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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 7th July 2010.

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Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour 5:00 pm, 7th 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.