“Admissions policies must be locally consulted on for at least eight weeks to allow all parties to consider proposals or amendments”—[Official Report, 11 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 1236-7.]

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However, surely there cannot be any need for consultation where there is a straight matter of making the admissions arrangements comply with the law and the admissions code.

The draft code and regulations that were published last week seem to confirm that the Minister wishes to allow schools to take as long as they want to ensure compliance with a binding judgment. We believe that justice delayed is justice denied, so our amendment to Lords amendment 23 is about the timely righting of wrongs for the benefit of parents and children.

Richard Fuller: On the hon. Gentleman’s observations on Lords amendments regarding schools admissions policies, one of the objections put about by some of those who oppose free schools and academies is their fear that admissions policies will somehow be discriminatory. Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to confirm that the amendments suggested by the Lords put to bed that lie?

Kevin Brennan: The Government made it clear during the Commons stage that they wished the academies to be subject to the admissions code. We welcomed that at the time and I am happy to welcome it now, because any state school should have a fair admissions policy. Any school funded by the taxpayer should admit pupils on a fair basis in accordance with the code. We therefore welcome the extension of the code to academies and the clarification of that by the Government, rather than relying on funding agreements in order to achieve that.

One of the innovations of the Bill that we debated is the change to the powers of the schools adjudicator. Currently, when an admissions authority is found to be in breach of the code, the adjudicator can rectify any flaws with immediate effect, but following the passage of the Bill, the adjudicator will be able to make only “binding” decisions, which the admissions authority will be obliged to implement. Ministers have already made it clear that the purpose of that change is to emphasise the importance of schools taking responsibility for their own actions, but it should not allow them the scope to avoid those responsibilities or to frustrate parents who have made a successful complaint and have a legitimate expectation that matters will be put right promptly.

The draft version of the admissions code was pretty clear. Paragraph 3.1 stated:

“The admission authority must revise their admission arrangements immediately to give effect to the Adjudicator’s decision.”

That was the original version of the code issued by the Minister, which was pretty clear and unambiguous, as it should be. However, I was dismayed to read in the revised version of the draft code, published 10 days ago, that paragraph 3.1 has been changed. It now states:

“The admission authority must where necessary revise their admission arrangements as quickly as possible and no later than 15 April following the decisions (i.e. the deadline for determination of admission arrangements) to give effect to the Adjudicator’s decision.”

It is not clear from reading out those two sentences, but there is an important difference in their visual presentation. In the first sentence the word “must” is rendered in bold, whereas in the second sentence it is in plain text

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and “15 April” appears in bold. The proper sense of urgency and compulsion seems to have been replaced by one of contingency and delay. Although the second sentence states “as quickly as possible”, which is a weaker statement, the eye is drawn to “15 April”. Bearing in mind that the deadline for objections has been brought forward by a month to 30 June—a sensible change that we support—that means that there could be a delay of 10 months or more before a decision is implemented, which is simply unacceptable.

It is not necessarily for the legislation or the new code to undermine the effectiveness of the office of the adjudicator in a wholly unnecessary attempt to provide for circumstances that have not proved problematic under previous arrangements, so our amendment would put it beyond doubt that, where changes are required in response to valid objections, they must be implemented in time to benefit those who made them.

On constituting governing bodies, to which the Minister referred, it might be helpful if he offered some clarification. Our amendment was intended to make it absolutely clear what the Government’s amendments mean in relation to staff on governing bodies. In Committee, the Minister said:

“I am cautious about prescribing centrally the basis on which governing bodies should appoint people.”––[Official Report, Education Public Bill Committee, 31 March 2011; c. 811.]

Having had time to consider the matter, the Government and the Minister appear to have changed their minds completely. If that is the case, we welcome it. Will the Minister confirm that he now thinks that more than one member of staff could be a member of a governing body, which might help us in relation to our amendment? If he does so now, he might not need to later.

Mr Gibb: I am happy to confirm that we want to reduce the amount of prescription on how to constitute a governing body. After deliberation and discussions with Members of this House and in another place, we have said that we will prescribe one staff member and one local authority representative, but that does not remove the discretion of governing bodies to appoint others; it is merely stating that there should be one staff member and one local authority member.

Kevin Brennan: That is extremely helpful. The Minister’s words will probably satisfy us so that we need not press that amendment to a vote later.

The chief inspector and the question of whether schools can be exempted from inspection were the subject of our earlier debate and of some interventions by me, the Chair of the Education Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who is no longer in his place—I almost said Grimsby, but it is important to get the right part of Lincolnshire. Those remarks, and what the Prime Minister said earlier today about coasting schools, bring the issue more clearly into focus. As it stands, the clause removes the requirement for Ofsted—in other words, the chief inspector—to inspect and issue a report on each school in England, at a frequency set out in regulations, that rates the overall quality of the school and sets out its areas for improvement. Clause 41 will have a similar effect on further education institutions, which will be debated in the second group of amendments.

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In effect, the provisions would exempt certain schools from section 5 inspections. Furthermore, the exemption would not be for a fixed number of years, and neither would a school be exempt only until something indicated that standards needed to be re-checked, such as a complaint from parents or pupils, a change of head, or concern being expressed by the local authority. It is possible that, under the clause, some schools could be exempt from inspections almost in perpetuity unless they wanted to pay for one.

It was pointed out earlier that a school could still be inspected under the chief inspector’s programme of surveys of curriculum subjects and thematic reviews, during which time the chief inspector may elect to treat the inspection as a partial section 5 inspection. However, that does not mean that every school would be inspected—far from it. In the case of the curriculum and thematic reviews, only parts of the school’s performance would be looked at.

The Prime Minister said earlier today that he was concerned that comprehensives in wealthy villages and market towns were sometimes coasting, although I do not know why he picked out comprehensives; that could apply equally to grammar schools in some parts of the country. He said that the fact that their

“respectable results and a decent local reputation”

hid the fact that their pupils could be performing much better. We know how quickly schools can move, for a variety of reasons, from being outstanding to what the Prime Minister describes as “coasting”. The Opposition’s proposals to provide more triggers for inspections when real concerns arise should have been accepted by the Government.

When Sir Michael Wilshaw gave evidence to the Select Committee on 1 November 2011, during his pre-appointment hearing before taking on his role as the new chief inspector of Ofsted, he said:

“Ofsted is about raising standards and it seems to me that there are only two levers for raising standards; one is Government and regulation, and the other is Ofsted.”

He later went on to correct himself, saying that he meant “two main levers”, stating:

“In terms of accountability, Government and Ofsted are the two main levers.”

In relation to the amendments, will the Minister tell us whether he agrees with the new chief inspector of schools in that regard?

Damian Hinds: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the theoretical possibility of a school not being inspected for a very long time is not at all the same as that being likely? Does he also accept that the total basket of performance indicators that will be available under the new system will give much more richness, and a greater ability to identify the appropriate times to make such interventions?

Kevin Brennan: There are lots of indicators now, but we need triggers to make inspections happen at the appropriate time. We have sought to achieve that throughout the Bill. Given the seriousness of the step that the Government are taking, and the lack of consultation on this proposal, it should at least be the subject of the affirmative resolution procedure the first time that it is put in place. To that effect, we have tabled amendment (a)

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and the related amendment (b) to Lords amendment 27. We feel very strongly that if the Secretary of State is not going to provide us with any more triggers at this stage, he should at least have to come forward with an affirmative resolution the first time such a provision is enacted. We also think there should be a time limit on the provision. Amendment (b) to Lords amendment 27 would mean that exemptions could hold for only seven years, so the Government would be required to renew regulations at least every seven years.

5 pm

I do not want to detain the House for much longer, but let me make a few quick points about some of the other amendments that the Government made in the Lords, particularly regarding direct payments for persons with special educational needs. On Lords amendment 37, which inserts measures after clause 71, can the Minister explain why the Government are bringing in direct payments in that way? We are generally supportive of the approach, but will he set out how parents can be helped to navigate the system and make the best choices for their children’s needs? Can he guarantee that the introduction of direct payments is not a smokescreen for cuts in services to persons and pupils with SEN? There is a great deal of concern across the House about making sure that pupils and young people with SEN are protected and that direct payments are not used as a smokescreen for cuts when they are introduced.

On academies and issues relating to land, some of the amendments show the complexities of land issues in education. No doubt, the Government will have to amend the legislation in a year or so as more problems are thrown up, especially with the conversion policy, as more and more land that has hitherto been owned or managed for an institution that was established by a local authority is transferred out of public ownership and management. It is likely that where public resources have gone into developing and enhancing land, resources might fall permanently into the private sector. In effect, amendments 89 to 91 seem to mean that if an academy is established on private land, any public money that goes into the land or buildings on the land will remain in the private sector. Will the Minister confirm whether that interpretation is correct and will he explain to the House the effect of those amendments and why they are being introduced? Will he also explain the complexities regarding private finance initiatives and academies?

Mr Graham Stuart: It is a pleasure to participate in the debate and to see so many members of the Bill Committee present. I know that a lot of effort has gone into improving the Bill and I am delighted that their noble lordships have made many constructive contributions. I am also delighted that Ministers have been prepared to listen—as, to be fair, they have throughout the process—and have made amendments accordingly.

One issue that I raised in Committee concerned schools’ discretionary referral of teachers who have been sacked for misconduct. In the other place, Lord Hill said that we could be assured that all the most serious cases would be referred, and I would be grateful if the Minister could help me to understand how that will necessarily be the case if discretion lies with the school. I am happy to take an intervention now if he is able to give me that information, but if he is not I shall move on.

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Interim immediate barring orders will be in the hands of the Secretary of State for cases in which the concern is sufficiently great, and where someone can be referred, we are talking about a great sanction. Such sanctions are probably appropriate for teachers who have been, or who are suspected of having been, guilty of gross misconduct, but how do we ensure consistency? One can imagine a case in which two teachers have behaved in exactly the same way but in which one of them is let go by the school and that is it—they go off and their CV is doubtless marked and harmed but fundamentally they can carry on with their career—whereas another is referred upwards into the national machinery, which Ministers themselves accept is cumbersome and comes with heavy sanction. I am not yet entirely satisfied that there will be justice and equality of treatment in such circumstances, and I ask the Minister to respond to that point later.

In respect of reporting restrictions, the shadow schools Minister is right to say that all of us who have focused on the provision have worried about its possible unintended consequences. We all recognise the vulnerability of teachers to malicious allegations, which can spread from chatter around the school yard to chatter around the community. If an allegation is formally made and appears in a newspaper, that can have a devastating effect on a teacher who might have dedicated their life to supporting and educating young people. All Committee members, and everyone to whom I have spoken on this issue, sympathise with the Government’s approach, but questions remain. The Newspaper Society submission may not have caused my views to undergo a complete U-turn, but it raised a lot of questions as to where this protection should stop. The Opposition suggested it should be extended to other teachers, and I have mentioned social workers. I have yet to grasp the point of principle that justifies limiting this provision to teachers alone, rather than its covering many other professions as well, which might result in the public losing their right to know what is going on.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): Does my hon. Friend agree that even if such allegations are not reported in the media, they may get out into the community and may influence head teachers when they make decisions about appointments? The operation of these provisions will therefore need to be examined after they are put in place.

Mr Stuart: I agree that we will have to keep a close eye on the provision, but I hope it does the job it is intended to do in a fair and just way, and we can give Ministers a great deal of credit for having listened to the debate in the Lords and for having come forward with amendments to ensure that it does, indeed, work in the fairest possible way.

In respect of exemptions, there is an anomaly which I highlighted through an amendment in Committee. Further education lecturers and teachers in sixth-form colleges, who come under the same administrative banding of FE for these purposes, do not receive the same level of protection as schoolteachers. To reiterate the point made by the shadow Minister, a lecturer and a schoolteacher might be teaching the same people the same subject in the same kind of classroom, yet the lecturer will not have this protection while the schoolteacher will.

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Kevin Brennan: Further, a school student might be attending an FE college as part of their school sixth-form studies, and the regulations would be different in those two institutions.

Mr Stuart: Yes, and Alison Wolf suggested in her report that more 14 to 16-year-olds should attend FE colleges, so this provision would affect them as well as 17 to 18-year-olds, for whom the provision might be less relevant. I hope Ministers will think about this anomaly and find a way of equalising the situation.

The Government make what seems like a very reasonable case on strengthening Ofqual’s enforcement powers. Ofqual does not have as wide-ranging powers as other regulators, and there is a very quick step from its making requirements on awarding bodies to the nuclear option of removing their ability to provide awards at all. It therefore seems reasonable to have more moderate powers in the middle, such as the power to make fines, but this Government are committed not to following such easy logic unless there is a very strong—nay, an overwhelming—case for giving new powers to some non-governmental, unelected quango, such as Ofqual, so in an intervention I asked the Minister to make the case. He made a brave effort, as he always does, being a highly esteemed colleague and an excellent schools Minister, but he really did not make the case.

We did not hear about the number of times that awarding bodies have deliberately flouted Ofqual’s requirements—that OCR, when required to do something by Ofqual, just ignored it, left it as long as possible and did it only if it felt like it; or that the lack of anything other than a nuclear button meant that OCR did not want to comply.

Following this summer’s examination paper errors fiasco, no one was more embarrassed and determined to put it right than the awarding bodies. They collectively and individually felt that it was embarrassing, and they wanted to put it right as quickly as they could. The numbers were somewhat higher than in previous years, but the attention paid to them this year was rather greater than the increase in problems, and I know at least one case in which there was only one error in 100,000 questions.

I want to see all such errors eliminated and to know that those bodies are straining every sinew to put the situation right, but I am not yet convinced that a fining regime, however conveniently it may fulfil the Prime Minister’s promise to do something about the situation, is the right approach.

Mr Gibb rose

Damian Hinds rose

Mr Stuart: I give way to the Minister.

Mr Gibb: The measure is about incentives. If a not-for-profit or commercial operation seeks to ensure that there are no errors, the exponential cost of ensuring that there are zero errors is a cost to that organisation, so the fining powers provide an equal and opposite cost to the organisations that do not incur those costs to do their best to eliminate errors. That is the purpose of the fining provisions.

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Mr Stuart: I am grateful to the Minister for that comment. Perhaps he did mean what he just said, and it may be possible to create an examinations regime in which there are zero—no—mistakes, but the cost of examinations, which this Government inherited from the previous one, is already entirely outwith the value that those qualifications bring to this country. Our system is already over-reliant on examinations, and aspiring to zero errors—ever, in any examination question—will have a deleterious impact on their quality.

Awarding bodies may seek to change the questions that they ask to make it less likely that they ever include an error, and, if the measure suggests that it is unacceptable for them ever to include an error in any examination question, it will be extraordinarily expensive and impact in all sorts of unintended ways.

As Chairman of the Education Committee, I am not yet convinced that awarding bodies are so careless of quality, whatever the errors this summer, that we need such an incentive to make them improve. We need a balanced and proportionate approach, but I fear that the Minister’s words, suggesting that there should be zero errors ever, will lead to something quite different.

Damian Hinds: I wonder what level of error Japan, or the other strongest education systems in the world, are targeting. However, notwithstanding my hon. Friend’s point about the relatively small number of errors in this country, I wonder also whether he agrees that following those errors there is a problem with public confidence in examining bodies, and that, when it comes to qualifications, trust and confidence are absolutely all.

Mr Stuart: My hon. Friend makes my point for me: public confidence, particularly as far as a political party in power and a Prime Minister who wants to be seen to be doing something are concerned, is all, so they have come forward, as the previous Government did all too often, with a legislative response to something that needs no such response, and on the basis of no proper or considered analysis of the situation. We had 13 years of vast increase in legislative provision, but very little increase in public confidence, so I say, “Don’t stick it in a law because it looks good in this week’s papers; actually think for the long term.” If we had done so, we might not have introduced this provision.

Richard Fuller: Many of us have strained to have zero errors in exams. I note you achieved that on many occasions, Mr Deputy Speaker, but it is a strain for the rest of us. We therefore understand the difficulties faced by the bodies that are setting exams in reaching that accomplishment. However, I am listening intently to my hon. Friend. Does he agree that the Lords amendments could have an inverse consequence? If we set a cost for the errors made, we will essentially replace a self-correcting mechanism whereby bodies seek to achieve the highest levels because of the risk to their reputation, with a mechanism whereby the errors made are considered to be a part of the cost of doing business. That stick will end up with someone saying, “Well, if we make three or four errors, we can afford it—we’ll get away with it.” However, nothing can reimburse an organisation that has lost its reputation.

5.15 pm

Mr Stuart: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making my point both more succinctly and fluently that I was.

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The Government may not necessarily be wrong, but we have not heard the argument. There are many awarding bodies in this country, and perhaps some have flouted and ignored Ofqual’s requirements because they can afford to do so as a cost of doing business. If there is such a case, we need to introduce the sanctions to bring those bodies into line and ensure that public confidence and quality is delivered. However, I have not heard that argument; I have only heard arguments about public confidence. As I say, that does not seem a good reason to legislate.

The explanatory notes state:

“Subsection (5) of the new clause would insert into ASCLA 2009”—

the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act—

“new sections 152A to 152C which confer on Ofqual the power to require a recognised body on which a sanction has been imposed to pay the costs incurred by Ofqual in relation to imposing the sanction.”

So those bodies have to pay not only the sanction, but the costs related to the sanction. I may be a bit of a cynic about quangos, but if they see a way of buttressing their income, their number of employees and their powers, and they can get someone else to pay for it, I suggest that they will be more inclined to go down that road. I do not want such bodies doing overstretch.

The explanatory notes go on to state:

“The costs concerned would include the costs of carrying out an investigation”—

ooh! you can’t be too careful there—and doubtless those bodies would want to get quite a lot of people involved. The explanatory notes then refer to “relevant administration costs”—load on a bit more for that—

“and the costs of obtaining expert advice.”

This is an open, blank cheque to Ofqual to impose charges on awarding bodies if it sees fit to do so. Personally, I would like non-elected quangos kept on a fairly strict and short rein unless it is appropriate to do otherwise.

Richard Fuller: My hon. Friend has already alerted the House to the risk that the Lords amendments will result in the examination bodies treating accuracy as a cost of doing business. He is now alerting us to the risk that that may be an open-ended cost of doing business. Does he agree that the risk of the amendments is that we are replacing a self-correcting mechanism with a bureaucratic structure that has unlimited costs to the examination bodies?

Mr Stuart: The measures seem terribly redolent of provisions I saw in the House during the previous Parliament. I had hoped to see fewer such measures in this Parliament. My hon. Friend is right: we believe in creating the right framework and allowing the incentives within that to do their work. As far as awarding bodies are concerned, those incentives are correctly framed and their incentive to do the right thing is right. If Ofqual feels in the future that those bodies are paying insufficient attention to reducing errors in examinations, it will be able to say so. If awarding bodies then fail to comply with the direction suggested by Ofqual, that is the time to come here and discuss the matter. Ministers would be able to give instance after instance where awarding bodies had failed to act on the very clear and reasonable directions given to it by Ofqual.

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Louise Mensch (Corby) (Con): I am fascinated by my hon. Friend’s speech. I understand that he feels zero errors is too high a threshold, but will he tell the House if he thinks there is an acceptable level of errors that Ofqual might be able to specify, or is he uncomfortable with labelling any level of errors as unacceptable?

Mr Stuart: Conservative Members have found that artificial targets led to precisely the kind of mechanistic, cost-of-business approach that my hon. Friend speaks about so well. That is why we set up a body of experts such as Ofqual to work within a framework, also established, of different awarding bodies wherein together they come up with the right approach. I am not sure that it is necessarily right to set a percentage. If there were a consistent period in which the awarding bodies showed themselves to be careless, or if we found on international comparison that ours were not up to scratch compared with those elsewhere—whatever the aspiration of the Japanese examination system, I doubt that it delivers 100% accuracy in all exams—it would be better if we trusted Ofqual to work with the bodies without necessarily bringing more bureaucratic sanctions into the process. Given the terms of subsection (5) of the new clause, there seems to be little incentive for Ofqual to control the costs of this, and it may simply add further to the expense of our qualifications system.

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): These awarding bodies are very large businesses; I believe that the largest is worth about a quarter of a billion pounds. Does my hon. Friend agree that they no doubt have legal insurance that would meet the cost of these interventions?

Mr Stuart: That may well be the case, but if they do have such insurance, the premium will reflect the cost of doing businesses. In all contexts, whenever anyone suggests that having insurance somehow means that there is not a problem, it usually means that there is a broad raising of costs across the piece, which is something that we should minimise. One of the changes that was made in the Lords and has now come before us recognises that some education awarding bodies are part of educational companies globally, that there should be a cap on how much they can be fined, and that that cap should be relevant to the amount of business that that organisation does in this country rather than in global operations. That is welcome.

We now have a repeal of the repeal of the duty to co-operate. The shadow Minister was right to say that we are glad to hear confirmation that this partnership working can continue. I am also glad to hear from the Minister, citing his noble Friend Lord Hill, that the Government are committed to that form of partnership. In all the high-profile cases, and others, of children who are found to be neglected, it turns out that people at the agencies have not talked to each other, and we need to ensure that they do. It may be possible that a particular duty to co-operate in a certain way leads to a mechanistic response. If there is another way of framing the whole conversation that encourages it without there being a bureaucratic or legislative solution, that is something that I would be open to, but until we have a convincing argument as to how the overall picture will work, it is a good thing that schools co-operate with the other bodies.

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On admissions, we have the change whereby anyone can refer a case to the regulator. I assume that the impact assessment has taken account of this, but I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on that. If anyone can refer to the regulator on admissions, how many more referrals do we expect? If other hon. Members’ caseloads are anything like mine, they will know that an awful lot of parents are concerned about admission arrangements and many of them go through the appeals process. I wonder how many would seek to question and make complaints to the admissions regulator using the power in the Bill.

Again referring back to the remarks of the shadow Minister, can the Minister give the House a reassurance on the time frame for an admissions body to correct itself? Is it really possible that we could have a 10-month delay? One of the dangers in this place is that so many Members are so high-minded. The Minister is one of the most high-minded, and there is a tendency to assume that all others in the system share his ethics, commitment and fairness. Perhaps I have led the wrong life, but I have met many people who are capable of spite. It would seem to me a mistake to have a system that allowed somebody who had appealed and won to be thwarted in an act of spite by a school because it could use the rules to avoid acting in time to provide justice to the person who had brought the complaint.

On Ofsted inspections, as I said earlier, I welcome the Government’s proportionate approach. I would be grateful if the Minister talked us through the implications of the reduction in Ofsted’s budget. Perhaps surprisingly for some Government Members, the previous Government brought in pretty strong reductions in Ofsted’s budget. It is greatly to the credit of the then chief inspector that Ofsted coped with that without a discernible drop in quality. The budget is now going down even further—from well over £200 million, it is dropping to about £143 million, from memory. I am interested to know how that will impact on Ofsted’s ability to provide inspections.

The noble Lord Hill said in the other place that 72 outstanding schools had had inspections triggered by Ofsted’s risk assessment process. That meant that about 2% of outstanding schools had been inspected in the period. He said that it had been agreed with Ofsted that the aim should be to inspect at least 5% of outstanding schools. I wonder how able Ofsted will be to deliver that 250% increase in workload just in the area of outstanding schools.

In winding up, the Minister might also like to comment on primary schools, because all schools are not the same. It has always been of concern to me, when talking about greater autonomy and academies, that primary schools are fundamentally more fragile than secondaries. The departure of a head or a chair of governors, both of whom might contribute to a school being outstanding, can lead very quickly to a school’s standards falling. I would like a reassurance that there are different approaches for primaries and secondaries, for example in the speed of reaction and the attention given to certain factors, such as a change of head at a primary school being given greater weight and being seen as more of a trigger to get Ofsted to come in and check that all is well.

With those remarks, I will leave it there. I hope that the Minister will respond in due course.

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Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): I will speak to Lords amendments 18 and 19 on the duty of schools to co-operate.

It is important that we have a framework that delivers competition and choice in rural areas. There have been many examples of innovation in my constituency in which schools have co-operated to provide a better service across disparate and sparse rural areas. Methwold high school in my constituency operates a vertically integrated model with Hockwold primary school. It has been able to save on administration costs and to run the school more efficiently. It offers GCSEs in subjects such as maths to local adults, thereby lowering its costs and offering a wider service. It also collaborates with further education and higher education establishments to offer local people degrees and other qualifications that they would not normally be able to access in such a remote area.

Another school in my constituency, Swaffham Hamond’s high school, was regrettably unable to continue to offer A-levels last year due to the lack of local demand. Unfortunately, students from that school were obliged to travel for up to 45 minutes on local buses to go to King’s Lynn to study their A-level choices. Since then, a local collaboration programme has been developed with Dereham school, which has been able to offer its A-levels at Swaffham Hamond’s, ensuring that specialist teaching staff are used in the best way possible.

5.30 pm

The raw economics of life in a very sparsely populated area mean that it is often more efficient and effective for specialist teachers to travel between schools than for students to travel vast distances from one school to another. That is what the head teachers of Swaffham and Dereham have achieved. They have ensured that the best sixth-form provision is available across a network of rural schools. That was a highly rational decision, but to get to the point of being able to offer that service they had to go through a whole load of bureaucracy. I know that the county council was involved in trying to sort that out, but ultimately the school from Dereham that offered its provision to Swaffham, a good 20-minute drive away, had to take a huge risk due to how the Young People’s Learning Agency funding worked. A very innovative offering was available in a rural area, but schools struggled to put it in place because the funding models were more suited to large conurbations.

I am a huge supporter of academies and free schools, and I was very grateful to the Secretary of State for visiting Thetford academy, in my constituency, a couple of weeks ago. At present, however, the model delivers better for larger conurbations than for disparate areas. We need to find a way of making the funding more flexible, so that it can apply in remote rural areas and so that there is some pressure on failure and success in areas where it is very difficult for students to travel a long distance to a different school. We need to find a way of ensuring that failures are dealt with quickly and that success is rewarded, so that bad provision can be replaced and good provision can expand not just within a geographical location but elsewhere locally.

Norfolk schools are showing how collaboration should be done, but we need a way in which competition and collaboration can work alongside each other to ensure that we get the best economic models, that we use our teaching resources in the best possible ways and that we see innovation within the current environment.

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Richard Fuller: I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the Lords amendments. I welcome the fact that in their lordships’ overall assessment, the main thrust of the Bill should pass through to Royal Assent. It is most welcome that the core objectives of what the Government are trying to achieve will make it into law. That will be welcomed in rural constituencies, as my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) mentioned, and in others. However, the Lords have made some suggestions, which my hon. Friend the Minister indicated that the Government would support. I would like to draw his attention to a couple of those suggestions with which I concur wholeheartedly, and others with which I concur partly.

My first point is about the Lords’ reinstatement of the duty on schools to co-operate with local authorities, which is specifically related to the well-being of children. That relates to the broader issue of how the new schools that are envisaged, and the ones that are already in place across the country, will co-operate with local authorities. Much attention has been given in the Bill’s earlier stages in the Commons to the responsibilities of schools with regard to local authorities, but as my hon. Friend the Minister knows, I often look at the matter through the other end of the lens and ask what is the responsibility of the local authority to co-operate with our schools.

I, and I think many Government Members, hoped that when the noble Lords considered that duty to co-operate, they might send the Bill back to this House with amendments that were somewhat more creative than simply placing into the Bill the original duty as it already stands.

Throughout our country, we are seeing a radical change in the relationship between local authorities and schools. Schools are gathering greater freedoms to operate independently. Those relate to not only financial status, but areas of operations, one of the most important being admissions policies, which I will come to. That liberalisation of the market for schools—if I can call it a market for schools—is very welcome, but as a consequence of those freedoms, new issues come up, such as how schools work together on behalf of their local community, and how in doing so, both as individual schools, in pyramids of schools or chain academies, they interact with local authorities, which are the democratically elected bodies in those areas.

In many cases, those relationships have been conducted positively in the past, but there is sometimes a contradiction between the schools’ best interests and those of local authorities. In that respect, it is a shame that the noble Lords have not sought to move the debate on the duty to co-operate forward to take us to the next stage of understanding. When the control over the education of our children is in the hands of such independent bodies, what will be the duty to co-operate between local authorities and schools?

Kevin Brennan: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the duty to co-operate is not about the interests of schools or local authorities, but about the paramount interests of the child, which remain whatever school structures this Government put in place?

Richard Fuller: The hon. Gentleman is, as he has been throughout this process, a source of extreme insight and has expanded my knowledge. He is absolutely right

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that that is the key aspect. As he knows from deliberations in Committee, all Members on both sides of the House have sought to achieve that.

To the extent that it is not the structure that matters but the education of children, the hon. Gentleman is correct. However, the Bill is not a nudge along for the structure of our educational institutions but a more substantial change. I am therefore expressing the retrospective wish that their noble Lords had been somewhat more adventurous in defining some of the new scopes for duties to co-operate in their amendments. Had they done so, the goal of focusing on the education of our children, which the hon. Gentleman and I share with other hon. Members, including the Minister, could have been moved forward a little. My current concern is that there could be turf battles about who is responsible for what in the duty to co-operate.

Stephen McPartland: Can my hon. Friend give us examples of the local authority paying lip service to co-operating with the school when it did not want to co-operate in practice?

Richard Fuller: I appreciate the incentive that my hon. Friend gives me to talk about local issues—there are examples in the borough of Bedford and more generally—but he recognises that the duty to co-operate involves questions such as the ownership of land and buildings. In addition, my local authority has a somewhat confused educational structure. There is a mix of two tier and three tier, and sometimes there is both in the same place at the same time. In those circumstances, when schools wish to pursue becoming an academy, there is potential for a difference of opinion on the best interests of children. A school being subject to a requirement to co-operate with the local authority on the basis of the local authority’s responsibilities does not facilitate the growing liberalisation of schools to determine their futures that we wish to see. There is potential for conflict, but I hope that those examples have helped my hon. Friend.

Elizabeth Truss: Does my hon. Friend agree that some local authorities, such as Norfolk county council, have taken a positive approach towards academies, and are helping schools to become academies and to link up? Local authorities can play a positive role if they have the right attitude towards what that role should be.

Richard Fuller: I appreciate my hon. Friend’s intervention, although with respect, I will stick tightly to the Lords amendments on this issue. She gives another example of how the duty on schools and local authorities to co-operate has evolved. Given that their noble Lords went so far in putting that duty back in the Bill, may I encourage the Minister and his ministerial colleagues to think further and more deeply about the evolving landscape and what that is likely to mean over the coming years?

I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for his comments about school admissions, which many of us share, and I thank the Minister for the changes that have been proposed or made. If we wish to see a substantial change and more liberalisation of schools in terms of where the authority lies, we

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should be aware that most families and parents want schools’ admissions policies to be clear and fair in their communities. That does not necessarily mean that they have to be uniform, although many of us would indeed hope to see uniform entrance policies, particularly with free schools, because that would reinforce the success of this new idea and new policy. I therefore very much welcome Lords amendments 20 and 21. I have listened to different points of view on free schools, and I know that support for this radical idea among Opposition Members has been “on again/off again”. Indeed, it would be interesting to know whether those on the Opposition Front Bench are “on” today or “off”.

Mr Graham Stuart: Which one is on and which one is off?

Richard Fuller: Indeed. I will happily listen to the hon. Member for Cardiff West if he wishes to—[ Interruption. ] I can see that those on the Opposition Front Bench are not quite sure whether they are on or off, or on the fence.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): That is not within the scope of this debate.

Richard Fuller: I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, although I am sure that you would rule on whether it was within the scope of this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Whatever the Opposition’s position, Government Members fully support the moves towards free schools. However, for the idea to bed in and become successful, schools’ admissions policies need to be clearly defined, otherwise they will potentially be an Achilles heel. Organisations opposed to free schools—some have honourable intent, although some are the dinosaurs of an old regime—have pointed to admissions policies, saying that they will somehow be unfair. Those criticisms, from those organisations, have often flown in the face of the facts. Those facts show that admissions policies have often been just cut and pasted from other local schools. These Lords amendments will give reassurance on those criticisms, so that the reformist voices on the Opposition Benches can be encouraged further to recognise that there is a path forward and that this can be part of the most reforming legislation for some of the most disadvantaged children in our country. Therefore, Lords amendments 20 and 21 are most welcome.

I would like to talk about some of the comments made about direct, individual budgets for children with special educational needs, a topic of great interest in Committee when it came to ensuring that the reforms moved forward the provision of education for some of the most vulnerable children and young adults in our communities. Although in principle I am a supporter of individual budgets, both in this area and in others, I am somewhat sceptical about full implementation. It is interesting to note two parts of what Lord Hill said in the debate on the amendments dealing with personal budgets in the other place, when he referred, first, to

“control over the support they receive and better access to and greater satisfaction with services.”

I want to return to better access later. Secondly, he said:

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“In those individual budget pilots, nearly two-thirds of families opted to have a direct payment as part of their personal budget.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 November 2011; Vol. 731, c. 1195.]

People’s attention rightly focuses on those two thirds, who comprise the earlier adopters and those who can be encouraged relatively easily to follow on.

5.45 pm

For this policy to work effectively, however, the concentration of hon. Members here should not be on the two thirds who accepted but on the reasons why one third did not. What is holding back these individuals from taking on the responsibilities of individual budgets? The benefits have been extolled quite broadly and it would be interesting to understand why those one third of individuals have not taken that view. My guess is that there will be more of an issue with this policy from people who are reluctant adopters and we will need to work through how to enable them to have the benefits from individual budgets.

Mr Graham Stuart: I am perhaps more optimistic than my hon. Friend. Historically, we have not had direct budgets in this area. As more people receive direct budgets, those who provide in response to them will grow in their sophistication and capability, so they will be able better to sell, communicate and market what they do for families, who will then see that they can take on a budget without having to try to commission those services from scratch themselves. My hon. Friend is right—although things might develop over time—that this might never be appropriate for some people and we must ensure that we look after their interests. However, for perhaps even more than 75%, direct budgets might prove to be the way forward.

Richard Fuller: I appreciate my hon. Friend’s intervention. As Chairman of the Select Committee, he is very knowledgeable in this area, and I look forward to discussing the issue with him further. Let me add a couple of additional concerns. Although we agree on the overall direction of travel, we might also reach some concordance over concerns.

The proposal in Lords amendment 37 is to deal with this issue through setting up pilot schemes in some areas. I am in favour of that. What will be the benefit for children with special educational needs? Their parents already put an enormous amount of effort into supporting their children. We call on them not only to go out and work hard, but to provide that support at home and that takes up an enormous amount of time. To place on top of that the burden of an individual budget—however it is implemented—places significant additional burdens. Let me explain a couple of them.

I have spoken to parents of children with special educational needs in my constituency. Overall, they are enthusiastic about some of the proposals in the Government’s Green Paper, but they strongly voiced their concern about the complexity of placing additional burdens on parents. They want these responsibilities, but the complexity involved is significant.

Mr Gibb: It will not be compulsory to have a direct payment. It will be an option that parents can take up if they wish. The fears that my hon. Friend expresses should not come to pass.

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Richard Fuller: I appreciate the Minister’s intervention, which reassures me somewhat, but Lords amendment 37, on setting up pilot schemes, reassures me more significantly. I think we will find that more significant issues arise here. It is not sufficient, from my point of view, to say that because two thirds will accept it, it must be fine. Two thirds might well accept it, but that does not mean that the administrative problems and complexities will not have made their lives more complicated. People might say, “Yes, I will accept it”, but it is not a straight choice leading to the accrual of untold benefits. There are costs and consequences from the decision made.

As I was saying, I spoke to some parents in my constituency and they told me that they wanted a system that was easy to administer and wanted to ensure that support was available. They wanted to ensure, too—this was a point raised by the hon. Member for Cardiff West and others—that this was not an avenue to cost cutting. They wanted to make sure that Ministers understood the complexities of handling different panels, facing different options on statementing and having to look for disability living allowance, carer’s allowance and so forth. Those are costs placed on individuals. Two thirds might well say, “This is what we want to do”. That, however, with respect to the Minister, is not the point. The point is to make the system so simple and easy to do that everyone wishes to do it. I am not sure that we are at that point yet, which is why I welcome the proposal for the pilot schemes in Lords amendment 37.

My other reason for welcoming the amendment is that, as I have said, I do not want a measure that constitutes an avenue to cost-cutting. I accept that the Minister and his colleagues in the Department are absolutely committed to maintaining support and funding for the most vulnerable children, but in the present environment, every good policy can be open to talk of cuts and reductions. We hear such talk almost hourly from Opposition Members, in relation to a range of topics. Some may have valid points to make, but it is generally understood that those who have borrowed too much money and are living beyond their means have to make cuts in certain areas.

It would be devastating for the Government if the strong reforms that they want to make in regard to special educational needs, building on what the last Government did, became part of the debate about cuts. We can learn from a pilot scheme, and it will enable us to create a better system. Its mission should be to relieve parents of the burden of additional complexity. We should focus not on the take-up rate, but on reducing the cost to parents of individual budgets. That will help to ensure that the changes that are made bed down for the long term.

Having commented on those three issues—the duty to co-operate in a changing environment, the need to ensure that school admissions do not become the Achilles heel of the move towards new academies and free schools, and the need to reduce the complexity of special educational needs individual budgets for the benefit of parents—I offer my support for the amendments.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I want to talk about five aspects of the amendments. The first is the question of Ofqual. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Chairman of the Education Committee, about the

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fines. [Hon. Members: “Surely not!”] He is fairly used to disagreements, and always accepts them cheerfully, as he has just demonstrated.

The Government are right to think in terms of fines. My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) put his finger on it when he noted that it was difficult to change examination boards in a timely manner if there were mistakes. There must be no mistakes in the preparation of exams.

The real problem, it seems to me, is that we have far too many examination boards, and I believe that the Education Committee will consider that in due course. We need accurate examinations so that students can feel confident that they are taking tests that are fair, proper and competent, and fines should be applied when those priorities are not honoured.

There is the important question of whether Ofsted should inspect outstanding schools. We must ensure that it concentrates on schools that are failing or coasting: as the Prime Minister rightly says, we must never fail to recognise that some schools are not doing a good enough job at present, and that they require our full attention. An Ofsted report is, of course, a snapshot of the situation that the Ofsted inspectors found during their visit, and is likely to convey contradictory messages. What I frequently find in my constituency, and certainly found when I was involved in education as a governor, is that such reports may not tell the story that other statistical evidence might tell.

I raised the problem when the Education Committee was considering Ofsted and its future. I asked witnesses what should be done when a school that is able to brandish very good exam results—five passes graded between A-star and C—receives an Ofsted report that tells a different tale. I know of two schools in my constituency that have been able to counter one bit of evidence with another, and both cases involved Ofsted reports. I therefore think that the Government are right to use the tool of Ofsted to focus more on the schools that are failing or coasting.

There are many different ways of measuring performance. We must enable parents to see, from year to year, that things are moving in the right direction in the schools that they choose—or may choose in the future—for their children. An annual assessment will be helped by effective league tables and the right kind of evidence presented in the right way.

Mr Graham Stuart: Is my hon. Friend comfortable with the idea that some schools might not be inspected for 10 or 12 years?

Neil Carmichael: I would certainly be willing to see schools go without an Ofsted inspection for some time if they are consistently performing effectively and efficiently. Several years might elapse before an inspection, but I do not believe that we are talking of decades.

We must bear it in mind that there are other accountability mechanisms: the choice that parents make; the measurements that league tables offer; and the role of governors. I know that the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is not going to press the issue to a Division, but I consider it very important, and I think that the Government are right to be less prescriptive

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than they have been in the past. It is critical that we focus on what governing bodies should be, and on the role that they should have.

I have been involved in the establishment of an all-party parliamentary group on school governors, because I think that the issue has been overlooked for far too long. One of the key themes that the APPG is developing is the need to focus on skills rather than representatives of governing bodies, and it is reflected in both the Bill and the amendment. It is obvious to me, and, I believe, to most people—it was certainly obvious to all who were involved in the formation of the APPG—that a great many skills are required. It is a good idea to ensure that a local authority appoints a governor in consultation with the governing body, so that together they can come up with the right person to fill the skills gap. The school will then have a governing body that reflects its priorities and has the appropriate skills. I am glad that the Bill mentions the crucial role of governors, on whom I think we should turn the spotlight when we think about accountability.

That brings me to the question of reporting restrictions. Over 20 years, I have been involved in situations in which members of the teaching profession have had to undergo disciplinary procedures. Ironically, none has been connected with pupils, and I am pleased about that, but I could have done with a few reporting restrictions in one instance in particular. It is very difficult to manage such situations when they are being second-guessed by the press, which may investigate or discuss them in ways that are not helpful to the requirement that evidence is presented fairly and honourably so that people who are not involved in a case can make proper judgments and reach an unbiased conclusion. I discovered that if someone wants to get something published, they should simply mark it “private and confidential” and away it will go. It is right that the Bill examines this issue, because we have to ensure that our processes can be properly managed and controlled so that investigations can be undertaken and judgments made consistent with justice and good practice.

6 pm

Finally, I wish to talk about the key duty to co-operate. In the Localism Bill the Government readily accept that authorities should co-operate with each other on a wide range of subjects. That is the right approach, because planning decisions, highway construction and so on are more effective when people co-operate, and the same applies to local authorities. To be consistent, the same must apply in dealing with schools and local authorities, although perhaps we need to be even more focused on the need to co-operate because schools benefit from co-operating on a host of things. As we move towards academies, free schools and choice, we should talk not about a federal structure for schools but about encouraging feeder schools to get more involved with secondary schools and providing similar support for special educational needs. As the shadow Minister rightly noted, the key is to think about pupils and their best interests. We should try to engineer a system under which there is an overall desire to co-operate, where co-operation takes place and where schools feel comfortable co-operating with each other. In broad terms—and in absolute terms, because I cannot think of any criticism I am really making here—I support the amendments, as the Government have expressed them.

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I wish to emphasise some key points. First, we need to acknowledge and celebrate the work of governors and the importance of school governance. If we get that right, accountability will be appropriate and understood, and parents will feel increasingly comfortable with the overall structure of school leadership and management.

I have not mentioned the second point, but it is crucial. When money starts to go to schools not necessarily through local authorities but directly from the Department for Education, we will have an even more flexible, fluid way of dealing with schools that will produce excellent schools. But we can never take our foot off the accelerator in the drive to ensure that all our schools do the best they can for their pupils and that their pupils thrive. That is our message, and that is what we must do. The Bill will go a long way towards helping that to happen.

Damian Hinds: I wish briefly to discuss a couple of aspects of the amendments, touching on Ofsted and outstanding schools, the anonymity of teachers and Ofqual. I wish to start where my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) so eloquently left off: on the duty to co-operate. I agree wholeheartedly that we should celebrate co-operation, teamwork, playing to strengths and so on. I accept that the Government think it necessary to retain the duty to co-operate, as was, but I hope the Minister will agree that it is not always best to systematise and design processes; free co-operation can frequently be more effective.

In a different but closely connected arena, the Select Committee, on which I sit and of which my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) is Chair, is examining the broader issue of child protection. In that area, the number of flow charts, systems, fall-back plans and required times by which something must happen provide what appears to be a very impressive system, but in many ways more questions are created than are answered.

There is much to be gained from schools co-operating, so that we get more than the sum of the parts. The education improvement partnership in my constituency brings together all 44 schools—nobody forced them, and it was not the result of any duty—to work on a range of things, including the gifted and talented programmes; the provision of pupil referral units; nurture for primary children at risk of exclusion; and training for emotional literacy support assistants. That makes the biggest difference.

The second thing I wish to talk about is Ofsted, outstanding schools and triggers. I accept that there is an honest and reasonable difference between the parties on this, which reflects a difference that we see on lots of subjects. Labour Members would like codified exactly what will trigger the re-inspection of a school previously judged to be outstanding, whereas Ministers are keen to think of a range of things that might make that happen but do not wish to be quite so specific and accept that, to an extent, the system is organic. The Select Committee closely examined whether a change of head should automatically trigger a re-inspection. I think that there is a strong argument to say that such a big personnel change, perhaps when combined with one or two other changes, might be a good reason for so doing, but there might be counterbalancing arguments against.

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Mr Graham Stuart: I am glad to say that Lord Hill said that he and Sir Michael Wilshaw—I think he specifically named him—believed that changing a head would not automatically trigger an inspection but would trigger consideration. The Government and Ofsted are aligned with my hon. Friend on this requirement.

Damian Hinds: That highlights the point about having people running organisations whom we trust and who can make professional judgments, and about their weighing all the evidence and not being hidebound by particular formulae.

In an earlier intervention, I mentioned that we will have much richer data than ever before in the schools system. That is not unique to this country, because a revolution is going on in the education world, as was reported a few weeks ago in a good article in The Economist. We know much more about schools and can therefore do much more predictive modelling than was possible before.

In an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) argued in favour of contextual value added. The Government will not use CVA—and thank God for that; I have yet to meet anyone who understands it. I have served on the Education Committee for 18 months and we are still waiting for our first teacher, head teacher, pupil, local authority officer or anyone else from the education establishment to talk voluntarily about CVA as a measure of school performance. Instead, we have what most people would understand as a value-added measure—progress from key stage 2 to key stage 4—which will do most of that job without the extra complexity and formulaic high jinks that the contextual bit introduces. Of course, it is only one of a large basket of measures and indicators that can be used.

I am sure that it is not in the minds of Ministers or the leadership of Ofsted that any school should go a long time without inspection. I would be amazed if any head teacher wanted to go long without his school being inspected. Many of the indicators are what we might call “digital indicators”, but Ofsted produces an analogue report with much richer evaluation and comment than some of those measures. I am sure that many parents will want to know that there is a relatively recent report informing them about some of the things that they cannot necessarily read in league tables, but I do not think that any of that calls necessarily for the formulaic approach of automatic triggers that Labour Members suggest.

The next area I want to touch on is the anonymity of teachers. Reasonable questions have been asked about why schoolteachers should enjoy special treatment, and why those who work in further education colleges are treated differently. I accept that that is an anomaly, although it is hardly the first anomaly to arise between secondary schools and sixth-form colleges.

Mr Stuart: The Government listened and used the Bill to correct an anomaly and allow FE teachers to teach in schools. I led a debate in January and am delighted that Ministers listened to that appeal and are seeking other ways of levelling the playing field for FE and sixth-form colleges and schools.

Damian Hinds: Indeed. As ever, my hon. Friend makes a pertinent point.

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Teachers are unique—there is something special about them, as opposed even to other people working with children, although I accept the arguments about them—as they have to stand before a class, in a position of authority, and keep discipline. Most of us will have been struck by the number of teachers whom we know who strongly approve of the change introducing anonymity. For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that those teachers would never in a million years get up to the sort of no good that we want to avoid. There is something symbolic in saying that we understand their difficult position in keeping order in their little community and that they deserve our support and this type of anonymity.

Ofqual has already stimulated some fascinating exchanges. In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness, who chairs the Committee on which I serve, I wondered what level of defect the Japanese would look for. I specifically picked Japan, rather than Shanghai, Finland or any of the popular examples because of my experience of joining the Manchester and Merseyside branch of IBM as a tender 17-year-old. The story new starters were told might have been apocryphal, but it was that that IBM specified a 99.99% success rate in the contract with its Japanese microchip supplier. The Japanese were a bit confused, but dutifully smashed one in every 10,000 chips to ensure that they complied with the rate. The point is that other systems do things better than ours does and that people with other systems accept nothing but the best. Following that experience, IBM adopted the principle that is known in business as zero defects.

Mr Stuart: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Damian Hinds: Only if my hon. Friend will speak in Japanese.

Mr Stuart: Double Dutch perhaps, but not Japanese.

My hon. Friend asserts that other areas do better than we do—in the accuracy of their examination questions, I assume —but does he have any evidence to back that up? The paucity of such evidence from Ministers makes me question whether we have made the case to introduce such measures.

Damian Hinds: I suspect that my hon. Friend knows that my point was a more general one about other people doing better than we do and about their tolerance of failure and imperfection. I recognise that humanity is ultimately susceptible to failure, but I worry about what we should accept.

Richard Fuller: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the main reasons the Japanese do so well in business is not sticks and penalties but their cultural acceptance of what they need to do?

Damian Hinds: I thoroughly accept that point, but we need to ensure that our education system strives to be as good as the best in the world. Ministers are effectively leading the education system in that mission.

I said earlier that public confidence is everything. I accept that the brand equity that examination bodies want to protect is the single biggest motivator to be as

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good as they can be, but it is worth reiterating that this is not a simple market in which they lose customers if they get something wrong. First, the number of exam-awarding bodies is limited—people do not have limitless choice. Secondly, schools that switch examination bodies face major costs, inconvenience and difficulty in changing curriculums. Thirdly, given the costs and difficulties involved, changes might not be as easy as they appear for schools and colleges.

6.15 pm

Instead of thinking about whether there are one in 1,000, one in 10,000 or one in 100,000 defects, we should think about the time a student sitting a exam might waste in trying to answer a question that is impossible to answer correctly. That exam, although one of the 10 subjects they are studying, might be fundamental to their future.

It is reasonable to set a fine with a cap of 10%—a pretty standard benchmark—applying only to the part of the operation that Ofqual regulates, not to the international fees. Of course, it will be subject to a 12-week consultation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness said that such fines could add, either directly or via insurance premiums, to the costs of examination bodies and, therefore, to schools. We must address the fact that the costs of examinations to schools have risen dramatically. In 2002-03, the average maintained secondary school spent £44,000 on public examinations. By 2008-09, the figure had increased to £85,000—all but doubling in a mere six years. I think that it increased to £96,000 in 2009-10. Those massive increases are nothing to do with having to pay fines for getting the questions wrong; they are to do with the number of resits, retakes and AS-levels and all the additional stuff that goes into our examination system.

I am pleased that the Education Committee will consider how the examination board system works, but, as the Minister said, there is an ever-greater cost to getting 99.99% accuracy up to 100%. We shall create the incentive to go the extra mile by ensuring that, if people fail, there is a counterbalancing cost. It is absolutely right that that is being done. I am happy to support the Lords amendments.

Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): I rise to support a number of the Lords amendments that were made in another place at the prompting of the Government, although as the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said, a number of the issues were explored in Committee before the Bill passed to the other end of the building.

I am pleased that the Government have reconsidered the duty to co-operate. The hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) talked about the analogue process of inspection. Well, coalition government is an analogue process as well, and my noble Friends, along with Lord Laming, were keen that the issue, especially with regard to safeguarding, should remain on the statute book, because of the emerging relationship between local authorities and schools that will follow the transition in some parts of the country when large schools to take up the opportunities of the academies programme. The Secretary of State for Education has spoken in the past about the need to consider how local authorities and schools will work in that context. The Deputy Prime

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Minister mentioned in a speech in September that local authorities needed a new role in considering the education environment.

Of course, fewer academy conversions have taken place in some parts of the country than in others. The process will take different forms in different parts of the country, but that is right and in accord with the principles of localism, as the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) said in his contribution. There will be opportunities to revisit the discussion about how schools and local authorities co-operate with regard to the objectives for wider community development and for education—of course, the key priority for schools—but it is clear that the Government, having considered the issue, wanted there to be no doubt at all about the message that goes out about safeguarding. On that key duty to operate on those issues, the Government have responded to the points made by Lord Laming and others, and I welcome that.

On admissions, the debate in another place focused on the duty of the Secretary of State to provide fair access in all circumstances. Clearly, the Secretary of State has that duty, supported by the schools adjudicator, so that should set minds at rest. Where there have been anomalies, some are anecdotal. We hear, for example, that in the original academies lower numbers of pupils were on free school meals than at other schools in the area. That requires exploration. The pupil premium will have the effect of showing that all schools will benefit hugely from bringing in pupils from across the community and having the resources to provide any extra support that might be necessary early on in a student’s school career, to ensure that they get the benefit that everybody else enjoys as they move through the education system.

I am grateful to the Minister and his noble Friend for the changes that they have made to the original proposals on school governance. The hon. Member for Stroud is no longer in his place. I should take the opportunity to attend his all-party group, which I have not done thus far. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches are a little more convinced of the benefits of the stakeholder model. I entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman was saying with regard to skills. The model advanced by the Minister through the amendments made in another place provides the opportunity for co-option and for discussion with the local authority about the sort of person who would be appropriate for the governing body of a school, to ensure that the skills profile is met and the new responsibilities—

Richard Fuller: I am listening with great interest to what my hon. Friend is saying. His party obviously has a slightly different perspective on issues from the other party in the coalition, and that is to be welcomed. Two minds can often be better than one. How, from his party’s point of view, does he see the role of a local authority governor evolving as local authorities move towards the role of commissioner for school budgets? Does he believe that local authority governors will be able to wear the two hats effectively, as they have in the past?

Dan Rogerson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. In Bedford, people very much have two minds elected to represent them—their excellent elected mayor, Dave Hodgson, alongside the hon.

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Gentleman working hard for constituents there. I agree that issues arising from commissioning need to be examined—not just questions about how much money each school should receive, but wider questions, such as how that relationship can evolve and deliver for the local community.

To return to the topic of governance, the amendment tabled in another place allows staff and the local authority to have a voice in the discussions that take place within a governing body, but there is plenty of scope for skills that are needed on that body to be provided through co-option and for those put forward as local authority governors to respond to the need for skills.

On inspection, Liberal Democrats have long said that we want to remove the burden of bureaucracy from schools, and colleagues in the Conservative party have expressed similar views. The more risk-based approach to Ofsted inspection responds to that aim. As Members of Parliament we hear of other instances in our constituencies where local businesses, for example, would welcome a response from Government when risks and problems have been highlighted, but not when that is not seen to be necessary. As we have heard, other forms of data are available so that people can make up their own mind. There are opportunities for inspections to be triggered, should that be necessary. One such example concerning a change of head teacher was provided by the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), who is no longer in his place.

As I understand it, Ofsted will continue to undertake thematic surveys—for example, on safeguarding, to which I referred earlier. Such surveys would include outstanding schools which may not have undergone a full Ofsted inspection for a year or so. I am pleased that the Government have listened and responded to debates. The coalition Government have produced a Bill, as amended in the other place, in which people can have confidence. I hope it will unlock further the potential in the education system to deliver for our young people.

Stephen McPartland: I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute on this group of amendments. Like my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Chairman of the Select Committee, who is not at present in his place, I broadly support the amendments but would like to push the Government to go a little further in some respects. One of my key themes is that the Bill seems to be written very much with secondary schools in mind, as opposed to primary schools. Although there are some elements of the Bill that focus on primary schools, it could go much further.

Members in all parts of the House have welcomed the fact that teachers will have anonymity from false accusations. If the individual is charged, the police will not be prevented from investigating, but the teacher will be protected. That is good news, but Members on all sides are concerned that it does not go far enough. One of my worries is that in a primary school setting, where teaching assistants are often given responsibility for dealing with the most difficult children, sometimes the most difficult families, and work in a room with just one or two of those children, they are at severe risk from such accusations.

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I welcome the amendments from another place relating to an application in a court for a judge to lift reporting restrictions. The welfare of the teacher who is the subject of the allegation is taken into account, as is the welfare of the pupil or pupils who are the alleged victims. However, the Government could go a little further and think about staff in specific situations. For example, I know of schools around the country where teaching assistants are often put in charge of classrooms, essentially acting as teachers. Under the Bill, they will not have the same protection as a teacher in the next classroom who is dealing with the same key stage group. I urge the Government to look into such situations and respond accordingly.

On the admissions code, I welcome many of the changes, particularly the fact that adopted children who were looked after before they were adopted will still have the same priority for places as looked-after children. That is extremely important, as it could benefit 3,000 children each year. I have an example in my constituency of a child who was adopted for many of the best reasons—I know that across all parties there is a big push to ensure that children are adopted much faster, instead of being looked after—yet simply because they did not remain a looked-after child, 17 different funding streams that had been providing support within the school were lost.

From an educational point of view, it might seem that it would have been in the child’s interest to continue to be looked after, as opposed to being adopted, whereas from the point of view of their social development, it is much better for the child to have been adopted and become part of a more stable family. I welcome the provision, which is important in setting a precedent for considering in the round the priorities in such a situation. Those children still have the same problems securing a place in a school that is right for them, and it is important for the family who have adopted the child to be given access to the necessary services.

6.30 pm

I note that there is to be a national offer day for primary schools and I welcome it, but with some trepidation. It was recommended that it would be on 1 March and be similar to what parents are used to for secondary schools. I welcome the proposal, but I worry that many parents might put pressure on their children at age three or four in the way many do when their children are 10 or 11. I would like to hear a little more from the Minister on how the national offer day for primary schools would work, because it is something that interests me and a large number of my constituents. The reason behind it is that there are different dates by which children are admitted to primary schools in different local authorities, which can cause great confusion for parents. I know from my constituency postbag that often a large number of parents are concerned that they cannot get their children into the nearest one of two schools simply because they have missed the date by which they were to apply for admission. I welcome the proposal, but I would like to know a little more about how it will work in practice.

We had a robust debate on Ofqual, which was fascinating to listen to. I certainly agree that a regulator should be able to fine an organisation 10%—my hon. Friend the

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Member for Bedford looks up sharply—because I am concerned that awarding organisations regard Ofqual as having no teeth. Much of the focus was on the fact that there were 12 or 13 mistakes in exam papers this year, which affected 140,000 children, creating great confusion for them, their families and their teachers. That can be heartbreaking, because it is not the child’s fault.

I mentioned in an intervention the possibility of legal insurance offsetting some of the costs, but the Conservative in me is concerned about giving another quango more powers to intervene. I am conflicted on the amendment, but I will support it because on the whole I believe that it is important that regulators have teeth. When we look at the size of some of the awarding organisations, we see that the largest has a turnover of £250 million, and the assessment market is worth £1 billion, so we must have some kind of control over it.

Richard Fuller: I do not wish to detain the House too long on this point, because we have heard many aspects of it. My hon. Friend points out that the organisations are very substantial and that some have turnovers of £250 million or more. Does not that simply point to the fact that for those organisations the reputational risk will be far greater than any penalty that could be imposed? Does not the size of those organisations support the suggestion made by the Chair of the Education Committee, rather than the proposals in their lordships’ amendments?

Stephen McPartland: My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point, but I must stop myself agreeing with him. I believe that the reputational risk is only a very small part of the problem with Ofqual’s relationship with awarding organisations. The problem is that Ofqual has only the nuclear option, to which the Minister referred, of saying, “You are either in or out.” I imagine that causes a great deal of conflict in Ofqual when it investigates an organisation. My hon. Friend knows from his vast business experience that the cost of doing business is often factored into every meeting, and I have no doubt that the cost of engaging with Ofqual is included in every meeting.

Mr Gibb: I want to put on the record the fact that Ofqual will consult on the definition of turnover it will use for the 10% figure. Other regulators have always defined turnover in relation to regulated activities and not beyond them.

Stephen McPartland: I thank the Minister for that clarification. One of the little-known problems with Ofqual’s relationship with awarding organisations is that often when it requests information the organisations can ignore it—I am not saying they do so—because they know that Ofqual only really has the nuclear option; it can either engage with them or not engage. That becomes the organisations’ point of view on the relationship they want with the regulator, rather than the view of the regulator in trying to regulate the industry. We referred to the industry earlier as a market, and it is worth almost £1 billion a year in the UK. There are 182 awarding organisations.

Damian Hinds: On the question of reputational risk versus the power of a fine, does my hon. Friend accept that the two are not necessarily alternatives? Being fined

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or, in an extreme case, being given the highest fine the regulator can give will itself contribute to the costs of reputational risk, so the two can reinforce each other. Reputational risk appears to have been an insufficient deterrent hitherto. Otherwise, we would not have had the extent of problems we saw this summer.

Stephen McPartland: I very much agree with my hon. Friend, because reputational risk is very important. The problem is simply that it comes back to reputational risk and the nuclear option, as many awarding organisations can take a chance and build into their business models the number of mistakes they can make before they appear in national headlines. I am not saying that that is what they are doing, but with Ofqual’s current position there is a very odd situation in which the awarding organisations can identify the relationship they want with the regulator, rather than the regulator regulating the industry.

Providing Ofqual with the ability to fine awarding organisations at 10% allows it to say, “If you don’t comply and engage with us, we can fine you up to 10%.” I agree with the Minister that there will no doubt be a sliding scale and that it will be introduced with consultation, but the key point, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) noted earlier, relates to the Japanese example of smashing one circuit in 1,000 to ensure that they comply. We do not want one mistake to ensure that Ofqual and the awarding organisations comply with one another; we want them to have a relationship based on trust and understanding and, as a last resort, for there to be the threat of fine if the awarding organisations do not engage with Ofqual. Reputational risk is important, but I think that we all understand that what affects people ultimately is the bottom line: what profit they are making and how they are engaging. That is what is important, because that is what they are employed to do. I broadly agree with the Ofqual situation. There is a bit of conflict, because it means giving a quango more powers, but in this situation I think that that is correct.

We also had a robust and prolonged debate on Ofsted, with many interventions. There was a suggestion that some schools would not be inspected for perhaps 10, 15 or 20 years, but in practice that is unrealistic. I was under the impression that when a new head teacher took over a school, particularly a primary school, traditionally that would trigger an Ofsted inspection within a couple of years. I understand that under the Bill’s provisions Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools will trial a new approach so that, when a new head teacher takes over, the inspector will contact the school to discuss the performance and the head teacher’s plans for the future, which I think is a much more effective way of working with outstanding schools.

Triggers have been mentioned. I understand that there will be a guaranteed minimum re-inspection rate of 5% and that governors, through the powers and freedoms we are allowing them—the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) spoke effectively about this in Committee on several occasions—will be able to say that they are losing confidence in how things are going. If parent governors in our constituencies believe that children are not getting access to the best education, they phone their MP or local authority straight away to demand the best for their children. That would also

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ensure that those schools will have the best from the new freedom to engage and not to be inspected every couple of years.

On a wider note, I am pleased that Ofsted will no longer give six or seven weeks’ notice of inspections. The notice period had meant that teaches would often work for 15 or 16 hours a day for six or seven weeks, including weekends, to try to ensure that their school is seen at its best. I do not believe that that is the best way of conducting inspections. What Ofsted is doing at the moment is giving a couple of days’ notice before turning up, which provides a much better reflection of the school. As the years go by, that will provide a much better snapshot of what is happening.

Also, the freedoms for academies in the Bill will lift education across every constituency and local education authority area. Competition is the wrong word to use in a debate on education, but those schools, head teachers and teachers will be seeking to attract the best children. It is important to focus on providing the children with the best schools. Many of the outstanding schools will not now be inspected as often as before, but they will be spending their time helping neighbouring schools that do not have the best procedures in place to move towards becoming outstanding. I welcome the Bill’s proposals in this area.

My final point relates to direct payments for special educational needs. The Minister said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford that people would be able to opt into this process, and I am grateful to him for that, because I would have had great hesitation in supporting any kind of compulsory measure. Now that the Minister has clarified the position, however, I can support the proposal.

Mr Gibb: With the leave of the House, I should like to respond to this interesting debate. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), for Bedford (Richard Fuller), for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) for their thoughtful contributions, and I shall respond to as many of their points as possible, in addition to speaking to the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan).

The hon. Member for Cardiff West asked me to say a little more about Lords amendments 1 to 4, which relate to interim prohibition orders. Since the Bill’s introduction, it has included a new power for the Secretary of State to make such orders. Many regulators have a power of that kind for use in the rare cases when it is in the public interest to bar an individual while an investigation is under way, prior to a final decision being made. When the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee scrutinised the Bill, it asked about the safeguards that were going to be put in place. As a matter of policy, we intended the issue of interim suspension orders to be possible only when it was in the public interest, and subject to regular six-monthly reviews when requested. The Committee suggested that those quality safeguards be placed on the face of the Bill. The amendments were debated briefly in Grand Committee before being made in the other place.

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On extending teacher anonymity, we have to proceed on the basis of evidence in restricting press freedom. I have already cited the findings of our survey. Teachers are much more likely to be the subject of allegations than other staff in schools. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the teachers of 16 to 19-year-olds in further education colleges, but the evidence from the survey shows that just 1% of allegations related to teachers in FE colleges, compared with 23% relating to school teachers. The NASUWT’s records show that, in the past 10 complete years, it has provided a solicitor in relation to 1,592 cases of allegations against teachers, of which 1,439 resulted in no further action being taken.

The survey related to local authority designated officers—LADOs—and the total number of allegations of abuse that were referred to LADOs in the 116 local authorities that responded to the survey was 12,086, of which 2,827, or 23%, related to teachers. Of those, allegations of abuse related to 0.6% of the teaching profession as a whole. That means that there are 1.5 times as many allegations against teachers as against support staff, which had a figure of 0.4% of the total non-teaching population.

On the basis of that survey, I believe that we have got this measure right. I say with all due respect to my hon. Friends that we must not let the best become the enemy of the good. I have heard Members on all sides of the debate today pushing to extend the measure to more staff, and not to extend it to teachers because of the effect that it has on them, but I think that we have got it just about right.

6.45 pm

The hon. Member for Cardiff West cited the article by the Prime Minister in The Daily Telegraph today. I would like to quote it more fully. My right hon. Friend stated that

“we remain relentless about combating entrenched failure. We will soon have taken over more failing schools with new academies than in the whole eight years of the programme under Labour. But it’s just as important to tackle those all over the country content to muddle through—places where respectable results and a decent local reputation mask a failure to meet potential. Children who did well in primary school but who lose momentum. Early promise fades. This is the hidden crisis in our schools—in prosperous shires and market towns just as much as the inner cities.”

Mr Graham Stuart: My hon. Friend is right to quote the Prime Minister, who in turn is right to identify this issue. What practical steps can be taken under the current regime to target those schools that are above the floor targets for five good GCSEs and that have limited resources for Ofsted? How will it be possible to ensure that they get the focus that the Prime Minister, the Minister and I would like to see?

Mr Gibb rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am sure that the Minister will ensure that his response is relevant to the amendments that we are discussing.

Mr Gibb: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the light of your ruling, I will make just one point to my hon. Friend which is relevant to the amendments. The

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performance tables will identify the results and show how well children did at primary school. There will be a column for children who achieve level 5 at key stage 2, and another column for those who achieve level 3 at key stage 2. There will also be columns for those with special educational needs and those with disabilities. That will help to identify those schools that are coasting, and we will then take action against those schools or help them to improve their results.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West also talked about triggers for inspections. That is a matter for Her Majesty’s chief inspector, but I can confirm that there will be annual risk assessment for outstanding schools, which will normally commence three years after the last inspection. Where there is a change of head teacher before that point, however, the chief inspector has agreed to bring forward the risk assessment, including an HMI review. Ultimately, however, we have to leave it to the professional judgment of the inspector to determine whether an inspection should be triggered. Factors to be taken into account might include: the performance data of a school that had previously been judged to be less than outstanding in achievement or teaching not showing signs of improvement since its last inspection; progress measures showing that pupils or students were not making good progress in comparison with similar groups nationally; or below-average attendances showing little sign of improvement. Many factors can act as a trigger for an inspection.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of admissions. I thank him for his attention to detail in scrutinising the codes, but I can assure him that they are statutory. “Must” means “must” in those codes; they have the full force of the law. On his wider point, the vast majority of the changes can be implemented quickly, but there are cases in which they might take longer than 14 days, at which point 15 April will form an ultimate backstop. The key point in paragraph 3.1 of the code states that the adjudicator’s direction should be implemented as quickly as possible.

Kevin Brennan: I thank the Minister for his comments. Would he be prepared to put it on the record that going right up to 15 April should happen only on very rare occasions, rather than in the majority or a large minority of cases?

Mr Gibb: What I will put on the record are the words used in paragraph 3.1 of the code, which states that admission authorities must where necessary revise their admission arrangements as quickly as possible, and no later than 15 April, following the decisions to give effect to the adjudicator’s decision. It goes on:

“An Adjudicator’s determination is binding and enforceable.”

I will come back to that point when I address the hon. Gentleman’s amendments in more detail.

On Ofqual, the power to fine would be used only where that was the most proportionate response to an incident of non-compliance with its conditions. As I have said, Ofqual will consult on the use of its power and will publish a full statement as part of its qualifications regulatory framework setting out how and under what circumstances the power will be used. That will make clear Ofqual’s expectation that only serious or persistent breaches will lead to a fine. Of course, it will allow 12 weeks for responses to that consultation.

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Mr Graham Stuart: Can my hon. Friend give examples of instances in which such a measure might have been triggered in the past?

Mr Gibb: The incidents I would cite are those from this summer when there were persistent errors. The persistence came, in particular, after we had asked the awarding organisations to check that there were no further errors. They did those checks and confirmed that there were none, but then further errors were discovered and damage was caused. That is an example of persistence in the errors we are trying to eliminate from the system.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West asked for an explanation regarding Lords amendments 89 to 91 about land. The Bill introduces new powers to transfer the publicly funded land of foundation and voluntary schools and academies to free schools and academies when those schools close or the land is to be otherwise disposed of. Lords amendments 89 to 91 reduce the reach of those new powers so that they do not apply to land that is leased to a new academy by a private landlord. Where we are engaging in commercial negotiations with private landlords for the lease of land to new free schools, we think it is more appropriate to protect any public investment in that land by contractual means rather than in statute.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the PFI issue and I am happy to restate the purpose of amendment 34. Under section 6(2) of the Academies Act 2010, a local authority “must cease to maintain” a school once it converts to academy status. Some banks and local authorities have asked whether that prohibition on maintenance might prevent a local authority from making a payment under PFI or other contracts. Our view is that local authorities have always been able to use their own resources to provide assistance, including financial assistance, to academies and to enter into contractual commitments and incur liabilities on their behalf. We are clear that section 6(2) of the Academies Act does not prevent the continuation of those activities. All academies are and will continue to be maintained by the Secretary of State under funding arrangements entered into under section 1 of the Academies Act, and any assistance provided by local authorities to academies, whether financial or otherwise, will only ever be a proportion of the total expense. Amendment 34 therefore confirms that local authorities can continue to make payments for academies under PFI and other contracts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford and the hon. Member for Cardiff West raised the issue of direct payment pilots. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), who has responsibility for children and families, wrote to peers in the other place explaining the importance of introducing this new clause and consulted on the text of the draft clause, including in relation to special educational needs and disability organisations as well as local government interests. The principles behind the clause—greater choice and control for the families of children with SEN—are shared across the House. Indeed, the clause is modelled on legislation on the direct payment health pilots that were introduced by the previous Government. Let me reassure hon. Members that the orders needed to give practical effect to the clauses are subject to the affirmative procedure. These are, after all, powers concerning pilots rather than a national scheme and the clause has a sunset provision of four years.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness asked about anyone being able to refer complaints to the adjudicator. We do not believe this change will lead to many more complaints. The regulations on which we are currently consulting will ensure that repetitive, vexatious or anonymous complaints cannot be made. I hope that will provide him with some reassurance. On the issue of spite, which he also raised, “anyone” does mean anyone, so it could be a school or a charity. The only proviso is that they must be willing to put their name to objections and to refer matters that are new or substantially new to the adjudicator.

My hon. Friend asked about consistency in the referral of misconduct cases by schools to the regulator. Evidence suggests that there is already variation in referrals despite the blanket duty on employers to refer all cases, and this duty has not been affected. Employers will know when a case of misconduct is serious enough potentially to require a referral from the profession, and they can use the draft prohibition guidance, which I can send to my hon. Friend, to help them make this decision. If a member of the public is not happy with the decision, they can refer a complaint to the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend also asked about Ofsted’s capacity to deliver more rigorous assessments. We have discussed and agreed the more rigorous risk assessment, and Ofsted has the resources necessary within its budget to achieve this. Every organisation has to prioritise its resources in the current economic climate and Ofsted is no different.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford for his continued and vocal support for academies and free schools. I assure him that it is right that admissions at academies and free schools must comply with the admissions code as set out in their funding agreements. As with all other state-funded schools, complaints about admissions will now go to the adjudicator.

My hon. Friend also raised concerns about particular families who do not adopt personal budgets—one third is the figure he cited—and the support they require. He argues for having pilots, and that is what the new clause does. I share his concerns about the possible burdens on families. That is why the pilots will look at the support available to families and how the system can be as straightforward as possible to use, as well as at which families take up those payments and which do not. On the point that the hon. Member for Cardiff West made, cost-cutting is not a driver for this policy—it is about having greater choice and control.

On the issue of Ofqual and how the Conservatives could support a regime of fining by a regulator, my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire set out the reasons why the qualifications market needs to be regulated. I should like to make it clear that turnover will be determined in accordance with an order made by the Secretary of State and that Ofqual will consult on how the fining regime is to operate.

I listened carefully to the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford and for Stevenage about primary schools. Primary national offer day will be 16 April. The idea is to co-ordinate the date rather than to put any new pressure on parents to get their children into certain primary schools. It merely makes things easier and less stressful for parents rather than more stressful.

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Let me deal briefly with some of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Cardiff West. He will know that we have listened carefully to the concerns expressed in this House and in the other place in response to our original intention to withdraw schools and colleges from the duty to co-operate. The evidence of that engagement is clear in these Lords amendments. We have removed the “duty to co-operate” clause as well as the clause that the hon. Gentleman seeks to amend regarding the children and young people’s plan.

The hon. Gentleman’s amendment (a) to Lords amendment 23 relates to our plans to allow anyone to refer an objection to the schools adjudicator about the admissions arrangements at any state-funded school in the country. The amendment would require admissions authorities and others to comply with the adjudicator’s decision within 14 days of receiving written notice of that decision. Current legislation in this area, which was introduced by the Labour party, requires compliance to be forthwith. Let me assure the House once more that our changes to admissions do not affect the adjudicator’s power to consider and decide on the matter put to him and other matters as he sees fit, or to make binding decisions as a consequence. The amendment would impose a stringent national timetable for the implementation of such decisions. It is based on two false assumptions—first that schools do not wish to put things right, which they do, and secondly that all situations are the same, which they are not. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press his amendment to a Division.

Kevin Brennan: I am grateful to the Minister for those comments, but can he firm up what he has said by making it clear from the Dispatch Box that he sees no reason why, in the vast majority of cases, the schools adjudicator’s ruling should not be implemented if not forthwith, then within a very short period of time and certainly not at the last possible moment?

7 pm

Mr Gibb: I have already responded to the hon. Gentleman’s point by quoting paragraph 3.1 of the admissions code. That makes it very clear that these changes should be made as soon as possible and that they are binding.

On school governing bodies, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud for speaking up for the key role governors play in schools and for the important work he is undertaking in establishing the all-party group on school governors. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) for his helpful intervention on staff and local authority governors and for his welcome for the amendments he has inspired. We have made concessions on staff and local authority governors, and I therefore hope the amendment in question will not be pressed.

Lords amendment 27 on the regulations specifying which schools are to be exempt from routine inspection was made because of a specific concern raised by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: that regulations made through the negative procedure could be extended beyond outstanding schools to whole categories of school—such as all academies or all faith schools—regardless of their inspection history, without sufficient parliamentary scrutiny.

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To provide reassurance on that, the Government propose that any subsequent changes to the first set of regulations, which have been made available to Members as indicative regulations since March, would require approval through the affirmative procedure. The amendment made in the other place will allow for appropriate scrutiny by Parliament. It is not necessary for the first set of regulations to be subject to that because it has been fully consulted on. We shall reflect on the points raised both in this debate and elsewhere before finalising those regulations.

I hope the amendments to the Lords amendments will not be pressed to a Division, and I commend the Lords amendments to the House.

Lords amendment 1 agreed to.

Lords amendments 2 to 26 agreed to , with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 16 and 23 .

Clause 39

School inspections: exempt schools

Amendment (a) proposed to Lords amendment 27.—(Kevin Brennan .)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 196, Noes 284.

Division No. 395]

[7.3 pm


Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Burden, Richard

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Mr Wayne

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flynn, Paul

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lloyd, Tony

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Ian

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meale, Sir Alan

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh David

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, John

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Joan

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Watts, Mr Dave

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Nic Dakin and

Yvonne Fovargue


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Andrew, Stuart

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Gray, Mr James

Green, Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maude, rh Mr Francis

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Mensch, Louise

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Ottaway, Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Philip Dunne and

Mark Hunter

Question accordingly negatived.

14 Nov 2011 : Column 633

14 Nov 2011 : Column 634

14 Nov 2011 : Column 635

Lords amendment 27 agreed to.

14 Nov 2011 : Column 636

Clause 41

Inspection of further education institutions: exempt institutions

The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes): I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 28.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient—

Mr Hayes rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): If the Minister could just hold himself back for a second, with this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Lords amendment 29, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendment 36, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 39, 43, 47 to 71, 99 and 100.

Mr Hayes: My enthusiasm to rise to speak to the amendments is indicative of the thorough scrutiny that the Bill has enjoyed here and in the other place, and of the spirit in which that scrutiny has taken place.

If I may, I shall speak first to Lords amendments 47 to 71, which make important changes to schedule 12 and further strengthen the provisions that strip away unnecessary central controls over the governance and dissolution arrangements of further education colleges and sixth-form colleges.

You, Madam Deputy Speaker, with your usual assiduity, will have seen those provisions in the context of the Education Act 1944. In bringing that legislation to the House, the then President of the Board of Education as he was known, Rab Butler, said that it is not possible

“to start colleges ‘out of the blue,’… It is essential that the House should realise that direction by the State from the top is not the right way to administer this vast matter. What is wanted is to encourage the desires, appetites and feelings of those who wish for different forms of adult education and then to try to meet them as far as possible. As long as we follow that line, I can tell the House that it is our desire to reform and bring up to date the adult education system and to make a great stride forward in this regard.”—[Official Report, 12 May 1944; Vol. 399, c. 2261.]

Just as a stride forward was made then, so a stride forward is being made now, although I would not claim to be as great as that very noble and distinguished gentleman, Mr Butler.

In speaking to these amendments, however, the important thing to make clear is the Government’s absolute unwavering and unabridged commitment to the creation of a freer, more responsive further education and skills system—one that is based upon the principles of fairness, shared responsibility and freedom from central Government controls.

I say that not for any doctrinaire reason, but simply because of this enduring truth: unless we make the system sufficiently nimble to respond to dynamic demand, it will not be fit for purpose. Through the Bill, and in that spirit, we propose to remove a raft of unnecessary and prescriptive duties and to reduce the control of the Government and their agencies over the affairs of colleges.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I have written a letter to the Minister on what he has been saying about apprenticeships and supply and demand

14 Nov 2011 : Column 637

for apprenticeship places. I am not talking about funding because we have had the debate about the Government providing funding; I am talking about employment opportunities. Is he aware that a training provider called the Liverpool Construction Academy in my constituency is due to close its doors on 25 November, with the loss of hundreds of apprenticeship opportunities and the jobs that go with them?

Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is a great champion of apprenticeships, having been an apprentice himself. He understands the value of apprenticeships in providing people with the skills not only to get a job, but to lead more fulfilled lives. I hear what he says about his particular constituency interest and he will expect me to respond in a similar spirit by saying that I am more than happy to meet him to discuss that matter in some detail. However, I am sure he understands that you will not allow me to go into great detail about that tonight, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I applaud what my hon. Friend has said so far. Does he appreciate that there is an ongoing demand for apprenticeships, particularly in the historic vehicle restoration movement, where expertise is needed? Any burning of red tape in that industry that would lead people to take on more apprenticeships would be most welcome.

Mr Hayes: As ever, my right hon. Friend makes a valued, wise and richly-coloured contribution to our affairs. His expertise in that field is unparalleled in this House and, of course, I take his recommendation seriously; indeed, he has raised the issue with me already. As he knows, I can tell the House that I am taking up the matter with an assiduity that is a mere token compared with his diligence, which has brought him such prowess in this place and elsewhere.

Mr Knight: Although I am delighted at what the Minister has said about me, I suppose he and I ought to declare an interest because we both may need the services of future apprentices in maintaining our historic vehicles.

Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend is right. We ought to declare that we share an interest in that topic and that we might have some personal interest in ensuring that there are sufficient craft skills to maintain our historic vehicles—although his demands in those terms are considerably more numerous than mine.

The sector has welcomed the proposals to offer colleges more freedom. Colleges have long called for such an approach. In the long years that I spent in the shadows before the electorate elevated me to the light, I remember hearing from colleges across the country that they hoped, wished and longed for a Government who would recognise that power is best vested in the hands of those closest to where it is exercised. Colleges should be able to respond to their learners and employers in the way the Bill facilitates. It is therefore unsurprising that, in the public evidence sessions of the Bill, the Association of Colleges said in written evidence that the legislative requirements removed by the Bill,

“will strengthen rather than diminish the historic community role of Colleges and strengthen the importance of strong governance”.

I wholeheartedly agree.

14 Nov 2011 : Column 638

Lords amendments 47 to 71, changes which I recognise were made late in the Bill’s passage through the other place, have been made in the context of a changed further education landscape. In October 2010, the Office for National Statistics announced its decision to reclassify FE colleges to the public sector for the purposes of the national accounts. That decision exposes colleges to the full rigours of the Government expenditure regime and means that they will lose the flexibility to phase expenditure between different financial years and that they will need to work within a financial year that does not line up with their academic year. Such a decision also makes it likely that the very freedoms that were introduced to enable them to borrow without seeking permission will need to be taken away from them, and that even tighter constraints will need to be introduced.

I would like to thank Baroness Sharp for raising those issues in the context of the sterling work she is doing as chair of the inquiry into colleges in their communities. In debating these important amendments, it is vital for me to emphasise the significance of the ONS decision. We were already well on the way to freeing the sector from some of the diktats, bureaucracy and unnecessary regulation that had so hampered and inhibited people from exercising their long-cherished desire to respond proactively to the interests of learners in the way I have described. Nevertheless, the ONS’s reclassification has turned our desire into an imperative and we are working closely to try to persuade it to rethink that classification, because it will have profound effects on the FE sector. The late changes made in the other place, which we are debating for the first time in this House today, were made because of that ONS classification. Those and other controls would all act as significant barriers to college growth and would stifle innovation and creativity in our further education sector. As I said, it is our intention to make the necessary legislative and administrative changes to encourage the ONS to reclassify colleges back to the private sector which, as my noble friend Lord Hill said in the other place, is where successive Governments have wished them to be.

I want to mention the ability that Lords amendments 49, 58 and 69 will give colleges to modify or replace their instruments and articles of governance. In the world I have described—the picture I have painted—the additional freedoms that colleges will enjoy necessitate a new approach to governance. We need colleges to rise to the occasion. I am confident that they will, but it is partly a case of rethinking how colleges are governed. Colleges will continue to be required to comply with a statutory governance framework, but that has been significantly simplified to allow colleges the freedom to decide how best to shape their governance arrangements to meet the needs of their learners, employers and the local community.

May I say a word about the work that the Association of Colleges is doing in that regard? The association is working on a set of model instruments and articles that are framed in the new environment of greater discretion and freedom. There is immense human capital in colleges but, too often, it has been locked up because of the approach taken by previous Governments. There was a view that it was best to dictate, predict and provide from the centre. That is not this Government’s view. For example, as a result of the amendments, colleges will no longer have to seek the Government’s permission

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to add more members to their governing body or to determine whether a job vacancy should be advertised nationally.

Those are important aspects of a college’s governance, but they are not things in which the state should be involved. The use of that power will not be compulsory. If colleges are content that their existing arrangements support them to meet the needs of local learners and employers, they will not have to change them. The benefit of the changes is that the decision over when and how colleges exercise those powers sits firmly with them. I mentioned that such measures have been welcomed by colleges themselves. They were, for the most part, also warmly welcomed in the other place.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): The Minister is making an excellent speech on the amendments. Will he tell us whether the Lords amendments will make it easier for colleges to work in partnership with schools or to offer and perhaps enrol pupils themselves at secondary level? He may know about a college in my area that wanted to enrol pupils but could not do so unless it went through the pupil referral unit route and they were classed as excluded. Will these changes make it easier for a college to work in partnership with schools in the local area?

Mr Hayes: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that these changes will enable colleges to form new kinds of partnerships and collaborations with other institutions in the sector and beyond, with businesses, and with a whole range of community-based organisations. I see this as an opportunity for a more eclectic system that is as different as the needs of each locality. I do not want to see a vanilla-flavoured product dictated from the centre; I do not want that kind of ugly ubiquity to characterise our further education system.

7.30 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Will the Minister give way on that point?

Mr Hayes: On the point of ugly ubiquity, I happily give way to my hon. Friend.

Bob Stewart: In my constituency we have Bromley college, and I have been speaking to people there. Will these changes allow Bromley college to control more properly the fees that it has to charge? At the moment, it is affiliated to Greenwich university and is being forced to charge fees that it does not want to charge, which is very much against the spirit of what we are trying to do. Can it have the freedom to seek other partnerships in the way that we have been discussing—for ordinary degrees, for example? There must be some way in which colleges, which we all want to charge the minimum fees, can actually charge those minimum fees rather than be forced to raise them.