Committee (3rd Day)
Clause 1 : Academy arrangements
Amendments 30 and 31 not moved.
32: Clause 1, page 2, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) the school has a curriculum which includes Personal, Social and Health Education as a statutory entitlement for all pupils;”
My Lords, Amendment 32, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Gould, would make personal, social and health education a statutory part of the school curriculum.
We have had many debates on what children should be entitled to as part of their education. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was enthusiastic and lyrical about this last week. In fact, he reminded me of the Mock Turtle’s reflections in Alice in Wonderland about what school curriculums should contain. Pupils had,
“Reeling and Writhing … the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision … Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling … and Fainting in Coils … laughing and grief”,
“French, music, and washing—extra”.
They could all have benefited from PSHE, in my view. The Mock Turtle lists all this while sobbing a little now and then. I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was sobbing, but there was a great deal of sobbing when, at wash-up recently, PSHE was lost as part of the statutory curriculum.
Many noble Lords spoke passionately in favour of PSHE during the recent wash-up, as I described. In particular, there was an eloquent plea from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. My amendment seeks to reinstate the original intention of the previous Labour Government to ensure that all children have access to PSHE.
It may be worth looking at what we mean by personal, social and health education, as many terms are sometimes used rather confusingly. PSHE encompasses sex and relationships education, but it is broader—SRE is not primarily about health issues such as drugs, first aid and so on. PSHE encompasses life skills and some aspects of citizenship.
I have taught PSHE, advised on it, researched it and written about it and I want to distil some of that experience. It was inspiring to teach PSHE to children and to see their involvement and enthusiasm. If I were to list topics to be covered in PSHE, I would say that for younger children it is important to learn about staying safe; resisting pressure; friendships and other relationships; bullying; health hazards such as smoking and drugs; where to get help if in trouble; and basic facts about reproduction. Children will have their own topics. For older pupils, the topics will be added to and treated in more depth. At primary school, pupils may discuss the importance and concept of friendship. At secondary school, issues such as integrity and conflict resolution may be discussed.
Some may argue that children receive this kind of education from home and from mainstream school subjects. Sadly, that is often not the case, as young people tell us. PSHE has a particular body of knowledge and particular educational processes, such as discussion groups or role play, which make it an important part of the curriculum. Apart from the topics of PSHE that I have mentioned, young people need to develop language and communication skills and interpersonal empathy. Those skills can transfer from this area of work to life itself.
Why is it important for children to receive personal, social and health education? It is because we live in a complex world full of uncertainty and pressure on children, from the media, from the peer group and so on. Children need to have a space to think through some personal, social and health issues in a safe environment with the help of an informed adult. They need correct information about personal, social and health issues and they need to be able to explore issues such as being pressured to take drugs or bullying. It is not just about information and exhortation; it is about reaching informed decisions and resisting pressure. Young people need to be able to do that before the activity starts.
Children and parents want schools to do PSHE. Parents sometimes say that they do not have the knowledge, skills or confidence to engage their youngsters in discussions about health or personal relationships, particularly sexual relationships. The family, importantly, sets an ethos and an example of positive behaviour, but it may not be enough to prevent harmful risk-taking.
PSHE fosters confidence and self-esteem. Young people are able to learn important facts and practise communication skills and decision-making with adults and their peer group. PSHE supports academic learning. If a child is confident and has self-esteem, he or she is more likely to be able to learn. In one project in schools some years ago, the teaching of PSHE was shown to decrease truancy rates. PSHE promotes health and well-being. It promotes respect for self and others. I find it interesting that many employers now say how important it is that young people coming into the workforce should have good communication skills as well as academic qualifications.
PSHE extends into the community. Health visitors, doctors, nurses, the police, road safety officers and the fire service may be called in to discuss health and safety issues with young people. All benefit. The professionals learn about the concerns of young people and young people benefit from the advice of the professionals.
The benefits of PSHE are supported by research and experience. The Tomlinson report, the Steer report on behaviour and the Ofsted report on PSHE all speak of the importance of children and young people having life skills to help them to achieve and to gain employment. In his 2009 review of the Labour Government’s proposal to make PSHE a statutory foundation subject, Sir Alasdair Macdonald concluded that PSHE was important because of its,
“unique body of knowledge, understanding and skills”.
There is good evidence that PSHE can reduce unwanted pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. I remember working with doctors and teachers in Kazakhstan to introduce PSHE into schools there. One head teacher reported that within two years the number of girls having abortions had reduced dramatically. In many countries, sex education has been shown to delay the onset of sexual activity. The argument that sex education only increases sexual activity is complete rubbish. Teaching road safety does not encourage people to leap in front of traffic.
A National Children’s Bureau report showed that children wanted to be able to talk about issues important for their lives such as emotions, relationships, health—including mental health—sexual health, diet and transport. According to a Populus survey, 81 per cent of parents agree that every child should have sex and relationships education as part of the curriculum, while a survey by Parentline Plus showed that 97 per cent of parents wanted drugs and alcohol education to be delivered in schools. NICE has recently recommended that all primary schools teach PSHE. The primary school where I am a governor includes discussions about bullying, exercise, relationships, diet and safety in its curriculum. Some schools do not, yet these issues are important for children now and in their future lives. They should be compulsory.
During the wash-up debate, many noble Lords expressed the wish for PSHE to be reconsidered as a statutory subject early in this Parliament. So here we are. Some have expressed concern that before PSHE is made statutory there should be enough trained teachers, but those who are trained already can train others and would be likely to do so if the subject was statutory. However, importantly, we will never have enough trained teachers unless PSHE is statutory. If maths were not statutory, I doubt that we would have enough trained maths teachers.
PSHE should be like any other mainstream subject in school; it should have a knowledge base, with information relevant to the child’s age and stage of development, and it should develop in complexity as the child matures. There should be continuity between primary and secondary schools, with a record of what has been taught and how it has been taught. No child needs to see the same film on smoking three times, but the concepts behind these health issues need to be enforced in ever-expanding ways. For example, smoking education may eventually relate not just to individual habits but to legal structures and the world economy. PSHE should have appropriate teaching materials and teachers confident in using them. There are already many excellent materials and many enthusiastic teachers. PSHE should contribute to a positive school ethos and relate to other programmes, such as the National Healthy School Standard and the UNICEF Rights Respecting School.
Having PSHE as part of the school curriculum will give it more respect, with more teachers trained and more parental attention and involvement. Parents and pupils would welcome it. Everyone would be clear on where they stood and what was to be done. It really is time that we recognised the immense value that PSHE has for schools and communities and how young people can benefit from having it in the curriculum. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have tabled my amendment for the same reason as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, because it seemed to me that this Committee should be able to debate compulsory PSHE and sexual relationships education. Noble Lords will remember that this was debated and powerfully argued by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Massey, but there really was no time for a proper debate during wash-up.
I open my remarks by briefly stating my position. It is a great pity that this has become a sort of battle. Whether PSHE should become compulsory is not a yes or no question. It tremendously depends on what is to be taught and who is going to teach it. We need to know not only what the government guidelines say but what is going to be taught. If I had been a pupil of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in one of her classes, I am sure that I would be much better informed even than I am today—and I should have enjoyed it. However, it is important to know that there are enough teachers available before we start making something compulsory. Otherwise, Bloggs, the geography teacher, who is not much good, will be put on to do PSHE, partly because it is a difficult and tiresome thing to teach. That would be absolutely disastrous.
I was told only the other day that, contrary to what the noble Baroness said, recent research shows that the sort of diet of sex and condoms delivered to 14 to 16 year-olds in most schools today makes absolutely no difference at all to the number of teenage pregnancies among the group. Unless and until there is satisfactory and independent evidence that it does make a difference, there is a strong argument for considering whether we cannot improve what schools are delivering.
I am assured by a number of experts, including representatives of Ofsted, that an increasing body of evidence shows that what makes a difference is the whole-school ethos to which the child is exposed. When families are willing and able to provide supportive parenting to their child, it seems axiomatic that parents should be consulted and involved as partners, particularly in any programme of sexual relationship education. I expect that that would be the case in a great many of the academies that we are talking about today. However, when home life is chaotic, the schools step in and make up for what the family cannot give.
Whether it is learnt at home or in school, it appears that what makes a difference is learning in a secure environment where each child is valued and respected and each child is safe and loved. It is learning that the way in which you treat others matters and that you, too, can be a success in spite of a disadvantaged background. Ofsted reports show that those schools where teaching and a whole-school ethos consistently encompass those values are those that it finds to be outstanding on academic results and child well-being. Some of them are working in very disadvantaged areas.
There are two extremely good reports on 20 primary schools and, I think, 12 outstanding secondary schools working in disadvantaged areas. Perhaps I might briefly quote extracts from those Ofsted reports. First, the report on 20 outstanding primary schools says, among a great many other things:
“It is no longer acceptable to use a child’s background as an excuse for underachievement. The challenge for schools is to make a difference … Viewed in these terms, the job of the school may be construed as providing, through education and care for children’s well-being, advantage where it is lacking, mentoring and support for parenting where it is needed, and complementary provision in a school community of high ideals and aspirations … Primary schools, together with”,
other school providers,
“of education and care, are in a pre-eminent position when it comes to having a lasting impact”,
on a child’s future. Secondly, its report on the secondary schools says:
“The outstanding schools in the sample succeed for the following reasons. They excel at what they do, not just occasionally but for a high proportion of the time. They prove constantly that disadvantage need not be a barrier to achievement … They have strong values and high expectations that are applied consistently and never relaxed”.
A prerequisite for respect for others is respect for self. For children from disadvantaged and chaotic families, that may not easily be learnt at home. Excellent schools can build self-esteem and emotional intelligence right across the school in an age-appropriate way. That involves a high level of staff commitment and strong leadership. Schools that generate empathy, self-confidence and aspiration of this kind lead to fewer early pregnancies, but that is not the whole story. They also prepare young people—again, age by age and in an age-appropriate way—for the responsibilities of adult life and parenthood and so could help to break the cycle of disadvantage passed on from generation to generation in some families today.
What are the Government’s plans for PSHE and SRE? I hope that they will reject or substantially revise the guidelines produced earlier this year by the previous Government, which concentrate mainly on contraception and largely ignore the role of cementing relationships and creating a stable family. The guidelines make no more than passing reference to the importance of supportive parenting, of a whole-school ethos or of respect for others and for self. I also hope that the Government will delay making SRE compulsory until they are satisfied that there are enough well trained teachers available to deliver this sensitive coverage.
Finally, I hope that the Government will focus their resources on encouraging more schools to develop and deliver whole-school policies that support the emotional and social development of all their pupils, including the less academically able. In this context, I very much hope that the academies that we are talking about today will, in particular, be free to adopt innovative policies—including a wide range of syllabus activities that will provide opportunities for all pupils to experience success—and facilities that include, where appropriate, boarding facilities. I hope that they will try to develop a whole-school ethos which is positive and supportive and which develops emotional intelligence and respect—both self-respect and respect for others. Can the Minister give me any comfort on those issues?
My Lords, I support this amendment, to which I have added my name, following the great disappointment—the sobbing to which my noble friend Lady Massey referred—of PSHE being removed from the Children, Schools and Families Bill in the wash-up on 7 April. I do so to hear whether the Government are prepared to reconsider their previous negative approach to this issue.
In the wash-up debate, the support for the removal of the clauses from the Bill focused on two main points. First, there was the lack of trained teachers, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Secondly, there was the view about whether PSHE was being well taught. It certainly was in some schools but, as Ofsted said, that was in too few schools and throughout the country teaching was extremely patchy. Using the shortage of teachers as a reason for not teaching PSHE is standing the argument on its head. The PSHE continuing professional development programme, which was established by my noble friend Lord Adonis, has gone some way towards providing a pool of trained teachers. I accept that more has to be done, just as I accept that PSHE should be taught by accredited teachers. The answer is that if a subject is a statutory entitlement for pupils, it is guaranteed that it will be taught in teacher training. If it is not, there is absolutely no guarantee that that is the case. Therefore, the pool of untrained teachers will continue. As my noble friend Lady Massey said, adequate teaching materials should be provided, which is not always the case at the moment. We are talking about timing and flexibility in how the subject is taught, as long as it is taught well and covers the main issues that I will refer to.
I find it extraordinary that the coalition Government—Conservatives and Liberal Democrats—can reject something that prepares young people for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life. In doing so, they reject the teaching of mutual respect; valuing each other, which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, again referred to; loving and happy relationships; safety and health; and responsibility for oneself and others. Last week the Minister referred to the curriculum review, and the need to be innovative, be creative and respond to the needs of pupils. He will find the answer to that in the pamphlet written by his right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith, Early Intervention: Good Parents, Great Kids, Better Citizens. I could quote most of the report in answer to why PSHE should be taught in schools, but one sentence refers to,
“the subject at the heart of this pamphlet: the need for intervention in the earliest years of a child’s life, thus ensuring that he or she fulfils their potential and is not subject to intergenerational transmission of disadvantage”.
Those are fine words and a fine concept, the fruition of which could be considerably assisted by making PSHE well taught in all schools by making it statutory. Disadvantage can be overcome if the teaching is there to do that.
If for no other reason, the teaching of PSHE makes economic sense because it is about prevention. It is about reducing health inequalities and social exclusion; safeguarding children and young people; reducing homophobic bullying and its consequences; and avoiding teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted illnesses such as HIV, and drug and alcohol misuse. It is about increasing the understanding of the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol on physical and mental health and sexual behaviour. While there is a clear need for sensitive and sensible messages on the avoidance of risk, which can lead to pregnancy or acquiring an STI or HIV, there is also a need to build the confidence—that is what it is all about—for girls to be able to resist the pressure and learn how to say no; and for all children in how to avoid exploitation and abuse.
I was interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about condoms. He is right: there is a problem in condoms just being delivered to schools. Nobody tells pupils what they are for and why they should be using them sensibly, or not using them at all if they are not having early sex. That is not taught. We are saying that we should make sure the teaching goes alongside giving condoms to young children. At a school I visited it was fascinating. Young people were issued with condoms, particularly after school. Some of the younger ones thought that they were balloons and had great fun blowing them up, but some of the older ones sat around and had that important conversation, which should take place in schools.
PSHE teaches young people to respect each other and not to pressurise others to do something that they do not want to do. Teaching children and young people about physical and mental lifestyles will save the NHS and local authorities a considerable amount of money. A further aspect of PSHE that we do not always talk about is that it underpins the employability of young people through the development of personal and social skills which commerce and industry demand in their workforces. It also identifies the necessary flexibility to deal with changing workplace and industrial situations.
PSHE is about economic well-being and financial capability. It can teach about managing money and how to avoid personal debt, and the problems that result from that debt, which sometimes mean considerable cost to the state. It prepares young people for their future roles, such as parents, employers, employees and leaders. A groundbreaking survey, which will be launched in October, asked the views of parents, teachers and governors, particularly as regards the SRE aspect of PSHE in England. It was carried out by the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Governors Association, in partnership with Durex.
The results showed a high level of agreement between the three groups, with 91 per cent of parents, 83 per cent of governors and 83 per cent of teachers believing that it is very important that young people have information on practising safer sex. While the majority of parents believe that PSHE-SRE should be taught in schools, part of the programme should be to engage those parents and provide them with information and practical support to help them develop the confidence to talk to their children about relationships, sexual health, alcohol and drugs, and their responsibilities and attitudes to others.
In that way, perhaps we can break down the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage described in the Early Intervention paper. PSHE teaching is an important way of building relationships with parents. Parents need to be more involved and lessons should not end in school. In the survey to which I have just referred, 84 per cent of parents said that what is taught in schools should be followed up in the home. The dropping of PSHE from the Children, Schools and Families Bill went against the views of parents, teachers, governors, the Youth Parliament and young people. Now that the Government have the opportunity to redress that situation, I hope that they will take it to heart.
My Lords, I support a great deal of what has been said today. I shall go back rather further. In the early years of the previous Government, there was an attempt to introduce citizenship. My noble friend Lord Northbourne and I hoped valiantly that young children would be taught not just about their relationships with their parents, but about how they would bring up their children and what sort of a parent they should be. Sadly, the whole citizenship exercise disappeared into a vacuum of being taught all around the curriculum, so it was never followed through.
Following on from the Ofsted report, I wish to comment on the success that the schools mentioned had on things such as bullying. In some schools, from the moment a child enters, he or she has a mentor. It is another child’s duty to settle the new child into the school. It would be a huge help if that could be taken seriously and become part of the way in which all schools integrate the next generation.
It may not be totally fair to blame the Government—certainly not all members of it—for the way in which the previous Bill disappeared into the sand, but now that they have this opportunity to look at the situation again, I hope that they will come forward with sensible proposals.
My Lords, the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey of Darwen and Lady Gould, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley, have long been advocates and apostles of PSHE. Their difficulty has been that for a long time PSHE has been regarded as a “trendy left” view which has been dismissed on largely political grounds. Therefore, I want primarily to address my Conservative Party partners in the coalition. Three aspects of PSHE should give them pause.
The first was eloquently stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould. It is that huge threats to children, such as drugs and alcohol, need to be discussed seriously within schools at a very early age—the middle of primary school—and onwards if people are to realise their immense and devastating consequences on children. They have to counter great pressure from, on one side, teenage magazines and what one might call youth culture, and, on the other, the supermarket culture. That is not easy to do.
The second issue, which supersedes any political views and which I again ask my partners in the coalition to consider very seriously, is parenthood. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has been famous for the way in which he has consistently argued in this House that we have neglected at our peril the parenthood of the human species, which is long in growing up. Long ago, when I was Secretary of State, I remember proposing that parenthood should be a fundamental part of sex education. In other words, the emphasis should be at least as much on the responsibilities of bringing up a child—families will devote a huge part of their energies to that process—as on sex education itself. You cannot divorce the two and in some ways we have done great harm to ourselves by doing that. We now look at what one can describe in some quarters only as an abdication of parenthood. I do not refer just to people who are economically deprived but to the many who wrongly think that money substitutes for time in the bringing up of children. There are huge lesions to be mended in our relationships with children. I strongly thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and commend him on the consistency of his arguments in this field, which desperately need to be listened to.
Finally, on the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and others who said that there are insufficient qualified teachers, conceivably the coalition might think of something rather unique and announce that it is its intention to introduce compulsory PSHE—with the emphasis as I have described—in three years’ time. That would immediately attract many young people to thinking about teaching in that field. We try to do everything instantaneously. Education, like growing a tree, is a slow process, and we need to think in terms of how one can obtain responses further down the line. In this case, many young people and many others who are coming into the profession would seriously think about a responsible approach to PSHE as part of the curriculum, although it may be unwise to introduce it immediately.
My Lords, I begin by commenting on both amendments; I recognise the importance of giving children and young people access to appropriate and high-quality PSHE, for which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and others made such a compelling and eloquent case. However, I wish mainly to speak to Amendment 70 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in welcoming the emphasis placed in that amendment on parenting and the need to make young people aware of the parenting responsibilities that come with bringing a child into the world and, again, I salute the work of the noble Lord in this area, especially in helping young men to come to terms with what it means to be a father.
However, I have a couple of concerns with the amendment. First, it is not clear how the resulting curriculum would be determined. Research suggests that aspects of PSHE that have to do with sex and relationships are most effective if parents are involved to the greatest possible extent. That is why the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, about engaging parents, were so well made. While the Church of England has not had a problem with statutory provision, not least with the impact that it has on teacher training provision, I am aware of those, particularly in other churches and faith communities, who feel that the engagement of parents would be more greatly advanced if it was stated explicitly that the curriculum would ultimately be determined, on an academy-by-academy basis, by governors in consultation with parents, so that this important subject is taught in a manner that is consistent with the ethos of the academy and parental wishes.
Secondly, although one intention of the creation of academies is to bring into being schools with greater freedom, the amendment would in this instance reduce the area of freedom. It would result in a situation where academics teaching children of primary school age would have to teach sex and relationship education, while for other primary schools this would be optional. This would put us in the curious position of creating academies to give them more freedom than other schools, but granting them less freedom in the approach to SRE. I spoke this morning to a major SRE provider that has developed specialist resources for primary schools, and it concurred. There is a good case for saying that it is best to allow primary school governors, in consultation with parents, to determine how this subject is best taught at that age.
Finally, perhaps I may seek clarification about how the amendment stands in relation to providing parents with the right to withdraw their children from sex education, which obtains in all other schools.
My Lords, I strongly support the two amendments in this group. In the past 40 years, there have been four surveys of the mental health of 15 year-olds in Britain. These show that the number of young people suffering from emotional and behavioural problems is twice as high now as it was 40 years ago. That is a shocking fact. It is terrible for young people and for the rest of us. We are talking about the health not only of young people, but also of the society that is affected by their behaviour. If we take into account the extraordinary costs for young people and for adults of the problems of young people not knowing how to live, we cannot turn our backs on the emotional and behavioural aspects of their education. We have been moving towards a disastrous situation in which our schools have increasingly become exam factories—factories for helping people to earn a living, not to learn how to live.
It is possible to teach people how to live. This can be done not only through the school’s ethos, which is extremely important—as has rightly been stressed, this could be the most important thing—but also through structured teaching of life skills. We already know a lot about how to do this, and we are learning more. For example, the Penn Resilience Programme, now used in 30 schools in this country, has been shown to reduce teenage depression markedly, and to increase school attendance, with emotional and behavioural consequences. Many other equally effective programmes cover areas such as developing altruism, learning about healthy living and avoiding risky behaviour, learning about mental health and learning about parenting—there are programmes that teach young people how to be parents, and others that cover nearly all the topics in the QCA’s excellent programme of study for personal and social well-being.
There is also plenty of evidence of the effectiveness of sex education. For example, one striking case is the comparison between our country and the Netherlands, where sex and relationship education, including parenting, begins in primary schools. There, the teenage pregnancy rate is one-fifth of the rate in this county. Therefore, we have plenty of evidence on which to proceed.
These are difficult subjects to teach and that is why I am enormously worried about the coalition Government’s approach of leaving them to individual schools. If they are difficult to teach, the most obvious thing to do is to have a concerted programme of teacher training. That can be done only at the national level but, as many speakers have already said, it will not happen unless there is a clear statement that education in life skills is a key element in the complete education of every child.
My Lords, I speak on this matter in a personal capacity and I absolutely support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I also support much of the spirit behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, although I think that it is a bit too late to provide sex and relationships education to 14 year-olds, given the hundreds of girls under the age of 14 who get pregnant every year. Good PSHE includes all the information that young people need to lead an ordinary but successful life, or even an extraordinary life. It is not academic but what are schools doing if not preparing young people for the lives that they will lead when they leave and, indeed, the lives that they lead while they are still at school?
Much has been said this afternoon about the importance of teaching about parenting, and I absolutely agree. Noble Lords may have heard about the programme in which school nurses give out baby dolls to young women. These dolls scream in the middle of the night, they need burping, they need their nappy changing and they need feeding regularly. I recently heard about one school nurse who gave out a batch of these dolls and when they came back at the end of the week most of the young girls said, “Oh my goodness. I couldn’t possibly”, apart from one who said, “It was wonderful. I can’t wait to get pregnant”, so it does not always work.
Over the years, I have said a good deal on this subject in your Lordships’ House, so, in an effort not to repeat myself, I did some new front-line research last week with two teenagers who are doing work experience in Parliament. One told me about a girl in her sister’s class at school who at the age of 13 had a one year-old baby. Both of them said that they have to go to PSHE lessons but to quote one of them, “We don’t do anything”, and to quote the other, “We watch a lot of videos”. One said, “We had a lesson on drugs recently and they just said, ‘Don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad’. It was useless”. She also told me that she did not have any sex education until she was 17 and that they do not teach about contraception or abortion in their Catholic school except in RE, where they say, “Don’t do it; it’s a sin”.
That is just not good enough. I realise that this is a very small sample of hearsay evidence but it lines up with what I have heard from many other teenagers over the years. It tell me that, first, teachers are not properly trained to deliver PSHE; secondly, teachers are not confident to teach PSHE, and that is why they rely so much on videos; thirdly, the quality of PSHE varies immensely and is very poor in some places; and, fourthly, some children are not receiving the information to which they are entitled and which protects their well-being.
The only way to deal with all those things is to make the subject part of the national curriculum in maintained schools and mandatory in academies and all other schools that do not have to follow the rest of the national curriculum. All establishments which educate children and young people have a duty to have regard to their well-being. However, they cannot do that successfully if they do not give them the information that they need to live a happy life. Young girls’ life chances are being severely affected because they may not have the information or the self-confidence to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and often the state has to pick up the bill in the interests of the young girl and, in particular, her baby. Unless children have information about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, they may unwittingly become addicted at great cost to themselves and the country before they can turn round.
Much has been said about teacher training and, as usual, my noble friend Lady Williams has put her finger on it. Fully trained teachers cannot be produced in an instant, but her suggestion that the Government should show their intention to make the subject mandatory, given sufficient time to undertake the training of new teachers in initial teacher training or CPD for existing teachers, would be a solution to that problem. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said that often the subject is given to Joe Bloggs the geography teacher. In my experience, it was given to Jill Bloggs the biology teacher or, in my case, Joan Walmsley the biology teacher. I taught it but I was not properly trained and I did not have the necessary confidence. I did my best but it was a very long time ago and the problem is that that is still happening.
I know that the Government are to have a curriculum review, which will be an opportunity to look very carefully at what we teach our children in schools. We need to give them the tools for life and not just academic qualifications for work. We must redress the damage that was done before the election when this measure very nearly got into legislation, but was prevented by the vagaries of our parliamentary procedures. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me that this subject will be considered during the curriculum review.
It could be argued that there is no more important element of the curriculum than PSHE. The previous Government were certainly right to propose that it should be a statutory foundation subject. There is a public, societal interest in children being educated in these areas. Moreover, I believe that it is the inescapable responsibility of Government to ensure that that happens because only the Government can ensure that all children receive education in these areas; only the Government can establish a norm; and only the Government can promote best practice across every school.
Education about relationships and sex is, of course, a very important private and parental responsibility and should be respected as such, but it cannot be the responsibility of parents alone. By definition relationships involve two people and, indeed, two families. Ignorance in sexual matters is dangerous to others. Children need support and education. They grow up in an erotically charged environment, where advertising and entertainment sexualise almost every kind of transaction; and the internet opens the window to a host of sexual possibilities regardless of who receives the messages. I am afraid that it is commonplace in our culture for human beings to be objectified, exploited and even brutalised sexually. Inescapably, children and young people witness that. If there is an age of innocence, it is all too short. For that reason and because of earlier puberty, it is essential that sex and relationship education is introduced at primary level although, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, it should be age-appropriate.
There are powerful peer pressures to experiment and to take risks, and those are stronger than the social codes that seek to protect young people from precocious sexual experiences. Children and young people are vulnerable and, therefore, they need help from an early age to understand this environment and to start to establish their own secure and confident individuality. They need education about relationships—not preachy education but education that may well be imparted through the study of literature and drama, for example. They need to learn that good relationships are characterised by respect for the other person, by sensitivity and by love. They also need to learn about the physiological facts of reproduction, the practicalities of birth control and how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. They need to be taught those matters with no euphemisms and no evasion: sexually transmitted diseases may kill. Some families are not willing to teach that to their children and some families do not know how. Therefore, it is unacceptable to leave sex education to families as a private responsibility. I believe that religious objections, for example to teaching about contraception, have to be overruled.
It must be the duty of all schools to teach relationship and sex education. Just as there should be no right for parents to opt their children out, so there should be no right for schools to opt out of this responsibility or to skimp on it. The duty must be explicit because parents may object, teachers may be embarrassed, and there may be pressures on the curriculum which cause sex and relationship education and other aspects of PSHE to be squeezed out.
The Government rightly wish to avoid being unduly prescriptive in the requirements that they make of academies, but does the Minister accept that here there would be an appropriate prescriptiveness? Is it their intention to require academies to provide PSHE? Will they start to ensure that there is appropriate training for teachers and that there are enough competent teachers? If they answer that there will be an expectation that schools will provide PSHE and that there will be a pressure through inspection, that will not be sufficient. There really needs to be an obligation, so will they place that obligation on academies?
I want to say a word or two about substance abuse—the use of tobacco and other drugs. Illegal drugs are widely and easily available to our young people and aggressively sold to them. Our children are extremely vulnerable in this area. Again, there is strong peer pressure to experiment, reinforcing the natural tendency of adolescents to defy adult prohibitions and to take risks. The situation is made worse by our persistence in criminalising the drugs trade rather than regulating it, with the result that many young people are permanently in the hinterland of this criminality.
I have been following recent press reports about the apprehension in Jamaica of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, allegedly an important drugs baron there. I am interested in that because when I was a Member of Parliament for Newport, Jamaican Yardie gangs targeted young people—my constituents—in Newport. They had saturated the market in Bristol, so they moved further down the M4 to Newport, with some very nasty results. In the perverse economy that our public policy has created, dealers are incentivised to do all they can to encourage young people to graduate from cannabis to class A drugs.
Young people are further confused by the vacillations of successive Home Secretaries about how to categorise particular drugs and the confused signals that have been sent by the Home Office about enforcement. Public policy in this field has been benighted. I remember reading reports about David Cameron when he was offering his candidature to become leader of the Conservative Party: it was said that as a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee he had been inclined to the view that we really did need to take a whole new look at this area of policy. Be that as it may, it is crucial that children and young people are helped by schools to cope amid this anarchy.
As a society, we do not know how to handle alcohol. There is an epidemic of alcoholism, which is incubated from an early age in all too many people. Alcoholic drinks are too cheap, too strong and aggressively and brilliantly advertised. The social constraints against alcohol abuse are failing. On Friday and Saturday nights in all too many of our cities there is an alcohol-induced chaos, an intense unpleasantness and indeed fear on the part of many people. Our policies are not working.
Children have to be helped to cope with this environment through their education. They have to be supported to become responsible young people in relation to substance abuse and sexual relationships—to become confident to say no; to be capable of thoughtful and mature states of mind. If we help them to that in their education, we will serve them and society in all aspects: they will become good parents, good friends, good members of society and good citizens in our democracy.
I am confident that many academies will take all this seriously and will be willing and able to teach PSHE well. But my fear is that some academies will duck their responsibility. They will be eager to validate themselves and attract more pupils by concentrating on measurable results, academic success and getting a high proportion of their pupils to university. There will be pressure to squeeze PSHE out of the curriculum. So how will the Government ensure that academies fulfil their wider responsibility to students and society in respect of this crucial PSHE?
Well, I am sure that we are about to find out the truth of that. I do not want to keep the Committee any longer because I know that we have a great deal of work to do today. However, I want to support my noble friends Lady Gould and Lady Massey. Both have made strong and impassioned contributions—I do not want to rehearse their strong arguments—as have my noble friends Lord Howarth and Lord Layard. I was also interested in the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who, as ever, spoke wisely on these matters, and in the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.
We have debated these matters hotly at times; we certainly did so during the wash-up, when I think that things got a bit frayed. It is fair to say that what happened was not vague—the then Conservative Opposition opposed the measures in the Children, Schools and Families Bill to include PSHE following all the consultation and discussions with the faith groups, parents and specialists involved. I therefore hope that, with the confidence that the Conservative Party has in government, it will be able to think again. I hope that this is not a party-political issue, but one on which we can come together for the benefit of children currently going through the education system and more widely for our community. I hope that my noble friends will accept my support for their amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for moving the amendment and giving us the opportunity to have this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said that there had been a history of a battle in this House. However, one of the advantages about my being the new boy is that I do not yet have all those scars and am not approaching this issue as a battle. I am seeking to approach it as I do other issues, by listening to the arguments. I have heard a number of forceful and persuasive points made today.
Perhaps I can give my noble friend Lady Walmsley some reassurance. These certainly are important matters and strong views are held on both sides. Perhaps properly they will form part of a much bigger debate that I recognise we need to have as part of the broader curriculum review to which my noble friend Lady Walmsley referred. We will need to discuss all these issues—whether we need to or not, we clearly will do so—as they will be part of the legislation later in the year. There will be a proper opportunity to discuss this issue fully and at length and there will be opportunities for noble Lords to—
I am not sure that I am able to give a very clear timetable. As part of the discussions that we need to have on the curriculum review, we need to decide how the experience and views of Members of this House can be fed in. I am happy to come back to the noble Baroness on that point. We need to work out how to do this. We have heard that there are issues to do with content as well as principle and I recognise that we will return to the matter.
I am also struck, from listening to the debate, how far sex education at school has moved on since I was at school, when I seem to remember that I had a drawing of a hen and an egg and that was it. There has clearly been some progress since then.
On the more specific and narrower point to do with academies, which is what this debate and the amendment are about, the independent schools’ standards regulations require all independent schools, including academies, to have a curriculum that includes personal, social and health education that reflects the school’s aims and ethos. Those regulations require the schools to prepare pupils adequately for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life. That is important and those regulations are in place. We recognise the importance of this area to parents and pupils and believe that that is sufficient for academies to deliver an appropriate PSHE curriculum. We know that many academies already see that area as key to engaging pupils.
Amendment 70 would have the effect, which may or may not have been intended, of removing any right of parental withdrawal from sex and relationship education. I know that there is a range of views on that. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, expressed one set of views; I know that others will have equally strong views that parents should have the right to withdraw their children. I do not believe that creating a difference between the maintained and the academies sector by removing a right of withdrawal is justified and I am not sure that the noble Lord intended it. In any case, I hope that noble Lords will accept my reassurance that these important issues will be returned to as we think about the curriculum review more generally and that they will feel able not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in this interesting debate. As someone said, this is not a political issue; it is about the welfare of children and about how schools deal with this important subject, as well as engaging parents. The noble Lord was lucky to have a hen and egg when he had sex education; I had to knit a uterus. I will test him on that.
As we have said, personal, social and health education is about living not just in the future but now. Children live now. Three clear issues have emerged. One is about engaging parents. Of course I agree with engaging parents in personal, social and health education. Sadly, some parents do not want to be engaged and some simply cannot. They do not talk to children about relationships or health issues. Perhaps if we taught personal, social and health education to this generation of children, they would be able to talk to their children about personal, social and health education. Let us try to break the cycle.
Another issue was trained teachers. I still maintain that, if something is statutory in the curriculum, you will get teachers trained and you will get curriculum materials circulated. If it is not statutory, you will not get that; it will be at somebody’s whim—it will be Joan Walmsley teaching whatever she was teaching at her school. There will be no curriculum materials. Both are essential.
Another important issue is saving money. It also saves potential misery. The noble Lord, Lord Layard, spoke about the misery of depression, drug use and teenage pregnancy and about the importance of breaking the cycle of deprivation.
I look forward to the curriculum review, which many noble Lords have mentioned. However, I do not want this to drag on. We could end up with it just faltering. I noted with interest the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. I need to think about the question of delaying this for three years. This is an urgent issue. Children are suffering from the misery of not having the chance to discuss issues about sexual relationships, drugs, alcohol and so on. We have to get on with it.
Would the Minister be prepared to meet with a group of us to talk about this before Report, because the curriculum review will clearly not be issued before then? I intend to withdraw the amendment for now, but I will certainly return to the issue at Report if we do not get a satisfactory response.
Amendment 32 withdrawn.
Amendments 33 to 37 not moved.
38: Clause 1, page 2, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) arrangements have been made for Ofsted to prepare annually interim reports on the school;”
I should declare an interest, in that I run the Good Schools Guide and therefore spend an inordinate amount of my time inspecting schools, or rather causing schools to be inspected, and thus have a keen interest in the topic. Inspection is a crucial aspect of the Bill. We are considering schools that will be innovative, free schools. They will be newly founded, often with untried and untested combinations of people involved, with no established sponsors or with sponsors who are relatively new to the job. That will be at a time when there is considerable pressure on the central and local systems of support provided to schools.
The lesson that we have from the United States, as I am sure Rachel Wolf has told the Minister, is that charter schools succeed when they are properly regulated and inspected. If you think about it, it is obvious. If a school starts to go wrong, you can see it. If you can catch it reasonably early on, it is not too much work to put it right. If you let it go for a year or three, you will be in serious trouble.
We are also at a time when inspection itself is up for inspection. It is clear that this Government are reviewing the inspection regime in some detail and are prepared to make big changes—not surprisingly, if they want to cut the overall budget by 25 per cent. This is a good time to look at Ofsted and to ask: does it do what it is supposed to do; could we do better; could we do it for less?
Parents want, first, a regular report from Ofsted. The idea that you wait for four, five or six years between inspections is ridiculous. You want to know what is happening this year. You want to know that the school that you are about to commit your child to is still in good condition. Secondly, if Ofsted produces an adverse report, you want support. You want to feel that, whatever the problems at the school, they are now going to be gathered together and looked after. In both those aspects, Ofsted fails miserably. Most Ofsted reports are out of date. When Ofsted puts a school into special measures—this is my experience of the process, which has always been from the outside—parents spend a month or so in ignorance and, even then, when people start to react and be supportive, Ofsted just stands on the outside throwing rocks at the school, keeping on criticising, rather than being part of the support network.
Ofsted is also clearly not what schools want. Schools want support, advice and help in steering in the right direction. They want a constructive relationship with the people involved in inspecting the school. The most recent example of that that I can think of is the old FEFC inspections under our previous Government. They had that relationship with colleges. They would inspect regularly. Subject inspectors would be in and out of the college once or twice a year. Support and advice would be coming through the college. You worried about whether you might be ticked off for something, but the general relationship was supportive. You expected that the inspectors’ visit would, on the whole, be a constructive experience.
What the Government want out of Ofsted is value for the money that they are putting in. We are a long way short of that. After a fashion, we have an effective system of calling schools to account. Spreading good practice, knowing what is going on in schools and making sure that, say, PSHE is being properly taught, even though it is not being examined, are functions of the inspectorate. By and large, I do not have criticisms on that, except that it costs far too much to get there and does far too much damage to schools.
My Lords, I apologise if the wording of my amendment is not exact. It is merely there to bring up the subject of inspections and to make it clear that I want them to be regular, not just every five years or so.
There is a good model of how this could be done. Every year, we are retiring a few thousand headmasters and deputy headmasters who have immense experience and the ability to judge a school pretty rapidly—the good ones. They know how to read a school, how a school works and what to look for. They have the ability to be immensely supportive and they are not that expensive because they have pensions. They have a commitment to the job and all they want is a reasonable return for the effort that they are putting in. If we were to pay £300 a day, that might be a figure with some echoes—we do it for that. It should not surprise us that heads and others with a real vocation and dedication to helping other people are prepared to work and put in similar effort for a similar amount of money. You are not looking at a lot of money. You are looking at people whom parents and heads naturally trust. You are starting off on a pretty good basis if you are staffing your inspectorate with that sort of person.
These people could go once a year into every school—and I do say “every school”. What is the point of an inspectorate not visiting outstanding schools? How are inspectors ever going to learn what best practice is if they never go into the best schools? Part of the point of an inspectorate ought to be spreading good practice. They should be there to say, “This is what I saw the other day”, or, “Why don’t you talk to him or her about that because they seem to be getting it right?”. If all you are doing is going round the schools that are not performing well, all you can do is spread bad practice. To be an effective inspector, you need to be in touch with good practice and with what is going on in the world of good schools. A simple report to parents—a paragraph or so, to say that since the last inspection report things are progressing, this is particularly good, there is still a bit of trouble on that but, overall, we are happy—is what parents need to know that they can take a baseline from the previous Ofsted report, read through it, know that things have improved or are much as they were and take a reasonable decision. Most schools with a head who is open to ideas will benefit enormously from having someone such as that around.
Once schools have come to trust the system, you would find that they were asking for extra days. When I was a governor of a college under the old FEFC system, we were looking to have these people in more often. We would say, “We’re not doing what we should do in biology. Let’s get the biology man around to give us an extra bit of help there”. Schools, particularly primary schools, are little, isolated, lonely places. They want support and they want to have contact with people who can provide that support and good ideas. At the moment, all we have is the school improvement partner system, which is too low-level and local. We would do much better if we moved to making that part of the inspection system. I think that we could run that bit of the inspection system for about £10 million a year and have a report on every school, every year. Over and above that, you obviously need a full inspection system. Every now and again, you need to go in and do the whole works. Even if you are quite generous on the budget and say that you will spend 10 man-days on average every five years, that will cost you only £20 million or so. Then you have the central system over that.
There is an enormous obsession with data in the current central system. Collecting the data imposes immense burdens on schools. Teachers worry about measuring every aspect of every child’s performance because the school improvement partner or the inspector may pick them up on this or that, which is not constructive. You do not need to look at data on that level. Any mathematician will tell you that, apart from in pure mathematics, figures are always wrong. Figures do not provide value on their own; they provide value only in relation to what is happening on the ground. Inspections should be about the human aspect of schools: the quality of the teaching; the quality of the atmosphere; the staff; and the relationships in the school. They are things that numbers never throw any light on, although numbers can be useful in confirming what is happening.
If we were to budget £50 million a year for Ofsted as a whole, that would be enough. We could then perhaps devote another £50 million to the same organisation, perhaps, if it was running well and was focused on supporting schools that were having a hard time, bringing them round and making them straight—if it was picking up schools that had scored four and setting them right—which needs a lot of concentrated help and advice very fast. That would still be half the current budget, but it would provide about 10 times the value. I beg to move.
I support much of what my noble friend has said. It is desperately important to have proper monitoring of what is going on in these new and very innovative schools and to have feedback, not only to the schools—I will come to what my noble friend said about the positive nature of the feedback that is needed, which I agree with him about—but also to the Secretary of State. Ministers need to know how well the experiment is going and what adjustments are needed from time to time.
I wholly agree with my noble friend that the current Ofsted system is not what is needed and not what we are asking for. It seems to have put everything into one rather unsatisfactory basket. Ofsted inspects for health and safety issues and can fail a school on the height of its security fence. That is not the professional judgment of educational experts. The people who should be doing the assessment of the school’s success and innovation should be people who were successful professional teachers who know what they are talking about. Popping in to see whether health and safety rules are being obeyed or whether security is being maintained is not what an educationalist should be doing. There should be a firm and distinct line between that kind of inspection and the professional judgments that my noble friend so well described.
It is important that we have a cadre of people who are constantly in touch with schools. I say to my noble friend that we need more than simply a once-a-year report. Somebody should keep in touch with the school on a fairly regular basis and go in from time to time to be a shoulder on which the head can—one hopes not cry—pour out her or his ideas, thoughts and problems when they arise, and provide wisdom and judgment. As my noble friend said, they also need to be a sounding board so that the Secretary of State and Ministers can understand what is really happening in these innovative and exciting academies.
I confess to a certain nostalgia. The kind of system that my noble friend described existed not only under the FEFC but in the long-ago days before the 1990s—indeed, up to 150 years before—when Her Majesty’s inspectors were deployed throughout the country on a geographical basis. Although local district inspectors worked nationally and immediately reported back to the centre—to Ministers and so on—providing that vital sounding board and information so that Ministers could know what was going on in the system, they were also each in charge of a group of schools that they inspected fully and fairly regularly over a period of time. That is a much more professional model.
I do not wish to be nostalgic about the 1980s or the 1970s, or even the 1880s and 1890s, but there are lessons to be learnt from the way in which Her Majesty’s inspectorate worked before Ofsted was created that might very well fit the pattern of academies now and would get us away from this awful mechanical going in, ticking boxes and prejudging whether things are happening. Sometimes the joy of inspection is finding things that you had never thought of and never expected; they were not on the list of boxes that you had to tick but were happening and were successful in a rather wonderful way. A good inspector would go into a school to learn as well as to teach. A good inspector would go in to be told what was happening and not always to tell.
Long, long ago, when I first became one of Her Majesty’s inspectors, my lovely mentor used to say to me, “We always look for the growth points”. In the least successful school, there are always such growth points. Ofsted, sadly, has turned far more into a body that looks for the negative points—the things that are not going well—and for reasons to fail a school, rather than a body that encourages, develops, helps, listens and all the things that my noble friend has suggested.
I have a certain sympathy with this amendment, although there are question marks about how it is phrased. I have most sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has just described. We have got into a muddle with the role of Ofsted, of SIPs, of the YPLA—or before that, of the department—and where support starts and ends and inspection starts and ends. Rather too many people are going into schools, particularly schools in trouble, without being clear about who is doing what.
I totally agree that Ofsted—or any inspection regime, in a sense—must have a lot more focus and not inspect the myriad things that it is inspecting at the moment. My personal experience is that you end up getting into a panic about whether the files are in order rather than rigorously checking and really improving education in the school. That cannot be right and has to be looked at.
However, we have to be clear that Ofsted, or whatever inspection regime there is in the future, must be accountable to the community and to parents in particular. I therefore differ from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in that I would not want to go back to the somewhat gooey regime in which data did not really matter. Data really matter. Without them, there is a real danger of groups of children in a school being missed and not progressed properly. By all means, let us add real intelligence to schools and give them real support, but let us not go back to the days when whole sections of kids could be left behind because we did not notice that they were not progressing.
My Lords, listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, I was reminded of visiting a children’s home some time ago with an inspector who made the point that she had been asked to be an inspector for care homes for the elderly and had declined because she was a teacher by background. She said, “What do I know about care homes for the elderly?”. There has been an issue—I am sure that it is still an issue—of ensuring that the inspectors are the right ones for the particular institution. The inspector also said that the remit of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, for which she worked at the time, was very much about supporting and developing good-quality practice and supporting the staff. After the remit moved to Ofsted, certainly the information that I received suggested that it became very much about checking that someone had done the right thing and criticising them if they had not, but not about asking, “Have you tried this? What about that way?”, and supporting the development of better practice.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested using retiring teachers. The National Union of Teachers has emphasised the need to ensure the proper and continuing professional development of teachers who are already practising. It is concerned that past advice from the Department for Education—then the Department for Children, Schools and Families—was, “You shouldn’t let teachers off during the school day to get continuing professional development. They should do it at other times because we need them in the classroom”. If we could free up teachers with quite a lot of experience to spend a day in another school and take part in the sort of inspection and support arrangement that the noble Lord is discussing, that might kill two birds with one stone inasmuch as it would give them a chance to see how someone else teaches and to learn from that. They could be refreshed by that, as well as producing a report that could be useful to parents or whomever, and they could support professional development at that school. That occurs to me having recently read the information from the National Union of Teachers. No matter how much we improve the training and recruitment of teachers, most teachers are already in post and will be there for a long time, so we really have to think about their developmental needs. That is a bit of an aside.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for moving this interesting amendment. My default position when I first read it was that it was completely opposed to what the whole Bill is trying to do: to free up Ofsted inspectors so that they do not spend endless amounts of time visiting schools that are simply outstanding across the board but devote that time to schools that are failing in some areas so that those schools can be given greater attention and support. I take the point made by my noble friend Lady Perry, but that was very much where I was coming from.
When I heard the debate, however, I began to move towards seeing a couple of problems that need to be explored. I wonder whether part of the solution, which probably needs to be developed a little further, should not be the partnering of a highly successful school, which is enabled to become an academy, with a failing school. What would be the format of that relationship? Could the successful school assess and supervise the failing school in the interim?
Then there is the role of the governing bodies. Often very little is said about them, but under the new arrangements they will have hugely more power, authority and responsibility. How much training are they given? When one becomes a non-executive director of a firm, there are often lots of training courses about your duties, statutory responsibilities, the pertinent questions to ask and what you should look out for. The head teacher on the first governing body of which I was a member absolutely insisted that there was never any need for a member of the governing body to come to assemblies or to visit any of the classrooms, as that was way beyond their remit. Later on academy boards, I found that the head teachers of good, successful schools went out of their way to encourage governors to experience classroom teaching, to sit in the staffroom and to talk to teachers. Do people actually know this?
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Does he accept that his personal experience may not be universal? As one who has had a series of non-executive directorships over the past 30 years and has served on a number of school governing bodies, I must confess that the picture he draws is not that of my experience.
I defer to my noble friend’s experience, but bodies such as the Institute of Directors put on training courses and provide structured guidance for directorships, so I wonder what the equivalent is for governing bodies? Is there a body which fulfils this role?
I have also been a school governor in one form or another for getting on for 40 years. Training courses for governors are run not only by local authorities but also centrally, and they are quite detailed courses. There is also a training guide on the web. The noble Lord might like to look at the Department for Education website where he will find that under “governors” there is a sort of teach yourself course to show you what you should know to become a good governor.
My Lords, as president of the National Governors’ Association, perhaps I may be allowed to make a tiny comment. There has been a good deal of improvement in the training of school governors, but it is not uniform. I think there is a desire on the part of the National Governors’ Association to pay rather more attention to this side of things so that all governors are given some training before they start as well as ongoing training whenever that is necessary.
My Lords, one of the great joys of this House is the realisation that when you raise an issue, you suddenly find several world authorities in the Chamber with the answers ready to hand, which is fantastic. I will not delay the Committee except to say this. Under the new mechanism the school will be separated from the local authority, which will not provide these functions going forward to an academy. Given that, could there be a role for the governing body of the academy to take a more detailed view—almost a form of Ofsted standards “light”—of the institution? That would provide some internal checks and balances while at the same time it would strengthen the governing body’s understanding of what is actually going on in the institution for which it is responsible.
My Lords, as in so many areas, this has been an interesting debate which again has ranged further than the specific scope of the Academies Bill, and I have been struck by a number of the points made. It seems that we have been talking about three separate strands: one is to do with information for government and accountability; one is to do with support for a school; and one is to do with information for parents. In that context, if I am not puffing my noble friend Lord Lucas too much, the Good Schools Guide, which I heard him mention earlier, is a good example of how parents can be given human and anecdotal information about a school. That is an extremely informative way to find out what is going on. Generally, going forward and thinking of the ways in which parents can access more frequent and better information about their children’s schools, it is clear that this is something the Government should think about. We have said that we will try to reform the league tables to make them more relevant, but I should like to reflect on some of the points made more generally by my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lady Perry outside the context of the Bill, and perhaps we could discuss them further. The question of how one gives parents information that lets them know what is going on in a school in a regular and relevant way is an interesting one which I should like to explore further.
On the specific point of the amendment, and bearing in mind some of the reservations expressed by my noble friend about Ofsted, to give that body an obligation to carry out an annual report on each academy strikes me as a little excessive. Further, the fact that such a requirement would apply only to academies and not to maintained schools seems a little odd. That said, I would be happy to discuss this further and I will not charge £300 a day for the conversation, which I think is the going rate. With that response and some reassurance, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, certainly I will withdraw the amendment but I will make one or two points first. On the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, it is wonderful that we have all these data, but you can make far too much of them. I am a physicist and I have played around with data all my life; I have gigabytes of data from the Department for Education that I decorate my website with. But in the end, what is happening in a school is what matters, and all the data can tell you is that maybe there are some questions that you should ask because there are so many different ways in which a particular pattern can be accounted for. I agree that data are important, but they have been turned into something oppressive under the current Ofsted system.
I am sorry to intervene but I do not think that is right. What the noble Lord is talking about is what can be claimed to be the obsessions about narrow forms of data that dominate a lot of inspections at the moment and therefore dominate a lot of headlines. However, the intelligent use of data in terms of tracking individual pupils is something an inspector needs in addition to all the qualitative work that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, talked about. When schools are only just starting to get there on using data in an intelligent way, it would be a retrograde step to chuck that out and return to the rather blunter instruments of the public lists which do not do the more sophisticated work that I am talking about.
Yes, my Lords, I agree that, used internally, those sorts of data are wonderful. I recall how, 15 years ago, Greenhead College in Huddersfield was one of the pioneers of such data, and it made a great difference. Even the English department was enthusiastic about it because it helped the staff to be better teachers. In a dumb world, data are great, but you do not need to inspect on them. If you do, you turn something that is a helpful internal tool into a weapon of oppression. It is a matter of getting the balance between being inspected on enough data that happen to be produced by the system and not pressurising teachers into recording every single aspect of every single child at great length and in close detail. The amount of time people are spending on this means that it is not productive. The inspectorate should not be interested in data at that level except when diagnosing a school that is clearly going wrong.
I am concerned about my noble friend’s relaxed attitude to inspection, particularly of the free schools that will be coming through under this Bill. These creatures are going to need to be looked at very carefully. As I said earlier, the New Schools Network is clear about the need for inspection, and I am clear that if you are starting up a new enterprise and you want to be proud of it rather than be landed with nasty cases where things have gone wrong and you should have known about it, you need a good system of what I call inspection but my noble friend Lady Perry would call a relationship between inspectors and schools. You need something that allows someone in authority outside the school to say, “Hang on. Something is going wrong and we need to get in and help”. If you wait for data that appear late because you need a year or two’s data before you can see the trends, a newly formed free school could be heading for trouble. So I hope that over the next year or so I will be able to convince my noble friend that going back in time and picking out the virtues of the system of which my noble friend Lady Perry was such an eminent part will be a good model to pursue. Not only can we do that, but we can save the Government a great deal of money while getting there. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 38 withdrawn.
Amendments 39 and 40 not moved.
40A: Clause 1, page 2, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) the school, if it was a selective school on conversion, has a roll no larger than it was at conversion date;”
My Lords, these are probing amendments with which I hope to learn a great deal from the Minister about the Government’s intentions with regard to selection. We probably all agree that selection is a major issue in any consideration of educational matters, and I am sure the Bill will be no exception. However, the idea of a selective academy is a perversion of Labour’s view of the future of the academy scheme.
As we have already heard, the previous Government used the academy system as a means of helping struggling schools to turn round the life chances of the hardest to teach, which often meant entering an area where a local authority had let down the children it was there to serve. We gave these schools new leadership, outside expertise and relieved them from many of the requirements to co-operate as part of the local family of schools because of the challenges and experiences that those schools had undergone.
I want to learn about what the coalition Government now propose. In effect, they are saying to schools which select a small minority of the top-scoring children at 11, “Take a share of the money that the local area has been allocated to support the most vulnerable, and outbid other local schools for the best teaching staff using that same money”. Is that really what the coalition Government want to say to schools? By definition, the schools with these advantages will be less likely to need support with issues such as special needs. That is what we are looking at.
Amendment 131 seeks to deal with this criticism by insisting on provision for children of all abilities where a selective school becomes an academy. What is more, unamended, the Bill will allow such schools to expand, so we could be talking about a significant expansion of selection. The Minister has indicated that this will not be the case and I should be grateful to hear him say that now. The Prime Minister has made great claims about having changed his party. Change is good and changed it has—I am sure many would say for the better—but, despite those claims, the Conservative Party has been forced—I remain to be convinced otherwise—to introduce this Trojan horse of more selective schools. We know that Conservative MPs want some red meat on selection, but the Government risk showing that they are prepared to bargain away the aspirations of the majority in return for the acquiescence of Back-Benchers in another place. The Minister shakes his head. I look forward to hearing his response and to being reassured and convinced otherwise.
Amendment 59 seeks to remove this aspect of the Bill by preventing academy schools selecting. I admit that it is a blunt instrument—I said at the start that this is a probing amendment at this stage—but it would be, by far and away, the most satisfactory outcome.
Amendments 40A to 40F seek to deal with the second criticism: that the balance between selective and non-selective schools could be disrupted, without any community consultation, by schools converting to academy status and then expanding whether through different age groups or intake.
My Lords, the noble Lord is referring to the 10 per cent based on aptitude, which is a different paradigm—I am not sure whether that is the right word. These are probing amendments and I want to hear what the coalition Government’s intentions are on selection. I am sure that we will all be interested to know.
As with the discussion on the admissions code earlier in Committee, Amendments 130 and 183 will reassure those who are concerned that schools could convert under existing admissions procedures—which may erode over time—with no statutory safeguard against it. Many people outside the Chamber are asking these questions. The amendments would ensure that, in future, no non-selective school could use academy status to become selective.
Indeed, others have expressed this concern from another perspective. The Guardian newspaper reported the views of the National Grammar Schools Association. It stated in regard to academies:
“There may be other covert dangers and, until everything is made clear in the area of legislation and elsewhere, we strongly recommend extreme caution. If necessary, please seek advice from the NGSA before making decisions that may later threaten your school”.
The head of the NGSA said he was concerned that if a grammar school became an academy, it could then be run by a small group of people who might decide to change the admissions procedure. The article continued:
“‘What is the protection for the parents?’, he asked. ‘Does there have to be a ballot? Does it become an all-ability intake?’”
The National Grammar Schools Association is unclear about the coalition Government’s intentions. I should be extremely grateful if the Minister could set out, with great clarity, their vision for the future of selection in academies.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 43 and 46. I can address them briefly because I agree overwhelmingly with what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, has said. It is recognised that in part of the coalition at least—I hope in the whole of the coalition—there is a quiet passion to ensure that the extension of the academy principle, which is strongly supported all around the House, should not inadvertently become a cause of further problems for the least privileged part of our secondary education system. As the noble Baroness said, all the amendments, including mine, are designed to obtain from the Minister a “battened down” statement, if you like, that will allay these anxieties.
On Amendment 43, and wearing my lawyer’s hat, a characteristic in subsection (1)(6)(c) is that,
“the school provides education for pupils of different abilities”.
A lawyer could make hay with “different abilities”. It could be that a school would satisfy this test if in future it was going to select the top 10 per cent and the second top 10 per cent. They would be of “different abilities”. It could pass the test if it were to select the top 5 per cent and those with tap-dancing abilities. Those would be “different abilities”. I caricature my point to make it, but I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, I hope that I can provide the reassurance that my noble friend Lord Phillips and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, asked for.
However, before I try to do so, I would like to pick up on the noble Baroness’s use of the word “perversion”, which I know is a word that has been used before in the context of the development of this policy. “Perversion” is a strong word with a particular weight, and I make the point that I have made before: it was clear from the 2005 White Paper, produced by the Government of whom she was a member, that it was an aspiration that the academies programme would be rolled out far further, and the then Prime Minister was looking forward to the time when all schools would be able to opt out of local authority control. So to caricature our proposals as a perversion is a slightly strong use of language.
I come to the heart of the noble Baroness’s question. The Bill does not allow for any increase in selection by ability in the state-funded sector. That said, we think that the freedoms that academy status can bring should be applied to all groups of schools and not denied to any in particular. We do not believe that they should be restricted to failing maintained schools; instead, we should extend that more broadly.
Amendment 40A seeks to make it a characteristic of an academy that was formerly a selective school that it does not expand following conversion to academy status. As the noble Baroness has set out, Amendments 40B to 40F seek to place a limit so that they cannot expand their role beyond a particular percentage.
The Bill contains provisions that allow selective maintained schools to retain academic selection but it does not allow for new selection. If accepted, the amendment would mean that successful grammar schools and successful partially selective schools would not be able to meet local demand for places if they converted to become academies.
With regard to a cap, as things currently stand, maintained grammar and partially selective schools are allowed to publish expansion proposals under Section 18 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the 2007 prescribed alteration regulations. Proposals are needed only if an expansion of over 25 per cent is planned, so any expansion below this level could be achieved through the normal admissions consultation. Provisions within the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 prevent any new selection from being adopted within maintained schools that were not already selective, and those 60 or so partially selective schools are also prevented from increasing the proportion of selective places.
Given that maintained selective schools are currently able to expand up to that point, to prevent them from doing the same thing as academies, as the noble Baroness’s amendments would suggest, would be more restrictive than the current regime within which they operate, and I cannot believe that that was her intention. Consequently, our wish is only to offer similar options on expansion to schools converting to academy status as are currently offered to maintained schools. We are seeking to maintain the status quo in that respect.
It is important for me to understand how the status quo will be measured. How is selection defined? How will the Minister measure if there has been any change, and how will he monitor that? What is his plan to ensure that this is not a Trojan horse, or a back-door route to increasing selection?
I will come on to deal with that, if I may. If it would be helpful, I am happy to set out in writing for the noble Baroness as clearly as I am able what I consider the safeguards to be. I recognise that many people are concerned about this point, and I want to try to nail that down for her.
As would currently be the case with any proposals for expansion of a grammar in the maintained sector, local groups would have to be consulted before any expansion, and that would persist with academies. We will continue to ensure that the proportion of selective places in partially selective academies does not increase.
Amendment 43 would make it a condition of being an academy that it provided for children of all abilities as opposed to children of different abilities, the point that my noble friend Lord Phillips raised.
If we were to accept Amendment 43, I am advised that national testing would be necessary to ensure that academies all had intakes of all abilities across the country and admissions would have to be manipulated to ensure that all abilities were represented. We do not think that that is proportionate; maintained schools are not required to go as far. There will be circumstances where those who apply for admission to a particular academy do not represent all abilities, although they would represent a wide range of different abilities representative of the area.
Amendment 132 would require academies to provide for children of different academic abilities as opposed to children of different abilities. Section 99 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 defines “ability” as
“either general ability or ability in any particular subject or subjects”.
It is clear, in our view, that what is meant by “pupils of different abilities” within Clause 1(6) is the meaning that is already established within legislation: pupils with a range of different general abilities or achievements. This interpretation is supported by the relief from this duty in Clause 5(3) for existing grammar schools wishing to convert to become academies. Such a relief would not be necessary if “ability” did not encompass academic ability.
Amendments 46, 59, 131 and 183 would require any existing maintained grammar school or partially selective school to remove its selective admissions arrangements on conversion to academy status. To deny existing selective schools these freedoms, or to require them fundamentally to change their nature before being granted them, seems to be unreasonable.
Amendment 130 seeks to prevent any non-selective school that converts to become an academy from acquiring selective admission arrangements after conversion. On that point, I reassure noble Lords that Clauses 1(6)(c), 5(3) and 5(4) of the Bill prevent academies from selecting by academic ability, except where a maintained school with pre-existing academic selection converts to become an academy.
I should be clear that the only schools that will be able to select by ability are those listed in Clause 5(4). As the schools defined as “selective” within that clause do not include independent schools, any independent schools joining the academies sector will also not be able to select by academic ability.
Will my noble friend be open to at least thinking about a rewording of Clause 1(6)? He made a fair point about my amendment, but wording that is more clearly contrary to selection could be put in that subsection instead. That would resolve a miasma of anxiety around the Committee.
I understand that miasma of anxiety. I am due to meet my colleague shortly, and perhaps that is another issue that we can add to our list of issues to discuss.
As I said, I think it would be helpful if I set this out clearly in writing; as I go through this, I am conscious that some of it is quite technical. I shall write to the noble Baroness and put copies in the Library, and I hope that will help. In the mean time, in light of the explanation and the reassurance that I have sought to give, I hope that noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.
I thank the Minister for his response, and I look forward to receiving a fuller response in writing. I am sure that the letter will also be placed in the Library.
Given the academy provisions that already exist in law, it seems that the only point of bringing forward this Bill is to enable selective academies. I suppose that that is why one might choose to use quite strong terms. Having been a member of a Labour Government who made such a success of academies and having seen the transformation in the education that young people around the country have received, I feel very disappointed that the Government are not only starting with currently outstanding schools but taking the trouble to introduce selection into the academy programme. As I said, however, I look forward to hearing further from the Minister.
The Bill introduces selection, removes consultation and joins the free-school, free-market experiment by introducing a new funding mechanism for academies. I still feel very anxious about what it is trying to do given that, as my noble friend Lord Adonis said at the start of Committee, strong provisions already exist in law. In theory, apart from those provisions, there should not be a great difference—but these are really significant differences. The Minister needs to recognise the strength of feeling about these issues around the country. People have great concern about how we should go forward.
However, I made it clear that these were probing amendments. I look forward to understanding more about the Minister’s intentions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 40A withdrawn.
Amendments 40B to 40F not moved.
41: Clause 1, page 2, line 5, leave out “agreement” and insert “arrangements”
My Lords, these technical amendments in my name are intended to correct errors in the Bill. I have already written to Peers to bring this matter to their attention. These amendments have no practical impact on the Bill or on how it operates.
Amendment 41 corrects a typographical error in the drafting of Clause 1, which refers to “agreement” when it should refer to “arrangements”. “Academy arrangements” is a generic term for funding under both “Academy agreement”, in Clause 1(2)(a), and “arrangements for Academy financial assistance”, in Clause 1(2)(b).
Amendments 185, 186 and 192 are technical amendments designed to reflect the fact that amendments to Section 337 of the Education Act 1996 made by Section 142(1) of the Education and Skills Act 2008 are already in force. The Bill currently also amends the predecessor provision. The amendments merely correct these errors. On that basis, I beg to move.
Amendment 41 agreed.
Amendments 42 to 51 not moved.
52: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, at end insert—
“( ) if the school provides nursery or primary education, its curriculum for children under five years old is the Early Years Foundation Stage;”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 53 and 54 in the same group. Amendment 52 probes the Government’s intentions with regard to the education and care of young children in nursery and reception classes in primary and all-through academy schools. It also seeks commitment from my noble friend the Minister that academies will be expected to provide the balance, age-appropriateness and play base of the early years foundation stage to very young children.
Many children under five are now in primary schools' nursery and reception classes and it is essential that their teachers are qualified and experienced in the early years. The early years foundation stage—which I shall call the EYFS, although that is not that much shorter—provides much needed unity of principle and purpose across the range of settings. It offers a single framework to ensure quality, equality of opportunity and safeguarding. There is a real commitment among early-years professionals to this agenda.
The EYFS was introduced in the Childcare Act 2006 and has been a statutory requirement for all providers of education and care to zero to five year-olds since September 2008. It provides a clear statutory framework and standards, and although it is relatively new, its ideas, standards and approach are not. It has grown out of a long tradition of providing education and care for babies and young children under five years old and attempts for the first time to ensure that, wherever children are educated and cared for, they and their families can expect the same standard of education and care. I give credit to the previous Government for its introduction. Although I feel that it is time to renew it in the light of experience, as it is too prescriptive, it is generally a good thing and should be adhered to by all providing education to this age group.
Academies do not have to follow the national curriculum for primary and secondary schools, but it is not clear what the intention is in relation to under-five year-olds in nursery and reception classes. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Minister the following questions. How many of the current all-through academies provide education for under-fives and, of those, how many follow the early years foundation stage? Is it the Government’s expectation that primary academies should follow the early years foundation stage for under-fives? How will the Government ensure that under-fives receive age-appropriate, play-based education in primary academies?
Amendment 53 probes the Government’s intentions for inspection of new academies in relation to education for young children under the early years foundation stage. The Secretary of State has indicated his intention to grant academy status automatically to schools deemed to be outstanding by Ofsted, alongside an intention generally to exempt those outstanding schools-turned-academies from further inspections. However, in relation to the EYFS and provision for under-fives, I am particularly concerned about removing academies from the inspection framework, given that inspection under the EYFS is relatively new and that the main driver behind the EYFS is to improve quality and standards in early childhood education and care. I am also concerned that the emphasis on engagement with parents in the current inspection framework may be lost, with detrimental effects on some schools’ commitment to engage with all parents, which is so important at nursery age.
Under the law, all providers of education and care to under-fives must be registered on the early years register of providers and must meet the legal welfare, learning and development requirements as set out in Section 40 of the Childcare Act 2006 and associated regulations in order to remain registered.
However, schools providing for children aged three to five are exempt from the register, and EYFS provision is inspected within the main schools inspection framework. Maintained, independent and non-maintained special schools are required to be registered only in respect of any provision they offer for children below the age of three, in recognition of the need for extra safeguards for the youngest and most vulnerable children. Can my noble friend explain how young children’s welfare, safeguarding, learning and development will be quality-assured in academy schools?
Perhaps I may draw one related matter to the Minister’s attention. If there is a problem in the early years setting, there is currently a practice of the proprietors deregistering it and opening it up again as a different business, thereby expunging the history of the problematic incident and making it impossible for Ofsted to inspect whether the failings that led to it have been corrected. Indeed, some places have been reregistered several times. I give as an example the case of a nursery in Chigwell, where the two year-old daughter of Mrs Shatl Malin was accidentally hanged in the playhouse where she had been unattended for 20 minutes. The proprietors have reregistered the setting, and the parents have therefore no closure or explanation and no assurances that no such thing can ever happen again. While we have the opportunity in this Bill, I should like to ensure that no academy offering early years education can walk through this loophole by deregistering.
On Amendment 54, one of the best aspects of recent workforce development is the importance of an integrated approach to working with children and families. This is exemplified in the children’s centre model. Again, I give credit to the previous Government for introducing this way of working. In children’s centres, children under five years old and their families can receive seamless integrated services and information. These services vary according to centre, but may be very wide and serve the real needs of families. Indeed, the coalition Government intend to locate a lot more health visitors in them, which I support. I would not want the independence of academies to pull children out of the integrated structures developed under the Every Child Matters agenda, which all parties supported. This is particularly relevant in relation to safeguarding issues. Will my noble friend the Minister clarify what support will be available to academies in developing safeguarding policies and in their implementation? What connections will academies have to children’s trusts and local safeguarding children boards and what impact will there be on children’s centres and extended services where they are co-located with primary schools wanting to apply for academy status? I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the thrust of the noble Baroness’s amendments. Having visited several nurseries in the course of the Childcare Bill and followed the debates about the early years foundation stage, I believe that it is vital to have good-quality early years care. There is a real challenge in achieving that in this country; we start so far behind the Scandinavians. We have not had a strategy until recently in this area. Many of those working in it are poorly educated and poorly paid young women, and there is often a very high turnover of staff. The settings in schools may be different to that general picture, but I ask noble Lords to put themselves into the shoes of a three year-old being cared for by a woman who then goes—then another one comes and goes, and another one comes. That is a very black picture. I am sure that it is not generally the case, but there is that danger.
The early years foundation stage really helps in setting out clearly what the expectation should be and what these children should receive. In particular, every child in the nursery should have a key person. That should be the person who makes the relationship with the parent of the child and follows that child, changes the nappies and looks after that child. Others will have to take their place from time to time but, rather than the child being passed around from person to person, there is someone there with a particular special relationship with that child. That is an easy thing to lose if there are lots of poorly trained and poorly supported people and there is a high turnover of staff. Given the vulnerability of the children and the challenges to the sector, I would appreciate the reassurance of the Minister that this clear framework for practice in this area will be applied to those children in future.
My Lords, I lend my support to these amendments, which I know at this stage are probing. I am very proud of the achievements of the last Government in relation to the under-fives and I acknowledge the kind remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. However, the fact is that millions of children have had a better start to life thanks to the considerable investment in free nursery education for all three to four year-olds and the creation of so many Sure Start children’s centres. My concern, which is shared by the Early Childhood Forum and others, is that it would appear that the authors of the Bill have given little thought to its effects on three to five year-olds.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked a number of very important questions including about the risk of removing academies from the inspection framework for the under-fives, the issues around welfare and safeguarding and the loophole over reregistration. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, put his finger on some of the important workforce challenges that this sector faces, including issues about the lack of experience of many staff working in the sector. That is why it is so important to maintain the integrity of the early years foundation stage. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that his department has thought very carefully about these matters around early years. If not, perhaps he can give us some hope that there will continue to be national safeguards and infrastructure to ensure that attention is given to the points raised by noble Lords. This is an important matter and we will come back to it on Report if we are not satisfied that it will be dealt with effectively.
My Lords, I understand the points that have been made, particularly those made very forcefully by my noble friend Lady Walmsley about the need to be clear about arrangements for the very youngest in our schools. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, too, in that regard. I know how much work my noble friends have done in this area, and I hope I can give some reassurance that the key safeguards they seek are already in place.
Amendment 52 would require academies that teach the under-fives to teach them the early years foundation stages of the national curriculum. Although I agree with my noble friends’ intention in this amendment, I would suggest that the amendment is unnecessary because academies are already required, under the Childcare Act 2006, to provide the early years foundation stage. That is spelled out explicitly in their funding agreement. This stage is more than just a curriculum, as it covers much broader outcomes for very young children, including issues such as social skills.
Amendment 53 would require academies to register as early years providers. The Childcare Act 2006 sets out the detailed circumstances in which some academies, as independent schools, are required to register on the early years register. It is not appropriate to require all academies providing nursery or primary education to register as early years settings if they do not necessarily meet the precise, detailed requirements for registration that the Childcare Act lays down. Some will meet those requirements, and will be required to register, but others will not. It is a complex area, but it is covered by the Childcare Act and academies are covered by that.
Amendment 54 is intended to ensure that academy Sure Start centres continue to provide integrated children’s centre services. We would certainly encourage schools with such centres to apply to become academies, as we would want them to continue to provide the excellent services they currently do. The particular circumstances would need to be worked through with the department by any school that had a Sure Start centre when it applied for academy status, but that is certainly something that we would want to discuss with them. It would require decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis, and we would prefer to have that flexibility rather than make particular mention of them in the Bill. I understand my noble friends’ concerns about the future of these important children’s centres in schools, and I recognise the progress made in recent years on that. However, any issues which will inevitably arise in each case will be carefully considered as part of the conversion process. We certainly do not want to lose the progress that has been made.
I hope that that provides some reassurance to noble Lords and that my noble friend may feel able to withdraw her probing amendment.
I thank the Minister for his reply and other Members of the Committee for their contributions. I am gratified that he is able to tell me that Amendment 52 is unnecessary, because the early years foundation stage will be taught. I will have to go away and look again at the detail of that. On Amendment 53, I am not quite clear what the Minister was saying. He said that some settings will be required to register and are already, and that some will not. I wonder whether he would be kind enough to write to me and clarify that, because I did not quite understand the reasons—perhaps he did not really go into them—why some do not need to register and will not. If they are to provide the education for that age group, I would have thought that they all had to be treated the same, because it really is important that the standard is kept up. That is what particularly concerns me.
Concerning the Sure Start centres, my noble friend suggested that they should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. I would have thought that those current centres are so proud of their reputation—and jealous to guard it—that if they felt that in applying to become an academy they would lose that multi-agency, multi-professional ethos, they simply would not apply. I certainly hope that they would not, anyway. I will have to look rather carefully at my noble friend’s reply to see whether I need to probe him any further, but I would be grateful if he could write a more detailed response on my Amendment 53 and put a copy in the Library, because I really did not quite understand it. However, in the mean time I beg to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 52 withdrawn.
Amendments 53 to 60 not moved.
60A: Clause 1, page 2, line 8, at end insert—
“( ) the school offers a guarantee of minimum educational standards to pupils and parents (a pupil and parent guarantee) as set out in schedule (Pupil and parent guarantees)”
My Lords, I shall briefly give the coalition Government another opportunity to think again about the events that took place during the wash-up. The Committee will be well aware of the Labour Government’s commitment to deliver for parents and pupils a guarantee around the quality and style of education delivered to them through our schools around the country, so we now turn to the amendments in relation to the pupil-parent guarantee for academies.
Amendments 60A and 170A would restore the guarantees that we on this side of the Committee aimed to provide for pupils and parents. Those guarantees were, sadly, blocked by the Conservative Party during the negotiations between our two parties on the legislation outstanding before Parliament in the run-up to the last election. Those guarantees would have given pupils and parents assurances of a decent education whatever school they attended, so that every local school would be a good school, delivering minimum standards for all.
We set it out in statute that the guarantees should include: catch-up support in the three Rs for primary school pupils or for those starting secondary school who fall behind, which would have included one-to-one tuition and small group work; online information for parents on their child’s behaviour, progress and attainment; a named personal tutor for every secondary school pupil; guarantees on school behaviour through home-school agreements; the right to learn triple sciences at GCSE; a guarantee of regular sport and exercise; and the opportunity for every primary school pupil to learn a musical instrument—on which, if the Minister wants to see that as my contribution toward Amendment 68, then in the interests of time I am happy if he wants to come back to me on musical tuition in his response here.
This is about giving parents and pupils the information and the awareness of what they can expect from their school system, so that no child should miss out and so that every school should be a good school. Now, we have heard a great deal from the coalition Government about the desire to empower parents and to give more power to communities. Of course, we very much want that, so I will be very interested to hear how the noble Lord can build on the work that we did in government to make sure that the best really is on offer for all our children in our schools.
The noble Baroness invites my noble friend to return to the days of an old new Labour Government; I do not agree with her. Actually, we did not agree with her at the time. We spoke against these pupil-parent guarantees as being motherhood and apple pie without any legal levers at all, so she will not be surprised to learn that we do not support her amendment.
If I might add another voice from the Back Benches: to try to guarantee to every parent that their child will have an ideally good school—what a wonderful thought that would be. People have been trying ever since the end of the Second World War to provide a good school for every child; successive Governments have not succeeded in doing so. There are still an awful lot of schools which fail an awful lot of children, so to try to put into legislation a promise to parents that they will have a good school for their child is really an absurd suggestion.
My Lords, when my children were at primary school I recall the primary head teacher telling me with great joy one day that there had been a very large package delivered in the school playground. They were not sure where it came from and had asked the police to inspect it. They had indeed blown it up; it was 400 pages of further instructions from the Department for Education. Of course, we agree with many of the aspirations set out in the proposed new schedule but, as the noble Baroness will have heard from behind the Front Bench, we are committed to giving schools more freedoms to get on with the job, with fewer detailed instructions taking less time away from teachers for teaching. What she is suggesting is very much the kind of approach that we want to move away from.
As my noble friend Baroness Walmsley and others have said, writing things down on paper and spending a long time negotiating them does not necessarily make them happen. We therefore share the aspirations but not the method. For most of us on this side of the Committee, part of what was wrong with education policy under the previous Government was the overdetailed instructions and prescriptions to schools, which we all know that teachers grew intensely to dislike. The aim of this Bill and of the Bills which will follow it—a larger Bill is promised for this autumn—is to free teachers to talk with parents and deal with pupils, and not to spend an immense amount of time with pieces of paper and negotiations. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, of course I listened with great interest to the noble Lord’s contribution. The pupil and parent guarantees were actually about empowering parents and pupils so that they can ensure that, in partnership with their schools and their local authority or academy trust, they can get the things that they need for their children. It is about looking at the education service that this country provides from a bottom-up perspective—looking at it from the point of view of the parent and child and of what goes on in the classroom. If we think back to Second Reading, how chastened might the coalition Government perhaps have felt when my noble friend Lady Morris criticised them for focusing so much on structure? Here we have a chance for them, just for a moment, to think about one-to-one tuition, for example. What has happened to one-to-one tuition? We have gone from a situation where the Government were committed to guaranteeing it in statute, with a process through local government—
I cannot wait for the opportunity to discuss the pupil premium. There we have a real chance to see how the grand words will unfold into real benefits for pupils in schools. That is what I am interested in and what the pupil guarantee was all about. That is what this focus on structure and structural tinkering leaves wanting, which is what I am concerned about. I am very interested to debate how the pupil premium will work. An awful lot rests on what the pupil premium delivers—not just for disadvantaged pupils in this country, but for the coalition Government. I am happy at this stage to withdraw my amendment and I look forward to the debate continuing.
Amendment 60A withdrawn.
Amendments 60B to 71 not moved.
72: Clause 1, page 2, line 13, at end insert—
“( ) An Academy must operate in partnership with its local authority, and the maintained schools in that local authority area, on arrangements for the permanent exclusion of pupils.”
My Lords, I will focus now on exclusions, which are always a key issue for schools, as we know. I am sure noble Lords will agree that exclusions by the academies proposed in the Bill will be no exception. There are many reasons why academies are more likely, historically, to exclude a greater proportion of their pupils than other maintained schools, especially in the early years of their creation. Often, when we look at the data on academies, it appears that by definition they result in a higher level of exclusions. However, we should not expect that those challenging schools which convert to academies under the old scheme would not have higher exclusion rates than other schools. That is the situation of the past. The figures show that exclusions tend to rise in the early days but fall as academies become more established. This is an example of how successful academies have been. In part this is because we have insisted—and this is key—that academies participate in local behaviour partnerships.
The then Department for Children, Schools and Families published revised guidance about behaviour and attendance partnerships for schools on 31 March 2010. The main provisions take account of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which makes it a requirement for all maintained secondary schools and academies to co-operate and form behaviour and attendance partnerships to improve behaviour and tackle persistent absence among pupils. That is the present situation. The partnerships must also report annually on their progress to the children’s trust board, which is in flux at the moment. These provisions will, I believe, come into force on 1 September 2010, unless the Minister is going to advise us of a different situation. By working in partnership on such issues, rather than working in isolation, schools could achieve great benefits—the benefits of shared physical and financial resources and people; the joint commissioning of the provision of shared expertise; and the sharing of knowledge of effective practice between schools. Those schools in behaviour partnerships are asked to work together to seek a reduction in differential rates of permanent exclusion or persistent absence of pupils with SEN, pupils from a particular ethnic minority group or pupils who are eligible for free school meals.
The concern is that by freeing schools which are already less likely to have to deal with issues such as these from any requirement to co-operate with other schools, there will be a temptation for these schools to use exclusions as a first—not last—resort. We are looking here for reassurance that steps will be in place to mitigate this. This is not to say that the school would be operating in any way that was untoward, but simply that some of the alternatives to exclusion are difficult and expensive. There is a real challenge. It is important that by lowering the expectations on academies to deal with difficult children, rather than pass the buck by excluding them while keeping these high expectations for everyone else, we do not create a division in our educational systems. This challenge is particularly acute when the academies scheme is, as the Government intend, flipped on its head so that the stronger schools are given academy status as a priority, rather than those that are struggling most.
Amendment 73 gives a right of appeal to those who have been excluded. The provisions of the Human Rights Act and other relevant legislation mean that simply to exclude children from school without a right of appeal risks tying up head teachers in court battles to defend an exclusion. The coalition Government have stated that this is not their intention. Since more than 99 per cent of exclusions are overturned on appeal, this is a simple provision for an appeals process which does not undermine the authority of head teachers but frees them from unnecessary bureaucracy. I hope noble Lords will respond positively to these amendments.
My Lords, I am unhappy about these amendments on several counts. First, they seem to impose, again, external restrictions on academies, whereas the whole object of the Bill is to take away all the impositions that have been put on them. Secondly, Amendment 72 would give the local authority an overriding say in the exclusion of pupils. Surely, if a school is to be free and able to manage its own affairs, it should not have to operate in partnership with a local authority that no longer has any statutory or financial authority over it.
I have discussed these amendments with the principal of one academy, who assures me that academies are happy to operate independently and in informal collaboration with other schools in their area, though not necessarily within the same local authority, particularly over aspects of their work which might well affect those other schools. For example, if a pupil is excluded from an academy, it might well be that another school would be the better and right place for that pupil to go. In that case there is nothing to stop Fred, the principal of one academy, calling Mary, the principal of a maintained school, and saying, “Look, we’ve got a lad here who isn’t fitting into the academy well and is behaving very badly. We’re intending to exclude him; would you be willing to take him on?”, and so on. Trusting professionals in the service to do sensible things and work together on a collegiate and happy basis is far more likely to work than all this imposition of things from outside and putting them in legislation. I hope that the noble Baroness will reflect on the lack of trust which this kind of amendment suggests.
The reassuring words of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, are very helpful. When I visit special institutions for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties or children’s homes, I am concerned that often one finds that the children with the most severe difficulties are pooled together in one place. They become difficult to manage, difficult for each other, and difficult for those who are caring for them. When comparing Denmark and this country, one of the differences is that Denmark intervenes and takes children into care earlier. Children’s homes are used more and there is more of a mixed bag of children in them. Thus, the temperature of the place is lowered. As a result of this provision, I would not want to see the most difficult children pushed into one place. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that further thought will be given to how we can support head teachers in academies and non-academies to work together. For example, a small amount of resources could be put into a yearly local get-together where such people would be able to speak to and to meet each other.
Amendment 97 does not sit easily with the other two amendments in this group and is on a separate area. Therefore, we are moving on. This probing amendment seeks firm reassurance from the Government on how the Academies Bill may impact on specialist support services for children with low-incidence special educational needs and disabilities. I am focusing my remarks on specialist support services for deaf children, but these issues are applicable to other children with low-incidence needs, such as those with visual impairments.
The National Deaf Children’s Society, to which I am indebted for its advice on this issue, estimates that there are more than 35,000 deaf children in England, of whom 90 per cent attend mainstream schools. However, deafness is a low-incidence need. As a result, in many schools it may be many years before a deaf child enrols. The reality is that deaf children are spread unevenly in mainstream schools across any one area. There is no reason why a deaf child cannot achieve as well as their hearing friends, provided that they get the support that they need from the start. This support is normally provided through local authority specialist support services, which cover a wide range. They include providing the school with amplification equipment, such as microphones; ensuring that there are follow-up checks and maintenance; training mainstream teachers on how to support deaf children; and, most importantly, providing direct support to families to help with pre-school language development.
These services are normally funded by the local authority, but academies will be independent from them. I am therefore seeking reassurance that deaf children will still receive the support that they need in a school system with a greater number of independent academies. Currently, in local authority maintained schools, schools funding is allocated to local authorities by the Government. While most of the money is then delegated to schools, local authorities will usually retain or top-slice some money to fund services, such as the specialist support services for deaf children. The service then provides outreach support free of charge to all local authority maintained schools in its area. Where a school becomes an academy, any money retained or top-sliced will be taken away from the local authority and given straight to academies, which will be expected to buy in any specialist support that their pupils will need. But if a child has a low-incidence need, such as deafness, the cost of meeting this specialist support to one individual academy will be proportionately greater. The economies of scale that operate at a local authority level will not exist at individual academy level. I am deeply concerned that any extra funding that academies receive will not cover the costs for these necessary services, which may result in deaf children not getting the support that they need. This is not a theoretical risk.
The National Deaf Children’s Society is already aware of a number of cases in existing academies where deaf children have gone without the support that they need. Last year, when the NDCS did a survey of local authority specialist support services for deaf children, it asked whether any academies in their areas bought in support for any deaf children who were enrolled at those academies. I am shocked that nearly three-quarters of academies did not buy in any support, which raises alarm bells as to how deaf children in these academies are being supported, if at all. Surely, that is an inefficient way of funding specialist support services for deaf children. This top-slice money that academies will receive will go to all academies, even if they do not have a deaf child on their rolls. Does the Minister share my concern that this will be poor value for money?
My amendment aims to address these concerns. The first part would amend the School Finance (England) Regulations 2008 with the intended effect of moving funding for specialist support services for low-incidence special educational needs from the schools budget to the core LEA budget. This would prevent funding for specialist support services for low-incidence needs being top-sliced and spent inefficiently in the way in which I have described. I would welcome a statement from the Minister on how the department will address this matter.
I am all too aware that local authority specialist support services in some areas are not as good as they should be. For that reason, the second part of the amendment would also give the Secretary of State the power to make alternative arrangements if this is the case. I believe that the Government need to take urgent action to set up a working group to consider whether alternative arrangements, such as parent-led services, might offer a better way in those areas of delivering such services. I urge the Minister to ensure that any such working group includes representatives of children with low-incidence needs as well as their parents.
However, any alternative arrangements need to be carefully thought through and planned to ensure continuity in the service that deaf children receive. It is not good enough simply to throw our cards in the air and hope for the best. Government figures show that deaf children are already 42 per cent less likely to do as well in their GCSEs as other children. It is vital that this Bill helps us to ensure that deaf children get the support they need, regardless of the type of school they attend. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me on this. Should he not do so, I will return to this issue on Report.
My Lords, I very much support the probing amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Wilkins. I agree with my noble friend and I am glad that she indicated that it is not suitably grouped. I share her concerns over the impact of the Academies Bill on specialist support services for low-incidence special educational needs and disabilities. I also am grateful to the National Deaf Children’s Society for its briefing.
In particular, I am concerned about the impact of the Bill on outreach services to pre-school children. Parents are at the heart of a child’s learning, as we would all agree, but the parents of a child with special educational needs or a disability need extra help, as well as the child. In many cases, this extra help is provided by the local specialist support services. We have heard about the important role that local authorities play in that. For example, the parents of children with communication difficulties need guidance and support on how to communicate effectively with their child. Without such support, it would be far more difficult for these children to acquire language and to develop communication skills at the same rate as their peers. A huge responsibility rests with helping the parents.
We risk condemning children with these communication difficulties to a life of underachievement before they even begin school. We have already heard from my noble friend Lady Wilkins just how far behind they can fall if they do not have early access to the services they need. Almost certainly, when such children start school, the school they attend will be forced to provide costly catch-up support.
There is a range of other pre-school services that families of other disabled children will find invaluable. I am very concerned that if funding for these services is delegated to academies, they may be unable or unwilling to invest in pre-school services. I am also concerned that it may be unsustainable for existing providers to do this if much of their funding is reduced as a result of the Bill. Like my noble friend Lady Wilkins, I would warmly welcome reassurance from the Minister that the Bill will not risk undermining these valuable pre-school services for disabled children. We are all urging the earliest possible testing for special needs. If ever there was a need, it is for this group of children.
I shall direct my comments to Amendment 72, although I also support Amendment 73. On this occasion, I shall disagree as strongly as I might with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry.
Of all the freedoms that academies may be granted, it is the freedom not to take part in the education of vulnerable excluded children that worries me most. This amendment is important and, if we do not pass it, we do so at our peril. Quite frankly, academies are not queueing up to take these excluded children. The children are often difficult to teach, they come from homes with difficulties, they do not do anything for the school in terms of its position in the league tables or its Ofsted inspection and they do not improve the school’s social image. Let us say it as it is: these kids are not top of the pecking order in terms of schools wanting to take them on.
We also know that traditionally we have dealt poorly with these children. If they go to a pupil referral unit, all the evidence is that they are very rarely reintegrated into the mainstream education system, they do not pass their exams, they do not continue in education, they do not fulfil their potential and they do not carry on to university or have the life chances that they might have. That is the problem that we are trying to solve.
This problem started in my day—and one knows how one becomes precious over things that began when one was in the department, so I apologise for that. Co-operation has now been built among schools so that they say two things—that their prime responsibility is to their children but that there is a generosity of spirit that accepts an obligation towards children in the community. That has meant that schools have had that generosity of spirit and have been prepared to take other children on to their rolls, rather than having them excluded to a pupil referral unit. That is my first point: if you can keep an excluded child or a child who is not settling in school within mainstream education, that has to be better than excluding them from mainstream education. That will not happen if you leave it just to market forces.
The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, made an interesting point when she talked about an academy phoning another school to say, “We have a child who does not seem to be settling or fitting in here. Will you take them?”. That is the way it will be. The middle-class schools that are already full will be able to say, “No, because we are full”, while the schools that will have to, by law, say yes are those that serve deprived areas. Those that have spare places will have to take on such children. The schools will already have children such as those, whom they will be working their socks off not to exclude, and they may not have the capacity to deal with these children.
I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that principals of academies may well share our concern for the most deprived and difficult children. The principals of academies whom I have talked to have expressed every bit as much concern and care for the difficult and disadvantaged children in society as we have in this House, who do not have to run schools. There seems to be a kind of arrogance on our part in assuming that, unless we control the schools, put things in legislation and make them do it, they will not of their own free will wish to do the right thing.
But the evidence is on my side. The number of exclusions by academies is very great, while the number of children at risk of exclusion by non-academies being taken in by academies is very small. That is why the amendment is important. This is not about the Government saying to schools, “You must do this, that or the other”; it is about a partnership that already exists. We are not instructing schools to form these partnerships; they exist already. The schools work together and make professional judgments. There are times when a child needs to be out of a school. Such children do not settle, the relationships are broken and the damage is done. They need to be elsewhere. The best system is when schools, through generosity of spirit and professional judgment, almost come to an arrangement to help each other out. By doing so, they also help children out.
The only point of including the local authority in the amendment is that someone has to broker the arrangement. I do not care who it is. All that the local authority does is broker the partnership that provides this better way of dealing with excluded children. The local authority cannot tell a school to take a child—and that is good. All that the local authority does is hold the ring for families of schools to make professional judgments about where these excluded children should go. My prediction, which I know is accurate, is that if academies are allowed to exclude themselves from this partnership of schools that deal with these most vulnerable children, a lot of academies will do exactly that and the burden will fall on schools that are not academies but are still in the partnerships.
I have listened carefully to the Minister. As well as emphasising independence, he has emphasised partnership. Academies under his Government have to partner with an underperforming school to raise standards. What better way is there of cementing that relationship and philosophy than by his Government also saying that academies should stay in the partnership and play their part in making sure that we deal with our excluded children as effectively as we can? We have not done that well in the past, but the partnerships that have flourished in the past few years provide the evidence that that is the best way to proceed.
My Lords, I want to say how much I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and, unusually, disagree with my noble friend Lady Perry. The points that she makes about partnerships are precisely correct; indeed, a number of academies are part of these behaviour partnerships, which are working extremely well. In exactly the same way, many school confederations are working well. Many of us are now saying, “What a good thing confederations are”, although initially some of us were a little hesitant about the Government forcing schools into confederations. Where there have been confederations, many members of staff have found them very useful.
I particularly endorse Amendment 73 on the need for academies to participate in the behaviour partnerships in exactly the same way as other locally maintained state schools should. As the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, getting on the telephone and talking to other heads is precisely what it is all about. The partnership does not need to be heavy-handed or forced; it can be very light touch.
I also agree very much with the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins. The low-incidence special needs can be overlooked and it is extremely important that they are not disregarded.
We are all concerned about these exclusions because we do not want these young people to fall by the wayside into the category that we call NEETs—not in employment, education or training. They are drop-outs from society, so it is important that we meet their needs. Many pupils with low-incidence special educational needs get disregarded. They are not a great nuisance. They sit at the back of the classroom, playing games and talking among themselves, but they do not get educated as they should because nobody has looked at what their needs are. We have got much better at this over the past few years, but it is vital that academies, too, pay attention to these young people. The Minister has promised to come back with another look at the process surrounding special educational needs and I hope that he will incorporate the issue in the review that he is undertaking.
My Lords, as another former Secretary of State, perhaps I may say how strongly I agree with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, as well as by my noble friend Lady Sharp. I will be brief. First, like other noble Lords, I have first-hand knowledge of the fact that, in some cases, schools have decided not to accept a child with special educational needs—for example, one who is dyslexic, dyspraxic, deaf or blind—when they believe that that would lower their standing in the league tables. The league tables have been devastating in that way, by making it difficult often for an ambitious and able head teacher who values their position in the league tables to take such children. There is a danger, as my noble friend Lady Sharp said, that if you begin to regard the position of children with special educational needs, or children who are difficult, as somehow excluding them from being part of the academy, that academy will become still further removed from the problems of the whole of society. I feel strongly about this.
Perhaps I may refer to the interesting comments of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about Denmark. It is interesting also that the incidence of permanent exclusion in Scotland is proportionately a long way below that in England, because Scotland has chosen to go for short-term, temporary exclusions rather than for permanent exclusions that far too often condemn the child for the rest of their life to being outside society and often lead them straight on to being young offenders and things of that kind. I have a great deal of sympathy with what was said by both noble Lords. I hope that the Government will seriously consider a different kind of approach to children who are excluded.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, whom I congratulate on her open-mindedness on the issue, has indicated that partnerships play a large part in this. My noble friend Lady Sharp has seconded the view that they are crucial and significant. However, beyond that we must look at the whole situation of excluded children: why they are excluded, whether earlier intervention would save them from being excluded and whether temporary exclusions should be more common than permanent exclusions, with their devastating effect of taking the child almost altogether out of society.
My Lords, I agree in many ways with what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has just said. We face a long-running problem of how to deal with kids who get themselves into a position where they need to be excluded from school. She said that the Scottish example is that schools retain ownership of these pupils. You cannot throw them away because they are still part of you. Even if they are not on the premises, the school has a commitment to help with their education.
That is one approach. Another might be through the use of the pupil premium, when we get that going. The kids will suddenly become much more valuable because they have been excluded. The resources to help them and deal with them will travel with them. Certainly, there is scope for free schools to innovate in this area. Many of the children’s homes that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about are privately run. The troublesome end of education has become increasingly well looked after by the private sector. There is a real opportunity. I do not expect to hear it today, but I hope for a commitment from my noble friend to deal with this. We have a chance, if we are sharp and inventive enough, to make real progress.
The problem raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, is rather more intractable. Imagine that I said to your Lordships, “Right, there are 800 of us or thereabouts. I will take £500 from one of you, but don’t worry, I will give each of you £1”. That is all very nice, as 799 of us will go and spend the pound and feel a bit better off, but someone will feel very upset when they get a bill for £500 and only have £1 to pay it with. That is the situation that we risk landing ourselves in with schools with low-incidence problems of any kind. If we do not operate this on a pool basis so that the school with the problem can find the funds, all the other schools that do not have the problem will have spent the money and we will be in trouble. Again, I am interested in how we will solve this in a world where not 200 but 2,000 schools are academies and the problem becomes much more obvious.
My Lords, perhaps I may say how much I agree with what my noble friend Lady Williams said about the perverse effect of league tables. The good instincts of many school heads that I advocated in response to what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said have been stifled by the imposition of league tables. The heads want to help these disadvantaged children but dare not do so in case it pulls them down the league tables, with all the perverse effects that that would have on their finances, reputation and everything else. I hope that we can continue to have faith and trust in the good instincts of those who run schools and that we can release them from the perverse effects of collecting detailed information and statistics simply for league table purposes.
Again, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, has said. As far as I know, the best performing country, Finland, does not have league tables but relies on excellent teachers and trusts them to make the right decisions for children. As I recall, Finland also does not have exclusions, but has smaller, very mixed-ability classes.
Two things come to mind in this debate. The two amendments in the group are well related. There is the danger with academies that they will not be so well supported by, for instance, the good approach of having a child psychotherapist working regularly with teachers to talk about particular problematic children. That is a good approach, but it is easy to think that it is too expensive and a bit of a luxury and that an easier option would be to move a difficult child somewhere else. I have sympathy with both sides of the argument. Given that these things are already established, I would prefer to keep the status quo, because league tables have a perverse influence. I look forward to the Minister’s response. If he could say a little more about the plans for league tables and how they will be improved, that would be helpful.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Lucas said, this is a long-running problem. What we have heard from all around the Chamber this evening is that this matter concerns us all, across the parties, and that none of us is entirely sure that we have the complete and final answer. We are all aware that the early academies had an unusually high rate of exclusions. That was partly because they were going into the toughest areas and trying to reimpose discipline in schools that had lost control—there were special circumstances. I am happy to say that the figures have now come down.
We are also all aware that league tables have had a perverse effect not only on academies. I am well aware of one or two secondary schools in my part of Yorkshire of which it has been said that they have tried to avoid taking on difficult children from difficult areas precisely because of the impact that they knew it would have on their standing in league tables. I am afraid that I am unable to say anything specific about our plans on league tables; we will have to write to the noble Earl. As he will know, the question of how one can shape league tables to recognise the starting point as well as the output is being discussed, again across the parties and across the expert community, because it is recognised that league tables have had a perverse effect. We are engaged on this.
I will also say that these amendments were correctly grouped, because difficult children are often defined in all sorts of ways. I know little about the problems of educating children with autism, which is a low-incidence disability and special need. That also, in a sense, makes it easier for a school to say, “Let’s exclude that child. Let that child go somewhere else”. Therefore, there is an overlap. Children can be seen as difficult in a number of different ways.
On Amendment 72, I emphasise that academies are already required, through their funding arrangements, to take their fair share of challenging pupils through their involvement in local in-year fair access protocols. This will continue to be the case for all new academies, so they do not get out of this obligation. They should be free to co-operate with local partners in managing exclusions but, again, there is a question for the coalition of how one writes that down and in how much detail. The previous Labour Government were always in favour of prescribing everything in the most minute detail—usually twice a year, each time the name of the department or the Secretary of State changed. This, as the noble Baroness will of course admit, is a different approach.
Academies are regulated by their funding agreements, which require that they act in accordance with the law on exclusions as though the academy were a maintained school and that they have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance on exclusions, including in relation to any appeals process. I hope that that provides assurance that academies have to follow the law on exclusions in the same way as maintained schools.
I turn to the subject of low-incidence disabilities. We recognise that this is a continuing problem, especially where there are only a very small number of young people in a district with those particular needs. Again, partnerships among schools will clearly be the best way forward.
Academies’ funding for SEN is paid on a formula basis by the Young People’s Learning Agency. If a pupil with one of the different forms of low-incidence SEN attracts individually assigned resources as a top-up to the formula funding, the local authority will pay this from its schools budget and will continue to be responsible for monitoring the provision. If the academy fails to secure such provision, it will be in breach of its funding agreement and the YPLA can ultimately investigate following a complaint. Therefore, measures are already in train. I am not saying that they will entirely resolve the problem, just as under the previous Government a number of other measures did not entirely resolve the problem. We all recognise that this is one of the most difficult issues in education in England and we will all need to continue to monitor and to work with others—
Can the Minister explain how this will be monitored? He said that, if it is a low-incidence special educational need, the YPLA will be responsible for paying an extra premium in respect of that need. However, the YPLA is a payment agency, not an inspection agency. How will it monitor matters to ensure that needs are met in an academy?
I am not sure that I can provide an instant answer on that. Particularly in relation to low-incidence disabilities, whether it is to do with deaf or autistic children or those with other needs, a specialist voluntary organisation will often also be doing its best to monitor the situation. Therefore, when I say “following a complaint”, very often the relevant specialist society will be doing its best to support the pupil and will make sure that the YPLA and the local authority are informed and concerned if the need falls short. However, we are looking to develop partnerships among schools. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, went a good deal wider than this and spoke about young people in care going beyond the education sector to the other local agencies that deal with difficult young people. That is the way in which we have to go forward. On that basis of reassurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, on this occasion and given the hour, I have set aside my 2,000-word speech. I shall think carefully about what the Minister has said. I, too, was concerned by the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and the idea that we can just leave the matter to trust. We know that, of the academies that exist, a very large number—I do not have the exact number to hand—currently take part in behaviour partnerships and they work. However, it is the ones that do not do so that I am worried about.
I shall read the report of the debate. It has been a good discussion and helpful in clarifying for me the Government’s position. I was concerned to hear the arguments put forward by my noble friend Lady Wilkins and was interested in the noble Lord’s response. However, again, we come down to the academy agreement. When we are talking about a change from the number of academies being in the hundreds to potentially all schools in the country being academies, we have to think much more ambitiously about how we can make these partnerships work.
Before my noble friend withdraws her amendment, perhaps I may say that I regret that I am not reassured by the Minister’s words. However, I shall read them carefully and should like to consult my advisers. It is essential that the support services are kept together and maintained as a core service, but at the moment it does not sound as though they will be. I shall reflect on this issue.
Amendment 72 withdrawn.
Amendments 73 to 76A not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.57 pm.