Education and Skills Bill

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Clause 11

Educational institutions: promotion of good attendance
Mr. Laws: I beg to move amendment No. 163, in clause 11, page 6, line 8, at end insert—
‘(e) an Academy,
(f) a city technology college,
(g) a city college for the technology of the arts, and
(h) special schools which are not community or foundation special schools but are for the time being approved by the Secretary of State under section 342 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) (approval of special schools).’.
The clause, as stated in the explanatory notes,
“places a new duty on governing bodies of certain institutions in England to promote attendance for the purpose of enabling young people to meet the duty to participate under clause 2.”
As the notes and the detail of the Bill itself confirm, that duty applies simply to community, foundation or voluntary schools, and special schools—as well as to pupil referral units and further education institutions. The LSC has asked for the same duty to be placed on private providers.
Amendment No. 163 is also inspired by the NUT; they are inspiring a lot of amendments among the Opposition parties at this moment. The amendment seeks to explore why a series of other educational institutions have been left out of this particular duty to promote good attendance. The amendment includes within that duty academies, city technology colleges, city technology colleges of the arts and special schools that are not community or foundation schools but are—for the time being—approved by the Secretary of State.
I have no problem with those educational institutions; indeed, I strongly support academies and some of the other educational institutions detailed here. I shall be working very hard to support Lord Adonis and others within the Government who want to defend some of those institutions against the attempt by the Prime Minister and perhaps even the Secretary of State to throttle them gradually. However, I believe that it is sensible for the freedoms that some of these institutions have to be enjoyed by as many schools as possible.
It is also sensible for the strategic oversight of all these educational organisations to operate in the same way. Even within the space of this week, we have seen how the Government seem to be implementing a strategic oversight of educational institutions which differentiate some of the maintained schools, which are already covered by clause 11, and schools in some other categories, such as the ones listed in amendment No. 163, which are institutions which traditionally have a greater degree of freedom.
Yesterday, I received a parliamentary answer regarding the duties that the Government will place on educational institutions in relation to compulsory cookery lessons. It was announced just a few weeks ago that all maintained schools will have to have compulsory cookery lessons, although we know that something like 85 per cent. of them already have these lessons. However, in the answer from the Minister, dated 5 February, we see that these cookery lessons will not be compulsory for academies. That seems to be a good example of the slightly bizarre approach that the Government are taking in allowing freedoms to be available to some educational institutions which are not available to others. This is causing a different strategic oversight of some educational institutions in comparison to others, for no good reason.
The amendment has been stimulated and, to be candid, written by the NUT, and we are pleased to lend our names to it. It lists a series of other educational institutions, which are taken from section 5 of the Education Act 2005. It includes all those educational institutions that are subject to Ofsted inspection. The logic of the amendment is that the duty to promote attendance should be consistent with the susceptibility to inspection.
I encourage the Minister to explain the logic of leaving those institutions outside the duty in clause 11. In what other ways will the duty will be catered for? Presumably, the Government do not intend that those educational establishments will not be obliged to pursue the duty to attend. Will they be doing so through funding agreements? Why should funding agreements be used for that purpose, rather than including them in the Bill? How will the existing academies with their own existing funding agreements be covered by the duty? Will there be any attempt to amend the funding agreements to ensure that the duties in the Bill are part of the duties of academies in the future?
Jim Knight: We currently have 83 academies, 78 are or will be direct providers of post-16 education. From September there will be two city technology colleges and one city college for the technology of the arts. They are in general regulated through their funding agreements rather than through legislation. That is why they are not expressly listed in clause 11. I assure the Committee that academies are required through their funding agreements to have regard to the same guidance as maintained schools on improving behaviour and attendance.
The situation is different for the two CTCs and the one CCTA. They are not required by law to have regard to the same guidance, as they were established as independent institutions with particular freedoms, but they are successful schools with high levels of post-16 participation from committed pupils whose attendance and behaviour are good. I do not think we will have too many problems with those institutions or with academies, where attendance has risen at a much faster rate than nationally.
The final category that would be added by the amendment is that of non-maintained special schools. The hon. Gentleman has cause for some celebration because, having reflected on his amendment, I would say we do need to look further at the case for including that group of schools in clause 11. I will consider whether we might put forward a Government amendment to that effect on Report. I hope in the light of that extraordinary generosity and admission—
Mr. Laws: Could the Minister tell me how many such schools there are? It is not one or zero, is it?
Jim Knight: The number of non-maintained special schools?
Mr. Laws: The Minister said he might table his own amendment to cover one category of educational institution. I was asking him to clarify how many educational institutions fall into the category that he will be allowing for.
Jim Knight: When I know what is included in the amendment that the Government might table, I will know the number. The best estimate I have at the moment is 74. If the total is different when the amendment is tabled, I will inform the House. I hope that in the light of my reasoning and generosity, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
Mr. Laws: This is the first triumph of this Committee’s proceedings. It is the first time the Government have had to do a massive U-turn. As ever, they prefer to table their own amendment rather than allow this magnificent Laws-NUT amendment to be included in the Bill. I hope that I do not get angry letters from 74 institutions that will now be included in this duty.
I am grateful to hear we have made some ground. I am still a little baffled why it makes sense for such a duty to be administered through an individual funding agreement. It clearly is a strategic duty, so why not have strategic duties operating at a strategic level, rather than have them dealt with individually in the funding agreements?
I thought it was rather odd to say that in a number of the institutions listed in the amendments, there would not be too many problems, because their participation or attendance rates are very high. One could say that a number of maintained schools that will be covered by the clause should be exempt on that basis. I also heard no reassurance about what will happen to the established academies which will not have the duty in their funding agreements. Is it intended to rewrite the funding agreements? Will they be changed retrospectively, or will those academies be exempt from the duty?
Jim Knight: I remind the hon. Gentleman that I said that academies are required through their funding agreements to have regard to the same guidance as maintained schools on improving behaviour and attendance. Clearly the guidance for schools will have to reflect the clause in terms of promoting good attendance, so that duty will apply to existing academy agreements.
Mr. Laws: I think I understand the Minister’s point. Let me give my understanding of what he is saying, and he can stop me if I am getting it wrong. I think he is saying that the established academies that have their own funding agreements will automatically have to have regard to clause 11 because that is implied directly in their funding agreements, so there will be no need to amend them.
Jim Knight indicated assent.
Mr. Laws: The Minister is nodding. That gives me some reassurance, but I would still rather not deal with this particular issue through this route. But having managed to persuade the Government to tweak slightly in our direction, I think I had better cut my losses and thank the Minister for his comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With that in mind, if my hon. Friend the Minister does not feel that that is an appropriate subject for an amendment to the Bill—I would understand why—is he able to say what the Government might be able to do, whether through guidance or some other initiative, to ensure that governing bodies, which are required to promote participation, have due regard to the broadest range of courses available?
3.30 pm
Jim Knight: Certainly, they should have regard to that duty. The clause clearly is just about promoting attendance, but clause 66, to which I refer my hon. Friend, deals with impartial advice of the sort for which Edge is calling. That clause specifically requires schools to give impartial advice. It has been slightly misinterpreted by some sections of the press, the Committee will be amazed to hear, but it is certainly the case that we want to ensure, as Edge has argued, that advice is in the best interests of the learner rather than in the best interests of the organisation giving that advice. I hope that, on that basis, the Committee is happy to agree clause 11.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

Duty to make arrangements to identify persons not fulfilling duty imposed by section 2
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Gibb: Clause 12 is a rather frightening clause. I know that local authorities need to know which children are resident in their area so that they can enforce compulsory education, and I realise that they need data that they can use to promote participation post-16. I also realise that much of those data are already collected by Connexions so it can fulfil its function, However, the wording of the Green Paper is rather alarming in paragraph 7.3, which states:
“In every area of the country, considerable effort is being put into identifying where young people currently are and what they are doing”.
The duty imposed by clause 12, similarly, requires local authorities to
“make arrangements to enable it to establish...the identities of persons belonging to its area ... who are failing to fulfil the duty imposed by section 2.”
Those sorts of powers and duties are always introduced with good intent, but it would be helpful if the Minister, for the record, spelt out the extent to which the duty in the clause is new, why it is necessary and why the clause is needed?
Jim Knight: The duty on local authorities is, as I think the hon. Member understands, fundamental. As he says, it is clear that for the local authority to fulfil its duty of promoting participation, and to ensure that everyone benefits from staying on, it will need to know who is not participating and what is being done to re-engage them. That information is necessary so that personal advisers from Connexions can contact the young person and offer them support in finding or accessing provision.
The Connexions service already uses a tracking system, so as far as I am aware, the clause simply restates the existing arrangements, taking into account the transfer of Connexions to local authorities. When Connexions makes the transfer, if the database is not maintained, it will be impossible to track young people and, therefore, to intervene effectively and provide support that is timely and appropriate to their needs. The clause simply strengthens the legal basis for the tracking system, and in so doing, it sets a legal imperative to ensure that, by 2013, local authorities are fully equipped to carry out those functions and to ensure that those young people who are in most need are identified promptly and provided with timely support.
Technically the duty is a new one, but the clause is very similar to section 436A of the Education Act 1996, which deals with pre-16s, so we are only reinforcing an existing system and extending the legal duty from pre-16 to post-16 in line with the Bill. I hope that that is clear enough to enable the Committee to approve the clause.
Mr. Laws: I shall not detain the Committee long, but we tabled an amendment to delete the clause, so I need at least to register my concerns, which are broadly in line with those expressed by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. The Minister said, quite rightly, that there is a similar duty now covering pre-16s, as one would expect. However, the clause sets out a new duty, which presumably will have large costs associated with it and is completely tied in to the duties regarding compulsion in the Bill. That is why we tabled our amendment to delete the clause, which is one of the parts of the Bill that we oppose.
Mr. Gibb: I share the concerns of the hon. Member for Yeovil. Given that we are opposed to the concept of compulsion, we wish to divide the Committee on clause stand part.
Question put, that the clause stand part of the Bill:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 5.
Division No. 11 ]
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Griffith, Nia
Knight, Jim
Lammy, Mr. David
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Wilson, Phil
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Laws, Mr. David
Walker, Mr. Charles
Watkinson, Angela
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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Prepared 8 February 2008