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There are two principles of general consultation. They help with the difficulties, which the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, identified, of being too prescriptive about whom you consult or of trying to be prescriptive but vague at the same time and perhaps leaving things open to legal challenge. First, you must publish what you are proposing for general discussion so that anyone can pick up information about it and take part in the discussion, and you must publish the responses. That is proposed new subsection (1A) in my amendment. Secondly, once you have the responses, whether from parents, teachers, the parish council or just a group of interested people, you must obviously consider them and decide whether you want to allow them to influence your decision. If, after the consultation, you decide to send your application to the Secretary of State, you send a summary of the responses or the responses themselves to the Secretary of State alongside your application so that someone who is looking at the application can consider them at the same time. Those are the two principles of genuine public consultation and debate.
The argument against such a consultation might be that it will delay the process, but so long as you have a pretty strict timetable and people are fairly rigorous and efficient with it, it does not have to delay the process very much. I think there is also a worry on the part of the Government that if there is too much
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I support the coalition Government, but everything that people have said and everything that they have published so far-in the original agreement and in the coalition document Our Programme for Government-talks about more public involvement, more consultation and more involvement of citizens. We are slowly learning what the big society means, but if it does not mean genuine consultation on something that is as important to a local community as the future of its school, what on earth does it mean? Something needs to be in the Bill about consultation, and it needs to involve not just particular interest groups in the school but the wider community.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I support Amendments 114 and 191. I particularly support Amendment 191, because it asks the Government to pilot the academy schools and I think that a conservative approach to this is appropriate. This is so significant to our children's lives. I recognise that this is an enabling Bill, but we expect many schools to buy into this programme. This is a huge experiment and it really does behove us to act in a conservative and considered way. Piloting a scheme, as the amendment suggests, would be a good step forward.
I have previously raised with the Minister my concerns about not only the most vulnerable children in the system but also the workforce and how these schools might cream off the best teachers and head teachers from the schools around them. I think that there is a consensus that the quality of teachers and head teachers makes the most difference to the education of children and young people.
To give examples from other areas, in the prison system we now have a mixed economy of private and public prisons. Private prisons are often accused of paying huge sums of money for the best executives from the public sector. The public sector trains the best prison officers, who get creamed off by private companies. They are also accused of putting junior officers in place who are underdeveloped and undersupported, and they quickly move on. I do not know whether that is a fair accusation but, from the statistics, the turnover of junior officers in private prisons is very much higher than in public prisons. There were all sorts of benefits to introducing a mixed economy in terms of breaking down inflexible practices, but I hope that the illustration shows that there is some cause for concern.
As regards childcare, I was speaking to the manager of a voluntary nursery which is not far from your Lordships' House. She said, "We are very keen on training our childcare workers. They work for their
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I have already mentioned independent social worker practices. I heard the Minister's response to that. It is super that such new models can be very attractive to people coming into social work or teaching. They see themselves gaining the autonomy they want to run their own businesses. There is great enthusiasm for that. However, Paul Fallon, who was director of social services at Barnet, reduced the level of social work vacancies in his local authority from 30 per cent to 3 per cent in three years-I hope that I have the figures right, because they sound a bit too neat. He was well respected and was asked by the Government to be part of a committee advising on independent social work practices. His main concern was that these social work practices would cream off all the best social workers from thereabouts and that there would not be the continuity of provision essential in dealing with these children to ensure that they get back to their families.
This is a bit like a game of chess and the devil is always very good at enticing us with an attractive knight, a rook or even a queen. But we have to look further down the game. When we are dealing with something as serious as this, we have to look a number of moves ahead to the end game. I am concerned about this matter. I wish to learn more. I appreciate the Minister's serious endeavours to reassure me and others.
I also recall the right-to-buy policy, which had many benefits for many people. Unfortunately, the need for councils to redevelop public provision-the local authority homes that were being sold off-was overlooked in that policy. I am sorry to say that in many areas this has condemned some families to sharing a kitchen or a bathroom with five other families. Many families have to live in awful conditions in poor-quality private accommodation because sufficient thought was not given to the overall impact of that policy. This is a good proposal from the opposition Benches and I look forward to the Minister's reply.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am sorry to return to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, but I believe that it is fundamentally unworkable. It is not a question of judgments having to be made about terminology in legislation; these judgments have to be made the whole time. The problem with his amendment is that there are deeply competing interpretations within the education world as to what the words he has used in his amendment would mean. Having been on the receiving end of representations about the setting up of new schools, including schools in the county from which the noble Lord hails, I can tell him that he is setting up a procedure that will see every proposal for a new school that does not have near universal local support end up in the courts being bitterly contested because of the imprecision of language that he proposes to impose on the Bill.
But when it comes to defining need in respect of new school places, two fundamentally competing views are held. One is that "need" should be defined as a numerical need for additional places, while another and essentially different interpretation is that "need" should be based on parental demand for a new type of place or, as alas is too often the case in local authorities with a large number of failing schools, for better places, which is what has driven so much of the academy movement. It is not that there have not been enough school places in a locality, but that they have not been of a quality that parents in good conscience wish their children to take up.
The noble Lord owes it to the Committee to be frank and direct about which concept of need he has in mind. Is need to be defined simply as a numerical need for places or is it to be defined in terms of appreciable parental demand for a type of place-it could be for Montessori-type schools with a different educational philosophy-or better quality places than those on offer in the existing schools?
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but he has rather challenged me. The answer to his question is this. My amendment leaves a discretion with the Secretary of State, and it will be for the Secretary of State to decide on the two or more interpretations of need. In the same way, it will be up to the Secretary of State to come to conclusions about undue detriment. If, through guidance, the Secretary of State gives a further indication of how the two tests have been interpreted, all the better. But as the noble Lord is well aware, the only basis on which this could be challenged in a court-and challenges to ministerial discretions, which are widespread, are extremely rare-would be that the Secretary of State had acted in a way that no reasonable person could have acted.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, I do believe that that is a straight cop-out. Parliament has to be clear on what it means. There are two competing notions of need here and Parliament needs to state, before it charges the Secretary of State with these responsibilities, which one it means. As for judicial reviews and legal challenges being rare, there was one point when I was in the job now being done by the noble Lord, Lord Hill, when I was barely out of the High Court and the Court of Appeal on challenges to academies, most of them with support from the National Union of Teachers and a good number with support, one way or another, from bodies associated with local authorities. So Parliament needs to be clear on what it means.
We come then to "undue detriment". Again, there are two competing views of what this is. It could be taken to mean making another school or schools totally non viable or it could be taken to mean that it would have a serious, definable or appreciable impact on another school or schools. Again, there is a fundamental difference between those two concepts of detriment-whether the detriment causes a school to become non viable or whether it simply has an impact
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This goes to the central point about school improvements as well. The noble Lord's amendment says that the Secretary of State may not allow a new academy to be established if it causes undue detriment. I have to say that in many cases it is the dealing with the undue detriment that should be the duty of the Secretary of State or the responsible local authority using the huge array of school improvement powers available, including those that the Government of whom I was a member provided over 13 years. The idea that parents should not be able to access new or additional school places in areas where the schools are not providing good quality places simply because the provision of those places will cause detriment to other schools fundamentally ignores the interests of parents and their right to have a decent quality school to send their children to. If there is not such a decent quality school and someone is prepared to do something substantive about it, they should be applauded and not put through the legal rigmarole that the noble Lord is proposing, which will work fundamentally against the interests of parents, particularly in places where schools are not of a high enough quality. The imprecision of the language, where it is not clear what the definitions of essential terms such as "detriment" and "need" will be, will ensure that the only people who will gain from this are the lawyers, who will make huge fees while this is fought out in the courts over many years.
On listening to the debates both before and after dinner, I was struck by how similar they were to the debates on the Education Reform Act 1988, when I decided to establish two groups of independent schools-city technology colleges, which were totally independent of government and financed by business people, and grant maintained schools, which were almost independent of government-which we had to get through as a result of an elaborate electoral process which in those days your Lordships tried to hinder, restrict and limit. I was told at the time that these schools would destroy the education system, that the detriment to schools would be overwhelming and that ordinary secondary schools would be undermined and destroyed. That is not what has happened.
In 1988 the Labour Party objected so strongly that it said it would abolish them all; that it would destroy them as soon as it came into power. That did not happen. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was a member of a Government who actually expanded and developed them at the expense of local education authorities, I would remind him. He was a senior member of a Government and a Minister of State who approved all this. The CTCs were not voted down. They became beacon schools which other local schools tried to emulate.
In the early days of city technology colleges, the local education authorities opposed them so strongly that they told the other local authority schools for which they were responsible to have nothing to do
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However, let us forget all of that. I do not want to make party points tonight. This provision for alternative types of schools is good for the whole education system; it drives up standards. As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, if parents are dissatisfied with a local school and the local authority has tried to improve it-it has thrown resources at it and changed the head three times in two years and done everything it can-and it still has not happened, what does it do? Just let it go on to the detriment of all the pupils? I shall give way to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in a moment, because he is being stirred, but I shall give way to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, first.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am intrigued. Is the noble Lord, Lord Baker, saying that the creation of a new school cannot severely damage an existing good school? If he acknowledges that it can, is he saying that nothing should be done about it?
Lord Baker of Dorking: Very often, if there is a good local school there will not be the creation of another school. If you have got a very good primary school that is satisfying the demands of the parents and children, you will not get another group of parents and teachers wishing to create a new primary school.
The noble Lord does not know how difficult it is to start a school. For the past three years I have been starting new schools-at first with Lord Dearing-the new university technical colleges. It is a hard row to hoe because many people do not want it. These are colleges for 14 to 18 year-olds-which is disruptive for an 11-to-18 system for a start-specialising in technological and academic subjects. When Ron and I started, local authorities were not very interested. They did not like them for all the reasons that the noble Lord gave: they hurt good schools. Now I find that local authorities are coming to my little team, saying, "We'd like one of those, please". They have seen that it is a new model that they like; it is better. I do not believe for a moment that a good school is threatened-that is rubbish, if I may say so to the noble Lord. He should not get up; he has had his go. Only bad schools are threatened; that is the problem. I can tell the noble Lord that it takes enormous effort to get a school started-to get parents together, to get teachers together. Meetings do not happen. Who is the champion? Can they bring it together? Then we have a divisive curriculum. Then they have to find support and make it viable economically: they have to find a primary school for 150 pupils and a secondary school
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I prefer working with local education authorities. For the schools that I am establishing, we talk first to the local education authorities. If you are creating 14-to-19 colleges, they have to accommodate the 11-to-14 pupils. They also have to accept that it is a very different body in their school organisation. But now I am finding that local authorities like it. It is novel; it is different; and it will be effective. It will be effective, because in every comprehensive at age 12, 13 and 14, you have a vast number of disengaged pupils who do not want to continue in their local comprehensive school. We are providing an alternative which the state system has not yet provided. It provided it back in the 1950s as technical schools, but they failed because they were skill by snobbery. That is why we get a university to sponsor each of our colleges.
I therefore say to Members who are anxious about all this disrupting our education system that the new academies, to the extent that they will exist in the future, will improve our education system. They will improve the standards; they will get the commitment of local people, which will be very energetic. Even the Liberal Party knows how difficult it is to get local people to do anything-even to vote for them occasionally. So let us imagine how difficult it is to get local people committed to establishing a new school. That is why the Government are trying to make it as easy as possible. We should not make it too difficult for them to do so. This is a very imaginative proposal by the Government and it should be welcomed. It will be welcomed first by the Liberal Party-obviously; it will be welcomed reluctantly by the Labour Party, just as it came to welcome the city technology colleges and the grant-maintained schools. It is only a question of time. It is still in the mode of fighting the last election. When it starts fighting the next election, it will begin to realise that what we are saying is really rather attractive, responsive to the needs of people and beneficial to the education of our country. I cannot wait for the day.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do enjoy this coalition politics, but I think that my noble friends on my left are looking too much at institutions and too little at parents. They should think in terms instead of the interests of parents and the pupils. They are taking too static a view of the schools system. Schools are changing and jostling for places all the time. In a town with three or four secondary schools, the least popular may suddenly get a good new headmistress who makes a great difference and the school becomes popular again. Pupils flow to her away from the other schools. This is a naturally dynamic system which can easily absorb other levels of change. As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, the Government have lots of levers to deal with any problems that develop as a result of change-we will come to that when we talk about inspections and how we watch the way which the
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Lord Whitty: I owe the noble Lord, Lord Baker, at least a brief response since he took us back not only to 1988 but to the 1950s. I read his article about technical colleges and I have some sympathy with it because, for the record, I am strongly in favour of local authorities. But that does not mean that I am against choice and diversity of provision. I do not think that the local authority has to provide everything or that everybody who works at the local authority school has to be employed by the local authority. That is not my position. My position is that the local authority should have oversight. The local authority is responsible for the community and the future of that community. However, the amendment that the noble Lords, Lord Phillips and Lord Greaves, and I are proposing is much more modest. It simply says that the local authority should be consulted, and that these things should be taken into account.
Despite a wide-ranging difference of ideological approach between the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and me, the actual answer to these amendments is relatively restricted. It emphasises the importance of local authorities. Unless the Bill keeps in mind that local authorities are big players in this game, there will be conflict and difficulties.
The other point that I would make to the noble Lord, Lord Baker is that much of what he was describing is not what is being proposed by this Government but what was being enacted by the previous Government. In other words, they were seeing schools that were failing and areas where the local authority was performing badly overall. They introduced academies into that context. I do not totally agree with it, but I sympathise and understand the motivation for that. But what the Minister and his boss Michael Gove are proposing is almost the opposite. They are saying that all schools can apply, but they will take the outstanding ones first. They will automatically take the outstanding schools away from the role of the local authority and leave it to manage the less good schools.
That is an inversion of how the noble Lord, Lord Baker, described the motivation for establishing academies. To some extent, it is an inversion of what the previous Government were attempting to do with the academies that they established. That is the part of the strategy I object to. But I repeat that our amendment is much more modest. I hope that the Minister can at least accept one of our amendments.
Lord Bates: My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, for tabling Amendment 4 and giving us the opportunity to look again at Clause 1(6)(d), because there is a potential difficulty
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The noble Lord, Lord Baker, has just spoken. Of course, the city technology colleges were successful because they did not have that restriction. There was nothing to say that they had to "wholly or mainly" draw pupils from the area of the school. Therefore, they could draw them from a wider area, which was how they became beacon schools.
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