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I endorse entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said. So often in this Chamber we underestimate or forget how our legislation will impact in the real world. We underestimate the effect of the mishmash of new names caused by our astonishing excess of legislation and constant wish to change and refine. For goodness' sake, let us not create another category of schools.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, much as I admire-and I really do admire-the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and the considerable strides made on education by the previous Government, we all should admit that whichever Government have been in power-the previous Government and the Government immediately previous to them-we have not achieved the best education for all our children. That is the aim we should go for. I am delighted that we have had this debate. I did not consider that it would begin our debates on the Bill, but it has totally confirmed my view that, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said, we need to get away from this mishmash-this alphabet soup, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, called it-and stick to one name. Then we can get on with the business of looking at the many detailed amendments which will ensure that the Bill will achieve its purpose. We should vote here and now for the use of the name "academies"-and no other name for the way forward.

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The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, from the diocese of Bath and Wells, I should point out that in Taunton we have just inaugurated an academy that will begin in September. It comprises two schools with a history of difficulty; we have spent a lot of time in preparation for them to become an academy, and we are very much looking forward to that.

Once the Bill was announced, one of our successful-indeed, our most successful-church secondary schools made a bid to become an academy. Listening to the reason given by the head of the school that it serves to produce an additional half-a-million pounds for his school budget made me a little cautious about motive. I have been a supporter of the academies since they began. I have no difficulty whatever with continuing with a single title, provided that we can ensure that none of this will make the more vulnerable in our schools less able to enjoy the benefit of full academy status.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I have listened to the debate with great interest and am prompted to speak by what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, said about the independent, and possibly isolated, schools. I want to ask the Minister one quick question, which may well fall within the ambit of later amendments. I recently met a social worker, whose job is to work with and support a number of schools in the local area. I also spoke fairly recently to a head teacher, who said how helpful it was to have a social worker support her in what she does. Therefore, I would appreciate an assurance from the Minister that in this legislative process we are not going to make it any more difficult for that sort of set-up to carry on working.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, I shall start by speaking to Amendments 1, 5, 6, 8, 9, 65, 77, 86, 87, 93, 94, 194 and 195, which all seek to change the title and name of all existing and future academies to direct-maintained schools. Before I do so-perhaps with the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln ringing in my ears at the beginning-I should say that I know that the whole point of Committee stage is for us to tease out misunderstandings and to try to get clarity on various issues as we go forward. I am committed to doing that during this process and shall do my best to do so in the days ahead. I have already had lots of help and advice from all sides of the House over the past couple of weeks and I know that that will continue.

I am a little perplexed as to why the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, would want to turn her back on a policy and a name which, greatly to its credit, her party pioneered in government. I was even more perplexed when over the weekend I read the 2005 White Paper, Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, which clearly argued for the extension of academy freedoms. As I think we mentioned at Second Reading, the day before the launch of the White Paper, the then Prime Minister was even more explicit. He said:

"We need to make it easier for every school to acquire the drive and essential freedoms of Academies ... We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self-governing independent state school ... All schools will be able to have Academy style freedom".

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That, in general terms, is what the Academies Bill makes possible.

I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, argued that using the name "academy" for all schools converting to the programme might in some way dilute the original intentions, and she specifically mentioned grant-maintained schools. These were quite different, not least because they got additional funding and operated effectively outside the system, which is not what is proposed with academies. She spoke about the policy now being for outstanding schools, rather than the original focus of the policy, which was, she said, on the most challenging schools. That point has already been picked up by my noble friend Lady Perry. I know that there has been a lot of comment about this and I am sorry if I did not do a better job in explaining it at Second Reading. The fact is that the focus on failing schools remains and, if anything, is strengthened because the Secretary of State will be able to act more decisively without local authority consent, should that be necessary.

Secondly, in line with what we believe was the previous Government's intention, all schools will be able to apply for academy status, should they want to. In other words, the outstanding schools are simply a sub-set of all schools. I hope that that provides some reassurance on the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. In what we propose, there is no intention that the generality of schools should be excluded from the chance to take part in this programme. Because those schools are outstanding, we believe that conversion for them should be relatively straightforward, and therefore we are saying that, if they want to convert, they should be able to go first. They would not have to have sponsors, but all other converting schools would.

My main argument in resisting the amendment has already been made for me by my noble friend Lady Walmsley and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I am particularly sympathetic to what was described as alphabet soup-what I think of as Alphabetti Spaghetti-in that, as a new Minister trying to get my head round the descriptions of all the different kinds of schools, the thought of having one more to learn would be almost intolerable.

4.15 pm

The reason we believe the new wave of academies should be called academies is, precisely as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, because they are set up on the same legal basis as an existing academy with the same freedoms, duties and responsibilities. Perhaps it would help if I set those out briefly. Academies are publicly funded independent schools which do not charge the pupils to attend the school. They are not maintained by the local education authority but receive funding directly from the Secretary of State. Their curriculum must be balanced and broadly based with an emphasis on their secondary curriculum on a particular subject area. They must provide education for pupils of different abilities drawn wholly or mainly from the local area of the school. They must not charge pupils to attend the school and they can be for any age range since the Education Act 2002.

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I understand the intention behind Amendment 39: to ensure that only schools classed as failing could convert to academy status from September 2010. In fact, the way in which the amendment is drafted, listing it as a characteristic of an academy, would have the unintended consequence of making it an obligation on the academy proprietor to ensure that the academy met that characteristic, which I cannot believe was the noble Baroness's intention. However, I shall address the substance behind the amendment. While our focus will remain on failing schools and narrowing the attainment gap, we want the best schools to have the freedom and flexibility to deliver an excellent education in the way that they see fit, within a broad framework where they are clearly accountable for the results that they deliver. These schools, as we have discussed before, will be expected to work with a weaker school to share expertise and best practice. Many school leaders have already shown a keen interest in their schools becoming academies. It is clear that they understand the benefits that that will bring and they want the liberation that comes from genuine independence.

While I understand the thinking behind the amendment, in order that the academy programme simply maintains its focus on failing schools, I hope that the noble Baroness will be reassured that our expansion of the academies programme will not dilute in any way our focus on failing schools. On the contrary, by saying that all outstanding schools will be expected to partner with a weaker school we hope to bring about further improvements for all concerned.

Amendment 40 would require all schools converting to academy status from 2010 to have a sponsor in place with whom to work. It is our intention that all maintained primary, secondary and special schools will be able to apply to become an academy, with schools rated outstanding being fast-tracked for approval. These outstanding schools will have a proven track record of success so will not be required to have a sponsor in place and will, in effect, be self-sponsoring. They will be able to work with a sponsor should they choose but there is no requirement to do so. Other primary, secondary and special schools which will be able to convert at a later stage will still be required to have a sponsor, with the final decision on which schools become academies resting with the Secretary of State.

Our focus remains on failing schools and narrowing the gap, but in our view it is also right that our best schools should have the freedom and flexibility to deliver an excellent education in the way they see fit within a broad framework where they are clearly accountable for the outcomes they deliver. I think that there has been general acceptance on all sides of this House that the definition of an academy and its legal status is broadly accepted. Academies set up by the noble Baroness's party have done a great job. This is a logical next step in our view and an expansion of what has gone before. It was clearly the original intention in 2005 to move in the direction that this Government, five years late perhaps, are starting to do. I hope that that detail has clarified why the amendments are not necessary and I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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Baroness Morris of Yardley: Will the Minister please answer the specific question I asked?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, as I wrote myself a note to do so. The general point is related to the notion that all schools can apply for academy status, not just the outstanding ones. I can see the logic of the noble Baroness's argument: that if a school is already highly performing, the ability to make the kinds of improvement that the original wave of academies have made may be slightly more reduced. Given the intention that in time all schools, not just those in the outstanding category, will be able to apply explains more broadly why there is the opportunity for that uplift. I will need to write to the noble Baroness on her specific question about the maths and how officials came up with that figure.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. I am happy to withdraw my amendment at the appropriate moment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bates, for his comment, "Brave try". As a Minister, being called brave was something I always used to worry about, but as an Opposition Front-Bencher, perhaps I will not mind that so much.

This debate has been helpful and interesting. I am interested in the point about academies as defined in the Bill being exactly the same as academies defined in previous legislation. Thinking about why we need the Bill focuses on the questions: what is the difference and what is the real motivation behind the Bill? Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, I want to be convinced, and hope that I will be as we go through Committee. I know that an awful lot of thought has gone into a wide range of amendments.

I have one question, which I hope I will learn more about in our debates today. If academy status will be exactly the same legally, I need to understand what Clause 1(2)(b) is all about. When we come to the Statement on free schools, I might understand that a bit more. Like all noble Lords, I do not see the benefit of increasing the number of letters in our alphabet soup. I am very interested in the comments that noble Lords have made. I have just learnt that outstanding schools will not be expected to have a sponsor, but those that come after will. That is a very interesting point.

I was also very interested in the point made by my noble friend Lady Morris about the focus of government policy. That highlights the challenge that we have when scrutinising legislation. We are looking at the Bill, but surrounding the Bill is government policy and how the Government promote their priorities. I am concerned that the Government continue to focus on poorly performing schools and coasting schools. I am very much comforted by the Minister's reassurances on that, but we will come back to the question of what the additional arrangements for academy financial assistance actually mean and whether that is a significant change in the legal instruments surrounding the legal definition of academies. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

House resumed.

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Free Schools Policy


4.24 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, I beg leave to repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to an Urgent Question in another place. The Statement is as follows.

"Thank you, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to update the House on our progress in reducing centralised bureaucracy in the education system, giving more power to professionals on the front line and accelerating progress on the academies programme begun, with such distinction, under the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and Tony Blair.

During the Queen's Speech debate, I outlined in detail our plans to extend academy freedoms. I mentioned then that we had more than 1,000 expressions of interest. I can now update the House by confirming that more than 1,700 schools have expressed an interest in acquiring academy freedoms, with more than 70 per cent of outstanding secondary schools contacting the department-a remarkable and heartening display of enthusiasm for our plans from front-line professionals.

As I have explained before, every new school acquiring academy freedoms will be expected to support at least one faltering or coasting school to improve. We are liberating the strong to help the weak-a key principle behind this coalition Government.

As well as showing enthusiasm for greater academy freedoms in existing schools, I can also report to the House that teachers are enthusiastic about the opportunities outlined in our coalition agreement to create more great new schools in areas of disadvantage. More than 700 expressions of interest in opening new free schools have been received by the charitable group the New Schools Network, the majority of them from serving teachers in the state system who want greater freedom to help the poorest children do better.

That action is all the more vital because we are inheriting a school system from the previous Government which was as segregated and stratified as any in the developed world. In the last year for which we have figures, out of a school cohort of 600,000 children, 80,000 children were in homes entirely reliant on benefits. Of those 80,000 children only 45 made it to Oxbridge-less than 0.1 per cent-and, tellingly, fewer than from the school attended by the Leader of the Opposition.

Given that scale of under-achievement and lack of social mobility, it is no surprise that so many idealistic teachers want to start new schools like those American charter schools backed by President Obama that have closed the achievement gap between black and white children. In order to help these teachers do here what has been achieved in America, and in order to help philanthropists, community groups and parents set up new schools, we announced last week that we would recreate the standards and diversity fund for schools started by Tony Blair and abandoned under his successor. We are devoting £50 million saved from low-priority IT spending to this fund, which is less than 1 per cent of all capital spend allocated for this year, and we are

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sweeping away the bureaucracy which stands in the way of new school creation with reform of planning laws and building regulations.

Five years ago, the Prime Minister said outside this House:

"What we must see now is a system of independent state schools, underpinned by fair admissions and fair funding, where teachers are equipped and enabled to drive improvement, driven by the aspirations of parents".

We have pushed higher standards from the centre. For those standards to be maintained and built upon, they must now become self-sustaining to provide irreversible change for the better. That is the challenge Mr Blair laid down, and this coalition Government intend to meet it".

4.28 pm

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to this Urgent Question from the other place. I have a number of questions to ask him, but before I do, I want to make the point that this Urgent Question followed a press release issued by the Minister's department on Friday about the process for progressing the coalition Government's free schools policy. Just a moment ago, we were in Committee looking at the Academies Bill, and it would be very helpful for the House if we could understand how the Government's different policies and priorities fit together so that when we are scrutinising the legislation we have a full picture of what the Government are trying to achieve. It was therefore a bit of a disappointment that the Secretary of State for Education chose to announce the process for progressing the free schools policy in a press release on Friday when we could have heard more about it in this House. However, the Minister has repeated the Statement to the House, which I very much appreciate.

We have heard a great deal from the coalition Government about the challenging economic times that we are in. We on these Benches recognise that and the real challenge of having to make cuts in the near future. How will these new free schools be paid for? The Guardian suggested, possibly on Friday, that funding from the previous Government's proposals to widen access to free school meals will be used to pay for the new free schools policy. Will the Minister explain what assessment has been made of surplus places? Surplus places might not be a very cost-effective way of funding school places. Indeed, creating surplus places through the development of a free schools policy could be quite an inefficient way of using what will be scarce resources.

I believe that the coalition Government are keen to broaden the number of providers that deliver education through the free schools model, and I am interested to know whether the coalition Government envisage new providers coming into education being able to make a profit from using public funds to develop free schools, or whether, under some enterprise model, any surplus that was generated through the use of public funds would be ploughed back into public benefit.

I was quite interested on Friday to see a little box on the form on the website that has enough space for 200 words that are designed to show what parental

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demand there is for a new free school. For the benefit of those who are interested in taking forward an idea such as this, will the Minister say what he is looking for in those 200 words that will give a really good picture of parental demand? Will there be published criteria? I know that the Secretary of State will have to look at each of these applications, and I understand that there have been many expressions of interest. When the Secretary of State looks at these 200 words, over breakfast on Sunday morning perhaps, what will he be looking for to assess parental demand?

There is also a space on the form to set out the premises that have been identified or to say what the premises would be like. The Minister mentioned planning requirements when he repeated the Statement, and I am interested to know how any legislation on this will work. Again, what is required in the box about premises? Will the new free school have disabled access, for example, or will a car park, office block or corner shop work just as well?

How will local authorities be involved? The Secretary of State for Education said very clearly in a letter that he sent to directors of children's services that there would be a role for local authorities in that local authorities are central to the Government's plans to improve education. It would be very helpful to understand what that vision is in relation to free schools.

It is also interesting that the coalition Government have made strong statements about a commitment to fairness in approach. How will the admissions code, which I think is all about fairness for children's educational opportunities, work in the free school setting? How will vulnerable children and those with special educational needs, about whom this House cares very much, be catered for? I am aware that I have asked a lot of questions, but it is important that this House hears from the Minister the vision and the practicalities of how it will work.

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I will try to answer all the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin. On her first point, no disrespect to this House was intended. The view was taken that this was an announcement about practicalities. The principle of the policy had previously been announced and had been long trailed. Over many years it was in the Conservative Party manifesto and it features in the coalition agreement. As the noble Baroness knows-we will be discussing it in Committee over the next three days-free schools will be set up as academies under the Academies Bill. They will have the same framework, rights and responsibilities as the academies that we have just been discussing in our first group of amendments in Committee. The view was taken that this was a practical implementation and a first step of policy rather than a new policy announcement.

On the point fairly made by the noble Baroness about the challenging economic times, perhaps I may reassure her about the modest funding for what is, in effect, a series of pilots that we will look at over the next year to see how this policy works out. The £50 million will not come from free school meals pilot money. As the Statement in the other place made clear, the department is basically recreating a programme

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which the noble Baroness may know-the standards and diversity fund. The money has come from the harnessing technology grant. Therefore, as the Statement made clear, it has come from money that was put aside for IT, not from free school meals.

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