(1) Before a school makes an application for an Academy order or an Academy arrangement with an additional school the relevant local authority must be asked to assess the impact of Academy status on-
(a) admissions in the local authority area where the school is situated;
(b) funding between all publicly funded schools in the local authority area where the school is situated; and
(c) social cohesion in the local authority area where the school is situated.
(2) The impact assessment in subsection (1) should be made with regard to any existing policies the local authority or local schools forum have in relation to (a), (b) and (c).
(3) Before making an Academy order or an Academy arrangement with an additional school the Secretary of State must have regard to the impact assessment in subsection (1) made by the local authority.'.- (Mr Iain Wright.)
Brought up .
Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.
The House divided: Ayes 223, Noes 315.
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We have had an interesting week of debates on the Bill, and I thank all hon. Members who took part, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) and for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe), who made their maiden speeches during these debates. I should also like to thank the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend Sarah Teather, for her help, and the right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench for their careful and thorough scrutiny of the Bill.
I thank officials in the Department for the long hours that they have spent on the Bill during its passage through the other place and this House, and for their support of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We should also thank the Chairs of the Committee, Mr Evans, Mr Caton, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and Ms Primarolo, whom my hon. Friend Mr Hancock lovingly referred to as "Miss P". I am grateful to my noble Friend Lord Hill, who skilfully steered the Bill through the other place just days after being appointed a Minister, and to my hon. Friends and noble Friends who have improved the Bill and the model funding agreement in both the other place and this House.
Throughout the process we have been keen to listen to concerns, particularly, though not exclusively, those of our partners in the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition. Amendments in the other place have given children with special educational needs greater rights to admission to academies than existed in previous academies legislation, and new requirements for funding for low-incidence special needs have been added. New duties to consult have been included in clauses 5 and 10, and the Secretary of State will now be obliged by statute to take into account the impact on other schools of any new school established under the Bill. That is now in clause 9.
My noble Friends have added greater parliamentary accountability through an annual report to Parliament, which will also enable us to analyse issues of concern to my hon. Friend Dan Rogerson, such as the viability of primary schools that opt for academy status. He made a compelling case for increasing the number of parent governors, so as I mentioned earlier, the model funding agreement will be changed to increase the number from one to two. Opposition Members have successfully ensured that the funding agreement includes a requirement for looked-after children to have a designated member of staff.
My understanding is that they will be elected, but if I am proved wrong I will write to my hon. Friend.
After 22 hours in Committee and nine hours on Report in the other place between
"grants greater autonomy to individual schools...gives more freedom to teachers and...injects a new level of dynamism into a programme that has been proven to raise standards for all children and for the disadvantaged most of all."-[ Hansard, 19 July 2010; Vol. 514, c. 24.]
I shall start by saying what the Bill is not about. It is not about a "full-scale assault" on comprehensive education-a ludicrous claim by the shadow Secretary of State in The Guardian on Saturday. We believe in comprehensive education and are committed to it, and the Bill will strengthen it. Nor is it about scrapping the admissions code, another spurious claim about the Government's education policies by the shadow Secretary of State. We are committed to fair admissions through the code, and all academies will be bound by it through the model funding agreement.
Nor is this Bill about the creation of a two-tier education system. Two tiers are what we have today-the best performing state schools and the worst. The independent sector, which educates just 8% of children, is responsible for 44% of all A* grades in GCSE French. It educates just 10% of 16-18 year olds, but is responsible for 35% of all A grades in A-level physics.
The Bill offers all schools the opportunity to acquire the kind of professional freedoms that have proved so successful not only in the independent sector, but in the city technology colleges and in academies. After 20 years of independence, CTCs are among the most successful schools in the country. On average, in those schools, 82% achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths. In those academies that have been open long enough to have had GCSE results in 2008 and 2009, a third have GCSE results that improved by 15 percentage points compared with their predecessor schools.
There have been 1,958 expressions of interest from schools in all parts of the country. Of those 1,071 are from schools graded outstanding by Ofsted. Many of the heads and governing bodies of those schools are hungry for the freedoms in the academies legislation that the previous Administration introduced. They are in a hurry to have them by September and, for those schools that are ready and able, so are we.
We are in a hurry because we do not think that it is right that 40% of 11-year-olds leave primary school still struggling with reading, writing and maths. It is not acceptable that nearly three quarters of pupils eligible for free school meals fail to get five or more GCSEs or equivalents at grades A* to C, including English and maths, or that 42% of those eligible for free school meals fail to achieve a single GCSE above grade D.
I know that there are some concerns among hon. Members of all parties about the future role of local authorities if all schools become academies. However, I should point out that there are 203 academies out of 3,300 secondary schools and some 17,000 primary schools. It will be many years, if at all, before all those schools acquire academy status. The Bill is permissive, not prescriptive or mandatory. We see a new and stronger role for local authorities emerging over the years as champions of parents and pupils, challenging rather than defending underperforming schools. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has established a ministerial advisory group to take that forward and written to all education authorities seeking views.
The Bill is the first step in the coalition's ambitious plans to raise standards in all our schools. We want parents not to have to worry about the quality of education that their children will receive at their local school. We want behaviour in all schools to be as good as in the best. That is why we are clarifying and strengthening teachers' powers and abolishing the statutory requirement for 24 hours' notice for detentions. We want a teaching profession with renewed morale and confidence, no longer struggling under the yoke of monthly Government initiatives and ever-demanding bureaucratic requirements.
The Bill is about trusting the professionalism of teachers and head teachers. It is about innovation and excellence, about giving parents a genuine choice and children the opportunity for a better future. It is a short Bill, but its impact will be long lasting. I commend it to the House.
It is customary to commence a Third Reading debate with congratulations to hon. Members of all parties on the excellence of their speeches; to departmental officials and external advisers on the cogency of their briefing, and to you, Mr Speaker and your Deputies on your conduct of the proceedings. Tonight must be no different. Therefore, on behalf of the shadow Education Ministers and all Labour Members, I commend all those who have taken part in the debates, with a special mention to my hon. Friends the Members for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) and for North West Durham (Pat Glass) for their contributions, as well as-the list is only partial, from the speeches that I have heard-the hon. Members for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), for St Ives (Andrew George), for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), for Portsmouth South (Mr Hancock) and for Bradford East (Mr Ward).
However, normally those tributes are paid after weeks of post-Second Reading scrutiny-after many days of Committee deliberations and hours of scrutiny on Report. Those weeks of debate in Parliament are important because, although consensus may not be reached on every point, everyone can feel that they have raised issues, aired concerns and had their say. Not so with this Bill. In the opinion of my hon. Friends and I, and many outside experts, the flawed and rushed provisions in the Bill risk ripping apart the community-based comprehensive education system that we have built in this country over decades. We fear that the Bill will make things worse for our schools, our children's futures and the cohesion of our communities, yet it has been railroaded through from Second Reading to Third Reading in just seven days, with just three days in Committee, and following unprecedentedly constricted debates in the other place.
There has been no time for proper debate or scrutiny, no Report, and no amendments have been allowed, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have had no opportunity to correct some of the Bill's worst excesses. Three weeks ago, we had the unedifying sight of the Secretary of State having to apologise twice to the House because of his rushed and discourteous handling of his school buildings cancellation. It is a pity that he has not learned that rushing through unfair or ill-thought through policies does him no credit.
As I said on Second Reading just seven days ago, the Secretary of State was clearly fearful of what proper parliamentary scrutiny would throw up about the Bill. As Dr Pugh said earlier from the Government Benches, "We have the spectacle of Ministers who have already told us that they will accept no amendment, period, and the sight of Whips new and old cracking their knuckles off-stage and perfecting basilisk-like stares in the mirror."[Hon. Members: "What?"] I have no clue what that means, but it sounds very bad to me. If the hon. Gentleman were in the Chamber, I would be happy for him to intervene to tell us. He is a Liberal Democrat, so clearly, among those on the Government Benches, not only the Chair of the Select Committee on Education is deeply critical the handling of the Bill.
The Opposition are very proud of the biggest school-building programme since the Victorian era, of the best generation of teachers we have ever had in our country, and of the hard work of children, parents and teachers. That has delivered the biggest increase in standards for many years. We have gone from fewer than half of schools not reaching the basic standard to just one in 12 over the past 10 years. It is our firm view that the Bill will create an unfair, two-tier education system, and gross unfairness in funding. Standards will not rise but fall, and fairness and social cohesion will be undermined.
The most important issue is standards, not structures, and the Bill is all about structural change that cuts out consultation for teachers, governors, parents and communities, and that undermines the ability of people to ensure that their local area has a proper spread of schools. The fact is that the Bill is a complete free market free-for-all. That is why I am critical of it.
There have been some words of reassurance and promises of reviews to come, but none of any substance. The explanatory notes to the Bill state:
"The Secretary of State expects that a significant number of Academies will open in September 2010", but we now know-we heard it this afternoon-that such are the rushed provisions of the Bill and the lack of substance to those expressions of interest, no academies at all will open this September. We are rushing this through purely to have orders agreed by next September. This is just an attempt to bounce the coalition partners into agreeing before they wake up to exactly what is going on.
I shall explain that in more detail. What has become abundantly clear in the short time that we have had to debate this Bill is that, by dropping any pretence at consultation and clearing away the role of the local authority entirely, the Secretary of State has made it possible, through this legislation, to divert billions of pounds from existing school building, the Building Schools for the Future programme, into the creation of new, additional school places through the setting up of new, free market schools, even when there are already too many school places, creating a chaotic free market.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that it is standards, not structures that are important, so I find it hard to believe his new obsession with the BSF programme, which he never had the money for in the first place. But he did not answer my first question: why is he running scared of allowing teachers to set up schools? Why is he running free-I mean scared-of giving teachers that freedom?
I am not running free, or even scared. I support new schools where we need new schools, but I have been to the Brunel academy and seen the huge boost to the aspirations of the children in that part of Bristol from the first ever BSF programme. I also went to Knowsley last year and opened a new BSF school. I asked two year 9 pupils what they thought of the school. They said that they never thought that anybody would think that they were sufficiently important to have a school like that built for them. That boost to aspiration, hope and expectation has been taken away from 700 schools and from 700,000 children all around the country, and that is why I am critical of this Bill and that decision. This is paving legislation for the new free market schools.
I wish to remind the House of the amendments that have been rejected by the Government in the few hours that we have had to debate this Bill because of the no amendment rule-
The only similarity between our policy on academies and the new policy on academies is that the Secretary of State has pinched the word "academy" and attached it to the new schools he wishes to establish. Our academies were set up in the most disadvantaged areas, not the most affluent areas. They were set up with the agreement of local authorities rather than to avoid any role for local authorities. They taught the core parts of the national curriculum, including sex and relationship education, rather than opting out entirely from the curriculum. They had an obligation not just on looked-after children, but to co-operate to stop competitive exclusions in an area, and that has been entirely removed by this Bill. There was a requirement for our academies to have a sponsor, and that has been removed. We had a requirement for proper consultation with the community, also removed. Our academies programme was about tackling disadvantage. The new policy is about encouraging elitism and enabling the affluent to do better. That is why it is so deeply unfair.
The fact is that our academies were disproportionately set up in disadvantaged communities. They disproportionately took in more children on free school meals than the catchment area required, and they achieved faster-rising results than the average. That was social justice in action; what we are seeing with this Bill is the opposite. The freedoms and the extra resources in the Bill are going to outstanding schools, not schools that need extra help. They are going to schools that have more children from more affluent areas, fewer children with free school meals, and fewer children with special needs and disabilities, even though they will get pro rata funding. That is not social justice being put into action; it is social injustice. That is why the Bill is deeply offensive to people on the Opposition Benches and, I think, probably to many on the Government Benches as well.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the facts over the past decade, he will see that of the 20 local authorities that had the biggest increase in results, half were in the poorest 10% of boroughs in the country, all of which were in London. The London Challenge programme and our academies focused on tackling disadvantage. Of course there is a long legacy of social division and inequality in our education system. We were addressing it; the Government are going to re-entrench it. That is the difference.
It would have been better if the Secretary of State had contributed to this debate, given that it was so truncated. The only thing that I will say, Mr Speaker, is that in 1931, Ramsay MacDonald cut public spending to try to get us out of a recession. That caused a depression, and I am afraid that he ended up going into a coalition with the Conservatives. In that debate the Liberal Democrats opposed the cuts that were being made; unfortunately, this time they are propping up the coalition. However, I did not raise the issue of Ramsay MacDonald, Mr Speaker, so I will move on.
Let me look at the amendments tabled that have been rejected. First-
Order. Let me gently say to the shadow Secretary of State-this is a point often not fully comprehended on either side of the House-that contributions to Third Reading debates have to be on the remaining content of the Bill, and must not focus on matters that have been excluded from it. But I know that the right hon. Gentleman will reorient his remarks readily.
In that case, Mr Speaker, I will make no reference to the fact that a requirement that the admissions code should attach to such schools was excluded from the Bill, nor will I refer to the fact that parental consultation could have been strengthened, but that that was ignored.
Let me come to the substance of the Bill as we find it. The thing that worries me most is this-
The right hon. Gentleman makes his jokes, but as Secretary of State he is, in my view, presiding over the most profoundly unfair piece of social engineering in this generation, and in the end he will be ashamed of what he has done this evening and over these past few days. That is my strong view. The contemptuous way in which he has treated the House of Commons in recent weeks is a matter of great shame to him as well.
In any case, the Liberal Democrats appear to have completely forgotten their manifesto, which declared that
"we will ensure a level playing field for admissions and funding and replace Academies with our own model of 'Sponsor-Managed Schools'. These schools will be commissioned by and accountable to local authorities and not Whitehall".
However, the Bill entirely removes any role for local authorities. We are told now by the Schools Minister that there will be a new ministerial advisory group. However, the fact is that cutting out the role of the local authority will mean that there will be no check on the pressures for free market schools to lead us not just to massive unfairness, but to what we fear will be much greater social segregation in the coming weeks, months and years. I fear a new education social apartheid arising from this Bill.
I am very fearful, and that is why I say to Government Members that this Bill is the greatest threat to our state education system in 60 years. It is a Bill of great significance, but it has been rushed through in a way that is an abuse of Parliament. As I said a moment ago, I think that the Secretary of State should be ashamed of himself. This evening we challenge the coalition, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats alike, to put a halt to this deeply ideological, free market experiment before it is too late, and to vote against the Third Reading of the Bill.
I spoke in the Second Reading debate and sat through most of the Committee stage because one of the main issues in my constituency is standards in schools, particularly secondary schools. The former Secretary of State, Ed Balls, approved a number of academies in the London borough of Croydon, often in schools with a deprived pupil cohort that were in affluent areas. That catchment could change over time as the schools improve. He was right to do that, but the question that I want to ask Labour Members is why they want to limit to underperforming schools the improvements that the academy programme has delivered. Why should not good, satisfactory or outstanding schools also seek to improve? In my borough, one third of parents who choose to send their children to a state primary school do not go on to send them to a state secondary school in Croydon. They look to selective schools outside the borough and to schools in the independent sector. I would have thought that Opposition Members wanted improvements in schools right across the board in my borough, to give parents the confidence to send their children to local schools.
In Croydon, we had the Harris city technology college. It was one of the original CTCs, and it is now the Harris academy Crystal Palace. More than 500 parents wanted to send their children there this year-more than twice as many as any other school in our borough. We also have schools such as the Coloma convent school, Archbishop Tenison's high school and Wolsey infants school. These are outstanding schools that want to take up the opportunities that the Bill offers.
The shadow Secretary of State spoke of the importance of spreading opportunity in disadvantaged areas. Wolsey infants school is in the middle of the town of New Addington in my constituency-one of the most deprived parts of London. It is an outstanding school that is doing a fantastic job for pupils from a deprived background, and it wants to take on the additional freedoms that academy status will offer. Why do Opposition Members want to deny that school that opportunity?
Beyond those outstanding schools, we have Shirley high school and St Mary's junior and high schools. They are good or satisfactory schools that have also expressed an interest in taking on the opportunities that academy status offers. Why should they be denied that opportunity? Why should it be reserved solely for a certain class of school?
We also have to accept that there are local authorities that are not as progressive as my own, and that do not take action to deal with underperforming schools. Indeed, the shadow Secretary of State took a great deal of action when he was Secretary of State to push councils into taking that kind of action. The Bill will give freedom to parents who have been told, year after year, that there is no place for their child in the schools that they want them to go to. It will give them the opportunity to find a place for their child in a satisfactory school. Local authorities should be doing that already, and those that are taking the right action and driving up standards have absolutely nothing to fear from this legislation, but it will give an option to parents who have not been given that opportunity, year after year.
I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak in the debate, so I shall draw my remarks to a close. I welcome the debate that we had in Committee, and I paid tribute earlier to Vernon Coaker for his contribution. I disagree with him about primary schools, and with his point about surplus places being a bar to academies being set up. He was right, however, to raise the issue of special educational needs. We have had a long and detailed debate, which has added something to the Bill. I shall be grateful to see the Bill pass into law because it will drive up opportunities for pupils right across my constituency.
I was interested to hear the contribution of Gavin Barwell. He spoke eloquently of the freedoms that will be presented to the schools in his constituency, but he markedly failed to give details of what those freedoms would be, as indeed has the Bill. One of the freedoms is said to relate to expansion. We all have schools in our constituencies that are oversubscribed. However, the capacity for expansion, which would enable parents in my constituency to send their children to schools with very high standards, was completely sabotaged by the Secretary of State cancelling the Building Schools for the Future programme, so capacity is still an issue.
I was interested to hear the Minister of State, Department for Education, Mr Gibb, making a direct comparison between comprehensive state education and the independent sector. I was having a conversation with a parent only this weekend, and she told me that, in the school that her children attend, there are only 18 children in every class. If the Government are so committed to raising standards in the state sector so that they meet and pass those of the independent sector, why are they not spending their time and energy putting the necessary funding into the state system so that those class sizes could become the norm rather than the exception?
The central issue is that the Bill has nothing to do with freedom for all our people; it has to do with exclusion, not inclusion. The failure to consult on these proposals across a wide range of people in the community will mean that more and more children, certainly in my constituency, will be excluded from the best that already exists. The best that already exists is from a system that was funded by my Government, and that acknowledged the need for wide consultation across the community, with services presented to all schools from a local authority, which is essential to those standards. The proposal of the Minister and the Government, however, will sabotage those standards. As I had occasion to say on Second Reading, and as I have continued to say, we will not only see standards go down in our state sector as result of the Bill, but we shall see centrally, and most reprehensibly, serious social division, of which he and every member of his collaborationist Government should be ashamed.
I extend my thanks to all hon. Members who participated in the debate, to the Minister, who has done his best to listen and take on board the issues raised, and to the hon. Members for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for-famously-Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who have led ably for the Opposition.
I am delighted to say that the Bill is better than when it started out. Clearly, in another place it was altered to reflect some of the concerns generated there and outside. During the Committee stage in this place, we have heard, on the record, that there are no extra sources of funding for the academies above and beyond the money that will go to the local authority for them; that the role of the Young People's Learning Agency with regard to monitoring will be clarified; and that there will be wide consultation, the intent of which will be explained, which is helpful. The Minister has also generously pointed out that the role of parent governors will be strengthened.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is disappointing that the Minister was not able to say whether parent governors would be elected or appointed? The other issue is that existing comprehensive schools can have as many as eight elected parent governors, whereas under the Bill the number is only two.
My hon. Friend has made his point to the Minister and the House as is his wont.
The progress that occurred in the other place on the impact statement has been crucial. Tonight's discussions about community cohesion have also been important. Jon Trickett, who is no longer in his place, made some useful points on that, and I was delighted to hear the Minister's reassurance.
It is nice to see the shadow Secretary of State for Education in his place. He was not here for most of the debate-someone was, because they wrote his speech for him. As a comprehensive-educated boy, I can point out to him that a basilisk is a mythological reptile that can freeze someone with its breath or stare. That point aside, it is clear that he has not listened to the debates too closely. For some of us who do not have the widening of the number of academies at the top of our political agenda, the explanation of the Government's thinking has reassured us about a Bill that, with some welcome safeguards, allows that in places that are keen for it to happen.
I was not planning to speak on Third Reading, but I want to respond to a couple of points made by the shadow Secretary of State, particularly relating to Labour Members' concerns about special educational needs and inclusion. We should always use temperate language, and although debate on the Bill has been interesting and measured on both sides of the House, the extreme language used-we heard some recently from Glenda Jackson-about social division, apartheid and exclusion has been incredibly unfortunate. As the Bill has progressed, we have received assurances from Ministers about the content of funding agreements with regard to social inclusion and SEN. It is incorrect to suggest that only Labour Members are interested in those issues. Many Members have raised concerns and received assurances from Ministers.
The Bill has been improved in another place, and welcome assurances have been received from Ministers. Ultimately, we should accept that parents will be given a choice, and it is for parents and governors to take the Bill forward and make what they can of it. The suggestion that schools will, in some way, do something bad for their community is a nonsense.