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With regard to admissions, I note that the Bill provides for current admissions policies to transfer, including for selective grammar schools. The original purpose of academies was for them to be schools for the local neighbourhood and for admissions policies to reflect that. The new wave will include schools drawing in Christian applicants to the possible exclusion of local people. We would encourage the Government to look again at how admissions to academies-not least among them, Church of England academies-can be essentially inclusive rather than otherwise. Again, we hold ourselves in readiness to assist in helping inclusion to be part of the DNA of academies of all kinds.
As for partnerships, we are concerned about how benefits consequent on partnerships between schools and the local authority and, in relation to church schools, the diocesan boards of education can be provided within the new arrangements. That will especially apply to strategic planning for the provision of good quality, well resourced and well funded schools in a particular locality. That is especially important as there is no provision in the Bill for consultation with parents or local communities when academy status is pursued on the fast track.
On the other hand, we warmly welcome the Government's commitment to encouraging partnerships between high-performing academies and weaker schools. In fact, we would wish that to be a requirement, rather than a mere expectation. I may well press that point in Committee.
How many academies will be created as a result of the Bill, on what timescale, and in which locations remains to be seen. Where this will leave local authorities, schools still in contact with local authorities and schools with very denominationally specific admissions policies remains to be seen. What all these structural changes will actually do to enhance teacher morale and performance and promote effective leadership and governance remains to be seen. Whether these new freedoms deliver fairness and appropriate democratic local accountability remains to be seen, and we look forward to reassurances on those points from the Minister when he sums up the debate.
Finally, the priority given by this new Government to education in our schools is to be welcomed and applauded so long as being seen to do something quickly is not at the expense of being sure of doing it well.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I must declare two interests: I am the chairman of the Edge Foundation, the largest charity in our country promoting technical, practical and vocational education, and I am chairman of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which was established to promote and develop the new technical academies, university technical colleges. I draw no remuneration from either charity.
It comes as no surprise that I am in favour of the Bill and of extending academies, in that they are the heirs of the city technology colleges that I established
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At the time, the Labour Party was totally opposed to city technology colleges. They were the cuckoos in the nest and were to be destroyed at the first opportunity. Fortunately, David Blunkett and Tony Blair came to like them-they believed they invented them and I do not complain about that-and developed and expanded them substantially and improved the standard of education in our country enormously.
The big argument is whether city technology colleges hit other schools, as the Minister said. They did not. They became beacon schools that other schools aspired to copy. That was the pattern right across the country, so I believe that the fears that the shadow Minister expressed are groundless. She expressed the view that in future academies may not want to do failing schools. On the contrary, I think there is a big opportunity. For example, the Edge Foundation has sponsored three academies with amounts totalling nearly £5 million. The first was a school in Milton Keynes that was failing appallingly. Only 19 per cent of pupils got five subjects at GCSE and 80 per cent of the children had a reading age that was two years lower than their chronological age. The gifted head teacher, Lorna Caldicott, has already started the teaching of basic reading using phonics, and a catch-up is happening in that school. It has been going on for nearly four terms and has been remarkably successful. That school also provides real vocational courses for youngsters that are very popular.
This school and the other academies have increased teaching hours. The Minister will discover, if he has not discovered it already, that teachers cannot work more than 1,265 hours a year. That is imprinted on my soul because I agreed it with the unions in 1986 to settle the strike. It has not changed; it has survived, remarkably. That means that most teachers teach only 25 hours a week. This school has won an extra hour a day, which means 30 hours' teaching a week, principally by abolishing many of the meetings that teachers went to and other tasks that they were doing. The advantage
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The second academy was in Nottingham in a very depressed area. Again, it has a gifted head, Graham Roberts. Again, only 14 per cent of the school gained GCSEs at 16. It has established very strong business links already. There are various things that these schools can do. This school got all the students to design their own uniform, so uniforms are accepted. They wear uniforms up to 16, and from 16 on they dress smartly, as for the office.
The third academy was in Telford in a very depressed area indeed. Edge put in £500,000 for a skills centre in a separate building in the school. This now has catering equipment, and youngsters of 12 and 13 make their own buffet lunches, help with the canapés and begin to acquire skills. These are the sorts of things that academies can do for failing schools and will continue to do.
What is left for the LEA to do, as my noble friend Lord Low asked? I will be even more ambitious than him about special education, because I think that it is the one role that should be left quite specifically to LEAs. I hope that the Government will look at this very seriously. The first thing that they have said is that they will look at the definition of special education. I find it very difficult to believe that 20 per cent of students and pupils at schools are classified as having special educational needs. I say that from my personal experience, because during the war I went to a Church of England primary school in Lancashire. In those days, I am absolutely certain that one in five of my classmates did not have special educational needs. I do not know whether this was the luck of Lancashire, but it was certainly not the case that one in five had special educational needs. Looking at the definition of special education is therefore the first thing to do.
Having made local authorities responsible for special education, I must say to my noble friend Lord Low that I would encourage them to establish more special schools. He will know that I have for several years been president of a charity that maintains one of the leading blind schools in the country, and I am greatly in favour of more special schools. The policy of inclusion has not worked well. The author of the policy-Lady Plowden-used to be in the Chamber. She is on record as having said that her recommendation was the biggest mistake of her life. It has been a mistake, and special education will be a very real role for local authorities in the years to come.
Finally, I will plug the schools that Ron Dearing and I worked to establish before he unfortunately died: technical academies for 14 to 19 year-olds, not for 11 to 18 year-olds. We believed that 14 is a more natural age at which to transfer. They are really a revival of the old technical schools that went down with comprehensives, but differ in two very important respects. First, they are for 14 to 18 year-olds, because 14 is a better age at which students themselves can select which school they want to go to. Secondly, they are adopted and sponsored by a university. That increases their status in the eyes of the students, of their parents and of business.
We have three such academies on their way. The first is Aston, which will open in two years' time. The University of Aston wants to tutor and mentor pupils at 14, 15 and 16, and I think it is the first time that a university has ever done this. Twenty are waiting. I will not ask my noble friend for a commitment on these today because he will have to speak to the Secretary of State and his department, but I hope that we will have a network of these colleges across the country in the next few years. They will be of real interest to youngsters, many of whom are pretty disengaged at their local comprehensive schools at 13 and 14 and do not want to continue their studies but want to do something more practical.
In these schools, they will start at 8.30 in the morning with a trowel, hammer, welding machine or spanner in their hands, and in the afternoon they will do English, maths, science and IT under the same roof. I do not suggest that all new academies should be technical academies, but I would like a good share of them to be because they are already proving to be very popular. I therefore warmly support this Bill and the opportunities that it will give to make substantial improvements to the education system of our country.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, this Second Reading is in some ways a continuation of last week's debate on education in the gracious Speech, when some noble Lords expressed concerns about the proposals for academies. My noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley and I reflected on what makes a good school. We spoke of dynamic leadership, a positive ethos and good classroom practice. I remain convinced that, given sufficient resources and support, local community schools can provide those qualities. As we know, many do.
Earlier this year, a MORI poll showed that 96 per cent of the public want a good local school under the local authority. What is the sense of spending millions of pounds when a satisfactory structure for schools exists and standards have risen and are rising? Of course there are problems, but I am not convinced that academies will necessarily address all of these. As the noble Lord, Lord Low, kindly reminded me, yes, I am suspicious.
Some Liberal Democrats have been critical of academies. I am not making party-political points: I realise that they have had to make compromises. However, I hope that one of those compromises will not entail potential damage to the education system. I am simply saying that there are concerns and I hope that the Government will heed those concerns. I hope that there will not be a headlong rush to bring in academies. I am with the right reverend Prelate in maintaining that speed of implementation can be a serious enemy of due process, which involves careful debate and consultation-about which more shortly.
This Bill needs a great deal of clarification and amendment. I know that this House, with its usual incisiveness and concern for children, will begin the process of improvement. I will comment briefly on some aspects of the Bill that trouble me and later I will work with others to formulate amendments in those areas of concern.
On structures, there is currently a framework that ensures that all those with a stake in a school are represented on the governing body. I am a school governor. It is unclear whether such arrangements will be compulsory for academy schools. The British Humanist Association, of which I am a member, states that one-third of academies have religious sponsors. The Academies Bill forces a state-maintained school with a religious character, a faith school, automatically to become an independent school with that religious character-again, more on this shortly.
All land and facilities transfer to the private ownership of an academy. There is concern that this may remove facilities, such as school playing fields, from availability for use by local communities outside school hours. I seek assurances that academies will still have some duties to co-operate with the community in their local area.
A number of existing requirements apply to maintained schools to benefit children with special educational needs, as eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Low. Some of these do not apply to academies. Exclusions of children with special educational needs are disproportionately higher in academies. The fact that academies have not made significant progress in reducing such exclusions suggests that more needs to be done for these children.
No formal consultation through a Green Paper or White Paper or other mechanism for consultation is apparent. Clause 3 enables any governing body to apply to become an academy under an academy order without any consultation with the local authority, teachers, parents, children or the wider community. The lack of consultation with parents of young children in particular has the potential to impact on education and well-being. Parental involvement in schools, particularly in relation to children at an early age, is crucial.
The Children's Rights Alliance points out that Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child gives children the right to express views on all matters affecting them and to have these views given due weight. Failing to consult students on matters that may substantially alter the character and curriculum of their school is a significant backward step with regard to implementing Article 12.
On funding, around one-third of all state-funded schools are faith schools, with the majority being primary schools. For the first time, this Bill will permit those primary schools that are high performing to become state-funded religious academies. The BHA is concerned that, once a faith school has become such an academy, it will not need to follow the national curriculum. Does this mean that a Catholic academy would be allowed not to teach sexual reproduction in biology or wider sex education? There is the potential for religious authorities to use restrictive teaching in line with their religious ethos. The BHA wants protections to prevent academies from teaching creationism, giving unbalanced religious education and having narrow and subjective teaching across their curriculums.
The same concerns apply to whether this Bill will have an impact on the employment of hundreds of teachers, teaching assistants and non-teaching staff
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Primary and special schools are very dependent on local authorities for a whole range of core services to ensure that they can meet the individual needs of their pupils. They are worried that the removal of the link to local authorities and shared budgets will have an impact on the availability of specialist support for children. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Low, covered this most eloquently. Local families of schools will be broken up. How will this issue be addressed? By getting direct funding from Whitehall, academies will benefit from a 10 to 15 per cent increase in funding. Will this result in corresponding cuts to the local authority funding that provides specialist services and jobs?
The issue of charitable status raises many concerns. All academies automatically become charities. However, I understand that they will be exempt from Charity Commission regulations, thus making them less accountable. In January this year, when the previous Government tried to introduce this exempt status, the Charity Commission said that it was a retrograde step.
On standards, the NUT states that there is no independent evidence to show that academies deliver significantly improved results. PricewaterhouseCoopers' fifth annual report on the academies programme, published in 2008, stated that a judgment on academies as a mode for improvement was not yet possible. A 2010 report highlights that academies are allowed to opt out of publishing data on how students are performing in specific subjects, so it is impossible for anyone to assess how their improvement is reached. The Association of Colleges points out that academies do not necessarily offer an affordable or wide range of quality provision at level 3, the A-level equivalent. The data show that in 2008 some academies-there were 42 of them-did not have all subjects available, including geography. The point scores for academies are not high when compared with sixth-form and FE colleges. The average point score in 2009 for level 3 was 800 for sixth-form colleges, 683 for FE colleges and 678 for academies.
Academies and free schools are based on a system used in Sweden. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study reported on trends in average scores from 1995 to 2007. Scores in Sweden were lower. We need to ensure that excellent schools work with underperforming schools to raise standards. In my view, there is no need for a completely new system.
The Bill states that all new academies will follow an inclusive admissions policy. Does this mean that all academies will be required to have regard to the school admissions code of practice and the SEN code of practice? The National Children's Bureau seeks clarification in relation to academies' admissions policies for vulnerable groups of children, including those in care and those with special educational needs.
I have many questions on inspections. Michael Gove has stated that schools rated as outstanding by Ofsted would be exempt from further inspections. He has also
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We shall explore many of these issues at a later date. In the mean time, I hope that the Government will think seriously about whether this Bill is financially and, above all, educationally entirely appropriate.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to his new post and look forward to working with him on this and other legislation. Your Lordships' House has a duty to scrutinise legislation and on these Benches we shall continue to carry out that scrutiny while conscious of the different responsibilities that come with being partners in the coalition Government.
After the monumental Bills in the previous Session, it is something of a comfort to have only 16 clauses to consider, although that may be a false comfort, as there are many broad areas in the Bill where the devil will be in the detail. It is to be hoped that these will be clarified during debate and that we shall have time to consider the advantages and sort out any unintended consequences of implementing this major piece of legislation.
The rationale behind the Bill is to implement the academy model in order to achieve school improvement and higher attainment. There have been some great successes among academies set up under the old model, which involved sponsors and setting up the schools in disadvantaged areas, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, set out. These are new types of academies and I share concerns that the speed of implementation leaves little time for consultation with stakeholders, including parents and governors.
We welcome measures that free schools from centralised bureaucracy and allow teachers to use their professional skills and judgment about what works best for the pupils in their schools. Every class has a different dynamic as pupils respond and learn in a variety of ways. Teachers have to adapt and improvise in order to encourage the potential of each individual class and child. All that diversity has to be guided towards achievement against national standards, leading to nationally recognised certification. The Bill brings forward proposals for a new type of school to try to find the balance between freedom and accountability.
With new ideas in education, it can pay dividends to start with a pilot, with a small enough number of schools participating to enable progress to be monitored, evaluated and improved before the measures are rolled out more widely. Change is disruptive in the short term, even when it turns out to be of long-term benefit, and each generation of schoolchildren has
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We shall be discussing the role of parents in the academies. The Explanatory Notes state that parents will not lose any rights that they currently have, but we know that existing academies tend to have fewer parent governors than other schools. It is not clear whether parents will have any say over a school becoming an academy. We hope that there will be reassurances on parents' involvement with academies.
I follow the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in wishing to explore in more detail provision for pupils with special educational needs. Questions need to be raised, including whether the SEN statutory framework will apply to the new academies, how the new admissions policy will work for children with SEN and whether all academies will be required to have trained SEN staff. I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said about that. Currently the local authorities have an important role in co-ordinating the needs of those with SEN. Who will be responsible for that co-operative working in the academy structure? We know that children with autism, for instance, are more at risk of exclusion because their behaviour may be difficult to manage. What measures will be put in place to ensure that they are not disproportionately affected by exclusions from academies? Who will be responsible for arranging and funding SEN transport? Some local authorities have extensive-and, indeed, expensive-systems for ensuring that pupils can access the most suitable schools in the area. There is a danger that services currently supplied at regional level will be fragmented if academies operate independently.
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