House of Lords
Tuesday 12 July 2022
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.
Schools: Financial Education
My Lords, financial education is covered in citizenship and mathematics curricula. Our school snapshot survey in 2021 showed that 86% of secondary schools teach pupils how to make good decisions about money, including on spending and saving. We have been working together with the Money and Pensions Service and Her Majesty’s Treasury, and will be launching webinars in the autumn to support the effective teaching of financial education.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her response. A report last month by the Centre for Social Justice found that only 8% of students cite schools as their main source of financial education, while a Bank of England commission survey back in March found that almost two-thirds of teachers cited a lack of dedicated time in the timetable for delivery. Does the Minister agree that more needs to be done to address these worrying statistics to help our children learn how to manage their money and give them the best start in life?
My noble friend is right in that we can do more to embed financial education in the curriculum. The webinars that I referred to will build on the financial education guidance for schools published by the Money and Pensions Service last year. It highlights the links between financial education and the curriculum, and how primary and secondary schools can improve the financial education that they deliver.
The Money and Pensions Service, to which the Minister just referred, states that money habits are formed from the age of seven, well before young people arrive at secondary school, yet only about 25% of primary schoolchildren in England receive any form of financial education. Last year, a report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Education for Young People called on the Department for Education to introduce financial education to the national curriculum in primary schools, and to set a target of ensuring that every primary school pupil has access to it by 2030. What progress has the Minister’s department made towards that target?
The noble Lord will be aware that the Government made a commitment to make no changes to the national curriculum during the life of this Parliament, and that remains the case. Although citizenship is not compulsory in primary schools, as we know, many schools choose to teach it as part of their commitment to delivering a broad and balanced curriculum. The Money and Pensions Service has clear goals to ensure that 2 million more children and young people get meaningful financial education by 2030 and we are very supportive of its work in that.
I was not aware of the point the noble Lord raises. More broadly, when you talk to young people, they say that a lot of their financial education comes from their parents and family, including their grandparents, so I agree with the sentiment that grandparents have an important role to play.
My Lords, the fraud Select Committee has heard that far too many scams succeed because of ignorance on the part of the recipient. The Centre for Social Justice report, to which we have already heard reference, has found that two-thirds of primary school children receive no financial education and, notwithstanding what we have heard from my noble friend, that too many school leavers have no adequate financial education. What is going to be done going forward?
The Government share my noble friend’s concern. To be clear, in the primary citizenship curriculum pupils learn about where money comes from, how it can be used for different purposes and how to save for the future. In secondary school pupils learn about the importance and practice of budgeting, income and expenditure, insurance, savings, pensions and financial products. I think these are many of the things to which my noble friend referred.
My Lords, when the Financial Services Authority—the precursor to the Financial Conduct Authority—was established, one of its key objectives was to provide education to children in this country. Would my noble friend agree that it is more than just for government policy to provide widespread financial education to children?
If I have understood my noble friend’s question correctly, there is a broader responsibility. When one looks at the advice given by the Money and Pensions Service, it talks very much about how schools should work with parents and carers and how to embed learning about financial issues by putting learning into practice and building on everyday events—perhaps including the current leadership campaign —to understand how money works.
My Lords, what is being done to assist care leavers, who often cannot manage their financial affairs, have missed out on the education that might have been available in schools, find themselves in desperate trouble trying to pay bills and manage and often end up homeless? Is it not time for a more comprehensive policy towards young care leavers?
I want to return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, about children, even in primary schools, being subjected to scams and fraud, including money laundering. The list that the Minister read out made no reference to that. I think there is a gap and I ask the Minister to take this away and think about the risks and the value of advising young people of these risks.
On the specific issue of money laundering, it might be helpful if the noble Lord could give me an example of what he is thinking about. Some of the risks that we know young people face—and which I know your Lordships’ House is very concerned about—relate to gaming and gambling. I hope your Lordships will be pleased to know that a new subject in the health education curriculum on the risks associated with gambling and the accumulation of debt will be compulsory in all state-funded schools, primary and secondary.
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register on my work for Common Sense Media. I congratulate my noble friend on her excellent work at the Department for Education; for a brief period last week, she was entirely in charge of it, I think, and that was a glorious moment. One thing that our children need to be aware of is the terrible proliferation of financial scams on the internet. Has my noble friend had discussions with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to join up financial education with general digital citizen education to give our children the tools that they need to navigate the internet?
My Lords, young people themselves say that they want more financial education: 81% say that they worry about money, 67% say that they have become more anxious about money as a result of Covid and 72% say that they want to learn more about money at school. What more can the Government do? At the moment, it seems that a commitment not to change the national curriculum is actually denying young people the education that they say they want.
Making sure that we deliver the mathematics and citizenship curricula in a way that equips children and young people with the skills they need is a clear priority, particularly given the challenges that our schools and young people have faced over the last two years of Covid.
My Lords, is it not important that young people are proud of their country and citizenship? I raise again with my noble friend a point I have made many times: would it not be a good idea, particularly bearing in mind recent events, if young people were able to graduate as citizens, as it were, and go through the sort of ceremony that newly naturalised British subjects go through? Would my noble friend please take that on board?
I commend my noble friend for his continued focus on this issue. The Government have supported many young people to take part in the National Citizen Service, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and other schemes, all of which really recognise their achievements. The Government are also introducing the national climate leaders award so that young people can be recognised for their contributions to sustainability and the future of the planet.
Cannabis: Medicinal Use
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to amend the Misuse of Drugs (Amendments) (Cannabis and Licence Fees) (England, Wales and Scotland) Regulations 2018 to enable general practitioners to prescribe cannabis medicines to patients whose symptoms are being substantially alleviated by such medicines currently purchased privately.
The Government share the aim of NHS funding for licensed medicines that have proved safe and effective, rather than patients paying private subscriptions for unlicensed products that are not assured by our medicines regulator. Broadening who can prescribe these products will not achieve this. For this to happen, we need the cannabis industry to invest in clinical trials. Our medicines regulator—and the National Institute for Health and Care Research—has asked it to do so and is ready to support it when it does.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware of Bailey Williams, aged 20, who has very severe epilepsy and was hospitalised every week throughout his childhood, until the last four years, when he has been on medical cannabis—these have been his best years. His parents are struggling financially and asked Bailey’s consultant to prescribe medical cannabis under the NHS; after all, NICE has approved this in its guidance. The answer was no, but palliative care was an option—palliative care but not a proven medicine that has done so well for this child for four years. The Minister cannot accept that situation. Will he meet MHRA, with me, to discuss the way forward? There has to be a way forward.
First, I thank the noble Baroness for meeting with my colleague, my noble friend Lady Penn, yesterday. When I became a Minister, the Permanent Sec recognised a potential conflict of interest, which I have been told means that I cannot meet with people about this particular issue, but I can answer this Question if I declare my interest. So I better quickly declare it: I used to work for a think tank that received some funding from the medicinal cannabis industry, and I shared a round table. That immediately ruled me out as having a conflict of interest. None the less, I am very happy to facilitate meetings with my ministerial colleagues. As the noble Baroness will be aware, there is a new ministerial colleague in place at the moment. The point remains that we have asked the industry, which makes lots of money in this area, to come forward and fund trials, but it has preferred not to do so.
My Lords, I understand that the MHRA is considering extending its compassionate access scheme, particularly regarding the import of Celixir20 from Israel. A number of children with rare forms of drug-resistant epilepsy rely on this medicine. Given the severity of the crisis of access to NHS prescriptions for medicinal cannabis, can the Minister ensure that there are no barriers to the MHRA acting now to extend this scheme?
The noble Baroness raises an important point about working with the importer of those medicines. The MHRA is exceptionally continuing to allow those medicines and is hoping to work with the importer and the Israeli company itself to see whether they will go through the MHRA approval process. In Israel, there are two ways of supplying the product: one is medicinal and the another is for non-medicinal cannabis uses. It has advised us that this is not a licensed medicine in Israel, and therefore we are asking the company to come forward. In the meantime, we are looking at an interim solution.
Yes, but I should start by saying that I have been warned a number of times that it is inappropriate for Ministers to tell doctors and clinicians what they can prescribe. In certain cases, given that it has not been regulated as a medicine in this country, doctors can make an exception and ask for it to be prescribed on the NHS. They will go to their CCG—and now to their ICS—and ask for that. However, that has been agreed to in only a few cases.
My Lords, will the Government heed warnings from respected addiction psychiatrists in US states where cannabis has been legalised that medical marijuana acted as a Trojan horse to get recreational use in, that the upward trend in medical potency means that people get addicted, and that super-strength products are associated with a significant rise in cannabis-related psychosis? Are they aware that states are now tightening restrictions on cannabis prescribing, having previously liberalised it, not least given sharp increases in teenage suicides with marijuana in their systems post-mortem?
I thank my noble friend for his question and note his concerns. However, I think we should look at this in two ways: there is medicinal cannabis and there is recreational cannabis, and we must be quite clear on that. Some people clearly want to liberalise both. I cannot comment on my own particular views because I am conflicted on this, but what is really important here is that we take a cautious approach and look at the particular issue of medicinal cannabis. The MHRA is ready to regulate medicinal cannabis; it just needs companies to come forward and spend money on the trials.
My Lords, the Science and Technology Select Committee, which I had the honour to chair some 15 or 18 years ago, looked at the medicinal uses of cannabis. One of the things we clearly showed was that the statement we just heard is not true; in fact, there was no evidence then that the medicinal use of cannabis led to addiction in patients. Indeed, patients who were having medicinal cannabis were trying very hard not to become high and trying to use the doses in very limited amounts so that they could cure their symptoms.
The noble Lord makes a very important point: whatever our personal views, we must distinguish between recreational and medicinal uses of cannabis. We know from observations and many stories that many people believe that they benefit from medicinal cannabis. We know that there is a barrier because companies have not come forward to have it regulated or go through the clinical trials, but we are trying to work with those companies and encourage them to come forward. In fact, we have also found some NIHR research money available to help with those trials. My request to the industry is: “You make a lot of money out of this—please come forward and go through those trials with the MHRA”.
My Lords, there is a suspicion among those of us who think that the Government are being very slow about this that they are arguing it from a medical point of view, just as the Minister has today, but that in fact this is a political decision because the Government’s right wing does not like the idea of cannabis use in this way.
I do not know how to respond to that. All I will say to the noble Baroness is that nothing could be further from the truth. This is clearly an issue based on medicinal cannabis. The noble Baroness will know that my party is a coalition; there are quite a number of libertarians in my party who would take a very different view on banning these issues. What is really important is that, to be licensed as a medicine, it has to be approved by the MHRA; to be approved by the MHRA, except in very exceptional circumstances, you have to go through trials. These companies make a lot of money; they can afford to go through the trials; they are just choosing not to.
My Lords, NICE has actually supported the limited use of medical cannabis. It has, over many years, supported the limited use of novel drugs in cancer and heart disease, which have been readily available. Does the Minister agree that it is a national scandal that we are discriminating against some of the most vulnerable people with severe epilepsy in our country by not providing this in limited forms on the NHS pre further clinical trials?
What I would say is that it is left up to the doctors, who are able to ask for it to be prescribed on the NHS. In some cases, that has clearly not been accepted and that is why people have to go privately, but the best way to solve this problem is for the industry to come forward and go through trials. The offer is open, the NIHR has money available, but for some reason the companies prefer to sell it unlicensed.
In simple terms, I completely agree. There should be a way around this and I will take this back to the department. In fact, I was quite provocative when I was getting advice on this, but I have also been warned that I am conflicted on this issue, so I will try to push it as long as I am not seen as being in conflict. It is very difficult, but I want to do the right thing.
My Lords, we look forward to the Minister returning on this point, but to build on the points made by other noble Lords, despite the change in the law, many families are experiencing great anguish in getting treatment for young epilepsy sufferers and are left with little option but to pay thousands of pounds each month. What is the Government’s view on implementing all the recommendations of the recent NHS review of the barriers to accessing prescription cannabis products for medicinal use? If they are not planning to implement all the recommendations, which ones are the Government looking at?
The department has been reviewing the Hodges review and has been looking at the method of data collection. At the moment, I cannot comment on the significance of the statistics in the report, but the important thing here, I think, is that once again we are asking the industry to come forward. It can fund the trials—it can afford this—but for some reason it prefers to sell it unlicensed.
My Lords, just to clarify the point that the Minister made, that it is not for him to tell doctors what medicines to prescribe, is he really saying that if doctors are failing to give their patients the proper and adequate medicines—the only medicines that work—there is nothing he can do?
These are left to clinical decisions, and it is up to individual doctors. Some doctors believe that the evidence is not there to prescribe it; other doctors believe that it is there and they would like to prescribe but they go to their local CCG or elsewhere and they are not given permission or access. What we are trying to do is make sure that there is sufficient evidence, but we really need the companies to come forward. If I can make one appeal to noble Lords, if anyone contacts them from the industry, ask them to come forward and go through the trials.
International Development Strategy: Volunteering
My Lords, the UK’s international development strategy has British expertise at its core. Our rich culture of volunteering means we have the experience and expertise to effectively support voluntary action abroad, ensuring that development is increasingly locally led. Last month, we launched Active Citizenship Through Inclusive Volunteering & Empowerment, a £27 million partnership between the UK Government and VSO which will reach 2.5 million people in 18 countries by empowering local volunteers to take control of their futures.
My Lords, I was delighted when the Government supported volunteering being part of the sustainable development goals as a key lever for good development, but I am bewildered that they now seem to have abandoned much of that. An agreement was signed between the VSO and the Commonwealth at CHOGM. It recognised the value to young people of learning skills, sharing with others, learning about the world and developing leadership skills, but the British Government have abandoned the scheme. When will they get back to funding the International Citizen Service to give our young people that sort of opportunity?
My Lords, the Government agree with the premise of the question from the noble Baroness but take issue with the last bit on abandonment by the Government. The reality is that the ACTIVE programme will reach 2.5 million people—a really significant number—and mobilise marginalised groups, including women, young people and those with disabilities, across 18 countries. The key is that it builds on the success of the programme she just mentioned—the VSO’s FCDO-funded £70 million Volunteering for Development programme, which ended in March 2022. The noble Baroness is right to identify it as a success.
My Lords, we all acknowledge the benefits of international volunteering to our country in terms of soft power, to the countries we work with and to our volunteers. The International Citizen Service was suspended in 2020 because of the pandemic. Does the Minister agree that the time has come to resume wielding that soft power through the ICS, which enhances our influence and reputation in the world?
My Lords, the importance of volunteering is embedded and well understood in the FCDO. That has not changed; it is reflected in everything coming out of it. Specific decisions on funding are yet to be made but, adding to what I said on the previous question, we are committed to and are already establishing new centres of expertise, building on existing platforms for shared learning and with volunteering at their heart. We are doing this across the board.
My Lords, when I visited Nepal a few years ago as DfID Minister, I met participants in the VSO-supported Sisters for Sisters programme, which mentors older girls and supported nearly 10,000 girls to stay in school. As with many voluntary programmes, women and girls really see the benefits, as both volunteers and the beneficiaries. Will voluntary work be included in the upcoming women and girls strategy? Acknowledging the current circumstances, can my noble friend tell me when this will be published, as many of us eagerly await it?
I thank my noble friend for her persistence on this issue generally. There is a clear commitment in the IDS to providing women and girls around the world with the freedom and opportunity they need to succeed. It is there in black and white and highlighted within the strategy. We intend to restore the funding that was reduced previously to help unlock their potential, educate girls, support their empowerment and protect them against violence. A major part of that focus will be volunteering, which has always played an incredibly powerful role in this area. I am afraid I cannot give her more details at this point; I wish that I could.
My Lords, to bring the Minister back to the ICS programme, it was one of the most successful things that the VSO did, in partnership with and funded by the British Government. The point is that it took 20,000 Brit volunteers along with 20,000 international volunteers to work together in a wonderful programme. It was paused during the pandemic and there is no indication that it will be revived again. That is the point. Can the Minister say something about that specific programme?
I will have to refer the noble Baroness to a previous answer. I cannot comment on funding commitments for specific programmes. However, the value of the scheme she has described, which has been mentioned by other noble Lords, is unquestioned. The success story there is plain for all to see. I very much hope that we can continue providing support for it, but I cannot give her any black and white answers; that is just not within my remit.
My Lords, I think we all recognise the benefits to young people of going abroad in a volunteering capacity, the knowledge they gain of other countries and the richness they bring back. The same is true of young people from other countries coming here. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider reinstating the au pair scheme, set up before we joined the EU by the Council of Europe? It has been brought down by Brexit and many will not be able to have the benefits of going abroad for a year to learn about other countries.
My Lords, I have to be honest that I do not know a huge amount about this scheme; it has been raised in previous debates on this issue, but only at a very high level, so I cannot give my noble friend an authoritative answer. I will take away her suggestion and ensure that whichever of my ministerial colleagues will be deciding on that programme is made aware of my noble friend’s very strong views on the issue.
My Lords, can we get back to the original question, which was about a successful, five-year programme, Volunteering for Development? Let us not forget that this is about volunteering in countries where we deliver expertise and train trainers; it is about sustainable development, with £70 million over five years. The Minister announces a programme called ACTIVE, which is for £27 million. Are we going to see the programme shrink to that level? Are we going to see a real commitment from this Government instead of just words and spin? Let us hear from the Minister that he will return this programme to a much more sustainable programme for the future.
My Lords, I am not going to disagree with the noble Lord on the value of volunteering and the promotion of volunteering in recent years—I do not think anyone would argue with that. I would not dismiss £27 million as pure spin, but nor is that the end of the story. As I said before, I cannot comment on future spending, but spending answers will be published very soon. The allocations will be available for the House to scrutinise, and either praise or criticise depending on the answers. I cannot go into the specifics now, but I can reassure the noble Lord and everyone else in this place that the value of volunteering is recognised through every strand of activity in the FCDO, and that will be reflected in our funding decisions.
My Lords, over the next few days more than a 1,000 overseas Anglican bishops will be arriving here for the Lambeth Conference. There are hundreds of links of volunteers going to many of the areas of the world which we are deeply concerned about, including parts of the Horn of Africa where there is famine and locusts have had a devastating impact. People are coming from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Ebola is such a problem; these are people who are working on the ground. We already have many volunteer programmes of medics and others going in and out. Does the FCDO intend to meet some of those people who are coming here to see how we can strengthen other forms of volunteering, as well as some of the government schemes we have had in the past?
The right reverend Prelate makes an extremely good point. It is hard to know which Ministers will be responding to the invitation when it comes to the Foreign Office, but I assure him that, in the unlikely circumstance that I am the Minister opening the envelope, I will certainly take him up on his invitation. I look forward to being given good counsel by people who, as he rightly says, do extraordinary work in some of the most difficult parts of the world.
Is my noble friend aware that there are 330,000 young people in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme and rising? Is he also aware that there are well over 130,000 boys and girls in the Sea Cadets and Combined Cadet Force? Does he not understand that among young people there are thousands who want to go out on VSO work? The noble Lord from the Labour Front Bench is right: we need to move forward; we have been waiting too long.
My noble friend makes a very good point and I am not going to argue with him. The value of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the Sea Cadets and Combined Cadet Force is absolutely unquestioned—they are magnificent organisations. As I said before, I do not agree with the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite. This is an area that we absolutely need to continue to provide support for, and I understand the call from this House for greater clarity. I hope we will be able to provide that clarity soon.
General Practitioners: Shortage
The Government recognise that growing the GP workforce is challenging, particularly in light of pressures from the pandemic. There are over 1,400 more full-time equivalent doctors in general practice in March this year compared with March 2019, showing that there is some movement in the right direction. However, we need to go further, and we are working with NHS England and NHS Improvement, Health Education England and the profession to boost recruitment, address the reasons why doctors leave and encourage them to stay or return to practice.
I am grateful for that Answer, but my noble friend will be aware that by 2030, we will be facing an acute shortage of GPs as more doctors leave the profession than join. There are 9 million people living in remote rural, coastal and island communities, which is more than live in London. Will my noble friend ensure that all health policy is rural-proofed, and that those living in rural areas have equal access to healthcare to those living in urban areas?
My noble friend makes a very important point, and she referred continually throughout the passage of the Health and Care Act to practices in rural areas. We have looked at the challenges and have asked GPs about this in surveys, and we know that there are problems about the reduction of working hours, administrative burdens, some stress and burnout, and some issues about equitable distribution. One thing we do have is the Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme launched in 2016, which has attracted hundreds of doctors to train in hard-to-recruit areas by providing a one-off financial incentive.
My Lords, in 2017, a House of Lords report recommended that the current small business model of primary care is not fit for purpose. The same has been said by the Royal College of General Practitioners, which produced a report; the British Medical Association; two think tanks, the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund; and, more recently, Policy Exchange, which produced a report on the model being fit for the future. Is it not time that the Government had plans to look at future models of delivering primary care? If they do not have such an intention, does the Minister agree that the House of Lords should set up a Select Committee to follow on from the excellent report produced on the NHS in 2017?
I thank the noble Lord for that question, but I should explain to him that I have been warned for exceeding my powers, as it were, in the past. I think setting up a Select Committee is a bit beyond my powers. The noble Lord and I, and many noble Lords across the House, including previous Health Ministers of all parties, have had this conversation, and we know that the old-fashioned model of a five to 10-minute appointment with your GP, only to be referred elsewhere and into secondary care, is broken in many ways. We need a much more modern model. We have seen primary care take on some of the functions of secondary care, but we have also seen, at the GP level, that the GP does not have to do everything, and that there are other workers such as nurses, physio- therapists and pharmacists who can do more of what the GP has done in the past.
My Lords, the figures show that more than half of GPs are considering retirement or are retiring before the age of 60. As the noble Lord has pointed out, there are lots of reasons for this, but he has not told us what he is doing about them. What is he doing constructively to change the attitudes and experience of GPs, which lead to this disillusionment among men who are at the highest point of their career, when they are the most useful to patients in primary care?
I assure the noble Lord that the Government are doing lots of things. Not only are we listening but we are looking at potential solutions and discussing them with the relevant bodies. For example, one of the pressures mentioned was the impact of the number of phone calls. There has been investment in handling them and getting them redirected appropriately, and GP practices have been offered money for that. The other issue is pensions: some GPs are worried about taking a hit on their pension if they come back to service. There are discussions about whether they are really worse off and how we can retain staff. Also, having other staff at the GP level who can take on some of those functions that GPs do not necessarily need to do could ease their workload. The administrative burden has added to this, but the digitisation of services should solve a lot of those problems.
My Lords, the Royal College of GPs reports that since 2019, GP clinical administration tasks have risen by a shocking 28%. GPs say that it would make a significant difference if hospital consultants could refer patients directly to other consultants, rather than patients having to come back to GPs and then be redirected. The back-office functions for repeat prescriptions take an ever-increasing amount of their time, and GPs are not in control of either of these processes. As a matter of urgency, will the Minister investigate how to reduce some of this bureaucracy so that GPs have more time to see their patients?
As part of the joint NHS England and NHS Improvement and DHSC bureaucracy review—there is such a thing—we have been working across government to reduce unnecessary bureaucratic burdens. There have been a number of key work streams, including a new appraisal process and digitisation of the signing of some notes, along with work to reform who can provide medical evidence and certificates and who can provide notes—nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and others. We are continuing to look through the process to engage with GPs to see how we can remove more such administrative burdens.
My Lords, looking at wider health workforce issues, I understand that we need another 2,000 radiologists in the next five years and that it is highly unlikely that we will be able to produce them. That is the pessimistic note. On an optimistic note, I heard recently that Apollo, the large healthcare provider in India, in partnership with the royal college and the GMC, has been training up 150 high-quality radiologists every year, some of whom are coming to this country. Does the Minister approve of such schemes, and is the department doing more work in places such as India where we can recruit high-quality medical staff?
I thank the noble Lord for his question, but also pay tribute to his commitment to tackling racism in our society.
We know that there are countries that train more people than they have places for in their country. They do that, first, to help those people get a better life elsewhere, but also because remittances are much better than foreign aid for many of those countries. I frequently mention the fact that it was immigrants from the Commonwealth who saved public services in this country after the war. We should remember that and continue to encourage people from the Commonwealth to come to this country. Sadly, for some reason, noble Lords quite often do not want them and make up all sorts of excuses for trying to block non-white people from outside Europe.
My Lords, one of the disincentives for both men and women GPs is the quality of accommodation. They are in overcrowded buildings. There is a good example from a care commissioning group in my area which spent £1 million planning a new centralised health centre, which would have provided top-of-the-range facilities and would have encouraged general practitioners to remain in practice. Will the Minister look at the quality of accommodation? What plans are there to introduce new buildings? That is a really important factor in dealing with the shortage of GPs.
The noble Lord makes the very important point that GP practices are evolving. Some are moving premises; some are merging in larger premises; some are moving into primary care centres, where they are able to offer not just traditional GP services but some of the services that secondary care currently offers. I am not entirely sure of the specific point that the noble Lord makes. He would be welcome to have a conversation so that I can follow it up with my department.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that an increasing number of GPs prefer to work part-time because they face a marginal tax rate of 62% on earnings over £100,000? Will he consider discussions with his friends at Her Majesty’s Treasury to address those anomalies in the tax system?
There are a number of reasons why some GPs and other health professionals prefer to work part-time as opposed to full-time. Many people, especially given the stresses of the pandemic, want a better work/life balance. Some people have suggested in the past that we should focus on full-time equivalents. We should make sure that current staff who want to go from full-time to part-time can do so within the system, so that we can retain them, while tackling all the barriers to retention as well as recruiting more GPs.
My Lords, the appointments system is not working well for GPs or patients. Healthwatch England reports that complaints about GP services are rising, the main problems being difficulties getting an appointment, exorbitant waits on the phone, about which we all know, and an end to online facilities to book slots. What assessment has been made of the detrimental impact on people struggling to access GP services, particularly those who are more vulnerable, and what is the plan to put this right?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. We know that, for many people, their first entry into the system—their portal, if you like—is trying to get an appointment with their GP. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned earlier, we have to look at how we can modernise this service. In the short term, we have made money available to help improve triage for people who phone up for services; this includes how to manage incoming and outgoing calls. In future, we are looking at more digitisation and extending the functionality of the NHS app so that people can book appointments for all sorts of services; if they are waiting for an appointment or secondary care, they will also be able to see how long they will have to wait and where they are in the queue.
Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, endorsed as a money Bill, and read a first time.
Schools Bill [HL]
Report (1st Day)
Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
My Lords, I propose to your Lordships’ House that Report not be received and that consideration of the Bill not proceed at this time. This reflects the fact that, of the many people I have spoken to, few believe that the Government are truly ready to proceed with the Bill.
I posit three reasons for this. First, we have been through three Education Secretaries in three days. We now have a caretaker Prime Minister and Government. Perhaps the less said about the behaviour of the new Education Minister, the better; the National Education Union has said all that needs to be said on that matter. In our unwritten, dysfunctional constitution, accreted over centuries of historical accident, “caretaker Education Secretary” may not have a technical meaning, but it has a practical one. With a new Prime Minister due in a couple of months, there is a very good chance that we will have a fourth Education Secretary.
The second reason is that, were this reform to be carefully thought through, long planned and developed over a long period of consultation and reflection with clear goals in mind, a temporary—if long-running—perturbation in the Government might not be a significant impediment to progress. However, it is nothing like that. We have the Government agreeing to pull one major element of the Bill—the first part, which was presumably their primary reason for bringing the Bill forward—and promising both to introduce an alternative approach in the other place and that they will allow future extended debate in your Lordships’ House. This promise will have to be followed by a new Government, most likely with a new team of people; I intend no insult to anyone still in post.
The third reason why we should not proceed today is that the remaining parts of the Bill are a controversial hotchpotch that has produced in my mailbag—and those of many other noble Lords, I have no doubt—cries of fear and horror. As usual, your Lordships’ House is trying modestly to improve the Bill, with a series of votes planned for this afternoon. However, a bad law is surely worse than no law at all, particularly in the current circumstances. Our schools would be better off without the extra confusion and disruption created by a half-cooked Bill proceeding to the other place, allowing them and the department to concentrate on the triple epidemic that they face: the continuing Covid epidemic; the crisis of mental ill-health and stress affecting pupils, teachers and other staff; and the cost of living crisis that is hitting school and family budgets hard.
If we proceed now, we will be trying to put a few patches on a sow’s ear. That is not progress and not the right direction for your Lordships’ House. Instead, let us leave our education system and department to settle down and seek stability and certainty where they can find them, rather than contribute to their problems.
My Lords, I had no intention of following the noble Baroness until she began to speak. I do not always agree with her, but she has spoken a lot of very good sense this afternoon.
As I sat here during Question Time, I felt increasingly that we are in a vacuum. We have a discredited Prime Minister who is still occupying No. 10 Downing Street. It will be an absolute scandal if he is still there after the House rises for the Summer Recess. You cannot have a Government in suspended animation. You must have a Government in which people can have a degree of trust. My solution, which I made plain in a letter to the Times last week, is that we bring our election of the leader of the Conservative Party to a conclusion in the House of Commons next week.
It is utterly ludicrous that we should spend four, five or six weeks traipsing around the country appealing to an infinitesimal proportion of people—about 200,000 in England, Wales and Scotland—who then possibly choose the second person, so you begin with a Prime Minister who does not enjoy the confidence of the majority of the Members of the House of Commons. I beg all my noble friends, if they believe that there is some substance to this argument, which has also been advanced by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, to speak out, and speak inwards as well. To have a Government in office but not in power is, to quote a famous speech by my noble friend Lord Lamont many years ago, doing the nation a great disservice. We all need a Government who have the opportunity to develop new ideas, and to present policies to the country, to your Lordships’ House, and to the other place.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, was absolutely right that this Bill is, in effect, already discredited. The brilliant forensic activities of my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking have shown just how many holes there are in it. We know that a great number of clauses will be withdrawn. Therefore, we have that worst of all combinations, a ragbag and a Christmas tree, to quote the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. Is that really any way to proceed? It is not. We should drop the Bill, we should move quickly towards the instatement of a Prime Minister who enjoys the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons, and we should begin to rebuild trust in our Government, a trust that has been squandered and besmirched by a man who has defiled everything that he has touched. That is the true background against which we debate this afternoon.
The Opposition should have no part of this. They should say, “We are not going to debate this Bill. It’s got to be sorted out.” We need to put the Government of this country on an honourable and honest footing, as soon as we possibly can.
My Lords, I commend my noble friend Lord Cormack for his courage. I probably would not have got up first but I now get up to support him. We really are in a terrible mess. We have a Prime Minister who has the confidence of virtually no one. I have been trying now for three or four days to get either a Private Notice Question or a Question to the Government because I understand that the Prime Minister, before he leaves office, intends to create a number of Peers. That is totally wrong. The Prime Minister is now a caretaker. When he leaves office, he will have a Resignation Honours List and that is quite appropriate.
It has proved impossible to get anything on to the Order Paper of this House. It really shows us up as being a rather ineffectual House if we cannot even get a Question to ask the Government to make a Statement as to whether they consider it appropriate that a caretaker Prime Minister should now be about to appoint another group of Conservative Peers. This is the time to make this speech, not when there are names on the table and it appears that we are attacking individuals. I have no knowledge whatever of who may be on that list but I believe that it would be completely improper for an acting Prime Minister to issue a list of Conservative Peers when he can issue his own Resignation Honours List.
I have a solution; the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has one. We have a Deputy Prime Minister who is not a candidate, as I understand it, and my answer is quite simple. The Deputy Prime Minister should take over and we should run the Government how it is run during a general election: in other words, no new policies, a caretaker, and we look after problems as they emerge but do not seek to shape legislation or anything else.
I fully support my noble friend Lord Cormack and ask the Opposition to consider their position because frankly, if they went on strike I would join their picket line—I have been on lots of picket lines—because now, and in this way, is not the time for us to be passing legislation. We are turning ourselves into something that we will soon come to regret.
My Lords, I support what my noble friend Lord Cormack said about this Bill. We are in the most extraordinary situation where, in the course of the day, we are going to gut the Bill by removing the first 18 clauses and removing its real intention. The rest are really issues that can be brought up in another Bill.
We are going to be asked to pass this Bill to Third Reading but this House has never been asked in the past to pass a Bill the guts of which have taken out. We have no idea what is going to be placed into the Bill later in the House of Commons. This has simply not happened in our history and it is not the right way to behave.
I believe therefore that we should consider not giving this Bill a Third Reading when it comes to it, because it is a gutless Bill. I am not critical at all of the Minister; in fact, I have the highest praise for her because she did not resign and is now the best Minister in the whole department. She knows about it. The other cronies appointed by the Prime Minister have no idea about what happens in education; he just wanted to give them extra pay for five months and the possibility of a consolation retirement. This is how cronies work and they will have no influence on this Bill whatever. The new Government will have to decide how this Bill should continue, or whether it should continue and in what form.
The issues that they will have to decide are very serious. We are told that the regulation of schools is the bit that is going to come back to us, and that concerns us very seriously indeed. If the Government are going to change the rules on regulating schools, there must be a consultation period; it cannot just be foisted on us at the end of a parliamentary Session.
I invite the major parties of this House, the Liberals and the Labour Party, to consider whether it would be sensible to give this Bill a Third Reading. I do not think it would be. It should be left to the new Government to decide, and it is highly unlikely that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will return to being the Education Secretary; we will have a new Education Secretary on 5 September. That person, with a new team of Ministers—I hope he gets rid of them all, apart from my noble friend—will have to consider very carefully the steps forward in the regulation of schools and MATs. I hope that the idea of not giving this a Third Reading now takes aflame in this House and that we agree not to do it.
My Lords, I support both propositions of delay, particularly not giving the Bill a Third Reading. Not only are there legislative problems with the Bill now not being a Bill in any substance, as originally intended; many measures in it give a future Education Minister the power to provide guidance and put in place statutory instruments—but we do not even know who that Education Minister is going to be.
To be implemented, the Bill will be passed from this House to the other side over next year and the year after, but we have no idea who will be leading on this, how long they will have been in the job or how good their guidance will be. Will it simply be left to the civil servants—for whom I have great respect, but obviously government must lead? We need people in post who know what they are doing and who, ideally, know about education. Over the passage of this Bill, that, sadly, has not always been the case, even with the present team, as much as I respect them. How can we have any confidence that it will be the case with the very fresh team coming in in the autumn?
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in particular. The Minister listened carefully and that is why she agreed to remove the first 18 clauses of the Bill. That puts the House in a difficult position in allowing the Bill to go to the other place in its gutted, skeletal form. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, not to give the Bill a Third Reading gives us some time before next week, when we will be asked that question, to consider whether he is right.
I suggest that we proceed to Report now and have the debates for which noble Lords have been preparing. But we should take some time, within the usual channels and among ourselves, to decide whether the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is right and whether the Bill should have a Third Reading.
My Lords, I will briefly speak to this. I agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Knight. The Government have moved on this Bill; they have listened. They have given more than I have ever seen a Government give. It is possibly true that they had to. It is the worst Bill I have ever seen, but the Minister was described by one of my colleagues as the rock around which a raging department breaks. My noble friend Lord Shipley came up with that one, not me, so he gets the credit. I hope when the Minister replies that she gives some indication or guarantees of what we are going to get if we carry on with the planning. Things have moved on.
There is a nasty little internal fight going on behind the Minister. As much fun as it would be to wade in, it ain’t my fight. I hope the Minister can tell us what is going on. I have never seen another Bill that has got itself into this big a mess. I am not the longest-serving person here, but I am the longest-serving on my Benches. If nothing happens and the Bill is unacceptable at Third Reading, we can do something then, but let us hear what the Government have to say now. There has been a great deal of work done and a great many meetings. A lot of work is going on here. Grand gestures are great, but let us not get in the way of the work of the House.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Knight said, we should proceed with Report. I am happy to have discussions with the Government Chief Whip, through the usual channels, between the end of Report and Third Reading, and we will see how we can move forward from there.
I am not sure whether this is the worst Bill; from our point of view, there is quite a long list. Some of the comments from the Government Benches were interesting. Some of the views expressed have been our views for many months or even years, but they seem to have all turned up in the last week. I am not going to get involved in some spat between people on the Government Benches, but I am happy to have that discussion with the Government Chief Whip between the end of Report and Third Reading on how we should proceed.
My Lords, I shall try to address very briefly the points raised by the noble Baroness and other Members of the House, but I do not want to pre-empt the wider debate that the House is about to have on the Bill.
As I said in my letter to your Lordships, the Government will accept the amendments to remove the first 18 clauses of the Bill and will engage extensively with your Lordships and the sector about what replaces them. I feel very concerned at the tone of some of your Lordships’ remarks about the rest of the Bill, which brings in very important measures in relation to children not in school and illegal schools. I remind your Lordships that those parts of the Bill have been extensively consulted on. I do not think it is appropriate to describe them in the terms that they were referred to in today.
My noble friend the Chief Whip has had constructive discussions with the usual channels—I thank the Opposition Chief Whip for his remarks—about how such replacement clauses will receive proper scrutiny in the House and has agreed to relax the rules of debate on ping-pong for these clauses and to allow sufficient time for the first round of ping-pong. I am sure my noble friend the Chief Whip would be happy to speak to any of your Lordships about that in more detail. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for the tone of his remarks.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this unplanned and, I think, quite fruitful debate. I particularly thank Members opposite, including the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Wei, who expressed support for my direction. I note the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, who brings vastly more experience to your Lordships’ House than I do on the way forward here. I also take on board the comments from the noble Lords, Lord Knight, Lord Kennedy and Lord Addington, in particular, about the amount of work that has gone into Report. I fully acknowledge that. I shall not push my suggestion to a vote at this point. I think the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, is something we can talk about and consider as a way forward on whether we proceed with Third Reading. For the moment, I am not quite sure what the form is, but I withdraw my proposal.
Clause 1: Academy standards
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 18, at end insert—
“(2A) In setting standards in relation to Academies in respect of subsection (2)(k), the Secretary of State must require that each Academy Trust, each Multi Academy Trust, and each Academy within a Multi Academy Trust, prepares and revises a strategic policy on parental and community engagement at least once every three years.”Member's explanatory statement
This is to make mandatory that every Academy must have a policy on parental and community engagement.
I thank the noble Lord. With the leave of the House, I hope it will be helpful to your Lordships if I briefly explain the context for the Government’s position, as set out in my letter of 30 June. I have taken on board the concerns raised by your Lordships and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform and Constitution Committees about Clauses 1 to 18, which is why the Government will be supporting amendments at this stage to remove them from the Bill. We will use the regulation and commissioning review to work closely with the sector to develop revised clauses to address the concerns raised and will bring them back in the other place. I confirm that we will not be bringing back the delegated power in Clause 3.
On the clauses relating to the academy standards, we will develop an approach that is more tightly defined so that we can provide Parliament and the sector with clarity on the scope of our plans to set standards for academy trusts. The Government believe that our approach to the intervention provisions is broadly right, but we intend to address the issues of proportionality and the right to representation raised in this House. Our policy intention behind these clauses is to move to a statutory framework fit for a fully trust-led system, which clearly defines the scope of the academy standards and enables a ladder of proportionate intervention at trust level.
I know your Lordships will rightly expect the opportunity to scrutinise the revised clauses thoroughly. First, a full day will be allowed for the first round of ping-pong when the Bill returns from the Commons. Secondly, the Companion to the Standing Orders has a process in place to allow the House to use Committee-stage rules of debate during ping-pong on the replacements to Clauses 1 to 18, allowing greater freedom of debate and more conversation about the amendments. Following that, the House will revert to normal ping-pong rules for the rest of the Bill.
My Lords, would the Minister also consider coming to this House to make a Statement when the proposals are published in the other place, so that we have the opportunity at that point to feed into the proposals that she is making as they go to the other place?
My Lords, I should like more clarity from the Minister about the procedure that will be adopted as and when the Bill comes back from the Commons. That is according to the current timetable and assumes that the Bill gets a Third Reading, although that may be a false assumption. What we will then have back from the Commons is a substantially different Bill, with heaven knows how many clauses and amendments coming back, which, as I understand it, is to be catered for procedurally just by having a rather extended period for ping-pong. That is really no substitute for what should happen to a Bill—in this case, of course, rather a large section of a Bill—which is that it would have a Committee stage where these ideas could be explored and then a Report stage where the Government could respond, in many cases, to the ideas raised in Committee.
I would like clarity on this matter because we are almost in uncharted waters at the moment. I do not think that an offer to the House of a day for consideration and ping-pong should be a substitute for the proper procedure of a Bill via Committee and Report.
Following what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said, as I understand it, the Minister has said that if the Bill goes forward under the new Government, it will come back to us for one day of ping-pong. Is it just one day for ping-pong? It might have 10, 20 or 30 clauses, and that cannot be done in one day. Will we have longer than that to have a look at the clauses? Clearly the clauses are going to be very important.
She has set up a committee composed of basically the managers of multi-academy trusts, which has only one school head on it, which apparently is going to try to establish the relationship that should exist between the Department for Education and multi-academy trusts. I do not object to that because they are very important bodies, but there are lots of other issues affecting multi-academy trusts. For example, how is the voice of the individual school in a multi-academy trust to be heard? What is the role of the independent governing body of individual schools in a multi-academy trust? How will they be listened to? What rights do they have and what position can they hold against the authority of a multi-academy trust? Will these issues be covered by her committee, which will now be working in the remnants of this Government?
Secondly, the Minister has issued a document about regulating schools. Do I take it that some of the amendments likely to be tabled will cover that as well? If the Government are going to change the rules and regulations between schools and the department, that requires a long period of consultation in which schools, local authorities and educational experts must be listened to. Are we going to get that period of consultation on any of these fundamental changes? They must not be smuggled into this Bill on the understanding that “These are just a few clauses that we want”.
When the Minister said “one day”, did she mean that, when we are dealing with the replacement clauses, we will have this process for all those replacement clauses? It may have been a slip of the tongue, or a hopeful Government Whip’s answer about how long we will take, but if it is for all those clauses then that slightly changes the tone of what is being said. Will the replacements we are getting be under these new arrangements?
If I may, I would like to respond to my noble friend’s other points. It is extremely important, given that our debate is a matter of public record in Hansard, that assertions that are made in the House are accurate. With the greatest respect to my noble friend, I am very happy to share with him—and it is on GOV. UK—the list of people who are on the expert panel. I am very happy to talk about—and will be in a few moments, I hope—the extremely extensive engagement that we plan for over the summer. I do not think it is helpful to assert things that are not accurate about how the Government are approaching this Bill in continuing to get it to a good place. I will take any time with any Member of the House to make sure that there is no confusion about how we are approaching this.
On the regulation of schools, these standards are about the regulation of trusts; they are trust standards, not school standards.
I want us to pocket the clauses that the Government are going to give way on. Let us get rid of clauses that are unacceptable.
We are all rushing around trying to find a solution. I draw the Minister’s attention to paragraph 8.132 in the Companion, which I would like everyone sitting here today to consider. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is right: the present arrangement means that there would be no Report stage on the new clauses, and there would be no Committee stage on the new clauses. There will be a Committee process, which is quite different, and which will culminate in the ping-pong arrangements. The Companion states:
“Other bills may, on motion (which is debatable and of which notice is required) moved at any time between committee and third reading, be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House or Grand Committee in their entirety, or in respect of certain clauses or schedules. This course is adopted when it is desirable to give further detailed consideration to the bill or certain parts of it without the constraints on speaking which apply on report and third reading; for instance: when substantial amendments are tabled too late in the committee stage to enable them to be properly considered; where there is extensive redrafting; or where amendments are tabled at a later stage on subjects which have not been considered in committee.”
That seems to me to cover all the new clauses that may be put into the Bill as and when it gets to the Commons—if it gets to the Commons. We must not get to Third Reading; we must make any application, or move any Motion, before Third Reading. I would love to be an expert in procedure but I am not, but I think that may be an answer to the problem that is obviously vexing a number of Members of the House. There could be a recommitment of the amendments and we would then go to Committee stage.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. In view of the extraordinary and frankly unprecedented mess we are in with this Bill, would it not be sensible to adjourn the House so that there can be conversations between various key people? It might indeed be far better, neater and tidier—and, in the long run, far speedier—if the Bill were abandoned and a new one brought in when we have a new, effective Government in power.
My Lords, the House did just agree to consider its Report stage. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, made the point, as the Opposition Chief Whip did, that continuing discussions can happen between the usual channels ahead of Third Reading. It is important that the House is clear that we have agreed to consider Report, and that is what we are doing on the first group of amendments.
If that is the case, I must have dozed off at some stage. Does it not say “Report be now received” on the Annunciator? I am sure the noble Baroness is right, but the procedure suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, would have been perfect. During the passage of the Bill I considered several times recommitting sections of it to consider them, and to then go back to Report in the normal way. If we are now proceeding on Report, that opportunity has passed. We will be back to the situation where, if the Bill gets a Third Reading, we will need to do something much better for the way in which we consider a massive number of Commons amendments—unless of course we follow the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, which is to adjourn now and see if there is another way of dealing with it. I am afraid that the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, will not function now.
My Lords, as I think we are debating my Amendment 1, it might be helpful if we carried on, because in order to withdraw the 18 clauses we need this debate to start and, I hope, come to a speedy conclusion. I want to say three things.
First, I thank the Minister for listening to the House and agreeing to support the withdrawal of the first 18 clauses of the Bill, which are the bulk of Part 1. We appreciate that she has listened. Secondly, it is clear that the usual channels will need to have further discussions between now and Third Reading, and that part of those discussions will be about whether the House lets the Bill have a Third Reading and about the procedure to be followed if the Bill comes back to us. By the way, I think it is going to be many months before it comes back, given that the noble Baroness’s review has to take place. I assume there has to be consultation and that instructions then have to be given to parliamentary counsel, and a whole new set of clauses has to be introduced in the Commons.
Thirdly, having listened to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my friend the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, my experience is that, whatever the Companion says, the House can do what it wants to if it has been agreed as a sensible way to deal with a situation. At this stage, we should be content to leave it to the usual channels. If they have heard the voices of the House, at this point the Bill is unlikely to go through on Third Reading, unless there are sufficient guarantees that when the new amendments come back there is not just “a day”. Essentially, we should treat it as a Committee, go into Report and then it would go back. That is just my opinion, but it seems that we should now proceed.
I will obviously not press my Amendment 1 and will not speak to Amendments 2 and 3, to use the terminology as I understand it. But we should thank the Delegated Powers Committee and the scrutiny committee, along with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and my noble friend Lady Chapman. What they have done in the Bill is to identify a real and growing problem of the Executive drafting legislation in such a way that the role of Parliament has been undermined. It is very important that this House has put down a marker to say that we will not accept Bills like this in the future. In many ways, that is even more important than the first 18 clauses.
My Lords, the amendment proposed is to insert the words on the Marshalled List at Clause 1 on page 2 at the end of line 18. If I am wrong, I apologise.
My Lords, I will speak in a moment to Amendments 4, 7 and 9, but can I go back to the discussion that happened a few moments ago and the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott? I will again read paragraph 8.132 of the Companion: “Other bills”,
so one that has not been referred to a Select Committee or Joint Committee,
“may, on motion (which is debatable and of which notice is required)”—
that means assuming the usual channels cannot resolve the problem in a way that is satisfactory to the House—be
“moved at any time between committee and third reading”.
We are still on Report and will be at the end of today, so we will not have reached Third Reading. Although I do not claim to be an expert, I think it is open to the House to consider the remedy available at paragraph 8.132 of the Companion. That is what I would like the House to do and what I expect the usual channels will do. I should assert that, as Convenor of the Cross Benches, I am not a usual channel for these purposes because I do not have a party.
Now to the Bill. Of course, we are grateful to the Minister. I feel very concerned that somehow people may think the anxiety of the House is a reflection on her. I can do nothing except on behalf of myself thank her for the way in which she has listened. I have an awful suspicion—and she cannot confirm or deny this—that, if she had her way when she was in the department, we would not have ended up with the Bill in this absurd situation.
The provision in Clauses 1, 3 and 4 is extraordinary. I will go through what I said again when we were speaking about this last. The two words “Academy standards” are a clear misrepresentation of what Clause 1 is about. It is simply a skeleton provision from which the Secretary of State can pick whichever particular provisions he wishes to invent for himself; he is not bound by any of them, and he or she can write them for himself or herself.
Clause 3 is Henry VIII. The House has listened to me on Henry VIII a number of times so I will not go on about it, but I hope noble Lords have all noticed that the Bill has a particular quality, in that it has two Henry VIII clauses: Clause 3 and Clause 66. Removing Clause 3 simply removes something that is completely unnecessary. Clause 66 will no doubt continue because the departmental computer will just produce one at some stage in the Bill. I have never before come across two Henry VIII clauses in the same legislation—so we have Henry XVI, and the Bill has a particular record apart from all its other flaws.
It also has a provision in Clause 4 which is a shameful, pernicious new way for central government to obtain power: the issuing of guidance. When the Government and department of the day issue guidance, those to whom it is sent answer to it. In the Bill, there is a provision that enables the Secretary of State to issue a compliance direction anyway. So we have a new form of acquisition of central power, ultimately in No. 10 Downing Street, which we have shamed the country with by passing and enacting the Elections Act. It is exactly the same provision.
Any one of those three would be great from the point of view of central government, but we have all three together. It is a rather poisonous cocktail from all our points of view. It is like supping Irn-Bru, only on stilts. It is the most amazing combination of powers. That is why these clauses should fail.
I am concerned, as has been expressed by others, but not about the way in which the Conservative Party is going to sort itself out. I am concerned about that for the sake of the nation, but not for the sake of the Bill, because, as has been arranged so far, when the clauses go back in whatever form they are amended to the Commons—there will be new clauses—there will be no Second Reading or Committee here. We must therefore look at the provision of paragraph 8.132.
Something else worries me even more. The Bill started here, and this Minister was sitting here and able to hear observations from all sides of the House about the absurdity and the rather alarming features that discolour Clauses 1, 3 and 4. We have got where we have got to, and these amendments will pass in due course. But the chilling feature is that, if the Bill had happened to start in the House of Commons, I have no reasonable doubt that those provisions would have come to us as drafted, after peremptory debate. The Minister would then have had no option but to say, “Well, it’s gone through the Commons. What are you doing interfering with its wishes?” Of course, we would have gone on, but there comes a time when the Commons has to win.
It is pure luck that the power grab in these clauses has come before this House and that we have had this Minister here to lead her department to the obvious and sensible conclusion. But our present constitutional arrangements mean that only the coincidence that the Bill happened to start here gives us relief. If it had started in the other place, I have not the slightest doubt that this is the Bill that we would have had to consider. I find that chilling, because we all know that the opportunities for this House to change legislation that passed through the House of Commons are very limited. That is the state that our constitution has got to in 2022, and it is the most alarming feature of these clauses.
My Lords, it is time that we made some progress. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, proposed that the Bill should go forward on Report, and the Labour Chief Whip agreed. But we are getting into doing that without having passed a Motion, so I would like it to be made clear that we will now consider the Bill on Report and deal with whatever difficulties there are as that goes on.
I very much support what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said. As the Convenor of the Cross Benches and one of the most distinguished former Lord Chief Justices in this House, he has had a great impact on its feelings in our debates, and I hope that the usual channels will take notice of what he said. This is such an unusual procedure; it has not happened constitutionally in the history of this House. It is remarkable that we have been given the opportunity to make such a fundamental change to any Bill. It was a bad, bad Bill to begin with, and we managed to show that. Frankly, had it come from the Commons, we would not have got anywhere near as far; we would have just been told, “That is the wish of the Commons, with the Conservative majority of 80”.
I seriously hope that the usual channels will consider my noble friend Lord Cormack’s proposal about Third Reading. It would be very unusual to pass a Bill of this sort to a Third Reading. But the Minister rightly said that some other parts of the Bill are very good—I certainly agree some of them, such as those on home learning—but these could be taken out, put into a separate Bill very quickly and passed in both Houses with no trouble in a few months.
The other issues are much more important, because the Government are struggling now that local authorities no longer have any real control over education. In fact, they are debarred from the committee that the Minister has set up. Am I right in saying that, as far as I can see, there is no representative from local authorities on the committee?
When I looked through the list of committee members, I could not see anyone representing local authorities. The Minister might well discuss this with them, but it would be helpful if she could send us all the terms of what they are expected to cover. If it is just about multi-academy trusts and the controls that the Government have held to regulate them, I would go along with her. If it goes further than that, I have reservations. The involvement of local communities and local views has inspired English education since the great Act of 1870. Quite frankly, however, there is none of that in this Bill; nowhere are the views of local people to be found. A school is not just an education institution; it is part of a local and social community. This has always been the tradition, and these views must somehow be reflected in any proposal that the Minister brings to us.
I am very grateful for the support of various Peers, particularly the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on the question of the Government’s power. This Bill increases the powers of both the Secretary of State and the department in a way that has never been known since 1870. I do not believe that the Minister had any hand in drafting the Bill. When I was Secretary of State, I always found that there was an element in the department which wanted these controls from the word go. Although these people have never run a school, some of them always want to run all the schools—thank heavens we managed to stop that. I do not think this will come back in any of the amendments we get after the new Government take over.
This is really strange procedure but it is utterly unsatisfactory to be offered only one day for debate. The clauses will be important and a way must be found—and a guarantee given by the Government before we pass Third Reading—for us to have plenty more time to discuss it in this House, should we pass Third Reading. This Bill started in this House and can be improved again in this House.
My Lords, I will speak briefly, focusing on this group of amendments and to help the House move on from discussing procedure and process. There are some really strong amendments in this group. It is right that the Minister has listened to us and agreed to take out the clauses that she has—extraordinary as that feels. It gives us the procedural problem that we have been debating. I welcome the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, on that subject.
I support Amendment 2 in respect of “parents councils”; it is important that the voices of parents are heard in our academies. I especially support Amendment 5 from my noble friends on the Front Bench. Thinking forward to how this Bill will proceed, when we have a substantive new Secretary of State, it will be really helpful for that person to look at this amendment and make some kind of policy statement to both Houses on how they see an all-academy school system working, so that we have clarity around several issues: how we attract and retain sufficient high-quality teachers in the system; the view on qualified teachers working in academies; the view on them abiding by national pay and conditions; and how we hold accountable academies and the regional directors in the system who will be carrying out the Secretary of State’s bidding. What is the role of local governing bodies alongside parents councils? That question is the substance of the next group of amendments, so I will not speak to that. What is the place of a national curriculum when academies do not need to abide by it, and what elements of the curriculum do we want to make compulsory in such a school system?
Finally, of course, there is clarifying which academy freedoms are left once all those other things have been made clear. That is the kind of thing that Amendment 5 is trying to set out; it is trying to put some kind of guide rail around the standards that will come forward in the fullness of time. On that basis, I very strongly support the amendments.
My Lords, this group of amendments is basically a series of stand part debates and “Let’s get rid and start again”. As has been said, this is unprecedented. What comes in its place? Well, there is Amendment 5 from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. I am not sure it has my favourite tone and maybe it is too close to what came before, but it is certainly a sensible place to start a discussion. I am not sure I agree with every word of it, but it does not really matter. We are starting a process of discussion about the limits of government involvement in the day-to-day management of schools and the correct process by which to approach Parliament. The two sit together. These are two awfully big issues to be contained within one group. Occasionally, people will be drawn from one to the other—“What looks more exciting or sexier at the moment?”—and going back and down. However, I thank the Minister for listening on this point. It cannot have been easy.
I did ask the Minister whether she had figured out what she did in a previous life to end up getting this Bill. We do not know the answer to that one, but it might be quite entertaining to surmise. The fact is that the process has been unacceptable, as is the idea that a Government would take the power to actually run something. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, tells us that nobody has done it since 1870; I am pretty sure he is right. Nobody has been able to tell a school how to run in itself in minute detail—the framework, maybe, but not in minute detail. Academies were also supposed to be the great exemplar of “Let everything bloom”, or “Do your own thing”, and that is rather killed here. At least, that is my reading of it.
I thank the Government for what they have done; I am appalled that they had to do it. Will the Minister, when she gets back to us, give a little more guidance on what they think will replace it? They must have some idea. If we do not have some idea, and we do not extract it, we shall go round this course again. Indeed, it might be a case of leaving something in so that the Government have to come back to it. The amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, would fulfil that purpose quite happily. We need some idea of where we are going; we are in a very odd place. I have not been here before, anyway. We need to know what is going on. Certain parts of the Bill have a degree of support, at least in principle, from around the House, but we need that little bit of structure about where we shall go next time.
Will the Minister take back to her honourable and noble friends the fact that this House has said that this is not the way forward, on any occasion? If the Bill had been a Commons starter, yes, we would have done it, but we would have been up all night fighting this tooth and nail. We might have had to give in in the end, but if the Government want to give up a month or two of legislative time, that we can give them. The debate about sitting hours and sitting up late would have become utterly irrelevant in that case, because we would have had to do it; as we might have to, indeed, when it comes to that one day of discussion on the Bill—if it is just one day. I do not particularly like staying up all night, but I am prepared to do it if I have to.
My Lords, I say very briefly that amid the myriad arguments on this group and, indeed, throughout the Bill, there is, if it does not sound too pompous, a philosophical difference, to put it mildly, about academies and their role. I have to say I particularly like my noble friend Lord Hunt’s Amendment 1, with its
“strategic policy on parental and community engagement”,
and I very much like the proposed new clause in Amendment 5 from my noble friends on the Front Bench, particularly proposed new subsection (2)(b)(iii) and (iv), which refers to
“the duty to cooperate with the local authority in school admissions; the duty to cooperate with the local authority in school place planning”.
That seems to be where the divide is: whether you see these academies as part of the community and to a degree answerable to the community, with community involvement, or as islands, looking after their own interests and without any requirement to be part of the whole. We will no doubt have that debate in whatever time is allowed when the Bill comes back to us from the Commons—if it gets that far.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of a multi-academy trust, Future Academies, and a trustee of the Education Policy Institute. I am no expert on parliamentary procedure and will not comment on the discussions on it so far, but I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on listening to the concerns expressed across your Lordships’ House and by the sector, and on her approach. I will reserve judgment on any clauses that come back in whatever way until I see them, but I am delighted that my noble friend and her department will now engage widely with the sector and others. I also endorse her and my noble friend Lord Baker’s point that there are other very important parts of this Bill; for instance, on children missing from education, home education and illegal settings, which are long overdue for legislation.
My Lords, having listened to everything that has been said, it is very tempting to rub salt in the wound, but I will resist.
We are of course pleased that the Government have agreed to withdraw Clauses 1 to 18, but note that they had no other option. At first, we wondered how this had happened. I now do not think that this was just poor drafting; I think that the Government did not know what they intended to do with this Bill. I think there was a legislative slot marked “Schools Bill” and this Bill was tabled. It should never have been tabled as it was.
Things have been said about what might have happened had this Bill been presented in the Commons. Obviously, none of us knows. I like to think that that would not have happened, because someone would have seen its deficiencies and intercepted it. All the problems we have managed to surface through our deliberations—the lack of plan, the lack of vision and there being none of the pre-legislative scrutiny that ought to have taken place and which will now take place half way through the Bill’s progress, over the summer—would have been exposed.
It is very sad that we have come to this because, as the Minister rightly reminds us, there are parts of the Bill—those looking at children not in school and illegal schools—whose implementation may be delayed, as it is not clear that we will get this Bill back as quickly as we might have done had it not been presented in the way it was. Quite a lot of work will now have to take place. It has obviously been an appalling process. It is heartening to know that noble Lords are not used to being treated this way and that we should not expect this from the Government in future.
Some colleagues have referred to Amendment 5 tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Wilcox. To be clear, we did not table this imagining that it would be a favourite of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, or anyone else. The point was to demonstrate that the Government could have proceeded in another way. We will not push it to a vote, but it was tabled to show that you can go about these things in a much better way. There could and should have been much more clarity on what the Government wanted to do.
It is worth taking this opportunity to speak a little about this amendment—I will not go on—to make it clear where these Benches stand on some of the issues of substance that have come before us. It is important that we do that because, although the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I have found common cause through the passage of this Bill so far, we have done so for very different reasons. It is important that we are upfront and clear about that—he would expect nothing different from me.
The first and most important line in the amendment is:
“Following the completion of the Academies Regulatory and Commissioning Review”.
Nothing should have been tabled along these lines until that review was complete. I welcome the fact that the Government now share that view; it is a shame that we have had to do it in the way that we have.
I want to highlight six points that we on these Benches feel are quite important and that we need clarity on so that we know where we stand. The first is the way that academies handle complaints. Then there are the minimum qualifications required by teaching staff; you will see that this amendment complements other amendments that we have tabled around complaints, admissions and qualified teacher status. We have included adherence to national agreements achieved thorough negotiating bodies for minimum standards of pay, terms and conditions of employment, trade union recognition, adherence to the national curriculum, and, importantly, a duty to co-operate with the local authority on school admissions.
That is where these Benches are coming from on this issue. We understand that that will be very different from where other noble Lords might be coming from, but we are not having a big row among ourselves on these issues. It pleases me no end to say that that is going to be the problem of the Minister when she devises her new clauses for us to consider, perhaps later in the year.
It is clearly not satisfactory that the Government intend to come back to us with these new clauses without us having had the opportunity to debate and vote on them in the way that we would have done had this process been a more normal one. Let us see what the usual channels come up with when they consider that point; it is a point that has been very well made, and one that everyone understands. It is very unfortunate that we have got to the situation that we have, but we are interested to hear about what the Minister wants to do over the summer, using the time that she has, to consult and engage with the relevant stakeholders.
I worry that, again, this is going to be rushed. The idea that some sort of consensus will emerge at the end of it is probably unrealistic. With a likely change of Secretary of State, we just do not know, from what the Minister has said in the past, where we are going to be led with this. It would be helpful if she could talk to us about the people who are going to be involved, the finer points of that process and what she expects. If we are right, and the Government did not know what they intended when they tabled this Bill and need to go through that process now, it is unlikely that the Minister at this point knows what the outcome is going to be, otherwise that is what would have been tabled in the first place. The more she could say about that at this stage, the better.
We will not be pressing our Amendment 5 to a vote, but it is really important that the House is clear where these Benches are coming from and how we would have approached this issue.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend the Minister for listening, I think she has had a torrid time over the last six weeks, and has done it with great courtesy and patience. I am delighted that she is leading on the removal of these first 18 clauses. I am anxious for the Minister to reassure us, as many other Peers have said, that we will see properly the outcome of the regulatory review that has just been kicked off, because that always was putting the cart before the horse. We need to understand exactly what the Government have in mind, and to make sure that it is proportional and specific.
I was given one explanation by officials: that I could rely on the principle that government will always act in a proportional way. I am afraid that I have very little faith in that, and the only defence we have in public law is a judicial review. Very few academy trusts would have the resources or the courage to bring that against the Government, knowing that if they lost, they would have the costs from the Government as well. So I ask that, maybe not today but in the course of this process over the next few weeks, the Minister gives us reassurance. For example, on the slightly pernicious reference to “interim trustees”, who essentially arrive as completely powerful and able to kill off everybody in the trust and take full control, there needs to be a very specific set of reasons why something so drastic could ever happen.
I also ask that the Minister reassure us that the academy freedoms will be carefully spelt out, because that is an important principle which brings people such as me into this movement. If I am just going to be put into a bureaucratic straitjacket and told from Whitehall how to educate children, why would I bother to do it? Whitehall and DfE need to understand that the inputs needed in different communities are radically different. As I have said to the Minister before, we have two primary schools in Norwich that are two miles apart, and we use a completely different form of education in each to reflect the very different types of children we are dealing with. This is really important. I ask the Government: please do not dictate inputs to us. We have a primary school in Great Yarmouth which has finally got a good rating for the first time in the history of Ofsted’s existence. Is that some 40 years? I do not know. I think my noble friend set up Ofsted; it was a long time ago. The school has been through every permutation of educational pedagogy, and we have finally found the formula. Nobody in Whitehall came up with those answers.
Lastly, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, over the last few weeks we have seen demonstrated what I would call the overweening will of the Executive. Frankly, they have just ploughed forward against the interests of my noble friend the Minister—and of the Secretary of State, as far as I was aware, because I had direct conversations with him about this Bill as soon as I understood the full extent of it. So, on the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, it is very important that the Executive not be able to just bulldoze their own agendas through. However, I thank my noble friend the Minister again, and I am delighted that these clauses are being withdrawn.
My Lords, may I just point out that Mr Johnson and his colleagues sought no mandate for the substantial reform of academies in the 2019 election manifesto? There is one page devoted to education in the Tory 2019 election manifesto, and it contains no sentence on or reference at all to academies.
My Lords, I thank the Minister. She has been to one of our conferences with 200 people, and I am proud to say that she is coming to our conference in October, where we will have 4,500 teachers, and seeing some of our children. I am really passionate about academies. My noble friend Lord Baker got me involved in the first one at Crystal Palace 30 years ago. That was a very bad school, where 60 children a year were expelled. Over the last 30 years, it has been one of the best schools in the country. Last year, it had 5,000 applicants for 180 places. It is a world-class school for the second time, and 35% of its children are on free school meals.
The Harris Federation runs 51 schools, 52 this year. We have only taken over free schools from start-ups or failing schools. Some 90% of our schools are now outstanding, and we have five world-class secondary schools and one world-class primary school. I have to thank Michael Gove, Secretary of State at the time, for giving us that school seven years ago under a lot of opposition. It was in the worst 2% of schools in the country but now, seven years later, it is not just outstanding: it is world class. From the start, with my noble friend Lord Baker, and through to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, Tony Blair and Michael Gove, academies have made a great difference to many children in this country, as we have given them a better education. One of my ambitions is to see every child in this country getting a great education, because they only ever get one chance at it. They might have five or six jobs throughout their lives, but only one education.
Five years ago, everyone was against Michael Gove getting the school over the road to be a sixth form—Harris Westminster. I am so proud of that school. It was the eighth best in the country last year, with more than 50% of the children there on free meals. The seven that beat us cost anything from £50,000 to £100,000 a year to go to. It is all down to having great teachers, giving good service, making sure that children enjoy going to school, motivating them and making sure they do the best they can. That is what we should try to do with every child in this country. If we could do that, we would have a much better country.
My Lords, I start with an apology. Many of your Lordships started by saying that your remarks would be brief, but I apologise that mine may be rather longer. I know your Lordships will understand why, and I also say how much I appreciate the kind and generous comments that so many of your Lordships have made about my work on the Bill.
Starting with whether Clauses 1 to 18 and Schedules 1 and 2 should stand part of the Bill, I said in my letter of 30 June how seriously the Government take the views of the House and its Committees, and that is why we support the removal of Clauses 1 to 18 and have tabled the removal of Clause 2 and Schedules 1 and 2.
Before I speak about the policy behind the clauses, I confirm and shall elaborate on, as a number of your Lordships have asked me to do, our plan to develop new clauses. We will work closely with the sector and parliamentarians over the summer with the intention of developing a revised approach to the academy trust standards. I have had a brief conversation with the noble Baroness opposite about how the Opposition Front Benches want to be involved in this, but I extend my earlier invitation. We will take whatever time is needed to engage with your Lordships and those whom you believe it is important for us to talk to, but I ask your Lordships first to look at the information we have already posted on GOV.UK, and I shall set out in a letter a little more about our intended engagement plans, so that we use everyone’s time as intelligently as possible.
I am pleased to inform the House that we held the first meeting of the external advisory group, which I chair, last week and we began discussing these important matters. On my noble friend’s question about the terms of reference for the group, they are on GOV.UK, as is its membership. Its purpose is set out and the inbox for anyone wishing to contribute to the review is also there. I shall make sure that all those details and the links are included in my letter to your Lordships following this debate. We are planning an intensive programme of engagement with the unions and leaders of schools of all types, both multi-academy trusts and maintained schools. We have already started talking to a number of key system thinkers in the field and, importantly, a number of representative bodies, including, of course, the Churches. The interim findings of the review will inform a revised legislative approach to the academy standards.
I turn specifically to the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, my noble friend Lord Baker, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, which seek to remove Clauses 1, 3 and 4; and to the amendments in my name, which remove Clause 2 and Schedule 1 and make consequential changes to the Bill. I acknowledge that they are the correct response to concerns about both the drafting of the clauses on academy standards provisions as they stood on the introduction of this Bill and the breadth of the delegated powers that were proposed. The Government are supporting these amendments at this stage to secure time to engage with the sector and relevant stakeholders, and to reconsider how best to implement the policy intent behind these measures in legislation ahead of Committee in the other place.
Furthermore, in response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendation, we are determined to use this summer’s review to find a way that meets our policy objectives without the need for the Henry VIII power originally sought through Clause 3. The Government remain firmly committed to a fully trust-led school system; to enable this, we are still clear that changes are needed to the way the school system is managed. My noble friend Lord Lexden referred to the Government’s manifesto, but I would also refer him to the schools White Paper, where we set out clearly our plans in relation to this.
We need to establish a statutory framework that enables effective, risk-based regulation and ensures that the same minimum standards are applied consistently across all trusts. By defining the scope within which the Government can set standards, we will be able to protect the core academy freedoms from being amended by the regulations. We want to provide clarity for the academy sector about the limits of the Secretary of State’s powers to make decisions on its behalf, as well as sending a strong signal to the wider school sector about the Government’s commitment to moving to a fully trust-led school system in which all schools can benefit from being part of strong multi-academy trusts. The examples given by my noble friend Lord Harris were wonderful; I look forward to the next conference.
The intention behind the drafting of these clauses was to take an important step towards securing the permanence of that system and to bring clarity to the limits of the Secretary of State’s powers. Although Clause 1 was intended to reduce the complexity of the regulatory landscape by bringing existing requirements into one set of standards, I recognise the concern that, as drafted, the clause would allow a Government to go beyond these intentions. The Government’s aim is not and has never been to centralise power over academies or undermine their freedoms.
As my noble friend Lord Agnew elaborated on, we know that the best academy trusts use their freedoms to transform outcomes for pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged, and deliver improvement in schools and areas where poor performance has become entrenched. We do not believe that great trusts are made through lists of standards and regulations, and we do not intend to micro-manage or further centralise power over them. Rather, we want to simplify the regulatory framework for academy trusts, seeking opportunities for deregulation where it is appropriate to do so. Our intention is to bring back a revised power that makes the limits on the Government’s powers crystal clear. I wish to provide certainty that we will protect the fundamental freedoms to which my noble friend Lord Agnew referred.
Through our work to develop revised clauses, we will seek to establish the principles on which the academy standards will be based and ensure that any delegated powers sought provide a more clearly defined and constrained regulatory approach. Through these reforms, we are committed to creating a regulatory environment that enables the best academy trusts to drive system-wide improvement through innovation and best practice while ensuring that all academy trusts meet the same minimum standards, providing fairness and consistency for all. I will now turn to the remaining amendments relating to Clause 1.
Amendment 1, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Blunkett, and Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, are intended to ensure that every academy has a parent council and a policy on parental and community engagement. I assure the noble Lords that we recognise the important role of parental and community engagement. Each academy trust, through its funding agreement, has an existing duty to ensure that each of its academies is at the heart of its community, promoting community cohesion and sharing facilities with other schools, educational institutions, and the wider community. The Governance Handbook contains guidance on parental and community engagement. Academy trusts are best placed to decide what engagement methods work best in their local context.
Amendment 3, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would require the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring each multi-academy trust to set out the responsibilities to be devolved to the local governing body. We will discuss with the sector how to implement local governance arrangements for schools in all trusts, as we set out in the schools White Paper. I am sure that your Lordships understand that we do not want to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions.
Amendment 5, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, presents a revised version of the academy standards clauses. While the noble Baronesses have included a list of the areas for which the regulations can make provision, I am sure that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, reflected, they will understand that the Government think it right to await the outcome of the first part of the regulatory and commissioning review so that the revised clauses can be informed by its findings and our engagement with the sector.
Turning to subsections (3) to (5) of the new clause proposed by the amendment, the Government have no intention of increasing the regulatory burden on the academy sector. We will work closely with sector representatives over the summer on this point. We expect that the first set of academy standards will largely reflect existing standards and requirements placed on academy trusts. It is the responsibility of the academy trust to ensure that the standards are met in full within the trust. Finally, I can confirm that every iteration of the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure in Parliament.
Responding to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, in relation to the role of the local authority in admissions, we have tried to set out our plans but perhaps we need to repeat and reinforce what we said in the White Paper. Local authorities will remain responsible for delivering the right number of school places in their area and will continue to play a central role in fair admissions, particularly for the most vulnerable children. We will consult on local authorities co-ordinating all applications in year as well as for the main round of admissions, which was a point raised by the noble Lord. We will also consult on strengthening the processes by which vulnerable children are found and secured a school place quickly, whether that is in mainstream or alternative provision, which will include a new, limited local authority power to direct academies to admit a child on those rare occasions where the normal collaborative routes have been exhausted. I hope that gives some context. I mention it to underline the point that the Government and my very able officials in the department are really prepared to go through all these important points of detail with your Lordships to ensure that we are debating the points where we really disagree, rather than the ones where, hopefully, we are on the same page.
The Government acknowledge the concerns that have been raised on the academy trust termination and intervention powers in Clauses 5 to 18 and Schedule 2. Those clauses are intended to provide a proportionate and transparent framework for intervention in under- performing academy trusts. However, I recognise that there are concerns in the House that the powers could be used disproportionately, particularly to enforce the new standards. These concerns are reflected in amendments which have been tabled by my noble friends Lord Baker, Lord Nash and Lord Agnew to oppose these clauses standing part of the Bill.
We are supportive of these amendments, and I have tabled an amendment to remove Schedule 2 to complete their effect. The overarching aim of these provisions is to put in place a ladder of intervention, enabling the department to address issues at the earliest opportunity in a proportionate way, rather than having to rely on termination powers. We are committed to putting in place a regulatory framework which enables the department to act where necessary to ensure academies meet the minimum standards that the Government and parents expect of them.
I believe the concerns about Clauses 5 to 18 are different in their nature and extent to those about Clauses 1 to 4, and I want to be clear that our approach to the intervention and termination provisions will, in general, be maintained. I am grateful to your Lordships for the thoughtful scrutiny of these provisions and I look forward to engaging with members across the House as we bring forward revised measures.
My Lords, it has been a very interesting debate, and I am very grateful to the Minister because I think she very carefully set out the context for the work that the Government are now going to take forward in her wind-up speech.
I was very struck by the tension at the heart of what she said. She was seeking to reassure her noble friends behind her that academy freedoms were not under threat in the work that was being undertaken, but at the same time she used the words “fairness” and “consistency”. We need to say that the importance of these 18 clauses, particular Clauses 1 to 4, is that the Government in their White Paper signalled that all schools are to become academies. They will then move into multi-academy trusts. What we are talking about is the essential governance and accountability of all schools in England. That is why these clauses are so important.
I am not sure how long the work is going to take. I think it is going to take quite some time, and I think it is going to be quite some time before we see the Bill coming back to your Lordships’ House. The one thing I do know is that it will not be satisfactory for us to spend a day on this. We must enable ourselves to go through a procedure whereby we have a proper committee report and then we can send whatever we like, if we wish to, back to the Commons. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, very helpfully referred to the Companion and a particular reference point—I think it was paragraph 8.132. A clear message has been given to the usual channels to go away and discuss this so that, before Third Reading, there is clear understanding about how the House is to scrutinise the changes that are likely to be made in the House of Commons. I think the Front Benches on all sides of the House have taken that to heart.
I do not think we can take this any further today. We should allow the removal of these clauses. I think, once again, we should reflect that we are essentially talking about the future governance of all schools in England. That deserves thorough scrutiny. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.
I think Amendment 4 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington.
I am so sorry. I have the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, here, but it is not against an amendment.
4: Leave out Clause 1
Amendment 4 agreed.
Amendment 5 not moved.
Clause 2: Academy standards: relationship with contractual agreements
6: Leave out Clause 2
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the removal of clause 1.
Amendment 6 agreed.
Clause 3: Academies: power to apply or disapply education legislation
7: Leave out Clause 3
Amendment 7 agreed.
Schedule 1: Application of maintained school legislation to Academies
8: Leave out Schedule 1
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would leave out Schedule 1, which contains amendments relating to the application of education legislation to Academies.
Amendment 8 agreed.
Clause 4: Academies: guidance
9: Leave out Clause 4
Amendment 9 agreed.
10: After Clause 4, insert the following new Clause—
“Academies: local governing bodies(1) A proprietor of two or more Academies must establish a committee (“a local governing body”) for each Academy in its care.(2) A local governing body must comprise the following persons—(a) the headteacher of the Academy;(b) at least one person appointed by the proprietor of the Academy;(c) at least one person employed by the proprietor to work at the Academy, elected by those persons employed by the proprietor to work at that Academy;(d) at least one parent or guardian of a pupil registered at the Academy, elected by the parents and guardians of pupils registered at that Academy;(e) at least one person appointed by the local authority in England in which the Academy is located.(3) A local governing body may apply to the Secretary of State to transfer the Academy for which it is responsible to the care of a different proprietor.(4) Regulations may make further provision about the powers of a local governing body.(5) In this section “local authority in England” has the same meaning as in section 579 of the Education Act 1996 (general interpretation).”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that there is a governing body for each individual Academy with a role for parents and the local authority on each governing body.
My Lords, I shall move Amendment 10 in my name and speak to my Amendment 43 in this group. I preface my remarks by commenting on the important points that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, made about schooling. He is absolutely right that it is the role of school to motivate children. It can do that with the best possible teachers and resources. As the noble Lord rightly said, children get only one chance, but I think he missed out leadership. Leadership is hugely important.
In this debate about academies, one of my concerns has been that we almost regard maintained schools as not very good and have forgotten them. I have rarely heard Ministers praise maintained schools that did a good job in turning themselves around. You have to look only at the area where I taught: there was a maintained secondary school called the Grange School, which had appalling results. Along came a new head teacher, with dynamic leadership, and the school blossomed and thrived in exactly the same way as the schools that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, talked about.
I hope we can stop this business of claiming that one type of school is better than another. I remember the constant “Well, academies’ results are better than those of the maintained sector.” We can all play that game, if we want to. The latest figures out now—I do not particularly want to dwell on this—say that the maintained sector is possibly performing better than the academies sector.
That does not matter now, because we know the Government’s direction of travel. We know that academies started during Tony Blair’s Government and developed during the coalition, with my party working alongside and supporting that development. Much to my regret, as I always thought there would be a dual track in the maintained sector, we saw that if there was a slight suggestion that any school was failing, it was immediately pushed into an academy. But we have moved past those days.
At Second Reading, I welcomed the fact that we are moving towards one system of schooling. It would not have been my choice of how we do it, but we are there now and, over the next 10 years, I think we will see all schools becoming academies and local authorities being given the opportunity to create multi-academy trusts. The amendment in the last group in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and referred to by my noble friend Lord Addington, is one of the ingredients of a multi-academy trust that is hugely important. We will come back to that in future.
This group is about governance. I remind your Lordships of my major concern. If we look at the top 10 multi-academy trusts, we see that they have 70 or 80 schools. Take United Learning just as an example, with 75 schools which stretch from Barnsley to Stockport, Manchester, Oxford, Bognor Regis and all over the country. The trust and the trustees are headquartered in the south-east. I have concerns about that and about how the trustees of that multi-academy trust relate to local people and local communities. We have always agreed that the local community is an ingredient of a successful school, so we need to look at how we can recognise and develop community links and relate to the community and the locality.
It is interesting that the 2,539 trusts now established are made up of only 10,000 schools. The largest proportion is in the south-west—58%—and the smallest number is in the north-west—26%. The largest geographical areas where these trusts are headquartered are, as you can imagine, the south-east and the south-west.
That brings me on to the issue of the governing bodies of schools. We know that academy trusts set the strategic direction of the trust, hold the senior leadership to account and oversee the trust’s financial performance, but governing bodies of schools are equally important. Governing bodies are there to do a number of very important tasks: to build up that community relationship that I talked about; to establish ethical standards; to monitor and evaluate the progress of a school; to be curious and critical; and to ask difficult questions. Governors of schools should be good at problem solving and be prepared to give and take advice. It concerns me that we are seeing a number of multi-academy trusts deciding that they do not need a governing body and not putting anything in its place to do the things I have talked about. Amendment 10 states that every school should have its own governing body. It is crucial. It is a way of relating to parents in the community and of involving teachers in a school. I hope that when the Minister replies she will reflect on what I have said on this amendment and will support it. I beg to move.
My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lady Blower I shall speak to Amendments 33, 34, 37, 38 and 41, which are in my name and that of my noble friend. They are concerned with the process by which a school becomes an academy or an academy trust joins a multi-academy trust, and they essentially seek to ensure early consultation with staff and parents before any hard decisions are made.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Storey, on his amendment because I had a similar amendment in Committee and I am very glad he has taken it up, and because it is rather wearying to listen to the litany of academy successes when we know that it is a very mixed picture and that there are many fine maintained schools. We also know that the Government’s decision is to move to full academisation. That is the context in which we are now debating these matters.
What has been so striking for me watching the academy movement is how secretive so many of the arrangements have been, with parents and staff excluded until after the key decisions have been made, and an absence of meaningful consultation. What happens is that a decision is made by a governing body, which consults on it and then agrees that its original decision was the right one. That is not proper consultation. I seek to say that parents and staff deserve to be talked to at the beginning about choices and fundamental challenges and to be very involved, rather than essentially having a decision handed down to them.
The National Governance Association, for which I have a great deal of admiration, has briefed that it is particularly concerned about Clause 29, which allows local authorities to apply for academy orders for its maintained schools without governing body consent. It thinks that governing bodies are best placed to understand their schools’ contact and to take good decisions about their future. However, sometimes governing bodies seem to find it impossible to take staff and parents into their confidence.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the situation at Holland Park School and its basically enforced move into the United Learning academy trust against the wishes of many parents and staff. In the last year, Holland Park School has been undergoing what can be described only as a turbulent transition to new leadership in the wake of the sudden departure of its head teacher and many of the school leaders and the consequent falling away of an evidently problematic management style. The replacement governance team failed to bring the staff on side and, as a result of continued failings in governance and leadership, recently received a poor Ofsted report. When I read it, I found that the report focused mainly on poor governance and leadership as opposed to the quality of teaching, where Ofsted acknowledged that teachers “have secure subject knowledge” and
“benefit from good-quality training that supports them in delivering the curriculum.”
The irony is that the failing governing body’s obsession with forcing the school into a large and geographically widespread trust is the one thing that is being taken forward by the regional schools commissioner, because under the rules she now has to make a decision about what happens to Holland Park. She has quickly decided to recommend that it joins the United Learning trust. That is now going out to consultation, but who can have any faith whatever that it is going to be a proper consultation when the commissioner has already said what her preference is?
That has been done despite the local authority supporting the locally preferred solution of a local multi-academy trust, with Holland Park School joining Kensington Aldridge Academy, by making a £1 million loan available to support that. The decision has been made despite the local Conservative MP, Felicity Buchan, issuing a public statement referring to
“a strong preference amongst parents, teachers, RBKC Council, the MP and the wider community”
for Holland Park to join a local MAT. That is a reflection of what has been happening up and down the country, where these decisions are made rather high-handedly and then put out to consultation, and the last people to be involved are the people who should be involved in the first place: the parents and teachers at the school.
The implication of what is now happening, with essentially all schools becoming academies, is that they are going to have to be placed in a much stronger governance structure. I think that is the reason why the Minister’s noble friends behind her look so worried. Whatever she says about “freedoms”, it is abundantly clear that we will now have a system where the Secretary of State is responsible to Parliament for all schools through the multi-academy trusts. As someone who has spent years and years wrestling with governance and accountability in the health service, and the tension between national direction and responsibility and local freedoms, I say that the Minister has a huge challenge when leading the governance review that we referred to in the last debate.
My amendments try to say to the Government, when going forward with academy status for all schools and then translation into multi-academy trusts, please let us have a much more open process by which those decisions should be made. Do not present teachers and staff with a decision that says, “We have decided to go with this multi-academy trust and we’re going to consult on it”. There should be much more open consultation; there should be much more debate about which MAT an academy trust should go into. Of course, I hope that this will form part of the review that she will undertake over the next few months.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 42 in my name, and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for signing it. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, also wanted to sign the amendment—unfortunately, she is not here today—but her email to the Bill office arrived a few moments too late. But to have two former Secretaries of State from different parties supporting the amendment demonstrates that this is in no way a party-political matter; it is a cross-party amendment.
It is, of course, a small amendment in that it applies only to a very limited number of specialist schools. The Bill in general affects thousands of schools, but at the moment I believe there are only about eight maths schools and a similar number of music and ballet schools in the music and dance programme. They are all centres of excellence; they take children purely on their talent in that specialisation. A high proportion of the children come from disadvantaged households and ethnic minorities. In the case of the maths schools, all the children get high grades at A-level and all go to leading universities. King’s Maths School, of which I am patron, recently celebrated being named by the Sunday Times state school of the decade. I was sorry that, in the end, the Minister was unable to come to that celebration. She would have seen how incredibly important it is to preserve that and other maths schools.
The music and dance school I know best is the Royal Ballet School where, for 10 years, my wife was chairman. I can tell you that all the students from there, on leaving the school, were offered places in leading ballet and dance companies both in the UK and abroad.
The point is that these specialist schools are really worth preserving. I put down a probing amendment in Committee and I have re-read this morning in Hansard the response from the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, on behalf of the Government. She said,
“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.”—[Official Report, 15/6/22; col. 1607.]
I realise that this statement was meant to reassure me and others, but I must respectfully disagree with two presumptions in it. First, it is not at all clear that there would be any benefit for those schools to be part of a multi-academy trust. Secondly, it is also far from clear that multi-academy trusts are all strong.
Yesterday, the Minister wrote to Peers, saying that
“we will consider whether anything needs to be done to ensure that the Bill would not allow the Secretary to State to require a standalone academy to join”—
a multi-academy trust
“except in the very limited circumstances I have described above”.
May I politely suggest to the Minister that Amendment 42 will do just that, and could therefore be accepted by the Government, as it would ensure that a future Secretary of State could not act without the agreement of the governing body and, at maths schools, without the agreement of the sponsoring university?
In her letter, the Minister also refers to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben: that these schools could be forced to join multi-academy trusts by the threat of withholding funding. But the Minister then gives assurances only about the funding of mainstream academies, so it does not really meet the point.
We must be clear that these schools are very special. The music and dance programme was started by a Labour Government, but has been supported by subsequent Governments. The maths schools were started by the coalition Government when Michael Gove was Secretary of State. To alter their structure and governance would risk their ethos and their extraordinary record of achievement, professionally and socially.
The Minister and her officials appear to believe that the “halo effect”—her words—could be disseminated across many schools in a multi-academy trust. The Minister, as so many Members have said, is so respected in this House and, for that reason, I am sorry to disagree with her. These schools were created to produce excellent outcomes for gifted students. They have been a huge success and we should not risk this success so that government can place all schools in standardised structures, which may be beneficial for mainstream schools but not for these very few educational establishments which the country is so proud of.
When we get to it—unfortunately, I understand that it does not come for a while—I will move my amendment. I hope it will be supported; indeed, I hope it will be accepted by the Government before we get to a vote.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that there are many maintained and voluntary-aided stand-alone schools that have turned themselves around incredibly well through good leadership and high-quality teaching, so academisation is not the simple answer. Local leadership and governance undoubtedly need to be got right. I declare my interest as chair of the National Society and would like to highlight the importance here, in the church sector, of the diocesan boards of education as key local engagers. We will come to that in a later group.
Local knowledge of schools is crucial in ensuring that their flourishing is provided for. However, I am going to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Storey, because I find the amendment overly mandatory and restrictive, giving too much power to a local body to trigger a school leaving an academy trust; I am not sure that that is right. The principle of local governance needs to be got right. I am not convinced that this amendment as proposed is quite the right way to do it. As was said in Committee, it is important to have proper local engagement, but it must not be too detailed in how it is mandated.
In relation to that, I support the proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, around local consultation in Amendments 33, 34, 37, 38 and 41, because that is critical. Also critical is Amendment 43 on geographic consultation. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, about multi-academy trusts that are spread out a long way. Inevitably, people based in the south-east will not know, for example, what is going on the north-east, in my patch. That geographic consultation is very important.
Amendment 45, which has not been talked about, is about the inspection of MATs. It is surely inevitable, if we move in the direction of travel that the White Paper lays out around all schools being in strong multi-academy trusts, that we are going to have to have a new system of inspection for MATs by Ofsted. I would like to highlight an example of an alternative way of doing it, which involved the diocese of Birmingham’s MAT and the diocese of Liverpool’s MAT. They have twinned to undertake mutual scrutiny and support. We heard about it at the conference last week, which the noble Baroness attended, for which I thank her. They found that the most powerful, helpful way of improving themselves and learning was by twinning with a MAT that had a similar flavour—they were both diocesan Church of England school MATs—but in different geographical settings. As we look to explore the proper inspection of MATs, let us also be imaginative about how that might be done.
My Lords, my name is attached to Amendment 10. As we start Report, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I spoke in Committee on the issue of governing bodies applying or being established for all academies. I have a serious concern about multi-academy trusts which are not geographically located in a small area but are spread, as the right reverend Prelate has just reminded us, across the country. It is the question of local accountability to a neighbourhood or a community that I feel most strongly about.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, made a very important contribution and a very convincing case about the issues around the consultation of governing bodies in maintained schools at the point it might be proposed that they are going to transfer to academy status. The example he gave us, of Holland Park, was particularly important. Having been given a pamphlet by those across the road explaining the problems they thought the schools had with the process being followed, I found it to be particularly convincing. I hope that the Minister, in the course of the summer, when these matters are to be looked at again, will give some consideration to a process which seems to be that a decision is made and the consultation follows. I would be much happier if there was a preliminary consultation before a decision was made.
I come to the principle in Amendment 10. Amendment 43, which my noble friend Lord Storey raised, is about how it might be possible for a multi-academy trust to engage better in a local area if it does not formally have a governing body—although the amendment does not rule one out. For me, this is an issue of principle: every individual academy should have a governing body. Many of those who have contributed on Report so far, and who may do so later, might have been governors of schools. Having been the governor of several schools over several decades, I know that a governing body can be a structure that solves problems before they get more complex or difficult.
When a school transfers from maintained status to an academy, I do not want its governing body to feel that, somehow, its commitment to that school has been lost. So where there is a representative system that functions well, I do not see the benefit, either to the multi- academy trust or the local area, of losing the experience and expertise that a governing body can bring.
In conclusion, having a governing body for each academy would help to engage parents and the local authority and resolve problems much earlier than they otherwise might be. Another benefit is that a governing body can hold a multi-academy trust to account in its area because, where a trust is spread across the country, it is possible that decisions could be made that do not have the support of a particular academy in a particular area. Giving a voice to that academy through a governing body is, for me, an important issue of principle
I support the amendment about specialist schools in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. It also touches on academies. As the founder of academies, I never at any time said that all schools should be academies. In fact, when we established them as city technology colleges in the 1980s, I said that they should be beacons for other schools to follow if they wanted to—I was not prescriptive. I was asked several times whether I would support that concept and I never have. It took a huge step forward under Labour when the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who is in his place, persuaded Tony Blair to go for 200 academies and the Labour Party accepted this.
There is no doubt that some schools improve when they become academies, but there is a geographical spread. My friend the noble Lord, Lord Storey, emphasised how many of the successful MATs are in the south-east and south-west—the Home Counties areas, as it were. In the very depressed areas of Stoke, Sandwell or Blyth in Northumberland, where youth unemployment is 20%, there is no easy switch to say that if schools there became academies, they would suddenly get better. Many of these areas have what are called sink schools, which continue to be inadequate or require improvement, again and again. There have been studies on this recently, and making these schools academies does not necessarily have any effect on them, because a fundamental change in the curriculum is needed.
A specialist school makes a fundamental change in the curriculum. When I started to promote university technical colleges over 12 years ago, they were specialist schools that did not have to follow the national curriculum of Progress 8 and EBacc; rather, local people could decide what they wanted to specialise in. That was the breakthrough.
As a result, we focused first on engineering, construction and digital. However, as more people came to us, the local community decided. In Elstree—Elstree is next to the film studio—they decided not to do engineering or construction but to focus on film production instead. It is a now a very successful specialist school for film production. With streaming services, including Netflix, there is huge increase in the creation of original material.
The school that came to us in Salford is on Salford Quays, the heart of the television industry of the north of England. It decided that it wanted to focus on television, so it has courses specialising in television. In fact, there is a conference on Thursday of eight UTCs doing this sort of work, which is sponsored by the British Film Institute. Hundreds of students will turn up, all of whom are studying subjects which will get them jobs in the entertainment world.
There is another in Tower Hamlets in the East End of London. Our UTC there specialises in two fields: health and social care, and creative writing and the theatre. It works with the National Theatre. We had 30 leavers last year: they were mainly Bangladeshi girls who all went on to university in those two disciplines. This is an area where normally only 5.96% go to university. So there is a real need for specialist schools of a certain sort.
When I was Education Secretary, I set up a specialist school in Croydon, London called the BRIT School. Its students start at 14, and it is highly selective—after all, no one wants a mixture-quality choir, orchestra or band. It is very successful; it produces most of our pop stars, including Adele, Amy Winehouse and other singers who are presently very popular. Again, this is a specialist school; we are moving into the era of more specialist schools. As my noble friend said, he specialises in science, maths and dance. These are all areas from which someone can go into work quite easily. There is one common feature of all these specialist schools: they do not have to follow the Gove curriculum of eight academic subjects, all of which were identified word for word in 1904.
In the age in which we are now living—the digital age—we are going to need more specialist schools. The thing that will really open this up is the green agenda, which is so large that it is multicultural and multidisciplinary. At present, the education system is not geared up to it. None of our schools are really teaching this. The only way that it can be taught is through a bit in geography on climate change, and I suppose they still teach the carbon cycle in chemistry—I remember studying this when I was doing chemistry. However, there is nothing else. What we will need in a green agenda is, for example, a specialist school in hydrogen. As Teesside is going to build a very big plant dealing with hydrogen—on which we are spending only one-eighth of what France is spending—there could be a school there specialising in hydrogen. There would then need to be schools somewhere else specialising in global warming, electric vehicles and net zero.
There was a very interesting report on “Farming Today”—which I listen to every morning, because you wake up very early when you are old—about a farm somewhere in the north of England that had devised a way of reducing the noxious fumes of cow slurry. Cow slurry makes farming one of the most harmful industries, so it is important for a way to be found of dealing with it. It was interesting because they had a very big tank, half the size of a container, and they use principally electricity to break up the cow slurry and to create nitrates, thereby turning the slurry into very useful ordinary fertiliser. However, to create the electricity, they will have their own solar panels. This shows how the green agenda will be so complicated and different that it will need more specialist schools. That is why there has to be a fundamental reform of education.
Schools across our country are now teaching the eight academic subjects that were agreed in 1904. We are not moving our schools toward what is needed in this day and age, but specialist schools are a way of doing it.
My Lords, our Amendment 44 would remove the exemption that teachers in academies have from needing to have qualified status, but it gives a grace period until September 2024 to give schools and teachers time to adjust, which we feel is a sensible way forward. It redresses the opt-out from 2012, when David Cameron removed the need for academies to have QTS. Since that time, there has been a decade where children and young people have been taught in academies by unqualified staff. We assert that, in recognition of the preparation teachers must undergo, the term “teacher” should be reserved solely for use by those with QTS and that a person in training should have a separate designation. This amendment would ensure that all pupils in every school were taught by a qualified teacher.
The quality of the teacher is the most important factor in academic and non-academic attainment. Those of us in your Lordships’ House who have had the privilege of working in the profession would surely agree. Teachers need pedagogical content—knowledge—as well as a strong understanding of the material being taught. They must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods and identify students’ common misconceptions. All these areas are covered in training teachers towards QTS: it is not just about having the knowledge and content of the subject itself; teachers must have knowledge and understanding of how children learn in order to convey that knowledge. There is quality of instruction, classroom climate, classroom management, teacher beliefs and professional behaviours, all of which impact on the quality of education experienced by our pupils.
The Government need to match the ambition of Labour’s national excellence programme. We have plans and visions for education: we will recruit thousands of new teachers to address vacancies and skills gaps across the profession; we will reform Ofsted to focus on supporting struggling schools; and we will ensure that the best, fully qualified teachers are in our schools by providing teachers and headteachers with continuing professional development and leadership skills training. This amendment would begin to address these current failings in the system.
Our Amendment 45 would mean that all multi-academy trusts were subject to Ofsted inspection. We want there to be more accountability for the decisions taken at MAT level, including the necessary interventions when there are failures within the trust. We recognise that Ofsted “summary evaluations” of MATs were introduced in 2018, but these are done only with trust consent. They offer no gradings, do not cover every trust and do not target those causing concern. Recent updates to the guidance on those inspections should help to broaden their remit and increase their volume. However, Ofsted itself has highlighted the need to go further, noting the “peculiarity” of not inspecting MATs on their governance, efficiency and use of resources.
The Labour Party proposes in this amendment that MAT inspections should include a proper assessment of leadership, governance and safeguarding arrangements. We also support the amendments moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt, which address the issue of “proper consultation”. Parents and staff need to be consulted at the beginning of any process. Additionally, we offer our support to Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, which would require a proprietor of two or more academies to establish a local governing body for each academy in its care, with a role for local authorities, parents and carers.
My Lords, I am attracted by the noble Baronesses’ Amendment 45. From a parent’s point of view, I think it is key that information should be available on what a multi-academy trust is about: what is its style, what are its beliefs, what atmosphere is it seeking to generate in a school? Within the structures of a multi-academy trust, particularly one that is strongly centrally controlled, this makes a great deal of difference to a school. In judging whether your child will flourish in and be supported by a school and will have their particular character and ambitions celebrated by a school, knowing how the multi-academy trust looks at things—not just the head teacher it has in place at that particular moment—is a really important part of the judgment. To have some narrative on that from Ofsted strikes me as being the best practical way of getting that information out to parents.
I am also attracted by the amendment proposed by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I have not seen, in my experience of running the Good Schools Guide, schools groups that successfully embrace schools of a really different character. Schools groups are human organisations; they need to have a philosophy of life, a way of doing things, and to have within them schools of radically different philosophy poses great challenges. I cannot recall an example of that being done successfully. Usually, one philosophy or the other comes to dominate, and that produces, in those schools that really do not belong with that philosophy, a lack of tone and performance which reduces their value to the children attending them. This is a really difficult thing to do well, and therefore I support the safeguards proposed by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.
The Government have the whip hand in the end. They are providing the money and can push something through against opposition. If it is ridiculous, they will not find themselves in an Ampleforth situation, because they are the paymasters. However, I think the decision to push a specialist school into a generalist trust is one that ought always to be taken with a great deal of care, and that is what I think the noble Duke’s amendment would produce.
My Lords, I support the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in his Amendment 42. I declare an interest as a co-chairman of the All-Party Group on Dance, as well as having been a pupil of the Royal Ballet School so long ago that it was still then called the Sadler’s Wells Ballet School and it was not then a boarding school. I can vouch for the fact that the academic needs of the children were so well catered for—alongside our specialist ballet lessons, of course—that after I returned to my previous school after an experimental year in London, in digs at the tender age of 10, I actually skipped a year. So, these specialist schools have a very good and fine academic reputation, but they also have an important international reputation and attract international pupils and funding to this country. I hope my noble friend will consider this amendment very sympathetically.
My Lords, these amendments reflect the House’s interest in ensuring that the regulatory framework underpinning a fully trust-led system is fit for purpose. I will take Amendments 10 and 43 together, both of which have been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Storey. As I have already explained, the Government intend to withdraw Clause 4, to which Amendment 10 relates. This will enable discussion with the sector as to how to implement local governance arrangements for schools in all trusts, as we set out in the schools White Paper. In addition, we have already committed to consulting on the exceptional circumstances in which a good school could request that the regulator agrees to the school moving to a stronger trust. It would be inappropriate, however, to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions and the planned engagement with the sector.
Turning to Amendment 43, the schools White Paper set out a vision for the relationship between different actors in the local school system. This included a new role for the local authority championing the best interests of children in their area. The White Paper also committed to a collaborative standard for trusts that will ensure they work constructively with each other and partner organisations for the good of their communities. We will be engaging with the sector to develop the detail of the collaborative standard over the coming months. We think that the current arrangements and proposals provide a sound basis for ensuring that multi-academy trusts can relate to the locality in which they serve.
I turn now to Amendments 33, 34, 37 and 38, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Amendment 33 would require a local authority to obtain the consent of a school’s governing body before applying for an academy order. We expect local authorities to develop any plans for moving to a trust-based system with the schools in their areas. However, in some cases it may not be possible to reach full agreement between the local authority and individual schools—for example, where a governing body is ideologically opposed to joining a trust. In these circumstances, we do not believe the local authority should be prevented from completing the move to a fully trust-based system.
Amendments 34, 37 and 38 are concerned with the nature and timing of consultation over academy conversions. The Bill already includes requirements designed to ensure that proper consultation takes place, while giving local authorities the flexibility to design the consultation process in a way that responds to local circumstances. In particular, the Bill already includes an explicit requirement for local authorities to consult with the governing body and, if the school is a voluntary or foundation school, other interested parties before applying for an academy order. The local authority may also consult more widely at that point. The department’s statutory guidance on governance makes clear that governing bodies as a whole should take responsibility for understanding what parents and staff think. However, we do not think it is necessary to impose specific consultation duties on local authorities, or to prioritise the interests of particular groups in legislation. Moving to a fully trust-based system is a long-term, strategic decision with implications for a range of stakeholders beyond parents and staff in individual schools at a particular time.
On the timing of consultation, we believe it is important that local authorities engage with the school community at all stages of preparing and submitting their application for academy orders. There may be circumstances, however, where important information regarding school conversion comes to light after an application has been made. This could include a change relating to the intended trust a school should join, for example. It is important that local authorities consult on important issues, even if an application has already been submitted. As it stands, the clause gives local authorities the flexibility to consult on important issues throughout the process.
I turn now to Amendment 41, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and Amendment 42, in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. In Committee, I committed to considering the scope for clarifying the arrangements for engaging with stakeholders when a stand-alone academy joins a multi-academy trust as part of the regulatory and commissioning review. As I mentioned earlier, I have since placed the terms of reference for the review in the Library of the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, suggested that there needs to be more openness in the criteria used by the department when moving a single-academy trust into a multi-academy trust. I am happy to share the criteria used, since they are publicly available for everybody to see—I cannot remember whether I mentioned that in an earlier debate—and rightly so. The department shares the noble Lord’s view on that.
I have also written to all Members of the House to make it clear that it is not the Government’s policy to force stand-alone academies to join multi-academy trusts if they are performing satisfactorily and being managed properly. As part of our reflection on Clauses 1 to 4, we will consider whether anything needs to be done to ensure that the Bill reflects this policy intention. I hope that might reassure the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, to some extent.
However, I reiterate that the Government encourage maths schools and schools with specialisms to consider forming or joining a MAT. We believe that, as your Lordships talked about extensively during debates on the Bill, schools have an incredible role to play in their communities and that families of schools, which exist both in the maintained sector and in the form of multi-academy trusts, can share some of the specialisms, innovations and strengths of different schools in those families with others. My challenge on this point about specialisms is this: why would you not want to share some of the expertise from a single school with several hundred children with several thousand children? As my noble friend Lord Baker knows, I think I am right in saying that around 70% of UTCs are in multi-academy trusts and have absolutely had their specialisms respected.
I turn to Amendments 44 and 45 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, on qualified teacher status. Amendment 44 would restrict the current flexibility of school leaders in academies to recruit unqualified teachers. In fact, it goes further than the restrictions currently imposed on maintained schools via the Education Act 2002 around employing teachers without qualified teacher status.
As the House knows, most schools choose to employ teachers who have undertaken initial teacher training and gained QTS. The latest school workforce census data showed that 96.9% of teachers in academy schools held QTS status in November 2021, compared to 98% in local authority-maintained schools. I am interested that the noble Baroness feels the 1% difference is so material. We know that unqualified teachers can play a valuable role, particularly where they bring specialist skills and knowledge into schools, although I absolutely respect the points the noble Baroness made on pedagogy and curriculum planning. It is not our intention to use this Bill to restrict the freedoms that enable academy trusts to collaborate, innovate and organise themselves to deliver the best outcomes for pupils.
On Amendment 45, Ofsted already provides independent judgment on the educational performance of schools within a trust and, as the noble Baroness referenced, through the MAT summary evaluations. These draw on inspections of individual academies and meetings with trust leaders to review how well they are delivering high-quality education and raising standards for pupils. The review of regulation and commissioning will include consideration of whether trust-level inspection is needed and, if so, how it would support the wider regulatory arrangements and how it would interact with school-level inspection.
MAT inspection is complex. We do not want simply to overlay a new level of inspection without looking at the whole picture, including how MAT-level inspection relates to inspection at school level. To do this, we are taking the time to engage and consult with the sector.
I hope your Lordships will agree that it is important that the review runs its course before we make any decisions about legislation in this area. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Storey, to withdraw his amendment and other noble Lords not to press theirs.
I thank the Minister for her response. It is refreshing to have a Minister who listens and who is open-minded about issues and tries to resolve them. I had intended to push Amendment 10 to a vote, but that would be churlish given the Minister’s offer. I respect her for making it; it is the best way forward. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said, it is important to get this right so that schools in multi-academy trusts that are not based in that locality can relate to a local community. I hope she might provide me with the opportunity to talk to her about some of the ideas we may have. I also very much support the important amendment from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Clause 5: Power to give compliance directions
11: Leave out Clause 5
Amendment 11 agreed.
Clause 6: Power to give notice to improve
12: Leave out Clause 6
Amendment 12 agreed.
Clause 7: Powers to appoint or require appointment of directors
13: Leave out Clause 7
Amendment 13 agreed.
Schedule 2: Academy proprietors: interim trustees
14: Leave out Schedule 2
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, which would leave out Schedule 2 (interim trustees), is consequential on the removal of clause 7.
Amendment 14 agreed.
Clause 8: Termination of Academy agreement with seven years’ notice
15: Leave out Clause 8
Amendment 15 agreed.
Clause 9: Termination of Academy agreement where Academy is failing
16: Leave out Clause 9
Amendment 16 agreed.
Clause 10: Termination of Academy agreement in cases of insolvency
17: Leave out Clause 10
Amendment 17 agreed.
Clause 11: Termination of master agreement on change of control or insolvency event
18: Leave out Clause 11
Amendment 18 agreed.
Clause 12: Termination of Academy agreement or master agreement after failure to address concerns
19: Leave out Clause 12
Amendment 19 agreed.
Clause 13: Termination of Academy agreement or master agreement after warning notice
20: Leave out Clause 13
Amendment 20 agreed.
Clause 14: Termination warning notices: Academy agreements
21: Leave out Clause 14
Amendment 21 agreed.
Clause 15: Termination warning notices: master agreements
22: Leave out Clause 15
Amendment 22 agreed.
Clause 16: Termination of Academy agreement after termination of master agreement
23: Leave out Clause 16
Amendment 23 agreed.
Clause 17: Termination: contractual provisions and other rights
24: Leave out Clause 17
Amendment 24 agreed.
Clause 18: Termination: consequential amendments
25: Leave out Clause 18
Amendment 25 agreed.
Clause 20: Power to make regulations about governance
26: Clause 20, page 14, line 32, leave out from beginning to “provision” in line 33 and insert—
“(A1) The Secretary of State must make regulations in relation to Academy schools with a religious character for one or both of the following purposes—(a) securing, so far as practicable, that the character of each such Academy school in a relevant Academy proprietor’s care reflects the tenets of its designated religion or religious denomination;(b) securing, so far as practicable, that each such Academy school in a relevant Academy proprietor’s care is conducted in accordance with any trust deed relating to the school.(1) The regulations must specify—”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would change the power in clause 20 to make regulations about the governance of schools with a religious character into a duty to do so. It also makes it clear that the regulations may be for either or both of the purposes mentioned.
My Lords, the amendments in this group primarily relate to schools with a religious character, along with an amendment regarding religion and worldview education for academy schools without a religious character. I will speak to the amendments regarding schools with a religious character first.
I thank the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Durham and Chichester for their support in Committee. We have listened to the concerns and suggestions raised by them and other noble Lords on schools with a religious character. These amendments adopt similar principles to the amendments proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham in Committee.
I turn first to Amendment 26 and to Amendments 27, 28 and 29, which are consequential to it. The Government heard the concerns raised about the contrast between the requirement to make regulations in Clause 19 and the power to make regulations in Clause 20. Amendment 26 would create a legal requirement on the Secretary of State to make regulations under Clause 20, just like in Clause 19. In making regulations under this power, the Government will also hold a consultation with religious bodies, and other interested parties, to inform the content of the final regulations. I hope that these amendments provide reassurance to noble Lords that the governance of all schools with a religious character will be appropriately safeguarded.
Amendments 39 and 35 relate to academy orders, which is where certain bodies may apply to the Secretary of State to convert maintained schools into academies. Amendment 39 would add a new section to the Academies Act 2010 which creates an additional circumstance in which an application for an academy order may be made to the Secretary of State. This amendment gives a power for key bodies involved in the governance of maintained schools with a religious character, such as dioceses and other religious bodies, to apply for an academy order for some or all of their maintained schools. The Church and religious bodies are our partners in education, and we intend for this amendment to help dioceses and other religious bodies manage conversion of their maintained schools in a strategic way, ensuring none is left behind and all can experience the benefits of being in a strong trust. This includes the high number of small schools, often in rural communities, many of which are schools with a religious character.
It may be helpful to give noble Lords more detail on the scope of bodies who will be able to apply for an academy order under this amendment. We are extending the power to apply for an academy order further than just the “appropriate religious body”. This is because, in a limited number of schools, the key body who is best placed to apply for an academy order on behalf of several schools with a religious character may not be the appropriate religious body. Instead, it is either the trustees of the school or the persons who appoint foundation governors. By ensuring that these three categories of body can apply for an academy order for their schools with a religious designation, we ensure that the power works for all faiths and all schools with a religious character.
Amendments 36, 40, and 61 are associated amendments. Broadly, they are consequential amendments which ensure that the two powers to apply for academy orders would work with existing provisions regarding academy orders in the Academies Act 2010.
Amendment 35 adds the “appropriate religious body” to the list of bodies or persons that must consent to a local authority’s application for an academy order for a maintained school in its area that is designated with a religious character. The amendment requires a local authority that is intending to apply for an academy order for a maintained school with a religious character to obtain the consent of the appropriate religious body before submitting an application relating to that school to the Secretary of State. The amendment recognises the existing non-statutory requirement for religious bodies to provide their consent before any of their designated maintained schools can become academies. The amendment ensures that the requirement is properly reflected in Clause 29.
I note that Amendment 30 is tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and will respond to it in my closing speech so I can hear the arguments that she puts forth first. For now, I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 30 in this group. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for adding their names to the amendment, and I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for our very helpful discussion on it.
The aim of the amendment is to make it explicit that religious education in schools which are not faith schools or academies must be inclusive. That is to say RE must include worldviews, including a number of different religions and non-religious values. Just because one does not believe in a metaphysical god, it is absolutely vital that we do not then lose Christian values. For me, as somebody who does not have a religion, I believe passionately that Christian values should be taught in schools on the basis that, if you do not believe in a metaphysical god, then you have to consider that you must support these values and find some rationale for doing so. I am very conscious of the Action for Happiness movement and the world well-being movement, and that is all about loving your neighbour as yourself and treating others as you would wish them to treat you. If we lose those fundamental values simply because more than 50% of the population now do not have a religion—and that number seems to grow every year—we will be in trouble as a society. So I think this amendment is very important: we need to hang on to Christian values.
As I said in my discussion with the right reverend Prelate, a key phrase in the amendment, which applies only to schools without a religious character, is that it requires the new subject to reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are, in the main, Christian, so it is those values that we would be wanting to hang on to.
The amendment is in line with the recommendations of the 2018 report of the Commission on Religious Education, convened by the Religious Education Council for England and Wales. The commission’s members included 14 experts from different fields and various religions and beliefs, and of course it was chaired by the very reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster and former chief education officer of the Church of England.
I emphasise that this amendment makes no attempt to affect religious teaching in faith schools. The changes reflected in this amendment—that the subject should include humanism and be objective, critical, and pluralistic—have been the policy of both the Religious Education Council for England and Wales and the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education. In other words, this is the amendment that the RE profession actually wants; there is nothing revolutionary or odd about it.
Indeed, a recent government statement—which I was hoping to read out, but I cannot track it down on my phone—includes exactly the same principles and ideas in this amendment. So I would hope that the Government would have no problem at all in accepting this amendment; this is government policy according to the Government’s updated statement on RE teaching.
I know that the Minister will also want to take note of two important legal cases on RE, which have concluded that a narrow RE curriculum breaches the human rights of the non-religious. The 2015 judgment R (Fox) v Secretary of State for Education was a landmark decision, which requires the subject to be inclusive of humanism and to be objective, critical, and pluralistic, in order to comply with human rights under Article 9 of the European convention regarding freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Following that judgment, the Welsh Government introduced the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021, which ensures that RE will be inclusive in these ways in Wales. All this amendment is doing is to ensure that education law in England is in line with the two legal cases and developments in Wales; surely, we do not want to be left behind by Wales.
I should refer to the specifics of the Worcestershire case of June and July 2022, because this has not yet been publicised so noble Lords will not be aware of it. An academy school which did not have a religious character had a narrow curriculum for its GCSE RE course. Following pre-action letters from a humanist parent citing discrimination on human rights grounds, the school agreed to provide RE inclusive of non-religious worldviews, such as humanism, for all pupils in years 10 and 11.
In conclusion, the Bill already clarifies issues in relation to RE for faith schools, so we are not touching on that at all. We know that a number of non-faith schools already provide inclusive RE and worldviews, but this amendment aims to provide clarity for all academy schools which are not faith schools.
My Lords, I am very happy to support the amendment so clearly set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I too am heartened by the knowledge that the Religious Education Council for England and Wales supports the amendment and that it fits evolving case law.
I can, in fact, put my finger on the text that the noble Baroness referred to. Our Government very recently signed up to an international conference of Ministers, saying, in terms:
“We recognise the importance, at all levels of education, of promoting respect for human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, and pluralistic and peaceful societies, where all people are equally respected, regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender, disability status or other characteristics.”
They said that they commit to promoting “inclusive curricula” and that
“curricula should provide positive and accurate information about different faith and belief communities and combat negative stereotypes”.
They also committed to
“promoting … efforts to support education reform, emphasising the benefits of pluralism and the importance of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief.”
It is a great step forward that our Government have committed to that text. Of course, it does no more than reflect the evolution of our diverse society, so I am sure that the Government will lose none of their positions in accepting this amendment.
My Lords, I rise to speak to all the amendments in this group, and in doing so declare my interest as chair of the National Society. Turning first to Amendments 26, 27, 28 and 29, I am extremely grateful to the Minister, again, for her continued work with us on these important issues. It is no comment on the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, but the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, and the team have been particularly helpful, and it has been a fruitful ongoing conversation. The partnership between the Church of England and the Department for Education is greatly valued and a significant strength in the sector of education. This is seen in the way we work at national, regional and local level and through the outworking, for example, of the 2016 memorandum of understanding between the Department for Education and the National Society—I should add that our friends and colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church express the same thanks—which is an important recognition of the need for continued partnership in order for us to serve 1 million children through Church of England schools.
Some concerns have been raised about the protections and guarantees given to academies with a religious character, and the Church welcomes the clarity and assurance the Government have given about the scope of regulations in this regard. It moves us from a contractual to a statutory footing better to safeguard the distinctive Christian character and ethos of our family of Church schools. Such regulations will need to secure the religious character of our schools through, for example, good models of governance, and we look forward to working with the department as those regulations are produced. The Government’s commitment to ensure the transfer of provisions for RE and collective worship currently set out in maintained legislation to the academy sector are to be commended, so I welcome this amendment, which helps to clarify the purposes for which the regulations are made and secures a duty to make those regulations. In Committee, the Minister responded to my amendment by giving assurances that regulations would be made under Clause 20, and we are grateful to her for acting in this way.
Turning to Amendment 30, it was good to be able to talk to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, but I know that I have disappointed her in not feeling able at this stage to support it in its current form. This amendment relates to religious education in academies without a religious character—I fully accept that it has no impact at all on Church or other faith schools—which I am sure we are all agreed is an important topic if we are to enable our young people to play an active role in a world where faith and world views are so important. RE must be safeguarded in all our schools. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, pointed out, the Commission on Religious Education’s report pushed in this direction. Progress has been made since then within the RE community through the work of the Religious Education Council, which has not yet concluded. We are confident that we are moving towards a consensus about the future of the RE curriculum in all schools, and I fear that if we do not wait for that consensus, the danger is that we will pursue an amendment that fixes something unhelpful. It is purely a matter of timing that we disagree on, rather than the direction, I think. It is very important that the content of the RE curriculum in schools with a non-religious character be given attention, but I think it is better to wait for consensus about that content to be reached before mandating it in this way.
Turning next to Amendments 35 and 36, I welcome Amendment 35 and its consequential amendment which would require a local authority to gain the consent of the appropriate religious body before applying for an academy order for a maintained school in its area with a religious character. The clause this amendment relates to required consent from the governor-appointing body and from trustees, but this inadvertently excluded many C of E diocesan boards of education from the requirement to give consent to the academy order of a school for which it is the religious authority. This was an unfortunate omission of a principle that Parliament has demonstrated its acceptance of in passing the Diocesan Boards of Education Measure 2021, which explicitly requires the consent of a DBE before a governing body can seek an academy order. We therefore thank the Government for bringing forward these amendments, which address this detail, make sure that the two laws agree and ensure that DBEs are functioning effectively within the academising system.
Finally, we welcome Amendment 39 and its consequential amendment. The creation of strong diocesan MATs that are sustainable is key in moving towards a fully trust-led system. Because Church of England schools are largely small and rural, the size of trusts may need flexibility, and they may need to be larger to be viable. Because they are a confined geographical area, dioceses are best placed to understand in each local context how to measure flourishing across pupils, staff and the whole trust community. This clause enables them, with the regional directors for the DfE, to utilise their understanding of the distinct communities they serve proactively to shape the future school system in each locality. This is especially important properly to account for the variability of C of E schools and ensure that they can move en masse to a fully trust-led system. In light of our previous debate on local issues, I reflect to the Minister that it might be worth exploring what happens within the Church school sector in order to explore the local accountability issues that were raised earlier. We also thank the Minister for introducing Amendment 61, another necessary consequential amendment to define the “appropriate religious authority”.
I end simply by reiterating our deep thanks to the department’s staff and the Minister for the careful and warm collaboration we have had on these amendments.
My Lords, I rise to support the right reverend Prelate in everything he has said. He will recall that in Committee, I supported him in the change to the governance of academies in the context of faith schools. I am grateful to the Minister—although she is engaged in other matters at the moment—and the Government for agreeing to make this amendment. I think it is sensible and I am glad that the Government have agreed to it, but I have to say that I cannot support Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Incidentally, I understand much of what she said, and I have a great deal of respect for her. She quite rightly referred to the fact that you do not have to be Christian in order to have Christian values and ensure that they form the basis of a moral education for young people. Of course, that is why there are very many faith schools in our country which are attended by people of other faiths and sometimes no faith at all: because they want that sort of moral education. That is one of the great values of our faith schools in this country.
This is not about faith schools; it is about academies —we do not have them in Wales, by the way, but we supported them as a Labour Government. We have talked much about Wales. As a former Secretary of State for Wales myself, I am very grateful to the Minister for saying how we lead the way in many respects, but I do not agree on this one, for two reasons.
First, the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Durham referred to the fact that there is still more work to be done with regard to religious education, so let us await the result of that work. Secondly, I have studied the amendment very carefully, and it is about religious education—or is it? I assume that, in England, it is still a requirement for state schools to teach religious education, so that is what they must teach.
The nature of that teaching has changed dramatically since I was at school. When I was a young Catholic in a state school, I had to file out of assembly because I was not allowed to take part in what was regarded as a Protestant assembly in the school. I was not allowed to go to RE lessons because I was a Catholic and the lessons were Protestant. Happily, and thank the Lord, that has all changed. Under my own Church, after Vatican II, not only did I attend all those things but I read the lesson in the assembly.
The world has changed and there is no question but that, over the past 30, 40 or 50 years, the teaching of other faiths in religious education has increased—and rightly so. If you live in an area of England that is dominated by people of other faiths, of course you teach those faiths—it is about religion. If you have to teach non-religious things, call it something else—it is not religion.
If it comes to a vote, I will not support the amendment, but I understand the ideas behind it. I think the most significant thing is what the right reverend Prelate said: let us wait for the experts who teach RE to tell us what they think is best. But let us not do away with religious education, as we believe it is, at this important point in our history.
My Lords, I feel obliged to make a few comments on the question of what is and what is not religious education.
On Amendment 30 and the discussion of other religions, is the teaching of Judaism regarded as religious education or civics? I declare an interest as on the register as a trustee of a multi-academy trust. A major piece of work is already under way looking at how contemporary Jewish life could, in a very minimal but important way, be put into the curriculum of every school, and how contemporary anti-Semitism could be more than touched on and built into teaching in a timewise, modest way. That could be defined as a discussion of Judaism and classified as religious education.
From my perspective, in a sense, that does not matter. What matters is that somewhere within all secondary schools in the country, pupils get a glimpse of another community and its life, our history with the Jewish community—which has not been the proudest over the past 1,000 years—and some feeling and understanding of what it is like to be Jewish in this country.
I do not have a specific view on whether the amendment would work or not. The spirit of it is very interesting and useful. There is a challenge there and the more debate and discussion we have on the challenge of how other faiths, communities or both are fed into the school curriculum in this small but important way is vital to faith communities, education and the country.
My Lords, I ought to declare an interest as a former head teacher of a Church of England school. We live in a multicultural, multifaith community, and we make that successful by respecting each and every one of us. I shall come back to that in a moment.
We on these Benches support Amendment 30. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that you do not have to be a Christian to believe in Christian values, but the values of other faiths are also important. For example, my daughter went to a Jewish school, where she learned many values which were not, initially, her understanding. Because that Jewish school admitted children from different faiths, at 28 she still has lifelong friends from a whole range of different faiths: Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Hindu. She seems to constantly go to Hindu weddings for some reason.
I have a question for the Minister to which she might not know the answer, so perhaps she could respond in writing. I understood that we had SACREs, Standing Advisory Committees on Religious Education; each local authority had to establish a SACRE, which determined the religious syllabus for the schools in its district or city. I do not know how that works now. I was the chair of a SACRE for a couple of years, a long time ago. I do not know how that relates to the previous debate on academies, current religious education in schools or the amendment. If we agree to this amendment, which I hope we do, how does a SACRE get involved? Can it say that it is not in favour of doing this or that? If the Minister does not know or cannot get those in the Box to tell her, perhaps she could write to me. That would be very helpful.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said that RE must be safeguarded in all our schools, and here is the problem. The problem is not religious education; it is the quality of its teaching. I have been in non-faith schools and been appalled at how religious education is taught. Nobody is qualified—it can be the person who is least qualified who does it and, frankly, it would be better not to do it.
I was always a great believer in school assemblies. The law of the land said—I think it was under the Blair Government—that every school had to have a daily act of collective worship. I do not think that happens in most non-aided schools. At one stage, Ofsted used to report if it was not happening. A school assembly can be a wonderful way to celebrate people of faith or no faith—it can bring the school community together. But some schools just go through the motions and try to squeeze 500 pupils into a hall to tick the box that they have had an assembly. Frankly, I would rather that they did not do it than try to fulfil the letter of the law.
I hope the Minister will look kindly on this amendment, because it is very important. On the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, if we agree the amendment, it does not prevent those discussions taking place.
I have several things in common with the noble Lord, Lord Storey. One is that I also chaired the SACRE in Newport; the other is our teaching careers.
The aim of Amendment 30 is to ensure that cultural education is balanced and non-exclusionary. In a modern society where children are exposed to all kinds of views, particularly online, it could provide an opportunity to discuss a variety of topics and issues. I recognise that a variety of opinions have been expressed, not least by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and my noble friend Lord Murphy. How can I possibly not defer to the former Secretary of State for Wales? As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, pointed out, the laws on religious education have been reformed recently in Wales. It has seen an explicit reference to “philosophical beliefs” included and a change from “religious education” to “religion, values and ethics”, with the removal of the parental opt-out. With all that in mind, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on these issues.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I also reiterate the Government’s thanks to the right reverend Prelate, on behalf of my noble friend, for his constructive work with the department to ensure that we get these issues right in the Bill and achieve the shared aim that we all seek.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, set out, Amendment 30 in her name seeks to add to the Bill a duty on academy schools without a religious designation to teach religion and worldviews. The amendment also provides that this teaching must be objective, critical and pluralistic. The Government believe that this amendment is unnecessary because it places into primary legislation what is already in academy trusts’ funding agreements about teaching religious education. As my noble friend Lady Barran has set out, over the summer we will undertake the necessary policy work and engagement with the sector to bring back revised clauses on academy standards, as well as the intervention and termination provisions. To achieve this, the regulatory and commissioning review that we launched on 29 June will consider, alongside other matters, academy trust regulation as we move towards a fully trust-led system. It is through those clauses that we will seek both to establish the principles on which academy standards will be based and to ensure that any powers sought provide a more clearly defined and constrained regulatory approach.
By contrast, this amendment would introduce a new requirement on academies to teach worldviews and dictate the nature of the religious education curriculum. We have been clear that, although that work is being undertaken, the aim none the less is for the first set of standards regulations largely to consolidate existing requirements on academies, not place more burdens on them or interfere with their freedoms. This amendment would do both.
However, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and others that worldviews can already be taught as part of religious education. Indeed, on SACRE, to which he referred, the policy remains that academies and agreed syllabus conferences—I think we are talking about the same thing there—are the places that currently propose locally agreed syllabuses for RE in maintained schools; academies have their own process. The Government believe that they should be free to determine their own approach to the teaching of RE.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mann, that, as I said, existing provisions already allow worldviews to be taught as part of religious education. They also allow for other religions to be taught in maintained schools, not just Christian views. There are also other opportunities in the curriculum—for example, through PHSE lessons—for what he is looking for. The Government believe that schools already have flexibility to determine the curriculum that they think appropriate. They also have an explicit flexibility that can include non-religious worldviews as well as religious ones. Therefore, we do not think that there is any need to specify that further in the Bill; indeed, doing so would contradict our approach on earlier parts of the Bill in terms of going away, looking at academy standards and consulting the sector over the summer.
However, I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that, as I said before, our intention is for those standards to replicate in the first instance existing standards, which would not then change RE by widening it explicitly to include worldviews—although that is already provided for. It would also not specify the nature of how RE should be taught, which we think is best determined at the local level.
I hope that I have addressed the noble Baroness’s points. I know that I will have disappointed her but I will wait to hear whether she wants to move her amendment when it is reached.
Amendment 26 agreed.
Amendments 27 to 29
27: Clause 20, page 14, line 39, leave out “that may be”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in Baroness Barran’s name at clause 20, page 14, line 32.
28: Clause 20, page 14, line 40, leave out “includes” and insert “may include”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in Baroness Barran’s name at clause 20, page 14, line 32.
29: Clause 20, page 15, line 27, leave out subsection (4)
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in Baroness Barran’s name at clause 20, page 14, line 32.
Amendments 27 to 29 agreed.
30: After Clause 27, insert the following new Clause—
“Religion and worldviews education(1) The proprietor of an Academy school without a religious character must exercise its functions with a view to securing, and its principal must secure, that religion and worldviews education is provided to all pupils at the school.(2) The religion and worldviews education required under this section must—(a) reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian,(b) take account of the teachings of the other principal religions and non-religious beliefs represented in Great Britain, and the beliefs and practices of their adherents, and(c) be designed and taught in a manner that is objective, critical and pluralistic.(3) In subsection (2)(b), the reference to non-religious beliefs is to explicitly non-religious philosophical convictions, within the meaning of Article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, that are analogous to religions.(4) In this section, “the European Convention on Human Rights” means the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, agreed by the Council of Europe at Rome on 4 November 1950, as it has effect for the time being in relation to the United Kingdom, and “the First Protocol”, in relation to that Convention, means the protocol to the Convention agreed at Paris on 20 March 1952.(5) A provision of an Academy agreement or master agreement (including an agreement entered into before this section comes into force) is void so far as it is inconsistent with any provision made by or under this section.”Member's explanatory statement
This replaces religious education in Academies without a religious character with religion and worldviews, which is explicitly inclusive of non-religious beliefs and is explicitly required to be objective, critical and pluralistic.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the Liberal Democrat Benches for their support. I am aware that the Labour Party is having a free vote on this amendment—out of respect for its Catholic members, perhaps. I very much thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for his comments and for noting the fact that our only differences are those of timing. Bearing in mind the amount of time that legislation takes, if we miss this opportunity in the Bill, it will be many years before we have another one to recognise that schools that do not teach religion and worldviews are breaching human rights. We have legal cases that make this very clear and we have the example of Wales, which has put things right. I feel obliged to test the opinion of the House.
Clause 28: Academy grammar schools
31: Clause 28, page 21, line 19, at end insert—
“(2A) In section 105 (procedure for deciding whether grammar schools should retain selective admission arrangements) after subsection (9) insert—“(9A) Ballot regulations must provide for the ballot, the petition in subsection (3)(a), the registration of parents in subsection (4)(a) and connected purposes to use electronic communications alongside other forms of communications.””Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would make it so that the petition calling for a ballot, the registration of parents to participate in the ballot and the ballot itself can be carried out using electronic communications.