Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 1st Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will say a few words following days one and two in Committee on the issues your Lordships raised about the Bill. Your Lordships heard me say that we are listening and that, after hearing concerns during the earlier days in Committee, I am acutely aware of the strength of feeling in the House. Your Lordships are aware that there is a process which is followed after Committee. Noble Lords can be reassured that, when we return to the Bill on Report, I will be able to clarify and confirm the Government’s position, having heard the views of the House in Committee. Any such statement will reflect the Government’s position, will be subject to usual processes of agreeing policy and will be shared ahead of Report.
I will press the Minister. Should those amendments that she comes back with on Report, which is how I interpret what she has just said, be as substantial as we would hope and expect given our concerns, which I appreciate she says she had heard, would she perhaps consider reconvening the Committee for us to examine those new amendments? We expect that they will substantially alter the way the Bill is currently drafted.
My Lords, I will just follow up on that. It would be helpful if we could get some clarity on what else is coming through, if not that process. It is not the Minister’s fault, but she was given a car crash to drive, and we have now got to where we are. Can we please have a little more consultation about the new form of this Bill?
My Lords, the specific question my noble friend Lady Chapman asked was about a quite common procedure in this House: if very substantial changes are proposed between Committee and Report, involving large numbers of new clauses et cetera, it is common that a Committee stage should be resumed to consider those precise additions so that the conversation can take place under Committee rules rather than Report rules. I know that the Minister cannot decide on the procedures of the House, but she is—I hope my saying so does not ruin her career—a very accommodating Minister, as far as she is able to be, who does listen to the House. Having listened to most of the Committee so far myself, it is quite clear that many issues need to be discussed if and when there is some clarification about the content of the Bill. That needs to be discussed in Committee.
I realise that the Minister is not able to say anything further about the timing with regard to Committee and Report, but could she say anything further in response to my noble friend Lord Knight about regulatory review, leaving aside the question of Report?
My Lords, may I just try this then with the Minister, who is doing her best in very difficult circumstances? Would she be prepared to talk with the Secretary of State, who is one of the most able members of the Cabinet—that might not mean a lot to others, but I think in this particular case it does—on whether it would be beneficial, not just to the passage of this legislation but to the whole education system, if he were able to see his way to taking time to reach a substantial consensus on the majority of this Bill, which I think we can do, if time were allowed to do so?
59: Clause 29, page 23, line 23, leave out “of its maintained schools” and insert “maintained schools in its area”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment makes the language in this section consistent with language used elsewhere in legislation relating to maintained schools in a church context.
My Lords, I rise to speak on behalf of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who regrets that he cannot be here to move the amendments in this group tabled in his name. I declare his interest as chair of the National Society.
Firstly, I shall say a brief word about Amendment 59, which is a small effort to ensure consistency of language used throughout the legislation relating to maintained schools in a church context. The particular amended line in Clause 23 removes the wording that assumes control of all maintained schools and replaces it with language that is applicable in a church context.
On Amendment 64, diocesan boards of education, as set out by Section 8 of the DBE Measure, exist to promote and assist the provision of religious education in church and other schools throughout the diocese. However, they also co-operate with other educational providers in their dioceses and play a vital role. In the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s own diocese, around 50% of schools are academies. Across the Church of England as a whole, it is about a third of our schools, including secondary schools, and this is growing all the time—working in a range of different kinds of multi-academy trusts. There is a strong and growing diocesan trust in Durham, serving the needs of all the community it serves, working in strong partnership with a range of school-led MATs across the north-east. The joint diocesan board of education for Durham and Newcastle has been crucial to the success in the diocese and has contributed much to serving the whole community.
Amendment 64 requires the consent of the relevant diocesan board of education before seeking an academy order on a school for which it is the religious authority. Consultation with the diocesan boards of education before seeking an academy order is an important step to retain the cohesion that they already help to promote, and to ensure that the governance of schools with a religious character is maintained by the religious authority. DBEs will also be increasingly important as the education system nationalises, which is evident in this Chamber as we discuss questions of adequate funding for rural schools and other issues for which more local insight is invaluable.
Amendment 65 and the consequential Amendments 66, 67, 71, 72, 73 and 74 are intended to reflect the position of the churches as partners in state education. Amendment 65 inserts proposed new Section 3B, which mirrors the power of local authorities in new Section 3A and applies the power to submit applications for an academy order to the religious authority for church schools. The drafting also reflects the expectations of each religious authority before applying the power and accounts for schools with a religious character that do not have a religious authority. This would enable the religious authority, or appropriate religious body, to apply for an academy order in respect of its schools, in line with a strategic plan to enable a fully trust-led system.
This is important because the churches and other religious authorities have a strategic role in the development of the educational landscape. The move towards all schools being in a strong academy trust is not something that can be allowed to happen in an ad hoc or piecemeal way but requires strategic planning and the development of a system that works for all schools concerned. It requires the religious authority to be able to propose strategic change to ensure that none of its schools is isolated or left behind. This will be particularly important as we consider the large number of small schools, often in isolated rural communities, many of which, as we have already heard in previous discussions, are church schools.
We need to ensure that the religious authority has the ability to seek change for the good of the whole family of schools, not simply on an individual school basis. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church provide one-third of state schools in England. One reason I believe these are schools that are often sought after by parents is that we have been on the block a long time—more than 200 years—seeking to provide free education for the children of this land. It is essential that those authorities have the same power as outlined for the local authorities, to ensure that they have the ability to function as a strategic partner with the state in this way. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 60A and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for countersigning it. It is a probing amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, who I am pleased to see is in her place, said so correctly last week in Committee, this is a very difficult Bill to amend. My amendment was the only way I could find to stimulate a discussion on the point that I raise in the amendment. What is absolutely clear from the debates at Second Reading and the two days of Committee so far is that this Bill gives very great powers to the Secretary of State over any school that receives funding from the taxpayer. The concern that I and others have is how a number of very specialist schools will be treated in future.
I realise that there are many matters in the White Paper that are not included in the Bill and will probably be in another Bill in the future or in regulations. However, it is stated government policy, as I understand it, that all schools should become academies and all academies should, by 2030, join multi-academy trusts. I am particularly interested in two types of schools which may not fit into this standardised structure. As I said at Second Reading, I am a patron of the King’s Maths School. There are four maths schools in England and two more will be launched next year. They are all sponsored by universities and have impressive statistics for numbers of girl students, percentages of students from ethnic minorities and numbers on free school meals, and all the students get into leading universities.
These schools have been a huge success, both academically and socially, and we should have more of them. However, their success comes from their direct and close relationship with the sponsoring university.
I am very grateful to the Minister for two discussions that I have had with her on this matter. As I understand it, the Government’s view is that putting a maths school in a multi-academy trust would spread some of this academic excellence around a number of other schools, but I suggest to the Minister that this is not what they maths schools were created for. The country needs, and the Government at that moment—Michael Gove, I think it was—recognised, that we need many more mathematicians and others who wish to study engineering at university. All students at these maths schools do A-levels in maths, further maths and usually physics as well. The ethos of the schools leads to high levels of achievement. If they were to join multi-academy trusts they would certainly lose this ethos and are likely to cease performing at this excellent level.
I therefore ask the Minister to confirm that these maths schools will not be forced, either by the Secretary of State or any other authority, local or otherwise, to join a multi-academy trust without the consent of the governing body and the sponsoring university. These schools have a very special status and an amazing track record.
The other schools referred to in my amendment are the music and dance schools. Of course, they are very different from maths schools. Here I declare an interest, as my wife was, for 10 years, chairman of the Royal Ballet School. There are, I believe, eight schools within the music and dance programme. They are independent but receive taxpayer support under the music and dance scheme. The students are all selected for their talent. They come from diverse backgrounds, and many are from very low-income households. The graduates go on to perform in orchestras and dance in ballet companies all over the world. These schools must retain their independence and they will always need considerable taxpayer support.
The powers being vested in the Secretary of State through the Bill are so great that I hope to receive from the Minister an assurance that these very special and specialist schools will be allowed to retain their present status and will not, by future regulation, be forced into a multi-academy trust. They must remain independent. They must continue to receive taxpayer support directly from the Department for Education.
The Bill appears to be changing, very substantially, the structure of education in England. There may be many schools—more than the ones I have referred to—that will not fit in to the new Department for Education standard structure. My amendment simply seeks to protect the independence of two particular types of school, and I hope the Minister can allay my concerns and give reassurance to specialist schools.
My Lords, I support the arguments just made by the noble Duke about maths schools. I am not sure what the Minister will say—maybe she will solve the problem. I am not arguing that they need to be more independent than any others; the argument about the MAT is about the nature of the partnership the school is going into. I value partnerships—they are really important—but I can see the argument that maths schools need different partnerships from other secondary comprehensive schools that might go into MATs.
This is because we are not likely to have a whole host of these maths schools throughout the country. They are few in number, a bit like the music and ballet schools. Whatever you think of them, their aim is to take the most able children in that subject and support them to reach as high a level as possible. We will never aim to have thousands of them, so I worry that, if you make their key partnership in future—if you do not want them to stand by themselves—to be part of a MAT, you give the ownership of that scarce resource to that MAT. Just as we have competition between stand-alone schools, I am absolutely certain, because it exists at the moment, that we will have competition between MATs. They will not all share their resources; they will compete with each other. That is what they are doing now and will do in future. I am just not confident that the competitive environment in which MATs exist—trying to get more kids and the best results—will lead to them sharing the special skills in the maths schools in the way they should.
The maths schools have a different set of partnerships. Unlike the MATs, they have very good relationships with universities and business. Progress-wise, they look up. So I am not fearful that they will fall prey to the problems of standing alone. I do not think they stand alone; they have a different set of relationships in their partnership. To take them out of that partnership and make them a legal part of the ownership of one MAT would make it far more difficult for them to share their skill across a geographical area. I can just bet which MAT they will end up going into—the one that already has the most high-performing children, because it will think that it can use them better than anyone else.
Go for the partnership, as they already have existing ones, but be really wary of treating them the same as any other academy, as they were never set up in that way. I hope that complements what the noble Duke said about independence; the nature of the partnership needs a great deal of thought.
My Lords, I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s amendments, so ably spoken to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. I do not have an awful lot of experience of academies; we do not have them in Wales. I suppose we are a bit old-fashioned, but the system seems to work quite well. However, I have nothing against them. They were introduced by the Government of which I used to be a member and I wish them well.
It is particularly important that church and state schools should have the same opportunities as academies. There is no reason in this wide world why a Church of England school or a Roman Catholic school—I am a Catholic—should not have the same opportunities as a state school. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester rightly referred to the fact that, in England, one in three schools is a church school. Ten per cent of all schools in England are Catholic schools, and 850,000 pupils go to them. Both Church of England and Catholic schools do a tremendous job in very deprived areas all over England—and, indeed, although it does not apply in this debate, in Wales.
There is a very strong case for ensuring that church schools have equal status in the Bill; handbooks and various bits of guidance from the Department for Education are okay, but they are not enough. If there is to be proper equality between church schools and state schools, that has to be recognised in law. Those issues revolve around governance structures, appointments, religious education and collective worship. I know that the Catholic authorities, all dioceses in England and the Catholic Education Service warmly support the amendments spoken to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester, as I do. I wish them well.
I should perhaps declare an interest on the amendments moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, given that my children attend academy schools in the area of that diocese.
We would like to put on record our appreciation for the contribution of the Church of England to education in the country. I think it was very well put that there needs to be a strategic approach. The amendments tabled by the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Durham would better able that to happen, so we are sympathetic to the case that was made.
We were already minded to support Amendment 60, and my noble friend Lady Morris made the case better than I could. The issues highlighted prove that the Bill would have benefitted from some pre-legislative scrutiny.
I was particularly pleased to hear comments about fair access and admissions. Should we be forming a government any time soon, we would probably want to explore that and push it still further.
Given the very solid case that was made by both the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and my noble friend Lady Morris, we would want the Minister to be as sympathetic as she can be in response to these amendments at this stage.
My Lords, I will start by responding to Amendments 59, 64 to 67, and 71 to 74 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester for moving these amendments on his behalf.
I acknowledge the very important role played by churches and other religious bodies in state education. As the right reverend Prelate has said, these amendments relate to powers to support schools to join multi-academy trusts, helping to fulfil the Government’s ambition to have all schools in or joining a strong trust by 2030. I welcome the right reverend Prelate’s support for that ambition. I understand that, as he said, the purpose of Amendment 59 is to make the language used in Clause 29 consistent with other legislation relating to maintained schools in a church context. However, the existing wording of the clause already captures these particular schools and so this amendment would have no material effect.
Amendment 64 relates to requirements for local authorities to obtain consents before applying for an academy order on behalf of a school with a foundation. The Government understand the desire for the appropriate diocesan authority, as the religious body for a church school, to be among the bodies whose consent is required for an application. However, as drafted, the amendment captures only the diocesan authorities and not religious bodies for other faiths, and the position should be fair for all religious bodies.
The remaining amendments tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham seek to enable certain religious bodies to apply to the Secretary of State for academy orders in relation to schools for which they are responsible. As I have said, the Government want schools with a religious character to enjoy, like all others, the benefits of being part of a strong academy trust. The Government are sympathetic to the principle of these amendments but further consideration is needed to establish the scope of the religious bodies that could apply for an academy order and the types of maintained school to which it should apply. As drafted, the amendment may not adequately capture all the religious bodies involved in maintained schools with a religious character. It may also inadvertently include bodies which are responsible for schools without a religious character.
Although I have set out some concerns relating to Amendments 64, 65, 67 and 71 to 74, the Government understand the intentions behind them and will reflect further on the issues raised by those amendments and the right reverend Prelate.
Turning to Amendment 60A, first, I want to reassure the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on a specific point—though this may be unnecessary, because he said that this was a probing amendment. He will know that music and dance schools are typically independent schools, and that 16 to 19 maths schools are already academies. As such, they will not be affected by this clause. However, it would be wrong to exclude any schools in the maintained sector with a music, dance or maths specialism from the benefits of being part of a strong trust. I recognise the importance of preserving the unique characteristics of specialist schools within a fully trust-led system, as we have heard from the Committee. I can confirm that, in the event that a local authority applied for an academy order in relation to a specialist school, the regional director would have regard to the capacity of the proposed trust to preserve and support that school’s specialism. But to be absolutely clear to the noble Duke and the Committee, there are no powers in the Bill that would force an existing academy to join a multi-academy trust, and that might be why he was struggling to amend the Bill to address his concerns.
I absolutely understand that point. I was simply reassuring the noble Duke that within this Bill there are no powers to compel anyone to join a multi-academy trust. It is the Government’s vision for every school to be part of a strong trust by 2030. The intention is for the Government to work with academies and to move people with the Government in pursuit of that vision. I was simply saying that there is nothing in the Bill that would compel an academy to join a multi-academy trust. That said, we have consistently seen that schools in multi-academy trusts are stronger together. The collective focus, vision and community creates opportunities, facilitates collaboration, enables resilience and improves educational outcomes.
I have listened to what the Minister has said, having not joined in on the debate on this amendment before. Are we saying that specialist schools which stand out from the normal run of schools are not expected to join because it goes against their ethos or because they do not fit in terribly well but that it is a jolly good idea if they do? This is a little confusing. We need some clarity before we move on. Effectively, the Government are saying that joining a multi-academy trust is a good idea but that these schools do not have to, but they then say that they want every school to join one. Can the Minister clarify this?
We are saying that joining a multi-academy trust is a good idea and that we would like everyone to do it. We are encouraging everyone to do it, but there are no powers within the Bill to compel people. The reason we think it is a good idea is that we have seen that schools in multi-academy trusts are stronger together. Of course, it would be open for such specialist schools to, for example, perhaps form a multi-academy trust with each other. We know that there are many high-performing, stand-alone schools that have the capacity to support other schools within the combined accountability of a MAT model.
I sought to confirm the point that was directly raised by the noble Duke about the powers within the Bill, and I have been given the reassurance that there are no powers within the Bill to force an existing academy to join a multi-academy trust. I will seek further, triple reassurance on that point, but I sought clarity on it before addressing this.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her various replies. I am not nearly as expert on these matters as the many former Education Ministers who are Members of this House clearly are. Nevertheless, my concern remains that the way the Bill is constructed means there will inevitably be regulations and other secondary legislation coming forward, or indeed even possibly another Bill. I am trying to seek an assurance from the Government that these sorts of schools will never be forced into a multi-academy trust without the consent of their own governing body. In the case of the maths schools, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, so rightly put it, each of them has an existing partnership with a university. Therefore should a maths school ever be forced to join a multi-academy trust, or the Government of the day forces one, surely it should not be done without the consent of its own governing body and its sponsoring university.
I understand the reassurances that the noble Duke seeks. I reassure him that we understand the unique nature of these schools and we want to see them thrive. We think that is possible within a multi-academy trust model. However, I reassure him that in the Bill before us today there are no clauses or powers that would force an existing academy to join a multi-academy trust. I am afraid it is not possible for me to think about any future Bill that could come before this House. We have a stated policy aim—an ambition—but we have chosen not to put any powers in this Bill to force any academy to join a multi-academy trust. We have been clear that in pursuing that policy aim we want to bring schools and academies with us. That is the approach we would seek to take.
My understanding is that the powers in the Bill including ones for single-academy trusts to be subject to all the directions and all the compliance that we discussed on Monday. I believe there is a recent government amendment to make this possible. Therefore, my reading of it would be that the powers are there. If a Secretary of State decides that all single-academy trusts are going to go and they are all going to join multi-academy trusts, the powers are there for them to find reasons to do so and use the powers in the Bill to close down the single-academy trusts, which are then left having to find a home.
I take the noble Lord’s point. I absolutely reassure him that that is not the intention. I will also go away and double check that there is not the ability to do that under those powers. Given the discussions we have had on those parts of the Bill and our commitment to reflect on them, our discussion on this issue and the reassurance that is being sought will also form part of the discussions.
May I just articulate another problem I have? The noble Baroness used the word “intention”. When I think about the summing up and read the summings up in Hansard, we have been presented a stream of good intentions. The problem is that I do not think Parliament is at all wise or sensible to live on good intentions; we all know where they can take you. I reiterate that it seems that the scheme of this Bill, broadly speaking, allows the Secretary of State to find a way of imposing the policy that every school should be in a multi-academy trust one way or another. At the moment, that is the position. I am afraid that both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Duke must view the future rather pessimistically.
I was clear about the Government’s intention for these powers, which is not to use them to make single academies join a multi-academy trust. I also gave two undertakings in listening to this group in Committee. One is to go away and confirm, on the scope of the powers as drafted in the Bill, that it is not possible to do that, but the other relates to our wider conversations about those parts of the Bill where the Government have already given an undertaking, having heard the views of the Committee, to listen and reflect. My noble friend the Minister started today’s Committee by trying to give an assurance to your Lordships that that is what we are doing. Therefore, on this particular question it is important to be clear about the Government’s intention, which I hope I now have been, but I will also undertake two further actions, which speak louder than words, both to confirm on the powers as drafted and to reflect on how we have drafted those powers.
In that spirit, will my noble friend also discover whether the Government have the power to use the money they give to these individual schools in a way which could in fact insist that they become members of a multi-academy trust? My own experience is that the most important thing is to ring-fence the money from the interference of a Secretary of State who would use it to say, “You don’t get your money unless you join this”, or, “You get more money if you join this.” We need that reassurance too.
My Lords, to my mind, the various assurances the Minister has given present a further complication. If she is able to give reassurance to the noble Duke about a particular type of school, which is pretty well defined, being able to guarantee its continued independence away from a multi-academy trust, as it were, what does that say to other schools which may have particular characteristics? What is the defining characteristic that distinguishes schools which can remain if they want to from those that cannot?
To be clear, the undertaking I gave was around the Bill’s powers being used to compel an existing stand-alone academy—the noble Duke gave the example of a specialist maths school but it is not restricted to that—to join a multi-academy trust, not based on any further characteristics of the school. I hope that reassures the noble Lord.
I think the noble Baroness knows what we are getting at here. She has said that she will endeavour to come back with something concrete for us, and that is appreciated. However, reflecting on this, this is not just about requiring these schools to join MATs. The noble Duke has highlighted for us that the powers contained in the Bill could get to the activities of these schools and undermine the essence of them, which my noble friend described. There is nothing in the Bill to protect those schools from that. Previously, my noble friend said that she would quite enjoy the ability to impose standards across all schools, but I do not think she was thinking of these schools when she said that. There is a bigger problem that we have come across here, which the Minister should also attend to.
The most successful multi-academy trusts build on the strengths of these types of schools. The intention is to build on the strengths that we see in all sorts of academies, including specialist academies, in building the school system that we want to build in future. That is what is set out in the schools White Paper and what we are trying to deliver and achieve. Looking at and building on the freedoms that those kinds of schools have used to strengthen our education system is the direction of the travel that the Government have set out. We certainly want to continue to support that. We believe that these schools do an excellent job and we want to protect them in future.
I think I have gone as far as I can in setting out my understanding of what the Bill does and in seeking to reassure noble Lords that I will go away, check this point and look at it in the context of the wider concerns about the powers in certain sections of the Bill.
We heard in the debate about the partnership model that these schools have and their important role in providing outreach to other schools in the local area; indeed, that is part of the model that they have. Although it is our view that they can be part of a successful multi-academy trust, I have none the less given an assurance about our intention behind these powers and an undertaking once again to go away and confirm that point for noble Lords. With that, I hope that the right reverend Prelate will withdraw the amendment for now.
My Lords, the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has produced far more energy. I have to say, what I think is shared here is a concern that what happens in our schools is not done in a piecemeal, ad hoc way but intentionally. So it is not just about the intention of the powers that are brought but about what their effect will be. Of course, finding that you are alone is a dangerous place to be in a powerful, fast-moving organisational circumstance.
I am grateful to the Minister for her assurance that she is sympathetic to and understands the Church’s concerns over church schools. The need for a wider scope for what we had drafted in this amendment will be considered. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in the name of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
60: Clause 29, page 23, line 24, at end insert “only with the consent of the governing body that is the subject of the application”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that a local authority cannot apply for an Academy order to be made unless it has the consent of the governing body.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 60, perhaps I might be of assistance to the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. This amendment specifically says that nothing will be applied for without the consent of a governing body. It seems to me that that this would add to the points made by the noble Duke and to his position.
All the amendments in this group—I have added my name to Amendments 60, 61, 62, 69, 70 and 75—are about consultation. I would have made this point in the earlier debate but, knowing that I would come to it with this amendment, it seemed appropriate to wait. I think that there is a way round this. We could have something in the Bill to preclude the possibility of a school being forced to change its status if the consent of the governing body could not be achieved. It may be that this is a helpful amendment.
I am very grateful to the National Governance Association for all the work that it has done on this. I have been a governor at various schools and have had the pleasure of being a local authority-appointed governor, a staff governor, and a parent governor. These roles are all very important and I continue to believe that membership of the local governing body is an important role which is of value to the institution and the individual. As we have seen, it may be even more important if it is able to protect certain kinds of establishment.
The governing body should both provide the link to the community and be the voice of the community. For that reason, Amendment 60 is important. It is a way of saying that without that voice the status should not be changed. Hitherto, this central role of working with the school but also connecting with the local authority or with other relevant parties is really about how good decision-making should continue.
It appears that the Government’s intention is for all schools to be in a MAT. We are not quite sure whether that is genuinely their intention, so let us say that it is not the Government’s intention to force anyone, but that it is their intention that all schools should seek to be in a MAT, and that any movement out of the MAT into which a school or a stand-alone academy has been put or finds itself would be only in exceptional circumstances.
The National Governance Association has described that relationship as the possibility of
“marriage with no prospect of divorce.”
This may warm the hearts of those who think that divorce should never happen, but divorce does happen. On this basis, it is important that governing bodies should engage with schools and local authorities to make the possibility of an unhappy marriage a distinctly avoidable one. Therefore, the notion that there should be proper consultation with all relevant and interested parties before decisions are made is really important.
The NGA says that governors should consult widely with stakeholders, including staff, parents, pupils—we should note that—and the wider community, on all possible options. That is significant. The NGA is suggesting that the stakeholders should think about what the possibilities are for the institution with which they have been associated. If, ultimately, joining a MAT is required or desirable, it should certainly be one that the school feels is appropriate to its current ethos. That point is made several times by the National Governance Association.
I turn to Amendments 61, 62 and 75. The NGA has some clear and particularly helpful advice on consultation. It says:
“Formal consultation will need to be carried out as part of the official process”
“Stakeholder engagement is a core governance function and buy-in from the school community will be essential in making a success of any decision to form or join a MAT.”
It talks about ensuring therefore that all stakeholders are able to engage properly in that. It makes some suggestions as to how that consultation can be done: staff meetings, engagement with the relevant trade unions, a letter to parents, information on the school website, a question and answer session. Here, the National Governance Association is really talking about the widest possible and, from its point of view, the most effective consultation, to ensure that whatever path is chosen has the biggest possible buy-in, because it must be clear that if that is the case, the way forward for the school is likely to be the most successful.
It also says that a school
“may also wish to set out what it regards as the advantages of joining or forming a MAT”.
That is critical. In making this decision, it should be clear why it is being taken. Accepting that particularly the noble Baronesses opposite are enthusiastic to make sure we have a successful system, an individual institution must also explain why it is to its advantage to join a MAT or, as the noble Duke has said, not to join a MAT. There is a lot to be considered here and significant amounts of work for governing bodies to do.
The purpose of all these amendments is to say that consultations with all the relevant parties are particularly important. The NGA says
“they should be undertaken when proposals for the subject of the consultation are at a formative stage”.
I note in passing that this is why I find government Amendment 68 less than helpful, as it suggests that consultation can be done “before”—appropriately—or “after” an application has been made. I am sure all noble Lords agree that, once something looks like a fait accompli, it probably is. Therefore, anything that can properly be said to be consultation should happen before that stage.
The NGA also talks about schools providing enough information to enable anyone to make an intelligent appraisal of what is being put to them and allowing enough time for those consultations to be considered. Obviously 2030 is a long way away, so we have a long time before we end up with a fully MAT-led system, if the Government should manage to bring their vision to fruition. It is critical that sufficient time is made available for each particular change of status.
The NGA further states that
“consultation responses should be specifically considered by the decision-maker when deciding whether or not to implement the proposal”.
This brings me back to Amendment 68. It is much more difficult for a body to resile from something on which it has already made a decision than to consult on something in advance of the decision being made. For all the reasons given by the NGA, these amendments seem particularly appropriate.
The National Governance Association highlights timely consultation, which is one of my reasons for saying that Amendment 68 is not taking the right position and is not the most encouraging way to think about how consultations should be done.
I am very enthusiastic about all the other amendments and—this is my first attempt to do this—I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend. I have added my name to her Amendments 60, 61 and 75. I have my own Amendment 62, and my Amendments 69 and 70 seek to amend Amendment 68 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, on which my noble friend Lady Blower has already spoken.
I very much support what my noble friend said and could not help reflecting on the previous debate, where the argument was about the extent to which this legislation is forcing single academies to join multi-academy trusts. My view is that although the noble Baroness was explicit on this, we do not really need it, because the system is putting so much pressure on individual academies anyway. The combination of the government policy in the White Paper, the regulator, the regional apparatus and what people can see happening is putting tremendous pressure on those schools. I think that this is a really underhand way of doing it; if the Government have a policy, on this or on another Bill, they should be explicit.
The underhand way in which this is all being done reinforces the points we are making in this series of amendments about the importance of governing bodies. What seems to be happening is that all sorts of secretive talks take place between MATs and the heads of the schools that they want to take over, and left out of these discussions are the parents and staff of the individual schools. They are usually presented with a fait accompli. As my noble friend said, this formal consultation stuff is really an attempt to legitimise a decision that the system has clearly already made. Our amendment seeks to put this right.
In addition to the excellent National Governance Association submissions, the work by the LSE and by Professor West and colleagues, which has looked into the governance of academies in detail, is very striking. I draw the Minister’s attention to the recent instance of what I regard as high-handed action at Holland Park School. Since March, when staff and parents first learned of the governors’ plan to transfer the school to a MAT, they have been seeking dialogue with the governing body to negotiate the involvement of the entire school community in a transparent, accountable consultation. As Ministers know, the school has been through a great deal of turbulence resulting from management changes in the past year or so: the sudden departure of the new head, the imposition of a new governing body and the absence of much of the leadership team for quite lengthy periods. It has clearly been a challenge to maintain a sense of coherence and direction for the children on a day-to-day basis. I have met some of the teachers. I believe that they have worked hard to provide continuity for pupils, but that is put at risk by this kind of unilateral, opaque decision-making and poor communication from the governing body.
This is often reflected up and down the country. The absence of meaningful consultation in the MAT acquisition process is a common theme. There have been numerous examples of high-handed governors ignoring parents and teachers, who have then fought hard to stop the school being taken out of local authority control and turned into an academy or forced to join a multi-academy trust. Public meetings organised by parents and staff, with large attendance, often make it made abundantly clear to the governing body that the larger school community does not want to go down that path, but they are often dismissed by the people making the decisions. Parents, governors, staff and pupils have no official rights to detailed information on the reasons why their school might choose to academise under a particular trust, let alone to have their views taken into account in the process.
As Warwick Mansell has written, the academies policy sees all decision-making as a closed-loop process between central government and academy trusts, with no decision-maker answerable at a local level to the people who depend on the decisions. The comment often made from the Dispatch Box is that we will talk to the academy trust. Once again, we do not hear about maintained schools. Ministers constantly harp on about MATs and point to their achievements—which are many—but they do not point to their defects and they give the sense that maintained schools are second-class entities. I object to that.
The Government’s amendment reads:
“Before a maintained school in England is converted into an Academy following an application … the local authority must consult such persons as they think appropriate about whether the conversion should take place.”
So, as I read it, it is only after you have made the application decision that the consultation has to take place. My argument is that that is far too late. Once the conversion application has been made, effectively the decision has been taken. Asking the parents what they think about it then is, frankly, a waste of time. Seeing the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, here reminds me of health service consultations, which she will know about over many years: you make a decision and then you put out a consultation. My noble friend Lord Winston will also know about the way that the health service does consultations: you make the decision, you consult on it and then you reach the view that the original decision was right in the first place. For me, that is what the amendment is talking about.
Essentially, with the combination of our amendments we seek to ensure that a consultation must be comprehensive and in a timely fashion with the parents and staff of the school that is subject to the application. As my noble friend said, we are entitled to have it shown how the proposal will benefit children’s education and, most importantly, what alternatives have been considered. I do not think that is at all unreasonable. If the Government are asking us to believe that this is all going to happen by a process of gradual change rather than mandation, I would have thought they would welcome a proper process of parent and staff involvement.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 75, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, and I agree with pretty well everything that he said. I shall build on it with a practical example.
Amendment 75 says that consultation with parents and staff has to happen before the application to join a MAT. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord just said about the problems with the government amendment. Across many fields of government, not just the health service, the term “consultation” now has an extremely bad odour. That is something that really needs to change, or we need to find a new word or a different process that genuinely addresses the collection and exploration of views before a decision is made. That is not what people think of when you say “consultation” now, but that is the word in the amendment because that is the word we currently have.
I draw the Committee’s attention to the sad and traumatic case study of Moulsecoomb Primary School in Brighton, which is of course of particular interest to my noble friend Lady Jones. We have just seen first-choice applications to the school fall to their lowest level ever after the school was forced to become an academy despite considerable local community, family and parent resistance. Of course I wish the school all the best and very much hope that things work out for it, but we have to focus on what kind of disruption happens both to pupils and to a community if a decision is made that parents and the community are unhappy with. We have seen a number of pupils leave that school and a huge amount of time, energy and attention that might have gone into doing the best possible for the education of pupils going instead into resistance to an ideological decision being made. It is important that this whole set of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would make this a co-creation and co-production process, not an imposition.
My Lords, I cannot resist making one general observation about the whole debate on these amendments. In winding up the previous debate, the Minister said that the strength of multi-academy trusts is that schools are stronger together. Talk about rediscovering the wheel; the whole argument of those of us who have been unhappy about so many aspects of academisation is precisely that we could see the strength of schools together in a community with local democratic control. I suppose that if you wait long enough these things come around again.
Having said that, the strength of these various amendments to me—I would be interested to see, if the Government resist them, precisely how they resist them—is that they try to bring some element of local decision-making and involvement, if not control, to the structure and nature of the schools in their area. This is something which, time and again, we have found has not applied with the process of academisation. So often, schools have been forced, by fair means or foul, to become academies and now the same thing is happening in terms of their becoming parts of multi-academy trusts.
I share all the concerns that have been expressed about the great word “consultation”. It is a wonderful thing, and I am sure we all feel warm when we hear the word, but it depends on what the consultation involves and whether there is any evidence that, once a number of consultations have taken place, the organisation, body or Minister responsible for making the decision at the end of day has taken any notice of it. Those things can only be tested by the passing of time.
I have to exercise a preference in the various amendments before us—all of which I would be happy with, though I share the same reservations as other Members about the government amendment—for the one in the name of my noble friends Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. I like it as, if a school’s governing body opposes a local authority’s application to the Secretary of State for its academisation and
“the Secretary of State intends nonetheless to accept the application, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a statement explaining how the application will benefit children’s education”.
I am sure the Government will support that with alacrity because they have told us repeatedly that their overwhelming concern is to benefit the children’s education—but I am not holding my breath.
I like that this amendment brings some semblance of accountability at some level—which has been so absent from the academy system. It is very weak accountability; a Secretary of State standing up, as we have said before, would be responsible for any number of schools in one way or another. But at least someone would stand up in this House, the other House or both, and justify their decision about the future of our children in a particular local area, which the people living there and the people whose children go to the school may not agree with. The Minister will have the opportunity to explain the benefits couched in the terms of whether it is for the benefit of the children’s education. Let us hope the Ministers are as enthusiastic about consultation and local involvement as we would hope they are and, even more, that they show their enthusiasm for democratic accountability by ensuring that Amendment 63 is agreed to.
For the second successive year, I am here in the Chamber debating an education Bill. At least when I taught, I could leave at 4 pm.
For the avoidance of doubt, this group is about consultation. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Blower for proposing such a sensible way forward and reminding us of the value of governing bodies. We are supportive of the thrust of these amendments, which would give a greater voice to parents and staff and consideration to the local context and challenges. A struggling local authority may want to offload a school that is not equipped to academise yet—or indeed at all—so we cautiously note the government amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, which requires consultation with appropriate persons before this can happen.
However, we have a genuine question about why this consultation can be carried out after a local authority’s application, as noted by my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lady Blower. It cannot possibly be meaningful, and it looks as if it is a done deal. It is another example of the cart before the horse. Many times in this Committee we have mentioned the word “consultation”, so we need to put it in the correct context and the appropriate order.
I will speak specifically to our Amendment 63, and I thank my noble friend Lord Grocott for his support. It aims to be proportionate. If the Secretary of State intends to accept an application for academisation and the school’s governing body opposes it, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a Statement explaining how academisation will benefit children’s education—it is as clear, simple and straightforward as that. Over the coming days, this whole debate will be about the benefit to children’s education.
These amendments speak to the Bill’s general approach of imposing academisation in a top-down fashion on schools, children and parents. If a governing body is opposed, the Secretary of State must give robust consideration to, and justify the case for, approval. After all, they are the arbiters of the community, and parents, teachers, governors and children will have a much clearer insight of the situated context of the school and the wider community issues than—with the greatest respect—a Whitehall official. Many great plays have been written about the disruption caused when a stranger enters a community and the chaos that subsequently unfolds.
My Lords, the amendments in this group are concerned mainly with rights of consultation and consent when a local authority intends to apply for an academy order on behalf of a maintained school.
The picture drawn by your Lordships of some kind of Machiavellian plan to impose multi-academy trusts on schools is not a fair representation of how the Government propose that the system should work in the future. I will come on to specific examples, but, in response to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on academies coming in and being imposed, I say that they are imposed because those schools have failed children—both noble Lords know that that is the case. When schools are judged to be inadequate, as was the case with the school that the noble Baroness referred to, academies come in to turn them around because they are failing children. I will leave it there, but I think that it is fair to set the record straight on that point.
Amendment 60, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would require a local authority to obtain the consent or support of the governing body of a school where it is proposed that the school join a strong trust. I will also refer here to Amendment 63, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. As the noble Baroness described, it would require the Secretary of State to lay a Statement before Parliament if they approved an application for an academy order against a governing body’s wishes. There is a requirement in the Bill for local authorities to consult a school’s governing body before applying for an academy order. We expect that local authorities and schools will have open discussions about the principle of joining a trust and which trusts schools might join.
Although we hope that any applications for academy orders would have the support of the local governing body, there may be genuine circumstances where agreement cannot be reached with individual schools. Whether the local authority includes such schools within its plans will depend on whether it is prepared to continue to maintain those individual schools.
The decision on whether to approve an order will rest with the relevant regional director. When considering local authorities’ applications, regional directors will of course take all relevant considerations into account. These will include the views of governing bodies, local authorities and other stakeholders—and, of course, the likely impact on children’s education. The regional director’s decision would be made public. Against this background, I do not believe that the additional requirements proposed in these amendments are necessary.
I am rather attracted by the concept that the Government should be very clear about the reasons why this kind of change takes place and how it would benefit the children’s education. I do not understand why that is not absolutely necessary. I quite see that you do not have to have the agreement of everyone—if you did, you would never get anything done—but, when you have made a decision and there are differences of opinion, it seems that there is a lot to be said for explaining precisely why you have done so.
My worry about the Bill is that there seems to be an overemphasis on neatness—neatness is the enemy of civilisation. I am a believer in difference, and one reason that I like academies is that different academy trusts are different; that is a change from when this was under local authorities, when I am afraid there was a very considerable sameness. I like this, but, when there is a real row, it is incumbent upon the Government to explain why they have made a decision.
The Government are clear—we are talking about cases where a local authority wants a school to convert to an academy. I referred to the Government’s current criteria earlier in Committee. The criteria that the regional directors use when deciding which trust a school should join are set out clearly. I believe that I put the link in my last letter to your Lordships, so I encourage my noble friend to take a look—they are very fair and clear.
I am not sure that my noble friend was in the Chamber when we talked about the fact that this legislation is part of wider work that the Government are doing in relation to commissioning and regulation, where there will be extensive engagement over the summer. I reassure my noble friend that that will focus predominantly on how we can achieve better outcomes for children. He used the word “neatness” in perhaps a pejorative way; one could absolutely justify why we need clarity in a system the size of the school system in this country.
In responding to Amendments 61 and 62, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I will explain how the corrective Amendment 68, in my name, will introduce a new consultation requirement. The Government expect local authorities to engage widely with interested parties when considering supporting schools to join strong trusts. Amendment 68 explicitly requires local authorities applying for an academy order to
“consult such persons as they think appropriate about whether the conversion should take place.”
The noble Baroness gave an extensive list of the types of organisations and individuals who should be consulted, and she suggested, fairly, that in these cases there should always be a clear explanation of why the conversion should take place.
This amendment applies to local authorities the same consultation requirements as exist when governing bodies apply for maintained schools to be converted into academies. Local authorities should act reasonably in deciding who to consult, and it is therefore inevitable that parents and staff would be aware and able to express their views. As I said in response to my noble friend, the decision on whether schools should convert rests ultimately with regional directors, who will need to be satisfied that local authorities have consulted sufficiently and that their plans benefit children’s education. However, it is not necessary or appropriate to require local authorities to demonstrate that they have considered alternatives. The decision before the regional director is whether to approve the local authority’s plans for its schools to become academies. I hope but am not entirely confident that the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be reassured by the addition of this requirement.
Amendments 69 and 70 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, seek to impose more specific consultation requirements on local authorities than the government amendment provides for. I understand that the effect of Amendment 69 would be to prescribe the timing of consultation. The process of joining a strong trust only begins at the point of an application for an academy order; it does not end there. Even the issuing of an academy order is not the point at which a school becomes an academy, nor is it the point at which it joins a strong trust.
Amendment 70 would establish specific requirements around consulting parents and staff. As I have already made clear, it is inevitable that any reasonable consultation would involve parents and staff. However, we know that, when considering whether a school should join a strong trust, many interested parties will wish to express their views. For different schools, those who are interested will of course differ; some will want more information than is available in the early stages to enable them to express an informed view. It is for this reason that the existing consultation requirements for governing bodies applying for academy orders allow for flexibility in both when and who to consult. The proposed government amendment that is the focus of this amendment mirrors this flexibility to ensure that the most suitable consultation in each school’s specific circumstances can be undertaken.
Amendment 75 concerns existing stand-alone academies joining multi-academy trusts. The process by which an academy joins another trust is not set out in legislation; it is a matter for agreement between the two trusts and with the approval of the regional director.
I hope that this is an appropriate moment to ask this question. In listening to, and thinking about, this debate, my mind has gone to free schools and their duties to consult. We have not really talked much about free schools in the context of this Bill. The department’s guidance for starting free schools says on a statutory duty to consult that Section 10 of the Academies Act
“requires the trust to consult with the people they think appropriate”.
Is the department’s thinking about free schools shifting around consultation in particular so that they do not just land among a group of schools in a community, throwing out all the pupil place planning and creating difficulties for existing providers in terms of the viability of the academies and other schools in that area?
The noble Lord’s point is a little broader than what we are talking about at the moment. With the free school applications that have come across my desk I have certainly tried to be very aware of, and sensitive to, the challenges they can pose. The noble Lord is also very well aware that, historically, there were areas where new free schools have been really important in raising standards. There is not a single answer.
My Lords, I will take the opportunity of the Minister’s slight pause to ask her a question about my reading of her Amendment 68, which says:
“Before a maintained school in England is converted into an Academy following an application under section 3A (application for Academy order by local authority)”.
By the time the local authorities have made an application, that is, in effect, the decision. The point my noble friend and I were trying to make is that, surely, there should be mandatory consultation before the local authority makes the application.
I am glad that I have been promoted to be the noble Lord’s “noble friend”; things are looking up. I am very happy to take this offline with the noble Lord. It is just not case that the decision is made at that point, but I would be happy to meet with him and we can go through this in more detail, if that would be helpful.
Amendment 75 is concerned with existing stand-alone academies joining multi-academy trusts, which we discussed at length in the earlier group. The process by which an academy joins another trust is not set out in legislation; it is a matter for agreement between the two trusts and is subject to the approval of the regional director. I hope that noble Lords can forgive me for repeating myself. When considering any application for a stand-alone academy to join a MAT, the regional director will consider what stakeholder engagement has taken place, and the views expressed by stakeholders.
I do not believe that it is necessary or appropriate to provide for very specific consultation requirements in legislation. Stakeholder engagement is already embedded in the decision-making process. However, I agree that the process by which academies join trusts should be transparent—here, I am a little more optimistic about reassuring the noble Baroness, the noble Lord and other noble Lords opposite. As part of the regulatory review, which I have mentioned previously, we will consider the scope to clarify the arrangements for engaging with stakeholders when a stand-alone academy joins a multi-academy trust.
In the light of Amendment 68 in my name, and given these assurances, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, to withdraw her Amendment 60, and that other noble Lords do not move their amendments. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, that I did not echo the birthday wishes, but I wish her a very happy birthday.
Before I begin my remarks, I wish many happy returns to my noble friend on the Front Bench.
Never in my wildest dreams would I think of the Minister as Machiavellian—absolutely not. However, the lived experience of many people is that discussions over issues to do with academisation, moving into MATs or other such things have not always been open and the system has not always been transparent. I am personally aware of representatives of particular unions who, after being called in to see head teachers, have been briefed and then been told that the matter is absolutely confidential, and that they must say nothing to any member outside that room. I am not saying that this is the position the Minister would take, but it is the lived experience of a lot of people who genuinely believe that there should be proper and open consultation. We can say that those head teachers were doing it completely wrongly, but the fact is that it would have impacted those union members, and there is the impact of someone in the school now knowing something which the parents and students do not know.
There is clearly something here about the need constantly to reinforce the fact that consultation should be open, appropriate and transparent. This is probably why, although the Minister said these things in very reassuring tones, I cannot see why we would not specify the need to consult with particular groups of people, including parents, staff and so on. This remains an issue. I am delighted that the Minister thinks that it is inevitable, but my experience is that consultation has not always been inevitable. However, I would like to believe that it was.
I will comment on the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, about neatness, which I thought was very entertaining. To him, I would add: I do not think that all local authority schools are like cookie cutters and exactly the same; they pride themselves on the fact that they have a particular ethos. That comes from the student intake, the particular group of staff they have, the governors and the head’s style of leadership, so I do not think that they are all the same.
I am sure that those who have visited very many maintained schools will agree with me that they are quite different, whether they have a uniform or not—all sorts of things do make them different. But I was entertained by the noble Lord’s remarks about neatness. Again repeating that nothing in my remarks suggests anything Machiavellian, although I am not completely reassured by everything, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 60 withdrawn.
Amendments 60A to 67 not moved.
68: Clause 29, page 24, line 6, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—
“(a) in subsection (1), after “Academy” insert “following an application under section 3 (application for Academy order by governing body)”;(b) after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) Before a maintained school in England is converted into an Academy following an application under section 3A (application for Academy order by local authority), the local authority must consult such persons as they think appropriate about whether the conversion should take place.”;(c) for subsection (2) substitute—“(2) But this section ceases to apply where, following an application under section 3 or 3A in respect of a school, an Academy order is made in respect of the school under—(a) section 4(A1) (duty to make Academy order in respect of school requiring significant improvement or special measures), or(b) section 4(1)(b) (power to make Academy order in respect of school otherwise eligible for intervention).””Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would require the local authority to carry out a consultation in relation to an application under new section 3A for conversion of a maintained school into an Academy. As with consultations by governing bodies who apply for Academy conversion, the consultation may be carried out before or after the application, or any Academy order, is made.
Amendment 69 (to Amendment 68) not moved.
Amendment 70 (to Amendment 68) not moved.
Amendment 68 agreed.
My Lords, I cannot call Amendment 71 due to pre-emption.
Amendments 72 to 74 not moved.
Clause 29, as amended, agreed.
Amendments 75 and 75A not moved.
Clause 30: Transfer of land by local authorities
Clause 30 agreed.
76: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Secure 16 to 19 Academies(1) The Academies Act 2010 is amended as follows.(2) In section 2 (payments under Academy agreements), after subsection (2) insert— “(2A) Subsection (2) applies to an Academy agreement in respect of a secure 16 to 19 Academy as though the references to 7 years were references to 2 years.”(3) In section 9 (impact: new and expanded educational institutions), in subsection (1), after paragraph (b) (and on a new line) insert—“except where the institution, if the arrangements are entered into, is to be a secure 16 to 19 Academy.”(4) In section 10 (consultation: new and expanded educational institutions)—after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) But where the educational institution, if the arrangements are entered into, is to be a secure 16 to 19 Academy—(a) the person is not required to carry out a consultation on that question, and (b) they must instead carry out a consultation on the question of how they should cooperate with potential local partners in connection with the establishment and carrying on of the Academy.(2B) “Potential local partners” in subsection (2A)(b) means—(a) public authorities (within the meaning of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998), and(b) so far as not falling within paragraph (a), proprietors of educational institutions,with whom the person carrying out the consultation thinks it appropriate to cooperate.”;(b) in subsection (3), for “The consultation” substitute “A consultation under this section”.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment makes special provision for secure 16 to 19 Academies as to the period for which funding must continue, the requirement to consider the impact of new or expanded educational institutions on other local institutions, and the consultation requirements applicable to new or expanded educational institutions.
Amendment 76A (to Amendment 76) not moved.
Amendment 76B (to Amendment 76) not moved.
Amendment 76 agreed.
Amendments 77 and 78 not moved.
79: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“School reserves and income raising(1) Where an academy or maintained school comes under the control of a Multi Academy Trust, the reserves of the school must be—(a) independently audited to arrive at an agreed level;(b) ring-fenced for the exclusive use of the school for the benefit of that school's pupils with any expenditures required to be agreed by the Local Governing Body of the school.(2) Where an academy or maintained school comes under the control of a Multi Academy Trust, any income generated by the school including the renting out of premises when under the control of the Multi Academy Trust must be used exclusively for the benefit of that school's pupils with expenditures required to be agreed by the Local Governing Body of the school.”Member's explanatory statement
The amendment is designed to ensure that where an academy or maintained school comes under the control of a Multi Academy Trust, the reserves and income generating activities of the school can only be used with the agreement of the Local Governing Body of the school exclusively for the benefit of that school's pupils.
My Lords, my Amendment 79 is part of a wider group dealing with funding of schools and provisions in the Bill for the nationally determined funding for schools in England. My amendment is rather narrow, but it introduces the subject of funding. My concern is the circumstance under which an academy or mainstream school comes under the control of a multi-academy trust, as there are questions about what happens to its reserves or income-generating activities. I want to see them essentially used, with the agreement of the local governing body of the school, exclusively for the benefit of that school’s pupils. I am very honoured to have an Opposition Front Bench amendment to my amendment, Amendment 79ZA, and I very much accept the principle of what my noble friend is proposing there.
The Local Government Association briefing has a lot of wisdom on the matter:
“At present, MATs can reallocate an uncapped proportion of funding from schools’ budgets within their MAT, with no requirement for transparency as to how this money is spent or the outcomes it delivers. … While we support MATs having a degree of flexibility over budgets within their trust to best meet schools and pupils needs, the lack of public transparency over their expenditure should be addressed to ensure public funding is delivering the best outcomes for pupils.”
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will speak in this group, but on the first day in Committee he said that there is a danger of a multi-academy trust removing a highly skilled governing body and the trust, to cover its own costs, would end up top-slicing the school’s budgets, making successful, smaller schools a little less viable.
The recent LSE analysis, to which I have already referred, points out:
“MAT accounts, while having to be signed off by an external auditor, do not provide a detailed account of how public money is spent, and data published by MATs can mask the financial decisions made by individual academies. This is in contrast to the accounts of maintained schools. …This lack of transparency has led to concerns that MATs are using public money to pay excessive salaries – they are not bound by the School Teachers Pay and Conditions framework that governs maintained schools. It has also allowed MATs to pay out compensation costs without setting out how much public money was used to cover this, using opaque reporting practices to hide the payments. … The procurement practices of Academy Trusts are also of concern. ‘Related party transactions’ - business arrangements between a MAT and body with which those responsible for the governance of an academy have a personal connection - were worth £120m in 2015-16, over 3,000 transactions.”
This is the background to my amendment, which is designed to explore what financial safeguards are in place when an academy or maintained school becomes part of a multi-academy trust. My amendment seeks to ensure that, when this happens, first, the reserves need to be independently audited to arrive at an agreed level and, secondly, they should be ring-fenced for the exclusive use of the school for the benefit of its pupils, with any expenditure required to be agreed by the local governing body of the school. In earlier amendments, we have argued that every school should have a local governing board.
I think that this is quite a reasonable set of amendments. I also want to ensure that any income generated by the school, including the renting out of premises when under the control of a multi-academy trust, must be used exclusively for the benefit of that school’s pupils, with expenditures required to be agreed by that school’s local governing body. I accept the modification being moved by my noble friend in her amendment. At heart, this is about the individual school, the ownership of that school, the integrity of that school and ensuring that the resources coming to it will be a fair allocation and that its reserves and income-generating activities are protected. I beg to move.
Amendment 79ZA (to Amendment 79)
79ZA: After subsection (2), insert—
“(3) Subsection (2) does not apply if the Local Governing Body has explicitly agreed so.”Member’s explanatory statement
This would allow arrangements wherein one academy agrees to fundraise for another in its trust.
I acknowledge the good manners of my noble friend Lord Hunt in not finding it too cheeky that we seek to amend his amendment. Our aim is pretty clear: we want to make sure that, on occasions when the governing body wants to see flexibility when a school joins a MAT, it is able to have that. We think it is important to recognise that that can sometimes occur. It may want to address a particular priority, and that may be one of the driving forces for its desire to join a MAT. We very much support my noble friend’s desire to protect pupils if their school joins a MAT; we are just keen to make sure there is a bit of flexibility. We agree completely that there must be transparency and financial safeguards when a school joins a MAT and I echo everything that my noble friend said.
Moving on, our Amendment 79C draws Ministers’ attention to our concerns about the fundamental inequality in educational outcomes between regions. We are deeply concerned about regional disparities that are growing in education and we think they have worsened since the pandemic. In its recent report, the Education Select Committee in the other place found that disadvantaged pupils could be
“five, six, seven—in the worst-case scenarios eight—months behind”,
according to regional data. By the second half of the autumn term 2020, the average learning loss for maths for primary pupils was 5.3 months in Yorkshire, compared with 0.5 months in the south-west—I think 0.5 months probably means a fortnight. By March 2021, the National Tutoring Programme had reached 100% of its target number of schools in the south-west, 96.1% in the south-east, but just 58.8% in the north-east and 59.3% in the north-west.
More broadly, children in Yorkshire and the Humber are 12 times more likely to be attending an underperforming school than their counterparts in other areas of England. Perhaps it is no surprise that schools across the north have lost out on funding, despite having a higher proportion of poorer pupils. Research by the House of Commons Library found that schools in London got more money per pupil last year, despite having fewer children on free school meals, than in areas further north. Schools in London, where 22.6% of children are eligible for free school meals, received an average of £5,647 per pupil in cash terms in 2021. The figure in the north-east was £4,919, even though it has the highest proportion of pupils qualifying for free school meals, at 27.5%. In the north-west, according to the House of Commons Library, where 23.8% of children are eligible for free school meals, schools got £4,925 per pupil. This is not about doing down children in London, but about highlighting inequality of funding and of outcomes. We believe there is a connection.
We should remind ourselves that the funding of schools since 2010 has been shameful. Cuts to education over the past decade were without precedent in post-war history, according to the IFS, but the pain has not been felt equally across the system. The most deprived one-fifth of secondary schools had a 14% real-terms fall in spending per pupil between 2009 and 2019, compared with a 9% drop in the least deprived schools. So our Amendment 79C asks the Secretary of State to report on outcomes and the financial health of schools by region. We are asking for this because we want MPs and Peers to be able to challenge Ministers on their success or otherwise in addressing regional inequalities in education.
We understand that it is possible now to tease out the information we are looking for from various data, from commissioning, from the House of Commons Library, the House of Lords Library and reports from research organisations, trade unions and others who make a point of looking for this information in a way that enables us to see the full picture. At the moment, the Government do not have an obligation to do it in that way. We think that if we do not collect and present the information in a standardised, regular way, it is too easy to take our eye off the ball. We want to be able to see what is happening in different regions over time, because at the moment we are at a bit of a disadvantage. The truth about what the Government are doing to entrench—or, I hope, address—the relative performance of schools across regions is not shown in the way we think it could be.
All these amendments stem from the lack of information in the Bill on the funding formula. We are very worried about the removal of local authorities from the process. The Explanatory Notes say explicitly that local authorities have the most detailed knowledge about the needs of their local schools, so why are they being treated in this way? There are a number of reasons a local authority might wish to have a role in funding allocations, including those referred to by my noble friends in Amendment 97, which looks at specialist services.
Amendment 86A emphasises the need to take the index of multiple deprivation into account. The reason we are so concerned about this is because the National Audit Office’s recent report into schools funding says that the government should
“evaluate the impact of the national funding formula”.
It is quite explicit in its recommendation:
“In particular, the Department should review whether the shift in the balance of funding from more deprived areas to less deprived areas, and from more deprived schools to less deprived schools, means it is adequately meeting its objective of matching resources to need.”
We feel that currently it is not; hence our amendment asking the Government to be more explicit in the way they look at deprivation. I accept that the amendment could probably be better worded, but I wanted to raise the issue with the Minister now and explore whether there is something we can do through the Bill to enable our concerns to be dealt with.
We think Amendment 92 is sensible and encourages partnership. I am very sympathetic to Amendment 94, referring to transport for 16 to 18 year-olds. Obviously, we would need a full understanding of the cost of that, but I understand completely why that is something we should aspire to deliver. In a local authority area near me, Redcar and Cleveland, there is nowhere to do A-levels. It is not like living in a city, where you can choose between colleges and access them all easily; it is very hard for young people who find themselves living somewhere where a choice of post-16 education is not available. Amendment 85 asks for impact assessments on the national funding formula in rural areas. We have no issue with that at all: it is looking for transparency and understanding of the way the funding formula is impacting different areas of the country in different ways, and we do not have that currently. I beg to move Amendment 79ZA.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is participating remotely. I invite her to speak now.
My Lords, I am a signatory to Amendment 86 in this group, tabled by my noble friend Lord Storey, who unfortunately cannot be in his place today. Our amendment requires the funding formula to be accompanied by an assessment of the funding to support pupils disrupted by Covid and the ability of schools to support such pupils. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, for going into a lot more detail than I propose to do this evening.
I want to make two points. The first is a broader one. The extra funding for post-Covid catch-up is welcome, but how much of it is essentially baseline budget, and what is the impact of that on small rural schools, versus the highly targeted catch-up funding for those pupils who need it? I will discuss one particular group of pupils in a minute.
I note that the notification on all schools and colleges that will receive the extra funding for catch-up, published by the Government recently, talks about the additional investment also supporting the delivery of a £30,000 starting salary for teachers, alongside a further £1.8 billion dedicated to supporting young people to catch up.
My noble friend Lord Storey referred at Second Reading to the very particular problem that small schools in rural areas face and how they can be helped, because obviously a very small school will have a very small base budget. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, for her letter to all peers on 1 June, which said:
“The Government recognises the essential role that small schools play”.
It said that the “‘sparsity’ factor” budget for small rural schools has been increased
“from £26 million in 2020-21 to £95 million in 2022-23.”
That is absolutely vital for small rural schools. What is not clear is whether that is in proportion to the increasing grant for larger schools as well. I would be grateful if the Minister could say whether it is.
I turn to one specific group that I mentioned at Second Reading, who appear to be left out of receiving support from the Covid catch-up funding: mainly, but not only, the National Tutoring Programme. ONS data published this week show that nearly one in 20, or just under 5%, of secondary school pupils meets the criteria at the moment for long Covid following their most recent Covid infection. There has been a myth, since long Covid was first described, that children do not get it. ONS data very clearly say otherwise. There is no doubt that the percentage of primary-age children who are getting long Covid is lower, but one in 20 secondary school children is a substantial number.
I have been talking to the clinically extremely vulnerable families, some of whom have children with long Covid, and also to the group Long Covid Kids. The CEV families surveyed their group members who said that their children had not been supported by the National Tutoring Programme; some 94% of these children, who either have long Covid or are immunocompromised, have seen their education much more severely disrupted than that of children who have no health problems but faced lockdown. The worry is that the rubric against this budget describes it as being for those whose education has been most affected by the disruption of the pandemic. The problem appears to be that the current catch-up funding is focused entirely on borderline children who have had support before in previous non-Covid grants. There is a worry that the Long Covid Kids group and the Covid extremely vulnerable families have had no serious engagement either with the Children’s Commissioner or with Ministers and officials. I hope that the Minister might be able to listen to their problems.
Let me give noble Lords a flavour, with just one example of one family. I am an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, and we heard from the Long Covid Kids group in January, which has published a detailed report. One parent of an 11 year- old and a 13 year-old said:
“My son had numerous hospital visits due to the severity of his cough, he was then hospitalised for 4 days … he was paralysed from the neck down. He is still unable to walk more than a few steps … using a wheelchair, he has not been back to school since. He is still suffering with brain fog, severe headaches, extreme fatigue, rashes, twitching”.
I will spare the Committee the rest, but you get the picture. The daughter also has many of the same symptoms, but less severe. The problem is that, instead of getting support for catch-up, parents are being threatened with fines from schools because of poor attendance. Again, this is because schools are not believing the severity of their symptoms due to Covid.
Last week, the Secretary of State for Education said in Tes that he has
“asked officials to draw up new guidance on long Covid for schools as cases continue to rise among teachers and support staff”.
I read the longer article, and nowhere were pupils with long Covid mentioned, let alone any recognition that those who do have long Covid—those who are being seen at long Covid clinics—actually need that catch-up support.
I hope the Minister and officials might be able to meet the two children’s groups that I have described. I will go into more detail about these two particular groups in later amendments that I have laid for the Bill, but there is a very specific question here about whether these children are getting the support they need, rather than schools using the money only to fund investment in tutoring for those who have traditionally had access to it. This amendment seeks transparency—that schools have to be held accountable —to make sure there is provision.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend, who has raised some very serious issues. I will speak to Amendment 84 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Storey. This would require the funding formula to provide for transport costs for 16 to 18 year-olds on the same basis as those eligible children up to the age of 16. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, for sort of agreeing with this amendment.
It is so important that children from poorer families should be helped to remain in education and training beyond the age of 16. The Liberal Democrats wish to introduce a young people’s premium, based on the same eligibility criteria as the pupil premium, but a portion of it would be paid directly to the young person aged 16 to 18 to support them with travel and other education-related costs. It is entirely logical that the core funding rate for full-time students aged 16 to 19 should match that of secondary school pupils.
The UK faces a serious skills deficit, with many business leaders expressing concern that too few workers have the necessary skills to meet their future job needs. We need young people to enter the work market having learned relevant skills while in education. We also call for grants rather than loans for those over 16. Those entering the workplace, as well as adults, are unlikely to want to take on repayable debt. Government support for enhanced education and training would benefit not just individuals but the country too.
We recognise that transport costs currently present an insurmountable barrier to many people who want to learn and achieve. Transport costs across England can be extremely high, and the availability of discounts or free travel for children and young people varies considerably by geographical location. This means that, in many places, and particularly in rural areas—my noble friend Lady Humphreys will say more about this shortly—transport costs can pose a fundamental barrier to children and young people accessing the education and training which is most appropriate to their abilities and aspirations.
Since the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, or EMA, the only outstanding student support is extremely limited. A young person can apply from their college or school sixth form, but it is not guaranteed; it is discretionary and cannot be relied on. It is not sufficient for the numbers who require support, and not necessarily sufficient for transport costs, let alone wider needs. It would certainly not be enough to cover transport costs for potential further travel to undertake work experience placements, for instance, as required by the Government’s beloved T-levels.
This is a very modest proposal which would have an enormously beneficial effect on many young people, and I urge the Minister to accept it.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow my two noble friends. I wish to speak to Amendment 85, in the name of my noble friend Lord Storey, to which I have added my name. This amendment requires that the funding formula be accompanied by an impact assessment on state-funded schools in rural areas.
I live in a rural area of north Wales and, like other noble Lords, fully understand the vital importance of rural schools for their communities. If schools are forced to close, young families will not move to an area and this is not conducive to building the thriving, forward-looking rural communities that we wish to see. Rural schools are also an important employer. Even a small school with a handful of teachers will provide a range of other jobs—for example, in administration, caretaking, cooking and teaching assistance—that would be lost if the school closed. Crucially, as with other services, pupils should be able to access their schools within a reasonable travel time.
However, children in rural areas across England, such as Devon, are being short-changed and taken for granted by this Conservative Government. With the challenges ahead of us as education recovers from the pandemic, we cannot allow such children to be left behind in its wake. Why do I believe that children in rural England are being short-changed and are in danger of being left behind? According to the House of Commons Library, schools in Devon receive £345 less per pupil than the national average across the UK. This difference in funding obviously has an impact on school budgets, which needs to be analysed and recognised through an impact assessment. Any adverse impact of the funding formula on staffing and the quality of education provided, for example, needs to be assessed and addressed.
So much can be done to help rural schools. An impact assessment could help point the way forward, to fund schemes such as those my Liberal Democrat colleague Kirsty Williams implemented in Wales when she was Cabinet Secretary for Education. I know that this Schools Bill does not apply to Wales because education there is devolved, but I cite it as an example. In government, Kirsty Williams introduced a rural schools strategy, including a £2.5 million per year grant for rural and small schools to be used for improving digital technology, supporting collaboration between schools or providing administrative support in schools—
If I may intervene, much as I laud Kirsty Williams, who was a Liberal Member of the Senedd, that was under a Welsh Labour Government of which she was the sole Liberal Member. I dealt with her a great deal as the education spokesperson. I make that point in case the Committee is not aware.
I think I clearly said that she was the Cabinet Secretary for Education—perhaps I should have said under a Labour Government. She also introduced a presumption against closure for rural schools and, for the first time ever, a definition of a rural school. I am sure similar strategies are happening in England, but there is obviously scope for other schemes to be highlighted.
Impact assessments are an important part of our decision-making process. They set out the objectives of policy proposals and help us with facts and figures to evaluate them. The impact of the funding formula on the funding of rural schools needs such an evaluation so that we can understand whether the formula works for them and meets their needs. I hope the noble Baroness can tell me that there will be an impact assessment of the funding formula for future stages of this Bill.
My Lords, I speak on behalf of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham and declare his interest as chair of the National Society. I am grateful to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, as I will speak in favour of Amendment 85.
The amendment presents an important consideration in the context of Church schools, which are predominantly small and rural. More than 1,000 Church of England schools have fewer than 100 pupils. In my diocese, comprising most of the glorious county of Suffolk, 35 of our 87 Church schools have fewer than 100 pupils—crucially, each of them serves often quite isolated rural communities. A funding formula ensuring that those settings are viable is key to securing future provision for their communities.
My Lords, I have listened with great care to the amendments. There is a common note here which my noble friend might wish to take up. There are few happy points in the Government’s ill-fated food strategy, but one was the desire for better data. One thing that has come from this debate is that, if we are to have any means of assessing the success of this Bill, we need the data to do so.
Some amendments seem appropriate and others perhaps not; I will not discuss them one by one, but I suggest my noble friend gives some assurance to the Committee that the Government will look carefully at the data provided—how it is provided and how simple it can be made—so that there is some really appropriate way to have accountability. One of the issues in this Bill is accountability, and one of the main ways to have proper accountability is to have proper data. That is the common theme of everything that has so far been put forward.
Having heard the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich—the diocese in which I reside—it is important for those of us in very rural areas to remind the Government constantly of the special position of schools in rural areas. The reason is that our nation has become overwhelmingly metropolitan, as are those most concerned with education at the centre. It is therefore necessary for us to remind Ministers all the time that they should be asking, “How does this affect what happens in the countryside?”, which is increasingly important as we find more and more villages without the resources they once had and the understandable paucity of rural transport.
The two things come together. We need better data; it needs to be presented in an easily accessible way for us to hold the Government and academies to account. It also needs to have a special bias, if I may misquote the right reverend Prelate, not to the poor but to the poor rural areas.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Deben, partly because he may be supportive, given his expertise in climate change, of my amendment, which I will speak to. I agree with the thrust of what he said. I am a former Rural Affairs Minister and a former Schools Minister; one of the very few things I managed to do for school funding, apart from announce a lot of it, was to introduce a small element in the formula on pockets of rural deprivation. I would hate to see that recognition lost in a national funding formula, so I support this.
I will mostly speak to my Amendment 97ZA, which is about a pupil fund for sustainability. This is probably the first of a whole set of hobby-horse amendments which we will hear more of through the rest of this evening. I will probably duck out at the end of this group and not hear some of it; in particular, I regret that I will not be around for the debate on Amendment 168 from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, who I am delighted to see in his place. I introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the last Session, the Education (Environment and Sustainable Citizenship) Bill, which very much attempted to do what the noble and right reverend Lord seeks to do with his amendment.
Instead of using the curriculum to persuade the Government that we need to do more on a more mandated basis on the study of climate change and sustainability in our schools, my amendment uses funding—one of the other great levers Ministers have at their disposal to try to encourage behaviour. In the measures I proposed on curriculum, I was inspired by my friend Lorenzo Fioramonti, the former Education Minister in Italy. Given the Mediterranean climate, I have stayed with the warmer climes for my inspiration on this and gone to Portugal, where Minister Rodrigues introduced a very simple mechanism of pupil empowerment. He agreed that every pupil in Portugal would be entitled to €1 for their school, on condition that the pupils would decide how it would be spent. It was a simple mechanism, initially spent simplistically by pupils, but they have gradually matured as they have got used to this very modest sum of money that, as a pupil body, they have been required to decide how to spend on a school-by-school basis. As a result, they have become much more engaged in the running of the school and the empowerment has worked extremely well in that country.
My amendment proposes an extremely modest £1 per pupil in the pupil formula for pupils to be able to spend, on the condition that they spend it on sustainability measures in their school and community. It is a start in trying to empower pupils around this issue.
In thinking about that, I commend to your Lordships the Times Education Commission report which was published today. What I have managed to read so far is an extremely good read. There are some gems in it, such as the commission’s finding that the system is “failing on every measure”, or that the schools White Paper is a
“tidying up exercise that shows a staggering lack of ambition”.
But, more pertinent to my amendment, I was interested to read that:
“Young people are more socially aware, independent and intellectually engaged than perhaps any previous generation. Yet, pupils who are used to organising climate change campaigns, curating their own Spotify playlists, creating their own eBay businesses and researching their own interests on YouTube are treated in school as passive recipients of knowledge rather than active learners.”
That goes right to the heart of what I am trying to encourage with this amendment. There were Members of your Lordships’ House on the commission: the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria, Lord Johnson of Marylebone and Lord Rees, the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, and Robert Halfon, the chair of the Education Select Committee in the other place. It is a commendable piece of work.
The commission talks also about employability, and that is part of what I am trying to achieve by encouraging young people in schools to work collaboratively to problem solve and to spend this money in projects round and about the school. That in itself is going to contribute to exactly the kind of employability skills that employers are asking for. Sir Charlie Mayfield, the former chairman of John Lewis and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, who is now the Head of Training and Apprenticeships at QA, is quoted in the Times report. He said:
“We’ve ended up in a situation where the world of education and the world of work are almost more separate than they’ve ever been. It’s crazy and very unfortunate for a lot of people.”
He suggested that
“the failure to address the skills gap could cost the UK £140 billion in lost GDP by 2028”.
He also said:
“Standards in education have always been measured by exams, assessment and grades, so it’s not surprising that this has been the focus. However, this is increasingly at the expense of what employers really value: resilience, communication and problem solving.”
That is what I want to achieve with this fund.
The other thing I wish to address, apart from the employability of young people, is the levels of anxiety, including climate anxiety, they are suffering, and there are other amendments around mental health that will be discussed today. The evidence is pretty clear that one of the ways you can help any of us deal with some of our anxieties is to empower us and trust us. That is what this fund would seek to do. We also know, categorically—and here it is tempting to say yet again how wonderful my time in Orkney is, to the delight of the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, but I will resist the temptation—that contact with the natural environment and spending time with nature is fantastic for well-being. I confess I measure my blood pressure every day, and my blood pressure certainly goes down when I am in Orkney; I am happy to say it has remained lowered since my last trip there.
With this amendment, I am not choosing on this occasion to ask the Government to impose this on the curriculum. I am supportive of their sustainability and climate change strategy, in so far as it goes, but I do think there is more to be done to activate our young people and to give them a sense of responsibility and power. If the Treasury is listening, it needs about £9 million—not a lot. If the Government choose to do more, we would be very happy about that. It is flexible, it can work for any and every school, and I hope your Lordships like the sound of it.
My Lords, I feel I must leap to my feet and say what a great pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, and his brilliant systems-thinking amendment. He described it as a “hobby horse”. It is a hobby horse that has been exercised before in the House, up to peak condition. He has groomed it, curried it and it is in beautiful condition and perfectly presented to your Lordships’ House. It is a hobby horse that would enable the Government to leap out of the silos in which they so often find themselves trapped. As the noble Lord outlined, it joins up thinking that addresses the legal target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and all the other environmental targets the Government have set themselves in the Environment Act, but also issues of mental health, well-being, empowering pupils and involving them in democracy and society in their communities.
The noble Lord’s amendment is a step towards active involvement that crosses over all the relevant departments, which makes it hard not just for this Government but any Government to deal with, but it is a neat way of addressing the issue. As the noble Lord said, it is at the moment set at a very modest cost level. It could be enhanced but this is at least a start. I know that many of the young climate strikers I have met in recent years out on the streets and outside their schools would embrace and love this. If the Government really want to get them saying, “Well done the Government!”, this is a way they could do so.
I hope I am not speaking out of turn here, but I happen to know that the Minister, in a previous role, found that citizens assemblies worked very well in making decisions. This is the citizens assembly, the participative democracy, model that the Minister herself saw working in a different context, applied to her current portfolio—and what a wonderful piece of joined-up government that would be.
I must not forget to speak to the amendment. I had not spotted the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth; otherwise, I would have signed it. I will be keen to support it on Report if he is happy with that. I did sign Amendment 85, which is about the funding formula for rural schools. We have already heard some very strong arguments for this, but I want to pick up the point about data made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I was looking at—and because I like to show my sources, I have just tweeted for anyone who is interested—a 2019 study from the Centre for Education and Youth, which looked at the links between deprivation, location, particularly rural location, and attainment and pupil progress in secondary schools. It showed that there is a stronger link in rural areas than in urban areas, in terms of both attainment and progress, particularly in secondary schools.
A noble Lord, I have forgotten which, said that this House and the Government are London-centric and Westminster-focused. We tend to think of the countryside as bucolic, and there are many lovely, wealthy areas of countryside, but there are also areas of extreme deprivation. I am thinking of schools I have visited in Cumbria and in North Norfolk where we are not giving pupils the kind of chance they should be given. This is a modest amendment, but it would at least ensure that these issues are considered.
My Lords, there are 10 amendments in this group, and my name is on two: Amendments 92 and 93. I have found the debate and discussion on a number of issues in this group extremely helpful, and I hope the Minister will be able to respond more when we get to Report.
I want to take us back to the issue of the centralisation of powers on the national funding formula. For me, that is a really important issue, because there are a number of practical problems that will be produced, which I think my Amendments 92 and 93 would help with. However, at this stage, they are probing amendments.
In the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, the Government say that a directly applied national funding formula will ensure that funding is allocated on a “consistent basis” that will meet
“schools’ and pupils’ needs and characteristics.”
The Government have also said that
“each mainstream school will be allocated funding on the same basis, wherever it is in the country, and every child will be given the same opportunities, based on a consistent assessment of their needs.”
Those are the Government’s words. I think that may be difficult to achieve in practice, because I feel that the system proposed is complex—and anyway, too much is being left for regulations. The Government’s approach may address some of the unexplained differences that can arise with service budget allocations between local authorities, which the Government are understandably keen to address, but the proposed solution for direct control will inevitably create other anomalies, given the extra rigidities proposed.
Clause 43, for me, is a bit of a giveaway. Under the heading “Funding: other”, on Clause 43, “Provision of information to the Secretary of State”, the Explanatory Notes say:
“This clause provides that a local authority, the governing body of a maintained school, or the proprietor of an academy or non-maintained special school must provide reports, returns and information to the Secretary of State as and when required, in order for the Secretary of State to exercise their functions under this Part.”
Various examples are given, including
“pupil numbers …; planned school closures and mergers; planned school expansions to meet basic need; and information on whether a school operates across split sites, to underpin split sites funding.”
In the 2020-21 academic year, there were 9,444 academies, with 4.5 million pupils attending them, and there were 12,603 maintained schools, with a total of 3.7 million pupils. How many civil servants will there be to do all the allocations, responding to questions and all the administration and inquiries? Particularly at a time when the Government are trying to reduce the size of the Civil Service, I find it very hard to understand how this system could practically work. My Amendments 92 and 93 provide part of the solution to that problem.
Turning to my Amendment 92, I think it is essential that
“A local authority in England may make a national-to-local budget reallocation, up to a certain percentage of the national funding formula without the requirement to apply to and receive the agreement of the Secretary of State”,
“The percentage of the national funding formula … must be agreed between the local authority and all local schools that will be impacted by the national-to-local budget reallocation.”
Amendment 93 simply spells out that
“when the reallocation is higher than the amount agreed by a local authority and their local schools”,
the regulations and the role of the Secretary of State can then apply.
Under existing school funding arrangements, we currently have a situation where councils, with the agreement of schools, can move away from the national funding formula to address local needs. That flexibility will be removed once the direct national funding formula has been implemented. These amendments retain an element of local discretion to deal with additional school costs that cannot be adequately addressed through a formula. That might relate to, say, PFI costs; the revenue costs of funding new schools, which might need additional funding in their early days as the number of pupils builds up year by year; the additional costs of schools located on split sites; and additional funding to support small schools in rural areas, which is the sparsity funding that we were talking about earlier. There is a solution to the problem if the Government could just think a little bit further about how this is going to work in practice.
Within this area of thinking, there is a difference between multi-academy trusts and councils. At present, the Government’s proposals will enable multi-academy trusts to top-slice and reallocate funding from school budgets within their trust, with no requirement for transparency as to how this money is spent. However, councils which support maintained schools will not be afforded the same flexibility, despite being subject to democratic accountability and a higher degree of transparency and scrutiny. This will create a two-tier system of funding between academies and maintained schools.
This is a huge Bill, and there are many things wrong with it. One of the things that your Lordships have expressed concern about is the overcentralisation in Whitehall with the powers of the Secretary of State. Funding will go exactly the same way through the national funding formula proposals unless some leeway is allocated so that, at a local level, changes can be made where they are needed.
My Lords, I very strongly support the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, but I will return to that issue in the next group. I was not going to participate in this debate, but I have been forced to because of the references made to rural and metropolitan areas. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench as gently as I possibly can that comparisons between allocations to different regions are always difficult and complicated.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, said that we metropolitan elites do not have much knowledge of what happens in the countryside. Equally, people from the rest of the country have surprisingly little knowledge of what happens in metropolitan areas. The levels of deprivation in London—a vast area in terms of population—are enormous. In terms of picking out individual figures, I have the brief from London Councils, which provides figures demonstrating to its satisfaction that London has been hard done by over the last few years, with bigger reductions in the allocation to schools than the rest of the country. I do not believe bandying figures in that way is that helpful. What we want is sufficient funding across the country as a whole, and I think that setting one part of the country against another should be done with great discretion.
My Lords, I genuinely welcome the chance to talk to your Lordships about reforms to the national funding formula. We will come on to this in more detail on Clause 33 in the next group. I want to start my response by noting that this part of the Bill delivers a long-standing commitment to achieve fair funding for schools and, I should say, a commitment where there have been multiple consultations over the years with the sector.
I will start by responding to Amendment 79 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and Amendments 79ZA and 79C in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, on the financial arrangements of multi-academy trusts. One of the ways that the best multi-academy trusts transform outcomes for pupils is by focusing their expenditure and investment towards the right areas, whether this is investing in new IT across the trust or securing additional staff to work across all the trust’s schools.
Trusts can target funding to turn around underperforming schools they have brought into their trust or, indeed, as we discussed with the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on a previous day, target funding to very small, rural schools which would otherwise not be viable. The academy model relies on trusts’ ability to harness and share expertise and resources. However, Amendments 79 and 79ZA would stifle trusts’ ability to do this, undermining one of the fundamental benefits of the model.
Moreover, academy trusts are already required to publish a full set of financial accounts annually, which are publicly available. The department publishes a full report and consolidated accounts for the academy sector each year. We believe this meets the intention of Amendment 79C. The report includes data on financial health across the academy sector, and the educational performance of the academy sector at a regional level, to which the noble Baroness alluded.
My noble friend Lord Deben suggested that we needed to do more with data. Again, I challenge my noble friend just to look at how much data on schools we share publicly. The website Get Information about Schools gives very detailed information on school and trust performance. You can look by constituency area, local authority area or trust area. It gives information on finance—including the voluntary income that was referenced in the debate—workforce, and educational outcomes. That allows one to compare academies and maintained schools. We also publish school-level funding formula allocations for every school every year and the Department for Education runs a website specifically to enable anyone to see school-level national funding formula allocations and understand what funding they would receive if the national funding formula was followed locally. That may be something to look at for the Devon schools; I have not looked but I will do. The webtool is called view NFF allocations—I will write to noble Lords with the link—and it is published on GOV.UK.
We continue, of course, to look at how we can improve transparency, and in the schools White Paper we committed to consult on future financial reporting arrangements. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, asked —again, I hope she will forgive me if I paraphrase inaccurately—why we were not including local authorities in the process. She will know that we worked hard with local authorities ahead of publishing the schools White Paper to get a much clearer role for them. We are clear that the Government’s responsibility is to make sure that local authorities are empowered to be the champion of the child. They will be at the heart of the system, championing all children in their area but particularly the most vulnerable children, so they will play a leading role, of course, in safeguarding, pupil place planning and admissions. They will continue to be responsible for the high-needs budget and will lead local delivery of provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and they will be supported by the new partnerships.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, alluded—again, I think I am right in saying—to related party transactions in trusts. The Government are extremely vigilant to make sure that related party transactions, whether they are in maintained schools or in trusts, are handled with the highest levels of governance. But I point out to the noble Lord that the £120 million is on a budget in 2019-20 of over £31 billion so, if my maths is right, it is 0.3%.
I turn to Amendments 85 and 86 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey. As I have already said, transparency is critical and is at the heart of our reforms. In relation to Amendment 85, we will continue to publish information annually on the national funding formula, including how it is calculated, what factors it uses, school-level allocations, and an equality impact assessment. Based on this information, it is already possible to see the impact on rural schools, or indeed any other group of schools.
The national funding formula recognises the essential role that small rural schools play in their communities through the sparsity factor in the formula. Support for such schools has increased by £69 million in the past two years, to a total of £95 million. The noble Lord will note that the move to the direct national funding formula will mean that all eligible small rural schools would in future receive this sparsity funding, helping those in the 16 local authorities which currently do not use this factor in their formulae. I hope this will reassure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
In addition, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, the presumption against the closure of rural primary schools means that the case for closing a school must be very strong, with all alternative options and the potential impact on educational provision in the area considered before any closure is proposed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about levels of attainment in rural areas. She is right and that is one of the reasons why a number of extremely rural local authority areas such as West Somerset, Fenland in Cambridge and several others are included in the Government’s opportunity areas in the future education investment areas—as I am sure the noble Baroness is aware.
On Amendment 86, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, getting students back into face-to-face education while providing additional help has been one of the Government’s main priorities. I very much welcome the invitation from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, to meet the two children’s groups which have experience of long Covid. But, if I heard correctly, perhaps I might just set the record straight. I think the noble Baroness said that the Government are providing tutoring to the people who usually get it. I think the whole point of the Government’s tutoring programme is to get tutoring to all the people who do not usually get it.
Since June 2020 we have committed a total of nearly £5 billion over five years until 2024-25 to fund a comprehensive recovery package, focusing on the evidence of what works. We are providing support to all pupils while prioritising the most disadvantaged, vulnerable and those with the least time left in education.
On Amendment 86A, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, deprivation factors are central to our funding system, and we will discuss this further in the next grouping. The income deprivation among children index, known as IDACI, is one of three measures we use to fund deprivation in the national funding formula. The factor was included within the formula following extensive consultation prior to its introduction in 2018. As with the index of multiple deprivation, IDACI is a measure of relative deprivation between geographical areas but has a more specific focus on children and that is why we felt that it was the more appropriate measure to use here.
The national funding formula allocates 3.7% of its funding to IDACI, reflecting levels of deprivation where pupils live. It is important that we retain the flexibility to develop the factors within the funding formula outside of legislation, as we currently do, so that we can continue to allocate funding fairly, according to needs, if and when new measures of need are developed.
It is in some ways reassuring to hear what the Minister is saying. However, does she not accept that we have a situation where the lowest funding is going to parts of the country with the poorest outcomes? However much the Government think they are allowing for these factors, if something is going wrong, either the formula needs to be reconsidered in some respects or other measures need to be put in place to address this.
The Government have worked hard. I know the noble Baroness is familiar with the data, but if she looks at the most recent allocations, we are, dare I say it, trying to level up funding to the areas which she and the Government rightly care about. I think others in the Committee will understand very well that these are not things that can be moved quickly, and if we were moving quicker than we are there would be challenge on that. We expect this to be a slow process but the direction of travel is very clear. The noble Baroness will also be aware that in those areas beyond the core schools budget there is also significant investment, particularly through the education investment areas and the priority education investment areas, which cover—I think I remember rightly—55 local authorities across the country for the EIAs and 20 for the priority areas, where they are getting significant additional help.
On Amendment 84 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, on the affordability of home-to-school transport for 16 to 19 year-olds, it is for local authorities to determine the level of support available, including whether to offer free or subsidised travel, as many authorities do. Responsibility for securing home-to-school transport should continue to rest with local authorities because they are best placed to co-ordinate it locally. It would therefore be inappropriate to include it in the national funding formula, which directs funding to schools rather than local authorities. These funding provisions also apply only to pupils between the ages of five and 16.
On Amendment 97ZA, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Knight, of course I welcome the opportunity to discuss sustainability, which is, as the noble Lord said and as all your Lordships are aware, an issue of paramount importance. Noble Lords may be aware of our recently announced strategy for sustainability and climate change, which was co-created with young people and which I think has been very well received. It includes setting sustainability leadership and the introduction of climate action plans, which will include mitigation.
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord on empowering pupils. He will be aware that part of the strategy relates to the National Education Nature Park, which empowers young people through both the information that they gather and the skills that they will learn in their work in relation to the nature park, which we very much hope will stand them in good stead in future life. More generally, the framework set by the Bill does not intend for the actual content of the funding formula to be specified in legislation, so any such detailed provisions would not be dealt with here.
Lastly, I turn to Amendments 92 and 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. Many of his remarks were about the wider relationship between local authorities and central government. He will be aware that we have been working with local authorities over several years to implement this reform and we will continue to do so. Ultimately, however, if we want the same pupil to attract the same funding based on their needs, wherever they go to school, we must complete the move to a consistent national funding formula.
I may have to write to the noble Lord on that. However, he will know that, through the Education and Skills Funding Agency—the ESFA—we already deal with payments to, as I think he said, roughly 10,000 schools. I would hope that the infrastructure that has been built to do that would allow scaling without having to increase staff in a direct proportion. However, I will write to him to clarify that.
Specifically regarding local authorities, there is a key interaction between schools and high-needs funding, which we are consulting on. The House will be aware that funding for high needs is increasing by £1 billion this year to a total of over £9 billion, which is an unprecedented investment in this area. Once we move to a direct national funding formula, local authorities will no longer calculate a local schools formula or transfer funding from the schools block to high needs. Clause 40 provides a new national-to-local budget reallocation mechanism from schools to high needs.
The Secretary of State will make final decisions to ensure national consistency, while still taking account of local circumstances. That could not occur if decision-making was left to 150 local authorities. Local authorities will still retain a key role in this process. They will initiate requests for funding transfers, setting out their rationale, and will consult with local schools. Overall, we think this strikes the right balance and aligns with the wider reforms in the recent SEND and AP Green Paper.
I hope that I have convinced your Lordships that the direct national funding formula will allow us fairly, consistently and transparently to fund schools on the basis of their needs. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to withdraw his Amendment 79 and I hope that other noble Lords will not move theirs.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate which has ranged very far and wide. I put in only an innocent little amendment to talk about the reserves of schools going into an academy trust or multi-academy trust. It is the gentlest of amendments, which the Minister ruthlessly swept away, saying that it would stifle the innovation and leadership of the multi-academy trust. However, behind it was an issue of substance, which is that the integrity of a whole school and its leadership is very important, and having control over its own budget goes with that.
Obviously, we have a load of interesting amendments around the whole concept of fair funding of schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, spoke on rural schools. I totally agree with my noble friend Lord Davies; he might have mentioned Birmingham schools in his analysis of the issues that metropolitan schools face. My noble friend Lady Chapman, in looking at a region’s ranking in the index of multiple deprivation, sought to bring a holistic solution to the undoubted different issues and tensions that are faced.
I noted the Minister’s helpful comments. Whenever you have a funding formula, it is easier to shift money when you have real growth in the overall funding settlement. One of the problems we have at the moment has been the squeeze on school funding—my noble friend Lord Adonis made a telling intervention in our previous day in Committee. From my own experience, the health service has gone through its own funding formula. We had RAWP for many years, and then ACRA. It was all about the same issues of teeing up deprivation in rural and urban areas, age factors, and a population who are growing older. However, my goodness me, it was much easier to shift money when you had real growth in the system.
Just to be clear, there has been significant growth in funding in the system. In 2022-23, schools in the north-east, to which the noble Baroness opposite referred, will see a funding increase of 6.1%, with 5.9% in Yorkshire and the Humber. Small rural schools are attracting per pupil increases of 5.6%.
If my noble friend will allow me to butt in with some figures, London Councils points out that, between 2017-18 and 2020-21, 84% of schools in inner London saw a real-terms decrease in per pupil funding, compared with 55% in the rest of the country.
My noble friend may know that the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which is regarded as pretty authoritative on these things, has said that school spending per pupil in England fell by 9% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2019-20—the largest cut in over 40 years.
There we have it. Is it not good to have noble friends to fully apprise me of the facts?
I sympathise with what the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, said on transport costs for 16 to 18 year-olds. This is not an issue just in rural areas; at sixth-form schools in metropolitan areas, there is a huge movement of students. I know that, in Birmingham, there is an enormous movement of students, which can be costly.
I noted the noble Baroness’s comments about the EMA. I would gently say that it was a coalition Government decision to get rid of the EMA. I think that the EMA was one of the most brilliant initiatives—we still have it under a Labour Government in Wales—to encourage attendance at school. It is a great pity that it was removed.
I sympathise also with what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said on the impact of Covid.
On Amendments 92 and 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I agree with him about the centralisation of powers. There is an issue around how bureaucracy responds to it but it is also about the span of political control. I do not want to go back over the first 18 clauses of the Bill but it is about putting the two together. There is a desire for the Secretary of State to control everything, including funding. The implication is that, in the end, Ministers are going to have to account for individual school performance here. I do not think that they have really taken that into account. The line of accountability, including for dosh, is clear now; Ministers have taken responsibility. In the end, they will find it very difficult to say, “I’m not going to get involved in that; it’s nothing to do with us”, because I am afraid that it will be to do with them. That is why it really is not good to have such central powers in an education system.
What an uplifting contribution from my noble friend Lord Knight. I have skimmed the Times commission’s report. It has some wonderful ideas. What struck me is how uplifting it is. It gave me a positive feeling about what education could do, which drags us away from the rather dreary, exam-focused situation that we now find ourselves in. I almost thought that year 6 pupils might be able to enjoy their last year, instead of having incessant pressure from those wretched SATs at the end of the year. My noble friend is also right about pupil councils. In many cases, before we moved to the new system, the Lords outreach programme allowed us to engage with student councils. I found it a fantastic experience. Having some money tied in with sustainability is a wonderful idea indeed.
Finally, the Minister was a bit dismissive of my noble friend Lady Chapman’s Amendment 79C, which would introduce a requirement to report on academy funding and performance. I think that that is a very good idea. I would tie that into the remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, about transparency. I know the Minister says that this is all transparent but the process by which the funding formula is put together—it is the weightings that are so crucial—warrants greater transparency.
Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 79ZA (to Amendment 79) withdrawn.
Amendment 79 withdrawn.
Amendments 79A to 79C not moved.
Clause 31 agreed.
Clause 32: Part 1: regulations
Amendments 80 to 83 not moved.
Clause 32 agreed.
Clause 33: Nationally determined funding for schools in England
Amendments 84 to 86A not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.20 pm.