Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

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Q 118Jim Knight: So your principal concern is not the principle but the guidance that will attach to this duty and how it is implemented.
Daniel Moynihan: For us that would be true.
Q 119Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I would like to look at the other side of the coin of the questions that have been asked. Frankie, why is it important, if it is, that academies should have the duty to co-operate and promote well-being?
Frankie Sulke: A vast number of local authorities are huge supporters of academies. The majority of academies probably exist because local authorities have sought them out as the best way to improve outcomes for young people in their area. Therefore, local authorities are champions of academies and are as passionate about their performance as that of any other provider. It is critical that academies—which have responsibility for so many children in the area, for which the local authority is ultimately accountable—are part of the conversations that create the services around that area, that create the teams around the child, to ensure that all children, particularly the most vulnerable, have the support that they need. It is critical, particularly in areas that have a lot of academies, to have the academy principals and sponsors around the table.
Annette Brooke: Les, can I ask you to comment on that?
Les Lawrence: I do not disagree with what Frankie has said. We see academies as being part of the diversity of schools within a local authority. In that way, we are far better able to meet the needs of young people and the parents. Because different types of schools suit different types of young people, we often find that academies, like other schools, are equipped to enable youngsters to fulfil their potential. Different types of youngster going to different types of school facilitate that to a far greater extent.
I think also that most academies are more than happy to be part of the family of schools within a local authority, engaging significantly in all sorts of partnerships—from 14 to 19, behaviour and sharing panels. Yes, we are keen to ensure that the degree of autonomy that they have is maintained. As a result of that grown-up relationship, they always want to be part of and not separate from the arrangements made by the local authority. Many academies are keen not only to follow the code of admissions practice but to have admission arrangements that fit in and are not in competition with other local schools.
Q 120Annette Brooke: There are tensions in some parts of the country. Do you think that those tensions can be resolved, given the obvious good will?
Daniel Moynihan: The tensions certainly can be resolved. Our perspective is that the academies were built on the city technology college movement; the 15 CTCs became outstanding schools primarily because of their freedom to make decisions quickly and autonomously. It is important that that is protected in academies, but it does not mean that academies cannot work well with local authorities. It is important that academies have the freedom to manoeuvre and make their own decisions about which services they wish to use.
Q 121Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): I once heard Lord Adonis say, when he was working in education, that his long-term vision for the strategic oversight of the academies was that, once the programme had expanded and been accepted warmly by local authorities, it might come under the strategic oversight of local authorities rather than some sort of Young People’s Learning Agency, although the YPLA had not been envisaged when he made those comments. May I hear the views of Les, Elizabeth and Daniel—and possibly Frankie if she wants to add something?
Les Lawrence: There is no doubt that local authorities have welcomed the responsibility and duty to take the strategic view in terms of overall planning and of ensuring the right level of provision within each local authority. That is not going to change as a result of the way in which the Bill is structured. What I think is important in the context of the Bill is that the YPLA will take on a responsibility from the Department for those academies that are open, and also an element of performance money. I suggest that that will enable it to relate to the local authority in terms of school plans and commissioning arrangements in a far more effective and efficient way—and also in a more transparent way than if it had been left within the Department, which was trying to create as well as manage by separating those that were already in place.
Q 122Mr. Laws: If the alternative was not this structure or the previous one but strategic oversight by local authorities rather than the YPLA, what would be the advantages or disadvantages?
Elizabeth Reid: I think you have heard an exposition as to why this is a confidence-building move—it builds the confidence of all parties. Academies are part of our national system of education, which is diverse. Academies are a relatively new part of the system, and it makes sense for there to be oversight of the whole academies initiative in one place. That is what the YPLA will continue to provide, in the way that the Department has until now.
Q 123Mr. Laws: Would you be relaxed if most of the YPLA was dissolved once the process bedded in and if the LAs themselves did the job?
Elizabeth Reid: From a number of points of view, I might not be too relaxed about that. The whole history of planning and providing for the education of 16 to 19-year-olds is quite vexed. Over the last three or four decades, there have been many difficulties. As with other parts of the Bill, the YPLA proposition provides some focus on an area in which there are many interested parties—namely, the 16-to-19 arena, where there are many providers.
Q 124Mr. Laws: Specifically on academies, why would you have an academy managed under the YPLA rather than a specialist school, for example?
Elizabeth Reid: Because the academies are a particular form of school and a particular aspect of the diversity agenda; they are structured to be independent and to have a high degree of autonomy.
Q 125Mr. Laws: Why can they not be independent under local government, rather than under the YPLA?
Elizabeth Reid There are others you would have to ask. It would depend on the nature of the legislation that could be crafted and considered by the House.
Q 126Mr. Laws: You are being very diplomatic. Perhaps it is time for me to bring on Dan. Is that okay?
Daniel Moynihan: I am sorry. I am not a politician and I am not good at being diplomatic. My answer would be that local authorities have called in academy sponsors because the various mechanisms that they have deployed in the past to improve the schools that they offer us as academies have not worked. The key mechanism that they have deployed is their own management of those schools. It does not make sense to return those schools to local authorities. We can work in partnership with local authorities very effectively.
Q 127Mr. Laws: To return the oversight, not the governance.
Daniel Moynihan: Yes.
Q 128Mr. Laws: I was suggesting that the oversight, not the governance of the individual schools might be returned.
Daniel Moynihan: A national body that is accountable to the DCSF—a single unit such as the YPLA—will be a high-quality, high-profile body that provides strong accountability, without variation. We are more likely to get that strong accountability and rigour from an organisation such as the YPLA than we are from myriad local authorities.
Q 129Mr. Laws: This is my last question, Chairman—you have been very patient. The concern that you are expressing is that local authorities do not do the job very well and certainly have not done so in the past.
Daniel Moynihan: Many do.
Q 130Mr. Laws: But I think that you are also saying that they do not do it well now. Most of our secondary schools are still under the strategic oversight of local authorities. If you are right that many of them are not doing their job effectively, we ought perhaps to be thinking of even more schools going under the YPLA, not LAs. Is that not the logic of what you are saying?
Daniel Moynihan: No, I do not think it is. What I am saying is that academies are schools in extreme circumstances, which are often subject to extreme socio-economic conditions and in real conditions of failure. In those situations, you need a fresh start—you need something different. You need to be able to galvanise community teachers and everybody to say, “There are new expectations. Something new is going to happen. There’s a real expectation that there’s going to be rapid improvement. We’re going to do it. No excuses.” That is what an academy sponsor brings.
Q 131Mr. Laws: But are there not loads of other schools that are in very similar circumstances, but which are not academies and do not plan to be academies? There are lots of schools with very deprived catchments which are not academies and which rely on their own leadership, governing bodies and the LA’s oversight to perform. We should be very worried if you thought that the LA’s were not doing that.
Daniel Moynihan: The academies, in terms of the exam result improvements, are above the national average. Although more time is needed to prove the model fully, the average return in terms of results is good—it is above the national average. So it is working for those schools. That is why I would be reluctant to see them ever returned to local authorities.
Q 132Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): Is there a risk that including academies in the list of statutory partners in children’s trust boards undermines the advantage of the academies’ independent status? I am mindful that Dr. Moynihan said earlier that academies needed freedom to make decisions autonomously. How do you reconcile that necessary freedom with this statutory change?
Daniel Moynihan: There are clear advantages in having joined-up services locally. There are clear advantages in having coherence between services and there being children’s trusts. That is definitely in everybody’s interests. The crux of the matter is to what extent the children’s trust dictates what happens in an academy or to what extent the head has autonomy and is then accountable through its exam results and its Ofsted inspection for its performance. We would not want a situation in which children’s trusts were able to dictate in detail what the school should do.
Q 133Mr. Hayes: In that context, there have been cries, perhaps even howls, of protest from some associated with the academies movement that there has already been substantial erosion of their independence and freedom. I am thinking of the letter from the Independent Academies Association to the Minister last month, which made that point far more forcefully than I have made it here.
Daniel Moynihan: I have read the letter, but I cannot remember the detail. I am sorry.
Q 134Mr. Hayes: Perhaps I can help you with the detail. The letter from Mike Butler states:
“It appears that with every consultation, each missive and even new legislation from the DCSF, there comes further erosion of the independent status of academies.”
Do you agree with that or not? What are these erosions? Or is this just an invention?
Daniel Moynihan: I am not here to represent the Academies Association, but my view is that it is in everybody’s interest that we have effective children’s trusts that join up services. It is difficult for schools to deal with multiple agencies on their own. If children’s trusts integrate services so that they provide the best services for the particular needs of children at the point of use, then that is a good thing. But I would not want academies to be compelled to use them in a particular way. I do not know enough about the detail of this Bill to know whether that is a possibility, but we would want to resist it if it is.
Q 135Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab):Local authorities have expressed concerns that the YPLA will increase the performance assessment burdens placed on local authorities. Will you elaborate on that, Councillor Lawrence, because there does not seem to be anything in the Bill which suggests that burdens are significantly different?
Les Lawrence: If the YPLA is a local authority sector-led body, that concern would disappear. If it is constructed in any other way, there would be some concern. We have used the phrase “mission creep” in the sense that the agency’s duties are not wholly prescribed. There is a degree of open-endedness. For example, through performance management options, it could micro-manage services more widely. With micro-management—here I have some sympathy with a strand of Dan’s point—you get a degree of control which removes local flexibility and the ability to vary the nature and delivery of services to suit a locality. You might not want to apply the same type of service in the same way right across a whole local authority because of the different nature of the communities and the locales you are serving.
The other element is a concern about how we start off—quite rightly; it is supported by local government—a national funding formula from 16 to 19. The YPLA could be a mechanism to extend a national formula down to 14 to 19 education, which could be very detrimental on school funding because each local authority, in conjunction with its schools forum, has determined a formula funding arrangement that best suits the local authority and its school. If you then begin to apply that between 14 and 16 you could have a detrimental and disproportionate effect on the funding available to schools in different types of authorities. Colleagues in the F40 Group, for example, would particularly want that to be emphasised.
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