Academies Bill [HL] — Report (1st Day)

– in the House of Lords at 3:11 pm on 6th July 2010.

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Votes in this debate

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Phillips of Sudbury

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, at end insert-

"( ) In considering an application by any person to enter into any Academy arrangements, the Secretary of State shall inter alia take into account the potential impact on schools which may be affected."

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am supported in my amendment by my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. This amendment, although different in terminology, covers much the same ground as what was the Amendment 4 that I moved in Committee. I do not propose to rehearse in detail the arguments that I then advanced in favour of that amendment. Suffice it to say that the nub of this amendment is to ensure that before any academy is converted from a maintained school or created completely afresh, the Secretary of State shall take a strategic view of the need for such an academy and, in particular, shall be required to consider its potential impact on other schools -plainly those in the vicinity. It is commonplace to observe that a brand new academy will have to draw its pupils from somewhere. The amendment will require the Secretary of State, in considering whether to grant a request for a school, to consider how that could impact on other good schools in the vicinity. Therefore, the amendment is bang in line with an oft repeated objective of the coalition. In the words of my right honourable friend Michael Gove, we have the most segregated education system of almost any sophisticated democratic country and we need to raise up those who go to schools in underprivileged circumstances. I pay tribute to the previous Labour Government, who strove manfully to do just that, by the creation of the first wave of academy schools.

That is the purpose of the amendment. Not to have such a vital consideration plainly and simply in the Bill would be wrong. I take into account what my noble friend Lord Hill said in Committee, namely that it was his and the Government's view that even without an amendment of this kind they would be under a duty to consider the impact of new academies on neighbouring schools. However, it is a good rule for legislators not to leave principle measures out of a Bill, not least because many of those who in future have to make the Bill work, such as headmasters, governors and local education authorities, will not have access to expert education lawyers who can pick up some of the implications that my noble friend Lord Hill rightly said were in the undergrowth of the Bill. This measure is designed to make plain what is implied.

Finally, I have drafted the amendment to make it clear that it is not the only consideration to be taken into account by the Secretary of State in considering an application for an academy school-it is one inter alia. The prospects to which the amendment relates are important, and there will be a significant number of situations where the amendment will allow sensible, long-term strategic planning of our secondary school system and of our primary school system-but particularly of our secondary school system. I hope that it will commend itself to the House and to the Minister. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support my noble friend, because this is a crucial amendment that would greatly strengthen the Bill if it were to go through. This is not only because a local authority has a profound responsibility in arranging for the provision of adequate education for every child in its area, but for another reason that is very close to all of us at present: namely, the financial issues facing the Department for Education and many other departments. It is to those issues that I will address a few remarks.

It is worth pointing out-I looked up the figures recently-that in primary education there are 4,000,237 places, with 482,930 surplus places unused and unfilled at present which cost the Government a good deal of money. In secondary education, the figures are slightly, but not a great deal, better. There is a surplus in secondary education of 307,712 places, which is 9 per cent of the total. In the case of primary schools, 11 per cent of all places are empty. That puts a heavy burden on those, whether they are local authorities or churches, who are responsible for running the schools. Therefore, it becomes all the more important that, in creating a new school, whether it is a converted academy or a new school altogether, careful consideration is given to the impact on the number of places already being supplied.

An academy can do one of two things: it can add to the number of schools that already exist or it can replace those that are taken out. As many noble Lords know very well-I certainly do-it is not easy to close schools. There is usually a great deal of passionate commitment to them, especially primary schools, and the procedure for church schools can be long involving dioceses, parents and others in agreeing to such a provision being made. On the coolest statistics of all-the effect of financing education by having a large number of surplus places that are then added to-it is crucial that such an amendment is accepted.

From 1999 to 2003 the birth rate in Britain fell-not hugely, but by about 40,000. Those children who are just at the age when they go to school will be entering schools with already surplus places, which will increase because of the drop in the birth rate. That change in the birth rate goes back to a modest increase in 2003-04, which means that that group of children will not be reaching school until next year. For all those reasons, therefore, I strongly urge the Government to give due consideration to my noble friend's amendment. I hope that they will consider it and feel inclined to accept it on grounds of cohesion, the satisfaction of people involved in schools and because of the fundamental financial difficulties.

Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour

My Lords, I support the amendment and the comments of the two previous speakers. It is an important amendment in the context of yesterday's announcement on Building Schools for the Future. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments, given that Building Schools for the Future began in those areas of greatest educational need. By definition, those are the same areas where parental dissatisfaction is likely to be highest and where parents are most likely to want to start their own free school academies. That raises the scenario of brand new, state-of-the-art, beautifully designed schools effectively having to close down because parents send their children somewhere else and the schools end up being white elephants. That would be a scandalous misuse of resources. I shall be interested in the Minister's comments and hope that he will support his noble friend's amendment.

Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop

My Lords, I also support the amendment for two reasons. First, building on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, we are anxious that church schools should be part of a network of choice to those for whom a faith school or an alternative could be their choice. That demands a degree of planning and the amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State took account of a range of possibilities when considering the provision of schools in an area. Secondly, one of our concerns about the Bill in general is the removal of the local authority interest in ensuring a degree of overview or strategic planning. The amendment at least goes some way towards mitigating the consequences of that omission.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support the amendment, although I did not get round to adding my name to it, for which I apologise to my noble friend. The amendment is one of the best that we see on Report because it evolved from an amendment-I think Amendment 4-that my noble friend tabled in Committee. The Minister pointed out that, if my noble friend's initial amendment were carried, no academy could be formed if there was to be any effect on any school in the local area, whether good or bad. My noble friend's amendment has evolved to enable the Secretary of State to take into account whether any good local schools will be adversely affected by the creation of a new academy.

My noble friend's amendment is particularly important given that government Amendment 30, which is about consultation, refers only to existing schools converting into academies and not to brand-new schools. When a brand-new school is introduced, the local community will have to rely on the common sense of the Secretary of State to make sure that that school does not take all the pupils from other perfectly good schools in the locality.

My noble friend's amendment comes out of his experience in Suffolk, which I think he mentioned in Committee. I, too, have been approached by one of my honourable friends in another place, Mr Don Foster, the Member of Parliament for Bath. He has had similar problems with an academy that was created under the Labour Government and is having an effect on very good schools locally. Of course, we must not underestimate the effect of the view that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. A new school, which seems to offer something novel, especially if it has a shiny new building, could well take pupils from other schools that really do not deserve to lose them. The amendment would give the Secretary of State the discretion that he requires, in the Bill, so that we can all be reassured that he will take these matters into consideration when looking at an application.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Yardley Baroness Morris of Yardley Labour

My Lords, I support the amendment. The point has been well made by noble Lords on both sides of the House that there needs to be an element of planning. I suppose that it is for the Minister to make a decision about whether his Government spend money on surplus places or on building schools for the future. It is interesting that one day there is no money for the Building Schools for the Future programme and the very next day, from the same department, there is money to fund surplus places. Surplus places cost money and do not contribute to standards.

I want to raise a slightly different point, which I do not think has been mentioned so far. I should like an assurance that the Minister understands the impact of a new school on another school that might already be doing a good job of raising standards. I start from the premise that it is not only academies that will raise standards; many good schools that do not have academy status are already on the journey of turning round underperformance. They are in a fragile state but are improving-going from failing and underperforming to being successful does not happen overnight. During that important period, when they have good leadership and are changing their reputation within the community, and when parents are understandably nervous but are restoring their confidence in those improving schools, they need a bit of protection. I worry that if an academy opens with a blaze of glory, with new money from the Building Schools for the Future programme, as was indicated yesterday, that will undermine the progress that the school makes.

I am not in the business of defending failing schools-I have done my share of closing failing schools and replacing them with either maintained community schools or, indeed, academies. However, I am in the business of trying to support and nurture schools that have put in a lot of effort and are now improving. Quite honestly, if surplus places are built into a local system, it will not be the schools that are already strong and successful that are damaged but those that have already had a lot of state intervention and support and are on the journey to becoming good schools. I should like to hear the Minister's comments on that aspect of the amendment. It is an excellent amendment and I look forward to supporting it.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, I, too, am sympathetic to the amendment. It is particularly important to emphasise the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about the number of places in schools that are already free. Quite apart from the complications that exist with new free schools entering into academy status, I should like to hear from the Minister whether the powers that he already has will allow him exactly the same right to make a decision, and whether having that in the Bill will make any difference whatever, given that presumably he will retain the right to make a decision based on whatever evidence may be brought to him that such a school will have a bad effect on other schools.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. Most of the issues have already been raised and I certainly agree with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and my noble friend about surplus places. Later, many of us will be speaking to amendments relating to the role of local authorities. We do not know what the Government's attitude to those amendments will be. The role of local authorities ensures that the key role of schools in their local community is properly considered. At the moment, that role is not present in the Bill, because local authorities are excluded from it. If local authorities in their current role continue to be excluded, the importance of this amendment grows. Someone has to take a strategic approach to legislation. Despite what the Government may say, one cannot just have schools springing up all over the place, not just because of the issue of surplus places but because of the key role of schools in the community. If the Government continue to insist that the Bill should apply to primary schools, it is even more important that someone should have an overview of the impact on schools.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates Conservative 3:30 pm, 6th July 2010

My Lords, I understand why the amendment has been tabled and in many ways find the argument that has been put forward persuasive. I wonder whether the reason why it is necessary in the first place is that it is proposed that catchment areas will be too narrowly drawn. If catchment areas for new schools are too narrowly drawn, they will clearly have a disproportionate effect on neighbouring schools. Would not therefore an answer, along with the amendment proposed by my noble friend, be to broaden out the catchment area of schools to cover, perhaps, a local education authority area or even two local education authority areas? There is a precedent for that. When my noble friend Lord Baker introduced the Education Reform Bill in 1987, which allowed for city technology colleges, the Government overcame the problem of too great an impact on one, two or three schools by broadening the catchment area to cover two local education authority areas. In that way, the impact on neighbouring schools was diminished a little.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, as I said in Committee when we discussed this last time, establishing new schools is, I know, what exercises my noble friends and, I think, noble Lords across the House, in particular, the new free schools, to which the noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred. I take this opportunity to welcome the noble Lord formally to this House. I hope that I made it clear in Committee that it is very much the Government's view that the implications for other schools in an area should be considered. The amendment moved by my noble friend brings us back to that debate.

I start by thanking my noble friends Lord Phillips and Lady Williams, and other noble friends, for the time that they have spent with me on this issue. I think that it is fair to say that they accept the reassurances that I have given that the Secretary of State would certainly consider any representations from those affected by academy proposals and that he would want to support only proposals for new schools that lead to an overall improvement in provision. As I have argued to my noble friend Lord Phillips, the general requirements on the Secretary of State to act reasonably will, in our view, provide sufficient protection. That is the answer to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. We think that the protection is there.

However, I certainly accept that my noble friends Lord Phillips and Lady Williams, and other noble Lords, have made the case to me for some further reassurance in the Bill with a great deal of tenacity and great courtesy. I have listened to those concerns and, having listened to this debate today, decided to act on them. I am able to say to my noble friends Lord Phillips and Lady Williams, that I accept the purpose of their amendment in principle. I suggest that my noble friends and I talk further and return to the issue at Third Reading. I hope that that is agreeable to my noble friends and, in the mean time, I ask them to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hill and am more than happy to leave the matter today on the basis that he suggests. I look forward to an amendment coming forward at the final stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2

Moved by Baroness Sharp of Guildford

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 8, at beginning insert "Subject to section 4(4) for a former maintained school,"

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I shall speak also to Amendments 12A, 19, 19A and 28A. The purpose of this group of amendments is to probe a little further the proposed financial arrangements in the setting up of academies. Amendment 2 has unfortunately been placed on the wrong line. It should have been on line 7 and would, therefore, have amended Clause 1(2)(b) to read:

"Subject to section 4(4) for a former maintained school, arrangements for Academy financial assistance".

We are talking about the financial assistance route as distinct from the agreement route for former maintained schools. This amendment is linked with Amendment 28A, which puts the amendment in its proper place and becomes subsection (4) of Clause 4. It requires that where the Secretary of State makes a grant of financial assistance under Section 14 of the Education Act 2002,

"he must ... secure the agreement of the governing body to the terms of the financial assistance", before the school can go ahead and convert into an academy.

The purpose of these two amendments is to ensure that all those responsible for the school are fully aware of the terms under which financial assistance is given. When we discussed this issue with the Minister in Committee, he made it clear that for existing schools, as distinct from new schools, the financial assistance route would be the exception rather than the norm. The financial agreement route requires the full co-operation of the governing board, which is kept informed all the time because it is party to the agreement. With the financial assistance route, Section 14 of the 2002 Act gives the Secretary of State considerable powers to decide unilaterally how much finance to give and to set the terms under which that finance is given. This amendment ensures that the governing board is aware of the terms that are being asked for by the Secretary of State before the terms of the grant are agreed. We think it only right that, just as with academy agreements, where the governing board is kept fully informed, when a school goes down the financial assistance route-the grant route-the school's governing board should be kept in the picture and be informed about what is happening.

Amendments 19, 19A and 20 relate to numbers and needs. They elucidate the terms of financial agreements and financial assistance. The Minister made it clear that that part of the school's budget that is retained by the local authority-funding for special educational needs and transport-will remain with the local authority. This is often the larger part of the moneys kept by local authorities. The remainder goes on such things as payroll and property management and general support services. However, included among general support services are important services; for example, educational psychologists and language and behaviour specialists. They provide valuable support, especially to smaller primary schools, particularly where special educational needs funding comes from the school for school action and school action plus. If the resources that are left are distributed evenly between schools on a per capita basis according to the number of pupils, schools with a disproportionate number of pupils with learning difficulties of one sort of another and pupils with other disabilities will receive less funding than they do under the present arrangements.

There are worries in two directions. First, will academies with a disproportionate number of pupils, as well as the remaining maintained schools, receive enough funding in these situations? Secondly, many of the schools that are outstanding and are therefore being fast-tracked to academy status are often located in better-off areas and have a relatively low number of children from disadvantaged homes. Dividing local authority funds on a straight per-pupil basis would give them rather more funds than they have traditionally received and would leave a lesser amount in the kitty to be shared out among the SEN services of other schools.

The key amendment in the group is Amendment 20, which stipulates that the funding should follow needs, not numbers. It also raises five additional questions to which I would like the Minister to respond. Will the Young People's Learning Agency, which is to distribute funds to the academies, distribute the dedicated schools grant in the way that the local authority would have distributed it to each school, or will it have a separate funding arrangement? How accurate is the ready reckoner on the DfE website? Does the money proposed for the removal from local authority expenditure replicate the costs of services that schools will lose from their local authority? What will be the effect on those local authority services, including services outside children's services, if a significant proportion of schools become academies? Lastly, the pupil premium is not discussed in this Bill. We presume that it will come up in the next Bill, but will the Minister elucidate?

Finally, Amendment 12A is different and arguably should not have been in this group, but I will speak to it now. It is fairly straightforward and brings us back to an issue that we raised in Committee: monitoring the characteristics of an academy as listed in Clause 1(6). In Committee, we asked who was going to monitor how far academies actually adhered to the commitment that they had made to retain those characteristics. The Minister assured the House that the Young People's Learning Agency would be responsible for monitoring academies' activities. We have some reservations about this. The Young People's Learning Agency is very new; it got off the ground only in April. It will be responsible for distributing money to these new academies, but it is understood that it is to be a very lean agency and will not have large numbers of people. Will it have the capacity or the capabilities to monitor the characteristics of an academy? Would it not be better, as we have suggested, for some independent agency, possibly the schools adjudicator or someone like that, to act as monitor on such an occasion and to keep an eye on whether the academies are living up to their promises? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, to the best of my knowledge, the amendment proposed is on page 1, line 8.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support my noble friend's remarks. The Minister will, I hope, recall that I asked him in a private meeting last week about the ready reckoner on the department's website. I pointed out that our colleagues in York told us that if several schools in York applied to become academies, they would get more money than the whole of York local authority for the same services. Has the Minister and his officials had the opportunity to check the ready reckoner? When local authorities find themselves in situations like this, some of them will be left thinking that they will not just be left with no money, but that they will be left with a negative amount. I am sure that the Minister does not intend that. Therefore, I wonder if he can explain.

Photo of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Crossbench 3:45 pm, 6th July 2010

My Lords, I wish particularly to support Amendment 20 in this group, the direction of which seems to be just and fair for future academies and for schools choosing to remain under the direction of local authorities. Any clarification that the Minister can give us would be very helpful.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I support the thrust of these amendments, which are about the concern that, under the new pattern of arrangements, funding for essential services to schools will be depleted. This morning, at a meeting on child protection, the head teacher of a large secondary school in north London said that he would like to have a social work team attached to his school because it would make the world of difference. But he cannot get access to that resource. I have heard of other schools with similar resources, which they find extremely beneficial. It would simply take the strain off teachers who could pass that responsibility to social workers who have the relevant expertise and know-how to connect with the necessary services for the child. I hope that in this process we do not lose the push towards proper partnership with all the services which are working to improve the protection and safeguarding of children.

At the same meeting, the director for quality management of Ofsted said that his research at Ofsted indicated that a very important factor in improving the protection of children is seeing that there is a close partnership between schools, social care and all the services, including health, in the area. It is not just about tackling the problem when children are clearly in need. It is about ensuring that the mainstream services are thoroughly connected together and are all working in partnership to promote the welfare of children.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, this has been a short, interesting debate. I too support the amendments moved by the noble Baroness. In relation to funding, three issues have been raised today and in our previous discussions. First, there is a need for much greater clarity about how these financial arrangements will work. Secondly, there is the question of equity between schools. Thirdly, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, suggested, there is a question of whether there will be sufficient resources for the kind of special services that some schools will require.

On clarity, very shortly before our debate today, I received the model funding agreement, as I am sure did other noble Lords. While it is always welcome to receive the funding agreement, in the short time available we have not been able to study it carefully. It therefore would not be amiss to have an opportunity to come back at Third Reading after we have had time consider it more fully. It is helpful to us in these debates.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, will be aware of paragraph 17 of the model funding agreement, which relates to pupils. It starts with the statement:

"The Academy will be an all ability inclusive school".

Which of these provisions would apply to those grammar schools which select their pupils and choose to become an academy? To what extent does this model funding agreement apply to those schools? In terms of equity, it is very important that we know the answer.

My second point as regards equity goes back to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. We have been told:

"Funding of academies will be broadly comparable with that of maintained schools, taking into account their additional responsibilities. While converting to academy status will give schools additional freedoms, those who opt to stay within local authority control will not be financially disadvantaged".

That is a welcome statement of intent. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has pointed out, there is some concern within educational circles that this may not prove to be the outcome following publication of the ready reckoner and the technical note. I am not going to bore the House by going into the details of the ready reckoner, but it is a point that the noble Lord may wish to come back to.

In Committee we discussed the different approach of the seven-year arrangement with schools, and those are the arrangements that are likely to apply to free schools. The noble Lord said then that there would need to be, in a sense, a get-out clause if for one reason or another it was shown that a free school was perhaps not able to handle the funding arrangements or there were problems which meant that the Secretary of State would not want to get himself into a long-term commitment. I understand that, but it identifies a problem with the whole process of approving free schools by this route. It suggests that the Government are not confident that they will have a rigorous process in place, and that is why they are unwilling to agree to the seven-year commitment. For that reason, I strongly support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness.

Finally, I come back to the whole question of clarity. I believe that we need further clarity because these financial arrangements are complex and it is important that all schools feel that the system is fair and equitable. Further, I would remind the noble Lord of the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Adonis that there is a case for having some kind of independent process of assessment and reporting on the overall scheme for funding academies. I know that the noble Lord has put forward his proposal for how that is to be done, but my noble friend's suggestion of an organisation like the National Audit Office, one that stands well outside the educational establishment, would command greater confidence. Overall, however, this debate has shown that much more remains to be discussed in relation to the financial consequences of this legislation, and I for one hope that the noble Baroness might press her amendment today.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I start by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and other noble Lords that I am sorry that the model funding agreement did not get to them any earlier. I know that there is a lot to take on board and that it is a long document. On his particular point about paragraph 17, the model will need some changes to reflect the particular circumstances of individual schools, which I hope answers his question.

Like the noble Lord, I am grateful to my noble friends for raising the issue of grant funding and for giving me the opportunity, I hope, to reassure them and the rest of the House as far as I am able. On Amendments 2, 19 and 19A, as we discussed at an earlier stage and to which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just referred, the rationale for allowing the Secretary of State to fund via a grant in what is likely to be a small number of cases is to provide more flexibility, and as we have also discussed, we envisage a grant being used particularly in response to proposals for a free school where by definition there is no track record. We think that this flexibility makes more sense than committing to seven years at the beginning, but I want to emphasise that we expect this to be a minority of cases.

Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour

Perusing the model funding agreement, I have one question on the specific issue of the general academies grant. Clause 50 talks about the amount of grant that would be available in the first year of conversion, and that the money would be on the same basis as that used by the local authority for determining the budget share of the predecessor maintained school. In the case of an academy free school where there is no predecessor, how would the funding for the first year be calculated so that people who are interested in setting up these interesting new schools can have some certainty?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I accept entirely the need for giving certainty to people who are setting up new schools. This process has just started and the question will be worked through with the first group of schools that have expressed an interest. It is a good point to which we will need to return when we have done that work.

On the point my noble friends have raised with me, particularly in relation to Amendment 28A, I stress that any academy funded via a grant will be subject to exactly the same requirements as those which apply to the funding agreement: there will be the same safeguards on admissions, exclusions and special educational needs, about which I know not only my noble friends but others on all sides of the House are concerned. These safeguards will apply equally to the majority of academies, which will be funded by the funding agreement, and to the minority, which may turn out to be funded by grant. The safeguards will be set out in the grant letter just as they are set out in the funding agreement. I can confirm that the governing body and the academy trust would be aware of the terms of the grant before finalising the academy arrangements. I hope that provides reassurance to my noble friends and your Lordships generally and I am happy to place it on the record.

Amendment 20, to which a number of noble Lords have spoken, would require academy funding to be based on the needs of pupils as well as on their numbers. I agree with my noble friends and others who have spoken that the needs of pupils as well as the numbers of pupils must be taken into account. The primary driver of academy funding will be the numbers on the roll because that is the best way to begin to measure the total amount of teaching and other resource that is likely to be required in a school. However, the local authority funding formula which is used to fund an academy also contains factors which measure special educational need and the level of deprivation among pupils. Some do this directly-for example, by measuring prior attainment-others use proxy indicators such as free school meals. The sixth-form formula used for academies and maintained schools also contains a measure for deprivation. In no case is an academy funded simply on the basis of its pupil numbers.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Knight, we intend developing a simple funding model for free schools based mainly on a per pupil amount. However, of course-I think this point was raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley; she will forgive me if it was not her-the pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils, on which we will bring forward proposals in the autumn, will also be in operation and so needs will be recognised.

On Amendment 12A and the establishment of an independent monitoring system, as we discussed in Committee, the Bill requires that the academy arrangements will oblige the academy proprietor to comply with these characteristics when establishing and running an academy. The Secretary of State ensures at the outset-

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Labour

I am still not sure about the answer to my noble friend's question. In layman's terms, if the money for a new free school is to come from the money that is available to a local authority to fund all its schools, what happens to the other schools?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 4:00 pm, 6th July 2010

We discussed this point in connection with the free schools announcement, which was raised in the first group of amendments. It also relates to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Phillips and the desire of people to have some reassurance that the effect to which the noble Baroness refers will be taken into account by the Secretary of State. One of the purposes of the free school measures is to ensure that a new school which proves attractive to parents is able to take funds from a failing school to which parents do not want to send their children. The purpose of the reform is to introduce competition of that kind into the system.

Continuing compliance with the characteristics and all aspects of the funding agreement is monitored by the Young People's Learning Agency. The Secretary of State has intervention and, ultimately, termination powers that can be used if an academy is not complying with the fundamental characteristics. I say in response to the question asked by my noble friend Lady Sharp that the YPLA has the capacity and capability to do that, but we shall certainly keep it under review.

My noble friend Lady Walmsley asked about the ready reckoner, picked up on also by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I understand that there have been issues with the ready reckoner. I shall write to my noble friend about the situation in York.

If anyone has concerns that an academy is not complying with its statutory characteristics or the terms of its academy arrangements, these can be brought to the attention of the YLPA or the Secretary of State, who will look into them and take such action as is appropriate.

I hope that I have provided some reassurance to the House generally and to my noble friends in particular on these matters relating to the funding arrangements. In the light of that, I ask them not to press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I am glad that the governing boards will be kept informed about the financial assistance grants.

On needs versus numbers, I am still a little uncertain. If a free school is to be set up, it will have projections of how many pupils it will take but will not necessarily know how many it is going to enrol. How will the Government set its grant in the first place? Is the first year of grant taken from local authority funding when they do not know how the school is going to do?

Will the Minister copy to me the letter that he writes about the York ready reckoner? I am a little unhappy about that, because it seems to set expectations unduly high for a quite a lot of schools. The bulk of money kept back by local authorities goes to meet special educational needs and transport. When that is deducted, the sum likely to be distributed will not be very great. The ready reckoner is leading a number of schools to have quite inflated ideas as to how much they might receive. If the Minister is unable to respond to any of these issues now, perhaps he could write to me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees

Before calling Amendment 3, I must advise your Lordships that if it is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment 4 due to pre-emption.

Amendment 3

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

3: Clause 1, page 1, line 17, leave out "an independent" and insert "a secondary"

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I shall speak also to my Amendments 5 and 7. Primary schools are always a matter of particular interest and certainly were to your Lordships when we discussed them in Committee. A number of concerns were expressed on this side and other sides of the House about the potential rapid conversion of hundreds of primary schools to academy status. I make it clear that my raising these matters is not born out of any objection to allowing the freedoms being granted to existing academies to be extended to primary schools; more, they come from some very practical considerations, stemming often from their relative size and community location of those schools.

In Committee, my noble friend Lady Royall raised a number of important points about the implications of the Bill for primary schools. She referred to their comparatively small size of many primary schools and to their potentially increased overheads. She said that the resources for shared services could be swallowed up by the extra administrative costs that would have to be borne one way or another. My noble friend also warned that many primary schools would have less capacity to budget and plan for the future. Other noble Lords also made those points in our debate.

Today's earlier discussion on the financial arrangements and the uncertainties there are at the moment reinforce that point. Thinking of primary schools and of the limited managerial capacity that one often finds in those schools, one can only worry at the burden that is likely to be placed on the head teacher and the governing body, and the responsibility that is likely to be put on them.

My understanding from local authorities is that the most dependent group of schools that rely on their advice and support are primary schools. The vast majority of their schools are community schools. They will not have had even the experience of being foundation schools in managing the enormous range of responsibilities that would come with academy status. There is a real issue of capacity here. We know that most secondary schools employ a range of staff to deal with the increased administrative requirements placed on them. Often, in many primary schools, there is only one school secretary and the head teacher. One also has to think in terms of public finance and the appropriate monitoring and spending of those moneys

There are also some real practical issues. What would happen, for instance, if a primary school developed a serious structural fault or there were fires on school premises? The normal first port of call for primary schools at the moment is the local authority, which would step in. My understanding is that once a school becomes an academy, Department for Education advice states that it would expect schools facing such problems to take out loans. But could some of the smaller primary schools really be able to take that risk and afford the repayments, even if they could get a loan in the first place?

We know that most primary schools depend on the local authority to pick up the cost of redundancies, employment tribunals and legal costs associated with challenges over accidents and similar incidents. Would smaller primary schools even be able to find the cost of insurance to cover this, when the department's own website states that for most schools the cost of insuring would be "between £60,000 and £100,000"? Add to that the cost of purchasing legal and personal advice commercially.

There is another concern about the immediate conversion of primary schools to academy status. A great deal of work has been done over the years in managing the process of transition from an early years setting to the first year of primary school. I hope that the review of the early years foundation stage announced by the Government will not reverse that very good work. But the reality is that the overlapping responsibilities between early years settings and the children's trusts-the abolition of which would cause concern on this side of the House-raises concerns about the number of childcare and early years settings sited with primary schools which, if they then move to academy status, could have major consequences. The problem is that we have so far seen little evidence that any serious thought has been given to those consequences.

I know that the Minister is being extremely helpful in our debate, but I was disappointed with his response. He acknowledged the importance of the matters that have been raised and said that he understood some of the concerns. He said that he was committed to thinking through the practicalities raised by noble Lords in Committee. But in the end, he gave no comfort to those of us who think that the practicalities ought to be dealt with first before primary schools become academies.

Our Amendments 3, 5 and 7 seek to remove primary-only schools from the Bill entirely. This is done for reasons of practicality. Of course, if the Government are determined to find a way in which to make the academy programme applicable to primary schools, why do they not do some preparatory work, look at the issues and return with proposals at a later date? They have undertaken to bring at least one other education Bill during this Session of Parliament. Surely, that would give them time to prepare some fully worked-through proposals.

I know that the other amendments in this group seek variously to delay the introduction of primary academies, which would obviously give the sector and the noble Lord's department time to work through some of those issues. We would certainly support those amendments, should our own amendments not succeed.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord meant to refer to Amendments 3, 4 and 7, because I now speak to Amendment 5, which is in my name.

We on these Benches do not favour a complete ban on primary schools. However, as the Minister knows, we have considerable concerns as we feel that the issue of primary schools should be approached with considerable caution and careful thought. I leave my noble friend Lady Williams to speak to Amendments 22A and 24, which set out our ideas, briefly referred to just now. Amendment 5 paves the way for one of those measures, which is to allow schools to apply as groups. Clause 1(5) says:

"The undertakings are ... to establish and maintain an independent school in England which ... has characteristics that include those in subsection (6)", and so on. My amendment would change that to say that,

"the undertakings are ... to establish and maintain an independent school or group of schools in England".

It is a very small amendment, but it paves the way to the idea that my noble friend Lady Williams will address in a moment that we should perhaps encourage primary schools to apply as a group or federation rather than a single school.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, as the Minister knows, we have given careful thought to the whole issue of primary schools, and I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, had to say about it, with which I very much agree. Primary schools have about them a number of characteristics that are simply nothing like as typical of secondary schools. Many of them are relatively small schools in rural areas, and 25 per cent of the population of primary school children in England and Wales attend 75 per cent of the number of schools. In other words, there are a great many very small schools in small towns in rural areas, which no less than 25 per cent of all our schoolchildren attend between the primary school ages. Secondly, of this group of schools no less than one-third are either church voluntary or church-controlled schools, mainly Anglican but some Roman Catholic and others of other denominations. That is a factor about primary schools that is far more significant than would be the case with secondary schools.

Furthermore, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, implied-and we have tried to indicate on this side of the House that we share his view-primary schools are often at the heart of the community, the centre of civic life and the place where people meet to discuss things, where they feel themselves drawn to support the school. At a time when schools will need more support-among other ways, financially-that is a very crucial asset that should not be easily put at risk. I suspect that many noble Lords other than myself spend a certain amount of time attending school fetes and competitions and this and that, which all help to contribute some money to the financial needs of the school.

In addition, as briefly said by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, primary schools are peculiarly dependent on local authority support, whether for SEN, management issues, financial issues or simply to deal with a very difficult governor or parent. As chairman of the judges of the Teaching Awards, which I declare as an interest, I have repeatedly been approached by primary school heads who talk about the support of their local authority and say how important it has been to them. That is not something that I have tried to elicit from them; it is something that they freely mention themselves, over and again. That is even truer if the school is small, isolated or on its own.

My noble friend Lady Walmsley has pointed to what some of the solutions may be in future for over 17,000 primary schools. One possible solution is to group them together. Geographically that may be almost impossible in some areas, such as the Pennines or Northumberland, but in other areas it is conceivable to bring together a group of schools, possibly under a single head, to form one grouping that can offer rather wider choices to children than one could on its own. In some cases a federation of schools, which might be associated with a single good secondary school or academy, could be brought together and be a very important unit to be considered on its own.

All these developments have occurred a little, but development has frankly not gone very far. That is one reason why I believe that in this area it is crucial to have more time than the Bill gives us. The Minister will know that I have tried to argue this point to him-successfully, I hope.

My amendment has two parts to it. The first part is that there should be no move at the moment by schools with under 500 children to put forward a suggestion that they should become academies. The figure of 500 broadly takes in most primary schools but not all; some are bigger or are linked to secondary schools.

The second part is that there should be a two-year delay before consideration is given to accepting any primary schools for academy status. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, three months, with the summer holidays intervening, is not going to be long enough except for a tiny handful of schools. The issues here are extremely difficult. In many cases there are more authorities than simply the local authority, including the whole diocesan and church authority structure for the one-third of schools in the controlled and aided status group, which I have already referred to. My amendment therefore proposes that there should be a two-year hiatus, not least because we could learn a great deal from what happens to secondary schools in terms of how one achieves and what the problems of academy status are. As someone who deeply believes in the idea of trial periods and pilot schemes, I think that might be the best possible answer to this difficult situation.

Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop 4:15 pm, 6th July 2010

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has kindly referred to the percentage of Church of England primary schools-over one-third. I declare an interest as chair of the Church of England's board of education, which has oversight of our care for those schools.

I support this amendment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I do not do so because I oppose in principle the possibility of primary schools becoming academies. We can see circumstances in which that may well be appropriate. Rather, it is about ensuring that we do not rush to do something quickly at the expense of doing something well.

There is potential here for real improvement to the Bill if further thought is given to some of the detail that has emerged. I pay tribute to the Minister and the Secretary of State for their willingness to engage with us in a detailed way about some of the implications that in certain cases were foreseen but in other cases have emerged as the conversations have developed. All that seems to point to saying, "If it is possible for there to be a little longer to go on having those conversations to arrive at something even better than what the Government have in mind, then surely that must be as much in the Government's interest as it is in the interests of those for whom the Bill is being promoted".

In the dioceses, it is our diocesan directors of education who have an immediate care for the church schools-in the diocese of Lincoln we have 150 primary schools-and they met yesterday. They were very encouraged by this amendment having been tabled. Again, this is not because they are opposed in principle-the point is that they are not entirely sure what they might be asked to promote or oppose when it comes to advising the schools for which they have a care-but because they want to know more, they want to be clear and they want to know that the details have been sorted. Then they will be in a position to provide such support, encouragement and advocacy as may be appropriate to take forward this legislation.

What is there that is lost here? Very little time in the overall scheme of things. What is gained? Perhaps a great deal that could prove to be, in the long run, in the best interests of our children and even our children's children. If that is the case, we as a revising Chamber will have done our job, which is to have enabled a little more time to be taken, so that something which might well have been done quickly will be done more slowly, but will be done well.

Photo of Baroness Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative

My Lords, I almost feel that I should declare an interest. As the daughter of a primary school head, I feel my mother's ire rising in my bones, particularly when the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned the lack of managerial capacity in primary schools. That may well be true in some small primary schools. However, not only are there are many which have extremely intelligent, competent and well educated heads and deputy heads in charge, but even a small primary school has a governing body. Exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, 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. The right reverend Prelate mentioned the primary schools in his own diocese. I have had two meetings in the past two weeks with church primary schools, both of which are very keen to become academies quickly. I also met their chairmen of governors, who were very competent and in both cases well able to cope with the business affairs that would be involved in running an academy. We should not underestimate the importance of governors in this whole pattern.

The right reverend Prelate's final point about the one-third of primary schools that are church schools seems important. They have a diocesan board of education; they are a natural federation to start with. At one of the meetings that I referred to, the diocesan director of education was present. She outlined the various ways in which she could support schools in the diocese that become academies. There will be a natural leadership in the diocese, coming from the diocesan board, which in many cases replicates the sort of support-perhaps not financially, but in other ways-which a local authority has previously given to schools.

Finally, in urging that we write delay into the Bill, it seems that we totally forget that any application to become an academy goes to the Secretary of State and his civil servants. He has the power to delay an application, to turn it down entirely or to tell somebody to come back. If a primary school with 23 pupils says that it would like to be an academy, I imagine that the department would perhaps say, "No, unless you come back in a federation with five or six other schools and proper arrangements in place". The Secretary of State is a wise and intelligent person, with wise and intelligent civil servants, who will make sure that approval is given only to those primary schools-as to all schools-which can convince him and his civil servants that they are able, in all sorts of ways, to take on the responsibilities of becoming an academy. It is already in the Bill that the Secretary of State will be in charge of that approval. We do not need to write in delay. The Secretary of State has the power to enforce delay on those that are not fit.

I do not think that these amendments are necessary. There are already many ways in which the safeguards that we all seek for the primary school academies are built into the structure.

Photo of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Crossbench

My Lords, two important points weigh with me in considering these amendments. The first is the principle of whether primary schools should have a place as academies in the future. I assent to that: I think that they should have the option of becoming academies. The second is the practical point of whether all primary schools are capable of operating under such a system. The answer is clearly no. I made that point at Second Reading. Then the question is-this was put by my noble friend Lady Perry-whether we deny that opportunity now through legislation or look seriously at the fact that there is a double lock on this door. The first lock is whether the head teacher and governing body are prepared to apply for such status. If they apply mistakenly, because they have 23 pupils, perhaps the judgment will be made against them. The second lock is that of the Secretary of State giving assent. We should stress to Secretaries of State-some of them are exceptionally good, although I shall not name names-that they are taking responsibility for this and will be judged on the decisions that they make on primary schools. As has been pointed out around the House, some primary schools may well be in difficulty. The Secretary of State will be judged on the decisions that are made but we should not rule out having this option in legislation.

Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour

My Lords, I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt in respect of primary schools becoming academies. We wrestled with this question in the three years that I was Schools Minister in the old Department for Children, Schools and Families. In discussions on this issue with my noble friend Lord Adonis, it was necessary to go back to first principles about why we were having academies in the first place.

Many people think that the secret of academies lies simply in their freedoms from the constraints of the national curriculum, teachers' pay and conditions and other matters. Freedoms are a part of it, but it is a question of how they are used. It is important to have the leadership capacity, supported by strong governors, to deploy those freedoms effectively to improve children's education. Academies also offer opportunities for innovation. However, I do not believe that 23,000 independent schools-that is the implication of primary schools becoming academies-are sustainable on the ground of the capacity for consistently strong leadership.

England has some of the greatest state schools in the world but we also have some weak schools. Our problem is variability, not the overall standard. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that we have some wonderful leaders in our primary schools and some great governing bodies, but I say with the greatest respect to her that we also have some slightly less good leaders and less good governing bodies. We have to be cautious about how we design a system that is dependent on them all being excellent. I advocate-I did so as a Minister-that we pursue primaries becoming academies as part of all-through academies. I greatly encouraged all-through academies when I was a Minister and we are starting to see more of them spring up.

I am not completely against the notion that there might be circumstances where groups of primaries could become academies, but that needs further consideration. I was interested in the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in respect of Amendment 5, but my caution about groups of academies in some ways relates to what the right reverend Prelate said about the religious foundation of schools. The obvious form of a group of primaries would be on a geographical basis, but then you start to lose choice and diversity. My experience of dealing with various diocesan boards is that they are very nervous about joint governance of academies-for example, between the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church. In the communities that I represented in Dorset, we could not get boards to agree to single primary schools entering such arrangements because of the importance of their being able to preserve the tenets of their faith and wanting to represent that in the school. Parents also value that choice and diversity in being able to send their children to a school with the sort of foundations that they value.

There is a great example of an all-through school in Portland in Dorset. Will the Minister in passing look into whether or not the announcements today around funding would have an effect on the academy development there, which will be the most fabulous example of all-through education, bringing together a series of primaries and a secondary? For the first time on the island, the academy will be able to offer education beyond 16 to 18, with a wonderful sponsor.

There may also be groups of primaries that are chains of schools. If we explicitly want to design chains of primaries into our school system, we need to be a lot clearer on exactly what we are talking about, how they would work, who the potential sponsors would be, their ethos and so on. There may also be some merit in forming groups of schools that include special schools. I have reservations about the attitude of the Government on inclusion. You may be able to have the merits of special schools, but in an inclusive environment, through a group of primary schools.

Fundamental issues around primary academies relating to economies of scale have been explored. Mention has been made that integration with wider children's services is important in primaries. That can be lost if schools are independent from local authorities. I noted with interest that in the other place the right honourable Iain Duncan Smith is very interested in early intervention, as is Graham Allen and, indeed, as we were in government. Early intervention becomes more difficult with independence from the local authority. Has the Minister held any discussions with his colleagues in government who are interested in that area?

In summary, I agree with the right reverend Prelate: do not hurry this. There is no need to rush to primary academies. The offer has been made by my noble friend Lord Hunt to come back with future legislation that we know is in the stocks and to make the case then, having made progress with secondary school academies. Therefore, I say yes to all-throughs but, for now, no to isolated independent primary academies.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Yardley Baroness Morris of Yardley Labour 4:30 pm, 6th July 2010

I support the amendments and wish to raise two questions. I agree with all the comments about the difficulty of primary schools becoming academies and I shall not repeat them. However, I am a bit concerned about two suggested ways forward.

One is the notion of schools grouping together, which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, talked about. I am absolutely an enthusiastic advocate of federations and clusters. They are at the heart of school improvement. However, I worry about the Government seizing on that as a way of managing the capacity of primary schools to become academies, as that would be the wrong reason to create a cluster or a federation. There are a lot of reasons for schools getting together to form a federation, which should be about what is best for school standards and for local provision of education. If schools get together to form a federation or a cluster merely to apply for academy status, that would be the wrong reason and I fear that the federation would not do a good job.

Another concern is that the academy will have a legal contract. It will, if you like, be a legal entity in terms of the academy agreement. If in three, five or 10 years' time the academy sees the possibility of a better partnership that is in the interests of the children in the community, it might be more difficult to form a new set of relationships with the school. Therefore, I have some worries-not about federations but about the wish to become an academy being the purpose that brings the schools together.

I am also concerned about the second lock which the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, mentioned. I am a bit of a doubter on this, because nothing that the Secretary of State has said so far leads me to believe for one second that he is likely to exercise that amount of discretion and say to a primary school, "You are not ready for it yet". All that I have heard from the Government is that they are enthusiastically campaigning for as many schools as possible to become academies. If the Government become interested in that second lock, the Secretary of State would need to publish a list of criteria against which he will make the decision and to say under which conditions he would accept an application from primary schools to become an academy. Can the Minister say whether that is likely?

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I understand the Government's desire to push this flagship policy forward as fast as possible to keep their momentum after a successful election. However, when one is making a revolution-this might be momentous in the culture of education-it cannot hurt and must be helpful, where there is an opportunity to delay for some months until another Bill arrives, to talk more with head teachers.

My concern all the time is that perhaps there has not been sufficient strategic thinking about what the impact of this change will be on every child. I do not doubt that many primary and secondary schools will welcome and want this. My concern is that we may be moving towards a three-tier system of public schools, academy schools and the rest, with many of our children in the poorest areas experiencing a poorer quality of teaching when they need as good teaching as-or even better than-those in more wealthy areas. That may not happen-I may be quite wrong and I hope that I am-but the more time that we give to thinking this through carefully, the more chance there is that I will be wrong.

I talked to a head teacher today who said how frustrated he was with the current system. Certainly things have to change, but I emphasise that the Minister has only recently taken up his Front-Bench post. I am sure that the Secretary of State has put a lot of time into consulting teachers, but it cannot hurt for there to be more time for the Minister to talk with head teachers and to think through what could be the consequences for all our children of these changes. I support the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, it has been an extremely interesting debate and all sides have contributed a lot to one's thinking. I am sympathetic to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. Perhaps I should declare my interest as president of the NGA, because I think that the vast majority of governing bodies are responsible organisations that represent local areas considerably.

I agree that there are two points. Should primary schools be part of the scheme? Yes, I think that they should be. Are they so different that we have to wait for the next Bill to come through? I rather doubt that. We could begin the process now. The Secretary of State has considerable powers already and bodies such as diocesan boards are clearly strong partners.

Bearing in mind the issue of special educational needs, which is important to us all, I would like to know whether SEN pupils will be disadvantaged if we go down this route because they will not have the same backing from the local authority to provide the extra resource support that they are getting. That is my test. We could certainly begin with experiments now. I hope that the Minister can convince us that he will take a view on all these things before he gives the appropriate timescale for schools to apply to become academies.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, I very much follow the line that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, has taken. Assuming that some primary schools would eminently qualify-I rather thought that the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, said that there were some-I cannot see why it is right to delay the power to deal with them while you wait to see if others should join them. One has to remember that this is for primary schools and the time spent in primary school is comparatively short. We would deprive children who might well benefit from the system for a considerable portion of their primary school life. While delay is attractive from some points of view, it would damage those who are qualified now to obtain the benefit.

I believe that it is right for the Secretary of State to have discretion to receive these applications and to refuse those that he considers to be unsuitable or to delay them. I have no reason to doubt that he will exercise that discretion wisely. Apart from anything else, as the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said, the Secretary of State will be judged and, if the schools are failures, that will come home to roost. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness is aware of that problem.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments made in this interesting debate. There have been three broad sets of comments. Clearly, some are not at all keen in principle that primary schools should become academies. Some on the Cross Benches who have spoken eloquently have said that primary schools should be given the chance to become academies, that there is no reason in principle why they should not and that there are safeguards to provide some reassurance. There is a third group, including some of my noble friends, who agree in principle that academy status for primary schools is good and that they should not be excluded but given the opportunity. But they want reassurance on the timing and the pace. I hope that I can provide that.

I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the particular sensitivity of primary schools and the special part that they play in local communities. The local primary school is very much part of the village where I live and I know that that is true throughout the country. On a general point, in the first instance we are talking about only a relatively modest number of outstanding primary schools. By definition, any that do not fall into that category will involve a longer process of establishing the criteria to enable us to work these things through. 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.

Our starting point is that we are keen that schools should determine whether academy status is right for them but I accept that in some-perhaps many-primary schools, it may not be the right decision for them. They may not have the right experience or feel comfortable, in which case they will not want to make the change. Even though there may be many schools for which it is not suitable, that does not mean that those that want to become academies and believe that it is a viable option for which they have the appetite should be prevented from doing so. That links to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, about the double lock in that category. To respond to the question asked directly by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, it is only outstanding primary schools that will be able to convert quickly. Others will have to meet criteria that we will publish. The question of capacity will include leadership issues.

I certainly accept the case made, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Small primary schools might be more dependent on their local authorities than other schools, in which case academy status might well not be right for them at this stage or, indeed, later. They will not be under any pressure to convert. That, again, picks up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. She is shaking her head at me but I cannot do more than state what I have said in this House and what the Secretary of State has said. We are not hell-bent on a plan to force every primary school in the country to convert. I and, more to the point, the Secretary of State have said consistently that the whole purpose of the Bill is to be permissive and not coercive. Having a plan to force them all to convert would be utterly against the spirit and purpose of this legislation.

One difficulty with Amendment 3 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is that it would prevent all-through schools becoming academies. Of course, there are already many successful all-through academies-23, I think-and it would be wrong to prevent all-through schools which want to convert from doing so simply because they offer primary as well as secondary education.

I certainly agree that federation or partnership arrangements can make sense for primary schools-a point made in relation to an amendment tabled by my noble friends and picked up on by the noble Lord, Lord Knight. I think that the Government would encourage that type of arrangement, as well as any sensible proposals for all-through academies. Under the Bill, federations of maintained schools could apply for academy status in the same way as all other schools, and any federation wishing to convert would simply need to submit a single application. If approved, those schools would be able to continue to work together as an academy federation. We are keen to preserve the excellent work done in federated schools-we know that they work well. A number of academy trusts run groups of academies, such as that established by my noble friend Lord Harris. Therefore, we think that that is worth considering, although we do not believe that it would need to be referred to explicitly in the Bill, as the existing legislation allows for it.

I agree that shared or co-located services, such as children's centres, raise a sensitive and important point. We would work through the issues with all relevant partners to ensure that services were maintained without interruption. It would obviously mean that the process of conversion would take longer but it is important to do it right.

Overall, I recognise the points that have been raised, in particular by my noble friends but more generally in this House, including by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, and I shall try to offer this reassurance. First, as I have already said, 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. The third point concerns an issue that we are due to come back to later on Report but I hope that, as it is relevant to this part of the debate, noble Lords will forgive me if I touch on it now. I accept the force of the argument made by my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Greaves that there needs to be some kind of annual reporting process to Parliament on the progress of academies policy. We will be debating that tomorrow but I think that that is the direction in which we should be moving. A consideration of the impact of academies policy on primary schools is precisely the kind of issue that would be picked up in that report. That will, I hope, alongside the other reassurances-the double lock to which the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, referred-provide some comfort to my noble friend Lady Williams and others, who have argued the case for this approach with great clarity.

Therefore, I recognise the points that have been made by my noble friend and by other noble Lords about primaries and their place in our national life, and we have reflected on them. I hope that my answer provides some reassurance and that, in the light of that, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 4:45 pm, 6th July 2010

My Lords, can the Minister give the reassurance that I was hoping for? In the consideration of an application, I hope that the special educational needs side will be borne very strongly in mind, not least because early diagnosis of problems is very important for the future development of that group.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am happy to give that reassurance, but also to make the point that, as the noble Baroness, will know, because of other amendments which I have moved on SEN, with the support of this House we will include in the Bill a commitment that there should be absolute parity in all academies on SEN comparable to that in all maintained schools.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, this has been a very good debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for trying to take over her amendment, Amendment 5. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, put it right at the start of our debate when she talked about the role of primary schools being at the heart of many local communities. All noble Lords agree with that. That means that we should be especially careful about legislation which could have an impact on those schools. That is why noble Lords want to be assured that there will be a rigorous scrutiny process enabling us to understand whether schools are ready to take on the responsibilities which academy status will bring.

The point which has not been responded to fully is that all evidence suggests that primary schools depend the most on local education authorities. That is why we are concerned not about the principle of academy status for primary schools but about capacity. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, did not take my remarks as meaning to criticise the capacity of leadership in primary schools; I did not seek to do so. The managerial structure within most primary schools is fairly limited. That is not about the capacity of the people, it is simply about the number of people. She will know that they do not have the managerial structures that many secondary schools have. I agree with her-many governing bodies are indeed excellent-but they still need to reflect on the corporate responsibility that they would be taking on if they went down the path of academy status. We should not underestimate those additional responsibilities.

It has been said in our debate that there are two locks. The first lock is that the Secretary of State himself will have to approve any application. We are reassured that there will be a rigorous process in so doing. I make two points about that. First, the message coming from the Secretary of State is that he is anxious to secure as many academy schools as possible. That is why I question the rigour of the process. Secondly, I come back to the point that I raised in Committee. I know that the Minister has now tabled an amendment about consultation, but the fact is that, none the less, the Bill gives the Secretary of State a huge amount of power without parliamentary scrutiny. That is why I am very worried, particularly in relation to primary schools, about just letting the Bill go through.

The second point, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, concerns the second lock, which is that of the governing body. Of course, governing bodies will be able to decide whether or not to take an application forward, but in our previous debate, we discussed the many financial uncertainties that are readily apparent in the academy programme at the moment. I question whether governing bodies, especially of primary schools, are really in a position to make those decisions on the basis of the information that they have at the moment.

My noble friend Lord Knight spoke about the potential of all-through academies. My amendments are not intended to remove all-through schools from the legislation. Third reading is always an opportunity to tidy up legislation, but I want to make it clear that the amendments do not seek to remove all-through academies from the Bill.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, I am at heart concerned about the pace. We are going too fast, particularly in relation to primary schools. I understand the point the Minister makes about holding back; he made it in Committee. It is one approach, but I think it would be much better to get the policy sorted and to understand where the support for primary schools will come from. Primary schools will need support. The Minister happily has another Bill coming to your Lordships House in a matter of months. Surely we should leave primary schools aside until that point to give his department some months to sort this out. Then I am sure we would look with confidence to agreeing to legislation that would embrace primary schools.

Having heard the Minister, I feel that this is a matter on which we should test the opinion of the House.

Division on Amendment 3

Contents 154; Not-Contents 239.

Amendment 3 disagreed.

Division number 1 Academies Bill [HL] — Report (1st Day)

Aye: 153 Members of the House of Lords

No: 237 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Amendments 4 to 5A not moved.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees 5:11 pm, 6th July 2010

I call the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, to move Amendment 6.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

I am sorry, but I thought that we would now move on to the next business.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

I am sure that the Government will help us, but I think we are now stopping our discussions on this Bill.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, perhaps I may assist my noble friend. As a result of being a Teller for the Division, I was caught in the wrong position on the other side of the House. I apologise for that. There is an agreement that we would spend two hours or so on the Bill. I understand that it is for the convenience of both Front Benches if we halt Report at this stage in order to resume tomorrow. I hope that that assists my noble friend. The House will now go on to the next business, the Statement, which I understand is ready to be taken. We will then move on to the other business. Again, I apologise for taking some time. It was to make sure that we had people in position.

Consideration on Report adjourned.