|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The most significant difference between the approach of the current Government and that of the previous Government relates to which kinds of school are given the greatest support to become academies. As a group, compared with the average for all state schools, academies have nearly two and a half times the proportion of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals. Academies have had a higher incidence of pupils with English as an additional language than other state-funded schools. By contrast, the present Government propose to implement a reform aimed not at improvements for these schools but at improvements for the 20 per cent of schools already rated as outstanding by Ofsted.
There are other key differences between these plans and Labour's radical reforms aimed at turning schools around. The Bill offers no extra resources for schools bar a small contribution to the extra paperwork that the school will be required to carry out as a result of this process. It also makes it clear that schools that convert will have to make no changes whatever; they will have no requirement to bring in outside expertise in order to open themselves up to new ideas. They will simply be absolved of any responsibilities to co-operate with the schools around them through, for example, children's trusts or behaviour partnerships, or any of the many other ways in which schools are entitled and encouraged to work together.
There will be no requirement of the schools to contribute their fair share of education budgets towards the education of children with special needs or behavioural difficulties in their community. Indeed, the funding allocated to educate those children will be cut back to give the academies additional funds to do with as they please. Under the approach adopted by this side of the Committee when in government, an academy was open to all, accessible to all, and intended to challenge and educate those who were most in need of support. Selection was anathema to that system, but some schools, as selective, old-style grammar schools, will now be allowed to convert to academies. By definition, their pupils will be the least likely to need the shared services of the local authority, but will still be in receipt of their share of the funding allocated to their local authority to fund these services. That does not add up. I look forward to being convinced that I have misunderstood all of this.
We on this side are proud of the achievements of academies. The class of school brought into being by the Bill would be free from "local authority control"-since, as I said, LEAs do not control schools now-but free also from the obligations to their local communities that all schools should have. That is why we do not wish the Bill to use "academies" in its title; it is not as clear as it should be.
If the Secretary of State would like to create and provide for thousands of schools that are independent of spirit and isolated in operation, he should find his own label for them. He should not use the name "academy". In our amendments, we have suggested that he should use the term "direct maintained school",
21 Jun 2010 : Column 1174
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, the noble Baroness rightly reminds the House of the accomplishments of the academies that were set up in the past decade. We pay generous tribute to the success of those academies. Because we have been able to observe how strongly they have raised the standards of so many young people, this Government have decided to build on that success and create even more academies and much more quickly.
I find it very sad that the noble Baroness, who played such a major part in the growth of the academies when her party was in power, should now seek to denigrate the attempt that is being made to spread that much more widely. I will not attempt for a moment to answer all of the very many questions that she asked and the very many criticisms that she directed at the policy, but at one point she asked whether she had misunderstood. I would like to pick on one particular area where she has misunderstood. It is perfectly true that the intention is to allow those schools that are rated outstanding by Ofsted to come through on a fast track, but the main thrust of the policy is exactly as it has been before: to establish academies in those places with the least successful schools-the most failing schools in the most deprived areas-so that the standards for those children who have been educationally so poorly served can be greatly improved. That is a misunderstanding.
I realise that it is a common misunderstanding because I have had it said to me by many people and many friends in the education service over the past few weeks. I am sure that my noble friend will underline the fact that it is important to recognise that just because there is a fast track for outstanding schools, it does not mean at all that schools that are educationally failing so many of their young people are not still the main focus of our policy in the Bill.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I do not intend to make a Second Reading speech, but I understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, did so. She makes a good case for keeping on academies. Even though one or two of them have not done quite so well, most of them have. However, she did not make any case for not allowing other schools to have the freedoms that her Government felt were so important to give to schools that needed to improve. That is what this Bill does. My breath was taken away to hear her comments about centralisation given the track record of the new Labour Government.
At first glance, the amendments look as though they are about labels. I have always been of the view that a label should say what is in the tin. Indeed, in the Liberal Democrat policy paper about our version of
21 Jun 2010 : Column 1175
Indeed, the amendments would return us to the new Labour version of academies. In particular, Amendments 39 and 40 would remove the ability of outstanding schools to apply for academy status. When the Labour Government first introduced academies, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches asked why other schools should not have the same freedom to innovate as was being offered to these schools. We believe strongly in the importance of the professionalism of teachers, and schools have a duty to provide a curriculum that is appropriate to their particular cohort of students. Most schools actually do not use the range of freedoms to innovate that they were given in legislation passed under the previous Government. We are very much in favour of allowing professionals to innovate and provide appropriate education for their children. Those sort of freedoms should be given to all schools, but I can understand why my noble friend wants to approach first those schools that have already proved the professionalism of their leadership and their staff by becoming outstanding, to allow them to run with those freedoms and use them well in providing a good education for children. There is a lot of logic in adding to the cohort of what were failing schools, which will now get special attention under the academies scheme, those schools that have already demonstrated that they can provide an outstanding education, and in giving them the freedoms that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, introduced in the first place.
The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, the Church of England has the largest family of academies under the existing provisions, as noble Lords will be aware, and is currently educating 34,000 children from relatively poor areas, so we are interested very much in the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, is making. As it stands, the Bill encourages her in the line that she has taken. However, as I look through the amendments tabled for us to debate in Committee, I see real potential-if the Minister is minded to accept some of them-for the Bill to enable us to recognise clearly the family resemblance between the new wave of academies and the ones that are now in existence. I await with interest the way that this debate develops. At the moment, I would find it quite easy to support the amendments, but I hope that I will find it very difficult by the end of this process.
Lord Adonis: I begin by paying tribute to the Church of England for the outstanding work that it does in promoting academies. As the right reverend Prelate said, the Church of England is the largest single sponsor of academies. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and I worked closely on the
21 Jun 2010 : Column 1176
This is my first opportunity in the House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hill, on his appointment, which I do very warmly indeed. I should also say how glad I am that my noble friends Lady Royall and Lady Morgan are leading on this Bill for the Opposition. They bring a wealth of talent and experience to the task.
My noble friend Lady Morgan raised a number of policy issues about the extension of academies, which I shall leave the Minister to respond to. However, on the specific issue about the legal name that should be given to a certain category of school, I find myself in surprising agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. She and I are survivors from the interminable debates on the Education Act 2005, on which our views did not coincide all the time, particularly on the issue of academies. But she is right that, in terms of legal category, the schools to which the Bill proposes to accord that status have all the essential characteristics of existing academies.
I know that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet but, for two reasons, I do not support this amendment on the name that it gives to a legal category of schools. First, the schools which we are talking about in this Bill are academies in all their essential legal characteristics. They are managed independently of the local authority, on a contract with the Secretary of State that regulates a whole host of their policies and funding and which will be similar to that of existing academies. My noble friend says that academies are schools largely in deprived or challenging circumstances, and she is correct, although I need to point out to the House that that is not the exclusive preserve of academies. A number of entirely new schools have been set up as academies in very mixed social areas and a number of successful schools, including successful independent schools, have come into the state system by using the legal category of academies.
The legal status is clearly set out in Section 65 of the Education Act 2002, which is cast in similar terms to Clause 1. I emphasise the fact that the 2002 Act, which was passed by the last Government, does not specify that academies, in legal terms, can only be schools that pass a threshold either of deprivation or of low achievement. On the contrary, I invite Members of the Committee to look at Section 65, which says:
"The Secretary of State may enter into an agreement with any person under which ... that person undertakes to establish and maintain, and to carry on or provide for the carrying on of, an independent school in England with the characteristics mentioned in subsection (2)".
If there is no legal distinction between the schools that we are talking about in this Bill and those referred to under the Education Act 2002, is there another public policy reason for us to give a different label to certain schools within a similar legal category? I urge your Lordships not to do so. We already have an alphabet soup of different names for schools within the state system: community schools, foundation schools with a foundation, foundation schools without a foundation, voluntary aided schools, voluntary controlled schools, trust schools, city technology colleges, grammar schools, maintained special schools and non-maintained special schools. If the schools that we are talking about are academies, as they are in their essential legal characteristics, the right thing to do is to call them academies and not to add to the alphabet soup.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, paid tribute to the right reverend Prelates, so I shall pay tribute to him. He was a most excellent Schools Minister and was largely responsible for the success of the academies programme. As the Minister said, the party opposite has every right to be proud of what it achieved. I also praise the noble Lord for starting off his life as a Back-Bencher exactly as I hope he will continue, feeling free to disagree with his Front Bench. As my noble friend Lord Hill will discover, feeling free to criticise one's own side when one feels that it is getting it wrong is the mark of respect that every Back-Bencher seeks to attain.
I feel that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, although she was in turn an excellent Minister, is getting it wrong. It was always inevitable that the academies programme, once it had proved itself and gained momentum, would be open to existing schools. The idea that schools have to fail in order to become academies is not tenable. The substance of the amendment is political phooey and should be disregarded.
The noble Baroness raised a number of points that I suspect I will agree with later-or at least I will share her concerns. This is a new phase for the academy movement and it raises questions which were left in abeyance when the academies were few and had strong sponsors but which need examining now. However, a change of name, with further confusion for parents and everybody else, is not required.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, at Second Reading many noble Lords pointed out that most parents want a good local school, whatever it is called, and that good schools depend on good leadership, good teachers and good classroom practice, none of which I see mentioned in the Bill. My noble friend made some interesting points about academies, as did the noble Lord, Lord Adonis-I quite agree with him about the alphabet soup of schools. However, this is not just discussion about a name.
I have never particularly liked the name "academy" for a school, despite my respect and affection for my noble friend Lord Adonis. To me, the term has always meant a Scottish secondary school, the garden where Plato taught or, as in the Brixton Academy, a nightclub. As I understand it, we are talking about names that have legal and constitutional significance. No doubt we will tease out some of these legal and constitutional
21 Jun 2010 : Column 1178
Lord Bates: I totally support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, about the name. The name "academies" followed from the creation of the city technology colleges. Although the city technology colleges were a wonderful idea in the Education Reform Act 1988, the name was a bit of a mouthful and did not describe well what those fine institutions sought to achieve. When the Learning and Skills Act 2000 first made provision for city academies, it was a clarification. In Greek learning, an academy is a place of high education and research. That is exactly the type of name and message that one wants in our education environment. However, the term "city academies" was then changed. The "city" part was dropped, which in many ways makes the point that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, was presenting. At that point, in the 2002 Act, when city academies were replaced by the concept of academies, there was a distinct intention that the academy movement should be broadened. I think that is right. Therefore, what is being proposed by the Government is also right.
I make another point in support of my noble friend Lady Perry, who spoke about the Bill's role in tackling failing schools. Clause 4 covers academy orders, which are directly targeted at the failure which exists within many local authority areas. The noble Baroness may have mentioned from the Front Bench that it is almost a divine right that every child in a local authority area will have access to good quality education. However, we know for a fact that that is not happening. That is why the Bill is necessary.
I register an interest as a former director of four academies. The other point is that the existing academies were invariably quickly oversubscribed. The notion that they were open to all was, again, not true. That is why we need a big expansion of the programme. We also need new schools. The other point was about ability. As I recall, there was certainly a provision, which still exists, to say that the academies could select up to 10 per cent of their pupils on the basis of aptitude in the school's specialism. Again, that element is there. I see that the Bill has merely continued that.
The amendment probably falls into the category of "brave try". As a former Shadow Front Bench spokesman, I know that brave tries are our lot in life. However, the term "academy" is a sound one, which should continue and be extended.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I declare an interest in that the diocese of Liverpool is a co-sponsor with the Catholic arch-diocese of three academies, as
21 Jun 2010 : Column 1179
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is right that under the previous Administration there was a shift from the original intention, which was to break the mould of education in deprived communities, but the policy has broadened out and schools have benefited. In the context of Liverpool, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, made a powerful point. The Government may resist her amendment and stick with academies, but I hope that they will share the aspiration of the previous Administration to change the nature of education in our deprived communities-whatever name we choose, that is what is at stake-as the academy programme has shown that we can do that. If the Government persist with the title "academy", I hope that they will also persist with the ambition to improve the life chances of young people in our most deprived areas.
Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, this is an interesting debate that has raised important issues. Legal status and legal titles are exactly that, but at the end of the day they are not the mark of success or failure in our education system. We may disagree on whether legal status is the measure that raises standards or whether it is something other than that. I very much agree with the previous speaker that standards are raised through the quality of teaching and of leadership rather than through legal status or title. However, whatever the relevant legal status was under the previous Government, the fact was that most of the effort and resources were put into the areas of greatest deprivation. I believe that is what academies should do. Once you spread the size of the club, you make it less special and you are not able to devote the same expertise to the schools that need it most. That is the decision that the Government have to make. In that respect, I wish to ask a very specific question about the impact assessment. On page two, it is estimated that over four years the net benefit will be £1.72 billion. I am surprised at that. The relevant figure is £282 million a year. The impact assessment states:
"Benefits are in terms of the increase in estimated lifetime earnings of the additional number of pupils attending academies and obtaining improved GCSE results ... Evidence for impact of academies on pupil attainment is based on evidence from academies that opened before 2006".
I find that very strange and would welcome an explanation of it. The schools that became academies before 2006 were situated in challenging areas. They were often
21 Jun 2010 : Column 1180
I have a further question on that. The figures relate to lifetime earnings. What measures or mechanisms are Ministers using, and in which years of these young peoples' lives might that money accrue to the Treasury?
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I should like to make some points which are, I am afraid, against the group of amendments. I accept that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has a certain logic on her side, but I do not like the logic. I rather take the point made by the right reverend Prelate-at least I think it was his point-that, whereas academies hitherto have been for underachieving and underprivileged communities, henceforth they will, as far as I can see, be at the other end of the educational spectrum. I actively dislike the prospect that they would be called something different, as if to emphasise that they are of a different "class"-a ghastly word. I like the idea of these posh new future academies being linked to the existing ones.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|