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Session 1999-2000
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Standing Committee Debates
Learning and Skills Bill

Learning and Skills Bill

Standing Committee F

Tuesday 6 June 2000


[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Learning and Skills

Schedule 8


Amendment proposed [25 May]: No. 369, in page 82, line 11, at the end to insert the words- `Education Reform Act 1988 (c.40)

    . In section 218(2B) of the Education Reform Act 1988 (school and further and higher education regulations)-

    (a) for ``or city colleges for the technology of the arts'' substitute ``, city colleges for the technology of the arts or city academies'', and

    (b) after ``such colleges'' insert ``or academies''.

Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c.43)

    . In section 98 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (definitions) in subsection (2)(e) for ``or city college for the technology of the arts'' substitute ``, city college for the technology of the arts or city academy,''.'.-[Mr. Wills.]

10.30 am

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following Government amendments:

Nos. 370 to 374 and 376 to 379.

New clause 27-City academies.

New clause 29-City academies: land.

New clause 28-City colleges and academies: special educational needs.

New schedule 1-City academies: land.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Michael Wills): Thank you, Mr. Benton. May I welcome you back to the Committee, slightly unexpectedly.

I am pleased that hon. Members will now have had some time to consider the proposals in detail. Before we adjourned our discussion, I had given an account of the policy and outlined our proposed amendments to the Bill. As the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) remarked, I did so at considerable length and so I do not propose to cover that ground again this morning. However, I had only just begun my response to specific points raised in Committee, which I shall now address.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) suggested that our policy for city academies had come straight from the United States and been ``dumped into Britain''. I would quarrel with the use of that verb, but I would agree that there are certain parallels between city academies and the charter school movement in the United States. Both are a means of introducing innovation into the management and delivery of education in challenging areas, and they enable local partners to get directly involved in raising standards. We make no apologies for drawing on best practice from elsewhere because we need to extend diversity in the publicly funded sector.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the premise that I put forward in glowing terms; that this innovation has come straight from the charter school movement in the United States. For the benefit of the Committee, will the Minister quote one piece of empirical peer group research that demonstrates that the charter movement in the United States has been a success?

Mr. Wills: I would be very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman setting out the evidence for that, but I hope that on the basis of what I said at the previous sitting and what I shall say today, he will accept that there is a real need to introduce innovation into the most challenging areas. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would not disagree that, in many areas, despite the best efforts of teachers, the profession in general, educationalists and Governments, we have not succeeded in delivering the standard of education that children deserve. This move is intended to do that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that we must not cease in our quest to introduce innovation where new practices are required, and this is an effort to do just that.

Mr. Willis: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Wills: If I could just pursue my point about charter schools, I shall then give way.

It is important to understand that we are not dumping practice from elsewhere into Britain, because city academies are different from charter schools. Whereas most charter schools constitute additional provision, city academies will replace existing publicly funded schools. That goes straight to the point of tackling a problem that must be tackled. In city academies, all teachers will be qualified, the national curriculum will be the starting point for teaching and the evidence of achievement tests will demonstrate and provide public assurance that city academies are effective. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and hope that I have not jumped the gun on the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough. On the description that will apply to those schools, will the city academies be independent or state schools?

Mr. Wills: They will be state schools, as the hon. Gentleman knows. They will be publicly funded schools. We are trying to bring in partners from the private sector, from partnerships and from anyone with a stake in the local community to ensure that we deliver the standard of education that children need.

The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), who unfortunately is not in Committee this morning, questioned the place of city academies in the context of our fresh start policies. We are clear on the matter. The policy on the academies does not replace fresh start. The academies are to be seen as one of the fresh start options. Indeed, they are perhaps the most radical of those options.

We intend the wider range of specialisms to be available to city academies to replace existing provision and not to add surplus places. It is important to stress that the academies will have admission policies consistent with the codes of practice on admissions. They will be able to select up to 10 per cent. of their pupils on the basis of aptitude for the specialism, just like any maintained school with a specialism.

Funding for city academies will be the same as that given to schools maintained by a local education authority in the locality, and will be supplemented only by the per pupil grant given to specialist schools-currently 120 a pupil a year-and by a sum equivalent to the cost of services to the school that would otherwise be provided centrally by the LEA.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) asked about the payment of a management fee. There is no question of such a fee being paid in connection with the running of a city academy, and no question of anyone making profits. There will be no remuneration for sponsors or governors. Government grant will be given for the purpose of running the school.

Mr. Willis: That is not what it says in the prospectus. It is a pity that we do not have a prospectus here. It is sad that this is a major issue yet the Government have not seen fit to put copies of the prospectus at the disposal of the Committee this morning. Copies have not been widely circulated either. According to the prospectus, a company operating on a for profit basis can apply to run a city academy. It would be taking a management fee-indirectly if not directly-from the state sector. Is that not so?

Mr. Wills: May I clear up one thing? I am assured that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Education and Employment, the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks) sent, under a covering letter, copies of the prospectus to all members of the Committee. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough may like to confirm whether he received his copy. If he did not, I would be happy to send him another.

Mr. Willis: I did not receive that copy but have received one from the Department.

Mr. Wills: I am glad that a copy got through in one form or another.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East): That people will not take management fees or otherwise profit from the enterprise is an interesting concept. Is the arrangement not similar to the one that we have witnessed in the past 30 years with the growing professionalisation of housing associations? Those associations are certainly not for profit companies. However, professional people such as lawyers, accountants and architects have made a very fat living from the public housing association movement. Does the Minister see similarities between that situation and the possibilities the academies present? Such people will move in and suck the cream from state funding through their salaries, entitlements and professional fees. I do not wish to be over long on the point. There is a distinct possibility that yet another opportunity will arise for those people to get richer and richer.

Mr. Wills: I am afraid that my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton, North-East and for Leeds, Central and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough are under a misunderstanding. Of course we want participation from all interested partners, some of which may be companies that operate for profit. That is part of the conception of the city academies. However, that does not mean that they will operate to make a profit from the academies. The distinction is crucial. The same principle applies to a publicly funded school that buys its books from a private company that makes profits from selling textbooks-that company should not be forbidden from selling textbooks to such a school.

We will welcome participation from any interested parties, but they will not make profits from their involvement, as it will be a donation rather than a profit-making business activity. I hope that I can reassure the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough about that. The point is simple: we want interested parties to take part in a rescuing provision for the benefit of the pupils in the most challenging areas. Parties that have a contribution to make will be welcome, but that does not mean that we will pay them or that they should seek to profit from their involvement. That is not the purpose of the provisions. I can only repeat what I have said.


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