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Education and Adoption Bill

Volume 768: debated on Monday 8 February 2016

Third Reading

Clause 3: Other warning notices

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 3, page 4, line 4, at end insert—

“(5) In section 69B (power of Secretary of State to direct local authority), in subsection (3)—(a) omit paragraph (c);(b) in paragraph (d), for “60A(10)” substitute “60A(1)(b)”.”

My Lords, I am delighted to be opening the Third Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill. I take this opportunity to express my thanks for the support, challenge and rigorous scrutiny that the Bill has received in your Lordships’ House. It has been a pleasure to see the expertise that Peers from all sides of the House have brought to bear on the important matters of ensuring that our children receive an excellent education and improving our adoption system. I hope noble Lords will agree that our debates have been constructive and that the Bill has been improved as a result of the comments and contributions of your Lordships’ House.

Turning to the amendments the Government have tabled, Amendment 1 would make it explicit that two further sections of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 will be amended as a consequence of the Bill. The purpose of Amendments 4 and 5 is to tidy up the drafting of the Bill by removing and replacing a cross-reference which would misdirect the reader of the Bill and lead to confusion. Our aim in tabling these amendments is to ensure correct cross-referencing within the Bill and that consequential amendments to other Bills are identified. I hope noble Lords will agree that these amendments are straightforward and I beg to move.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—

“Regional Schools Commissioners

(1) The Secretary of State must make widely available to the public a coherent document that sets out the powers and responsibilities of the Regional Schools Commissioners which are connected with the provisions of the Education and Adoption Act 2016.(2) The document under subsection (1) must contain—(a) a list of the Acts of Parliament and regulations from which each responsibility and power of the Regional Schools Commissioners is drawn;(b) a user-friendly executive summary.”

My Lords, it became obvious during the progress of the Bill that the action proposed by Amendment 2 was needed. Regional schools commissioners are a new subject for us all. I became increasingly aware of just how important they are to the new structure roughly at the same time as the entire House of Commons did; nevertheless, we do what we can. It became clear that we could not find out very easily how this occurred. It needed a little bit of digging, and I thank Thomson Jones—a young lad who has been helping in my office—who did some of it. He is good at reading back on bits of legislation. Several bits had to be referred to, to find exactly what was going on and how it functioned and fitted together. Legally it was there, but you could not find it. Anecdotally, a lot of people are telling me that education authorities have people phoning up and saying, “What do I do about the academy?”. They do not know the new chain of command.

This is merely a sin of omission, but if we can get it right now, we will save a great deal of trouble for ourselves in the future. Even if we do not like the structure that is coming, it is clearly going to be with us for a while, so we must make it function properly. The objective of the amendment—and presumably those which have been tabled as amendments to it—is to make sure there is a clear way of getting to the legal basis for operation. The schools commissioners are soon going to have far more of the problems of the education system put on their doorstep to deal with. I hope the Minister can give positive answers to show exactly how this is going to be done, even if he does not—for some bizarre reason—choose to accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment 3 (to Amendment 2)

Moved by

3: At end insert—

“(c) a guide for parents; and(d) information on other matters to do with the powers and responsibilities of Regional Schools Commissioners as may be appropriate.”

Amendment 3 seeks to add two further requirements to the document on regional schools commissioners mentioned in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Since noble Lords considered the Bill on Report, the House of Commons Education Committee has published a report entitled The role of Regional Schools Commissioners, which was not exactly uncritical of the role of these commissioners and the manner in which they have operated since they came into being in September 2014. Indeed, the report contains a total of 24 recommendations, to which the Minister will, no doubt, respond in detail in due course. I hope his response will not be delayed for long and that he will accept and implement most, if not all, of the very thoughtful suggestions made after hearing evidence from a variety of sources—not least the Minister himself. I dare say he will regard the report as carrying a considerable amount of weight, given that it was produced by a committee which is chaired by a member of his party, which has an inbuilt majority on the committee.

It is striking that there remain so many questions about the precise role of the regional schools commissioners and in whose interests they operate. This means that a guide for parents, as suggested in Amendment 3, is a necessity. Ensuring parents understand who to hold accountable for their child’s experience at school and how to do so is vital, yet the Bill consistently treats parents with disdain. I have given examples before, but if a group of parents wants to break away from a maintained school and establish their own free school, they are welcomed with open arms by the Government and given every assistance, as well as considerable amounts of cash, to enable them to do so. Put simply, they are listened to and treated with respect. However, should another group of parents want their children’s maintained school to keep that status in the face of forced academisation, they are ignored, told the decision is nothing to do with them and that the change will take place no matter what they think. Put simply, they are not listened to and are effectively treated with contempt. So under the Bill, parents are denied the right to have a say when the school attended by their children is forced to become an academy. We have said on various occasions that consultation is appropriate for all parents if they want to take advantage of it.

When the Bill was discussed in Committee, the Minister assured noble Lords that governing bodies of academies would include parental representatives. It was understood that those representatives would, in some limited form at least, have the ability to hold their school to account and have an influence in areas such as hiring senior staff, monitoring budgets and standards. Well, my Lords, just last month it was announced that those notions had been effectively thrown out of the window by the E-ACT academy group which, as noble Lords may be aware, has unilaterally decided to scrap local governing bodies for the 23 schools that it operates. There will be a centralised process for monitoring standards, and the governing bodies will be replaced by so-called advisory bodies, the chairs of which, to no one’s surprise, will be appointed by the academy chain. That is not merely a top-down but a closed-door approach, which it appears will brook no questioning of how the chain operates.

The fact that this has been handed down by an organisation that receives £135 million of public funds annually makes it even more serious. It appears that E-ACT is content to treat the public purse with respect, but quite unwilling to treat the public with respect. This behaviour would be serious enough for a chain that was operating effectively, but in 2014 E-ACT had the control of 10 of its academies taken away after Ofsted raised serious concerns about its performance. Not only its educational competence has been questioned; until July last year, the Education Funding Agency forced the chain to operate under a financial notice to improve. One might have thought that such inadequacy would have produced some humility at E-ACT, but as we have heard, the opposite is the fact. Perhaps the Minister can give noble Lords his take on this rather sorry state of affairs, including the action, if any, of the various regional schools commissioners, under whose auspices the chain operates.

My Lords, there are no circumstances in which a regional schools commissioner should stand by when an academy chain seeks to exclude parents, staff, local businesses and local politicians from the governance of their local schools. If regional schools commissioners are not there to ensure that academies operate to the highest standards, what, one might ask, is their purpose?

The education report highlighted a number of questions about whether the key role of regional schools commissioners was to help raise standards or whether it is simply to bring about more academies and free schools as quickly as possible. The key performance indicators institutionalise this confusion, which is a problem that must be dealt with, and soon.

It is not appropriate at this stage to go into greater detail on the recommendations of the Select Committee, which I believe has carefully put together a report that requires careful scrutiny. I am sure the Minister will scrutinise that report, but I hope that in doing so he will bear in mind the importance of parents being able to have some say in the way their children receive their education and how it is framed and delivered by academies. For that reason, I beg to move.

My Lords, as we are dealing with this issue of regional schools commissioners, I thought it might be useful to share with the House a personal story giving our experience at Floreat Education Academies Trust, which I founded, of dealing with the regional schools commissioners and of their role in regulating the system as it stands today. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, chose the example of E-ACT, which has had some problems in recent times, but it is important to note that the regional schools commissioner system has helped to generate the changes that have happened—schools have been taken away from E-ACT. To me, that is an example of a system that is working to crack down on low quality rather than one that is not working.

Does the noble Lord know whether E-ACT consulted the regional schools commissioner before it decided to scrap the governing bodies for the schools that it operates?

I have no idea. I was referring to the fact that schools of low quality were taken away from E-ACT.

The Select Committee report, to which noble Lords have referred, talks about in a specific recommendation the importance that,

“the Government reflect on the need to improve understanding of the role of the RSCs”.

I think that is what lies behind the amendments, so I welcome the sentiment, if not the vehicle itself. Our own experience at Floreat is from dealing with two RSCs: Dominic Herrington in south London and the south-east and Martin Post in south-central and north-west London. As a new provider, we found them open and responsive in a way that dealing just with the department would not have been by dint of the capacity at the department. So far, there has been just the right amount of support and challenge, which is at the heart of the role.

An example of the support offered—in this case, by Dominic Herrington’s schools commissioner region—was for multi-academy trust leaders’ training sessions: getting together with others, learning what works, being exposed to the new Ofsted framework, and so on. An issue of challenge would be around understanding the capacity and capability of a multi-academy trust to take on new schools and open new schools, and whether we have the finance and the expertise for doing so. That is a conversation that I had with our commissioner, Martin Post, on Friday.

So far, the experience has been of a productive relationship based very clearly at all times on raising standards for pupils. That shared purpose comes through clearly at all times. While I agree that it is necessary, given the importance of RSCs, to continue to explain in more detail the importance of the role and what it can and cannot do, I do not see that it requires an amendment to the Bill to achieve this, and I hope to hear positive news from the Minister about how the Government will actively promote the regional schools commissioners from now on.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 2, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Hunt. Both concern the responsibilities and powers of regional schools commissioners. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has proposed that the Secretary of State should be required to publish a document that would describe the powers and responsibilities of RSCs arising from the provisions in the Bill and other Acts of Parliament. Amendment 3 would extend this requirement to specify that the document must include a guide for parents and any other information to do with the powers and responsibilities of RSCs as may be appropriate.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for raising this issue once again, following the exchanges that he had with my noble friend Lady Evans on this matter on Report in this House. Since the last debate, he has also met officials from the Department for Education and he and I have had a number of exchanges on the matter. I hope that he has found these discussions helpful and has been reassured that the Government are committed to meeting the objectives of his amendment.

As my noble friend Lady Evans explained in the previous debate, RSCs are not defined in legislation: they are civil servants, and exercise only the powers and duties of the Secretary of State that he chooses to delegate to them. Accountability for the decisions made by RSCs rests with the Secretary of State, who remains fully accountable to Parliament. It is important to emphasise that the role of RSCs is very different from the role of local authorities. RSCs operate within a clearly defined framework, with the focus on monitoring and tackling educational underperformance in academies and free schools, approving new academies, advising on free school applications and approving changes to open academies, such as expansions or age-range changes.

To support these functions, RSCs also work to develop the sponsor market in their regions. Subject to the passage of the Bill, RSCs will also take on responsibility for formal intervention in underperforming maintained schools. RSCs carry out their functions within a national framework and individual decisions are made in accordance with the relevant legislation, academy funding agreement and/or published criteria.

Information on the work of RSCs is already publicly available. We have already set out the remit of our RSCs and the membership of each head teacher board, published registers of interest and made available the criteria for RSC decision-making. Academy funding agreements are publicly available, as are the criteria for other individual RSC decisions. For example, the criteria that RSCs use to assess schools applying to become academies are set out online in the guidance document, Convert to an Academy: Guide for Schools. Notes of board meetings that detail each decision made are also published on a monthly basis.

In addition, we have recently consulted publicly on revising the statutory Schools Causing Concern guidance that describes the responsibilities and powers delegated to RSCs resulting from the provisions in the Bill, and how they will be used in practice by RSCs to intervene in failing and coasting maintained schools and academies. Alongside this document the Government are also required, under the Academies Act 2010, to provide an annual report to Parliament on the expansion of the academy programme and the performance of academies during the year. This year’s report will include commentary on RSCs.

We recognise, however, that we need to go further. We acknowledge that RSCs are a new concept and that, as more schools become academies and the RSC remit expands, we need to clearly articulate the role, improve understanding of its responsibilities and increase transparency. Noble Lords will be reassured to hear that the new national schools commissioner, Sir David Carter, considers raising awareness, particularly among parents, as one of his top priorities and he made this clear in a Radio 4 interview last month.

As with any new system, we expect the level of awareness to increase over time, but to expedite this I am today making a clear commitment to the House that the Government will publish a full description of the RSC role and a guide to all RSC powers and responsibilities. We will ensure that this more detailed information is in understandable form, includes a succinct summary of the role and has clear links for the public to find more detailed information should they require it. We will make clear that this information is for parents and the sector.

The information will be published on the education pages of the government website, GOV.UK. This is the website where all government policies, publications, statistics and consultations are published. It is already used by parents to find information on matters such as school admissions, school performance and childcare. It is used extensively. In January of this year alone, there were nearly 1.3 million visitors to the education pages of GOV.UK. The website is designed for the public and is intended to be simple, clear and quick to find information. We will make sure that the information is collated and published in good time for the Bill coming into force. Furthermore, I assure noble Lords that we will keep the information up to date and revise it as necessary, following any changes to legislation or to RSCs’ non-statutory responsibilities.

Alongside publishing more detailed information, we recognise that it is equally important to ensure the public know where to find it. Once the new information is published, we will alert parent and governor groups such as the National Governors’ Association and the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations and encourage them to direct their members towards it. We will also publicise the information through the email which the Department for Education issues direct to schools at the start of every term and which sets out important changes. RSCs will also be carrying out a range of activities within their regions to improve awareness, to raise their profile and to ensure the sector understands and is prepared for the new legislation.

As the noble Lord has described, since we last debated this matter the Education Select Committee has published its report on the establishment of RSCs. While the committee welcomed the introduction of RSCs as a pragmatic approach to the expanding workload of academies oversight, the report also made a number of recommendations, including that the Government should reflect on the need to improve understanding of the role of RSCs. I assure noble Lords that the Government take this issue very seriously and will increase and improve the information available to the public on RSCs, with a particular focus on simplifying and improving the information for parents.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred to the situation in relation to E-ACT and parents. I can assure him that we regard the involvement of parents in education as crucial. The best way to do this is not necessarily through having two parents on a governing body. An equally good or better way may be to have parent forums. I understand that E-ACT has plans to do this and is meeting with Sir David Carter this week to discuss this further.

I certainly accept what the Minister is saying about parent forums, but why should that be to the exclusion of parent representatives from governing bodies? Can the two not exist equally well together?

They can. They will have parents on their advisory boards and E-ACT is required, as are all multi-academy trusts if they do not have local governing bodies, to have two parents on their multi-academy trust board. So parents will still be intimately involved in decisions.

Perhaps I may follow that up. That is two parents in a multi-academy chain board. E-ACT has been mentioned by me. As I understand it, it has 23 schools and one academy chain board. Out of all those schools, only two parents would have any kind of representation. They could not possibly be representative in any way of the views of the parents in 21 other schools.

That is why, as I understand it, they will have advisory bodies, which will consist of parents. As I have said, the same point can be made about individual schools. Two parents cannot necessarily be representative of the body of parents, which is why a parents’ association may be a much better way of engaging with parents across a broader church.

I hope that, given the further explanations and reassurances I have been able to give in relation to information about the RSCs, the noble Lord will be assured that we are committed to improving understanding and increasing transparency relating to RSCs and will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Before I sit down, I would like to take this opportunity to put my wider thanks on the record for the careful consideration the Bill has received throughout this House. First, I thank my noble friends on the government Benches, in particular my noble friend Lady Evans, who has provided strong support and kept the Bill on track over the past few months. I also thank my noble friend Lady Perry for her continuing support and advice and my noble friend Lord Harris for his passionate words on Report about the difference that becoming a sponsored academy can make.

I also thank my noble friends Lord O’Shaughnessy and Lord True. I would particularly like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for ensuring that the best interests of children are always at the forefront of all our considerations. Of course, I must pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education who is committed to taking forward essential reforms to achieve real social justice for all children and young people.

I also particularly thank the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Storey, who have provided strong and thorough opposition alongside their colleagues the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Addington, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Pinnock. I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Hughes, for their contributions. While we may have crossed swords on many things, their challenges have been constructive and it has been clear throughout our debates that across the House we are united in our belief in the life-transforming power of education and in the desire to give every child the best start in life.

There have been very important contributions on this Bill from all sides. On the Cross Benches, I am grateful in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, for bringing his extensive knowledge and experience of our education system to bear on this Bill and to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his considered comments and amendments on children in care and mental health issues. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely for supporting the Government’s ambitions with the important role that church schools play in our education system.

I also thank the organisations that have engaged with the Bill and contributed to ensuring that its content will benefit children waiting to be adopted and pupils in our schools. In particular, I wish to thank the individual head teachers and MAT CEOs who freely gave up their time to share with Peers their experience of school improvement at the outset of the Bill entering this House. They have improved our understanding of the very real issues that the Bill seeks to address.

Finally, I would like to put on record my thanks to the officials from the Department for Education, the Bill team, in particular Louise Evans and Kayleigh Walker, the lawyers, including Caroline Chalmers, the policy officials and others who have worked on this Bill and helped to ensure the good progress we have made in this House.

As noble Lords will have heard me say previously, the Bill has one essential principle at its heart: that every child deserves an excellent education and a secure and loving home. This Bill is about social justice and about building a fairer society in which every child has the same opportunities to reach their potential regardless of their background. To ensure that adoption is always pursued when it is in the child’s best interests, we have recently announced increased funding totalling £200 million over the course of this Parliament to further develop regional adoption agencies, fund the interagency fee and extend the adoption support fund.

To achieve a world-class education system, we need a school system that consistently and universally delivers high academic standards. To help deliver that, this House has accepted an important amendment to the Bill to give more consistent and effective powers to regional schools commissioners when academies underperform. The amendments we have made, alongside the original Bill provisions to strengthen our ability to turn around failing and coasting maintained schools, mean that I am confident that the Bill leaves this House with the potential to ensure that many more children and young people will have the opportunity to make the best start and succeed in life. I commend it to the House.

My Lords, I did not expect the Minister to make those remarks at this stage—I thought he would do it at the Bill do now pass stage. I would like to say a little more about my amendment on the question of regional schools commissioners. The Minister was kind enough to facilitate a meeting with the regional schools commissioner who covers the area in which I live. In a sense, that encapsulated one of the anomalies of regional schools commissioners—the way that they are divided geographically. The Education Select Committee report highlighted the fact that London is covered by three regional schools commissioners. The committee suggested that there should be a ninth commissioner for London, to mirror Ofsted regions, which is a very sensible suggestion. The fact that I live in a region that covers places as diverse as West Ham and Great Yarmouth suggests that there is room for improvement.

There is also room for improvement in the role of parents in education. That must be about the hundredth time I have mentioned it in our many hours of debate. I believe that the Government are plain wrong in trying to say that parents do not have a meaningful contribution to make—and not the token that the Minister recently mentioned of two parents on a board that covers 23 schools. Most parents care passionately about their child’s education. The fact that they have effectively been brushed aside by much of the Bill is unfortunate, to put it mildly. It is also grossly unfair. Many people who want to have that input are now going to be unable to do so. So even a parents’ guide to regional schools commissioners would be a step forward, to at least make sure that people know where to go and who to speak to when they have a complaint, and how to forward it. I regret that it has not been possible to get agreement. Perhaps we should await the Minister’s response to the Education Committee report; I do so with some interest. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 3 (to Amendment 2) withdrawn.

If we may draw back from the amendments we are actually discussing, I thank the noble Lord for his work and the courtesy of his department. There have been a lot of emails going back and forth. There was also an entertaining point when the good old-fashioned steam telephone was not working in my office, so in the end a piece of paper was handed to me by one of the doorkeepers. That meant that I knew the noble Lord was getting back to me, for which I thank him.

If we address what the noble Lord said about this amendment, it is a triumph of the bleeding obvious, if I may put it like that. We should let people know what is changing. What he has done is not quite as much fun as getting an amendment accepted, but half a loaf is better than no bread—and this is a bit more like three-quarters, so I thank him for that.

Given that we seem to be going slightly off-piste, I shall also take the opportunity of thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, for giving the assurance at an earlier stage that the KPIs for increasing the number of schools becoming academies were withdrawn. I should have mentioned that at the time, but it got rather swamped by other matters. Having heard that, and having those assurances on the record, I thank the noble Lord for his work on this and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Clause 14: Academies causing concern

Amendments 4 and 5

Moved by

4: Clause 14, page 9, line 41, leave out “1A” and insert “14”

5: Clause 14, page 10, line 22, leave out “1A” and insert “14”

Amendments 4 and 5 agreed.

Motion

Moved by

My Lords, we have now reached the point where this Bill must return to the other place. From these Benches we have to say that it is regrettable that it will take so little in terms of amendments with it. As has been outlined, it has many faults, and despite claims by both Ministers that it is all about rescuing children from underperforming schools, many noble Lords believe that there is rather more to it than that.

I should say that I do not doubt the bona fides of either Minister. The relish with which they have advanced their arguments during the Bill’s time in your Lordships’ House reflects their own backgrounds and motivation. I understand that the noble Baroness has a history in the free schools sector and that the noble Lord has a history in the academies sector, each with some success. If I may draw an analogy, to be handed this Bill is tantamount to a girl and boy being given the keys to the toy shop. It is clear that they are in their element, because it allows them to pursue their personal and particular priorities. But it has to be said that their priorities are not necessarily those of wider society, judging by the briefings we have had from a very wide range of organisations, all of whom I thank, and not to any significant extent those of the education professionals, all of whom also have as their raison d'être providing the best possible education for our children.

We have spent almost 24 hours in debate on this Bill—a full day. I wonder whether we might ask ourselves whether we might have put it to better use—some may say yes—and I am sure that we are now all ready to move on to other things. But before we do so, I want to thank the Bill team. We on these Benches have worked rather hard. On my behalf I pay tribute to my assistant, Molly Critchley, who did the heavy lifting when it came to negotiating over amendments. She did much more besides, and both I and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath are indebted to her for her tireless efforts. This is the first piece of legislation for which I have had Front-Bench responsibility and I have leaned much and often on the experienced shoulders of my colleague Lord Hunt, for which I am most grateful. Having leaned much, I like to think that I have now learned much—but I suppose time will tell.

I think I am correct in asserting that this is also the first Bill as a Front-Bencher for the noble Baroness, Lady Evans of Bowes Park. She has perhaps had a slightly tougher baptism than she might have hoped for, but through it all she has retained an upbeat manner and an ability to assure—or at least attempt to assure—those on these Benches that the Bill was much more benign than we believed.

The noble Lord, Lord Nash, and I have had—what shall I say?—our moments throughout those 24 hours. It seems that neither of us is ever going to convince the other of the veracity of our respective arguments, but at least we have given it our best shot. I have made a discovery about the noble Lord and, in spite of the fact that he has offered precious little in terms of concessions on the Bill, I am about to offer him one of my own. I think he and I have only two things in common. One is clearly membership of your Lordships’ House. The other, I have learned, is that we were born in the same year. I am not about to divulge the year, but we were born just five weeks apart—and that provides me with both good news and bad. The good news is that the Minister was born first. The bad news is that it does not show.

My Lords, I take the opportunity once again to thank the Minister for being prepared to listen. There have been a number of changes—including changes of interpretation—to the Bill. I said to my colleagues at the beginning, “I am sure that Lord Nash will listen”, and he has done. This is a very small Bill, really. On the adoption side, I think real progress has been made.

On the school side, there are a few issues for me. The first is whether this is not just about the academisation programme and the slow strangulation of maintained schools and local education authorities. Maybe there is a much fairer way of achieving that. I recall the statement from the Chancellor that he wants all schools to become academies, and the same from the Prime Minister.

The second issue is that of parents. I have always believed that one of the hallmarks of a successful education system is that parents are at the heart of it. I think we said in Committee that if the school that your children go to is being closed, that is quite a traumatic occasion; you want to be involved in those discussions and to know the reasons and what is happening. To then be told that you are not even going to have a say on the new school or new academy sponsor is something that I am concerned about.

Another issue follows a couple of Questions that I tabled regarding the governing bodies of schools. Again, it seems bizarre that you can have academy trusts abolishing governing bodies. In maintained schools, of course, you have to have a governing body—quite rightly; parents are an important voice in a school—but in multi-academy trusts you can have one governing body for, say, 50-odd schools. In the Harris Academy chain there are now, I think, 52 schools. One governing body—which could be in another part of the country, for that matter—being the parental voice is really not good enough. It could be said—well-meaningly, I am sure—that parents’ associations are quite important. But many schools do not have parent associations; they tend to be, I have to say, in middle-class areas.

The area of schools commissioners is one that has vexed us for some time. Light needs to be shone on the work and there needs to be transparency, and I am delighted with the comments the Minister has made on that. It is a very important step forward.

Some of us have always believed that driving up standards in our schools is not about waving the proverbial big cane but about professionalism and trusting in the leadership of schools. One of my regrets from the coalition period was that we abolished the leadership academy. That was a great mistake. You need to make sure that the people you put as leaders of your school are of the highest calibre, quality and training. You have to have good leaders.

Secondly, it is all for nought if you do not have quality teachers. It is about ensuring that teachers are respected, highly trained and highly valued. It worries me that 40% of teachers leave in the first five years of their teaching. That is a very worrying trend. I hope that, now that the Bill is out of the way, we can do what the Minister is good at—listen and evolve policies or procedures that work for all our education services.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.