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With regard to Amendment No. 184, to which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred, I further strengthen his case by saying that there is some reason to believe—indeed, there is evidence to show—that the proportion of excluded children is rather higher in academies and CTCs than in the average run of maintained schools. That suggests all the more strongly that it is vital that the same requirements are laid on both with regard to excluded children, and not least to children with special educational needs, so that schools in both categories respond to these cases as forthrightly as they can.

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Lord Lucas: Of course I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about GNVQs and so on. The point that I was trying to make is that, as soon as you start reducing things to league tables, you miss the real comparison. If we want children to learn English, maths and science to a reasonable level, it is surely possible that that is better delivered to some children with a vocational element attached to it, rather than by purely academic qualifications that have become quite debased.

5.30 pm

Lord Plant of Highfield: I, too, am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and my name is on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I will speak briefly in support of what he said. I do not doubt the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the protections for academy pupils are not lower than those for pupils in maintained schools. Given that commitment, the crux of the question is whether the funding agreement is the best vehicle for securing it. I share the qualms of Members of the Committee about the detail of those model agreements and so forth. There must be some doubt over whether the agreements can deliver what the Government seek. I therefore strongly support the amendment.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I add my voice to those supporting Amendment No. 184. What the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said raised some concerns in my own mind. I take entirely what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said about the good track record of academies thus far, and the important point that parents are choosing for their children to go to such schools. However, I do not see that as a reason for children at academies having fewer rights, especially those children with special educational needs, about whom we on these Benches—and I think noble Lords right across the Committee—are concerned. I hope that we will have some further reassurance from the Minister.

Baroness Buscombe: I am compelled to refer to Amendments Nos. 66 and 88 on academies. They look remarkably similar to those already debated in the Commons. It is clear, I fear, that the Liberal Democrats are opposed to the autonomy and independence that are the driving force in the concept of the academy school. The spirit of localism so often claimed by the noble Baroness’s party as their own is somewhat betrayed in this approach. It seems that localism is all very well in so far as it enforces state bureaucracies at a local level, but that it does not extend to the level of a local school.

These amendments revisit old ground. The same amendments were debated at great length in the eighth sitting of the Committee in another place. I do not want to rehash that debate; it has already been undertaken in Parliament. Indeed, the honourable Member for Brent East—whose amendments I think they were—promised to go away and work on the topic. Even so, the amendments in front of us today remain completely unchanged. Indeed, the honourable Member herself admitted that Amendment No. 66 is technically flimsy.

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Amendment No. 88, on the other hand, would give powers to the local authority to prevent an academy from being set up. Members of another place have already conceded our points on this debate. The honourable Member Annette Brooke, of the noble Baroness’s party, stated that she agreed with many of the points made by my honourable friend Nick Gibb. The Minister, Jacqui Smith, rightly stated that the Liberal Democrat argument was based on the false premise that the approach to and achievements of academies were unproven.

I do not want to detain the Committee, but it is important to defend and, in a sense, champion academies’ achievements to date. I shall try to be brief. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ second annual report on academies shows that the independent ethos of academies is helping to drive up standards:

We should bear in mind, as the noble Baroness,Lady Morgan, said, the fact that these schools are being set up in areas where pupils have been failed by the state in the past.

The Liberal Democrats have tabled amendments that would consult pupils on matters affecting schools, which shows a clear pupil endorsement. However, I wonder whether they would be so keen to listen to those pupils who endorse academies. Those pupils and teachers of academies are evidence of a part of the potential of academies. The National Audit Office report Improving poorly performing schools in England cites the statistics of success:

What is more, of the three academies that had been open for more than a year in 2004, all had improved GSCE performance.

We can see the vast improvements in standards made by CTCs since their inception—a useful evidential analogy, given the structural similarity. CTCs benefit the most disadvantaged in our society. While the proportion of pupils on free school meals who achieved the magic five A* to C grades at GCSE in 2004 was 16.8 per cent in community schools, CTCs produced the amazing result of 58.3 per cent of such children achieving that. The academy scheme is in its earliest years, yet it is already showing wonderful promise and giving children the best chances in life. Let us not forget that we sanctioned the different legal regulation of academies, with full parliamentary scrutiny, in the Education Act 2002. Academies are kept in check by the terms of their funding agreements, and cannot go outside the admissions code of practice. We should give them a chance.

I know that the Minister will have a lot more to say in support of academies. In essence, I will never support measures that would halt the contribution

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towards greater freedom, more efficient management and much higher standards in our schools. These amendments should not be supported.

Lord Adonis: No argument causes me moredistress than the one put by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that I should be incoherent or inconsistent in my arguments. I hope at least that the Government are clear and consistent in their arguments. There is no inconsistency whatever in simultaneously arguing that academies that have taken over from some of the most challenging and lowest-performing schools in the country are improving—which they are, above national average rates—and that they have not magically become among the best schools in the country in the short time that they have been open.

We do not have to look at our expectations for the future in a hypothetical way, let alone a completely unscientific one, to take the noble Baroness’s claim. We can look at two specific, strongly encouraging pieces of evidence. The first is the experience of the city technology colleges, which have now been in existence for 15 years. I am a great believer in evidence-based policy. In my experience of education policy, there are few areas of innovation that have yielded more tangible, beneficial results than the experience of city technology colleges. If the noble Baroness has not visited any, I encourage her to do so. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who was the moving force in their establishment. Their success is shown in the work of Professor David Jesson, who found the city technology colleges to be the sub-group of secondary schools with the most substantial value added of all the groups of secondary schools that he analysed. I will send the noble Baroness the data. With academies, we have broadly sought to take the city technology college model but to apply it much more resolutely to areas of disadvantage than was the case with the city technology colleges.

The second piece of evidence supporting the progress of new academies is the evaluation undertaken to date. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was quite wrong in suggesting that there had been no evaluation. Onthe contrary, my department has paid veryconsiderable sums—as it does to consultancies—to PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an annual evaluation of the academies programme. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, quoted from the second annual evaluation, which was published last year. I understand that the third one will be available shortly.

The evaluation as a whole gives a highly positive picture of the progress made by academies. It concluded that there was a significant difference in the learning culture in new academies compared with their predecessor schools, with, for example, 97 per cent of staff thinking that the principal really believes that the academy can make a difference to pupils’ learning whatever their family backgrounds; with 90 per cent of the parents who named an academy as their school of choice attracted by the high academic and teaching standards of the academy; with 87 per cent of parents satisfied with the quality of the education provided to their children at the academy; with 85 per cent of pupils stating that they were pleased with their school work

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and had high expectations; and with 90 per cent of parents agreeing that most pupils liked going to the academy and that their children enjoyed attending the school. The report goes on to make an important point about governance. It says that the new academies have 78 per cent of staff agreeing that the sponsor brings expertise that would not otherwise be available to the academy, and 82 per cent of staff agreeing that the sponsor’s resources have a positive impact on pupils’ learning.

I never like to leave an argument unreplied to, so I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and copy to other Members of the Committee my response to each of the assertions that she made about academy performance, because I can meet them all. That is in no way seeking to claim that the academies that have taken over from weak or failing schools have been able to turn around performance to become highly successful overnight. That is not the case; the issue is the rate of improvement that they had been able to make. Evaluation has taken place. The great majority of Ofsted reports have been satisfactory or excellent, leading Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, to say in August last year that, with regard to academies, in some cases what has been achieved in a short time is “nothing less than remarkable”. That was said by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, not by a Minister.

Taking all this evidence in the round, I believe that we are right to proceed with a policy that, let us be clear, is focused at one of the most intractable areas of educational reform—that of bringing good schools to areas that have had low, and often chronically low, standards not only for years but often for generations. There is nothing that this Labour Government should take more pride in than that we are targeting investment and reform together, not simply thinking that we can put the money into areas that have been failed so consistently in the past. My noble friend Lady Morgan has been engaged in the academy movement through the outstanding work of ARK, a charity that brings great expertise to this area. The proof of the pudding is in parental views and whether parents are prepared to apply to academies for their children. The evidence is highly encouraging.

Amendment No. 88 would require local authorities to have regard to the potential effect of academies on other schools in the area. In point of fact, local consultation is already required in the development of every academy proposal. All those with an interest must be consulted, including neighbouring schools, FE colleges and sixth forms. Decision makers, including local authorities, when deciding whether to support an academy proposal, take into account the effects of proposals on other provision in their area.

I will depart from my normal practice and make just a small party-political point in passing. I am glad to say that what I have just said includes Liberal Democrat authorities, many of which have been very strong supporters of academies. Indeed, Liberal Democrat authorities account for some 19 academies that are open or under development, including no fewer than eight in Southwark—more than my noble friend suggested. To make an even more developed party-political point, I will add that one of those academies in

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Southwark will be enthusiastically sponsored, in co-operation with the Liberal Democrat authority, by an editor of The Orange Book—an excellent publication, which I recommend to Liberal Democrats in this House as precisely the positive direction in which they should be moving to catch up with us in new Labour by modernising their approach to public sector reform.

I will now return to more narrow educational issues. My noble friend Lord Judd spoke passionately about equal protection of the interests of pupils in academies. We believe that adequate protection is afforded. I have written to my noble friend once on this issue, going through each of the areas that he raised in turn. I will do so again, taking the three specific areas that he raised, but I believe that the protection is adequate.

I say in answer to my noble friend Lord Plant that the funding agreements that govern academies are legally enforceable agreements between the Secretary of State and the academy sponsor. However, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is quite right about the Freedom of Information Act not being applicable, but that is a matter to do with the wider law. The Department for Constitutional Affairs is about to consult on bringing academies within the coverage of the FOI legislation. The Government believe that that is a welcome development. We have nothing whatever to hide in respect of the activities of academies. Although there will be consultation before the relevant orders are laid, we are favourably disposed towards ensuring that outcome.

5.45 pm

Finally, in respect of the Human Rights Act, I assure my noble friend Lord Judd that academies are, in our view, plainly public authorities under the Act and will thus be subject to the provisions of that Act. That has not yet been tested in court, so I cannot say absolutely categorically what a court would rule, but that is the view of my department's legal advisers.

I expect that we will return to this matter at a later stage, but I hope that, when I have been able to provide even more information and argumentation in writing, we may be able to dispel some of the arguments that have been advanced about academies.

To end on a point made by my noble friend Lady Morgan, in my experience the cure for disliking academies is to visit one. I strongly urge my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches to visit some academies. We have nothing to hide. Some of the most impassioned journalists have taken up the cause against academies on principle because they involve engagement with the private sector and all kinds of horrible things like that, but once they actually see one in action—I can give the noble Baroness a list of academies to visit—they find that the reality of improved educational performance and the palpable difference that is being made to the life chances of children tend to overcome even the most rigid ideology.

Lord Judd: I thank my noble friend for his reply. I think that he is being very candid. However, the devil is often in the detail and he says that he has not had an opportunity to look in detail at the three examples

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that I gave. I hope therefore that his department will look at them in detail and at the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights following his helpful letter to that committee.

I have immense respect for my noble friendLady Morgan, but we are not concerned about a level playing field in the sense that she was talking about. We are concerned about a level playing field in terms of the rights of the child. Our point is that the Government have taken very seriously their commitment to the rights of the child and they have made provision in the maintained sector for how those rights should be protected. Our argument is that, in the detail of the legislation, what is seen as necessary in the maintained sector is not 100 per cent followed through in the CTCs and academies.

We do not doubt the Minister's good will, which he always repeats in his intention and in his letters. He repeated it to the Committee again this evening and I accept his sincerity of purpose in this respect. Our argument is that his purpose is not being fulfilled by the detail of the provision. Therefore, I hope that he will go away and see whether he can make adjustments to meet the concerns that have been expressed. To add one other point on special educational needs, I am perhaps going a little beyond the discipline that I have set myself in commenting on the Minister’s reply, but it seems unfortunate that academies should not be subject to exactly the same obligations as everybody else is.

Baroness Walmsley: This has been an interesting debate and I thank the Minister for his response and other noble Lords for their comments. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is not in its place—

Lord Baker of Dorking: He is over there.

Baroness Walmsley: I am so sorry; the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is not in his usual place—he has taken up residence on the Cross Benches for the moment. I wonder when anybody said that academies were vocational schools.

We on these Benches are very enthusiastic about vocational education but we think that it should be available to all children through secondary schools and not just city technology colleges, which we accept have done great things.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, that I have not said we oppose all academies. We just want to see the evidence through a proper dispassionate study, rather than rushing headlong. Although some parents are very enthusiastic in wanting academies in their area, in some areas parents are rejecting academies. That is their choice and I would stand up and fight for their right to make that choice.

The noble Baroness commented on Southwark. Responsible local authorities will of course say yes to shiny new schools and millions of extra pounds and if academies are the only way of getting those things for their local children, they will grab them with both hands, and so they should. It is their responsibility to do the very best for the children in their area. There

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has been no lack of co-operation from the local authority in Liverpool in the establishment of the academy that she mentioned. Liberal Democrat authorities have not been obstructive to the expansion of the academy programme but when we have a policy like this, which is using a great deal of public money, we want to see the evidence.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that if she wants to know Liberal Democrat policy, she should ask a Liberal Democrat and not just believe what she hears from somebody from another party. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report—

Baroness Buscombe: It is what I read in Hansard from the debates that took place in the House of Commons.

Baroness Walmsley: I accept from her that in this House, as in another place, people from different parties will agree with parts of what other people say, but the basis of the amendments we are tabling is that we are asking for the evidence in a dispassionate proper scientific study before we go any further with this programme. If our request for such a report is not accepted, then on the establishment of any academy we would like the local authority to have to “have regard” and not just consult on the effect on any other school.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report made some of the comments the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, made but it also made other points that were not so complimentary about some academies. I do not deny that individual schools have achieved improvements. I would not want to take one iota away from the achievements of the teachers, the governors, and in particular the children. Others have not done quite so well, but you cannot claim that the PricewaterhouseCoopers report is the cross-cutting report we really need. If academies prove themselves, such a study as I am asking for will give the Government their evidence.

I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that the Conservatives have never tabled the same amendments in this House as in another place if they were not satisfied with the answers they were given. We were not totally satisfied with the answers we were given, and that is why we have tabled the amendments again and had tonight’s useful debate.

Baroness Buscombe: I was trying to gently make the point that a number of those amendments were Labour Back-Bench amendments.

Baroness Walmsley: I do not care where they come from if I agree with them—and I did agree with many of the amendments that were tabled by Labour rebels in another place.

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