Education Bill

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Mr. Timms: The discussions to which the hon. Gentleman refers took place in the Standing Committee on the Bill that became the Learning and Skills Act 2000, of which he was also a member.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the Minister. Perhaps I have attended too many such Committees. In the debates on the Learning and Skills Bill, we considered the possible impact of the creation of a city academy on the other schools in the area.

Some of those other schools might, not in a defensive but in an entirely positive way, see a city academy in the locality making great steps forward and say ''this is something that we should like to do—we believe that we can go in the same direction''.

Amendment no. 467 does not seek to place the Secretary of State in a dead end or to constrain her to accept any application from a governing body. It does not go so far as to say that all schools should become city academies overnight or have the freedom to do so if they wish. It seeks to open another route through which a school might move in that direction. I hope very much that, in sharing some of the enthusiasm

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about the benefits that might flow from the expansion of city academies, the Minister might look sympathetically upon that new route, which would provide for a great blossoming of academies within and without our cities in the years ahead.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths. My point is about the nature of the provision established by the amendment, and I should like to make a comparison with our earlier discussions concerning the rights and duties of governing bodies to take advantage of opportunities created by this legislation. I remind the Minister of our deliberations about earned enhancement, and the right to opt out of particular elements of the curriculum. We discussed the fact that governing bodies were expected by the Government to put forward formal applications. It was not something that would happen naturally; it was down to a governing body to submit an application to take advantage of the rights, privileges and opportunities set out in the earlier part of the Bill.

It therefore seems incongruous that those same governing bodies do not have, under the current legislation, the right to put in an application to become an academy. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West has set out very accurately the potential benefits of the academy model. That has been recognised by the Government in the way in which they have put forward the proposal. In the spirit of the whole legislation, it would not be right for the Government not to permit the powers encompassed in the amendment for governing bodies when dealing with the academy model as well as when dealing with the rights of enhancement and so forth. I commend the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, and ask the Minister to treat the amendment in the constructive sense in which it has been tabled and to give full consideration to allowing governing bodies to have the rights encompassed by the amendment.

Mr. Timms: I welcome the offer of support from the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West. I look forward to witnessing delivery of that on numerous occasions during today's debate. I welcome, in particular, the support for academies expressed both by him and by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling).

It is important that we do not undermine the partnership approach that is working so well in the promotion of academies and replace it with something different and less satisfactory. The involvement of existing schools in plans for academies is important, and I assure the Committee that there is nothing to prevent maintained schools from approaching the Department and discussing the possibility of academy status for themselves. In the case of both St. George's school in Bristol and Edgware school in Barnet, it was the school that made the first inquiry to the Department about taking on academy status. The Department subsequently worked with the schools and local education authorities to help identify suitable

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sponsors to establish an academy. In all the academy projects that are progressing so far, the schools involved have supported what has happened.

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The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West invited me to celebrate the success of academies, which I should be keen to do, but I should point out to the Committee that none has yet opened. I am confident that they will indeed be very successful, but as we were reminded in one of our exchanges, it was the Learning and Skills Act 2000 that enabled the academies to be set up, and the first will open in September.

Chris Grayling: I simply want to ask whether the Minister agrees with those of us who regard the academy model as having emanated from the city technology colleges. Does he recognise the contribution that they have made and the precedent that they have set for the academy model?

Mr. Timms: We have certainly learned from the city technology college model. Indeed, several of those institutions have been excellent schools and continue to be outstanding. However, with the benefit of hindsight—and some people made the point at the time—some elements of the model were unhelpful. I am particularly anxious, in responding to the amendment, not to repeat those mistakes.

Other elements of the academy partnership, beyond the school itself, are important. The academy sponsors have a critical role. That was an element of the city technology college model. The amendment would exclude it, I think. It is voluntary or private sector partners—whose involvement will be so critical to the success of the academies—who will make the formal approach to the Secretary of State, and it is the charitable company set up by the sponsors for that purpose that will enter into the funding agreement with the Secretary of State.

The amendment also ignores—and this is an aspect on which the city technology college model was seriously at fault—the role of the local education authority. Its opinion is important. Local education authorities should have a voice. Again, in every case so far, the local education authority has been a supportive partner in the establishment of the academies. Excluding LEAs when city technology colleges were established was divisive. The legacy of the problems that that approach created persists in some areas and I would not want those problems to be repeated.

The progress that we have made with academies makes it clear that it is possible to construct the partnerships that I have described. It is an important feature of what we are doing that those partnerships should be sustained.

Mr. Turner: The Minister has identified two issues that he considers to be defects in the amendments. I assure him that there was no intention to disregard the role of either local authorities or private sponsors. Indeed, I see no way in which those could be disregarded in the context of the rest of the clause. However, I note his opinion.

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Is the Minister telling us that the Secretary of State would be willing, when a school proposes becoming an academy, to assist in finding a private sponsor, as has happened for new academies, and to connect existing schools with potential private sponsors?

Mr. Timms: We should certainly be prepared to work with a school that wanted to do that, to see whether the proposal was a possibility, to discuss it with the local education authority and to assess the local circumstances and the appropriateness of proceeding. There is no bar to schools doing that. We have said that we want 20 academies up and running by 2005, and we are close to that number. We would certainly be prepared to talk to schools about that.

Beyond that, I am not sure that the amendment adds much, if anything, to what is currently possible, especially as it is envisaged that the LEA partnership and sponsor continue to be part of the package. Given the assurances that I have made, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that he need not press the amendment.

Mr. Brady: I am delighted to respond to the Minister. He has fully accepted the amendment in the spirit in which it was offered. We tabled it in an attempt to help the Government, and to extend the hand of friendship over a policy that we think offers opportunities. He responded in like manner, so I am grateful to him. Those outside the House who pay attention to our proceedings will be encouraged to find that, when there is genuine agreement on such matters, both Opposition and Government Members are prepared to express it.

The Minister raised the concern that the LEA or sponsor might be excluded by the amendment, which was refuted in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight. I want to emphasise that the amendment is designed merely to institutionalise an opportunity for the governing body to make an approach. The Minister stressed that governing bodies could do so already, and highlighted instances in which they had made such approaches. He also said that an important aspect of the academy policy was the involvement of existing schools in the process. That was all positive.

I tabled the amendment in the hope of engendering a moment of consensus and warmth in the Committee, and I think that I have been successful. In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Brady: I beg to move amendment No. 464, in page 42, line 20, after 'agreement', insert

    'these subject areas may include English, mathematics or any other core subjects'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 465, in page 42, line 21, after 'abilities', insert

    'but not necessarily the whole ability range'.

Mr. Brady: Flushed with success, having achieved my objective in relation to the previous amendment, I now want to do more of the same, as amendment No. 464 is intended to be even more helpful to the

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Minister. I was most grateful to him for assisting my memory of the provenance of the provisions in statute. I want to take him back a little further, to the original policy on city technology colleges in the Education Act 1996.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell invited the Minister to celebrate the success of CTCs, which he more or less did, and we were grateful for that other moment of consensus. It is welcome that the Government have in some regard sought to build on the success of CTCs, and to take the idea forward with the development of the city academy legislation and now—albeit before any of the city academies are up and running, as the Minister said—by further changes to that legislation.

Let us consider the provenance of that form of school. Section 482(2)(c) of the 1996 Act contains the requirement that such schools have

    ''a broad curriculum with an emphasis either on science and technology or on technology in its application to the performing and creative arts.''

That was the initial vision set out for the city colleges, which were typically known as city technology colleges, although some were invited to specialise in the performing and creative arts. It was a prescriptive beginning, with clearly defined curriculum subjects appropriate for the development of specialisms.

The Government previously introduced legislation that sought to develop the city college model into the new model of city colleges and academies, as it was termed. Section 130(3) of the Learning and Skills Act 2000 inserted new subsection (2A) into section 482 of the 1996 Act, defining other curriculum subjects in which specialism would be welcomed for city academies and colleges. Those subjects were clearly defined in the 2000 Act as

    ''(a) modern foreign languages;

    (b) visual arts, performing arts or media arts (or any combination of them);

    (c) sport;''

and—this is where the development of the policy begins to look interesting—

    ''(d) any subject specified by order by the Secretary of State''.

Although the promotion of specialism in some subjects was encouraged because they were specified in the 2000 Act, a little chink also began to open up in the restriction, suggesting that any subject might be included in the curriculum.

Clause 62 will replace section 482 of the 1996 Act with a new section 482 on academies that has a rather different formulation. Section 482(2A) of the 1996 Act, which Ministers went to considerable trouble to insert via the 2000 Act, specified certain curriculum subjects—

    ''modern foreign languages . . . visual arts . . . sport''


    ''any subject specified by order by the Secretary of State''—

for the city colleges and academies. However, within two years, and before any of the schools or academies has opened its doors, we have a new relaxation of the qualifying characteristics. New section 482(2)(a) of the

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1996 Act, which is proposed in the Bill, contains the new formula, which is that the school

    ''has a broad curriculum with an emphasis on a particular subject area, or particular subject areas, specified in the agreement''.

We have moved from the formula arrived at in what seemed at the time to be an innovative policy but now seems rather tentative. The restrictive definition of those curriculum subjects that were acceptable only five or six years ago, at the time of the 1996 Act, was relaxed in the 2000 Act. For reasons that we look forward to hearing, Ministers now deem it necessary to enact a further relaxation—before even one city academy has opened its doors and started to accept pupils.

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I do not know whether the Under-Secretary or the Minister will respond to the debate, but in response to an earlier amendment, the Under-Secretary was helpful enough to dismiss an amendment of a similar nature by saying that it should be opposed because it added nothing to the Bill. The same argument may be advanced now, because amendment No. 464 would simply specify what is implied in the Bill—which is that academies may specialise in

    ''English, mathematics or any other core subjects''.

The importance of that provision is that it gives form to the change in thinking apparent from the legislative changes made over the past few years. It will therefore be interesting to hear the Government's response. I would be happy to reflect on the matter if the Minister were to say that the amendment is unnecessary because it is already possible for an academy to specialise in maths, English, or any other core subject or combination of subjects. It would be an interesting acknowledgement.

Amendment No. 465 is similarly designed to draw out the Government's thinking on the selection of pupils for places in city academies. Again, we have to go back to the 1996 Act. Section 482(2)(b) specifies that the school

    ''provides education for pupils of different abilities who have attained the age of 11 and who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated''.

We then move on to the Bill, which states that the school must provide education for pupils of ''different abilities.'' It is interesting that the Government did not seek to make a dramatic change to the formula as they have done by degrees with the curriculum.

I am seeking to discover how Ministers would define the requirement that pupils of different abilities should be educated. The provision may allow for different abilities, which is the substance of amendment No. 465, but not an entirely comprehensive intake from the local community. For instance, looking at some of the curriculum proposals that Ministers advanced elsewhere in the Bill, it may allow a more vocational specialism. Perhaps, in seeking to provide the best possible education, they may want to allow such specialism for those pupils who would find it more difficult to achieve excellence in an academic context.

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Within the strict terms of the Bill, it would be possible to develop that specialism for a certain percentage of the intake of the academy on the premise that more than one ability band, or more than one part of the ability range, would be welcomed into the school without there being a requirement for the whole ability range to be accepted. I look forward to hearing the Minister's thinking on that. The amendments are intended to develop the Government's thinking, which—judging by previous legislation as well as the Bill—has changed and developed over a relatively short period, given that it is only five or six years since the 1996 Act was debated. In that short time we have seen an explicit change in ministerial thinking, necessitating a change in legislation with regard to the curriculum.

On the ability range that will be encouraged to apply to the school, although there has been no change in the terms used in the legislation, there has clearly been a development in Government thinking about the need to specialise in a vocational or an academic route as well as—looking at some of the excellence in cities work—an acceptance that it might be appropriate in some circumstances to select a certain proportion of pupils on academic ability, giving them different treatment in a specialist context. I look forward to hearing the Minister's remarks.

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