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My assumption-and I look behind me as I say this-is that charging for uniforms and musical instrument lessons will apply in the older age group in the same way as it applies at present in the younger age group. I was not getting a lot of inspiration on this, but I have some now, so I can tell noble Lords that regulations made under subsection (5) of this clause will specify what would or would not be considered as prohibited charges. We propose that the regulations will reflect the conditions that the LSC currently applies, as set out in the LSC Funding Guidance 2008/09: Principles, Rules and Regulations. For example, paragraph 47(c)(xi) of that guidance states:
We therefore expect that to be included in the regulations and for that to remain the policy position. Subject, of course, to Royal Assent of the Bill, regulations made under this section will be subject to full consultation before coming into force. I am willing to give the noble Lord further information if he so requires, but as I have said, legislation passed recently to raise the participation age means that from 2015 young people will have to continue in education or training until their 18th birthday so, as far as practicable, they should not be charged for this education or training.
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Lord Lucas: My Lords, that is a helpful answer to my questions on subsections (1) and (5) but not to subsection (4). I do not expect the noble Baroness to respond to that now and I am content to receive a letter.
Baroness Verma: We now move on to discuss the position of academies within this legislation. As the Bill stands, Clause 75 allows the Secretary of State to require the YPLA to enter into arrangements with the Secretary of State. These arrangements may require the YPLA to carry out specified functions of the Secretary of State in relation to academies, city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts. We on these Benches believe strongly that the YPLA is not the appropriate body to take responsibility for the extremely important task of supporting the success of academies. According to the Government's own description, the YPLA is a body being set up primarily to,
That speaks volumes. From this description it appears that academies have been included under the auspices of the YPLA because the Government needed to place them somewhere. As there are around 400 academies, of course we acknowledge that we must seek the best way forward. But this is not it.
In this Bill academies have been pushed under the YPLA for no other reason than that the Government are attempting to avoid a difficult thought process. The YPLA is a body being set up to lead local authorities in their education functions in relation to those aged between 16 and 19. It therefore seems entirely inappropriate that it should also have functions relating to academies, most of which have pupils between the ages of 11 and 18; some even have primary schools attached. Surely the Minister can see that the YPLA is therefore entirely inappropriate for academies. Will she inform the Committee of any other ideas that were raised regarding the status and position of academies?
The academies have raised serious concerns on the issue of independence, and our amendments attempt to alleviate them. Amendment 162 would mean that the Secretary of State can enter into an agreement with an academy only if it has agreed. Amendment 163 would require the YPLA to support the objective of academy autonomy when exercising the specified functions on behalf of the Secretary of State. Amendment 164 would insert a right of appeal if an academy believes that the YPLA has made an unreasonable decision. Amendment 166 would provide exemptions by removing the power to specify that particular functions may include those set out in Section 482 of the Education Act 1996 dealing with the setting up and running of academies, and Section 35A relating to academies and land. Amendment 168 would remove the power of the YPLA to enter into any agreement with the Secretary of State connected with the issue of monitoring and assessing school performance. This is a job for Ofsted. If the Government feel that Ofsted is failing in its duties, any changes introduced should surely be to improve Ofsted itself.
We have encountered great concern among the academies about independence. That the Government are moving down this unnecessary path is particularly worrying given that they claim to be supportive of academies. It should be noted that there was no proposal in last year's White Paper for the YPLA to be responsible for academies. There were no discussions at that point with any major academy sponsor. Can the Minister account for this incredibly important omission?
Furthermore, Mike Butler, the chairman of the Independent Academies Association, wrote a letter to the then Schools Minister, Jim Knight, in which he set out the academies' concern that, during the past couple of years:
In this vein, the Minister has been keen to assure us that the YPLA will have no control over funding decisions, but academies are concerned that it will, albeit through indirect routes. They are worried that local authorities will be able to influence what courses schools can offer under their "planning and commissioning" hat. As schools are funded according to the courses that they offer, local authorities will have the power to influence funding in this way. A key concern, therefore, is that local authorities, which are accountable to local councillors for the success of schools, are more likely to choose their own schools rather than independent academies for specific courses.
Amendment 155B probes the status of academies with regard to sixth form provision. As I understand it, under the Bill as it stands, an academy would negotiate its initial sixth form provision as part of a funding agreement with DCSF. However, any expansion would be dealt with through the local authorities or the arbitration of the YPLA.
Academy associations and federations have expressed concern that the expansion of an academy to include a new sixth form might initially appear uneconomic compared with the economies of scale of, for example, expanding a large FE college; indeed, this is already happening. A recent example from a London borough demonstrates the point extremely well. It was hoped that an academy could be set up in the borough, but the local authority stated that opening an 11 to 18 academy to replace an 11 to 16 school did not fit with the local commissioning plan. In fact, the reason that the local authority refused permission was that it was worried that the success of the academy would undermine a post-16 college nearby, which would not be accepted locally.
What is to stop new providers being thwarted in other areas when trying to open post-16 provision by local authorities tied up in local politics? In our previous debate on Amendment 102A, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said that we should be reassured that decisions would be made that "put pupils first". However, academy federations have expressed concern that although the LSC is already subject to this rule, this has not stopped poor decisions which have prevented academies expanding.
The noble Baroness pointed out that Ministers would have to consult with local authorities, and that to date no academies without sixth forms have been opened. Considering that these changes are so new, that is not surprising, but it does not preclude it happening in the future. We do not think that all local authorities would act in this way; some might act in a more favourable manner. Nevertheless, we do not want to countenance any risk to the success of the academies programme. It therefore seems inappropriate to place academies under an unsuitable body while also risking the independence which is so integral to their success.
Academies are concerned that YPLA oversight could lead to increased local authority influence and so align them with the YPLA's broader plan. They are worried that the YPLA might not take into account the wider benefits of school reform which would bolster the success of academies and help to reverse the endemic underachievement in areas that are most in need of achievement. This ties in with the fact that it remains unclear in the Bill which functions may be transferred. The Minister will understand that this uncertainty and lack of clarity is a major concern for academy federations. They fear that these clauses open up the possibility of losing contact with DCSF advisers who-I am sure the Minister will agree-have been crucial to the success of academy schools. Will the Minister offer any reassurances?
I do not wish to delay the Committee unduly on this matter. Our Amendment 169ZB, however, is designed to show that more should be done to clear away
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These success stories are the reason why we think that it is even more important to preserve the independence of the academy institutions. We would push it further and encourage the setting up of new academies as free, non-selective schools that would be set up by, for example, existing educational providers, charities, trusts, voluntary groups, philanthropists, and co-operatives on behalf of parents and pupils. All of them would be independent of local authorities. That would help ensure that standards rise across the country. Parents would have much more choice about the school that their children attended. Does the Minister have sympathy with this notion? If so, can she reconcile it with the seeming desire to place academies further under local authority control?
In conclusion, we are worried that academies will find their innovation, success and freedom obstructed by the Bill. We wholeheartedly support the academies movement but find it difficult to support a measure with which they have so many problems. I beg to move.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, it has been extremely helpful to hear what a Conservative Government would do with the academies should they be given the confidence of the electorate at some time in the future. But I turn to what the Government have done to them. It occurs to me that they have created a monster. It might be a benign monster in many ways, but it is a monster. They started with a few academies, which became tens of academies and then hundreds of academies. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. It is clear that Part 3, Chapter 4 is designed to do something about the quandary in which the Government find themselves. You cannot run 400 schools from the department. It seems to us, as it does to the Official Opposition, that it has been very much an afterthought to put the academies into YPLA's portfolio of responsibilities, and that it is not necessarily the best place for them.
Many academies do a very good job for children, but that is hardly surprising, because most of them are shiny, wonderful and beautifully resourced new schools. They attract the best teachers and parents who take a lot of interest in their child's education and who would choose to send their child to these schools. Those circumstances in any school would lead to considerable success. We congratulate the schools and the children on that success, but our vision is of an education system that is a service to the whole community-not only to the children who are at the school at the moment, and the parents of those children, but to the children who will come down the track seven years
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We would like local authorities to be able to bring academies more closely into the local family of schools, with more co-operation between them. Although I am happy with the idea that the noble Baroness has just outlined in Amendment 169ZB-that there should be a review of academies legislation 12 months after the commencement of the Act-I would like that review to include the effects of an academy on other schools in the neighbourhood and to talk to local authorities about whether they wanted academies in the first place. As we all know, the only game in town these days if you want a new school is to have an academy, or you simply will not get the funding.
As for our Amendments 165 and 167, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, expressed concerns about the YPLA's ability to control the funding of academies. This matter was discussed at length in the Public Bill Committee in the other place. The Minister, Jim Knight, stated:
"My understanding is that the only academy funding agreement that can be undertaken is the one between the Secretary of State and the academy sponsor. It is therefore not possible for the YPLA to enter into such an agreement".-[Official Report, Commons, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill Committee, 19/3/09; col. 448.]
However, the NUT, which has briefed us about these two amendments, has had its legal eagles look at the Bill. They feel that a coach and horses could be driven through Clause 75 on this matter and that an ambitious YPLA could enter into such an agreement under the Bill. All we are asking in Amendments 165 and 167 is for the Government to close that loophole and to make it absolutely clear that the Secretary of State has the contractual responsibility and that the YPLA cannot do it. These are technical amendments-they are not principled amendments, particularly-on a matter that needs to be put right.
As to the amendments moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, we feel that the arbitration referred to in Amendment 155B may be quite useful if there is a local disagreement on sixth-form provision. We feel that, if Amendment 162 were put in, there would be no need for the YPLA to have the responsibility, so we do not see the need for it. On Amendment 164, we believe that a right of appeal is reasonable, should the academies feel that the YPLA has made a decision
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The Minister has an amendment in this group, Amendment 169. We were pleased to see that and we welcome it. It relates to not including functions of making, confirming or improving subordinate legislation. We feel that these matters are so important in the picture of secondary legislation in this country at the moment that such things should certainly come back to Parliament; the YPLA should not be able to do them. I have already mentioned Amendment 169ZB regarding the annual review, in which we would want to include the effects on the wider school family, not just the academies, albeit that many of them do a very good job.
A Liberal Democrat Government would not get rid of academies; I should like to make that clear-not that we are necessarily expecting it to happen. As I said, we have a public service here for the whole community and it is vital that the democratic representatives of that community should have an appropriate say in the range of schooling that is offered to children and that no children are disadvantaged by the presence in their midst of these schools, which are quasi-independent but funded by the state. Many of them are very good, although some of their selection processes have, shall we say, given rise to questions in the past.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, when we are concentrating in these amendments on the technical arrangements-indeed, this part of the Bill gets into technicalities-it is worth reflecting on why it is important that academies have autonomy. We are making an assumption that it is a good thing that they are independent and autonomous and perhaps we should remind ourselves why that is so important.
We have at the moment probably the greatest disparity in our nation's history between the performance of children in the poorest schools and those in the best schools. It is appalling that we still have a considerable number of schools where very few children-fewer than 20 per cent-attain the necessary five good GCSEs whereas others are regularly attaining 92 per cent, 95 per cent or 98 per cent.
For many decades now-in fact, for over a century-the local authorities have been in charge of local authority schools in the most deprived areas and we have not seen any improvement. I remember vividly, in my days long ago as a chief inspector, that when we were asked by the then Secretary of State to prepare a map of the most deprived areas of cities, and after we had worked away for many months doing so with the advice of all our troops out in the field, one of the clerks responsible for mapping pointed out that the maps exactly overlaid those of the 1930s. Schools in exactly the same areas had been designated as areas of extreme disadvantage educationally 40 years later.
Something drastic is needed, rather than just encouraging local authorities to make every school a good one. I am tired of hearing that; I have heard it for
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However, the academy programme has begun to do that. I declare an interest as a trustee of Bacon's, which is a Church of England academy that has over recent years made astonishing changes to the lives of hundreds of children. The Harris academies in south London have so far turned around the lives of more than 18,000 young people. That is why it is desperately important that academies are allowed to experiment and innovate. They should be allowed to bring in different hours of schooling, as many of them have done, and different contracts for teachers, requiring them to do more in different things, as well as bringing in different areas of the curriculum which may not be in the national curriculum. All those freedoms, quite apart from their shiny new buildings, have enabled the academies to turn around the lives of many thousands of children. Of course, we support the programme and want to see it vastly expanded, with far more than 400 academies, but we also want to see the absolute autonomy of those schools to perform differently from local authority schools and to tackle a problem that has remained for over a century.
Lord Elton: Just to put shiny new schools in perspective, it is important to remember that what actually delivers a first-class education is a first-class teacher, not a first-class building. My noble friend's first amendment deals with sixth forms. The presence or absence of a sixth form in a school affects not only the attitudes of children at the school but the calibre of staff that are attracted to it. Therefore, the award of a sixth form is an integral and important part of setting up an academy. My noble friend thereby addresses a very important point. A local authority, faced with a choice between an academy and preserving a successful sixth form, could condemn the academy and its much wider effect to failure-or it might not come into existence, simply because it was denied a sixth form. Some form of arbitration independent of the local authority is absolutely essential.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am delighted to respond to an extremely important debate. With the Committee's forgiveness, I will take time to go through the points that have been raised. In some ways, I am speaking to the Committee, but I also speak to those outside the House who have made a great contribution to the education of children and young people in this country through their involvement in the academies movement.
I strongly believe that this Government have made a hugely significant impact on school improvement in this country. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we have transformed the performance of our schools. Back in 1997-although I do not have the exact numbers in front of me-the number of schools that failed to achieve more than 30 per cent of pupils with five good GCSEs was measured in thousands, whereas now the number of schools qualifying for
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