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

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

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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 7:00 pm, 7th July 2010

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."