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 Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 7:00 pm, 7th July 2010

My Lords, I return to an issue that I raised in Committee: ensuring that parents have proper representation on academies' governing bodies. I should perhaps again declare my interest as president of the National Governors' Association, whose views, not unnaturally, I represent.

Governing bodies have considerable responsibilities, as I think we probably all agree, and-this is not always acknowledged-they play a critical part in ensuring that our schools perform well for the children in our community. They are the schools' accountable bodies, and therefore strong governing bodies are vital to the Secretary of State's aim to improve school standards and accountability. The NGA is very committed to ensuring that a full range of skills and experience is represented on governing bodies and it actively works to improve the training, knowledge and skills of governors. For example, the NGA's well respected induction publication, Welcome to Governance, is accompanied by a test and certification process.

NGA members also strongly support the need for governing bodies to represent not just parents but the full range of local stakeholders who also have a great interest in the success of the school. At this point, I should say that I fully support Amendment 17A in this group in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Sharp and Lady Garden.

In Committee, I listened to the reluctance of the noble Lord, Lord Hill, to prescribe further the composition of governing bodies for academies. Perhaps understandably, the noble Lord does not want to curtail the freedom of academies, and I support the desire to leave more autonomy to those who know how to run schools without too much interference from central government.

However, in outstanding schools-those which, if they apply, are likely to be fast-tracked to academy status-governance is likely to have been working well and to have provided an engine for a school to reach the point where it is rated as outstanding. Therefore, if the governing bodies of those schools, or fast-tracked academies, choose to contain a reasonable number of parents-I think that in Committee the noble Lord hinted that that was likely to be the case-could they not be commended by the Secretary of State as examples of best practice for all academies to follow?

I am of course pleased that this Government have been championing the role of parents in setting the ethos and direction of schools, but surely the way in which parents can do this most effectively is as members of governing bodies. I hope that the Minister can give a more satisfying answer to this point than he did in Committee. Sadly-I have never quite understood this but the previous Government certainly bear responsibility for it-academies are currently required to have only one elected parent member, although I am pleased to note that many have chosen to have more.

My amendment is modest and not too limiting. It requires only one-quarter of governors to be parents of pupils at a school. That is a long way short of a majority and therefore parents alone could not prevent an academy trust taking an initiative that parent governors did not support. However, it goes a small way to ensuring that parents have some influence in determining the strategy of a school. It therefore cannot be argued that the amendment limits the activity of a school or its trust. Without the amendment or something like it, the Bill will allow a reduction in the level of parental involvement, rather than the increase that the Government have promised.

As it stands, the Bill offers rather more central accountability in place of local accountability at the same time as reducing the number of parents required to be involved in holding the school leadership team to account. Also, election to a governing body is a democratic process, which is an important safeguard. More central accountability might be seen as a move towards more central control by the Secretary of State both in schools converting to academies and in any new academies being set up as free schools.

As I said, I hope that the Government will be able to give a rather more encouraging answer on the re-emergence of this amendment and also that they will be rather more appreciative of the considerable role that governing bodies play in this whole process.