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Schools: Special Measures

Volume 767: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what powers local authorities have to deal with schools that are put under special measures.

My Lords, the Education and Adoption Bill, which we will be debating shortly, will require the Secretary of State to make an academy order for any inadequate maintained school, fulfilling the promise made in our manifesto. The local authority will then be under a duty to facilitate conversion. Local authorities retain intervention powers under the Education and Inspections Act 2006 in schools eligible for intervention, including inadequate schools. However, the revised Schools Causing Concern guidance, currently under consultation, makes it clear that it will generally be regional schools commissioners who intervene, using the powers of the Secretary of State.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, a Conservative, said that local authorities,

“must be regarded as education improvement partners and be allowed to intervene early and use their vast experience, integrity and desire to improve the system”.

In the spirit of Christmas time, will the Minister agree to meet to see how we can further enhance the role of local authorities in school improvement?

I would be delighted to meet to discuss that. We are committed to spreading education excellence everywhere. The Schools Causing Concern guidance makes it clear that local authorities should continue to act as champions of education excellence in the schools they maintain.

If it is the Government’s ambition, as David Cameron stated recently, to make,

“local authorities running schools a thing of the past”,

how will local knowledge about schools and their communities be gathered and how will other local authority services be harnessed to benefit schools?

The noble Baroness quite rightly refers to this Government’s ambition to give every school the opportunity to become an academy. Local knowledge is prevalent on the regional schools commissioners’ head teacher boards. Four members are elected by their peers, and many other boards have a balance of head teachers spread across the region. Regional schools commissioners and local authorities are co-operating well in relation to the schools in their areas.

My Lords, many local authorities across the country have demonstrated that effective local improvement can occur through strong local authority leadership in partnership with schools. An example is the oft-cited London Challenge. All the evidence, including the latest government statistics, shows that the maintained sector can turn around inadequate and failing schools better than the academy sector. Therefore, forcing all schools to become academies is not based on the need to improve school attainment. Does the Minister agree?

I entirely agree that there are local authorities that are perfectly capable of turning schools around. The sad fact is, though, that quite a few—a depressingly large number—do not appear to have been prepared to use their intervention powers. Since 2006, 42 local authorities have never installed an IEB, and 49, nearly one-third, have never issued a warning notice since 2010.

My Lords, to go back to the question from my noble friend Lady Massey, could the Minister explain why this Government are bent on giving more powers to local authorities in a number of very important areas, such as health—I use the so-called northern powerhouse as the most high-profile example—yet appear to think that the same local authorities to which they are prepared to devolve those powers are not fit to run education services?

Local authorities have been judged by Ofsted as being inadequate to run education. We are talking about two totally different things. We believe that we have set up a very effective system for intervening in schools that is working well.

Is the Minister aware that by forcing ever more schools to convert to academies, he is in effect making a rod for his own back? If the only role remaining for local authorities is to facilitate those conversions, in the period after that all responsibility for failing schools will fall on the Government, and Ministers will be forced to come to this House and explain to noble Lords why those schools are failing and what they are going to do about it.

I hope that Ministers on this side of the House will never be frightened to come to this House and explain themselves. I conceive local authorities as being responsible for place planning, basic needs, admissions, safeguarding and SEN for the foreseeable future.

My Lords, what is the intention of Her Majesty’s Government in relation to ensuring that education by devolved Governments is maintained and remains at the same standard as the United Kingdom’s? By that, I mean Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Education has been devolved, which has had some pretty disastrous consequences in Wales. There is also a report out today on the effects of inadequate oversight in some Scottish areas.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that throughout the 20th century local authorities led and ran education in this country very successfully, and indeed introduced many new systems and improvements to the whole education system? I speak as a former member of a county borough education committee. Would it not be better if local people ran their local services, rather than central government interfering in matters that really should not concern it?

Actually, I think they do concern us. This Government are passionate about ensuring that every child gets a good education, and sadly there are far too many areas in this country where that is not the case. As I have already explained, regional schools commissioners are very locally based.

My Lords, would the Minister explain to the House whether there is any relationship between the way that the Government have decided where schools can be built, where new schools can be opened, where schools can be expanded and where they cannot, and the fact that many parents are now discovering that what used to be their local authority’s responsibility for planning provision over their area has been messed up by the Government moving in because they particularly want a certain sort of school, without looking at the overall planning needs to suit every child of every group of parents?

I am responsible for place planning and capital, and we look very closely at planning needs. If the noble Baroness is referring to free schools, since I became a Minister, 93% of free schools have been approved in places where there is a forecast need for new school places.