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My first question is whether the 35 existing state boarding schools will be able to transfer to academy status. Is the advice of the department's lawyers that they would satisfy the requirements in the Bill to serve pupils wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which they are located? Looking at the list-and I know a lot of them well-my sense is that some will meet that requirement, but some will not. It would be a good thing if they were all able to meet that requirement. I
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Secondly, will existing private schools that provide a substantial number of places for state-funded pupils through the music and dance scheme be able to join the state system by means of academy status? It would be a good thing if they were able to do so, if they wished, so that we strengthened the capacity of the state education system to be genuinely comprehensive in meeting the needs of pupils with exceptional talent in music, dance and the arts. I imagine the advice that the Minister will get from his lawyers is that schools that educate pupils under the Government's music and dance scheme will not be eligible for academy status as a means of coming in to the state system because they do not educate pupils drawn wholly or mainly from the area in question. Chetham's in Manchester is a phenomenal school. I am glad to say that one of the good things that the department has done in recent years is to provide a substantial grant for rebuilding. Pupils come from across the country, and rightly so.
My practical suggestion is that either Clause 1(6)(d) is removed entirely, or that special provisions are inserted into the Bill to enable certain categories of schools which do not provide for pupils who are drawn wholly or mainly from the area in which they are located to become academies. I specifically have in mind boarding schools and schools whose purpose is to educate pupils with exceptional talent in music, dance and the arts. If it is possible, I would be grateful for an opportunity to discuss this further with the Minister to see how we can resolve this issue.
The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I shall speak to Amendments 47 and 127. I agree that the clause to which the noble Lord referred needs to be freed up a bit. Amendment 47 would allow exceptions to pupils being drawn from the local community. At the moment, the clause is very prescriptive, and my amendment would allow a broader intake of pupils. It could also have an impact in other areas, and I declare an interest as it would be of interest to faith groups. On the other hand, I am trying to strengthen the argument for the local community being the main user of these schools by shifting the burden of proof from that they might or might not be community schools to the general rule being that they are. That is why the Church of England is committed to the academies programme. My amendment would secure its interest and would also allow what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, wants, even though we want to press for something more specific. However, in general terms, we are making a similar point.
If the Minister were to be sympathetic, it would strengthen the arm of those of us in the Church of England who want to be able to say to our people that we are in this business to serve the community, not primarily to further a particular faith position. My amendment would strengthen that position, and I hope that not only would it be of benefit to the Government in implementing the Bill but will help us ensure that our people remain on side when it comes to why we are in the business.
Amendment 127 is rather different. I am fishing in the same waters as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in the debate on the previous group and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton, in this group. The amendment is to do with the relationship between academies and other schools. I want to strengthen the Government's arm when it comes to ensuring-not just hoping for or expecting-that these schools will form partnerships with weaker schools in the vicinity. They will be required to do so, subject to certain exceptions because there will be exceptions. A school could be situated somewhere where there are no other schools close by that are practically able to partner in that way. That is acknowledged in my amendment. The fundamental principle is to beef this up and turn it from hope or expectation to a requirement, with the possibility of exceptions where they might arise in the judgment of the Secretary of State.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I shall speak to Amendment 63 which is in my name and that of my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Garden. It is a fairly simple amendment and relates to Clause 1(6)-as my noble friend Lord Greaves said, we are still on Clause 1-which lists the basic characteristics that will be required of schools converting to an academy. In a number of the amendments, we have been discussing further characteristics that noble Lords would like to see attached to this subsection. The purpose of Amendment 63 is to probe what sort of machinery the Government are thinking of for monitoring all these characteristics. In subsection (5), the undertaking is given that these schools will adhere to these characteristics, but we are asking for some sort of monitoring machinery to make sure that they adhere to them, rather than regarding them as something that they agree to when they sign the agreement, but subsequently do not bother about very much. We would like to hear from the Minister precisely what sort of undertakings and monitoring machinery there will be.
I have a lot of sympathy with my noble friend Lord Greaves who wants to eliminate the term "independent school". When we first started to discuss academies, Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, described them as independent state schools. If we are going to have independent state schools, let them be called independent state schools. I always felt that they were an anomaly, and I cannot say that I like them very much. Nevertheless, my noble friend Lord Greaves is absolutely right that it is misleading for the Bill to use the term "independent schools", which are well understood in this country to mean independent private schools.
Secondly, I am very sympathetic to my noble friend's notion that where primaries convert to academies, there should be a pilot rather than primaries rushing into doing so. I am particularly taken with his notion of primaries forming a federation. A long time ago-back in the 1970s-I was involved in forming such a federation of schools in Washington DC, where six small elementary schools, as they are called in the United States, were formed into what is very close to being the free school movement that we are talking about now. They established
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Lastly, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said. I very much go along with the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate and the suggestion that those who attend academies should be drawn mainly from the local area. However, I had dealings with state boarding schools when we discussed previous education legislation in this House, and think that they are very impressive. They serve a very important need, and what he says about them is correct. Similarly, I come from Surrey and we have quite a lot to do with the Yehudi Menuhin School. These specialist schools are brilliant, but they obviously cannot serve a narrow area. They have to serve a wider area, so I very much agree with him.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on state boarding schools. It is my experience that, for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, the boarding school solution can very often be the only one that works.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I support very strongly the arguments made by my noble friend Lord Greaves on removing primaries from the present list of schools that can become academies. I will very quickly provide a few additional arguments in support of his well-argued speech.
First, primary schools are in many ways the fundamental building blocks of community throughout the country. Sometimes they are Church of England primary schools, sometimes they are not, but in almost every town or village where they exist that is what they are seen to be by the populations of those areas. They are therefore not only educational institutions; in many ways, they are crucial social institutions that help to hold communities together. In fact, more and more, the local primary school is at the heart of whether a village survives as a village or becomes in effect another suburb.
Secondly-my noble friend Lord Greaves implied this, but I want to underpin his arguments-primary schools are heavily dependent on local authority advice services, whether in relation to special educational needs, staff relationships or legal matters. They very often simply cannot afford to buy in advice or get advice from a private source because they are too small, as my noble friend argued, and often too isolated to be able to master that advice. However, they need it, and, for a very small primary school, getting that advice can make disproportionate demands on the school budget. Primary schools simply cannot sustain these services easily-and special educational needs are one of the most central-if the local authority advice services disappear. One question for the Minister is this: if one gets to the point at which those advisory services are mostly disappearing because such a large proportion of the schools that are served by them have chosen to become academies, will he look at the possibility of some sort of residual advisory service for small schools that simply cannot afford to sustain such advice themselves?
In addition, primary schools often require assistance on matters such as appeals and dealing with children who, for one reason or another, have disciplinary problems and are likely to be excluded. It is too much to ask primary school heads too often to take difficult decisions that require legal advice on their own-a position in which some primary school heads find themselves.
Thirdly, primary schools could suffer from a talent drain if they had to battle against a small, or perhaps even substantial, number of primary school academies in which, say, teachers of mathematics or teachers with special abilities with SEN children are very much in demand. In that case, primary schools would come at the very bottom of the pecking order.
Last of all, primary schools-at least in my view-require the support of their local community to a greater extent than secondary schools do, so the argument for having governing bodies that sustain and include members of the local community is particularly strong.
What does that add up to? As my noble friend has argued, it adds up to treating primary schools at least as a more distant case for becoming academies than secondary schools are treated. It would be very easy to disrupt the primary school system if one is not careful, and, once a proportion of primary schools become academies, it begins to become virtually impossible to decide strategically how to meet the needs of all children in an area. I therefore suggest to the Minister that serious consideration should be given to the possibility of considering primary schools at a later stage and to permitting a few primary schools to go ahead with becoming academies as part of a pilot scheme. If the new politics means anything, it means that we must be able to look at experiments without insisting that they are universalised before we know whether they work. For the reasons that I have given, the argument for considering primary schools at a later stage, if at any stage, should be made very strongly in our discussions, because they are different, they are dependent on the local authority, they are central to their local communities and they are in a different position from that of secondary schools.
Lord James of Blackheath: I interject on behalf of the SEN pupils of boarding schools with a word of caution, and I speak, as I have said before, as probably the House's only representative of SEN students in my day. In one term alone, there were eight suicides from a student base of 45 at a boarding school for SEN children in 1947. This was a good school, and there was no abuse-indeed, the teachers showed very great kindness and consideration-but it is very dangerous to take struggling young people away and put them together in a school in which they have to cope with their recognition of their total inability to study effectively and have no home life at the same time. Please do not put SEN children into public boarding schools.
The Government propose that outstanding schools that convert to academies should take under their wing another school that is struggling and that should
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Amendment 26 prevents changes causing untold disruption to sixth forms and colleges in the community, which I believe could be an unintended consequence of the changes. Amendment 27 deals with another seemingly unintended consequence of the legislation. Under the Government's proposals, academies will be allowed to expand at will and will be able to include sixth-form colleges and primary schools. A school converting to an academy at, say, primary school level could in theory grow until it becomes an all-through academy for pupils from the age of five to 18, but the local authority and the local community will have had no say in the issue.
There could be serious consequences. For instance, a faith primary school could expand into a secondary school, or a grammar school could expand into primary education. Without proper public consultation, the balance of, for example, faith schools and non-faith schools in a given community could be transformed. We would not want such an unintended consequence. The Bill also erodes the ability of local authorities to plan by giving secondary schools, for example, the right to establish a primary class without the need to consult anyone. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pointed out, primary schools are often much smaller than secondary schools. They have much less capacity to budget, to plan for the future, to have in-house services for SEN provision or to have other key shared services.
In principle, there is no reason why primary school children cannot attend an autonomous school. Under the previous Government, all-through academies happened and they were successful. But, like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I wonder whether the academy model is the right model for primary schools right now, as it will necessitate a considerable increase in overheads for primary schools. The resources for shared services could be swallowed up by extra administration, which could have severe consequences for the wider welfare of primary school children in those communities. Amendments 99, 109 and 120 effectively ask the Government to think again about that issue and to think about a framework which might involve more collaboration, as has been mentioned, for primary schools and secondary schools. We think that that might be more appropriate. Therefore, we are thinking along the same lines.
Amendments 103 and 111 deal with what could be seen as a fundamental issue, a problem, at the heart of the Bill. The current academies programme targets areas of inadequate educational attainment and opportunity. Most academies replace existing weak or underperforming schools. Others are brand new schools in areas which need the extra school places. Academies were a key element of the national challenge. They
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Part of the real benefits of the academies programme under the Labour Government was that outside expertise was harnessed for the good of turning around failing schools and it was important to acknowledge a role for innovation. For this reason, academies were obliged to follow the national curriculum in only core subjects such as English, maths, science and information technology. The schools were also taken out of existing local authority control and given the funding for shared services, as we have discussed previously. This was so that they could use the funding to deliver the services, which many, by definition, would have had more need for than other schools, because they were often in the most deprived areas with the most overlapping problems.
Academies have had a higher incidence of pupils with English as an additional language compared to other state-funded schools. Investigating the state of play as regards pupil profile admissions and exclusions, the report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers says that the proportion of children eligible for free school meals in academies has declined at a faster rate than in other schools, with a drop of nearly 6 per cent. The PWC report also shows that the absolute number of pupils on free school meals has risen compared to their predecessor schools. We can see that the fall in proportion does not mean that free school meal numbers have declined but that more children are attending school, as well as more from other backgrounds. Of course, that is a good thing and shows that the schools are getting a genuinely comprehensive intake, which we welcome. Many predecessor schools sadly had unrepresentative intakes. But the PWC report indicates a story of sink schools with a high proportion of children on free school meals attracting a much broader intake to much more successful schools.
By contrast, the Government propose to implement a reform which is aimed at improvements for 20 per cent of schools already rated outstanding by Ofsted. Of course, these schools are likely to have fewer children on free school means attending. There is a real risk that by giving advantages to the strongest and not to the weakest, we entrench rather than erode the inequalities in the education system in this country. That is why it is so important that these excellent schools work strongly with the schools in the most disadvantaged areas, which is precisely why I welcome Amendment 125 in the name of my noble friend. It is important that we deal with this issue up front and I would like to make it explicit in the legislation.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, inevitably ranging over a lot of issues. I have been struck again and again by the firm agreement on the requirement for academies, in whatever form, to partner and to be the supporting school for schools in difficult situations that need that form of help. That is very important.
The other crucial thing is what has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. The two groupings of schools might not otherwise be considered to be within the scope of academies. I am tied up with some art schools and music schools and I know how difficult it is for them to get support from local authorities. Extra support and involvement in the academy status would be a good idea. I hope that I am wrong about the boarding school side of things. It is probably a bad idea to have too many children grouped in special needs circumstances. Certainly, to be in a school that can provide help, support and encouragement is excellent.
Above all, we must ask the Minister to work out a way in which he can satisfy us that, once the academy status is confirmed, these schools will partner deprived schools. On the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, a form of formal or informal monitoring after it has taken place might help as well, but we will need a report on how things are going.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, this is a hugely disparate group of amendments. We have covered a lot of topics and it has been difficult sometimes, despite the intelligence of Members of the Committee, to see any common thread in what has been discussed. I want to return to the issue raised by the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. They deal with the absolutely key issue of the catchment area from where the academy will draw its pupils.
In recent years, I have been increasingly concerned over the whole issue of catchment areas, largely because we have seen that, where there is a good, strong school, parents who can afford to do so understandably-I do not blame them for it at all-cluster around the school and buy or rent houses in the area. There are even stories of parents being slightly economical with the truth in all sorts of interesting ways about where they live in order to claim that they are within the catchment area of a good school. Meanwhile, the schools most in need are in the most deprived areas. The people who live near those poor schools, often on local council estates, do not have the option of moving. They cannot buy their way into the catchment area of a good school.
This is one of the big issues for academies. I know that in Hackney the academies do not have catchment areas, but they do use banding and lotteries. I know that my noble friend Lord Lucas has an amendment-for various reasons, it is not in this group-that raises the issue of banding. I ask the Minister to think seriously about the issue of "wholly or mainly" in a local area and about the freedom which grammar schools have had since their inception and which grant-maintained schools had in their day-and which, as I say, many existing academies have taken-that allows them to go outside their area, maintaining the inclusiveness of the intake by means of banding but giving it a social mix or even a mix of talent.
Lord Lucas: I support entirely what my noble friend has just said. It is important, particularly when we are granting new freedoms to outstanding schools, that one of our ambitions for them is that they should reach out of the area immediately around them, which frequently has been colonised by people who can
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I also support the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in what he said about state boarding schools. They have a strong role to play and I would like to see an increasing role for them. As he says, most of them are excellent, but they are clearly not serving their local areas in any particular way. That also applies to religious schools. Existing schools such as the Jewish Free School have a wide catchment area and are excellent. I cannot see why they should be excluded just because their communities are widespread. They should not be geographically confined, particularly if new schools are following the 50 per cent rule. I do not see any damage arising from that. Again, historically we have supported dance, drama and music in specialist schools and I suspect that it would do our national pride a bit of good if we supported tennis. All in all, I come down to agreeing with the first amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. I cannot see a function for subsection (6)(d) that could not reasonably and justly be dealt with in the ordinary discretion of the department.
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