Committee (2nd Day)
Clause 1 : Academy arrangements
6A: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out from “agreement” to end of line 7
I shall speak also to Amendments 14, 74, 79, 96, 124 and 125. I start by offering my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, on his ministerial appointment. This is my first opportunity to be able to do so from the Dispatch Box. I have greatly appreciated his approach and his evident willingness to listen to the points put to him and respond in a most helpful way. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that our amendments are in the same spirit. They are designed to be constructive and to probe some of the detailed provisions in the Bill before us.
I am sure we all share the same aim of wanting to enhance and improve state education and to do so in a way that fosters collaboration between schools and has a positive impact on the state education system as a whole within each local authority area. The way schools become academies is an important element of that and is covered by Amendment 6A. The Bill sets out two academy arrangements. They are an academy agreement and academy financial assistance. This probing amendment seeks to remove the latter approach in Clause 1(2)(b).
The reason for an academy agreement is clear: there has to be an agreement and payments under it have to continue for a minimum period of seven years or indefinitely with seven years’ notice. There is also the financial assistance route. In discussions on the first day in Committee, the Minister said:
“The point of having two ways of establishing an academy is that in addition to the current funding agreement route, it was thought to be sensible also to have a flexible way of approaching the subject, particularly in so far as the new free schools might be concerned”.—[Official Report, 21/6/2010; col. 1221.]
The Minister was subsequently asked by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, whether it is the Government’s intention to use the legalisation before us rather than the 2002 Act for free schools. The Minister promised to clarify that, and my amendment allows him an opportunity to do so. Interestingly, in the Minister’s statement on free schools policy, in answer to a question from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, he said that in regard to the financial assistance funding arrangements in Clause 1(2)(b), which can apply to all academies, not just free schools:
“The point of having a grant rather than a seven-year funding arrangement is that, particularly with a free school, which is a new and untried school, the Secretary of State might not want to be bound into an agreement for seven years and might prefer something that gives him greater flexibility”.—[Official Report, 21/6/10; col. 1192.]
The Minister wrote to us on Friday that academies funded through grant funding would have the conditions of their grant outlined in a grant letter, and that it is for the Secretary of State to decide the terms of conditions. I understand the point about flexibility. Indeed, how I would have wished for that type of flexibility in the 20 or so Bills that I have taken through your Lordships’ House. Understandably, however, your Lordships have been reluctant to give so much authority to Ministers without effective parliamentary oversight, and I remind the Minister that the theme of yesterday’s Budget was the need for rigorous control of cost in the public sector. I would have thought that that would have involved a rigorous process when deciding the merits or otherwise of a free-school application. I question why the Government lack so much faith in the process that they are establishing that they need a get-out clause on funding in case their judgment is wrong, and I suggest to Minister that one way in which to ensure more rigour in the application process is to have proper consultation and a significant role for local authorities.
Both the Bill and the Explanatory Memorandum are remarkably lacking in detail on the financial assistance funding mechanism in Clause 1(2)(b). That is unacceptable, which brings me to my Amendment 14, which seeks to deal with this by proposing that any such financial assistance that is to be given under Section 14 of the Education Act 2002 should be set out in regulations and subject to the affirmative procedure. Noble Lords around the House have consistently called for greater parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive, which, in the case of free schools and the scanty provisions in this Bill, is certainly justified.
My Amendment 79 is in a similar vein. It would provide for the Secretary of State to make regulations on academy arrangements, and would give some measure of parliamentary scrutiny.
My Amendments 124 and 125 continue this theme. The Bill at Clause 4(6) removes the sensible requirement for the Secretary of State to exercise his powers to make academy orders by statutory instrument. Amendment 124 would delete subsection (6), thereby reinstating that requirement. Of course, if the Bill is passed and thousands of independent state schools are created, there will be the practical issue of processing those orders through Parliament, so we have come up with one option to deal with this; Amendment 125 would require the first two orders in each local authority area to be subject to the affirmative procedure. That would not be unreasonable. It would allow each local authority area to be examined, and the impact of academies and free schools on the school system as a whole to be assessed by Parliament.
There may be other approaches, but the substantive point is that the appropriate parliamentary scrutiny must be established, and I hope that the Minister will be able to be positive about this. I should say to him that I find it richly ironic that the coalition agreement promises a radical devolution of power to local government. The reality is somewhat different, as this Bill shows. In essence, Ministers are aggrandising huge powers to themselves and, in the case of free schools, on the basis of rather ambiguous evidence provided today by the Institute of Education. We therefore believe that it is vital that Parliament must be able to scrutinise properly the process of approving the academies and free schools.
Amendment 74 is another probing amendment. Adequate insurance cover will of course be important. I am sure that this point is covered in legislation, but it would be good to have confirmation from the Minister.
On Amendment 96, I declare an interest in that my wife is an assistant principal at Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College, Birmingham. Our amendment would place a duty on the Young People’s Learning Agency to ensure fair funding between schools at sixth-form level. Colleges educate and train more than 700,000 young people aged 16 to 18 compared with about 487,000 in schools’ sixth forms. They provide high-quality opportunities for 16 year-olds from all backgrounds to stay in learning. Their contribution will be critical at the current time. Fair public investment in all young people will further enable colleges to carry out their role effectively.
The previous Government took action to reduce the funding gap from 13 per cent between schools and colleges to 9 per cent. It is also worth bearing in mind that colleges face additional costs related to VAT and capital projects, for which schools receive 100 per cent state funding. The additional funding for schools is given despite evidence that colleges are more successful in helping students to achieve and that they recruit a more disadvantaged cohort of students. Colleges have a more rigorous system of outcome measurements because retention rates are also taken into account.
Of those young people who receive the education maintenance allowance 69 per cent are in college, while official data show that 7.4 per cent of school sixth-form pupils were on free school meals at the age of 15 compared with 10.1 per cent in sixth-form colleges and 15.9 per cent in FE colleges.
In debates on the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill in the previous Parliament, the then Minister, my noble friend Lord Young, said that the YPLA will set out progress in reducing the funding gap in its annual report. Further research would be carried out and a report placed in the House Library once the year 2011-12 has been completed. The coalition agreement states that public funding for colleges should be fair and follow the choices of students. I would welcome confirmation that the Government would still expect the YPLA to report on the funding gap in its annual report. That being so, I hope that the Government could state what action they might consider taking to ensure that all 16 to 18 year-olds are funded fairly. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 7, 11, 15, 16 and 80 in this group. While not agreeing with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has said, we share his admiration for the work that is done by further education colleges. Amendments 7 and 11 innocently seek to change “or” to “and” and “and” to “or”, but they in fact raise one of central issues in the Bill; that is, the difference between an academy agreement and academy financial assistance. At present the only route to becoming an academy is by negotiating a detailed funding agreement which sets out the terms and conditions under which the academy is to operate. This Bill introduces a new route; namely, academy financial assistance granted under Section 14 of the Education Act 2002, which I think is the one that the noble Lord seeks to delete.
In the guidance issued by the Department for Education to schools thinking about applying for academy status in response to the Secretary of State’s recent letter, it is clear that there are two distinct stages in the application. The first stage is submitting an application for approval to convert to an academy, having it checked over by the department and, if approved, receiving an academy order. Only after receiving an academy order can the school begin detailed negotiation over the funding agreement which becomes the academy agreement. This includes such things as negotiating the TUPE arrangements with the unions and leasing land transfer agreements with the LEA. There will be annexes dealing with such things as admissions, exclusions and SEN.
Although the Minister has made it clear in the discussions we have already had that there is now a standard form of the funding agreement on which most funding agreements would be based, it is and will be an individually negotiated contract between the Secretary of State and the academy trust. In his letter of 18 June, the Minister made it clear that academies funded by the financial assistance route would not have a contract as such but would receive their funding through a grant letter from the Secretary of State. The provisions of that letter would be in line with those in the funding agreement, including commitments on admissions et cetera.
There are however a number of questions still unanswered on which I would like to probe the Minister further. First, how far are the two routes exclusive? Is the second route under subsection (2)(b) essentially that by which the new free schools will be set up, whereas subsection (2)(a) is the route for the conversion of existing schools? Alternatively, is it envisaged that the new fast-track procedures for outstanding schools should use the financial assistance route because the flexibility this gives the Secretary of State means that negotiations can be concluded more quickly?
Secondly, I turn to the issue addressed in Amendment 11. Might a school be partially funded by one method and topped up by another? The use of the word “and” in subsection (3)(a) is ambiguous and could imply that funding will be both by agreement and by grant, or does this deal exclusively with academy agreements? Where is the accountability in the financial assistance route when funding is given under Section 14 of the Education Act 2002? Does that not give the Secretary of State remarkably wide powers. A letter dated last Friday, 18 June to the Times from Peter Newsam, for example, suggested that whereas the academy agreements give schools the security of a seven-year agreement against arbitrary changes, Sections 14 and 16 of the 2002 Act give the Secretary of State almost unlimited powers to vary the terms of payment. What recourse, if any, would a school have against such arbitrary actions?
I turn now to Amendments 15 and 16, the first of which is a probing amendment. The Government have committed themselves to ensuring that schools that become academies will get roughly the same level of funding as they would have got had they remained with their local authority, and in addition, because they are taking on additional levels of responsibility, they will receive their share of the money no longer required by local authorities to fulfil those responsibilities —but how much more, and is the additional amount of money reasonable and commensurate with the additional level of responsibility?
When the grant-maintained schools were set up, little was known about school funding nationally; there was no experience of local management of schools to assess the amount of funding that grant-maintained schools should reasonably have. The then Department of Education veered on the side of generosity to grant-maintained schools which later, when more was known about the local managements of schools, seemed unreasonably generous. In addition, there are fears that when “outstanding” schools convert to academies, local authority moneys, a good part of which goes to fund SEN obligations, will be divided up on a per pupil basis. Because many of these schools have a relatively low proportion of SEN pupils, such an allocation would give them a disproportionate share of that money and leave a lesser amount in the local authority kitty to fund SEN needs.
As the noble Lord said, we all share the Government’s wish that schools will not be excessively advantaged or disadvantaged if they choose the academy option. And in a time of limited resources, an advantage for academies will be a disadvantage for maintained schools, and vice versa. Requiring the Secretary of State through legislation to ensure equality of funding between maintained schools and academies is difficult.
The purpose of these amendments, particularly through Amendment 15, is to make sure that the Secretary of State is advised publicly by a trusted independent body—the National Audit Office—on what is a reasonable level of funding for academies, taking account of what they do in comparison with local authority maintained schools. Amendment 16 requires that the NAO in turn consults the local schools forum, which is the mechanism by which currently such moneys are allocated. The Secretary of State is not handcuffed to follow NAO advice, nor is the NAO obliged to take the advice of the schools forum. Almost like an educational equivalent of the Office for Budget Responsibility, there will be advice from a respected body on what is a reasonable level of funding in comparison with other schools and that advice will take account of local circumstances.
I turn finally to Amendment 80, which states:
“The Secretary of State shall by order specify the mandatory contents of an Academy arrangement”.
This is a probing amendment aimed at clarifying those areas of academy arrangements that are mandatory rather than discretionary. Since the main aim of granting academy status is to give schools greater flexibility and therefore discretion over decisions which affect them, it is important to know where the red lines are drawn. Many of the other amendments in this group are seeking to limit that flexibility and ensure that academies fulfil their obligations in relation, for example, to SEN or on admissions. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that, at the end of the day, the general public know precisely where an academy’s obligations begin and end.
I rise to speak to three amendments tabled in my name: Amendments 10, 95 and 120A. I am hopeful that the first two at least may improve the drafting of the Bill, though it could be that the Minister will in response say that what I think is set out in the Bill is not as I think it is.
A grouping of this size, which deals with many different, technical and difficult points, is not a way to legislate. I do not know how Members of the Committee can possibly follow a grouping of this scope and technicality. I hope that in future stages of the Bill the groupings will enable Peers who are not experts in education law—and even those who are—to follow more reasonably.
Amendment 10 seeks to insert in Clause 1(3) the phrase,
“(as may from time to time be amended by them)”.
This is an attempt to make clear that the academy agreement between the Secretary of State and the other party should be defined not only as the initial agreement but as an agreement which may be amended by them consensually from time to time. I hope that that is helpful, because without those words we might run into trouble.
Amendment 95 seeks to amend Clause 2(4), which entitles the Secretary of State to indemnify those running an academy if the agreement is terminated. The amendment simply adds the word “reasonable” before “expenditure” so that the indemnity would be in respect of reasonable expenditure. Paragraphs (a) and (b) then refer to what the indemnity may relate to. It is a prudent provision because without it lavish and unnecessary expenditure would be indemnified, and that cannot be right.
Amendment 120A seeks to amend Clause 4, which deals with academy orders. I have tabled the amendment for clarification because I do not understand what the words at the end of subsection (3)—
“or a school that replaces it”—
mean, or are intended to mean. Are they intended to cover new free schools? I do not think they are because the whole of Clause 4 is confined to existing secondary schools converting into academies.
I shall speak to my Amendments 31 and 34 in this very diverse group. Amendment 31 proposes that,
“substantial freedom is given to the school to innovate”.
When I am going round schools I notice how hidebound they are by the restrictions that are placed on them in trying new things. Although the previous Government introduced an ability to innovate, it was subject to applications in triplicate to the Secretary of State and an extraordinarily cumbersome procedure. I hope we will now see a pronouncement in favour of innovation. I suggest that where a school does innovate it is merely necessary to inform the Secretary of State that this has happened—this becomes a risk factor for Ofsted in its decision on when and where to inspect—and that there is a requirement on the school to keep proper records so that the benefits or otherwise of the innovation can be judged in subsequent years. The whole tenor should be in favour of innovation. There are many good and experienced teachers out there who are capable of doing a great deal of good for the system if we let them have a go.
On Amendment 34, one of the good things to come out of the past 13 years of government was an increasing interest in schools co-operating with each other. Neighbouring schools will always be a little at loggerheads, but there are good examples—both those induced by the Government and those that have occurred privately—of schools forming networks to share problems and good practice and generally to get together and get beyond the confines of what is possible within a school, particularly a primary school. I am thinking particularly of the transition from primary to secondary and how schools can work together. There have been some excellent examples of that and I would not like the process of becoming an academy to be seen as an excuse to be isolated and a star on your own. It ought to be a process of becoming more co-operative and more linked into schools generally.
My Lords, I shall speak to the amendments tabled by my noble friends Lady Garden and Lord Phillips of Sudbury and explain what is troubling me about academy orders.
Section 14 of the Education Act 2002 is incorporated into Clause 1(4), therefore enabling academies to be dealt with by what might be called the fast-track process of essentially calling into aid the powers given to the Secretary of State in that Act. The difference is that only very specific use was made of the power in Section 14; I do not think that it was intended to embrace a whole category of school in the way that will be possible under the Bill. My straightforward concern is that, where we are looking at the possibility of removing many statutory forms of consultation, virtually no restraint will be placed on the Secretary of State, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said, and that he will be accountable to no one but himself. The combination of Section 14—the powers of the Secretary of State—being incorporated into the Bill with the fast-tracking of the academy orders means that an academy could be approved, or for that matter rejected, with the involvement of virtually no one but the Secretary of State. Within a democratic structure, that is not an acceptable way to go.
We must therefore look very closely at the amendments that have been tabled. They would bring academies back into the structure of the academy agreement—my noble friend Lady Garden referred to this—which would enable us to set conditions and requirements for the schools that have to be met under the academy agreement but that do not have to be met in the same way under an academy order.
I, too, would be very grateful for greater enlightenment from the Minister on what accountability there is in mind. For example, it might be possible to look at the report from the education department on the experience of academies, their standards, their meeting of the admissions orders and other requirements under the academy agreements. That would enable Parliament to debate how far those requirements and conditions had been met and to distinguish between the effects of academy orders and academy agreements.
Perhaps even more significant than the proposals that my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, have put forward is the need for this Committee to look closely at the level of accountability for academies and at academy orders under the Bill.
I rise to support Amendment 96 and Amendment 31, which is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I support the former because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, rightly said, further education colleges can be particularly beneficial to disadvantaged cohorts of pupil. Children in public care may find themselves in a further education college earlier than their peers, meaning that they can carry on with an education that they might otherwise have been denied. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, has been a strong advocate of equal treatment. I am very pleased to hear that there will be no threat to progress in that area.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asks in Amendment 31 that substantial freedom be given to schools to innovate. He reminds me of the eminent American philosopher and educationalist, John Dewey, who died in the middle of the last century and was very much admired by Bertrand Russell. He moved our thinking on with regard to the gaining of knowledge. He said that we were not simply spectators: we learnt because we had a reason to learn and because there was some impulse to our learning. That is particularly relevant to children who are disillusioned with the mainstream system. Schools need to innovate and find ways of working that engage such children. For example, Lent Rise Combined School in Slough, which has a large Traveller population, works each year to enable young people to work with local businesses to design products and then attempt to sell them at an open day. Those sorts of innovative approaches where Traveller people can see the application of their learning are very helpful. That may be some of what was meant by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I have two points about the funding of academies. I will speak particularly to Amendments 15 and 16, which were tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden.
Reflecting on the experience of grant-maintained schools, the Minister will accept that the perception of unfair funding, as much as the debated reality of the funding position, did a huge amount to undermine the reputation of those schools in the wider education system. To be fair, they did a large amount to discredit the reform. If the extension of academy status more widely, which I support, is to carry public confidence and confidence in the education world, it is vital not only that the funding arrangements for schools transferring to academy status are fair but that they are seen to be fair. The only way they are likely to be seen to be fair is if there is an independent validation process of the overall financial scheme by which the academies are to be funded.
The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, are very interesting in that respect, in that she seeks to inject the National Audit Office into the validation of the arrangements for the funding of academies. I have considered very carefully her amendments. To require the National Audit Office to advise on each individual academy, given that we will be talking about a very large number, would be an extremely bureaucratic process that is not conducive to the public interest. However, it would be worth the Committee reflecting on—and the Minister giving us an initial reaction to considering further—whether the National Audit Office might play a role in validating the overall academy scheme in respect of funding. It could concern the principles of action by which the Government are allocating funds to academies, particularly when it comes to a number of the areas that the noble Baroness mentioned in respect of special educational needs funding, which, to be frank, will be contested by local authorities.
That view is given added force by the letter of 15 June 2010 which the noble Lord, Lord Hill, sent to Members of the Committee. He sets out in the annexe the arrangements for the allocation to academies of funding that otherwise, in respect of other schools, goes to local authorities for children with special educational needs. He states:
“Academies do receive a share of funding which is for: funding retained from the Schools Budget for centrally provided SEN support services; behaviour support services; licences and subscriptions …; therapies and other health related services; and education and welfare services”.
However, they currently,
“do not receive a share of local authorities funding in the following”—
“areas: educational psychology services; SEN administration, assessment and co-ordination; parent partnership services …; monitoring SEN provision; SEN transport”—
SEN transport is an extremely expensive item in local authority funding—
“support for inclusion between mainstream and special school; and pupil referral units, education out of schools and excluded pupils”.
Those also are very significant items of local authority spending, which have a huge impact on the budgets of individual schools.
It is not clear to me from the noble Lord’s letter what course the Government propose to take in respect of those important items of spending. Clearly, they will need to be considered case by case in some detail before a proper funding scheme can be put together in relation to the expanded number of academies that we are considering in this Bill.
The conclusion of that annexe has a wonderful sentence of the kind which I fear to say I signed off on so many times when I was a Minister, but to which the House should pay very great attention. It says:
“We want to work with local authorities on what these changes will mean for local authorities, and the important … role they have to play”.
Let us be clear—that means that we do not have the foggiest idea at the moment what the actual arrangements are that we are proposing, and a great deal of work will be needed before we will be in a position to give any detailed guidance on what that will mean. That further strengthens the case for having some independent process of assessment and reporting on the overall scheme for funding academies. Having the National Audit Office or some other independent body—although the National Audit Office is clearly eminently equipped for the work—giving independent validation to the overall scheme being used for academies, and advising Parliament that the scheme meets the commitments that the Government have given, that academies will be fairly funded in relation to other maintained schools, could be a very important element in ensuring that these arrangements command public confidence.
My Lords, it is apparent that academies will have more money in their fist, so to speak, than community schools. As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has just made clear, an enormous amount of money can be withheld by the local authority, which will now come into the academies’ own purview for them to spend. The difficulty with having an outside agency to lay down frameworks or even to observe the frameworks is that there is enormous variety from one local authority to another in the amount that they hold back and the amount of these services—the noble Lord read them out—that they provide. Authorities such as the London Borough of Wandsworth, where I live, withhold less than 5 per cent from school budgets for their central services, whereas others withhold well over 20 per cent to provide centralised services. The inequality will be very apparent. I share the wish expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to have some way in which to demonstrate that fairness is being exercised and is being seen to be exercised, but it would be difficult to do that, given the huge disparity at present. Of course, it will be possible for schools, once they become academies, as they do now, to contract back with the local authority for some of these services, which will return that money to the local authority. However, in many cases—it is the case in Hackney, for example—very few of the academies do that.
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Hunt. I apologise to the Committee that I did not speak at Second Reading, so I shall keep my intervention short. There is a great desire on the part of the new coalition Government and the Secretary of State to free lots of schools, but there is a paradox in that that requires his dictatorial powers to free everybody—he will lay down what freedom means to everybody. Our task is to ensure that the Secretary of State makes it clear to us in the legislation in what sense he is not taking away powers from your Lordships and another place. We need to scrutinise that, because there are a lot of anxieties about the scale and ambition of this project and the haste with which it is being implemented. There is also a worry that there might be some unintended unfairness to schools left outside the academies field or to local authorities. It would be good if the Minister could make it clear that considerations of fairness and equity and not taking powers away from the legislature arbitrarily will be adhered to.
My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions—
I apologise if this has already been covered but the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, pointed out that the academy schools will have considerable additional funds. I am sure that we will have discussed this; it is something that I should have given more attention to sooner. Could the Minister, in replying or in correspondence, give as much detail as possible on exactly how much academies can expect to be given? That would be helpful. I thank the Minister.
My Lords, I should probably speak now while England is ahead in the football; on past form that may not persist. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for his insight into ministerial life. I know that many will recognise what he says, as I have discovered over the last three days. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his kind welcome. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, is not here, but I am grateful for the noble Lord’s words.
Some interesting and important points have been made about transparency. It is important not just that everything should be fair. It is absolutely clear that our intention is that our approaches to funding should be fair. However, I take the point that they also need to be seen to be fair. Funding is a fiendishly complicated area, as I am discovering as I try to get my head around it. I recognise the need for greater clarity. I say at the beginning that I undertake to reflect on whether there are ways in which we can better demonstrate that, without going down some of the routes that have been suggested in a range of amendments, which, for various reasons, may be slightly overcomplicated and bureaucratic.
I start by summarising some of the main points that have been made and by responding to the opening points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. The Bill, as he said, would allow the Secretary of State to fund academies either by contractual agreement—as now—or, for the first time, through grants. The purpose of that is to give the Secretary of State greater flexibility. To respond to the point made by my noble friend Lady Garden, it is not intended to be a bit of both; it is a case of either/or. There would be no top-up from one to the other. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, set out, it is our view that the vast majority of academies will continue to be funded by the route with which we are familiar—the contractual funding agreement, which runs for seven years. The proposal for the grant, as the noble Lord summarised, is to give a greater degree of flexibility, probably in a small number of cases where having that—particularly in the case of a new school being set up under the academy model—might make more sense. The requirements on academies relating to admissions, exclusions and special educational needs will be the same, whether they are funded through a grant or a funding agreement. I hope that that provides some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
On Amendment 79, the Government have made it clear that they will apply a rigorous “fit and proper person” test in approving any sponsors of an academy or promoter of a free school. The Secretary of State will publish on the department’s website the criteria for deciding applications from schools that are not outstanding. In some ways I recognise the point that there is a need for greater clarity on these issues. Part of the answer to the points that have been raised on both sides of the Committee is that, if we publish more information to make clear what the criteria are, we may be able to reduce some of the uncertainty.
We are keen that there should be flexibility in the criteria that the Secretary of State can use, so that he makes the best decision in each case. The Secretary of State expects to approve all applications from outstanding schools other than those where there are exceptional circumstances—for instance, if a school has a significant financial deficit. As the programme develops, it may be necessary to adjust those processes in the light of experience, particularly with regard to free schools. We are keen to ensure that we have the flexibility to do so.
Amendments 14, 79 and 80 all require that the conditions of academy arrangements should be set out as statutory instruments. The noble Lord made that point. Again, we are keen to try to maintain as much flexibility as possible. We will publish a revised model funding agreement, some elements of which I have circulated, although not as early as I would have liked. They are now in the Library. That will make clear the standard terms and conditions under which an academy will be funded.
An academy agreement is a contract between the Secretary of State and an academy trust under which the academy trust agrees to establish and run an academy and in return the Secretary of State agrees to provide funding for the academy trust. Amendment 11 would mean that an academy agreement could put in place only one half of these arrangements, so the contract would not be properly made. Clause 1(3) has been drafted to ensure that future academy agreements will, as now, need to contain both those elements. Amendment 10 would allow the Secretary of State or the academy trust to amend the terms of the funding agreement at any time. That is already the case: the funding agreement can be amended by mutual consent of both parties, via a deed of variation.
Amendments 124 and 125 would require that academy orders be made by statutory instrument—in the case of Amendment 125, subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The making of an academy order is an administrative process on the way to becoming an academy. While it is important for the school in question, there is not necessarily a wider public interest in an individual decision by an individual school that would make it necessary or appropriate to bring each and every one of these before Parliament.
The Minister has eloquently defended flexibility in relation to Amendments 124 and 125. As regards accountability, those amendments would create a statutory structure that could be questioned in Parliament. Will he say a little more about accountability, which for many of us is absolutely cardinal?
I was about to make a point that relates to the issue that the noble Baroness has raised. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of this House, which has reported on the Bill, has made it clear that it does not consider it necessary or appropriate for these orders to be made by way of statutory instrument. It made that clear in its first report of this Session, published on 17 June.
My Lords, I am sure that many Ministers have read out the advice of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee when it suits the Government’s case. However, you cannot look at the orders or the suggested regulations in isolation from the whole process, which takes local authorities and formal consultation out of the procedure. Essentially, the Secretary of State is taking to himself considerable powers. That is why there is considerable support round the Committee for ensuring that there is parliamentary scrutiny. I am happy to concede that the amendments before us may not fit the bill, but there is a principle here in relation to the Secretary of State taking to himself certain powers that are held by local authorities. A formal consultation process will not be allowed; it is certainly not in the legislation. Therefore, there has to be some form of additional scrutiny. As that scrutiny will no longer take place at local level, it can take place only in Parliament.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for making the point that these ways of dealing with the issue may not be the right ways forward. I also take the point on the core question of consultation, which we have debated already in Committee, and the question on accountability, which my noble friend Lady Williams raises. We recognised at an earlier stage in Committee that there is a tension when one is seeking to give greater responsibility at a very local level—to teachers or parents, which is a more local level than the local authority level. I recognise the tension between the very local level and what goes on in the centre and the force of the points made by the noble Lord and others. I will reflect and see whether there is any sensible way in which to take those points on board. I have, in passing, touched on the point that an academy would not need to receive funding through both routes.
Amendment 66 would remove exceptions to the prohibition on academies to charge for education provision. Academies would not be able to charge for and, in many cases, run after-school education such as extra-curricular music or drama lessons. I want to reassure the Committee that academies will not be permitted to charge for education provided during the usual timetabled school hours. In respect of charging for education, academies will have to do exactly what any maintained school would be expected to do.
In resisting Amendment 74, I do not mean to imply that insurance is unimportant for academies. Of course it is important and, under existing arrangements, academies are required to have insurance relevant to their responsibilities. However, that kind of matter does not need to be in the Bill. The same applies to Amendment 95, which would ensure that the Secretary of State’s indemnity covered only reasonable expenditure. The Secretary of State is bound by a duty to act reasonably in all matters. He would therefore offer indemnities only in respect of expenditure that was reasonably incurred.
At the beginning of my remarks, I touched on the need for funding arrangements to be fair and to be seen to be fair. That issue was raised by my noble friend in talking about Amendments 15 and 16, on the National Audit Office. Our view, which the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, would share, is that the NAO would not necessarily be the right body. However, as I have said, I will certainly reflect on the underlying principle of making sure that there is transparency and trust in these arrangements.
On Amendment 96, we are not suggesting that the YPLA should be able to spend disproportionately on sixth-form provision in academies. However, there is no need for this vague duty to be in the Bill. Under the national commissioning framework, local authorities are responsible for commissioning sixth-form places in maintained schools. In addition, there is a consultation process in which academies should take part. Ideally, their sixth-form provision will be agreed with the authority. It may be that in some cases such an agreement is not reached. In that case, the YPLA will step in to make a decision. Its regional structure will enable it to reach these decisions on an informed basis. We are not convinced of the need for a general requirement.
Amendment 31, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, would put in the Bill academies’ freedom to innovate. I am sympathetic to his broad case on innovation, but it would seem slightly odd to specify one particular freedom—the freedom to innovate—when the whole purpose of the academy programme is to deliver freedom more generally. We believe that those freedoms are best delivered by an absence of regulation wherever possible. I know that my noble friend agrees that head teachers and staff know best how to run schools. We think that the Bill gives them those freedoms. The academies that I have seen are already full of innovation and they have done that without the specific legislative freedom to innovate.
Amendment 34 would make it an absolute requirement on all academies to work in partnership with other schools. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas about the excellent examples of partnership that we have already seen in academies. The Government have the strongest possible expectation that that should continue and that every outstanding school that acquires academy freedoms should partner with at least one weaker school. We hope that this will raise performance and support across the system, to mutual benefit. I agree that outstanding schools are in a strong position to do this. We are asking all prospective academies to provide details of their plans to support another school as part of their application process.
My noble friend’s amendment concerns a core theme to which we keep returning: to what extent do you get the best out of people by trusting them and setting high expectations, or should you instead impose an absolute obligation on them? My instinct has been, and remains, that often one gets further by going down the route of trusting people. We believe that there is a potential problem of the unwilling conscript. One can see that there could be perfectly good reasons why in certain circumstances—perhaps for reasons of geography in a remote rural area—an absolute requirement would not be practical. This might also be the case with schools converting that are not outstanding. The case for a requirement for those schools would be even less convincing than the case for a requirement for outstanding schools. Schools that are currently good or satisfactory and that want to become academies may not be in the best place to form a partnership with a failing school.
Amendment 120A would make it impossible for an academy conversion to be taken forward in circumstances where, for example, it was intended that a single academy should replace more than one maintained school as part of sensible local reorganisation proposals. As noble Lords will appreciate, we want the conversion process to be sufficiently flexible to take account of, and allow for, such reorganisation.
I hope that I have picked up on the main points raised and provided some reassurance. I undertake to reflect further on one of the core themes of this set of amendments and urge noble Lords not to press them.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that response. Of course I will be happy to withdraw the amendment. Perhaps I may just say that the noble Lord has offered to reflect on the issue of parliamentary accountability relating to decisions made by the Secretary of State and I am very grateful to him for doing so.
Amendment 6A withdrawn.
Amendments 7 to 11 not moved.
11A: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end insert “, provided that the other party shall not be in financial deficit nor hold an excessive financial surplus”
My Lords, I will speak to the other amendments in this group as well as to this one, which was tabled by my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin.
We discussed earlier our concerns about the impact of the Bill on local communities, and in particular on the local communities of schools. These concerns are particularly acute when it comes to finance. My noble friend Lord Adonis said in a previous debate that funding arrangements must be fair and be seen to be fair, and this was reiterated by the Minister. They are absolutely right. Unamended, the Bill runs the risk of causing great difficulties with the finances of schools in the area of an academy, to the detriment of the education of children in the maintained schools and to the detriment of the cohesion of the local community. Our amendments in this group seek to require academies to make good any financial deficits in existence at the time of conversion and prevent consequential financial loss to the other schools.
The amendments also propose two alternative approaches to dealing with any surpluses held by a school converting to academy status. Under the first, schools would not be permitted to transfer balances when converting to academy status; under the second, schools would be prevented from retaining excessive balances which are in breach of government guidelines and which would otherwise be subject to reclamation by the local authority.
Clause 6(5) already provides that regulations made under subsection (4) should deal with provisions requiring the repayment of sums by proprietors. Amendment 159 would insert a new clause to make provision for statutory payments to include the making good of deficits that have previously required financial support from the local authority. Where a school is in deficit, it receives financial assistance from its local authority to support that deficit, using funding which would otherwise be available to the authority to support schools generally. The local authority and school governing body are required to agree a financial recovery plan for returning the school to a balanced budget and repaying any financial assistance received. It would be inappropriate and unfair for a school to be able to avoid its obligations under such a recovery plan by conversion to academy status. If it did so, other local schools would lose access to that funding. The effect of this amendment would be to maintain the legal obligation to make good that deficit.
In recent years, there has been consistent concern over schools holding excessive balances which are not retained for any planned or specific purpose but which should be used for the intended purpose of supporting young people’s educational achievement. The most recent government data for 2008-09 showed that schools held a total of £1.92 billion in surplus balances, of which £495 million were classed as excessive balances. Local authorities are required to take action to prevent the retention of balances for which schools have no planned use.
These amendments are intended to stimulate a debate and to encourage the Government to explain how they propose to deal with the problem of surpluses. The amendments offer different approaches to the transfer of balances to academies. First, Amendments 158, 152 and 153, like Amendment 151 in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty, seek to ensure that all surplus balances are retained by the local authority. It might be argued that this measure is a little too harsh, as from time to time some financial flexibility is necessary within any organisation. However, the amendments would have the merit of ensuring that any academy started life with a clean financial sheet—as it were, financial independence. The Government surely cannot complain about that, as independence for academies is one of the key stated objectives. Alternatively, Amendment 157 seeks to ensure that only excessive surpluses are transferred, and it sets out a formula to govern that.
It is a laudable aim to ensure that money allocated for children’s education is used for that purpose, and it would run completely counter to that aim if schools were allowed to retain excessive balances and avoid action to reclaim them simply by taking on academy status. This approach would provide for the transfer of only those balances that fall outside the category of excessive. The definition of what would constitute “excessive” appears in current government guidelines to local authorities. This approach would ensure that academies were treated consistently with local authority maintained schools with regard to balances, as they are with regard to other aspects of funding. Like local authority maintained schools, they would be permitted to retain balances set aside for identified purposes and non-excessive balances. Amendment 142, tabled by my noble friend Lord Whitty, would ensure that a surplus held by a local authority could be transferred to an academy on conversion only with the permission of the local authority concerned. We support that amendment.
My Lords, in this group I shall speak to Amendments 154, 155 and 156, which would alter the subsection that provides for a review by the Secretary of State of a school’s surpluses. Of course, we would also seek clarification on any school deficits that might be involved. These amendments provide for review by the Secretary of State. He or she may be predisposed to the establishment of an academy, and this would give the academy proprietor leave to appeal to a local commissioner or local government ombudsman—again getting a third party who might bring more transparency to the discussion. They would secure a degree of independence in the determination of the surplus to be made available to the academy, and would avoid any suggestion of political interference and bias with that determination. The amendments would give equal status in the appeal to both the academy proprietor and the local authority. Replacing “review” with “appeal” would follow on from those changes.
I wish to speak against the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Whitty, as they would take us completely in the wrong direction. It is in everybody’s interests that schools should be encouraged to run and manage healthy budgets and to build up sensible surpluses if they are planning for developments perhaps two or three years ahead. I have always felt strongly that head teachers of whatever school—an academy or a normal community school—have to be able to manage their own budgets for several years ahead. If you are moving towards the provision of single sciences when you have been doing a joint science course, for example, it will inevitably take real investment, particularly in teaching but probably in facilities too. The amendments would be a retrograde step. My concern about the package in general is that in some way I would like the freedoms that are being talked about regarding budgets to go across the piece for all schools, whether they are academies or not. I should declare an interest as normal as working for ARK and city academies.
I support what my noble friend Lady Morgan has just said, with particular reference to Amendment 11A. We need to distinguish sharply between deficits and surpluses. At the moment, unless the policy has changed in the past 18 months since I was in the department, schools with deficits are not allowed to transfer to academy status. The deficit must be written off before the school can transfer. I remember many long and very difficult negotiations with local authorities about how deficits would be dealt with.
The issue of deficits then becomes very important if not clarified. Schools with deficits, particularly those with difficult relationships with their local authority because it quite rightly is seeking to get to grips with the deficit, might regard the opportunity to transfer to academy status as a way of evading their responsibilities to deal with the deficit. It can be in no one’s interests that that should happen. If a school is being poorly managed, its budget may be suspended under Section 66 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. It is not clear under the current Bill what will happen to schools whose budgets are suspended. I should welcome clarification from the Minister on that point, perhaps in writing. There is a statutory procedure for a school’s budget to be suspended, which has to do with very poor management, so will such a school be allowed to transfer to academy status? I imagine that it would be allowed to apply but would not be allowed to transfer. I think that the general principle should be that schools with appreciable, non-trivial deficits should not be enabled to transfer to academy status until the deficit is dealt with. In the early phases of the expansion of academies I find it inconceivable that a school with a large deficit would be able to transfer in any event, as I cannot see how it could be rated as outstanding if it has a non-trivial deficit. That is an important point in terms of taking the policy forward. Will the Minister confirm that it is not the Government’s policy to allow schools to transfer to academy status as a way of evading responsibility to manage their budgets properly if they are currently in deficit?
On the issue of surpluses I take the view entirely of my noble friend Lady Morgan. I do not believe it right that schools should be penalised for being well managed and accumulating surpluses. I can see no reason whatever for a school that has a surplus to have that surplus seized by the local authority if the school chooses to become an academy.
That raises the issue of excessive surpluses. As I know only too well, an excessive surplus is a much debated concept. It may seem excessive to the local authority but, generally, it does not seem excessive to the school, which regards the fact of the surplus as a testament to its excellent management of its own affairs. I am sure that if you ask a school about the purpose for which it has maintained that surplus, it will give you 100 good reasons why it needs the surplus and 100 good reasons why it should not be seized by the local authority.
Therefore, I do not have much sympathy with the notion that schools with surpluses should not be able to transfer to academy status, but I believe that there is an issue about deficits which the Government need to address.
My Lords, before I respond to the detailed points on the amendments and pick up directly on deficits, perhaps I may draw noble Lords’ attention to the published policy statement setting out our intention regarding deficits. In a nutshell, it makes clear that no school with a substantial deficit, which is defined at around £100,000, will be able to convert. However, I will go on to explain what we will do about deficits, because the purpose of the policy is absolutely to prevent any school evading its financial responsibility by converting to academy status and thereby writing off any kind of deficit.
Basically, it would work as follows. If a school had a deficit of less than £100,000 and the Secretary of State therefore decided it was able to convert, the Department for Education would compensate the local authority for the sum of the deficit. The academy would not get a financial advantage out of it as it would have to pay the amount of the deficit back through reduced levels of grant. That is how we would deal with the deficit problem.
Overall, the aim of all these arrangements is to try to ensure that they are fair and reasonable to both the converting school and the local authority. Amendment 11A would mean that the Secretary of State would not be able to enter into academy arrangements with a person with an excessive surplus or deficit. We do not believe that that is necessary because we would put in place arrangements for dealing with surpluses and deficits.
As regards schools applying to convert to academy status—particularly the first wave of outstanding schools, which tend to be pretty good at running their financial affairs, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said—they are retaining their same leadership and management. It is not like the original model for academy conversion whereby one is starting a new school. Therefore, we think it only fair that what is essentially the same school keeps the same money it has put aside as part of its long-term financial planning, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan. However, to underline the point, we think it also right that if a school converts when it has a deficit, it should deal with that deficit.
Amendments 140 and 141 would require the local authority to determine whether a school had a deficit, as well as whether it had a surplus. In our view, those amendments are not necessary because if the local authority is making a calculation to determine whether a school has a surplus, by definition it will have determined whether it has a deficit.
Amendment 142 seeks to maintain the current position when a school closes and becomes an academy. That approach had considerable logic when original academies replaced predecessor schools and gained new management and governance. In effect, in that case an institution was closing and a new one was opening. But in this case, the school is continuing, and if it has put money aside as part of its long-term financial planning it should be able to keep it.
Amendment 143 would prevent the academy from retaining a surplus, and the same argument applies. The local authority will not be losing out from the approach as the money is already accounted for in current surpluses. Therefore, it is not an additional charge on local authorities from which other schools will suffer.
Amendments 144 to 149 would treat a converting school's surplus as a loan from the local authority which the academy would have to pay back over time. Again, we do not want schools to be disadvantaged financially. Maintained schools can carry forward their surpluses from year to year; we think that the same principle should apply to academies. To pay back a loan over a long period would set up a whole new bureaucratic process, which we do not think would help.
Amendments 150, 158 and 159 are all to do with deficits. I explained, and hope that I made clear, our approach to deficits. Amendments 151 to 153 would prevent regulations being used to define the arrangements for payments of surpluses to academies or to outline the process for determining and paying a surplus to a school converting to an academy. We think it appropriate to set out in regulations additional administrative detail about the process for the determination of payment of surpluses, and we have provided draft regulations to show how we intend to do that. They also set out how the academy will be informed by the local authority of the determination, the process by which any appeal can be made and the time limits for payments.
Amendments 154 to 156 would change the process whereby an academy can ask the Secretary of State for a review of the local authority's determination, so that the academy can appeal to the local government ombudsman rather than to the Secretary of State. As I said, we have set up the draft regulations to demonstrate the Government's intentions. We think that those decisions should rest with the Secretary of State and that it would not make sense for there to be a new extension of the role of the local government ombudsman.
Amendment 157 would limit the surplus which transfers to the level set out in the guidance on clawback of excess surplus balances issued to local authorities. Again, we are not convinced that that is necessary, because local authorities will still have power to claw back excess surplus balances until the date of conversion, in accordance with locally agreed arrangements.
I hope that that provides greater clarity about the government's intentions, particularly on the important matter of deficits, in the light of which I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Before the noble Baroness speaks to my noble friend’s response, might the Government consider the arbitrary nature of the £100,000 cut-off for the deficit? For a very small primary school, £100,000 is a very high proportion of its total budget, whereas for a large secondary school it is a very small proportion. Would not a percentage of the budget be a better benchmark for an acceptable deficit than an arbitrary sum?
I will reflect on that. The point of the figure is to provide some benchmark. My noble friend Lady Perry is quite right to say that individual circumstances vary greatly from school to school, and each of those circumstances would need to be taken into account in forming a view as to what is a sensible sum. That figure has been included as a rule of thumb, but I take the point that one may need to exercise discretion.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the clear response from the Minister. It is extremely helpful to have clarification on deficits and surpluses. The point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is extremely important. That would not have come out if she had not raised it, so I am very grateful to her. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but before I do that, I should inform the House that we won 1-0.
Amendment 11A withdrawn.
12: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end insert—
“and will ensure in respect of Academies with a religious designation that existing legislative provisions for maintained schools designated with a religious character, as they relate to admissions, the employment of staff and the curriculum, shall apply”
The amendments in this group standing in my name are Amendments 12, 60, 107, 121,122 and 166.
One of the themes running through this debate is the powers that will be undertaken by the Secretary of State and the way that reassurances need to be very clear, perhaps even need to be in the Bill, to enable those who feel a little anxious about accountability issues to feel much more confident about the way forward. My amendments are in that spirit.
I speak as chair of the Church of England’s board of education and therefore declare an interest. As I have said in your Lordships’ House before, the Church of England is the leading provider of academies. It has 34,000 students in its academies, virtually all of which are in areas of social deprivation. That is why the Church of England is involved in academies and wishes to go on supporting them. It has good will towards the philosophy of academies and what they stand for, but does not want to compromise its commitment to improving standards in deprived areas or the fact that its academies are denominational academies with a faith character.
These amendments try to ensure that the Church of England feels confident in encouraging the many denominational schools in which it has a care to explore this possibility. They are sympathetic amendments and seek to be friendly. We are grateful for the reassurances that have already been given by the Minister. If the way that he has dealt with those of us who have raised concerns with him in personal interviews or in letters is indicative of the way that the business of this Government will proceed in this House in future, we are extremely glad. However, I think it was Bismarck who said that laws are like sausages: you really do not want to be there when they are being made. I have a sneaking feeling that the Minister is beginning to understand what he meant.
Certain clauses need to be clear for the avoidance of doubt. We do not doubt the intentions—many of them are good intentions—but we need to have clarity. I am reminded of the interesting exchange on Monday between the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Phillips, about how much clarity terms need in order to justify their place in the Bill. One of those phrases could be a “school of religious character”. What does that mean? Quite clearly, it means its ethos and values, and we cannot legislate for them, but it means other things too, the things to which Amendment 12 refers: religious character or designation—whichever term we use—admissions, terms of employment of staff, curriculum and governance, which has appeared elsewhere in this Committee. Those dimensions can be secured by legislation.
Admissions have been debated on other amendments, and one of my other amendments addresses the curriculum and collective worship. We could do with some clarity on terms of employment. Are we proceeding on the basis of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 in relation to Sections 58 and 60, which apply to voluntary aided schools and voluntary controlled schools, or are we subject to the provisions in that Act that relate to independent schools? Academies are declared to be independent schools and are presumably subject to those sections, but we need some clarity. What do the Government intend to secure their commitment, articulated in the gracious Speech, to maintain the religious character of schools that convert to academies?
I shall be briefer on my other amendments. Amendment 60 refers to the curriculum and the provision for religious worship that define a school as being of a religious character. We need more than assurances; we need clarity on those matters.
My remaining amendments in the group, Amendments 107, 121, 122 and 166, all contain the same phrase, “relevant religious authority”. For the Church of England, that is a diocesan board of education, and I do not think that anyone who has any real acquaintance with these matters would dispute that the family of church schools is maintained by the diocesan boards of education. I believe the same to be true of Roman Catholic schools and of Jewish schools. There are authorities operating within the denominational organisations that have a relationship with schools that is precious, treasured and to some extent essential if those schools are to deliver to the high standards with which we have become familiar. I therefore want to ensure that the Bill secures the interests of the “relevant religious authority”—in our case, diocesan boards of education—in any consultation and commission. I have to say to the Minister that Roman Catholic authorities, as well as Anglican ones, are expressing a good deal of anxiety at the moment that we may well not encourage schools to take this step without the assurances that these amendments seek. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 61 on participation in collective worship and religious education, and in doing so declare an interest as a humanist and a vegetarian—so I do not do sausages.
I shall comment in passing on the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and will also speak to my Amendment 133 on the status of state-maintained schools if they become academies. I recognise that Amendments 134 and 135, which were tabled by Members on the Benches opposite, relate to the same matter, so I will not spend too long on them. I also wish to comment on Amendment 12, which was moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln.
On Amendment 61, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wants the precepts of all major religions in the UK to be taught. I agree that collective worship and RE should be balanced and broad. This education should also include the precepts of humanism and secularism. Sixty-five per cent of 12 to 19 year-olds, according to surveys, are not religious. All children need to learn about non-religious as well as religious beliefs, as we live in a diverse society.
As I said, I am a humanist, and I know that humanism has moral and ethical precepts and a compassionate culture. I respect those from other cultures and other religions, and I hope that they will respect mine. Will the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s view that schools, including academies, should teach non-religious world views as well as religious ones? Will he also confirm that the recent spiritual, moral and cultural non-statutory guidance for independent schools, which was worked on by a wide range of stakeholders, will also apply to independent religious academies? Will previous government guidance that creationism and intelligent design should not be taught in science lessons apply to academies? I realise that I am asking a lot of questions, and I will be happy to receive more detailed answers in writing, but perhaps the Minister has some quick responses.
All state-maintained schools are required to hold a daily act of collective worship and provide religious education. We all know, of course, that many schools approach this with a broad perspective and provide a forum for moral perspectives that are not necessarily religious. At maintained schools, parents are legally entitled to withdraw their children from collective worship and religious education, while sixth-form students can withdraw themselves from collective worship. It is not clear whether these rights of withdrawal will extend to the new academies. Will these current rights be retained?
I will say a brief word on my Amendment 133 to leave out subsections (7) and (8) on page 4, lines 14 to 19. This amendment would remove from the Bill a new provision that automatically converts state-maintained schools with a religious character into an independent school with the same religious character once an academy order has taken effect. However, there is no guarantee that community schools becoming academies will automatically become secular and inclusive.
This new provision would remove choice and freedom from schools and their governing bodies. It would permanently remove the possibility for state-funded religious schools to become inclusive academies and they would not be permitted to return to maintained school status. That would have a profound effect on primary schools. Around one-third of all state-funded schools are faith schools and the majority are primary schools. This Bill will permit high-performing primary schools to become state-funded religious academies. In my view, that would be a disastrous move, placing many state-funded schools into a largely unregulated sector with no public consultation and no entitlement for children to the national curriculum.
Amendment 12 is tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. During the course of this Bill, the right reverend Prelate has talked a lot of sense, but I cannot agree with him on a number of the amendments that he has proposed. They simply seek to increase the power and control of religious groups running the new academies, which I do not think is in the best interests of children or parents. There is no guaranteed protection against unsound principles being taught. The amount of money paid by the public purse to religious schools will be increased, even though the majority of the public do not support the idea of state-funded faith schools. Do we really want—
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I thought that the noble Baroness was anxious about the principles by which one of these religious schools when converted to an academy would continue on its path. Have I misunderstood?
Again, perhaps I may come to that in a moment. I have talked about the public purse and principles. Do we really want in any of our major cities, side by side, a Church of England school, a Roman Catholic school, a Muslim school, a Hindu school, or any other variety of faith school? What is the price for community cohesion or a balanced curriculum? What is the price for a discussion of different values in society? These are some of the principles to which I am referring.
On admissions and on a potential expansion of faith schools, I can do no better than recommend reading the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, during the passage of the Education and Inspections Bill in 2006. He happens to be in his place—and this is not a plot. The noble Lord was a Conservative Secretary of State for Education and is, I believe, an Anglican. His made warnings as regards faith schools with reference to the “shape of our society”, “isolated communities” and,
“the fine line between religious teaching and indoctrination”.—[Official Report, 30/10/06; col. 108.]
All his words I think are worth heeding.
I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate has foreseen the consequences of his amendments. Are we to have restrictions on admissions and staffing for every type of religious school? This would be a detriment to pupils and a disadvantage for staff. Again, this is one of the principles about which I was talking. Surely pupils in a school should have the advantage of the best teachers from whatever faith or no faith. Someone serving school meals or doing administration needs to be able to do just that. Yet sadly I have heard of several cases where staff have been dismissed or not promoted because they are of a different faith from the school. No academy should be able to discriminate with regard to admissions and employment.
Further, which maintained schools are referred to in this amendment? If it is a voluntary aided school, it may allow for more discrimination than is presently allowed. Voluntary aided schools have a wide remit to discriminate against teaching and other staff. Academies must surely apply a genuine occupational requirement to posts because they are private businesses and not public schools in law. Independent schools with a religious character are able to show preference in connection with the appointment, remuneration and promotion of their staff on the basis of religion or belief, and of course they can also discriminate on pupil admissions. Voluntary controlled faith schools, about 40 per cent of faith schools in England and Wales, do not have these powers to discriminate. However, when they become independent academies with a religious character, I assume that they will be able to discriminate, which refers back to my previous amendment.
In a Question for Written Answer tabled on 16 June, the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, asked Her Majesty’s Government how they will,
“facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many [faith] schools as possible”.
The noble Lord, Lord Hill, replied:
“The department has strong and productive working relationships with all faith groups founded on respect for the high quality education they have provided for many years”.
He went on to say:
“To support our new expansion of the academies programme we have made it clear that existing faith schools that convert to become academies will retain the ability to set their own admissions criteria and may continue to use faith-based criteria in line with the admissions code”.—[Official Report, 16/6/10; col. WA124.]
I think that we are in dangerous territory here. First, some faith schools which could be set up are completely untried in relation to quality and procedures. I accept that Church of England, Roman Catholic and Jewish schools mainly have a good track record, but not always. How long-standing are the records of other faith schools? Will they be able to make things up as they go along?
The statement made by the Minister earlier this month that I have just repeated makes it clear that religious discrimination is here to stay, going against what was implied in the coalition agreement, which recommends inclusive admissions policies. State-funded faith schools that discriminate in their admissions divide communities and may go on to do so even more—along religious, socio-economic and often ethnic lines, creating huge social problems now and in the future. I hope that there will be more discussion of these issues before we rush into unknown territory.
I have two amendments in this group, Amendments 134 and 135. Their purpose is to allow schools to change their religious designation if they wish and to prevent new faith schools appearing merely as a consequence of this legislation. Noble Lords will know that I have considerable reservations about faiths running schools. However, if we must have faith schools, they should be set up only in response to need and the requirement of parents to have their children educated in their faith. It should not be in any way accidental.
During our meeting, the Secretary of State made it clear that the purpose of this legislation was not specifically to create a lot of new faith schools, although of course we accept that many current faith schools may wish to become academies. That is why Amendment 134 inserts the word “only” so that the protection of the current faith designation applies only if the school is already a faith school. Amendment 135 goes on to require the governing body to pass a specific resolution to have the school maintain its religious character. This requires it either to reaffirm the religious character of the school or, if it wishes, to decide to make a change. For example, a Church of England school could become a multi-faith school, or a Roman Catholic school could add some other religion to its current designation; or it may become an all-inclusive academy. This might apply to the many primary schools referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in her speech just now.
We heard on Monday from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool about the joint Church of England/Roman Catholic schools in Liverpool. These multi-faith schools are welcome, bringing together as they do children from different faith households. This can only be good for community cohesion. My amendment would make it possible for schools to decide to go along this route at the point of their conversion, if I can use an appropriate word, to an academy.
I greatly respect the position of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, with regard to the Humanist Association and the humanist view of the world, but does she not accept that that also is a faith? It is a world view which certain people take—and they may well be right—but I do not see why it should be treated differently from any other faith. I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate agrees.
My Lords, I declare that I share the same belief as my noble friend Lady Massey.
I wish to ask some technical questions about employment and equalities law. The right reverend Prelate’s amendments are not innocent and possibly not sympathetic. I was the Minister who helped to take the Equality Bill through your Lordships’ House earlier this year, and I took part in many of the discussions on issues to do with the application of equalities legislation and employment law to religious schools and other establishments. I would like reassurance that the right reverend Prelate’s amendment does not seek to undermine or change what I thought was the agreement about the application of employment and equal opportunities legislation to all establishments and their employment practices. I am not completely happy with the agreement but it is the one that we came to in the course of that legislation,
I also seek reassurance from the Minister and the Government that they do not intend to accept the amendment and change the existing policy and practice, and that these schools—free schools, academies or whatever the Government decide to call them—will be expected to abide by the existing legislation in their employment practices.
This House has sometimes waxed lyrical about the number of guidance missives from what is now the Department for Education to schools on how they should undertake their employment practices. There is no question but that all maintained schools in this country have a clear idea about what their duties are as employers and how they should comply with them. Will the new schools be expected to find out for themselves what they should do? How will we ensure that they also abide by the law on employment practices and equal opportunities?
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred to a debate that took place in this House some three years ago. At that time, some of us sought to move amendments to ensure that if new faith schools—not existing ones—were established, 25 per cent of the pupil roll should come from outside the faith or from no faith. For a fleeting moment the Labour Government supported us, as those who took an interest in these matters will remember; but as a result of a campaign by the Catholic Church which was—I cannot use the word “deceitful”—imaginative, shall we say, the Government ran away from that commitment. They sought to extend the threat to all existing Catholic schools and not only to new ones—the Catholic Church had established only two small new primary schools in 30 years—but the debate was about new Catholic schools. Anyway, as a result of that campaign, the Government ran away from that commitment.
However, the Anglican Church made a statement in the House—I see the right reverend Prelate nodding—which I completely support. I went to a Church of England primary school and I am not against church schools as such. There was nothing too emphatic about going to an Anglican primary school; it was not too passionate. It had all the attractive characteristics of the Anglican faith; it did not ask too much but it gave reassurance. The right reverend Prelate who spoke for the Church of England at that time said that, irrespective of the fact that the amendment had not been passed, when the Anglican Church established new faith schools it would ensure that 25 per cent of the intake would come either from outside the faith or from no faith. I would like some assurance that that undertaking is still in place. I do not expect the Minister to reply, because nothing is on the statute book, but reassurance from the right reverend Prelate would be most welcome. I maintain that it is sensible for children of different faiths to sit, play and eat alongside each other in school and to go home on the bus together, but I appreciate that sensitivities still exist. However, I still hope that that undertaking of the Anglican faith survives.
Foundation schools, both Anglican and Catholic, are allowed to appoint a majority of governors, and those schools in turn have the right to be admissions authorities for their own schools if they are voluntary aided. It is a very important power that currently exists. It is not clear from the Bill—perhaps the Minister can tell us—whether the foundation retains the right to appoint a majority of governors. Does it retain the right, if it is a voluntary aided school, to be involved in the admissions process? Can he tell us broadly whether that situation is expected to continue?
I support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, although he has not yet spoken to them. I also support the amendment of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Garden and Lady Sharp.
We have not yet addressed this fundamental problem relating to faith schools. My questions at Second Reading about the status of faith schools, and the Government’s approach to encouraging the development of faith schools, have not been responded to. Does the Minister have the teeniest anxiety that a quarter of academies are presently faith schools and that the Bill will encourage more?
I shall recount a tale of two schools. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, in his place, because I am going to talk about Brockdish primary school. He and I are probably the only two people in this Chamber who know where Brockdish is. It is my local school, serving the entire community of Brockdish. It is a Church of England school that has received an outstanding report and will be in the running to become an academy. It is an extraordinarily good school. I love it dearly and hope very much that it does become one, for all those reasons.
It was established in 1843 in the parish workhouse for the children of paupers. The curriculum then was the Catechism and the Ten Commandments for half the day. In the other half of the day, when they were not at work—they had to do some work in the fields as well—they did the three Rs. That was 160 years ago. During the past 160 years, the curriculum at Brockdish Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School has changed dramatically. As it is the only school in the village, it is entirely inclusive. If you ask people in Brockdish about the school, they will say that they do not really think of it as a religious school. Its teachers come from all faiths or none; it has a non-denominational assembly; and it gives the most brilliant education.
However, according the Bill as far as I understand it, the school has two choices when it becomes an academy. The first is that it could become more religious and more faith-based, which would be an imposition on our local community. The Minister looks puzzled. The school might have to stay with the religious denomination which it has adopted historically but from which it has gradually been moving away. Under the Bill it would have to stay like that and would have no option to become a more generalist school. There would be no choice for those of us who live in the community because the other schools are too far away. It is our local school. It is a good one and we would like it to stay as it is.
Now take the case of the Ebrahim Academy in Whitechapel, an academy school for boys. It is highly selective and employs only male Islamic teachers. The school day is, again, just like 160 years ago in Brockdish primary school, divided into two sections. The school day begins with Tahfeez, which is reciting the Koran and getting the pronunciation right, which takes up half the day. Then the national curriculum takes up the second half of the day. It is a state-funded, tax-funded madrassah for the Islamic faith.
Perhaps that is an extreme example, but there are many such faith schools. I stress that I have no objection to Sunday schools—I was a Sunday school teacher. Noble Lords might be amazed to hear it, but it is possible to deliver good Sunday school teaching without any faith whatever. I suspect that it is like the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, to Anglicanism. It was possible for me to do that and I enjoyed it greatly.
I have no objection to families teaching their faith in their own time and making sure that every child has an understanding of all religions. But is the Minister not the teeniest, weeniest bit worried about the creation of more faith schools under the freedoms that we are providing today? What reassurances can he give to those of us who do not like these divisive, incohesive schools that they will not further separate a divided community?
My Lords, I may surprise the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, by saying that I know Brockdish extremely well. The Church of England did not only provide the village school. There was also a church house at the end of the churchyard which, for a long time, was the best eating place in the whole of Suffolk. So we should be grateful to the Church of England on more than one score.
I take a pragmatic view of church schools. The fact is that the Church of England and many other faiths have provided this country with invaluable educational opportunities. It is worth recollecting that the Church of England used the initial academy legislation to plunge into some of the worst, most deprived parts of the whole kingdom. These were not elite schools truckling to snobbism. The church went straight in where the need was greatest and the schools exemplified the church’s values.
I confess to being a rather perspiring Anglican myself. However, it would be a bizarre act of folly to make life more difficult for any faith. It would be nice—I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey—to see the humanists setting up a few schools. I would be jolly happy about that. But it would be bizarre, would it not, to make life more difficult for the faiths? They have to scrimp and save and work hard to establish and maintain faith schools. People come to them not unwillingly and reluctantly because they are the only school in an area, but precisely because they provide an ethical framework that the parents, even if they are not of that faith, respect and admire.
I am perfectly happy to support the amendment proposed by my noble friend. I do not see anything wrong with withdrawing children from acts of worship. However, the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, seems to me destructive. I am sure that that is unintentional. As I understand it, her amendment would mean that an existing state school converting to an academy would not, on conversion, have the religious character that it had before conversion. That is the essence of her amendment. I see no reason for it; it would be a discouragement to the continuance and creation of new faith schools. What is more, the simple effect of her amendments would be that no church school—or faith school, since one must not always talk of church—would convert if it could not carry through in the conversion the same religious character as it had been founded for and run in pursuance of. That would stultify the good aspects of this Bill. Surely, there is no earthly point in doing that.
Would the noble Lord accept two things? First, would he accept that the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, supported my amendment and was relevant to what he is saying? Secondly, would he accept that a faith school or religious school should have to adhere to a national curriculum?
The noble Lord is raising an issue about pupils. He implied that the important thing about many of our religious schools or faith schools at the moment is that they have an open selection policy. That seems to me utterly crucial. The possibility of people of all faiths sending children to schools whose ethos and culture they like is one thing. It is certainly the case with most of the Anglican schools, some Catholic schools and some Jewish schools. However, it is not the case with many schools set up recently, such as some Christian fanatically evangelical schools, some Catholic schools and a majority of the Islamic schools, although some Islamic schools are inclusive. The point is about the selection of pupils. There is a highly concentrated, exclusive quality to some of our schools, which causes me anxiety.
I have no wish, in what I am saying, to stray at all from the current arrangements for the pupil composition of church schools, which seem to me on the whole sensible, undogmatic and tolerant. Indeed, in the village of Brockdish and every village that I know of, of course schools do not discriminate on admissions. What the noble Baroness refers to is a very small number, as I understand it, of extremely zealous schools. I have no means of knowing whether she is right or wrong but, if she is right, that is something that we should address specifically. However, to mark the whole of the church school sector, which includes thousands of excellent schools, as carrying the imprint of the excesses of the tiny number that she is talking about and amending the legislation on that basis seems to me counterproductive.
We should all be extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. He admitted his faith and I shall admit mine—I, too, am an Anglican. He has put forward a sensible approach on all this. The Church of England is part of the history of this country and part of the way in which this country has developed. It is perfectly sensible to want more Anglican schools—and schools of different forms of faith—to be set up. I certainly hope that the vast majority of them will apply the same open conditions of selection as apply to all maintained schools.
This is all crucial in what we are trying to achieve, which is better standards of education for all. I say in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that if humanism is a faith, belief or whatever she wants to call it, it is possible to set up schools along those lines. I totally agree that humanism has an ethical base and I would expect just that.
At this stage, I will take a different line. I come back to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about what was understood under the Equality Act. I want to be absolutely certain that there is agreement. There was endless debate in your Lordships’ Chamber on this. There was agreement but it was not satisfactory to all sides. However, we all agreed to accept it. Any diversion from that in how staff are appointed or promoted would be very much a backward step. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us. It is a difficult and emotional subject for most of us, but I am sure that there will be a way for him to deal with it.
I had better get around to addressing my amendments in this group or I shall be caught up by my old friend on the Front Bench. I like faith schools, although I have no faith myself. I send my youngest daughter to a Church of England school and am very happy with it. Although I sympathise a lot with what the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, I also have a great deal of understanding of what the right reverend Prelate said.
In the Bill we are looking at moving schools from the maintained school regime to the independent school regime. The provisions in relation to religion are different. We have fought long and hard for that in this House. I was one of the supporters of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in the battle, which we sadly lost, to bring up to date the relationship between state-funded schools and their religious sponsors. As part of the old and untouchable settlements in this country, there is a group of about 60 what you might call extreme Christian schools. They are inspected by their own inspectorate and have their own rules. We have allowed latitude to independent schools—where parents go to the length of paying for their children’s education—that we have not allowed in state schools, where we pay for the education. That is fair enough. If the community is paying for education, we can reasonably ask things of the religious sponsors of schools that we would not ask of them if they were paying for the education.
There are two crucial elements. The first is now broadly accepted. Even in schools that are of a firmly religious character, children should be taught about the precepts and practices of other religions and—I agree—humanism. They should be taught about the world at large. I have had, as part of my recent education, a lot of correspondence with my Catholic friends and cousins about how the Catholic Church has changed over the past 50 years. I now know why I did not study religion at university. It is far too complicated and difficult to penetrate for a mind such as mine. I was quite content with nuclear physics.
It is clear that the Anglican Church, in which I was brought up, and the Catholic Church are committed to teaching a broad view of faith in their schools. However, I am worried about the people who might try to run free schools. One of the great motivations for running your own school is to run it within the confines of your religious faith. That is fine; I am happy for people to do that. However, if the relevant school is a state school, it should promote understanding, community cohesion and all the other virtues for which we have fought. In other words, it should teach children about the religious and non-religious worlds at large.
My second amendment goes back to the battle that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I fought. Purely religious schools that accept no other pupils are, of their nature, divisive and always have the potential to cause harm to the communities of which they are part. There may be circumstances where that is not the case—for example, where the relevant community is very much a minority community. However, where large proportions of a particular faith are represented in the make-up of a community and that community resorts almost entirely to its own schools, the situation becomes divisive. By observation, that is the case in the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is not something that we should encourage. Some Anglican schools and more Catholic schools remain exclusive. One should seek to persuade them to open their doors. However, the notion that we should create new schools with this exclusivity—that we should not just perpetuate it but increase it—seems to me a very bad idea, as it was three years ago. I very much hope that I can convince my noble friend that it is a bad idea.
My Lords, in the diocese of Bath and Wells, which is very largely rural, we have some 184 church primary schools, which have served their communities for a long time. They are essentially community schools. That is reflected across the country to a greater extent than we might imagine. The essence of those schools is built around how you make a community and what is part of a community. Some of them have rather more effective relationships with their parish church than others. Some of them have Christian head teachers, others do not, but the essential ethos of those schools, founded within the framework of Anglicanism, has carried through to a greater or lesser extent in their religious commitment.
It is key for us to recall the requirement for a national curriculum of religious education. There has to be a commitment to that going across not just the faith tradition of the particular school but the wide experience of religion so that young people have an opportunity to understand it. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that many of these schools are committed to reflecting on the philosophy underpinning humanism. I was asked a few moments ago to try to clear up what is a faith and what is a belief. I shall not risk doing that, but I will say that all faith involves belief at some level or another and is committed to some kind of system. By definition, faith cannot ultimately be proved. Therefore, how we understand and develop these things depends on a whole variety of our relationships with one another in the wider spectrum of life.
I support academies. Indeed, I had the privilege of being the chairman of the board of education in the diocese of Southwark when the first of the academies in south London was formed. I am extremely proud of that, because it did indeed reach into that community at its most vulnerable level.
However, the concept of free schools raises for me real anxieties, particularly in the sphere of religious influence. That is not simply because I want to hold up my hand to say that the Anglican or Catholic churches have a corner of the market. I remind your Lordships of our national identity and the way in which we are tied into the concept of the sovereign as the head of the Church of England, under our constitution, and our relationship with Parliament. The issue is much more complex from that point of view.
There is real merit in our looking towards the development of academies, but I hope that the view of the future of good schools will not be that they should all become academies and enter the independent sector. We have many good schools and, if we go down that road, I fear that we will, in the end, marginalise some of the poorer communities.
My Lords, I had not intended to prolong this long debate by joining in, but I have to confess that I, too, was made more anxious during the course of it. I share the anxiety of the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy. I should say that I, too, am a humanist. Indeed, I am now a vice-president of the association. Long before that, however, I felt strongly that we live in a plural society and we need more than ever to be at ease with our fellow citizens. Our education system ought to increase that. I have some sympathy with the approaches taken by the noble Lords, Lord Baker and Lord Lucas, but most of all with Amendments 61 and 133 in the name of my noble friend Lady Massey.
Perhaps I may quickly throw this in: “belief” is the name given by international law to those systems of morality or ethics that are not religious. I quite agree that it is rather an odd word for that purpose, but it is generally taken to mean that. My question for the Minister is—if he does not mind putting my anxiety in the anxiety basket, so that it is a bit heavier than the certainty one—in what way will academies teach the national curriculum in respect of religion and belief?
My Lords, we have heard about two extremes of school—one in which only faith is taught, and the other in which everything is taught. There has been no reference to a concern that we might have, whereby one may learn much about everything but not have a thorough understanding of any particular thing. Perhaps at this time our faith schools are more important than ever to our children because, as the report of the Church of England’s Good Childhood Inquiry showed us, an increasing number of children are growing up in families where their parents separate or there are family tensions. As the 2004 UNICEF report pointed out, at that time this country performed the poorest in terms of our child welfare. There was a number of dimensions to the report. It looked at family relationships and highlighted the fact that Italy came top as regards children spending time with their family on a regular basis and enjoying a meal together.
I am speaking speculatively, but perhaps the particular value that faith schools of various kinds can offer can give children a sense of belonging when they do not have that sense at home. The value of a Catholic school is that it has behind it a whole tradition of music, ceremony and dress. Children in those schools benefit from feeling that they belong to something. While I recognise the danger of extremes, and of having a Jewish school by a Muslim school by a Catholic school by an Anglican school, and the difficulty of different faiths interacting, perhaps if this is worked right, the stronger our individual identity is, and the stronger our basis in our religious community, the more we can relate in a positive way to those of different faiths.
My Lords, I can be very brief because I could not possibly improve on the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy. She said everything that I was thinking and would have said less effectively. Therefore, I will just say that I strongly support Amendment 61, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. Children from other faiths should not be required to take part in collective worship, which is religion rather than education. If Muslim or Jewish parents want to send their child to a Christian school because it is the best, or the only convenient, school in their area, should they be unable to do so because they are unwilling to allow their child to attend Christian worship? Surely not: that would be entirely wrong. It is important that academies that are faith schools should not take steps that are likely to exclude the admission of students from another faith. Insisting on attendance at services would lead to the absence of members of another faith. Amendment 61 is of great importance and I hope that it will be accepted.
I will speak briefly. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the right Reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells on the subject of free schools. As I understand it, the original academies programme, instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, allowed academies to be set up which were faith schools, and many have been. I do not think that free schools alter that position in any way and I hope that my noble friend can reassure us on that point.
My Lords, reference has been made to Scotland and Northern Ireland. I serve as a governor on the Armagh Protestant Board of Education. It is an Anglican foundation that controls the Royal School in Armagh and is chaired by the Archbishop of Armagh. It is 400 years old and was visited by Her Majesty the Queen this year to celebrate that anniversary. The majority of the pupils now are Church of Scotland Presbyterian, reflecting the population in Northern Ireland. However, we are getting an increasing number of Roman Catholic students from the Republic of Ireland who want a more liberal education.
I listened with great interest, the previous time the subject was raised, to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for a 25 per cent intake of pupils of other denominations. The problem in Northern Ireland, which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is that if you have schools with pupils of only one religion, parents will come to live near that school and so the area will come to contain people of one religion. When a factory opens near the school, all the employees will be of one religion and you build up a sectarian division. We suffered from this in Northern Ireland, not through deliberate discrimination, but because, with the Roman Catholic system that we had, most of the people who went to a school were Roman Catholics, most of the houses were bought by Roman Catholics and most of the jobs in the neighbourhood went to Roman Catholics. Sometimes people in England thought it was deliberate discrimination, but it was not; it was a reflection of the education system that still exists in Northern Ireland. Much as I am a great supporter of faith schools, which have a great record—I very much admire the way that the Church of England administers schools in England—the idea of a 25 per cent intake of people of other religions should be encouraged.
My Lords, perhaps hearing of the experience that I had at one stage of being chaplain to an Anglican school that had a house of Jewish boys in it might help noble Lords to be less anxious about what may happen, not only about the 25 per cent but also on the question of communities that can live together. In this case, there was no doubt that a small group of boys from a very distinctive faith background did a great deal to sharpen the sense of religious exploration of the whole school—not only faith exploration, but the exploration of world views.
I suspect that we are in great difficulties because we are sliding very easily between talking about church schools and faith schools, when by faith schools we tend to mean those that are founded by and for a very exclusive view of one particular faith tradition, whereas the position of the Church of England has always been that schools are for the community as a whole, and are known to be enriched by members of other faiths. The basis on which we in this country operate is that the church models an inclusive community that is lived out not only in the school life, but in the lives of the surrounding communities. Many noble Lords have talked about local schools that reflect exactly that tradition. What we need is not to minimise that tradition, but to broaden it and remind ourselves of its inclusive basis.
That is why the legislation that we spent a good deal of time on some months ago, to increase the broad and inclusive basis of all our common life, is so important. It would displease me to see denominational people withdrawing behind a more exclusive pattern, and also using that pattern to promote, encourage and wave the flag for other types of exclusivism, not just in religion but in other areas of political or social life. These things all cohere, and I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in his position as a member of the Church of England, which is not dissimilar to mine. That is the basis on which we ought to be more precise in our language, and maybe in the way in which we talk about legislation outside this House, when we should make a distinction between a church school and a faith school.
I always get very nervous listening to these debates in this House—we are going through many of the same conversations that we had three years ago—because there is a real danger that we will end up falling into a shorthand of “Church of England good, everybody else bad”. People listening outside to this debate could get a clear feeling that we think that you can have as many Church of England schools as you like because they are fine, but any other religiously supported school, albeit fully state-funded, is a bit iffy.
We must be very careful about the message that we send from this debate. There is a distinction between the issue of faith schools and those of, for example, admissions, proper supervision, the curriculum and inspection. They have always been crucial for taking forward faith schools in this country. I know that we do not like central control any more, but if there is any way that we can give an assurance that there is proper supervision of the curriculum through inspections, and potentially look again at admissions, that would be very helpful, rather than allowing a separation between types of faith.
My Lords, this has been a remarkable debate and I do not envy the Minister the job of winding up. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, put some very pertinent points to him, which, in a sense, reflected the dilemma that we face, to which my noble friend has just pointed. On the one hand, we know that the majority of faith schools are successful, thriving and popular with parents and that local communities give them tremendous support. They are, if you like, a glory and an indication of the diverse system that we have. They are schools with a distinct specialism, mission or ethos. We know that, at their best, faith schools do an incredible job. As an example, I point to the report of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, Our Shared Future, which recognises that there are faith schools with pupils from many different backgrounds and faiths, as well as largely single-background schools that are not faith schools. Of course, under the current arrangements, all maintained schools, including faith schools, must meet a range of legal requirements, including the need to have fully qualified teaching staff and to teach the national curriculum. In addition, under Section 38 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, governing bodies of all maintained schools have a duty to promote community cohesion. That is specifically inspected by Ofsted.
My understanding—perhaps the Minister will confirm this—is that academies will have no duty to follow the national curriculum and that, according to Ministers, certain measures, including social cohesion, will be dropped from future Ofsted inspections. The concern is that, although many good faith schools will obviously continue to foster social cohesion, fairness and inclusiveness, some of the safeguards currently in place may not be in place in the future. I very much reflect on the situation in Birmingham, where we have many faith schools. If different communities have separate faith schools, there is a risk that our hopes for social cohesion and integration will become very much diminished in the future. My noble friend Lady Morgan put her finger on that in her question to the Minister. I think that the Committee seeks an assurance that he understands some of the important points being put to him. I hope that he can reassure noble Lords that there are mechanisms whereby we can ensure that the careful balance of religious freedom, social cohesion and tolerance, which have been a strong feature of our education system, continues in the future.
The Minister may find it useful to meet noble Lords between Committee and Report for a further discussion, because it is quite clear that there will be another extensive debate on Report. My noble friend Lady Morgan really put her finger on the question of how the Committee can be assured in this area. Certainly, anything that the Minister can do to reassure noble Lords will be very helpful.
My Lords, I do not envy myself the task of winding up either. This is my first opportunity to listen to a debate in this House about matters relating to religion. I suppose that I should call it my baptism. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, there have been a number of extremely forceful and powerful speeches from every point of the compass. Reconciling them is not straightforward.
Perhaps I may take us back to the Bill, because in this fascinating debate we have gone quite far from it. The Bill is quite modest in its approach to current religious schools and the question of how they might want to think about conversion. Our basic, underlying approach in all these matters is to seek to allow schools that currently have a religious nature to convert on their current footing with the safeguards and requirements that are in place. We are not seeking to change the nature of those schools or in any way to have some kind of Trojan horse, unleashing a new wave of faith schools without some of the restrictions that are in place, to which a number of noble Lords have referred.
Having made that general point, perhaps I may go through the individual issues that have been raised. First, I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that throughout this process I have been happy to talk to any noble Lords who can face the prospect of a further discussion. I have also been talking at length to churches and am very happy to talk to others. If, in that process, I am able to give further clarification and reassurance to underpin my basic point, which is that on these important issues we are not seeking to change the status quo with this Bill, I shall obviously be very happy to do so.
I now return to the beginning of this debate and the amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. The Government are committed to ensuring the maintenance of the churches’ relationship with their schools. As the right reverend Prelate knows well, I have met representatives from the churches. I understand the concerns that they bring to this debate, which are from the other end of the spectrum compared with other points that have been made. I have studied the Bill carefully in connection with those concerns and can see nothing in it that could undermine the very important relationship that the churches have with their schools. Again, one of my tasks is to try to build on the reassurance that I hope I have been able to give so far. As the right reverend Prelate knows, I have written to the churches to set out our commitment to work in partnership with them. A copy of that letter is in the Libraries of both Houses.
I confirm that the existing protections and responsibilities in relation to admissions, the curriculum—including the obligation to provide religious education and collective worship—and staffing arrangements will be the same for academies with a religious character as they are for maintained schools with a religious character. I think that that was a specific point made by my noble friend Lady Williams. So far as employment law is concerned, the Bill retains the status quo. All schools will need to comply with employment law.
The religious education syllabus requirements for academies are currently delivered via the funding agreement, rather than through legislation. In future, they will be delivered through academy arrangements—either through the funding agreement or the grant conditions—in accordance with Clause 1.
So far as concerns the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, I agree that it is important that pupils have the right to be excused from, and that parents have the right to withdraw their children from, religious education and worship. It is an important issue of conscience. However, we think that the noble Baroness’s amendment is unnecessary in that academy funding agreements already require academies to comply with the School Standards and Framework Act provisions on pupils being excused and in relation to withdrawal. I place on the record that all future academy arrangements will have that same requirement. Therefore, the important right that the noble Baroness raised will be maintained.
Such protections as are set out in the funding agreement cannot be changed without the agreement of both the academy trust and the Secretary of State. We think that having those requirements in the funding agreement gives the same degree of protection to academy trusts as would be provided by legislation. As many in this Committee know better than me, there is a wide variety of approaches in how the churches govern and manage their schools—it is a complex area. Our view remains that having those provisions within the funding agreement rather than in legislation allows for individual circumstances to be reflected and avoids creating an undertaking that may not fully reflect the position of all religious schools.
On Amendment 35 tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, I shall reiterate my opening remark. We are not seeking to use the academies programme as a back-door way of deliberately increasing or changing the balance that we currently have in our education system. We do not think it appropriate to limit the number of faith admissions to 50 per cent when an academy is replacing an existing faith school; we think that the school should be able to carry across its current arrangements. That would not add or change the current situation. I hope that this provides some reassurance to noble Lords that we think it right that for the new academies—the new free schools—the requirement of limiting the number of faith admissions to 50 per cent should be in place. New academies would not be able to go beyond 50 per cent, as that would reduce choice. We think that it is important to have that balance and I am happy to make that clear tonight.
The Minister is being very helpful, but can he clarify that? Whatever assurance is given, some schools will have pupils of one faith only. That is the reality of the schools to which the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, referred. What will happen in that situation? It is likely that you will end up with students from only one faith or culture going to the school.
These are difficult and complicated matters and I do not have a simple and straightforward answer for the noble Lord now. I have said that it is an important matter that we can debate further outside this House. Let us do that by all means.
As I was saying, we think it important to ensure that local children of all faiths or none—I take the point that has just been made—have access to new academies. We will ensure that there is the balance that I discussed between community and faith places. All academies will have to have admission arrangements.
The noble Lord has just made an incredibly important statement of policy in respect of new schools. After this debate, will he clarify whether the 50 per cent provision that he mentioned in respect of new academies covers existing independent schools that transfer into the state system by means of academy status? That would be the principal means by which schools that are exclusively of one faith in terms of admissions could seek to come into the state system.
That is an extremely good question, which I will need to follow up separately with the noble Lord either orally or in writing, in which case I will circulate the letter. The principle of independent schools coming in is that academically they should be not selective but open in their admissions. I will need to follow up that precise point and come back to him.
We expect that in most cases the relevant religious body would be represented on the governing body of the school that converted. I am talking about existing religious schools converting. Therefore, those people would be informed of the Secretary of State’s decision not to issue an order. The relevant religious foundation or trustees would obviously be closely involved in the process and could veto any academy application. In many cases, they would be the people signing the funding agreement as the academy trust. They would be closely involved in all stages of the application process and fully informed of all decisions.
Where there is currently an existing foundation or a trust associated with the predecessor school, we expect those bodies or their representatives, if they wish to, to become members of the new academy trust. That academy trust, once established, would appoint the majority of academy governors. That mirrors the current arrangements for both academy sponsor appointees and the appointment of governors to voluntary aided schools. As members of the trust and as signatories to the academy’s memorandum of association, they would be fully involved in the process of a school becoming an academy. The governance arrangements will be agreed between the Secretary of State and the academy trust and set out in the articles of association. As I explained earlier, the articles cannot be changed unilaterally by either the Secretary of State or the academy trust.
The Bill does not change the required processes in respect of consultation, objection and adjudication on admission agreements for religiously designated academies. A school will continue to be required to consult its religious authority on any changes. Neither will it be affected by our policy on the provision of new non-faith places that a new academy is required to provide at least half of available places to the broader community. The Government’s intention overall is to maintain the current relationship between religious bodies and their schools. My letter to the churches set out that commitment.
If the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln would like to discuss this further, I shall be happy to do so. More generally, as I have said on those other important points that have come up, I will do my best to provide further clarification. I hope that I have dealt with the broad issues of what has been a long and interesting debate and I ask the right reverend Prelate to withdraw his amendment.
If I had known what I was embarking on one and a half hours ago, I might have thought twice. However, I am glad that I did not think twice, because we have had a stimulating debate. As the Minister said, we rather drifted away from the Bill and we need to be attentive to the fact that the amendments are specific to the Bill. I, too, was challenged a couple of times to give reassurances, so I am happy to give them. In an act of gross self-promotion I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and others that I have just published a book, No Faith in Religion—£8.99 in all good bookshops. Its very title may lead those noble Lords to think that they and I have more in common than they imagined.
I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that we in the Church of England—and, we believe, the Catholic Church—have made a commitment to an extension of what our community expects when widening the business of educational reform. I reassure the Committee that that remains the case. On community cohesion, as has been mentioned, church schools received a good bill of health not long ago. We need to hang on to that fact.
I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with these matters, not least in his gracious summing up. I want to reassure noble Lords that I do not think that my amendments are asking for anything less than what is currently the case. They are certainly not asking for anything more. I sensed in the debate that there was a feeling that more was being asked for on behalf of church schools and other faith schools than is currently the case. That is not so.
I shall withdraw my amendment, but the debate has shown that there needs to be clarity to ensure that those of us who are uncertain of our position can be made more certain. Those who have fears about the place of religious affiliation in education might have those fears allayed if something more were included in the Bill. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendments 13 to 16 not moved.
17: Clause 1, page 1, line 17, leave out “an independent” and insert “a”
I shall also speak to Amendment 58. In doing so I am conscious that we are about two and three-quarter hours into day 2 and still on page 1 of the Bill. I shall try to be brief, which is always difficult for people like me. I am also conscious that we are moving from matters of deep philosophical and religious belief on to the meaning of words, where some of us are a bit more at home perhaps.
This amendment seeks to delete the description of an academy as “an independent school” in subsection 5(a). Subsection (4) refers to financial agreements and academy financial assistance requiring undertakings from the persons setting up an academy, or converting. Subsection 5(a) states:
“The undertakings are … to establish and maintain an independent school in England”.
My eyebrows raised a little when I saw “independent” because I think that it is the wrong word. My noble friend Lady Walmsley suggests that I said that “autonomous” was a better word. I am sure that she is right although I do not remember doing so. Independent schools are a well established and well understood part of the education system. Most people who go to those schools pay fees and they are within the independent sector.
I do not believe that academies will be independent schools because they are a sector of education on their own. They are different from local authority-maintained schools and from independent schools. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells suggested that schools becoming academies would enter the independent sector. I do not believe that that is true—academies will not be the same as independent schools as we know them, whether they are small and local or places like Eton and Harrow. It therefore seems to me that “independent” is the wrong word. I notice that the Labour Party has tabled a similar amendment which appears in a later group. It suggests that the term should be deleted and another put in its place.
The truth is that academies will be schools with considerably greater freedoms and abilities to run their own affairs—their own finances, staffing and curriculum—than existing maintained schools have. However, they will be directly funded by the state, so to that extent they will be state schools. He who pays the piper has the ability to choose the tune. The intention is that these academies will have a great deal of freedom to make decisions for themselves, but the state will always have the ability to step in if for whatever reason it decides to do so.
That relates to academies and to individual schools. Indeed, if there are to be a large number of academies, there will be occasions—perhaps quite a few—when the state in some way or another will have to step in to sort things out when they go wrong. There is absolutely no doubt about that because, however excellent and well run academies may be when they are set up, they will be run by human beings who make mistakes. Collectively, human beings sometimes make big mistakes. Academies will not be responsible directly to local authorities, but they will be responsible directly to the Secretary of State or through whatever mechanisms are set up to inspect, monitor and supervise them and to step in when things go wrong. To that extent, they will have a completely different regime from independent schools. I therefore think that “independent” is being inserted not as a name for the schools—it is not suggested that they are independent in the way that true independents schools are—but as a description. However, it is a wrong description and it ought not to appear.
Amendment 58 is a probing amendment about primary schools. It suggests that primary schools should not at this stage be included in the dash to academies. It seems to me that in many ways primary schools are different in kind from secondary schools. Usually, secondary schools are much bigger and much more capable of running their own affairs. They are usually under Local Management of Schools, which has in my view been a considerable success. They are already responsible for managing considerable aspects of their budget and management arrangements. They certainly have considerably more freedom than they did when I used to teach in a secondary school, and it is right that they should. Primary schools have those freedoms, but often they rely much more on support and advice from the local authority. Primary schools are often small, and although some of them could manage as academies, a great deal more thought should be put into the matter. As we discussed on Monday, if primary schools are to be considered for academy status, the process should at the very least proceed by way of a pilot and not as a general invitation for all excellent ones to put themselves forward.
As we are talking about names, I quibble a little about “academy” as a name for primary and infant schools. The word is wrong. I believe that words matter and should be used sensibly and that another word should be used here. “Academy” suggests a level of academic involvement and attainment which, although appropriate for a secondary school, is not appropriate for much younger children.
There is also a problem in allowing primary schools in many areas to have academy freedoms from the local authority in a willy-nilly sort of way. Many primary schools, particularly in urban areas, are still in old buildings. There have been programmes of replacement and modernisation—many of them were in wonderful Victorian buildings, many of which are no longer appropriate for their modern use. If a local authority is to have a serious programme of replacing buildings and considering the provision of primary schools, allowing some of them to float off before the programme can be fully examined across an area, town or city seems to carry problems. Furthermore, because primary schools are small they are much more prone to the vagaries of falling and increasing rolls than are secondary schools. These problems have to be managed carefully. Although there are problems with academies being set up in areas where reorganisation in response to changes in rolls has taken place, or is likely to take place, the issue is likely to be much greater in relation to primary education.
It seems to me that there are many worries in relation to primary schools and the academies programme which ought to be looked at seriously. The greatest of all is that primary schools are small institutions, often ones that live in a world of their own. When the head teacher and the staff are successful and the governing body works well, it is wonderful; but if things go wrong, they often will go wrong in a very big way indeed. If the head teacher goes off the rails in some way or other, the governing body, having been hand-picked by him or her, may not be in a position to step in and do something drastic about the management of the school. It is a fact of life that nowadays people are arm-twisted and persuaded to serve as governors—it is the way that many governing bodies are put together. The school might go wrong educationally, financially or in terms of staff management. That happens.
Anyone who has followed schools in an area over a period will know of instances where a school has gone wrong. If it is a big secondary school, one can understand that the system of monitoring and supervision of academies may work and set in, but when it is a small local school, it will be much more difficult and, potentially, much more damaging to the education of the children in that school. There are serious problems about allowing a lot of primary schools to become academies. At the very least, the Government ought to be conducting some pilots to see whether they work and perhaps go ahead on the basis that some or all of the primary schools in an appropriate place become academies together, so that at least people are working together in a federation, a network, or whatever, rather than just allowing individual primary schools, which may be quite small, to opt out. I therefore commend my second amendment for discussion by your Lordships. I beg to move.
In this group of 22 amendments, I shall speak to Amendments 22A and 23, with which my noble friend Lady Walmsley is associated. The first amendment would insert the little word “and” at the end of Clause 1(5)(b). The purpose of that is to make it plain that the undertakings which must be given for an academy agreement to be entered into are both of the matters referred to in subsection (5)—paragraphs (a) and (b). The word “and” would fulfil exactly the same purpose there as it does in subsection (3), where paragraphs (a) and (b) are linked. It is as simple as that.
My second amendment, Amendment 23, would delete from Clause 1(5)(b) the words,
“or provide for the carrying on of”.
That would mean that the undertakings require the undertaker to carry on the school, rather than to delegate the running of the school to someone else. It would be a bit of a hole in the carapace of the Bill to allow anyone to take over the carrying on—the running—of a school from the charity which had negotiated the academy arrangements with the Minister. I cannot believe that the intent is to permit that, because it would mean that there was no control by the Minister over the ultimate organisation running the school. One could envisage—because it does not seem to be prohibited by that wording—a profit-making entity running the school. That would run counter to the whole culture of the Bill, and state schools of whatever type. I would be grateful if my noble friend would respond sympathetically to those amendments.
I shall speak to Amendment 25 in this group, which probably should have been taken with an earlier amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—I do not know why they have been separated. The aim of the amendment is simple, and I shall be brief: it is to get a little more push in making sure that we have a little more than warm words about outstanding schools that become academies, that we have a little more clarity and a little more than general good will about them giving genuine support to poor, disadvantaged and failing schools in the same area. I have heard what the Minister said and I generally share the approach that schools want to help each other, but if we think back to the reality of grant-maintained schools, that was not the case and they were separate from the local school community.
Noble Lords know that over the past 13 years, there has been a lot more co-operation and collaboration between schools. That has been for the general good and has led to improvements in all schools. Many head teachers of outstanding schools believe that their staff gain from helping disadvantaged schools. The learning is both ways: it is not all going in one direction, it genuinely moves both ways. However, that has happened with support. It has happened through things such as London Challenge and the Greater Manchester Challenge; it has happened through the national leaders’ programme, which has done some of the brokerage to ensure that people are working together, and has put some oil in the system to make that happen. I am anxious to ensure that we do not lose that lesson—that it does not happen spontaneously—and that there is genuine partnership and proper movement of curriculum leaders and senior leaders between schools. Otherwise, with the best will in the world, it will not turn into reality on the ground.
I shall speak to my amendments, Amendments 45, 48 and 49, which are in this group, although they raise issues distinct from those raised under the other amendments. They go to a point of overall principle in terms of the scope of academies, but I wish to raise two specific practical consequences of that principle. The overall principle is the wording of Clause 1(6)(d), which states that academies must be schools which provide,
“education for pupils who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated”.
This is one of the few cases in which I think that the Bill may be genuinely over-regulating academies. I query whether that provision is necessary. As we said in the previous debate in respect of schools with a religious character, we do not anticipate that schools will change their character by taking on academy status, and of course schools are bound by the admissions code, unless there are specific reasons why not—and I shall come to one specific reason in a moment. Therefore, the huge generality of schools will provide for pupils who live wholly or mainly in the area which the school serves.
The reason why the formulation is here is that, unless you want to bring about a change of policy, statutes tend to replicate previous statutes. The phrase “wholly or mainly” goes back right to the beginning of academies. The Education Reform Act 1988 was the first legislation providing for city technology colleges, which were independent state schools—the name to which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, takes such exception, but that is what they were called even then. Section 105(2)(b) stipulates that city technology colleges should be,
“for pupils of different abilities who have attained the age of eleven years but not the age of nineteen years and who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated”.
The purpose behind that is that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, wanted to establish independent state schools with a strong technological focus which served the broad area in which the school was located.
The noble Lord, Lord Bates, who is not in his place, said in our debates on Monday that the catchment areas of some of the original CTCs had contracted. That is true, but it is important to understand that they have contracted by the consent of their governing bodies to changing their admission arrangements, not by the requirements of the law. It is perfectly possible for an academy to draw from a wide area around the school by, for example, the use of banding, or inner and outer catchment areas—there are a lot of established ways in which schools can do that—while abiding entirely by the provisions of statute.
However, I wish to raise two categories of school in this debate which are covered in my Amendments 48 and 49, which sit very uncomfortably with the notion of schools whose pupils must be admitted wholly or mainly from the area in which the school is located. The first is boarding schools, and the second is schools which provide for pupils with exceptional talent in music, dance and the arts.
Let me start with a statement of principle. It is very important for a genuinely comprehensive system of state education that it provides for pupils in those categories. Indeed, we should be expanding the provision of state boarding schools. I am glad that a number of academies are opening boarding houses. It is important that the state system provides for pupils who have a boarding need—those with family circumstances caused by family breakdown or by the nature of parental occupation, for example parents who are in the military—in a way that, let me be blunt, those who have the means can obtain by accessing private schools. It is also vital for a genuinely comprehensive system of education that it can provide for those with exceptional talents in the arts, music and dance. By the nature of those disciplines, that will require attendance, wholly or partly, at separate educational establishments.
The state recognises that at the moment. There are 35 state boarding schools which, for the most part, are excellent schools. Local authorities often pay for pupils to attend wholly private boarding schools. A local authority paid for me to attend a wholly private boarding school because I had a boarding need. I would like to see the number of such places expanded. Through the music and dance scheme funded by the Department for Education, the state also provides for 2,000 exceptionally talented children to attend private schools, including Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, Elmhurst School for Dance in Birmingham, the Purcell School in Bushey, the Royal Ballet School, Wells Cathedral School and the Yehudi Menuhin School, because they have exceptional talent in music, the arts or dance.
Where do boarding schools and schools for those with exceptional talent in these areas sit in relation to academy status? I shall ask two questions and make a suggestion. If the Minister cannot answer my first question tonight, I would be grateful if he will write to me.
My first question is whether the 35 existing state boarding schools will be able to transfer to academy status. Is the advice of the department’s lawyers that they would satisfy the requirements in the Bill to serve pupils wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which they are located? Looking at the list—and I know a lot of them well—my sense is that some will meet that requirement, but some will not. It would be a good thing if they were all able to meet that requirement. I cannot see, in principle, why any existing state boarding school should not be able to take full advantage of the right to become an academy.
Secondly, will existing private schools that provide a substantial number of places for state-funded pupils through the music and dance scheme be able to join the state system by means of academy status? It would be a good thing if they were able to do so, if they wished, so that we strengthened the capacity of the state education system to be genuinely comprehensive in meeting the needs of pupils with exceptional talent in music, dance and the arts. I imagine the advice that the Minister will get from his lawyers is that schools that educate pupils under the Government’s music and dance scheme will not be eligible for academy status as a means of coming in to the state system because they do not educate pupils drawn wholly or mainly from the area in question. Chetham’s in Manchester is a phenomenal school. I am glad to say that one of the good things that the department has done in recent years is to provide a substantial grant for rebuilding. Pupils come from across the country, and rightly so.
My practical suggestion is that either Clause 1(6)(d) is removed entirely, or that special provisions are inserted into the Bill to enable certain categories of schools which do not provide for pupils who are drawn wholly or mainly from the area in which they are located to become academies. I specifically have in mind boarding schools and schools whose purpose is to educate pupils with exceptional talent in music, dance and the arts. If it is possible, I would be grateful for an opportunity to discuss this further with the Minister to see how we can resolve this issue.
I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I shall speak to Amendments 47 and 127. I agree that the clause to which the noble Lord referred needs to be freed up a bit. Amendment 47 would allow exceptions to pupils being drawn from the local community. At the moment, the clause is very prescriptive, and my amendment would allow a broader intake of pupils. It could also have an impact in other areas, and I declare an interest as it would be of interest to faith groups. On the other hand, I am trying to strengthen the argument for the local community being the main user of these schools by shifting the burden of proof from that they might or might not be community schools to the general rule being that they are. That is why the Church of England is committed to the academies programme. My amendment would secure its interest and would also allow what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, wants, even though we want to press for something more specific. However, in general terms, we are making a similar point.
If the Minister were to be sympathetic, it would strengthen the arm of those of us in the Church of England who want to be able to say to our people that we are in this business to serve the community, not primarily to further a particular faith position. My amendment would strengthen that position, and I hope that not only would it be of benefit to the Government in implementing the Bill but will help us ensure that our people remain on side when it comes to why we are in the business.
Amendment 127 is rather different. I am fishing in the same waters as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in the debate on the previous group and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, in this group. The amendment is to do with the relationship between academies and other schools. I want to strengthen the Government’s arm when it comes to ensuring—not just hoping for or expecting—that these schools will form partnerships with weaker schools in the vicinity. They will be required to do so, subject to certain exceptions because there will be exceptions. A school could be situated somewhere where there are no other schools close by that are practically able to partner in that way. That is acknowledged in my amendment. The fundamental principle is to beef this up and turn it from hope or expectation to a requirement, with the possibility of exceptions where they might arise in the judgment of the Secretary of State.
I shall speak to Amendment 63 which is in my name and that of my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Garden. It is a fairly simple amendment and relates to Clause 1(6)—as my noble friend Lord Greaves said, we are still on Clause 1—which lists the basic characteristics that will be required of schools converting to an academy. In a number of the amendments, we have been discussing further characteristics that noble Lords would like to see attached to this subsection. The purpose of Amendment 63 is to probe what sort of machinery the Government are thinking of for monitoring all these characteristics. In subsection (5), the undertaking is given that these schools will adhere to these characteristics, but we are asking for some sort of monitoring machinery to make sure that they adhere to them, rather than regarding them as something that they agree to when they sign the agreement, but subsequently do not bother about very much. We would like to hear from the Minister precisely what sort of undertakings and monitoring machinery there will be.
I have a lot of sympathy with my noble friend Lord Greaves who wants to eliminate the term “independent school”. When we first started to discuss academies, Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, described them as independent state schools. If we are going to have independent state schools, let them be called independent state schools. I always felt that they were an anomaly, and I cannot say that I like them very much. Nevertheless, my noble friend Lord Greaves is absolutely right that it is misleading for the Bill to use the term “independent schools”, which are well understood in this country to mean independent private schools.
Secondly, I am very sympathetic to my noble friend’s notion that where primaries convert to academies, there should be a pilot rather than primaries rushing into doing so. I am particularly taken with his notion of primaries forming a federation. A long time ago—back in the 1970s—I was involved in forming such a federation of schools in Washington DC, where six small elementary schools, as they are called in the United States, were formed into what is very close to being the free school movement that we are talking about now. They established themselves under a council that was composed of parents and teachers and was independent. It worked extremely well. The notion of six small schools collaborating together in a federation is good.
Lastly, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said. I very much go along with the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate and the suggestion that those who attend academies should be drawn mainly from the local area. However, I had dealings with state boarding schools when we discussed previous education legislation in this House, and think that they are very impressive. They serve a very important need, and what he says about them is correct. Similarly, I come from Surrey and we have quite a lot to do with the Yehudi Menuhin School. These specialist schools are brilliant, but they obviously cannot serve a narrow area. They have to serve a wider area, so I very much agree with him.
My Lords, I support very strongly the arguments made by my noble friend Lord Greaves on removing primaries from the present list of schools that can become academies. I will very quickly provide a few additional arguments in support of his well-argued speech.
First, primary schools are in many ways the fundamental building blocks of community throughout the country. Sometimes they are Church of England primary schools, sometimes they are not, but in almost every town or village where they exist that is what they are seen to be by the populations of those areas. They are therefore not only educational institutions; in many ways, they are crucial social institutions that help to hold communities together. In fact, more and more, the local primary school is at the heart of whether a village survives as a village or becomes in effect another suburb.
Secondly—my noble friend Lord Greaves implied this, but I want to underpin his arguments—primary schools are heavily dependent on local authority advice services, whether in relation to special educational needs, staff relationships or legal matters. They very often simply cannot afford to buy in advice or get advice from a private source because they are too small, as my noble friend argued, and often too isolated to be able to master that advice. However, they need it, and, for a very small primary school, getting that advice can make disproportionate demands on the school budget. Primary schools simply cannot sustain these services easily—and special educational needs are one of the most central—if the local authority advice services disappear. One question for the Minister is this: if one gets to the point at which those advisory services are mostly disappearing because such a large proportion of the schools that are served by them have chosen to become academies, will he look at the possibility of some sort of residual advisory service for small schools that simply cannot afford to sustain such advice themselves?
In addition, primary schools often require assistance on matters such as appeals and dealing with children who, for one reason or another, have disciplinary problems and are likely to be excluded. It is too much to ask primary school heads too often to take difficult decisions that require legal advice on their own—a position in which some primary school heads find themselves.
Thirdly, primary schools could suffer from a talent drain if they had to battle against a small, or perhaps even substantial, number of primary school academies in which, say, teachers of mathematics or teachers with special abilities with SEN children are very much in demand. In that case, primary schools would come at the very bottom of the pecking order.
Last of all, primary schools—at least in my view—require the support of their local community to a greater extent than secondary schools do, so the argument for having governing bodies that sustain and include members of the local community is particularly strong.
What does that add up to? As my noble friend has argued, it adds up to treating primary schools at least as a more distant case for becoming academies than secondary schools are treated. It would be very easy to disrupt the primary school system if one is not careful, and, once a proportion of primary schools become academies, it begins to become virtually impossible to decide strategically how to meet the needs of all children in an area. I therefore suggest to the Minister that serious consideration should be given to the possibility of considering primary schools at a later stage and to permitting a few primary schools to go ahead with becoming academies as part of a pilot scheme. If the new politics means anything, it means that we must be able to look at experiments without insisting that they are universalised before we know whether they work. For the reasons that I have given, the argument for considering primary schools at a later stage, if at any stage, should be made very strongly in our discussions, because they are different, they are dependent on the local authority, they are central to their local communities and they are in a different position from that of secondary schools.
I interject on behalf of the SEN pupils of boarding schools with a word of caution, and I speak, as I have said before, as probably the House’s only representative of SEN students in my day. In one term alone, there were eight suicides from a student base of 45 at a boarding school for SEN children in 1947. This was a good school, and there was no abuse—indeed, the teachers showed very great kindness and consideration—but it is very dangerous to take struggling young people away and put them together in a school in which they have to cope with their recognition of their total inability to study effectively and have no home life at the same time. Please do not put SEN children into public boarding schools.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 26, 27, 56, 57, 99, 103, 109, 111 and 120—a veritable alphabet soup of amendments.
The Government propose that outstanding schools that convert to academies should take under their wing another school that is struggling and that should receive support. This is an excellent idea, but there is no actual provision for this in the Bill. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he will in most cases wait until after conversion to put the arrangements into place, but I suggest that there might be some advantages in being a little more up front about this issue. I welcome Amendment 25 in the name of my noble friend Lady Morgan of Huyton in this respect.
Amendment 26 prevents changes causing untold disruption to sixth forms and colleges in the community, which I believe could be an unintended consequence of the changes. Amendment 27 deals with another seemingly unintended consequence of the legislation. Under the Government’s proposals, academies will be allowed to expand at will and will be able to include sixth-form colleges and primary schools. A school converting to an academy at, say, primary school level could in theory grow until it becomes an all-through academy for pupils from the age of five to 18, but the local authority and the local community will have had no say in the issue.
There could be serious consequences. For instance, a faith primary school could expand into a secondary school, or a grammar school could expand into primary education. Without proper public consultation, the balance of, for example, faith schools and non-faith schools in a given community could be transformed. We would not want such an unintended consequence. The Bill also erodes the ability of local authorities to plan by giving secondary schools, for example, the right to establish a primary class without the need to consult anyone. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pointed out, primary schools are often much smaller than secondary schools. They have much less capacity to budget, to plan for the future, to have in-house services for SEN provision or to have other key shared services.
In principle, there is no reason why primary school children cannot attend an autonomous school. Under the previous Government, all-through academies happened and they were successful. But, like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I wonder whether the academy model is the right model for primary schools right now, as it will necessitate a considerable increase in overheads for primary schools. The resources for shared services could be swallowed up by extra administration, which could have severe consequences for the wider welfare of primary school children in those communities. Amendments 99, 109 and 120 effectively ask the Government to think again about that issue and to think about a framework which might involve more collaboration, as has been mentioned, for primary schools and secondary schools. We think that that might be more appropriate. Therefore, we are thinking along the same lines.
Amendments 103 and 111 deal with what could be seen as a fundamental issue, a problem, at the heart of the Bill. The current academies programme targets areas of inadequate educational attainment and opportunity. Most academies replace existing weak or underperforming schools. Others are brand new schools in areas which need the extra school places. Academies were a key element of the national challenge. They took us to a position where only one in 12 schools fell below the 30 per cent grade A to C benchmark, which half of the schools failed under previous Governments. But I am glad to say that things improved.
Part of the real benefits of the academies programme under the Labour Government was that outside expertise was harnessed for the good of turning around failing schools and it was important to acknowledge a role for innovation. For this reason, academies were obliged to follow the national curriculum in only core subjects such as English, maths, science and information technology. The schools were also taken out of existing local authority control and given the funding for shared services, as we have discussed previously. This was so that they could use the funding to deliver the services, which many, by definition, would have had more need for than other schools, because they were often in the most deprived areas with the most overlapping problems.
Academies have had a higher incidence of pupils with English as an additional language compared to other state-funded schools. Investigating the state of play as regards pupil profile admissions and exclusions, the report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers says that the proportion of children eligible for free school meals in academies has declined at a faster rate than in other schools, with a drop of nearly 6 per cent. The PWC report also shows that the absolute number of pupils on free school meals has risen compared to their predecessor schools. We can see that the fall in proportion does not mean that free school meal numbers have declined but that more children are attending school, as well as more from other backgrounds. Of course, that is a good thing and shows that the schools are getting a genuinely comprehensive intake, which we welcome. Many predecessor schools sadly had unrepresentative intakes. But the PWC report indicates a story of sink schools with a high proportion of children on free school meals attracting a much broader intake to much more successful schools.
By contrast, the Government propose to implement a reform which is aimed at improvements for 20 per cent of schools already rated outstanding by Ofsted. Of course, these schools are likely to have fewer children on free school means attending. There is a real risk that by giving advantages to the strongest and not to the weakest, we entrench rather than erode the inequalities in the education system in this country. That is why it is so important that these excellent schools work strongly with the schools in the most disadvantaged areas, which is precisely why I welcome Amendment 125 in the name of my noble friend. It is important that we deal with this issue up front and I would like to make it explicit in the legislation.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, inevitably ranging over a lot of issues. I have been struck again and again by the firm agreement on the requirement for academies, in whatever form, to partner and to be the supporting school for schools in difficult situations that need that form of help. That is very important.
The other crucial thing is what has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. The two groupings of schools might not otherwise be considered to be within the scope of academies. I am tied up with some art schools and music schools and I know how difficult it is for them to get support from local authorities. Extra support and involvement in the academy status would be a good idea. I hope that I am wrong about the boarding school side of things. It is probably a bad idea to have too many children grouped in special needs circumstances. Certainly, to be in a school that can provide help, support and encouragement is excellent.
Above all, we must ask the Minister to work out a way in which he can satisfy us that, once the academy status is confirmed, these schools will partner deprived schools. On the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, a form of formal or informal monitoring after it has taken place might help as well, but we will need a report on how things are going.
My Lords, this is a hugely disparate group of amendments. We have covered a lot of topics and it has been difficult sometimes, despite the intelligence of Members of the Committee, to see any common thread in what has been discussed. I want to return to the issue raised by the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. They deal with the absolutely key issue of the catchment area from where the academy will draw its pupils.
In recent years, I have been increasingly concerned over the whole issue of catchment areas, largely because we have seen that, where there is a good, strong school, parents who can afford to do so understandably—I do not blame them for it at all—cluster around the school and buy or rent houses in the area. There are even stories of parents being slightly economical with the truth in all sorts of interesting ways about where they live in order to claim that they are within the catchment area of a good school. Meanwhile, the schools most in need are in the most deprived areas. The people who live near those poor schools, often on local council estates, do not have the option of moving. They cannot buy their way into the catchment area of a good school.
This is one of the big issues for academies. I know that in Hackney the academies do not have catchment areas, but they do use banding and lotteries. I know that my noble friend Lord Lucas has an amendment—for various reasons, it is not in this group—that raises the issue of banding. I ask the Minister to think seriously about the issue of “wholly or mainly” in a local area and about the freedom which grammar schools have had since their inception and which grant-maintained schools had in their day—and which, as I say, many existing academies have taken—that allows them to go outside their area, maintaining the inclusiveness of the intake by means of banding but giving it a social mix or even a mix of talent.
I support entirely what my noble friend has just said. It is important, particularly when we are granting new freedoms to outstanding schools, that one of our ambitions for them is that they should reach out of the area immediately around them, which frequently has been colonised by people who can afford to buy houses in the area, to those who are not in that position. We will come to my amendment later. Perhaps I take a more active view than my noble friend, but I certainly would like it to be an ambition that all these schools should free themselves from geographical catchment areas that allow for their capture by financially mobile people. They should, at the least, be able to reach out and include those beyond the local area.
I also support the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in what he said about state boarding schools. They have a strong role to play and I would like to see an increasing role for them. As he says, most of them are excellent, but they are clearly not serving their local areas in any particular way. That also applies to religious schools. Existing schools such as the Jewish Free School have a wide catchment area and are excellent. I cannot see why they should be excluded just because their communities are widespread. They should not be geographically confined, particularly if new schools are following the 50 per cent rule. I do not see any damage arising from that. Again, historically we have supported dance, drama and music in specialist schools and I suspect that it would do our national pride a bit of good if we supported tennis. All in all, I come down to agreeing with the first amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I cannot see a function for subsection (6)(d) that could not reasonably and justly be dealt with in the ordinary discretion of the department.
Having agreed with noble Lords opposite, I take issue with my noble friend Lady Williams. If I start from the same premise as she did, I get to opposite conclusions. The community that my local primary school is part of is the village in which it is situated. The school is governed from Petersfield eight miles away, but that is an alien presence, not a local one. A primary school is very local, so one that has its roots in the local community is a much more local thing than one that is subject to the whims of the local authority, which has a lot of considerations other than the wishes of the local community. I see that as progress.
I spent part of my life running a small business, which felt like a primary school in that there were lots of things that I could not do myself. However, if I wanted to know about employment law, I subscribed £250 a year to a telephone service from Sage or someone else. I did not need a local authority to provide it for me. There will be lots of other providers of these services—indeed, there are many—and it is not like having to pay a City lawyer £500 an hour every time advice is needed. Services are built to be provided to small enterprises like primary schools.
However, I share my noble friend’s concern about how fragile primary schools are. The wrong head in a primary school can kill it in about two months, so I urge the Minister, when he comes to consider applications from primary schools, to make sure that they have strong heads and governing bodies and that they are committed to stay in place for some time. It may well be, over the long term, that a primary academy would be better as part of a wider federation of some kind, such as a group of primary schools, or as a school that is connected to a secondary school, as the existing primary academies are. That would provide the resources to deal with problems as they arise and which can so easily bowl over a small primary school.
I am reluctant to intervene further when the dinner break is approaching and I can see that the Minister is anxious to respond. I have only a few points. I have been prompted to raise the first by the interesting comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, followed by those of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Precisely because there seems to be a serious debate, it is possible to reach different conclusions from the same premise. That is a good reason for going quite slowly in relation to primary schools. An issue that has been of concern to noble Lords throughout the Committee stage is what is perceived to be the haste with which this legislation is being progressed. That could be an indication for the Minister that, at least in relation to primary schools, there should be an opportunity to pilot a scheme to see whether this should happen at all. I would say personally that, in promoting the academies agenda, which we are anxious to do, it would be considerably easier if we were working with a timetable that did not address all our schools at once, but allowed for some kind of phasing-in of the initiative so that, when schools go for this option, they do so after due consideration and consultation and in the light of all the circumstances and facts. Finally, talking of facts, although the Minister may not know this off the top of his head, what is the proportion of secondary schools to primary schools among the 1,700 declarations of interest that have been made?
A diverse set of themes and topics has come up. I shall come back to the point about “wholly or mainly” in a moment, because it is one of the themes that have emerged on which I hope to be able to provide a little reassurance. I shall take my responses in the order in which I have them before me.
Amendment 63 concerns monitoring and whether we need to have independent monitoring arrangements. The Bill requires compliance with the characteristics set out in the academy arrangements. How that works in practice is that the Secretary of State ensures at the outset of an academy project that it meets those characteristics. Compliance is then monitored by the Young People’s Learning Agency. It has the duty to monitor compliance and, if the Secretary of State is not satisfied, he has the power to terminate an arrangement.
Amendment 17, moved by my noble friend Lord Greaves, is concerned with language. I agree that language is important. Personally, I quite like the word “independent” and the concept of independence. I take his point about how certain words carry freight. One could argue that one should call independent schools “private schools” and academies “public schools”, but the amendment would make academies maintained schools rather than independent schools, which would in effect prevent them from gaining the freedoms that are the purpose of the Bill.
On Amendment 22A, the Bill as drafted requires those setting up academies to meet the demands of both paragraphs (a) and (b). I am advised, and can assure noble Lords, that adding the word “and” to this subsection would not change the meaning of it. We do not believe that there is ambiguity in the current drafting.
I think that that is what I am saying. I am particularly nervous with my noble friend Lord Phillips because I know that he is an expert on every aspect of charity law. If I am wrong and I have misled him, I shall clarify that with him.
Amendment 23 would restrict the ability of academy trusts to use contractors to deliver particular aspects of the running of the academy, including, for instance, cleaning services or the provision of ICT. One would want academies to be able to contract out such services, rather than teachers and heads having to take responsibility for them. If maintained schools are able to contract out services in this way, why should not academies?
I apologise for interrupting again. I know that it is hard on the Minister, who has this huge group of amendments to deal with. These are nitty-gritty points, but the natural meaning of,
“to carry on, or provide for the carrying on of, the school”,
is not that the proprietor of the school should employ external cleaners or providers of this or that. In common parlance, the carrying on of a school surely means the running of a school. Will the Minister take further counsel on this and, in the light of that counsel, consider the amendment again?
That is clearly the purpose and a new academy set up by a parental group may well need a significant amount of educational support in delivering it. I think that that is the point that my noble friend Lord Phillips raised when he spoke to his amendment. As part of the process of applying for academy status, the applicant would have to demonstrate how education is going to be delivered and whether use will be made of outside services in so doing. It would all be considered as part of the application process.
I am concerned that there is a suspicion—I accept that this is not what we are talking about here—that an academy provider and the group running it could hand over to someone else in two years’ time without being properly monitored. As I understand it, that is the concern being expressed. It is also my concern.
That could not happen. To clear up another often expressed concern that may lie behind the questions of my noble friend and other noble Lords, an academy trust cannot be a profit-making body either—although, clearly, the people providing the service will be paid for doing so.
Amendment 26, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred, would require future academies to continue any formal collaboration arrangements established between a former maintained school and FE colleges. As Section 166 of the EIA 2006 allows only for formal governance structures to be established between maintained schools and FE colleges, any partnership would operate on an informal basis. That is what happens currently and it is the right way to continue. It is happening in Luton, where Barnfield College, an FE college, is sponsoring two academies. In practice, that approach seems to be working.
Amendment 27 would prevent an academy trust from changing the age range to which it would provide education—and there was a long discussion subsequently, which I may come back to on later amendments, about the role of primary schools. The amendment would prevent an academy from, for example, providing early years education if it did not do so from the point of conversion and it could prevent it from expanding its provision from secondary to sixth form. However, given proper safeguards, those are the kinds of developments that we want academies to have the freedom to deliver. If that is what local parents want, we want academies to be able to do that.
It is a point about consultation. I am not seeking to prohibit academies from expanding the age range, but the fact is that they would do so without consultation. This harks back to the whole consultation issue and I hope the Minister will consider that point.
I am considering that. On the specific point of sixth-form expansion, an increase in places would require a change to the admissions arrangements, which would itself require local consultation and agreement by the Secretary of State. That may provide the noble Baroness with some comfort.
Amendments 45, 47, 48 and 49 revolve around the debate we had about “wholly or mainly”. I share the views expressed on all sides of the House about boarding academies. I am very attracted to the idea and wish to see whether we can do more with them. Other points were made around a particular specialism and one would not want provisions in the Bill which made that problematical.
As to the specific question about the existing 35 state boarding schools—this provides the answer to the substantive question behind it—yes, they are able to apply for academy status. To respond to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, the Duke of York’s Royal Military School will become a boarding academy within the current requirements—which, as he rightly said, date from 1988 wholly or mainly—so they have not prevented that from happening. A performing arts academy has been set up in Birmingham to serve that city’s pupils, and I am advised that that has been possible within the “wholly or mainly” requirement. I am alive to the point—I have asked about it within the department—and I am keen to encourage the kind of developments referred to by the noble Lord and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I am keen to do this and I am told that it is not a practical obstacle. I shall be happy to take up the noble Lord’s offer to discuss the issue subsequently and make sure that I am right in my understanding.
Amendment 56, which was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, seeks to ensure that an academy continues to provide for CPD and suggests making it a requirement for future academy arrangements. Everyone would agree on the need for continuous professional development in academies, as in all schools. I am advised that it is one of the areas without the sort of requirement that she suggests. Academies often do particularly well as a result of the overall way in which they approach staff issues and pay and conditions. Academies are supported by education advisers whose role has included looking at this area in particular. I am told that it is working well, so we are not convinced that it needs to be a statutory requirement.
Amendment 57 would require that corporal punishment be prohibited in academies. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 amended the Education Act 1996. It effectively abolished corporal punishment in all schools by providing that there should be no defence to criminal or civil proceedings as a result of any corporal punishment being given to a child being educated at a school. That provision applies to academies as well as maintained schools and has been in force since September 1999.
Amendments 58, 99, 109 and 120 would restrict academies to particular types or age ranges. Nursery schools are not able to become academies because they cater for pupils below compulsory school age and, to be established, academies must have at least five pupils of compulsory school age. I listened with interest to the debate on primary schools and understand some of the concerns raised. My noble friend Lady Sharp suggested federations of primary schools, which is exactly the kind of thing that one would want to encourage. We have said—this responds in part to my noble friend Lady Williams—that we will work with local authorities to address these issues as the scale and nature of academy conversion becomes clear. As I have said repeatedly, we are approaching this conversion permissively. We are not seeking to make all primary schools convert. We are committed to thinking through the issues that she raised about the practicalities involved for primary schools. We will continue to reflect on that and work with local authorities. That said, we are keen that primary schools of the sort that I visited in Edmonton on my second day in the department—it is a fantastic primary school which has been turned around—have the chance to convert. The headmistress there, Patricia Sowter, was very keen on academy freedoms. Primary schools should have that chance and we do not want to stand in their way.
Amendments 127 and 25 raise a theme that we have debated in previous groups. They would require a school converting to an academy to join forces with a weaker school unless particular circumstances led the Secretary of State to decide that it was not the right thing to do. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said that we have used warm words and that one is looking for more than that. I shall continue to try to heat them up even further if I can. I completely agree with her and other noble Lords who made similar points. The importance of partnership between outstanding schools converting to academies and other schools cannot be underestimated. We have been explicit that each outstanding school will be expected to sign up in principle. They will have to set out their plans as part of that process. However, it is still our view at bottom that approaching partnership on a volunteer rather than a conscript basis may make those partnerships more fruitful, in that they will be willingly entered into rather than perhaps approached more grudgingly. Amendment 127 is not limited to outstanding schools. Our view is that if a school is not yet outstanding, to burden it with a requirement to partner with a school eligible for intervention would not be a sensible way forward.
I hope that my answers have provided some reassurance, particularly on the “wholly or mainly” point, which I recognise is important and am happy to discuss further. On that basis, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My noble friend Lord Lucas has a well earned reputation for being able to ask such questions; I think that it is not designed to have a very simple or easy answer. However, I shall reflect on it. If I were able to offer any enlightenment to him, I should be delighted to do so and extremely pleased with myself for having been able to come up with an answer.
My Lords, I thank everybody who has taken part in this long discussion on this group of amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, described it as disparate; I would call it a bumper bundle. It has been a quite extraordinary debate.
We had an extremely interesting debate on primary schools. I thank particularly my noble friends Lady Williams and Lady Sharp and the right reverend Prelate, who are all more expert in this matter than I am, for taking part. Whether or not the Bill needs changing in any way, it is clear that further discussion on primary schools, small schools and federations is required as it progresses through this Chamber and the Commons. We have sparked off that debate very usefully.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, talked about types of school which could become academies and which the Bill might restrict. I should like to put one pebble in the pond for the longer term, when more public finance might be available than there is now. I am one of those people who went to a direct-grant grammar school, which were quite extraordinary institutions. They were highly elitist academically, but many of them were not all that elitist socially. Approximately half the pupils at my school were fee-payers and the rest were, like me, scholarship pupils. They were paid for by the local authority to attend the school, which had a direct grant from central government. There was therefore quite a social mix. The school that I went to had an extraordinary social mix, because its intake ranged from children from coal-mining villages right through to the sons of the local professional middle classes.
In the 1960s, when there was a big drive towards comprehensive education, there was a general consensus that this system was not logical or sensible—that it was elitist and undermined the comprehensive principle. Direct-grant grammar schools were therefore abolished—I think by the Labour Government at the end of the 1960s.
One thing about the House of Lords is that we are all so old that somebody at least knows the truth about these matters.
At the time, we all thought that that was absolutely right; in retrospect, we see that it was a mistake, because it drove most of the schools into the independent sector. Most of them are now fully fee-paying schools, yet they are not boarding schools or the classic kind of independent school. They probably serve a wider community than the immediate area as defined in the Bill. Nevertheless, some Government, some time, ought to get a grip on finding ways to provide greater integration of at least some of these schools—on a voluntary basis, obviously—with the state sector. They are almost all highly performing schools and if you cannot afford to go there, you cannot go there. A few of them have foundation scholarships and so forth but real efforts should be made to integrate these schools.
Certainly, in the north of England, these schools—Bradford Grammar School, Wakefield Grammar School and Manchester Grammar School—represent their wider communities. Modification of an academy model might be attractive to some of them. If that could be done it would be worth while.
Well, efforts ought to be made to get more of them. Of course, it would be a good time to tackle some of them because they are feeling the pinch of the financial situation. People cannot afford to send their children to them. On the other hand, it is not the time to dole out public money to independent schools: there would be a reaction to that. If we could plan for a time when public finances have recovered a little—we are told that they might recover in the future; we will see—it would be helpful. I put that pebble in the pond.
The other point that I want to make is about collaboration and support—partnership between schools. The previous Labour Government were prone to talk a lot about getting excellent schools to take over failing schools. Excellent schools are excellent schools because they have a good head teacher, good staff and good governors and are run well. Diverting great time and energy from the people running an excellent school to take over a failing school is probably a recipe for ending up with two mediocre schools. It was a silly policy.
However, partnership and collaboration on a voluntary basis—as the Minister said, volunteering not conscription —is absolutely the way forward. But it should not be seen as a really good school collaborating and going into partnership with a poor school. The valuable partnerships that could take place would be those between schools that are not so far apart in their attainment. Obviously, if you are going to have collaboration between two schools, they must be close to each other. A new academy might have not a poor or failing school next to it, but an average school.
If you are going to have successful collaboration—volunteering not conscription—there has to be mutual respect and parity of esteem. There must be an understanding that the schools that are not doing so well are nevertheless likely to have something that they can contribute to the partnership, to the benefit of both. Let us not talk so much about the good sorting out the bad. Let us talk about people collaborating and bringing their strengths, whatever they are, to the partnership for the benefit of both. I have said enough. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.52 pm.