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Given the backdrop that I have described, I very much hope that the Government will accept this amendment, which does not apply, of course-I have specifically excluded it from doing so-to maintained schools converting to parallel academies, which will be by far the larger number. However, there would still be a significant number of new free academies, which must surely also be expected to serve the higher purpose of educational justice for all, not just their own pupils. A big society, surely, must be an equitable society, particularly towards its most needy. My amendment may not be perfect, but something like it must be in the Bill if we want to end what Mr Gove called in his Statement today a "segregated and stratified" school system. I beg to move.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, Amendments 191 and 114 are intended to probe the Government's view of the long term of this reform and speak to concerns expressed elsewhere in this debate. In answer to questions about the Statement on free schools, I think that the Minister spoke of pilots, although I may be wrong. The amendments to which I speak ask the Government to pilot the Bill's approach in limited areas, or initially to cap the numbers of these new academies so that the effect on nearby schools can be considered in the light of experience. It seems reasonable to me that if the effects that have been forecast of the disruption and funding shortfalls for vital services transpire, we will know that proceeding further along this road would be an error. Other amendments in this grouping discuss the need for openness and the consideration of the wider effects of this policy when proceeding with changes of status on this scale.
Amendments 119 and 177 relate to the criteria for acceptance of an application for conversion to an academy. Crucially, they relate to the need to consider the local impact of the change in the round and to consider the impact on community cohesion of the change to academy status. These constitute very real concerns. The amendment to which the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, spoke also addresses the local impact of these schools. I support the amendment. Questions need to be answered in relation to the example that he gave of a school in Suffolk.
Amendment 76A seeks to introduce a requirement for academies introducing new or significant sixth-form provision to consult existing providers of sixth-form
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Local authorities currently act as commissioners for courses for 16 to 19 year-olds funded by the Young People's Learning Agency. They engage with all providers across local authority boundaries to ensure that courses are provided which meet the needs of students and provide the best value to taxpayers. We would need to be assured that that process would continue with academies, because there needs to be an overview.
Amendment 92A seeks to introduce a fair funding element to 16 to 19 year-old provision in academies to ensure that 16 to 19 year-olds are not treated more favourably than existing providers of education for 16 to 19 year-olds. Currently, if an academy provides or introduces new 16 to 19 year-olds' education, the funding is top-sliced from that which is given via the YPLA to other providers in the area. This funding is provided on the basis that all the places offered by the academy will be filled.
That is not the case for other providers, which are funded on the basis of the places that they have filled in previous years. It can also create an anomalous situation whereby, if places are not taken up at an academy, but the students instead choose to go to a sixth-form college, it is still the academy rather than the college that receives this funding for those places. That creates a financial incentive for academies to offer courses for which there is no or little new demand. I am not an expert in these areas, but when I was alerted to these specific issues, it seemed that these were the very issues that we should be probing and seeking answers on from the Minister.
These amendments are not designed to shackle the Secretary of State and they do not prevent him continuing with his plan. They merely seek to assure those who have perhaps been unnerved by the speed with which he is pursuing an end to any form of community accountability for schools.
Lord Bew: My Lords, I shall address some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, in his Amendment 4. Much of this is an issue of context. I was struck by the example of the case in Sudbury, which he gave in his speech at Second Reading. It is of concern that what we are doing with this new second phase of the academies project will leave certain schools and communities behind.
However, I want to suggest an angle of vision on this which I hope will be helpful in a small way to the Committee. If you look at a very traditional elitist system such as that which prevails in Northern Ireland-the grammar school system-which is different markedly from the system that is being discussed, although there is a small grammar school element to it, you will see that the results achieved at A-level and GCE are by far the best in the United Kingdom. At the bottom, the results are not so good-but nor are they now so divergent from those in England. Girls are actually doing better in Northern Ireland. Boys in Northern Ireland are doing worse than in England. However,
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The point I am trying to make is that the Northern Irish grammar school system, for all its many joys, was not formed in a political culture whereby a Minister for Education talked, as he was talking today, about using the state as a weapon for equity. In other words, the context is enormously important. It is important that the context is right when we discuss these questions and that the policy of the Government is directed towards greater equality of opportunity, which seems to be, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, conceded, where the Minister is coming from. He may not be quite the Marxist-Leninist that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked about, but none the less that seems to be the approach. The status quo is leaving people behind. We already have a segregated system. The status quo is already having negative effects, and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, whose point about unintended consequences I accept, is rightly concerned that they will become more marked as side effects of this new system.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, if I may-I have some amendments in this group. I should like to speak to Amendments 98, 136 and 177. I also intend to speak to Amendment 137 along with Amendment 98, as they go together. I apologise that with all the toing and froing with the groupings this morning, I did not notice that Amendment 137 had not been included in this group. However, I believe that I am able to speak to it all the same.
The purpose of Amendments 98 and 137 is to probe the application of the school governance procedures regulations 2003 to a resolution by the school governors to apply for academy status. The current regulations provide for special procedures for important governing body decisions about the future of a school-particularly ones such as this, which would lead to a decision by the local authority to discontinue supporting the school. The special procedures currently include a requirement that the decision cannot be delegated to a committee or individual, and the chair cannot direct that a period of notice shorter than seven days be given for a governing body meeting. Indeed, in certain cases, a second governing body meeting must be held within 28 days to confirm the original decision.
Therefore, can the Minister confirm that a decision to apply for academy status cannot be delegated to an individual governor or even a small committee of governors? Will the regulations require the local authority or parents to be informed of the date when the governing body proposes to make a decision? Should not the regulations be amended to this end if they do not already do so?
Amendment 136 is a different way of dealing with the same matter. Clause 5(9) disapplies current legislation. Conversely, if we remove subsection (9), as Amendment 136 does, the current situation regarding consultation, safeguards and time periods and so on regarding who can make the decisions remains.
Amendment 177 would insert a new clause that would extend to academies a current duty on the governing bodies of maintained schools in England to promote community cohesion in the discharging of their functions. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, touched on this in the earlier debate on consultation. I well recall our debates during the passage of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which introduced a duty on all maintained schools in England to promote community cohesion and on Ofsted to report on the contributions that they make in this area. Both these duties have now commenced.
Governing bodies of existing new Labour academies are not subject to the same duty to promote community cohesion as applies to maintained schools, despite our protestations, as I recall, when the Bill went through your Lordships' House, yet from September 2008 their contribution to community cohesion has been reported on by Ofsted. I think it is vital that the new academies are also required to promote community cohesion, especially where they are located in areas where the community is very diverse. This is particularly important given the concerns that academies may increase social division and inequality, rather than reduce them, which of course is the intention of the programme. That is not how we want academies to be. They should be part of, and serve, the local community.
On the question of new 16 to 19 providers, mentioned by the noble Baroness on the opposition Benches, I think that if an academy extends the age range which it intends to serve beyond that which it had when it first applied to be an academy, there may very well be a case for having to go back to the Secretary of State to renegotiate the terms of the academy agreement. Can the Minister let me know whether that is the Government's intention? It would be a major change in the academy's provision and the original consultations would no longer be legitimate.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I, too, have tabled amendments in this group-Amendments 116, 117, 119 and 129. Since this is the first time that I have spoken on this Bill, I welcome and congratulate the Minister on his position and the way in which he has hitherto dealt with the Bill. However, I cannot give the same welcome to the Bill itself. He needs to know that I have fairly fundamental objections to it, which may appear from time to time. It may have a rougher ride as we go forward.
It is true that I also had some reservations about the previous Government's academies programme, contrary to the position of the Front Bench and other colleagues. However, it was very different-it was different in execution, although some would say that it was not that different in ambition. In execution, the Labour Government, with their fewer than 300 academies, recognised that there were failing schools, or at least schools that were underperforming in educational terms, and that there were areas of social deprivation, which
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That is a political and an educational principle. It is an educational principle for reasons to which the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has just referred. A change in the status and the relative resources and attention given to one school will have a knock-on effect on other schools. Sometimes it might be beneficial, but it will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect.
The record on Labour academies is mixed. Some have been very successful; some have improved, though it could be argued that they could have been improved by less drastic interventions; and some have failed or nearly failed. The case is not yet fully proven. To take away from local authorities the responsibility for educating their populations, which they have had for well over a century, is a very drastic move. In this short Bill we are changing the provision of education in this country.
This depends on initiatives being taken by the school and on the attitude of the Secretary of State to the application of the school. However, the ambition has been clearly laid out by the Minister and the Secretary of State. They want a large number of schools to opt out of local authority oversight. I say "oversight" and not "control" because local authorities have not managed schools for many years. They have supported schools and given them administrative support, help in specialist matters and special needs, and help in many other areas, but they have not managed the schools in the way which is sometimes implied by the criticism of the current system.
The Bill is taking a big step to remove the relationship between schools and the local authority. I appreciate that I am not going to be able to persuade the Government or the coalition-or at least most of the coalition-that this is the wrong way to go. But if we are to go down that road, it is essential to reassert the role of the local authority. We had a debate just before the break about consultation. I take some of the points from my noble friend Lord Adonis and others that to prescribe exact forms of consultation in primary legislation can lead you down difficult paths and that perhaps it is better covered by a code, guidance or, certainly, practice by the Secretary of State and those who are promoting academies and free schools.
The one bit of consultation that I do not believe you can escape is consultation with the local authority. The local authority might in some cases agree that it would be a good thing to have an academy. It would certainly have views on it and it would certainly have views that are informed by the impact on the rest of education in the area of its oversight. My first amendment is my ideal. Amendment 116 says that the local authorities should be consulted and should agree the proposals.
I appreciate that that is fairly close to cloud-cuckoo land, given the Government's intentions. In any case, if there was a disagreement between the local authorities and the Secretary of State, you would have to build in an arbitration process. I have therefore given the Government an alternative, which simply states that there is an obligation to consult the local authority.
Personally, I think that if that is not inserted in some form into the Bill, it will be greatly flawed. I suspect that it will make for a difficult ride in another place if local authorities are not written in, so I therefore strongly advise the Government that if they are to continue to go down that road, they ought at least to recognise the special role of local authorities in that respect.
I also take the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, before the break, but perhaps the obligation to consult ought to be not on the party proposing the school but on the Secretary of State him or herself. At the end of the day, the Secretary of State will have to make the judgment and explain to Parliament whether an effective consultation has taken place, so I place the responsibility not on the proposers but on the Secretary of State. That makes sense.
My Amendment 119 goes further to state-in a sense, with the same motivation as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips-that there should be an assessment of the effect of taking a prospective academy out of local authority oversight on the rest of the educational provision in the area. Where it differs from the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and probably therefore avoids the objection of my noble friend Lord Adonis, is that it simply states that there should be an assessment. That assessment, or at least its conclusions, should probably be available publicly-although the amendment does not state that-but it still leaves the final judgment to the Secretary of State, whereas the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, would prescribe something that is difficult to define, as my noble friend said. Nevertheless, I think that the noble Lord and I are both on the same page here: before we move to approve an academy, an assessment needs to have been made as to the effect that will have on the total educational provision in the area.
I hope that the Government take some notice of the amendment. Personally, I find it very difficult that in the name of removing the burdens of red tape from head teachers and governing bodies, we move from a system of local authority oversight to one of centralised funding, centrally regulated. The red tape which has undoubtedly been imposed on the teaching profession by successive Governments over the past two or three decades has largely emanated from central government and their agencies, not from local government. The relationship with local government has been, by and large, constructive. We ought to maintain that. Even if we are going for change which some local authorities may approve of, there must be a vital role for local authorities in that process.
My final amendment simply gives some flexibility on timescale, so I will not go into it in great detail. The key point here is that local authorities must be present under the Bill to be consulted, engaged and involved, reflecting the impact of a decision on one school on the totality of education in their area.
It was originally intended as an addition to the amendments on consultation in the previous group proposed and spoken to by my noble friend Lady Walmsley and the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Howe of Idlicote. I thought that rather than tabling three amendments adding on to them, I would table just one to discuss alongside them. I failed miserably, because we have to discuss it now.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he thought that he would not be able single-handedly to persuade the coalition that this Bill should be scrapped and that we should start again. It would not take a lot to persuade me, but I do not think that I could persuade the coalition either. Even the combined forces of the noble Lord and I would not succeed in that. Therefore, we have the Bill that we have, and we have to do what the House of Lords traditionally does very well: look at the Bill, not challenge it in principle but look at how it will work, whether it will work successfully and the effect that it will have on everything else around it. That is what we are doing, and what we have to do.
The amendment is about local consultation and, in particular, it is about attempting to widen the consultation and debate to the community as a whole. At Second Reading the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said that there should be an interactive relationship between schools and the community that they serve and in which they are situated. That is true; it has clearly got to be a two-way relationship and must continue whether a school is an academy, a maintained school or any other sort of school. The wider community therefore has a perfectly legitimate role in the debate that will take place in a lot of places about whether schools should become academies.
If a town has one or two secondary schools, whether 11 to 16, 11 to 18 or whatever, they are important institutions in that community. They are not there to educate just those pupils who go to them at the moment; they are there to educate future pupils. Therefore, parents of future pupils, whether or not they are born, have a legitimate role in the debate. The schools may be providing community facilities-many schools do nowadays, and on an increasing scale. People who use those community facilities have a perfect right to take part in the debate. Schools very often play a role in the community in all sorts of different ways which impact on everybody.
A primary school may be virtually the only public institution left in a village. There may be a post office, if you are lucky, and there will be a pub, which is semi-public, but the school is vital as part of that community. The future of that school is something in which everybody has a legitimate interest. Some people have a more legitimate interest than others. If you are employed there, if your children are there, if you are the children who are there, if you are the families of children there, you arguably have a more direct and immediate interest than somebody who is just resident in the village. That village school will play a vital part
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Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I am very interested in the noble Lord's view on this. Does he think there is a material difference between what a community might have to say about a primary school and about a secondary school? Is there a difference between those institutions in terms of the community engagement and collective responsibility?
Lord Greaves: I think there is a real difference between primary schools and secondary schools for other reasons, but the relationship between a school and the community in which it is situated varies hugely between schools. Some schools cut themselves off from the community, unfortunately, a tendency that has increased in recent years because of the pressures put on the schools, but other schools look outwards. I do not think there is necessarily a difference between a primary school and a secondary school, although primary schools-by their very nature, because they take in very young children and bring mothers in and so on-are often more closely involved in the community than some secondary schools. However, I do not think there is necessarily a direct relationship between that, and I know secondary schools that are heavily involved in the community.
The parish council in a village, the town council in a town and the district council can all legitimately have a say. I am not saying that they should have a right of veto; I am saying that these are community institutions and if a community is to have a proper debate, no matter how quickly, everyone in that community has a right to it.
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