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Lord Young of Norwood Green: Amendments 28 to 31, 35, 92, 93, 97, 98, 135 and 136 make minor changes to resolve an ambiguity in the drafting of Clause 86 that was identified thanks to the diligence of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. We are making analogous changes to Clause 41. Amendments 40 and 68 make minor and technical changes to the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister and his team for clarifying the ambiguities present in Clause 86. The many technical and drafting amendments being made at this late stage pay tribute to the dedication of the teams that have redrafted them, and also to the thorough and effective scrutiny that this House has brought to bear on the legislation.
Lord Rix: My Lords, in speaking to Amendments 33, 73, 95, 96, 102 and 128, which are in this group, I take the opportunity to thank the Government for their decision to remove references to "disproportionate expenditure" and the unintended consequences that this may have had for learners with a learning disability. Many local authorities may have been tempted to use disproportionate expenditure as a get-out clause to avoid provision for such learners.
Noble Lords will be aware that in Committee an amendment was tabled in my name raising my concerns about this issue and I welcome most warmly the Government's response and amendments. I also welcome any further reassurances that the Minister may be able to give to ensure that appropriate levels of expenditure are both permissible and proportionate when local authorities are funding apprenticeships for people with a learning disability.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, we, too, are pleased with these technical amendments which iron out one or two discrepancies in the Bill, and we are particularly pleased that they have removed the subsections relating to disproportionate expenditure. We shared all the feelings expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The wording was misleading and could lead some local authorities not to spend what they ought to be spending on those with special educational needs. We are delighted to see the eradication of that wording from all parts of the Bill, and we are grateful to Ministers for ensuring that that will happen.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I echo what everyone has said. This is clearly a very acceptable amendment, which was before us previously and which has been redrafted. I stress that the amount of money that may need to be spent on those with special educational needs can be well and truly justified when we look at some of the ways that young people with these sorts of needs can turn out, costing the state a great deal more. If one were doing it purely on the basis of the bottom line, it is money very well spent.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank Ministers for all the work that they have done in changing the Bill. Will they please go back to their various departments and ensure that the wording that stirs up this sort of hornets' nest unnecessarily never appears again? As those of us who have been involved in these processes over many years know, that is not the intention of many Governments in their legislation on education. They should take the civil servants responsible into a cold room and water-board them or whatever, to ensure that it never happens again.
We should not have had to go over this again, ensuring that such wording is removed. I hope that everyone will pay attention to this type of get-out clause, which has been used in the past and will be used again. People will try to duck their duty if something does not fit into their spending plans, is unexpected and is not accounted for, or is not understood. That has happened in the past and will happen again. We must make sure that there is less wriggle-room for people to try to get out of a duty that has been accepted by Parliament and everyone involved. If we draft this provision again and it is debated on a day when we are not quick enough to spot it, it will lead to no end of trouble and ultimately a great deal of litigation.
Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I apologise for creating confusion at the start of this debate. Amendments 33, 73, 95, 96, 102 and 128 address concerns raised in Committee about references to "disproportionate expenditure" in Clauses 41, 61, 86, 87 and 91, and the possible unintended consequences for learners with disabilities. I emphasise that these amendments do not mean that we are in any way relaxing our drive to ensure that the bodies concerned deliver value for money. That will be achieved through other means.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, asked for assurances on adequate funding for apprentices with disabilities. I can reassure him that the chief executive of skills
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34: Clause 41, page 24, line 44, leave out from "section" to end of line 45 and insert "(Meaning of "completing an English apprenticeship" )(5) of that Act (meaning of "completing an English apprenticeship");"
(a) persons in a local authority's area who are over compulsory school age but under 19, and
(b) persons in a local authority's area who are aged 19 or over but under 25 and are subject to learning difficulty assessment,
(a) an existing academy without a sixth form which intends to establish a sixth form; or
(b) a new academy with a sixth form."
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I put forward the case once again that academies should not be placed under the aegis of the YPLA, which is a body entirely unsuited to housing them. We have been through these points before so I shall not dwell on them unnecessarily. We feel, however, that it is most important that the Government take these points on board and, we hope, find sympathy with our view. I should state now that the amendments tabled by the Government do not meet our concerns.
Clause 77 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
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We accept that perhaps it is time to give some thought to the future of the academy movement. The success of these schools means that it has become rather cumbersome to keep them housed in the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Nevertheless we feel that due thought and care should be taken on where to move them. We should not just give into a knee-jerk impulse which may not be the most appropriate solution. Instead, much care and consideration must be given to the most appropriate solution and I do not believe that that has been found yet. A body that ties academies into local authorities and which deals specifically with education for people between 16 and 19 is not appropriate. First, academies thrive on their independence and freedom from local authorities. Secondly, the age range of academies is most commonly 11 to 18, and some even have primary schools attached.
We contend that there has been a lack of thought. That is underlined when one considers that there was no discussion with academy sponsors when the Government's White Paper was published last year. Now I am informed by academy groups that they are being called in and asked for their views. That is to be applauded but it is rather too little too late. We are told that discussions are based around decisions that have already been taken and that only the details are up for consideration. The Minister has expressed concern that the DCSF is no longer the right place for academies. If the main worry is really about the best positioning for an academy, from its perspective, then one must ask why these groups were not consulted earlier. From these discussions, we have also been informed that the Government have found groups of academies that actively favour the proposals. I wonder whether the Minister could cite those bodies, as we have heard nothing of that kind and I would be interested to hear details of those discussions.
The Minister has attempted to reassure us here with government amendments, and I do not expect that she tabled those with much hope of our agreement. I am afraid that I will not disappoint her in that respect. Government Amendment 70 has been tabled to ensure that the Secretary of State, when appointing members to the board of the YPLA, must have regard to the fact that they should have,
I wonder whether the Minister thought that was an appropriate restriction to place on the Secretary of State when considering candidates for the membership of the YPLA. Surely, it is of the utmost importance that, when appointing members of the YPLA, the Secretary of State should have regard to the people who would be best or most appropriate for the job. After all, a person may have had experience but not be the best candidate for the position. Perhaps this deserves some more thought.
The second government amendment here would restrict the functions that the YPLA can exercise with regard to academies. The amendment would ensure that, in the Bill, the "academy functions" that can be delegated to the YPLA do not include being able to sign funding arrangements or being able to create or confirm subordinate legislation. It also puts in place a procedure by which academies can complain to the Secretary of State. We appreciate the effort that the Government have put into their attempts to reassure us. Nevertheless, I feel that we remain unsatisfied. The government amendment introduces a channel of complaint to the Secretary of State. Academy groups are, however, afraid that this will not bring much comfort. If a group of local authorities wishes to determine the post-16 provision available, what effect will a plea from one academy have when it is weighed up against the might of an entire local authority?
Secondly, the Government are offering to place in the Bill a commitment that the process regarding funding commitments will not be changed, but that is not what the academy movement is worried about. Academies that are placed, even in some respect, under the YPLA will be tied to the new 14 to 19 partnerships, which are being awarded the power of commissioning to determine what places are offered and by how many places academies can expand. We are told that this changes nothing, but it does change something. Academies that have been open since September are, it is true, already tied into those partnerships, but at the moment they are few.
As we move forward, and more and more are brought into this discussion group, it is true that the 14 to 19 partnerships will become important. However, when this Bill becomes an Act the partnerships will have increasing power and influence over commissioning and provision. We are-are we not?-informed that the YPLA has the responsibility for supporting local authorities which plan, commission and fund provision for young people in this area. We will therefore expect there to be further issues when that legislation is passed and the plans become solidified. The fear, however, has developed partly as a response to issues that have already occurred and problems that have already been seen.
That is why we have chosen to table Amendment 36, which is specific to sixth-form provision. It serves, however, to demonstrate some of the difficulties that may face independent academies in the face of local authority decisions. There are records of academy groups applying to turn high schools into academies, but permission being refused on the grounds that they did not fit with the local commissioning plan for the area. Some time later, however, and the expansion from an 11 to 16 school to an 11 to 18 academy has been very successful and has produced a thriving school, with a much greater post-16 retention rate. The fear is that the YPLA will have undue influence over academies, and so tie them into local authorities and local politics. They will then be able to excuse this control as operating within their commissioning plan and as the most rational solution.
The fact is that academies are brought into areas that local authorities may already have been failing,
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Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome Amendment 70. We think it a very good thing that the YPLA board will be able to call upon the right spread of expertise, covering all of the areas that the YPLA will have to deal with including, of course, academies. We also thank the Government for Amendment 83, which I believe came as a result of our probing amendment in Committee. It is now quite clear that the YPLA will not be able to enter into funding agreements, or to propose or confirm subordinate legislation. We also welcome the complaints procedure for academies against possible mismanagement by the YPLA.
On academies, I am afraid that we have a diametrically opposed opinion to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. We have a completely different vision of academies. The noble Baroness seems to believe that their success-which has in many cases been very considerable when dealing with children from the greatest deprivation-comes solely from the fact that they are free from local authorities. However, I believe that it might just have something to do with their ability to attract the best leaders and teachers, having shiny new schools with extremely good facilities, having freedom to innovate and, of course, having parents who take a great interest in the children's education because they have chosen to send them there.
Our view of academies is quite different; in the Liberal Democrat world, we would even call them something different. We would call them sponsor-managed schools, and we would have local authorities having strategic oversight over them. They would be able to commission appropriate sponsors with the right expertise to set up and manage academies, but they would be able to ditch them after 10 years-or whatever time limit we would put on them-if they were not delivering the goods. We would make sure that there was no unfair selection, that all schools had the freedom to innovate and that they would be funded fairly and consistently. We would also insist on community use of the facilities, although I am not suggesting that academies do not make their facilities available to the local community, when they often do.
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