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From my reading, Swedish schools are not subject to the same restrictions in terms of having to draw from very narrow boundaries. There is a potential risk, particularly in the primary sector as distinct from the secondary sector, of deleterious effects on neighbouring schools. I ask my noble friend to look again at the wording of that clause and see whether "wholly or mainly" needs to be included or whether a general statement about pupils being drawn from the area in which the school is situated would suffice.
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, there have been times in the past half an hour or so when I thought that I should contract my job out to the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Baker, and I have been sitting here feeling rather redundant. Between them, they made many of the points that I hoped to make, perhaps more briefly but no doubt less forcefully and persuasively and argued with far less experience, in my case, than that which noble Lords bring to bear. Both their contributions very eloquently made the core point that I would like to make in response, particularly to Amendment 4.
Generally, these amendments probe the Government's intentions in relation to local authorities and the effect of academy orders on local provision, particularly in circumstances in which a large number of maintained schools wish to convert within a single local authority. We also have a specific amendment to do with new schools, to which I shall come in a moment.
We had an earlier discussion about consultation, which noble Lords will be relieved to know I do not intend to rehash. I said in the light of those comments earlier that I would ponder further and, in doing so, think about the points made to me by my noble friend Lord Greaves. We expect schools to consult parents, staff and pupils.
I move to one general point that touches on the points made by my noble friend Lord Baker and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I think that it is the case-and I am discovering this already with anything to do with academy proposals-that there is no shortage of people coming forward when there are academy proposals, making their views known. The local press tend to make their views known and local groups make their views known very forcefully. Groups of parents not in favour of conversion make their views known and groups in favour make their views known. It is not as though currently these academy proposals are considered in a vacuum or in some kind of Trappist silence. I am sure that that vigorous debate in which local people, whoever they are, make their views known as widely as possible will continue.
Our point of principle in this Bill is that schools that want to pursue academy status should have that freedom. Others have made that case far more forcefully than I am able to do or need to rehearse.
On the point of the role of localism, which in the coalition we discuss frequently and to which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred, the debate will clearly continue. People have different views on what localism means and how it should be represented and policed-if that is the right word. With the Bill, we think that individual schools-
Lord Hill of Oareford: I apologise to the noble Lord. The word "police" came unwittingly from my lips. He may have sensed that I was fumbling my way through my sentence and I withdraw it unreservedly.
It is our view that, with regard to local decision-making, involving individual schools, teachers and parents is about as local as it is possible to get. We can argue about how we make that work, but I think that that is pretty local. We think that responsibility for educating children and young people should be devolved to the most local level possible. It is that principle, which I know that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, disagrees with strongly, which has led us to decide that local authorities should not be in a position to veto academy conversions. We know that existing rights in the past have meant that that has happened. If we were to give local authorities the right to be consulted on aspects of this new conversion process, our fear would be that they would be frustrated as it has been frustrated in the past. As has already been set out very eloquently by others, the need to tackle problems of education failure is too urgent to allow that to be frustrated.
I turn to the individual amendments. Amendment 4, moved by my noble friend Lord Phillips, would require the Secretary of State to be satisfied, before entering into academy arrangements, that any new academy met a public need in an area. We had an interesting debate in the House in which these points and the potential legal downsides were aired. I have listened with care to the points made by my noble friend Lord Phillips. He and I have discussed this issue and the specific case that he has in mind, so I understand his view. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on the amendment. I am concerned about its wording, which could give rise to the danger that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, pointed out. The whole point of the free schools policy is that in some cases the proposals should be able to cause detriment to a school if that school has been failing and has let children down repeatedly over a long period. Such a school should be able to be challenged and detriment should be caused to it, so that a new and better school can be established or the school ups its game and improves the education that it offers. That said-
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I regret interrupting the noble Lord, but he misses the main point of my case, as did the noble Lord, Lord Baker. Considerations on the part of some of those who wish to form new
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Lord Hill of Oareford: I understand the point that my noble friend Lord Phillips makes. As I said, we have discussed it. It is in no one's interests to come up with proposals that would damage education overall in an area. That is not the intention or purpose.
The decision whether to go ahead with a free school will not be taken in isolation. The Secretary of State has the discretion to take all relevant considerations into account as part of the approval process. Those considerations would, I am sure, include the kind of issues that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, raises. I go back to my earlier point: it seems inconceivable that concerns of the kind that he has raised with me and the views that I know are held by the people concerned with this case would not be made known, not least by my noble friend. The Secretary of State would have to reflect on those in making his decision.
During the application process, proposers will be expected to discuss their plans with any local partners, including the local authority, and we will encourage them to do that. The Secretary of State has said-as I mentioned in our debate about the free schools announcement, he wrote to local authorities about this at the end of last week-that, alongside other checks in place, he will talk to local authorities to make sure that he fully understands the local context and circumstances before making a final decision on whether to support the establishment of a free school.
I hope that these are common-sense and practical reassurances and that they will provide some comfort that the process gives the Secretary of State the flexibility to take these issues into account. As I also mentioned, these are early days of the free schools policy. Our approach is to work through the implications of the applications as they come in. I am sure that, over time, we will resolve these issues; we certainly have a willingness and desire to do so.
Amendments 98, 106 and 136 envisage academy conversions going through the existing statutory-proposal route for closure or a similar process in relation to conversion, which would delay the process by several months. Because the school is converting, rather than ceasing to exist, we do not believe that that is either appropriate or necessary.
Amendment 114 would restrict the proportion of schools that could convert to academy status within any single local authority area. I have already said that I understand the point about the potential wider impact of a large number of conversions within a single local authority. The Secretary of State has written to local authorities, explaining that he envisages that they will continue to have a role in making these decisions and we will work through these issues with them.
Lord Hill of Oareford: We will have one colour for the coalition. I thought that the letter had been made available in the Library. If it has not, I will make sure that it is. I will still give my noble friend his own special copy.
It is our view that all schools should be free to apply to become academies, subject to the decision of the governing body and its foundation where appropriate. That does not mean that all schools will be approved to become academies. Some schools may not meet the criteria of acceptability or show sufficient evidence that they will be able to deliver an acceptable level of education. Some may not show evidence of enough demand to make them viable. We will consider each case on its merits in the light of the situation in that area.
Amendments 116, 117 and 129 would require the local authority to be consulted about several aspects of the conversion process. I have already set out our view in this respect. We do not want to be in a position where a local authority could veto the process.
Lord Whitty: I gently say to the Minister that, yes, one of my amendments would give local authorities a veto but another would not, and nor would those of the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Phillips. Consultation is not a veto. Ministers in this Government will find that all sorts of statutes require Ministers to consult before they make a decision. It is a bit irritating. At the end of the day, Ministers can ignore it or override it, but at least they have gone through the process. That is all we are asking for here.
Lord Hill of Oareford: I understand the point that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, makes. I stand corrected. Amendments 119 and 191 propose an assessment of the educational impact of each academy conversion before it can go ahead, and a pilot process to make similar assessments over several years. Academies are not a new phenomenon. We know that that they have achieved great things over the years. They already work in partnership with other local schools. They make sensible and co-operative arrangements with local children's services. If we were newly introducing academies, these proposals might well be worth considering very carefully, but we are not. We are, therefore, not convinced that they are necessary.
Amendment 177 would require academies to promote community cohesion. That is obviously, in broad terms, a worthy aim. The question is, how do we see this being achieved? As a condition of grant, an academy is already required by its funding agreement to be at
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I am mindful that somewhere in these amendments was Amendment 137, tabled by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. She asked about the delegation of decisions to an individual governor. We would not expect governing bodies to delegate decision-making in connection with an application for an order to an individual. We would ensure that our system required governing bodies to forward to us a copy of the minutes of the governing body meeting so that we can be satisfied in that connection.
Amendments 76A and 92A deal with post-16 arrangements in academies. I hope that noble Lords will be reassured to hear that where we are being asked to fund an expansion of post-16 provision in an academy we will require the academy to make a strong case for expansion and to show that other local providers have been consulted, but we are not convinced that such a requirement needs to be in the Bill. Recurrent funding in academies, including for sixth-form provision, is formulated to ensure that academies are no better off and no worse off than maintained schools for the provision of similar services. However, as we know, they receive funding to buy in services from a local authority or another provider where these will no longer be provided free of charge to the school. A cap that prevented academies from receiving funding for these services would leave academies worse off than maintained schools.
Lord Baker of Dorking: Before my noble friend sits down, I draw his attention to the point made by my noble friend Lord Bates. However, I am not asking him to make any commitment tonight. My noble friend Lord Bates said that the new schools should provide education if pupils were,
That may be too narrow. If there is a wider catchment area for the new schools, the effect on the area local schools will be much less. Certainly, we have very wide catchment areas for the university technical colleges; for example, half the Black Country. This is acceptable to local authorities because no individual school is hit too much. Will he consider that before Report, please?
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