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Lord Dearing: The Minister has threatened another letter; may I have a copy? The noble Lord is right to say that there is an issue of resource and, as the Minister said, to get that resource early to the child will make a fantastic difference. However, it is my experience that there is not enough resource around to meet the needs of these children.
One of the reasons I do not share the pessimism shown by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, in the previous debate is that I can see that the Government are doing on school funding as a whole what I would like to see them doingor suggest that they might doon SEN funding. They have taken responsibility now for the level of funding that schools will receive. So the local authorities, instead of becoming the devils who will not give the extra 1 per cent, become the angels who might give it without in any way having to change their spots.
The Government have taken the responsibility for setting the level; the LEAs' money is entirely extrathe schools do not have a right to itand is therefore positive. By setting the level centrally, by having central control and central determination of what should be donewhich may well be, say, that much more should be distributed to schoolsthe LEA no
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longer has to fight that corner and has instead total freedom to line up alongside the parents and fight their corner.
I can see that the Minister and I want to end up in the same place. I shall be fascinated to read what the noble Lord has to say about the progress he is making towards itnot least because an awful lot of these kids are ending up in prison education, which is another area of his responsibilities. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
After section 89 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) insert
"89A An Academy shall be treated for the purposes of section 89 as a maintained school in the area of the local education authority in which the Academy is situated save that the governing body of the Academy shall be in all cases the admission authority for the Academy.""
The amendments seek to address the issue of academy admissions policies. The first amendment seeks to ensure a level playing field in the way in which academies compete with other schools within the same pupil admission system. The second amendment seeks to probe the more particular concern about the impact of academies on neighbouring schools and to help ensure that they do not poach pupils.
Academies may be appropriate in certain areas but they must sit comfortably within the LEA's local plan. That is why it is quite inappropriate for the Government to have a target of 200 academies, or any other number come to that. The number of different admission authorities and the variety of admission arrangements add significantly to the level of complexity present in the school admissions system. While attempts to co-ordinate admissions arrangements may simplify the process to some extent for parents, it will not address variation in admissions policies. As the Select Committee on Education and Skills concluded last July, in the report of its inquiry into school admissions:
"The School Admissions Code of Practice is an advisory rather than a regulatory instrument and has proved insufficient for the task of ensuring widespread good practice in school admissions. Inconsistency in the definition and application of over-subscription criteria has been raised repeatedly during the course of our inquiry, as the cause of much confusion and complaint. This is a failure not of the Code itself but of the legislative framework in which it sits. Our recommendations call for a shift towards greater regulation of school admissions in the interests of fairness, consistency and clarity".
Local democratic accountability will inevitably be undermined by a large number of academies being set up, operating as independent schools, outside the aegis and control of the local authority. The impact of a substantial number of academies on school admissions
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arrangements could be quite dramatic. They are likely to undermine the LEAs' ability to plan coherent education provision.
Academies have the potential to disrupt fair and efficient admissions arrangements within authorities and in neighbouring authorities. Their establishment gives parents the perception that the academy is the best secondary school in the area, irrespective of the quality of other schools. Their designation as academies and the extra resources given to them could act as a magnet for parents who could be attracted by the sales pitch of such a designation, irrespective of the good Ofsted reports obtained by other secondary schools in the area.
Concerns have also been raised about academies targeting future pupils. In Bristol, for example, where the St George Community College is due to reopen as an academy, glossy leaflets have been distributed only in the more affluent areas. The Greig City Academy in Haringey experienced difficulties in recruiting pupils and targeted only the leafy suburbs rather than the neighbourhood area of Tottenham.
We very much approve of the idea that extra resources should be deployed in very deprived areas. There is considerable evidence, for example in the HEFCE report published last Thursday, that children in deprived areas need additional resources and help. However, we believe that that should be planned for by an accountable LEA which will take account of the wider impact and the interests of all the children in the area.
We object to the fact that academies' admissions policies are outside democratic accountability. Therefore, their overall impact cannot be planned for. We are concerned not just about the children who are receiving extra resourceswhich, I accept, they very often needbut all the children in an area. I beg to move.
Lord Filkin: As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, indicated, the intention behind the first amendment is to ensure that local schools and academies work together to achieve co-ordinated admission arrangements which are straightforward, transparent and fair for local children and parents. We agree. That is precisely why we already require academies, as part of their funding agreement which they have to sign with the Secretary of State, to have admission arrangements which are consistent with the school admissions code of practice and with admissions law more widely. The words "consistent with" are, in fact, more powerful than those which apply to maintained schools.
Academies are also required, by the Education Act 2002, to have regard to advice from the local admissions forum. For all practical purposes, this puts them in the same position as a maintained school. They are also required by their funding agreement to consult locally on their admission arrangements each year. Representations about admission arrangements can be made to the Secretary of State and changes to admission arrangements have to be agreed with the
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Secretary of State. There is therefore no need for the noble Baroness's amendment; existing mechanisms and the existing policy seek to do exactly what she proposes. That aim is already met by existing requirements that we have placed on academies.
On Amendment No. 141B, academies have been established to tackle the problem of poor schools which have failed local children over many years. To make a real difference to those children's life chances, a radically different approach is needed. Academies are replacing schools which have been failing for too long, whatever the reason.
Academies are dealing with long-term failure through innovative new approaches, and they need to be able to retain the freedoms to innovate. They are set up with the support of funding from private sponsors, but more important than their money is the vision and sense of ethos that they bring to the academy. Sponsors often have exciting and innovative ideas, which help raise the expectations and ambitions of their pupils.
Academies are revenue-funded at comparable rates to all maintained schools in their locality. Capital investment is available to all maintained schools from other school programme initiatives. Academies mainly replace schools which have received very little investment in the past. We are targeting resources at the most needy schools, pupils and communities.
It is right that academies should be funded at a level comparable with LEA schools in the same area. Part of the rationale behind the academies programme is to transfer good practice and lessons learnt on transforming poor schools to the maintained sector. It is important that those lessons learnt cannot be distorted or ignored because of arguments about differing funding levels.
The noble Baroness said on Second Reading that in setting up academies, the Government have given away 17 valuable sites. It is true that academies are usually established on sites transferred from the previous owner, usually the local authority, to the Academy Trust. But the Academy Trust is typically a charitable company, responsible for the building and running of the academy. If the academy were to close, provisions in the academy's funding agreement and in the Education Act require that ownership of the land and the buildings or the proceeds of any sale must revert to the previous owner.
Similarly, academies' building plans are based on the same cost benchmarks as all other schools whose buildings are approved by the DfES. While they receive an initial substantial capital investment, they are simply sharing in our ambitious capital plans to replace or modernise every secondary school in the next 15 years.
Being independent and state maintained gives academies the freedom to innovate in the governance, staffing, curriculum and organisation of the school, and to explore new ways of organising the school day and term length. We have spoken previously about some of these issues.
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On the suggestion that there is a target of 200, that is not a quota, it is just a statement of what we believe to be the likely numbers and the conditions that can enable an academy to be set up. I hope that that is helpful.
We do not believe that academies will disrupt local admission arrangements for the reasons I have indicated. The requirement to be consistent with the code of practice goes further than the requirement on maintained schools merely to have regard to the code. So there is a stronger lock on academies in that respect for good reasons.
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