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Lord Filkin: My Lords, these are important issues, which were touched on earlier in our proceedings. I am glad to have the opportunity to set out the Government's position. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, will not be surprised to hear, we would not in principle or practice want to adjust policy in a way that would lead to the very
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tight convergence of practice and procedure between academies and maintained schools which is behind some of the amendments, because that would defeat the importance of the academies, as we see it.
Let me set out why the freedom to innovate is fundamental. As the House knows, academies are not just any old schools, but schools that have been set up at the request and initiative of local authorities to deal with some of the most seriously failing schools in our society. The provisions set out to deal not with schools in easy, leafy parts of the world where things are going well, but with schools in areas where the education provision has been appallingly low, often for very many years. They are schools which, virtually without exception, take a higher proportion of children in very high need than anywhere else in the country. They also, usually, take a much higher proportion in need in their own local authority area. So they are schools in which there are very high concentrations of children with needas instanced by the number of free school mealsand a history of significant failure to deliver good standard education and to achieve good outcomes for those children.
The central argument is, as the House knows, that if you keep on doing the same old things you are likely to get the same old results. Therefore, the central argument behind academies is that because, in certain areas, certain schools have not been able to deliver good education for children for many years, we have to try something more radical and more fundamental. That is the central argument behind academies and the central argument behind giving them the freedom to innovate and the space and time to do so. That has been the key to the success of the academies, as it has been for city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts.
The provisions give schools the freedom to innovate in matters of governance, staffing, a flexible curriculum or organisation, including new ways of organising the school day, term length, pay and conditions of service and how the workforce works. The central argument is that, as well as bringing in new leadership and ideas, we should give schools the freedom to innovate, to get better outcomes for those children, for a fundamentally important purpose. The amendments, if taken literally, would have the effect of eroding those freedoms and we would eventually be on a course that turned the academies back into standard maintained schools. What can give any of us the confidence that that would deliver improved outcomes for those children?
I do not ask the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, to take on trust that every academy will succeed in every respect in the next few years. But the central argument is that you have to create a significant set of new environments in the really serious situations when schools have failed, and you have to give them the support to do so and the space and time to innovate. I get the impression from what has been said that the noble Baroness believes that unless they have transformed the world within a couple of years we
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should shut them down and go back to the old model, which we know has failed for so many years. That is not sensible. We have to support academies and evaluate them properly and seriously over a decent period of time to see if they do, as we very much hopeand the early shoots are promisingmake a significant improvement in some of the most difficult circumstances in our society. So we do not want to take away the scope to innovate, while we do want them to have the opportunity to make a real difference to children's life chances.
The evaluation of the academies programme is a five-year longitudinal study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, as the noble Baroness said. A final report will be in the public domain in 2007but you do not start pulling the programme apart after a year or two, particularly if you start from the viewpoint of wishing that the programme had never been started in the first place. We have to evaluate properly, but we also have to have a proper period of time in which to test how a really important experiment has been working.
We believe that admission arrangements need to be able to respond to local circumstances, but they have to do so with regard to the school admissions code of practice. A clear code of practice applies to all admissions authorities, as the House knows. We believe that the existing mechanisms are sufficiently robust: admissions authorities must consult their local authority and other schools; those consulted have the power to object to the arrangements to the school adjudicator, and the adjudicator is then able to consider the individual circumstances of the school and reach a decision.
The academies are required by their funding agreement to comply with admissions law; therefore, although it is not exactly the same mechanism as the noble Baroness proposes in the amendment, the effect is exactly the same. We use the funding agreement to lock schools into compliance with admissions law. We want no favours to academies with regard to who they take in; there is no point in having an experiment if you have favouritism. We want them to have the same responsibility to take on the full range of children's needs as any other school.
The Secretary of State is responsible for agreeing the admissions arrangements, and I can assure the House that the code of practice is rigorously applied by the Secretary of State. We have previously discussed funding issues, and I sought to make it clear to the House that no preference is given to academies on funding. Again, there would be no pointif you simply make the playing field so that they succeed, you prove nothing. You have to see whether, by giving different leadership and creating a different environment with some deregulation, schools can get better results.
A noble Lord asked what would happen if the academies failed within the seven-year period. That period is there for a good reason, because you do not expect to transform a seriously failing situation in difficult circumstances in two or three years; at least, that has never been my experience of turning round organisationsit is not usually that quick. But there
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are reserve powers and provisions in the funding agreement to terminate the agreement before seven years in certain situations. There are powers in case very serious things happen, so there is not a permanent knock-on. PricewaterhouseCoopers' evaluation will help to ensure that academies continue to provide a radical option and help us all to consider the evidence and debate it in years to come, so that there is some objective analysis of what has been done.
I hope that what I have said has been helpful. I may not have persuaded the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that what is happening is what she would have wished to happen. The fundamental issue is that academies are dealing with children who have failed for years in some of the most difficult situations. We have to try something new; this set of proposals makes an enormous amount of sense and has a lot of parental and private sector support. We are very optimistic that, with leadership and the children's commitment, we shall be able to get better results in future. I hope that that is helpful, if not totally persuasive.
Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, would he be so good as to bear in mind that the drafting of this amendment really does create confusion? I confess that I was the chairman of the only official committee since 1870 to advise Parliament on the way that statutes should be drafted. One of the matters that concerned us very much was the bringing together of too much in one amendment or one clause. It seems to me that this is a typical example of the way in which we should avoid drafting. At least two separate clauses should have been put forward in respect of it.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I have not as yet succeeded in my endeavour to persuade the opposition parties to clear their amendments with me before tabling them.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I plead guilty to that one. We were trying to make a point in the amendment, and the Minister has clearly understood that point. I should also make clear that from these Benches on the substantive issue we welcome the fact that academies are bringing substantial new resources to inner-city schools. We recognise that in this policy the Government are attempting to cope with schools that have been long-term failures, many of which have over the course of many, many years been deprived of resources to cope with the needs that they must face.
We on these Benches have argued for many a long year too that the only way to cope with these issues was positive discriminationto pour in money, resources and people; to get the best teachers and the best leaders into these schools to try to turn them around and to provide a proper education for those young people, many of whom have long been deprived of a proper education as compared to their middle-class counterparts. We are delighted to see some attempt to reverse that.
Where we depart from the Government is in thinking that it is necessary to create them as independent foundations. An independent foundation can be bought for £2 million. Shall we spend £2 million on
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supporting this charity, or shall we buy an inner-city school? We believe that if sufficient resources were devoted to it this turning around of those inner-city schools could be done by local education authorities. It would be preferable for it to be done by the local education authority, because it looks to the community interest, not to the individual interest of the school. That goes back to the fundamental problems that we have with No. 10's policy here of setting secondary schools in competition with other secondary schools.
We are, above all, anxious to see schools co-operating with each other to provide education for their local community. We feel that has to be done as a community activity. I have argued that before, and I know that essentially there is now an ideological divide between these Benches and the Benches opposite on this; whereas for many a long year we fought battles together. I go back to the 1970s and the 1980s, when I was a fundamental member of the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education. We fought for comprehensive schools that were properly comprehensive. It is sad to see the party opposite now deserting this bandwagon and going down the route of creating schools that we feel are in danger of becoming elitist. Again, we shall see, because as they say there is an evaluation on these schools.
To take another paragraph from the PricewaterhouseCoopers report:
"There are significant concerns in the research literature about the extent to which 'quasi-markets' can contribute to the development of a two-tier system which results in an increase in stratification of students by social class. For example, some studies have suggested that middle class families tend to be more proactive in seeking what they consider to be the best school for their children, and they can use their 'cultural capital' to secure school places. Such concerns have already been expressed in relation to Academies, and addressing this issue is an important priority for the evaluation".
We are extremely pleased that in terms of admissions the city academies are included within the admissions framework of the local authority. This is clearly a vitally important issue. We were suggesting in our amendment that rather than just "having regard to", it should be the stronger "act in accordance with" the code of conduct, which would strengthen this power. Nevertheless, in a world in which parents are free to choose across the whole of London, or the whole of any community, whatever school they wish to send their children to, it is not impossible that we shall see a stratification arising within the academies. We shall have to look to the longer term on this one to see precisely what happens. There is an ideological divide between these Benches and the Benches opposite. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 72 [Functions of Agency]:
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