Committee (1st Day)
If there is a Division in the Chamber, which is exceedingly unlikely, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Clause 1: Coasting schools
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out “coasting schools” and insert “schools in which pupils do not fulfil their potential”
My Lords, I rise to address the first group of amendments on the Marshalled List. In moving Amendment 1, I shall speak also to Amendments 2, 7 and 9 and make reference to Amendment 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington.
Amendments 1 and 2 would replace the term “coasting schools” with “schools in which pupils do not fulfil their potential”. We believe that that is essential, because coasting can be, and often is, seen as a pejorative term. There can be many reasons why pupils are not fulfilling their potential and it is wrong to start from a presumption that this is the result of a lack of effort on the part of the school. Currently the Bill provides for the definition of coasting to be set out in regulations. The draft is based entirely on performance data, a combination of pupil attendance data and pupil progress data. It allows for no other factors to be considered, but I am hopeful that that might change after the consultation.
At Second Reading the Minister mentioned—rather casually, it has to be said—that the Government will be launching a public consultation. Of course, that is to be welcomed; but he neglected to mention that the consultation was going to be launched the very next day. I heard about it only a few days later, by chance. It would have been helpful if the Minister had used the opportunity to fully inform all noble Lords, so that we could have been up to speed when the consultation was launched.
From Labour’s point of view, we will be contributing to that consultation, and I am sure that many noble Lords here today will also wish to do so. However, we await the outcome of the consultation, which it is said will be in the spring of next year. It should be drawn to the Committee’s attention that comment on the concept of coasting has already been made by both the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of your Lordships’ House. Both have been clear in their criticism of these aspects of the Bill.
Having considered the fact that the definition of coasting is left to regulations, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee says:
“We consider such a wide and open-ended delegation to be inappropriate given the fundamental importance of the definition to the operation of the new section, and the significant powers which become exercisable in relation to a school once it becomes eligible for intervention”.
The committee goes on to say that it finds the department’s explanation of why the definition is left to regulations unconvincing, and makes a distinction between the criteria and other factors that should apply in determining whether a school is coasting and the detailed data that are used to decide whether the criteria have been met.
The committee argues that if the data are more appropriate for regulations, this does not mean the criteria and other factors should not be included on the face of the Bill. It concluded with a stark warning that,
“there is nothing to prevent regulations being made in the future which completely change the basis for defining what constitutes a coasting school”.
That worry is felt rather more widely than the committee, which is non-partisan. If the Minister was less than happy with that, I imagine that he would have been no more so when he received a letter from the Constitution Committee dated 26 October. That letter pointed out that the committee had previously expressed its concern at the introduction of what it termed “vaguely worded legislation” that leaves much to the discretion of Ministers. The Committee said:
“We wish to put on the record once again our view that Bills should contain an appropriate level of detail and provide a suitable degree of legal certainty”.
I apologise to noble Lords for the extent of those quotes, but I believe that they are important, because the question of how schools are defined is fundamental to the Bill and the manner in which the Government are proposing to act has become the focus for stringent reprimand by two of the most powerful committees in your Lordships’ House.
We welcome statements in the illustrative regulations to the effect that where a coasting school can demonstrate that it can improve sufficiently it should be allowed to do so. This suggests that there may not be a default presumption of academisation—a word I seem to have difficulty in articulating. This point was reinforced by the consultation document. None the less, the judgment is at the discretion of the regional schools commissioner, who will decide on the sponsor where he or she determines that the school should become an academy and can make the decisions with no reference to governors, parents or other stakeholders.
The first two amendments in this group would ensure that the manner in which schools in which pupils do not fulfil their potential are identified and subsequently treated should be no different irrespective of whether they are in the maintained sector or the academy sector. That is why we argue that the provisions of the Act should take precedence over private contracts with academy sponsors. All schools should be treated equally; there should be no place for deals between Ministers and sponsors that are not open to scrutiny. No doubt the Minister will say that issues of confidentiality are involved, but that does not wash, because this is public money that we are talking about—and hefty chunks of it. The public have a right to know how their money is spent, and how both transparency and accountability are to be demanded of those in receipt of those funds.
Amendment 9 states:
“An Academy may be defined as coasting if it falls within the definition made by the Secretary of State by regulations”.
This is one amendment that the Minister must surely find acceptable because it has emerged that an academy can indeed be defined as coasting. This is something else that my team and I have learned by chance, because no announcement that we were aware of was made. It so happens that one of my colleagues came across the latest revision of the model funding agreement, published on 10 September. That document provides for an academy to be designated as a coasting school using the definition which will appear in the legislation when enacted. The wording in the agreement states:
“‘Coasting’ has the meaning given in regulations made under section 60B of the Education and Inspections Act 2006”.
That may not sound important, but it is—although I have to say that, following the Government’s stonewalling on more than 80 amendments in the other place, I believe that we can now claim that this is a government concession. It may not be the way that the Minister sees it, but it is a factor that there has been movement there.
However, if that is the upside, there is a downside to this as well, in that it begs the question as to whether this method is an appropriate use of parliamentary process. Section 60B of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 will not exist in law until and unless the Education and Adoption Act receives Royal Assent. Is it to become the normal practice for DfE officials to publish model legal documents which assume that Parliament will enact legislation before it actually does so? Can the Minister assure the Committee that the reference to Section 60B will now have a health warning attached to it just in case Parliament should decide not to pass the legislation, or if the provision becomes, for the sake of argument, Section 60C or Section 60D or whatever when the Bill eventually receives Royal Assent? As an aside, perhaps the Minister will be able to tell noble Lords when he expects all academies to have this provision inserted into their funding agreements.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Government’s decision to leave academies outwith the Bill was at least in part designed to avoid some embarrassment to Ministers if those schools do not perform as it had been hoped that they would. If that is the case, it is hardly a sound basis on which to make law. The amendments also place the assessment of whether a school is in this category in the hands of Ofsted. This is to avoid the confusion of having both Ofsted and regional schools commissioners making judgments about a school. It would be entirely possible as the Bill and the regulations are drafted for Ofsted to find a school good or outstanding and the regional schools commissioner to find it coasting and therefore eligible for intervention. That is a recipe for confusion and not a situation that is in anyone’s interest.
Amendment 2 sets out a broader range of criteria to be considered by Ofsted rather than simply relying on performance data. It recognises that there are factors that will affect outcomes that do not relate to how hard the school is working. For example, it is known that pupils from deprived backgrounds on average make slower progress than others. Pupils with special needs often make slower progress than others. Being located in an area where teacher supply is difficult will affect how well pupils do. Data from small schools are much less reliable than those from larger schools. Surely all these factors need to be taken into account when making a judgment about a school. For that reason, Amendment 2 would require Ofsted to consult local authorities and academy sponsors before reaching a decision. It surely makes sense to get the views of those who know a school best and have the ability to explain whether particular circumstances have affected it.
Being designated as a coasting school—or, more accurately, a school in which pupils do not fulfil their potential—should not lead to an academy order. There is one good reason for that. As will arise in discussing various amendments, there is no evidence that academisation leads to greater improvement than remaining in maintained status. The most important factor is to begin the process of bringing about improvement in a school, not concentrating on legal structures.
The Bill rests on the assumption that school improvement can be achieved only by turning a school into a sponsored academy, but there is no evidence that academisation alone improves educational standards. Last year, the National Foundation for Educational Research published research that concluded that the amount of attainment progress made by pupils in sponsored and converted academies is not greater than in maintained schools with similar characteristics.
It is wrong to pursue a one-size-fits-all approach when the evidence that academies are automatically high performing does not stand up to scrutiny and when other options are available. Schools in which pupils are not fulfilling their potential deserve the opportunity to improve without being told that they have no choice in the matter. The same applies to staff, parents and governors. That last issue is for another day; I hope that the Minister will take on board the arguments advanced in support of this group of amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, before I speak to the amendments, I must apologise to the Committee because I have to leave early this afternoon—for a rather strange reason. I live in a small town in East Sussex called Lewes, where there are bonfire celebrations. There are six bonfire societies, six guys, six processions and general mayhem and chaos in the town. The town will therefore be closed down any minute now and I have to get back. I do apologise.
Now to be serious. All of us in this room and in the House generally are concerned about the welfare and education of our children. We are all concerned about having good schools, of whatever type. We are all concerned about pupils reaching their full potential. I want to talk mainly about the issue of coasting, which I would define as not reaching potential, but coasting is the word in the Bill. Much of the Bill is about coasting: who is responsible for the schools, who consults whom, what collaboration takes place, and so on.
First, I thank the Minister for his letter of 21 October, and for calling a meeting the other day which, unfortunately, I could not go to. In the letter, the Minister talks about the Bill making important changes to deliver social justice—I shall come back to that—and to ensure that every child deserves an excellent education. He goes on to say that the Bill provides measures to tackle coasting schools and that illustrative coasting regulations, including a proposed definition of coasting, were published on 30 June. But, to my disappointment, the letter goes no further with defining what we might mean by coasting.
The definition given is fixed on achievement at GCSE. This is a very dangerous definition for schools, teachers and young people, and for school ethos and performance. I will say why, and why I hope that the definition is broadened substantially and put in the Bill, not just in regulations.
We have heard about the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s criticism of the substance of the Bill being in regulations. This is what happened in the Childcare Bill and it was criticised then. The Government produced regulations that were far longer than the Bill, which is not good enough.
I am surprised that the Minister seems content with a purely academic definition of coasting, because he and I have had several interesting and very valuable conversations about the importance of personal and social skills in education and the importance of school policies which support those skills. Those skills include communication, teamwork, citizenship, knowledge of health matters and school policies about issues such as bullying and behaviour. I believe that the Minister supports all this and I hope he will exercise his influence to redefine with the Department for Education what we mean by a good school where pupils reach their potential.
The Commons Education Committee certainly thought that such skills were important. It stated that personal, social and health education should be statutory in schools. When will the Department for Education respond to the report calling for this recognition? The report was published in February and we still have not had a response to it. Pupils, parents and business leaders have supported PSHE in schools. This is not a wishy-washy subject but a serious concept. Major evidence-based development programmes and research support its importance for young people. Far from calling for more academic approaches to developing young people, the CBI said that young people should be “rounded and grounded” and that they should not have just academic skills.
It has also been shown that PSHE helps to develop self-esteem and confidence in children and helps them to learn. I have visited many schools where heads say that without personal, social and health education, children would be disadvantaged. I have seen how social skills and confidence improve social mobility, and so has the Minister. Therefore, why are we trammelling our schools with an inadequate definition of coasting? Coasting to me means a lack of a coherent strategy for personal, social and health education.
In the definition of a coasting school, why is there no mention of sport? I look forward to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, is here. On 15 October, in a splendid debate in the House of Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, spoke about all-party support for children doing sport in schools: sport after school, sport linking to clubs and better facilities, including playing fields. He deplored the decline in school sport. Sport and physical activity is known to improve character, self-esteem and academic success, as pointed out by the Youth Sport Trust in 2014. For me, a coasting school would be one that did not provide not just adequate but excellent sporting and physical activity.
What about the arts—music, theatre and dance? Coincidentally, a major novelist, Philip Pullman, just wrote about the provision of the arts in schools. He described education in the arts as,
“of incalculable worth in what it means to be a human being”.
He bemoaned the fact that the proportion of primary school-aged children going to the theatre in the past 12 months has dropped from 47% in 2009 to 32% in 2015. As he said, a child tends not to find his or her way to the theatre. Some are taken by parents. Many rely, as I did, on the school to provide visits to the theatre.
A coasting school would not pay attention to our marvellous tradition in the arts and in sport. It would not encourage music, dance and drama. It would not be doing justice to pupils. Without social skills, self-esteem and health skills, upward social mobility is almost impossible. Indeed, without those skills, it may be downward mobility.
We know that Ofsted looks at all these factors when assessing a school. I really do not think that any parent, teacher or child wants an education which lacks breadth and does not have a broad and balanced curriculum. Without these skills, schools certainly will not develop the social justice that the Minister calls for in his letter. We know that children are stressed by an overemphasis on testing for academic results. We also know that teachers hate it. Will the Government, very rapidly, give reassurance that this is not the way in which we define education?
I am not sure what consultation is needed to define a coasting school. We have enough academic and practical evidence about what a good school should provide for our children and what helps them to be rounded and grounded. I fear for children and teachers if the Government seriously think that coasting applies only to academic results. It is a terrible way to look at life. Will the Government please put a better definition in the Bill?
My Lords, these amendments concern the idea of what is coasting. Somewhat late in the day, the Government have given a not bad example of what they consider to be academic coasting. But I would say to my noble colleagues that I like the one about special educational needs—and shall we take my declaration of interests in that department as read? But unless you get that identified and the support and structure going through, you cannot get a good measure, even on the academic level. You just cannot because it takes different learning patterns and strategies. The noble Lord, Lord Nash, and I have—let us say—interacted quite considerably on this subject over the past couple of years, so we can take that as something that we will develop during the passage of the Bill.
However, as has already been pointed out, what about the rest of the activities that take place within a school? I also wanted to put into this the final outcomes of a school—“What are you doing to send people on?”. This brings me back once again to apprenticeships, in that how you access what comes next is surely the best definition of success—far better than any test or exam result. I would like to know how that is going to be brought into the equation because school is part of a process. We tend to talk about things as if they are entities unto themselves and you never leave: or you drop off the world and emerge somewhere else.
Then we come to my favourite part: why on earth, when we spend so much time talking about competitive sport and team games, do we not pay some attention to them? It is not just about the number of people you have or the number of trophies your school wins, it is how you get people to play sport after school. That is the primary function. A very successful school sports programme is something that fills out the second and third teams of various sports for a long time—much more so than the odd star you will get by luck or accident every now and again. The same could be said of the arts.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I offer my apologies for not speaking independently but I will be on my feet in a matter of minutes in the Chamber speaking about the Olympics’ sports legacy and regeneration. But I wanted to be present when the noble Lord, Lord Addington, introduced his amendment because I am strongly supportive of broadening the definition of coasting—looking at the arts and, in particular, sport. Physical education, sport and physical literacy in schools are exceptionally important. I have always believed that the Secretary of State should report annually to both Houses on the state of those three aspects in all schools, and the Bill gives us the opportunity for that report to be made on coasting schools. I support the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I very much hope that when I have the opportunity at a later stage to read the response from the Minister, they will be well received.
I thank the noble Lord for his support and appreciate that even he cannot be in two places at once—although he does a very good impersonation of it at times.
Unless you broaden, much of the hyperbole we have been getting and that all political parties indulge in about making it a broader experience is going to be missed. The academic model is great but it is always quantifiable; there are always changes and caveats. If you miss those, effectively you are labelling somebody who has done the best they can as failing, coasting, not achieving—call it what you like. Unless you give us an idea about how you are going to take the rest of this out, you are ignoring the real function; that is, the socialising function. Sport, arts and further adult life, basically—what is your foundation for expanding on here? If we do not get some definition, and it would be much better to have something in the Bill or something that at least directly tells you where to find it—big letters, nice and clear; we are bears of very little brain, show us where and show us the process by which you are going to change this—you are actually going to cause more trouble than anything else.
I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Nash, replies, he will have something that really goes to the heart of this. If he does not, I have this vision of lengthy litigation and squabbling as we try to readjust and go forward. We have to know what we are talking about.
I also give my apologies, as I have to go to a charity reception at 3.40 pm and will not be able to stay later. It seems to me that we are in danger of making this rather too complicated, and I take issue with some of the amendments this afternoon. There has been an awful lot of noise about the definition, which has come rather late and has been a problem. The Minister’s letter is very helpful, but it would have been more helpful to have had it earlier. Nevertheless, it has made things much clearer.
All noble Lords who have dealt in one way or another with schools in various parts of the country know what coasting schools are: they are schools that kind of float along below the radar, and we have all had experience of them over the years. The interesting and the challenging thing is that this potentially will include a lot of schools around the country, which is something I will ask a question about later. They are the sort of schools that, superficially, often have very good exam and SAT results, but which, underneath that, are pretty unimpressive. We have never really put any focus on those schools.
Other schools of course may be doing brilliantly in terms of the entry levels of the pupils that they work with. Handled properly, this will allow us to praise the schools that are doing brilliantly with pupils and making extremely good progress. I speak with a very strong personal interest in this in a variety of ways, but particularly in terms of the work I am doing currently with Ark, which works with extremely disadvantaged communities. I would not want the sort of schools I work with to be let off the hook on pupil progress. The danger of including an awful lot of other stuff in the definition is that it would let schools off the hook again when it comes to making sure that we drive up standards for the most disadvantaged children around the country. I would be very concerned about that.
For schools to get good academic progress from their pupils, all of the things we have just talked about have to be included. I have been around an awful lot of schools in the last five years and have not seen many that deliver great progress without doing the arts and the range of other things that we are talking about. That is integral to a good school, and therefore I am a bit sceptical that we need to lay that all out again. The system now has a lot more data than it used to have, and there are a lot more data out there than used to be available. The encouraging thing is that we have the headline data, which all of us, in different ways, have had concerns about at times because it does not necessarily take account of progress. The key thing that has changed is that we now have good progress data for pupils, which we used not to have. In addition, we have Ofsted reports, although there is a problem with focusing too much on Ofsted reports, as I know from personal experience, in that sometimes they lag quite far behind; a school may not have been delivering in the period since the last Ofsted report. That can happen in particular with schools that have been outstanding for a long time and therefore have not been visited by inspectors for a considerable length of time.
I am very concerned about the idea of setting up another, completely separate set of quite complicated accountabilities. Although I understand the idea behind it from my colleagues here, there is a danger that if we start to take account of the curriculum, gender, sports, arts and so on, that creates extra pressure for a lot of head teachers and makes life more complicated and more stressful for them. I know from bitter experience that they are anxious enough about Ofsted inspections, so we have to be careful about adding to the complication.
If we were looking at only one year’s data, I would be really worried, because we all know you can have bad years or a cohort that does not perform. If we were only looking at progress for one year, I would be worried. But the combination of several years’ performance and, crucially, several years’ progress data is important and is a step forward.
I am also reassured by the involvement of RSCs in this process, because it gets it away from Whitehall and closer to the ground. My experience of the regional schools commissioners is that they are, by and large, grown-ups—people with professional expertise who are largely ex-heads, who want to get their schools better in their region. Clearly, it would be foolish if they did not consult the Ofsted regional directors, and that could be built in; that would be practical and sensible.
My question to the Minister is: are we confident that we can resource all this work sufficiently? Potentially, we could be talking about a lot of schools, and at the moment RSCs are a lean operation. The Minister needs to reassure me more about how the work will be carried out than about the actual definition. If the work is underresourced, there is a danger that that will be seen as naming and shaming, whereas all of us in here today, wherever we are sitting, want this work to be about school improvement. If this is to be serious school improvement, it will need serious and properly funded work.
Briefly, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has just said. It is practical common sense. We all know what we mean by a coasting school. At the heart of it, it is one that is simply not getting better; it is just staying where it is. My experience of good schools is that they always want to do better. They will be proud of and pleased with what they are doing, but they will tell you that next year they will do it better and make this or that improvement. The coasting school is one that has just stopped doing that and is sitting there, content with what it is, not brilliant and not below the bar, but not providing that stretching that a good school does for all its pupils.
We should not try to extend the definition, which is a very crucial part of the Bill, to a whole shopping list of all the things that we would like to see in a school. We could write a book on the subject—and many people have—of all the things that we would like to see in a school. My strong feeling is that all schools, by law, have to provide a broad and balanced curriculum and, if they are not doing so, they are failing. If they are not providing all the things that enrich and enhance the experience of their pupils, again, they are not just coasting—they are failing.
Would the noble Baroness not accept that some schools do neglect sport, the arts and social skills? We know this—and that those skills often underpin academic success, so they need to be there. If they are not there, you will not get academic success, either.
Absolutely. That is why we have Ofsted, which picks these things up. It is my firm belief that schools need looking at very regularly. I do not mean that they need a full Ofsted inspection but, as I said at Second Reading, they need somebody to go in to make sure that these things are happening and to make sure that the school then takes action on the deficit that has been identified.
We have a well-defined definition that is workable; it is not complete, and I do not think that the Minister will claim that it is, but it will flag up the need for further action. Let us get it clear at this stage of the Bill—because some of the amendments later seem to cast doubt on it—that nobody is going to force a coasting school immediately into academy status; it is going to be given an opportunity to improve by other means. After the kind of things that we have seen in the press this week, as if all coasting schools were suddenly going to be made academies against their will and without any consultation, let us just kill that myth among ourselves.
My Lords, I was not planning to intervene at this stage but I would like to ask the Minister to address a question in his summing up. Like the noble Baronesses, Lady Morgan and Lady Perry, I think that the definition—whatever it is—has to be very clear and simple. My concern about it being simply about academic content and not having just one phrase that adds to the roundness of the whole is that we all know that when schools are under pressure—we all know what a coasting school looks like and when it is defined as such it will find itself under pressure—they will work very hard at the things that will take their scores up, which will be the academic areas. That could be to the detriment of the other areas.
I went to a very good programme that the noble Lord, Lord Nash, arranged. I will say more about that later, but one of the impressive things that the regional commissioners were talking about was how to develop leadership, which in all organisations—and some of us have had to work to change things round—is what is important. Leadership is developed by developing roundness in children. I would just like the Minister to think about how there could be some sort of phrase—a relatively straightforward and simple one—which ensures that schools do not focus just on the academic areas, because they are under pressure, at the expense of developing the other skills that will bring those young people forward and make them the next leaders in schools and in society.
My Lords, as has become fashionable, I will start with an apology that I have to leave early and that I was not able to take part at Second Reading because of my other interests. That segues into reminding your Lordships of my interests, particularly in respect of my full-time work, which I am not at, at TES—Times Education Supplement or whatever phrase resonates best with your Lordships.
This is a very interesting, probing amendment to a key clause. I broadly support what the Government are trying to do with coasting schools and any sense of complacency in schools which feel that they are not blipping on the Minister’s radar. Clearly they should be, through the RSCs. I have to say, I baulk at that acronym. If you do a search on TES for “RSC” you get to resources provided by the Royal Society of Chemistry, which frustrates the Royal Shakespeare Company. To have another one entering the lexicon frustrates me slightly, but I am sure that the Minister will be informed by the regional schools commissioners.
There seem to be three issues here: the type of school, the definition of coasting, and the definition of intervention. I would be very interested to hear some clarification on the record from the Minister about the types of school. It seems fairly clear that these are local authority-maintained schools so one’s assumption is that this applies to grammar schools, comprehensive schools and so on. It is particularly important that it is clear that it applies to grammar schools as well as non-selective maintained schools.
Then there is the question of academies. Academies are addressed in the amendment. I recall when I was a Minister—a long time ago now—that we did not want to include academies in legislation because we had separate legal agreements with academies and it became very complicated to unpick those legal agreements because you had to replace them with primary legislation and that created complications with sponsors. I remember the lines that I was given to take extremely well. I suppose I hope that those lines have moved on because we now have a lot more academies. Once you get to the point where the majority of secondary schools, for example, might be academies, you start to worry about the democratic deficit of Parliament no longer being able to properly influence the evolving nature of the governance of academies. They are not part of the local authority family. There is a direct relationship in contract law between them and the Secretary of State. How does Parliament influence them if we continue to have that line to take from the department and the Minister?
Incidentally, I would be interested to have clarification about where university technology colleges and studio schools fit within this. I listened to the excellent Cass Business School lecture by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, where he talked extensively, as one might expect, about university technology colleges and how well they are doing. I am a studio schools ambassador. There is fantastic progress in the performance of children in those small, more vocationally focused schools, although on some of the data it does not look as though they are performing as well on raw attainment. Having clarity around these exceptions is also helpful.
That leads to a second issue to do with coasting. We have heard really good contributions from all sides of the Committee on that. I, too, do not think that we should have an overreliance on data. I welcome the notion that we have better progression data than we used to. When I was responsible for the national challenge, it was very much data-driven and was very hard-edged and raw. The notion that we can do something more sophisticated feels a lot fairer. I agree with my noble friend about the use of the regional schools commissioners’ judgments and other things that inform that.
In the context of a broad and balanced curriculum and the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, it is worth saying that I am able to see some of the data around teacher recruitment. For example, I see evidence that it is quite easy to recruit PE teachers—this has to do with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington—but it is a lot harder to recruit in some other subjects, such as those in the EBacc. When I see evidence around what head teachers are saying they are doing to compensate for being unable to recruit in certain subjects, I see that one of the things they might do is not continue with some subjects if they cannot easily recruit for them. That would create a worrying scenario in respect of a broad and balanced curriculum. I add that comment because it might inform the debate about teacher recruitment that we will have on later amendments.
Finally, on intervention, this amendment is to the first clause, about certain schools being defined as coasting and therefore eligible for intervention. We are all interpreting intervention as being academy status. This Government will be with us, whether we like it or not, at least until 2020. If it is the Government’s intention that they want every school to be an academy, perhaps they should just say that, legislate for it and get on with it, and create certainty in the system. We can then debate real issues about the democratic deficit around academies and the governance of them, if that is what is happening en masse and at scale, rather than it feeling as though they are trying to manoeuvre, lever, persuade and cajole, and do everything they possibly can to get every school to be an academy, without actually saying so. That would be a more honest and straightforward way for us to proceed, if that is the Government’s clear intent. If it is not, and they want local authority schools to thrive, let them say so, clearly and unambiguously, and create a genuinely level playing field, without it feeling, as it does in this case—namely, if the intervention really is to be made to become an academy—as though they are using every excuse to force that to happen.
My Lords, I enjoy listening to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, much more in opposition than I ever did when he was a Minister.
I have been looking at the draft of the definition on the DfE website. I think that it has gone way off beam in including in the definition of coasting a measure of absolute performance. Coasting is about relative performance: about not doing well by the kids you have got. If you put a figure in there—you cannot be coasting if you have more than 65% of pupils getting grades A to C, including maths and English—you are leaving out all the schools in the leafy suburbs, grammar schools and schools that are selective in other ways because they have tweaked their educational requirements or are religious schools. They are just as likely to be coasting as schools which deal with a broader range of children. I am very keen that the Government should be clear that coasting is about relative performance and not absolute performance.
I am also keen that the Government should justify the ideas that they are putting forward on a statistical basis. We are dealing with examinations, particularly at GCSE, which are becoming closer and closer to norm referencing, where there is clearly a limit to the additional percentage of children who can pass in any given year. On listening to some of the people the noble Lord, Lord Nash, put in front of us this week, I have every hope that they will do well with some speed. If schools are doing well, we will therefore find GCSEs getting harder. Under those circumstances, I am worried about the statistical validity of the ideas that the Government are putting forward as a definition of coasting.
There will always be variability. I do not know whether the 0.5 below the median is a reasonable figure, particularly when that seems to take no account of the size of the school, which is obviously very important for the statistical validity. I do not know how a measure of relative performance works in a universe where per se the measure is largely non-referenced. I would like some statistical comfort from the Minister. If not now, I know that he has some very good statisticians back in “Fortress Education” and I would be grateful for a letter.
My Lords, I would like to add a few words. I have been very sympathetic with quite a lot of what has been said today. In particular, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said, I think that we are all quite sympathetic with the notion of wanting to improve performance. Picking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the concept of a coasting school goes back to when the late Chris Woodhead was Chief Inspector of Schools in the 1990s. He was very concerned that bright pupils were not being pushed and stretched enough to achieve their potential. As we have it, the definition of both the floor and the progress measure does not pick up those bright pupils. It does not pick up grammar schools or the good comprehensives in the leafy suburbs such as Guildford, which do a good job but perhaps could do a better job. If we are looking at coasting schools, it is important that they perhaps are given a bit of a jolt as well as other schools.
I am very sympathetic with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, says about progress being what we are actually looking at here, and that the floor standard should play a lesser part and the progress standard a better part. However, I recognise that at present it is quite difficult to measure progress standards, particularly in primary schools. I have great reservations about reintroducing key stage 1 tests but, equally, if it is left to teacher assessment, there is inevitably an element of subjectivity about it, which creates some difficulties.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, made a point about the regional schools commissioners, which at the moment have very few resources. They will be backed by the advisory board of heads. But one of our scarce resources is good leadership and governance in schools. I am sure all of us know of both primary and secondary schools that have spent a long time trying to find good heads and of those with gaps where a deputy has had to take over and run the school for a year or so. When Ofsted comes in, it then marks the school down on leadership and governance because of the very fact that it has not been able to find a head.
We have crippled the leadership training programme. The National College for Teaching and Leadership has been more or less wound up, although elements have been put into teacher training. Compared to the programmes that were run about seven years ago or so, what is available now is a very pale imitation. What we ought to be doing is making sure that every good deputy is sent off to do these programmes, which involve evening and weekend work and attending short courses. They were extraordinarily good and enabled us to generate a new cadre of heads about 10 years ago. They are now working their way through, but we are not doing enough to produce a new cadre of heads, and we are very short of them. I see great difficulty in both the proposals for regional schools commissioners to have these advisory groups of heads who will move into schools and, for that matter, the proposals that came the other day from the Secretary of State about creating a school leadership group and so forth to work in rural and coastal areas. Take these good heads away from their schools and their schools often sink. We know very well that there are difficulties if you do not have a head.
I come back to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I am currently a member of the Select Committee which is looking at social mobility and skills. There is no doubt whatever about what she said about social skills being so important and so valued. It worries me that there are secondary schools in this country that are so worried at the moment about their achievements in academic terms that they are scrapping PHSE. They consider it unnecessary, so the attention to social skills is just not there in the schools. I take on board what has been said about the need to have a broad-based curriculum and so forth, and it would be very nice if the regulations stressed that need as well as including the definition of coasting.
Finally, I would ask whether the Government intend to reply to the recommendations from the Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee. What will their response be?
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, reminds me that there are some very interesting variations within schools when it comes to progress. You get schools where the bright kids make no progress at all, and those where the SEN kids fall backwards while the general level of progress in the school is good. If we are to have a measure of what constitutes coasting, there must be scope for applying it to the school community as a whole and asking for some level of consistency in performance. Not doing well, for instance, by kids on free school meals but doing well by the rest, and on average being okay, is not where this measure should be at. There should be some sense that this is meant to be consistent across the whole school community and that schools should not be boosting one section of the school community and neglecting the rest.
I have a lot of sympathy with the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. That a school should come out of the coasting definition by cutting back on breadth should be discouraged. I can see why it should not be in the definition of coasting, but narrowing down should not be a permissible way to get out of coasting. It is so depressing, going to schools that are narrowly focused on exams. I do not do it often, but it is a grim experience.
Lastly, I will say that someone has sent me a copy of Call Me Dave. If the noble Baroness would like to throw it on the bonfire in Lewes, she can take it.
My Lords, I will speak to the group containing Amendments 1, 2, 5, 7 and 9, which concern coasting schools, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Watson, Lord Hunt and Lord Addington, and by the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Bakewell. Before doing so, I will say that at the recent Third Reading of the Childcare Bill I wished the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, who has been the Front-Bench spokesman on education throughout my time in this job, well with her new brief. I did not realise at the time that the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, was also leaving the education Front Bench and going back to his old brief of defence, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish him all the best with his new brief. It has been a pleasure working with him.
It has also been a pleasure discussing the Education and Adoption Bill with noble Lords both on and off the Floor of the Chamber. I hope that all noble Lords who attended the meetings with regional schools commissioners, head teacher board members and multi-academy trust chief executives on Monday found it useful. It is refreshing that on the 410th anniversary of the gunpowder plot we can take comfort from the fact that we are no longer a society divided, as our country was 410 years ago, and that there is cross-party support for the central thrust and purpose of this Bill.
As this is the first group of amendments, I hope that noble Lords will permit me to remind everybody of the purpose of this legislation, which is to ensure that every child, regardless of background, has the opportunity to go to a good school. That means dealing with failure swiftly, as a day spent in a failing school for a child is a day of their education lost for ever. We made this absolutely clear in our manifesto, on the basis of which we were elected to government.
So where a school is failing, the legislation proposes that it will become an academy forthwith. Also, for the first time, and as we also stated in our manifesto, we are bringing coasting schools into scope. This is about putting children first. But we must do this in a way which is clear to all and is practicable, and I must say, as I will elaborate, I have some real concerns about the practicality of the amendments proposed to the coasting definition.
Clause 1 of the Bill gives a power to the Secretary of State to make regulations defining which schools will be deemed to be coasting, and therefore eligible for intervention. To assist noble Lords’ scrutiny of this clause, we published draft regulations in June setting out our proposed definition and have also launched a public consultation on the proposed definition. The definition provides a clear and transparent data-based approach. The policy is about identifying schools which are failing to fulfil the potential of their pupils over time. We have therefore consciously chosen to base the definition on three years’ performance data, rather than a single Ofsted judgment or a snapshot of a single year’s results. As noble Lords have said, Ofsted judgments can often be rather backward-looking, excellent though they generally are.
From 2016, primary and secondary schools will be held to account against new headline accountability measures. Given that our proposed definition looks at data over three years, under this definition it would be 2018 before schools have three years of data reflecting these new metrics. It is important that we do not wait until then to tackle coasting schools. So our draft regulations contain an interim measure for 2014 and 2015 which is based on the current headline accountability measures familiar to schools, as well as the measure that will apply from 2016 onwards. A school must be below the coasting bar across three years in order to be deemed to be coasting and to become eligible for intervention.
From 2016, the proposed coasting definition for secondary schools will be based on Progress 8. Progress 8 is a measure which has been well received by schools and head teachers. It is a robust metric, based on the progress a pupil makes in eight GCSEs when compared to pupils with the same starting point. At least five of those GCSEs have to be in English baccalaureate subjects. As the measure compares the results of pupils against those with a similar starting point in other schools, it clearly focuses on whether schools are fulfilling the potential of all their pupils and makes it an ideal metric on which to assess whether a school is coasting—and it moves away from what Tristram Hunt so accurately described as the great crime of the C/D borderline.
For primary schools, we think it is right that the coasting definition includes both an attainment and a progress element. For a primary school to be identified as coasting, it must fall below the bar on both attainment and progress in all three years. Attainment is critical for primary schools as there is an absolute standard which pupils need to reach to be able to make a successful start in secondary school. In 2016, the attainment bar for the coasting measure will be 85% of pupils meeting the new expected standard in reading, writing and maths.
Progress is also a critical part of the proposed coasting definition for primary schools. The progress element is again calculated by comparing the results of pupils with similar starting points. If a school has fewer than 85% of pupils meeting the new expected attainment standard, but the new primary progress measure shows that pupils are making good progress from their starting point, that school will not be regarded as coasting.
How will the progress measure account for churn in schools that have a big churn in population because of migration or Gypsy Travellers or because they are in a mobile community?
I think—although I will write to the noble Lord—that it will not be calculated; they will not be in the stats, because they will not be there at the beginning.
The Bill provides that the Secretary of State will notify a school when it is coasting, and this makes the school eligible for intervention. As set out in the draft Schools Causing Concern guidance, which is currently out for consultation, regional schools commissioners will then consider whether the school has the capacity to secure sufficient improvement without formal intervention. In some cases, a school which falls within the coasting definition may have a new head teacher, governors or leadership team who can demonstrate that they have an effective plan to raise standards sufficiently. In other cases, they may be able to buddy up on a short-term basis with a nearby school and, in others, external support may be necessary from an NLE.
Where appropriate, regional schools commissioners will use their formal powers to ensure a coasting school receives the support and challenge that it needs, which may include becoming an academy. In answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, it is by no means certain that coasting means becoming an academy; there may be many different ways in which schools can improve. As he knows from his excellent work on the London Challenge, that could be school-to-school support. We see one of the advantages of academisation as the clear structure of school-to-school support that it can bring, but that may necessarily be on a temporary basis for a coasting school.
Amendments 1 and 2, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and Amendment 5 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, propose alternative approaches to identifying and addressing schools in which pupils do not fulfil their potential. Amendment 2 gives Ofsted and the local authority responsibility for determining which schools are coasting. Amendment 5 seeks to broaden the definition to include achievement in sports and the arts and access to training, further education and the world of work. My concern with such approaches is that they remove certainty and transparency for schools; it would be unclear for any school whether it would be identified as coasting and, as such, could become eligible for intervention.
Being a teacher or a head teacher is a tough job. It is also in my view one of the most important jobs, if not the most important job, in our country at this time, given how highly geared these roles are to the future success of our country. We want to make the environment in which our teachers and head teachers operate easier, not more difficult, and more certain, not more uncertain. Our schools are inspected by Ofsted; that is right, and there is no doubt that our schools take great notice of this. But there is already enough uncertainty in the minds of our teachers and head teachers as to how their school will be rated by Ofsted without adding to that uncertainty and, yes, anxiety, by adding a vague coasting definition by which they are measured. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for her observations on this issue.
We have chosen to base our proposed coasting definition on published performance data precisely so that schools can easily understand whether their performance will equate to them being identified as coasting. Under our proposed approach, many schools can already be reassured that their 2014 and 2015 performance means that they will not be deemed to be coasting when—looking at three years of data, as we propose—we identify coasting schools for the first time in 2016. Such a certain, data-driven approach has been welcomed by many school leaders and organisations representing them. For example, the chief executive of Outward Grange Academies Trust has said that he welcomes the definition,
“in particular the fact that it is based on performance data not Ofsted and the fact that it is measurable every year and compares performance at similar schools over time”.
My Lords, if the primary definition here is based on academic achievement, where does it place other objectives that come through schools? I have spent a lot of time on the school sport strategy. It consults; it goes through; it gives duties; it relates to other bits of government. If you remove a certain aspect of a school’s activity from any reference, why do we bother making any references at all?
The reason why it is so important in primary—and it is again based on pupils making the right levels of progress—is the sad statistic that if you get better than level 4 at key stage 2 at primary, you have a more-than-90% chance of getting five good GCSEs; but if you get worse than level 4 at key stage 2 at primary, you have a 6% chance. We all get fixated on GCSE results, but the real work has to start in primary.
My Lords, I fully appreciate what the Minister says about clarity and transparency, but going back to the point made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, surely a reference to the “broad and balanced curriculum”, which is in an Education Act somewhere, would be helpful. I do not want a list of things that should be tested or referred to, but I would like some reference to the broader curriculum, which supports the academic curriculum. What is this consultation about if the Government are so sure that this is the right definition? I wonder whether the Minister could take that into consideration. I do not want a list; I want a rounded, broad and balanced curriculum.
Of course, Ofsted is focused heavily on a broad and balanced curriculum. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, schools that are good at sports, arts et cetera tend to do well on all fronts, but how on earth will teachers know where they are if we have a form of words which could, frankly, mean anything? I shall say a bit more about that in a minute.
The chief executive of the Burnt Mill Academy Trust, who was at the meeting on Monday—a very interesting lady called Helena Mills, who was extremely unsure about the whole academy idea in the early days and is now running a highly successful multi-academy trust and talks glowingly about the advantages—has said that,
“having a coasting definition which is based on performance over time, rather than snapshot judgement is really important”.
The chief executive of Olympus Academy Trust has said that,
“a school’s context should certainly be taken into account when an RSC is deciding whether, and how, to act in a coasting school. But to add factors about a school’s context or judgements about a school’s arts and sports provision into the coasting definition itself would make the definition too complex, subjective and ineffective”.
That is the thrust of our argument.
At a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education, Dame Vicki Paterson, the executive head of Brindishe Schools, a federation of three maintained primary schools, also welcomed the notion of coasting. She said that it was positive that the coasting schools definition would take into account school performance over three years and, for primary, be based both on progress and attainment. At the same meeting, a representative from the Association of School and College Leaders reported that her organisation was pleased that the coasting definition would be a separate judgment from those made by Ofsted.
Critically, both Amendment 2 and Amendment 5 would move away from a concentrated focus on those schools where data show that they are failing to fulfil the potential of their pupils. We know that the outcomes reflected in performance data really matter. Our latest results show, as I said, that key stage 2 results are so important.
Of course, other aspects, such as those outlined in these amendments, are important. Ofsted already looks at a wide range of factors in forming its judgments, including how well prepared pupils are for training and employment; the use of the PE and sports premium; and the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum. But intervention in coasting schools will not be automatic. The draft Schools Causing Concern guidance, which is currently out for consultation, is clear that while data will allow us to determine which schools fall within the coasting definition, RSCs will use Ofsted judgments, as well as a range of other factors, including those referred to in Amendment 2, to help inform their decisions about a school’s capacity to improve sufficiently. We have been clear that that list is not exhaustive, but the guidance already explicitly mentions factors such as the performance of disadvantaged pupils, the gender balance of the school, and pupils with special educational needs.
The Minister has just outlined that the RSCs will take account of Ofsted judgments. Perhaps it would be helpful, rather than adding to the complexity of the definition of coasting, if the Minister was able to at least consider putting somewhere in the regulations that there will actually be a dialogue with Ofsted. One of the things that possibly is missing is that an Ofsted judgment might be quite old but because Ofsted has a regional structure, there may be some much more up-to-date information. People may have been in and out of schools without formally making judgments. That might be helpful in order to take account of the broader issues that have been raised.
I assure the noble Baroness that dialogue with Ofsted does take place. I know that at least one regional schools commissioner shares an office with, or is in the same building as, the Ofsted regional schools team. I know that these dialogues take place regularly and I am sure no regional schools commissioner would intervene without talking to Ofsted, so that is something we can consider.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, made a number of points about the information we have provided and when. We wrote to all Peers to inform them that the consultation on the coasting definition and the Schools Causing Concern guidance had been launched, as well as inviting noble Lords to the meeting on Monday that I have mentioned. I have also replied to the Constitution Committee, explaining my approach to coasting and why the Bill reflects maximum devolution. It is a pity that only one opposition Peer made it to the event on Monday.
The consultation that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred to remains open, as he said, until 18 December. We first published illustrative regulations setting out the coasting definition in June, and the Minister for Schools made it clear that the model funding agreement had been amended in the other place; I referred to this at Second Reading. The model funding agreement that the noble Lord referred to has been in operation since September. The noble Lord is correct that this will apply only once this Bill receives Royal Assent but I am sure he will support the fact that we sought to amend the model funding agreement at the earliest possible opportunity and are now being clear with the regional schools commissioners that they will identify and challenge any academy whose performance falls within the coasting definition, whatever the terms of its funding agreement.
I greatly enjoyed listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and I am interested to hear that she is going to Lewes this evening. I remember there used to be a racecourse at Lewes which was rather oddly shaped. It was just a semicircle; it did not go all the way round. Sadly, I think it is now closed. In my younger days, I had a friend who was a stable lad and he was leading a horse round the ring. It was a National Hunt race and this horse had a hood on its head, which is most unusual in National Hunt, as I am sure the noble Baroness knows, so I asked him why. He said, “Well, it runs very well on the gallops but it does not seem to run very well in races so we concluded that maybe it does not like being around other horses, so we stuff its ears full of cotton wool and hope for the best”. We all got behind it and it won at 20-1 so I hope the noble Baroness has as happy a time this evening as I did then.
I have to tell the noble Lord that the jockeys from that racecourse used to wine and dine at the pub which is now the house I live in.
I knew the noble Baroness and I had a lot in common and now we have even more. As she knows, I agree with just about everything she had to say about what a proper education means, the importance of social skills, et cetera. As I have made clear, we just do not think it is right to put this in the definition, but regional schools commissioners, who are extremely experienced, will take this into account in their analysis. If any noble Lord who was not able to be there on Monday would like to meet any RSCs or any members of the head teacher boards, I would be delighted to set up another conversation about this. The noble Baroness talked about teachers’ stress levels. As I have said, I am genuinely fearful that having an uncertain, vague definition will just add to teachers’ stress levels, and I am sure we are all anxious to avoid that.
The Government have published their response to the Commons Education Committee’s inquiry into PHSE and SRE. As stated in the response, we are working with head teachers and other leading experts on PHSE to understand how best to achieve high-quality PHSE for every pupil. We intend to make significant progress on the issue during this Parliament and will report back to the Education Committee on progress later this year.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked about sport. As I have already mentioned, Ofsted do look at that. I could not agree more about the importance of sport, but as I have said, it is just not possible to legislate for this in a definition of coasting. I would be interested to discuss this more with the noble Lord when he has had a chance to analyse the Schools Causing Concern guidance in detail. He talked about the potential for litigation and uncertainty. My fear is that a vague coasting definition which is not absolutely clear and based on facts, like the one we have, would set up the potential for litigation and uncertainty.
My Lords, we are at the point of clarification and probing here, and sport is just an example. This is about the whole-school approach. What we are getting at is that academic achievement is the driver here. If the academic overrides everything, we are in danger of changing the character of an achieving school that is very successful in a different area. How does that get taken into account? It does not seem to be something that is taken into account when looking at academic progress, which is dominating this. Some more guidance there would help.
We should discuss this and I am very happy to do that. It is taken into account by Ofsted and will be taken into account by the regional schools commissioners. All good schools have a broad approach because they know how it pays back in academic results. However, in terms of having a metric which is clear and assessable, we believe that our approach is the correct one.
As my noble friend Lady Perry said, the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, was based on practical common sense. As a former chairman of Ofsted, chairman of the Future Leaders Trust and adviser to Ark, she is of course hugely experienced. Her practical experience—instead of theoretical analysis—was extremely helpful. I am grateful for her thoughts and her point that the definitions proposed in the amendments are just too complicated. She also made the point that good schools tend to provide a broad and balanced curriculum anyway. She is right that our new progress data are so much more robust, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said. I am also grateful for the noble Baroness’s comments about RSCs. We will be resourcing them up substantially over the next year, and I will be able to say more about this once the spending review has finished. I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s comments. As she said, Ofsted of course takes a lot of these issues into account.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, commented on the importance of leadership. Ofsted focuses on this heavily, which is the reason why we reduced the Ofsted categories down to four, one of which is leadership. We focus on that substantially. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also talked about the importance of leadership. I could not agree more. This is the most important issue facing us in schools, and we have an active programme of leadership in our schools. We are currently looking at all our leadership programmes to see whether they are fit for purpose, and have recently introduced a new leadership programme, the Future Leaders Trust MAT CEO course, for chief executives of MATs. We are very focused on making sure that our leadership training is adequate. We have had a lot of sessions with different regional schools commissioners, bringing in the top-performing MATs to explain to the newer MATs how they operate their organisations. There has been a huge amount of sharing of good practice.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, made a number of comments. When he mentioned his involvement with TES, I was reminded that I had my first interview with TES last week. I am rather naive on the political front, as you know, and I made the mistake of saying that if we are to have enough schools in future, we would have to get away from the concept that they all had to be on one or two floors. That resulted in a headline—not in the noble Lord’s paper, but in another one—that I was advocating skyscraper schools. That shows how naive I am on these matters; I should stay away from journalists as much as possible.
We will be setting up a competition, called the Knight competition, for renaming RSCs, so that the noble Lord does not get confused with the Royal Shakespeare Company in future. It will apply to grammars, I assure him of that. This definition is very focused on schools that appear to be doing well but are in fact coasting. In fact, some of the original thinking behind this was aimed very much at those apparently high-performing schools. From 2016 onwards, the secondary coasting definition will be based on the new headline accountability measure. Over three years, it will be the only measure that we look at. It is very robust, and will measure the progress of all pupils in the school. That will include a grammar school with a high attaining cohort making less good progress than such pupils should be making.
The Minister said that the programme is going to be very focused on high-performing schools. Can he tell us how that will be?
If you are a high-performing school with an APS of entry of 30 average pupils, and you are bound to get high GSCEs but they are not really good, then you are not doing your job. That will clearly come out.
If I may say so, high-performing schools achieve the five A* to C grades perfectly easily and will do the EBacc perfectly easily. It is the progress measure that is going to be absolutely crucial here. What is really required is for more weight to be given to the progress measure than to the performance measure.
The noble Baroness is completely right. I have not made myself clear. The progress measure comes in for the first time in 2016. The coasting definition is based over three years. Therefore, for the first year that the coasting definition applies, it can only have the progress measure in for one year, which is why we have these interim measures for 2014 and 2015. In 2018, however, it will all be entirely based on three years’ progress—so we will be entirely focused on progress in secondary schools.
My Lords, that is not the way the draft reads. It says: if fewer than 60% of school pupils achieve five A* to C grades, including English and maths, and the school has a below median score on progress. To fit in with what the noble Lord is saying, that “and” ought to be “or”.
It applies only to 2014 and 2015—and if it is not clear, we will make it clear in the future.
Amendment 5 requires draft regulations to be laid before and approved by each House before they can be made or updated. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, will allow me to discuss this important element of the amendment when we reach Amendment 8, which proposes exactly the same approach.
Amendments 2 and 9 propose that academies, alongside maintained schools, would become eligible for intervention, and, in the case of Amendment 2, subject to the statutory intervention powers in the Education and Inspections Act 2006, when notified by Ofsted that they are schools where pupils do not fulfil their potential.
I agree that coasting schools must be tackled—whether it is a maintained school or an academy. But academies are not governed by the statutory framework that this Bill seeks to amend. They are run by charitable companies—academy trusts—which operate in accordance with the terms of individual funding agreements between the academy trust and the Secretary of State. We have already published a new coasting clause for the model funding agreement, as I have said. But I want to reassure the House again that, even where academies do not have this specific clause in their existing funding agreement, regional schools commissioners will assess all academies against the coasting definition. Where academies are identified as coasting, RSCs will assess their capacity to improve sufficiently in just the same way as maintained schools, supporting and challenging them to improve and taking action under their funding agreements where necessary.
RSCs have already shown that they take effective action when academies underperform. Since 1 September 2014, when RSCs came into post, they have issued 58 prewarning and warning notices to academy and free school trusts. In the same period, they have moved 83 academies and free schools to new trusts or sponsors, compared to 13 in the previous academic year.
Amendment 2 would remove the Secretary of State’s power to issue an academy order for a school that has been notified that it is a school in which pupils do not fulfil their potential. While some coasting schools may choose to become academies in order to benefit from the strong governance and support of a multi-academy trust, we have been clear, as I said, that enforced academisation will not be the default solution for all coasting schools. RSCs will want to consider whether a coasting school has demonstrated that it has the capacity to improve sufficiently on its own, and in some cases this capacity will be evident, or it may need advice and support, for example from an NLE, and that may be sufficient to bring about the required improvements.
It is important that RSCs have the discretion to make an academy order where it is clear that a school’s leadership does not have the capacity to improve sufficiently and where the school needs the support of an experienced sponsor in order to fulfil the potential of the pupils. We know that sponsors can bring new life to schools. For example, the City Academy Whitehawk in Brighton and Hove opened in September 2013. The year prior to its becoming an academy, only 39% of pupils achieved level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths at the end of key stage 2. By 2015, the provisional figure has increased to 75%. It would not be right to deny coasting schools this support where it is appropriate.
Amendment 7 would provide the governing body of a maintained school with a right of appeal to the First-tier Tribunal when it considers that the data used to define a school as coasting could have been interpreted in a different way. This amendment is unnecessary. Our clear and transparent data-based definition will not be open to interpretation. Schools will be certain, based on the data, whether they have fallen below the coasting bar or not, but regional schools commissioners are already required by virtue of public law to act reasonably in exercising the Secretary of State’s powers. As I said, they will work with schools to consider all the relevant factors when deciding what action to take.
The draft Schools Causing Concern guidance already includes a number of examples of the type of factors they should consider. As I said, we have been clear that intervention in coasting schools will not be automatic. Nick Capstick, the CEO of the White Horse Federation outlined this clearly when he said:
“It is right that the coasting definition is based on transparent performance measures. It is then clear-cut for schools whether they fall within the coasting definition or not. The majority of schools will therefore be able to carry on free from fear that they suddenly and unexpectedly be judged as coasting”.
I know that noble Lords support our ambition to ensure that all pupils, whatever their background, receive an education that enables them to fulfil their potential. I hope that, following this debate and having seen the detail behind our coasting policy—alongside the proposed coasting definition set out in our recent consultation—noble Lords will be reassured that our approach is the right one.
Will the department record the interventions made as they are made on coasting schools against the different categories the noble Lord described earlier, so that there is a dataset that we can then interrogate to understand in practice as it rolls out how that balance plays out?
When we formally intervene, we already publish that information, so it will be in the public domain. In view of what I have said, I hope that noble Lords are reassured that our approach is the right one, and I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, despite my noble friend’s fine efforts, I have been unable to torture the words of the draft definition of coasting into the form that he says they take. It is quite clear from the wording here that, taking GCSE as an example, you have to fall below 60% five A to Cs to be considered coasting. It is therefore impossible for any grammar school, however lackadaisical in its teaching, to be considered a coasting school. That is a fundamental fault in the Government’s approach. It is very important that those schools and others which are lucky in their selection of pupils should be eligible for coasting.
We could go on like this for a long time, but I will talk to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, outside. The first principle of legal interpretation is to look at whether the wording is clear—I think that it is clear, but we can take this offline.
My Lords, the Minister is already writing me a letter full of statistics, so I hope that he can include that matter. I am comfortable that he says that a grammar school will be eligible, but I would be very grateful if he could make it clear to me how, given the wording in the draft.
Will the Minister send the letter round to everybody who has participated in the debate?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to an excellent and very informed debate. At Second Reading, two weeks ago, I commented on the fact that sitting behind me were two Secretaries of State for Education and a former Minister for Schools. Today we have had another former Minister for Schools and a head of Ofsted, so we have had impressive depth in our debate, which has shown in the contributions of those noble Lords and of others who have participated.
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, made the point that there needs to be a more rounded definition of what should contribute to how a school may be categorised as coasting. I enjoyed the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who had to leave for very sound reasons. It is not the first time that he has been involved in a debate looking at sport and education. The last Bill in which I was involved was the Charities Bill. He got involved in that, to some effect, to ensure that independent schools are obliged as charities to make available their sporting and arts facilities, as well as their teaching resources, to maintained schools. He was very effective in that, and I am sure that what he says on any aspect of sport, particularly with regard to education, is listened to with great interest. As he was until quite recently the head of the British Olympic Association, I wonder whether he has enough time on his hands now to cast his eyes rather more widely and, perhaps, look at the job that has become available at the head of the international football organisation, FIFA. I would certainly like to see him enter those portals—it would shake up quite a few people and I am sure he would quickly sort it out. But that is something for the future, and I hope that he will participate in another sitting of the Committee.
The more rounded definition is important. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, talked quite tellingly about outcomes. We hear a lot about inputs and outputs, but it is outcomes that really matter, particularly in schools but also in sporting terms. I liked the noble Lord’s mention of the fact that, ultimately, it is not trophies that count but participation levels. That is a point that I subscribe to very strongly. It seems odd that the Minister said, if I quote him correctly, that he was not in favour of broadening the concept of coasting because it would remove certainty and transparency about what constitutes coasting. I do not see why that should be the case. Surely, it is about setting down criteria clearly, and making it known and making it clear that not every school can be measured against the same criteria at the same time. There are some schools that excel in different subjects—that is natural—and I do not see how broadening it necessarily has to weaken any kind of definition.
My noble friend Lady Morgan talked about schools that were floating along despite good SATs and exam results. I am sure that there are quite a few of those, and floating might be a better term than coasting, although there is not that much difference. But the quick progress that schools make is the key here. I do not want anybody to get the impression that Labour is in any way opposed to the concept of coasting: it is not the concept but the term that we have objected to. That may seem perverse in some circles given that I think the Labour Government were the first to use the term, in 2009, although it had a slightly different meaning. It is about the concept rather than the terminology.
A number of noble Lords mentioned resources. The question of whether additional pressure is put on head teachers, as my noble friend Lady Morgan said, is an important one. The vast majority of head teachers work very hard for very long hours, and the inspiration that they provide for their teachers and indeed their pupils is almost always a deciding factor in how successful a school is. However, I have to say that I disagree with my noble friend when she says she does not want to put extra pressure on head teachers, because if a school is in a position where it is not progressing, I would have thought that a head teacher who knows that that is the case would not be satisfied. Otherwise, that should set lights flashing not only at Ofsted but among parents and indeed school governors. So to some extent we have to balance the pressure that we expect head teachers to be under against the point at which that crosses a line and the first thought in the head teacher’s mind is, “I just can’t go on like this; it’s just too much”, whether as a result of pressure from the bureaucracy, as we hear has been an issue, or whatever. If the pressure becomes too much, you can understand that head teachers have a limit. We have to bear that in mind when it comes to using the word coasting because, as I said, it has a pejorative sound to it that does not necessarily suggest to teachers or head teachers that what they have done has been adequately recognised.
I also noted the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that coasting is a relative measure. Of course it is, but whether we should cast the net wider in trying to find a proper definition for coasting and a proper way to measure it effectively, while bringing schools into a position where they can improve, is difficult to say at this stage. Perhaps the consultation that is under way will provide some clarity on this. I certainly hope so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, talked about a cadre of heads, which is interesting. The pressure that I just referred to on some head teachers and indeed on classroom teachers, because of the amount of bureaucracy that they are obliged to deal with these days, is not necessarily something that will encourage people either to go into teaching or to stay there for too long. That is something that we have to look at. Of course it comes back to resources, but it is also an issue that we have to address in terms of the overall performance of the school.
In response to the Minister, I have to start off with two apologies. The first is that if indeed he did write to all Peers on 21 October with the consultation document, I apologise; for some reason it did not reach me. I would not have made that comment if it had. The second is that last Monday I was in transit from Scotland and could not come to the meeting with the regional schools commissioners. I would have liked to have been there because I would have liked to have had a much greater understanding of just what it is that they do, so perhaps we can look at that at some time in the future.
I would be delighted to write to the noble Lord.
I thank the Minister for that. I referred earlier to the fact that he talked about the need for certainty and transparency, which is why he is minded to reject these amendments. At a stage like this, when we are dealing with a dearth of teachers coming into the profession or indeed staying in it, there has to be some feeling that teachers themselves are valued more than they appear to be at the moment. This kind of legislation, in which, as I said at Second Reading, there is no mention of teachers, is not designed to show that they are valued in that way. That is unfortunate.
The Minister talked about the Constitution Committee and his reply to its suggestion that the term coasting was vaguely defined. Will the Minister furnish the Committee with his response to the Constitution Committee? That would be very valuable when it comes to increasing our understanding of how he sees the comments of that important committee.
The main issue here is that schools that for whatever reason are not doing as well as they might should improve. I cannot imagine that anyone does not want to see that happen. I certainly want to see it happen, but it is a question of how we do it. I am a firm believer in carrying people with you, which is why I am opposed to the nature of this and other aspects of the Bill where the Government are determined to have their way without consultation or taking people with them. Saying, “We know best—this is what must happen”, is not a means by which you improve anything. You have to win people to your arguments and make them part of the solution. These particular aspects of the Bill are not designed to do that. We will be looking at other aspects of the Bill later today and indeed on Tuesday, which I look forward to. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, leave out “may” and insert “must”
My Lords, I have grouped Amendment 3 with Amendment 8, both of which concern parliamentary scrutiny in relation to the regulations concerning definition of schools to be dealt with under the coasting provisions. We have had a very interesting first debate, and the Minister has been helpful in clarifying that the coasting provisions apply to selective grammar schools and high-performing comprehensive schools. That is welcome. It is also welcome that he has clarified, as I understand it, that RSCs, albeit using the funding agreements, will take the same approach to academies as they will to maintained schools.
My noble friend Lord Knight has now had to depart, but he raised a very interesting point, which relates to parliamentary scrutiny. We are all agreed about the need to tackle coasting schools—there is no doubt whatever about that. However, part of the resistance there has been to it has been due to a feeling that the Government are partly motivated by trying to create academies by the back door. My noble friend Lord Knight put the point to the Minister that, if in the end the Government want all schools to be academies, which it seems that they do, why on earth do they not say that they are going to do that and then deal with the democratic deficit that undoubtedly exists within academies?
I was involved in the thinking behind the establishment of the NHS foundation trusts, and you could argue, very loosely, that they were a parallel movement. However, with the foundation trusts we were absolutely determined to strengthen local accountability by setting up a governance structure that involved patients and members of the public in appointing the boards of directors. In some of the debates we are having around academies, the department is missing a very big trick; my noble friend will come back to this when later in the Bill we come to the issue of parental involvement in decisions about whether a school is an academy or not. That is why parliamentary scrutiny here is so important.
The Minister will have seen the report of the Delegated Powers Committee on the provisions in the Bill. Obviously, Governments normally respond by agreeing to the recommendations made, and it would be interesting to hear from the noble Lord what the Government’s response is. Essentially, the committee thinks that there should have been a definition of “coasting” in the Bill. It says in the report that it thinks it is too “wide and open-ended” and that the delegation is,
“inappropriate given the fundamental importance of the … operation of the new section, and the significant powers which become exercisable in relation to a school once it becomes eligible for intervention”.
The committee obviously received evidence from the Minister’s department, but it says that it finds,
“unconvincing the Department’s explanation for putting the definition of ‘coasting’ in regulations … based on the practical difficulties associated with setting out in primary legislation the data sets and measures required to assess whether a school is a coasting school”.
The committee goes on to say that the explanation given by his department,
“fails to distinguish between two entirely different matters: the criteria and other factors which should apply in determining whether or not a school is a coasting school, and the detailed measures and data which are to be used to decide whether or not those criteria or other factors are met”.
In other words, it argues that the latter quite rightly could be put into regulations, but the former could be in the Bill. What is the Government’s intention in relation to that?
The second point is whether these regulations should be affirmative or negative. Having heard the debate, I am absolutely clear that they should be affirmative. Taking the comments made by noble Lords, there will have to be a great deal of discussion around the Government’s final determination on the regulations. From time to time, the Government will want to change them, which is absolutely right, but they should come to the attention of Parliament and we should be clear that there will be debates in both Houses. The Delegated Powers Committee has made clear that it thinks it should be by affirmative resolution. My advice to the Minister is to accept it because he would lose a vote in the Chamber. It is very rare for a Government not to accept the recommendations of the DPC. These regulations are so important, and I hope that he might even accept the proposals today. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, primarily because, having looked at the end of my Amendment 5 and the end of Amendment 8, we have the same last 13 words. Basically, there is not much between us on this. A lot of the debate has been on the fact that we just do not quite know what we are getting into. If this is going to change and the Secretary of State or a Minister is going to change their mind, we have to know, or we are not doing our jobs. We are utterly irrelevant if we do not insist on knowing. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept this amendment, or something like it, in the course of the day. There is no reason not to do it. There is a great deal of confusion, which I know he is doing his best to sort out; there is also disagreement. There should be a way in which we can input into this system as it changes and develops because, undoubtedly, it will as it goes on.
To echo others—indeed, they echoed what I said at Second Reading about not going to an all-academy status or something like it—we will always have discussions about this while we have this death of a thousand cuts or piecemeal change, call it what you like. We have got to know what we are dealing with. These amendments would be one way to make sure that we do.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 3 and 8 tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. As I promised earlier, I will also cover the similar element of Amendment 5 relating to the coasting regulations from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. Amendment 3 seeks to place a duty on the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out the definition of coasting. This goes beyond the current power in Clause 1, which provides that the Secretary of State may by regulations define what coasting means in relation to a school.
We have been very clear that we intend to make such regulations. In June, we provided an indicative set of regulations to Parliament for scrutiny. Last month we launched a public consultation on our overall approach to coasting and the detail of the definition set out in the draft regulations. I can reassure the House that our intention has always been that regulations will be made but I appreciate that, with this amendment being laid in this House as well as in the other place, there continues to be concern that regulations will not always be made. I have reiterated the Government’s commitment to making regulations today but will also reflect before Report on whether the primary legislation should be more explicit on this point.
Amendments 5 and 8 seek to ensure that the regulations defining coasting are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure each time the regulations are changed. As I have said, we published comprehensive draft regulations in June so that Parliament could understand and scrutinise our proposed approach. From these draft regulations, the House will be aware that the proposed approach relies heavily on references to the department’s performance tables which capture schools’ performance data, as well as defining the specific coasting bar which applies in each year.
Results for primary and secondary schools are published at two different points each year, which might necessitate changes to the regulations as national performance standards change. The performance tables are also technical in nature and so, if minor changes are made to their layout or content, this may also necessitate minor, consequential amendments to regulations. A change as small as a revision to a column heading in the performance tables would require a change to the regulations. Similarly, if the department were to change or merely update the published guidance regarding the calculation of Progress 8, for example, the regulations would again need to be updated. Requiring the consent of both Houses each time such changes were needed would seem an excessive use of Parliament’s time. We already publicly consult, however, when significant changes are made to accountability systems—for instance, as we did on the new measures coming in in 2016. I reassure noble Lords that, if major changes to the accountability system underpinning the coasting definition were proposed, such public consultation would therefore happen again.
I hope that, having seen the detailed illustrative regulations, as well as hearing my explanations today, Peers will understand why it would be very difficult to subject the regulations to the affirmative procedure each time a change is needed. I do, however, appreciate the concern of noble Lords who have tabled these amendments, as well as the concern of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that due process should be followed. I will therefore reflect if there are any further reassurances that I can make on this point at Report. I hope that I have been able to assure noble Lords that we take their concerns very seriously, and I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response; he said that he would consider this between Committee and Report. My reading is that if he is not in the end prepared to accept the amendment, regulations will still have to go through both Houses. The difference is that if they are negative, in the Commons, you need a large number of MPs to say that they want a debate on it; in this House, only one Member can lay down a Prayer, and then there has to be a debate. So I do not really get that argument at all; one way or another, it has to go through both Houses. The issue here is that, by being affirmative, there has to be a debate and it is flagged up, because it appears on the Order Paper.
This is important stuff, and I doubt that the department will want to change the criteria all the time, for the very reason the Minister mentioned, about giving certainty to heads, which I understand fully. It is clearly so important that the affirmative procedure should apply. The Delegated Powers Committee does not say that lightly; it only says so if it thinks it needs to be sure that it is properly debated every time. However, I am grateful to the Minister for his response, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(3) The governing body must inform the parents of registered pupils that the school has been notified that it is coasting.”
My Lords, Amendment 4 touches on an issue that I dare say will be explored in greater depth when we come to consider amendments to Clause 8. For the moment, this is an appropriate place to highlight the fact that the Bill removes parental rights in almost every clause. Schools are deeply rooted in their communities. Parents and other stakeholders need to be—and, I would argue, have a fundamental right to be—fully engaged in decisions that affect their children’s education. Fast-tracking the process of academisation and removing any discussion with head teachers, teachers, support staff or parents about any of the classification as coasting or the decision to become an academy are short-sighted moves that are likely to breed mistrust and resentment. I cannot understand why the Minister thinks it appropriate to disfranchise parents in this way.
I was going to put a question directly to the Minister. I do not normally regard it appropriate to indulge in questions of a personal nature, and it is not my habit to do so, but the Minister personalised the debate on Second Reading to some extent when he referred more than once to his involvement with Pimlico School. I have no problem with that; it is perfectly legitimate in illustrating his point, so I trust that he will allow me to do the same on this occasion. My son attends a maintained school in London. Why does the Minister think that I, as a parent, should have absolutely no right to even as much as comment, far less express an opinion, should a proposal be made to classify my son’s school—I trust there is no sign of that happening—as “coasting”, or worse, to take steps to remove the school from maintained status to become an academy? I am more than willing to sit down and enable the Minister to answer that specific question as to why he feels that it is appropriate to disenfranchise me, my wife, and, indeed, millions of parents throughout the country on the rather important question of the type of school that my son should attend.
We had some banter on the floor of the House on the question of democracy. The democracy in this is that it was clearly in our manifesto and in the Queen’s Speech, when a school reaches a certain point it is not in the interests of the pupils in that school. I said in my opening remarks that we must put children first. The democracy is that we have been elected to enact this legislation—but, of course, as we have discussed, coasting will take place over a long period of time. It is not a sudden event. Schools commissioners will give coasting schools time to uncoast, if that is a word. There will be plenty of time for parents to be fully aware and informed of what is going on. I do not think that it is quite the dramatic event that it might sometimes be portrayed as.
I have to say that a number of people I have spoken to were concerned by the Minister’s comment on Second Reading that,
“democracy can be suspended where it is in the interests of the children”.—[Official Report, 20/10/15; col. 634.]
In what other situations can it perhaps be suspended? The fact that it was a general commitment in a manifesto does not mean that parents should be disenfranchised in this way. It is indicative of a frankly rather authoritarian approach that the Government have begun to exhibit in not just this Bill but others currently going through Parliament. That is a worrying trend.
Amendments such as this should not be necessary in an education Bill in an advanced democracy, yet we find that they are. I warrant that the Minister will say again why he is unable to accept it. It is not a good enough reason to give that some people, in exercising their democratic rights, may slow down the process. We are dealing with a very important issue. Yes, of course, the education of children is important, and any day lost cannot be regained, to echo the Minister’s remarks on the previous group of amendments. Yes, that is true, but at the same time wider issues have to be considered on the behalf of children themselves. They cannot speak for themselves. Parents, governors and local authorities have views that should be fully taken into account. As the Bill stands, that will not happen. I believe that the Minister’s argument lacks any form of intellectual rigour because it undermines the hard-won and long-held democratic traditions of this country.
I have very real concerns about the curtailment of rights and responsibilities of governors in respect of the schools for which they have legal responsibility. Consultation with local stakeholders before a school is classified as coasting or becomes an academy is an essential part of community engagement—a concept that I believe the Government should embrace, not repel. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment asks that the governing body informs the parents that the school has been notified that it is coasting. It is not asking for consultation, although, in effect, it probably presages or precedes a period when there will be consultation. That came out of our lengthy discussion on precisely what coasting means.
The Minister made it clear that there are different options when a school is told that it is under surveillance, in effect, as a possible coasting school. The regulations make it clear that there are various options at this point. One is that the school might be asked to academise, but it might also be asked to link up with a local school to get help from a successful head. The regional schools commissioner has a lot of discretion about what to do and he may send one of the platoon of head teachers on his advisory board to advise the school about what to do.
I notice that on page 15 of the consultation document there is a box labelled “What can parents expect?”. The box is not very helpful. There is no advice about the involvement of parents in decisions about the school. Instead, the box repeats the mechanics of how a school is defined as coasting. It would be more sensible to have a proper note that tells parents what they can expect. There is a lack of consistency here. The Education Act 2005 requires parents to be given a copy of any Ofsted report following an inspection. Where there is a failing school, under Section 15(2)(b) local authorities are required to produce an action plan after,
“informing registered parents of the proposed action, ascertaining their views on the proposed action and taking account of those views”.
There is a real democratic deficit here. In their haste to create more academies—we shall come to this later in the Bill—the Government are riding roughshod over proper consultation processes. It is insensitive, to say the least, and unthinking, to say the most. Everybody knows that in good schools teachers and parents work together to reinforce the processes of learning and that children thrive in those circumstances. Where there are disadvantaged homes, it often takes a very long time to build up trust and carry parents with you. Sometimes the interests of the children and the school require a clean break and a new beginning, partly because that trust is not there, but that is by no means always the case. Where schools have many children from homes that are chaotic, difficult and so forth, it takes time to build up that trust. The problem is that if actions are taken without the parents knowing they are going to be taken and without consultation or information going to the parents, they break that trust, and if you break that trust, you go back to the beginning and have to try all over again. It is very dangerous for the Government to leave out the processes of consultation in this way.
My Lords, I take a slightly different view. I shall be brief. I am quite sure that the Government cannot intend that when this process moves forward there is no communication between the school and the other stakeholders, in particular, the parents. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that I am no education expert, but I know a great deal about children and children’s advocacy. My great worry is that often we worry about the status and needs of parents over and above those of children. I come from a pretty tough working-class background, and if my school had not, if you like, overridden my parents on occasion, I would not be standing here. As we are into personal anecdotes, I am giving one.
I think that both things need to happen. There has to be quick action when a school does not meet the needs of children. You cannot spend a long time discussing matters with parents who may be comfortable about what is happening, although it will not benefit their children in the long term. However, I do not think that that prevents good communication, and I cannot believe that the noble Lord, Lord Nash, and his team intend that.
My Lords, the noble Lord was right when he noticed that I would be responding to this amendment. I shall allow him and the Minister to continue their debate next week, when no doubt we will cover these issues in more detail, and I will focus on the amendment.
Amendment 4 proposes that a governing body must inform parents that a school has been notified that it is coasting. We firmly believe that, once a school has been notified that it is coasting, we should trust the governing body to engage parents as they see fit, exactly as the noble Baroness said. That is what we would expect of a school. In practice, we envisage that where a school meets the coasting definition, the governing body will voluntarily inform parents. Issuing a communication to parents is already the normal approach taken by schools following the publication of exam results or Ofsted inspections. In fact, schools are not required to notify parents of Ofsted judgments but they do, and we would expect schools to adopt a similar approach in this situation. We would certainly expect governing bodies to be as open as possible with parents.
In the modern day and age, with social media and the availability of lots of websites, we would also—
I note what the noble Baroness said about schools and Ofsted inspections but I have certainly come across cases where schools and governing bodies have been very reluctant to release this information because they do not like what it says. I agree with the noble Baroness about parents and children, but there ought to be a guarantee or requirement that parents will receive information, whether it relates to Ofsted or is about coasting. I am afraid the fact is that some schools do not do the right thing when they get an adverse Ofsted judgment.
I hope that the noble Lord will be pleased to know that I was going to go on to say that, in view of the concerns that have been expressed, we will consider how we can ensure, through the Schools Causing Concern guidance, that parents are sufficiently aware that their child’s school has been identified as coasting. We absolutely agree that that is important. Of course parents need to know. Our feeling is that governing bodies will provide such information but, in the light of the concerns raised, we are happy to consider being a bit more explicit. I hope on that basis that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
I am delighted to hear what the noble Baroness has said. She couched it in terms of “considering” but I await the schools guidance with interest. She said that governing bodies regularly notify parents of a number of issues. That is so but, as my noble friend Lord Hunt said, some do not, and our proposal would make the notification mandatory. If it is going to be mandatory in terms of guidance, why not put it in the Bill? I do not see any reason not to tie it down in that way.
There is the further question of what happens after the parents have been told. I was rather surprised by some of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. I accept that the needs of children have to come first but most parents are very concerned about how their children are doing at school and they want education to be as beneficial to their children as possible. I do not see that the needs of the parents and the needs of the children necessarily diverge. If we could make the assumption that they were absolutely the same, that would be very positive. I accept that we cannot; none the less, we have to trust parents to some extent as well, and surely they have the right to make representations about something with which they are unhappy.
I absolutely agree, and I said in my speech that I expected parents to be given the information and thought that they would be. We have been assured that they will be. I simply made the point that we must always put the children’s needs before other needs and that we have seen, down the generations, children who have not received the education they might have received, not only because of the system but because their parents have been comfortable where they are. I am sure they are very good parents and that they want the best for their children—most parents do. They do not necessarily know what that best is, though, and that is what I think this Bill is seeking to press forward.
I take on board that point and, yes, there will be various levels of knowledge of education, or indeed of the benefit of education. I do not doubt that. But it does not seem right that because there may be a small group of people who have an agenda whereby they want to prolong the process, or be seen to be doing so, you shut everyone else out. Using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, in my view, is not the way to move forward. As I said when speaking to the previous amendment, you need to carry people with you. I put it to the Government that this is not the way to carry people with you. However, I have noted what the Minister said. I hope that on Report she will come back with the outcome of her considerations, and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendment 5 not moved.
6: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(3) Prior to defining a school as coasting, the Secretary of State must undertake an investigation and report on the current level of teacher recruitment and retention in that particular school.”
My Lords, I move Amendment 6, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. If this amendment were to be accepted, it would make a radical change to the Bill, because it would introduce teachers. Some would regard it as odd, given the Bill’s title, that we should need to do that; but the Bill contains just a single mention of the word teacher, and even that is merely in the context of a pay and conditions warning notice.
The amendment is necessary because it highlights the fact that a number of factors need to be taken into account when pupils are not fulfilling their potential in a school—beyond, that is, a metric based on pupils’ attainment and progress for three consecutive years. That is currently the bald performance data on which the Government propose to designate a school as coasting. I have read about the interim measures and I take that on board, but none the less, there is good reason to have broader consideration.
Even allowing for a more flexible definition of coasting schools than just Ofsted grades or exam results, there will always be a spread of schools performing at different levels. Not every child can get A*s and inevitably some will be comparatively coasting, compared to others. With effective quotas on grades, to stop grade inflation, gains by one school will inevitably mean that others will do comparatively worse. Thus, as more schools become academies there is more chance that they will end up as coasting schools.
Furthermore, as both Education Datalab and Henry Stewart of Local Schools Network have shown, the measures chosen will disproportionately impact upon schools with disadvantaged pupils, not those in affluent areas. Dr Rebecca Allen, of Datalab, in evidence to the Bill Committee in another place, said,
“if a school serves an affluent community then it will not be judged to be coasting using these metrics”.—[Official Report, Commons, Education and Adoption Bill Committee, 30/6/15; col. 7.]
Laura McInerney of Schools Week has pointed out that:
“Wealthy kids don’t just achieve more than poorer kids, they also progress quicker”.
The factor that most affects a school’s performance is of course its teaching staff. All high-performing schools have inspirational, driven head teachers who are able to translate their ethos throughout the school. But without a stable teaching staff, with all subjects capable of being delivered in a sustainable way, the head teacher alone cannot bridge the gap between performing and underperforming. That is the reason that the question of teacher supply is the most urgent one facing education in England today.
Perhaps not unnaturally, the Government are attempting to put a positive gloss on teacher supply, often by cherry-picking particular bits of information or research. But the essential facts are these. The number of entrants into teacher training has fallen steadily, from 39,000 in 2009-10 to 32,000 in 2014-15. In that year, only 93% of the target for recruitment into teacher training was achieved, compared to 108,000 in 2009-10. I am not making political points here; I am not going to highlight the fact that we have a different Government. It is too important for that, but the figures are there. We are where we are and we should be concerned about it. The Government’s favoured School Direct route is much less successful in recruiting than universities. We find ourselves in a period of rapidly growing pupil numbers because of the rising birth rate.
Universities have long played a significant role in the delivery of teacher education, offering undergraduate and postgraduate courses and awarding both academic and professional qualifications. These courses were, and continue to be, run in liaison with schools, with which universities have close working relationships. However, since 2011, the DfE has introduced a number of major reforms which directly affect the recruitment and training of teachers by universities. Of these, the introduction and rapid expansion of School Direct has been the most significant in scale and scope, with a consequential impact on universities engaged in teacher education, as well as the creation of risks to future teacher supply. Labour is not opposed to School Direct. I have, personally, always been in favour of on-the-job training and there is evidence that School Direct has introduced many teachers who would not otherwise have been attracted to the profession. School Direct routes require university partnerships, but universities have not been allocated a consistent core of initial teacher training numbers and School Direct partnerships may not recruit to target. High degrees of unpredictability are systemic in the new model and this, in turn, impacts on the viability of courses. As a result, university education departments have made specialist staff redundant and three universities have now withdrawn completely from teacher education.
Despite School Direct clearly being the Government’s preferred route for teacher education, last month the National College for Teaching and Leadership announced a reduction in financial support for salary and training costs for non-STEM salaried School Direct trainees for the 2016-17 year. This announcement was made after schools had bid for School Direct numbers and universities had agreed to support partnerships with these schools. It was just before the opening of the UCAS 2016-17 admissions year and there was no consultation—a recurring theme—with schools or universities prior to this announcement. As an example of what this will mean; in inner London, funding is £17,600 per School Direct salaried trainee in 2015-16 but this will be reduced considerably to £11,200 in 2016-17. How does the Minister believe this decision will assist in encouraging more people to become involved with School Direct? Since its introduction in 2011, School Direct routes have consistently underrecruited. In spite of heavy promotion by the NCTL, schools’ interest in SD has varied in different parts of the country, and yet regional factors are disregarded in the teacher supply model estimates. It would be helpful if the Minister would explain that.
Overall, there are wider questions about the new system’s capacity to plan and deliver teacher supply on a national and regional basis. The Department for Education cannot guarantee that any school will continue to engage in School Direct on an annual basis if its circumstances or leadership change. Even if schools are engaged in School Direct, their teacher education requirements are likely to change from year to year. Academy chains focus on their needs but are obviously not concerned about issues of national or regional supply. There is an urgent need for a change to the current direction of travel on teacher education and for the role of universities to be recognised. I suggest that they should be reinstated to their previous position.
It is self-evident that teachers are fundamental to the education system, but there are other issues that have to be taken into account when the definition of coasting is applied to a school. I hope that this, allied to the comments made in the first group of amendments, will convince the Minister. We have submitted this amendment to draw attention to an issue that neither Minister seems to want to highlight. I may be paraphrasing, but I think the Minister said that Labour likes to highlight the fact that there are problems with teachers. That is only from the point of view that I want more teachers coming into the profession, particularly in the shortage subjects, and staying in it. There are difficulties with that. Some of the School Direct traineeships have not proved sustainable, but the role played by the universities has been invaluable. I would like to have this recognised. I talked about on-the-job training. School Direct does that in one school; universities will often offer training in a number of schools. Whether or not the Minister is willing to recognise it, current levels of teacher recruitment and retention are in need of his attention and it is certainly an issue that the Secretary of State should be obliged to consider in respect of any school being defined as coasting. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said about teacher recruitment. A potential crisis is arising. I know that the Minister does not agree with that—we had a Question in the House the other day about precisely this issue.
I want to take the amendment at face value rather than preach about what is likely to happen with teacher recruitment. The amendment states:
“Prior to defining a school as coasting, the Secretary of State must undertake an investigation and report on the current level of teacher recruitment and retention in that particular school”.
That brings me back to the previous amendment, where I talked about how important it was that schools should build trust with parents and work in cohesion with them. I say again that a happy school is one where there is a stable staffing situation, without children being subjected to constant changes of teacher, sometimes halfway through a term, with supply staff brought in who have no knowledge of the young people whom they are teaching. Such teachers are often ineffective because they are coming in halfway through term and trying to pick up where other teachers have left off.
As I said earlier in relation to the first group of amendments, many underperforming schools are those which have suffered from a long interregnum in recruiting new head teachers. A new head who is finding their feet in a new school may be doing good things, but it takes time nevertheless to turn a school round. It requires at least a year, if not longer.
My reading of the regulations is that the regional schools commissioner must have discretion to look at the situation in which a school finds itself. It is not in a school’s interest, particularly where a new head is bedding down, to throw the whole thing into turmoil again by enforcing academisation, with a new senior management team, a new board of governors and so forth.
It seems useful in these circumstances to make it clear, perhaps in regulations rather than in the Bill, that the regional schools commissioner has discretion to look at teacher recruitment and retention. Teacher shortages still vary enormously from region to region and within regions. It is silly to require a new senior leadership team in a school which is coasting, as distinct from having positively failed, if it is going to be almost impossible to recruit a new senior leadership team. That is certainly true of parts of the south-east, where it is extremely difficult to get head teachers—I was talking about that earlier.
It would be very useful if we could have this spelled out in regulations. It need not necessarily be in the Bill, but there seems to be a lot of sense in it. In that sense, I support the amendment.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, is right that the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers is crucial to achieving our goal of educational excellence everywhere. As I explained at Questions yesterday—the noble Lord may dispute the figures—the number of teachers in post is at an all-time high and the number of teachers leaving the profession remains low, with around three-quarters still in the profession after five years’ service.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, rightly said, there is an overall challenge, but in some areas of the country there is a struggle to attract, recruit and retain high-quality teachers. That is why we are actively supporting schools to take a leading role in the training of new teachers and have given schools greater flexibility to attract and retain good teachers through the pay system. It is also why the Secretary of State on Tuesday announced the creation of the National Teaching Service with the aim that by 2020 it will deploy 1,500 high-performing teachers and middle leaders into underperforming schools in areas that struggle to recruit. There are already many outstanding teachers and leaders working in challenging areas, but we know that more needs to be done to help them and we are committed to giving them support.
My noble friend was clear that when we are discussing coasting schools, regional schools commissioners will consider whether the school has the capacity to secure sufficient improvement without formal intervention. In some cases, a school which falls within the coasting definition may have a new head teacher, governor or leadership team who can demonstrate that they have an effective plan to raise standards sufficiently. In these cases, the school will be left to improve.
This amendment suggests that where a school fails to ensure that pupils reach their potential because there are retention and recruitment issues at the school it should not become eligible for intervention. We feel this is counterintuitive. These are the very schools that require additional support to address those problems in order to improve outcomes for their pupils. This Bill will provide that support. We have made clear in the Schools Causing Concern guidance, on which we are currently consulting, that RSCs will take a range of contextual factors into account when looking at coasting schools. They could include looking at teacher recruitment and retention. Where this is identified as an issue, the RSC will be able to work with the new National Teaching Service to bring teachers into the school to work alongside the existing teachers to make the improvements needed. Other measures, such as encouraging schools to participate in School Direct partnerships, which allow them to train and employ high-quality new teachers, might also be appropriate.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, raised several issues around School Direct, so I will cover some of them briefly. Completion and employment rates from teacher-led teacher training are higher than from university-led provision, but we agree that universities remain an important part. In fact, the move to school-led teacher training is helping to encourage collaboration because 70% of School Direct places are delivered by universities. As I said yesterday, a school-led system is not a university-excluded system. We want to see collaboration.
I welcome what the Minister has said. I am not suggesting that the two are mutually exclusive, but figures show that universities are now less certain about the number of students they will get. They are also less certain of the relationships they will have with schools. School Direct seems to be the preferred choice of the DfE. That may or may not be the right way to go, but universities need some reassurance. Why are university departments closing? Why are education student numbers at universities falling if there is not a problem as I outlined? It is not a question of either/or. Surely the two should be working together.
Absolutely. We are seeing growing collaboration. The noble Lord is right that we are looking at teacher training on a year-by-year basis because we believe that schools should be at the heart of thinking about where they want to get their best training. The best universities will be extremely attractive. They are still the only organisations that can award PGCEs, which remain extremely popular. While we think that the school-led system is the way we want to go, we see that the collaboration is working within the system.
This year we hit our primary recruitment targets. We made good progress on secondary and are ahead of last year in some key subjects, such as English, maths and physics. The noble Lord also mentioned STEM subjects. Again, we want to attract the best graduates into teacher training, which is why we are looking at generous bursaries from next year, up to £30,000. We are also looking at some of the issues that teachers tell us worry them most once they are in a job, such as unnecessary work-flow and poor pupil performance, so that we can help to ensure that when teachers are in the profession, they stay in it. Again, teacher retention remains good and has remained pretty stable for the past two decades.
I hope that the House realises that we take the issue of recruitment and retention very seriously. As the Minister has already said, high-quality teachers are absolutely crucial, and the impact that they can make on young people is huge—so we take this seriously, and we believe that we are already taking steps to support schools when this impacts on the progress that pupils make. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her remarks. I certainly welcome the fact that she has acknowledged the importance of teachers and underlined that they are key to future development of education and to raising standards. There is no point in bandying figures back and forth, because I suppose that she will cherry pick figures that suit her. I hope that I am not doing the same, but it has been quite widely reported that 50,000 teachers left the profession in the last year, which is the highest ever level. She said that the figures were down, so there is something not right there. To me, that is the most worrying statistic, because it means not that all teachers are reaching 60, or whatever age at which they choose to retire, but that they are leaving the profession because, for some reason or other, it is not giving them what they want, or they feel that they cannot put in what they want to improve children’s education. That is a very worrying statistic. The Minister said that primary recruitment targets have been met this year. That is obviously to be welcomed but there are, understandably, greater challenges in secondary schools, which must be pursued.
If I caught the Minister’s remarks correctly, she said that the amendment suggested that schools should not be eligible for coasting until teacher recruitment and retention was a problem. That is not what I said and it is not what the amendment said, and I certainly did not mean to say it, if I did. Attention should be given to the whole teacher recruitment question, and that was the whole point of the amendment. She will understand that, as with most amendments in Grand Committee, it is a probing amendment, and I wanted to get these issues discussed and on the record. I am pleased that we have been able to do that.
The Minister said that the regional schools commissioner would take into account contextual factors when considering whether schools should be designated as coasting. She said that that could include teacher recruitment and retention—but why would that not automatically include those things?
Through the metric that we have discussed, when a school would be considered to be coasting, teacher recruitment and retention would be taken into account—it is about what intervention may be needed in terms of what support the schools may need when they have been identified as coasting through the measures that we have discussed. It may well mean additional support—and we have talked about the National Teaching Service coming in and helping with high-quality teachers. So it is about bringing that to bear, as to how best to help the school improve.
I think that we have covered the issues that I hoped we would cover. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendments 7 to 9 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Performance standards and safety warning notices
10: Clause 2, page 3, line 10, at end insert—
“( ) After section 60 (performance standards and safety warning notice) insert—
“60ZA Performance standards and safety warning notices: Academy schools
(1) A local authority may, pursuant to its duty under section 13A of the Education Act 1996 (duty to promote high standards and fulfilment of potential), give a performance standards and safety warning notice to the proprietor of an Academy school situated in the area of the local authority.
(2) Before giving a warning notice, the authority must be satisfied that—
(a) the standards of performance of pupils at the school are unacceptably low, and are likely to remain so unless the proprietor requires an improvement in standards,(b) there has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed which is prejudicing, or likely to prejudice, such standards or performance, or(c) the safety of pupils or staff of the school is threatened (whether by a breakdown of discipline or otherwise).(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(a), the standards of performance of pupils at a school are low if they are low by reference to any one or more of the following—
(a) the standards that the pupils might in all the circumstances reasonably be expected to attain;(b) where relevant, the standards previously attained by them;(c) the standards attained by pupils at comparable schools. (4) For the purposes of this section, a “warning notice” is a notice in writing by the local authority setting out—
(a) the matters on which the decision to give a warning notice under subsection (2) is based,(b) the action which the proprietor is required to take in order to remedy those matters,(c) the period within which the actions must be taken by the proprietor, and(d) the action which the local authority are minded to ask the Secretary of State to take if the proprietor fails to take the required action.(5) Academy arrangements in relation to an Academy school must include provision imposing obligations on the proprietor to comply with actions set out in a warning notice issued under this section.
(6) Academy arrangements in relation to an Academy (other than a 16 to 19 Academy or an Alternative Provision Academy) that are entered into before the date on which this section comes into force are to be treated as if they included the provision required by subsection (5), to the extent that they do not otherwise include such provision.””
My Lords, we now move on to the question of performance standards and safety warning notices—in this case, specifically with reference to academy schools. The amendment would extend the power of local authorities to allow them the right—albeit one challenged under the clause—to issue performance standards and safety warning notices to an academy that they consider is underperforming.
The wording is drawn from existing provisions for giving warning notices to maintained schools. The only difference is that the local authority would need to ask the Secretary of State to intervene if the warning notice did not have the desired effect of bringing about improvement, but the academy would be required to comply and the power would apply to both existing and new academies.
The argument in the amendment turns on local versus national—or local versus regional, in the case of the regional schools commissioner, although she or he acts on behalf of the Secretary of State, of course. A local authority is much better placed to identify problems than a distant Minister or even a regional commissioner. Not only can it scrutinise data but it gets all the soft intelligence that comes through the local community, in whatever form that may take. Specifically, I would imagine that it would be from other schools, issues raised in MPs’ or councillors’ surgeries, the local media, information from social services, and health services, as well as issues with admissions or exclusions.
It is apparent that the Department for Education has huge difficulty in keeping tabs on the growing number of academies. The Public Accounts Committee laid that out very clearly in the previous Parliament, and I suggest that eight regional schools commissioners cannot properly scrutinise several hundred academies each as well as getting involved with maintained schools and promoting new conversions. It is reasonable to assume that any regional schools commissioner worth her or his salt will seek informally to source local intelligence, but that will be limited, and the amendment would allow such activity to be formalised. The key to the benefit of handing this task to local authorities lies simply in the first word of their title, because local knowledge is essential to enable intervention when necessary.
In addition, it would restore proper accountability to local communities. It would mean that the concerns of parents and residents could be taken up locally by a local authority that has the right to take the action necessary. It should be noted that this would not reduce the autonomy of academies. All the freedoms they currently have would continue to be in place, but this would provide a much more robust accountability system. Centralising accountability in the hands of the Secretary of State and her appointees is both undemocratic and ineffective, and the poor outcomes from many academies that have already been referred to demonstrate that.
At Second Reading, I invited the Minister to comment on the Ofsted inspection results up to June 2015. They demonstrated that of all schools inspected, the percentage of academies classified as inadequate was 3.4%, with the percentage of maintained schools classified as inadequate less than half that figure at 1.6%. I do not welcome any school, whether maintained school or academy, being classified as inadequate, but those are the figures produced by Ofsted. The evidence is clear: despite the fact that there are more pupils in the maintained sector, there are now more pupils in inadequate academies than there are in inadequate maintained schools. That surely should give the Minister pause for thought. I understand why the Minister would not like to deal with those facts, but having declined the opportunity to tell me and other noble Lords what that says about the panacea that academies are supposed to be, will he use his closing speech today to do so? Clearly, something is not working.
In the same way that we have argued for maintained schools and academies to be treated equally when it comes to coasting—or, indeed, outright failure—we believe that parity in respect of performance standards and warning notices is entirely appropriate. I beg to move.
My Lords, this amendment picks up an issue which we Liberal Democrats have been worried about for some time: accountability for academy trusts and academy chains, and what happens when an academy is put into special measures or, as in this case, fails to make the progress that one would expect over the three-year period.
I know that the Minister will reel off statistics and examples of how good academies are and how much they achieve, but he must admit that, looking at the picture overall, now that we have academies of 10 years’ standing and many of four to five years’ standing, the record is that the probability of an academy not performing as well as we might expect is just as high as for local authority schools, and that the record of local authority intervention in turning around failing schools is just as good as academisation. In its statistics report, his own department shows the same range of performance across academy chains as with local authorities.
I know that the Minister will protest that local authorities do not intervene when they should and that this legislation is a necessary wake-up call to them. But if he is maintaining, as he does, that no child should have to put up with less than a good education for a year or so, it is only right that the principle should apply to academies as much as to local authority schools.
This clause is the mirror image of the one applying to maintained schools at the beginning of this Bill, explaining how the local authority, now the Secretary of State, can give a warning notice to an academy and requires, under new subsection (4B), those in charge of academies to take remedial action, and the local authority or the Secretary of State to do so if the academy fails to take that action. It also requires that the funding agreement should be amended appropriately.
I find myself very much in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Knight, on this issue. Now that we have got such a large number of academies, it seems extraordinary that we have to negotiate separate funding agreements with every single one. One of the reasons why we have education Bills and Acts is in order that all schools should obey the same set of regulations. It seems extraordinary that when you have thousands of schools having to obey the same set of regulations, you have to negotiate separate funding agreements. It is about time that the Government made up their mind on what they want to do. We have quite a lot of sympathy with the general principle of this amendment, which is that academies should be treated on a par with maintained schools.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 10 regarding the extension of local authority warning notices to academies. The amendment proposes that academies as well as maintained schools should be subject to performance standards and safety warning notices given by a local authority. They would be able to be given on the same grounds as they can already be given to maintained schools; that is, where pupil standards are unacceptably low and likely to remain so, where there has been a serious breakdown in management or governance that is prejudicing or likely to prejudice standards or performance, or where the safety of staff or pupils is threatened. The amendment provides for academy arrangements to include a duty on academy sponsors to comply with such a warning notice given by the local authority. This would apply retrospectively to academies that are already open.
While I completely understand the noble Lord’s intention to ensure that academies and maintained schools are all subject to a rigorous accountability framework, I can reassure the House that academy trusts are already answerable to regional schools commissioners via a different system based on funding agreements with the Secretary of State which apply the same grounds for action as are set out in this amendment; namely, underperformance, concerns about management or governance, or threats to safety. Academies are run by charitable companies, known as academy trusts, which enter into a contractual relationship with the Secretary of State through the signing of a funding agreement. It is this agreement that governs how an academy will operate and how the Secretary of State will hold it to account for its performance.
I assure the Committee that regional schools commissioners do hold academies to account against the grounds set out in their funding agreements. We have the power, via these funding agreements, to issue formal notices and can and do ultimately terminate funding agreements or bring about a change in sponsorship where the notices are not complied with, as we have done in 100 cases. The vast majority of the over 5,300 open academies and free schools perform well. In the small number where we have concerns, RSCs have already shown they can act quickly to bring about improvements.
Since September 2014 when RSCs first took up post they have issued 58 formal notices to academy and free school trusts, many of which will be based on exactly the same grounds that the noble Lords are proposing additionally to impose via this amendment; that is, 58 formal notices in just over a year, which can be contrasted with 51 local authorities, one-third of all local authorities, which since 2010 have not issued a single warning notice. I am afraid that I do not share the confidence of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, or the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in local authorities in general, although I accept that there are many excellent ones out there.
Our experience of issuing warning notices to academies is that they are highly effective in driving up standards. One good example is Benjamin Adlard Primary School.
If they are going to apply the same standards to academies, why is that not in the Bill?
As I have said, academies are judged by a contract called a funding agreement, which sets out what the standards are.
My Lords, I do not understand why the Government do not want to deal with the issue of maintained schools feeling that there is not a level playing field in the approach that the Government take to academies and take to them. The Minister is always quoting achievements in academies, but very rarely says anything about maintained schools. He knows there is a huge variation in the performances of both academies and maintained schools. I do not understand why the Bill has not been used to issue a proclamation, in a sense, that academies will be covered in the same way. He has clearly said, twice now, that there is a level playing field and that he expects the RSCs to intervene in coasting academies—at least I think he is saying there should be no difference. Why then are the Government so frightened to put that in the Bill? They could find a way to do it by relating the principle to the funding agreement. That would be very easy to draft—parliamentary counsel could do it in five minutes—and I do not understand why the Government do not want to do it. It would reassure the whole education system that there is a level playing field. At the moment, it does not think there is.
My Lords, my Amendment 16 addresses this later on. We might even be able to kill two birds with one stone.
We may bring this up again in Amendment 16, but I cannot really say more than I have already. I was about to give an example of a very successful academy. I shall move on but will address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, about Ofsted results for academies and local authority maintained schools. As I tried to explain at Second Reading in relation to Ofsted ratings, over the last five years—or less than that—we have taken more than 1,300 failing schools off local authorities and turned them into academies. That is clearly why there are many more schools rated as failing among the more limited number of academies than there are among local authority schools, because we have dealt with the matter in that way. I am sure we will return to this, but I reiterate our belief that regional schools commissioners are driving up standards and issuing warning notices much more stringently than many local authorities. Following this discussion, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
The first thing that I have to say to the Minister is that I am amazed at his comment about the Ofsted figures. He says they have turned 1,300 schools that were deemed to be failing in the maintained sector into academies and a large number of them are still failing. That seems to be what he is saying, and, in a sense, that was my point. I do not take any pleasure in saying that, but the figures do not lie.
They are failing because we took them over only very recently. As we have already discussed, you do not turn around a school that has been languishing in failure for years overnight.
I cannot imagine that they would be inspected that soon. If they have been moved into, effectively, special measures—special measures in this case meaning becoming an academy—of course it is going to take time. However, if that is included in the Ofsted figures—I would like to see the figures in more detail—that gives a distorted picture. The idea is that schools improve with academy status, but that is not the pattern to anything like the extent that the Government like to suggest.
In response to the Minister’s comments, I note what he says about 58 formal notices being issued to academies in the past year since the regional schools commissioners took up their posts. My question on how those decisions are arrived at returns to the point I made in introducing this amendment. Where does the local intel come from that informs those kinds of decisions? A lot of local issues are going on that are defined as regional, but regional schools commissioners cannot have their ear close to the ground in the way that a local authority would have.
If the noble Lord had come on Monday and met the regional schools commissioners, he might have been better informed about how they will gather their soft intelligence. I suggest that I set up a meeting with some regional schools commissioners and they can tell him for themselves. Having sat on every single head teacher board while they have deliberated over the last year and heard the level of soft local intelligence that they are receiving, it is absolutely clear that they have their ears extremely close to the ground.
I look forward to getting that briefing when I am able to attend. That would be helpful. But that sort of impression—that the local information required in situations like this is being made available—is not out and about at the moment. Perhaps that will change when we meet the regional schools commissioners.
I have the Ofsted figures here, which show that for all the maintained mainstream schools the percentage that was judged inadequate by Ofsted was 1.8%. Of the academy schools—the converters—which are on the whole the outstanding schools, the figure is 1.9%. For the sponsor-led academies, it is 12.1% and for free schools it is 5.8%. As I think I said in my Second Reading speech, that indicates that it was quite a high figure for the converter academy schools but, of course, they were being converted from being inadequate. That again holds up my argument that it takes time for any school to be turned around.
I thank the noble Baroness for those remarks. The Minister referred to the contractual relationship. This comes up continually and is a reason for the lack of transparency in academy trusts. Part of this is that if you try to look at the minutes of academy trust boards, often they do no more than list the decisions that were reached. There is no detail given to that or background information or dissent, if, indeed, there was any—simply the decisions that were reached. They are not particularly illuminating. I think the whole question of the contractual relationship between academy trusts and the department gives a sense that there is something to hide. I do not believe there should be anything to hide and there may not be but we do not know that because there is a lack of transparency. Part of the purpose of this amendment is to open up the way in which academies operate, particularly with regard to local issues and links with local authorities, which I think would be mutually beneficial. I hear what the Minister says. I am disappointed that we have not made some progress on this. But having had the issues aired, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clause 3 agreed.
11: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Regional Schools Commissioners
All Regional Schools Commissioners must apply uniform performance standards and criteria in fulfilling the duties laid upon them under sections 1 to 12 of this Act.”
My Lords, this is an attempt to try to gain a little more clarity about the role of the regional schools commissioners. The aim of this amendment is to provide them with uniform criteria. I could expand at considerable length but this issue has been raised in the Commons Select Committee. We just want to know what criteria these individuals will follow. They undoubtedly have extreme merit and are doing a tremendously good job. I am afraid that I was not able to meet them on Monday. What criteria will they follow? Will the same standards apply across the country? It would be absurd if commissioners worked to different standards literally just across a line. So could we have some idea about what they are doing and can we hear that now? It will go into Hansard and we will have a little more guidance. If there is no way of applying uniform criteria, we have a real problem. I am assuming that the Government know how this is to be achieved—because, if not, there will be a big hole. I hope that there is no big hole. I beg to move.
My Lords, my Amendment 12 is in this group. The point the noble Lord has raised is highly appropriate. We want assurances about a consistency of approach throughout the country.
My own amendment is probing and I would like to have it confirmed that the function of the RSC can be carried out by a combined authority, as defined in Clause 8 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill as it left your Lordships’ House a few months ago. If my reading of the Bill is right, can the Minister say whether it is intended in any circumstances that the RSC function would indeed be given to a combined authority? If not, perhaps he could say why not.
The Minister will be aware that the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill gives a combined authority extremely wide powers; for example, the function of the police and crime commissioner and the entire commissioning and provision of health and social care can be devolved to the combined authority. Indeed, any function of a public authority in the area of the combined authority can be devolved to the combined authority. The definition of a public authority is very wide and includes a Minister of the Crown or government department. My reading therefore is that the functions of the RSC could very easily be given to the combined authority.
I find it interesting that in Greater Manchester—which, with Cornwall, is a pioneer of the combined authority concept—it has already been established in a memorandum of understanding between the Government and the combined authorities that health and social care will be devolved in their entirety to the combined authority. Obviously, I know more about health than education but there are great similarities. They are two essentially national services, locally delivered. Ministers are accountable to Parliament for their overall performance. Money is voted by Parliament for their funding.
If you look at the Explanatory Notes of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill as it left your Lordships’ House, it is interesting that clearly the core purpose of a combined authority is to boost growth and the local economy. If health and social care are considered to be part of that, why on earth is education not, given the Government’s own concerns that young people are leaving our schools system without sufficient skills to go into employment? I cannot think of a more closely related service than education to the economic prospects of a locality. The Explanatory Notes mention skills but are silent on education. I am assuming that the Department for Education has opted out of this. I would be fascinated to know why.
I would have thought that in some circumstances the combined authority or the mayor could easily perform the role of the RSC. As we have such a democratic deficit in education now, it would be one way of taking that—and I have listened to what noble Lords have said about the quality of RSCs and the work that they do—but putting it back into some form of local accountability. In the end this accountability issue will have to be addressed. But overall, in trying to ensure consistency of approach and linking RSCs back into some kind of democratic process at local level, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I are at one on this.
My Lords, the two new clauses proposed concern the role and remit of regional schools commissioners, and would be placed after Clause 3.
We introduced eight regional schools commissioners last year to take decisions and provide advice regarding academies and free schools in their regions on behalf of the Secretary of State. These regional schools commissioners will also exercise the new and strengthened powers which the Bill introduces, to intervene in failing, underperforming and coasting maintained schools.
Amendment 11 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. It proposes to require regional schools commissioners to use uniform performance standards and criteria when fulfilling the duties and exercising the powers described in the Bill, thus seeking to ensure consistent decision-making across all RSCs.
RSCs already operate according to specified uniform performance standards and criteria in their decision-making. All RSC decisions are taken in line with legislation and our published criteria, such as the criteria for sponsor approvals and for free school applications. RSCs’ interventions in underperforming academies must be conducted according to the terms of each academy’s funding agreement, and they identify underperformance on the basis of Ofsted judgments and school performance data. Taking their decisions in line with these set frameworks ensures that they act reasonably and it also gives consistency.
In exercising the new duties and powers introduced by the Bill, RSCs will continue to act according to performance standards and criteria. The Bill is very clear on when maintained schools become eligible for intervention by RSCs: when they are judged inadequate by Ofsted; when they have met the coasting definition; or when they have failed to comply with a warning notice. Further to what is specified in the Bill, we have published revised Schools Causing Concern guidance for public consultation. This describes in greater detail how we propose that the RSCs will use the intervention powers in the Bill in practice.
RSCs will have discretion, and be able to use their judgment, in their decisions. For example, in coasting schools RSCs will have discretion to make judgments about whether and how to act, as we have discussed. In making these decisions, they will give consideration to additional information, such as school-level data and what actions the school is already taking to improve. The Schools Causing Concern guidance describes where RSCs have discretion and how we propose they will make their decisions in these cases, as well as the types of information they may commonly take into account.
It is essential that RSCs have this discretion and flexibility when making their decisions in order to take account of the circumstances of the schools and sponsors in question, and in response to regional priorities. This is one of the great strengths of the system. In our public consultation, we are specifically asking for views about how the Schools Causing Concern guidance describes how RSCs will use their discretion in tackling underperformance in maintained schools.
To go further than setting these kinds of criteria and frameworks, and instead, insisting upon uniformity in all RSC decisions, would be completely impractical and inappropriate. Not only would it require the achievement of an unworkable level of bureaucracy but it would mean that RSCs had no discretion to take account of school circumstances—many of which have concerned noble Lords today, as we have discussed in some detail—or to respond to local needs and priorities, completely tying their hands. RSCs are experienced head teachers and system leaders, and we want them to make informed decisions based on their wealth of experience, expertise and local knowledge, not on rules set by bureaucrats.
I also reassure noble Lords that RSCs do not take their decisions in isolation. They are supported and challenged in all their decision-making by their head teacher boards, made up of outstanding academy head teachers and other system leaders. Four members of each head teacher board have been elected by their peers. The RSCs and their head teacher boards review the relevant evidence, including data, Ofsted reports and intelligence from academy visits, and apply their own professional expertise to ensure that a robust decision is reached. We have already committed to publishing more detail than we have at the moment of the records of head teacher boards’ minutes, and these will be available from next month.
RSCs also come together regularly to share practice and provide peer-to-peer challenge, and oversight is provided by the national schools commissioner. By being in close contact with the RSCs and challenging their methods—for instance, at the monthly RSC forum and regular challenge sessions—the schools commissioner ensures consistency in decision-making across the country and helps to share good practice. This close contact also enables him to identify cross-regional issues and encourage the relevant RSCs to work together.
RSCs and HTBs have been in place for just over a year but they are having an extremely positive impact. They are introducing new and different ways of working that support increased collaboration, and self-regulation of the system. It is a devolved, localised system run by education professionals with access to excellent local soft intelligence. As I have said, I have spent a considerable amount of time watching head teacher boards and RSCs in action, and I have been most impressed by their level of experience, judgment and soft intelligence. The education system is very lucky to have leaders of such outstanding experience, judgment and ability who are prepared to give up their time in this way on HTBs. I think that all noble Lords who came on Monday were impressed by the quality of their answers and by the way in which they described their varied roles and answered noble Lords’ questions.
RSCs are already operating highly effectively. We have already published for consultation the Schools Causing Concern guidance, which describes how we propose RSCs will make their decisions. Therefore, I do not consider this proposed new clause to be necessary.
Amendment 12 has been tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. The noble Lords propose that the elected mayor or the combined authority of an area should be able to appoint an RSC for their area. RSCs are already embedded in their regions, based and operating within them and building close working relationships with local authorities, dioceses and other local actors. They are fully immersed in the local context, which informs everything they do. RSCs also regularly run events for schools and sponsors in their regions. They operate openly and are available to the public, and parents can and do write directly to them with local issues.
I have already referred to the head teacher board of academy head teachers that advises each RSC to ensure that local knowledge and expertise underpin their decisions. The support and challenge that RSCs get from head teachers from within their regions through their head teacher boards has been working well and adding value. Nick Capstick, CEO of the White Horse Federation and HTB member in the south-west, advising Sir David Carter, said:
“The headteacher boards hold RSCs to account. We are there to challenge and enable them to do their job. As practising headteachers we can bring a sense of normality and reality from the jobs that we carry out day in and day out. Ultimately the headteacher boards create a sense of shared ambition, endeavour and collective responsibility”.
The current regional structure for RSCs, with eight large regions, enables the spread of expertise and experience in improving schools across wider geographical areas. Aligning RSCs with the potentially much smaller areas covered by combined authorities and elected mayors would make this spread of school improvement expertise much more difficult.
RSCs already work closely with local authorities in their regions. The revised Schools Causing Concern guidance describes in more detail our proposals for the respective roles and responsibilities of local authorities and RSCs, and how we propose they should work together to challenge underperformance in schools. We would expect RSCs to work just as closely with combined authorities and elected mayors.
The eight regional schools commissioners are highly experienced academy head teachers and sector leaders, appointed for their extensive knowledge of the education sector. RSCs are appointed through open competition and are civil servants. They exercise the powers and duties of the Secretary of State on her behalf in their regions, meaning that the Secretary of State remains fully accountable to Parliament for decisions made by RSCs.
If combined authorities or elected mayors were able to appoint RSCs, as the amendment proposes, we would lose this robust accountability to Parliament through the Secretary of State. Having some RSCs accountable to mayors and others accountable to the Secretary of State would create a completely incoherent, mixed system.
But, my Lords, that is exactly what is happening in health and social care. Clearly, in government as a whole, everyone is behind combined authorities. Why is the Minister’s department opting out of it? If he looks at the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, he will see that not only is there provision for any function of a Minister of the Crown to be devolved to a combined authority but there is a particular provision, because the Lords passed an amendment, to specify that the national characteristics of health and social care should be preserved within devolved health and social care. I do not understand why the education department, of all departments, is not playing in this area when the Government are putting so many eggs into it—I am talking about the northern powerhouse, obviously, with Greater Manchester at the core of it. I do not understand why his department is not involved or interested. If you take the skills agenda, you see that the whole point of combined authorities is economic growth; it must embrace the skills agenda. The Minister and I must share the desire that our schools play their part in making sure that young people are employable. I just do not get it; I do not understand why his department is opting out.
I am afraid that the noble Lord has lost me with a lot of political theory. I am interested in—
If I may finish, I am interested in a practical system which actually works. We believe that we have devised one which is working extremely well. As I made clear in response to the Constitution Committee, this is maximum devolution to the front line. We trust teachers and head teachers to be responsible for their own system, and that is exactly the system that we have designed.
As I said, I am interested in a system that works, rather than one in the cause of some political theory. If combined authorities or elected mayors were able to appoint RSCs, as the amendment proposes, we would lose that robust accountability to Parliament and would have a system which is, frankly, totally incoherent, mixed and unworkable. I would rather have a system that works. Even those small MATs which operate across the regions that this would create would be working with multiple RSCs, which would add the complication of operating under multiple accountability structures. That would be confusing and chaotic.
Having additional RSCs appointed for combined authorities, further to the existing eight RSCs, would lead to significant additional costs. Overall, such a system would be confusing to schools, inconsistent, highly expensive and be adding unnecessary bureaucracy without bringing any tangible benefit to children’s education, which is what we on this side of the House are concerned with. Our current system of eight regional schools commissioners supported by a head teacher board is all about bringing decisions about schools closer to the front line. It ensures that experienced school leaders are the ones making and implementing decisions in their areas. They know what works best in their schools, how to address local needs and what the local priorities should be. This is therefore completely in keeping with the Government’s devolution agenda, and I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, that was a quite remarkable speech by the noble Lord. He accuses me of political theory. His department has written a speech which essentially undermines the core purpose of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. I do not think his department has read the Bill. He is saying that what the Government are doing with the setting up of combined authorities will lead to a completely incoherent approach. His answer is complete nonsense.
Clearly, I am not going to get an answer on this. I still do not understand why, when this will have massive implications for the devolution of central government powers, the education department seems to have completely opted out. I am absolutely speechless.
As I said, we believe that this is not just devolution but devo max, if you like, to the front line.
My Lords, enjoyable as that little bit of hack and thrust was, to go back to my amendment, it was basically tabled to seek information and clarification. There is a framework and I wanted to look at it.
I was interested to hear that there is a degree of judgment to be used. I was wondering whether we could work into that judgment whether a school has a decent sports policy, arts policy or something like that. It might be an interesting place to include whether the Government’s sports policy is being implemented properly. I am sure that we will discuss the arts later. Once again, one is trying to get all bits of government singing at least the same tune, if not the same words; that would be a step forward. However, I think I have enough information to be going on with and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Amendment 12 not moved.
13: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Governing body appeal against warning notice
(1) The Education and Inspections Act 2006 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 60A insert—
“60AA Governing body appeal against warning notice
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for reviews of, or appeals to the First-tier Tribunal about, decisions relating to warning notices by the relevant authority under section 60 or the local authority under section 60A.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must enable the First-tier Tribunal to revoke a warning notice.
(3) The revocation of a warning notice under subsection (2) does not prevent the relevant authority or local authority giving a revised warning notice.””
My Lords, the Bill removes the right of the school to make any representations against the issuing of a warning notice. The consequences of a warning notice are now much more significant than they have been, because they open the door to possible—perhaps that should be likely—academisation.
To deny school governors the right to make any kind of appeal against such a semi-judicial decision is, I suggest, nothing less than a denial of natural justice. The amendment provides a procedure for a school to appeal against a warning notice.
I must say that I chuckled at the Minister’s reference to devolution, not least devolution max, which in Scotland of course means something slightly different. The Bill is about centralisation. It is about the Government taking a grip. Whether it is really central—in London—or in the regions, it is government control. It tells anybody who does not happen to share that vision—some might say, political philosophy—to shut up and go away, because the Government have made their decision and that is that. That is very much the impression that was given about the Bill when it was in another place—when all those amendments were submitted and discussed and none was successful. This afternoon, apart from one small, but very welcome, concession by the Minister, we are doing the same here. I hope that that is not going to be how we will proceed in the remaining two days in Committee, because noble Lords are putting forward serious points to try to improve the Bill, which some of them have grave concerns about. I hope that they will be taken seriously and that the Minister will at least agree to think about some of them.
I suspect that the Minister is going to tell the Committee again that he is unwilling to tolerate people who are seeking, in his view, to obstruct the will of the Government because it is in the interests of pupils, which must come first. I think we have established that the interests of the pupils must come first, but at the same time, governors of schools are there for a reason. Part of that reason is to look after the interests of the children. If they are not allowed to do that, what is the purpose of governors? The Minister will be well aware that there is a shortage of governors: many schools do not get enough people to fill the positions. For instance, my wife is a governor of a school in London, and even when the governor positions are filled, in some cases it is difficult to get them to turn up to meetings. This casting aside of views of the importance of governors is not going to do anything for the management of schools or oversight of the way in which schools are run.
Yes, the Government have the right to implement their manifesto. At the same time, they have to be willing to accept that there are different views about the way they do that. Surely, there is a balance to strike. In a democratic society people have the right to challenge government actions and, unless the stakes are extremely high, governments have to put up with it, listen and, at least on occasion, accept what is said to them. I would say that that was a lesson that the Chancellor of the Exchequer learned in your Lordships’ House last week and it seems that, to his credit, he has thus far taken it on board.
There surely cannot be any suggestion that the procedure outlined in Amendment 13 would be too time-consuming or burdensome or would disrupt the process, either in terms of Ministers achieving their aim of getting as many schools as possible to academy status or, indeed, of the tribunal system itself.
I have a question for the noble Lord. I see that he is taking advice at the moment, so perhaps the noble Baroness can help me. I think I am right in saying that in the previous debate in 2014, the noble Lord said that 58 formal notices had been issued by regional schools commissioners to academies and free schools trusts. Will he clarify whether he was talking about the same warning notices? I did my research, and came across a figure that only 12 had ever been issued to academies by the DfE. That may have been before the regional schools commissioners were established; I do not know. It does not matter that much, because it does not deflect me from my argument that between 2010 and 2014, local authorities issued 221 warning notices to maintained schools. If we aggregate the figures of 58 and 12, that is still out of proportion with the number of academies in special measures, which is twice that of maintained schools. As I mentioned on Amendment 10, there are more pupils in inadequate academies than in inadequate maintained schools. As the Minister said, a third of local authorities did not issue any warning notices between 2010 and 2014; but, equally, there is no evidence that the performance of schools overall in those local authority areas is any different from those that have issued notices. That is not to say that that is not an issue: warning notices are there for a purpose and I believe that they should be used where appropriate.
As noble Lords may recall, Labour revised all the administrative non-judicial tribunals some time ago to bring them within a single system. In education, appeals on education, health and care plans go to the First-Tier Tribunal, as do some appeals on the suitability of staff to work with children, particularly childcare. It is telling that parents can now appeal—following, let it be noted, a Government amendment to the Childcare Bill—to the First-Tier Tribunal on access to the additional 15 hours of free childcare a week that they are to become entitled to. If that is the case, then I say to the Minister: why should governors be denied the option of appealing against a warning notice, on which the very future of their school might depend? I suggest that that is not right on a number of levels and I hope that the Minister might be persuaded to say that she will reconsider this issue and return with a proposal on it at Report. I beg to move.
In relation to this amendment, while we have some sympathy with the notion that there should be an appeal when a warning notice is issued, we are by no means convinced that the First-tier Tribunal is the right place to go.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 13 and warning notice appeals. The Bill proposes that the governing body of an underperforming school should no longer be able to make representations to Ofsted about being given a warning notice. The amendment would restore an appeal route, although not the same route. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to make regulations that would allow a school to have a warning notice reviewed, or allow it to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, which could then revoke the notice.
The amendment would not preclude the local authority or regional schools commissioner from issuing a revised notice to that school, but we believe that it oversteps the mark and builds into the process delays and arguments that are a distraction from the important business of getting the school to improve. Indeed, appeals to the First-tier Tribunal would lead to the clock stopping and months of delay ensuing while all avenues for appeal are exhausted. During this time, children will be in a school that is causing serious concern and they will not be given the education that they deserve.
To clarify, any complaints about the decision made by a regional schools commissioner may be directed to the schools commissioner. If a formal complaint is lodged, it will be dealt with in accordance with the department’s formal complaints procedure, which involves an independent officer, an official, investigating the complaint and making a recommendation. One formal complaint about a regional schools commissioner’s decision has been made so far and has been considered but no evidence was found to uphold it. Ultimately, the process for appealing a decision made by a regional schools commissioner is to apply for judicial review via the courts.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred to warning notices. Our figures indicate that we have issued 112 formal notices to underperforming institutions. Ninety- eight of these were issued to academies associated with 53 individual sponsors. We have also changed sponsor arrangements for 100 academies and free schools where there has been underperformance.
What period does that cover? Is it just since the regional schools commissioners were established or does it go back to 2010?
It is since the academies came in, so it applies to a wider period than since the regional schools commissioners have been in place. I reassure the House that we believe the process as set out in the Bill is fair and reasonable and that there are appropriate safeguards built in where schools have concerns. Regional schools commissioners and local authorities already have to act reasonably in carrying out their functions on behalf of the Secretary of State. The revised Schools Causing Concern guidance, on which we are currently consulting and seeking views, also sets out clear processes and expectations for the giving of warning notices. This is guidance which local authorities and regional schools commissioners will follow. The Bill requires the local authority to notify the regional schools commissioner if it issues a warning notice and vice versa. Regional Schools Commissioners can therefore already review a local authority’s warning notice and, if they believe that it is not appropriate, they can issue their own that would render the local authority’s notice redundant.
Although I understand the sentiments behind the amendment, it builds in additional process in primary legislation which is unnecessary and time-consuming and is not helpful in supporting schools to improve in the best interests of children. In the light of this, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw their amendment.
If this is all just a distraction, will the Minister tell me what she thinks the role of school governors is?
Obviously, the role of school governors is to hold head teachers to account to ensure that the school is providing the high-quality education that they are looking for. They have an oversight role and have to be involved in the school by going to visit and making sure that they know what is going on.
But do they have no right to comment in situations where warning notices are being issued? This seems to me to be saying that they have no meaningful role, as it is being taken away from them. Surely that cannot be a positive step.
No, as I said, any complaints about a decision made by the regional schools commissioner can be directed to the schools commissioner. If a formal complaint is lodged, it will be dealt with through the process that is in place. Ultimately, the end process is judicial review.
I noted the noble Baroness’s remarks that delays and arguments are a distraction to the process of bringing about change in a school. The whole underlying ethos of the Government’s approach to the Bill is that people who might not agree with the proposal are simply to be sidelined. They are to be silenced—gagged—and to have no input, because they might delay the process. I do not think anybody has said anything other than that change needs to be brought about as quickly as possible. But at the same time the Government must consider the fact that some people have different views from those they may have. Those views should be considered.
The Government do not have, despite their victory on 7 May, the right to ride roughshod over people’s views, particularly those of local people, on such important issues. It does not serve the Government’s case to suggest simply that complaints can be made to the regional schools commissioner or the schools commissioner, or through judicial review. Yes, of course judicial review is open to anyone anyway in any situation, but that is not the point. This is a specific proposal that relates to the role of a school’s governing body, which is being taken away from that body. As I said earlier, it is difficult to see why anybody would want to be a school governor, because they are being disfranchised and disempowered, and basically being told that what they say does not matter. I am disappointed that neither Minister is willing to consider this. We may return to this issue on Report, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5: Appointment of interim executive members
14: Clause 5, page 5, line 4, at end insert—
“5B (1) Where a school has been designated by order under section 69(4) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, the interim executive board shall be under a duty to secure that—
(a) the religion or religious denomination of the school is preserved and developed, and(b) the school is conducted in accordance with the school’s instrument of government (except in relation to the composition of the governing body) and the foundation’s governing documents, including, where appropriate, any trust deed relating to the school.(2) In exercising any powers under this Schedule, the Secretary of State shall comply with any agreement between the local authority and the appropriate diocesan authority, if any, and person or persons by whom the foundation governors are appointed, in relation to the membership and operation of the interim executive board.”
My Lords, Amendment 14 replicates the current agreements that local authorities and churches have about the membership of interim executive boards of church schools. This amendment has been put forward partly as a result of representations made to us by the Catholic Education Service, which is worried that powers that are now very rarely used by the Secretary of State will become much more widely used by the regional schools commissioners and that the regional schools commissioners may, unknowingly, cut across existing working practices with local authorities. In written evidence to the Commons Public Bill Committee, included in a briefing to us, it wrote:
“We are concerned that the powers given to the new RSCs may cut across existing working practice. Local authorities and Department for Education officials who currently make decisions about school support understand the dioceses’ legal duties to preserve and develop the Catholic character of their school … In particular we are concerned about new powers granted to RSCs under Section 5 of the Bill. Usually an IEB is put in place following discussion between the local authority and the diocese, with carefully considered agreements as to its operation, including in relation to its members. To do this the diocese and local authority agree a memorandum of understanding … This enables the school to continue to comply with its trust deed through a Church appointed majority on the IEB”.
Should the regional schools commissioners intervene and appoint their own members to an interim executive board without regard to the church-appointed majority, the Catholic Education Service says that the school might then cease to be a Catholic school. Once a school is no longer recognised as Catholic by the bishop, it is no longer complying with its own trust deed, presumably forcing the closure of the school that ultimately undermines the intention behind an interim executive board, which is to prevent the closure of the school, as well as to bring about the necessary improvements. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 14. We recognise that church schools have an integral role in the education system, comprising, as they do, around one-third of all maintained schools.
One of the reasons the church academy model has been a success is because dioceses are at the forefront of decisions concerning these schools, which means that decisions are made at a local level after consultation with communities. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, mentioned, the Bill is at risk of cutting across this local decision-making, and this amendment addresses one of the areas where changes are necessary to ensure that adequate safeguards are put in place.
If decisions about the people who are nominated to interim executive boards are not acceptable to a local bishop, they do not carry his support. Therefore, that could undermine the whole raison d’être of the school. It would also, I suggest, undermine the whole raison d’être of an interim executive board, which is to prevent the closure of the school as well as to bring about necessary improvement. The amendment ensures that the appointment of an interim executive board does not undermine the faith character of a school. Surely the Government do not intend to affect faith schools in any way that would be seen as damaging and I hope the Minister will be prepared to recognise this in the Bill.
We believe the amendment provides the safeguards that the churches are seeking, without detracting from the process of school improvement that everyone wants to see.
My Lords, Amendment 14, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Sharp, concerns where the Secretary of State makes directions about an interim executive board in respect of a school with a religious character. I believe I will be able to offer considerable reassurance on this point. The churches and other faith bodies are important partners in our education system but sometimes schools with a religious character fail, so we must be able to respond decisively and robustly in such cases.
Proposed new Section 5B(1)(a) and (b) propose a duty for IEBs in schools with a religious designation to ensure that the religious character of that school is preserved and developed. They would also be placed under a duty to ensure that the school is conducted in compliance with the school’s instrument of government and the foundation’s governing documents, including any trust deed.
First, I offer reassurance that while we are committed to tackling failure swiftly and robustly wherever it occurs, we fully recognise the importance of ensuring that the ethos of schools with a religious designation is preserved. I really think that the Catholic Church’s concerns on this are unfounded. I look forward to being able to reassure it on this point. I believe that I have already reassured the Church of England on this point, and I look forward to engaging further with both churches as we develop our memoranda of understanding, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, referred to. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that we have no intention of damaging or affecting church schools in any way. To support that commitment, as I said, we have already begun discussions with the churches about reviewing and updating the memoranda of understanding that set out the roles of dioceses and government as they relate to the academy programme, in order to reflect the changes in the Bill and the wider evolving policy landscape.
The Minister says he has had discussions with the Roman Catholic Church. Does he recognise that it is not satisfied with the outcome of those discussions? Certainly, the Catholic Education Service is making it quite clear that it supports this amendment because it is not satisfied with where the discussions with the Minister have led.
If the noble Lord would let me finish, he would understand that these discussions are at a very early stage. We have just issued a draft of the memoranda of understanding and I believe that the churches are considering the detail. I will refer to this in more detail in a minute.
Under paragraphs 3(3), 10(2) and 13(2) of Schedule 6 to the Education and Inspections Act 2006, IEBs are already required to comply with the same duties that applied to the previous governing body, which includes any duty to comply with a trust deed. Members of a church or faith school’s IEB are therefore already bound to preserve and develop the school’s religious character. This is the case even where the new powers under Clause 5 of the Bill have been used to direct the local authority to appoint specific IEB members. The first part of the amendment is therefore unnecessary because it is simply restating a requirement that already exists in law.
Additionally, we are currently consulting on the revised Schools Causing Concern guidance, which describes how we propose that the new and strengthened powers in the Bill will work in practice. This includes how we propose IEBs will operate in practice, and it sets out the role and duties of an IEB. To avoid any further doubt on the matter raised in this amendment, we have specified in the guidance:
“Any obligations on the governing body in relation to maintaining the religious ethos of a school will also apply to the IEB”.
The second part of the amendment proposes that RSCs, where they are exercising the Clause 5 power to direct the local authority to alter the make-up of an IEB in a church or faith school, would be required to protect the continued involvement of the relevant diocese or faith body. That would mean that they would have to comply with an existing agreement between the local authority and the diocese about the membership and operation of the IEB. Such agreements between local authorities and dioceses about the membership and operation of IEBs are not required by legislation, nor are they legally binding. It would therefore be inappropriate to require RSCs to comply with such agreements through this amendment.
However, we are currently working with the churches to agree a memorandum of understanding. We are fully committed to agreeing these MoUs; it will enable dioceses and RSCs to work together for the benefit of pupils in church schools. In particular, we want to make sure that, as the draft MoU states:
“Where RSCs wish to exercise their power to establish an IEB to a church school, they must consult the diocese”.
We would expect the consultation to provide an opportunity for the diocese to nominate one or more IEB members and for RSCs to accept the diocese’s nomination, providing they agree that the proposed member has the capacity and skills required to fulfil their role on the IEB.
Where any IEB established by either the local authority or the RSC is established in a church school and the RSC has concerns about the capability of an IEB member to fulfil the role, the diocese will be asked if it wishes to nominate a replacement IEB member. Our expectation is that RSCs will accept such a nomination, provided they agree with the diocese’s assessment that the individual has the capacity and skills required to fulfil their role on the IEB.
Furthermore, the purpose of the power in Clause 5 is to enable the RSCs to intervene swiftly where they are not convinced that the IEB constituted by the local authority will secure necessary improvements in the school. Accepting the amendment proposed here would require RSCs to endorse an IEB whether they had confidence in it or not. That would undermine the purpose of the clause and may prevent RSCs from acting decisively to address underperformance.
In view of what I have said about making sure that we preserve the faith status of any church schools—which we are absolutely determined to ensure, and I am sure that we will be able to satisfy the churches on this—I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
I am very grateful to the Minister for giving these assurances. I was fairly confident that in fact they would be in discussion with the churches about these issues and that some system would be found to relieve their fears. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Clause 5 agreed.
Committee adjourned at 5.37 pm.