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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 7th July 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 4:45 pm, 7th 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.