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Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. Christopher Chope, Mrs. Joan Humble
Blackman, Liz (Erewash) (Lab)
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Butler, Ms Dawn (Brent, South) (Lab)
Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab)
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab)
Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)
Hayes, Mr. John (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Knight, Jim (Minister for Schools and Learners)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families)
Miller, Mrs. Maria (Basingstoke) (Con)
Seabeck, Alison (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab)
Sharma, Mr. Virendra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
Simon, Mr. Siôn (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Williams, Stephen (Bristol, West) (LD)
Chris Shaw, James Davies, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee


Frankie Sulke, Policy Lead for Association of Directors of Children’s Services
Councillor Les Lawrence, Chairman, Children and Young People’s Board, Local Government Association
Elizabeth Reid, Chief Executive, Specialist Schools and Academies Trust
Dr. Daniel Moynihan, Chief Executive, Harris Federation
Kieran Gordon, Chief Executive, Connexions Merseyside
Kathleen Tattersall, Chair, Ofqual
Andrew Hall, Acting Chief Executive, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
Greg Watson, Chief Executive, Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR)
Dr. Mike Creswell, Chief Executive, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA)

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 3 March 2009


[Mr. Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
AS 08 Ofqual
4.1 pm
Q 106The Chairman: Order. I am grateful to the latest panel of witnesses for coming along. I think that it is best for the record if you could introduce yourselves briefly, one by one.
Kieran Gordon: Good afternoon, I am Kieran Gordon, chief executive of Connexions Greater Merseyside.
Daniel Moynihan: Good afternoon, I am Daniel Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation of South London schools, which is an academy group.
Elizabeth Reid: I am Elizabeth Reid; I am the chief executive of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.
Les Lawrence: Councillor Les Lawrence, I am chair of the children and young people’s board of the Local Government Association, the representative body of local authorities throughout the country.
Frankie Sulke: I am Frankie Sulke, the director for children and young people in Lewisham and I represent the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.
The Chairman: As we have five witnesses and a limited amount of time, I would be grateful if you could try and keep your responses to the questions brief.
Q 107Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I would like to start the session by turning the attention of the witnesses to some of the practical applications of the Bill, particularly with regard to academies in the first instance. Perhaps I should direct my question first to Dr. Moynihan.
The Independent Academies Association wrote to the Minister, Jim Knight, on 23 February. In that letter, the IAA wrote that the Bill was “deeply disturbing” and cited its concern about the role of the Young People’s Learning Agency and of performing assessments and the duty to co-operate with children’s trusts, which is also an element within the Bill. What effect will those measures have on the running of the academies in the Harris Federation?
Daniel Moynihan: I am honestly not here to represent the IAA, but we support the establishment of the agency. It makes sense for the Department to have an agency to take care of academies. Clearly the Department was never meant to be a local authority, so we are perfectly happy with that and we think it will work well.
The key issues for us will lie in the detail of commissioning and how that will affects academies’ freedoms to establish sixth forms, what they can offer and how that freedom will compare to the existing situation.
We broadly support behaviour partnerships. The issue with them is who decides who is in the partnerships and what form they take. In some local authorities we have very effective partnerships. In others we have produced outstanding schools initially by working alone, because local provision has been so poor that we would not want to be locked into that on a compulsory basis.
Co-operating with children’s trusts is a very good principle, as long as children’s trusts focus on integrating services and making them available, in an easy way, to individual students. If it takes away the freedom of head teachers to be responsible and accountable for running their schools, that would not be such a good thing.
Q 108Mrs. Miller: You talk about potentially taking away some of the control and freedom of head teachers. Do you feel that there are elements in the Bill that may erode academies’ independent status?
Daniel Moynihan: There are issues that need clarification. The whole issue of the commissioning of provision and the types of rights of appeal that academies will have is important to us. In one local authority, we were told by a different body from the Learning and Skills Council that we could not open sixth forms in two of our academies. It was a particularly poor part of London in terms of the staying-on rate, and the reason why we were told that was that it did not fit with the plan. Four years later we have 400 sixth-formers and an outstanding sixth form, but nothing else has changed in the area. As in that case, we would want to be sure that we had a right of appeal to the Secretary of State, and that it was clear that we could not necessarily be blocked by whatever the local plan was if it was not an entirely sensible and objective one.
We have experienced difficulties on other occasions when local authorities have not wanted an academy to open for political reasons and in order to protect underperforming local provision. We would want a right of appeal so that someone could look at that, and if we lost it, we lost it. But it is important that it exists.
Q 109Mrs. Miller: May I ask Liz Reid a question? Independent schools in the Independent Schools Council are administered directly from the Department for Children, Schools and Families by a unit of about 12 civil servants. Are you happy that academies will be administered by the YPLA at a regional level?
Elizabeth Reid: It makes absolute sense and, as the academies programme continues to grow, it would be anomalous and unusual for a Department of State to take direct responsibility for a very large number of schools when there are other models, both past and present, available to look at. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust views that as a sensible provision.
Q 110Mrs. Miller: Dr. Moynihan, do you agree with that?
Daniel Moynihan: Yes, it seems sensible to me.
The Chairman: Are there any other members of the Committee who want to ask about academies? I know that Jim Knight does.
Q 111The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): Thank you. I accept, Dan, that you are speaking on behalf of the Harris Federation, but the SSAT has a membership across the range of academies, so do you detect, Liz, any widespread concern from the sponsors or principals of academies about the move to YPLA?
Elizabeth Reid: No. In fact, I was under the impression that the Independent Academies Association had initially welcomed the proposition. As I said, there is a widespread view that it would be increasingly anomalous for a Department to take direct responsibility for a large number of publicly funded schools.
Q 112Jim Knight: Dan, from your point of view directly running accounts, how much contact do your principals and sponsors have with officials from the DCSF at present, and how much of that contact would transfer as part of the functions relating to open academies?
Daniel Moynihan: We have fairly regular contact with different officials on different issues, so there is a fair amount of traffic.
Q 113Jim Knight: What sort of issues?
Daniel Moynihan: Admissions, funding and clarification on funding models, legal issues relating to academies, local discussions with local authorities and the DCSF’s role in arbitrating those discussions, so a very wide range of different issues.
Q 114Jim Knight: Without wanting to labour the point, in terms of the need for some kind of resource between a Secretary of State agreeing a funding agreement and the independent academies acting as operating organisations, some kind of organisation is needed, either in or outside the Department, to provide that kind of support.
Daniel Moynihan: I have no problem with that. The point is the detail of how it would operate.
Q 115Jim Knight: Fine. My other questions are on the move to behaviour partnerships and on the duty to co-operate. Liz, do you know how many academies are already in behaviour partnerships?
Elizabeth Reid: It is the vast majority—94 per cent. is normally quoted. That tells you a good deal about academies’ desire to be part of those local arrangements. There is no evidence that academies find this a particularly irksome or onerous way to safeguard the interests of young people in their communities. Academies have a large proportion of vulnerable and disadvantaged children on their rolls. It is in their interests as well as everybody else’s to be part of those partnerships.
Q 116Jim Knight: Accepting what you have said, Dan, about not wanting to be forced into partnership with particular people—perhaps by a local authority—and your experience that they may be mixed in how effective and helpful they are, why do academies want to be in behaviour partnerships? What do they offer?
Q 117Jim Knight: Fine. Finally, what are the attractions of the duty to co-operate with children’s trusts? Where there has been that sort of co-operation, is it about the relationship with the local authority or is it something wider?
Daniel Moynihan: For us it has been about relationships with local authorities. Clearly, in future it will and should be wider than that. Our concern is the detail of how this operates and to what extent the children’s trust or the head teacher determines how services are provided and what happens. We want to be fully accountable and fully in the daylight for our performance, and for that we need to be responsible for decisions about services and how they are used, and not have them forced on us.
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