guaranteed in the future if they are to become independent and how you can prevent them changing policy on this issue is very important and will have to be discussed.
This is particularly important in a small or medium-sized town which has one secondary school, or a village with one primary school, where the school is at the very heart of the community. Making decisions about the future of that school and how it is to be organised, run and controlled without the involvement of and discussion and debate with the wider community is not the way forward.
Many people have discussed the governance and accountability of schools. Accountability to governors is important and it is vital that parents and teachers continue to have a role on the governing body—and, I would argue, the local community as well—but accountability has to go further than the governing body. Very often, the nature of a school, particularly a smaller school, is such that the governing body is in a difficult position if it wants to intervene when things start to go wrong in the school. The head teacher, the leading governors and perhaps the whole governing body get very close. They do so for obvious and very good reasons, often because they are involved in doing important things in running the school. Schools bring in accountants and solicitors who work for free. Involving them when something is going seriously wrong is very difficult. It usually involves the intervention of the local education authority or the diocesan education authority. I can quote two examples from my own part of Lancashire where this has happened. The head teacher of the schools in question and, in one case, other senior staff, had to go because of what was going on in the school. It is very difficult if nobody who is reasonably local can intervene. Is that intervention possible if a large number of academy schools are directly responsible to bureaucrats in Whitehall, who are in many ways more bureaucratic than the local authority? If you talk to head teachers about the stream of directives, circulars, memoranda and advice that they get from above, you will learn that most of it comes from the centre; it does not come from the local education authority. Alternatively, it comes from the centre via the local education authority. If the coalition Government can dramatically reduce the amount of that sort of stuff—I was going to say “paperwork”, but most of it comes by e-mail nowadays—they will be doing schools a favour.
If more than half of a small education authority’s schools become academies, how can it manage to maintain its services to its existing local authority-maintained schools? It will have difficulty maintaining the services; it will certainly have difficulty maintaining its unit costs. Unit costs are bound in the short run to rise under those circumstances and keeping them under control will be very difficult.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, academies can and do succeed. They have had special talent in many cases; they have had extra funding in many cases; they have had the ability to focus on particular problems or subjects, or just to focus on their activity. They have been special schools, and if they had not succeeded it would have been quite extraordinary. They can do that because they are a minority that has had special attention and treatment. Whether that can be translated to a system where a large number of schools become academies is a big question.
There is a lot to talk about. The House of Lords is often said to be a Chamber of scrutiny and revision. This is a Bill where the House’s skill, ability and experience in scrutinising and revising will be absolutely necessary for it to become legislation which we can send to the Commons with confidence that it will actually work.
My Lords, this is an important Bill which I look forward to supporting. The direction of travel is right. It is a further extension on the journey from the city technology colleges of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, through the changes that have been achieved over the years to complement the work of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I pay tribute to them both.
I make two initial points in welcoming the Bill. First, I was delighted, perhaps even a little surprised, to find the Minister exhibiting just a touch of humility—we have not heard an awful lot of that from the Front Benches—in saying that it was important to manage expectations, which is absolutely right. No legislation that I have seen in a comparatively short time in this House can ever achieve what it is often alleged to be able to achieve. That is as true of this Bill as any other. Legislation can take you so far, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, stressed in a magnificent speech—I have to say that I did not agree with all of it, but it was magnificent none the less—it is the quality of teaching and school leadership that carry you the rest of the way. This is an enabling Bill. We should have just a touch of modesty about what it will achieve, while making sure that we have the support in place to make it work for at least some of those in the system who needed support most clearly.
Secondly, the Bill is part of a one-wheeled tandem. In the Minister’s speech in the debate on the Address last week, we were promised further legislation on standards, dealing effectively with regulation and accountability. These are not add-ons; they are absolutely essential. It would be good to have seen the whole picture. We have not, but I am happy to proceed in the expectation that we will have a considered legislative programme put before us that deals with standards, accountability and regulation. That has been stressed by other speakers in your Lordships' House.
One other minor surprise about the speeches so far is that both Front Benches seem to share an assumption that there is something out there called a two-tier system that is either to be resisted or will inevitably follow the implementation of the legislation. We have a two-tier system—or, even more realistically, a multi-tier system—already in place. There are schools that do the most that they possibly can—most schools do that—but have high achievement for a whole variety of reasons, in the end to do with the quality of teaching and leadership; and there are schools that fail our pupils. We have heard the statistics—I shall not repeat them—about those who leave primary school without an adequate grasp of reading. That is a handicap the importance of which we can hardly assess, sitting as we are on these privileged Benches. There are pupils who leave school—they are no longer children—not having picked up the basics of what is essential for playing a strong and important part in employment, family and community, all of which we would normally expect to follow. We have at least a two-tier system.
It used to be very clear and straightforward. When I first came to London in the mid-1970s, I had young children, all at primary school stage, and they went to the local primary school. We then inquired about secondary schooling. We were from a privileged community, a small town in Scotland, where there was one secondary school which was terrific. That was not true of what we found in south-east London. We got the message that there were the private schools for which you paid, that there were the rest which had a very rigid banding system, A, B and C—your may remember this from the days of Ken Livingstone—and then that there was a tiny silver lining for some which I used to think of as the Holland Park syndrome: those who could afford to buy a house in that educationally favoured part of town. We have had two- and three-tier systems; we have got them now. It is not a question of whether the Bill will create a further one; it is whether it will move us forward and erode some of the differences that we all deplore in the schools of this city and of this country. I have to say that the same is true in Scotland, despite its traditional reputation in this area.
A second criticism that has been made of the Bill in principle is that it will weaken the power and role of local authorities and reduce their capacity to afford to provide common services. To that, I say that there is a risk. A very interesting proposal was made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about giving specific functions to local authorities dealing with children with special educational needs—that idea should bear very close scrutiny. There may well be other functions which a local authority, alive to the shape of the local community—language difficulties is an obvious one—is given. One sees across the schools in this city and elsewhere specific problems—they are not the problems of Walsall or of parts of the north of England and central Scotland—to do with the fact that, in many a school, 40, 50 or 60 languages are spoken at home which are not English. That creates specific educational problems. We need to address that issue with the same attention as properly as we have begun to pay to special educational needs. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Harris. I have visited some of his schools—I should not call them his schools, but some of the schools which he has been instrumental in helping and enabling to flourish. These schools are working as consortia and groups. They have sharing capacities, and we have heard about the sixth forms. But there are other capacities that they share that make it possible for schools not directly linked to the local authority as now to begin to plan for the future and share common problems as well as common capacities. This is one way forward.
I go back to one of my early points. A significant number of schools will become academies; the fact that 1,000 have expressed interest is reason enough to go ahead with the Bill. If no one was interested, I would hear the siren calls and say, “Drop it”. But if 1,000 schools think that this is worth looking at, it is worth looking at. These are the teachers and head teachers, the parents and the governing bodies, which will be able to debate locally whether it is the right thing for them.
In passing, I should say that many of those schools are primary schools, which may be quite small in some cases. So they will need partners; they will not have the capacity to take the leadership on matters of property or salary—the whole range of matters about which some noble Lords know a great deal more than I do. The capacity to run a school at that level is like running elements of a small or medium-sized business. Small primary schools will not have that capacity and will need help and co-operation and those who can support them. No single structural or legislative change will solve the problem that we have had as long as we have been able to measure ability and outcomes, nor will it solve all the problems, not even this one. But if it can move us forward, that is immensely important and we must take it on board.
The Bill is largely permissive, as has been stressed, rather than coercive. Schools doing well are invited to express an interest. However, one element of possible coercion or compulsion is complicit in the Bill. Underperforming or failing schools can be required to step out from under the guise of local authorities and possibly to become academies. I would not object—indeed, I think that it is very important—to that capacity. I stand before noble Lords as the person who signed the first order declaring a school in England to be failing, many years ago when I helped to set up Ofsted. It was a considered and difficult decision, but there are such schools, and the pupils in them have to be rescued and helped. I refer noble Lords to an article in today’s Times by Libby Purves. But there may be complex reasons for why a school is not delivering; there may be a definition of what it is to deliver that is not quite adequate or right for the context of the school. All I ask is that the Secretary of State and Ministers show pragmatism and empiricism in deciding what to do about these schools and do not follow an ideology that may develop, because that would be the death of the importance of this particular approach. This is a pragmatic and empirical way in which to help to improve schools.
Finally, if we are to move in this direction—and we will—there are some measures that we must put in place to deal with those schools that are not doing so well. First, the Secretary of State must have the power to intervene and require special measures, including the possibility of academy status. Secondly, the public commitment given in the speech last week that there would be further legislation on accountability, regulation and standards must be brought forward as soon as possible. Thirdly, the commitment to pupil premiums is very important. I confess an interest: I chair the Goldsmiths’ Company Education Committee, an education charity. One of the main things that we do, which has been successful, is to give small sums of money up to £6,000 a year to head teachers of schools in difficult areas—most of them in this city, but some in Walsall, which I have already mentioned. We give them this money, which they welcome not only because it is cash but because it is money without a tag attached. The inventiveness and imagination that they show in applying it to the most needy corners of the school means that there is clear to us a huge, untapped reservoir of ability if we allow the professionals to have a proper part in the process.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the noble Lord, Lord Hill, to his new task and wish him well with this very welcome Bill. I look forward to it unfolding its various stages.
I come to this debate today out of what the Americans would call “left field”—not a political left field, this side of the House will be pleased to hear. Rather, it is a definition of the direction of the game being changed for a moment by an unexpected move. I hope that I might provide that. I love the idea of these academies. I only wish that I could have gone to one, but that would have been a long time ago and, in any event, I know that I would not have got in; I would have been classified as a special needs child and I would not have got into the system at all. My special need was that I was classified as mentally retarded. I have no argument with that assessment at all. I have made no secret of it since I came to your Lordships’ House. It causes me no grief now and I came to terms with it many years ago. What concerns me are the many children in this country today in a similar category who will also never get to an academy and how they can be motivated to set their eyes on a horizon worth aiming for, for the enrichment of their lives, which is otherwise a difficult issue in the present circumstances. This should engage the political parties of all persuasions in this House and should not be an exclusive issue for one.
We have a problem in this country that is beginning to look to me like a replication of the circumstances that gave rise to the difficulties experienced by my generation during and after the Second World War, when I began my educational progress. I am 73 years old. My first vivid memory is of five minutes past 10 on the morning of 20 May 1940. I was just short of my third birthday at the time and my mother had just cleared away the breakfast—bear with me, this is relevant. She cleared away the breakfast and put the radio on to what should have been “Housewives’ Choice”, or something of that sort. Instead, it was Alvar Liddell in his darkest, most sepulchral tones, announcing that France had capitulated and that we were now on our own. Immediately, the BBC announced that it would suspend services for the rest of the day until the Prime Minister could speak, but that it would repeat the message of the capitulation every five minutes and, meanwhile, between each message, it would play what it said was Purcell’s trumpet voluntary. It was not, but the BBC thought that it was.
I did not know it at the time, my Lords, but found out in rather changed circumstances many years later. The BBC ended up playing this damned tune every five minutes the whole day, but my mother would not switch off the wireless because she wanted to hear when the Prime Minister came on. So we listened to it. That has been very much in my mind in the past month, because of the celebrations of the Dunkirk deliverance. However, we knew nothing of that at the time; all we knew was that France had fallen. We did not know that operation Dunkirk was going on at that time or that 380,000 soldiers were coming back to help the defence. My mother was convinced that the Germans would be there for tea, and she did not have any apple strudel. I suspect that they would have wanted something other than that, but that was her problem at the time. We had this terrible phase of two weeks or so of misery before we had an army back; had we but known it, in another four months we would have the victory of the Battle of Britain to announce.
So we got through the war, more or less. We had three times the ritual of the little orange envelope being delivered, starting off with the words, “The War Office regrets to advise”—but that happened in every family. The war ended, really on VJ Day not VE Day. On that day we learnt for the first time the terrible power of the atomic bomb. From that moment on we knew, as a generation, that we were doomed. There was no point in working—why bother with school? We had no hope whatever, which was how we were brought up for many years to come. We also had the threat of the great red horde flooding across Europe. Berlin was going to fall—the Berlin air lift was a waste of time and was never going to succeed. When it did, we had to wait to see whether we could survive the Korean War and the yellow horde coming from the other direction, so we had no hope anywhere. Who was bothering to sit their exams with any serious intent, or to pass anything? We did not, so I got sent to a school for what would today be called special needs. We really were special needs, but we were not quite as stupid as we might have been thought: of the 22 boys in the class that I was sent to, two played for England at chess within 10 years of the class being formed.
In the fullness of time, one went on from there and—hoping for the best—I got an Oxford entrance place. I could not go, because I had to put up a guarantee of £1,500 to get there—to pass “Go”—and I had not got £1,500. But I went to a better university: Ford Motor Company. My 10 years at Ford were better than what any university in the world could have done for me. Ford even paid me to be there. That brings up a big demotivating point that politicians need to think of today: you have to let the young people who succeed receive some of the benefits of their success. There came a day when I got a huge promotion and my salary went up from £8,000 to £10,000. When I went home and worked it out that evening, I realised that thanks to Mr Wilson and his colleagues I was going to receive £160 a year out of my extra £2,000. It was not enough to start a mortgage for a house or anything, but I calculated that at least it would pay for three tickets a month to see Maria Callas, Schwarzkopf and all the rest of them at Covent Garden for £5.25—five guineas, as they called it in those days. The money went to a good purpose, but it did not advance my way of life.
Around me, all sorts of things were happening. The Teddy boys came on the scene. They gave way to the beatniks and the beatniks gave way to the hippies. Why? These were the remnants of my generation, who had no motivation and no thrust for what to do with their lives, all because the education system had failed to do anything with them when it could have done. Now I see a similar pattern emerging. At that time, we were frightened out of our wits by the atomic and nuclear threat and the prospect of communist overrun. We have exactly the same factors today, only all children today believe that there is no point in working on because global warming will destroy everything in their lives—they are frightened out of their wits about it. Also, they believe that the world economy has been destroyed and has no prospect of recovery, so there is no point in them working to take a role in it. We have to get the political sights up. With all due respect, the right reverend Prelates at the end of these Benches have a role to play as well, in reminding children that God has given us everything with which to support ourselves and have a good life, provided that we use it and take God’s strength with us to do it. It is time that the churches all got together behind that with a much bigger voice.
I ask that we do something very positive and think in terms of how we motivate and take with us the people who will not go to the academies and who will have special needs arising not out of being stupid but out of the complete lack of any inspiration or motivation on which they can draw, because of their depression due to the circumstances around them.
As a postscript, I shall pick up on the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, to me about Purcell and the trumpet voluntary. When I was picking the music for my wedding, I chose that my wife should enter the church to the sound of the same piece of music and was informed by the organist at St Paul’s, where we were getting married, that it was not by Purcell, but was Jeremiah Clarke’s march for the Prince of Denmark. Then my wife asked me why I had chosen it. I said, “I wanted to get rid from my mind the association I have between it and the fall of France”. She said, “You think marrying me is comparable to a disaster like the fall of France?”. I said, “Good gracious, no—I just want a happy event to replace the terrible association I have with it”. She said, “I knew about this—I guessed that was the reason—and I’ve got one for you too. When France fell, Hitler had all the cricket fields in every corner of France dug up to make cabbage patches and he banned cricket in all its forms. That is what we should take into our marriage—no cricket matches on television, no test matches, and you are never to wear the tie of that dreadful, miserable cricket club”, by which she meant the MCC. So she naturally got the last word.
This is a splendid Bill. It will do well for the clever ones who get there, but please can we not forget the non-clever ones who have their lives to lead and who will make a big contribution to the economy of this country in time to come if we look after them properly?
My Lords, having studied the Bill before us—thankfully, it is very short—I saw little that took into account community cohesion. It appears to say that academies are the answer to all the problems in our school community and that those who are not satisfied should set up their own schools, give local authorities the brush-off and go their own way. I sincerely hope that my understanding is not correct. Today I want to bring before you my concerns about the British Afro-Caribbean child, whose experience of the school system in the early days was less than satisfactory.
Most of the children coming into Britain then were sent to SEN schools. We are now at a point where black children, given the support suited to their needs, can and do succeed. However, many parents now feel that the battle almost won is about to recreate itself in what this Bill suggests and there is a fear that the struggle will begin again. I make it clear, once and for all, that education has always been accepted as the means of upward mobility. Research will show that from the day when the phonics of the alphabet were made available to the enslaved Africans, they have embraced education, looked within the system and more or less found solutions. It is now well known that black children achieve in schools at an equal rate to kids from other backgrounds.
The high standards set by the last Government were easily reached by black Caribbean children. What changed most of all was the need for the children to understand that the expectations for them were the same as those for white children—expectations that came from families but were reinforced by teachers, for which I thank them. My purpose today is to make it reasonably clear that there is a need to consider the deep-seated cultural and social differences that characterise black children in our attempt to educate, counsel and assist them in the UK system.
From the early 1960s, a variety of efforts have been directed towards the amelioration of the apparent problems, ostensibly a function of certain disadvantages suffered because of skin colour—but that is untrue. Research efforts of a bewildering variety have been designed and implemented to discover the reasons for the poor performance of such children as a group, using various measures to construe that a lack of intellectual and academic abilities could be a function of genetic disablement.
Parents took this as a condemnation of their children. The result was that we set up Saturday schools, run by black parents and black teachers. They showed that the black child is capable of achieving any standards that are set. We have now seen a great improvement among young boys. The major shortcomings in attempts to educate young black children, and the inability or unwillingness to come to grips with the deep-seated differences between them and white youngsters, meant that it was left to the black community to secure for its children a mixture of black and white teachers so that both black and white cultures were valued and recognised in their own right.
We know today that disadvantaged schooling is a real issue. Also, there is a recognition that the dominant culture, being lettered, needed to value the oral culture. That culture’s styles, thought processes, behavioural learning patterns, concept of time perceptions, morals, value systems, communications and assessment had to be understood by LEAs so that today we have black children achieving, in most cases, as well as their white counterparts.
Nothing in the Bill appears to recognise the steps that have been taken. I therefore ask the Minister how he sees the academies achieving the standards of community cohesion if, as the Bill suggests, schools could opt out of the control of local authorities and, at the same time, become foundations, which are then likely to separate communities still further. That is all that I want to add about the Bill at this time. I feel sure that the black community fears that the Bill, as set out, would set us on the road to segregation.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister. I hope he will at least read my congratulations. I wish him well in his demanding position. In this House one has the task of concentrating on what one perceives as weaknesses in a Bill, but I should not let the opportunity pass to say that there are many extremely good and forward-looking measures in this one.
As one who habitually complains about the amount of legislation put forth by this and the other place, I add that this is an extraordinarily complex Bill, short though it is by modern standards. I fear that it will give my profession a wonderful feeding ground for the future. However, the task of the House in Committee and at later stages is to improve on it. I will quickly mention that it seems as though the powers of the Secretary of the State to enter into academy arrangements, as they are called, and to make academy awards are entirely discretionary. Even if an applicant fulfils the characteristics required of it, it will not, by any means, certainly get academy status. The Minister might like to ponder on that.
I will also mention the charitable status provisions of Clause 8, which say that all academies will, ipso facto, be charities. It is an inadequate clause, most particularly because it does not make any provision for a regulator. It is, in my view, essential that the regulation of this new body of schools be on a statutory basis. It must require the regulator to make an annual report to this and the other place. They must be accountable and transparent.
Secondly, I am a little foxed, and again, I hope the Minister might, in winding up, let the House know whether the provisions of the Bill are so framed as to allow the promoters of one of these schools, in effect, to outsource the running of the school to a profit-making provider. If that is the intention, I have to say that—as one who spends much of his life advising on charity law—I am not at all sure that the arrangement would be properly lawful. That will need careful consideration.
I echo briefly, because it so important, the remarks on implementation of the Bill that have been made by various noble Lords. It seems that we are rushing our fences with the Bill. There are hugely important matters to consider, plan and consult on before a single academy school under the new aegis should be up and running. I hope that the consultation requirements will be in the Bill, as they are in many other Bills, including the late-lamented and soon-to-be-consigned-to-oblivion identity cards Bill.
I will spend the rest of my time talking about new free schools. They are not specifically mentioned in the Bill or the notes accompanying it. However, the Government must sing their own tune with regard to new schools. They will, no doubt, be called academy schools. However, they are not schools that are converting from an existing maintained school; they will be created by parents and other interested parties. I commend the Minister in the other place, Mr Michael Gove, for what he said about this. He said at the beginning of his speech that we are,
“dedicated to ensuring that every child has a better start in life”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/6/10; col. 455.]
Later, he said:
“We have—we have been bequeathed—one of the most stratified and segregated school systems in the developed world … That is why we are pressing ahead with the sort of changes that will drive improvement across the whole of the state school system”.— [Official Report, Commons, 2/6/10; col. 463.]
That is my concern. Unless the new schools are constrained by the addition of characteristics to Clause 1(6) to make sure that this danger will not occur, there is a real prospect that they will do the very thing that the Secretary of State and the Minister in this place said that they were committed to preventing—that is, widening the gap between the best schools and the worst schools, to put it crudely.
The particular danger is that the new schools will siphon off pupils from the more middle-class families, leaving existing schools with a depleted intake. I spent this morning in my native town of Sudbury in Suffolk, which is an absolutely typical English market town. It currently has two secondary schools serving 25 or 30 villages. I was told by the excellent head and the chair of governors of one of the two, Cornard Upper School —my wife is a governor of the same school—that its position under the Bill could be made extraordinarily difficult. I am absolutely sure that that would be inadvertent, but our job is to guard against inadvertence. The key school in its present catchment area is proposing to set up as a new school. There are three principal damaging effects of that probability. First, it will unbalance the existing intake of the school. The head, Michael Foley, put it like this:
“All I can tell you is that in this area, the formation of a free school in one of the surrounding villages would lead to segregation by default. The existing fully comprehensive school, which has allowed children from all backgrounds to flourish … would be replaced by two schools in stark contrast: one with a largely privileged intake and the other largely populated by children living in challenging circumstances”.
It is a commonplace that in the past 20 or 30 years villages around cities and towns have become gentrified.
Then there is the massive cost of creating a new school. The local authority reckon that it will cost £4 million just to uprate the buildings of this feeder school to enable it to gain new independent status at a time when Cornard desperately needs to modernise its existing buildings as 10 classrooms leak when it rains. It is fruitless to pretend that the capital expenditure on these new schools will not affect the budgets and incomes of the existing maintained schools.
There is a third potential problem with the new schools, unless we guard against it. Cornard school will lose 40 per cent of its intake. That will create real viability problems with huge cuts in staff, massive disruption and consequent denting of morale in a school which this year has received a certificate from the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust stating that it is one of the most improved schools in Suffolk. The LEA in Suffolk noted that it had achieved the greatest added value over the past year. The Ofsted report stated that it was “a good school”. It continued:
“The quality of care, guidance and support that is provided for students is outstanding. The school has gone from strength to strength since the previous inspection”.
I urge the Government to include a further characteristic in Clause 1(6) along the lines that a new school can be established and maintained only where, on balance, it will improve education not only for its own pupils but for those of adjacent schools.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, to hear how carefully he has consulted with his local school and to hear him repeat Michael Gove’s concern about stratification. I share his concern that the Bill could inadvertently add to that problem. The noble Lord reminds me how very different our system is to that of many of our neighbouring countries that seem to provide fairly consistent, good quality, publicly funded systems and where private schools have difficulty finding business due to lack of demand. So much human potential is wasted in this country. My noble friend Lord Sutherland drew attention to our variable quality of education.
The chief concern I wish to raise this evening is the education of children in public care and how the Bill may affect their chances, particularly as regards the admissions priority which was granted to them in 2008 by the previous Government, from which academy schools were exempted. I shall come back to that and concentrate on a few of the principles we are discussing. I reiterate how welcome it was in the debate on the Queen’s Speech to hear the Minister clearly lay down the subsidiarity principle by which the coalition operates; namely, to pass down decision-making as far as possible to professionals, clinicians and parents in the immediate area. I welcome that move. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and to the late Lord Dearing for what they have done with technical colleges. It is a tragedy that we have so poorly provided for our young people’s vocational training needs. It is very good to hear of the action that they have taken in that regard. National Grid Transco runs a programme in young offender institutions that has reduced reoffending rates from 70 per cent to 7 per cent by offering those young people a guaranteed job after three months’ vocational training at NVQ level 3. More than 1,000 of those young people have been guaranteed a job under that scheme, but would it not have been better if they had received an education which grabbed their interest and gave them the opportunity to get into work rather than crime?
I hope the Minister agrees that it flows from what he has said that we need to recruit the very best people into teaching and give them the best training and continued professional development and support if they are to become the autonomous head teachers we seek who can make the best decisions for their schools. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, in asking what plans the Government have for implementing the proposals for a Masters qualification for teachers. Primary school heads have told me that they are disappointed in the numeracy and literacy skills of some of their recent intake of teachers. There needs to be a greater commitment to attending to those skills of the teaching workforce, although I welcome the previous Government’s commitment in that area, particularly as regards Teach First. That is a very promising initiative with more than half the candidates staying on after the two years’ probationary introductory period. I welcome the new coalition’s commitment to expand that. However, I am troubled that teachers on the Teach First initiative will have a few months’ teacher training in just one school. This differs from a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, where students spend a year in two schools with more pedagogic training. In the past, many teachers had a Bachelor degree in education, gained after several years’ training. That is very important as the Teach First teachers may become the school leaders of the future. However, we are giving them a very shallow foundation in the theory of education at the start of their careers.
The Office for National Statistics found that in 2004, 9.6 per cent of our children between the ages of five and 15 had a mental health disorder. Teachers are not therapists, but good teachers have to be successful in managing their relationships with their pupils. They have to be particularly skilful in managing the relationship with those 10 per cent of children if they are to be successful teachers. Therefore, it is imperative that we insist on having the best teachers. Finland consistently has the highest outcomes in numeracy, literacy and science and very highly qualified teachers, all of whom have Masters degrees and undergo lengthy training. In Finland, classes are smaller but are all-inclusive with no streaming. I am not sure that they are allowed to exclude children, so teachers have to work with every child in a school. I am not saying that that should be the case in this country, but it suggests that investing in teachers is the key to success for all our children. It was gratifying to hear the Minister talk of the success of the academies. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, referred to teachers. In the furore that may arise over the efforts to roll out academies, we should not forget how important it is to concentrate on obtaining the best possible teachers.
I look at what has happened in health over the years. The previous Government invested heavily in health, and we have seen much improvement; but we also now have a gross shortage of health visitors, and midwives in many areas are very demoralised, with case loads that are far too large. It is easy, even with the best intentions, to overlook the needs of the workforce. In the area of children’s services, too, the Government put in a great deal of investment, and there was much legislation; but still today we have a vacancy rate for social workers in London authorities of 40 per cent, and a shortage of 10,000 foster carers in England and Wales. We have alienated many of our best guardians—professionals working with children and families in our family courts. If we look back at our shadow, we see that we are failing sufficiently to support those people at the front line.
The noble Lord, in his eloquent opening speech, was very reassuring about expectations. In particular, he said clearly that this was not going to be a revolution. That is comforting; but how does he know that it will not be a revolution? He talked about the interest from many schools. This is perhaps something of a Pandora’s box. Once the genie is out of the bottle, where will it lead? My noble friend referred to the current multi-tier system, and I was comforted by his lack of concern; but, perhaps because of my ignorance, I fear that this might exacerbate a situation that we all recognise is highly undesirable, with a very good education for relatively few, and a very poor education for those who would most benefit from extra attention and support. Seeing soldiers back from Afghanistan visiting the House today, I am reminded of the need for the type of strategic planning that did not take place when we went into Iraq. When one starts on an enterprise of this importance, one must have a good strategy.
I turn to the admission to academies of looked-after children, and apologise for taking so long. Seven per cent of children in public care obtained five A* to C GCSEs in 2008, compared with 49.8 per cent of the general school population. We all recognise that the educational needs of looked-after children have not been attended to. The Centre for Social Justice report, Couldn’t Care Less, highlighted, among other outcomes for these young people, the fact that one-third of rough sleepers and 23 per cent of adults in prison had experience of care. It was very welcome in 2008 when the Government introduced a duty on schools to give top priority to looked-after children. A particular problem with these children is the instability of the system. Often, their foster placements will break down and they will be moved to a new area and foster carer in the middle of a school year. It helps immensely if they are the top priority for admission to the good schools in that area, and can therefore move into a good school in the middle of a school year. What was happening was that all the popular schools were full, so the children would end up in a school that had vacancies, which was less popular and less good.
The academies were exempted to some degree from this prioritising of looked-after children. I hope that the Minister will consider bringing forward an amendment to the Bill to ensure that these children get the priority status that they clearly need and deserve. Perhaps he will want to meet some interested parties at some point. Sarah Gentles is an excellent teacher who works for Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa, and has supported young people in care with their education over many years. The Minister might like to consult her.
I am concerned that we might inadvertently be going towards a more divisive system. I look to the Minister for reassurance on that. I look forward to working on the Bill, and particularly to learning more about the very good outcomes from the current work of the academies. I hope that perhaps we will have an opportunity to meet some head teachers from those academies and learn more about their work.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Front Bench and I welcome this Bill. It has an excellent precedent. It was the child of my noble friend Lord Baker; it was excellently looked after by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in his long tenure; and somehow the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, and others who did not feel the same way about it refrained from strangling the infant. Now it emerges to manhood at the point where it can be set free. I welcome the momentum that is embodied in the Bill and the feeling that we are going forward with speed and determination.
Letting excellent schools become academies is not a precipitate risk. We know what academies are. The schools that are being pitched into this can explore and innovate safely for a year or two and such regulation as is needed can catch up. They are already well governed and well operated institutions. I do not share the caution of my noble friend Lady Garden. I certainly do not share the ambition of the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, to turn every new aeroplane into a Bristol Brabazon, which, as noble Lords will remember, was designed with immense care by a big committee, had 10 engines and flew only once. There is a great deal to be said for getting things done with determination. It is one of the many things for which I admire my noble friend Lady Thatcher.
I have a strong conviction that innovation comes from below: one can see that all through life. The reason why we do not see it much in schools is that it has been suppressed for so long by regulation and the immense burdens put on schools of targets, paperwork and control. In the tenure of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, we had an education Bill that was supposed to allow schools to innovate, but all it said was that if you submit an immense application to the Department for Education you may be considered in due course and perhaps allowed to make small changes to the way in which you run a school. Where the previous Government had allowed bottom-up innovations to happen, such as the growth in academies and the excellent experiment of technical colleges launched by my noble friend Lord Baker, they worked. Where they tried to impose change from above, such as AS-levels and diplomas, they did not work. That is inevitable in a system such as education, as you cannot control 25,000-odd schools from the centre. A particular change is never right for all schools at the same time. You must have a system of evolution and adaptation rather than one of imposition if you want good ideas such as diplomas to flourish. Diplomas were an excellent idea, but they should have been allowed to evolve and adapt to schools, which would then have found out how they worked best. One would then have got a sensible system—as we still may, depending on what my Government decide to do with them.
Inevitably, as has been said by many of my noble friends, particularly those to my left, we shall not abandon our traditional inquisitorial attitude to the Government just because we happen to be part of it. There are many things that I wish to know about the Bill. In particular, I want to know how far the freedom to innovate goes and how much real freedom will be allowed to these schools. I very much hope that my noble friend will circulate to all of us who have taken an interest the model agreements and associated documents that doubtless are being sent to those thousands of schools that have made applications. They cannot possibly be dealt with by an à la carte system. There must be a standard procedure, which should be shared with us before Committee.
I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, and others that partnership will be an important part of the new educational landscape. It has been pioneered to effect by the previous Government. If we are not to have central control or control by local authorities, there must be a way for schools to get support and for good practice to spread. Of all the things that have been tried, that seems to work best in schools through partnership. I very much hope that that will be explored and strengthened in the Bill.
We need to be careful about the governance of the new academies. While there were only a couple of hundred of them and they were being looked after by association with reputable businesses and charities that could put in resources, expertise and understanding when things went wrong, and while they were quite thinly scattered or concentrated in areas where the current system had clearly failed, that, to my mind, was less of a worry. Now we are looking at a system where potentially, in the course of five years, quite a high proportion of our state schools could become academies, so we have to understand how governance will work. Governance is an imperfect matter—boards of governors go wrong. One can see that clearly in the private school system, where, as noble Lords may know, I spent a lot of my time as editor of the Good Schools Guide watching schools being destroyed by the idiocies of governing bodies.
How are we to deal with governance in academies—particularly those that convert from excellent schools—and how are we to preserve the interests of the local community? How, indeed, are we to approach quality control as a whole in a world of academies? I should very much like to learn from the examples of my noble friend Lord Harris of Peckham, who says that he has his own inspectorate in his schools. How does that work? In what ways is it better and more efficient than Ofsted?
I can think of lots of ways in which Ofsted could be better and more efficient. It does not seem to be an organisation that demonstrably has its finger on the pulse of schools. It looks at them only every four years or so and does not provide a good service for parents. If there is a dodgy Ofsted report on a school, you hear nothing more for four or five years and, if it is a good school, you are not told whether it is going wrong. Ofsted does not seem to provide good value. It has a large number of immensely well paid executives, but I do not see that that level of spend is producing value for money. In general, I do not see Ofsted being supportive of schools. It simply seems to go in and be critical and not, as Her Majesty’s inspectorate used to do, provide good ideas, support and comfort to schools. Frankly, I think that a lot of cost could be cut out of that section of the department and that much better value could be obtained from the expenditure that remains. My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby pointed out other areas where we could tackle costs, such as in the degree of central diktat and directive and in the level of imposition on schools—the sheer amount of effort in schools that has to be devoted to complying with these things and to watching what is going on. A great deal of money could be saved by reducing that.
We will inevitably come on to the matter of faith schools—a subject already covered by the noble Baronesses, Lady Morgan of Huyton and Lady Murphy. In previous battles in this Chamber, we have extracted some hard-won concessions from the churches about inclusiveness—opening their schools to people of all faiths and none. The Church of England has very much led in that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said, but not all his schools are like that; some of them are not only religiously but intensely socially exclusive and the Church of England does not have the necessary degree of control over that. However, I know of schools of other faiths that are much less open to their communities. I think that we should try to move towards a situation where we welcome the ethos and value that faith schools bring to our children. Although I am not religious myself, I would happily send my children to faith schools. However, if we pay for them as state schools, they should be open to all. We should not see in the Bill a rowing back from the commitment to include the wider community in faith schools that we have extracted from the churches to date. Nor should we see an increase in sectarian teaching. There are Catholic schools that teach that Gandhi is burning in hell. Frankly, I do not think that we should fund that on the state.
The matter of special needs will clearly be important. I think that I disagree with everything that my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking said, so we shall clearly have some interesting arguments in Committee. There is a great deal to be said for inclusion for the right children, but we should not have compulsory inclusion for those who would be better served by special schools. I think that the incidence of special needs is about right at 20 per cent. It has come from a greater understanding of the variations in children. A lot of the increase has been due to specific learning difficulties and just represents an understanding that children can be very strong in some areas and very weak in others. That is a fundamental point and it requires schools to adapt their methods of teaching. We have also understood that there is a spread of autistic spectrum disorders and other things. It is all about helping schools to teach better, to understand their children, to understand how children in a school interact with one another and to produce better results from them.
I certainly do not agree with my noble friend Lord Baker that local education authorities should remain in charge of special educational needs. One of the features of the way in which schools, and certainly academies, developed under the previous Government was that they became much more co-operative with one another, forming their own groups. Windsor and Maidenhead—one of the smaller local authorities—runs a very good special needs service because it is big enough to have central expertise but small enough so that the people on the team are known by, and know, all the schools that they look after. In Slough, which is next door, the situation is horrible. I do not see why schools should not be able to opt into, or create for themselves, special educational needs services. That should not be beyond a group of schools co-operating together.
The handling of admissions will be important but, again, I do not share the caution of some people. I hope that we will move to a much more dynamic arrangement and abandon the rigidity of the current system. If academies admit from a much wider spread than the schools that they replace—that would follow the pattern of the academies that we have to date—schools in the leafy suburbs will be opened up to those in neighbouring areas of deprivation. There will be a lot more parental discomfort as a result of that and, in that case, local authorities will need to become the parents’ friend. They will need to make sure that there are suitable places—if necessary by pushing schools around a bit and saying, “Hang on. There are five kids living right next to you that you have to let in because there’s no other sensible place for them to go”. They will need to do battle with independent schools on behalf of parents. That really should be the role of the local education authority, as should dealing with special needs. Goodness—it would be a change if LEAs were to move from being seen as the enemy of parents, trying to prevent them from getting their children into schools, to being the friend of parents, trying to get their children into the schools that they should be in. That would be a much more natural and better relationship and it would be a better role for local education authorities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, touched on freedom of information. I agree that we should not allow, through this Bill, a whole host of schools to pass out of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. This was highlighted in the Times Educational Supplement a week or two ago. Actually, the article itself was rubbish—the data that were said not to be available are available—but the principle that schools should not move out of the range of the Act was there.
I thought that perhaps the question of the curriculum and freedom from the national curriculum had gone in the coalition agreement. I thought that we believed in our pupils having an understanding of the world and of our history and who we are. The curriculum’s incorporation of Shakespeare, British history and an understanding of the world was important to us at that sort of level. Are we to abandon all control over that and allow it to become completely spotty or will there be some overriding continuity?
In the debates on this Bill and in those that follow, we will get deep into an argument on the role of government in education—central and local. I very much look forward to that. I do not share the pessimism of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. We can move from a position where all levels of government have seen their role as control to one where they see their role as supporting.
My Lords, I felt as if I was hearing the winding-up speech there—and I wanted to defend local authorities against the charges laid against them, governing bodies against the charge of idiocy levelled against them and the Church of England against just about every charge made against it. As the provider of faith schools, the Church of England, by law established, should be recognised as being in a different category from other faith schools, since it is legally obliged to make provision for all and sundry who come its way. Let a Methodist minister say that because the Bishops may feel a bit more reluctant to do so. However, I look forward to the Minister’s second winding-up speech later.
I have gotten the feeling from various comments in the debate thus far that this is a kind of fill-up-an-empty-week sort of Bill. It has 16 clauses, but I have heard lawyers say that it is poorly drafted, a field day—therefore, a financially profitable field day—for them, and that it leaves more unsaid than said. We have to get through this week; the people backstage have to make their legislative programme in greater detail, and they need more time to do so. I just got the feeling that this was a kind of quickie to fill in time. However, I worry about some of the consequences, intended or unintended, of such legislation if it is passed in its crude form.
For the past 30 years I have been a school governor of secondary schools—grant and voluntary-aided schools, schools in the public sector and even an independent school. Before that I was deputy head of a large lycée in Haiti. I am proud to bring that into my little CV at this point. I have held senior positions in the governance of Roehampton University, and before that I was a lecturer in the University of Wales. Education is in my DNA. I declare my interest because I definitely have an interest to declare—a great interest in the way that we provide for the education of our children. I was the product of free school meals, free transport, national assistance benefit, tons of support from our local community and fantastic teachers. Soon we will be inviting a school friend of mine to join us on the Benches opposite—Michael Howard. We were great pals in the sixth form but his life took him one way and mine brought me another, but great pals we have remained. All of the advantages that I got through my education gave me the possibility of breaking out of the straitjacket of poverty and into worlds that I previously knew nothing about.
I approached this Bill, as I approached its several predecessors, with only one question: will it enhance the opportunities of all children, in the words of an old-fashioned hymn, to,
“lay hold on life, and it shall be thy joy and crown eternally”?
As a Methodist, I almost sang it for you, just to lighten things up at the end of this debate.
A lot has been said which I have no desire to repeat except in a bullet point sort of way, because these are the questions that we want answered. Proper recognition has been made of the virtues and achievements of existing academies, but we also recognise that the existing academies have been set up in a particular way, in particular places and for particular reasons. I need to hear what will happen to the idea and the model when it is expanded outwards to regions for which it was never intended at the time of its creation. We await the Minister’s reply to that. The Minister has been asked serious questions, which I shall not repeat, about all kinds of things, including special needs provision and the role of the local authorities.
My noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley made a speech and what a speech it was. Who needs to say anything more? She said everything that needed to be said. When she finished, I wanted the Minister to get to his feet there and then. I wanted him to be rooted to his place—nailed to his place—until he had answered every one of her questions to her satisfaction. That is the agenda. Those are the questions. That is what we need to hear about how things will go forward.
So much has been said and I have no desire to repeat it. However, I do have two concerns which I shall share very quickly. The first is school governors. I am a school governor, and sometimes I am an idiot, but most of the time I am not. The people I work with are not idiots; they work very hard. They give time sacrificially. They give up working days to attend to the needs of governing schools. In the independent sector, to which the noble Lord who preceded me referred, there may be idiots. I do not know, because I am limited to working in the public sector—the government-supported sector—where the governors are fantastically self-sacrificial.
In the years that I have been a governor, I have noticed a steady accumulation of responsibilities and duties coming our way. Large budgets have to be managed. Health and safety regulations are only some of the welter of regulations which we have to attend to and monitor. Teaching and learning inputs and outputs have to be carefully noted and myriad directives, policy documents, guidelines and orders have to be kept track of. I am not a fool. I know that the previous Government, on whose Benches I sit, have sent a fair few of them my way.
Our governing boards in Islington and Tower Hamlets have somehow kept up to speed. We value the contribution of parent governors and would not want that to be lost in the way that these new academies are governed. The involvement of local authorities is bringing a wider breadth of understanding. Local authorities must not be demonised in our discussion of how education should be provided. Without them, we governors may well have turned out to be idiots. Perhaps governors who are not subject to their healthy support are the ones who turn out to be idiots. I do not know. All I know is that we have been able to draw governors from the wider community—from the worlds of business and the church and from various aspects of culture—to help with the running of schools in disadvantaged London boroughs. I also notice that every new vacancy seems harder to fill. Islington and Tower Hamlets are poor boroughs and it is increasingly difficult to find governors because of the kind of skill set required. I promise you that it was much easier to find governors in the leafy suburbs where I once lived. It was also much easier when I was governor of an independent school.
My questions arising from that are simple. First, how will the governance of these new academies be established? What new duties will accrue as a result of this Bill reaching the statute book? Will the contribution currently made by local authorities now become the responsibility of governors? Will that come our way as well? We are voluntary; we are not paid; there is no expenses scandal in the realm of school governors. We do it for nothing, and it is harder and harder to find appropriately skilled people with the time to do it. As for a separation of powers, the head teacher will be given a chance as the CEO to run the business—but how will we countermand and in some way modify the absolutism of that position? Governors are on the front line of the checks and balances to be provided. We must give scrupulous attention to the way in which we work this aspect out.
Secondly, I am vice-chairman of a foundation that supports two schools—the Central Foundation Schools of London, which are distant relatives of the body so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, who spoke earlier. We have to try to get our Central Foundation Girls’ School through the hoops established by Building Schools for the Future, which was set up by the previous Government when they were trying to get a new school built under that programme. As part of preparing ourselves for the new era which we are about to enter, the foundation has put a quarter of a million pounds into paying professional fees. The foundation has committed £7.1 million of its own resources, in addition to government resources, to accomplishing this end. However, I am worried that the BSF programme will not happen and that the money dedicated to it will be siphoned off to fuel the new academies we are discussing. I should like an answer to that question. We have people waiting on us, and not just at the school where I am a governor but also at others. What is happening to the BSF programme? Please give the same diligence and speed to answering that question as was given to the writing of letters to head teachers urging them to become academies.
There is lots to do, and there will be lots of fun. I look forward to it.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his new position and thank him for his clear exposition of the Bill. I join others in congratulating him on its brevity and clarity. It is no secret that we Liberal Democrats have for some time had reservations about the academy programme because, like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, we have not seen the freedoms that were offered to academies as making the difference. We recognise that what made the difference was the teaching and learning under which many schools were turned around—although there were failures—by bringing in new heads and good leadership.
Above all, where we differed from the Opposition and my noble friends in the Conservative Party was that we have never seen local authorities as oppressive powers. Above all, we have seen education as a system which serves a local community; it is very necessary for schools to work together, whereby nursery schools link with primary schools, which then link with secondary schools. Together they should provide for the educational needs of the local community. Serving the local community was, therefore, the most important part of the system. You needed to have some kind of authority which could judge the needs of the local community—whether it was in the provision of new places, helping to orchestrate admissions and exclusions, providing for special educational needs and other specialist services, or, for the smaller schools, especially primary schools, the provision of important back-office functions in terms of employment and payroll.
It is also important to realise that since the Education Reform Act in 1988, local authorities have not run schools. Governing bodies and heads run schools. The bureaucracy that we all rail against—I did my bit of railing against it during the debate on the Queen’s Speech last Thursday—has been imposed by central government. I mentioned in that speech the report from the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee of this House which looked at the impact over the years of the statutory instruments, guidance and directives that had been issued to schools. I noted that typically a school received 760 pieces of guidance every year. That is an appalling figure. It is freedom from this bureaucracy—imposed by central government, not by local authorities—that schools really need.
The main worry of many people about the establishment of academies is that they will fragment this local community of schools that we see as so important. However, the academies introduced by this Bill are a different breed from those introduced by Labour. As many noble Lords have mentioned, for Labour, academies were introduced to raise the standards of poorly performing schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. This usually meant turning over a new leaf—a new building, a new head and a new governing board. In some circumstances, they have been very successful; in others, they have been somewhat less successful. This Bill introduces important changes. Academy status is aimed not only at reversing poor performance, although that decision will not now be jointly taken by local authorities and the Secretary of State, but will be that of just the Secretary of State. Academy status will also be a reward for good performance with the promise of a fast-track procedure for those 2,600 schools—900 secondaries and 1,700 primaries—which are currently judged to be outstanding by Ofsted. Again, the decision whether a school may become an academy is just that of the Secretary of State. The governing board, which includes the head, has to make the application, but the decision whether to grant academy status is that of the Secretary of State. The local authority plays no part in either the application or the decision.
A number of noble Lords have spoken already of their reservations about the democratic deficit that this implies—whether the Secretary of State should have these powers without the requirement to consult with stakeholders, including the staff, parents, children and the communities which the schools serve. Other noble Lords have spoken of their concerns about whether, as independent state schools, academies will be able to cope adequately with the requirements of those from disadvantaged backgrounds—especially those with special educational needs—and how far the schools will remain within the community as local schools in relation to matters such as admissions and exclusions. I do not wish to add anything further on that, but my noble friend Lady Walmsley will, I know, talk about some of these issues.
I want to probe the Minister on procedures, because the Bill as it stands is not quite clear on what is involved in these fast-track procedures, and neither the Explanatory Notes nor the impact assessment provides further clarification. First, as I understand it, the Bill comprehends two procedures for acquiring academy status. The first is the old procedure whereby failing schools are converted into academies, involving fairly lengthy negotiations over an academy funding agreement which sets out the details of how the new academy is to operate. This does not change much, except that the Secretary of State alone has the power to decide whether such a school should become an academy. What I am not clear about is whether in future such a school has to have a sponsor, as in existing procedures. If not, who appoints the governing board?
The second procedure is the real innovation. This is the one that allows any school to apply for academy status and particularly encourages those schools which have been judged to be outstanding by Ofsted to apply. Here I seek clarification as to whether I have understood the procedures correctly. Under the first part of the procedure, in Clause 3, the school’s governing body expresses an interest and submits an application. The department examines the application and either accepts or rejects it—but on what criteria? The department has already received as a result of all the letters it sent out—not just to the 2,600 outstanding schools—1,100 expressions of interest, yet the impact assessment published with the Bill makes the assumption that only 200 schools will convert to academies this year and only 200 in the following three years. It seems that many schools may be disappointed. What will be the choice criteria? How will the Secretary of State decide, among all the applications that he is likely to receive, which schools will go forward to become academies?
When a school is accepted for academy status, Clause 4 states that an academy order will be given. That enables a school to convert to an academy. But precisely what is involved after that? Does the school have to negotiate an agreement similar to the agreements for existing academies, which essentially lay down the way in which the school is to be run? If there is to be a standard form of agreement, it will still have to be individualised for each school. How long will that take? Presumably, the fast-track schools, which are the outstanding schools, will have priority over the other schools, but even with the fast-track procedures, how long will the negotiations over the agreement take? Is it feasible for schools to be established by September?
Once a school has opted for academy status, can it revert to being a maintained school, as some of the grant-maintained schools did in the 1990s? Can the procedure go backwards? Since TUPE regulations will apply to any conversion, in so far as the school exercises its freedom to recruit teachers on its own terms, who bears the cost of meeting any redundancies? Will the schools be liable for those redundancies? Once an academy agreement has been concluded, will the detailed financing and, in an audit sense, the supervision of the academy, fall to the new quango, the Young People’s Learning Agency? How detailed will that supervision be? What happens if the school fails? Some schools that were judged outstanding were two years later judged by Ofsted to have serious weaknesses. Head teachers count enormously and a different head can make a great deal of difference. Presumably, the YPLA will have not only to look out for fraud, but to keep a supervisory eye on what is happening at the school.
Finally, once a school has converted to academy status and become a company limited by guarantee, with the existing governing board as directors and trustees, presumably it will become a self-perpetuating governing board appointed by its own successors. Will there be any provision, for example, for elected parent governors? How is the local community represented? Is it all by choice of the governing board?
I would like to probe a little further on the impact assessment. In a meeting with the Minister’s officials last week, it was made clear that the figure given in the impact assessment about the establishment each year for the next four years of 200 academies was merely a guess—perhaps one should say a guesstimate. That is okay, but I worry in the light of that guesstimate whether expectations have not been raised too high in the 1,100 schools that have already written in expressing an interest, although not yet applied. On the basis of 200 a year, it will take more than five years for those schools to become academies. That is a very different picture from being able to become academies by September. I understand that the department was just guessing and will adjust according to demand, but there are clearly limits to the number of schools that can be processed in this short period.
September is less than three months away and, as indicated, an academy order is one thing and an academy agreement another. If thousands of schools apply properly before the summer holidays, can the Minister give the House an estimate of the realistic number of academy orders that are likely to be processed over the summer and how quickly those orders are likely be turned into agreements? I worry that there is a real expectation among schools that they can move forward quickly. If that is not going to be the case, it is important for Ministers to damp down expectations now.
Talking of managing expectations, it is also important not to raise expectations among these schools about how much extra money they will get from being free from local authorities. I have spoken to a number of local government colleagues, and it is clear that the proportion of the budget going to the local authority is not 10 per cent. It is more likely to be 2 per cent to 3 per cent. Again, schools are talking quite loudly about how much they may get. It is important that that is realistic.
I have two further questions for the Minister. In relation to the impact assessment, all the costings are of course related to the guesstimates of 200 academies a year being processed. The one-off costs are put at £66,000 per school or £17 million a year for the 200. The annual costs are £275,000 per school rising from £33 million for the coming year to £198 million in four years’ time, when it is estimated that 800 academies will have been established. Clearly, if more schools convert, those costs rise. If 1,000 schools were to convert this year and a similar number next year, the bills would be very different and much larger—much closer to £1 billion than £200 million.
Finally, will the Minister clarify the position of academy applications already in the pipeline? A number of schools are currently being processed. Are those likely to be held up while the department processes the schools applying under the new procedures? Will outstanding schools wishing to convert be given priority in the conversion process?
My Lords, I intend to be brief. I congratulate the Government on giving such a high priority to improving the quality of the nation’s less successful schools. I support their attempt to remove the heavy-handed burden of bureaucracy deriving from local government and Sanctuary Buildings, although I have to say I do not fancy their chances of success.
I want to draw attention to one or two issues concerned with this Bill that we will need to explore further in Committee. They relate entirely to the impact that the legislation may have on the children of disadvantaged and chaotic families. We have a duty to be concerned about the impact on those children, not only for the children themselves, but because children from disadvantaged backgrounds may well be disruptive in the classroom and impede the progress of other children in a school.
I have just five questions for the Minister, some of which he may wish to write to me about. My first two points relate to the proposal that academies should be set up by groups of parents. Experience in the independent sector—I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will support me in this—suggests that governing bodies comprising only the parents of children currently in the school tend to make decisions that will bring short-term advantage to their own children rather than make decisions on the basis of the long-term well-being of the school.
My second concern is that the proposed parent-controlled academies will founder on the same rocks as some of the original Sure Start projects. When the previous Government set up Sure Start, it seemed such an excellent idea. Noble Lords will remember that its aim was that severely disadvantaged families should be helped by making funds available to provide services, not on the basis of any preconceived government plan, but in response to the felt needs of the parents and communities concerned. Many Sure Start projects failed in that objective because they were hijacked by able and intelligent parents who were quick to see the potential of the scheme for their own children. They crowded out those in greatest need—the children of disadvantaged families whose parents had neither the time nor the will to become involved nor the ability to lead or organise the schemes. I fear that the same may happen with parent-controlled academies.
My next concern relates to Clause 1(6)(c), which imposes on academies an obligation for a mixed-ability intake. It states that the school must provide,
“education for pupils of different abilities”.
What does that mean? There are two very different factors that may define different abilities in a child—a child’s potential ability to engage and to succeed in school. The two are sometimes referred to as IQ and EQ. The first relates to the child’s potential ability to cope with the academic content of school life; the second relates to the child’s ability to cope with the social and emotional challenges of school life. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, spoke of children leaving school without hope. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, spoke of training and the need to motivate. Many children enter school without love, without hope and without the emotional, social and interpersonal skills that they need in order to be able to cope within the school community.
For children from disadvantaged families, their lack of emotional and interpersonal skills may be as or, indeed, more important than any other skills. The EQ of a school’s intake may also be critical to the whole school community, because children with low EQ scores tend, because they lack self-assurance, security and hope, to be disruptive and disengaged in school and therefore to hold back others.
Do the Government intend that all academies should be required to take some children with low EQ scores or with emotional or behavioural problems? If so, will those schools be given the resources to begin to address those children’s problems before they arrive in nursery or primary school? Almost all of those problems originate in the family and in the first five years of the child’s school life. The problems are sometimes very difficult to eradicate by the time that a child gets to secondary school.
Finally, I want to ask two questions about the PSHE and relationship education policy of this Government. The relevant clauses in the Children, Schools and Families Bill were lost in the wash-up, as noble Lords will remember. What is the Government policy on PSHE and sex and relationship education? I should explain that those questions are relevant to the Bill because if we are to have any hope of reducing the number of children damaged by disadvantaged and chaotic families, we must increase the number of young people—the number of potential parents, both mothers and fathers—who understand and accept the responsibilities of parenthood and the parenting needs of young children. One important tool to achieve that must be more and better compulsory PSHE and relationship education. I am sorry to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is not in her place to hear me say that.
Is it the Government’s policy to make PSHE and relationship education compulsory for older children, as was the policy of the previous Government? Is it the Government’s policy to develop guidelines for relationship education along the lines of the draft guidelines, which were subject to consultation that closed in April this year? I ask that because, although I believe in compulsory PSHE, I believe that the guidelines were seriously flawed. They failed to emphasise the importance for older children of education that refers them to the challenges and responsibilities of parenthood and which encourages them to think about the role, responsibilities and challenges—both for fathers and mothers—in preparing their child emotionally and socially for school and for life. What is the Government's position on PSHE and relationship education?
My Lords, first, I should draw attention to my interests as chairman of a company involved in construction and maintenance of schools under Building Schools for the Future and the academies programme.
I join others in welcoming my noble friend Lord Hill to the Dispatch Box and congratulating him on introducing the Bill. It may not be revolutionary, but I think that it will be seen as something of a landmark, because the core idea of decentralising from Whitehall to the head teacher and the governors is long overdue. Like the former Prime Minister in 2005, I look forward to the time when all state schools are independent, state-funded schools, able to operate under their own aegis.
The truth is, however, that during the past decade, despite the continued development of academies, the overall thrust of education policy has been huge centralisation—what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, called the bureaucratic model. In truth, local authorities no longer run or manage maintained schools. They have long since lost that power. Maintained schools are de facto controlled from the centre through targets, plans, the imposition of ideologies and the curriculum, much of which I fear has not been advantageous to schools and much of which, such as the removal of the need for a language qualification at GCSE and the move toward single sciences, has been to the detriment of the quality of education in this country.
It is time that we moved away from the bureaucratic model to embrace fully the idea that the best people to run schools are head teachers. As my noble friend Lord Baker said, there are huge benefits from giving freedoms to schools to deliver what parents want, and the innovation of which my noble friend Lord Lucas spoke. As others have said, that includes full control over their budget, more control over the curriculum and teaching staff and, most importantly, the quality and ethos that is so important to the way in which schools are run and pupils perform.
As others have said, we know what makes the difference between a good and a bad school. It is primarily about the quality of the head teacher—their leadership and their freedom to run the school in the way that they think best to motivate their staff and inspire their children. My complaint is not that we are going too fast; it is that it has taken more than 20 years to get here from the first conception of academies.
With decentralisation, of course there needs to be proper governance and accountability but, to my mind, the best accountability is to parents via choice and competition. That is what we must focus on as we go through the Bill.
Rather than repeating those arguments, let me deal with some of the concerns that I have heard raised in this debate, on which I would like to put my slant. First, the concern has been raised that competition benefits only middle-class or pushy parents. The reality is that it is the forces of competition which raise standards for everyone. That is why markets work. If it is not too superficial, it may be helpful to make the comparison with supermarkets. When supermarkets compete, it is the active shoppers, the people who shop around, who ensure that all shoppers benefit from competitive prices and qualities. Although schools may be very different from supermarkets, they will work in the same way in terms of the active parents—the active shoppers—driving up standards through competition which benefit all children in the area. As others have referred to, the good schools then become beacons of excellence which other schools have to emulate to maintain their standing and attract pupils.
As others have, I wonder about Clause 6, which appears to restrict schools to recruit mainly from the area in which they are based. Competition will clearly work best if parents have the widest possible choice of schools and that schools doing well can draw in from surrounding areas and expand, while those schools not competing as well and not offering what parents want are exposed. We do not want poor schools left to exploit a local monopoly without parents having the choice of taking their children to a better academy down the road, where the head teacher has managed to raise standards and deliver better results.
The other requirement of competition is that when schools fail, they are taken over and different management is put in place. I am encouraged by the Minister's comments that the programme will continue to address poor as well as successful schools, but if an academy does not perform—no doubt, over time, some academies will not perform—will the same triggers operate in terms of requiring a change in the management of a failing academy as a failing maintained school?
The second concern that I have heard raised is that academies will not benefit disadvantaged areas, but we have heard many contributions—notably from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln and even the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin—pointing out how successful academies have been in raising standards in underperforming areas. We should all take the point of view that we will not accept that schools in poor areas have to have low standards. There are many examples that show how schools with the right leadership can achieve outstanding results in even some of the most deprived areas, so academies are not just for the leafy suburbs but are for disadvantaged areas as well. I welcome the Minister’s assurance that those schools will still be part of the programme, and I also welcome the pupil premium, which is the additional answer to those who fear that those schools will be left behind.
The third concern is that allowing successful schools to convert to academies will open up a two-tier system, apparently because there is a fear that those schools will then get better. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, was particularly concerned about this. I do not quite understand why it is such a terrible outcome if good schools get even better. We should not seek equality in education by holding good schools back. We want every school to be the best it can be and then to challenge every other school to match the best.
I would like government policy to go even further in due course in restoring the pursuit and celebration of excellence in education. In particular, we should ensure that the brightest children from whatever background have equal access to the best education based on ability and merit. One of the saddest outcomes of the past quarter-century is that social mobility has declined. We have reduced the opportunity for the brightest children from modest backgrounds to reach the top in their chosen field. We talk about special needs, but the one group that is often not considered in special needs is that of the few per cent of children who are very able, who often benefit from the standards and motivation of a high-performing peer group. Those from the poorest backgrounds often benefit most from moving into an environment that stretches their aspirations. Those children now too often face being trapped in poor local schools. This is important not just because of the tragedy for those bright children if they are not able to achieve their potential, but because we also need to recognise that as a country, we rely heavily on the top performers in every field to be our future leaders, whether in arts, science or business. It is a poor deal for the country, as well as for the individual, to waste that talent.
The solution to this problem of poor achievement by the brightest children and the loss of social mobility is not to legislate to force top universities and professions to lower their entry standards. Instead, we need to give the most able children the chance to achieve and compete on merit. The only fair way to do that is to include in the school system the choice for those who want it to apply to a highly academic school where entry is on ability and merit, not on ability to pay. That is the sort of school—direct grant schools, for example—that many of us here, in truth, benefited from but, sadly, have allowed to decline over the past quarter-century. I should be clear that I am not suggesting a mass return to forced selection. Most schools should remain mixed-ability entry, and that is clearly the objective of the Bill, but we foster excellence in football and we celebrate excellence in music and arts, yet somehow we deny the pursuit of excellence for the talented group in academic schools. The state system should provide for those children rather than only independent schools for fee-paying pupils being able to provide that kind of quality academic education. I welcome the fact that at least existing selective schools are protected in the Bill. The Minister will be relieved that I will not press for the Bill to go further, but it is something that the Government will need to come back to on another day. In the mean time, I welcome the Bill and look forward to supporting its passage through the House.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-executive director of Promethean World, an educational technology company, and as chairman of Futurelab, Britain’s premier educational research trust—I can already hear the howls of outrage from just about every other research trust, but that is the way I see it. I add my welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, not just to the Dispatch Box but to the House itself. I have known the noble Lord for some while in his professional life and I can attest to the fact that we are all fortunate to have gained him as a colleague. His intelligence and integrity will, I hope, inform this Chamber for many years to come.
It had been my intention to put in an appearance last week in response to the gracious Speech, but the vagaries of international travel made that impossible, which is unfortunate because I could have covered at least some of what I am about to say this evening. I had the privilege of spending eight very happy and, I hope, productive years in one iteration or another of the Department for Education, where, among other things, my task was constantly to take the temperature of the teaching profession and those who support it. One way or another, the best part of 1 million people, along with parents, in England alone are directly engaged in the world of education. I learnt very early on that when it comes to bringing about change, unless you can carry the vast majority of those people with you, you are unlikely to make anything like the impact that you might expect or even hope for.
My own party, when in power, consistently made four mistakes. The first was to confuse initiatives with progress and to interpret each and every swallow as heralding summer. The second was that, although it talked a great deal on arrival in government about evidence-based policy making, such evidence as there was quickly became subsumed, or sometimes even distorted, into promoting more ideologically driven solutions. The third was to pretend to consult when in reality far-reaching decisions had already been arrived at. Experience tells me that few things infuriate intelligent people more than being cynically dragged through the motions of consultation. It is demeaning to the point of condescension and it infantilises the very people whom you are pretending to consult. It is also somewhat dishonest. Last, and to my mind most inexcusable, was the failure fully to grasp and implement what just about every piece of education research had been telling us for the past Lord knows how many years: it is the quality of classroom teaching, not changes in structure or administration, that fundamentally determines educational improvement.
I mentioned evidence, and the Minister may be pleased to hear a little from his own Benches. Earlier this afternoon, an outstanding former Secretary of State was seated behind him: the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard. In fact, at one point, we had no fewer than four former Education Secretaries in the Chamber. I wonder how many other legislative chambers in the world can boast that level of experience and expertise.
In a new book that looks back on the educational successes and failures of the previous Government, the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, is quoted as saying:
“I came ingrained with the view, which I retain, that Ministers ... can say what they like about what teachers should do, but in the end teachers are on their own in the classroom and, therefore, they are the most important component in education”.
Here is another other eminent educationalist, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, in the same book, making the same point:
“You can fiddle about with examinations; you can introduce targets and all the rest of it, but they’re not at the real heart of the thing. When, as a teacher, you get into the classroom and shut the door, it’s between you and the kids”.
Lastly—I know that this new Government lay great store by the views of captains of industry—here is a marvellous contribution from the private sector. No less a person than John Pepper, the former chairman and CEO of Procter and Gamble, had this to say in a speech just two months ago. He believes that,
“our single-biggest realistic opportunity for progress”,
“significantly improving the preparation and continued professional development of principals and teachers … we must give them the quality education and continuing development we would expect in any profession”.
Here are three experienced and respected voices coming to exactly the same conclusion; or, as Bill Clinton might have said, “It’s the teachers, stupid”.
What has all this specifically to do with the Bill? The answer is everything. Here we are with a new coalition Government who are making exactly the same mistakes that we made 13 years ago and trampling on many of their most vaunted devolutionary principles in doing so. I will argue in Committee that, one way or another, the Bill as drafted repeats all the errors of judgment that I have painfully conceded we were guilty of. I will give an example: consultation. The Minister knows more than I will ever know about the corporate world and the way in which it communicates with the outside world. Can he imagine, in the case of a merger or an acquisition, anyone writing to the CEO of the target company, telling them of their intentions and putting a note to the chairman on the website? I can think of no faster way of ensuring that no such collaboration ever took place. At best, I would say that it was clumsy. Yet, in a sense, that is precisely what was done in the letters that went out to head teachers last week. Is it possible that we have learnt nothing in all the intervening years about how to communicate with this complex and interconnected profession?
Strange as it may seem to some of my colleagues on these Benches, I want this experiment in coalition government to succeed, if only because I believe that the only way in which this nation will claw its way out of its present problems is through a dramatic and well resourced improvement in educational standards. We need those if we are to make even a reasonable fist of what will be a highly competitive 21st century. Furthermore, we cannot wait another five years to get it right, as this would jeopardise the life chances of a further five cohorts of young people in the process.
As I hope is by now evident, I will have a great deal more to say when legislation reaches this House to, for example, abolish the General Teaching Council for England. I also intend to be pretty lively when it comes to consideration of the other educational issues of which the Minister gave us advance notice last Thursday. For now, I will simply ask two questions.
First, having listened to the debate this afternoon, and given the significant ramifications of this Bill, let alone the complexity involved in implementing it, does the Minister really feel that two days in Committee will sufficiently scrutinise the Bill and offer answers to the many, many questions that have already been raised? In this respect, I am not sure that he is being all that well advised and I suggest that he clears his diary for several weeks, if not months, ahead.
Secondly, will the Minister give this House a commitment that, in one form or another, the advancement of professional classroom practice will be the sine qua non of this and all future education-focused legislation that emanates from his Government? I ask this because, should that not be the case, with a heavy heart I must advise him that, despite all his best efforts, this Bill and this coalition Government will ultimately fail to enhance the life chances of several million children and young people in this country—but then it is quite likely that his mother, from her own experiences as a teacher, has already told him that.
My Lords, I am motivated to speak out today because of my concern about certain elements of the Academies Bill. If the end of my speech echoes much that other noble Lords, especially my noble friend Lord Low, have already said, I can only apologise, but as it concerns children with special educational needs and disabilities, I trust that a second helping will inspire the Minister, whom we of course welcome to the government Front Bench, to give a positive response.
In common with many in your Lordships’ House, I received numerous representations in the period running up to today’s Second Reading from charities, disability organisations and parents of children with special educational needs, all of whom seek assurances that this Bill will not be used as an opportunity to deny disabled children the right to access a mainstream education in the setting of an academy if that is the child’s and the parents’ stated wish.
This seems an appropriate opportunity to suggest that the notion that special schools have been closing all over the country is a myth. Some local authorities have developed inclusive policies, but not a single one has got rid of all its special schools. It is a postcode lottery. You were 20 times more likely to be sent to separate provision in Newcastle than in Bury if you were issued with a new statement in 2008. There has been a shift in where some pupils are educated. Children whose behaviour is challenging are more likely to be moved into separate provision, while some children with physical and intellectual impairments who were previously in separate provision have been placed in mainstream provision. In England, the nature of the segregated population may have changed but, with the arrival of pupil referral units, numbers have remained constant. There were 1,577 special schools and PRUs in 1995 and 1,512 in 2009—a diminution of exactly 65, which hardly indicates the large-scale closure of special schools all over the country.
These statistics do not count students who are now in separate units that are attached to mainstream schools, which frequently operate in relative isolation from their mainstream neighbour. Some schools are genuinely engaged in the process of inclusion, while many have just been paying lip service to the idea. At their best, local schools can be innovative and responsive to local community goals. At their worst, they will exclude students who make teaching too much of a challenge and who are traditionally excluded, thus perpetuating established inequalities and resigning us to a permanent underclass that is regarded as a worthless burden on the state. I trust that the Academies Bill will not further perpetuate those inequalities.
A moment ago, I referred to the many organisations that have made representations to me on the Bill. One such body is the Special Educational Consortium, which aims to protect and promote the interests of disabled children and children with special educational needs. Mencap, of which I am president, is an active member. As the Special Educational Consortium has pointed out and as my noble friend has stated, 21 per cent of children have some form of special educational need, while 12 per cent of children with SEN achieve five GCSEs at A* to C compared with 57 per cent of their peers. Such statistics reveal that a major factor when analysing the details of this Bill must be an assessment of how the Government’s academies policy will improve the outcomes and experiences of children with SEN and disabilities.
The Government’s own equalities impact assessment of the Bill states that,
“the proportion of SEN pupils achieving 5 good GCSEs including English and Math is lower”—
“than the national average”.
While I appreciate that these figures relate to existing academies, of which there is a fairly small sample, they raise legitimate concerns about the outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities in academies. Those outcomes must be of prime importance as we consider the passage of this Bill.
As the Minister will be aware, much of the legal framework and basis for SEN, which was consolidated with cross-party support in the previous Conservative Government’s Education Act 1996, gives parents the right to ensure that their child’s special educational needs are being met. I remain of the view that these important principles are as valid today as they were when the legislation was passed in the 1990s. However, as academies are in effect independent schools that are funded directly by the Secretary of State, they appear to be accountable largely through the funding agreement as opposed to the Education Act. Such a distinction raises important issues as to how academies, particularly as they become more widespread, will be accountable and transparent to parents of children with SEN and disabilities.
As the Minister will be aware, and as my noble friend Lord Low has stressed, a number of existing statutory requirements apply to maintained schools with the specific intention of benefiting children with SEN and disabilities. Maintained schools are required to ensure that their special educational needs co-ordinator, or SENCO, is a qualified teacher. Will this be the case with academies? They are also required to take part in behaviour and attendance partnerships, the purpose of which is to reduce the number of children with SEN who are permanently excluded from school. Will academies be obliged to take part in such partnerships? Finally, because of the schools’ maintained status, by definition, parents can seek redress via the Local Government Ombudsman to consider the actions of schools that they deem are failing to make appropriate provision for children with a statement. What equivalent mechanisms of redress will be in place with regard to academies?
I recognise that a key principle behind academies is to give greater freedom and control to schools, while at the same time empowering the role and importance of parents. How does the Minister expect academies to be made accountable to the parents of children with special educational needs or those who may be disabled? I look forward to a clear and definitive reply in his response.
My Lords, when the academies programme was first introduced to this House by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, he said that the intention was to tackle underperformance in existing schools. While accepting that conversion to academies was not the only way in which the former Administration tried to tackle failing schools, I would point out that the evidence shows that academy status, as even the Minister accepted, is not a silver bullet. Some existing academies have done very well, but some have not. There has even been one that has returned to the local authority.
This Bill proposes types of academies very different from those which have gone before and few of them will get shiny new buildings like the majority of the existing 200. Since the letters were sent by the Secretary of State to heads, teachers and directors of children’s services—not to governors, noble Lords will notice—there has been both interest and concern. Parents, governors, councillors and officers of local authorities, and those representing the most vulnerable children, have asked many questions. I will comment on some of them in my remarks.
First, noble Lords may remember how we on these Benches—well, not on these Benches as we were over that side of the Chamber at that time, and now, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, said on Thursday, we are travelling steerage—welcomed the power to innovate in relation to the curriculum and asked why all schools could not have it. We asked for the same powers for all schools when the specialist schools came along, and I am pleased to say that that has come to pass. We are not against this sort of freedom at all. We also, of course, welcomed extra spending on deprived children. Who would not?
However, in common with many of those who have expressed their worries over the past few weeks, we have a concern for the most deprived children. If the stated objective of this policy is to improve the education we offer to all children, improve equality and narrow the attainment gap—of course that is the objective—we must scrutinise the mechanisms of this structural change extremely carefully to ensure that such damage is not an unintended consequence of the policy, which is what this House is very good at.
We must look at the evidence of existing academies, since that is the only place we can look at the moment. Unfortunately, some of the evidence underpins the concerns, so we must learn from it. There is evidence that some of the existing academies have been selecting the children and parents, and not the other way around. That makes it easier for the academies to raise their overall exam results. We must ensure that this does not happen with the new tranche of academies. How will the Minister ensure that all the new academies will abide by the local admissions code as we are told that they will be obliged to do? Who will ensure that they do not exclude inconvenient students, thus obliging the local authority and other schools to pick up the pieces? Will he put a duty on the new academies to take children from across the demographic range in the local community? There is evidence that a mixed intake benefits all pupils in a school, so this is good educational practice.
There are serious concerns about the funding of the programme, which my noble friend Lady Sharp has addressed. But I am very concerned that the coalition Government’s promised pupil premium should not be used to top up the payments to the academies or to the local authorities if too much resource is directed towards the academies. The pupil premium is intended to enrich the education of children in all schools who come from deprived backgrounds and therefore need more help to reach their full potential. It should be on top of what is spent otherwise and was never intended to be used to underpin structural change in the school system. Will my noble friend assure me that that will not happen?
No school is obliged to apply for academy status. I would hope that any governing body considering applying should think very carefully about the real advantages of doing so. I would also hope, as advised by the National Governors Association, the Association of School and College Leaders and several of your Lordships today, that it would consult widely with pupils, parents, the local authority and the local community before taking this step, even though the Bill does not oblige it to consult anyone. This is good practice. I would prefer that governors should be obliged to make a positive case for becoming an academy as part of its application, outlining the benefits they foresee for all the children in their neighbourhood. That will take time, but there is no rush for outstanding schools. They are already providing a good education to their local children.
There is evidence that some academies have harmed other neighbourhood schools. Evidence has come from the NUT in the case of Sneyd Community School that the number of free school meals children at Walsall Academy decreased from 51 per cent in 2002 when the school first opened to 11 per cent in 2007, due entirely to selection. In the mean time, the FSM numbers in all the surrounding schools were much higher. The figure for Sneyd rose by 28 per cent in one year alone. This tells us that there must be a mechanism for ensuring that the admissions practices of the new academies do not allow them to unload all the more difficult children on to other schools. The new academies must be measured on how they help to improve the attainment of the most deprived and vulnerable children, not by the way they adjust their intake.
I am comforted by the words that say that schools must provide education for children of different abilities. But this must include the right proportion of children whose attainment to date has been poor. I am also comforted by Clause 1(6)(d), which states that schools should take children mainly from the local area. However, among many of the briefings that we have been sent in preparation for today, Save the Children has pointed out that there may be a problem with this if we want the most deprived children to have access to the best schools, which of course we do.
In the more affluent neighbourhoods, the cost of housing alone makes it impossible for certain children to access the local school. How does the Minister propose to deal with this? Will he consider putting something in the academy order to the effect that an academy must offer a number of places, perhaps by ballot, to children from more deprived areas not in the immediate vicinity of the school but within reach of it, and also to looked-after children, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who deserve a place in the best possible school?
I am also concerned about behaviour partnerships and exclusions. In the meeting which the Minister kindly arranged for us last Wednesday, it was mentioned that schools could be freed from certain obligations, such as taking part in the local behaviour partnership. I would be very concerned about that. Setting school against school is a very negative thing to do. There is currently a very healthy culture of collaboration among schools, which I would not want to lose. I welcome the expectation that academies should work with weaker local schools, but that should include managed exclusions.
This brings me to accountability. These schools may be independent, but they will receive millions of pounds of public money to educate our children on our behalf. They must be made accountable in a rigorous and appropriate way. By that, I do not mean simply by looking at their exam results. The Minister and the Secretary of State have mentioned their intention to review the league tables and Ofsted inspections. In a way, this Bill puts the cart before the horse, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, who suggested exactly that. I would feel more comfortable with the Bill if we had done these other two things properly first. However, we are where we are.
Perhaps I may say something about the curriculum. The Bill states that it must be “balanced and broadly based”. What does that mean? No doubt we will look at this further in Committee, but is there to be a core group of subjects to which all pupils will be entitled? Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I am concerned about whether this will include PSHE, or education for life, as I like to call it. I do hope so, since all children will have a future life and schools should be obliged to equip young people to make the most of it. What about child protection issues? We hear that Ofsted will concentrate on education, but we know that children do not learn well if they are distressed, threatened, abused in or out of school, or distracted by terrible issues in their home life. In other words, their welfare must be as paramount in schools tomorrow as it is today. Who will ensure that that happens? I am not convinced that Ofsted has ever done this well, so perhaps we now have the opportunity of giving the job to someone who understands the issues better.
I turn briefly to early-years education. Primary schools are to be allowed to become academies. Apart from a few all-through five to 18 schools, until now academies have had little experience of very young children. Of course, primary schools that apply will already have that experience, but how will their new curriculum freedoms link up with their obligation to follow the early-years foundation stage? Many of us think that this stage needs to be revised anyway. Do the Government have any plans to do that? How will the independence of academies impact on the successful integrated model of working with very young children?
I should like to ask about the duties and strategic controls that are to remain with local authorities. How can we sure that they will not be left with weakened levers with which to support non-academy schools? Will academies be expected to co-operate in times of crisis such as those of flood, fire or terrorism? How will the school improvement agenda be affected? Will academies that now become exempt charities still have a duty to provide community use for their facilities? Many local authorities such as Sutton and Richmond, along with other London boroughs, already struggle to find enough places for their own children when others come in from adjoining authorities. How will they be helped with this duty, which they will continue to have if many of the schools in which they currently find places opt out of their control? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, that local authorities do not run schools now, or control the funding of schools, and yet they provide a valuable safety net and support services which the opting-out schools will have to provide for themselves.
By the way, I would remind my coalition partner Lord Blackwell that two-thirds of our schools are now found by Ofsted to be “good” or “outstanding”, so they should not be penalised. These services are of particular value to small schools, especially primary schools. I hope, therefore, that they will think hard before deciding whether they want or need the freedoms in this Bill. Finally, on that point, I should like to ask the Minister this. If a school wants the same curriculum freedoms as an academy without cutting itself loose from the support of its local authority, would it be able to do so?
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the fine speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. We have had a full discussion on the Academies Bill, but it is one that leaves serious questions for the Government to answer, and I endorse what several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Puttnam, have said. We will need a goodly time in Committee in order for the Government to address all the issues that have been raised—and that is just by the government Benches themselves.
It is a pleasure to work on the first Bill for which the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Oareford, will be responsible, and I, too, congratulate him on his new role and his eloquent and inclusive speech. I pay tribute to the expertise on these issues that so many noble Lords have ably demonstrated and brought to bear on the Bill, and I must apologise for coming to the debate as someone not remotely qualified to be one such expert. However, I do come to it as someone who cares deeply about education. It is the key that unlocks talents and freedoms, enables people to escape poverty and deprivation, and ensures a successful economy and a healthy society. A fair society needs a fair education system. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Low, said about the challenges that persist, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, pointed out, we have to ratchet up our efforts. Notwithstanding the mistakes that some would say were made by the previous Government and which were cited by my noble friend Lord Puttnam, I am proud of our record and very proud of the achievements of my noble friend Lord Adonis, who was our pioneer on the academy programme.
However, I would argue that my noble friend’s vision has been corrupted in the current Bill, and I agree with much of what was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. I congratulate the Church of England on the forthcoming 200th anniversary of its provision of education. Like my noble friend, I believe that the Church of England provides an inclusive education, although I have some concerns that were also expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen, about the inclusiveness of some of our schools. I note, too, the concern around the Chamber about PSHE, and I would certainly like some responses from the noble Lord, Lord Hill, about its provision, which is extremely important.
Like many other noble Lords, I have visited some superb academies which have transformed the achievements, aspirations and lives of their pupils. I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting a Harris academy, but I can see that that is something that I have to do. I certainly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Peckham, on all that he has done. Academies have brought in extra money and expertise, and have improved buildings to ensure that the most disadvantaged pupils from the most disadvantaged communities get a better chance. I know that my noble friend Lady Whitaker, who is not in her place today, will be especially vigilant on the importance of design and the built environment, also mentioned by my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton.
The noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, spoke of the importance of motivation. I believe that good schools, be they academies or community schools, do motivate young people. That is why education and schools are so important. I note the views expressed by my noble friend Lady Howells about cultural differences and the importance of community cohesion. Of course, not all academies have succeeded, but the vast majority are a success story. So we are not opposed to academies. We celebrate their success, and as my noble friend said, we did want to expand their provision to coasting schools. However we are concerned about aspects of the Bill that we believe are, in effect, more of a return to the Conservative Party’s past policy of grant-maintained schools rather than building on our own policy. My noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley was right to point to the excellent work of some community schools but, like all schools, if they are failing they are doing a disservice to pupils and to the community. I shall read very carefully the speech of my noble friend and that of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, in relation to failing schools.
I shall briefly focus on five areas of concern: speed, centralisation, consultation, funding agreements and standards. First, on speed, I share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and others, and I trust that the Minister will pay heed to the “fallacy of composition” which was mentioned by the noble Lord; I like that phrase very much. I understand that any new Government are anxious to make their mark, demonstrate their readiness for action and signal those areas in which they want to make immediate headway. However, we do not need the “quickies” referred to by my noble friend Lord Griffiths; the pace of reform must not have a detrimental effect. The Bill raises so many unanswered questions and precipitates so much change which will have a fundamental impact on our education system, that the pace of reform as currently envisaged could do more harm than good. Indeed, one of the clauses in this short Bill is devoted to “Pre-commencement applications”, and that is testament to the unseemly and unsustainable rush that we are embarked on at present. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who said that it is a deceptively simple Bill. I believe that it is a complex Bill when you start delving into it.
The Liberal Democrats have always espoused the principle of local empowerment, and the Conservatives are now wedded to the idea of big society. However, as my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said in the debate on the loyal Address, while the coalition agreement proclaims radical devolution of power and greater autonomy to councils, the rhetoric and the reality are somewhat different. With this Academies Bill, local authorities will lose powers, lose influence and lose budgetary flexibility. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that this is entirely a bottom-up process. It might be a permissive Bill, but rather than the decentralising measure that we are led to believe it is, the Bill gives more power to the centre and more power to the Secretary of State. Only an order from the Secretary of State will be required to sanction a change. Rather than decisions being taken by local people and locally elected representatives who know the schools and the communities that they serve, decisions will ultimately be taken in Whitehall.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and others mentioned bureaucracy. As the number of academies grows exponentially, as the Government desire, the Secretary of State will have to create a central bureaucracy to deal with the decision-making. So perhaps we will have decentralisation and bureaucracy rather than the decentralisation envisaged. Indeed, the Minister of State for Children and Families, Sarah Teather, is on record as saying that the creation of 200 academies in 2006 would be a,
“thoroughly centralising measure that allows the Government to be the largest maintaining authority and have a veto that will effectively overrule local decision making of the kind of provision that people want”.
If that was the case for 200 academies, how can the creation of 2,000 or more not be an act of centralisation? I would be grateful if the Minister could explain how the Bill fits into the terms of the coalition agreement on the devolution of power and greater autonomy for councils.
I have listened carefully to what the noble Baroness has said. Does she agree that a decision by an individual school and its governors—and, one hopes, the parents whom the school has consulted—to apply to become an academy will be taken at a much more local level than even the local authority? It really is local decision-making.
My Lords, that is an interesting question. However, the key issue which the noble Baroness raises is that an application or decision made by a local school should be taken in tandem with the governors, the parents and the pupils. Currently the Bill does not provide for that element of consultation. We must, together, work on that.
I turn to the issue of consultation, which is linked to the role of local councils and the wider community—an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Under the Bill, the local authority will explicitly not be consulted on applications for schools to become academies; neither will parents nor the teaching and support staff nor the pupils. As other noble Lords have said, the role of parents must not and cannot be underestimated. I was peripherally involved with a proposal for an academy in Gloucester. A consultation was undertaken but parents, governors and pupils did not think that it was as thorough as it should have been. The result was frustration, sadness and ill-feeling—not the best start to the new life of a new school. A good school must have the confidence of the community that it serves. I would suggest that consultation is a prerequisite for confidence.
Many noble Lords and many organisations have raised issues relating to special educational needs, excluded pupils and children in care. They included the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and many others. That leads me to my fourth concern, on funding agreements. Funding agreements must enshrine fairness and cover compliance with SEN legislation and the school admissions code. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out, there are problems with the admissions code at the moment. That is why fairness must be enshrined in any new provision.
Several noble Lords spoke of two tiers. The Minister said that the Bill would not create a two-tier system. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said that we do not have a two-tier system now, but a many-tier system. We should not create a situation whereby those schools with the greatest need receive the least resources. That is what we mean when we talk about a two-tier system.
The noble Lord, Lord James, said that we on this side of the House and perhaps others were trying to hold back good schools and excellence. That is not what we are trying to do—we want to ensure fair provision of resources. We want to ensure that special educational needs provision is properly planned, and we do not think that that is the case at the moment. If money that LEAs currently receive for SEN is gradually diminished while schools with the greatest SEN remain as mainstream schools, how will the strategic role of LEAs be maintained and the funding gap plugged? Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Baker, rightly said that LEAs play an invaluable role in relation to special educational needs. We must not demonise LEAs, which provide an invaluable function and ensure that many of the duties currently enshrined in legislation are delivered.
I turn finally to standards. The Bill deals with structural change but makes no mention of standards—although the Minister raised the question of standards in his opening speech. That is a further and fundamental difference between our policy for academies and the Bill that we are discussing today. Our programme was to drive up standards for the most disadvantaged pupils. The Bill will do nothing to assist that process. I agree with my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton, who said that strong intervention from the centre is necessary to drive forward and maintain high standards.
Most of the current academies which we established are thriving because of the quality of teaching and strong leadership. These factors, as many noble Lords have said, are the most important ones in a good school. There are some superb teachers and leaders in our schools. Under the proposals before the House today, there is a clear danger that teachers from the most challenging schools will be attracted by better conditions to teach in the outstanding schools which become academies, thereby exacerbating the problems in the schools with the most difficulties. I am sure that that is not the Government’s intention, but we must ensure that it does not happen.
Our academies were about improvement for all by means—at least initially—of improvement for the most disadvantaged. The Government’s academies are about improvement for a minority of pupils who are already the most advantaged. As the Sutton Trust said at the weekend, we must provide better education for the many, not the few, and for all children, not just the most privileged. I fundamentally disagree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, about competition in education.
We shall seek in Committee to apply the perspective of the need to ensure a better education for the many. We shall aim to ensure that schools fully and properly reflect the social mix of the communities which they serve; that they fully and properly reflect the views of the local community and the local authority, as well as of parents, staff and governors; and that they fully and properly offer the most opportunity for most pupils. We shall seek to improve the Bill to improve educational standards, educational performance and education for all.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her kind words. I am grateful also for the kind words that have been said by many noble Lords in welcoming me, even by some who know me—which makes it even more remarkable that they paid me such tributes.
It has been an excellent debate. I am beginning to learn about the very important job that this House does in improving legislation and holding the Government to account. I said last week that I would try to listen and learn, and I have listened and already learnt an awful lot this afternoon. It really is a great privilege to be able to listen to so many forceful speeches from such distinguished educationalists—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said, four former Secretaries of State. That makes it quite a daunting occasion for me. One problem that I am discovering in this House is that the contributions are so powerful that I find myself nearly agreeing with all of them, even with that of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, at one point, when she made her powerful and impassioned speech.
I shall do my best to respond to the main themes raised today. However, as I am new to this, I hope that noble Lords will bear with me a little. I may not be able to answer the many hundreds of points that have been raised and the questions that I have been asked. A lot of them will be taken forward in Committee but, before then, I shall write to noble Lords and respond to as many of the points that have been raised as I possibly can.
I start by paying tribute to so many in this House who have done so much to support academies and who are so knowledgeable about them. I refer in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Peckham, whom it is extremely nice for me to see after a very long gap and who spoke inspirationally about the Harris academies and what they have achieved. Many thousands of children have reason to be grateful to him, as I certainly am. I am also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for the work that he has done on university technical colleges, a subject that he has raised repeatedly in my short time in the House and assiduously outside this House. I look forward to discussing it with him further and reading the book that he gave me—and I do not know whether I have to declare it as an interest, but it was a very cheap book—about the importance of brain and hand working together. I am very attracted by the work that his trust and Edge have done and extremely interested in seeing whether we can do more to help with taking forward this idea of technical academies, which I know has been welcomed by many noble Lords.
With few exceptions, there seemed to be broad support for the idea of more academies, and I was grateful for that. However, there are clearly a number of practical concerns on all sides of the House, which require further clarification. Obviously I shall work as hard as I can to provide that clarification in the days and weeks ahead.
What is also clear from this debate is that we all start, on all sides of the House, with the highest ambitions for our young people and the highest expectations for school standards. It is also apparent that there is great respect on all sides of the House for the teaching profession and the superb work that teachers, head teachers, governors and others do every day to give children the best possible education. It is my belief that the respect that we feel for teachers can be better reflected in our education system and that professionals should be trusted with the decisions that they are best placed to make as leaders and staff at our schools. We are keen that they should be enabled to do so without constant intervention from government. That is what this Bill seeks to achieve; it says to schools, “Here is a mechanism for school improvement that you can adopt if it best meets the needs of your school and, more crucially, your pupils”. That in part is my answer to one main thrust of the extremely powerful speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. She asked what evidence there was that academies were better and whether this was worth the effort.
We talked earlier about some of the statistics that we believe support the case on this side, but I recognise that education is about a lot more than statistics. Many head teachers of academies argue persuasively that academy freedoms have helped them and have helped them improve standards. The fact that more than 1,100 schools have already expressed an interest tells us something about the relationship that they feel they have with their local authority and how they think academy freedoms may help them to do a better job. That is the point that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland made, and I agree with him on that.
I shall take some of the main themes raised this afternoon and try to respond in broad terms. The one that struck me most was special educational needs. The noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Turnbull, the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Garden, and most recently the noble Lord, Lord Rix, spoke extremely forcefully and persuasively about that. I recognise totally that we will need to provide more reassurance to those noble Lords and others in the organisations for which they speak. However—this picks up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall—academy funding agreements will require academies to have regard to the SEN code of practice in the same way as maintained schools. Local authorities will retain responsibility for pupil SEN assessments, statementing, funding of statemented pupils, ensuring that arrangements are in place for statemented pupils, and the monitoring of statemented pupils. Academies will have to ensure fair access and deliver provision. This is such an important area—I want to get it right—that I am keen to organise a special briefing on the subject before Committee for Peers who are interested. I think that my office has been in touch with the noble Lord, Lord Low, about that, and we are working on a date. I hope that as many Peers as are interested will be able to come along, and we will do our best to respond to some of their points.
Admissions was another broad area raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Garden, the noble Lord, Lord Low, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. The academy funding agreements will require academies to comply with the school admissions code and law, as with all maintained schools. The code and related legislation outlaw additional selection and require the highest priority to be given to looked-after children.
Points were raised about governance and parental representation by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Crosby and Lady Garden. As has been pointed out, the governance arrangements are not in the Bill, and they need not be. Governance structures are set out in an academy’s articles of association. We expect that an existing foundation or trust will continue to appoint the majority of governors. We do not anticipate that the existing trustees would consent to the conversion unless they were satisfied with the proposed governance arrangements. Academies are required to have at least one parent-representative on the governing body, and of course many choose to have more.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Garden and Lady Massey, raised points about charities and charitable status. The thinking behind the provisions on charities is that deeming academies to have automatic charitable status should make the process of establishing an academy easier by removing the need for each one to apply for charitable status individually. Given the number of potential academies, we think that will reduce a burden on those schools. It will make academies consistent with voluntary and foundation schools, which are already deemed charities in law and will shortly be exempt charities. It will be important for academies’ compliance with charity law to continue to be regulated and, in response to questions raised about that, I will discuss further with the Minister for the Cabinet Office who would take on the role of principal regulator for academies. I will report back to the House as soon as I am able to inform it of those discussions.
Before the Minister goes off the subject of charity, and given that the Charity Commission is a highly effective and experienced regulator of all sorts of other charities—large and small—does he think it sufficient to leave the regulation off the face of the Bill? I am thinking particularly of the desirability for public accountability of regulation.
That, too, is a point on which I need to reflect. Generally, I will follow that up with the noble Lord if I may.
Consultation was a recurring theme. It was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Turnbull and Lord Greaves, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Garden and Lady Williams of Crosby. The concern was expressed that there would not be sufficient consultation with parents or others. Current legislation does not require consultation with parents or the local community on the acquisition of academy status. The Bill does not change that. However, we anticipate that schools will want to consult parents about this, as they do at present.
In addition, maintained schools have parent governors who will be able to take part in the governing body and the decision-making process on whether to convert to academy status. Consultation with staff is another important point. Schools are required by the TUPE regulations to undertake appropriate consultation. We are advising schools on how best to carry out that process. That is linked to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, about speed, which I will return to in a moment.
The role of local authorities is clearly of great importance. I repeat a point that I made in the debate on the gracious Speech and earlier: there is, I hope, nothing in the Bill that noble Lords will interpret as an attack on the role of local authorities. We do not seek to send that message. Strong local authorities will remain central to the Government’s plans to improve education. We want to work with local authorities on what these changes will mean. We certainly envisage that local authorities will have a strategic overview of services in the local area and that they should help to support parents and pupils to choose a good school as part of a mixed economy of schools provision. They will retain a key strategic role in supporting the delivery of educational excellence. The law already allows local authorities to supply goods and services to schools, including academies. Many academies buy these services from the local authority. We expect this to continue. Nothing in the Bill will prevent an academy from buying a service from a local education authority and, if the academy considers the local authority to be the best supplier of that service at the best value, I am sure that it will continue to do so. As I have said, the local education authority will retain responsibility for ensuring that pupils’ SEN needs continue to be met.
The speed of the process was another recurring theme. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, led the charge, but the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey, Lady Sharp and Lady Royall, returned to it. I underline the fact that schools can carry out this process at their own pace. I understand the point, which has been raised before, about expectations. There has, perhaps, been a sense that the Government expect all outstanding schools to be ready to go in September—that they are rushing and that schools are being encouraged or pressured to convert by September. That is not the case. The aim of the Bill is to be enabling and permissive rather than coercive. Our wish is for schools to do this at their own pace. We believe that some schools will be ready to convert at an early stage. Others will certainly choose to convert at a later date. We are currently telling schools that we expect the fast-track process for outstanding academies to take three months, although a longer process may well be needed in exceptional circumstances. It should be noted that not all the outstanding schools that have so far expressed an interest in converting want to convert as soon as September 2010 or will be able to do so. Although we want to give the schools an opportunity, I am conscious of this point, and we will not force any school to do it any quicker than it wants to.
I say in response to a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that converting outstanding schools will not take priority over academies already in the pipeline. I am assured that we are able to deal with both. Nor do outstanding schools need to have an external sponsor. They will in effect be self-sponsoring, which will include existing arrangements with faith bodies.
The pupil premium, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred, is to be separately funded and will not be used as a subsidy for academies. We believe that academies have proved their success. I think that that point is broadly accepted on all sides of the House. Where they have worked well, their impact has been tremendous. This Bill will allow more schools to become academies, with a simpler application process and more trust given to the professionals who we think can and should be making decisions about how their school is run.
Raising standards in all schools is our primary goal—seeing the best performing schools do even better, supporting others to do the same, being more ambitious for the schools which are doing a good job but which could do better and transforming those schools which are underperforming and currently not delivering the standard of education that their pupils and parents rightly expect. We believe that academies are an excellent mechanism for achieving those aims placing, as they do, school improvement at the forefront of their focus, and working in a flexible way to achieve that. This is an important Bill. I am grateful for the advice that I have received today from all sides of the House. I look forward to continuing these important discussions in Committee, for however long that takes. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 8.45 pm.