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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 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 7:30 pm, 7th July 2010

My Lords, I start by saying to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that I agree with her that-as everyone, including the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said-governors are key. I agree with her strongly on the vital role that governors play in schools and, in particular, the important contribution that parent governors have to make. We have spoken before outside the House, and I am keen to meet her and the NGA. I apologise that I have not been able to do so so far, because I have spent most of my waking hours in the House. I should like to talk to her and the organisation about how one can attract more parent governors and whether there are current obstacles to that-restrictions placed on them, and so on. I hope that she will accept my apology if she feels that I have not sufficiently stressed the importance of governors, and of parent governors in particular, because I feel that very strongly.

There is no difference anywhere in this House about the importance of governors and parent governors. Where there is a difference of opinion, I find myself agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Huyton. The best way to go is to be less prescriptive and to trust people to get the right mix of people for a particular school. Should one set out from the beginning that there should be a certain proportion of different kinds of person whom one has to have, whether or not they are the best people for the job? As noble Lords might expect, I incline to the view of expressing the strongest possible endorsement of the importance of the role of governors and the wish to see parent governors involved, but leaving it to individual governing bodies and trusts to decide in their particular circumstances what is the best mix of people. Like many noble Lords, I have been a governor of a couple of schools for many years, and I have seen that having a broad mix of people tends to make for good governance decisions.

Where I take issue and am keen to resist, and where I know that I will not satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam-I apologise if he thinks that I am clumsy-is the degree of prescription in the amendment. As has often been the case since I have been in my job, I have been happy to praise the former Government for things that they did right. One thing that they did right was to come up with an approach to governance for academies which was sensible and has stood the test of time. It still applies in the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.

The new free schools are a good example of parental involvement, and one would imagine that parent governors will be a high proportion of governors-so high that some in this House have argued that there will be too many parents involved in setting up a new school. In some ways, that illustrates the point: what is the right number?

I certainly stick to the point that there are many examples where academies have chosen many parent governors to sit on the governing body. We hope that that will continue. However, on a point of principle-in all areas, and where it makes sense; we think that this is an example-the Government do not want to go down the prescriptive route. We want to stick with the approach to the governing bodies of academies of the previous Government.

We touched on the specific question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, before. The answer to his question is that the arrangements for the election of a parent governor or parent governors of an academy will be set out in the articles of association. The election of parent governors must be by the parents of pupils attending the academy.