After Clause 62 — Academies

Part of Education Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:29 pm on 15th July 2002.

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Photo of David Miliband David Miliband Minister of State (School Standards), Department for Education and Skills 9:29 pm, 15th July 2002

Lords amendment No. 37 gives effect to our intention to require academies, formerly known as city academies, to take part in statutory admission forums and have regard to their advice—an obligation that we have included in their funding agreements. We have already put in place robust arrangements to ensure that academies will be inclusive schools, and that they will agree their admission arrangements in partnership with local education authorities and other admissions authorities.

I shall spell out those arrangements for the benefit of the House. Academies are an integral part of the Government's wider programme to raise standards for all and transform secondary education, and are a new and distinctive kind of school. We are confident that they will offer great opportunities to pupils from some of the most disadvantaged communities in England. As independent schools, academies will have certain freedoms and will be different in certain ways from other maintained schools. We have ensured that they have the flexibility and the freedom that they need to respond to the demands and challenges that they will face. At the same time, we have made sure that, on certain key and fundamental points, they comply with requirements on maintained schools, most notably in relation to admissions.

First, on differences in freedom, academies will have the freedom to offer staff terms and conditions outside the teachers' pay and conditions document, and significant freedom to tailor the curriculum, its development and delivery to meet pupils' needs. There is also great flexibility in the make-up of the governing body of each academy.

Academies are part of the local schooling system, not separate from it, however. Let me explain. They must comply with admissions procedures and requirements as they apply to maintained schools. Their arrangements must be fair, transparent and objective. They have no more ability to select than do maintained schools. They must have independent panels to consider appeals against non-admission, in the same way as maintained schools. If they band by ability, those admitted must reflect the ability of those who apply.

We want to make sure that academies' involvement in their local admissions networks is transparent and strengthened. That is why we have tabled the amendment. I have already said that academies will be required by their funding arrangements to participate in forums. However, the amendment will put a statutory duty on admissions forums to promulgate their advice to academies as well as maintained schools within the forum's area. It will also put a statutory duty on the governing body of an academy to have regard to such advice, which will be in addition to its contractual duty to have such regard through its funding agreement.

Mandatory admissions forums will enable us further to improve the admissions process for parents and pupils. They will consider how well local admissions arrangements are working and they will broker agreements on difficult local issues, such as arrangements relating to challenging and vulnerable children. Well run admissions forums already consider such issues.

A typical forum—for example, the one operating in west Sussex—meets three times a year. At its first meeting of the year, the west Sussex forum considers information to parents, assessing how user-friendly and helpful admissions prospectuses and forms are to local parents. The later meetings review the admissions round, considering what went well and where there are problems to be resolved. From that, the forum might make recommendations for improving the process. In the course of looking at those issues, the forum might identify other issues that it will also address—for example, issues relating to applications outside the admissions round or to applications from neighbouring authorities.

It has always been our intention that academies should have regard to the advice of local admissions forums. The amendment simply makes that position clear and unmistakable. It is important to understand that this is not an impediment to the success of the academies programme. In fact, the academies programme is proving extremely popular with sponsors, LEAs and local communities. In all cases, all parties have agreed that the academy should be a member of the admissions forum and should have regard to its advice.

We have recently awarded development funding to a further five partnerships of LEAs and sponsors working to establish academies to serve their areas. Those new partnerships are in Bradford, Leeds, Liverpool, Northampton and Sandwell. Letters have been sent to the hon. Members for the constituencies concerned.

I draw attention, by way of example, to one of those projects, not because it is more important than others, but because it illustrates an important point. The Sandwell academy is the second to be sponsored by the Mercers Company and Thomas Telford online, joining the existing project in Walsall; so one of the CTCs is sponsoring not one, but two academies. Those sponsors understand and accept entirely that academies are different from CTCs. They are perfectly happy with the position. Sir Kevin Satchwell, head of Thomas Telford school, is the project manager for the new academies sponsored by the Mercers and by Thomas Telford. He has said that he is happy for the academies to be part of the admissions forum. Thus there are CTCs that wish to take advantage of the provisions in the Bill to convert into an academy.