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On the wider situation in the Middle East, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. Sixty per cent of the population is under 25 years of age a young population for whom in our own country we would want to see the benefits of the development of education and a secure future. That is what we are all fighting for in this region.
Lord Blaker: My Lords, are we to understand that there was no mention at all of Zimbabwe either in the conference or in the margins of the conference? If that is correct, is it not rather extraordinary, given the importance that the Prime Minister has attached to the whole of Africa over the past few years? Considering the absolutely appalling conditions in Zimbabwe, which get worse every week, is it not surprising in relation to the credibility of the treaties that the African countries have signed to exercise human rights, the rule of law and good governance? Is it not also relevant that, after many years, the Government of Zimbabwe have not yet replied to the biting criticism made by the Human Rights Commission of the African Union of conditions in Zimbabwe? Should not these matters have been raised?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, Zimbabwe was not discussed. I do not find that extraordinary, precisely for the reasons that the noble Lord has just set out. If you look at the whole of Africa, you are talking about 53 countries, of which Zimbabwe is one. In the light of the G8 agenda and the agenda of the continent itself with respect to the New Partnership for Africas Development, and in the light of the peer review mechanism, where we have seen Ghana and Rwanda go through a very intense period of having their economies, political systems and governance looked at, we have seen the stable transition from one democratically elected Government to another, we have seen conflicts resolved, but where we have a continuing difficult situation in the Sudan, it would be absolutely wrong to focus on Zimbabwe as an example of what is happening in the entire African continent.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, does the Minister feel that the G8 summit adequately addressed the catastrophic issue of AIDS? Last year the G8 gave the very welcome commitment that all who needed treatment should be in receipt of it by 2010. Warm words were expressed at this summit, but little by way of action that could be charted. Indeed, the concentration on infectious diseases tended to emphasise, if anything, the flu pandemic, which obviously does not at the moment threaten the same number of people as does the AIDS crisis.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, last year, a very clear set of actions was set out with respect to HIV/AIDS, which is precisely what I meant in responding to the right reverend Prelate about the importance of monitoring and implementation. At this years summit, part of what the G8 did was to look at the replenishment of the global fund on HIV/AIDS and make a commitment that those replenishment rounds would be fully met. There is a plan for HIV/AIDS looking forward to 2010. What happened this year was part of the monitoring of that plan. I would be happy to write to the noble Baroness setting out the detail if it would be helpful.
Lord Monson: My Lords, would Her Majesty's Government quietly urge the Israelis to be more careful and selective in their retaliation against Hezbollah? Killing more than 200 civilians, only a small proportion of whom are Hezbollah supporters and a high proportion of whom are children, and causing hundreds of millions of pounds of damage to the Lebanese infrastructure which was so laboriously built up after the long years of civil war, is hardly likely to win friends for the West or to lead to a long-term peaceful settlement.
It is also critical that Israel, while exercising the right to defend itself, be mindful of the strategic and humanitarian consequences of its actions. We call upon Israel to exercise utmost restraint, seeking to avoid casualties among innocent civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure and to refrain from acts that would destabilize the Lebanese government.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the Statement mentions urgent work on inserting an international security presence in which no doubt we shall be involved. The Statement comes hard on the heels of another on reinforcements to Afghanistan in which the strain on our resources was illustrated by the fact that we were counting platoons that we send out in reserve. The House is anxious about that. Can the Leader assure us that we shall be kept informed of any commitments of significant size that are intended in this instance?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I recognise the anxiety in the House on this issue. Of course we will keep the House informed. This was an idea put to G8 members which they endorsed in their statement. It will be looked at in detail at the UN. As noble Lords know, there is already a UN force in Lebanon. The role of any such force and where resources should come from need to be discussed and debated. I undertake that the House will be kept informed of those discussions.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, I welcome very much the statement concerning the Doha round. If we remind ourselves that this round of negotiations has been going on since 2001, to have now a deadline of one month is at least a challenge to the international community. I am very aware also that we have one year now during which the President of the United States has his fast-track authority to agree such deals.
However, we have a problem with the European Union. How does the Leader of the House feel that the British Government will influence even the European Union to ensure that the Trade Commissioner has sufficient authority in this last month to make sure that this deal happens? Apart from the immediate challenges of the Middle East, which are huge, this is one of the most important elements of the G8 discussions over the past weekend.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord is right about the time that this has taken. I take very slight comfort from the fact that the Uruguay round took much longer before it was completed. On the British Governments role with respect to the European Union, the noble Lord will know that it is not just a case of influencing the European Union and the Trade Commissioner. The Trade Commissioner is operating on behalf of 25 EU countries. Part of our responsibility is to influence our EU colleagues. Having been involved in some of these discussions myself over time, I know that that is not always as easy as it should be.
(6A) The Secretary of State may by order suspend the operation of this section in relation to invitations by local education authorities of proposals for the establishment of an Academy during such period as may be appropriate for the evaluation of the success or otherwise of Academies in achieving high standards.
The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 88, which is grouped with it. The amendments seek to place a prudent and sensible brake on the irresistible march of the academies project and ensure that where one is being is considered the local authority must have regard to the impact on the other schools in the area and not just consult them. Any bright shiny new school is going to be attractive to parents andpupils but in the current climate of falling rolls the impact on other schools will be even greater. The Government say that they want parents to have choice, but without the amendments they could end up taking choices away from parents and children through the closure of other schools that might become unsustainable.
Amendment No. 66 asks for a proper evaluation of the existing academies before any more are established. Given that handing over £20 million and the control of the school to some unknown body that does not necessarily have any track record in running an educational establishment is a radical step, I would have thought that a proper evaluation was only a reasonable and prudent measure to take. The Education and Skills Select Committee in another place reported last year on academies after a two-year inquiry into secondary education. It questioned the average £7,000 per pupil extra cost of establishing an academy and described the current programme asan untested model. It recommended a halt to the programme pending proper evaluation given its lack of coherent strategy, inflated cost and the impact of academies on neighbouring schools.
Many but not all of the academies take over failing schools and we on these Benches are not averse to directing extra resources towards helping the pupils in such schools to achieve their full educational potential: quite the reverse. We believe that we should spend more on them, as long as the money is carefully and wisely spent. But we question the wisdom of throwing quite so much money at a set of managers who have not yet proved themselves. Why do the Government think that being able to run a large retailer, manufacturer, service industry business, charity or Formula 1 motor racing competition qualifies a person to run a school? Of course it is accepted wisdom that the leadership in a school is an important factor in its success, but by leadership we usually mean the head and management team, not some person or organisation that promises £2 million funding to sponsor a school and then does not deliver it, as many of them have not.
The Select Committee found that the link between schools with different kinds of governance and improving standards was not proven. We have to look at the intake. Academies showed mixed results and many were below the national average at key stages 3 and 4. Many academies take over low attaining schools but they do not all show the progress that we should be able to expect at such a high cost. The cost is not just financial; the loss of accountability to the local community and the impact on other schools should be added to the financial cost.
The Times Educational Supplement recently analysed the GCSE results of academies using the new measure of including English, maths and science in the benchmark of A to C grades. In 2005, only 16 per cent of academy pupils achieved that; an increase of only 3 per cent on predecessor schools. Two of the three longest opening academies had worse results on the new measure than the schools they replaced. When GNVQs were removed, the percentage fell by at least half in eight of the 14 academies studied. At Walsall Academy the achievement of five good A to C grades slumped from 67 per cent to 7 per cent when the Times Educational Supplement used that measure. That calls into question the use of GNVQs in skewing the apparent achievements of some schools. Research undertaken by York University quoted by the Select Committee suggests that academies are raising their standards by improving their intake rather than by doing better with the same pupils, which is what they are supposed to do.
Even Ofsted has suggested that standards in some academies, such as Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough and West London academy are a cause for concern. The Government make two conflicting arguments: on the one hand they argue that academies need more time to improve having taken over failing schools; on the other hand they argue that academy results are so good that they need to push on to expansion without delay. They cannot have it both ways. Which of these is true? If academies need more time to improve, why is not the same time to be given to our maintained schools that are failing?
All in all, academies are an unproven modeland it would be reasonable for the Secretary of State to halt their expansion until the various factors that contribute to their success for failure are properly evaluated. When that evaluation is done, it should be done on accepted scientific principles of comparing like with like. It would be only fair to compare each academys performance with that of a similar school under normal local authority governance in a similar locality that had had the same amount of money thrown at it. Indeed, my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Liverpool have already volunteered some of their schools for such an experiment. They would welcome the extra money, and they are confident that given the same resource they could do at least as well as any academy, and probably better. Will the Minister take up that challenge?
In his response to Amendment No. 16 on the first day in Committee last week, the Minister said that the Governments structure of academies was more likely to raise standards. What shred of evidence does he have to justify such a claim? There has been no study to justify any such statement. If there is no evidence, I call on him to accept Amendment No. 66 forthwith and to commission a fair study with a level playing field to see whether such evidence exists anywhere, except in the Prime Ministers dreams. I beg to move.
Lord Judd: Lying behind Amendment No. 184 is the concern that we in the Joint Committee on Human Rights registered about this part of the Bill. The
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The committee was deeply concerned about whether there would be the same protection for pupils at city technology colleges and academies. We wrote to the Minister and, as I have said before, received a very full, considerate and detailed reply from him, which we very much appreciated. In that reply, the Governments position seems to remain that academies and CTCs should not be defined as maintained schools. The Governments position is that they are regulated not through statutory requirements but rather through funding agreements with the Secretary of State.
As we understand it, the Government suggest that it is incorrect to put forward the view that the protections offered to the pupils are inferior. On exclusion, for example, the Government argue that the model academy funding agreement requires the academy to have regard to the Secretary of States guidance on exclusions as if the academy were a maintained school and requires that appeals panels must be impartial and constituted in accordance with that guidance. As we understand it, too, the Government argue that the same principles apply to SEN and admissions, and they hold to the same argument that, although the arrangements may be different in detail, in effect the pupils are at no disadvantage. Most academies have adopted the model academy funding agreement without any amendment.
The committee welcomed the Ministers response in so far as it implicitly accepted, in principle, that protections enjoyed by pupils at academies and CTCs in relation to exclusions, admissions and SEN should be no less than those enjoyed by pupils at maintained schools. We also recognised from the Ministers reply that the Government accept the importance of the rights that are at stakefor example, the right to a fair hearing before being permanently excluded from school, and the importance of not treating pupils at academies and CTCs less favourably than pupils at other state schools in respect of their enjoyment of rights such as the right to a fair hearing.
Now we come to the rub. Having gone so far in welcoming the Ministers reply, we remained unconvinced by it, which is what led me and my colleagues to table Amendment No. 184. We are not persuaded that regulating academies and CTCs through their funding agreements with the Secretary of State is conducive to ensuring that equivalent protections are enjoyed by the pupils at those institutions. I want very briefly to give the three examples that we gave in our report, which I commend and which I am sure all noble Lords have read in great detail. Just to indicate how hard we work in that committee, I should say that it is the 21st report of the current Session.
First, the model funding agreement suggests having a term in the agreement providing that, in discharging their duties, the head and governors will have regard to the Secretary of States guidance on exclusions, as if academies are maintained schools. As the Government appear to have accepted in the context of the admissions code, a duty to have regard to guidance is very much weaker than a positive requirement to act in accordance
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Secondly, even where actual funding agreements contain the wording recommended in the model agreement, the agreement itself might contain certain provisions that are inferior to the protections available at maintained schools. The funding agreement between the Secretary of State and Haberdashers Askes Knights Academy, for example, specifically provides for a final right of appeal to the governors against permanent exclusion, but the governors are clearly incapable of being an independent and impartial tribunal.
Thirdly, whereas a maintained school is required by statute to admit a child with a statement of special educational needs, there is no equivalent requirement on academies to do the same. It is because of those points that we are anxious that the Minister should look at this again to see whether the Government can move further to give substance to their general claim that pupils at such institutions are at no disadvantage. Certainly, we in the Joint Committee on Human Rights are not convinced on that point.
Lord Lucas: The two Liberal Democrat amendments in the group seem a little inconsistent, at least in what they propose, because the Liberals, having been long-term opponents of league tables,are now inventing their own to beat academies about the head with. Similarly, having been long-term proponents of vocational education, they now spurn academies because that is the direction in which they have turned. Inconsistency and Liberal Democratsperhaps I should expect them to go together.
I support some aspects of Amendment No. 184. I particularly want to press the Minister on the Freedom of Information Act. The Department for Education and Skills is a difficult department when it comes to the Freedom of Information Act. The central part of the department is extremely helpful and co-operative, and I cannot think of a better department, but some of its important offshoots are exempt, the principal one being UCAS, which I know is quasi-independent. Universities are in; the department is in; schools are inbut UCAS is out.
A lot of information flows from schools directly to examining bodiesfor instance, about exemptions that have been given to pupils in respect of SENbut it is not available under the Freedom of Information Act because it does not stick to any government department, but goes directly to the examining boards, which are, in that sense, providing a government function on a commercial basis and are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
Along with such anomalies, it would be very useful to clear up any lack of transparency with respect to academies, city technology colleges and/or their funding agreements and to bring those institutions into line with the generality of schools and educational institutions. I do not imagine that that can be done through a funding agreement. I would be happy to be corrected, but I would be surprised if a funding agreement could give the rights and the detail of rights that are available to a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act.
Baroness Morgan of Huyton: To talk about city academies and the need for a level playing field is to approach the matter in the wrong way, because the main reason for the existence of city academies is that there is not a level playing field. City academies are being established where there is failure; they are being established where kids are not getting a fair chance of a decent education, where schools are profoundly failing those children or where there are no schools and we are seeking to set up new schools to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged children. If one looks at any figures that have been produced, although one does not see improvements across the piece, one sees in most of the schools clear improvements in behaviour, attendance and standards. Perhaps the clearest indication of that is that the schools tend to have waiting lists. We have talked a lot today about parental choice. It is evident that parents are choosing to send their children to these schools, which suggests that we are getting something right in them.
I was interested to hear about the situation in Liverpool. The new city academy that has been set up there by the Anglican and Catholic Churches is innovative; it is worth visiting, if the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has not yet done so. However, my understanding is that, while her colleagues in Liverpool may be asking for another report, her colleagues in Southwark are moving ahead very quickly with city academies and are commissioning their third, if not their fourth, academy. They have recognised that city academies are the best way of meeting the needs of their inner-city children.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: Perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, because he is a highly intelligent Member of the Committee and I know that he would appreciate that, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, the basis of comparison must be the same. However much one welcomes GNVQsI certainly do and I know that she doesthey are not on the same footing as GCSEs of the traditional kind. She simply pointed out, without making any suggestion that GNVQs were not a valuable qualification, that on a comparison of like with like the evidence that has come forward so far is not to the effect that city academies have far outstripped community schools. However, we on these Benches believe that it is important that enough time is given to ensure that, exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, schools that can assist children in the most disadvantaged areas are given a fair wind. We are not yet convinced on the basis of the evidence that is coming forward that an absolutely clear case has been made.
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