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I find that assumption very hard to justify. Earlier, I mentioned to the Minister that in the United States charter schools, in many ways, closely resemble trust schools and, even more, academies. They are self-governing, independent schools in which local school districts may not interfere; they have delegated powers over their own budgets and are allowed to bring in sponsors; and they have a range of the characteristics which are associated in this Bill with trust schools and have previously been associated with academies. Yet the latest information is that charter schools in the United States are doing less well than ordinary state schools, by a substantial margin in reading and mathematics. I will not go into detail on this, but I hope that at Third Reading we will discuss this in more detail.

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I am concerned about the demoralisation of those schools which are the great bulk of schools in this country. I believe that the Bill exudes a certain sense of discrimination between the two, which comes out most clearly in Part 4. I, for one, profoundly regret it. On the first day on Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, specifically said—I do not know whether the Minister would agree—that there has been a remarkable improvement in standards in schools in the past few years. She referred, of course, to community schools which are still the bulk of schools in the system.

To be precise, will the Minister tell us in greater detail exactly what steps will be taken if a school, which is described as an academy or a city technology college, is found to be failing, or found, on a lesser criterion, to require improvement? How will the Minister discover that need? What will be the role of the Secretary of State in altering or changing the funding agreement in order to bring about changes that might be required? What steps would be taken to close a school that was failing? In the United States, after five years a charter school can be closed and replaced; there is nothing in this Bill of that kind. Finally, can he explain why these very condign measures all apply to community and voluntary schools, but do not appear to include the schools to which my noble friend referred?

I would make a final point. Those who visit schools—I know that the Minister visits many of them as do my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench—will be aware that many teachers and head teachers in community schools feel somehow under attack. They feel they have to defend themselves because there have been so many indications that somehow they are not doing well. A minority of schools are not doing well; we all have to admit that. But that is the case in all categories of school. Even—dare I say it in this sacred Chamber?—independent schools have a tail of failing schools. The great thing to do would be to recognise that all schools can succeed or fail, but we should not single out particular categories as being more likely to fail or more likely to succeed. With great respect, the Bill strongly gives that impression.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, in Committee, in response to amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I promised to return to the consultation requirements on the Secretary of State when he appoints additional governors in respect of maintained schools. I have now considered this matter and I am glad to be able to propose, through government Amendments Nos. 86 to 89 to which I shall speak with this group, extending the list of the persons the Secretary of State is required to consult before appointing additional governors to include in every case the local authority, the school’s governing body and, where appropriate, the diocese or other persons by whom foundation governors are appointed. We have long considered it good practice for the Secretary of State to consult the aforementioned parties before appointing additional governors to any category of maintained school and I

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am therefore happy to accept the suggestion of the noble Baroness that this good practice should be captured in legislation. I hope that, whatever our other disagreements, the noble Baroness will be glad that we have been able to make those changes.

I shall speak also to government Amendment No. 90 in this group, which is a minor technical amendment to make the wording in Clause 65 consistent with the rest of Part 4.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I should like to ask a brief question on the government amendments. I was not aware that a “voluntary school” was an established term of art in England. I know the terms “voluntary controlled” and “voluntary aided”, but the word “voluntary” as shorthand for both is something I have not come across before.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, it is shorthand for both; I could have referred to voluntary aided and voluntary controlled schools. I do mean both types of school and those are what the amendments capture.

Amendments Nos. 83, 84 and 85 were spoken to by the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Sharp. They relate to non-maintained schools, particularly academies. They asked me in the first place how they will be accountable for failure, and in the second place how they will make a proper contribution to pupil well-being and the Every Child Matters outcomes. In terms of failure, I think there is a straightforward misunderstanding here. The powers held by the Secretary of State in respect of academies track very closely the statutory intervention powers which local authorities have over maintained schools, including the enhanced powers set out in the Bill. The Secretary of State has a range of intervention powers in respect of academies which he holds by virtue of an academy trust’s articles of association and funding agreements. The Secretary of State is enabled by these means to appoint additional governors, to stop funding the academy or to close it outright. These powers are in every respect as extensive as those a local authority is able to exercise under the regime set out in the Bill. As I say, they track closely the regime we are seeking to put in place in relation to maintained schools.

I accept entirely what the noble Baroness has said. She is right to say that no category of school is immune to failure. We see that failure can afflict schools in any category and I accept that that includes academies. Indeed, because academies are succeeding some of the most challenging schools in the country, they face particular challenges and are liable to fail. I have never in any way disguised that fact. But I believe that our bona fides in this respect can be seen to be quite clear. For example, the Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough was put into a category of failure by Ofsted. My department took immediate action of a kind which we would expect a local authority to take when exercising its powers under this Bill. We engaged in a dialogue with the sponsor that led to very swift and radical changes to the governing body of the academy very quickly after the inspection report and made within a timescale which we would expect local authorities to observe. There

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was also a substantial change to the leadership of that school, a decision taken by the reconstituted governing body in close consultation with the departments. I am glad to say that this year the results of that academy rose significantly in both the key stage 3 and GCSE categories.

I do not seek to suggest that there are different rules or different regimes. There is a great difference in the relationship between the state and academies—and, indeed, other categories of more autonomous schools—and the relationship between local school boards and charter schools in the United States. I accept that they have a much greater degree of autonomy. In some cases—because each individual state in the US has different chartering arrangements—it is very difficult for a state to intervene short of pulling the rug out and withdrawing funding to make it impossible for the school to proceed. In our system, the full accountability regime applies to all categories of schools. We discussed earlier the school improvement partners, which are appointed in respect of academies and other categories of school, and their accountability for results, the publication of performance data and inspection by Ofsted.

As regards pupil well-being and Every Child Matters, we have mechanisms in place to uphold schools’ accountability for contributing to Every Child Matters outcomes, irrespective of the category of the school. We have the new Ofsted inspection regime, school self-evaluation and the role of school improvement partners, all of which apply equally to non-maintained as well as to maintained schools. In respect specifically of academies, they are obliged to contribute to the five Every Child Matters outcomes in a variety of ways. The first is through their funding agreements, which make them responsible for being at the heart of their community, sharing facilities with other schools and the wider community. Secondly, it is an expectation that each academy will work closely with its local authority to ensure that the needs of each child are met and that the directors of children’s services are able to carry out the duties and accountabilities placed on them for every child educated within their local area, regardless of whether the child attends a state or independent school. Thirdly, academies will be required to participate in their local children and young people’s plans and to have regard to them. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave an undertaking in another place that we would amend the articles of association and funding agreements of academies to ensure that they are obliged to have regard to children and young people’s plans. We have already indicated to the academies that we intend to make those changes in their funding agreements.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, the Minister went very quickly through that extremely important passage in his very interesting speech and I am grateful to him for allowing me to ask a question. He referred to funding agreements, expectations and the like as the source through which academies would be brought into the same range of intervention. What is the legal status of their origins? Are the funding agreements statutory in base or are they merely contractual?

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Lord Adonis: My Lords, without a funding agreement an academy cannot exist. A funding agreement is required for an academy to be established under the Education Act 1996, as amended by later legislation. So there is a requirement there. As I say, the funding agreements set out the range of interventions I have indicated and the requirements in respect of children and young people’s plans that I have also set out.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. There remains, however, a real problem. For all that is in their funding agreements—academies and city technology colleges are required to contribute to the Every Child Matters outcomes, to adhere to the local children and young people’s plans and to work with the local authority to make sure that the needs of every child are met—nevertheless those are, to some extent, voluntary matters and depend upon the good will of the academy in contributing to them. However, the local authority is assessed under its annual performance assessment for Every Child Matters on the performance of the schools in its area. There is a disjuncture between what is expected at a national aggregate level in terms of aggregate measurement of how the local authority is performing and the instruments that that local authority are given to make sure that its performance measures up to what is expected.

I accept that the Secretary of State intervenes, and intervenes in the same way. He was prompt in intervening at the Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough when Ofsted reported badly on it. We have no assurance other than his word that the Secretary of State will act with the same promptness in future. There may be occasions when there is a delay and, as a result, the local authority fails to meet what is expected of it under the Every Child Matters agenda.

There is a logic in what we are asking for in the amendment, a logic which the Minister clearly does not accept. There is a disjuncture between what is expected. However, it being fairly late, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 pm

Clause 57 [Warning notice by local education authority]:

[Amendments Nos. 84 and 85 not moved.]

Clause 64 [Power of Secretary of State to appoint additional governors]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendments Nos. 86 to 89:

“( ) the local education authority, ( ) the governing body of the school,” (b) in the case of any other foundation or voluntary school, the person or persons by whom the foundation governors are appointed.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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Clause 65 [Power of Secretary of State to direct closure of school]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendment No. 90:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 91:

(a) after paragraph (f) insert- “(fa) a modern foreign language,”; (b) in paragraph (h), omit sub-paragraph (ii).”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Sharp has asked me to apologise for forgetting to thank the Minister for the government amendments in that last group which resulted from points that we made in Committee. We are most grateful to the Government for that.

I should like to say a word about Amendments Nos. 93 and 94, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. It is perhaps unfortunate that my amendment comes first; we are all very grateful to the noble Baroness for raising the important question of the role of modern foreign languages in today’s school curriculum. It might have been more desirable if she could have spoken first, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles in your Lordships' House.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, who recently set up a new all-party group on scientific research in education and learning to which I am very much looking forward, I believe we should base our education policies on high quality evidence of how children learn best. Not only that, we need to take into account when they learn best. With languages, there is a mountain of evidence that they learn best at an early age. My grandchildren learnt Chinese as they were learning to talk, at the same time that they learnt English. It was amazing to me to hear them chattering away to each other in Chinese as they played. If we want to do something about the terrible reputation we British have for languages, we need to start early. That is what Amendment No. 91 would achieve.

I am aware that the Government have introduced a number of initiatives in primary schools; no doubt the Minister will tell us about some of them when he responds. I am also aware that there is a lot of good practice out there and many schools have been very creative in the way in which they have addressed the matter. One multicultural school I heard about has a language of the week, when a few children get to share their mother tongue with the rest of the school, including the teachers, for at least a few days in the year—and there are even more languages in that school than there are weeks in the year. That sort of thing helps children to get the idea that there is more than one way in which to express things.

Only the other day, one of my husband’s little grandchildren looked at the television and said,

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“Mummy, there’s a mochyn”. His mother, who speaks only English, was a bit puzzled until she realised that in Wales they teach Welsh to three year-olds, and Finlay was referring to the pig on the television—which in Welsh, I gather, is a mochyn.

I know that there might be an objection to my amendment relating to the availability of the appropriate work force to carry out what I am seeking to do—to ensure that all children have some experience of a modern foreign language from the very first key stage. I would encourage the Government to take steps to train qualified teachers to specialise in teaching languages to very young children. But in the mean time I see no reason why teaching materials cannot be developed by qualified people for use by ordinary primary teachers.

I say “ordinary”, but I think that most primary teachers are extraordinary in the way in which they manage to get their heads around so many subjects and make them interesting and exciting for the children. They already wear a lot of hats, so one more may not be such an imposition, especially if they are working with good quality materials. Besides, I think that most teachers realise that as they are preparing children to grow up in quite a different world from the one in which I grew up, when air travel and mass emigration has made the world a much smaller place, it is essential that we get them learning languages at the best possible moment—that is, early. In addition, I would like to see schools using native speakers of other languages from the community and bringing them into primary schools. The foreign teaching assistants who work in secondary schools might also be able to contribute something. We need to be a bit imaginative and a bit flexible—and I hope that the NUT will agree with me.

On the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, I am afraid that despite the fact that I am grateful to her for raising the subject I do not support her Amendment No. 93, which would make a modern foreign language compulsory at key stage 4. With the first public examinations, you need to give young people as much choice as possible and not be too prescriptive, apart from the core subjects. But the noble Baroness has kindly listened to an objection that I made when we first considered this matter—that for some children it would be better to spend the time on more English lessons. That is what her Amendment No. 94 seeks to address in part. But the provision applies to two groups: the first is those for whom English is not their mother tongue, which is the group she addresses in Amendment No. 94. The other group is children for whom, although English is their mother tongue, they have some difficulty with it and need extra help. The Government have rightly identified that literacy is the most basic tool and opens the door to all sorts of other learning, and so is the right and proper focus of many initiatives, but the noble Baroness’s Amendment No. 94 does not take those children into account. For them, it would not be appropriate to enforce a course of study of a foreign language up to public examination stage.

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Before I move, I pass on to your Lordships a lovely phrase that I heard only this morning from my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno. He told me that when he was in Jerusalem recently a young Arab boy said to him, “When I have one language it opens one window on the world; when I have two languages, it opens two windows on the world”. I leave your Lordships with that thought and I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 93 and 94 carry on our crusade for the reintroduction of modern foreign languages as compulsory subjects up to the age of 16. That compulsion was the case until 2003, when modern foreign languages were demoted from foundation subject status to entitlement subjects. The amendments would allow those children for whom English is a second language to spend time studying English that they would otherwise spend on another modern foreign language. We believe that will complement the fantastic efforts of schools that teach a large proportion of children for whom English is not their first language.

Since the demotion of modern foreign languages in the curriculum, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of people studying a modern foreign language at GCSE. Indeed, by November 2005, 64 per cent of maintained schools had experienced a fall in the numbers studying modern foreign languages for key stage 4, compared with figures for the previous three years. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, stated in the Times on 25 August this year that the entries for foreign languages are in “free fall”.

I have highlighted this situation before. I remind your Lordships’ House that a survey last February by the European Commission found that two in three adults in Britain could not speak a language other than English. That has severe ramifications for our place in a competitive global market. It is not just a matter of trade-offs, as the Minister described in his response in Committee; rather, this is a serious component of the future of our successful competitiveness in a global economy.

There is a serious failing in the way in which policy on the curriculum has been managed under this Government. The Government’s policy has been described by the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Steve Sinnott, as a “complete disaster”. I hasten to add that I do not believe that that is the fault of the Minister, or necessarily the way in which this present department has dealt with the issue. In fact, I sincerely believe that, were it convenient to undo the policy decision from 2003, he would do so. That would be welcomed by the professional and teaching sectors, and it would enhance our integration in a global and European economy. Indeed, that is the decision that I hope to encourage him to consider today.

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