Nick Gibb (The Minister for Schools; Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, Conservative)
Welcome back to the Chair and the Committee proceedings, Mr. Williams. May I briefly refresh the Committee on where we had got to on schedule 10? The schedule introduces three changes, giving precedence to academies and free schools, streamlining the process for establishing those schools and enabling class consents. A number of Committee members took the opportunity to highlight the benefits of the academies programme. We discussed the benefits that greater school autonomy is proved to bring, and we agreed on the contribution to educational improvement that academies made under the previous Administration. My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall highlighted the cross-party support that we have for the programme, including from his own party and the Opposition, and that was an important contribution to the debate.
The key change proposed in schedule 10 is driven by our efforts to increase the autonomy, innovation and choice that academies bring, and which are needed to create a world-class education system. This change is based on the evidence that we draw from the most improved education systems throughout the world: first, that schools thrive when they are given greater autonomy; secondly, that professionals should be freed from red tape and bureaucracy; and thirdly, that improving the quality of the teaching work force must be a core priority. That is what we set out in the White Paper and that is what the Bill seeks to implement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford asked me to reassure him that the Government’s proposals go far enough in removing the impediments in the system to greater autonomy for teachers and head teachers, and I believe that they do. I hope that my brief remarks this morning will convince him of that. I can reassure him that the Government share his objectives and are committed to achieving them.
Schedule 10 does not remove the local authority from the system, rather it cements the change in their role from one of provider and maintainer to one of commissioner and champion of educational excellence. That is why the provisions require every local authority, in carrying out its planning function, to consider before all other options how they might set up an autonomous school, whether it be a free school or an academy.
However, we accept that we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach, so the new process will still allow a local authority, with the consent of the Secretary of State, to hold a competition and invite bids for other types of school. In the event that a competition does not realise any bids or any suitable bids, the local authority will be able to move straight to publishing its own proposals for a community or foundation school and will not need the consent of the Secretary of State to do so.
Schedule 10 also proposes changes to streamline the new schools process in cases where a new academy or free school is established. The time scale to do so will be markedly shorter than the current competition process. In practice, we expect the new competition process to be used only rarely, because we want local authorities actively to commission academy or free school solutions.
Finally, I come to what are, effectively, class consents for certain types of new maintained provision. Schedule 10 provides that the Secretary of State’s consent will no longer be required to publish proposals for certain types of new schools outside the competition arrangements. Removing this requirement will reduce the length of the process for establishing a new school by at least six weeks, making a significant contribution to reducing unnecessary bureaucracy for both the proposer and the Department. On that basis, I hope that the Committee will agree to the schedule.
Kevin Brennan (Shadow Minister (Education); Cardiff West, Labour)
We will not seek to press schedule 10 to a Division, but the concern about the Government’s approach is that it takes options away from local communities in relation to the types of schools that they want to set up. The Government say that this is about choice, but in this instance they want to close down choice for local communities.
The Minister referred to cross-party consensus. I am not sure that he entirely reflected accurately the views of the hon. Member for North Cornwall, who in his heart of hearts opposes academies, as does his party conference, but that does not matter when it comes to voting in the Committee, so he will be supporting the Minister. However, in the interests of making progress, I will sit down.