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Education: Multi Academy Trusts

Volume 820: debated on Wednesday 6 April 2022

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That the Grand Committee takes note of the growth of Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) in the school system, and the ways in which strong MATs can demonstrate their impact on the education of young people.

My Lords, I am so grateful to all noble Lords who have put down their names to speak on this important aspect of our state education service. I remind your Lordships of my education interests as listed in the register.

If your Lordships would indulge me, I shall take a few minutes to look back and outline the policies that led to multi-academy trusts as we know them today and to put on record my occasional involvement in them. In the mid-1980s, I wrote a policy paper for the then Education Secretary, Sir Keith Joseph, entitled Give Schools Their Own Cheque Book. He was excited by these ideas and asked the then Schools Minister, Bob Dunn, to look into them. Luckily, when Sir Keith left office, they were taken up by his successor, now the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. He saw that what was called local management of schools, giving most schools much more control of their own funding for everything except salaries, was added to the Education Reform Act 1988.

Just as importantly, schools were given the opportunity by that Act, as I had recommended, to opt out of local government control by a ballot of their parents. These were called grant-maintained schools, which were separate, autonomous, incorporated bodies, centrally funded per capita by the funding agency for schools. I was appointed by the Government to lead an organisation that encouraged and assisted schools wishing to opt out, and supported them once they had done so. I pay tribute to the many pioneering head teachers who sought that freedom and made excellent use of it to improve the standards in their schools.

The underlying philosophy was, of course, that autonomy would release schools to be far more responsive to the needs of students, their parents and local employers, and that the important education decisions would be taken by the professionals on the spot, guided by independent governors, and not by a town hall or Whitehall. I shall return to that principle a little later. I remember one head saying to me, “At last I have the authority to match my responsibilities.” Indeed, those schools had a freedom of action unknown outside the independent sector for many decades.

By every then available notification or measurement, those schools demonstrated great improvements. By the time that the incoming Labour Government’s 1998 Act had abolished grant-maintained status, over one-fifth of secondary schools were in the new sector, and some hundreds of primaries. These were returned wholly or partly to the control of local authorities. However, the idea of autonomy for state schools had been born, and I am glad to say that it was kept alive by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, when he produced a policy of independent city academies early on in the Labour Government. These at first were required to have commercial sponsors prepared to contribute up to £2 million to capital costs. That condition was later dropped and, in 2002, the word “city” was omitted from their title. The programme went rather more slowly than we had hoped, but there were 203 of these original academies by 2010.

The incoming coalition Secretary of State was my right honourable friend Michael Gove. He had been impressed during opposition by the Swedish project to allow parents and trusts to create free schools, and this was to be one of the reforms of the new coalition Government. There are some 550 such free schools today.

However, he will tell you that he and David Cameron were persuaded by me that a further policy was needed—one based on the grant-maintained schools of the 1990s—so the ensuing Academies Act 2010 allowed schools’ governing bodies to propose that they be converted to academy status. These so-called converter academies, created as exempt charities, were given a great deal of independence, particularly in the setting of staff salaries and divergences from the national curriculum. All schools which had been graded by Ofsted as outstanding were invited to apply and, by January 2011, 407 schools were accorded the new status.

From the beginning, it had always been recognised that, whereas many schools would wish to remain separate, individual establishments, others would be more comfortable in groups. Some of these groups would be informal and take advantage of, for instance, bulk purchase arrangements for goods and services, such as ground maintenance, and others would be formally gathered under the same legal trustees. These latter would become the multi-academy trusts as we now know them, which are the subject of today’s debate.

Eleven years later, there is now a total of 1,460 multi- academy trusts managing two schools or more. Of these trusts, 41% have five schools or fewer; 18% have between six and 11; 6% have between 12 and 25; and about 2% have more than 25 schools. Last year, 37% of primary schools and 78% of secondary schools had academy status, and the numbers are slowly rising.

Last week’s White Paper looks forward to:

“A fully trust led system with a single regulatory approach”.

Although the regulatory approach is not explained in detail, there is specific commitment to avoid converting schools as stand-alone academies and the expectation that most trusts will be on a trajectory to serve a minimum of 7,500 pupils, or at least 10 schools, by 2030.

Multi-academy trusts are therefore here to stay, and most of them are doing extraordinarily well, but the trend is towards larger ones. At the moment, some have 50 schools or more. This trend is worrying, because the most recent statistics, from 2019, demonstrate how those trusts are doing. To measure primary schools, a percentage of pupils reaching an agreed acceptable standard in literacy and numeracy was used. For instance, the Staffordshire Schools Multi Academy Trust had 90% of pupils meeting those standards. What stands out clearly is that all the trusts in the top 10 primary achievers comprised four or fewer schools and the largest primary multi-academy trusts did uniformly badly, the highest scoring of these ranking at number 32.

For secondary schools, the measurement was of the percentage of students achieving the English baccalaureate at grade 5/C or above. Seven out of the top 10 secondary trusts had five or fewer schools, and the remaining had six, eight and 10, respectively. Throughout, the larger multi-academy trusts did poorly compared to the smaller trusts, and by far the majority of high-performing trusts had fewer than 10 schools. The conclusion from this is inescapable: if we want pupils to do well, they ought to be in either stand-alone outstanding schools or in the smaller multi-academy trusts.

The Government ought therefore to consider reviewing their aims in the White Paper better to reflect the actualities of high achievement in the trusts and make about 10 schools the highest number, as opposed to the target number, to be looked after by a single trust. Large trusts having above this number ought to be gradually dissolved and separated into the hands of smaller trusts, where they would flourish.

There are also in the system at the moment a large number of outstanding stand-alone academies, as well as stand-alone voluntary schools. Among these, for instance, are the 163 grammar schools. It would be completely unacceptable for many of these schools to be coerced into multi-academy trusts. For many of them, their centuries-old rules and regulations would not allow it. My advice to the Government is to leave them well alone if they are achieving well alone.

Why are the small multi-academy trusts and many of the stand-alone academies doing well? I suggest it is because they use their autonomy wisely to be responsive to student and parental needs—parents are well represented on their governing bodies—and because they better understand the needs of local people and local employers. Large trusts are likely to be less encouraging of initiatives by individual schools and more likely to envelop their schools in bureaucracy. My visits to large trust schools suggest that their heads are rather too willing to refer important decisions upwards to the trust bosses, instead of taking them themselves. Some of these large trusts encompass schools many miles apart, yet they tend towards a one-size-fits-all approach to management.

Advocates of larger trusts mention that schools in them can achieve economies of scale, share many resources, centralise functions and ensure robust financial management. In fact, a small trust can achieve all these and more, and, as these statistics show, improve classroom standards as well. Some of the big trusts have recently come under criticism for paying their chief executives very large salaries. Indeed, some 30 trust chiefs earn more than £200,000 per annum—£40,000 more than the Prime Minister’s salary—including seven at between £250,000 and £500,000. If, as the performance figures suggest, larger trusts are not doing as well as the smaller trusts, it is difficult to defend these very high earnings paid from public money.

A policy of larger and larger multi-academy trusts and the disappearance of stand-alone academy schools would inevitably lead to two unwelcome consequences. First, there is the risk that standards will drop rather than improve for those schools as their trust gets larger. Secondly, there is likely to be less responsiveness to local needs. Many authorities ran their schools inefficiently, but at least they could claim a local democratic mandate. Localised multi-academy trusts tend to be responsive, because they have local business men and women and parents on their governing bodies.

Clearly, if standards are to rise throughout the school service, we need as much flexibility as we can achieve within it. We need a large number of autonomous, stand-alone outstanding schools and trusts of two, three or four schools—all trusts having fewer than about 10. We need to give schools already in large trusts the right, if they can prove their worth, to opt out of those trusts and go it alone. The more variety there is in the system, the more highly achieving it will be. The White Paper looks forward to

“a dynamic system of strong trusts … to improve schools”.

I agree with this entirely. A strong trust, however, need not be a large one. All the indications are that it should not be. Large trusts were seen as essential when the policy began—I remember it well—but now they could be standing in the way of progress. As I said, I believe they should be divided into smaller units where necessary.

No one could be more supportive of the concept of academies than me, and I have not changed my view that the best schools are led by first-class heads and dedicated local governors, untrammelled by unnecessary bureaucracy, regulation and interference from government at all levels, and are given as much autonomy within the system as possible.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, on bringing this debate, and I absolutely welcome the opportunity to speak in it, but I may not make remarks that are entirely consistent with his approach.

Regarding some of the things the noble Lord said, as he knows, before we had LMS we had local financial management; I just add that to his history of education. I believe he said that schools will be given their own cheque books, but it is not always schools; it is sometimes the trusts, and that does not necessarily play to the advantage of every school. Autonomy can be a moot point.

The schools that Michael Gove allowed to become academies had, of course, become outstanding as members of their local authorities; they were outstanding schools, and then they changed status. I am very interested in what evidence the noble Lord has—I will come on to this later in my remarks—for the assertion that, the more variety there is in the system, the higher achieving it will be. I would be delighted to have that conversation with him at some other point.

As has been noted by the noble Lord and various papers, primary schools have been much more reluctant to change their status and have chosen, in large numbers, to remain with their local authorities. But, often, they have collaborated with other schools that have remained in their local authorities. Indeed, sometimes they have also collaborated with primary schools that are in multi-academy trusts or local stand-alone trusts, and it seems to me that that has worked quite well.

As chair of the Public Accounts Committee in the other place, my honourable friend Meg Hillier has noted that MATs have had a somewhat chequered history regarding the processes for tackling what she described as “egregious” financial and other mismanagement, and that they appear “painfully slow” and “lacking transparency”. As noble Lords will know, some cases have arrived in the courts. I entirely concur with the noble Lord: it is not a question of mismanagement, but there are questions about the very large sums of money being expended on leadership salaries, particularly if the schools are not doing especially well.

It is true that the White Paper is anxious to say that all schools should become part of a trust by 2030 or should have plans to join or form one. But that, of course, is fully two decades since the Academies Act, and if it is such an attractive proposition, I wonder why it has taken so long for schools to see that. Is this actually one of the reasons why we see a nod in the direction of local authorities being sponsors of multi-academy trusts in the White Paper?

Of course, in the White Paper there is talk of stronger local schools. I again agree with many of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, said there. Some MATs are made up of schools that are spread across the country and it is therefore hard to see how they can have any kind of serious local connection. The Ormiston trust, for example, stretches from Liverpool to the Isle of Wight—scarcely a local area.

Her Majesty’s Government are at pains to talk about evidence-based policy but is that really accurate? None other than Professor Stephen Gorard has recently written about this and, frankly, he doubts it. However, I am going to draw on the work of Warwick Mansell. Many noble Lords interested in education will have read a lot of what he has written over the years. He has a long history of scrutinising education policy and I shall reference three observations that he makes about evidence-based policy.

Mr Mansell wrote to the DfE to ask for the evidence base for the introduction of the times table test for year 4. He asked why it is apparently better to have recall of multiplication facts rather than knowing how to achieve answers through understanding and reasoning. He did not get a reply. On the question of GCSE modern foreign languages, in which I have a particular interest because it was a subject that I taught as a secondary teacher, there is no published evidence base for changing the approach to teaching them. Teaching unions and a number of other people have said that there is no evidence for, and they are not at all happy about, structuring languages in the way in which the Government intend. The third example is on coasting schools, on which the DfE says it sees strong academy trusts as the key vehicle to improving educational standards. However, in 2018, the then Permanent Secretary at the DfE, Jonathan Slater, admitted to MPs that there was no proof that forcing schools to become academies was better value than leaving them with local authorities. Therefore, academies policy and a lot of other educational policy, Mansell concludes, is not made on a hugely definitive evidence base at national level.

Even the numbers that have been used in the White Paper are either open to interpretation or perhaps even slightly suspect. This is a quote, which states:

“Where schools underperformed, they were increasingly transferred into multi academy trusts … as sponsored academies. The impact has been transformative—more than 7 out of 10 sponsored academies are now rated Good or Outstanding compared to about 1 in 10 of the local authority maintained schools they replaced.”

It says, “compared to” but it should say “compared with”, actually. The paper says that the department is so impressed by the claim that it puts that in bold on page 1 of the White Paper. But, of course, that is not a fair comparison because a large proportion of sponsor-led academies were previously rated as less than good. However, a fair comparison would be this: 90% of maintained schools that were previously rated as less than good improved to be good or outstanding, whereas only 74% of sponsor-led academies improved to be good or outstanding. Some 11% of maintained schools that are currently rated as less than good were previously good or outstanding, whereas 28% of sponsor-led academies were downgraded. One has therefore to look at the way in which the evidence is being used.

A briefing from the LSE produced for this debate—so other noble Lords may have seen it—makes a number of points and interesting observations. I will pick two. The briefing states:

“Academies in MATs also can have no autonomy over their curriculum”,

because it is the MATs that decide about the curriculum. The briefing continues:

“This can be centralised by the MAT, giving schools less flexibility than they would have”

had as a single academy or, “as maintained schools”. On the financial arrangements, the briefing states:

“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”.

I think there are some questions about the particular advantages of MATs. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, that if we have to have this system—and I would prefer that we did not—smaller and local would be considerably better than enormous and widespread.

I conclude with this from The Case for a Fully Trust-led System. I quoted earlier from a document from the National Education Union. Noble Lords will know that I had a relationship with the National Union of Teachers, which was the precursor union of the NEU. The Government document notes the percentage of schools in MATs per region. The region that has the smallest number of MATs is London. There was a time when schools in London were not especially well performing. It was patchy: there were some excellent schools, but it was not especially well performing. What happened was that London—and I am proud that I was teaching in London then—put on the London Challenge, a wholly different approach from academizing; it was about schools working together. I venture to suggest that the reason why there are fewer MATs in the London region is because the success of the London Challenge propelled schools forward in wanting to work together while retaining their relationship with their local authority. I hope that the Minister agrees.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Lingfield for tabling this debate. Like many in your Lordships’ House, I would not be here without the great state schools of Catmose College and Rutland County College, which is now Harington School. If these schools had failed, my parents would not have been able to get me to the next secondary school, even though it was a merely 20-minute drive away, as they worked shifts. I think Rutland may be great in terms of the ambitions of the White Paper, as it may be close to full academisation. I hope the Minister can update me.

MATs should free everybody to do what they are best at. They hold land and have changed the Department for Education. I shall make just three points about them. Freeing everyone to do what is best is regrettably not part of what is mentioned in the White Paper. It takes great teachers and leaders to run a school, and the research is very clear about their effect in delivering the best curriculum across their family of schools, but what about great teaching assistants, fantastic estate management and food? In a cost of living crisis with more than 20% of children currently eligible for free school meals, great cooks are needed. Of course, governors are volunteers giving their time to the next generation, and the hidden figures are the school business professionals who are running the operational side of schools, especially the money.

I have to say that I was sad to read a White Paper that neglected to mention the majority of the school workforce. This is what, at its best, the MATs model should deliver by freeing every member to deliver their best. According to Ofsted, after the pandemic leaders in MATs felt more supported, as these back-office functions were done for them. MATs have also enabled some of our best schools to share their best practice, such as Wallington County Grammar School as the anchor school of Folio Education Trust, which has opened Coombe Wood School in Croydon, which is already the most popular school in the borough. I disagree with my noble friend: it is a problem in the system to have schools sitting in what I would term splendid outstanding isolation and not contributing their best to the system, which this grammar school head is clearly leading the way in doing. MATs also enable innovation to come into the system, such as Harmonize Academy in Liverpool which is an outstanding AP free school—outstanding under the new framework I might add—founded by a black-led church group led by Tani and Modupe Omideyi.

This freeing up of everyone to do what they are best at is also important in the context of small rural schools which often have limited resources. I am delighted that the Church of England has publicly stated that it will bring large numbers of these schools into the academy sector. Alas, the increased funding under the national funding formula for such schools and local authority presumption against closure is not bringing the protection that many thought it would. Not all these schools can be saved, but grouping them in a MAT is their best chance of survival and enables them to deliver high-quality education across often very small schools.

To deal with the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, I am not sure that we will ever solve the research problem of proving the results of MATs vis-à-vis the maintained sector. It is a dynamic picture. For many years, every inadequate maintained school has been statutorily converted into an academy, so the comparison data is very difficult, as failure in the maintained sector is brought into the academy sector. With the excellent consultation on dealing with repeat RI-judged schools and the power to make them academised, the data is going to be even more skewed.

On holding land, to my surprise, less than 1% of schools is on land owned by the DfE. It is the local authority, diocese and the occasional university or FE college, private charitable trusts and, of course, now MATs, which have publicly funded buildings on their land. In legal jargon, they are the responsible body for the land and buildings, but the funding for repairs and renewal is on the taxpayers. The DfE is probably England’s largest building client. I pause to give my huge thanks to building contractors, responsible bodies and the excellent DfE capital team. Although the DfE had more than its fair share of news headlines during the pandemic, school places not being built was not the cause of them. When you cannot command building supplies, as you are not categorised as critical national infrastructure, this was no mean feat.

The estate is still mainly that built to serve the post-war baby boom in a time of shortage of building materials—and, therefore, the development was of materials and system builds much of which are at the end, or near the end, of their design life. This might seem a dull issue, but I think that it is an important one. The DfE is, I think for the third time, doing an external survey of the entire school estate, so it has expert evidence of which are the worst buildings. Any of those responsible bodies can be weak—Croydon, of course, recently went bankrupt—or an LA may have recently failed an Ofsted social care inspection. Dioceses have varying degrees of health. The General Synod recently outlined in its report that some are solvent only due to central funds. The Catholic Archdiocese of Liverpool is struggling with educational standards, and MATs may be known to the department to be struggling for any of the reasons above. SATs or very small MATs may be the responsible body for some of our worst buildings.

I have been so impressed by my noble friend’s expertise on data, so I hope that this is a question after her own heart. Can she give assurances that data is cross-referenced in the department so that any weak responsible body is checked to ensure that its buildings are not at risk? Much of the time, that would just be a constructive phone call—but if the DfE knows that a small MAT has one of its worst buildings after being surveyed and that it is not applying to the department for the money to do repairs, is a red flag raised? While other building safety issues are in the headlines in the Grenfell inquiry, it cannot be said that MPs are not raising the state of school buildings. It could be one of their top concerns. Alas, noble Lords will remember the issue last November at Rosemead Preparatory School in Dulwich, where a ceiling collapsed and injured—thankfully, not seriously—a number of children. Had this issue had been spotted by the independent schools inspector or Ofsted, whoever inspects it, or are changes necessary to the frameworks to ensure that such matters are noted in future inspections?

Finally, on a changed DfE, it has gone from sending out money to local authorities to fund schools to managing the performance, currently, of thousands of contracts, which may become in the White Paper the statutory academy trust standards. The ESFA and the regions group as well as the capital department means that the DfE is massively an operational department, not a policy delivery model. When the pandemic struck, the DfE already had a small army of officials overseeing the educational performance of contracts with MATs. They already knew the regions, schools, LAs and the issues on the ground, and were turned into what noble Lords may remember were called the REAC teams. I want to thank them. They were led at the time by the National Schools Commissioner, Dominic Herrington, and worked night and day to support schools and LAs during the pandemic. But they also achieved the transfer of many failed schools to new academy trusts while also running the REACT operation.

Disadvantaged children were affected by missing school, and the effects were even more acute if you were in a school that Ofsted had judged inadequate or requiring improvement. The Children’s Commissioner’s excellent report on schools includes all the necessary data on this issue, but I might flag that that report and the White Paper all rely on the pre-pandemic 2019 data. In her report it said that, if you were a child on free school meals, or a child in need or SEND, you were more likely to be in such schools and less likely to get good GCSE passes.

I wholly welcome the consultation on RI schools to give the Secretary of State powers to intervene—currently to cancel the contracts—but it does not make the depth of the issue clear. Although it states that over 200 have been rated “requires improvement” five times or more, some have been RI six, seven, eight, nine or 11 times. These children have been in schools that have been less than good for more than a decade. One school in the system, an 11-RI school, has never been judged good by Ofsted since the very existence of Ofsted.

The areas of the country will come as no surprise. The north-east in general and Stoke-on-Trent have a problem with secondary schools being repeatedly RI. This power of intervention is vital to any levelling-up agenda, but how long will parents whose children are in an inadequate or repeat-RI school, whether maintained or an academy—and we should be as firm about academies that fail as maintained schools—wait for that new leadership? The current MAT system based on contractual regulation or a future system could be nimble and deal swiftly with failure.

While it might be right that MATs should come under a duty to co-operate, failed schools are often stuck, because not all local authorities co-operate, although they are under a duty to facilitate the conversion. Sadly, not all Anglican dioceses consent swiftly to their failed schools going into the neighbouring Anglican diocese’s MAT. Are inadequate schools still stuck in the Archdiocese of Liverpool, as only a Catholic-led MAT will do and there are not enough of them? Or are the schools stuck as the MAT refuses, perhaps rightly, to become responsible for buildings that are in need of significant repair?

Although it is excellent to offer a parental pledge to notify you that your child is behind in English or maths, if they are in a failed school, do you not also need a pledge about the maximum time to get the school under new leadership? Can my noble friend outline how long is the DfE aim for this new leadership to be in place? What is the average time to get a failed maintained school into a MAT or transferred at the moment? Will legislation be needed to deal with any of these issues? Sadly, the White Paper is silent on what are, as I have outlined, some of the main blocks to a swift transfer of failed schools.

Finally, the failed schools in the system, as noted by the Children’s Commissioner and from my experience in the DfE, have disproportionate numbers of free school meal and SEND children in them. Also, too many of our good and outstanding schools have free school meal and SEND percentages in low single figures. I found this infuriating. I was disappointed by the lack of consideration to the use of the admissions code or Ofsted’s framework to insist that all schools take a minimum of the national percentage of both categories or, as the Children’s Commissioner suggests, to give certain categories of children priority admissions, as was done for looked-after children.

Parts of the White Paper are ambitious—the statutory academy trust framework, local authorities directing academies to take certain pupils and the SEND review on national standards across all schools—but if you cannot get disadvantaged and SEND pupils into some of our best schools, I fear the ambition we all have for our most disadvantaged children will not be met.

Rather belatedly, I conclude by congratulating my noble friend on the proficient and accessible way she has taken on her ministerial role. As I hope was clear in my time at the Dispatch Box and in this speech, I am passionate about education, especially for the disadvantaged. If you have to lose your job, it is great to have a friend, not only a noble friend, take it on. I also wish to thank what I used to term “the two Mikes”—the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Watson—whose forthright and knowledgeable opposition I always respected. Although he is not present in your Lordships’ House today, I always valued the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on the needs of SEND children. As I believe officials would testify, this was woven into everything for which I had responsibility.

Although governing during a pandemic was challenging —and I often felt like I was living in a bunker—I cannot conclude without thanking the civil servants who served me and my private office especially when, for long periods, we physically saw only each other. They offered me much wisdom and humour, and I was a better Minister because of them.

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak after hearing from two such knowledgeable noble Baronesses. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, for this debate on multi-academy trusts and for his considerable contribution to education over many years. I declare my interests as chair of the expert panel for the new national plan for music education and governor of Shoreditch Park academy, one of 10 schools in the City of London Academies Trust.

I congratulate the Minister on the sharp focus of the White Paper, and particularly on its inclusion of cultural education and music—a brief mention, but there none the less, which is very important. Music education could play an important part in driving up standards, particularly in primary schools. The benefits of music are well rehearsed: for example, improved memory, concentration, self-control and self-confidence. This has been endorsed by research from Germany published recently by the Justus Liebig University in Giessen.

Many, if not most, multi-academy trusts recognise the value of music and have embraced it as an essential part of their curriculum and school life. In one City of London academy, 40% of year 11 pupils are taking music GCSE, having had no experience of music in their primary schools. This pattern is seen elsewhere. Ark Schools reports that there has been a 200% increase in take-up of GCSE music. United Learning has put music at the centre of all its schools.

I give one example of a school in Northamptonshire that has flourished, I believe, partly as a result of its commitment to music: the Malcolm Arnold Academy. All pupils have access to one-to-one instrumental tuition. Pupils can join one of the school’s four choirs, as well as—wait for the list—the brass ensemble, folk group, concert band, big band, jazz group or rock band. They have all been covered there. Provision is also designed to be fully inclusive, with the school’s designated special provision for pupils with moderate, severe or profound permanent bilateral hearing loss. There are examples such as this in MATs up and down the country, with high academic standards and a commitment to brilliant music education for all.

Some primaries that are not part of a MAT are undoubtedly providing an excellent education, including music, but what of those that are struggling and cannot afford to provide musical instruments for all pupils and music teachers to teach music? Putting music at the heart of a primary school can be transformative. Feversham Primary Academy in Bradford is a textbook example. It is a school in one of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, with 27% eligible for pupil premium and 78% with English as a second language. In 2012, it was in special measures. In 2022, it is rated an outstanding school. This has been achieved thanks to the vision of the headmaster, who recognised the value of music—that it could add so much to the community and the school. Every one of the 500 pupils has three hours of timetabled music every week and learns to play an instrument.

My point is that, increasingly, multi-academy trusts are recognising the important role that music can play in a school, driving up standards across the board. They are finding means and ways to deliver excellent, fully inclusive music education to all pupils, irrespective of their background or family circumstance, alongside a rigorous academic education—precisely because they are part of a committed academy trust. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the incentives being considered to persuade more schools, particularly small primaries, to become part of an academy trust.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, for securing this debate. We note the growth of multi-academy trusts in the school system and the ways in which strong MATs can demonstrate an impact on the education of young people, although it depends on what we mean by “impact”—I will come to that in a moment. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, and I particularly thank the NEU and Professor Anne West for her briefing.

I have always said, “It’s not structure, stupid”—it is about good-quality teachers and the importance of the leadership of any school. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, on that—it is good to see her again talking about education in person, as opposed to looking at her on a screen. As politicians, we talk all the time about structures and the types of schools that we want. One of the reasons that I continued in local politics was that I saw a rather extreme council in Liverpool which decided in the 1980s that all secondary schools would be co-ed and community based and have seven forms of entry, and decided their curriculum. Very good schools and good schools which did not fit into that model—single-sex schools, former grammar schools and small schools—were ruthlessly closed down. Again, we think about structures and not teachers. If we invested in proper training in leadership qualities and proper remuneration and reward for teachers, and if we allowed only good teachers to teach in our schools—I remember Michael Gove always talking about Finland, and I wish we had followed the Finnish model—we would be in a much better place.

Of course, as we have heard, academies were started by Labour as the city academies in 2000, and our very own noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who was then a Downing Street education adviser, is widely credited with the idea and their development. We hear that education is central to the Government’s levelling-up agenda—quite rightly—but, in levelling up, we surely want fairness and equal opportunities for all children and, of course, we want transparency. As the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, said, there is a huge difference between the original stand-alone academies and the schools now in multi-academy trusts. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, reminded us, individual academies in multi-academy trusts have no legal identity of their own and have precious little independence; decision-making and the ability to be free from central control, which were promised and espoused by successive Ministers, have gone. Many of them find themselves straitjacketed by the multi-academy trust itself.

It is the MAT, rather than individual schools, that has the legal status and holds a contract with the Secretary of State. This means that schools in MATs have no automatic freedom or ability to make decisions relating to their running and policies, as individual stand-alone academies and maintained schools currently still do. It is like “Back to the Future”: in the past, local councils appointed the head teachers and deputy head teachers, told their schools what they could or could not do, decided what the curriculum would be, et cetera. We have almost got to that stage again, and we want that original view that all our schools should be free to innovate.

I was really heartened to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Fleet, talk about creative subjects in MATs. I was delighted to hear what she said and want to have a conversation with her some time about it, but I am sorry to disagree slightly: if we look at MATs as a whole, the success story in creative subjects that she speaks about is just not there, for all sorts of reasons, particularly in music. Music, which she cares passionately about, is declining. If individual schools had that freedom, it might be that music and other creative subjects would blossom once more.

As they have no individual legal identity, academies in MATs cannot extract themselves from the MAT to exist as an independent entity or to join another MAT. This can leave good, ambitious academies bound to low-performing MAT schools. We know that in maintained schools the governing body sets the ethos, vision and direction and appoints the headteacher. Its composition is set by statute, governors must have the skills to govern and meetings must be reported. We now find MATs without governing bodies, in which governing bodies are seen to get in the way a bit. If you have MATs with individual schools all over the country in them, it is surely crucial that governing bodies exist.

However, in academies, decisions are often taken without transparency by trustees whose appointment is opaque and who may have little, if any, educational expertise or experience. Many academies in MATs have no individual power over governance arrangements and in some cases have been locked into contracts that are no longer appropriate to the values and direction of the staff and pupils. High-performing academies are forced into a MAT on the basis of a single, historic Ofsted report.

Admissions policies for the academies in MATs are overseen by the MAT, with some very questionable admission arrangements. That was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blower. The Government say that academies are free to choose the curriculum for their pupils. This is a complete fallacy because in the MAT there is less flexibility, with the centre often deciding the curriculum. I heard of a school in a very strong ethnic community which had no black studies as part of its curriculum. If it were an individual school, it might have the freedom to decide not to do what the MAT or chief executive told it to do and to have a curriculum unit on black studies.

The lack of transparency in the financial arrangements of MATs has caused real concern. MATs are using public money to pay excessive salaries beyond the boundaries of the schoolteachers’ pay and conditions framework that governs maintained schools. It has also allowed MATs to pay compensation costs without setting out how much public money was used to cover them by using opaque reporting practices to hide payments. Just by chance, the Answer to my Question on excessive salaries for chief executives of MATs came to me today. I am grateful to the Minister for the reply. The noble Baroness, Lady Barran, rightly says:

“It is … essential that we have the best people to lead our schools if we are to raise standards.”

That is absolutely right. She also says—I am grateful for this comment—in her final paragraph:

“The department continues to challenge high pay where it is neither proportionate nor directly linked to improving pupil outcomes.”

This is the crucial line, and we will see what happens:

“We have been reviewing our current approach to challenging high pay and will start engaging trusts on our findings”,

because currently trusts can pay what they like, and many pay their chief executive more than our Prime Minister. Surely that cannot be right.

The procurement practices of academy trusts, as we also heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, are a real concern. Related-party transactions, which are business arrangements between the MAT and a body with which those responsible for the governance of the academy have a personal connection, were worth £120 million in 2015-16 and numbered 3,000 transactions. It cannot be right that lucrative contracts go to companies owned by the chief executive of the MAT. There are numerous examples of where chief executives have got contracts from their business connections.

There should be a common rulebook for all state-funded schools to establish coherence across the system and deliver equality of opportunity for all pupils. The admissions processes should be transparent for all schools and administered by local authorities on behalf of all schools to ensure fairness for all parents and children. All academies should have their legal status restored. MAT accounts should show how all public money is spent and be subject to Ofsted inspection. We have a golden opportunity now. The forthcoming education Bill will give us an opportunity to highlight these issues and, where necessary, to put down amendments to make this happen.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, for affording us an early opportunity to debate the main plank—it could be argued that it is the only substantive plank—of the Government’s White Paper on schools published last week. I commend him for the balanced approach he evinced on the White Paper. At the start, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for her kind remarks. It is most pleasant again to see her on her feet during an education debate.

In his foreword to the White Paper, the Secretary of State said that the Government’s aim is to increase the standard of reading, writing and maths at the end of key stage 2 from its current level of 65% to 90% while also improving the average GCSE grade in English language and maths by 2030. We wholeheartedly back these aims and very much hope that they will be achieved, but we believe the main drivers will be well-trained, well-paid, well-supported and well-motivated teachers, head teachers and support staff, irrespective of the type of school in which they teach.

The success or failure in achieving an overall rise in standards across schools, both primary and secondary, will not rest on the vast majority being corralled into multi-academy trusts, particularly if that is counter to the will of the schools themselves. That said, there is no evidence in the White Paper that compulsory academisation is the Government’s aim, despite the idea being widely trailed to the education media since the turn of the year. From the perspective of head teachers and teachers whom I have spoken to since the White Paper appeared, specifically on academisation, the main issue is the lack of clarity about what is being proposed. Their frustration is clear due to continuous references to outstanding MATs yet no acknowledgement of very successful local authorities with few academies and many successful maintained schools.

This bias is not new. In its attempts over the past decade to make academies in general, and MATS in particular, the only show in town, the DfE has consistently played down the achievements of schools in the maintained sector. How much time, for instance, do regional schools commissioners, whose role, according to the DfE website, is

“to work with schools to ensure they are supported to improve and to address underperformance”,

spend working with maintained schools to help them improve what they are already doing, as opposed to proselytising for academy conversion? Not that they have been notably successful in that quest because, as other noble Lords have mentioned and the White Paper states, after 12 years, only 44% of schools are academies, and only 87% of those are in a MAT.

I take issue not so much with the White Paper but with the companion DfE policy document, The Case for a Fully Trust-led System. The document contains the inconvenient truth for the DfE that maintained schools are doing better than those in MATs in Ofsted inspections. Indeed, analysis by the National Education Union referred to above my noble friend Lady Blower, has shown that the DfE has systematically misreported Ofsted grades for many schools. It mentioned DfE claiming schools were in multi-academy trusts when those grades were actually achieved when they were in the maintained sector.

Looking at the full picture of the data portrays a markedly different situation to the one that the DfE is trying to present. In fact, maintained schools are more likely to improve their Ofsted rating to good or outstanding than sponsor-led academies, and sponsor-led academies are more than twice as likely to have their Ofsted rating downgraded to “requires improvement” or “demonstrates serious weaknesses” than maintained schools.

What does all that mean? Perhaps the Minister can say, but the way the information is presented is not consistent, and that is a major problem. Perhaps she will be able to comment on those misrepresentations. The real figures would not lead many to the conclusion that the answer to school improvement is wall-to-wall MATs.

Arguably, the most important claim in the case for a fully trust-led system is, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Blower, that more than seven out of 10 sponsored academies are now rated good or outstanding, compared with about one in 10 of the local authority-maintained schools they replaced. There is no evidence anywhere in the DfE’s data that only one in 10 local authority schools became good or outstanding. That data actually shows that, if a school remains in local authority hands, it is more likely to improve then if it becomes an academy. Equally, 74% of what the DfE describes as coasting schools are currently academies, compared to 44% of schools overall.

The problem with the White Paper and the DfE’s obsession with MATs is that it has made its decision, written the headlines and is now faced with making the figures fit the narrative to serve those headlines. Such a narrative is a chimera. We heard recently that the Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency—a title which I suspect is itself a chimera—is comfortable offering what he calls alternative facts. It is disappointing that some in the DfE have grasped the same lifeline.

As my noble friend Lady Blower mentioned, the White Paper’s use of terminology about a family of schools within a MAT is frequent. As the Minister will recall, I raised this issue with her last week, when noble Lords had the opportunity to comment on the Statement supporting the White Paper. This is a question of geography. It is difficult to understand how some MATs scattered across the country can be seen as families of schools in any meaningful way if people never see each other. The Minister recognised this in her reply to me last week when she said:

“We will be working hard on commissioning to make sure we have geographically coherent trusts, so they can benefit from all that that offers.”—[Official Report, 29/3/22; col. 1587.]

Well, that is how to plan for any new MATs, but what about those already in existence?

The White Paper gives no indication as to how the full academisation target will be met, let alone the ending of stand-alone academy trusts. The only machinery proposed relates to schools with two “requires improvement” findings and those that compliant local authorities are able to persuade to join their MAT. Stand-alone academies are often very successful schools, and they are unlikely to want to submerge their autonomy and individuality into a MAT where some distant figure can tell them what they can and cannot do.

Let it be said that many of these schools will also have built community support because they have been successful. I suspect that this would cause dilemmas for more than a few Tory MPs. The White Paper says that trusts

“use their collaborative structure to deliver outstanding literacy and numeracy outcomes for their children.”

There no doubt are trusts that choose to operate as a partnership of schools which is lacking in hierarchy, and for which the word “collaboration” might therefore be appropriate. However, in the vast majority of MATs the structure is one where the central trust board is in control. A collaborative structure suggests that individual schools within the organisation take decisions collectively. Again, this is not the model. The central trust of the accountable body is ultimately responsible for all decision-making and thus has the power to tell schools what to do. So the attraction of some sort of democratic system should be treated with caution, because accountability has been notably lacking in the MATs system as it has developed. Neither the White Paper nor the policy paper suggests that schools will be permitted to leave a MAT and move to another one, or to return to the maintained sector. Perhaps the Minister can say why not. Given what he said, the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, would welcome an answer to that question as well.

That is also true of admissions. Labour believes that local authorities, which already have responsibility for co-ordinating admissions to schools maintained by them and academies, should be responsible for admissions to all schools within their boundaries. However, the White Paper says that trusts will continue to be their own admissions authorities, with legislation planned to require trusts to follow the admissions code. That in itself is an admission that some MATs are not presently operating within the requirements of the code. I think that that is what the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, was referring to when she mentioned pupils with SEND. In fairness, the vast majority of trusts abide by both the spirit and letter of the admissions code, but there is no reason to provide an opportunity not to do so. There is no plausible educational benefit in a trust having its own admissions policy.

To be clear, we are not opposed to multi-academy trusts. We recognise that in many cases, schools that were underperforming have benefited greatly from joining a trust, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, in his introduction. As he said, they are here to stay. What we are saying is that where a school is not underperforming and wants to join a MAT, let it do so, although many schools have so far declined the invitation. Rules are not looked on as a panacea in the way in which the DfE and Ministers would like them to be.

Thousands of schools are doing very well either in the maintained sector or as stand-alone academies. They should not be put under pressure to change their status if they do not want to. Equally, many local authorities have successful maintained schools, and that should be allowed to continue without the local authorities having to form their own multi-academy trust. The Government are of course entitled to encourage such schools to join a MAT but they are not entitled to manipulate figures on school performance in pursuit of their aim of increasing the number of schools in MATs to make that offer seem more attractive than it actually is.

There is room for diversity within the schools system, and we believe that it is wrong to attempt to reduce it. That would not be in the interests of children and parents, nor would it serve to produce the flourishing school system mentioned by the Secretary of State in his introduction to the White Paper.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lingfield for securing this important debate and congratulate him on his vision, so long ago in the mid-1980s, in the work he proposed at the time. As we all know, it is still a work in progress but this Government are committed to delivering on it.

As noble Lords have said and as set out in our recently published White Paper, our mission is that by 2030, 90% of children will leave primary school having achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, and that at key stage 4 the average attainment in both English and maths will increase to grade 5. Currently, the average for children at key stage 2 is 65%, and for children with special educational needs it is around 22%. As my noble friend Lady Berridge pointed out, that is unacceptable and it is that on which we need to focus. I also thank her for her kind words, and possibly the best ministerial handover breakfast that either of us will ever have.

Strong multi-academy trusts—I stress “strong”—are absolutely central to achieving this ambition. Our priority is to extend their impact across the whole country, particularly in areas of high need. We want to remove barriers to conversion for all types of school, while strengthening the system in regulation and accountability, and making sure that every actor in it has a clear role. We believe that this will level up standards and ensure that every child has the best possible opportunity to succeed in the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, gave examples of how we would do this that related to chapters 1 and 2 of the schools White Paper, I think. He rightly said that this is done by having great teachers for every child, and the Government entirely agree. He also said that it is done by having a really strong curriculum based on evidence and supported by excellent behaviour and attendance—those are my words, not the noble Lord’s, but I do not think that he would disagree. As your Lordships are aware, that is supported by the parent pledge.

I must correct the noble Lord’s statement—forgive me if I do not quote him accurately—that the department picked a headline and then picked the facts to meet it because we had already conceived the policy. I give the noble Lord my word that I worked really hard with excellent officials on that and that is just not the way that we did it. We started with the targets that we wanted to achieve and looked at the evidence for how they could be delivered, and that is what your Lordships see in the White Paper.

We know that this matters so much because teachers and staff in all schools, whether maintained schools or academies, have been working tirelessly, particularly over the last two years, to achieve excellent outcomes for children. Trusts have been able to support teachers in schools where that challenge is greatest. The noble Baroness, Lady Blower, questioned why we referenced the seven out of 10 sponsored academies. Those were schools that were inadequate—many of them were failing for many years, as my noble friend pointed out—and had failed several children in the same families. We put that in bold because the successors of 434,000 children who were in inadequate schools are now in good or outstanding schools. Some 600,000 children in this country are still in inadequate or double-RI-plus schools. We are absolutely determined to make sure that we see an end to that.

On the NEU research that both the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, referred to, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, used the term “manipulate figures”, and I hope that he might retract that statement. I would be delighted to meet with both noble Lords. We are preparing a formal response to that paper, as we believe that there are misunderstandings, at best, within it. The claims are based on selective data and misrepresent the published evidence. As I say, we are preparing a full response for the NEU, and I would be delighted to take both noble Lords, and any other noble Lord, through the data that we used in putting together our proposals.

As I have said, we want all children to be educated in strong trusts, but we know that the system remains mixed at present, and many of our best schools operate alone. On my noble friend’s point about single-academy trusts, I say that they have so much to offer the system, with their leadership and innovations, and we want that to be shared across schools that do not currently benefit. Whether that comes from a single-academy trust or a maintained school, our focus is on quality, and we need some of those trusts to grow. Those that fall short of our expected standards need to be replaced with much stronger ones.

We want to ensure that every pupil is educated in a strong trust, and we set out the five key characteristics of a strong trust in the White Paper: first, that there should be a high-quality and inclusive education; secondly, that there should be sustainable school improvement; thirdly, that there should be training, support and opportunities for teachers throughout their careers; fourthly, that there should be strong strategic leadership and governance; and fifthly, that there should be effective financial management.

In his speech, my noble friend thoughtfully explored the question of the size of multi-academy trusts. We are not pursuing size for its own sake, but if we think of our priorities in terms of educational outcomes, the hierarchy is a well-supported workforce, strong governance and financial efficiencies. We must have educational performance as the first and we believe it cannot be done without a well-supported workforce and strong governance. We are not pursuing size for its own sake. My noble friend is right that there are some great smaller trusts. Equally, I do not recognise some of the data that he referred to about the largest trusts, but I am more than happy to sit down with him to go through this. If I can name two of our best trusts, at the risk of offending others that deserve to be named, the Harris Academy Trust and the Star Academies Trust both have outstanding results and have done remarkable work in terms of school improvement. I am wondering whether some of the data that my noble friend is looking at includes schools that were recently failing and have just gone into those trusts, because they have done a lot of the heavy lifting—not just those two, but others—in turning around very weak schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and other noble Lords referred to CEO pay. We take it extremely seriously. There are two issues that we need to think about, as I said in our response to the noble Lord. One is the absolute figure. I do not know whether the right metric is to look at the Prime Minister’s salary, and we have to be careful because often the figures quoted include pensions and other benefits and are then compared with salaries. There is, of course, an issue about absolute levels, but there is also an issue about value for money. On that point, the largest trusts offer much the best value for money. If you look at CEO pay or overall leadership pay per pupil, they offer the best value for money. We now have trusts which have responsibility for 75,000 children. We need to get the best people to lead them.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, talked about the importance of local. We heard it loud and clear, not just from your Lordships but in our engagement with schools ahead of the White Paper. We are very clear that that is extremely important. The data from the 2021 National Governance Association report showed that 76% of trusts have a local committee for each academy in their trust and a further 12% have a local tier of governance which oversees a group of academies, so 88% of trusts already have some form of local governance in place, but we agree that it is important. To clarify, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, asked, we are not forcing schools into trusts.

My noble friend asked about the incentives in relation to rural primaries. It is that ability to collaborate, share resources and make a more resilient network of schools. I was lucky enough last week to visit the Old Cleeve First School in west Somerset, which has a grand total of 91 pupils and is part of the West Somerset Academies Trust. The people there gave me two examples—one in relation to the national tutoring programme. As a stand-alone school they would never have been able to participate, but they were able to share a member of staff across three schools in the trust. They also talked about the career opportunities for their staff, which would normally be very limited in a school like that, where you have two forms learning together—so a very small staff team, which is able to move to other parts of the trust.

I would like to set the record straight in relation to the remarks made about the curriculum. Some trusts have a curriculum which they expect all the schools and their trusts to follow; others will give schools in the trust more flexibility. There is really a range—so it is wrong to describe it as such; but I am interested, and I hope that after the debate I will be able to talk to your Lordships about the impact on workforce. On the one hand, we know that the workforce is under pressure but, on the other hand, we have pushed back, and it is something that could save teachers so much time if they have a well-sequenced curriculum to work from.

I cannot accept the point about a lack of transparency on accounts. There is so much greater transparency in the academy sector than there is in the maintained sector.

My noble friend Lady Berridge talked about the importance of focusing on disadvantaged children. I agree with her absolutely; that is why she will have seen that we are targeting a particular investment in educational investment areas, those local authority areas with the highest need and the most entrenched underperformance of schools. I thank her for the welcome for the consultation, which I think she did a great deal of work on, on being able to require schools that have had two judgments below good from Ofsted to join a multi-academy trust.

I thank my noble friend Lady Fleet for all her work in the area of music education, particularly in relation to the national music education plan, which she and I are both looking forward to being published—and not just published but seeing implemented in schools across our country. My noble friend gave some excellent examples of MATs that are really using music as part of the curriculum to great benefit. Certainly, our understanding is that many music teachers might find themselves working in isolation in individual schools, and working in a MAT can be a real benefit in continuing professional development, sharing resources, adding capacity to their teams and giving opportunities for progression.

We also believe that lengthening the minimum school week will benefit some of the curricular and extracurricular enrichment activities.

My noble friend Lady Berridge talked about the risk of capital and use of data in weaker responsible bodies with poor buildings. We have significantly improved our data on the condition of the school estate, including through the condition data collection. Its successor programme, CDC2, will visit every school again in 2026. We also ran a pilot of a capital adviser’s programme in 2021 to test how professional advisers could support trusts to manage their estates more effectively, and we will consider how that can be rolled out further.

My noble friend asked an important question about how long it takes and what the average time is to transfer a school into a trust. I shall write to her on a number of questions. On that issue, I am not sure that the average is really meaningful. The majority of schools are moved in a reasonably straightforward way, then there is a tail of schools, which are extremely difficult and may go on for many years. That is clearly unacceptable, which is why we have set up two MATs—the Falcon Education Academies Trust and the St Joseph Catholic MAT—which can act to hold those schools on a temporary basis until a sponsor is found.

The Minister is talking about schools moving into MATs. Both the noble Lord, Lord Lingfield, and I asked why schools cannot move from one MAT to another or move back into the maintained sector, if they feel it is in their interests to do so.

I have got that, although I am well out of time—but the noble Lord has given me permission to overrun. We are going to consult on the ability under certain circumstances for schools to leave a MAT, if they feel that there are good reasons for that; it is something that we will consult on and explore in some detail.

I am well over time, and I shall write to your Lordships on any questions. In closing, the White Paper is the start of a journey towards a stronger and fairer schools system, with children benefiting from high standards in all areas of the country. It is a journey that will depend on us supporting and empowering our greatest leaders in education; it will depend on us working with parents to make sure that their children achieve their potential wherever they are born, and it is probably the most important journey that any of us will take.

My Lords, I thank everyone for taking part in this extraordinarily useful debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Blower, is absolutely right that, of course, before local management of schools came in, there were some very good experiments in the Inner London Education Authority and in Solihull—I agree with her entirely.

My noble friend Lady Berridge was absolutely correct that we have to bear in mind the people in what she called the back office of schools, who are neglected too often, I am afraid. Her remarks about school buildings were very apposite.

I entirely agree with my noble friend Lady Fleet. I am the chairman of the English Schools’ Orchestra, and I know that she knows the huge importance of music and its effects, which are much wider than just the musical curriculum, on the whole of the education system.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, made some extraordinarily useful remarks. I would not want to see the worst aspects of local education authorities—there were some—recreated in a large MAT. I know that the noble Lord agrees with that. I hope that the Minister bears that in mind. The noble Lord said that they should be “free to innovate”, which of course all of us approve of, as far as the curriculum is concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, made some very important points and repeated mine—I was very grateful to him for doing so—concerning schools’ ability to leave multi-academy trusts if, of course, they could prove to the Secretary of State perhaps, or some other group of people who had the expertise to decide, that they could go it alone and improve the quality of their service to their pupils by doing so.

I am grateful to my noble friend for all the care that she has taken in her reply. She has given us much to think about and discuss, and I repeat my thanks to noble Lords for giving up their time this evening, on almost the last day of term. I wish everyone a very happy Recess.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 8.04 pm.