Right; I just thought that I would embarrass myself, rather than have everyone else embarrassing themselves by not knowing what to say.
It is a great pleasure to be going through the various provisions of the Bill. Let me also take this opportunity to welcome the Government Front-Bench team to their roles. This is their first opportunity to take a Bill through the Commons. Normally today's proceedings would have happened upstairs but, without making a point, I can say that theirs is still a demanding role, but one that I know they will enjoy. It is also quite nice to be on this side of the Committee, from where I can ask the questions and not have to think what the answers are. Having said that, I would much rather be in power and have that responsibility.
With that welcome, let me say that the Bill and our discussions on it are extremely important, and while it is-
I will in a moment. The hon. Gentleman should let me get started. If he gives me just two minutes, I will say something and then he might want to intervene-unless, of course, he wants to intervene to welcome my welcome.
It is good to be here to debate the issues, but let me say one thing. I know that there will be serious differences of opinion in this discussion, but I also know that we are all motivated by a desire to improve educational standards. There are real differences between us on how we achieve that and what the best way forward for our state school system is. However, I accept that we are all motivated by a desire to try to do the best for the young people of this country, and I know that that is true among all Members, right across the House.
No, I am not embarrassed at all; I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will have to put up with me for the time being.
This is an important debate, but it is also the quality of debate that is important. Over the next few days-today, tomorrow and Monday-the quality of the debate from across the Committee will lead to a Bill that we will oppose, but which, being a good Opposition, we will try to improve, notwithstanding the fact that we do not agree with it.
It is important to say at the beginning that, whether we are talking about the current amendment-amendment 28, which concerns special schools-or any other amendment, at the heart of this debate is the fact that we have a different view of academies and academy education from that which is presented in the Bill. This Bill inverts the way in which the previous Government pursued the academy programme. We established academies in areas of poor educational performance and areas of social disadvantage. The Bill turns that on its head, allowing outstanding schools to fast-track to academy status and allowing primary schools for the first time to become academies, a provision that is the subject of a subsequent amendment, and also allowing special schools to become academies-the subject of amendment 28. Those are all things that we think could damage the provision of education, particularly with respect to special education needs in an area.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the recommendation in the previous Parliament of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, as it then was, that the freedoms available to academies under his Government should have been available to all schools? Does he have any objection to all schools having such freedoms?
Of course we want freedoms extended to different schools where appropriate. However, if the hon. Gentleman reads the Children, Schools and Families Committee report, he will see that it talked about allowing the expansion of those freedoms within a managed context, not what is being proposed now, which is that these freedoms be extended to schools without any check on them or on how they use those freedoms. The proposals on the local authority role have caused huge disquiet across the country, and will have caused huge disquiet among the hon. Gentleman's Conservative and Liberal colleagues. That is why I am pointing out the difference.
The Chair of the Select Committee is no longer in his place, but it would be interesting to know whether his Committee would have reached the same conclusion about the extension of freedoms to all schools if it had known that it would happen in a context in which the Secretary of State-either through a funding agreement or a direct grant-determined whether a school was operating effectively and conducting itself in an appropriate way. This applies to special schools, as provided for in the amendment, and to any other schools. I believe that the different context is crucial for understanding the conclusions that the Select Committee came to about how the academies programme was developing under the last Government in comparison with this Government's programme. In the light of that difference, the Select Committee might well have reached different conclusions.
Of course outstanding schools can be trusted, but such schools have demonstrated that they already have all the freedom they need to be outstanding. Schools in areas of social deprivation or those suffering from educational underperformance should be allowed to operate in a way that, we hope, will raise standards. Evidence on whether or not the hoped-for and expected higher standards have been achieved is not as clear cut as one would like to imagine. I shall come on to deal with impact assessments in more detail later, but for any type of school, the impact assessments are quite wary about the evidence is terms of how much progress has been made in academies. All I am saying to the right hon. Gentleman-to be fair, he operates by trying to make policy on the basis of evidence-is that the evidence is mixed, so to plunge headlong into a massive expansion of academy freedoms without due regard to the evidence is not the right course of action for special schools or others.
No, that is a totally different scenario. I was not saying that at all. I was saying that to target academy freedoms in the first instance to schools in areas of educational underperformance and social disadvantage was exactly the right thing to do. My right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State agreed a large number of academies and it is clear that we would have gone on to establish more of them. What we are saying is that this model of academies is the right one. As for amendment 28-I want to stay in order, Mr Hoyle-extending the same model to special schools and primary schools without the evidence to back it up is a risk. A managed expansion would be fine, but this is a free-for-all. That is the difference. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman wants to improve educational achievement in an area, but our view is that this proposal creates an unnecessary risk. Allowing outstanding schools to expand through the academy system as the Bill sets out risks creating the two-tier education system that none of us wants.
The hon. Gentleman talks about a massive expansion, but surely the key point about this legislation is that it is permissive. Special schools and primary schools will become academies only if those schools themselves judge that they want to be academies. Does he not trust the judgment of those schools, their head teachers and their governing bodies?
It is simply not the case that the hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench team want this to be a gentle expansion and not a big bang. The Secretary of State sees this as a flagship Bill. The idea is to try as hard as possible-notwithstanding the impact assessments-to expand the number of academies as quickly as possible. If we had been successful in the election and were still in government, we would have expanded the number of academies. Indeed, I had signed up to a number of them coming forward in September-some in the hon. Gentleman's constituency-and my right hon. Friend Ed Balls would have expanded the academies programme, as I said.
The issue is the model for the expansion. That is the difference between us. We will argue our way all around the different clauses, but this goes to the very heart of the debate. Our view is that we should concentrate on schools in areas of social disadvantage and educational underperformance; this Government's view is to allow outstanding schools to fast-track to academy status with all the risks that that brings.
The hon. Gentleman will know that in London constituencies like mine, people in very disadvantaged circumstances often live right next door to fairly affluent areas. Why does he think that only poorly performing schools should try to improve? Why should satisfactory schools, good schools and outstanding schools not also try to raise their standards?
That is a fair point. We want all schools to improve their standards. That is not my point. My point is that allowing only outstanding schools to let rip in this way is likely to cause problems. The hon. Gentleman needs to ask why the Bill does not specifically provide that outstanding schools should or must co-operate and reach an agreement with an underperforming school. As it stands, it is a permissive part of the Bill: it is a good thing to do; it would be nice if those outstanding schools did that. They should do so, but there is no "must" about it. I am not sure how this would work in respect of the programme motion, but the hon. Gentleman might like to consider tabling an amendment formally to require outstanding schools to partner other schools-special schools or whatever-that may be next door to them, but are not satisfactory and are not delivering the standard of education that they want. If he did that, I would look forward to considering whether we could support it.
I am slightly concerned that words such as "freedom" are being used in this context. It is one of those concepts like "apple pie" and "mother's milk", which nobody can disagree with. Given that we have a personalised curriculum and given that much work has been done with head teachers to see what can be developed and offered at key stages 3 and 4, my concern is that we are effectively granting the freedom to disapply the curriculum from many vulnerable children and to restrict what is offered on the curricular diet to certain groups of children. I fear that head teachers will say, "There's no point in that child learning French; he can barely speak English. Sorry".
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There is a clear tension. We need to ensure that, where appropriate, schools are given the freedom to innovate and to pursue the important objectives they want, but that we do so in a way that does not disadvantage some children.
As I was saying, this goes to heart of the Bill and explains why we tabled amendment 28 to take special schools out of the Bill so that they cannot become academies. If we give those special schools that freedom, there is a potential for it to impact adversely on the entitlements of other children in an area.
Let me finish the point, and then I will, of course. We are in Committee, so things are a bit calmer.
It is no good giving one person or school freedom without considering how it will impact on the freedom of others. I believe that my hon. Friend Pat Glass made that same point, particularly with respect to disadvantaged children, children with special needs and so forth. Dan Rogerson tabled amendments with a similar point in mind for the Liberal Democrats, so these concerns are not restricted to Labour Members.
Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House who said:
"We need to make it easier for every school to acquire the drive and essential freedoms of Academies...We want every school to be able quickly and easily to become a self-governing independent state school...All schools will be able to have Academy-style freedoms"?
Was it not his former leader, one Anthony Blair? If the hon. Gentleman no longer agrees with those views, when did he depart from them?
I have seen that briefing. I have explained how we have moved on from that point. We are now debating the particular model that the Government are introducing. The context in which those remarks were made was therefore totally different. We are considering how to move from where we are to where we want to be in giving schools more freedom. Our view is different from the hon. Gentleman's and that of his Front Benchers. We believe that, if there is a free-for-all and the local authority's role is taken away, the process is open to danger. That is the point of difference. The hon. Gentleman may think that it is better that whether a school becomes an academy is determined not by the local authority and local people but by the Secretary of State. That is nonsensical. However, he will doubtless defend that position.
There has been pressure on special schools in particular. Under the previous Government, 186 special schools closed. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that some special schools may welcome the greater security that a bit more independence would give them if they were allowed to become academies?
One of the points behind the hon. Gentleman's question is to ensure that as many young people for whom it is appropriate are included in mainstream education. I would have thought that that was a point of agreement between us. Of course, special schools need to be retained, and there is clearly a need for them to have high standards and deliver the quality of education that we all want for children with severe learning difficulties. I am not sure that their becoming academies in the way that the Bill envisages would make much difference. I pay tribute to special schools, which do a fantastic job.
The hon. Gentleman is right that for parents choice is at the heart of the matter when deciding whether a mainstream or a special school is most appropriate. Does he agree that such choice should be available to schools, so that a head teacher and a board of governors can decide whether academy status is best for them? They may decide one way or the other, but surely they should have the same choices and opportunities as other schools.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to table an amendment to provide that schools choosing such a route must consult parents and the local community, and that any application for such status should depend on not only the head teacher and the governing body, but the broader community, particularly parents. I take his point that parents are always important in education, but that applies particularly to parents of pupils in special schools. They are especially dependent on not only the support that the schools give the young person, whom they have the responsibility of educating, but the emotional advice and support that they often give parents, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is important, why does not he amend the Bill to make it a requirement that schools taking the route that he suggests consult parents? It should not be a case of a whimsical, "It's good practice if you do that, it'll be in the funding agreement." Let us have a bit of clarity about what is expected from such a radical reform.
The hon. Gentleman is even-handed, for which I thank him. I direct him to clause 5, which deals with consultation on conversion. Subsection (1) states:
"Before a maintained school in England is converted into an Academy, the school's governing body must consult".
It includes the word "must". Has he looked at the version of the Bill that came from the other place?
I have, and the subsection goes on,
"must consult such persons as they think appropriate."
Why does not it specify parents? It simply says, consult "as they think appropriate." I have read the Bill and I can read the words "as they think appropriate." Subsection (3) states:
"The consultation may take place before"-
which is fine-
"or after an Academy order".
Damian Collins made a good point. If a school, particularly a special school, wants to follow the route that he proposed, one should not have a broad "consult people where appropriate" provision, but a list of people, including parents, who are exceptionally important, to consult. Why does subsection (3) say "before or after"? I am not a cynic, but the vast majority of our constituents will think that, if we provide for a school to consult after an academy order is made, such consultation is just a way of smoothing the process, rather than proper, legitimate consultation about whether it is the right thing to do. The constituents of the hon. Member for North Cornwall may be different from mine, but that is what my constituents would think.
The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way. The Avenue school in Reading is an outstanding special school, led by a brilliant head teacher, Sue Bourne. Why do the Opposition want to take away the right to become an academy from her and her school, which clearly wants to do that?
If it is an outstanding school, it has become one under the existing arrangements. We are worried that one school's freedom could be detrimental to the wider school system. That goes to the heart of the matter. The hon. Gentleman disagrees, and it is a point of debate and discussion. He will have to argue with other special schools and other head teachers, whom I, and no doubt others, could cite, who greatly fear that fragmenting the system, with some schools following the academy route while others do not, means that the overall collective provision in an area for particularly vulnerable children is put at risk. That is even before we have reached the question, which the Minister of State, Department for Education, Mr Gibb will have to answer, about funding, admissions, the area that a school serves and its relationship with other schools. We are obliged to take all those matters on trust.
I was very interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's concern about a lack of co-ordination for provision. Does he accept that some good work has been done in clause 2(6), which deals with low-incidence special educational needs? It provides for retaining the money for that provision under the control of the local education authority. The problem about which he is rightly worried will be largely avoided, and we can still have special resources and units for people with low-incidence special needs.
The hon. Gentleman is right. That provision is the result of an amendment in the House of Lords, and it makes a significant improvement to the Bill. It would be stupid and churlish to deny that. The Government deserve credit for amending the measure and including that provision. They have made other amendments, which have improved the Bill. However, the hon. Gentleman, who knows a lot about special needs, knows that the provision deals with low-incidence special needs whereas the amendment deals with special schools. When people talk about special needs, low-incidence special needs are often neglected. Like other hon. Members, I know from professionals that they often feel that provision can be made for someone with serious learning difficulties. Some people, however, have an unrecognised or low-incidence special need, and the fact that that is covered in the Bill is a big step forward. Of course, the devil will be in the detail when it comes to how the funding will work, and how it will be judged whether a school is meeting the requirements of young people with low-incidence special needs.
Special schools are a different matter, as I have been trying to explain to various Members. They contain young people with particularly profound learning difficulties, rather than young people with low-incidence special needs. I think that rushing into allowing those schools to become academies puts at risk the cohesion, planning and co-ordination of provision for the young people involved.
It is my speech; I thank my hon. Friend-for he is my friend-the Minister of State. I will always give way to Members. However, I do not want to hear a point of order at 10 pm about how the Minister went on- [Interruption.] I mean the shadow Minister.
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for giving way. He was a very effective schools Minister, and, along with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, he presided over 200 academies. Did he find that those 200 academies were not involved in their communities, and did not participate in local plans to raise standards across the board? Were they the islands unto themselves that he now claims the new academies will be?
The point is that the whole of that system was based on local consensus. Local authorities and local communities were involved, and difficult and tough decisions were sometimes made in the face of significant opposition. The academies programme was developed on the basis of local agreement, which meant the local community telling schools that they must take part in all the partnerships.
Those were secondary schools, but, as the Minister knows, the amendment deals with the possible extension of academy status to special schools and primary schools, which would involve a massive expansion. A managed expansion is one thing, but, as both Ministers of State will probably point out, the Bill is permissive-permissive, that is, to the extent that it allows almost everything to be done by means of the funding agreement or the direct grant arrangements. Regardless of ideological differences, even Government Back Benchers draw attention to the lack of a statutory requirement for things to be done that people consider necessary, which I think is a serious weakness, particularly as a funding agreement, which is a contract, would ultimately have to be tested in the courts.
Let me say this to the Minister, in all honesty. I am not making a point about the Bill being rushed through; that was dealt with when we debated the programme motion. If I were in charge of the Bill, I would think that, notwithstanding some of the improvements made by the House of Lords-such as the provision for low-incidence special needs, which were mentioned by Mr Buckland, and the application to academies of section 4 of the Education Act 1996-when it comes to exclusions, admissions and, in particular, special schools, it is no use talking about things that people "should" do. It is no use saying, "These are important matters on which parents should be consulted. These people should be consulted, and those people should be consulted." The Bill should lay down an absolute requirement, especially in relation to those with the most profound learning difficulties.
Schools in Brent are in a difficult position, given the proposal to redistribute special educational needs among schools. It is proposed that autism, learning difficulties and challenging behaviour be apportioned between Cardinal Hinsley high school, Queens Park community school, Alperton community school and Copland community school. All those schools have fallen victim to the Building Schools for the Future cuts, at the same time as the amalgamation of the two special schools, Hay Lane and Grove Park. In the circumstances, it would be incredible if an order were allowed for academy arrangements to be pursued with consultation taking place only afterwards. It would be absolutely preposterous.
My hon. Friend underlines my point. I consider it ridiculous that the Bill allows consultation to take place after an order. There should be a requirement that, at the very least, it should take place beforehand, and those whom it is appropriate to consult should be listed. He is also right to draw attention to the problems caused by the Building Schools for the Future fiasco.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the pattern of special educational needs in this country is changing fast, particularly at the more severe and complex end of the spectrum? The pattern of attendance at special schools is completely different from that of seven years ago. If we allow special schools to become academies and to remain almost the same for seven years, we shall risk creating a special school system that will be unable to cope with the changing pattern of need.
I was going to make the same point, but it has been very well made by my hon. Friend, who brings her own expertise, knowledge and experience to the debate. Her valuable point is now on the record, and no doubt the Minister of State, Department for Education, Sarah Teather will respond to it.
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for giving way again; he is being very generous. He mentioned the insertion in the House of Lords of part 4 of the 1996 Act, which requires an academy to accept a child with special educational needs. His party could have introduced that measure, but did not do so. It is this Bill that is making the change in the law relating to children with special needs.
Changes in policy always improve as they go through Parliament, particularly when, as was the case in the House of Lords, amendment is possible. Now a hugely important Bill is being dealt with on the Floor of the House of Commons, but unless something remarkable happens, no amendments will be made. Members, not only Labour Members but Members on the Government Benches, may well propose equally important amendments to the Bill as it stands, but it will not be possible for them to be accepted.
We have our ideological differences and our views about what is right and what is wrong about the academies programme, but-I know I am repeating myself-although four or five important points have been made about academies and consultation, unless Members wish to make problems for themselves, it will not be possible for the Bill in its current form to be amended. The Minister mentioned one amendment that was made in the House of Lords, and other good amendments were made there, but notwithstanding what we may feel about special schools becoming academies, no amendments can be made in this place to improve the position.
The ability of special schools to become academies is not only highly problematic, but very dangerous to their status as a whole local authority resource. At present, local authority-maintained special schools play a critical role in the provision of support for pupils whose circumstances mean that attendance at a mainstream school is not appropriate. In that respect, special schools are a key feature of a genuinely inclusive education system that seeks to provide additional support on the basis of objective assessments of pupils' needs, and of the settings in which those needs might best be met. We all accept that not all pupils can function effectively and access the most appropriate support in a mainstream setting. Maintained special schools are settings managed and administered directly by local authorities and they are in place for the benefit of all local pupils. In that respect, they demonstrate the value of a local authority-provided, commonly accessible educational resource upon which all settings can draw when necessary. The ability of local authorities to act in this way in respect of special schools means that additional support for pupils can be delivered on the basis of both a comprehensive and coherent assessment of local needs and best value for money. The Minister needs to address some of the concerns on this matter, and must explain to us how this coherence of provision will be maintained when special schools become academies.
As a former director of a local authority research organisation before I was elected to my hon. Friend's neighbouring constituency, I spent a lot of time looking at the Conservatives' plans for localism and decentralisation to local government. Does he agree that it is slightly contradictory that on the one hand the Conservatives claim to believe in such devolution and yet, on the other, fail to grasp that at the strategic level for certain key issues a local authority is the best placed point at which to make these key decisions? Does he also agree that there is a lack of attention to the important role that local democratic authorities can play here?
I agree absolutely, and that point goes to the heart of both this amendment and a number of further amendments to other clauses throughout the Bill. I cannot believe that a significant number of Members on the Government Benches are not having serious concerns expressed to them by their local authorities about decisions on school provision and places, particularly in respect of pupils with special educational needs, being taken out of their hands and being determined instead by the Secretary of State. That is a serious flaw in the Bill, and we will try to amend it.
Given the clear advantages of the current system of provision in respect of special schools, it is not possible to identify any benefits to pupils, teachers, head teachers or members of the wider school work force that would be generated by allowing special schools to acquire academy status. In addition to the issues associated with academy status for all schools, allowing special schools to operate beyond the control of local authorities would mean that the ability of local authorities to incorporate them into their wider strategies for SEN provision would be undermined. A special school with academy status would not be under an obligation to have regard to the wider strategy in terms of the nature and scope of its provision and would be able to act in ways inconsistent with the strategy's key provisions. There are no provisions in the Bill that would prevent special schools from charging for placements at their school-I shall want to make a particular point about that with reference to a specific subsection. There is also no link with the other aspect of the coalition Government's proposals: to take the assessment of special needs away from local authorities and give it to an independent body.
Some local authorities have a mixture of provision, in both special schools and mainstream schools with specialist units co-located in the school or on the school site. What are the Government saying would happen to them? How would that work? There is no information in the Bill about the right of a local authority to withdraw such provision from a school if it seeks to become an academy. If there is specialist provision for special needs within a mainstream school and that is onsite-it is co-located-what will happen? Will they be treated separately? If a school were to submit an application on its own, would that be taken as meaning that the onsite provision would also convert to academy status? What would happen if the pupils concerned were incorporated into, and were working in, mainstream classes? All these issues need to be addressed. I think all Members agree that our special schools do an incredibly important job in our society and make a huge contribution to education for parents and families in some of the most difficult circumstances, but I also think that this move to allow special schools to take up academy status is part of a headlong rush.
I also ask the Minister: where is the evidence? As the explanatory notes to the Bill make clear, the benefits section of the impact assessment assumes that there will be 200 new academies each year but that they will all be secondaries. There is no evidence as to the potential impact on primary or special academies. We will come to primary academies when we deal with the next amendment, but how is it possible for Parliament to determine that allowing special schools to convert to academies is the right way forward when there is no evidence in the impact assessment? Even if it is flimsy evidence or evidence that we disagree with, would not the impact assessment usually address and deal with it? Why does the Government's own impact assessment not address the issue of primaries or special schools, and why does the limited evidence in the Government's own equalities impact assessment, which deals with SEN, state:
"It is not possible to say with certainty from table 6"-
I will not bore the Committee with table 6-
"which group of schools serve SEN pupils better because by definition we cannot know their individual circumstances and challenges. However, the outcomes for pupils with SEN are at least in line with what we might expect when compared to similar schools"?
It is hardly a ringing endorsement of the headlong rush to academy status for the assessment to say just
"at least in line with",
rather than that academy status for pupils with SEN has resulted in a huge surge in attainment.
Why are we being asked to proceed in this manner? The Minister's Government talk about evidence-based policy making; her Government say we are entering a new politics, which is about not ideologically driven policy making, but policy making that is based on evidence. Where is the evidence, apart from some head teachers of some special schools saying, for perfectly understandable and laudable reasons, that they think it would be better if they were special school academies? Where is the evidence that this is the right policy? Where can I and other Members find that evidence?
Can the Minister also explain why pupil referral units-or short-stay schools as they are now called-are not included in the Bill? I suspect there must have been a debate about whether they should have been included; otherwise it would have been a mistake. From what I know about her ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, it will not have been a mistake, so there has obviously been a debate about this. Why are not pupil referral units-or short-stay schools-included in the Bill? I guess that the reason is because there is so much potential for a disjointed system of provision that a little more work needs to be done. If so, why is that true for short-stay schools but not for special schools? What criteria have been used to determine that pupil referral units were inappropriate for inclusion in the Bill, but special schools should be included?
I have been speaking for a long time, but I took a lot of interventions. There are huge questions. How is the funding going to work? Where is the funding coming from for those schools? What will the impact on special schools be if two or three special schools in a local authority opt out? What will the implications be for a local authority's special needs provision? What area will this cover? What will the requirements be in terms of schools liaising with other schools in the district? Will it be possible for parents in an area to set up a free school that is a special school academy? I do not know what the technical term for what that might be; perhaps it would be called a special-school, free-school academy. Is that a possibility, or would different criteria be applied to that? What criteria would there be if parents in an area decided that they wished to set up a special school as an academy? How does that relate to the free school provisions in this Bill?
Lastly, will the Minister assure us on the arrangements for charging? She will know that clause 1(9) seeks to ensure that no charge is made by academies in respect of "admission" or "attendance". However, clause 1(9)(b) says that this also applies
"(subject to any exceptions specified in the terms)"-
" education provided at the school."
Can she reassure us about what will happen to the expertise, knowledge and information that many other schools access at the moment to support their own provision when a school becomes a special school academy? Will she categorically state that nothing in clause 1(9)(b) will allow a special school academy to start charging, in any sense, for any provision it makes for any other school within its area?
This is a hugely important point. To be fair, I do not think that the Minister would want to see such charging, but what would happen if a private company establishes a special school academy or if, two years down the road, a special school academy is providing teachers or support to a school? I am talking not about extras, but about what some special schools do. Their teachers go to work in other schools to help them, particularly in respect of some lower incidence special needs. These teachers use their expertise with children with profound difficulties to work with children with lower incidence special needs. Can she say whether it is absolutely the case that in no circumstances will any special school academy charge, in any way, for any service provided to another school that all of us would regard as mainstream provision?
I have begged the indulgence of the Committee because I have taken a lot of interventions. I hope that I have made it clear that I know that each and every one of us in this House supports special schools, and the fabulous work that teachers do in those schools and their fabulous co-operation and liaison with parents in those schools.
The hon. Gentleman has rightly praised the work of special schools. If he is such a fan of them, why did 9,000 special school places and 160 special schools close under the previous Government? He and I are not special school teachers. We are not experts in this field, but if we were, I would hope that the Government would give us the freedom to set up schools and teach in a way that we know we are able to teach as professionals. I hope that he agrees with that statement.
If I was going to make a party political point, I would go away now to find out how many special schools closed under the previous Conservative Government. May I just say to the hon. Gentleman that the policy objective, which I thought had cross-party support, was to include as many young people as possible in mainstream education? If that is a policy objective, clearly some special schools will close and some special school places will not be available because we will have decided that we can provide perfectly properly for those young people in a mainstream setting. As one of his colleagues said, the clear point is that this has to be a matter on which parents choose. However, the hon. Gentleman did not say that, did he? His question should have been whether I am certain that every parent has had the free choice that they should have had. It should not have been the party political point that he tried to make about the number of special school places that went.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that every parent should have a proper choice about what provision is best for their child-be it a special school or a mainstream school. Alongside that, it is a laudable and absolutely correct policy objective to ensure that as far as possible-if this provision can be made for them-young people, whatever their difficulty, should be provided for and educated in a mainstream school. There are examples of brilliant education provision in mainstream education for young people with some of the most difficult learning problems. Unfortunately, for some that provision cannot be made and provision is instead made for them in special schools. He has doubtless seen in his constituency, as I have seen in mine, the brilliance of the provision that is then made for them. I say to him again that the question is about parental choice; it is not about trying to make a party political point about the number of places.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we are dealing with one of the educational myths? Special schools may have closed under the previous Government, but in fact the number of special school places increased. Where special schools did close it was because they were simply not good enough, and they were replaced with excellent special schools or excellent provision in mainstream education.
I totally agree with that.
This has been an excellent debate. May I finish by saying that I think all Members from across the House would agree that when we debate special education, not just special educational needs, and the issue of special schools, we do not pay sufficient tribute to the work of the teachers in special schools? That is the case notwithstanding our difference about whether special schools should become academies. We profoundly disagree with that approach, for some of the reasons that I have set out. It is a leap in the dark and we have no idea where it will end up. However, at least we have had the opportunity to praise special schools, to examine their work and to try to understand this issue. No doubt, the Minister will try, in her response, to allay the Committee's fears a little more about what this will mean for special schools.
Just to reinforce an earlier point, may I say that I closed 12 special schools as the relevant education portfolio holder and that many of those schools were an abomination? However, the process also included much more inclusion in mainstream schools and the creation of six brand-new schools, co-located, which was a great positive. That could not have been done without taking a strategic approach across the whole district and that would not have been possible if there had been independent schools within that sector.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, which relates to the one that I have made. Where is the strategic direction coming from, given the bypassing of the local authority? He will know that the Liberal Democrats' election manifesto showed that they understood very well that that was a real issue for them. That is why they tried to marry up the issue of the greater freedom for schools with ensuring that the strategic oversight of that was very much incorporated within the local authority framework and was not, in essence, delegated to the Secretary of State and centralised. That is a huge flaw in this model for academies.
I am grateful to Vernon Coaker, the shadow Minister, for saying some nice words about me, although I do not know whether I deserve them. I just happened to fall into this subject by being interested in it because of my family concern and, as a result of that interest, I perhaps have slightly more knowledge about it than most. However, I am not an expert; I am like any other parent who is interested in this subject and I am very passionate, as many parents become about the education of their children.
I must confess, however, to having been somewhat puzzled in the first instance, and then somewhat disappointed by this amendment. I had expected something more nuanced, given the debate that took place in the other place. I was crestfallen to see that the approach taken by Baroness Royall, which was that, in effect, special schools should be left out of the equation altogether, is being followed in this House. Some points have already been covered by my hon. Friends in interventions on the shadow Minister, so I shall not reiterate them in full. I simply ask: why exclude special schools from the opportunity that this Bill provides, given that other schools are to be given that choice? This is not mandatory-nobody is being forced to do anything; it is a matter for the individual school to choose.
Perhaps we should pause to remind ourselves of the process that families undergo when going through the statementing process and finding the right school for their child. We know a lot about that very important process, which is difficult for the parents, but which guarantees statutory protection for that child. There has been a lot of argument about how we assess a particular young person or child for the purposes of statementing, and there are many concerns about the obvious difficulty of the local education authority acting as both the assessor and funder of places. I have been very encouraged by my party's policy of divorcing and dividing the assessment and provision processes. It is vital that we follow through on that to ensure that there is full confidence in the assessment system.
What will happen then? It is not always the case that a child with a full statement will go to a local special school. Very often, a child with acute needs will have to go to a school-often a privately funded school and perhaps in another part of the country-that has extremely specialised provision for children with acute needs. We can all think of examples of schools such as Prior's Court, which is just off junction 13 of the M4. That private school was set up 10 years ago to deal with children with acute needs on the autism spectrum, including autism and Asperger's syndrome. However, some of the children and young people who go there, including a constituent of mine, do so thanks to LEA funding.
Many results arise from local authority funding and it is not always the case that children end up in a local special school. The issue is far more nuanced than that. I know that the hon. Member for Gedling appreciates that, given his experience as the Schools Minister. He understands that the amendment ignores all the subtleties and individual cases that result in a plethora of provision across the country for children and young people with SEN.
Had the clause reached the House unamended-I remind the House that the unamended clause concerned merely the varying needs of children-I would be happy to support the hon. Gentleman's amendment, but we have moved on considerably from that. The argument that was advanced in the other place by his colleague Baroness Royall was rightly rejected by that House, and a far more considered set of amendments were debated and either accepted by the Government or voted on by that House. I was delighted to see such amendments to clauses 6 to 9.
The funding issue that was properly raised by Members of the other place has been addressed and we now have the all-important guarantee-the incorporation of part IV of the Education Act 1996-that will put children with SEN on exactly the same footing whether they are in a maintained school or in an academy. That was an important concern for many people on both sides of the House and outside it, and it has been addressed, but we would lose that gain if the amendment were accepted; indeed, we would lose the whole shooting match.
The amendment not only ignores the nuances of the situation, but takes a blunderbuss approach. I appreciate that Labour opposes the Bill in principle and I understand why-the reasons have been well elucidated by the hon. Member for Gedling and his colleagues both on Second Reading and today. Putting that to one side, however, surely the function of tabling amendments is to try to make legislation better. I am afraid that the amendment fails that test spectacularly: its crude and generalist approach ignores all the points that I know the hon. Gentleman understands about the infinitesimal differences involved and the variety that exists in the provision of special education. It would exclude special schools from going down the academy route if they so wished.
The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely thoughtful contribution and I am certainly impressed by it, but it is unfair to suggest that Vernon Coaker provided no argument for keeping special schools out of the equation. One such argument was that the elimination of special schools from the local authority network would have a more disruptive effect than the elimination of an ordinary primary or secondary school because special schools are well integrated into the overall local authority provision and mission regarding special education.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. We have dealt, in interventions, with low-incidence needs and I agree with the points that the hon. Member for Gedling made about that. The key point is about funding and we all felt that the Bill's original draft did not deal with that properly, but it is now clearly set out.
A second concern of mine, which I expressed on Second Reading, is not so much about the process by which statements appear but about their enforcement. I made some observations in that debate about the need for more detail as to how that will be dealt with. How would a parent who was concerned that a statement was not being carried out or enforced by a school take their complaint further? I understand that complaints to the Secretary of State about the lack of enforcement of a statement in a special school will be dealt with by the Young People's Learning Agency. I welcome that, but I would want to be satisfied that the YPLA personnel who dealt with those complaints would have adequate training to understand the sometimes labyrinthine process involved in enforcing SEN statements. I would also want the processes to be very clear and to be spelt out to the parents of children with SEN at the outset. I am not going to stray off the point, Mr Chope, but I want briefly to mention amendment 72, which was proposed by Pat Glass-
I am grateful for that guidance, but what I was seeking to explain is that there are some concerns about the process of enforcing SEN statements, which is relevant to the debate about linking special schools to the current network in terms of how academies will work. There are concerns about academies not being part of the LEA system and framework, but those matters could be dealt with by way of a clarification of those processes. I am sure that the Government are listening to what we are saying.
My hon. Friend makes a good point regarding the structure of schools. There is a feeling that the most articulate or perhaps pushy parents are best able to get their child statemented in the first place and that they are also in the best position, if that statement is not properly enforced by the school, to put pressure on the school and the local authority. There is legitimate concern that the further away lies the authority that might be able to put pressure on the school, other than direct pressure from the parent, the more likely it is that that inequality will be exacerbated. It is important that Ministers should reassure us that we will have an effective and equitable system that will ensure that children are treated equally and that their statements will be honoured.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the local authority, but the special needs schools in my constituency have catchment areas for virtually the whole of London, so they are engaged with more than one local authority. We simply cannot discard the opinions of parents outside the local authority area in which the relevant special needs school is based.
Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman bases his argument on there being no change to special educational needs, but my fear is that if the Bill takes off, mainstream schools will be able simply to exclude special educational needs pupils, and there will be a knock-on effect for those special educational needs schools that prioritise those children.
The hon. Lady makes a number of interesting points. First, I agree about the wider community. Her well made point about consultation reinforces my point about the complexity of provision, whereby a child in borough A will only be able to go to a school in borough B, which has the acute service-for want of a better phrase.
Secondly, the hon. Lady made a more general point about the accountability of the exclusions process, and I imagine that she would want the appeals process-
Very well. I have been led astray by the hon. Lady's film persona on many occasions, and in a very positive way, but I accept what you say, Mr Chope, and I shall return to the amendment.
I do not share the concern that, when it comes to children and young people in special education, the Bill will result in a "them and us" situation. In fact, to accept the amendment would be to create just such situation. If both Houses pass the Bill and we allow schools the opportunity to go down this exciting avenue, we must as a matter of principle allow all types of school to enjoy that potential opportunity, and it would be wholly wrong and discriminatory to exclude special schools from that process.
For a number of years, I was the chair of the board of governors in a special school that dealt with the educational needs of children who were then classified as having moderate learning difficulties. The classifications were of the time. As the chair, I had to go through a process whereby the local authority decided that it would be more appropriate to close the school, because the range of provision for the children was inappropriate for the time in which we were living. If each special school in an area becomes an academy and independent of local authority concern, is there not a danger that special school arrangements and special educational arrangements will be maintained in aspic for ever?
That is unfair. I acknowledge and bow to the hon. Gentleman's experience, but he underestimates where we are with special education. I am sure that he will agree that head teachers and staff in special schools always look at ways of improving their provision, and reinvent and adapt it to the new children who enter their schools year on year. I find special schools in the modern era very receptive to change. They want to understand and learn from their experiences, and they want to learn about new diagnoses, which is an area of constant change. In autism, for example, the huge increase in the number of diagnoses means that there is an increased demand for special education, so I do not share the hon. Gentleman's pessimism or his vision of special schools wanting to remain in a golden age and refusing to move with the times.
My hon. Friend makes a very compelling case for maintaining the option of academy status for special schools. Does he agree that one will struggle to find a school that is more engaged with the parents and community that it serves than a special school? Highview special school in my constituency is one such example, but those schools often feel under pressure because of the policies that previous Governments pursued. Such schools have to justify how they offer something that a mainstream school cannot, so they are very engaged with the community that they serve, and they would go down the academy route only if they honestly believed that it was best for their children.
My hon. Friend makes a proper point. In the borough of Swindon, which I partially represent, we are lucky to be served by a number of excellent special schools, such as the Chalet school, and Uplands school in Brimble Hill. I shall not give out the entire list, but the schools that I have not mentioned know that I am thinking of them as well. As their Member of Parliament, I would not presume to say to their head teachers and governors, "Look, you must go down this route offered by the Academies Act." That would be utterly wrong and wholly out of kilter with the spirit of the legislation. It will be up to those schools, if they so choose, to take that route to academy status, and I make no apology for repeating the point that this legislation is all about giving schools that chance, rather than issuing some diktat from the centre, whereby schools have to follow a course, however unwillingly.
I am disappointed by the amendment, which I oppose. I do not mean this pejoratively against the hon. Member for Gedling, but it fails to respect the position of special schools, and it does not acknowledge their great potential or the great opportunities that the Bill presents to schools-in my constituency and, indeed, his-to flourish and thrive in the years ahead. I am sure that the Government will address the many concerns that Members from all parts of the House share about the rights of parents, and we will all continue to look very carefully at the detail on the rights of aggrieved parents.
The hon. Gentleman says, "I am sure that the Government will address the concerns expressed in this Committee." The Government should ensure that they address some concerns that are outlined in the Chamber, but does he not think that others are so fundamental that they need to be included in a Bill and given legislative force?
There is a fundamental point, and I shall not shy away from it. I would submit-sorry, the lawyer is coming out in me-that, when it comes to a timetable for the resolution of any disputes, the new model agreement on admissions should be clarified even further. I am sure that there is scope for looking at the detail, but it does not necessarily mean that such detail has to be in the Bill. If we are going to go down this road, let us ensure that the contract-the agreements-are as watertight, as accessible and as understandable as possible for parents. I have concerns that many Members share, but it does not mean that we need to include them in the Bill. In fact, to take the hon. Gentleman's logic to its conclusion, I note that his amendment seeks to make the Bill even less prescriptive. He might think it an artificial point, but on his logic I am entitled to make it, because, by seeking to sweep away particular clauses that have been included as a result of much deliberation, he is in effect negating his own argument. With that, I draw my remarks to a close.
I have a fundamental philosophical problem with the amendment. Earlier, when giving advice to Members, Mr Chope, you pointed out that the amendment was about whether special schools should be included in the academies programme. I oppose this reform because, unlike the previous system, which tried to address disadvantage and underperformance by taking money from outside the system and ensuring that it was targeted at underperforming schools and children who were not doing so well, and putting innovation into the system to see if that would make improvements, the Bill looks to take money from within the system, mainly from children who are disadvantaged, and give it to children who are, on the whole, better advantaged.
The amendment relates to special schools, which are specifically for children with greater disadvantage, so it goes against the thrust of why Labour Members oppose the Bill as a whole. I believe that there is tension among Labour Members that needs to be resolved. That can be done in the way that my hon. Friend the shadow Minister outlined in relation to the arrangements between special schools and local authorities. It goes to the heart of funding and co-ordination.
I outlined in an earlier intervention the very detailed and complex mesh of arrangements that have pertained in my borough between mainstream schools-not special schools-that were part of the Building Schools for the Future programme, that were seeking, as part of that programme, to divide up, in a co-ordinated way between themselves, the different elements of special educational needs that needed to be addressed: autism at one school, learning difficulties at another, challenging behaviour at another. At the core of that was the amalgamation of Hay Lane and Grove Park schools, which were for children who simply could not be accommodated within the mainstream.
That is an incredibly complex set of arrangements between a number of schools, some of which might, under the provisions of this Bill, choose to become academies, and some of which, under the same provisions, would not be able to become academies because they are not, at present, outstanding schools. The local authority will be unable to co-ordinate the system as a special school goes off and becomes an academy, and the funding that is drawn off by the academies will reduce the capacity of the centre. I am reminded of the W. B. Yeats poem about the widening gyre-the centre will not be able to hold. We will lose the ability of central provision through the local authority to co-ordinate the needs of all children with special needs-those who need to be in mainstream schools and those who need to be in special schools. That is the fundamental problem. However, we should not look at our opposition to this clause about special educational needs in the same light as our opposition to the Bill as a whole because there is a fundamental philosophical difference between them.
It is a great pleasure to be taking part in the debate on this Bill from the Front Bench. As Vernon Coaker said, it is the first opportunity I have had to do so. I am grateful for his warm words at the outset. I recall the first Bill that I debated in opposition. I remember looking at the Minister struggling with her papers and thinking, my goodness, what an awful lot of things she needs to know. It does seem very different from this side of the Dispatch Box. The hon. Gentleman said that all parties in the House are united by a common desire to improve educational attainment. I welcome that. It is important to begin from that perspective and to recognise that our motives are common.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said in his opening speech, which covered many different areas and was almost a re-run of some of the issues that were covered on Second Reading. My understanding of the nub of his argument is that his tabling of the amendment relates to his general objection to the Bill rather than a specific objection to special schools. However, I will try to deal with the points that he raised on special schools in a moment.
It is not clear to me why this policy is any different from that followed by the hon. Gentleman's Government. If we believe it is a good thing to have freedom for schools, particularly for those that are struggling, it is not obvious to me why we would then deny those freedoms to other schools that are already doing well, particularly as the Secretary of State has made it clear that he expects outstanding schools that become academies to partner a weaker school and to share their expertise. That can offer an opportunity to provide the kind of partnership that I think the hon. Gentleman probably agrees with.
As the hon. Gentleman said, amendment 28 would prevent special schools from converting to academies. That was the previous Government's policy. We think it is right that special schools should have access to the same opportunities and freedoms that we are giving to mainstream schools. Indeed, many special schools want that freedom: more than 50 have registered an interest in becoming an academy. [ Interruption. ] The shadow Minister can find that details on the Department's website.
I think that is semantics.
Okay, I agree-I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. Indeed, they have expressed an interest in obtaining more information about becoming an academy.
This is an extremely important point; my hon. Friend Barry Gardiner got in just before I could. The Government are talking about expressions of interest from people clicking a button to obtain information. Frankly, if I were head of a school, I would have clicked the button as well to have a look at what this really means and what the Government are really saying. The Government are using the fact that schools have done that-whether it be special schools, primary schools, outstanding schools or any other schools-and saying that clicking a button is almost the same as expressing an interest in becoming an academy. In fact, people are actually looking to obtain information. There is a real difference. I am glad-
These schools have expressed an interest in finding out more information. We have never said that they have applied to become academies. It is important to make that clear.
I am struck by the fact that certain hon. Members, on Second Reading-I think we will hear this again during our deliberations in Committee-said that this is a fundamental and huge shift and that the Government are seeking to push all schools down a particular route. The Minister is now saying that perhaps many of them are not interested in this and just want to find out a bit more about it. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways-either it is a massive shift or it will be a case of a few schools exploring it at this point.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. A lot of straw men have been built up in order to knock them down.
If we think that it is a good thing for special schools to have access to freedoms to run their school in the way that is best for the children in their care, I cannot see why we would say that they should not do that. A prime example is that academies will have flexibility around the school day and how they organise the school calendar. I have found that many parents of disabled children and people who work with disabled children say that the most difficult period of the year is the long summer holiday. If we can provide special schools with flexibility, they may or may not choose to rearrange their calendar so that they break up the terms and holidays in a different way and run the school day differently to lessen the pressures on parents. That seems a sensible thing to do.
This is a permissive power and not all schools will choose that route. In response to the concerns of many of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues-I recognise that he was very much in favour of the academies programme when he was a Minister-I say that we are not forcing schools down that route.
On a related point, I am unclear as to what the process will be for schools becoming academies under the new scheme. Say, for example, that 500 schools apply. The impact assessment seems to suggest that just 200 a year will be successful. On what basis will Ministers decide which schools become academies and which do not? Within that, will special schools have priority for the reasons that she has set out, or will they have a lower priority than secondary and primary schools?
I think one element of it was in order, and I shall respond to it because I am keen to respond as best I can despite this being my first Bill. The hon. Gentleman asked about the priority that will be given to special schools. I was about to say that we are treating special schools in a different way from others, which I hope will reassure some Members who have concerns. The process will be longer and slower, and we do not expect any special schools to convert to academies before 2011.
The hon. Member for Gedling asked a number of perfectly good questions, and I accept that more work needs to be done on the matter. That is precisely why the Secretary of State has set up an advisory group to work with head teachers from special schools and mainstream schools with special units, so that we can work through the details of the points that have been made.
The point about partnering is important. We would expect any school that gets academy status to partner with another school. That could provide an opportunity to spread knowledge, particularly on special education. There are already many good examples of special schools that are doing that, but it is not always happening. We will strongly encourage special schools to use the training that their staff have, which is often lacking in mainstream settings, to ensure that we drive up standards for children with special educational needs. We expect partnering to provide that opportunity.
The Minister talked about areas of detail that needed attention. One of the most critical of those to schools is, of course, the money involved. Can she give us any idea whether she expects special schools to see a bigger increase in their direct budget? Will local authorities spend a greater sum to support them than to support other schools? That takes us back to a point made by Barry Gardiner-if the money at the centre is to be denuded, we would rather the most needy got their share first and the strongest and the best be the ones who have to struggle with the least money, not the other way around.
The point made by Mr Stuart, the Chair of the Select Committee on Education, and by Barry Gardiner is precisely why the advisory group has been set up. It will work through the details. That is why we do not expect any special school to convert into an academy until next year. I recognise that funding issues need to be considered, because we are talking about a place-based funding system, and that we need to work through the issue of how special schools interact with other schools. We want to work with those on the ground who have expertise but who want the programme to happen.
Whatever disagreements we have about the wording that has been used and whether special schools have just "expressed an interest" or really will become academies, we should recognise that there are special school head teachers who want their schools to become academies. They feel that that freedom will enable them to do some of the things that they have already been doing as outstanding schools, but also to work better with the community and have flexibility to change how their schools are run, so that they can better provide for children in their area.
Will the specialised and more detailed approach to special schools be consulted upon on a much wider horizon than merely head teachers and teachers? I say "merely" not because I dismiss them-we all acknowledge their remarkable work-but the Minister must be aware that although many parents of pupils in special schools find changes in those schools easy to accommodate and understand, many do not for a variety of reasons. It would be quite wrong to make changes to special schools without ensuring that every parent had been properly consulted in the most detailed way on those changes, which may affect their children. She must know that for some parents, such changes are very hard to understand.
I keep being intervened on before I have completed my paragraph, but-
It does. I should probably be a bit firmer about completing a paragraph before taking interventions. I was going to say that the working group will also include local authority representatives. I will get the detail of who is to be on it. There are also special educational consortiums representing the interests of parents whose children have special educational needs. The point that the hon. Lady made, however, was about the process of consultation on conversion. We will have a separate discussion on that under a different group of amendments, so I will not respond to that point because it would be out of order in this debate.
The hon. Member for Gedling spoke about charging. I think he would recognise that maintained schools can already charge for certain services in some circumstances, particularly for adult education after hours. However, clause 1(9) specifically prohibits charging for daytime educational services. Other details will remain exactly as they are now.
The Chair of the Education Committee asked about statementing provisions. The local authority will remain responsible for ensuring that the provision set out in a statement is delivered, whether a child attends a maintained school or an academy. We will revise our guide for parents on special educational needs to set out the complaint mechanisms clearly. I should add that the Bill was amended in the other place to ensure that if a statement names an academy, the child will need to be placed in that academy. That is an improvement on the existing system.
Mr Buckland asked about low-incidence special educational needs. Again, the Bill was amended during its progress through the other place. I want to put on the record that the Government are committed to ensuring that children with sensory impairments receive the services that they require in both maintained and academy schools. We will monitor the impact that changes in the number of academies will have and ensure that adjustments are made to the funding of academies to ensure that that provision is dealt with. The advisory group will take that up.
We were asked why short-stay schools are not included in the Bill. We are looking at the possibility of academies offering alternative provision equivalent to that provided by short-stay schools, but the current legislation gives local authorities statutory responsibility for those.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon asked wider questions on the statementing process. I remind him that we intend to introduce a Green Paper later in the year to deal with those, and I hope that he will be involved.
With those reassurances, I hope that the hon. Member for Gedling is willing to withdraw the amendment. We do not expect special schools to become academies on the same time frame as other schools, and there is a process to deal with the concerns that he rightly raises, and we will work through it. I hope that that gives him the reassurance he needs.
I will be brief in responding to the Minister, who did not address one essential issue. Hon. Members will know the importance of the impact assessment and the equalities impact assessment, yet the Government have provided no evidence that special school academy status will make any difference. Essentially, therefore, we are being asked to take a leap in the dark.
The Minister then tried to reassure the Committee by saying, "You're quite right that a lot of things are still to be worked out, there are some real problems, and the Government aren't really sure how we do this. Don't worry that we're not sure; we're going to set up an advisory committee, which will look at funding, admissions, co-ordination, working with other schools and so on. Don't worry. It's not a problem."
The hon. Gentleman's Government recognised that providing freedom to schools will drive up standards. If he still believes that, I cannot see why he is saying that that freedom should not be applied to special schools. Why would they be treated as totally different to any other school? I do not accept that premise.
There are two things to say in response to that. First, the previous Government had a managed programme for allowing schools academy freedoms. Secondly, the difference between that and what the Government propose is that if they are not careful, there will be a free-for-all. Freedoms will be extended to schools when the Government have not worked out what that means in respect of co-ordination, funding and a whole range of things, as I said, yet we are supposed to say that that does not matter.
The Minister was kind enough to say that I asked perfectly reasonable questions, but we are now invited to pass legislation when she does not have an answer to them other than to say, "We have set up a body to look at how we answer those questions." If she were in opposition, as she was until a few weeks ago, and if I had said what she just said, she would have reacted as I am reacting now. Frankly, she should be able to answer those questions.
The Chair of the Education Committee was right to ask what it means if special schools get academy freedoms, how much funding they will get and what the consequences are for the local authority and other schools in the area, but the Minister has no answer, because she does not know. If she knew she should would provide an answer, but she does not know so she cannot. That is a very serious weakness.
On the 50 schools that registered an interest in academy status, the Minister said that the Government had never used the words "applied for academy status." I shall look very carefully at what the Education Secretary said on that and at how expressions of interest relate to applications. The Government are in a bit of a mess on that and on what they are using that to justify their measures.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many schools will ask for further information because they feel that they have an obligation to present their boards of governors with the fullest information possible before taking a decision? It would be an abrogation of that duty were a head teacher not to push that button.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The other weakness in the Minister's response is that it is very unclear what role, if any, the local authority will have in all this, and what the consequences will be for the overall co-ordination in an area. With respect to the Minister and to the Committee, I should like to test the opinion of the Committee on this amendment. I shall therefore not withdraw amendment 28.
The Committee divided: Ayes 226, Noes 319.
Before we move to the next group of amendments, I must announce the result of the Division deferred from a previous day on the question relating to Use of the Chamber (United Kingdom Youth Parliament). The Ayes were 499, and the Noes were 21, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division list is published at the end of today's debates .]
'(3A) The governing body of a primary school is not eligible to apply under subsection (1).
(3B) Two years after Royal Assent, the following is substituted for subsection (3A)-
"( ) The governing body of a primary school which has fewer than five hundred registered pupils is not eligible to apply under subsection (1).
( ) The Secretary of State may by order amend this section to allow the governing body of a federation to apply, or the governing bodies of a number of schools to apply jointly, for an Academy order provided the total of primary-aged registered pupils in the federation, or group of schools, is five hundred or more.".'.
It is good to come to the second group of amendments. May I formally welcome the Minister of State, Department for Education, Mr Gibb, to his post, as I welcomed his fellow Minister, Sarah Teather? This is the first Bill that he is taking through the House as Minister with responsibility for schools, a post that I held. He and I have held each other's posts. In all seriousness and sincerity, I wish him well in his role. I think he has found in the past 24 hours, and will continue to find out in the next 24 hours, as his fellow Minister has done, that tabling amendments is one thing, but having all the answers is quite another. It is good to welcome others too.
We had a good and interesting debate on special schools and we come now to primary schools. I want to start by making a few general points and then move on to some specifics, which is the reverse of my approach in the previous debate. The amendment seeks to raise some of the key concerns felt by many, not just Opposition Members-I note amendment 48 in the name of Dan Rogerson-about the rapid and precipitate conversion of hundreds of primary schools to academy status.
Will the Minister tell us, as the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Brent Central, did with regard to special schools, the up-to-date number of primary schools that have expressed an interest in academy status and how many they expect to apply. Special schools are expected to convert to academy status by September 2011, and perhaps the Minister will say how many primary schools are expected to convert. It is not clear from the impact assessment exactly what that figure is. There is a figure of 200, but it is not clear how that breaks down into secondary schools and primary schools, or indeed others, with respect to 2010.
I will try to demonstrate that people's concerns are born, as we have already discussed, not necessarily out of any ideological objection to granting primary schools the kinds of freedoms that existing academies have, but out of practical consideration for the implications of academy status. Some of those concerns are present when considering all-through academies, but not usually present when considering those cases. As the Minister will know, because I signed off with the Secretary of State a number of all-through academies, the model of primary schools linking with secondary schools to form all-through academies was an innovative way forward. But all-through academies are a different case from stand-alone primary schools, or indeed even stand-alone infant and nursery schools. That is because many of the concerns stem from the relative size and community location of primary schools. It is for that reason that the amendment seeks to prevent primary schools from becoming academies.
Primary schools, by and large, serve their immediate local community. If a local school becomes an academy, parents could risk finding that there is a shift in its admissions policy or in the way in which it serves the local community. The primary school is much more of a local school than many secondary schools can claim to be, because they are, typically, the only school in a small rural village or in a particular area. They are much more of a neighbourhood school, however much secondary schools aim to be that.
In the previous debate, we expressed concern about the role that local authorities will not have under the Bill. Most local authorities will say that the schools most dependent on their advice and support are primary schools. The vast majority of primary schools are community schools, and they have not even had the experience that foundation schools will have had in managing the enormous range of responsibilities that come with academy status. How much will that cost? Where will that expertise come from? How will primary schools deal with that? How will a small primary school, with perhaps only a few pupils, be able to cope with some of the demands being made on them? Capacity is a very real issue. Most secondary schools already employ a range of staff who will be able to deal with the increased administrative requirements, but many primary schools have only a school secretary, who will doubtless be expected to deal with many of the issues and problems that come with academy status.
These are exactly the same arguments that were advanced by Labour during the discussion of grant-maintained schools, which were often supported by the local community and perfectly able to exercise the powers and responsibilities involved. Indeed, many of them did so very successfully. Unfortunately, Labour is still in an ideological time warp and hostile to the idea that parents, governors and other professionals can have effective local control over their own schools.
Who will have local control over whether a primary school in the hon. Gentleman's constituency becomes an academy? It will be the head teacher and the governing body, and it will then go to the Secretary of State for approval. There is nothing in the Bill to say that parents, the community, local people or even the local authority must be consulted. If the hon. Gentleman's point is that before a school changes its status or applies to become an academy it should have the support of all those people, I would agree with him in many respects. Certainly the academy model that we pursued-although it obviously related to secondary schools rather than to primary schools-was about trying to ensure that there was proper local support for the conversion.
One of the problems with the Bill is that it does not require the support of everyone in the local community for a school to convert to academy status. Indeed, an amendment tabled by one of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues tries to address that problem. When we talked about special schools, some hon. Members mentioned the need to ensure, and demonstrate, that local parents, the local authority and local people supported them, but that is not what the Bill would do.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I am not ideologically opposed to academies-I approved a significant number of them, including all-through academies. In the last debate, we talked about the difference between the academy model presented in the Bill and the academy model that the previous Government pursued. As I said, I do not believe that people are motivated by anything other than a genuine desire to improve educational standards for children, but there is a difference of view about how to achieve that.
The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, but how can local support be proved when all the Bill requires is the support of the head teacher and governing body, and others as appropriate?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but it would be perverse for any head teacher with the support of the governing body not to take into account the settled view of the local community, whether that was as a result of consultation directly with the governing body or others, or of the local authority, local charities or others. The idea that this is some kind of top-down approach to be forced on schools is untrue.
In the spirit in which debate has been conducted in Committee today, I thank the hon. Gentleman for recognising that I was trying to be constructive in my response. He will have read the Bill and he will know that clause 5(1) does not specify who should be consulted by a school wishing to convert. It just says that it
"must consult such persons as they think appropriate."
Similarly, clause 5(3) states:
"The consultation may take place before or after an Academy order, or an application for an Academy order".
If the hon. Gentleman follows his point through to a logical conclusion, one might expect the Bill to list the parents, the local community and so on as parties which should be consulted and shown to be supportive of the academy bid, because that would strengthen the application and increase its potential for success. Similarly, one would have thought the Bill would require consultation to take place before the academy order was applied for. I agree that such consultation is necessary, and the hon. Gentleman's point was not unimportant, but the Bill does not do what he would wish it to do.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that, first, the Bill requires that there must be consultation and, secondly, that that consultation must be with "appropriate" people, so it is inconceivable that some of the stakeholders he mentioned-local people and parents and the local community-would not be deemed to be appropriate? Indeed, "appropriate" people, which is a general term, might be a far better description than a specific one which might not cover one particular group.
Unusually, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, because a much tighter form of words in the Bill would ensure that we deliver exactly what he proposes. I believe that the Bill is so drafted because the Government think that the opposition from local authorities and local groups that always emerges to school reorganisation could hold up the progress of the Bill and the attempt to fast-track some schools to academy status. The lawyers will have said, "Put in 'they think appropriate', because if you start listing people and groups such as parents and community organisations, you will open yourself up, when trying to convert, to the possibility of legal challenges from parents and organisations saying they were not consulted when they should have been." To fast-track academies is a policy objective, and I think that Ministers, their officials and their lawyers will have said, "For goodness' sake, don't make a list, because it will be a hostage to fortune." Furthermore, I cannot understand why clause 5(3) includes the phrase
"or after an Academy order".
The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case, but I would like him to clarify something. In the debate on the previous amendment, he said he did not want special educational needs schools included, and now he is saying he does not want primary schools included. In government, he wanted to limit the number of secondary schools that could become academies. It seems that he actually wants an old-style command-and-control system in schooling, rather than to allow local communities and parents to decide what they want. Can he clarify that for me?
As I said at the beginning of the debate on the previous amendment, for which the hon. Gentleman was present, I want to see more academies. I have not said that there should not be any more academies. Indeed, many of the academies that will open in September- [Interruption.] A Tory Member is nodding because there is one in his constituency. Many of those that will open in September will be ones that I agreed with the previous Secretary of State. Sometimes, they were agreed in the face of quite difficult local circumstances. I do not have a problem with the expansion of academies; what I am saying-this is the thrust of the debate-is that the academy model in the Bill is completely different from the one pursued by the last Government. That is the choice that people have made: the Government are in power and they have come forward with what they believe is an appropriate model, which is to allow outstanding schools to fast-track to academy status, as well as including special schools and primary schools. What I am saying is that that means rushing headlong into something for which, as I will mention again in a minute, the Government have presented no evidence and which, in a way, will potentially mean riding roughshod over the wishes of local people and local authorities, when they should be playing a significant role in the organisation and provision of schooling in an area.
I rise in the light of the remarks made by the hon. Members for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) and for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), both of whom were proselytising on the basis that it would be unthinkable for anybody engaged with a primary school not to consult automatically, at least with the parents. I realise that this is merely anecdotal, but there is a situation in my constituency where the board of governors of a grant-maintained school-or, the aspect of the school which is grant-maintained-wishes to pull the school down and build a brand-new one. No one has consulted the parents, who certainly do not want that to happen. I acknowledge that that example is merely anecdotal, but it underlines my underlying fear about the Bill: that if it does not say that parents must be consulted on such issues, we are essentially going to destroy state education.
I agree with my hon. Friend's point about the need for parents to be consulted, which relates to what Mr Ward said about the phrase
"persons as they think appropriate"
not being sufficient. Instead, the Bill should list groups such as parents and the local authority. If the Government had done that, it would have strengthened the Bill and meant that many of the difficulties that some of us have with it would have been to some extent ameliorated.
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's explanation of why he objects to the catch-all phrase "appropriate persons", but is he really suggesting that if a school moved towards academy status, yet parents or another group of significant stakeholders had not been included in the consultation, which must take place according to the Bill, and people wished to challenge that decision in court, the court would say that the letter of the law had been applied, even though that group had been excluded from the consultation?
I am not a lawyer, but one of the phrases that people often use is "for the avoidance of doubt". Given the magnitude of the decisions that could be entered into, I would have thought that, for the avoidance of doubt, it should not be beyond the wit of us all to list some of the groups that we think it should be essential to consult-local authorities, parents and so on-and then to have a phrase at the end such as "and others as the school governing body thinks appropriate".
We have serious doubts about the capacity of primary schools, and about what the costs will be, who will be leading the process, how it will be managed and so on. There are also financial implications. I have been told of a primary school in the west midlands-I think that it was mentioned in the other place-that recently developed serious structural faults. The local authority found the money to put the problem right, with a final cost of around £1 million.
Another example of where the local authority often steps in is on the matter of fires on school premises. How would that work under academy status? The Department for Education advice states that it would expect schools that had become academies facing such problems to take out loans. How could a small school possibly afford to do that? What does the Minister imagine would happen in those circumstances? How would the repayments be made? Who would get the loan in the first place? How would that operate? Most primary schools rely on the local authority to pick up the costs of redundancies and employment tribunals, as well as the legal costs associated with challenges on accidents. The school would not necessarily be able to find the cost of the insurance to cover those things.
Again, the Department for Education's own website states that, for most schools, the cost of insurance will be between £60,000 and £100,000. The cost of purchasing legal and personal advice commercially needs to be taken into account. How would that work? What will happen with all that? Are we going to have another advisory committee to look at all those details, as we did with special schools, before we get a proper answer? The problem for primary schools is that all these are unanswered questions. Many primary schools are on holiday now, yet some of them are supposed to be opening in September as academies. How is that going to happen? What is going on?
A great deal of work has been done over the past few years, by others as well as the Government, on managing the process of transition from an early years setting into the first year of primary school. The review of the early years foundation stage announced by the Government over the last week or two will not, I trust, represent the reversal of much of that good work. The reality is that there are overlapping responsibilities between early years settings, the children's trusts-the abolition of which would cause great concern for Labour Members, but I know that Ministers are either considering or proceeding with it-and a number of child care and early years settings sited with primary schools. How is that supposed to work? What happens with all of that-child care, nursery provision, early years provisions-in relation to primary schools? Will there be separate applications to convert separately? Do they stand alone? Will it work differently for a primary school, a nursery and an infant school? Again, I have seen no explanation of that. In many ways, I am concerned not so much about the ideology as the practicality. In the rush to get the Bill through, many practical issues have not been thought through and, frankly, Ministers do not have the answer to them.
Thousands of primary schools-some small, some big, some in rural areas-are involved, but where is the evidence for this change coming from? As I stressed in the debate on the last group of amendments, the crucial evidence that Governments often publish on their Bills is the equality impact assessments and the impact assessments. All members of this Committee will have seen and read those assessments, but there is not a word about primary schools in them-not a word. How, then, are we supposed to judge? This is supposed to be the evidence base for the Bill. Where is the evidence base for this Academies Bill, when there is nothing in it about primary schools? How can any hon. Member look at the evidence base and decide whether the Government's proposals are acceptable?
Conservative Members seem to think that the idea of primary schools becoming academies is great, but their new Government effectively said, "We do not believe that policy should be made without evidence," so where is the evidence?
Let me finish the point, and then I will, of course, give way.
It is the same with the equality impact assessments. They relate to existing academies, which are all secondary schools, so there is nothing in them about primary schools. Yet this is supposed to be the evidence base for the Bill. Frankly-although I am going to say this gently to the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, as we get along-this is not good enough. For all of us to look at the evidence for or against this Bill and to analyse, discuss, debate or disagree with it, and to say what has been missed out of it or what should have been included in it, we require an evidence base-but there is no evidence in it. We are told that if conversion to academies goes ahead, the GCSE results will be 1.5% what might have been expected if the schools had not converted. What on earth has that got to do with primary schools? This is a very serious point and at some stage the Minister will have to answer it.
The evidence came from the local people, the local authority and local schools discussing with each other the best way forward for educational provision in their area. That was our academy model, not the model that the hon. Gentleman supports, whereby local authorities are completely missed out of the equation, and there is not even a statutory right to ensure that parents are consulted. It was sometimes difficult, but we ensured that local people and local authorities were involved in those decisions.
That is an opinion, not evidence. I take the hon. Gentleman's point about opinion, but the evidence is clearly set out in the impact assessment, headed "evidence base". It describes the huge success of the city technology colleges and their increasingly good academic results over the years since they were established. Cannot the shadow Minister extrapolate evidence from that to special schools and primary schools? That is what policy making is all about-taking the existing evidence and applying it to other forms of schooling.
It is not for me to extrapolate, but for the Government to demonstrate through evidence. I am no longer in government: the Minister is. He, in his new role, should present the evidence. The Secretary of State signed off the impact assessment. If he wanted to do what the Minister claims, why did he not amend it? I am sure that he read it carefully, word for word. Why did he not notice that primary schools were not mentioned, go back to his officials and say, "We haven't mentioned primary schools in this. Do you know what? The shadow Minister will get up and say that, because it's in the Library notes-the House of Commons Library has noticed, too." I repeat that it is not for me to extrapolate.
The evidence base is the same one that the shadow Minister used when, as my hon. Friend Gavin Barwell said, he signed off all-through academies. Consulting local opinion is not evidence for the early years sections of all-through academies. The evidence that the hon. Gentleman looked at will have been the success of the academies movement as a whole. We have based our policy on that.
The Minister has not set the evidence out. The impact assessments mention CTCs, but not primary schools. The Minister makes a good debating point when he says that CTCs have primary sections, and they are therefore covered. I think that if the Government could rewind the clock three, four or five weeks-whenever the assessments were prepared-the Minister would ensure that primary schools and special schools were included, particularly in the equality impact assessment.
The hon. Gentleman talks about evidence, and we have that of GCSE performance. I am sure that he welcomes the performance of secondary schools that have become academies. For example, when Mossbourne academy was Hackney Downs school, 10% of pupils got five good GCSEs, but now more than 80% get five good GCSEs as a result of the school gaining academy freedoms. Primary schools have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy those freedoms, but we know that 40% of primary school pupils currently do not get the three R's at level 4, key stage 2 and that fewer than 50% of pupils in around 500 primary schools achieve the required standard in English and maths. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that is acceptable, or that those schools should have the same chance as Mossbourne to change?
The dramatic rise in standards-the improvements in reading, writing and maths-in primary schools is significant. The hon. Gentleman asks whether we want higher standards and even faster progress. Of course we all do. However, the Government want to achieve that by allowing outstanding primary schools initially-we will find out how many shortly-to fast-track to academy status in September. If that is the Government's policy direction, where is the evidence to demonstrate that the results will be as he predicts? The whole point of a Bill's impact assessment, as the Chair of the Select Committee knows from his days as a member of that Committee, is to present evidence.
The fact that nearly 300,000 pupils are not achieving level 4 in the three R's at key stage 2 is clearly not acceptable. Yes, we admit that standards have risen since 1997, but at level 4 they have stalled and begun to go backwards. Will the hon. Gentleman not admit that? During the next stage of the march, we need to think about freedoms. We need to think about giving teachers freedom to seek academy status if they wish, so that they can push forward as secondary school teachers have at Mossbourne school.
This is a Committee stage, but the hon. Gentleman has retreated into a Second Reading political statement. I was asking what evidence the Government had presented to Parliament- [Interruption.] It is not for me to present evidence. I am not the Government. I am asking the hon. Gentleman what evidence the Government have presented to persuade Parliament to accept the Bill. How have they demonstrated that primary academies would deliver what he wants? That is the issue. I do not agree with the proposal, so it is not for me to say what evidence there is in favour of it. The hon. Gentleman is a Back-Bench member of the Government. He may progress further-I do not know-but his responsibility now is to defend the Government and to explain how Government policy will improve standards.
The Minister makes a reasonable point about the quality of the evidence that the Govt should provide when presenting proposals, but I am struck by the way in which the Opposition have retreated. They are no longer telling the truth about the fact that, in 2005, the then Prime Minister said that all schools wanted these freedoms. The Government proposed a managed move, but the aim was to provide these freedoms everywhere.
It is as if the whole new Labour era is ending. The thaw is over, and we feel the cold ice of a monolithic centralised state system forming over us once more. Is that really the vision seen by the shadow Minister, of whom I have always had a high opinion? Is he really reverting to his Socialist Educational Association roots?
It is never as simple as yes or no.
The hon. Gentleman and I have worked together a great deal over the last few years, and no doubt we will work together more over the next two or three years, or however many there may be. As I have made clear on a number of occasions, I have not said that I am opposed to academies. That would be hypocrisy of the highest order, given that I agreed to the establishment of a number of academies, and given that many of the academies that will open in September are academies to whose establishment I agreed.
I think it right to seek to increase the number of academies when that is appropriate, whether they are primary or secondary schools, although I prefer all-through academies. However, I do not think it right to fast-track outstanding schools to academy status, and to allow academy status to primary and special schools when there is no real evidence in favour of such action.
It is not a case of retreating in the direction of the Socialist Educational Association, many of whose members would oppose any academy. I do not oppose every or any academy. What I propose is a third way, which has been proposed by neither the Government nor the Socialist Educational Association but which, according to some famous politician, makes it possible to find a balance between two alternatives in order to move forward.
I want to ask the Minister a few more questions. What arrangements will there be for primary schools that are members of federations to apply for academy status, and what are the implications for each school? Can schools apply as a group, or must they apply individually? As I said, there are important questions to be asked about how academy status will work for nurseries, and about the arrangements for collaboration and funding. How will things be arranged between a local authority and a primary school if the authority has given large amounts of money to the school? How does the Minister expect small rural schools to become primary academies? What criteria will apply to them, as opposed to primary schools in the middle of cities?
Those are serious questions, and I know that the Minister will reflect on them seriously. However, as in the case of special schools, I find it slightly regrettable that we do not already know many of the answers. As I have said, the evidence base is fairly poor, given the magnitude of the decisions that we must make.
May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Evans, at this stage in the proceedings? Earlier, Mr Chope reminded us that it is out of order to refer to the decision about which amendments have been selected and which have not, so I will not reflect further on that and thereby risk being called out of order, except merely to say that I am delighted that amendment 48 in my name was selected.
Vernon Coaker has set out the dangers he foresees in primary schools being allowed to follow the academy route, but he adds that he is none the less an advocate of the academy system and that he thinks it is a success. I come at this from a different angle: I think the jury is still out because the evidence is balanced as to whether the academy structure has made a substantial difference to results. We Liberal Democrats have not been entirely convinced, although some party members have advocated academies throughout the process. Other arguments can be put as to why schools that have been established as academies have been successful and we talked about some of them on Second Reading, so I will not rehearse them at length. If I were to do so, I am sure you would rule me out of order, Mr Evans, but there are arguments to do with leadership and the resources put into academies, for instance.
This is a permissive Bill. We will either allow schools to examine, and consider following, this route or we will not. From visiting schools in my constituency, it seems fairly clear that not many of them are interested in doing so. They do not see it as right for them. They are largely happy with their relationship with Cornwall council, their local authority. I welcome that, and I am sure it is also the case in many other parts of the country. I believe that local authorities have a role to play and they have often played a good role in the past. However, that has not always been the case, because there are undoubtedly places where the relationship has broken down and there have been failings. The fact that not many schools in my area wish to follow the academy route does not, however, strike me as necessarily an argument for saying that it should not be open to them.
I tabled amendment 48 in order to have a debate about primary schools. I am therefore pleased that we are having that debate, and I would like to add a number of questions to those already asked by the hon. Member for Gedling. He raised the important issue of federation. It is being explored in many rural areas-and, I imagine, increasingly in urban areas too. Federation is often controversial because people sometimes feel they are giving up some measure of control over their local school, but my experience of those federations that have been formed-there are three or four in my part of the world now-is that the governing bodies and communities can come together. They still have their own school in their community and it performs a vital function not only in terms of education but in many other ways as well, especially for rural village communities. Therefore, if these schools become part of something a bit bigger, it means they are able to support a full-time head-and to recruit one as well, which is increasingly an issue. Federation can be a crucial step, therefore.
There are questions, however, about what approach the Government should take to applications for federation and how they would be explored. There are also, perhaps, issues to do with capacity. I hope, therefore, that no primary school approaches this option lightly. If they are considering it, they should reflect on their own situation and what resources they will have to take advantage of any freedoms that arise. That is an important consideration.
There are questions to do with the monitoring of schools as well. I have discussed that briefly with the Minister outside the Chamber. There is a role for the Young People's Learning Agency in monitoring academies to ensure that they meet the criteria set out in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that if primary schools, in particular, are going to go down the academy route, they will have the capacity to be able to do that and to manage a relationship with a much larger number of schools. If primary schools are to take up that option, the number of schools involved will be much greater than has been the case up to now.
The idea of all-though schools, to which the hon. Member for Gedling referred, presents an exciting opportunity. One of these schools is coming to my constituency and, again, the trust and confidence of the local people has to be won; they have to feel that the change will protect what they may see as younger, vulnerable pupils in that bigger set-up. That argument has been won in one community and this may be a route that some take towards academy status.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks on the clause, I am not convinced that this is necessarily the best route for everybody. My hon. Friends, some of whom spoke on Second Reading, have made it clear that they have concerns about the model too.
The hon. Gentleman will doubtless concede that this is permissive legislation and, therefore, schools will not be the subject of draconian diktat. He will also know that the experience of grant-maintained schools was that the legislation allowed them to work closely with their local education authority on things such as procurement and purchasing, and that consortiums were often very successful in that respect. This Bill specifically does not preclude the involvement on a practical, day-to-day basis of the local education authority. In that respect, I am sure that he will be reassured.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We have served together on a number of Public Bill Committees, not always agreeing when we have debated issues. However, we can perhaps agree that the permissive nature of this Bill allows both of us to explore what is available to schools and communities in our constituencies. As I say, I remain to be convinced that this is necessarily the best route and that it offers as many benefits as some hon. Members, including him, are convinced it does. However, I believe that if the route is to be available to some schools in particular circumstances, we ought to explore the option, as this Bill does, of making it available to others. So I accept his point about this being a permissive Bill.
The hon. Gentleman also makes the point about schools continuing to work with the local authority. The Minister may wish to talk about the fact that schools that take up the option that the Bill extends to them could continue to explore buying back some services from the local authority, even though they may well have not wanted to have such a rigid relationship with it. Clearly, they could still have an engagement with it and may indeed wish to buy back some services from it. This debate has begun and we may be at risk of going back over issues that we covered when discussing the previous group.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the sceptical wing of the coalition and respect his position. Yesterday morning, at Ealing hospital, I welcomed my newest constituent, Noah White, weighing 6 lb 9 oz, to the constituency. When that child is ready to go to primary school, there will be no primary school place for him in the London borough of Ealing, given the present capacity. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should be looking to expand the educational estate, rather than overloading head teachers and governors with yet more crushing work and just changing the signs outside the schools?
I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman is such an assiduous constituency MP that he is there to greet every new arrival to it. It is a wonder that we have the benefit of his company in this place as often as we do, given that he is so hard-working and pays such attention to detail. However, it is slightly problematic for a Labour Member to talk about the overburdening of head teachers. I have spent time talking to them about the reams of paper that were generated and imposed upon them by this Department-under its various names-under the previous Government, so I can say that he is on fairly sticky ground. However, he is absolutely right to raise the point about providing places, and we need the flexibility to do that.
I shall draw my remarks to a close. Clearly, I have been addressing my remarks to the lead amendment, but I tabled the second amendment with the purpose of discussing the particular circumstances that pertain to primary schools. I hope that the Minister will respond both to the issues that I and the hon. Member for Gedling have raised.
The amendment is further evidence of the dichotomy of the Labour party's approach to education policy for primary and secondary schools. With capital, as has been discussed, the previous Government's Building Schools for the Future programme was concentrated purely on the secondary sector, whereas their policy on academies was to have them in deprived areas at secondary level but not at primary level, even though many issues of educational under-attainment stem from performance at primary level. The list on the Department for Education website of schools in my constituency that have expressed an interest in the academy process includes Wolsey infant school in New Addington, which is an outstanding school, and St Mary's junior school, which is not. Both of them serve highly deprived parts of my constituency. If Labour Members have the passion that they say they have about driving up educational standards in deprived areas, that ought to apply equally at primary and secondary level.
I do not wish to detain hon. Members for long, but I want to address the four main objections that have been raised regarding primary schools. The first objection was about size and whether primary schools would be able to cope with the responsibilities that come with academy status. Having looked at the schools in my constituency that have expressed an interest, I would expect a far lower proportion of primary schools than secondary schools to be interested in going down this route because of their size. However, there are large discrepancies regarding primary schools. In my local authority area there are a number of single-form entry schools, some two-form entry schools and a significant number of three-form entry schools. The picture is very different for a three-form entry school, such as the state school that my children go to, than for a single-form entry school.
It would be helpful if the Minister clarified the position on federations. The Secretary of State's response to the shadow Secretary of State on Second Reading implied that applications from federations would be accepted. Clearly, that would be one way of addressing issues of size and scope. One concern that the Labour party has raised about academies is the fear that schools will stop working together, so it seems particularly perverse for the amendment to rule out the prospect of federations of schools applying for academy status and preserving those relationships that Members on both sides want to persist.
My main point about the issue of school size is that the legislation is, as several hon. Members have pointed out, permissive. Surely, we should trust head teachers, leadership teams and governors to judge whether their schools have the capacity to cope with academy status.
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. It is better to have looser language in the Bill because, as Vernon Coaker knows, any issues of consultation in relation to the schools that seek to proceed along this path will be the subject of regulation and secondary legislation. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is better to have looser language in the Bill than to be too prescriptive, because that might, as the shadow Minister has said, lay individual schools, local education authorities and other bodies open to legal action further down the line?
My hon. Friend makes the point far more eloquently than I can. At some point in the future, the shadow Education Minister might have the honour of being the Minister again, or even the Secretary of State, who will sign off the applications for academy status. However, the amendment would tell primary schools or federations of primary schools that they were not even allowed to make the case for academy status, and that is completely the wrong approach.
The hon. Gentleman refers to schools working in partnership on school improvement programmes, and clause 15 refers to city technology colleges becoming part of the family of academies that the legislation will look after, but I am afraid that the city technology college in my constituency has always been fiercely independent and has never wanted to work in partnership with any other school or with the local education authority. I do not see how the circle will be squared, because that is the evidence from our experience.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but my experience in my part of the world is very different. In Croydon we had one of the original city technology colleges, which has converted to an academy, as most CTCs have, and the academy partners have continued to work closely with the local authority and community.
My next point is about the evidence base. In an intervention on the hon. Member for Gedling, I referred to the evidence in relation to the Oasis Academy Shirley Park, an all-through academy that he and the former Secretary of State approved in my constituency. The evidence from the first year is that at primary and secondary levels the academy has made a profound difference not just to pupil attainment, parental satisfaction and the local community's confidence in the school, but most importantly to the pupils' perception of the school that they attend, which surely ought to be the key judge of any school.
The Opposition also argued that the policy is a leap in the dark, and that, whereas the previous policy was managed and a number of schools became academies each year, we are opening the floodgates and do not know how many schools might become such institutions. Having listened to the debate, however, it is clear that the Secretary of State will retain control of approving academy applications, and the explanatory notes to the Bill give a rough forecast of the numbers that we might expect.
My final point is about the admissions policy. The hon. Gentleman suggested that, given how primary schools are rooted in their community and some secondary schools are not, there was a danger that the admissions criteria might change and the local link could break down. As I understand the arrangements, however, such schools will continue to be covered by the admissions code. Indeed, in my area we have written into academy funding agreements the importance of a clear local link in relation to selection. In all parts of the country, we want good schools serving their local communities so that local parents have what they want, which in my experience is a good local school.
None of the concerns about size, evidence base, opening the floodgates or admissions bears any scrutiny, and there is a very important point of principle. Primary schools or federations of primary schools should have the chance to make to the Secretary of State the case for being given academy status, so that we see at primary level the same improvement, particularly in deprived parts of the country, of which there are a number in my constituency, that we have seen at secondary level.
The Government argue that the Bill is permissive, but my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker has made it abundantly clear that there is no evidence why primary schools should apply for academy status, so I am intrigued about the permission that the Government believe primary schools are denied and, therefore, want to grant them.
Government Members have also argued that the Bill is born of a desire to raise standards, but the issue with primary schools in my constituency, all of which are over-subscribed, have very high educational standards and provide a much more rounded education to the children who attend them, is that there will be a serious shortfall in places. Before the general election we were informed that a new primary school would be built in my constituency, and I shall not go into the debacle of Building Schools for the Future, but it has a knock-on effect on the provision of school places-certainly in an inner-London borough such as mine. That proposal now seems either to have disappeared or to have been thrown into the deep freeze.
The overriding issue that parents raise with me as regards primary schools is that they cannot get their child into their first-choice primary school, which almost invariably is that within walking distance of where their child lives. They want that not only because their child is already part of the community where they then make friends who live in the same area but because, as we are increasingly aware, many parents have to juggle not only work but a variety of school ages among their children. Only the other day, I had a constituency case involving a mother whose third child is about to start primary school. She has to transport the other two children to different parts of the borough, and it is clearly out of the question for her to be asked to take a place in another primary school that is even further away.
I am somewhat bemused as to why the Government think that their approach of academising all our schools will tackle the real issues that are facing my constituents and their children in relation to the provision of school places. There is another, more nuanced issue in my constituency. Many of the primary schools are faith-based, and there is constant conflict between parents who want their children to go to a faith-based school and parents who do not want their children to go to such a school.
That brings me back to my central point about academising all our schools-the Government's continuing total exclusion of the opinions of parents. If it were stated in the Bill that parents have to be consulted, I could begin to understand this. I would not understand it completely, but I could see that it might offer the means genuinely to examine the issues that face many of my constituents as regards primary schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling mentioned another concern to do with nursery places linked to a primary school, but he did not touch on after-school clubs, which are also linked to primary schools, certainly in my constituency. There has also been a move towards primary schools acting as feeders for secondary schools, as well as community linkage across my entire constituency, which encompasses two London boroughs.
As I say, I am bemused by the idea of academising our educational system, but the central and essential issue for me is the Government's total failure to acknowledge the importance of consulting parents on these issues. I see that the Chair of the Education Committee has returned to his place. In an earlier intervention, he castigated my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling for his criticism of the Bill and said that Labour was reverting to some deep-frozen I do not know what-he said something about the waters closing over new Labour. I found that somewhat surprising, because before the election he was, almost individually, the creator of the all-party group on home education. If I remember rightly, the central and essential argument that he consistently proselytised, and I agreed with him, was that the Government of the day-my Government-had markedly failed to consult parents. That was the basis of his argument, and I am somewhat shocked that it seems to have disappeared from his mind.
I think that it was rather more to do with the fact that the Government of the day wanted to monitor, regulate, intervene, instruct, license and control parents than with the fact that they were not listening to them. The main aim was to ensure that the state did not trample all over their freedom, and that is an essential safety valve that home education gives to a system that too often fails parents and children-the most vulnerable children the most often.
I have not been quite so hyperbolic in my choice of verbs as the hon. Gentleman, but it seems to me that in this Bill his Government are attempting to replicate precisely what he is accusing my Government of attempting to do with regard to home-educated children.
Put in the simplest terms, the Government are ignoring parents' opinions. That is why the arguments that they have advanced on primary schools, and will advance with regard to secondary schools, should be fiercely opposed, and I am delighted to see that Labour Members are continuing to do that.
May I add my welcome to Vernon Coaker to the Opposition Front-Bench role? In some ways, it is as tough as being a Minister. He has no support and has to draft all the amendments himself, so I am sympathetic to his position. I am grateful to him for the kind words that he passed on at the beginning of the debate.
The amendments focus on nursery and primary schools. Amendment 32 would prevent stand-alone nurseries or primary schools, or joint primary and nursery schools, from becoming academies. Amendment 48 would prevent any primary school from applying for an academy order within the first two years after the Bill receiving Royal Assent, after which only primary schools or federations of primary schools with more than 500 pupils would be able to apply.
First, I reassure hon. Members that no stand-alone nursery is permitted to become an academy. Academies are schools, as defined in section 463 of the Education Act 1996, which provides that any independent school must provide full-time education for five or more pupils of compulsory school age. Hence, stand-alone nursery schools will not be able to apply for academy status.
Primary schools will be free to choose whether academy status is the right option for them. There will be no requirement for them to convert into academies. I appreciate that many small primary schools may depend on the local authority more than other schools, which is why the Bill is permissive rather than prescriptive, as my hon. Friend Gavin Barwell so ably pointed out. It is about trusting professionals. We want schools to determine whether academy status is right for them, and we understand that it may not be right for some very small primaries. That should not mean that primary schools that want to become academies and believe that it is a viable option for them should be prevented from doing so.
In another place, Lord Knight-a wonderfully mediaeval title for a former Education Minister-did not appear to be against primary schools becoming academies in principle. He said:
"I am not completely against the notion that there might be circumstances where groups of primaries could become academies".
His concern seemed to be one of practicalities. As my noble Friend Baroness Perry pointed out,
"many of these primary schools, particularly in rural communities, are at the heart of the community and can attract very senior and experienced businesspeople and professionals from the community to their governing bodies and the chairmanship of those bodies. Therefore, they do not lack that kind of hard-edged business experience in running their affairs."-[ Hansard, House of Lords, 6 July 2010; Vol. 720, c. 122, 120.]
The fact that they are at the heart of their communities is their strength, not their weakness.
On the Minister's defence of the Bill as being of a permissive nature, does he believe we should also have permissive legislation without a full impact assessment to allow everybody to walk around naked, on the basis that they would not have to do it if they did not want to?
Glenda Jackson made an important point about the need to ensure that communities, parents and schools feel that they are in control and making decisions, which is why the power is properly permissive.
What consideration did the Minister give to whether a school that becomes an academy could reverse that process? I bring that up, I hope in order, because smaller primary schools might find that the academy freedoms do not work for them. It is important that the system makes communities and schools feel in control, not forced down a particular channel. We will get much further with the policy if people feel that way.
No primary school is being forced down any channel, that is the whole essence of the proposals. We will not let academies fail, and if they are struggling intervention measures and monitoring will take place to ensure that different sponsors can take them over.
We want all schools that want academy status to be able to apply for it, and we do not intend to deny certain schools that option. Nor do we believe that a delay of two years before primary schools can apply to convert is necessary or appropriate. However, we will see whether any lessons can be learned from the primaries that convert this September. Furthermore, we encourage federations or partnership arrangements that wish to convert, as well as proposals for all-through academies.
I should also point out that when there are challenges with primaries-for example, with shared or co-located services such as children's centres-we intend to work through them with all the relevant partners to ensure that services are maintained without interruption. That may mean that the process of conversion takes a little longer, but it is important to do things correctly.
The hon. Member for Gedling seemed to express no principle objection. He cited all-through academies, but said that things were different for stand-alone primaries owing to their size and the fact that their location communities could be at risk, but why? In another place, the Under-Secretary of State, Lord Hill of Oareford, said:
"The local primary school is very much part of the village where I live and I know that that is true throughout the country...If an outstanding local primary were to become an academy, it is not clear why it should automatically become less of a part of the local community, village or town life. It will have the same head, staff, parents and children with some additional freedoms. I am not clear why the change of status should suddenly make those people in their villages, towns and communities suddenly start to behave differently."-[ Hansard, House of Lords, 6 July 2010; Vol. 720, c. 125.]
That is a very well expressed answer to the questions asked throughout the debate on the Bill on whether academies will continue to be part of the community. Of course they will. There is no evidence from the 203 academies, other than the one cited by Ian Mearns, that they are any more or less involved in their communities than maintained schools. I am sure that the hon. Member for Gedling did not preside over the 203 academies with a view to them being islands unto themselves and isolated from the community.
I am not entirely opposed to academies-we have an extremely good one in Ealing North-but there is a problem with governance and involvement with local communities. When an academy sets up, it does not need local education governors or even parent governors-it can select governors. The link with the community is crucial, so what would the Minister say to those who remain to be convinced when it comes to the establishment of an academy within their local community but who would also like that governance link?
An academy can, of course, have the local authority represented on its governing body, but it is up to the academy trust to decide its structure. The hon. Gentleman praised his local academy in Ealing, but there are different models for schools. The academy model gives schools more independence from the local authority and indeed from the Government, and it has worked in his constituency and up and down the country. There is ample evidence in the impact assessment that the model is very effective here and in other countries. We need not have a one-size-fits-all approach to the governance of schools. The community school is one model, and the academy is another. We believe that the latter needs to be boosted and given a chance to extend into other forms of school.
I do not want to trespass on the Minister's good nature or generosity. I quite rightly praised West London academy because it maintains the link with the local community. What is his personal preference? Is it for a school governing body to be drawn from the local community or for it to be completely separate?
Any Government face such challenges, but the Government whom the hon. Lady supported for 13 years were not that effective at dealing with them. Under the previous Government, a considerable number of schools were in special measures for a long period, and the results in some schools were very poor. This is going to be a challenge for this Government, as it was for the previous Government. It will also be a challenge for the organisation that monitors the quangos-the Young People's Learning Agency.
The way in which the legislation has been framed seems to have built in a mechanism under which that scrutiny will not need to be carried out in the first instance, because only outstanding schools will be allowed to go forward. The whole point of the previous Government's academies programme was to lift standards in schools that were performing below the level that we all want for our children. This Government's programme is for outstanding schools only-[Hon. Members: "No, it's not."] Well, that is certainly the way the legislation seems to be framed.
My hon. Friends have just made the point from a sedentary position that that is not the case. It is not only outstanding schools that are being invited to acquire academy status; it is all schools. We are also continuing to address the problems at the other end of the scale, to ensure that schools that are in special measures and that are struggling can acquire academy status and have a sponsor that can raise standards in those schools. Those projects, and that approach to policy, will continue.
I am surprised at the opposition to these proposals, given that they build on the legislation of the previous Government. They do not represent a major departure from the previous approach. The Bill has only 20 clauses, and the reason for that is that it builds on the legislation introduced by the previous Government.
I want to test my understanding of what the Minister is saying. In response to Stephen Pound, he said that he would be perfectly happy for a governing body to spend a fair amount of money on behalf of local children, even though there might not be anyone on that governing body who had any connection to local children. Surely there is an issue of accountability there-
Thank you very much, Mr Evans. I will seek to do so.
There will be parent governors on the governing bodies of the schools, so they will not be divorced from them. We are trying to be permissive and to allow academies to draw up their own arrangements, and to select their own directors for the academy trusts and governors for the school. That is the approach that we want to take; we do not want to take a top-down approach to the governance of schools.
The hon. Member for Gedling mentioned the figure of 200 in the impact assessment. That is an illustrative figure to show the costs and the benefits that would arise if that number of schools were to convert annually. Given that this is permissive legislation, we cannot say that we will require x number of schools to convert annually and that the cost will therefore be y. He also asked for the number of primary schools that had expressed an interest. I can give him a figure, but with all the caveats that my fellow Minister of State, my hon. Friend Sarah Teather expressed earlier. Of the 1,900 expressions of interest, 862 have been from primary schools, and 529 of the 862 have been judged by Ofsted to be outstanding.
It is very hard to say at the moment. I cannot anticipate what the number will be. For every application that has been submitted, there is a named official working with the school. That process is happening right now, and I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait until we are able to announce the figure. I think that he will be very pleased with the figure.
The discussions will carry on through August; not everyone is rushing away. Those schools that are determined to open as academies in September will be working throughout August to achieve that.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the costs of insurance and VAT. Those will be covered by the general annual grant paid to academies. He asked about federations, a question also raised by my hon. Friend Dan Rogerson.
I appreciate that the Minister may not know the answer to this, but what is his estimate of the VAT cost? Is it an additional cost, as I think it might be, for the academies? Is it factored in at 17.5%, and is the increase to 20% in January taken into account?
I will happily respond to the hon. Gentleman's questions. As he knows, having been a Minister, there is a VAT cost because academies, as independent schools, cannot reclaim it, whereas when they were maintained schools the local authority had a reclaim procedure that enabled them to reclaim it. The VAT that academies cannot reclaim at the moment will form part of their funding and does not present a cost to Government; it is simply an internal accounting issue.
There are hard federations and soft federations. A hard federation has one governing body that is shared by the number of schools within it; that governing body can of course apply to become an academy. Soft federations, which have a number of governing bodies, can also apply, regardless of whether one or two of the schools are outstanding. If there are no outstanding schools in the federation, things will take a little longer than if there were.
Primaries with a nursery school will be able to convert to an academy, notwithstanding the fact that the nursery school is within the school. In those circumstances, therefore, the nursery school will become an academy.
The hon. Member for Gedling asked about the early years foundation stage, which does of course apply to independent schools. Academies are independent schools and the early years foundation stage is statutory, so it will also apply to academies.
Glenda Jackson talked about her constituents being unable to get their children into their first choice of primary school. This is absolutely the issue we are debating. We want to raise standards across all schools and to invite new providers into the system, particularly in areas such as those she described, in which there is parental dissatisfaction with existing provision. That is where the focus of our efforts will be.
The issue is not standards but capacity. There are insufficient places, and for the majority of primary schools in my constituency there is no possibility of extending their existing sites. As I said before the general election, we were promised a new primary school. Where has that gone? Why are the hon. Gentleman's Government not meeting that promise?
That is a different issue, and capital will be available to deal with the increasing population of young children. The birth rate is increasing, which means that new capacity will be required in some areas, and those capital costs will be met. I thought that the hon. Lady was making a slightly different point-that some very popular schools are over-subscribed because parents from a wider area try to get their children in, crowding out local children in some circumstances. We want to ensure that parents are happy with the quality, as well as the quantity, of provision.
The Minister will be aware that there are specific issues in inner London, particularly given the massive increase in population mobility and local authorities' policy of encouraging families in. There are therefore some issues specific to central London that the Minister needs to be aware of as he puts this policy in place.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important issue on behalf of his constituents, which he has raised before in Westminster Hall debates. I am aware of it, we are concerned about it and I can assure him it will be dealt with.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall raised a number of issues. In particular, he talked about monitoring schools and asked about the Young People's Learning Agency. I reassure him that it will have the capacity to monitor academies' performance as the number of academies increases over the years. He also asked about buying back services from local authorities. That is very much part of the model. Just because a school opts to become an academy, it does not mean that it will sever its links with the local authority, or will not continue to use local authority services. Local authorities that provide high-quality services are more likely to be able to sell them to academies.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend's comments, and will continue to reflect on his arguments, but I make three points, which are best summed up by the Minister in the other place, my noble Friend Lord Hill:
"First...we believe that the number of primaries that will convert in the very first wave is likely to be very modest. Secondly, the Secretary of State has made it clear that he will keep the situation under review and learn any lessons from the first primary converters."-[ Hansard, House of Lords, 6 July 2010; Vol. 720, c. 127.]
His third point was that there will be an annual report to Parliament on the progress of academies policy. Noble Lords from my hon. Friend's party managed to persuade the Minister in the other place to put that requirement on the statute book. That report is precisely the vehicle through which to consider the impact of academies policy on primary schools.
Having made those few remarks, I very much hope that I have persuaded the hon. Member for Gedling and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall not to press their amendments.
I thank the Minister for his response and the information that he gave us in answer to some of our questions. The issue of VAT is interesting; I am not quite sure of the mechanism involved, but if the Department for Education reimburses schools, hopefully the Treasury will reimburse the Department. I am not quite sure which way round that goes, but I leave the issue with the Minister and will see whether he is more successful with that argument about money than the Department was in its argument about Building Schools for the Future money.
Some of the answers to questions posed by Members from across the Chamber demonstrate that the Bill has been rushed, and demonstrate problems with what the policy will mean in practice. It is interesting that in many respects-this is not so much the case for primaries as for special schools-the Minister is saying, "Trust us. This is permissive legislation; we will sort out some of the detail after we've legislated, hopefully in the next education and schools Bill, in the autumn." That is not particularly appropriate. I understand why the Government want to rush through this legislation-they see it as flagship-but the Minister himself said, in answer to various questions, that issues are being worked on.
Let me give the Minister one example. If I were trying to be nasty to him, I would ask him to explain to the Committee how the ready reckoner on the DFE website works. I am sure that he understands, but nobody else knows how it works. The point is not whether he understands it, but whether anybody out there does. It is telling that large numbers of primary-and, indeed, secondary-schools trying to work out what becoming an academy would mean for them find it difficult to make the ready reckoner work. Some local authorities have been astonished to find that when they put their figures in, it seems that they would pay out more money than they receive. There is some work to be done on that, and no doubt that issue is one that will be looked at when the detail is sorted.
The ready reckoner was the subject of debate in the other place, and I have had sight of a letter to my noble Friend Baroness Walmsley from Lord Hill, the Under-Secretary, on that issue. I understand that he has placed copies of that letter in the Library for hon. Members to look at. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to see it.
I was not aware of that letter. It would have been even more helpful if the hon. Gentleman had told us what it said, but I will have a look at it. Certainly, the ready reckoner and the whole question of funding for primary schools is still an issue.
I take the point about primary schools being an important part of the community, whether they are small, rural or urban. The more important point that many hon. Members made concerned the capacity of those schools operating on their own to deal with academy status, particularly in regard to some of the support that they receive from local authorities on insurance, legal costs and sometimes when emergencies occur. If we are not careful, the Government will undermine the local authority's capacity to deal with such matters, while not giving individual primary schools, even if they become academies, the capacity to deal with them either. That is a real issue for us all.
To be fair, the Minister tried to address most of the points made, except that relating to the inadequacy of the equalities impact assessment and the impact assessment on the Bill, which makes no reference to any evidence for what the Government are doing. My hon. Friends and I have raised serious concerns about the rush to academy status for primary schools, but in the interests of dealing with some of the important issues that remain to be debated in the limited time available, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment 19, page 1, line 22, at end insert-
(za) the school has regard to the regulations relating to schools admissions made under section 84 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998;
(zb) the school has regard to the regulations relating to the exclusion of pupils made under section 52 of the Education Act 2002;'.
The First Deputy Chairman:
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 23, page 2, line 8, at end insert-
(e) the school must comply with the provisions of the Code for School Admissions issued from time to time by the Secretary of State.'.
Amendment 24, page 2, line 8, at end insert-
(e) the school must comply with fair access protocols issued from time to time by the Secretary of State.'.
Amendment 27, page 2, line 8, at end insert-
(e) the school complies with provisions on pupil exclusions and behaviour partnerships as set out in EA 2002, EIA 2006 and ASCLA 2009.'.
Amendment 42, page 2, line 8, at end insert-
(e) the admissions arrangements of the school make no provision for selection on the basis of religion or belief.'.
Amendment 11, page 2, line 21, at end insert-
'(9A) Academy arrangements must also include terms imposed for the purpose of securing that the school complies with any code for school admissions issued under section 84 of SSFA.'.
Amendment 43, page 2, line 23, at end insert-
'(11) Subsection (12) applies if the school is a voluntary controlled school which is designated by order under section 69(3) of SSFA 1998 as a school having a particular religious character.
(12) The Academy agreement must include terms imposed for the purpose of securing that no greater percentage of pupils are selected on the basis of religion or belief after, as compared with before, the conversion date.'.
Amendment 14, in clause 6, page 4, line 21, leave out subsections (3) and (4).
Amendment 49, in clause 6, page 4, line 24, at end insert-
'(3A) If the school is a selective school, sections 105 to 109 of SSFA 1998 shall continue to apply in respect of the retention of selective admission arrangements at the school.'.
Amendment 44, in clause 6, page 4, line 37, at end insert-
'( ) Subsections (7) and (8) apply only if the governing body has made a request to maintain such religious character.
( ) Subsections (7) and (8) do not apply if the school is not designated by order under section 69(3) of SSFA 1998 as a school having a particular religious character and, on conversion to an Academy, such a school may not then be designated or treated as designated by order under section 69(3) of SSFA 1998 as a school having a particular religious character.'.
Amendment 12, in clause 6, page 5, line 4, at end add-
'(10) After the conversion date the school must comply with any code for school admissions issued under section 84 of SSFA which applied to the school on the conversion date.'.
Amendment 13, in schedule 2, page 18, line 26, at end insert-
'9A In section 84(1) of SSFA (code for school admissions) after paragraph (b) insert-
I do not intend to detain the Committee for long as we are only three amendments into a 30-odd amendment marathon.
I am not a fan of the legislation as it takes a set of proposals that were meant for one set of schools and transfers those, lock, stock and barrel, to schools in a wholly different category. It takes resources that were meant to improve the educational outcome for children in schools that are underperforming and transfers them in a targeted way to schools that are, in the first instance, already regarded as outstanding. It will also take resources that the local authority currently receives to be targeted at school improvement and gives those resources to schools that are already outstanding, in a "devil take the hindmost" fashion.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case were it not for the fact that the Government have made it clear that they want all schools to have the opportunity to become academies and have that freedom. Also, the pupil premium, which is an important part of the policy platform, will ensure that the poorest in our society have an extra resource, which, for the first time, will follow them, rather than some political fix. Surely he should recognise that in his remarks.
I thank the Select Committee Chair for his comments, but I did emphasise the words "in the first instance" with regard to the outstanding schools in these proposals. The pupil premium will be part of legislation in the autumn, and it remains to be seen how those proposals will pan out.
I thank my hon. Friend for that information. It helps us to pad out the argument about how we feel about the Bill.
Government Members have regularly alluded to and broadly welcomed what they see as a return to grant-maintained schools by another name, now known as son of grant-maintained schools or academies. If the policy were to go down that road, its fairness, equity and accountability would have to be severely questioned. Unlike local authorities, the governing body of an academy will not undergo the rigours of the local democratic system. That is, it will not have to stand for election and stand or fall on its record and/or its programme.
I know that the Secretary of State has been keen to placate local government representatives on these issues. Indeed, in a speech at the Local Government Association annual conference in Bournemouth, he confirmed that he sees councils continuing to play a strong, strategic role in the school system. However, local government is very disappointed that there has been no opportunity for formal consultation on these proposals, which has left little chance to discuss in detail some of the potential issues. My hon. Friend Vernon Coaker referred to the ready reckoner implications earlier. In my local authority, some of the ready reckoner calculations done by finance officers have resulted in horrendous-
The ready reckoner is used to give an indication to prospective academies of what their funding might be. It is not to be used by local authorities to calculate the claw-back, because they are different figures. Academies are funded through two different routes, so the figures would not match.
Nevertheless, local authorities are uncertain about the financial implications and their capacity to improve schools in the future. Indeed, education cannot be delivered in isolation from the wider range of local public services used by children and young people-or by the local community. Within education, if the role of local authorities as commissioners was recognised and strengthened, the children's services budget could be more efficiently used by delivering a wider range of services through schools.
It is important to ensure that all children have fair access to a place in a local school, and that academies operate a fair admissions procedure. Similarly, it is imperative that all schools operate a fair exclusions policy. I was pleased that the Secretary of State gave a reassurance on Second Reading when he said that academies
"have to abide by the admissions code and subscribe to fair access protocols, so that those hard-to-place children are placed appropriately."-[ Hansard, 19 July 2010; Vol. 514, c. 31.]
However, I would like to see an inclusion in the Bill that all academies must comply with admissions law and codes and fair access protocols, as well as regulations relating to pupil exclusions. That would ensure that they were on the same footing as other schools, requiring a change to primary legislation to amend and making them truly equal partners. I therefore ask the Committee to accept amendment No. 19 in my name because it would achieve exactly that.
I tabled amendments 42, 43 and 44, which deal with one aspect of admissions to academies of a religious nature. I understand the benefits that can flow from such schools. Indeed, I used to be a governor of a Church of England school in the ward I represented and it was a very interesting experience. However, I am concerned that the Bill may inadvertently lead to an increase in the proportion of religious places. It risks permanently entrenching religious segregation in our education system through irreversible changes that could permit wide discrimination in admissions and employment.
By "freeing" religious academies from the national curriculum without sufficient safeguards, the Bill also risks exposing children to extreme religious views, including creationism. Members will know that I have spent some time arguing for the scientific line on such issues. My concern is widely shared. A new ICM poll commissioned by the British Humanist Association found that 72% of the public are concerned that the Academies Bill could lead to taxpayers' money being used to promote religion. A third of the public said that they were "very concerned" about that. The poll also found that two thirds of people think that religious academies should be required to teach pupils about other beliefs, including non-religious ones.
I seek assurances from the Minister on these issues and I have tabled three amendments to flush out their thinking in this area. Amendment 42 would prevent any form of religious discrimination in admissions policies. Many state-funded "faith schools" use privileges to have highly selective admissions criteria, giving preference to the children of parents with particular beliefs. The Government have so far made it clear that they intend to allow these schools to retain their admissions policies, and I have great concerns in that area. It can cause segregation along religious and socio-economic lines. Professor Ted Cantle, author of a report into community cohesion in Blackburn, describes religious schools as
"automatically a source of division"
in the town, which is not something we would wish to see. In other areas, faith schools, which are their own admissions authorities-as these academies will be-are 10 times more likely to be highly unrepresentative of their surrounding area than faith schools where the local authority is the admission authority. Separating children by religion, class and ethnicity is totally antithetical to the aims of social cohesion, and amendment 42 would ensure that no academy pupil is discriminated against on religious grounds.
That is an ideal to which I hope we all aspire. However, if amendment 42 cannot be accepted by the Government, I hope that amendment 43 can at least provide greater assurance. It would ensure that, at the very least, existing faith schools cannot discriminate more when they achieve academy status. During discussions in the other place, the Government confirmed that maintained faith schools will be able to discriminate in admissions. I hope they will change their mind on that. They said that a 50% quota would be imposed to ensure that 50% of admissions would not be religiously selective, and that was repeated on Second Reading. However, that provision is not in the Bill, the model funding agreement or any other official guidance or information. We need to know what would happen there. If amendment 42 cannot be accepted, I hope that amendment 43 will be, to ensure that things can get no worse than they currently are.
Finally, I turn to amendment 44, which deals with two issues, one of which I take to be a drafting error on which I seek reassurance, and the other is the desire to provide choice for current religious schools. I shall take the second part of the amendment first. The amendment would ensure symmetry. Currently a state-funded religious school becomes a religious academy, but there is nothing to confirm that a non-faith school becomes a non-faith academy. I therefore seek the guarantee, which I think the Secretary of State intended, that that is what would happen-that their nature simply would not change.
The first part of the amendment deals with schools that are religious schools now. Currently, a state-maintained school with a religious character is forced to become an academy with that religious character, but surely religious schools should at least have the option not to do that if they do not wish to. That would be popular with the local community: a recent poll found that 64% of people agreed that the Government should not be funding faith schools of any kind-but that is a debate for another time. However, some faith schools are only nominally of a religious character-that character being a residue of former connections. When taking on academy status with the possibility of growth, these schools may wish to free themselves of the restrictive status of being of a religious character which has ceased to be relevant to them. The amendment would allow them the choice, rather than compel them.
I hope my amendments will be considered carefully by the Government, and I hope that Ministers will comment on them. I intend them as probing amendments and will not press them to a vote, but I hope that the Government will take them seriously and accept a number of them.
I am the author of four amendments in this group, and their purpose is to try to make it mandatory for the new academies to comply with the schools admission code. Concerns have been expressed in this debate that increasing the number of academies will have major implications for admissions planning, and, as I said, the amendments seek to ensure that there is co-ordination and that it is mandatory for academies to comply with the code.
If the Government are serious that the proposals will not open up the back door to selection, as many of us fear-that promise was made in the other place-why not state very clearly in the Bill that academies should comply with the schools admission code, instead of only stating that academies will have to comply with the codes under their funding arrangements? Although required under those arrangements to meet the code, the levers to ensure that that happens still rest entirely with the Secretary of State. So all concerns about fairness keep being met with the reassurance that it is in the funding agreement, but that is not good enough. Parents must know, through a proper consultation process prior to the setting up of an academy, what the admissions arrangements for the school will be and how their chances of getting into the local schools will be affected. Furthermore, there must be mechanisms to ensure that funding agreements can be changed to ensure that academies follow any changes required in any future code on admissions.
Essentially, voluntary-aided schools, foundation schools, trust schools and academies all operate as admission authorities, able to set their own admission criteria. Research over a number of years has shown that where schools set their own criteria, there is more social segregation. In particular, the fact that grammar schools will be allowed to become academies is a serious concern. Selective academies will be able to expand in a way that grammar schools currently are not allowed to. That expansion will also take place after limited consultation with the local community. I would therefore like the Minister to reassure the Committee that all new academies, including former grammar schools, will be required to participate in local admissions co-ordination schemes.
Under the 2009 code, the schools adjudicators, as the independent enforcers of fair access to schools, also have a wider remit to consider any admissions arrangements that come to their attention, in addition to any complaints received through an objection. Can the Minister tell the Committee whether the schools adjudicators will be reporting annually to the Secretary of State on the admissions of academies as well? We could debate at length the ability of an admission forum to ensure fairness, but will the Minister assure the Committee that academies will be represented on admissions forums? Currently, regulations allow for the administration of all admissions-in other words, dealing with the key administrative decisions on whether an applicant meets the admissions criteria, even if they are set by the school-to be carried out by the local authority. Is the option to allow the local authority to administer admissions still open to all schools, including academies? Finally, will the Government encourage a role for local authorities in administering admissions in that way?
I hope that the Committee will excuse me if I intervene briefly in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner to deal with the points raised by my hon. Friend Dr Huppert. What he was talking about was something of a straw man. There is nothing in the Bill that changes the existing relationship between the state and faith groups, although it is important to remind the Committee of a couple of things.
First, the reason why there are so many faith schools among primary and secondary schools in England and Wales is that, as part of the Education Act 1944, the then Government persuaded the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church to place at the disposal of the state all the Church schools that they had previously run. The then Government simply could not have delivered universal state education through the 1944 Act if the Churches had not brought all their schools into the state system.
Secondly, one fundamental principle of the 1944 Act was that, so far as possible, children should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. No one is obliged to send their child to a faith school; they do so because they wish to. I suspect that it is the experience of us all in the House that faith schools in our constituencies are consistently and substantially over-subscribed. I have one faith school in my constituency-Blessed George Napier school, a Roman Catholic comprehensive secondary school in the diocese of Birmingham-that is consistently over-subscribed, because parents wish to send their children there.
I do not accept that as a principle or an assertion, although I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to talk about it, because the Church takes considerable pride in the fact that it admits into its schools a wide range of pupils, from all backgrounds, all faiths and all cultures, particularly in London. The Church of England sees that as an important part of its outreach and its commitment to the community and society as a whole.
I will, but let me finish my point.
It is of fundamental importance that parents can educate their children as they wish. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge is clearly opposed to any faith schools at all. That may well be a debate for another occasion, but it is not a debate under this Bill. This Bill does nothing to alter the existing covenant and arrangements between Church and faith groups in respect of faith schools. I suspect that I am not the only Member to have received all sorts of e-mails suggesting otherwise. They are wrong: this Bill does nothing to upset or alter the covenant between Church and state that has existed since 1944.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. First, he says that parents have a choice, but does he accept that that simply does not apply in many rural areas where there is no reasonable choice because there is a shortage of schools nearby? Furthermore, he says that there is no change, so may I take it that he will support the second part of my amendment 44, which stipulates that there should be no change in either direction-into or out of faith schools?
For the more than 27 years I have represented my constituency, I have never yet received a complaint from a parent about being obliged to send a child to a rural church school. It is usually the other way round, with parents expressing the concern that they cannot get their children into the local church school if there is only one school available. I hope that Government Members would accept it as a fundamental principle that, so far as possible, children should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.
On my hon. Friend's second point, with all due respect I think his amendments are seeking to create some straw men that simply do not exist in this Bill. It is a distraction. There may be another time for such a debate and I am sure that I and other colleagues would gladly engage with him because many in the House believe that faith schools make a very substantial contribution to our national life, provide diversity in education and contribute to the richness of educational experience in this country. As I say, I believe that seeking to introduce these amendments is a distraction, and I hope that the House will oppose them.
Following on from Tony Baldry, let me say that it is more than anecdotal-and certain in my constituency-that all schools, primary or secondary, are over-subscribed. As the hon. Gentleman said, parents should be allowed to educate their children as they wish, but parents who want to educate their child in a faith school-Church of England, Roman Catholic or Muslim-may find that there are no places because they have been superseded not only by people who have suddenly discovered their faith but by those who have had the money to buy their way into a catchment area. Yes, we would all like parents to see their children educated as they wish, whether it be in a faith school or a non-faith school, but what my constituents overwhelmingly want is to see their children educated in a local school, so they do not have to travel vast distances and so that relationships can be created with in a local area.
In my opinion, this group of amendments brings us to the central part of the Bill, which is all to do with admissions. I have already touched lightly on the difficulties experienced in my constituency. As I said on Second Reading, if the Bill goes through without further amendment, we will return the country to the bad old days of the 11-plus. Many Members on the opposite Benches would love the restoration of the 11-plus and are desperate to return to grammar schools and the old-fashioned secondary modern schools. Under the Bill, they would not even be bog-standard comprehensives, and I can remember what the old secondary schools were like.
It is intrinsically wrong to approach education in a way that so totally excludes parents' input. It is astounding that hon. Members, who, like me, must come across such issues in their constituency surgeries, cannot foresee a position in which, should the Bill go through and the academisation of our schools go on, there would be a determined move on the part of some parents to exclude, first, children with special educational needs; secondly, children who could claim free school meals; and, thirdly, children with English as a second language.
I simply do not understand the hon. Lady's assertion that academies will penalise those with special educational needs or those who can claim free school meals. All the available evidence shows that academies take more pupils who can claim free school meals and more pupils with special educational needs. Her comments therefore make no sense.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman simply does not know or whether he is deliberately blurring the issue, but existing academies were established by my Government in areas of grievous deprivation in an attempt to raise the educational standards of children who not only lived in deprived areas, but whose whole lives constituted deprivation. That was the central and essential motive of my Government. The hon. Gentleman's Government propose that every secondary school in the country can suddenly become an academy. I reiterate what I have had occasion to say before: human nature does not change. To go back to the point that the hon. Member for Banbury made-that every parent has the right to educate their child as they wish-there will always be parents who want their children to be in a particular situation, which is not inclusive, but deliberately exclusive. They would wish to exclude children whom they feel, for a variety of reasons-I have given only three-should not share a school with their children.
Many hon. Members simply do not understand the politics of class warfare that the hon. Lady describes. Where is the available evidence for what she outlines? It does not matter if the parents are rich or poor or what their background is, they want to do the best for their children, and that should happen. I am sure she will welcome the Government's attempt to ensure that the most deprived pupils have a better start in school through the pupil premium. I look forward to her supporting that.
The hon. Gentleman will be very disappointed. It is not a matter of class warfare, as he describes it. We all understand parents' vulnerability when they are presented with sending their child to a school, and the agonies that they go through-initially, when they first let the child go out of the front door without their being there all the time. We all understand the anxieties that parents experience if they think that the school is not up to the standard that they desire for their children. However, we must not delude ourselves. Some parents are perfectly prepared to sacrifice the education of other parents' children if they think they can gain a greater advantage for their own. Academies open the door to that. That is why, apart from the academic downturn to which the Bill will lead, the potential for social division is horrendous.
An inner-London constituency such as mine is multiracial, multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-you-name-it-we've-got-it-and it works. People communicate and get on, and there is an exchange of culture, tradition and identity and a sense of community, which is shared by all. It is inherent in the Bill, however, that it will begin to chip away at that and destroy it. That is inevitable. I remember the terrible rows that took place, the terrible ongoing arguments, when it was first proposed that we should get rid of grammar schools. That situation could be replicated.
I think that my hon. Friend is describing the difference between an admissions policy, which can be manipulated, and a secondary school catchment area. The catchment area will give an impression of the community that contains the school, whereas an admissions policy that is not nailed down or defined in any great detail will not necessarily give such an impression.
The hon. Lady says that the schools system in her constituency "absolutely works". Last year, 48.4% of pupils in the constituency achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths. That means that more than half the pupils in her constituency are not achieving the basics at GCSE. Does the system really "absolutely work"?
I do not wish to be rude, but the hon. Gentleman is not a testament to his own education. He does not listen to what I say. The point that I was making about a community was not about education, but about the way in which communities work together over a wide spectrum of experience, ethnicity and age. I consider that the Bill has enormous potential to create a serious breakdown in social cohesion-
My I just finish the sentence? Then I shall be delighted to allow my hon. Friend to intervene.
It seems to me that the strongest bulwark against that serious breakdown is to ensure that we have an admissions policy that is fair in the broadest sense, as suggested by Caroline Lucas.
Is not my hon. Friend's point reinforced, and that made by Chris Skidmore undermined, by the extraordinary variation in the intake of precisely the pupils whom my hon. Friend has described-pupils who are on School Action Plus, pupils with special educational needs and pupils who are entitled to free school dinners? Schools with a significantly larger proportion of pupils in those categories almost invariably struggle to achieve the educational standards achieved by schools that choose to take fewer such pupils. Will not allowing more schools to choose less deprived pupils increase that variation between higher and lower-performing schools?
I entirely agree, and we must take that seriously.
We have come so far in so many ways in this country. I know that Chris Skidmore disagrees with me, but over the past 13 years I have seen a transformation of the schools in my constituency and a transformation of the educational levels of pupils in my constituency, and that seems to be increasing. There are invariably benefits in such circumstances, because of the wide variety of people whom our children meet. The variations in culture, language and tradition feed into schools in a way that has an intrinsically positive effect not only on the children's education, but on the quality and stability of life in this country.
I am a product of the 11-plus, and I remember distinctly what happened at the time. I lived in a very small town. I was probably related to two thirds of the people there, and everyone knew me and my entire family. The results of the 11-plus came in. As I walked to school people asked me, "Have you passed?" and I said, "I don't know." "Oh," they said, "You've failed." I went home for lunch. The brown envelope had arrived; I had passed. I went back. In the intervening time, my mother had run around and told everyone that I had passed.
What is most shocking to me, however-I did not realise it at the time, but I realise it now-is the attitude of that adults whom I had known all my life. I must say in fairness to them that they had always looked out for me and mine and ours, because at that time there was a community culture of looking out for our children. They had changed in a second their view of what I was capable of and of what I was as a human being. If Government Members really wish to return that burden to the shoulders of 11-year-old children, I throw up my hands in despair because I do not know what they want from education or what they expect of our children.
No, I would not accept that, because the Bill is allowing a minute number of people who are engaged in delivering publicly funded education to our children over a period of time to decide on their admissions policies. They can decide on everything. It seems that they have no need to consult anyone, and if they make a decision and there is a little trouble locally, they then go to the Secretary of State.
Many of us can remember that under a previous Conservative Government there were great difficulties with planning proposals. Planning was always a terrible problem, and the Government of the day simply rubber-stamped the proposals they wished to proceed.
Order. The hon. Member should know that he cannot accuse another hon. Member of deceit. Perhaps he would like to rephrase his comments, and withdraw the word "deceit".
The First Deputy Chairman:
Do you withdraw that word?
How many Bills have been enacted in this place, the unconsidered consequences of which have created the necessity for this House to come back again and either write a new Bill or add an amendment to the existing legislation? To reassure the hon. Gentleman, I have been extremely public about what I regard as the intrinsic potential for huge damage in this Bill.
That is an extremely salient point, and one is left wondering why the Bill has to be rushed through in such a short space of time. I personally have received no comfort from the Minister when it has been pointed out during this afternoon's debate that we are running into the long summer holidays and he has replied, "Well, work is going on and schools will open in September." We do not know which schools they are. I am secretly hoping that the Minister will, with the best will in the world and not because of his own individual failure, be proved wrong on this matter, as his Secretary of State was when he made his five varying announcements on which schools would or would not be in the Building Schools for the Future programme.
Somebody else who does not listen-you are not the listening party, are you?
The Bill's measures would take us back to a position to which we really should not want to return. As we all know, we are living in an ever more competitive world, and the greatest national resource we have is our people-their talent, their energy, their ability, their creativity. The future of this country is dependent upon our young people, and on our being able to deliver to them the best possible education, but it must be the best possible education we can deliver to all our children and young people, not just a selected, or selective, few. So I sincerely hope that the amendments that have already been presented will be accepted by the Committee, because this is the heart of the Bill and the Committee should reject the Bill as it stands.
I am grateful to Glenda Jackson for giving me my cue, once again. She finished her remarks by saying that what is important is that we have the best possible education for all our children, and that is precisely why I have always been an advocate of academic selection. May I say to her-I hope that she will take this in the spirit in which it is intended-that there is always a danger in these debates of reverting to historical anecdotes about our own experiences? All too often, people look at debates about academic selection through a prism that is not the experience of people today in areas such as mine, which still have selective schools. The borough of Trafford has a model of diverse education, where the grammar schools are excellent and so are the high schools, a very large number of which are specialist schools that excel in particular areas.
We have moved a tremendous distance from the kind of world that the hon. Lady described, which was one of pass or fail. We have moved to a world where many people will choose to go to a high school because of its specialism and its very high academic attainment. My area achieves better results than leafier Cheshire does over the border. In fact, it achieves better results than any other part of the country apart from Northern Ireland, which also has a wholly selective system. As is well known, I am an advocate of that system.
Surely the hon. Gentleman would also acknowledge that there has been an explosion across the whole country of parents buying additional educational facilities for their children at the point when they have to sit a selective examination, and not always in a secondary or a grammar school. That kind of pressure, which is being exerted on our children, is a pressure too far. We hear about that in respect of standard assessment tests. Why do we not hear about it in terms of the pressure on children whose choice of school must be via selection?
As the hon. Lady well knows, there has also been an explosion in the practice of parents paying over the odds for houses in the catchment area of the better comprehensive schools, in her constituency and elsewhere. That is why the Sutton Trust found earlier this year that the better comprehensive schools are the most socially selective, not the grammar schools.
It is time that we had a more rational and open-minded debate. Hon. Members will have heard the exchanges that took place a few moments ago on the Bill's content and whether it would allow an expansion of selection. As I said in response to the hon. Lady's intervention on Second Reading, I only wish that it would. At the moment, although the Conservative Front-Bench team takes the view that parents should have more choice on the kind of schools that are available and that schools should have more freedom, it sadly still does not quite have the courage of its convictions to allow the choice to include academic selection where parents want it. I would like to see that additional choice allowed.
I oppose amendment 14, which is an attack on the remaining grammar schools, many of which, including those in my constituency, wish to become academies because they believe that they can benefit from the additional freedom that that will give them to flourish and excel. Of course, I wish to support amendment 43, which stands in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends and at least one Labour Member. In speaking in support of amendment 43, I suppose I should start with a rare admission-
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I suspect that amendment 43 might have led me into all sorts of difficulties.
My moral safety is now assured.
I expect broad support from hon. Members on both sides of the Houses on amendment 49, and I shall start my comments on that amendment with the unusual admission that I was once wrong in an education debate in the House. I am going all the way back to the Committee stage of the Bill that became the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, in which I opposed introducing ballot arrangements to continue grammar schools because I made the mistake of imagining that they were intended to be a route to abolishing grammar schools. It has become apparent, with experience and practice over the years, that those arrangements have been the greatest safeguard introduced by the Labour Government because there has been only one instance in which parents achieved the requisite threshold to trigger a ballot through a petition, and the proposal was then thrown out by an overwhelming majority precisely because grammar schools are immensely popular with parents. I was therefore mistaken in my earlier view.
The introduction of the ballot arrangements in 1998 was a great tribute to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the former right hon. Member for Sedgefield. Many of us came to understand, much to our regret, that he had an unrivalled feel for the views and instincts of middle Britain. In that instance, he had correctly identified the affection and support that so many people have for grammar schools and he had identified the perfect mechanism for protecting both them and the then Labour Government from the opprobrium that would have resulted had any of them closed during the years of Labour government.
My hon. Friend is being uncharacteristically ungenerous; Mr Blair needs all the support that he can get right now given that some of his friends are not helping him much.
As the ballot arrangements were introduced by a Labour Government and have been nurtured and kept in place by Education Ministers throughout the period of Labour government, I am sure that the shadow Minister will support my amendment. I am also sure, given the very strong support that the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend Mr Gibb, has given to the continuation of grammar schools-he has also visited some of the excellent schools in my constituency-that the Government will want to reassure us that grammar schools are entirely safe under the Bill, and I look forward to hearing that reassurance.
During the general election, all four candidates in my constituency, which I think probably has the best state schools in the country, were to a greater or lesser extent supportive of the selective system. Even the Labour candidate was reasonably warm about grammar schools because he, like me, is an old boy of Altrincham grammar school for boys; perhaps that helped to condition his views on the subject. The Liberal Democrat candidate was strongly in support, and I hope that our coalition partners will follow suit and strongly support the grammar schools in the two Divisions on them this evening. The other candidate from the United Kingdom Independence party was also very supportive.
There are a number of reasons, but the principal one is that most inner-city grammar schools were sadly destroyed by misguided policy, so there are fewer grammar schools in the most deprived areas and they tend to survive- [ Interruption. ] No, I am responding to the hon. Lady's point. They tend to survive in the outer-urban and more rural areas. The reduction in grammar schools, particularly in London, where there are so few, has had another effect: they have become more selective over time. In my borough of Trafford, we select about 35% of that cohort to go to grammar school, but selection can amount to as little as 1% or 2% of the ability range at some London grammar schools.
That would depend on the part of Trafford that one was in, and the figure would largely relate to the school's catchment area, but overall grammar schools have become more selective than they should have had to become.
I do not want to detain the Committee for long. The crucial point about amendment 49 is that it would protect the status quo not just of the excellent schools that are thriving and popular in their communities, but of their protection in current education legislation. If the amendment is accepted and those schools become academies, they will have the protection of a parental ballot, which will transfer with them and prevent any change in their status without reference to the parents. I hope that the amendment is uncontentious, and I very much hope that my Front Benchers warmly welcome it.
Mr Evans, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to some really important amendments that clearly arouse feelings among Members on both sides of the Committee. My hon. Friend Glenda Jackson has left the Chamber, but in a very good speech she again outlined some of the differences between hon. Members on how to achieve the educational objectives that we all want.
He's only just started.
Well, my point is actually rather important, because many of us fundamentally differ in our objectives for the education system and in our feelings about what it is there to achieve. Glenda Jackson made a very impassioned speech, but we should not be fooled, because some of us have very different objectives. Some of us do not feel that an egalitarian and equal education for every single child is necessarily the right way forward. Some Government Members feel very strongly that, given the global world in which we will compete in the decades ahead, we should look at an elitist education in order to ensure that our brightest and best have the very best opportunities without having to rely upon the wealth of their parents.
The hon. Gentleman and I have spoken on several occasions and exchanged pleasantries at debates not just in the Chamber, but outside, and I do not think that, when he reflects on what he has said, he will agree with himself-if I might be so bold. In my opening remarks I was essentially trying to say that everybody wants the best for the children of this country. We want them to achieve the very best that they can. Opposition Members believe in comprehensive education, and we believe that grammar schools are divisive. It is a caricature of our position to say that, therefore, we do not want young people to excel at something; that is not the case.
The issue is about trying different ways from those of the hon. Gentleman to ensure that every child has the same chance of achieving their educational objectives. The difference between us is that he sees the route to excellence, and an opportunity to be created, in a system that allows for grammar schools, and we do not see it that way at all. I would be surprised if his Front Benchers, who are also exercised about this issue, voted for amendment 49 along with Mr Brady.
In the continuing debate about grammar schools, we are debating a few schools rather than how we raise the standard and quality of education right across the system. I do not decry the desire of Mr Field to ensure that all children achieve the very best that they can, and I hope that he would not decry me, or any of my hon. Friends, in terms of wanting that either. It is a difference of philosophy and view about how one achieves that. [ Interruption. ] With respect to the hon. Gentleman, if he reads what he said, I think he will find that that was not quite the point that he was making. If I am wrong, I apologise.
The amendments tabled in my name deal with exclusions and admissions. I should say at the outset, for the avoidance of doubt, that I wish to press amendments 23, 27 and 14 to a vote to test the opinion of the Committee. The amendments would ensure that independence for academies does not mean an ability to select covertly and to exclude more easily. That is particularly relevant now that we have this changed academy model. As hon. Members who have sat through a few hours of this debate will know, that is one of the principal points of difference. We are not opposing academies per se, but we see this particular model of academy as different. Hundreds of outstanding schools are now eligible for academy status.
One of the interesting points, which changes the whole dynamic of the debate, is that when we look at schools that are applying to become academies as opposed to those that are already academies under the existing model, we see a completely different version of the academy profile. According to a study published this month by the Centre for Economic Performance, schools that have expressed an interest are, unlike the current academies, characterised by having a more advantaged pupil population, lower proportions of free school meals, lower numbers of pupils with special educational needs, lower numbers of pupils with ethnic minority status, and superior levels of GCSE attainment. That is an important difference to reflect on when we consider the Bill in this context. We believe it is necessary to consider how we change some of the provisions in the Bill to deal with that changed situation.
Is it not an indictment of 13 years of Labour Government that outstanding schools are disproportionately in areas of affluence? That is the best example of that Government's track record that could be revealed, and the hon. Gentleman has revealed it to the Committee.
That could be a debate that the hon. Gentleman will want to have another time. The context for this debate, though, is to consider the changed profile of schools that wish to become academies as opposed to the profile of schools that are already academies. We are debating a different situation in which those academies, through a funding agreement rather than through statutory legislation, now have to abide by various things such as admissions codes, exclusions and so on. That is the point that we are making about the genuine difference between these two sets of the schools and the need for some of the amendments that we have before us.
Is the Minister not wrong? There are actually cases in which two schools serve the same neighbourhood and one has a dramatically lower number of children on free school dinners, on School Action Plus or with special educational needs than the other, which is only a few hundred yards away. Neither school is situated in a more affluent area; they simply have different intakes. That shows that something else is going on in their admissions policies.
Such a difference in intake is certainly true in many cases. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn pointed out, it is also crucial for us to understand the difference between the profile of pupils at the new academies that the Government intend to set free and to give all sorts of freedoms, and those at the existing academies. The study by the Centre for Economic Performance is extremely important in that respect.
Does my hon. Friend understand my concern that at the moment, not just in Stoke-on-Trent but more widely, there are young people in the education system, such as those on the autism spectrum, who have undiagnosed conditions and who have problems in school? Under the Government's proposals, they will be much more readily kicked out of their schools, whereas they should be getting more support and help in them.
That is absolutely the case, and people are concerned that schools that are already fairly exclusive in many respects may not wish to admit pupils of that type.
I shall give an example of how difficult the matter is, and I hope that the Minister will comment specifically on it. The Government's view is that none of our suggestions needs to be on the face of the Bill. We fundamentally disagree, hence the amendments that we have tabled. We do not believe it is enough for the admissions provisions to be set out simply in the funding agreements. One of the most fundamental changes that I can find in annexe A of the draft funding agreement, on admissions-I am sure there are many others-relates to the annual procedures for determining admissions arrangements. In the current model agreement, the relevant annexe contains detailed provisions with which an academy has to comply in order to remain within the terms of the funding agreement. The proposed draft completely removes those provisions.
Somebody cynical would ask why, when the Government are seeking to reassure Members throughout the House who want a fair admissions process, the Minister or the Department has signed off a model funding agreement that removes some of the detailed provisions on admissions.
What we are trying to do across government at the moment is reduce the bureaucratic burdens faced by the public services. However, the model funding agreement still applies the law on admissions, as well as the admissions code and admissions appeal code, to all converting academies. It achieves exactly the same effect as before, and academies will be on exactly the same basis as maintained schools when it comes to admissions. We can achieve that with fewer words.
The model that the Minister is working to is one that will lead to a massive expansion in academies right across the country, not just 200 at secondary schools in areas of social disadvantage and educational underperformance. The new academies will be outstanding schools that are already doing well and socially advantaged, and that have a totally different profile from existing academies. At the same time as Members throughout the Committee are raising concerns about what the impact of that will be on admissions to the new academies, the Minister weakens the model funding agreement. Those things are tucked away-they are not deliberately hidden-in model funding agreements. We need to compare funding agreements, as I will with respect to exclusions, but significant changes in provisions are included in them.
The Minister has tried to offer a justification, but will he say what other differences there are in the model funding agreements on admissions between what existed and what happens now? Why have those changes been made, and why should we be reassured simply by his words on changing the model funding agreement, which is the legally binding contract between the Secretary of State and the school that becomes an academy? Even if the Opposition agreed with the Minister's policy, which we do not, would it not have been better to have reassured people by ensuring that the various things that have been taken out of the model funding agreement were kept in?
Much of the debate has been on schools in areas of social deprivation and selective schools, but what about the middle ground, such as schools in my constituency? Mid-Cheshire towns have areas of deep social deprivation-not quite the same as in cities-but also prosperous families. When they are brought together, we end up with good rather than outstanding schools. Does the hon. Gentleman not see that the Bill will help good schools that are under-achieving? Under the Bill, all sections of those communities could come together to achieve the outstanding excellence that we all want.
In fairness, the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point on the need to concentrate not only on outstanding and failing schools. He is right to point that out. It would have been perfectly possible to develop Labour's academies model to deal with schools in the middle-I will not call them coasting schools. Similarly, that is why our model contained provisions for all-through academies. It was sometimes a matter not of the secondary school alone, but of linking the primary and secondary schools. That is important.
The reason why the Opposition are opposed to the way in which the Bill is constructed is that it does not consider the need for academies or where they can bring added value to schools in an area, but says that they are the only solution. National challenge trusts, a change of head teacher or the injection of new staff to a school could make the difference rather than structural change, as I have seen in different parts of the country. One flaw at the heart of the Bill, to which we will doubtless return when the Government introduce their Bill in the autumn, is that they have made the mistake that people always make of believing that structural change brings improved performance in schools. Sometimes such change creates the opportunity for change to take place, but essentially, what ultimately makes the difference, whether in a local authority school, a national challenge trust or an academy, is the quality of leadership and teaching in the school, not structural change.
Good schools deserve help and support, and the hon. Gentleman was right to point out that we need better to understand how we get that injection of pace and inspiration into them. I do not think that that is necessarily brought about by structural change, particularly the structural change enabled by the Bill, which does not include a requirement on outstanding schools to link to or partner other schools. That is an aspiration and a desire-
Order. We are straying somewhat from the amendments we are discussing on admissions and exclusions. There is a lot to be debated this evening in a short space of time, so could the shadow Minister please restrict himself to the amendments?
I apologise to you, Mr Evans and to the Committee. I was trying to answer Graham Evans fully, but perhaps my reply was too full.
The Local Government Association, along with many charities, says that a provision that academies must comply with the admissions code should be in the Bill, hence proposed amendment 23.
Amendment 14 would effectively prevent grammar schools from becoming academies. We are worried that grammar schools becoming academies will lead to an increase in selection in the academies arena. Will the Minister explain whether it would be possible for a grammar school with 1,000 places that had become an academy to expand to 1,500 or 2,000 places? Will he also explain what, if any, influence in terms of selection a grammar school that had become an academy would have if it were to link up with a weaker school? What effect would its selection policy have on that other school?
Will the Minister also explain what Lord Hill meant when he wrote that the Government intended to allow selective academies to expand where there was a strong case for doing so and where there had been local consultation? It is important that we understand what he meant by that.
On exclusions, amendment 27 seeks to ensure that the current legal framework would apply to the new academies, to the extent that they would have to conform to the existing codes that schools have to conform to at the moment. One piece of evidence from the equalities impact assessment shows that the overall rate of exclusions is higher in academies than in local authority-maintained secondary schools. How does the Minister expect to keep track of that and understand how it is all working? How can we ensure that pupils with special educational needs, and pupils who are less academic or who are difficult, are not excluded from a school simply to preserve the school's examination standing?
In annex D, we can see that changes have been made to the model funding agreement. Paragraph 3 used to state:
"Subject to the exceptions in paragraph 4, the Academy Trust shall ensure that in carrying out their functions the Principal, the Governing Body and the Independent Appeal Panel (established in accordance with paragraph 5) have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions, as if the Academy were a maintained school."
That has been changed to:
"Subject to the exceptions in paragraph 4, the Academy Trust shall ensure that in carrying out their functions the Principal and the Governing Body have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions including in relation to any appeals process as if the Academy were a maintained school."
Can the Minister explain why the independent appeal panel has been removed from the model funding agreement? Or is that of no consequence?
The Department was planning to have discussions with all those academies, and with their sponsors, to try to understand why those exclusions figures were as they were, to see what we could do to reduce the numbers, and to accept it as a difficulty. The Bill proposes a massive expansion of academies to include outstanding schools, and they will only be asked-not required-to partner schools that are in difficulty. Given that the Government refuse to put these issues on the face of the Bill, one can only wonder what this will mean for exclusions and admissions. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that they should be included in the Bill, how does he expect them to be monitored and academies to be held to account?
I do not have a problem with what is in the Bill because I will be voting against it anyway. However, given all that the hon. Gentleman said the previous Government were doing to encourage schools to be more understanding about exclusions, why did the number of exclusions continue to rise?
As I said, what happens is that a problem is identified and an attempt is made to deal with it. It became apparent that there were a number of exclusions, and I could have stood here and not drawn attention to that, opening myself up to exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman has, correctly, made. The rate of exclusions in academies was too high, and we wanted to do something about it.
It is clear that one way to deal with that issue is to include in the Bill a requirement to conform to measures such as admissions codes and the legal frameworks laid out on exclusions. In doing so, we would give much more legislative clout to achieving the things we want to achieve. I have given examples-the changes to the model funding agreements on admissions and on exclusions-that demonstrate that the Government are saying, "Trust us, we will do all this through the model funding agreement." Through these amendments, I and my party are saying that we do not believe that that is sufficient and that such a provision needs to be included in the Bill, which is why we tabled these amendments.
The hon. Gentleman is trying to make the case that the exclusion rates are higher in academies, and is comparing them with the whole of the maintained sector. Is it not true that research published by his Department when he was a Minister showed that exclusion rates in academies are no higher than the average rates for their local authority areas?
I was quoting earlier from point 20 in the equalities impact assessment.
Let me try to make some progress. This set of amendments is extremely important. Allowing outstanding schools to fast-track to becoming academies raises all sorts of questions and concerns right across the Committee. What will it mean for admissions? We are told, "Trust the funding agreement." What will it mean for exclusions? We are told, "Trust the funding agreement." Grammar schools are to become part of the academy world. We are told, "Don't worry, it won't mean more selection. Don't worry, it won't mean more selective places."
It is clear from the answers we have been given and the evidence before us that grammar schools becoming academies will lead to more selection. It is clear that, without its being made explicit in the Bill that there is a requirement to abide by the various codes and the legal framework in respect of exclusions and admissions, over the next few years we will see an expansion of selection and of exclusions from the intakes into certain schools-or, more likely, non-admittance-and a more socially exclusive education system. We all want increased attainment and our young people to achieve the very best they can, but we cannot do that by creating what this Bill in effect creates at its heart: a two-tier education system.
I will not detain the Committee for long as I know we have a lot more business to get on with. I want to speak to amendment 49, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) and for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing). My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West went into the amendment in great detail, and I agree with every word that he had to say.
In many ways, ultimately this is a philosophical debate that fires up many of us. We have all had our own experiences, and I was sorry to learn from the contribution of Glenda Jackson that she has only negative thoughts about her admission to a grammar school. I am the product of the grammar school system, although I must confess that I cannot even remember the day I got in. However, I do remember various episodes while I was there that allowed me to aspire to the university place that my parents could never aspire to, and to aspire to running my own business, becoming professionally qualified and eventually becoming a Member of this House.
That was an opportunity for me, because my parents could not have afforded to send me to one of a range of independent schools within a few miles of us. I do not suggest for one minute that my experience was of an entirely open school, but there were people attending the school who lived in social housing. An element of selection is a healthy aspect of the choice that should be available to all parents, and to children of all abilities, in our society.
It is perhaps slightly paradoxical that in this set of amendments, we are dealing with both admissions and exclusions. My biggest criticism of the Bill is that the one real freedom that would have given diversity of provision has been expressly forbidden. Under the Bill, schools cannot determine their admissions procedure, beyond the relatively limited allowances that are made for academies. I would like there to be much more freedom to ensure a genuine sense of accountability. My party leader has said many a time that he wants to give people more responsibility, and that if one trusts people, they tend to do the right thing. When it comes to the education of children, we should look to trust parents to make rather better decisions than the state might necessarily make on their behalf.
I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to what we propose. Amendment 49 is a minor amendment that simply retains for grammar schools the safeguard of balloting parents if a school is to make the change from grammar school to academy. I hope that we will robustly oppose amendment 14, as it represents a retrograde step.
Speaking for the non-secular wing of the Liberal Democrats, I should like to say a few words about amendment 42. It appears to narrow the range of schools that can become academies. I think that the Roman Catholic Church has cautioned governors against the Bill, which would have a big impact in areas in Merseyside and Lancashire such as the one that I represent. I tire of hearing people in this place make generalisations about faith schools that are based purely on the north London experience. A person does not need to struggle to get into a faith school round where I live.
People may recognise that I have a somewhat diminished enthusiasm for this legislation. The academy project, whether in its Labour or coalition form, does not fill me with any great glee. I regard it as something of a sideshow, as an extravagance-possibly expensive-and as a distraction from improving standards across the board.
It is interesting to note that in his amendment, my hon. Friend Dr Huppert wants to put into law what the archdiocese commands; I do not know whether that will please him, but that is, in effect, what he is doing. Looking at that amendment, a priori, there is no good argument for not having a faith academy that would not equally apply to not having a faith school. It would therefore seem rather mean to discriminate against faith schools at this time, albeit that I regard it as a boon to faith schools not to be academies.
The real argument against faith schools becoming academies seems to me to be as follows. Contrary to what people say, faith schools are often deeply rooted in their communities, and they should not disregard the disruptive effects on wider local authority provision. They should be mindful always of the community effect. That being said, if a religious community both educated and enhanced specifically religious objectives, it is right, as under the Butler Act, that that should be reflected in some way in the funding agreement. It is not obvious that that is done in the Bill, or that the Blair academy project did that. Equally, having settled for academy status and funding, it would be wrong for a school to adopt faith school status retrospectively; I think that we can agree on that. That, I think, is what amendments 43 and 44 seek to prevent, so compared with amendment 42, they are relatively innocuous.
Another consideration that swings me against amendment 42 is my own experience. Eleven of the best years of my life were spent teaching in a faith comprehensive school in Bootle, in an extraordinarily challenging environment. It was a school with a Salesian foundation, run by the Salesian order. The headmaster was a priest, the ethos was fantastic, the dedication considerable, in a very, very difficult environment. Staff never stinted on their time and the head timetabled himself to teach remedial maths to the fifth year and the upper school. When he stepped down as head, before he finished his career-this was a man who was a very distinguished scientist and writer-he continued to teach remedial maths to children whom many teachers would not give much time to in the first place. I have never seen the like, but it ought not to surprise one when one recognises that that order was founded by someone called St John Bosco, who started his schools in industrial Milan, with the vocation of schooling the deprived and transforming their lives.
I could almost be reconciled-the Minister might be delighted to hear-to the anarchy of free schools if I thought that a lot of St John Boscos and Salesians were ready in the wings, waiting to deal with children in environments where people had given up or were terminally demoralised. Sadly, my overall view is that that is not the case. But the free school project would be almost bearable if there were such people and what they were doing could be aligned with the overall social good of the community, if education could be provided that was not just a cloak for indoctrination and if there was a capacity to manage the full curriculum. Then the free school project would have a really noble basis in reality. Sadly, the people queuing up to start free schools are not in that category and do not, in many cases, turn out to be saints.
We are all fashioned on the anvil of experience, and I bring to this debate my own experience. On Second Reading I mentioned the crucial situation of schools being judged or assessed on their attainment, which is then reflected in league tables. A little earlier the Minister attacked the former Labour Government's record, saying what a shame it was that all the successful schools were in affluent areas, and was not that an indictment? Of course they are mainly in affluent areas because of the crucial importance of intake and the link, to which I have drawn attention in other speeches elsewhere, between attainment and levels of deprivation. The issue of admissions is at the heart of the Bill for me, more than anything else. Freedoms of the curriculum, freedoms in staffing and control of staffing budgets, I am okay with. I opposed the academies of Labour, and I oppose these academies for the same reasons. There are other ways of bringing about improvements in schools.
What concerns me is my experience over nearly 30 years of what schools actually do. Amendments have been tabled saying that schools must comply with the provisions of the schools admissions code. I know what schools that are already subject to that code do now, and we can understand why. I have mentioned the league tables. Schools want to succeed and to be seen to succeed, and parents want the very best for their children, so wherever possible they go to whatever lengths are needed, legally-moving home-or in some cases, illegally, to get their children into the schools that are doing well in the league tables.
I have often heard of the importance and ethos of faith schools. Frankly, to hear people talk about the special ethos of faith schools makes me quite angry, because it is a slap in the face for all those other non-faith schools that have a fabulous ethos, are loving and caring, and provide a good education for children. It is an indication of the importance of league tables, even to faith schools, that although a faith school might say that it will totally disregard school league tables, that it does not care if it is bottom of the league, that it will open its doors to absolutely everyone and take the children that other schools do not want, it does not do that, because it knows that at the end of the day it will be assessed upon the performance of the school in the league tables, and that is so heavily dependent upon the intake. I have chaired admissions forums. It is very difficult when the area includes faith schools, foundation schools, city technology colleges and so on. In effect, there were six different admission authorities, all appearing at the admissions forum, and it was very difficult to achieve co-ordination on admissions with those schools.
The pressure on schools means that good people do bad things-it is only human nature-and I have countless examples of that. When I chaired the admissions forum, a foundation school applied to change its admissions criteria-we could not stop it doing so-to use stanines and banding. I respected the head teacher, but we argued about it. I was the only one to vote against the change and, as it transpired, we could not really have done anything to stop it. I understand why the head teacher was seeking to overcome the problem of having a catchment area of only 10 or so streets. The Minister talked about successful schools, but this school was in the top 20 for its contextual value-added score of 1,040. That was a remarkable result, but the school was also in the national challenge. That head teacher knew that whatever the school did in raising achievement, it would still have a stubbornly resistant attainment record until it changed its intake, and it therefore went ahead and did so.
I am desperately seeking not just assurances, but guarantees of the fairness of the admissions of these new schools. I am very concerned that the Bill describes the characteristics of schools that may become academies as providing
"education for pupils who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated."
My understanding of "wholly or mainly" is that it means more than 50%, so 49% could come from outside the area. Another characteristic is that
"the school provides education for pupils of different abilities".
That may have been changed, but I thought that we were talking about all abilities.
There are some good aspects of academies, but if they are so good and important why do we not make the freedoms they will have available to all schools? I seek guarantees of fair and open admissions policies and an undertaking that this Bill does not represent the opening of the door to more selection.
Order. It may be helpful to remind the Committee that the Chair is not obliged to call Members who have not been in their place for the majority of the debate.
I am concerned by this Bill. I am disappointed that Labour has not thrown its weight behind the coalition's proposals for academy schools, because that would have been a more honest approach, given that the Labour Government started this. I am still opposed to the proposals: I opposed Labour's proposals and I oppose these ones.
I declare an interest in that I am still a member of Portsmouth city council and I have been a member of the LEA in one way or another for the past 40 years. I never personally felt that there was too much wrong with the LEA having responsibility for schools. In my experience, in the old county borough before the 1974 reorganisation, Portsmouth did a good job. Hampshire county council, of which I was the leader, also did a very good job for education, and now that the city council has the responsibility again it is doing its best.
There is a chartered academy faith school in the city of Portsmouth. It was not something that I favoured but, despite the fact that I am against academies, I have to be honest and say that there has been an amazing transformation. In a very short period, a really committed head teacher and staff have been able to start turning around what could only be described as an appalling, failing school. With great regret, it could not get itself out of the mess it was in, and perhaps-just perhaps-its emergence as an academy was the one thing that prevented it from being closed once and for all. I wish the school all the very best.
My problem is that I know from the LEA what admissions policies are like. The popular schools are forever competing. We all have stories about how people will manifest themselves in different addresses simply to get their child into a school. The success, or otherwise, of an academy will become a magnet. I have no way of knowing, because the terminology in the Bill is so vague-it refers to pupils who are "mainly" from the area closest from the school-whether, if the 51% quota is met, other pupils from other areas could fill any surplus places to the detriment of children who might still be living in the catchment area but do not have the academic record that the school wants.
I would be pleased, therefore, if somebody could explain the procedure to me. Who takes up the challenge on behalf of the children excluded from an academy-the ones who never got a place in the first place-despite living close to the school? The big problem that we faced time and again, in a restricted geographical area with a large population, was with people trying to select schools in and around Portsmouth. I do not envisage that being easily dealt with by the Bill. I want every child to be given every opportunity to achieve their full potential. We all want that. It is not a unique stance; it is a common stance for anyone who cares about the future of our country and of our children.
I have yet to be convinced that academies offer fair and equal opportunities to children; and I have yet to be convinced that taking education away from locally elected people, through the LEA, is the best option for the overall governance of education policy. No one, including during the past 13 years under Labour, has yet put forward a convincing argument for that. The only two occasions when Mr Blair got close to hysterical about anything were the Iraq war and academies. Nobody could have been pushier than he was. I do not know who finally trod on his foot and said, "Slow down!", but to have achieved 200 academy schools will have been a great disappointment to him, because he would have liked a lot more.
What damage has been done to the other schools in the area? Has any real analysis ever been done of the effects on other schools in areas where a successful academy has emerged over the past five years?
In Folkestone in my constituency, since the launch of the Folkestone academy, results have improved not only at that school but in all the others at secondary level in the town. The improvement at that school has certainly not been to the detriment of others in the same catchment area.
The point I was trying to make was about the unfairness of a policy that is so loosely written and can so easily be misinterpreted to the detriment of children who will be refused places in academies, particularly the successful ones. I am concerned about, and frustrated by, the idea that people can vote for this legislation believing that it will provide equal opportunities for all children to go to the academy of their choice. It manifestly will not do that, and there is nothing to safeguard their interests if they fail to get a place. That is the real concern and why I cannot find it in my make-up to support the Bill. I will be supporting the amendments, because they go some way to improving what I consider to be a bad Bill. Otherwise, I would simply ignore the amendments, and vote against them and the Bill. However, if the Bill is going to be carried, I would like it carried with at least some amendments that actually improve it.
. Having listened to the whole debate, I wanted to make just one or two comments on the issue of selection. I pay tribute to Mr Hancock for the consistency that he has shown, and to Mr Field and other Conservative Members who were at least clear in saying that they believe in selection. The attitude that I find most difficult to deal with is that of Opposition Members, whether Liberal Democrat or Conservative, who are pretending that the Bill does not aim to produce exactly the kind of division and increase in selection and exclusivity that my hon. Friend Glenda Jackson so eloquently described.
Indeed, what my hon. Friend described is already happening. For example, this morning I met the head teacher of a new academy that is being built in my constituency. I have always had an ambivalent attitude to academies, in the sense that I do not have an ideological opposition to them-hon. Members might be surprised to hear that-if they work. The project of producing schools in deprived areas to increase the level of attainment in those areas is one that I have supported, and I do not really care whether they are called academies or not. However, I can say one thing. The two academies in my constituency, which are Hammersmith academy in Shepherds Bush, which is under construction-at a cost of £30 million-and Burlington Danes academy, which was praised by the Secretary of State earlier this week, at least have the benefit of £50 million of capital investment, which is something that none of the other schools in my constituency will have.
However, even with just those academies, which were built under the previous regime, the aim of my Conservative local authority is already to increase selection and exclusivity. The question put to the head teacher this morning by a group of Muslim community leaders with whom I met him was why, when the boundaries of the admissions area for the new academy were drawn, the line stopped only a few yards north of the academy, excluding the most deprived parts of my constituency and most of the black and minority ethnic population, but extended a couple of miles south, to include the most prosperous and least ethnically diverse parts of my constituency.
If that is the type of manipulation that is already happening under the current system, when we have that extra ability to affect intake, in the many ways that it can be affected, whether through existing selective schools or not-and we will have that ability, if the Bill is passed with the haste in which we are taking it-we will have a recipe for divisiveness, particularly in areas of inner London such as the one that I represent.
The hon. Gentleman says that he has two academies in his area-one already there, and one under construction-but I would be grateful if he could tell us what the admission policies of the existing schools in his area are. Are those schools full to the gunwales? Do they have a problem now? What does he estimate the situation will be in a year or so, when the second academy comes on stream? What will that do for the other schools and their problems of attracting pupils?
The hon. Gentleman anticipates the point that I was just about to make. The new academy is not opening until next September, but one of the things that the prospective head told me this morning was that there will be a special form. In addition to selecting priority places, which will be limited for that school-and that school only-to a primary admissions area, there will be an additional form to fill in, because the anticipated demand will be so great.
I should say that most schools are now over-subscribed. There is a shortage of schools, although two other factors bear down on the increasing stratification-if not selection-of schools in areas of inner London. One is the profusion of voluntary-aided schools. In response to a point made earlier, let me say that three of the voluntary-aided schools in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham have intakes eligible for free school meals of 2%, 2% and 6% respectively, whereas the figures for the community schools are 30%, 40% and 50%. That degree of division has now become institutionalised.
The other factor relates to the choices that schools make. The point was wrongly made-by the Government Front-Bench team, I believe-that there are too many outstanding schools in affluent areas. Well, the two community secondary schools in my constituency-the Phoenix high school, which has one of the most deprived intakes of any school in the country; and the William Morris academy, a sixth-form college of which I am a founder and governor-both have a hugely deprived intake. Both those schools are outstanding-and there are many more such outstanding schools with deprived intakes-and they have chosen not to go down the academy path. Other than one primary school, no school in my constituency has chosen that path. The reason why the heads, the governors and the teachers of those schools have made that decision is that they wish to maintain their open outlook and their inclusivity. They do not wish to be browbeaten or driven into becoming this new type of academy.
Whether it be through choice, types of selection, religion, geography or the ease or difficulty of application, inner London already has many problems achieving what other hon. Members have identified as a wonderful balance, control and integration of diverse communities. The proposals in a Bill such as this will have only one effect: they will create social divisions, class divisions and racial divisions within communities. I believe that in putting this Bill forward, the Liberal Democrats-with some exceptions-and the Conservatives well know that they will achieve exactly that.
This has been a wide-ranging debate, touching on the education shibboleths in all political parties. The amendments cover issues relating to admissions, selection, faith and exclusions. The majority of these amendments would place in the Bill requirements that have been regulated by funding agreements since the inception of the academies programme-in other words, they would increase regulation for academies.
It was the position of the previous Government that academies should not be regulated directly by legislation, but through their funding agreements. We agree. The whole focus of the Bill is to allow more schools to take on academy freedoms and we simply do not agree that it is appropriate to undermine that intention by incorporating into the legislation a host of additional requirements to which academies have not previously been subject.
Amendments 11, 12, 13, 19 and 23 would build into the Bill a duty for academies to comply with the school admissions code. Amendments 19 and 27 would place on the face of the Bill requirements in relation to exclusions and behaviour, including participation in behaviour partnerships. The previous Labour Administration did not deem that necessary for the 203 academies they opened. Why should we do so in expanding the programme?
Academies must already comply with admissions law and the codes through their funding agreements. Their funding agreements also require them to act in accordance with the law on exclusions as if the academy were a maintained school, and to have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions. This is the same wording that applies to all maintained schools. The new model funding agreement is in the House Library and it is clear from it that academies are required to adopt admissions policies and arrangements that will be
"in accordance with admissions law and the DfE Codes of Practice as they apply to maintained schools."
The exclusions annexe to the funding agreement also requires academies to
"act in accordance with the law on exclusions as if the Academy were a maintained school"
"have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions".
Amendment 24 has a similar intention in that it seeks to make it a statutory duty for academies to take part in their local in-year fair access protocol. Fair access protocols are established by the local authority and the requirement to take part in them is set out in the school admissions code. Since participation is a requirement of the code, it is applied to academies in the same way as other aspects of the admissions code, through the funding agreement. This means that academies, along with all maintained schools in a local area, will take their fair share of hard-to-place pupils, including those previously excluded from other schools. The funding agreement is crystal clear about the compliance requirements. The amendments are, therefore, unnecessary.
Hon. Members have also tabled amendments to probe our intentions on academic selection. Amendment 14 would require any existing maintained grammar school or partially selective school to remove its selective arrangements on conversion to academy status. The Bill is not about increasing or removing selection. We believe that the freedoms that academy status brings will not only benefit struggling schools but enable outstanding and other schools to improve standards for their pupils.
Will the Minister explain the position on excluded children? He has intimated that academies will be expected to take a quota of excluded children. Does that mean excluded or difficult-to-place children in the school's normal catchment area, or a general quota of children who are difficult to place in the local education authority area?
They will be subject to the same fair access protocols that have been agreed by other schools in the area. The position will be no different from the one that existed before the school became an academy.
It seems unreasonable to deny existing selective schools freedoms, or to require them to change their nature fundamentally before being granted those freedoms. For clarification, we are not allowing non-selective schools to begin selecting by ability; we are merely facilitating a change in status for existing maintained schools, including those with academic selection.
I will deal with that, but I want to respond to all the points in order.
My hon. Friend Mr Brady tabled amendment 49. I pay tribute to him, not just because he is chairman of the 1922 committee, and therefore chief of the men in suits, but because of his highly principled support for grammar schools in his constituency and elsewhere in the country. I was hugely impressed by the quality of education in Trafford. I visited Wellington high school, which has GCSE results that many comprehensive schools throughout the country would envy. From memory-I visited the school a few years ago-67% of pupils gained five or more GCSEs including English and maths, and that school had experienced 40% of the most able children going elsewhere. I also visited Ashton on Mersey school, which is exemplary, as well as Trafford grammar school for girls, which impressed me.
Amendment 49 would directly apply sections 105 to 109 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 to wholly selective academies. That legislation governs the mechanisms for removing selection from maintained grammar schools either through parental ballot or by the governing body introducing proposals to remove selection. Neither the grammar school ballots legislation nor current provisions that allow governing bodies of grammar schools to introduce proposals to remove selection apply to academies. We do not believe that that means that academies have fewer protections than maintained schools when removing selection is an issue. Indeed, one could argue that the ballot mechanism gives parents a route to removing selection in maintained selective schools. I listened to my hon. Friend carefully, and although the amendment might protect selection when that is the wish of parents, we do not believe that it could necessarily frustrate statutory proposals to remove selection that the governing body of a maintained selective school made. He knows that the ballot process has a high trigger threshold, requiring a petition from at least 20% of the eligible electorate.
The Government's arrangements for academies are a more significant protection of the ethos of any school, including selective schools. I want to go into some detail about that because it is important. Outstanding schools that convert will essentially be self-sponsoring. That means that existing governors will become the new academy trust. In the case of a foundation school with a foundation-a grammar school with an ancient foundation-that converts to academy status, the foundation will be responsible for appointing the majority of governors on the governing body of an academy, a greater proportion than currently exists in a maintained school. That will make it possible for the foundation to maintain the academy's ethos, including its selective ethos, over an extended period.
I will in a moment. This section of my speech is fairly technical, and I want to finish it before I give way again.
A similar arrangement would apply in the case of a foundation school without a foundation-in other words, a grammar school that is essentially a community school. The current governors would decide on the members of the academy trust. The members would be responsible for appointing a majority of the governors to the governing body by electing members who are committed to a selective ethos. That ethos would be maintained over time, because-in theory and, I suspect, in practice-they would appoint a majority of governors who were similarly committed. We are nevertheless committed to ensuring that the same rights are afforded to parents, and the same rights and protections are afforded to grammar schools on conversion, as were enjoyed while the school was a maintained school.
I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend to some extent. No doubt he will intervene, either now or later, if he needs further reassurance.
I am greatly reassured by the tone of what my hon. Friend has said, but it is not entirely clear whether he is giving me an assurance that the ballot arrangements will be introduced at a later date, or whether he is suggesting that other protections might be introduced.
What I am suggesting now-it is as far as I can go at this stage-is that we will include the provisions in the funding agreements of academies. That will provide strong protection-as strong, in effect, as it would be if the measures were on the statute book.
Is my hon. Friend saying that if a grammar school transferred to academy status, it would not be able to vary its selective admissions under the terms of the funding agreement without the support of a parental ballot?
According to my understanding, that is correct. All the protections that currently apply under the ballot procedure would still apply. If for some reason the governing body of a selective academy sought to change its status as a selective school, the funding agreement would require a ballot of parents to be held before that provision took effect.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way a third time. He has been immensely helpful, and I think that that final reassurance will be of great help to the many excellent grammar schools-including many in the borough of Trafford-that are keen to proceed with seeking academy status. It is certainly sufficient to persuade me not to press amendment 49 to a vote.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I hope that I can be equally successful with other hon. Members.
Amendment 24 has a similar intention, in that it seeks to make it a statutory duty for academies to take part in their local in-year fair access protocol. Fair access protocols are established by the local authority, and the requirement to take part in them is set out in the school admissions code. Since participation is a requirement of the admissions code, it is applied to academies in the same way as other aspects of the code, through the funding agreement. That means that academies, along with all maintained schools in a local area, will take their fair share of hard-to-place pupils, including those who have previously been excluded from other schools. The funding agreement is crystal clear about the compliance requirements, and the amendments are therefore unnecessary.
I am fascinated by the concept that certain processes will enable a grammar school that becomes an academy to manoeuvre around the selection rules. According to the Bill, the majority of pupils will come
"wholly or mainly... from the area in which the school is situated."
That could be a very successful grammar school currently drawing its pupils from a wide area. Would the criteria be the same for an existing grammar school that becomes an academy, or would there be a specific designation? Would they be treated the same as any other school, consequently losing quite a number of pupils because it will undoubtedly be the case that when a grammar school becomes an academy without the prerequisite of being able to select under this system, it will be inundated with pupils and a lot of existing pupils will probably be forced to leave the school? I therefore ask the Minister to explain how this will work.
There is no change from the current situation. The catchment area of a grammar school after conversion to an academy will be the same as it was before. [Interruption.] Yes, this Bill does not seek to change any of the admissions arrangements or admissions appeal arrangements for schools, including selective schools. All it is allowing is successful schools-or, indeed, any school-to convert to academy status. We have been very clear about, and very conscious of, wanting to apply all the admissions arrangements. Therefore the code, the fair access protocols and the co-ordinated admissions systems will all still apply in the same way as when the school was a maintained school.
The final amendments in this group relate to faith admissions and faith designation. So far as faith schools are concerned, the Bill seeks to maintain the status quo. There is nothing in this Bill that will make it easier for there to be an increase in the number of faith schools, or that seeks to change their character, but we do believe that faith schools should have the same chance to become an academy as any other maintained school.
Amendment 42 would require that no academy could select pupils on the basis of their faith, and it would effectively bar academy status for faith schools. As many Members on both sides of the House are aware, faith schools play an important role in this country's education system, often providing high-quality education for their children, as my hon. Friend Tony Baldry explained so well. Parents value the role that faith schools play and many parents actively seek out a place at such a school so they can obtain an education for their children in accordance with their religious beliefs, which is one of the principal tenets of the Education Act 1944, as my hon. Friend also pointed out. Although many schools maintain a faith ethos without giving priority for admission based on a child's faith, others maintain their strong religious ethos by ensuring that a significant proportion of their children are faith adherents. While we wish to ensure that new faith academies serve their broader communities, forcing existing schools to change admissions arrangements that may have been operating successfully for a number of years just because a school converts to become an academy would be unfair to those parents who chose the school on the basis of its religious character and ethos.
Amendment 43 also seeks to cap faith admissions by limiting the proportion of faith admissions in an academy that was previously a voluntary controlled school to the level prior to conversion. Voluntary controlled schools generally have a religious character. That means that although many do not prioritise children based on their faith, they are permitted to have faith-based over-subscription criteria. As maintained schools, they can increase the proportion of faith places through a local process of consultation and determination of admission arrangements. We wish to maintain the status quo in this respect, rather than be more restrictive. Therefore, academies that were previously maintained faith schools, including voluntary controlled schools, will be able to consult local people on changing their admission arrangements. Consultees will, however, retain their current rights of objection if they disagree with those changes.
Finally, we do not believe that amendment 44 is necessary or appropriate. We do not agree with its proposal that faith schools seeking to convert should have to go through an additional application simply to stay as they are, nor do we agree with its proposal that any non-faith maintained school should be barred from obtaining a faith designation as an academy. Any academy can currently apply to the Secretary of State for a faith designation provided that the relevant tests set out in existing legislation are met. Again, we want to retain the current provisions. I can, however, give the assurance that entirely new faith academies-by that I mean those that do not have a predecessor maintained school with a religious character-will be required to offer 50% of places to pupils from the community with no test of faith. I hope that provides some reassurance. I believe that the existing procedures for designating faith schools and the role of the funding agreement in regulating academies should provide sufficient safeguards for parents.
I wish to deal with some of the points raised by Vernon Coaker. He asked about the profile of the schools that are applying for academy status compared with the existing cohort of academies. Of course, they will differ, because the earlier academies were all located in very challenging areas and we are now inviting all schools throughout the country to apply. Indeed, expressions of interest have been received from schools in 95% of local authority areas around the country.
The hon. Gentleman cited the funding agreement and the issue of the admissions code. Annexe B to the model funding agreement makes things clear, stating:
"The Academy Trust will act in accordance with, and will ensure that an Independent Appeal Panel is trained to act in accordance with, all relevant provisions of the School Admissions Code and the School Admission Appeals Code published by the Department for Education...as they apply at any given time to maintained schools and with equalities law and the law on admissions as they apply to maintained schools."
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the differences between the old and the new model funding agreements. The procedures for changing admissions arrangements are covered in the schools admissions code, with the exception that the Secretary of State will now police the changes for academies. The old funding agreements simply repeated these requirements and therefore were not necessary. We are trying to remove from Government documents unnecessary replication of issues that are dealt with elsewhere.
The hon. Gentleman said that the exclusion independent appeal panel had been removed from the funding agreement, but it has not; this has been redrafted to apply the arrangements that apply to maintained schools. It should be clear that the position for all state-funded schools is therefore the same. He asked about the influence of selection on partner schools. Any partner of a grammar school could not select by academic ability unless it already had selective admission arrangements.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the rules relating to the expansion of grammar schools and requested that I quote from Lord Hill's letter. I am happy to do so, because this will interest all Members of the Committee. One of its end paragraphs states:
"For the sake of completeness, just as the previous Government allowed selective maintained schools to expand by up to 25% without publishing statutory proposals (and by more if they were to publish proposals under sections 18 and 19 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006), we will allow selective Academies to expand where a strong business case has been made and where there has been local consultation. We will not, however, agree to the percentage of selective places increasing within partially selective schools."
May I just clarify how that relates to the paragraph 1.22 on page 15 of the admissions code? That states:
"Local authorities and the Schools Adjudicator, when making decisions over setting an admission number or admitting above them, should have regard to the presumption that proposals to expand successful and popular schools, except grammar schools, should be approved."
It clearly states "except grammar schools" so how does that relate to what the hon. Gentleman has just said?
Well, it can do, because even under the previous Government, when the hon. Gentleman presided over this, it was the case that grammar schools could expand by up to 25% without publishing statutory proposals. Under that code, and under his Administration, grammar schools were permitted to expand by up to 25%, so we are not changing the fundamentals behind the expansion of grammar schools. They still have to demonstrate that there is a fundamental need and that consultation has taken place.
The provision is consistent in the same way that it was consistent with the arrangement under the hon. Gentleman's Administration, and under current law on maintained grammar schools -[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Gentleman was the Minister who presided over the introduction of these regulations, so he should know why these schools are currently allowed to expand by 25% and that that provision is still consistent with the admissions code.
I do not have a problem with these things; if I was wrong, I was wrong. The hon. Gentleman is the Minister now. It is no good blaming me; he has responsibility for it now. All I am asking is how what he has just said corresponds to that aspect of the school admissions code.
I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman if he would prefer that.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the exclusion of children with special educational needs. As he will know, the current 203 academies have a higher proportion of children with SEN and they exclude such children disproportionately less than maintained schools.
My hon. Friend Dr Huppert raised the concern that freeing faith schools from the national curriculum would create a risk of their teaching creationism, but there is no risk of that because they will still be required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. The funding agreement will continue to require academies to teach religious education. For non-faith delegated academies, that means teaching the locally agreed syllabus; for faith schools it means teaching a curriculum in accordance with the tenets of the relevant faith. That is the same requirement as applies to voluntary-aided schools.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of schools converting to academy status. As I have just said, the same rules apply as for maintained schools that want to convert to faith schools: they have to go through the whole process of re-designation, which requires the permission of the Secretary of State.
My hon. Friend asked where provision on the 50% rule is. It is not in the funding agreement, but we would not enter into a funding agreement that included admissions arrangements that allowed faith selection of more than 50%. That is a policy position, but it has been confirmed in both Houses and I confirm again that we will not sign funding agreements with new faith schools that intend to select more than half their intake on the basis of faith.
Caroline Lucas asked about co-ordinated admissions arrangements. I am happy to assure her that they will apply. She also asked about levers for enforcing the admissions code. The Young People's Learning Agency will ensure compliance with funding agreements on behalf of the Secretary of State. If an academy breached an obligation in its funding agreement, the YPLA would seek to enforce the obligation and the Secretary of State could ultimately do so through the courts. The Secretary of State has a specific power within the funding agreement to direct the admission of an individual pupil or to direct the amendment of an academy's admissions arrangements if they do not comply with the code.
"education for pupils of different abilities",
and at clause 1(6)(d) that they must provide
"education for pupils who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which the school is situated."
In response to the queries of my hon. Friend Mr Hancock, the admissions code requires fair and inclusive admission arrangements and outlaws any notion of cherry-picking. Of course, the academies will be bound by the code. Academies must be part of local fair access protocols, which require them to admit their fair share of challenging pupils, some of whom are likely to have been permanently excluded from other schools.
This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I have spoken for long enough and I hope that I have managed to reassure my hon. Friends in both parts of the coalition and Opposition Members. I hope that on the basis of the assurances I have given, hon. Members will feel able to withdraw their amendments.
I beg to move amendment 20, page 1, line 22, at end insert-
(za) if the school is an additional school, the school meets a proven need for additional capacity in the area in which the school is situated;'.
'(2A) For the purposes of subsection (2) "impact" refers to-
(a) the impact on funding for the other maintained schools, Academies and institutions within the further education sector situated in the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated;
(b) the effect on social cohesion in the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated;
(c) the impact on the balance of intake for the other maintained schools, Academies and institutions within the further education sector situated in the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated; and
(d) other appropriate considerations.'.
New clause 3- Local policies in relation to additional schools-
(1) A local authority must at the annual general meeting of that authority publish a "Statement of current and future need" in relation to school places in that local authority area.
(2) This statement-
(a) may consider the need for further diversity of provision in a given area;
(b) may consider the satisfaction of local parents with existing schools;
(c) must have regard to social cohesion; and
(d) must have regard to population and the current and future demand for total school places.
(3) The Secretary of State must-
(a) satisfy himself that the additional school meets substantive needs as set out in the statement under subsection (1);
(b) where the additional school does not meet substantive needs set out in the statement under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must arrange for any substantive identified needs to be met; or
(c) must not enter into Academy arrangements for the additional school under consideration.'.
New clause 5- Inducements to pupils, parents or guardians-
'No person or organisation may offer inducements to pupils, parents or guardians for the purposes of encouraging-
(a) attendance at a school;
(b) expressions of demand for the establishment of an additional school;
(c) recommending attendance at a school;
(d) participation in any consultation on the establishment of an additional school; or
(e) any public statement.'.
Amendment 29, in clause 9, page 7, line 9, leave out subsection (4).
Amendment 33, in clause 10, page 7, line 13, leave out subsection (1) and insert-
'(1) Before entering into Academy arrangements with the Secretary of State in relation to an additional school, a person must consult-
(a) local parents and children,
(b) local schools,
(c) the relevant local authority,
(d) all school staff and their representatives, and
(e) any other persons deemed appropriate.'.
Amendment 5, page 7, line 14, leave out 'such' and insert-
(a) the local education authority for the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated,
(b) the teachers at maintained schools, Academies and institutions within the further education sector in that area,
(c) the pupils at any establishment falling within paragraph (b),
(d) the parents of those pupils,
(e) such persons as, in the opinion of the person undertaking the consultation, represent the wider community, and
(f) such other'.
This group of amendments seeks to address two fundamental weaknesses in the Bill, namely a chronic lack of consultation with relevant stakeholders and a failure to consider the capacity of the wider education system in an area where free-market schools may be established.
There is a shocking lack of consultation in the Bill, but the Schools Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are conviction politicians and men of strength and leadership, so they have nothing to be frightened of. In the short time that the Secretary of State has been in office, however, he has demonstrated an unwillingness or an inability to consult on anything, whether it has been the Building Schools for the Future cuts or the indecent haste with which the House has had to scrutinise the Bill.
Let me illustrate that point with regard to the amendments. The National Governors Association, in its guidance to members about the legislation, stated:
"The Bill as it is currently drafted does not require you to consult anyone."
A governing body can apply to become an academy without consulting teachers, parents, children, the wider community, trade unions or local authority, and there is no obligation to consult parents or the wider community in order to explain the vision or the academy's functions. On Report in another place, the Government introduced an amendment that allows new academies to
"consult such persons as they think appropriate",
but that concession was vaguely drafted and the Bill needs to go further.
My hon. Friend Ian Mearns, who is no longer in his place, said earlier today that a good school is not an island, and I absolutely agree. A good school is an institution that has a positive partnership with neighbouring schools and a constructive relationship with the community in which it operates. But the Bill does not take that into account. Instead, it ensures that the most important relationship is between the school and the Secretary of State, rather than between the school and its economic and social environment.
I am also unclear about how staff will be consulted under the Bill, and I hope that in responding the Minister will specifically answer that point. As far as I understand it, there is no obligation to consult staff about changes to the school model, but there will be huge ramifications in terms of the legal challenges to that, especially if TUPE arrangements need to be properly considered.
I have already mentioned the indecent haste of the Bill's passage through Parliament. If some institutions are to be set up as academies or free schools as early as six weeks from now, in September, and if many schools have either finished, or might finish in the next couple of days, for the summer, is there any time logistically to consult staff and unions properly on the ramifications for staffing contracts? Article 12 of the UN convention on the rights of the child gives children the right to express views on matters affecting them, a point that was made in Committee in another place, but nothing in the Bill allows children's views to be heard on a future that affects them.
Another fundamental question is, what impact will a new school have? Where does the Bill allow for the need to assess and challenge a new school, or for people who want to introduce one to demonstrate where it will improve education not just for its own intake, but for the surrounding area and students of adjacent schools? If an area takes on additional free schools, academies or both without appropriate consultation or consideration, we must accept that there is a strong risk of existing maintained schools becoming unviable. That arrangement will inevitably lead to an unfair, two-tier system of schooling, and this country's education system will fragment, with all the negative social consequences that that produces.
Without my amendments and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, the Bill will ensure that funding flows towards new, free-market schools without any assessment of capacity or need. In Committee in the other place, it was confirmed that local authorities and other stakeholders were essentially being booted out of the way to enable additional school places to be created in a completely ad hoc, free-market way. The only check on this is the Secretary of State, rather than local people with a passion for their area and schools and knowledge of local circumstances. The creation of those additional places will be funded at the expense of existing school budgets and the loss of school buildings. It will also lead to a fragmentation of education, as I have said. It will leave some pupils behind, and it does not raise standards in schools at all. I ask the Minister to respond to those concerns and to think again.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said on Second Reading, which seems only a matter of hours ago-in fact, given the haste of this Bill's passage, it was only a few hours ago-having examined the case for a new parent-promoted school in Kirklees, Professor David Woods said that it would
"have a negative impact on other schools in the area in the form of surplus places and an adverse effect on revenue and capital budgets."
Is it not the case, though, that if we do not sometimes have excess places, we deny parents the choice that in turn drives the improvement in standards within schools, and end up in the situation that we are in at the moment whereby we are going down the league tables in mathematics and literacy, and of the 80,000 pupils who have free school meals, only 45 are getting into Oxford and Cambridge and our better universities?
I would be happy to allow the hon. Gentleman to intervene on me again if he could provide a direct correlation between surplus capacity, which is what he is suggesting, and rising standards and quality in schools. I do not see a close correlation between capacity and quality, but if he would like to enlighten me on that, I am more than happy for him to intervene.
I certainly agree with choice in the education system, but it would be choice for a very narrow stratum of society-predominantly middle class, media-articulate, affluent parents at the expense of disadvantaged communities. That is wrong: we need to raise standards completely across the board.
In the Bill as it stands, there is nothing to stop a load of private sector chancers, keen on making a quick profit, from contacting local parents in an area and suggesting that perhaps a new school could be beneficial, without any appropriate checks and balances on the impact that such free-market profiteers would have on educational quality, provision and capacity. Those free-market chancers could incentivise the local community with perhaps with a free laptop or the opportunity to enter a competition to win something if they expressed an interest in providing a new free school. New clause 5 would allow that to be stopped. It would ensure that there were effective checks and balances so that no person or organisation could offer inducements to pupils, parents or guardians for the purpose of new school places.
This afternoon, we had an extremely heated and interesting debate in Westminster Hall about Building Schools for the Future. Following what the Secretary of State said in his statement, 735 schools will no longer be refurbished or rebuilt. A review of the school capital programme is going to be carried out by Sebastian James. Let me quote from the terms of the review:
"The overall aim of the review is to ensure that future capital investment represents good value for money and strongly supports the Government's ambitions to reduce the deficit, raise standards and tackle disadvantage."
Okay, that is the narrative that the Secretary of State has been producing-I understand that. However, the terms of the review also state that it is intended to do the following:
"To consider how to generate sufficient places to allow new providers to enter the state school system in response to parental demand...To increase choice locally determined by parental demand",
"To enable the establishment of new schools."
Will the Minister discount the scenario whereby in a community where parents are disappointed that schools will not be rebuilt or refurbished under BSF, the Secretary of State could say, "But if you set up a new free school you can unilaterally decide to have a school capital building programme, and what is more, we will provide the school capital to allow you do that, regardless of the impact that that will have on the wider educational provision in your local area. If you and a few other parents decide to do that, we will drop you a load of money to make sure you can have a rebuilt school." Will the Minister confirm that that will not happen?
If a new school is to be established, surely it is courteous, and just common sense, to establish what people in the local area think of the proposal. Surely it is important to scrutinise the impact and effect that it will have on existing schools. The amendments therefore highlight the need to ensure that local people are satisfied that there is a clear and rational case for additional capacity in education provision, that the proposal has been subject to local consultation, scrutiny and challenge, and that additional provision could best be served through the establishment of a new school.
Amendment 33 addresses the risks that I have outlined to the Committee and is therefore very important. Before arrangements for setting up a new free-market school are entered into, there should be consultation with local parents and children, schools, the local authority, school staff and unions and any other persons deemed appropriate. We believe that the amendment would involve relevant and important stakeholders in a fundamental decision about changes to education in a particular area.
Amendment 50 follows on from that point and addresses the risk of fragmentation in the education system as a result of setting up a free school. To avoid a two-tier system and funding being automatically diverted to new free schools without any consideration of the impact on existing schools' finances or the number of students in the wider local education authority, the amendment would insert into the Bill a requirement to consider various factors. Those are
"the impact on funding for the other maintained schools...the effect on social cohesion in the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated"
"the impact on the balance of intake"
for other schools in the area and the further education sector. That last point is important, and I am pleased to see the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Mr Hayes, who is responsible for further education, sat on the Treasury Bench. I shall return to that matter later in my remarks.
Amendment 20 is an attempt to rein in free-market abandon and address the point that I have already made about capacity. It would add to the characteristics in clause 1(6) that must be demonstrated by a potential additional school if one is to be established. That subsection is currently broad to the point of being vague and, I would argue, meaningless. The amendment states that if there is to be an additional school in an area, it must be demonstrated as part of the selection process that it
"meets a proven need for additional capacity in the area in which the school is situated."
As the Bill is currently drafted, when an academy order has been made, the converting school or relevant local authority will not have to follow the school closure procedures set out in section 30 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 or sections 15 to 17 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. The relevant provisions in the 1998 Act are designed specifically to ensure that reflection is made on the consequences of a closure. Those provisions are that the governing body should give at least two years' notice to the Secretary of State, and that if closure would affect the facilities for full-time education for post-16-year-olds, the relevant further education funding council should be consulted. I believe that in the current regime that would be the Young People's Learning Agency, but it would be useful if the Minister confirmed that. Those provisions allow the decision on closing a school to be considered in a proper manner.
Removing the provisions of sections 15 to 17 of the 2006 Act is particularly risky. Those sections essentially ensure that when a school maintained by a local authority is to be discontinued, the authority must publish its proposals. Prior to that, the relevant body must consult the registered parents of pupils at the affected school as well as the local education authority. That just seems like good common sense. When there are proposals to discontinue a school, there should be the widest possible consultation, challenge and scrutiny. I ask the Minister to tell us specifically why it was felt necessary to remove those requirements, which seem like good, plain common sense.
Clause 9(4) states that an additional school is not to be considered a maintained school
"if it provides education for pupils of a wider range of ages than the maintained school."
That is a significant part of the Bill, and at the risk of being too melodramatic, I believe it could prove the death knell for our current further education sector. I shall expand that argument with reference to my constituency. For a relatively small town, Hartlepool has a diverse offer of 16-to-19 provision. It has a college of further education, a sixth-form college, a specialist art and design college and a Catholic school sixth-form college. The choice on offer for students in Hartlepool is really quite rich, and it works incredibly well, but under clause 10(4), a school in Hartlepool or anywhere else that currently offers 11-to-16 provision could apply to become an 11-to-18 free school or academy without consideration for the wider area, without consultation regarding current post-16 provision, and without any assessment of whether the new arrangements are feasible, viable or desirable. That cannot be right or sensible. I would be grateful if the Minister could, before his winding-up speech, have a word with the Business, Innovation and Skills Minister, to determine the rationale behind that measure, because it puts at risk the advances that have been made in the FE sector since incorporation in 1992-93.
I may be reading clause 10 incorrectly, but it seems to me to have precisely the opposite meaning to the one the hon. Gentleman suggests. It states that
"a school does not replace a maintained school if it provides education for pupils of a wider range of ages",
which means that it would be viewed as an additional school, and therefore that it comes under clause 10(2), which states:
"The Secretary of State must take into account what the impact of establishing the additional school would be likely to be on maintained schools, Academies and institutions...in the area".
As I said, the measure therefore appears to have the opposite effect to the one the hon. Gentleman suggests.
That is certainly not how I interpret the Bill. Amendment 50 is a probing amendment, because given the advances in FE provision and the huge choice in my constituency, I would hate anything that meant that an 11-to-16 school could disrupt post-16 provision.
The amendment would ensure that institutions within the FE sector, as well as the local education authority, pupils and parents are consulted. It is also important that that wider family-I hate that phrase-of education providers is consulted, but that will have a direct impact on post-16 provision.
The Opposition have faith in parents, pupils, teachers, councils and the wider community, and we think that their views should be taken into account when setting up academies, and that no new free-market schools that fragment the current system should be set up. That could lead to a two-tier system and compromise the viability of current schools and colleges.
The hon. Gentleman has a near-obsession with free-market schools, but nowhere in the Bill do I see them mentioned. However, clause 12, "Charitable status of Academy proprietors etc", suggests that no such free market is created by the Bill. Rather, it suggests that the money is charitable money, and that it will remain within the state sector.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. In all their rhetoric on free-market schools, the Education Secretary and his ministerial team want to encourage parents to set up free schools that are beyond the scope and authorisation of the local education authority. The Opposition believe that we ought to think of education in an area holistically, and ask what impact unilaterally setting up a new school will have on existing maintained schools and wider education providers, such as FE colleges. That is important.
I understand the Opposition's concern, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the private school sector benefits most when parents and others who have an appetite to set up a school in an area are not allowed to do so, because those parents, as a last resort, will send their children to private schools? If any lobby group is most against the plans in the Bill, it is that of private and smaller private schools, which believe that their income will suffer if parents can send their children to nearby small schools. Does he recognise that the effect of liberating a market or creating a so-called free market might be to alleviate the great divide that currently exists between private and state education?
I have no problem whatever with anything the hon. Lady says. If parents decide, for whatever reason, that a new state-funded school is necessary, they should be given help and support for it. If birth rates are rising, or if people think that there is not enough capacity in the education system, it is perfectly reasonable to do that.
I have a problem with the fact that these proposals will not be subject to rigorous challenge, scrutiny and consultation. That is all I am asking for, but the Bill does not provide for it. It does not allow for dialogue with local stakeholders, parents from the affected schools, pupils, local education authorities or further education colleges in the area. Given the courage of the convictions of the Secretary of State and the Minister, why will they not accept that challenge and address the point about additional capacity in an area? That is all I am asking, and the hon. Lady has made a good point. Change should be subject to consultation, challenge and scrutiny, but the Government seem to fear that their dogma and ideology would not stand up to such a challenge. We believe that local people should be making local decisions, and that we should not be concentrating all the power in the Secretary of State.
Finally, given that this is a Bill about children and about raising standards, I should just like to wish my little girl, Hattie, a happy eighth birthday today. In doing so, I commend the amendment to the House.
I want to speak to amendment 5, and to reinforce some of the points that have already been made about the importance of making real consultation mandatory. The Government are selling these proposals on the basis that they are about empowering communities, but they are specifically refusing to allow proper consultation with our communities. This is not about empowerment; it is about centralisation.
The Department for Education website gives four handy steps towards conversion. First, the head teacher decides that he or she wants to opt out. Then the governors meet and pass a resolution. The Secretary of State then approves the proposal and the funding agreement. Finally, the Government order the local authority to cease maintaining the school. Then, as if by magic, the school is suddenly free. I am sure that most parents would find that rather alarming, and that they would want to have a direct say in the removal of their right to democratic influence through the severing of that link to the local authority.
Proper consultation would enable reflection on accountability and governance, and on whether the freedoms that academy status brings would be used without disadvantage to other parts of the community. Despite all the nice rhetoric about the schools being free schools set up by those parents who want them, there is a real risk that they will drain resources away from other schools in the region. We need the kind of consultation that the amendment proposes if we are to ensure that that does not happen.
Does the hon. Lady agree that this lack of consultation with communities and local authorities runs contrary to what others in the new coalition Government are proposing in their localist agenda? They talk about giving more power to communities and local authorities, but the proposals in the Bill seem entirely inconsistent with that agenda.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. In spite of all their rhetoric about the big society, when the Government are put to the test and asked to demonstrate their commitment to the idea, they do not seem to trust our communities enough to consult them.
The ramifications of so many schools becoming independent are enormous, and children, parents, teachers, trade unions and members of the wider community are surely entitled to have their voices heard. Under the Government's proposals, thousands more schools could become their own admissions authorities, and parents will want to know who will ensure that a school's admissions policy is being observed. They will also want to know that the education of vulnerable children and children with special needs will be fairly managed and properly resourced. Consultation is the key to giving them that kind of guarantee. Surely local authorities are entitled to debate proposals that will result in local authority boundaries ceasing to have meaning in some cases. Surely they also need to have some kind of input into an admissions process that could lead to chaos for the rest of the region.
Consultation should be absolutely central to the Bill, and it is still not clear to me, despite what the Secretary of State has said, why he and other Ministers are in such a rush. Perhaps we must conclude that they are anxious that students, parents or staff might rise up and object to this attempt to take power away from local communities. Perhaps that is why the Secretary of State does not want to consult on these proposals.
I have some issues with the whole concept and experience of free schools, having spoken to colleagues, hon. Members and others who have seen them in operation in other countries. I have always struggled to understand how the concept might be relevant across the United Kingdom. However, recently I have been considering the situation in a rural area such as my own, in which the village schools do not become part of a federation and the local authority or the diocese-if it is involved-decides to close a small village school. In such a situation, I can foresee that a community might come together and want to provide some form of school.
This presents me with another problem: should there be a facility to enable that to happen? What safeguards will be in place to ensure that the facilities are of a required standard? Will all the protections be in place, the suitability of which a local authority would otherwise have input into, to ensure that not just the bare minimum is provided?
As I struggle to reconcile my initial dislike of the concept of free schools with the circumstance in a rural area such as my own that I have outlined, I ask what safeguards will be in place to ensure that, particularly in the early days of such a provision, all the standards that we would expect within the existing sector will be safeguarded, and that there will be equal protection.
The Opposition amendments, which I support, are based on genuine fears about what may occur through a local market in education if this Bill becomes law. I mentioned on Second Reading a flyer that is circulating in a part of my constituency that is already testing the market to see whether an appetite exists for the opening of new schools in the area. I thought that this was already common practice, but The Times Educational Supplement telephoned me yesterday to say that it is the first such example it had heard of. However, I am sure it will not be the last if this Bill is passed, when it will become common practice.
Let me give a foretaste of what is to come by indicating what is proposed in Shepherd's Bush. The flyer, which is being circulated widely, says:
"A New Primary School For Your Child. We are opening a new primary school in your area soon and we are enrolling now!"
It comes from an organisation called ABC Academies, although I believe that that name is not patented and may change. It continues:
"Close to your home, we will provide education for children from five years old. Life skills. reading and writing. mathematics. science. physical education and fun!...Contact us to find out more!"
There were three open days, the last of which, in fact, ended about eight minutes ago in a part of the Shepherd's Bush road. Parents are being invited to come along and I presume that, if enough turn up, an estate agent will be asked to look for suitable premises in the area. It is not that easy to find somewhere with sufficient play space and equipment in the middle of inner London, but it is a task that we know Toby Young and others have set themselves in that part of the world. At some point, an application will be made to the Secretary of State for some of the £210 million of Building Schools for the Future funding that the schools in my constituency have been deprived of.
Although I agree with the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Wright, it may surprise him to hear that I disagree with his pillorying the people who are putting forward this proposal. I do not particularly pillory them-in fact, I know the people who are doing this in my area. They are local entrepreneurs who run a perfectly respectable, good business that says to schools, "We will use your schools for you. We will market them when they are available-classrooms and halls at evenings and weekends, for example-and we have a number of successful supplementary schools in the area." I see nothing wrong with that. The firms make a profit, and that benefits the school, the people who use it, and the company. However, as a result of the coalition Government's proposals, the companies now see that exactly the same principles should apply to the provision of state education in the area. Who can criticise them for that, when that is exactly what is being proposed?
I asked the assistant director of education whether he knew about the practice. He is responsible for all school building programmes and the provision of school buildings; he had never heard of it. I spoke to some of the primary heads in the area; they had never heard of it, and did not know about it, although when I told them about it, they thought that they might pop along to an open day and see what was happening.
There is over-subscription of primary schools in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, although curiously the local authority was closing primary schools until last year so that it could free up the sites and sell them on to private schools. There may be demand for a primary school in certain parts of the borough, but I ask the Government whether that is the right way to go about things.
For example, one primary school is next to a place where one of the open days is held. It is a popular, successful school, but it is not full in all years because the turnover-the mobility-of population in inner London is such that 25% of the children in a class can leave that class in the course of a school year. That is very difficult. Some 65% of children in that school have English as a second language, and 40% are Muslim. We are talking about one of the most varied, diverse and mobile communities in the country. Planning school provision and school places is incredibly difficult on both a financial and educational level.
What will happen if we throw into the mix the ability, simply on the basis of a business idea, to set up a new school where one feels that one can? A company might attract parents who like the idea, and who are most able, willing, articulate, and responsive to that type of marketing, set up a school, and drain other schools of their pupils and finances, including the capital funding that has already been stopped for existing schools. That is a recipe for utter chaos in the education system. It is gold-rush tactics applied to the education system.
There are groups of parents doing the same as the companies. They have their eye on particular buildings, and say to the local authority, "Could we have that building? Never mind who is in there at the moment. Could you get them out? We'd like the building for our own use." I am certainly not criticising the parents; they want to do the best for their children. I do not even criticise the organisations concerned. They may be very sound entrepreneurial organisations. I blame the politicians, who, both at local and national level, appear to be abdicating completely all responsibility for the planning of education, and in particular the planning of sustainable, sensible and integrated education.
The education system, particularly in areas such as inner London, is finely balanced. It works. It is highly resourced, thanks to the last Labour Government. It has an incredible number of committed people in it-parents, teachers, children and, indeed, some local politicians. It works very well, particularly at primary level, but often against the odds and against great challenges. This legislation does nothing to assist. All that it does is put a spoke in the wheel, and barriers in the way of continuing that success. Education-particularly primary education-in inner London is not broke. This noxious and pernicious Bill aims to destroy what we have built up over many years, and I urge all Members of the Committee to support the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool.
I am really depressed by what is happening, particularly in relation to consultation. For years and years, quite rightly, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives attacked the previous Government for not having full consultation with people when measures such as this were going through. But to have a consultation process, or not to have a consultation process, when the people who run our schools-the teachers, the support staff, the people who do school meals and the people who clean the schools-are not even at work but are on holiday, if they can afford to take one, and to say that the head will decide and that when they come back in December they will be told what will happen to them, is clearly out of order. It is almost certainly not legal and I am convinced that there will be challenges.
Let us just think about some of the things that could happen during the summer. People who may finish work this week and return in the first week in September may not have these questions answered. Will I, or will I not, still be entitled to the sickness agreements that I have had for years in my previous employment? Will I still be entitled to the same rights of annual leave? Will my salary be the same? Will my pension be the same? Will my redundancy rights be the same? Will my access to training be the same? Will my redeployment rights be the same? Will my career development still be the same? Will any rights that I have accrued in possibly decades of service for the people of my community be the same?
In any normal consultation process-I have had long experience in six to 10 years of working for a local authority-under both the last Labour Government and the previous Conservative Government, even at the hardest of times, when there were real issues and really dogma-driven changes, people were still allowed the right to consult and to have their questions answered. There is no way, in six weeks, even if the staff were still at work, that these questions could be answered, and to say that this is the right way forward and to pretend that somehow it fits into the concept of the big society is clearly and utterly wrong. Staff will be going back to work in six weeks' time and they will be told by the head, by the board of governors, "You either take it or leave it." That has to be wrong.
I start by wishing Hattie a very happy eighth birthday on behalf of all Government Members. Happy birthday, Hattie.
Amendment 20 would require any proposal for an additional school or a free school to demonstrate a need for additional capacity within the local area. We have made it clear that we want to improve choice in education. A free school proposal will be required to demonstrate parental demand and support. Where there is such demand, we will not turn down the proposal simply to protect other local schools. As my noble Friend Lady Perry said in the other place:
"Why can we not trust the people who run our schools and education services to behave in a sensible and honourable way? That is how they have always behaved...To be prescriptive, to write down as a rule that we are consulting only because it is the law, would be alien to the way in which good schools operate-and only good schools will come this way."-[ Hansard, House of Lords, 13 July 2010; Vol. 720, c. 623.]
All schools will need to drive up standards to retain their pupils and remain viable. Any proposer of an academy that does not replace a maintained school, including a free school, must consult such people as they think appropriate before entering into funding arrangements with the Secretary of State on the principle of whether to enter into such arrangements. That will allow for representations to be made regarding any concerns that appropriate people may have over such proposals.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be utter lunacy and madness for either an additional school or a school seeking to apply for academy status not to meet the needs of the local community around it, because then it would not succeed as a school? It would be part of the process of its change that it would seek to meet the needs of the entire community around it.
Absolutely. That is the whole point. It is in the Bill. Any school that sought to establish itself without talking to and consulting local people would not fare well in trying to attract pupils.
Furthermore, clause 9 requires the Secretary of State, when deciding whether to enter into academy arrangements with an additional school, an entirely new or free school, to take into account the impact of such a school on the existing schools and colleges in the area. That will ensure that in making decisions on any free school proposal due consideration will always be given to its wider implications. Clause 9 is included in the Bill following helpful debates in the other place where noble Lords expressed concerns over the impact that any brand new academies-free schools-would have on other schools and colleges in the area. We agreed that in making decisions on any free school proposal, due consideration should always be given to its wider implications. That was our intention even before we tabled that amendment in the other place. We were happy to place that duty in the Bill.
Amendment No. 50 seeks to define "impact", which the Secretary of State would be required to take account of when considering entering into arrangements for an additional free school. I fully understand hon. Members' concerns, but we do not wish to prescribe the matters to be considered in each case. Every school is different and its case should be considered on its merits. The problem with a list is that people tend to focus on what is not on it, and that risks other considerations that are not included being considered irrelevant and unimportant. In fact, they could well be quite important.
Lord Adonis said:
"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".-[ Hansard, House of Lords, 21 June 2010; Vol. 719, c. 1264.]
We agree with Lord Adonis's sentiments.
Although I agree with my hon. Friend that the amendment should be rejected, may we expect the Secretary of State to come forward with an explanation of the approach that he will take to the assessment of this impact? Otherwise it could appear that the Secretary of State was making such decisions without a framework that the public in a local area could expect to understand.
We need to try to get away from reams of guidance and secondary legislation. The wording of clause 9 is clear. It states:
"The Secretary of State must take into account what the impact of establishing the additional school would be likely to be on maintained schools, Academies and institutions within the further education sector in the area in which the additional school is (or is proposed to be) situated."
It is clear what is intended, and what has always been intended by the Secretary of State because he is under a duty to act reasonably. The clause just reinforces the duty that already exists.
If the Secretary of State will not produce a framework to show how he will approach such cases, will he publish the assessment that he makes in order to come to a conclusion? People deserve to be able to understand the logic behind a decision, even if it is just precedent and looking at different schools in different places at different times. That might also help people who want to come forward with proposals. If they do not understand the Secretary of State's thinking, they will not know whether to make a proposal or not.
I will ponder my hon. Friend's point. I personally think that it is clear what sort of issues the Secretary of State will take into account when deciding whether to accept a proposal for an additional school in an area. To be too specific in setting out guidance would be a mistake, because it could end up luring future providers into not considering issues that they should take into account when assessing the impact that their proposal would have on the local area. As I say, I will ponder my hon. Friend's points and perhaps write to him on this issue.
Surely it is a matter for both natural justice and judicial review? I am sure that the Minister has taken very good advice, but if he does not open the process up and give people the opportunity to make representations on the process, he will lay himself open to many more problems in the future.
I will ponder the points that both my hon. Friends have made and I will write to them shortly to set out our position with greater clarity.
In the letter to lead Members sent on
Over the next weeks and months, we want a further dialogue with local government on those and related matters, and we do not think it would be right to pre-empt those discussions by accepting the amendment, which would clearly place a bureaucratic burden on local authorities ahead of a wider discussion about their continuing role. As I have already explained, additional schools are required to consult locally on their proposals, and the Secretary of State has a duty to consider the wider impact of any school on its local area, so a requirement for him to take account of an annual report provided by the local authority would, in our view, be unnecessary.
On new clause 5, we share the commitment of Mr Wright to promoting fair and proper processes when establishing all new schools, including free schools, which is why we have put in place a rigorous approval process and are requiring that groups comply with every aspect of it before being allowed to open a new school. As part of the process to establish a free school, groups will have to demonstrate that there is genuine, robust demand for places at the school they are proposing, both at the proposal stage and in completing their business case and plan. To meet this requirement, we expect groups to provide evidence of this demand, perhaps through a petition or a declaration from interested parties, but in every case demonstrating clear evidence of unmet local need, not just expressions of support.
The new clause would prevent organisations or groups from offering financial inducements to parents and pupils to encourage them to attend or support new free schools. It is, of course, right that we would not wish to see any organisation trying to manipulate public opinion or to give financial incentives to any person to obtain their support. However, it shows a marked lack of trust in parents, if I may say so to the hon. Gentleman, to suggest that they would send their child to any school on the back of a financial incentive. They will obviously want to send their child to the best school possible.
Will the Minister address the point I made on this subject? Parents might quite rightly be disappointed about Building Schools for the Future capital being scrapped, but are the Secretary of State or the Minister saying, "We're trying to look for additional school capital programmes, and if you set up a new school, you'll be first in line, regardless of what the wider community requires"? Can he say that that will definitely not be the case?
We have allocated £50 million of funding from the harnessing technology fund to restart the standards and diversity fund, which was established in 2008 by the hon. Gentleman's Government to promote new schools. That is the fund that will provide capital for free schools until
New clause 5 would have an unintended consequence as a result of its wide scope. For example, it would prevent a school from being able to offer subsidies for the provision of school uniforms to pupils from low-income families, which I am sure is not something that Labour Members would want.
New clause 5 mentions inducements to pupils, as my hon. Friend mentioned. Mr Wright also made a point on this subject. However, would the new clause not also affect the education maintenance allowance, which was a financial inducement introduced by the previous Government? I am sure he does not oppose that.
My hon. Friend makes his point in his own way, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Hartlepool will respond to it when he decides whether to press his amendment to a vote.
I want to clarify one point about the approval of new schools. A very strong evidential basis must be demonstrated, not one based on offering rewards. In order to ensure that places are of sufficient long-term quality and sustainability, not all applicants to this process will be successful. However, it is right that, where cases are properly made, we strongly support communities that want to establish new schools in order to improve choice for their own and other young people in their areas and to drive up standards across them.
Amendment 29 would amend the definition of what amounts to an additional school and the circumstances in which the Secretary of State would be required to take account of the impact of an additional school. Noble Lords in the other place raised concerns about circumstances in which a free school was partially new, but partially replacing an existing school-for example, where a school had a broader age range than the school that it had replaced. I can confirm that it is our policy to expect convertors to convert "as is". Therefore, any school wishing to change its age range would need to follow either the relevant statutory procedures for prescribed alterations before conversion or the relevant administrative processes after conversion, rather than as part of the conversion process.
We are also committed to assessing the impact of any free school proposals on a local area. However, we also wanted to meet the concerns of noble Friends in the other place, so we have amended the Bill accordingly. In most cases, the school will have the same head, staff, parents and children, but will also have additional freedoms to innovate and raise standards. Furthermore, the requirement for converting schools to consult means that those other schools in the area may have the chance to make representations on the proposed conversion. However, schools may still become academies via the Education and Inspections Act 2006, under which the predecessor school is closed and replaced by an academy, as opposed to undergoing a conversion to academy status, which is what the Bill will allow. In those cases, under clause 9(4), the Secretary of State will be required to assess the impact of any change in the age range.
Amendments 33 and 5 both seek to specify in the legislation who the promoter of an additional school must consult before entering into academy arrangements with the Secretary of State. Any free school proposal, which will need to demonstrate parental demand and support, will by definition require consultation. However, following concerns raised in the other place, we felt it necessary to set out in the Bill our expectation for such consultation. However, we do not intend to prescribe how that consultation should be conducted. A key principle of this Government is to trust professionals to do their jobs without the unnecessary interference of central Government. We trust professionals to determine how to consult, and we do not think it right to provide an inflexible checklist, which would not, in itself, ensure that consultation was any more meaningful.
I do not think that it needs to be set out in the Bill, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: of course staff should be consulted, and they would be. TUPE--the transfer of undertakings (protection of employment) regulations-will govern the contracts of all the employees of the school and the transfer of employment on the same terms. He should feel assured that the necessary statutory consultation, by the employer and with the employee, will take place as part of the process.
Why do we just have to take the hon. Gentleman's word for it? No disrespect, but if it is so self-evidently clear that the consultation will take place with all the relevant parties, why could that not be set down in the Bill? For a lot of us, that would be a way of putting our minds at rest.
Well, no disrespect right back at you. The point is that the TUPE regulations are already in statute and they have to be followed. Whenever there is a transfer of undertakings, those procedures are followed, and there is no need to set that out in the Bill. However, we are simply adopting the same approach that the previous Government took to academies, which is that we regulate through the funding agreement. The hon. Lady can also be assured that the things said in this House are on the record for her to hold us to account against, so the more she can get me to say now, the more reassured she can be.
This Government's approach is to let the people who have the experience and knowledge in their areas of work make the decisions that will affect them. The promoter of a free school will know who the interested parties are in their local area. Any proposal for a free school must be able to demonstrate genuine, robust demand for places at the proposed school-for example, through a petition or a declaration from interested parties. As I said, clause 9 requires the Secretary of State, when deciding whether to enter into academy arrangements with a free school, to take into account the impact of such a school on existing schools and colleges in the area. That will ensure that when decisions on any free school proposal are made, due consideration will always be given to its wider implications.
I want to run through some of the other points that Mr Wright made. I made the point about consultation, but he also talked about academies being disconnected from their surrounding areas. However, the model funding agreement for academies, which hon. Members will have seen, explicitly says that
"the school will be at the heart of its community, sharing facilities with other schools and the wider community".
That is a key provision of the model funding agreement.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about TUPE. Consultation can take place after the academy order has been made. The key issue for staff transferring-he also mentioned the discussions taking place in August-is the signing of the funding agreement. These consultations can take place well into September and October before the funding agreement is signed.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the disapplication of sections 15 and 17 of the Education Inspections Act 2006 for schools converting under clause 4. This is relevant because under those arrangements the school is not closing, but converting, so there is no need for provisions to govern all the steps that have to be gone through when a school is closed. Consultations are provided for, as I said, under clause 5. He also asked about the impact on the further education sector. Clause 9(2) requires the Secretary of State to take into account the impact on colleges as well as on other schools.
My hon. Friend Dan Rogerson asked about the facilities at free schools. Health and safety law will, of course, apply. Ofsted will continue to inspect, and there are detailed provisions about fire, safety, security and structure, food hygiene and so forth in the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2003, which will now apply to academies. Those regulations are very detailed; if they were not detailed, many independent schools around the country would have the same worries as my hon. Friend.
With those few remarks, I hope that I have assured hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, and I urge them not to press their amendments.
I begin by thanking the Minister for his usual courtesy and kindness in wishing my daughter Hattie a very happy birthday. The whole Committee is welcome to join us for "Toy Story 3" on Sunday, if it so wishes.
The Minister has reassured me to some extent on clauses 9 and 10 and on the model funding agreement. That goes some way to addressing my concerns and I also thank him for clarifying some points about the FE sector. However, he has not gone far enough. As I said, there are fundamental weaknesses at the heart of the Bill, as seen in this group of amendments. Those weaknesses are on capacity and on consultation. With great respect to the Minister, he has not reassured me on those matters.
More to the point, some comments by the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) and for Hexham (Guy Opperman), and the excellent comments by the Chair of the Select Committee, showed that there is concern about the gap in the appropriate level of consultation. I understand that the Minister hopes to ponder on that issue, but I would suggest that he table a Government amendment on Report, which we could consider. I would be more than happy to discuss any such amendment with him. I suspect, however, that he will not do that.
I repeat that there are fundamental weaknesses on capacity, which amendment 20 would address, and on consultation, which amendment 33 would address. I would therefore like to test the opinion of the Committee on those amendments.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided: Ayes 202, Noes 312.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment 25, page 2, line 2, at end insert
'and follows the National Curriculum in science, mathematics, information technology and English;'.
Amendment 30, page 2, line 2, at end insert
'and where appropriate section 40 of the Childcare Act 2006'.
Amendment 26, page 2, line 2, at end insert-
'(0) the school has a curriculum which includes personal, social and health education as a statutory entitlement for all pupils;'.
As I was saying, under the Government's proposals once a state-maintained school becomes an academy, it is no longer required to follow the national curriculum and that is of particular concern in respect of state-maintained faith schools that convert to become faith academies. Interestingly, a recent poll found that 75% of people agree or strongly agree that all state-funded schools should teach an objective and balanced syllabus for education about a wide range of religious and non-religious beliefs.
The Government appear to be unconcerned about the public's view on that as they allow a significant risk that some religious authorities will use this new freedom under the Bill to pursue restrictive teaching in line with their religion. There are no specific protections in the Bill to ensure that the duty to offer this so-called balanced and broadly based curriculum cannot be neglected or evaded. That is a cause for great concern.
The previous Government introduced a change so that academies had to follow the national curriculum in English, maths and science, and the teaching of evolution was, of course, covered in that. I have tabled my amendment because the coalition Government propose that academies should be entirely free from the national curriculum. If the Bill is not amended, there will be no requirement on academies to teach evolution, and the Government do not even appear to have plans to prevent the teaching of creationism in academies.
We know that some academy sponsors want creationism to be taught. Emmanuel college in Gateshead, backed by the philanthropist Sir Peter Vardy, attracted controversy by teaching pupils about creationism, and pupils at the school reported that creationism was taught alongside evolutionary theory as being an equally valid belief. How will Ministers ensure that pupils at religious academies receive objective and evidence-based teaching and that creationism is not taught in science lessons or as fact?
I share the hon. Lady's concerns and I raised this very point with the Secretary of State when he was on the Front Bench earlier this week. He replied that at Emmanuel college there was no teaching of creationism. I am a reasonable human being and I am inclined to believe the Secretary of State. However, does the hon. Lady have any evidence that this teaching is continuing, because if that is the case, the whole House will be very worried?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My notes tell me that this information came from a National Union of Teachers briefing. I imagine that the NUT is up to date with what is being taught in schools, but I am happy to check that and come back. This teaching has been going on, as it does in other countries where academies are fully fledged, such as the United States. So it certainly is not outside the realms of possibility that not only is it continuing in that particular academy, but that it is happening in a widespread fashion in a number of academies. The point is that there is nothing in the Bill to stop this happening. Even if it has stopped over the past few weeks or months at one particular academy, there is nothing to prevent it from happening again. That is the real concern.
"one of the core aims of the policy is precisely that the Secretary of State should not dictate to academies what they should teach...I fully accept that if you trust people things do go wrong, but that is the direction that we want to try to go in."-[ Hansard, House of Lords, 7 July 2007; Vol. 720, c. 299.]
I commend him on his honesty at least, but the substance of what he said is very worrying.
Although, at the moment, the national curriculum does not include statutory sex and relationships education, it does ensure that maintained faith schools teach sexual reproduction as part of the science syllabus. Nothing in the new, deregulated system proposed by this Bill would oblige religious academies to do the same. Personal, social and health education-PSHE-was debated at length in the other place, yet we see no Government move on it as yet. Instead, the Government argued that making PSHE a curriculum requirement under the Bill was not the right way to go, as the best place to consider this was in the forthcoming national curriculum review. Yet, of course, the Government want academies to be free of the national curriculum.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because it absolutely proves the case that education is a key way of ensuring that we do not have a huge number of unwanted teenage pregnancies. Education does not lead young people suddenly to think of doing things that they might not have thought of doing were they not to have had that education. On the contrary, education is one of the best forms of contraception.
The British Humanist Association has asked, legitimately, whether a new, state-funded, Catholic academy would be allowed not to teach sexual reproduction in biology lessons, let alone wider and more objective sex and relationships education. Again, as far as we can see, nothing in the new, deregulated system proposed by the Bill would seem to prohibit that from happening.
These are not the only concerns, because despite this being paid for by the taxpayer, sponsors of academies have enormous powers to dictate how and what pupils learn more generally. I read today with horror that one academy is apparently installing a "call centre" so that pupils' "aspirations" can be raised by training for this type of work. In Manchester and Birmingham, for example, a range of academies are being planned, each specialising in preparing pupils for employment in specific industries or commercial activities. I read that Manchester airport, which is one such prospective sponsor, has overtly stated that the principal purpose of its academy will be to provide employees for the airport. That is a pretty reductionist interpretation of the purpose of education. That is why we must ensure that academies do follow the national curriculum, which is what my amendment seeks to do.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to expand more widely on this point. I believe that the purpose of education is to enable the potential of every human being to be properly fulfilled, whatever that might be in-it might be in a very academic, artistic or practical way. What education is not about is giving very narrow training for a specific job that has somehow been set up already by the time a child goes into an academy at a young age. We risk dumbing down in a worrying way for the pupils who come through our schools if that is what we think education is about. Education should be for life. It is about fulfilling people's potential and is not about becoming a narrow cog in a wheel.