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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:31 pm on 7th July 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Liberal Democrat 6:31 pm, 7th 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.