Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Amendment 76 therefore seeks further assurance that the academies programme will not result in a weakening of the requirements that govern SEN provision in schools and that all funding agreements will cover all the requirements of Part IV of the Education Act 1996. In particular, it would require academy agreements to contain provisions that set out the responsibilities of academies in meeting the needs of pupils with special educational needs or disabilities. In discharging these responsibilities, an academy should co-operate with the LEA in making provision for pupils with special educational needs or disabilities. An academy funding agreement should make provision to ensure that: academies use their best endeavours to ensure that an LEA can discharge its responsibilities in making arrangements for the provision of education for a pupil with a statement of SEN; academies have regard to the SEN code of practice; academies act as if they were a maintained school for the purposes of Part IV of the Education Act 1996; SEN co-ordinators are qualified teachers; and academies make arrangements to ensure that an independent appeals process is available to parents of pupils with SEN or a disability.

I hope very much that the Minister will be able to accept this provision. If he did so, that would put beyond doubt his desire to see that funding agreements are fully comprehensive in transposing the requirements of special educational legislation in Part IV of the Education Act 1996.



21 Jun 2010 : Column 1210

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I very much support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Low as I follow his interest in special educational needs. I have tabled Amendment 24 in this group, and I intend throughout Committee to introduce amendments and to speak about a particular form of special educational needs: those of children who have grown up in severely disadvantaged and chaotic families and who so often end up being statemented with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

In that context, I ask who will govern these new academies. Who will make the decisions on the ground? I fully acknowledge that parents sponsoring and running a school may be a good idea, but I am not convinced that a whole or even a majority of the governing body composed of parents of children at the school is at all desirable. My own modest experience in the independent sector has certainly indicated that short-termism tends to dominate decisions that are taken when there are too many parents with children at a school. Parent governors will obviously want the best for their children and are right to do so. Indeed, we want the stimulus of parents who push to get the best for their child, but there is a real danger that, if we get the governance of academies wrong, they will end up with the same fate that has unfortunately befallen so many of the admirable Sure Start centres which the previous Government introduced. Money was put to serving the community, the community was encouraged to consider how it wanted the money to be spent and the money was then spent in that way. What has tended to happen is that the brighter, pushier and more intelligent parents have jumped on the bandwagon and got the kind of input and outcomes that they wanted, and the parents with disadvantaged children who have no experience of addressing leadership or influencing events-the hard-to-reach parents-have gone to the bottom of the pile and the funding that was intended to go to them, if it is not wasted, at least does not reach them.

What is the Government's intention for governance? I refer to all the different kinds of school: free schools, parent-sponsored academies or academies sponsored by existing schools.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Low, has set out the case for reconsidering special educational needs, as this is a very important and complex issue. I am also pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned governance, and that my noble friend Lady Morgan talked about standards, which are key. I understand that some academies have been allowed to opt out of publishing data on pupils' achievement, which we will no doubt talk about later.

Amendments 2 and 3, in the names of my noble friend Lady Morgan and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, respectively, deal with consulting governors. I am a governor of a primary school in Wandsworth, and I think that school governors are important people in all this. I know that some later amendments deal with consultation, but for now I want to talk about governing bodies.

I understand that academies are required to have only one elected parent member on their governing body, while the existing principle is that a third of

21 Jun 2010 : Column 1211

governing bodies should be parents. Parent governors are crucial. I am a governor at a school in a deprived area of Wandsworth, which attracts parent governors who are very helpful and useful to the school. This is particularly important in early years institutions if they are to become academies. Parents on those bodies will be essential. If parents are not involved in the early years, the children and the school suffer. I should like to ask the Minister about consultation with governing bodies. How is the future governance of schools foreseen?

Lord Lucas: I apologise for the misprint in my Amendment 33. For the word "roles" noble Lords should read "rules" and they will get a greater, if not absolute, idea of the sense of it. I am concerned about how the governing bodies of these academies will be dealt with when they go wrong. They can get into a mess from time to time when they are captured by strong individuals with very particular ideas. They can become at odds with parents and heads, and can contribute to poor performance in the school. I understand what happens under current academies with sponsors. But in an academy without a sponsor, what process will be gone through to set the governing body back on the right path? Who complains to whom? Who reaches a judgment as to what is happening? Who takes action under what powers?

What general powers will parents have to set things right if they see things going wrong? I do not think that there are any contractual arrangements with parents. So, if a school is failing to provide education, what is the route for the parent to enforce the right to education for their child? Finally, at Second Reading, I asked whether we might be circulated with a model funding agreement. I have not seen that yet and I am keen to do so while we are discussing these matters.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, the debate so far has been extremely interesting. It started with a clear indication that we will go down the academy route for all schools. I supported that direction very strongly before the break. To add free schools, when clearly they all fall within the same family, does not make any sense. I was slightly surprised at the amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, addressed, to replace "person" with "governing body". No noble Lord has said one word about the governing body and its role.

I must declare an interest as president of the National Governors Association. Therefore, all these areas interest me quite a bit. Given all that and the rather confusing and conflicting view that noble Lords around the Chamber seem to have about whether governors and parent governors are a good or a bad thing, it would be extremely helpful if the Minister-to whom I also add my thanks because he gave up a lot of time before we even began debating this Bill-could indicate how important he thinks that the role of the governing body is. It will have a hugely important role in seeing that these new academies-however many of them there are-come to the conclusion that I think many of us would see as an important step in British education.



21 Jun 2010 : Column 1212

6.15 pm

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I support the amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Low. Rightly, they were narrowly focused. At Second Reading, he said:

"Academies are independent schools that are funded directly by the Secretary of State and are accountable mainly through the funding agreement, rather than",-[Official Report, 7/6/10; col. 514.]

through educational legislation. I am interested in accountability. I strongly support Amendment 13 because it requires that any other-to me, rather mysterious-mode of supplying financial assistance to academies should be as equally open as the contracts that are agreements between the applicant and the Government. I entirely endorse the desire that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, expressed to see a copy of one of these model agreements.

The issue is about openness and accountability of how much money is being handed over-it will be a considerable amount-and exactly what the academy is committed to providing with that money. This is where I come to my noble friend's main interest; namely, to seek an assurance that the money must be spent on provision for children with special educational needs. I think that we will come to more detail on that later. I share his feelings that the local authority must retain a good deal of responsibility for the provision of educational facilities for children with special needs, especially in very difficult cases of rare disabilities or multiple disabilities where individual academies could not afford to spend the money required.

There is a good deal of unclarity regarding special educational needs. Parents will be very much confused-perhaps more so if they read today's Hansard than they were before. Amendment 13 would clarify the position with regard to the accountability of an academy, whatever way it receives its money from the Secretary of State.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, on this group of amendments, the issue about whether these free schools will be academies could be a trifle academic if the Government are saying that the point of the future trajectory is that all schools should at least have the opportunity to be academies. We need to see this debate within that context.

Much more seriously, I endorse the recommendations that the security of those with special educational needs be affirmed in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Low, referred to the avoidance of doubt, and bishops are always up for the avoidance of doubt. There are some issues where it is too risky to leave matters simply to good will or mutual understanding, and special educational needs is one of them. We need to ask the Minister if he will look at ways in which that dimension of academy life can be secured clearly in the Bill.

My third point is to do with governance-not with who can be a governor, but with the purpose of school governors in this brave new world. Many of us have lived through various recensions of governance. I go back to when I was first ordained in the early 1970s and I was a governor of a school. It seemed that the

21 Jun 2010 : Column 1213

main purpose of the governors was to meet quarterly, hear the head teacher tell us how good the school was, and to pat the head teacher on the head saying, "Jolly good. Keep it up". It was not long before we saw the development of teacher governors and parent governors. Governing bodies became representative bodies that articulated the range of interests of those with any connection with the school. The role of governors changed quite significantly. Then the most recent Bill of the last Government, just before the election, looked dangerously as though it was tipping towards having governors acting as the Government's narks. There were going to be requirements for governors to be able to spill the beans and blow the whistle when they thought the head teacher or someone else was not quite up to it. I am sure it will be said that that was not the intention, but that was how it looked. Certainly there was a shift going on in our understanding of governance.

What I ask the Minister is this. Before we even start nailing down categories of people who should be governors, what will we be asking them to do? What will be the role of governors in this new world of academies that is now emerging on the back of the primary wave? I cannot make a decision about the issue of who until I have some understanding of what it is that the governance of academies will entail. What will be the function of the governors? What gifts and qualities will be required of them? We will then be able to answer the question of who might be the most competent people to fulfil that vital role.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I support, first, the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low. It is important that special needs are recognised. I also support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I have been a governor of a girls' school and am now a governor of a boys' school. As a governor of the school to which my daughter went, I was not actually asked to take on the role until she had left. That seems to be the ideal situation because you then have a parent with a real interest in the school but without the rather special interest which is local and time-limited. To have a predominance of parent governors while their own children are in the school would be a retrograde step, so I strongly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I also support my noble friend Lord Northbourne's amendment. I emphasise that there is much to do. Some children need smaller schools and special teachers to work with them, but others do not, even though they may face serious challenges at home. Good support can be offered in schools to include these children to the benefit of all. I give one example: the charity Voluntary Reading Help, which works in over 1,000 schools. It recruits volunteers to work for one or two lunch hours a week with particularly difficult or challenging children. I have seen for myself in a primary school nearby how the volunteer will sit down and read with a child for half an hour and then play a little game. The child chooses the book and they enjoy their time together. A significant number of these volunteers are men, which is particularly valuable given that we have so many young boys

21 Jun 2010 : Column 1214

growing up without fathers. These are important relationships that can be built up over the course of a year, which is the minimum commitment. This is the sort of thing that helps to include children who might otherwise be challenging. It is important to consider who should make up the governing body and what its function is. It should take a strategic view and be able to adopt sensible approaches like the one I have outlined.

I was encouraged when Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said last week that he intended to recruit more men into early years childcare. I hope that he will also look at primary schools and how initiatives like Voluntary Reading Help might be developed. The charity is keen to expand in order to be able to help more children.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I follow directly on what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has said, as well as what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. The House has been concerned about the position of children with special educational needs. It is one of the areas where a good governing body can make it very clear indeed that the school must make provision for children in this group. Indeed, the force of governing bodies has been one of the pressures that has encouraged the move towards children being educated at least partly in mainstream schools if they possibly can be. Not the least of this has taken place in primary schools, where the governing body is often a crucial factor in ensuring that these youngsters are given the education they need and deserve.

I do not want to detain the Committee for long. First, I ask the Minister whether more assurances can be given on the position of children with special educational needs, about which we have learnt a great deal more in the past 10 years. Far more children are now helped in schools, in some cases through one-to-one assistance, to overcome the obstacles they encountered as very young children so that they often catch up with their cohort. In the long term their special educational needs are not a handicap to them. We would like to associate ourselves closely with what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Low, and of course by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.

I want to make one other point quite strongly. It was the former Secretary of State for Education who brought in the requirement that governing bodies had to include representatives of parents, teachers and non-teaching staff. Will the Government consider very carefully whether we should not consider, as is implied in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, widening somewhat the requirements in the Bill so that governing bodies are rather more representative than the single parent governor that is presently required for the academies? In the country as a whole, there are some 300,000 governors, or at least vacancies for governors. This seems to be a perfect example of what the Prime Minister meant when he talked about the importance of the big society, because these are men and women who volunteer their time and energy and make a fantastic commitment to ensuring that their schools are as good as they can be. I have seen it over and again, particularly in respect of smaller primary schools through what I should declare as an interest in my capacity as the chairman of the judges of the

21 Jun 2010 : Column 1215

Teaching Awards. Among others, we give awards directly to the governors of schools. It has been striking to see governors from often deprived parts of the country committing themselves deeply to getting their communities involved in their school. It would be a tragedy to see that go.

With regard to special educational needs, can the Minister say a little more to ensure that such children get the care and attention they need? Given the large number of academies that are to be created, I also ask him to consider again whether we should not ensure, at the very least, representation of parents-I share the view that it should not be a majority-and staff, including non-teaching staff, on the governing body in order, to put it bluntly, to ensure that those non-teaching staff members are strongly committed to the successful outcome of the school. That is a very important part of making education responsible and responsive to the community and the country as a whole.

6.30 pm

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I am sure that none of us wishes to extend the debate any longer, but I feel strongly that the support being shown for the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, may be misplaced or perhaps misunderstood. I say that because I am disappointed that we should in any sense offer support to the idea that a governing body with a majority of parents is not a delightful and wonderful thing. I hope that the free schools will include those started by groups of parents because surely parents more than anyone else care about the welfare of their children and know what they want for them.

The commitment that you get from parents involved in the running of a school where their own children are present is one of the solid gold threads of education in this country. Many years ago I was involved in the early days of the pre-school playgroup movement. This was established entirely by mothers for their children and it was absolutely wonderful. The way in which the mothers organised themselves and their children-they wanted the absolute best playgroups and so set up training courses for themselves-is exactly what the big society is about. I hope that some of the free schools will generate that excitement again.

The idea that it is only sharp-elbowed, middle class parents who have this kind of excitement is extraordinary. Many of the pre-school playgroups were-

Lord Northbourne: Will the noble Baroness accept that I am prepared to withdraw the phrase "middle class"?

Baroness Perry of Southwark: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that because, certainly, many of the parents came from different backgrounds. I have seen pre-school playgroups on council estates organised by single mothers and so on which were inspiring. So perhaps we should reconsider the idea that a governing body composed of a majority of parents is not necessarily a good thing.



21 Jun 2010 : Column 1216

Lord Rix: My Lords, as the grandfather of a splendid little lad with Down's Syndrome who is nine years' old, perhaps I may say that the massive support that my noble friend Lord Low has received from around the Committee is music to my ears. I should like to add my support to the amendments.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I hope that I am not going to spoil the party by referring to the first two or three amendments in this odd group. The debate seems to have become about the composition of school governing bodies which, as far as I can see, is the subject of a later group of amendments. Never mind; we soldier on.

The first two amendments in the group seek to amend the words at the start of the Bill:

"The Secretary of State may enter into Academy arrangements with any person".

"Any person" seems an unambitious expression and one wonders why it should not, for example, say, "Any charity". I understood the Minister to say earlier without equivocation-this is how I read the Bill-that only a charity can be "the other party" for the purposes of academy arrangements. If we were to get technical-which is what we are supposed to do in this House-we would consider the Interpretation Act, which states, I think I am right in saying, that "any person" is any corporate entity or any individual person. It does not, for example, cover unincorporated trusts-and a great many charities are just that.

If I had been kinder I would have raised these issues with the Minister before the debate, so I do not expect him to answer directly. However, I strongly recommend that the phrase "any charity" should be substituted for "any person". That would be happier, clearer and avoid the technical argument I have touched on.

Lord Bates: Following on from the previous speaker, I should like further clarification on the rules concerning the new schools. It is desirable that the Bill should encompass all three types of new schools. This would, first, allow the best schools to become better by freeing them up; secondly, tackle the failing schools through the academy orders in Clause 4; and, thirdly, make provision for the new schools so that they, too, can become academies. It would be tidy if those three elements could be within the Bill.

We do not need to be too anxious about the burden that this will place upon the Government. Taking things in context, the brief on the Bill pack prepared by the House of Commons includes two or three helpful sections on new schools. It states that currently 19 per cent of the 3,200 secondary schools are judged to be outstanding and will qualify for the fast track. So that is potentially 600 schools out of 20,000. At the other end, depending on how you define inadequate Ofsted reports for longer than a year, there are about 100 failing schools. So, added together, that makes approximately 700 schools out of 20,000.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page