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Mr Mark Field:
I will not detain the Committee for long as I know we have a lot more business to get on with. I want to speak to amendment 49, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for
Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) and for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing). My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West went into the amendment in great detail, and I agree with every word that he had to say.
In many ways, ultimately this is a philosophical debate that fires up many of us. We have all had our own experiences, and I was sorry to learn from the contribution of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) that she has only negative thoughts about her admission to a grammar school. I am the product of the grammar school system, although I must confess that I cannot even remember the day I got in. However, I do remember various episodes while I was there that allowed me to aspire to the university place that my parents could never aspire to, and to aspire to running my own business, becoming professionally qualified and eventually becoming a Member of this House.
That was an opportunity for me, because my parents could not have afforded to send me to one of a range of independent schools within a few miles of us. I do not suggest for one minute that my experience was of an entirely open school, but there were people attending the school who lived in social housing. An element of selection is a healthy aspect of the choice that should be available to all parents, and to children of all abilities, in our society.
It is perhaps slightly paradoxical that in this set of amendments, we are dealing with both admissions and exclusions. My biggest criticism of the Bill is that the one real freedom that would have given diversity of provision has been expressly forbidden. Under the Bill, schools cannot determine their admissions procedure, beyond the relatively limited allowances that are made for academies. I would like there to be much more freedom to ensure a genuine sense of accountability. My party leader has said many a time that he wants to give people more responsibility, and that if one trusts people, they tend to do the right thing. When it comes to the education of children, we should look to trust parents to make rather better decisions than the state might necessarily make on their behalf.
I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to what we propose. Amendment 49 is a minor amendment that simply retains for grammar schools the safeguard of balloting parents if a school is to make the change from grammar school to academy. I hope that we will robustly oppose amendment 14, as it represents a retrograde step.
Dr Pugh: Speaking for the non-secular wing of the Liberal Democrats, I should like to say a few words about amendment 42. It appears to narrow the range of schools that can become academies. I think that the Roman Catholic Church has cautioned governors against the Bill, which would have a big impact in areas in Merseyside and Lancashire such as the one that I represent. I tire of hearing people in this place make generalisations about faith schools that are based purely on the north London experience. A person does not need to struggle to get into a faith school round where I live.
People may recognise that I have a somewhat diminished enthusiasm for this legislation. The academy project, whether in its Labour or coalition form, does not fill me with any great glee. I regard it as something of a sideshow, as an extravagance-possibly expensive-and as a distraction from improving standards across the board.
It is interesting to note that in his amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) wants to put into law what the archdiocese commands; I do not know whether that will please him, but that is, in effect, what he is doing. Looking at that amendment, a priori, there is no good argument for not having a faith academy that would not equally apply to not having a faith school. It would therefore seem rather mean to discriminate against faith schools at this time, albeit that I regard it as a boon to faith schools not to be academies.
The real argument against faith schools becoming academies seems to me to be as follows. Contrary to what people say, faith schools are often deeply rooted in their communities, and they should not disregard the disruptive effects on wider local authority provision. They should be mindful always of the community effect. That being said, if a religious community both educated and enhanced specifically religious objectives, it is right, as under the Butler Act, that that should be reflected in some way in the funding agreement. It is not obvious that that is done in the Bill, or that the Blair academy project did that. Equally, having settled for academy status and funding, it would be wrong for a school to adopt faith school status retrospectively; I think that we can agree on that. That, I think, is what amendments 43 and 44 seek to prevent, so compared with amendment 42, they are relatively innocuous.
Another consideration that swings me against amendment 42 is my own experience. Eleven of the best years of my life were spent teaching in a faith comprehensive school in Bootle, in an extraordinarily challenging environment. It was a school with a Salesian foundation, run by the Salesian order. The headmaster was a priest, the ethos was fantastic, the dedication considerable, in a very, very difficult environment. Staff never stinted on their time and the head timetabled himself to teach remedial maths to the fifth year and the upper school. When he stepped down as head, before he finished his career-this was a man who was a very distinguished scientist and writer-he continued to teach remedial maths to children whom many teachers would not give much time to in the first place. I have never seen the like, but it ought not to surprise one when one recognises that that order was founded by someone called St John Bosco, who started his schools in industrial Milan, with the vocation of schooling the deprived and transforming their lives.
I could almost be reconciled-the Minister might be delighted to hear-to the anarchy of free schools if I thought that a lot of St John Boscos and Salesians were ready in the wings, waiting to deal with children in environments where people had given up or were terminally demoralised. Sadly, my overall view is that that is not the case. But the free school project would be almost bearable if there were such people and what they were doing could be aligned with the overall social good of the community, if education could be provided that was not just a cloak for indoctrination and if there was a
capacity to manage the full curriculum. Then the free school project would have a really noble basis in reality. Sadly, the people queuing up to start free schools are not in that category and do not, in many cases, turn out to be saints.
Mr Ward: We are all fashioned on the anvil of experience, and I bring to this debate my own experience. On Second Reading I mentioned the crucial situation of schools being judged or assessed on their attainment, which is then reflected in league tables. A little earlier the Minister attacked the former Labour Government's record, saying what a shame it was that all the successful schools were in affluent areas, and was not that an indictment? Of course they are mainly in affluent areas because of the crucial importance of intake and the link, to which I have drawn attention in other speeches elsewhere, between attainment and levels of deprivation. The issue of admissions is at the heart of the Bill for me, more than anything else. Freedoms of the curriculum, freedoms in staffing and control of staffing budgets, I am okay with. I opposed the academies of Labour, and I oppose these academies for the same reasons. There are other ways of bringing about improvements in schools.
What concerns me is my experience over nearly 30 years of what schools actually do. Amendments have been tabled saying that schools must comply with the provisions of the schools admissions code. I know what schools that are already subject to that code do now, and we can understand why. I have mentioned the league tables. Schools want to succeed and to be seen to succeed, and parents want the very best for their children, so wherever possible they go to whatever lengths are needed, legally-moving home-or in some cases, illegally, to get their children into the schools that are doing well in the league tables.
I have often heard of the importance and ethos of faith schools. Frankly, to hear people talk about the special ethos of faith schools makes me quite angry, because it is a slap in the face for all those other non-faith schools that have a fabulous ethos, are loving and caring, and provide a good education for children. It is an indication of the importance of league tables, even to faith schools, that although a faith school might say that it will totally disregard school league tables, that it does not care if it is bottom of the league, that it will open its doors to absolutely everyone and take the children that other schools do not want, it does not do that, because it knows that at the end of the day it will be assessed upon the performance of the school in the league tables, and that is so heavily dependent upon the intake. I have chaired admissions forums. It is very difficult when the area includes faith schools, foundation schools, city technology colleges and so on. In effect, there were six different admission authorities, all appearing at the admissions forum, and it was very difficult to achieve co-ordination on admissions with those schools.
The pressure on schools means that good people do bad things-it is only human nature-and I have countless examples of that. When I chaired the admissions forum, a foundation school applied to change its admissions criteria-we could not stop it doing so-to use stanines and banding. I respected the head teacher, but we argued about it. I was the only one to vote against the change and, as it transpired, we could not really have
done anything to stop it. I understand why the head teacher was seeking to overcome the problem of having a catchment area of only 10 or so streets. The Minister talked about successful schools, but this school was in the top 20 for its contextual value-added score of 1,040. That was a remarkable result, but the school was also in the national challenge. That head teacher knew that whatever the school did in raising achievement, it would still have a stubbornly resistant attainment record until it changed its intake, and it therefore went ahead and did so.
I am desperately seeking not just assurances, but guarantees of the fairness of the admissions of these new schools. I am very concerned that the Bill describes the characteristics of schools that may become academies as providing
"education for pupils who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated."
"the school provides education for pupils of different abilities".
There are some good aspects of academies, but if they are so good and important why do we not make the freedoms they will have available to all schools? I seek guarantees of fair and open admissions policies and an undertaking that this Bill does not represent the opening of the door to more selection.
The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dawn Primarolo): Order. It may be helpful to remind the Committee that the Chair is not obliged to call Members who have not been in their place for the majority of the debate.
I am concerned by this Bill. I am disappointed that Labour has not thrown its weight behind the coalition's proposals for academy schools, because that would have been a more honest approach, given that the Labour Government started this. I am still opposed to the proposals: I opposed Labour's proposals and I oppose these ones.
I declare an interest in that I am still a member of Portsmouth city council and I have been a member of the LEA in one way or another for the past 40 years. I never personally felt that there was too much wrong with the LEA having responsibility for schools. In my experience, in the old county borough before the 1974 reorganisation, Portsmouth did a good job. Hampshire county council, of which I was the leader, also did a very good job for education, and now that the city council has the responsibility again it is doing its best.
There is a chartered academy faith school in the city of Portsmouth. It was not something that I favoured but, despite the fact that I am against academies, I have
to be honest and say that there has been an amazing transformation. In a very short period, a really committed head teacher and staff have been able to start turning around what could only be described as an appalling, failing school. With great regret, it could not get itself out of the mess it was in, and perhaps-just perhaps-its emergence as an academy was the one thing that prevented it from being closed once and for all. I wish the school all the very best.
My problem is that I know from the LEA what admissions policies are like. The popular schools are forever competing. We all have stories about how people will manifest themselves in different addresses simply to get their child into a school. The success, or otherwise, of an academy will become a magnet. I have no way of knowing, because the terminology in the Bill is so vague-it refers to pupils who are "mainly" from the area closest from the school-whether, if the 51% quota is met, other pupils from other areas could fill any surplus places to the detriment of children who might still be living in the catchment area but do not have the academic record that the school wants.
I would be pleased, therefore, if somebody could explain the procedure to me. Who takes up the challenge on behalf of the children excluded from an academy-the ones who never got a place in the first place-despite living close to the school? The big problem that we faced time and again, in a restricted geographical area with a large population, was with people trying to select schools in and around Portsmouth. I do not envisage that being easily dealt with by the Bill. I want every child to be given every opportunity to achieve their full potential. We all want that. It is not a unique stance; it is a common stance for anyone who cares about the future of our country and of our children.
I have yet to be convinced that academies offer fair and equal opportunities to children; and I have yet to be convinced that taking education away from locally elected people, through the LEA, is the best option for the overall governance of education policy. No one, including during the past 13 years under Labour, has yet put forward a convincing argument for that. The only two occasions when Mr Blair got close to hysterical about anything were the Iraq war and academies. Nobody could have been pushier than he was. I do not know who finally trod on his foot and said, "Slow down!", but to have achieved 200 academy schools will have been a great disappointment to him, because he would have liked a lot more.
What damage has been done to the other schools in the area? Has any real analysis ever been done of the effects on other schools in areas where a successful academy has emerged over the past five years?
Damian Collins: In Folkestone in my constituency, since the launch of the Folkestone academy, results have improved not only at that school but in all the others at secondary level in the town. The improvement at that school has certainly not been to the detriment of others in the same catchment area.
The Second Deputy Chairman: Order. We are not having a Second Reading or general debate on academies; we are debating amendments on admissions and exclusions, so I would be grateful if Members could stick to those points.
Mr Hancock: The point I was trying to make was about the unfairness of a policy that is so loosely written and can so easily be misinterpreted to the detriment of children who will be refused places in academies, particularly the successful ones. I am concerned about, and frustrated by, the idea that people can vote for this legislation believing that it will provide equal opportunities for all children to go to the academy of their choice. It manifestly will not do that, and there is nothing to safeguard their interests if they fail to get a place. That is the real concern and why I cannot find it in my make-up to support the Bill. I will be supporting the amendments, because they go some way to improving what I consider to be a bad Bill. Otherwise, I would simply ignore the amendments, and vote against them and the Bill. However, if the Bill is going to be carried, I would like it carried with at least some amendments that actually improve it.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): . Having listened to the whole debate, I wanted to make just one or two comments on the issue of selection. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mr Hancock) for the consistency that he has shown, and to the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) and other Conservative Members who were at least clear in saying that they believe in selection. The attitude that I find most difficult to deal with is that of Opposition Members, whether Liberal Democrat or Conservative, who are pretending that the Bill does not aim to produce exactly the kind of division and increase in selection and exclusivity that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) so eloquently described.
Indeed, what my hon. Friend described is already happening. For example, this morning I met the head teacher of a new academy that is being built in my constituency. I have always had an ambivalent attitude to academies, in the sense that I do not have an ideological opposition to them-hon. Members might be surprised to hear that-if they work. The project of producing schools in deprived areas to increase the level of attainment in those areas is one that I have supported, and I do not really care whether they are called academies or not. However, I can say one thing. The two academies in my constituency, which are Hammersmith academy in Shepherds Bush, which is under construction-at a cost of £30 million-and Burlington Danes academy, which was praised by the Secretary of State earlier this week, at least have the benefit of £50 million of capital investment, which is something that none of the other schools in my constituency will have.
However, even with just those academies, which were built under the previous regime, the aim of my Conservative local authority is already to increase selection and exclusivity. The question put to the head teacher this morning by a group of Muslim community leaders with whom I met him was why, when the boundaries of the admissions area for the new academy were drawn, the line stopped only a few yards north of the academy, excluding the most deprived parts of my constituency and most of the black and minority ethnic population, but extended a couple of miles south, to include the most prosperous and least ethnically diverse parts of my constituency.
If that is the type of manipulation that is already happening under the current system, when we have that extra ability to affect intake, in the many ways that it
can be affected, whether through existing selective schools or not-and we will have that ability, if the Bill is passed with the haste in which we are taking it-we will have a recipe for divisiveness, particularly in areas of inner London such as the one that I represent.
Mr Mike Hancock: The hon. Gentleman says that he has two academies in his area-one already there, and one under construction-but I would be grateful if he could tell us what the admission policies of the existing schools in his area are. Are those schools full to the gunwales? Do they have a problem now? What does he estimate the situation will be in a year or so, when the second academy comes on stream? What will that do for the other schools and their problems of attracting pupils?
Mr Slaughter: The hon. Gentleman anticipates the point that I was just about to make. The new academy is not opening until next September, but one of the things that the prospective head told me this morning was that there will be a special form. In addition to selecting priority places, which will be limited for that school-and that school only-to a primary admissions area, there will be an additional form to fill in, because the anticipated demand will be so great.
I should say that most schools are now over-subscribed. There is a shortage of schools, although two other factors bear down on the increasing stratification-if not selection-of schools in areas of inner London. One is the profusion of voluntary-aided schools. In response to a point made earlier, let me say that three of the voluntary-aided schools in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham have intakes eligible for free school meals of 2%, 2% and 6% respectively, whereas the figures for the community schools are 30%, 40% and 50%. That degree of division has now become institutionalised.
The other factor relates to the choices that schools make. The point was wrongly made-by the Government Front-Bench team, I believe-that there are too many outstanding schools in affluent areas. Well, the two community secondary schools in my constituency-the Phoenix high school, which has one of the most deprived intakes of any school in the country; and the William Morris academy, a sixth-form college of which I am a founder and governor-both have a hugely deprived intake. Both those schools are outstanding-and there are many more such outstanding schools with deprived intakes-and they have chosen not to go down the academy path. Other than one primary school, no school in my constituency has chosen that path. The reason why the heads, the governors and the teachers of those schools have made that decision is that they wish to maintain their open outlook and their inclusivity. They do not wish to be browbeaten or driven into becoming this new type of academy.
Whether it be through choice, types of selection, religion, geography or the ease or difficulty of application, inner London already has many problems achieving what other hon. Members have identified as a wonderful balance, control and integration of diverse communities. The proposals in a Bill such as this will have only one effect: they will create social divisions, class divisions and racial divisions within communities. I believe that in putting this Bill forward, the Liberal Democrats-with some exceptions-and the Conservatives well know that they will achieve exactly that.
Mr Gibb: This has been a wide-ranging debate, touching on the education shibboleths in all political parties. The amendments cover issues relating to admissions, selection, faith and exclusions. The majority of these amendments would place in the Bill requirements that have been regulated by funding agreements since the inception of the academies programme-in other words, they would increase regulation for academies.
It was the position of the previous Government that academies should not be regulated directly by legislation, but through their funding agreements. We agree. The whole focus of the Bill is to allow more schools to take on academy freedoms and we simply do not agree that it is appropriate to undermine that intention by incorporating into the legislation a host of additional requirements to which academies have not previously been subject.
Amendments 11, 12, 13, 19 and 23 would build into the Bill a duty for academies to comply with the school admissions code. Amendments 19 and 27 would place on the face of the Bill requirements in relation to exclusions and behaviour, including participation in behaviour partnerships. The previous Labour Administration did not deem that necessary for the 203 academies they opened. Why should we do so in expanding the programme?
Academies must already comply with admissions law and the codes through their funding agreements. Their funding agreements also require them to act in accordance with the law on exclusions as if the academy were a maintained school, and to have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions. This is the same wording that applies to all maintained schools. The new model funding agreement is in the House Library and it is clear from it that academies are required to adopt admissions policies and arrangements that will be
"in accordance with admissions law and the DfE Codes of Practice as they apply to maintained schools."
"act in accordance with the law on exclusions as if the Academy were a maintained school"
"have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions".
Amendment 24 has a similar intention in that it seeks to make it a statutory duty for academies to take part in their local in-year fair access protocol. Fair access protocols are established by the local authority and the requirement to take part in them is set out in the school admissions code. Since participation is a requirement of the code, it is applied to academies in the same way as other aspects of the admissions code, through the funding agreement. This means that academies, along with all maintained schools in a local area, will take their fair share of hard-to-place pupils, including those previously excluded from other schools. The funding agreement is crystal clear about the compliance requirements. The amendments are, therefore, unnecessary.
Hon. Members have also tabled amendments to probe our intentions on academic selection. Amendment 14 would require any existing maintained grammar school or partially selective school to remove its selective arrangements on conversion to academy status. The Bill
is not about increasing or removing selection. We believe that the freedoms that academy status brings will not only benefit struggling schools but enable outstanding and other schools to improve standards for their pupils.
Mr Mike Hancock: Will the Minister explain the position on excluded children? He has intimated that academies will be expected to take a quota of excluded children. Does that mean excluded or difficult-to-place children in the school's normal catchment area, or a general quota of children who are difficult to place in the local education authority area?
Mr Gibb: They will be subject to the same fair access protocols that have been agreed by other schools in the area. The position will be no different from the one that existed before the school became an academy.
It seems unreasonable to deny existing selective schools freedoms, or to require them to change their nature fundamentally before being granted those freedoms. For clarification, we are not allowing non-selective schools to begin selecting by ability; we are merely facilitating a change in status for existing maintained schools, including those with academic selection.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) tabled amendment 49. I pay tribute to him, not just because he is chairman of the 1922 committee, and therefore chief of the men in suits, but because of his highly principled support for grammar schools in his constituency and elsewhere in the country. I was hugely impressed by the quality of education in Trafford. I visited Wellington high school, which has GCSE results that many comprehensive schools throughout the country would envy. From memory-I visited the school a few years ago-67% of pupils gained five or more GCSEs including English and maths, and that school had experienced 40% of the most able children going elsewhere. I also visited Ashton on Mersey school, which is exemplary, as well as Trafford grammar school for girls, which impressed me.
Amendment 49 would directly apply sections 105 to 109 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to wholly selective academies. That legislation governs the mechanisms for removing selection from maintained grammar schools either through parental ballot or by the governing body introducing proposals to remove selection. Neither the grammar school ballots legislation nor current provisions that allow governing bodies of grammar schools to introduce proposals to remove selection apply to academies. We do not believe that that means that academies have fewer protections than maintained schools when removing selection is an issue. Indeed, one could argue that the ballot mechanism gives parents a route to removing selection in maintained selective schools. I listened to my hon. Friend carefully, and although the amendment might protect selection when that is the wish of parents, we do not believe that it could necessarily frustrate statutory proposals to remove selection that the governing body of a maintained
selective school made. He knows that the ballot process has a high trigger threshold, requiring a petition from at least 20% of the eligible electorate.
The Government's arrangements for academies are a more significant protection of the ethos of any school, including selective schools. I want to go into some detail about that because it is important. Outstanding schools that convert will essentially be self-sponsoring. That means that existing governors will become the new academy trust. In the case of a foundation school with a foundation-a grammar school with an ancient foundation-that converts to academy status, the foundation will be responsible for appointing the majority of governors on the governing body of an academy, a greater proportion than currently exists in a maintained school. That will make it possible for the foundation to maintain the academy's ethos, including its selective ethos, over an extended period.
A similar arrangement would apply in the case of a foundation school without a foundation-in other words, a grammar school that is essentially a community school. The current governors would decide on the members of the academy trust. The members would be responsible for appointing a majority of the governors to the governing body by electing members who are committed to a selective ethos. That ethos would be maintained over time, because-in theory and, I suspect, in practice-they would appoint a majority of governors who were similarly committed. We are nevertheless committed to ensuring that the same rights are afforded to parents, and the same rights and protections are afforded to grammar schools on conversion, as were enjoyed while the school was a maintained school.
Mr Brady: I am greatly reassured by the tone of what my hon. Friend has said, but it is not entirely clear whether he is giving me an assurance that the ballot arrangements will be introduced at a later date, or whether he is suggesting that other protections might be introduced.
Mr Gibb: What I am suggesting now-it is as far as I can go at this stage-is that we will include the provisions in the funding agreements of academies. That will provide strong protection-as strong, in effect, as it would be if the measures were on the statute book.
Mr Brady: Is my hon. Friend saying that if a grammar school transferred to academy status, it would not be able to vary its selective admissions under the terms of the funding agreement without the support of a parental ballot?
Mr Gibb: According to my understanding, that is correct. All the protections that currently apply under the ballot procedure would still apply. If for some reason the governing body of a selective academy sought to change its status as a selective school, the funding agreement would require a ballot of parents to be held before that provision took effect.
Mr Brady: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way a third time. He has been immensely helpful, and I think that that final reassurance will be of great help to the many excellent grammar schools-including many in the borough of Trafford-that are keen to proceed with seeking academy status. It is certainly sufficient to persuade me not to press amendment 49 to a vote.
Amendment 24 has a similar intention, in that it seeks to make it a statutory duty for academies to take part in their local in-year fair access protocol. Fair access protocols are established by the local authority, and the requirement to take part in them is set out in the school admissions code. Since participation is a requirement of the admissions code, it is applied to academies in the same way as other aspects of the code, through the funding agreement. That means that academies, along with all maintained schools in a local area, will take their fair share of hard-to-place pupils, including those who have previously been excluded from other schools. The funding agreement is crystal clear about the compliance requirements, and the amendments are therefore unnecessary.
Mr Mike Hancock: I am fascinated by the concept that certain processes will enable a grammar school that becomes an academy to manoeuvre around the selection rules. According to the Bill, the majority of pupils will come
"wholly or mainly... from the area in which the school is situated."
That could be a very successful grammar school currently drawing its pupils from a wide area. Would the criteria be the same for an existing grammar school that becomes an academy, or would there be a specific designation? Would they be treated the same as any other school, consequently losing quite a number of pupils because it will undoubtedly be the case that when a grammar school becomes an academy without the prerequisite of being able to select under this system, it will be inundated with pupils and a lot of existing pupils will probably be forced to leave the school? I therefore ask the Minister to explain how this will work.
Mr Gibb: There is no change from the current situation. The catchment area of a grammar school after conversion to an academy will be the same as it was before. [Interruption.] Yes, this Bill does not seek to change any of the admissions arrangements or admissions appeal arrangements for schools, including selective schools. All it is allowing is successful schools-or, indeed, any school-to convert to academy status. We have been very clear about, and very conscious of, wanting to apply all the admissions arrangements. Therefore the code, the fair access protocols and the co-ordinated admissions systems will all still apply in the same way as when the school was a maintained school.
The final amendments in this group relate to faith admissions and faith designation. The Bill seeks to maintain the status quo on faith schools. There is nothing in this Bill that will make it easier for there to be an increase in the number of faith schools, or that
seeks to change their character, but we do believe that faith schools should have the same chance to become an academy as any other maintained school.
Amendment 42 would require that no academy could select pupils on the basis of their faith, and it would effectively bar academy status for faith schools. As many Members on both sides of the House are aware, faith schools play an important role in this country's education system, often providing high-quality education for their children, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) explained so well. Parents value the role that faith schools play and many parents actively seek out a place at such a school so they can obtain an education for their children in accordance with their religious beliefs, which is one of the principal tenets of the Education Act 1944, as my hon. Friend also pointed out. Although many schools maintain a faith ethos without giving priority for admission based on a child's faith, others maintain their strong religious ethos by ensuring that a significant proportion of their children are faith adherents. While we wish to ensure that new faith academies serve their broader communities, forcing existing schools to change admissions arrangements that may have been operating successfully for a number of years just because a school converts to become an academy would be unfair to those parents who chose the school on the basis of its religious character and ethos.
Amendment 43 also seeks to cap faith admissions by limiting the proportion of faith admissions in an academy that was previously a voluntary controlled school to the level prior to conversion. Voluntary controlled schools generally have a religious character. That means that although many do not prioritise children based on their faith, they are permitted to have faith-based over-subscription criteria. As maintained schools, they can increase the proportion of faith places through a local process of consultation and determination of admission arrangements. We wish to maintain the status quo in this respect, rather than be more restrictive. Therefore, academies that were previously maintained faith schools, including voluntary controlled schools, will be able to consult local people on changing their admission arrangements. Consultees will, however, retain their current rights of objection if they disagree with those changes.
Finally, we do not believe that amendment 44 is necessary or appropriate. We do not agree with its proposal that faith schools seeking to convert should have to go through an additional application simply to stay as they are, nor do we agree with its proposal that any non-faith maintained school should be barred from obtaining a faith designation as an academy. Any academy can currently apply to the Secretary of State for a faith designation provided that the relevant tests set out in existing legislation are met. Again, we want to retain the current provisions. I can, however, give the assurance that entirely new faith academies-by that I mean those that do not have a predecessor maintained school with a religious character-will be required to offer 50% of places to pupils from the community with no test of faith. I hope that provides some reassurance. I believe that the existing procedures for designating faith schools and the role of the funding agreement in regulating academies should provide sufficient safeguards for parents.
I wish to deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). He asked about the profile of the schools that are applying for academy status compared with the existing cohort of academies. Of course, they will differ, because the earlier academies were all located in very challenging areas and we are now inviting all schools throughout the country to apply. Indeed, expressions of interest have been received from schools in 95% of local authority areas around the country.
"The Academy Trust will act in accordance with, and will ensure that an Independent Appeal Panel is trained to act in accordance with, all relevant provisions of the School Admissions Code and the School Admission Appeals Code published by the Department for Education...as they apply at any given time to maintained schools and with equalities law and the law on admissions as they apply to maintained schools."
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the differences between the old and the new model funding agreements. The procedures for changing admissions arrangements are covered in the schools admissions code, with the exception that the Secretary of State will now police the changes for academies. The old funding agreements simply repeated these requirements and therefore were not necessary. We are trying to remove from Government documents unnecessary replication of issues that are dealt with elsewhere.
The hon. Gentleman said that the exclusion independent appeal panel had been removed from the funding agreement, but it has not; this has been redrafted to apply the arrangements that apply to maintained schools. It should be clear that the position for all state-funded schools is therefore the same. He asked about the influence of selection on partner schools. Any partner of a grammar school could not select by academic ability unless it already had selective admission arrangements.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the rules relating to the expansion of grammar schools and requested that I quote from Lord Hill's letter. I am happy to do so, because this will interest all Members of the Committee. One of its end paragraphs states:
"For the sake of completeness, just as the previous Government allowed selective maintained schools to expand by up to 25% without publishing statutory proposals (and by more if they were to publish proposals under sections 18 and 19 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006), we will allow selective Academies to expand where a strong business case has been made and where there has been local consultation. We will not, however, agree to the percentage of selective places increasing within partially selective schools."
"Local authorities and the Schools Adjudicator, when making decisions over setting an admission number or admitting above them, should have regard to the presumption that proposals to expand successful and popular schools, except grammar schools, should be approved."
Mr Gibb: Well, it can do, because even under the previous Government, when the hon. Gentleman presided over this, it was the case that grammar schools could expand by up to 25% without publishing statutory proposals. Under that code, and under his Administration, grammar schools were permitted to expand by up to 25%, so we are not changing the fundamentals behind the expansion of grammar schools. They still have to demonstrate that there is a fundamental need and that consultation has taken place.
Mr Gibb: The provision is consistent in the same way that it was consistent with the arrangement under the hon. Gentleman's Administration, and under current law on maintained grammar schools -[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Gentleman was the Minister who presided over the introduction of these regulations, so he should know why these schools are currently allowed to expand by 25% and that that provision is still consistent with the admissions code.
Vernon Coaker: I do not have a problem with these things; if I was wrong, I was wrong. The hon. Gentleman is the Minister now. It is no good blaming me; he has responsibility for it now. All I am asking is how what he has just said corresponds to that aspect of the school admissions code.
Mr Gibb: By the same mechanism that currently allows maintained grammar schools to expand by 25%. If the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied with that response, I am happy to respond to any parliamentary question that he tables.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the exclusion of children with special educational needs. As he will know, the current 203 academies have a higher proportion of children with SEN and they exclude such children disproportionately less than maintained schools.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) raised the concern that freeing faith schools from the national curriculum would create a risk of their teaching creationism, but there is no risk of that because they will still be required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. The funding agreement will continue to require academies to teach religious education. For non-faith delegated academies, that means teaching the locally agreed syllabus; for faith schools it means teaching a curriculum in accordance with the tenets of the relevant faith. That is the same requirement as applies to voluntary-aided schools.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of schools converting to academy status. As I have just said, the same rules apply as for maintained schools that want to convert to faith schools: they have to go through the whole process of re-designation, which requires the permission of the Secretary of State.
My hon. Friend asked where provision on the 50% rule is. It is not in the funding agreement, but we would not enter into a funding agreement that included admissions arrangements that allowed faith selection of more than 50%. That is a policy position, but it has been confirmed in both Houses and I confirm again that we will not sign funding agreements with new faith schools that intend to select more than half their intake on the basis of faith.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) asked about co-ordinated admissions arrangements. I am happy to assure her that they will apply. She also asked about levers for enforcing the admissions code. The Young People's Learning Agency will ensure compliance with funding agreements on behalf of the Secretary of State. If an academy breached an obligation in its funding agreement, the YPLA would seek to enforce the obligation and the Secretary of State could ultimately do so through the courts. The Secretary of State has a specific power within the funding agreement to direct the admission of an individual pupil or to direct the amendment of an academy's admissions arrangements if they do not comply with the code.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson), who is not in her place, asserted that the new academies will increase social division, but they will not. The Bill states at clause 1(6)(c) that academies must provide
"education for pupils of different abilities",
"education for pupils who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated."
In response to the queries of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Mr Hancock), the admissions code requires fair and inclusive admission arrangements and outlaws any notion of cherry-picking. Of course, the academies will be bound by the code. Academies must be part of local fair access protocols, which require them to admit their fair share of challenging pupils, some of whom are likely to have been permanently excluded from other schools.
This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I have spoken for long enough and I hope that I have managed to reassure my hon. Friends in both parts of the coalition and Opposition Members. I hope that on the basis of the assurances I have given, hon. Members will feel able to withdraw their amendments.
Ian Mearns: With your leave, Ms Primarolo, I am happy to withdraw the amendment and to defer to the amendments that are put at the appropriate time later. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) the impact on funding for the other maintained schools, Academies and institutions within the further education sector situated in the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated;
(c) the impact on the balance of intake for the other maintained schools, Academies and institutions within the further education sector situated in the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated; and
Mr Wright: This group of amendments seeks to address two fundamental weaknesses in the Bill, namely a chronic lack of consultation with relevant stakeholders and a failure to consider the capacity of the wider education system in an area where free-market schools may be established.
There is a shocking lack of consultation in the Bill, but the Schools Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are conviction politicians and men of strength and leadership, so they have nothing to be frightened of. In the short time that the Secretary of State has been in office, however, he has demonstrated an unwillingness or an inability to consult on anything, whether it has been the Building Schools for the Future cuts or the indecent haste with which the House has had to scrutinise the Bill.
"The Bill as it is currently drafted does not require you to consult anyone."
A governing body can apply to become an academy without consulting teachers, parents, children, the wider community, trade unions or local authority, and there is no obligation to consult parents or the wider community in order to explain the vision or the academy's functions. On Report in another place, the Government introduced an amendment that allows new academies to
"consult such persons as they think appropriate",
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), who is no longer in his place, said earlier today that a good school is not an island, and I absolutely agree. A good school is an institution that has a positive partnership with neighbouring schools and a constructive relationship with the community in which it operates. But the Bill does not take that into account. Instead, it ensures that the most important relationship is between the school and the Secretary of State, rather than between the school and its economic and social environment.
I am also unclear about how staff will be consulted under the Bill, and I hope that in responding the Minister will specifically answer that point. As far as I understand it, there is no obligation to consult staff about changes to the school model, but there will be huge ramifications in terms of the legal challenges to that, especially if TUPE arrangements need to be properly considered.
I have already mentioned the indecent haste of the Bill's passage through Parliament. If some institutions are to be set up as academies or free schools as early as six weeks from now, in September, and if many schools have either finished, or might finish in the next couple of days, for the summer, is there any time logistically to consult staff and unions properly on the ramifications for staffing contracts? Article 12 of the UN convention on the rights of the child gives children the right to express views on matters affecting them, a point that
was made in Committee in another place, but nothing in the Bill allows children's views to be heard on a future that affects them.
Another fundamental question is, what impact will a new school have? Where does the Bill allow for the need to assess and challenge a new school, or for people who want to introduce one to demonstrate where it will improve education not just for its own intake, but for the surrounding area and students of adjacent schools? If an area takes on additional free schools, academies or both without appropriate consultation or consideration, we must accept that there is a strong risk of existing maintained schools becoming unviable. That arrangement will inevitably lead to an unfair, two-tier system of schooling, and this country's education system will fragment, with all the negative social consequences that that produces.
Without my amendments and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, the Bill will ensure that funding flows towards new, free-market schools without any assessment of capacity or need. In Committee in the other place, it was confirmed that local authorities and other stakeholders were essentially being booted out of the way to enable additional school places to be created in a completely ad hoc, free-market way. The only check on this is the Secretary of State, rather than local people with a passion for their area and schools and knowledge of local circumstances. The creation of those additional places will be funded at the expense of existing school budgets and the loss of school buildings. It will also lead to a fragmentation of education, as I have said. It will leave some pupils behind, and it does not raise standards in schools at all. I ask the Minister to respond to those concerns and to think again.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said on Second Reading, which seems only a matter of hours ago-in fact, given the haste of this Bill's passage, it was only a few hours ago-having examined the case for a new parent-promoted school in Kirklees, Professor David Woods said that it would
"have a negative impact on other schools in the area in the form of surplus places and an adverse effect on revenue and capital budgets."
Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): Is it not the case, though, that if we do not sometimes have excess places, we deny parents the choice that in turn drives the improvement in standards within schools, and end up in the situation that we are in at the moment whereby we are going down the league tables in mathematics and literacy, and of the 80,000 pupils who have free school meals, only 45 are getting into Oxford and Cambridge and our better universities?
Mr Wright: I would be happy to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene on me again if he could provide a direct correlation between surplus capacity, which is what he is suggesting, and rising standards and quality in schools. I do not see a close correlation between capacity and quality, but if he would like to enlighten me on that, I am more than happy for him to intervene.
Mel Stride: Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a correlation between increased parental choice-after all, it is parents who know what is best for their children and can spot a good school as opposed to a bad one-and an improvement in standards?
Mr Wright: I certainly agree with choice in the education system, but it would be choice for a very narrow stratum of society-predominantly middle class, media-articulate, affluent parents at the expense of disadvantaged communities. That is wrong: we need to raise standards completely across the board.
In the Bill as it stands, there is nothing to stop a load of private sector chancers, keen on making a quick profit, from contacting local parents in an area and suggesting that perhaps a new school could be beneficial, without any appropriate checks and balances on the impact that such free-market profiteers would have on educational quality, provision and capacity. Those free-market chancers could incentivise the local community with perhaps with a free laptop or the opportunity to enter a competition to win something if they expressed an interest in providing a new free school. New clause 5 would allow that to be stopped. It would ensure that there were effective checks and balances so that no person or organisation could offer inducements to pupils, parents or guardians for the purpose of new school places.
This afternoon, we had an extremely heated and interesting debate in Westminster Hall about Building Schools for the Future. Following what the Secretary of State said in his statement, 735 schools will no longer be refurbished or rebuilt. A review of the school capital programme is to be carried out by Sebastian James. Let me quote from the terms of the review:
"The overall aim of the review is to ensure that future capital investment represents good value for money and strongly supports the Government's ambitions to reduce the deficit, raise standards and tackle disadvantage."
"To consider how to generate sufficient places to allow new providers to enter the state school system in response to parental demand...To increase choice locally determined by parental demand",
"To enable the establishment of new schools."
Will the Minister discount the scenario whereby in a community where parents are disappointed that schools will not be rebuilt or refurbished under BSF, the Secretary of State could say, "But if you set up a new free school you can unilaterally decide to have a school capital building programme, and what is more, we will provide the school capital to allow you to do that, regardless of the impact that it will have on the wider educational provision in your local area. If you and a few other parents decide to do that, we will drop you a load of money to make sure you can have a rebuilt school." Will the Minister confirm that that will not happen?
If a new school is to be established, surely it is courteous, and just common sense, to establish what people in the local area think of the proposal. Surely it is important to scrutinise the impact and effect that it will have on existing schools. The amendments therefore highlight the need to ensure that local people are satisfied that there is a clear and rational case for additional capacity in education provision, that the proposal has been subject to local consultation, scrutiny and challenge, and that additional provision could best be served through the establishment of a new school.
Amendment 33 addresses the risks that I have outlined to the Committee and is therefore very important. Before arrangements for setting up a new free-market school are entered into, there should be consultation with local parents and children, schools, the local authority, school staff and unions and any other persons deemed appropriate. We believe that the amendment would involve relevant and important stakeholders in a fundamental decision about changes to education in a particular area.
Amendment 50 follows on from that point and addresses the risk of fragmentation in the education system as a result of setting up a free school. To avoid a two-tier system and funding being automatically diverted to new free schools without any consideration of the impact on existing schools' finances or the number of students in the wider local education authority, the amendment would insert into the Bill a requirement to consider various factors. Those are
"the impact on funding for the other maintained schools...the effect on social cohesion in the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated"
"the impact on the balance of intake"
for other schools in the area and the further education sector. That last point is important, and I am pleased to see the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), who is responsible for further education, on the Treasury Bench. I shall return to that matter later in my remarks.
Amendment 20 is an attempt to rein in free-market abandon and address the point that I have already made about capacity. It would add to the characteristics in clause 1(6) that must be demonstrated by a potential additional school if one is to be established. That subsection is currently broad to the point of being vague and, I would argue, meaningless. The amendment states that if there is to be an additional school in an area, it must be demonstrated as part of the selection process that it
"meets a proven need for additional capacity in the area in which the school is situated."
As the Bill is currently drafted, when an academy order has been made, the converting school or relevant local authority will not have to follow the school closure procedures set out in section 30 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 or sections 15 to 17 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. The relevant provisions in the 1998 Act are designed specifically to ensure that reflection is made on the consequences of a closure. Those provisions are that the governing body should give at least two years' notice to the Secretary of State, and that if closure would affect the facilities for full-time education for post-16-year-olds, the relevant further education funding council should be consulted. I believe that in the current regime that would be the Young People's Learning Agency, but it would be useful if the Minister confirmed that. Those provisions allow the decision on closing a school to be considered in a proper manner.
Removing the provisions of sections 15 to 17 of the 2006 Act is particularly risky. Those sections essentially ensure that when a school maintained by a local authority is to be discontinued, the authority must publish its proposals. Prior to that, the relevant body must consult
the registered parents of pupils at the affected school as well as the local education authority. That just seems like good common sense. When there are proposals to discontinue a school, there should be the widest possible consultation, challenge and scrutiny. I ask the Minister to tell us specifically why it was felt necessary to remove those requirements, which seem like good, plain common sense.
"if it provides education for pupils of a wider range of ages than the maintained school."
That is a significant part of the Bill, and at the risk of being too melodramatic, I believe it could prove the death knell for our current further education sector. I shall expand that argument with reference to my constituency. For a relatively small town, Hartlepool has a diverse offer of 16-to-19 provision. It has a college of further education, a sixth-form college, a specialist art and design college and a Catholic school sixth-form college. The choice on offer for students in Hartlepool is really quite rich, and it works incredibly well, but under clause 10(4), a school in Hartlepool or anywhere else that currently offers 11-to-16 provision could apply to become an 11-to-18 free school or academy without consideration for the wider area, without consultation regarding current post-16 provision, and without any assessment of whether the new arrangements are feasible, viable or desirable. That cannot be right or sensible. I would be grateful if the Minister could, before his winding-up speech, have a word with the Business, Innovation and Skills Minister, to determine the rationale behind that measure, because it puts at risk the advances that have been made in the FE sector since incorporation in 1992-93.
"a school does not replace a maintained school if it provides education for pupils of a wider range of ages",
"The Secretary of State must take into account what the impact of establishing the additional school would be likely to be on maintained schools, Academies and institutions...in the area".
Mr Wright: That is certainly not how I interpret the Bill. Amendment 50 is a probing amendment, because given the advances in FE provision and the huge choice in my constituency, I would hate anything that meant that an 11-to-16 school could disrupt post-16 provision.
The amendment would ensure that institutions within the FE sector, as well as the local education authority, pupils and parents are consulted. It is also important that that wider family-I hate that phrase-of education providers is consulted, but that will have a direct impact on post-16 provision.
The Opposition have faith in parents, pupils, teachers, councils and the wider community, and we think that their views should be taken into account when setting up academies, and that no new free-market schools that
fragment the current system should be set up. That could lead to a two-tier system and compromise the viability of current schools and colleges.
Chris Skidmore: The hon. Gentleman has a near-obsession with free-market schools, but nowhere in the Bill do I see them mentioned. However, clause 12, "Charitable status of Academy proprietors etc", suggests that no such free market is created by the Bill. Rather, it suggests that the money is charitable money, and that it will remain within the state sector.
Mr Wright: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. In all their rhetoric on free-market schools, the Education Secretary and his ministerial team want to encourage parents to set up free schools that are beyond the scope and authorisation of the local education authority. The Opposition believe that we ought to think of education in an area holistically, and ask what impact unilaterally setting up a new school will have on existing maintained schools and wider education providers, such as FE colleges. That is important.
Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): I understand the Opposition's concern, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the private school sector benefits most when parents and others who have an appetite to set up a school in an area are not allowed to do so, because those parents, as a last resort, will send their children to private schools? If any lobby group is most against the plans in the Bill, it is that of private and smaller private schools, which believe that their income will suffer if parents can send their children to nearby small schools. Does he recognise that the effect of liberating a market or creating a so-called free market might be to alleviate the great divide that currently exists between private and state education?
Mr Wright: I have no problem whatever with anything the hon. Lady says. If parents decide, for whatever reason, that a new state-funded school is necessary, they should be given help and support for it. If birth rates are rising, or if people think that there is not enough capacity in the education system, it is perfectly reasonable to do that.
I have a problem with the fact that these proposals will not be subject to rigorous challenge, scrutiny and consultation. That is all I am asking for, but the Bill does not provide for it. It does not allow for dialogue with local stakeholders, parents from the affected schools, pupils, local education authorities or further education colleges in the area. Given the courage of the convictions of the Secretary of State and the Minister, why will they not accept that challenge and address the point about additional capacity in an area? That is all I am asking, and the hon. Lady has made a good point. Change should be subject to consultation, challenge and scrutiny, but the Government seem to fear that their dogma and ideology would not stand up to such a challenge. We believe that local people should be making local decisions, and that we should not be concentrating all the power in the Secretary of State.
Finally, given that this is a Bill about children and about raising standards, I should just like to wish my little girl, Hattie, a happy eighth birthday today. In doing so, I commend the amendment to the House.
Caroline Lucas: I want to speak to amendment 5, and to reinforce some of the points that have already been made about the importance of making real consultation mandatory. The Government are selling these proposals on the basis that they are about empowering communities, but they are specifically refusing to allow proper consultation with our communities. This is not about empowerment; it is about centralisation.
The Department for Education website gives four handy steps towards conversion. First, the head teacher decides that he or she wants to opt out. Then the governors meet and pass a resolution. The Secretary of State then approves the proposal and the funding agreement. Finally, the Government order the local authority to cease maintaining the school. Then, as if by magic, the school is suddenly free. I am sure that most parents would find that rather alarming, and that they would want to have a direct say in the removal of their right to democratic influence through the severing of that link to the local authority.
Proper consultation would enable reflection on accountability and governance, and on whether the freedoms that academy status brings would be used without disadvantage to other parts of the community. Despite all the nice rhetoric about the schools being free schools set up by those parents who want them, there is a real risk that they will drain resources away from other schools in the region. We need the kind of consultation that the amendment proposes if we are to ensure that that does not happen.
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady agree that this lack of consultation with communities and local authorities runs contrary to what others in the new coalition Government are proposing in their localist agenda? They talk about giving more power to communities and local authorities, but the proposals in the Bill seem entirely inconsistent with that agenda.
Caroline Lucas: I completely agree with the hon. Lady. In spite of all their rhetoric about the big society, when the Government are put to the test and asked to demonstrate their commitment to the idea, they do not seem to trust our communities enough to consult them.
The ramifications of so many schools becoming independent are enormous, and children, parents, teachers, trade unions and members of the wider community are surely entitled to have their voices heard. Under the Government's proposals, thousands more schools could become their own admissions authorities, and parents will want to know who will ensure that a school's admissions policy is being observed. They will also want to know that the education of vulnerable children and children with special needs will be fairly managed and properly resourced. Consultation is the key to giving them that kind of guarantee. Surely local authorities are entitled to debate proposals that will result in local authority boundaries ceasing to have meaning in some cases. Surely they also need to have some kind of input into an admissions process that could lead to chaos for the rest of the region.
Consultation should be absolutely central to the Bill, and it is still not clear to me, despite what the Secretary of State has said, why he and other Ministers are in such a rush. Perhaps we must conclude that they are
anxious that students, parents or staff might rise up and object to this attempt to take power away from local communities. Perhaps that is why the Secretary of State does not want to consult on these proposals.
Dan Rogerson: I have some issues with the whole concept and experience of free schools, having spoken to colleagues, hon. Members and others who have seen them in operation in other countries. I have always struggled to understand how the concept might be relevant across the United Kingdom. However, recently I have been considering the situation in a rural area such as my own, in which the village schools do not become part of a federation and the local authority or the diocese-if it is involved-decides to close a small village school. In such a situation, I can foresee that a community might come together and want to provide some form of school.
This presents me with another problem: should there be a facility to enable that to happen? What safeguards will be in place to ensure that the facilities are of a required standard? Will all the protections be in place, the suitability of which a local authority would otherwise have input into, to ensure that not just the bare minimum is provided?
As I struggle to reconcile my initial dislike of the concept of free schools with the circumstance in a rural area such as my own that I have outlined, I ask what safeguards will be in place to ensure that, particularly in the early days of such a provision, all the standards that we would expect within the existing sector will be safeguarded, and that there will be equal protection.
Mr Slaughter: The Opposition amendments, which I support, are based on genuine fears about what may occur through a local market in education if this Bill becomes law. I mentioned on Second Reading a flyer that is circulating in a part of my constituency that is already testing the market to see whether an appetite exists for the opening of new schools in the area. I thought that this was already common practice, but The Times Educational Supplement telephoned me yesterday to say that it is the first such example it had heard of. However, I am sure it will not be the last if this Bill is passed, when it will become common practice.
"A New Primary School For Your Child. We are opening a new primary school in your area soon and we are enrolling now!"
"Close to your home, we will provide education for children from five years old. Life skills. reading and writing. mathematics. science. physical education and fun!...Contact us to find out more!"
There were three open days, the last of which, in fact, ended about eight minutes ago in a part of the Shepherd's Bush road. Parents are being invited to come along and I presume that, if enough turn up, an estate agent will be asked to look for suitable premises in the area. It is not that easy to find somewhere with sufficient play space and equipment in the middle of inner London, but it is a task that we know Toby Young and others have set themselves in that part of the world. At some
point, an application will be made to the Secretary of State for some of the £210 million of Building Schools for the Future funding that the schools in my constituency have been deprived of.
Although I agree with the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), it may surprise him to hear that I disagree with his pillorying the people who are putting forward this proposal. I do not particularly pillory them-in fact, I know the people who are doing this in my area. They are local entrepreneurs who run a perfectly respectable, good business that says to schools, "We will use your schools for you. We will market them when they are available-classrooms and halls at evenings and weekends, for example-and we have a number of successful supplementary schools in the area." I see nothing wrong with that. The firms make a profit, and that benefits the school, the people who use it, and the company. However, as a result of the coalition Government's proposals, the companies now see that exactly the same principles should apply to the provision of state education in the area. Who can criticise them for that, when that is exactly what is being proposed?
I asked the assistant director of education whether he knew about the practice. He is responsible for all school building programmes and the provision of school buildings; he had never heard of it. I spoke to some of the primary heads in the area; they had never heard of it, and did not know about it, although when I told them about it, they thought that they might pop along to an open day and see what was happening.
There is over-subscription of primary schools in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, although curiously the local authority was closing primary schools until last year so that it could free up the sites and sell them on to private schools. There may be demand for a primary school in certain parts of the borough, but I ask the Government whether that is the right way to go about things.
For example, one primary school is next to a place where one of the open days is held. It is a popular, successful school, but it is not full in all years because the turnover-the mobility-of population in inner London is such that 25% of the children in a class can leave that class in the course of a school year. That is very difficult. Some 65% of children in that school have English as a second language, and 40% are Muslim. We are talking about one of the most varied, diverse and mobile communities in the country. Planning school provision and school places is incredibly difficult on both a financial and educational level.
What will happen if we throw into the mix the ability, simply on the basis of a business idea, to set up a new school where one feels that one can? A company might attract parents who like the idea, and who are most able, willing, articulate, and responsive to that type of marketing, set up a school, and drain other schools of their pupils and finances, including the capital funding that has already been stopped for existing schools. That is a recipe for utter chaos in the education system. It is gold-rush tactics applied to the education system.
There are groups of parents doing the same as the companies. They have their eye on particular buildings, and say to the local authority, "Could we have that
building? Never mind who is in there at the moment. Could you get them out? We'd like the building for our own use." I am certainly not criticising the parents; they want to do the best for their children. I do not even criticise the organisations concerned. They may be very sound entrepreneurial organisations. I blame the politicians, who, both at local and national level, appear to be abdicating completely all responsibility for the planning of education, and in particular the planning of sustainable, sensible and integrated education.
The education system, particularly in areas such as inner London, is finely balanced. It works. It is highly resourced, thanks to the last Labour Government. It has an incredible number of committed people in it-parents, teachers, children and, indeed, some local politicians. It works very well, particularly at primary level, but often against the odds and against great challenges. This legislation does nothing to assist. All that it does is put a spoke in the wheel, and barriers in the way of continuing that success. Education-particularly primary education-in inner London is not broke. This noxious and pernicious Bill aims to destroy what we have built up over many years, and I urge all Members of the Committee to support the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool.
Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I am really depressed by what is happening, particularly in relation to consultation. For years and years, quite rightly, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives attacked the previous Government for not having full consultation with people when measures such as this were going through. But to have a consultation process, or not to have a consultation process, when the people who run our schools-the teachers, the support staff, the people who do school meals and the people who clean the schools-are not even at work but are on holiday, if they can afford to take one, and to say that the head will decide and that when they come back in December they will be told what will happen to them, is clearly out of order. It is almost certainly not legal and I am convinced that there will be challenges.
Let us just think about some of the things that could happen during the summer. People who may finish work this week and return in the first week in September may not have these questions answered. Will I, or will I not, still be entitled to the sickness agreements that I have had for years in my previous employment? Will I still be entitled to the same rights of annual leave? Will my salary be the same? Will my pension be the same? Will my redundancy rights be the same? Will my access to training be the same? Will my redeployment rights be the same? Will my career development still be the same? Will any rights that I have accrued in possibly decades of service for the people of my community be the same?
In any normal consultation process-I have had long experience in six to 10 years of working for a local authority-under both the last Labour Government and the previous Conservative Government, even at the hardest of times, when there were real issues and really dogma-driven changes, people were still allowed the right to consult and to have their questions answered. There is no way, in six weeks, even if the staff were still at work, that these questions could be answered, and to
say that this is the right way forward and to pretend that somehow it fits into the concept of the big society is clearly and utterly wrong. Staff will be going back to work in six weeks' time and they will be told by the head, by the board of governors, "You either take it or leave it." That has to be wrong.
Amendment 20 would require any proposal for an additional school or a free school to demonstrate a need for additional capacity within the local area. We have made it clear that we want to improve choice in education. A free school proposal will be required to demonstrate parental demand and support. Where there is such demand, we will not turn down the proposal simply to protect other local schools. As my noble Friend Lady Perry said in the other place:
"Why can we not trust the people who run our schools and education services to behave in a sensible and honourable way? That is how they have always behaved...To be prescriptive, to write down as a rule that we are consulting only because it is the law, would be alien to the way in which good schools operate-and only good schools will come this way."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 13 July 2010; Vol. 720, c. 623.]
All schools will need to drive up standards to retain their pupils and remain viable. Any proposer of an academy that does not replace a maintained school, including a free school, must consult such people as they think appropriate before entering into funding arrangements with the Secretary of State on the principle of whether to enter into such arrangements. That will allow for representations to be made regarding any concerns that appropriate people may have over such proposals.
Charlotte Leslie: Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be utter lunacy and madness for either an additional school or a school seeking to apply for academy status not to meet the needs of the local community around it, because then it would not succeed as a school? It would be part of the process of its change that it would seek to meet the needs of the entire community around it.
Mr Gibb: Absolutely. That is the whole point. It is in the Bill. Any school that sought to establish itself without talking to and consulting local people would not fare well in trying to attract pupils.
Furthermore, clause 9 requires the Secretary of State, when deciding whether to enter into academy arrangements with an additional school, an entirely new or free school, to take into account the impact of such a school on the existing schools and colleges in the area. That will ensure that in making decisions on any free school proposal due consideration will always be given to its wider implications. Clause 9 is included in the Bill following helpful debates in the other place where noble Lords expressed concerns over the impact that any brand new academies-free schools-would have on other schools and colleges in the area. We agreed that in making decisions on any free school proposal, due consideration should always be given to its wider implications. That was our intention even before we tabled that amendment in the other place. We were happy to place that duty in the Bill.
Amendment No. 50 seeks to define "impact", which the Secretary of State would be required to take account of when considering entering into arrangements for an additional free school. I fully understand hon. Members' concerns, but we do not wish to prescribe the matters to be considered in each case. Every school is different and its case should be considered on its merits. The problem with a list is that people tend to focus on what is not on it, and that risks other considerations that are not included being considered irrelevant and unimportant. In fact, they could well be quite important.
"The idea that parents should not be able to access new or additional school places in areas where the schools are not providing good quality places simply because the provision of those places will cause detriment to other schools fundamentally ignores the interests of parents and their right to have a decent quality school to send their children to. If there is not such a decent quality school and someone is prepared to do something substantive about it, they should be applauded".-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 21 June 2010; Vol. 719, c. 1264.]
Mr Graham Stuart: Although I agree with my hon. Friend that the amendment should be rejected, may we expect the Secretary of State to come forward with an explanation of the approach that he will take to the assessment of this impact? Otherwise it could appear that the Secretary of State was making such decisions without a framework that the public in a local area could expect to understand.
"The Secretary of State must take into account what the impact of establishing the additional school would be likely to be on maintained schools, Academies and institutions within the further education sector in the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated."
Mr Stuart: If the Secretary of State will not produce a framework to show how he will approach such cases, will he publish the assessment that he makes in order to come to a conclusion? People deserve to be able to understand the logic behind a decision, even if it is just precedent and looking at different schools in different places at different times. That might also help people who want to come forward with proposals. If they do not understand the Secretary of State's thinking, they will not know whether or not to make a proposal.
Mr Gibb: I will ponder my hon. Friend's point. I personally think that it is clear what sort of issues the Secretary of State will take into account when deciding whether to accept a proposal for an additional school in an area. To be too specific in setting out guidance would be a mistake, because it could end up luring future providers into not considering issues that they should take into account when assessing the impact that their proposal would have on the local area. As I say, I will ponder my hon. Friend's points and perhaps write to him on this issue.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Surely it is a matter for both natural justice and judicial review? I am sure that the Minister has taken very good advice, but if he does not open the process up and give people the opportunity to make representations on it, he will lay himself open to many more problems in the future.
In the letter to lead Members sent on 26 May, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that the Government see strong local authorities as central to our plans to improve education. We want to see a smooth transition to the new school system and want a genuine dialogue with local government-and other partners-to that end. There are important questions about the role of local authorities in school improvement, how to ensure that local provision meets the needs of all children in an area, including the most vulnerable, and how we help schools to understand the opportunities, freedoms and responsibilities of the new system.
Over the next weeks and months, we want a further dialogue with local government on those and related matters, and we do not think it would be right to pre-empt those discussions by accepting the amendment, which would clearly place a bureaucratic burden on local authorities ahead of a wider discussion about their continuing role. As I have already explained, additional schools are required to consult locally on their proposals, and the Secretary of State has a duty to consider the wider impact of any school on its local area, so a requirement for him to take account of an annual report provided by the local authority would, in our view, be unnecessary.
On new clause 5, we share the commitment of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) to promoting fair and proper processes when establishing all new schools, including free schools, which is why we have put in place a rigorous approval process and are requiring that groups comply with every aspect of it before being allowed to open a new school. As part of the process to establish a free school, groups will have to demonstrate that there is genuine, robust demand for places at the school they are proposing, both at the proposal stage and in completing their business case and plan. To meet this requirement, we expect groups to provide evidence of this demand, perhaps through a petition or a declaration from interested parties, but in every case demonstrating clear evidence of unmet local need, not just expressions of support.
The new clause would prevent organisations or groups from offering financial inducements to parents and pupils to encourage them to attend or support new free schools. It is, of course, right that we would not wish to see any organisation trying to manipulate public opinion or to give financial incentives to any person to obtain their support. However, it shows a marked lack of trust in parents, if I may say so to the hon. Gentleman, to suggest that they would send their child to any school on the back of a financial incentive. They will obviously want to send their child to the best school possible.
Mr Iain Wright:
Will the Minister address the point I made on this subject? Parents might quite rightly be disappointed about Building Schools for the Future capital being scrapped, but are the Secretary of State or
the Minister saying, "We're trying to look for additional school capital programmes, and if you set up a new school, you'll be first in line, regardless of what the wider community requires"? Can he say that that will definitely not be the case?
Mr Gibb: We have allocated £50 million of funding from the harnessing technology fund to restart the standards and diversity fund, which was established in 2008 by the hon. Gentleman's Government to promote new schools. That is the fund that will provide capital for free schools until 31 March 2011. It is quite clear that it does not come from the Building Schools for the Future fund.
New clause 5 would have an unintended consequence as a result of its wide scope. For example, it would prevent a school from being able to offer subsidies for the provision of school uniforms to pupils from low-income families, which I am sure is not something that Labour Members would want.
Chris Skidmore: New clause 5 mentions inducements to pupils, as my hon. Friend mentioned. The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) also made a point on this subject. However, would the new clause not also affect the education maintenance allowance, which was a financial inducement introduced by the previous Government? I am sure he does not oppose that.
I want to clarify one point about the approval of new schools. A very strong evidential basis must be demonstrated, not one based on offering rewards. In order to ensure that places are of sufficient long-term quality and sustainability, not all applicants to this process will be successful. However, it is right that, where cases are properly made, we strongly support communities that want to establish new schools in order to improve choice for their own and other young people in their areas and to drive up standards across them.
Amendment 29 would amend the definition of what amounts to an additional school and the circumstances in which the Secretary of State would be required to take account of the impact of an additional school. Noble Lords in the other place raised concerns about circumstances in which a free school was partially new, but partially replacing an existing school-for example, where a school had a broader age range than the school that it had replaced. I can confirm that it is our policy to expect convertors to convert "as is". Therefore, any school wishing to change its age range would need to follow either the relevant statutory procedures for prescribed alterations before conversion or the relevant administrative processes after conversion, rather than as part of the conversion process.
We are also committed to assessing the impact of any free school proposals on a local area. However, we also wanted to meet the concerns of noble Friends in the other place, so we have amended the Bill accordingly. In most cases, the school will have the same head, staff,
parents and children, but will also have additional freedoms to innovate and raise standards. Furthermore, the requirement for converting schools to consult means that those other schools in the area may have the chance to make representations on the proposed conversion. However, schools may still become academies via the Education and Inspections Act 2006, under which the predecessor school is closed and replaced by an academy, as opposed to undergoing a conversion to academy status, which is what the Bill will allow. In those cases, under clause 9(4), the Secretary of State will be required to assess the impact of any change in the age range.
Amendments 33 and 5 both seek to specify in the legislation who the promoter of an additional school must consult before entering into academy arrangements with the Secretary of State. Any free school proposal, which will need to demonstrate parental demand and support, will by definition require consultation. However, following concerns raised in the other place, we felt it necessary to set out in the Bill our expectation for such consultation. However, we do not intend to prescribe how that consultation should be conducted. A key principle of this Government is to trust professionals to do their jobs without the unnecessary interference of central Government. We trust professionals to determine how to consult, and we do not think it right to provide an inflexible checklist, which would not, in itself, ensure that consultation was any more meaningful.
Mr Gibb: I do not think that it needs to be set out in the Bill, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: of course staff should be consulted, and they would be. TUPE--the transfer of undertakings (protection of employment) regulations-will govern the contracts of all the employees of the school and the transfer of employment on the same terms. He should feel assured that the necessary statutory consultation, by the employer and with the employee, will take place as part of the process.
Caroline Lucas: Why do we just have to take the hon. Gentleman's word for it? No disrespect, but if it is so self-evidently clear that the consultation will take place with all the relevant parties, why could that not be set down in the Bill? For a lot of us, that would be a way of putting our minds at rest.
Mr Gibb: Well, no disrespect right back at you. The point is that the TUPE regulations are already in statute and they have to be followed. Whenever there is a transfer of undertakings, those procedures are followed, and there is no need to set that out in the Bill. However, we are simply adopting the same approach that the previous Government took to academies, which is that we regulate through the funding agreement. The hon. Lady can also be assured that the things said in this House are on the record for her to hold us to account against, so the more she can get me to say now, the more reassured she can be.
This Government's approach is to let the people who have the experience and knowledge in their areas of work make the decisions that will affect them. The promoter of a free school will know who the interested
parties are in their local area. Any proposal for a free school must be able to demonstrate genuine, robust demand for places at the proposed school-for example, through a petition or a declaration from interested parties. As I said, clause 9 requires the Secretary of State, when deciding whether to enter into academy arrangements with a free school, to take into account the impact of such a school on existing schools and colleges in the area. That will ensure that when decisions on any free school proposal are made, due consideration will always be given to its wider implications.
I want to run through some of the other points that the hon. Member for Hartlepool made. I made the point about consultation, but he also talked about academies being disconnected from their surrounding areas. However, the model funding agreement for academies, which hon. Members will have seen, explicitly says that
"the school will be at the heart of its community, sharing facilities with other schools and the wider community".
The hon. Gentleman also talked about TUPE. Consultation can take place after the academy order has been made. The key issue for staff transferring-he also mentioned the discussions taking place in August-is the signing of the funding agreement. These consultations can take place well into September and October before the funding agreement is signed.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the disapplication of sections 15 and 17 of the Education Inspections Act 2006 for schools converting under clause 4. This is relevant because under those arrangements the school is not closing, but converting, so there is no need for provisions to govern all the steps that have to be gone through when a school is closed. Consultations are provided for, as I said, under clause 5. He also asked about the impact on the further education sector. Clause 9(2) requires the Secretary of State to take into account the impact on colleges as well as on other schools.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) asked about the facilities at free schools. Health and safety law will, of course, apply. Ofsted will continue to inspect, and there are detailed provisions about fire, safety, security and structure, food hygiene and so forth in the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2003, which will now apply to academies. Those regulations are very detailed; if they were not detailed, many independent schools around the country would have the same worries as my hon. Friend.
Mr Iain Wright: I begin by thanking the Minister for his usual courtesy and kindness in wishing my daughter Hattie a very happy birthday. The whole Committee is welcome to join us for "Toy Story 3" on Sunday, if it so wishes.
The Minister has reassured me to some extent on clauses 9 and 10 and on the model funding agreement. That goes some way to addressing my concerns and I also thank him for clarifying some points about the FE sector. However, he has not gone far enough. As I said, there are fundamental weaknesses at the heart of the Bill, as seen in this group of amendments. Those weaknesses
are on capacity and on consultation. With great respect to the Minister, he has not reassured me on those matters.
More to the point, some comments by the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) and for Hexham (Guy Opperman), and the excellent comments by the Chair of the Select Committee, showed that there is concern about the gap in the appropriate level of consultation. I understand that the Minister hopes to ponder on that issue, but I would suggest that he table a Government amendment on Report, which we could consider. I would be more than happy to discuss any such amendment with him. I suspect, however, that he will not do that.
I repeat that there are fundamental weaknesses on capacity, which amendment 20 would address, and on consultation, which amendment 33 would address. I would therefore like to test the opinion of the Committee on those amendments.
'and follows the National Curriculum in science, mathematics, information technology and English;'.
'and where appropriate section 40 of the Childcare Act 2006'.
Caroline Lucas: As Members will know, the amendment proposes that academies should follow the national curriculum. Under the Government's proposals, once a state-maintained school becomes an academy, it is no longer required to follow the national curriculum. [Interruption.]
Caroline Lucas: As I was saying, under the Government's proposals once a state-maintained school becomes an academy, it is no longer required to follow the national curriculum and that is of particular concern in respect of state-maintained faith schools that convert to become faith academies. Interestingly, a recent poll found that 75% of people agree or strongly agree that all state-funded schools should teach an objective and balanced syllabus for education about a wide range of religious and non-religious beliefs.
The Government appear to be unconcerned about the public's view on that as they allow a significant risk that some religious authorities will use this new freedom under the Bill to pursue restrictive teaching in line with their religion. There are no specific protections in the Bill to ensure that the duty to offer this so-called balanced and broadly based curriculum cannot be neglected or evaded. That is a cause for great concern.
The previous Government introduced a change so that academies had to follow the national curriculum in English, maths and science, and the teaching of evolution was, of course, covered in that. I have tabled my amendment because the coalition Government propose that academies should be entirely free from the national curriculum. If the Bill is not amended, there will be no requirement on
academies to teach evolution, and the Government do not even appear to have plans to prevent the teaching of creationism in academies.
We know that some academy sponsors want creationism to be taught. Emmanuel college in Gateshead, backed by the philanthropist Sir Peter Vardy, attracted controversy by teaching pupils about creationism, and pupils at the school reported that creationism was taught alongside evolutionary theory as being an equally valid belief. How will Ministers ensure that pupils at religious academies receive objective and evidence-based teaching and that creationism is not taught in science lessons or as fact?
Stephen Pound: I share the hon. Lady's concerns and I raised this very point with the Secretary of State when he was on the Front Bench earlier this week. He replied that at Emmanuel college there was no teaching of creationism. I am a reasonable human being and I am inclined to believe the Secretary of State. However, does the hon. Lady have any evidence that this teaching is continuing, because if that is the case, the whole House will be very worried?
Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My notes tell me that this information came from a National Union of Teachers briefing. I imagine that the NUT is up to date with what is being taught in schools, but I am happy to check that and come back. This teaching has been going on, as it does in other countries where academies are fully fledged, such as the United States. So it certainly is not outside the realms of possibility that not only is it continuing in that particular academy, but that it is happening in a widespread fashion in a number of academies. The point is that there is nothing in the Bill to stop this happening. Even if it has stopped over the past few weeks or months at one particular academy, there is nothing to prevent it from happening again. That is the real concern.
"one of the core aims of the policy is precisely that the Secretary of State should not dictate to academies what they should teach...I fully accept that if you trust people things do go wrong, but that is the direction that we want to try to go in."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 7 July 2007; Vol. 720, c. 299.]
Although, at the moment, the national curriculum does not include statutory sex and relationships education, it does ensure that maintained faith schools teach sexual reproduction as part of the science syllabus. Nothing in the new, deregulated system proposed by this Bill would oblige religious academies to do the same. Personal, social and health education-PSHE-was debated at length in the other place, yet we see no Government move on it as yet. Instead, the Government argued that making PSHE a curriculum requirement under the Bill was not the right way to go, as the best place to consider this was in the forthcoming national curriculum review. Yet, of course, the Government want academies to be free of the national curriculum.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab):
A recent television report said that there are six times as many teenage pregnancies in Britain than in Holland, yet Holland's
schools have much more rigorous education on sexual and reproduction matters. Is that not of fundamental importance?
Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because it absolutely proves the case that education is a key way of ensuring that we do not have a huge number of unwanted teenage pregnancies. Education does not lead young people suddenly to think of doing things that they might not have thought of doing were they not to have had that education. On the contrary, education is one of the best forms of contraception.
The British Humanist Association has asked, legitimately, whether a new, state-funded, Catholic academy would be allowed not to teach sexual reproduction in biology lessons, let alone wider and more objective sex and relationships education. Again, as far as we can see, nothing in the new, deregulated system proposed by the Bill would seem to prohibit that from happening.
These are not the only concerns, because despite this being paid for by the taxpayer, sponsors of academies have enormous powers to dictate how and what pupils learn more generally. I read today with horror that one academy is apparently installing a "call centre" so that pupils' "aspirations" can be raised by training for this type of work. In Manchester and Birmingham, for example, a range of academies are being planned, each specialising in preparing pupils for employment in specific industries or commercial activities. I read that Manchester airport, which is one such prospective sponsor, has overtly stated that the principal purpose of its academy will be to provide employees for the airport. That is a pretty reductionist interpretation of the purpose of education. That is why we must ensure that academies do follow the national curriculum, which is what my amendment seeks to do.
Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): As the hon. Lady mentions the subject, may I say that that does seem an absurdly reductionist approach to academies? Could she explain what she believes the purpose of education is?
Caroline Lucas: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to expand more widely on this point. I believe that the purpose of education is to enable the potential of every human being to be properly fulfilled, whatever that might be in-it might be in a very academic, artistic or practical way. What education is not about is giving very narrow training for a specific job that has somehow been set up already by the time a child goes into an academy at a young age. We risk dumbing down in a worrying way for the pupils who come through our schools if that is what we think education is about. Education should be for life. It is about fulfilling people's potential and is not about becoming a narrow cog in a wheel.
The hon. Lady is speaking in very inspirational terms about education and I happen to agree with her on this point. However, I do not recognise in the national curriculum, in all its glory, that has been forced on teachers in all schools, the freedom to teach in that inspirational way. I recognise her concerns about the possible dangers and I hope that the Minister will
reply to them, but, by tying schools to the national curriculum, the hon. Lady's amendment would do a disservice to young people, who might want the sort of education that she is describing.
Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do not think that the national curriculum is the best possible curriculum we could have but it is a bulwark and a protection against the kind of laissez-faire approach that will be unleashed by the Bill if we do not have some protections. I assure the hon. Gentleman that if we had more time and if I had more of my colleagues on these Benches, I would love to put forward a Green party policy on the kind of inspirational education that I would love to see. That is in our manifesto. Right now, though, we are looking at damage limitation and that is what my amendment is about. I want to make sure that we do not have sponsors imposing on wide numbers of pupils their personal views about what education should be about. That is why my amendment is important.
Chris Skidmore: Does the hon. Lady agree that having freedom from national curriculum restrictions was extremely valuable for the academies that the previous Government set up in deprived communities? Those academies were able to filter down subjects and to teach maths and English in ways that the national curriculum would have prevented. I know that she is talking off her brief and I have enjoyed listening to the National Union of Teachers' briefing that she has produced today, but she might like to know, given her praise of the Netherlands' system, that the Netherlands does not have a national curriculum.
Caroline Lucas: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the only part of my notes that is from the briefing from the NUT, much as I respect it, is the reference to the particular school I mentioned. I have made it very clear that even if that practice is not carrying on at that school, the wider point remains that it could carry on in any academy at any time because there is absolutely no protection in the Bill to prevent sponsors from imposing on schools any particular educational direction that they choose. That is deeply worrying and that is why there is, for the moment, a need for the national curriculum as a protection against that kind of utter and complete deregulation.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about whether the freeing of academies from the national curriculum has been a positive thing, there is no overall evidence that academies perform better than other schools. Where academies have done better, it is often because they have managed to exclude more children and to use a different kind of curriculum by choosing from within the curriculum the subjects to pursue-possibly less rigorous ones academically. There is no educational argument in favour of academies-even those under the previous Government's proposals. The Green party and I were not in favour of academies under the previous Government and we are even less in favour of them under this Government, because it is quite clear that they are going in the wrong direction.
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