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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:24 pm on 7th July 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 4:24 pm, 7th 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.