Academies Bill [HL] — Report (2nd Day)

– in the House of Lords at 4:02 pm on 7 July 2010.

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Votes in this debate

Clause 1 : Academy arrangements

Amendment 6

Moved by Baroness Walmsley

6: Clause 1, page 1, line 21, at end insert-

"( ) to comply with the law on pupil exclusions and behaviour partnerships as set out in EA 2002, EIA 2006 and ASCLA 2009"

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 4:24, 7 July 2010

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 48 and 50 in my name. Amendment 6 asks for academies to comply with the law as laid down in the Education Act 2002, the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. I know that it sounds a bit silly to ask schools to comply with the law, but there is a reason for tabling this amendment. The current law on exclusions and behaviour partnerships is found in these three Acts. Some related legislation is to be found elsewhere: attendance and short-stay schools in the Education Act 1996, parenting orders in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, et cetera.

Of late, academies have been included in legislation as it applies to maintained schools. My intention in tabling the amendments is to ask the Minister to make a clear statement about what does and does not apply to academies, and what will be included in the model funding agreement. I regret that I have not had time to scrutinise all of the 41 pages of the document sent to me yesterday just before our sitting.

Amendments 48 and 50 seek to include the new academies in the two areas of the law relating to exclusions and behaviour which do not currently include academies. Amendment 48 seeks to amend Section 52 of the Education Act 2002 and would include academies in the law on pupil exclusions. Section 52 enables a head teacher to exclude a pupil on disciplinary grounds for a fixed term or permanently. However, the majority of the section is taken up with providing for arrangements to appeal against exclusions.

The model funding agreement sent to us yesterday contains in annexe D a clear statement that parental appeals against exclusion from an academy are not to be treated in the same way as appeals against maintained school exclusions. This runs counter to my Amendment 48, which was tabled before I had seen the model funding agreement. For an academy, annexe D states:

"Any appeal panel will be impartial, constituted in accordance with the Secretary of State's guidance and any decision of such a panel will be binding on the academy trust".

The Secretary of State's guidance has not yet been published so we do not know whether or not it is acceptable. The published guidance, School Discipline and Pupil-behaviour Policies: Guidance for Schools, dated April 2010, is clear: it states that it does not apply to academies.

There are issues of equality and human rights compliance here. Removing a place at a school is clearly a human rights issue as a person,

"shall not be denied education".

If academy appeal rights are just about following guidance-or not, as the case may be-how does the state know whether an academy's appeal arrangements are Human Rights Act-compliant? Who will check up on it?

The footnote states that parents can seek a judicial review of both the procedure and the outcome of any appeal arrangement. However, judicial review is not a parent-friendly form of redress. Most parents would run a mile from it, even if they understood what it meant; I probably would myself. At least a maintained school has access to the local government ombudsman on grounds of maladministration, although not necessarily on all aspects of the appeal, but the parents of a child at an academy will not have that. We need the issue clarified.

Amendment 50 seeks to add academies to the Education and Inspections Act 2006, and requires the governing bodies of academies to have a disciplinary policy and the head teacher to have a behaviour policy. All these matters arise from Sir Alan Steer's review of behaviour and discipline and have been generally welcomed by schools.

On 28 June this year, in Hansardat col. 1573, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, referred to the provision in the ASCL Act 2009 when she was trying to make excuses for the high number of exclusions from the original academies under Labour. I do not agree with her that we need to accept that academies, by definition, will have a greater number of exclusions than other schools. I know many schools in difficult circumstances that have difficult pupils, but they see it as their duty to deal with these problems within the school. It is a matter of good leadership and marshalling all the resources to hand, including the voluntary sector on occasions.

However, the noble Baroness reminded us that all schools, including academies, will have to work in partnership on behaviour and attendance from 1 September this year unless the law is changed. There is a statutory requirement to this effect in Section 248 of the ASCL Act 2009 which is due to commence on that date. The section requires co-operation by all secondary schools, including academies, to promote good behaviour and discipline on the part of pupils, reduce persistent absence and report to the local children's trust board once every 12-month period. We welcomed that move by the Labour Government when the legislation came through the House.

My amendments ask the Minister whether there is any intention to change the law to exclude academies from these measures and which of the current laws-in particular, the appeal arrangements in Section 52 of the Education Act 2002-will apply. I ask also about the rumour that legislation or guidance will be introduced to allow schools to exclude a child without the usual minimum of 24 hours' notice to the parents. I am not sure where this came from, but it would be impossible for a working single parent to respond to this. In the interests of the safety of the child and the sanity of the single parent, for whom life is hard enough, I hope that my noble friend will be able to dispel this rumour. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 4:30, 7 July 2010

My Lords, I have Amendments 10B and 44B in this group. They are intended to probe the Minister further on how he will monitor the impact of the academies legislation on the distribution of outstanding teachers. However, the Minister said yesterday that he would produce an annual report on the impact of academies. I hope that it may therefore be helpful to him and the House if I do not speak to my amendments and relieve the Minister of the task of replying, unless your Lordships would prefer me to speak.

I support Amendment 6. I spoke yesterday morning with the head teacher of a secondary school in north London who had increased the proportion of his pupils achieving five or more A* to C grades at GCSE from about 30 per cent to about 80 per cent. He said how much he would value a social worker and a child psychotherapist to support his staff. I was grateful to the Minister for having written to me during Committee about the value that he places on the role of Place2Be in supporting the mental health of children and teachers. It is important to encourage schools to reach out for these resources as far as possible. They are under pressure to achieve in league tables. The amendment is necessary to ensure that they get the support that they need.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

I should point out by way of clarification, and to save the Minister a little time and effort, that Amendment 49 in my name is in this group. In reality, it should not have been in this group; it should have been grouped with Amendment 51. I shall not therefore take any time in speaking to it now and the Minister need take no time in replying. I do not promise to be so helpful in my later interventions.

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

My Lords, I associate myself with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on Amendment 6. Academies are subject to the same statutory framework in respect of temporary and permanent exclusions as all other state-funded schools, which is welcome. We know that academies have had higher rates of exclusion than other state-funded schools and it is clear that there would be an impact on neighbouring schools if academies in general excluded more pupils but then did not take excluded pupils from elsewhere in the education area.

There are reasons for this in the current academy scheme, where often highly challenging schools were converted into academies and discipline was frequently a top priority. Where there is a large number of academies, it is important that they take their fair share of excluded pupils.

In government, we established a requirement on all schools, including academies, to participate in behaviour and attendance partnerships that involve other schools and have access to support from other children's services. This was based on a clear understanding of the potential benefits of collaboration between schools and local authorities in the promotion of good pupil behaviour. I can see nothing in the Bill that links the new academies with a requirement to participate in behaviour partnerships. I hope that the Minister can assure us that academies will continue to do so.

I was very much involved in the establishment of NHS foundation trusts and there are clear parallels with academies. Foundation trusts were set up in the context of a statutory duty of partnership. There was a clear recognition of that in the National Health Service, whatever role different organisations played. NHS foundation trusts had a membership and a governing body, so those institutions were standing on their own two feet more than other parts of the National Health Service. Nevertheless, they were still part of the NHS. A duty was laid on them to work with others. It is a pity in some ways that we do not have a similar understanding that there should be a duty of partnership here. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raises those issues in her group of amendments and we look forward to a constructive reply from the Minister.

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, in essence, this group of amendments would put on the face of the legislation requirements that are covered by academy funding agreements. As we know, since their inception, academies have been regulated by funding agreements. That was thought to be appropriate for many years, including by the previous Government and we agree with them. We intend to retain the funding agreement route as the principal regulatory mechanism for academies. I know that I deviated from this principle in relation to SEN, because we recognise that there are specific concerns around that about which I wanted to send a signal. But as a matter of principle, we are keen to stick to the well established idea that these safeguards should be delivered through the funding agreement.

On Amendment 6, I hope that I can provide my noble friend Lady Walmsley with some reassurance. Funding agreements require that academies act in accordance with the law on exclusions as if the academy were a maintained school. They have to have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions as set out in paragraph 1 of annexe D to the funding agreement. I have shared with noble Lords the new version of the exclusions annexe to the funding agreements, which continues to impose these legal requirements on academies. I am happy to put on the record that this annexe will be included in all future academy arrangements, both contractual funding agreements and grant arrangements.

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

My Lords, the noble Lord said that he had shared that information with noble Lords. It would be helpful to clarify how it has been shared. Certainly yesterday we received a number of letters in the pigeonholes outside the Chamber, which meant that it was available in essence after the first day of Report had started. I hope that we can get those well in advance in future.

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 believe that I apologised yesterday to the noble Lord for the lack of notice and do so again. I think I am right in saying that those letters were circulated at an earlier date, but if I am wrong I will put that right.

Regarding the placement of challenging pupils, including those who have been excluded, which I know is a matter of concern across the House, academies are required through their funding agreements to participate in in-year fair access protocols, which ensure that all schools in a local area take their fair share of hard-to-place pupils, including those who have previously been excluded. Academies are equal partners in those arrangements. The requirements envisaged by Amendment 48 in relation to the decision-making process surrounding an exclusion are already part of academy funding agreements and the departmental guidance is very clear about who can exclude a pupil, and in what circumstances the decision to exclude needs to be reviewed by the governing body.

Amendment 50 would require academies to follow the law and guidance on developing and implementing their behaviour policies. Academies are independent schools and are therefore covered by the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2003. These state that an academy must have in place, and must implement effectively, a policy on promoting good behaviour that outlines what sanctions will be taken in the event of any misbehaviour.

As for the specific questions raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, we accept that academies are obliged to follow the Human Rights Act and, if they were not following it, we would expect the YPLA as the academies' monitoring body to identify that. As for exclusions, academies are treated in the same way; the main difference from maintained schools is that the academy trust, rather than the local authority, is the body responsible for setting up an appeal.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, did not speak to the amendments on teacher quality, and there was an amendment that was to have been spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I confirm for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the point that I made earlier, on which, fortunately, I was right. The annexes on exclusions were circulated on the second day of Committee, on 23 June; I should be happy to dig them out and circulate them again.

I hope that that provides some assurance on exclusions on the overall points. My noble friend Lady Walmsley made some specific points; if I have not responded to them, I shall follow them up with her separately outside the House or in writing. On a general point, which links to some of the discussion that we had yesterday, I hope that the suggestion that there should be an annual report to Parliament on the whole of academies policy will provide some further reassurance to noble Lords that these important issues relating to the development of policy will be kept firmly under review. I hope that that picks up on some of the points made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I ask her in light of that to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his reply and to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his support. I am very much reassured by his very clear statement that academies will have to comply with the law and with guidance as it is already laid down and that the annexe to which he referred will be included in the funding agreement. I got a copy of the annexe somewhat earlier than I got a copy of the whole funding agreement model, which I received only yesterday; that was why I was able to quote from it. I have not yet carefully scrutinised the rest of the funding agreement.

I am grateful to the Minister for stating again that academies will have to comply with the Human Rights Act. I am sure that not only the YPLA will be watching to make quite sure that they do so. If they follow the legal requirements introduced by the previous Government and the guidance that still stands, there should not be problems about exclusions. I am also comforted by the fact that we will have the opportunity every year to see whether the figures for exclusions in academies of both kinds-both the ones from failing schools and those from outstanding schools-have risen at all. If there are any discrepancies that we feel are inappropriate, we will have the opportunity in Parliament to have a look at that. I know that my noble friend was not prepared for my comment on the 24 hours' notice, so I look forward to his letter about that issue. I am very much reassured by many aspects of his reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

Amendment 7 not moved.

Amendment 8

Moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

8: Clause 1, page 2, line 1, at end insert-

"( ) the school complies with the provisions of the Code for School Admissions issued from time to time by the Secretary of State under section 84 of the SSFA 1998 (code for school admissions));"

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

My Lords, in moving Amendment 8, I shall speak also to Amendments 17B, 32A and 33A. I am grateful for the discussions that we have had with the noble Lord and the Bill team on these issues.

Amendment 8 relates to the admissions code. We believe firmly that the duty to comply with the code should be in the Bill. The Minister gave us his assurance in Committee that all new academies will have to comply with the admissions code, and I am grateful for that, but there is a question of confidence, clarity and the empowerment of parents. We have all had representations expressing concern about the admissions code for academies and there can be no better way to inspire confidence than by a clear statement in the Bill.

As we know, the code of practice seeks to establish terms within which fair admissions criteria operate, including those applied in cases in which schools are oversubscribed. This latter consideration is particularly important in relation to academies, where evidence suggests that they are more likely than other schools to be oversubscribed.

While the code of practice seeks to establish practices that ensure fairness in cases of oversubscription, examples exist of school-level approaches that undermine that aim. For example, residency criteria have been misused in order to skew intakes to particular schools, and it is apparent that a number of admissions authorities have failed to put transparent arrangements in place in this respect. Concern also exists that interviews or some other form of pre-admissions contact between schools, pupils and their families are still used in some cases to resolve oversubscription issues, notwithstanding their express prohibition by the code.

These practices can result in discriminatory outcomes for pupils and their families, compounded by the fact that the results of interviews can be difficult to justify objectively and transparently. Although parental interviews were outlawed by the previous Government, evidence has emerged of some schools using a series of meetings in the run-up to applications for admission that are designed to deter certain parents from applying through small group discussions with parents and senior members of staff. They are not interviews but they have the same effect.

I understand that all noble Lords would be against such practices, and that they would not be condoned by either the Government or the Opposition. It is important, however, that all concerned, especially parents, are aware of the applicability of the code. Its incorporation into the terms of the Academies Bill would assist with the establishment of greater clarity within the system, and it would inspire confidence by lessening the scope for ambiguity about the terms of the code or its applicability to academies. I therefore urge the Minister to accept this amendment.

Paragraph 122 of the admissions code relates to expansion and grammar schools and brings me to my other amendments in this group. My reading of the code is that if a grammar school wished to expand, there would have to be consultation. We deal with this issue in Amendment 32A. If there are to be selective academies, we believe that it is important that they should not be able to expand without consultation; to do so could lead to an imbalance in the provision of educational opportunities in a community. I know that the Minister has written to my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin on this issue, and I would be grateful if he would confirm for the record that the Government will allow selective academies to expand where a strong business case has been made and where there has been local consultation.

On Amendments 17B and 33A, the House will be well aware that the previous Government introduced academies for the primary purpose of lifting standards in disadvantaged schools in disadvantaged areas, and we are proud of that achievement. While the extension of academy status to schools of excellence is one step, we believe that the extension of schools that are selective is a step too far. We are against selection in principle, and to allow grammar schools to become academies would represent a significant and concerning departure from the programme of the previous Government, where academies were prevented from admitting pupils on the basis of ability.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 4:45, 7 July 2010

My Lords, I have Amendments 32 and 32B in this very mixed group of amendments about selection, religion and admissions. The Minister has been very clear about the duty of academies to comply with the admissions code so, as with the previous group of amendments, I accept that it does not need to be in the Bill. I presume that it will be in the funding agreement.

Amendment 32 was laid after our discussion in Committee about selection. While I accept in general my noble friend's assurance that,

"The Bill does not allow for any increase in selection by ability in the state-funded sector"-[Hansard, 28/6/10; col. 1563], it occurred to me that if a selective school became an academy and then expanded the number on its roll, that would mean more actual children in the area being selected by ability. So I laid this amendment to say that such expansion should not increase the number of children in the relevant area who are selected by ability. However, I accept that this duty would be difficult for an individual school to achieve, especially when I went back and read what the Minister reminded us about the ability of selective maintained schools that are not academies to expand by 25 per cent within the normal admissions consultation. In the light of that, I think that what I am asking for in my amendment would be pretty well impossible. Therefore, I am using the amendment to ask my noble friend who would have the responsibility of watching out for a large expansion of selection by ability among schools both inside and outside the control of a local authority when a lot of new academies are created, given that some of them will be former selective schools that are opting out.

Amendment 32B was originally laid in Committee as Amendment 135. I do not believe that the Minister addressed the matter in his reply, but I forgive him because, as he does today, he had several topics to deal with in the grouping. I believe that these ridiculous groupings have arisen because of the minimal time that we have had between Committee and Report; noble Lords have not had enough time to scrutinise the draft groupings and to make some sense out of them. Amendment 32B would require the governing body of a school with a religious character, if it converts to an academy, to use the fresh start as an opportunity to look at its religious character and to decide whether it wishes to change it. Since the school was first set up, there may have been a big change in the demographics and cultural mix of the catchment area. That may lead a governing body to consider whether it wishes to join together with another faith, or more than one, or to make a larger percentage of its intake inclusive of people of other faiths or none. It would not prevent those governors from making no change at all, but it would give them an opportunity specifically to consider their duty to promote community cohesion and to make a change. It would not interfere with their discretion to make their own decision in any way; it is not prescriptive at all. I commend it to the Minister.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, in this group I have Amendment 10A, which follows on from the discussion in Committee about the effects of Clause 1(6)(d). My noble friend Lord Hill said that paragraph (d) would not prevent an academy from reaching out to areas that were not in its immediate vicinity in order to broaden its intake. It would not prevent a grammar school that became an academy from maintaining its current and typically wide catchment area. Also, to take it even further, it would not prevent an academy from being or becoming a boarding school. I asked my noble friend what, under those circumstances, the paragraph would prevent that the Government wish to prevent. He has not replied, so I presume that there is nothing and that therefore the paragraph has no function. That is my reason for returning to the matter on Report.

On the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the crucial bit of the model academy funding agreement appears to me to be clause 12(c). Reading that, I do not see what in the agreement-although, like my noble friend Lady Walmsley, I have not parsed it as carefully as I might-updates the requirement as the general admissions requirements change. It seems to me that an academy that was created tomorrow would be for ever stuck with today's admissions arrangements, even if we improved them in a year's time. I do not see what in the model funding agreement rolls the requirements forward. That would also apply to SEN requirements and other matters that are dealt with in clause 12. I would be grateful if my noble friend could give me some comfort about what keeps academies current.

Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop

My Lords, I imagine that your Lordships would expect me to intervene to speak in particular about the clause on religious character, but I have a couple of other comments to make on this group of amendments. By virtue of the scars that I bear from the age of 11, I am not particularly a fan of selective education. My primary school appealed against my having passed the 11-plus, which these days would probably be actionable under human rights legislation. I am Bishop of a diocese where the county still operates a selective system, but I am still not a great fan of it. My instinct is to support any amendment that is likely to result in the Academies Bill not giving selective education a fairer wind than it already has in some parts of the country.

I do not particularly want to go there. However, I will speak to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I take his point and I tabled an amendment to that subsection in Committee. You might think that we would be all in favour of any proposals that freed up the potential for church schools to recruit their faith members from as wide a field as possible. However, I can only reiterate what I have said at various stages of the Bill: we are in the business of providing schools not to accommodate those who are paid-up members of the Church of England, but rather to be instrumental in providing first-class education in some of the most deprived areas of the country. We can say only that if there are no limits on the ability of a school to admit pupils geographically, our ability to deliver on our title deeds in education-which are now nearly 200 years old-would be seriously attenuated. So I am very anxious that there should remain in the Bill a clear understanding that there should not be any attempt to liberate the admissions policy to accommodate just any pupils from anywhere.

More important is Amendment 32B in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. My comments on this are threefold. First, some of us have been urging on the Government, in respect of several clauses in the Bill, that the avoidance of doubt might be a good idea, and so to include something even if it is implicit elsewhere. Let us make it explicit in the Bill. I have a great deal of sympathy for any amendment which seems to be about the avoidance of doubt. Let us give the governing body the chance to make a clear statement as to whether it wishes to continue as a school of religious character. Secondly, however, this could become very difficult. In Clause 3(2), (3) and (4), on foundation schools, there is a requirement to consult the foundation before an application for academy status is made. I am getting rather confused about this. If we pass this amendment, at which stage does the governing body say that it does not want to be a school of religious character any more? If it then consults the foundation, which is by definition committed to the religious character of the school, I can see only confusion here.

My most important point is the third one. I have tried, as have other noble Lords, to avoid using the Bill as a vehicle either to expand or dilute the particular existing character of a school. There may well be a case for doing either or both of those things, but this is not the way to do it. The Bill is about something quite different in terms of the overall structural arrangements made for our schools in the future. I therefore urge the Minister to resist Amendment 32B, if for no other reason than that he would thereby be resisting a Trojan horse approach to the Bill. Although a Trojan horse proved successful on one occasion, as those who know their ancient history will realise, nobody came out of it with much credit.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, Amendment 10C follows an amendment to the Bill that I tabled in Committee. It would put admissions to academies on the same basis as those to maintained schools. I am bringing this back at this stage because I was grateful to the Minister for his helpful letter on this point, and I wanted to give him the opportunity to put on record what he said in that letter. I am very grateful for the pains he has taken to clarify this point. I am also grateful for the special measures that he has taken with regard to SEN. However, listening to the opening statement of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on this group of amendments, I remain concerned. I declare my interest as a trustee of the fostering and adoption voluntary agency, TACT, which works in England, Scotland and Wales.

It was a great step forward when the previous Administration some years ago made the admission of children in care to schools an absolute priority. I was troubled to hear the noble Baroness talk about admissions interviews. I am reminded of a concern that many foster parents will not feel particularly pushy for their children; they have other concerns. If it were possible for the Minister to say that he will at least consider including in the annual report an assessment of any impact on the admissions of looked-after children to academy schools, that would be comforting. I look forward to his response.

Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour 5:00, 7 July 2010

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Royall. I state my very clear position that I am not in favour of any expansion of selection by the front or the back door-the back door route enables the expansion of admissions by existing selective schools that may become academies. I was therefore fairly disappointed in myself when I saw the Minister's letter to my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin, in which he says that the previous Government allowed selective maintained schools to expand by up to 25 per cent without publishing statutory proposals. Given that my fingerprints are all over the admissions code and the primary legislation that brought that into place-the Education and Inspections Act 2006-I was surprised that I might have let that one through. However, I pay tribute to the Minister's officials for finding him that get-out. They continue to do a fabulous job for their Minister.

However, I have one or two questions to ask him. I have looked at the latest version of the 2010 admissions code. Paragraph 1.15 makes it clear that:

"Admissions arrangements for Academies are ... part of an Academy's Funding Agreement".

The model agreement, to which we have referred, makes very little mention of admissions. Paragraph 12 makes some mention but the main section is paragraph 17, which says that the academy will be an all-ability, inclusive school. Clearly, we need a variant of this model agreement to show how it would apply to selective schools that then become academies. I would be most grateful if the Minister could assure us that that is being drafted and that we can have sight of it as legislation goes through Parliament. If we cannot see it in this House, perhaps the other place can see it before it debates it.

My second question concerns the admission number for schools. Paragraph 1.16 of the code refers to the importance of the admission number. Paragraph 1.17 says:

"Admission authorities of maintained schools must set admission numbers with regard to the capacity assessment for the school".

That is set according to the physical constraints of the school. Will academies be bound by the same capacity assessment? That is particularly relevant when we get to the section of the admissions code to which the Minister referred in his letter that I mentioned earlier. In paragraph 1.20, the,

"statutory proposals are still required for schools proposing an enlargement to their premises which would increase the physical capacity of the school by more than 30 pupils and either by 25 per cent or by 200 pupils".

My next question concerns the presumption of approval. Paragraph 1.22 of the code states:

"Local authorities and the Schools Adjudicator, when making decisions over setting an admission numbers or admitting above them, should have regard to the presumption that proposals to expand successful and popular schools, except grammar schools, should be approved".

Does that sub-clause "except grammar schools" read the way that I intended when I approved it: that for grammar schools, the presumption would be that you would not approve the expansion? This area needs clarity. These amendments add clarity by saying that we should not have any new selection by any means. I know that is what the Minister's right honourable friend Michael Gove said before he became Secretary of State. I have not paid sufficient attention to know whether he has repeated it since he took up that office.

Finally, I should be grateful if the Minister could say whether he has thought about using the schools adjudicator, as a truly independent person, to resolve these things after proper consultation, because the volume of new academies may swamp the Secretary of State when making the judgments that are required of him, as the law currently stands.

Photo of Lord Blackwell Lord Blackwell Conservative

My Lords, briefly, I ask the Minister to consider Amendment 10A in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. The whole purpose of academies is to enable good schools to become even better schools. The benefit of good schools in an area is that they ought to be able to provide such opportunities for as many children as possible.

One of the problems of the current admission system is that it ends up, in practice, turning into selection by house price. In other words, the good schools that become better schools tend to be in areas where parents move in and house prices rise. In that situation, poor schools and their pupils who live in neighbouring areas do not have the choice of getting the benefit of being able to apply to the better school next door. Indeed, schools in poorer and often disadvantaged areas have no incentive to improve. They do not have any competition, because they have in effect a monopoly of access in the local catchment area. There is a wholly beneficial argument for saying that if we allow good schools to develop by becoming academies, it would be socially desirable to allow all children from within a feasible area around that school who chose to apply to gain the benefit of being able to go to that school, rather than only the children of parents who happened to be able to afford to live nearby. It is wholly in favour of social mobility to widen admission as far as possible.

I would go further, as I argued at Second Reading. Contrary to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, I believe that there should be a place for selective education in the state system. That, too, would help social mobility. I accept that that is not the spirit of the Bill or the policy of the Government, and unfortunately there is nothing in the Bill that would allow that to happen. Therefore, I certainly would not support the amendments that try to go further in restricting admissions freedom, although Amendment 10A merits consideration.

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, these selection issues are important, and I know how important it is that I provide as much reassurance as I can. I know that when I met the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and Members on the opposition Front Bench, he was very clear, and I obviously understood, that selection is a touchstone issue that is extremely important to the party opposite. I hope that he will also accept by the same token that that is extremely important to Peers in the coalition Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made it very clear that he is not interested in fighting old battles and reopening the question of selection, which I know will disappoint my noble friend Lord Blackwell. I hope, therefore, that I can provide some of the reassurance that noble Lords opposite and on these Benches have been asking for.

In part, one of the issues underlying all this, and which we touched on in the first group of amendments, relates to the reassurances provided through the funding agreement. That remains the case. Amendments 8 and 10C would require academy arrangements to include terms that provided that academies be treated as maintained schools for the purposes of their admissions policy under the schools admissions code. As I previously confirmed and my noble friend Lady Walmsley made clear, academies must comply-as is the case with maintained schools-with admissions law and the codes, and that is achieved through the funding agreement. I confirm that all future academy arrangements will contain this requirement. This is not, as some may fear, a voluntary requirement but a contract that is enforceable by the Secretary of State. The approach is consistent with that taken by the previous Government, who never sought to require in legislation academies' compliance with the admissions code. We do not see any reason to change that.

I will respond to one question from the noble Lord, Lord Knight. There may be other points on which I will have to speak to those excellent officials to whom he referred, and write to him. The detailed admission arrangements are in the annexe to the funding agreement that was shared with noble Lords earlier, perhaps before the noble Lord joined the House-I am not referring to the one that we shared yesterday. The model funding agreement published yesterday makes it clear that academies will continue to be bound by the same arrangements.

Amendment 10A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, seeks to remove the requirement that an academy should provide the majority of places for pupils who are wholly or mainly drawn from the area in which it is situated. We discussed this in response to amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who was particularly concerned about boarding schools and those with a particular specialism. The words "wholly or mainly" require that more than 50 per cent of the pupils of an academy are drawn from the area in which the school is situated. My noble friend Lord Lucas asked why one should not simply do away with this. We believe that the requirement that an academy is a local school is important, as we want to ensure that local children have access to good quality schools. I think that point is welcomed by Peers on all sides of the House.

The phrase,

"the area in which the school is situated", like many such phrases, must be set in context. In practice, it depends on the nature of the school. If the academy is a boarding academy, or an academy with a particular specialism, the area could be very much wider than that which would be applicable in the case of an academy without special features. That is how it has worked in practice. We discussed this in Committee in the context of boarding schools and schools with a particular specialism. Following that debate, I pursued the point with officials, because I wanted to make sure that that was the understanding. The definition has not proved to be a problem in practice. I am very happy to write further to my noble friend Lord Lucas to follow up on his specific points.

Amendment 17B seeks to include provisions in academy arrangements to ensure compliance with academy characteristics, while Amendment 33A seeks to achieve similar aims by allowing selective schools to continue to select by ability. As I said in Committee, the Bill requires that the academy arrangements will oblige the academy proprietor to comply with the Clause 1(6) characteristics when establishing and running an academy. The Secretary of State ensures at the outset of an academy project that the academy meets those characteristics. Thereafter, compliance with them, and with all aspects of the funding agreement, is monitored by the Young People's Learning Agency. If anyone has concerns that an academy is not complying with the required statutory characteristics or the term of its arrangements, this can be brought to the attention of the YPLA or the Secretary of State, who will look into it and take appropriate action.

Amendment 32A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, seeks to prescribe in legislation a requirement that would prevent a selective school from increasing admission numbers once it becomes an academy. The Bill contains provisions that allow selective maintained schools to retain academic selection if they become academies; but, as we have discussed and as I am happy again to put on the record, it does not allow for new selection.

One point that perhaps has not been made before is that any independent school seeking to become an academy, which people may worry is a possible back-door route, would have to cease to be selective. As the noble Lord, Lord Knight, pointed out, under current legislation, the Education and Inspections Act 2006, any maintained school, including a selective school, may increase its admission number as part of any changes to its admission arrangements, subject to consultation. We propose no change to this in the Bill; in fact, we seek to maintain the status quo. The amendment would reduce the right to expand for one set of schools. It seems wrong to bar one set of successful schools from responding to demand for more places when that opportunity is currently open to them in the maintained sector.

Finally, I turn to the issue of faith schools raised by Amendment 32B, and I shall speak in support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln. We had a keen debate about faith schools in Committee. As is rather the case with selection generally, the aims of the Bill in relation to faith schools are very modest, and the right reverend Prelate made the point well and fairly. We are simply asking to maintain the status quo, which I think is the point that he made. Nothing in the Bill will make an increase in faith schools easier, nor is there anything that seeks to change their character, but we believe that a faith school should have the same chance to become an academy as any other maintained school. We are not convinced that it would be right for faith schools seeking to convert to academy status to have to go through an additional application process simply to stay as they are. We think that designated faith schools are a key element of a diverse school system, and that they provide parents with an important choice.

We know from experience that academy arrangements involve a sufficiently robust safeguard. Earlier, we heard about a Trojan horse. In reply to the right reverend Prelate, it did not work out very well for the Trojans, or indeed for most of the Greeks. There is no back door to selection in the Bill. Having gone into this matter carefully and listened to the points made from the Benches opposite as well as from this side of the House, I believe that that back door is locked, bolted and padlocked. I hope that that reassures the noble Lords who have spoken and, in the light of that, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 5:15, 7 July 2010

Before my noble friend sits down, can he give me some comfort on clause 12(c) of the model funding agreement? What is it about clause 12(c) or other aspects of the funding agreement which mean that, when the admissions requirements for maintained schools are updated, they are updated also for academies? The default position in contract law would be that they were not updated.

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

If I may, I shall need to write to my noble friend to make that specific point clear, and I shall circulate it to the House.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

Before the Minister sits down, I should say that I am very grateful to him for the pains that he is taking in this area. Will he consider whether the annual report should actively look at this area and keep it under review?

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 hope that the noble Earl will forgive me. He made that point very clearly earlier and I am sorry not to have responded to it. This report is rapidly assuming biblical proportions. There seem to be a whole range of issues arising from this debate that noble Lords from around the House will want to make sure are looked into very carefully and debated properly. I am sure that the point that the noble Earl has made is just one such example.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his very full response. I certainly accept that there is nothing in current legislation stipulating that academies must abide by the admissions code. I accept that the safeguards are adequate for 200-plus academies but when it comes to 2,000-plus, which there may well be if free schools become academies, then perhaps greater safeguards are needed.

I tend to agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln that sometimes it is necessary for things which are implicit to be made explicit, as that inspires confidence. I certainly urge the Minister to take the opportunity to make explicit the fact that academies have to abide by the admissions code by putting that into the Bill. However, I accept the arguments that he made and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Amendment 9

Moved by Baroness Massey of Darwen

9: Clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert "except that Personal, Social and Health Education shall be a curriculum requirement"

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, the amendment, which is in my name and that of the noble Baronesses, Lady Gould and Lady Flather, would make personal, social and health education a curriculum requirement. I thank the Minister for his courtesy in meeting a group of us to discuss our concerns, and for his consideration of the amendment.

We debated this issue at length in Committee and it was said then that this is not a party-political issue. It is about the welfare of children. It is not about sex education-perhaps it is partly, but it is mostly about personal, social and health education. I have three points to make. The first relates to why I think every child should be entitled to PSHE in school. The second refers to the readiness of schools to take on PSHE and the third relates to the impact of PSHE on the lives of young people.

PSHE tackles issues which are important to young people and to parents. I refer to issues such as drugs, alcohol, staying safe, diet, sex and relationships, and so on. The methods used to teach PSHE also encourage young people to explore their feelings and attitudes and to reach informed decisions. Such methods may include role play, small discussion groups, and learning from visitors such as the police or nurses. Another aspect of teaching PSHE is that young people can also learn where to get help for themselves, a friend or relative-for example, in relation to drugs, alcohol or sexual health. One of the results of teaching in this way is that young people learn how to respect others and develop self-esteem by having their opinions valued in a group. If we can develop in young people communication skills and respect for self and others, it can be life-enhancing in the midst of negative and damaging influences from the media and other sources. It can counteract pressure from the peer group so that young people become strong enough to resist dangerous experimentation. Strong and confident young people make better parents and better members of society.

I am a parent and a grandparent, and I was a teacher. I know, as do noble Lords, that young people take risks of all kinds. We have all done that, but I suggest that risks these days are more sinister than when we were young. We also know that early intervention can prevent distress attached to health and social problems. PSHE also makes economic sense. If young people can be helped to make healthy choices we may see less alcoholism, less unsafe sex and less obesity.

Parents and young people themselves want PSHE delivered in schools. Even good, competent parents often find personal issues difficult to handle with their children, and children-particularly adolescents-may wish to have some distance from their parents in discussing, for example, their relationships. Parents want their children to receive accurate information rather than that gleaned from friends, the media or pornography. One young person said, "PSHE is important because it provides us with opportunities to discuss complex issues in a safe environment. We develop skills to deal with difficult situations and are better equipped to make the right choices". That says it all.

My second point on the question of how ready schools are to teach PSHE came up in our earlier discussions. Of course, many schools are teaching it already as they see the value. Teachers are being trained. More than 6,000 are known by the PSHE Association for teachers. When it was announced at a teaching conference last year that the then Government had agreed to have PSHE as a statutory subject in the curriculum, a long and loud cheer went up. Jim Knight-now the noble Lord, Lord Knight-said that it was the only time he had been given a standing ovation. One student teacher said: "Being given opportunities to teach PSHE has significantly widened my understanding of teaching and learning".

According to the PSHE Association, there is someone already in most schools with experience and enthusiasm. Many head teachers have supported its effectiveness. One head teacher said: "It is the heart of what the school is about". I am told that the real development of better practice in citizenship education took place only after that subject became compulsory. Heads and teachers became geared up to develop or improve their programmes of PSHE once it was announced that it was to become statutory. Now is the time to follow up that enthusiasm.

How do we know that PSHE is effective? It is difficult to assess in the long term, but we know from surveys that young people find information about health useful, and that they recall the messages-for example, about the risks of smoking, drinking and taking drugs. In one survey, 80 per cent of young people said that learning about risks helped them to avoid drugs. Sex education has been shown to delay early sexual activity. Interestingly, some schools have reported a positive influence on academic performance through a personal development programme using coursework to develop transferable skills. One school reported that students across the ability range exceeded their potential, with a 41 per cent rise in students gaining grades A to C.

None of that surprises me. If students are engaged, better able to relate to their peer group and adults, and more confident about their health and relationships, I would think that they would be more effective learners with greater aspirations. That is why so many of us across this House have supported the inclusion of PSHE as a statutory subject in the broad and balanced curriculum. As I said earlier, it is not about party politics. We must send a message to the Government that delaying the inclusion of PSHE puts young people at risk. I urge the Government to act, and I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Gould of Potternewton Baroness Gould of Potternewton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I again support an amendment to make PSHE statutory within the curriculum. I intend to be reasonably brief, because we have had the discussion so many times now. We have explained the advantages of including it as a statutory subject.

I thank the Minister for giving time to discuss the issue with those of us who have been so involved in the debate. However, it became clear from those discussions that we are again bogged down by a curriculum review. PSHE will be judged against the teaching of chemistry or French. PSHE does not equate to subjects which may or may not be used as part of one's future life. PSHE is a lifestyle in all its aspects. By giving PSHE designated space in the timetable, and by providing more specific teacher training, resources and higher profile for the subject generally, young people will be better equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to negotiate the complexities of modern life. Rather, PSHE equates to religious education and music, in the sense that it should be a statutory subject. Those are lifestyle issues. Will religious education and music be included in the review, or will they be exempt?

It is also clear that the independent school regulations, which govern academies, refer to sex and relationship education based around the concept of marriage. Can the Minister cite that clause to the House, so that it is on the record and available for us in future? One way to satisfy that regulation is to ensure that we have PSHE which includes adequate SRE teaching. As I and others have said, teaching good SRE is a means of discouraging early sex. There is evidence to prove that. I give one example. Talking to a 15 year-old girl, I was told that she and her friends had believed that there were no great shakes in taking risks by having early sex. Then they had their PSHE lessons, and they realised that they were wrong. They were then discouraged from adopting that attitude. They also learnt in their PSHE lessons the confidence to be able to say no when the issue arose of whether they should take drugs, drink alcohol or have risky sex. Young people should not glean this information behind the bicycle sheds-I have to admit that, many moons ago, that is where I learnt it all-from playground rumour or from the mixed messages from the media about sex. We need structured classroom teaching giving a clear understanding of the consequences and emphasising the importance of family and friend relationships. This way, we reassure parents that PSHE and SRE do not promote risk taking and early sex, as is sometimes suggested.

There is no question that parents must take a lead in instilling values in their children, but schools, because of their impartiality, can help in equipping pupils with information and the emotional and social skills to make the safe and healthy choices that were referred to by my noble friend Lady Massey. That should be accompanied by providing parents with information and practical support to help them develop the confidence to talk to their children about emotions, relationships and the dangers of some of the risks that they might want to take. That will also give parents the ability to be involved actively, along with the pupils, in the development of the PSHE programme in the school.

I wish to say a brief word to indicate my support for the comments made by my noble friend Lady Massey on teacher training. She gave a perfect example in citing citizenship, which emphasises that making a subject statutory will be followed by an increase in the number of teachers being trained. There is no reason to delay the decision in order to make sure that there is an adequate number of trained teachers. The barrier to proper staffing and training is the lack of statutory status, and even if there is a delay in implementation-I do not believe that it should be for more than a year-the legislation should be put in place now.

As I indicated in Committee, five years ago the Government funded the PSHE teaching programme, which was also referred to by my noble friend Lady Massey. It has been successful in raising the number of trained teachers and the standard of teaching. I hope that programme will be continued. Can the Minister tell the House whether that will be the case?

Schools are part of the community, and teaching should not be seen in isolation. It should be supplemented by external contributors-representatives of other services, such as nurses, youth workers and Connexions personal advisers. In that way, we can ensure high-quality lessons that range from personal finance to awareness of and sensitivity to diverse faiths and cultural beliefs, understanding discrimination, the wrongness of prejudice and bullying, the consequences of drugs and alcohol misuse and the importance of staying healthy. I firmly believe that not to do so is to fail this generation of children and young people.

I acknowledge that my Government should have legislated earlier to make PSHE statutory, but ultimately they saw the value, they listened to the parents, teachers, school governors and pupils who pressed for its inclusion, and I thank my noble friends Lady Morgan of Drefelin and Lord Knight-my new colleague-for listening and for taking the action they took.

If my noble friend Lady Massey decides to divide the House on this issue, I hope that it will have listened and will follow her into the Lobby. I say to the Minister, with respect, that the evidence is there. The debate does not have to start again from scratch, but unless we hear otherwise from the Minister, we will have to start the process of persuasion once again. I sincerely hope that that will not be the case.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 5:30, 7 July 2010

My Lords, I heartily agree with the vast majority of what has just been said by the noble Baronesses. The House knows my view that good quality teaching in PSHE should be the right of all children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The knowledge and skills covered by the phrase, "Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education", cover all the important things that prepare children for life beyond and within the school, whether they are future rocket scientists or future waste disposal operatives. They are all human beings and deserve our help and support to lead a happy and fulfilled life. That is what PSHE does. It goes far wider than just sex and relationship education, important though that is.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has mentioned, evidence has shown that schools which do PSHE well also benefit from improved behaviour and learning in other subjects. They are happier schools containing happier, safer and more confident children, which is what I want to see. My ambition within this coalition is to use my passion about this matter and the new influence that I hope I have among both my noble friends and my honourable friends to bring about a step change in the quality and quantity of this sort of learning for all children in all schools.

I am already working with the PSHE Association and others to produce a brief which I will submit to Ministers for the forthcoming curriculum review. It will go far beyond this amendment in two ways. First, it will cover all schools and not just academies. Secondly, it will contain many of the best elements, which, by the way, found support from all around the House, of the original version of Clauses 11 to 13 in the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which were so altered immediately prior to the general election.

That measure, which was deleted from the Bill, listed the areas of learning to be covered but, very importantly, also listed a set of principles that should underpin the teaching. These were, first, that the information taught should be accurate and balanced; secondly, that it should be taught in a way that is appropriate to the age of the pupils concerned and their religious and cultural background and reflect a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives; and thirdly, PSHE should be taught in a way that promotes equality, encourages acceptance of diversity and emphasises the importance of rights and responsibilities.

In complying with these principles, the school would by definition have to work closely with parents and communities, which is right and proper. These principles are fundamental to delivering the rights that I believe all children have and I know that the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey and Lady Gould, agree with me about that. I congratulate the former Labour Government on putting together something that is so right. I give credit also to those who have worked so hard outside this House, some since the 1960s, to obtain these rights for all children. I am a mere newcomer to this campaign.

However, if we have come so far, we need to get this matter right and I very much regret that I find the simple amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, wanting in all respects about the principles that I have just listed. I realise why she has made it so simple, but this is not a simple matter. I believe that the earlier approach of the former Labour Government, following extensive consultation, was better. That is what I will seek from within the coalition to achieve for all children and that is why I cannot support this amendment, although I support the aim of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey.

I would ask her not to press this amendment, but to work with me to influence the coalition Government in their curriculum review. We would not be starting from scratch. We already have a very good model, but, in a matter as sensitive as this, we must take all parts of the community with us. This would give us an opportunity to do that.

Photo of Baroness Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative

My Lords, I follow my noble friend Lady Walmsley with great warmth. What she has said is very dear to my heart and I agree with everything. There are very strong feelings about the content of any part of the curriculum. After all, the curriculum is the heritage of knowledge and skills that we pass on to each generation. Everyone has their own strong feelings about what that should be. PSHE arouses particularly strong feelings because it deals with so many of the very sensitive areas of our personal and social lives.

As has been abundantly clear in what my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, have said, PSHE is already widely established in our education system. It is taught in virtually every school and there is already a large cadre of several thousand teachers who have registered themselves as qualified to teach the subject. I commend the enormously good work being done by so many of those teachers in dealing with what are difficult issues, often with difficult pupils at often difficult stages of their lives. They make a huge success of this teaching.

I have two real objections to trying to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in making this a single curriculum requirement for academies. First, in recent years I have met many teachers dealing with PSHE in, as I have said, difficult classes. They fit what they teach across the areas and how they teach it-whether it be drugs, health, obesity, sex or personal relationships, ethical or civic issues and so on-to the particular class in their particular school with its own particular mix of young people. Schools vary enormously. Some have sophisticated children and others have children who are unsophisticated. Some have children who, by the age of 11, 12 or 13, have alas already engaged in the kind of personal relationships we would rather they were not engaged in, including sexual relationships. The teacher's skill lies in fitting what they say and how they deal with these issues to their particular class. In my view, that is where PSHE should remain-with the school and the individual teacher deciding what and how it should be taught.

The second reason that I am astonished that the noble Baroness has put her amendment in this way is because this would be the only required part of the curriculum and it would only apply to the academies. If this amendment were agreed, PSHE would be a curriculum requirement for academies but not for other schools, and it would be the only part of the academies curriculum that would be a requirement. To me, that is bizarre. People in this House and certainly, I am sure, in the wider world outside would argue just as strongly for other bits of the curriculum to be made mandatory. Surely an important aspect of academies is that they will be free of a national curriculum and able to tailor what they teach and how they teach it within a broad and balanced framework for their particular pupils.

I would ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendment, and if she does, I would ask the House not to support her.

Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour

My Lords, I want to comment on this only briefly because much of what I wanted to say about the importance of personal, social, health and economic education has already been made clear by my noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Gould, as well as by the other contributors. But I would say gently to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that if we pass this amendment, all the proposals of the previous Government, with whom I was associated, can be implemented, certainly in academies. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that the consistency that she thinks there is in the quality of PSHE education is something I would question. The reason that I began the review of sexual and relationship education in our schools was as a result of the Youth Parliament carrying out a survey to which it received an unprecedented 20,000 responses. The vast majority said that the quality of sex and relationship education they received in school was inadequate.

I am not referring to the Clause 28 part of the funding agreement which says that there should be,

"sex and relationship education to ensure that children [of the academy] are protected from inappropriate teaching materials and they learn the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and for bringing up children".

That may be a part of it, but it is an incredibly partial interpretation of the importance of sex and relationship education. If we are going to tackle early teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, good and consistent PSHE in all our schools is crucial so that we can support parents and those children who are not getting that sort of education at home.

At the instigation of my right honourable friend Ed Balls, I co-chaired a review with the Youth Parliament and the principal of Newcastle College, which included representatives of all the faith groups in this country and health organisations, including sexual health organisations. Remarkably, we achieved a consensus about how we should go forward-which is a great tribute to the various representatives-in the most sensitive area of PSHE: sexual relationship education. I received a standing ovation in the middle of a speech-the only time it has happened to me-and people were crying when I announced that we would make it compulsory to have sexual relationship education in all schools. The people who teach the subject of association understand its vital importance and it was sad that it was lost in the wash-up prior to the election. I hope that we can make progress by passing the amendment today.

Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Knight, because, as he will recall, our board of education was anxious to work with the then Government on that Bill. We were very supportive of what was emerging in the Bill and we were as saddened as others by its eventual fate. I therefore thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing forward the amendment-and I do not always say that about her amendments. However, I do on this one because everyone in the House, as we have heard, has good reason to be sympathetic to the principle of PSHE and wishes to see it delivered, at the highest possible standards, across our education system.

That may prompt noble Lords to ask why the Church so often seems to be in the forefront of those resisting this kind of development. It is a good question. I do not always appreciate the answers I get from within my own constituency but, at the heart of it all, something needs to be said in this debate before we get carried away with all the positives and affirmatives: there are implications for some of our understandings of childhood and we must not go down the Pollyanna school of pedagogy. None the less, we all appreciate that something gets lost when some elements of children's education come in earlier than is perhaps appropriate to the well-being of the child at quite an early age.

The motives of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, are honourable and I support the underlying principle, but I do so in the spirit of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for two reasons. First, there is not much detail in the amendment and I need to know a great deal more about what is described here as PHSE. At what age will it be introduced? As the Academies Bill will affect primary as well as secondary schools, the question of age kicks in. I want to know more about its content and whether it will be consistently provided across the country and by whom. All this seems to be within the purview of the curriculum review, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has referred. Out of that may come more detail which will enable some of us to give a fair wind to the spirit of the amendment.

I wonder whether this is the place to pursue this important agenda, partly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and others, have said, it applies only to academies. If it is as good as many believe it is, it ought to be good for all, not only for some. I would support a process that would enable this to become part of the agenda for all our children and not only for some who happen to be in schools which have converted to academy status. While I support wholeheartedly the spirit of the amendment, I would not be able to go into the Lobby with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for those reasons.

I look forward to the debate continuing and to engaging with this Government, as we did with the last, to achieve something that will be for the common good of all our children. We want them to experience and enjoy relationships, as given by God, so that they can have fulfilled lives-sexually, in terms of their health, in terms of their economic management and, most of all, in terms of their personal well-being and delivery of their potential.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, this has been a stimulating and diverse debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for her amendment. Academies have the advantage of being able to teach in a way that they think appropriate to their pupils. That would be a plus in making PSHE a curriculum requirement and we could get it started in the academy set-up.

I agree that it is sad that PSHE has not been included in the curriculum as a result of bits being struck out of rushed legislation in the final days of the previous Government. However, that is as it may be; I can see no reason why we should not start with this Bill and see at a later stage whether it needs extending. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said that PSHE is taught in practically every school, yet we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that it is taught neither well nor in a way that young people approve of and can gain from. So it is clear that there is a need for rather greater teacher training, too.

I am only sad that my noble friend Lord Northbourne is not here, because he would have stressed, as have I on previous occasions, that here is an ideal framework within which to teach parenting. I am talking not just about relationships with one's own parents but also, and much more importantly, about the relationship that a parent will have with their children and their responsibilities to the rising generation. That will be of enormous value to young people when they think about whether to use contraceptives at the age of 10 or, better still, to refrain from sex altogether. When I was chair of the Broadcasting Standards Commission some way back, a lot of issues of this kind were brought to us by worried and concerned parents. What children see on television today, and sometimes even hear on the radio, is enough to make it important that we educate children as early as possible to deal with these situations.

My thanks still go to the mover of the amendment. If we are pushed to a vote on it, my instinct will to go into the Lobby with her. In the mean time, we all need to think about even more ways in which we can get over the important message behind all this.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

My Lords, I had not intended to speak today as I have not had the opportunity, for various reasons, to become engaged in the Academies Bill. I should like to ask the Minister a couple of quite simple questions. If this proposal were to be delayed today, what timetable would there be for bringing it back in the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, suggested? We are told that the Government have an education Bill coming along in the autumn. What guarantees can he give that this subject will be in that Bill?

I have heard at least four of the noble Baronesses whom I admire most in this House speak on opposite sides in this debate. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, that this subject is different from all the others. I have said previously in this House that, unless we attend to the welfare of our young people, they will never learn the other subjects that they are in school to learn. This topic attends to their welfare. It ensures that they have the life skills and confidence to move forward in all the other subjects that they are trying to achieve with all the other hopes that they have in order to attain a good life position and life skills. I talk to a lot of children and remember my life in ChildLine, and I feel that unless this is grasped soon we will lose more children who do not understand the issues.

My noble friend Lady Howe has just talked about the influences around young people. I also talk to a lot of parents. They may often feel anxious about some of these topics being taught, but they are even more anxious about the influences on their children without having facts and information. In ChildLine, I talked to one child after another one and one young person after another who had curious and false information. I am told by my colleagues still working there that that continues. I have been out of ChildLine for 10 years and it is a great indictment that we have not yet got these topics in schools so that young people have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, would say, their rights, because it is a right to have this information.

The Government should grasp this nettle now so that we do not lose time and more children. If they do not and if the noble Baroness does not divide the House, I should like the Minister to give us a timetable so that we know when this can be taken forward.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, it is with considerable diffidence that I rise, because I have not spoken before on this Bill. The amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, does not go as far the one she moved in Committee. It does not remove the right of parents to withdraw children from sex education as that amendment did. But it does, for the first time, make sex education statutory in some primary schools. It is with sex education that I am concerned.

Obviously, it would be strange if sex education were made compulsory in academy primary schools, but not in maintained primary schools, particularly when academies are supposed to have greater freedom than other schools rather than less. Surely academies should be free to choose not to provide sex education for children of primary school age when the school and parents think that it would not be appropriate.

It cannot be denied that this is a very important and sensitive matter involving people's views on morality and religion, and on the right way to bring up children, with many people feeling strongly that young people should not be taught about sex unless it is put very much in a moral context. I do not believe that this crucial subject should be dealt with at the Report stage of a Bill such as this and weighed off in a short debate: it is far too important for that. This Bill is about whether there should be academies at all, not about how, if at all, sex education should be taught in primary schools.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 6:00, 7 July 2010

My Lords, when it comes to this amendment, I stand four-square beside my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I congratulate the noble Baronesses opposite on all the effort that they have put into this subject. One of the most important things about schools is that we should try to produce young people who are well informed and resilient and go out into life able to deal with it, which was certainly not the case in my education. Indeed, a recent survey from the University of Oxford showed that 85 per cent of its graduates were frightened of getting a job. There is a good deal to do in schools in one way or another.

However, I entirely agree with my noble friend that this is the wrong amendment in the wrong place. It is too restrictive and too simple and applies only to academies. We need this to be part of the curriculum review that my noble friend has promised. That is the pressure point to which we ought to be applying ourselves.

I am also concerned because the phrase PSHE associates itself in my mind-and perhaps my noble friend will educate me-with a rather clunky, didactic, old-fashioned way in which to approach these things. That is at a time when, if one goes around schools, which I do a good deal for the Good Schools Guide, one sees a lot of new, interesting and innovative approaches to this aspect of schooling, which I would not want to close out by including it in a process-based curriculum rather than requirements for what the children should be like when they leave school. It is one of the faults of the curriculum that we have at the moment that things such as citizenship have to be added as extra subjects when really they should be there as outcomes and it is up to the school to decide how they are delivered. I cite in particular the work on positive psychology and well being that started with Wellington College and has spread widely from there. Also, I attended a presentation for schools, part of which was a presentation by a primary school in the East End on its use of psychology lessons. It taught psychology as a separate subject and with immense good effects. As the noble Baroness said, once you get it right, it spreads though the school, from attitude to education generally and to behaviour. I do not want to see this subject fossilised in a set of requirements, as the curriculum is set out at the moment, certainly not without the sort of discussion and understanding of the subtleties that would occur through a proper participation in the curriculum review.

Photo of Viscount Eccles Viscount Eccles Conservative

My Lords, I start by saying that I was nothing like so fortunate behind the bicycle sheds as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould.

I have been waiting to hear what the House thinks the reaction of the teachers would be to making this a statutory requirement at this particular moment. There was a report done by the Merits Committee and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, gave the committee his evidence on two occasions, written and spoken. The memorandum submitted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said:

"In the recent past, too many professional judgements about curriculum, assessment and pedagogy have been removed from teachers and placed in the hands of ministers, government departments and agencies".

It went on to say that this,

"shows a lack of trust in the profession and a denial of complexity".

The whole House is agreed with the objectives of the noble Baronesses opposite and the objectives of my noble friend Lady Walmsley. The teaching profession is in agreement with those objectives as well. The question is how you best get those objectives achieved; in my submission, that will not happen by including a statutory requirement in this Bill.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Labour

My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I rise to support my noble friends Lady Massey and Lady Gould. I was also particularly moved by the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. It is extremely important that, if my noble friend chooses not to divide-and I do not know what her choice will be-we hear from the Minister what practical steps the Government will take on this key agenda. I was interested to hear again from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, her exultation about the work of the previous Government around the proposals contained in the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which were removed on the specific request of the Conservative Opposition, as the noble Lord is aware. Before the election we had a set of principles and proposals that commanded the support of a significant part of the coalition Government and of a great number of noble Lords across the House.

My noble friend Lady Massey came forward with a very thoughtful proposal; she did not just reproduce what was in the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which the Government can do at any time just by going back to the filing system or doing a cut and paste. Here we have a practical step forward for going forward in this Bill. That is why I should like to have the opportunity to support the amendment. I see no reason why we should delay. Noble Lords have raised concerns about the numbers of teachers qualified to teach PSHE, but we have been reassured on that. There have been concerns about whether we are talking about teaching sex education to children inappropriately in primary schools. In all the debates we have had there have been umpteen reassurances about age-appropriateness. I do not think that this should be a party-political issue. It is very much a House of Lords issue, as it is very much something that the House of Lords has debated many times. We came up with a very constructive way forward only a few months ago. There is no good reason for us to delay any further.

If the Government want to bring forward any tidying-up amendments at Third Reading, that is very much in their gift. It can be done. We are all behind the principles that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, described, which were in the previous Bill. They are great-yes, we could see those come forward at Third Reading. I see no reason to delay, as this is about common sense and supporting the professionals. I am delighted that they gave my noble friend Lord Knight a standing ovation when he addressed the professionals in this field. We can get on with this. It is a regret of mine that it took us, in a Labour Government, as long as it did to consult and come to consensus and to the settlement that we did. It took us a while, so let us not take any longer.

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, we had a very good debate on this subject in Committee, a slightly longer debate than the one that we have had today. We have had another very good debate this afternoon. I had the chance last week to meet Peers with a particular interest in PSHE and was grateful for their advice. I join others in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for the way that she has pursued this issue, as have my noble friend Lady Walmsley and many other noble Lords from all parts of the House. I have learnt a lot from noble Lords in the process, not least about knitting from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey-a reference lost on those who were not here for the Committee stage.

What is clear to me, who comes relatively new to this debate, is that there is broad agreement in this House on the importance of PSHE. Nothing has been said today by anyone from any part of the House that would disagree with that. There are differences of opinion about the best way forward. This evening the question is relatively simple and straightforward, so I think I can be brief. This is an important and broad subject. Should we, as this amendment argues, make PSHE a compulsory requirement for academies alone as one distinct set of schools and should we act now? Those are the two main questions that have been debated this evening. I would argue not. First, as others have said, I am not convinced that singling out PSHE in primary legislation is the right way to go. Secondly, I would argue, as a number of noble Lords have argued-it was argued very persuasively by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln-that the best place to consider these issues is in the round, when we get the chance to look at the whole question of the national curriculum later in the year. Noble Lords have already mentioned that we are carrying out a complete review.

In response to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy-

Noble Lords:

Baroness Howarth.

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

Forgive me. I cannot be more specific than to say that we expect that the review will take place in the autumn, and it will have a proper look at the entire national curriculum. I know that when that process starts, and as part of that review, noble Lords will not hesitate to make their views known. There will be plenty of opportunities to debate it in the round at that point in the context of the whole curriculum rather than, as many noble Lords have said today, in more of a one-off way now.

I am swayed by the comments that have been made about having the debate later. This is not to dismiss the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. It is, however, to ask her and other noble Lords whether in the light of these points they will withdraw their amendment at this juncture, having made clear their intention to return to the charge at a later date.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, this has been a fascinating and enlightening debate. I think that we are all actually on the same side; we just have different ways of approaching the issue.

I am aware of the curriculum review, but I have been aware of curriculum reviews on this subject for the past 10 years. We have gone over this ground, and in doing so I am also aware of the needs of children who may well be suffering because they do not have this education in their curriculum. Young people tell us what they need, and they certainly tell us that they need personal, social and health education.

I shall respond briefly to points that have been made. I put this amendment in here because the Bill is here, and because I shall continue to put it in any Bill that I can to try to get personal, social and health education in the curriculum.

It is a simple amendment because it is a complex subject. We have explored all possible areas connected with PSHE, today and previously. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned the five principles put in place by the Labour Government, and they are still there for reference. I was surprised; I just reread the noble Baroness's speech at wash-up stage, and at that point she wanted no delay, she wanted to get on with it and she was anxious that PSHE should be part of the national curriculum. I support her.

Much work has been done already-

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

If the noble Baroness will permit me, I say to her that I still think that, but I have to convince my Government of the case, not just the former Government.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, I, too, intend to convince this Government of the case.

I know that much work has been done on this already. I believe that schools are ready to take this on, and it would improve their chances if PSHE were a compulsory subject. I have in my hand 10 reasons why there is no need to delay, written by the Personal, Social and Health Education Association. Noble Lords will be relieved to hear that I am not going to read out the whole document, but one section says that we have had just a year and half since Jim Knight, now the noble Lord, Lord Knight, announced the last government's intention to make it statutory, "it" being PSHE, and that most schools will have been gearing up for statutory status during that time. It says that PSHE is not a new subject; it has been taught in schools and been allocated curriculum and staffing resources for many years. I think that might respond wisely to something that the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said.

If we pass the amendment today-I intend to divide the House-it will send a clear message to the Government and to all parties that the welfare of children is at stake here. If a large number of people support this amendment, it will be a key message to the Government that this is an important subject that we do not take lightly. Let us go on from here and incorporate PSHE into all schools, through different Bills. Let us go through a curriculum review, but let us influence that review as best we can by showing today that we think this is an important subject that deserves our attention and our commitment. I wish to divide the House.

Division on Amendment 9

Contents 156; Not-Contents 245.

Amendment 9 disagreed.

Division number 1 Academies Bill [HL] — Report (2nd Day)

Aye: 154 Members of the House of Lords

No: 243 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


Amendment 10

Moved by Baroness Walmsley

10: Clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert "and sections 40, 41, 42 and 43 of the Childcare Act 2006"

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 6:31, 7 July 2010

My Lords, Amendment 10 arises from our debate in Committee about the impact of the new legislation on the early years. The Bill remains ambiguous about the care and education of young children and needs specifically to reference the Childcare Act 2006, which establishes the EYFS framework in law. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that young children in academies are guaranteed the same balanced, age-appropriate and play-based standard of care and education under the early years foundation stage as children in maintained and independent schools.

In Committee the Minister said:

"I would suggest that the amendment is unnecessary because academies are already required, under the Childcare Act 2006, to provide the early years foundation stage. That is spelled out explicitly in their funding agreement. This stage is more than just a curriculum, as it covers much broader outcomes for very young children, including issues such as social skills".-[Hansard, 28/6/10; col. 1570.]

The Early Childhood Forum, which has been briefing me on this matter, very much welcomes the Minister's positive statements about the EYFS. I also welcome Minister of State Sarah Teather's announcement a few days ago that the early years foundation stage is to be reviewed. I called for this in my speech in Committee, though I do not think her announcement was simply in response to my speech. I am delighted that the Minister stated that it is the Government's intention that academies should implement the EYFS. However, I am still concerned that the Bill makes no reference at all to the EYFS, and that furthermore the Childcare Act 2006, to which the Minister referred, contains no reference to academies. This seems to leave an ambiguity in the law that could be easily rectified via this amendment.

Academies do not have to follow the national curriculum for primary and secondary schools. The only reference in the Bill to the curriculum is to Section 78 of the Education Act 2002, which has no application to the education of those aged under five, since the Childcare Act 2006 amended the Education Act before it and removed any reference to nursery education. The Childcare Act 2006 establishes the EYFS as the framework for the care and education of children from birth until the 31 August after their fifth birthday, and which all those registered on the early years register and maintained, approved, non-maintained, independent and special schools must deliver. Under the law, all these providers must meet the legal welfare, learning and development requirements as set out in Section 40 of the Childcare Act 2006 and its associated regulations.

Existing academies are not referenced at all in the Childcare Act 2006. This is an understandable omission as, although there are a number of all-through academies providing education for three to 18 year-olds, until now academy status was available only to secondary schools. The Bill extends academies to many more young children and therefore needs to be unambiguous about the approach to be taken to their education and care. It is clearly not the Government's intention to exempt academies from implementation of the EYFS. The Early Childhood Forum is concerned that academies do not fall into any of the categories of school referenced in the Childcare Act 2006. It has tried to clarify this matter with officials but they have not replied to its phone calls. Perhaps they were in purdah, pending the Minister's statement the other day about the review of the early years foundation stage. However, it would be helpful to know the Government's understanding of where academies fit in the framework of that Act. Perhaps this might have been sorted out if officials had responded to the Early Childhood Forum. I may not have needed, in that case, to table this amendment. It would also be helpful to know how many of the current all-through academies provide education for under-fives and whether they all currently implement the early years foundation stage as they should.

There is some confusion about whether the Government consider academies to be independent schools in law. Clause 1 refers to academies as "independent", but it also sets out that they are to be funded directly by public money through the Secretary of State. The Independent Schools Council membership criteria determine independence through the individual school's inspection regime, with members having to be inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. However, academies-as far as they are to be inspected at all-will be under Ofsted. Noble Lords can perhaps see the confusion.

The early years foundation stage is based on the best evidence that we have from research and experience of what is most effective in helping children to develop physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. The amendment would create parity and balance in this new legislation that matches the reference to Section 78 of the Education Act 2002 on the curriculum for those aged over five in Clause 1. I urge the Minister to accept it or to explain very clearly why it is unnecessary. If he accepts that there is a problem in the Bill and its relationship with the Childcare Act, I hope he will not ask us to wait for the pending early years foundation stage review. This would mean that primary academies and the young children in their care would be left in limbo and outside the current main framework until then. If the outcome of the review is a fundamental change, the Childcare Act would need to be amended in any case, and the legislation on academies would be resolved alongside that for all the other types of school. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Labour

My Lords, I added my name to this amendment. From listening to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I think I have had exactly the same briefing as her. I simply wish to say "ditto".

I am slightly concerned that in some things we need to rush ahead with, and in others to hang back from, reviews. It is very important for the Early Childhood Forum and the incredibly important organisations that make up the forum to have the kind of reassurances that the noble Baroness is looking for. The early years foundation stage was a very important step forward. The previous Government initiated it, and it has been well received. It is important that we build on the work of the early years specialists. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

Briefly, I support this amendment. The Government recently expressed some horror at the number of prisoners we now have in our prisons. It made me reflect on how many inquiries have pointed to problems within our families. When one does not provide good boundaries within families and a secure upbringing for children, and when schools are quite chaotic, it does not surprise me that there is so much offending among young people or that we have overcrowded jails. It seems to me fairly apparent that if one does not set boundaries early in life, society is left setting boundaries later in life, at great expense to itself. Therefore, it is imperative to get all the right support for children early on. This is an important area. I look forward to the Minister's reassurance that the early years foundation stage will be delivered in these schools.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat

My Lords, when I first joined the House of Lords, we did not receive any briefings on anything. That situation has been transformed in the 15 years I have been here so that now, on a Bill such as this, we are deluged with briefings, which are often extremely useful.

On behalf of the Minister and the department, I apologise for unreturned phone calls. I offer, if it is helpful, a meeting with the Minister and officials to discuss this question further. On the specific issue, I reassure the noble Baroness that all schools providing for under-threes' education are required under the Childcare Act to register with Ofsted and to deliver the early years foundation stage. This includes independent schools and therefore also includes academies. Section 40 sets out the duty to deliver the early years foundation stage. That is the key element. This already applies to academies in the same way as it does to other schools.

Reference has already been made to the review to be carried out by Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of Action for Children, which will report to my honourable friend Sarah Teather in spring 2011. The review will be open and will look at the foundations that should be in place to protect young children's welfare and support their development and learning. It will also consider throughout how to reduce burdens on providers as the experience of the past three years is that the requirements of the early years foundation stage have increased the workload on many of those who work with young children, and so taken time away from children. We do not intend a fundamental change but we do intend to review the way in which the Act works in practice. I hope that that is sufficient assurance. I again apologise if phone calls have not been returned. With those assurances, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for his reply and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, for her support. The noble Lord says that academies will have to deliver the early years foundation stage. However, it does not say that in the Bill. The difficulty has arisen because of uncertainty about the independent status-or not-of academies. According to independent schools, the definition of "independent" is a school that is inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. However, that does not apply to the schools that we are discussing. Nevertheless, the Minister could not have been clearer on that matter. I suspect that the Early Childhood Forum will very much welcome a meeting with officials to set its mind totally at rest. It will probably be satisfied with the clarity of the Minister's reply, but I think that it will take advantage of the invitation anyway. I wait to hear what it says to me when that meeting has taken place. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 10 withdrawn.

Amendments 10A to 10C not moved.

Amendment 11

Moved by Lord Hill of Oareford

11: Clause 1, page 2, line 9, at end insert-

"( ) Academy arrangements in relation to a school within subsection (5)(a)(i) must include provision imposing obligations on the proprietor of the school that are equivalent to the SEN obligations.

( ) "The SEN obligations" are the obligations imposed on governing bodies of maintained schools by-

(a) Chapter 1 of Part 4 of EA 1996 (children with special educational needs), and

(b) regulations made under any provision of that Chapter."

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 6:45, 7 July 2010

My Lords, I shall seek to be brief with this amendment as I have already written to noble Lords about it and we discussed these issues at length in Committee.

The purpose of this government amendment is simple; it is to ensure that the obligations placed on academies in respect of SEN mirror those placed on maintained schools. I said early on in Committee that I could not see in principle why one set of state-funded schools should treat children with SEN any differently from another set of state-funded schools. Having listened to the points that were raised in debate and having had a number of subsequent meetings on SEN with noble Lords who are far more experienced than I, my initial instinct has been confirmed and I am very glad to have this opportunity to move this amendment, which should put the principle of parity beyond doubt.

As noble Lords are aware, academies are already required, through their funding agreements, to provide for pupils with SEN in a similar way to maintained schools. Noble Lords will also know that the funding agreement has been the main regulatory mechanism for academies since their inception, as we discussed this afternoon. We agree with the previous Government that this should continue. We could therefore have ensured parity through the funding agreement alone. However, we decided to go further. This amendment acknowledges the particular concerns that have been raised in relation to SEN and will therefore put into the Bill a requirement that academy arrangements-either funding agreements or grants-must contain provisions that impose obligations that are equivalent to those that are imposed on maintained schools in Part 4, and in regulations made under Part 4, of the Education Act 1996. This means that no funding agreement could omit these provisions unless further primary legislation were made to remove these requirements.

In practical terms, the amendment imposes additional obligations on academies to: inform parents that their child has SEN and of the special educational provision being made; accept the naming of the academy on a child's statement; and appoint as a SENCO a person who is a qualified teacher. Moreover, new SENCOs will have to undertake prescribed training. It will apply to any new academy and to any existing academy that enters into new funding arrangements.

At this point I would also like to put on record the reassurance I gave the noble Lord, Lord Rix, at our meeting on 1 July that it is the Government's policy that academy special schools should offer a broad and balanced curriculum that meets the needs of an individual child as specified in their statement of special educational need. I am very pleased to have the chance to move this amendment. I hope that it will provide assurance that the SEN obligations on academies will mirror those that are placed on maintained schools. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments 12 to 14 and to Amendment 39, all of which are in my name. I very much welcome government Amendment 11, to which the Minister has just spoken. In Committee, there was a widespread concern throughout the Chamber to ensure that academies were put on the same footing as maintained schools as regards admitting and meeting the needs of pupils with special educational needs. The Minister said then that he would reflect and come back with proposals on how parity could be achieved. As we have heard, he has been as good as his word. I am very grateful to him for this and for the time and trouble that he has taken to meet Peers to discuss their concerns. I am also most grateful to officials for the time that they have taken to make sure that we get this absolutely right.

For my part, I think that we have very nearly got it right, but not quite. That is why I have put down the amendments to which I am speaking this evening. I spoke on this at some length in Committee, so I shall not weary the House by going over the same ground all over again. The Minister has met very many of the concerns that I raised in Committee, but one or two issues still remain. The first is whether the new provisions will relate to existing as well as new academies. In moving his amendment, the Minister has clarified that because he has said that they will do so. However, I think he said that they would apply to existing academies when they entered into a new agreement. That could be some years away. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that steps will be taken to apply the new provisions to existing academies at the earliest possible date and not necessarily waiting several years before doing so.

Secondly, there is the question of whether obligations that are equivalent to the SEN obligations in the Minister's amendment are the same in their effect as the SEN obligations. If not, it will be argued in court that Parliament's decision not to make these obligations direct statutory obligations must indicate an intention to permit variation from the statutory framework. I should therefore be grateful if the Minister could confirm that the intention is for academies to be subject to exactly the same obligations as maintained schools as regards admitting and meeting the needs of pupils with special educational needs, which the notion of parity would imply.

My main concern is with the enforceability of the rights implied by these obligations. The Minister has chosen to confer the obligations by importing the statutory SEN framework into the contractual framework of academy arrangements. There are contractual agreements between the Secretary of State and an academy to which parents and pupils are not a party. There is a complex legal argument as to whether the duties imported into academy arrangements by this means are enforceable by parents or pupils. I shall spare the House all the legal technicalities, but there are essentially three ways that one might seek to ensure that the duties were enforceable.

The first is by laying on academies the same statutory obligations as those laid on maintained schools directly by statute, not by statutorily importing them into a contract. That is what my Amendment 14 would do and I still think that it is the simplest and surest way to achieve my aim, which is why I have tabled that amendment again and why it would save a lot of bother by putting everything beyond doubt, if the Minister agreed to it.

Assuming that the Minister's preference is to proceed by the contractual route and to maintain the contractual relationship with academies, there are two further ways that one might seek to enforce the contractual obligations. One is through a complaints procedure and the other is by making it clear that pupils and parents can enforce their rights by judicial review.

As for complaints procedures, complaints would presumably be made to the Secretary of State, but there is nothing that establishes such a procedure and nothing is proposed. Even if there were, it would need to be clear that if the Secretary of State found that an academy had not complied with the relevant provisions of the academy arrangements, he would require the academy to comply, and the arrangements would need to make clear that he could compel compliance. This would place a considerable additional burden on the Secretary of State, whose process for dealing with complaints is already widely perceived to be slow and ineffective-as is illustrated by the fact that it is never suggested by defendants in proceedings for judicial review that the court should decline jurisdiction because a complaint to the Secretary of State would provide an effective alternative remedy.

As for judicial review, the availability of this remedy could be put beyond doubt simply by making clear that the rights accorded to pupils and parents under academy arrangements could be enforced through judicial review. This could be done on a narrow basis relating to SEN only, as is provided for in Amendment 12, or on a wider basis covering all rights given to parents and pupils, as provided for in Amendment 13. Amendment 12 would sort out the problem relating to special educational needs, but would, if anything, weaken the position in relation to other rights-say, those relating to admissions-because it would imply that those rights could not be enforced through judicial review.

The Minister has shown himself to be very accommodating of our concerns in the quest to achieve full parity between academies and maintained schools. I hope that further discussion may be possible before Third Reading, with a view to finding a formula which would ensure that enforceability was not only a reality, but was seen to be a reality, either through a robust complaints procedure or by putting it beyond doubt that judicial review is available as a remedy.

Something along the lines of Amendments 12 or 13 would do the job for judicial review, and I have suggestions for a robust complaints procedure that I would be happy to put to the Minister. Amendment 39 begins the job, but even that requires fleshing out in some respects to reflect the ingredients of a robust complaints procedure. If the Minister would be happy to proceed along these lines, I am sure that we could reach an arrangement that would put enforceability beyond doubt and would be satisfactory to everyone. If full parity is the Minister's aim, I cannot see a reason not to do this.

Photo of Baroness Wilkins Baroness Wilkins Labour

My Lords, I echo the thanks of the noble Lord, Lord Low, to the Minister for all his time and the concern that he has given to this issue. I support the noble Lord, Lord Low, in his amendments and hope that the Minister will meet his concerns and satisfy him fully.

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

I, too, warmly thank the Minister for bringing his amendment. It certainly shows that he has listened to the House and we are grateful. I also support the noble Lord, Lord Low. He raises important issues in relation to JR and I am sure that the Minister will be able to respond positively.

I should like to raise a further issue on this group of amendments which relates to SEN funding. It arises from the potential decline in the ability of local authorities to fund support services for SEN pupils which would result from an increase in the overall number of academies.

At the moment, local authorities retain a proportion of funding related to the number of schools that they maintain for the provision of central services, including those for special educational needs. While the overall level of funding within a local authority area may well not fall as a result of this process, the reallocation of resources away from local authorities to individual schools can have potentially significant effects for children and young people with SEN.

We widely accept that the provision of special educational needs support is at the most expensive end, or at least the more expensive end, of the educational spectrum. A key feature of local authority provision is that it allows a local authority to ensure that finite resources are spent effectively through the ability of the local authority to generate economies of scale.

This matter will come up later in Amendment 21, to be moved by my noble friend Lady Wilkins, on low-incidence SEN. However, it actually raises a more general issue of principle. In the letter that the Minister circulated to us and my noble friend, he states that academies are able to buy in SEN support services from their local authority, from neighbouring local authorities or from other providers. I understand that principle, but I ask him to reflect on the circumstances. Because there will clearly be no requirement for an academy to purchase services from their local authority, current services might be at risk. In particular, the expertise that individual local authorities have established might not be available to academies, because resources are no longer there to support it. There is also a risk that the provision of SEN support on an individual school basis might be more expensive than that which could be accessed by the local authority.

The noble Lord may say that the problem will not arise, that essentially he is proposing a market-based solution and that because of that the combination of academies making their own decisions will ensure a satisfactory outcome. I should mention again my NHS experience, because what is happening here is very much in parallel to the decentralisation that has been undertaken in the National Health Service. My experience has been that in that process specialist services can actually lose out and that if they do, the Government have to find some mechanism for intervention to make sure that those specialist services, as a whole, continue to be provided. I give advanced warning that I will raise this again in the debate on my noble friend's amendment. It would be useful to have some indication from the Government that they understand the issue and that there is a mechanism by which they can deal with it. If the noble Lord had accepted my suggestion that a statutory duty of partnership might be laid on all parties, that might have been one way through.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 7:00, 7 July 2010

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Low, echoed the point that I made on Amendment 8 about how we keep academy agreements up to date. If I remember rightly, he said that for existing academies the only way to do this is to terminate the agreement and renegotiate it. Will my noble friend undertake to give notice of termination to all existing academies so that the arrangement that he has arrived at for special educational needs can be incorporated into their agreements? I imagine that most of them will choose to renegotiate ahead of time and not go through the catharsis of termination. That would seem to be the procedure that we ought to go through in order to bring all academies into line with what the Government now believe should be the line.

I also ask for his assurance that with this Bill it is the Government's intention that the model agreement should allow for the obligations on academies to update in line with those placed on maintained schools generally, and that we will not have to go through this procedure of issuing a notice of termination every time we change the SEN rules, the admissions rules or anything else that academies are supposed to follow.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I support Amendment 11 in the name of the Minister and also flag up that we have complementary amendments coming up in the same group as Amendment 22. We have had a query from TreeHouse, which deals with autistic children, asking for assurances on the funding for non-maintained special schools. Under these arrangements, the funding will go directly to academies and not via local councils. Currently, local councils top-slice 7 to 10 per cent from the dedicated schools budget, which includes placements for children at non-maintained schools. Will the Minister reassure us about these arrangements?

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

My Lords, will the Minister clarify the position of parents in relation to first-tier tribunals, SEN and disabilities? The annexe about SEN that goes with the agreement and that was circulated to us makes it clear that parents and pupils at academies have the same rights of access to first-tier tribunals, SEN and disabilities, formerly SENDIST. Most academies must comply with an order from the tribunal. Is there a notion of judicial review if there is still not compliance with the order from the tribunal?

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said about health service reforms and the difficulty with regard to specialist health services. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children runs such a specialist service in Kentish Town, north London. It works with children who sexually harm other children. It is a very intensive service. If these children are not given the service that they need, they sometimes go on to become adults who continue to abuse children. It is a very important service, but it has proved difficult for the NSPCC to get the funding that it needs through applying to local PCTs. This is one example of where regional planning and funding can be very helpful. I hope that the Minister will keep in mind what the noble Lord said.

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 thanking various noble Lords for their support for the government amendment. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, for his thanks to my officials, who I know have worked extremely closely with him and his advisers. They have spent so much time working on this that they have almost moved in together.

I will respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, rather than to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins. He asked whether the Government were aware of the issue and whether we were thinking about what to do if the issues that he alluded to came to pass. The answer is yes. It is a fair point and we will no doubt return to it later.

The question of funding is a fiendishly complicated area, because some aspects of SEN funding, and the responsibility to discharge it, will remain with the local authority and some will not. Rather than trying to answer in detail, it is probably better if I respond subsequently and pick up on the points. I will respond to one specific question concerning the funding of non-maintained special schools. There are no plans to change the funding arrangements for those schools. I will respond in a more considered way in writing if I can.

I may be able to offer the noble Lord, Lord Low, some-but probably not total-comfort. I am happy to confirm that parents have always had the power to seek judicial review against either the academy for failing to follow its contractual obligations or the Secretary of State for failing to ensure that the academy complies with its obligations under the funding agreement. It would be unique in law to provide for judicial review to apply in particular circumstances. I am advised that the issue of whether any person can apply for judicial review will be determined by the courts in accordance with civil procedure rules. The Government's view is that the issue should properly be determined by the courts, and the House may not wish to set a precedent in this area. However, I can perhaps help the noble Lord a little by saying on the record that in recognition of his concerns, we will place a new provision in academy funding agreements that will enable the Secretary of State to direct an academy to fulfil any of the obligations imposed by the SEN annexe of the funding agreement. The agreement already enables the Secretary of State to direct an academy to admit a child.

As far as concerns a new timetable for the complaints process, I am sure that, as on many issues, we will discuss these matters further in due course. The YPLA currently administers a complaints process on behalf of the Secretary of State. I entirely accept that that process is necessary and confirm that we intend to continue to provide for it. A question was asked about the first-tier tribunal. Yes, parents and pupils will continue to have access to that.

I will answer the point raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas. The nature of the contractual agreement-what is at the heart of it-is that neither side can vary it unilaterally. Our expectation is that many academies will want to move to the new, simplified model funding agreement, which will introduce these provisions on SEN. In the light of those points and the answers that I hope go some way towards responding to the noble Lord, Lord Low, I hope that he will not press his amendments. We will no doubt continue to discuss these matters later.

Amendment 11 agreed.

Amendments 12 to 14 not moved.

Amendment 15

Moved by Baroness Howe of Idlicote

15: Clause 1, page 2, line 16, at end insert-

"( ) At least 25% of the people on the governing body of an Academy will be elected from among the parents of pupils at the school."

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, I return to an issue that I raised in Committee: ensuring that parents have proper representation on academies' governing bodies. I should perhaps again declare my interest as president of the National Governors' Association, whose views, not unnaturally, I represent.

Governing bodies have considerable responsibilities, as I think we probably all agree, and-this is not always acknowledged-they play a critical part in ensuring that our schools perform well for the children in our community. They are the schools' accountable bodies, and therefore strong governing bodies are vital to the Secretary of State's aim to improve school standards and accountability. The NGA is very committed to ensuring that a full range of skills and experience is represented on governing bodies and it actively works to improve the training, knowledge and skills of governors. For example, the NGA's well respected induction publication, Welcome to Governance, is accompanied by a test and certification process.

NGA members also strongly support the need for governing bodies to represent not just parents but the full range of local stakeholders who also have a great interest in the success of the school. At this point, I should say that I fully support Amendment 17A in this group in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Sharp and Lady Garden.

In Committee, I listened to the reluctance of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, to prescribe further the composition of governing bodies for academies. Perhaps understandably, the noble Lord does not want to curtail the freedom of academies, and I support the desire to leave more autonomy to those who know how to run schools without too much interference from central government.

However, in outstanding schools-those which, if they apply, are likely to be fast-tracked to academy status-governance is likely to have been working well and to have provided an engine for a school to reach the point where it is rated as outstanding. Therefore, if the governing bodies of those schools, or fast-tracked academies, choose to contain a reasonable number of parents-I think that in Committee the noble Lord hinted that that was likely to be the case-could they not be commended by the Secretary of State as examples of best practice for all academies to follow?

I am of course pleased that this Government have been championing the role of parents in setting the ethos and direction of schools, but surely the way in which parents can do this most effectively is as members of governing bodies. I hope that the Minister can give a more satisfying answer to this point than he did in Committee. Sadly-I have never quite understood this but the previous Government certainly bear responsibility for it-academies are currently required to have only one elected parent member, although I am pleased to note that many have chosen to have more.

My amendment is modest and not too limiting. It requires only one-quarter of governors to be parents of pupils at a school. That is a long way short of a majority and therefore parents alone could not prevent an academy trust taking an initiative that parent governors did not support. However, it goes a small way to ensuring that parents have some influence in determining the strategy of a school. It therefore cannot be argued that the amendment limits the activity of a school or its trust. Without the amendment or something like it, the Bill will allow a reduction in the level of parental involvement, rather than the increase that the Government have promised.

As it stands, the Bill offers rather more central accountability in place of local accountability at the same time as reducing the number of parents required to be involved in holding the school leadership team to account. Also, election to a governing body is a democratic process, which is an important safeguard. More central accountability might be seen as a move towards more central control by the Secretary of State both in schools converting to academies and in any new academies being set up as free schools.

As I said, I hope that the Government will be able to give a rather more encouraging answer on the re-emergence of this amendment and also that they will be rather more appreciative of the considerable role that governing bodies play in this whole process.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat 7:15, 7 July 2010

My Lords, I remind the House that we are on Report and we need to be careful not to repeat in too much detail arguments which have already been made in Committee. We are intended to deal with new points and those that require further elucidation, not to go over points that we discussed in Committee.

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

I rise to speak to Amendment 17A in my name and those of my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Garden. I entirely share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, in relation to not being too prescriptive. We also very much share her view that school governors should represent the community that the school serves. In that respect, it is very important that parents, in particular, are represented. She said that only one parent was elected. However, in academies, the parent governor is currently appointed, not elected, and that is an important point.

I declare an interest. I am both a governor of a small primary school in Guildford and a member of the corporation-effectively a governor-of Guildford College, so I am actively a governor of schools at the moment.

Amendment 17A is different from the amendment put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, in three respects. First, rather than prescribe a percentage, we are suggesting specific numbers-a minimum of three and a maximum of seven parents, although obviously the figure will vary according to the size of the governing body, which itself will vary according to the size of the school. There has to be considerable flexibility here. Secondly, we are anxious to see representation from staff, including support staff, as well as from parents. Lastly, we also want to see representation from the local community, and what better way to do that than to have a representative from the local authority? In all three senses, we feel it is important that there should be representation of the community that is served by the school. Therefore, we thoroughly endorse the sentiments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, although we have put a slightly different slant on it.

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

My Lords, I rise with some trepidation in case the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, intervenes to say that we are replicating what we discussed in Committee. However, I think it is fair to make the point that, first, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said in moving the amendment, we did not feel that the Minister responded strongly enough. Secondly, we had a good debate yesterday on Report on the subject of primary schools and academies, and I refer to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on the role of governing bodies. Thinking back over the past 20 or 30 years to what governors used to do in schools compared with what they do now, there is no doubt that their workload and responsibilities have grown considerably, and I suggest that with academy status more corporate responsibilities will fall on the governing body. This is an important matter. It is also very important to have strong parental involvement, including on the governing body. However, the Bill does not provide for the right signals to be given.

I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, blames the previous Government for the existence of that responsibility, and it is well stated that this legislation on governing bodies follows the previous Government's legislation on academies. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, pointed out in Committee, there are reasons for that. We were talking then about developing academies essentially to deal with some of the most challenging situations and communities, and there was genuine concern that some schools would not be able to attract enough parent governors. We are talking now about the extension of academies to schools in general. I should think that it is right to give some kind of signal that we expect strong parental involvement. I therefore ask the Minister whether he will give further attention to this matter between now and Third Reading.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, this question was asked in Committee but was not answered. Is there an obligation on academies to have elected parent governors, or can they appoint them?

Photo of Lord Puttnam Lord Puttnam Labour

My Lords, not for the first time I speak in support of my noble friend Lady Howe. I did not speak on this subject in Committee, but on Second Reading I did make the point that the Government's handling of governors and governance issues had been "clumsy". I had hoped that in the intervening weeks I would be able to withdraw that, but, unfortunately, according to the DfE website,

"no decisions have yet been taken on the composition of future academy governing bodies".

That is a foolish way of putting it for all sorts of reasons.

I have spent the past 12 years visiting almost 400 schools. What have I learnt from that? I have learnt that successful schools are typified by engaged staff with good leadership from heads, engaged parents, and engaged governing bodies. In almost 400 schools I have never come across a school in which the relationship between a successful head and the chair of the governing body has been anything other than excellent. I am sure that it is possible to find one, but I never have. It is a pivotal relationship and I cannot imagine that a successful academy will manage matters differently.

I have a real concern. I think that in years to come, largely as a result of the work of the national college, and possibly the recession, we will have a generation of first-class head teachers. They will tend to be quite young and very professional. They will probably have led three, four or possibly five schools at different times in their careers. As they move on, the only continuity left to the community will be the governing body. If you begin to minimise the role of the governing body in some way and solely optimise the role of the heads-or, as we shall increasingly come to think of them, the CEOs-we could reap a whirlwind. The Government will make a massive mistake if they do not addressing the legitimate expectations of governing bodies.

I would go further. I think that there should be mandatory training for the chairs of governing bodies. I agree absolutely with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. My own Government, in a dozen years, did nothing like enough in this area. To repeat that mistake in an educational environment in which this relationship will become ever more important as schools need to connect and remain connected to their local communities, will be a grievous error. I fear that academies which believe themselves able to get up and running while ignoring the role of the governing body will fail. There is a danger that they may simply minimise it, or go through something perfunctory such as having one or two people just because they feel they must. Governors are crucial to successful schools, and anyone who thinks otherwise has not visited enough of them.

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

My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, with one other thought. School governing bodies are related not only to the community responsibility for schools but to the whole fundamental concept of democracy. In many ways the idea of a governing body of a school is a simple, low-level neighbourhood concept of what democracy is about. It is about fulfilling one's obligations to society and recognising that society has responsibilities that it carries out for all its citizens.

I am worried about reducing the importance and significance of governing bodies. I hope the Government will feel that they can support the idea of strengthening them, albeit with the legacy of the one parent governor in the case of a limited number of academies. In doing so, they would bear out one of the central issues that the coalition has repeatedly said it believes in, which is the decentralisation of power to ordinary people. Many people find their first step towards responsible democracy when they first become a governor of a school, particularly a primary school. There are powerful constitutional as well as educational arguments for recognising that the role of governing bodies is a crucial element of what one might call a mature democracy. I hope the Minister will bear that thought in mind.

Photo of Baroness Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative

I, too, would like to pay very warm tribute to the importance of governing bodies. Exactly as the noble Baroness said, they have had more and more responsibilities thrust on them by legislation in the past 20 years or so. I am, however, nervous of any restriction as to the exact composition of a governing body-as to who should be on it, how many, what proportion, and so on. My experience is based not on the governing body of a school, but I was reflecting as I was listening to the argument that I had for many years the privilege of chairing the council of Roehampton University, previously the Roehampton Institute. We made a positive decision, and I think a democratic decision, that we would advertise the vacancies for governors. We were astonished by the wealth of interest from highly expert people from the community. Of course people will not offer to be on a governing body if they live 50 miles away, so it was very much a local thing. It was really inspiring to find people who popped up from the community of whom we would never have heard saying that they wanted to be interviewed for membership of the governing body.

Much as I agree with the noble Baroness on the importance of parents and governing bodies-I cannot speak too highly of every governing body with which I have been involved-I beg her not to press an amendment that would restrict the composition of governing bodies by dictating it in this way.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Huyton Baroness Morgan of Huyton Labour

I agree strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, because my experience is exactly the same. Governing bodies are incredibly important and we all recognise the need for good training and for a wide range of people to be involved. However, as soon as we get into imposing restrictions and saying that we need this or that category of person, as we have done before, we often end up with people who do not want to do it at all. We need to get a range of people who are genuinely and totally committed to the school. In my experience the best governors have often been not the current parents but parents whose children have been through the school and who have decided to maintain their commitment to the school. They have a real feel of what the school has delivered for their children.

Speaking as a current governor I can say that the person who best embodies the community in the school in which I am involved is the local vicar. He does not have a label as anything but he is the most valuable community governor. As it happens it is not a Church of England school, but he absolutely represents the local community, particularly when there have been problems. The local community looks to him, although he would not necessarily fit into one of the categories. Restrictions are not a good route to go down and we should have learnt that from the past.

Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I do not think that the amendments call for restrictions. They are the opposite; they say that parents are a special group of people who should therefore be given places as of right. That does not restrict anyone else in any way. It is absolutely true that some of the best governors are people who have become interested in and involved in the school over a period. Indeed, some of the best governors are people who may now be grandparents of children in the school who first got involved as parents and, when their children had gone through the school and they were not qualified to be parent governors any more, it was natural for the school to find a way to get them back on the governing body as an appointee, a co-optee, or whatever. That is absolutely correct, and no one is arguing against it.

Schools really need people who are prepared to give up considerable time, energy and commitment to the school, whatever their present position in the community. The purpose behind the amendments is that parents of children in the school at the time are a special group, for obvious reasons, and that their presence on the governing body in a reasonable proportion ought to be set out and entrenched. That in no way contravenes anything that the noble Baronesses, Lady Perry and Lady Morgan, said about the importance of getting other people involved, or of parents continuing after they have been parents of children at the school.

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 7:30, 7 July 2010

My Lords, I start by saying to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that I agree with her that-as everyone, including the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said-governors are key. I agree with her strongly on the vital role that governors play in schools and, in particular, the important contribution that parent governors have to make. We have spoken before outside the House, and I am keen to meet her and the NGA. I apologise that I have not been able to do so so far, because I have spent most of my waking hours in the House. I should like to talk to her and the organisation about how one can attract more parent governors and whether there are current obstacles to that-restrictions placed on them, and so on. I hope that she will accept my apology if she feels that I have not sufficiently stressed the importance of governors, and of parent governors in particular, because I feel that very strongly.

There is no difference anywhere in this House about the importance of governors and parent governors. Where there is a difference of opinion, I find myself agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton. The best way to go is to be less prescriptive and to trust people to get the right mix of people for a particular school. Should one set out from the beginning that there should be a certain proportion of different kinds of person whom one has to have, whether or not they are the best people for the job? As noble Lords might expect, I incline to the view of expressing the strongest possible endorsement of the importance of the role of governors and the wish to see parent governors involved, but leaving it to individual governing bodies and trusts to decide in their particular circumstances what is the best mix of people. Like many noble Lords, I have been a governor of a couple of schools for many years, and I have seen that having a broad mix of people tends to make for good governance decisions.

Where I take issue and am keen to resist, and where I know that I will not satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam-I apologise if he thinks that I am clumsy-is the degree of prescription in the amendment. As has often been the case since I have been in my job, I have been happy to praise the former Government for things that they did right. One thing that they did right was to come up with an approach to governance for academies which was sensible and has stood the test of time. It still applies in the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.

The new free schools are a good example of parental involvement, and one would imagine that parent governors will be a high proportion of governors-so high that some in this House have argued that there will be too many parents involved in setting up a new school. In some ways, that illustrates the point: what is the right number?

I certainly stick to the point that there are many examples where academies have chosen many parent governors to sit on the governing body. We hope that that will continue. However, on a point of principle-in all areas, and where it makes sense; we think that this is an example-the Government do not want to go down the prescriptive route. We want to stick with the approach to the governing bodies of academies of the previous Government.

We touched on the specific question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, before. The answer to his question is that the arrangements for the election of a parent governor or parent governors of an academy will be set out in the articles of association. The election of parent governors must be by the parents of pupils attending the academy.

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

Do the Government intend to move from parent governors being appointed to there being elections for parent governors? That would be a great step forward.

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

There will certainly be election. I must apologise, but I am not currently 100 per cent sure whether there is provision for election or not, and I will need to follow that up, but there will be election.

I was headed toward saying to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that I am sorry not to be able to be more helpful. I understand her point. I hope that she will spare the time to meet me with the NGA to talk about the matter more generally but, at this juncture, I ask her most respectfully to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, I very much thank the Minister for the consideration that he has given. Of course, I am hardly completely satisfied, as he will understand. The conversation that followed the initial moving of the amendment expressed the view that we all share about the importance of governing bodies. I suspect that many other people in this room have been governors at some stage of their life. My experience goes back many years, to when there was not a great deal to be done other than consider meals and milk. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, for his contribution, because he put it in the wider community sense, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her point about the democratic process: how, so often, becoming a governor of a local school sparks off the base of the big society-as the Conservative side of the coalition was keen to put across to us all.

I will leave it at that. I thank all noble Lords, because quite a number spoke. I will withdraw my amendment and I certainly hope to have a meeting with the Minister and members of the NGA.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.40 pm.