Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Report (2nd Day)

Education and Adoption Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:44 pm on 16th December 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Clause 1: Coasting schools

Amendment 8A

Moved by Lord Addington

8A: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, after “school” insert “or an Academy”

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 3:45 pm, 16th December 2015

My Lords, the fairly large group that we start with today covers a variety of different matters. The amendments in my name fall into three groups. I shall continue to explain this when the noise level is slightly lower. I do not know what the parliamentary equivalent of “Rhubarb, rhubarb” is, but hope that we can take that as read for a few moments.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat

I hope that that is reported in Hansard.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

Yes, I hope that it will be reported in Hansard.

Amendments 8A, 8C, 8D, 9, 9A and 10A concern the new definition of a school in trouble—that it is “coasting”. If coasting is a bad thing, I suggest that all types of school should have it available to them. I also note that the Minister has tabled amendments in this group, so I will resist any further comment until after I have heard what he has to say, as I believe that he has made certain steps towards us.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Before the noble Lord moves on to his other amendments, I would like to elaborate on the point that he just referred to. As he said, I have tabled an amendment on it, and I take this opportunity to assure him that we take academies’ performance very seriously. We fully intend to hold academies to account in the same way as we do maintained schools. My Amendment 24 will ensure that the “coasting” definition always applies to academies and that we will always have power to take action when academies fail or coast. I will talk about that in more detail, but I hope that the noble Lord is reassured that we have addressed the concerns about tackling underperforming academies raised by him and a number of other noble Lords, and will not press his amendments in relation to that.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister. I was going to thank him in my summing-up speech, but I do it now.

There are two clarification amendments in this group. Amendment 9 relates to the definition of a coasting school as having three consecutive years of failure. That has been suggested and referred to in regulation, but the amendment seeks to have that included in the Bill, or at least get confirmation that that is what must happen before this type of intervention takes place. Further reassurance would help on that.

Amendment 15A states that certain types of schools will never be affected by the definition of coasting. Once again, this is seeking clarification and reassurance. My attention is drawn particularly to special schools in this regard. The integration of special schools into the education system as a support structure is very important. Some local base will always be important. Who knows what will happen in the future, but under the current structure, it would be appropriate to spell that out more clearly.

The more substantive amendment as far as I am concerned is Amendment 15. When drawing up the definition of a coasting school, a school that is in the throes of failing or at least stagnating, what does one look at? It is quite clear that academic results will be a factor and I have included that in a small list. Lists are of course imperfect, but they are a starting point for discussions. But other school activities are also important and I offer three further examples. One would be arts and sports. If there is exceptional activity in that area, but the academic side is not great, are you in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? If schools are doing something that is good, do we endanger it with a change of school status, organisation and ethos? Any time we do that we will presumably throw everything into the melting pot and changes will have to be made to address something. By changing that structure we may get rid of something good.

The same argument could be made about placement in further education and/or school activity after that. If we have established a good pathway, are we in danger, if we change that, of damaging this process? I still regard apprenticeships as something of a work in progress, but they are lauded by all. If a particular school is doing very well at getting people into apprenticeships, surely that deserves to have some special attention paid to it.

I do not think this is a particularly radical thought, but I have not heard conclusively what we will do if we get these very great gains and positives; will we throw them away? I remind all noble Lords that we have heard much about how schools should not just be chasing grades. If the target is getting definite C grades at GCSE, which is one that is often referred to, just chasing B grades at GCSE is not that much better. It is for the person getting the grades, but outside that, are we actually getting rid of something else?

I beg to move Amendment 8A and I look forward to all the Minister’s replies on this group.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I advise the House that, if Amendment 8B is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 8C to 9A inclusive, due to pre-emption.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendments 10, 11, 12 and 13 in this group, where we are essentially concerned with coasting and its definition. As we said in Grand Committee, we are particularly concerned to see that the definition of coasting is subject to appropriate parliamentary scrutiny and that parents are both kept fully informed and involved in what is happening if their school is defined as coasting. My amendments make it clear that regulations must be laid in order to define coasting and that the affirmative procedure must always be used.

I am, of course, grateful to the Minister for government Amendment 15B, which goes some way towards this by ensuring that the first use of regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure. I tell him that when the regulations are laid we will be looking particularly for assurances that all schools will be covered by the definition of coasting, including those which admit a large number of high-ability pupils.

We also discussed the issue of consultation with parents in Grand Committee. The Minister’s noble friend Lady Evans said that,

“once a school has been notified that it is coasting, we should trust the governing body to engage parents as they see fit”.—[ Official Report , 5/11/15; col. GC 415.]

However, in the light of discussions, she then said that she would see whether the Schools Causing Concern guidance would be sufficiently strong to ensure that parents were aware that their child’s school had been identified as coasting.

I am grateful for government Amendment 20, but I have a couple of questions for the Minister. I ask him to accept that the wording of government Amendment 20 is around a duty to communicate information about plans to improve a school, not about consulting parents or taking account of what they say. Will the Minister explain why the Government have decided that the duty should be about only communicating information, rather than an actual consultation with parents? Can he also confirm that Amendment 20 applies only to maintained schools which are going to be converted into academies? As I read it, it applies only to forced academisation under Clause 7 and not to those institutions which receive a coasting notice or warning notice where it does not automatically follow that academisation would take place. Is there not a defect in the amendment since it does not cover all schools? He made it clear in Grand Committee that some schools identified as coasting then might well be issued with a warning notice, but enforced academisation might not follow because presumably they were improving in the light of receiving it. I still think that there is an issue in this around parents being consulted at that stage.

Will the Minister also explain the term “registered parent”? I am not an expert in education law, but reference is usually made to registered pupils and relevant associated adults as having parental responsibility, so what does “registered parent” mean? I had not realised that as parents we are registered parents, which I think has a sort of Orwellian ring about it.

We then come to Amendment 24, to which the noble Lord will refer, but perhaps I may put some questions to him about it because it is relevant to my own amendments. Again, I am grateful that we will now have in the Bill the fact that the academy agreements will ensure, as I understand it, that academies which are the cause of concern will be treated in the same way as maintained schools when it comes to issues around coasting. Overall, the amendment is very welcome, but I have three points that I should like to raise with the Minister.

First, my reading of the amendment is that it applies only to academy schools and alternative provision academies, but not to 16-to-19 academies, which I understand are not defined as schools and are not in the further education sector but are the bodies which sixth-form colleges have been invited to join in order to get VAT rebates. It is very welcome that an avenue has now been found for sixth-form colleges to get these rebates, so there is a question of why, on the face of it, 16-to-19 academies have been left out of this definition. Can the Minister also confirm that proposed new Section 2D will be used retrospectively to override private contracts between the Secretary of State and academy trusts for all contracts?

I want to raise again the issue of early academy agreements, because in a sense we have academies and we have agreements, and now we are to have legislation that applies to those agreements. My understanding is that on the relationship between early academy agreements and the role of articles of association, originally the articles had to be approved by the Secretary of State and formed annexe 1 of the funding agreement. I understand that the articles of association no longer have to be approved. The earliest ones enabled the Secretary of State to parachute directors on to the boards of academy trusts where the existing directors were not taking seriously a warning notice. Does this provision apply to the articles of association as well as the funding agreement in those cases?

Finally, I note that the last line of Amendment 24 refers to the Education and Adoption Act, as it will be, coming into force in 2015. With the best will in the world, the Bill will not receive Royal Assent by the end of this year.

I am grateful for the two amendments which have been brought forward by the Minister, but they are technically complex. He may well not be able to answer all my detailed questions today, so would he be prepared to let us come back to this at Third Reading so that we can have another debate on these issues? I would be grateful for that.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Conservative 4:00 pm, 16th December 2015

My Lords, I am a little puzzled by the groupings. I thought that we were discussing government Amendment 20 and the whole business of so-called consultation and what that entailed in a later group. I will not trespass on remarks I may make to your Lordships at that stage. However, remembering grant-maintained schools and what went on in that so-called consultation—the intimidation and other things that happened to parents and others who wanted to set up independent schools—we should look a little askance at pleas for too much elaboration in the process. Perhaps we can discuss that at the appropriate time.

I apologise to your Lordships that I was unable to be present in Grand Committee and I repeat my declaration of interest at Second Reading: that I am the leader of a London borough. I spoke on the difference between academies and maintained schools, and put in a plea to my noble friend that he consider addressing what we all know—I certainly know it from my local experience—which is that some academies are coasting. That is a minority of academies and I do not subscribe for a moment to the doctrinaire opposition to them, but there is no doubt that there is some need for intervention. In my neck of the woods, we are getting to the very limits of tolerance with the dithering of some academy leaderships in addressing failings in their schools.

Therefore, I give an unqualified welcome to Amendment 24 in the name of my noble friend. It is extremely welcome, needed and right. On the questions posed by noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, it is clearly beyond doubt that proposed new Section 2D, in Amendment 24, would apply to all past academy agreements. The ones causing most concern in my area are academy agreements reached under a previous Government. I do not mean the coalition Government but a Government of another colour.

My noble friend has listened with his customary wisdom and intelligence to your Lordships’ House. He has been prepared to take and to hear criticism, and good advice, from all sides of the House. He has put forward very constructive proposals. I hope very much that your Lordships’ House will not be churlish and pick at rather minor drafting points. We all know that this is an early stage in the legislation process. It is still 2015, and the Bill will be tidied up before it becomes law. I hope the House will give a very fair wind to the generous way my noble friend has listened to the House, and to the amendments he has put forward, and will support government Amendment 24.

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Labour

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to respond to the amendments in this group after our deliberations in Committee. Before doing so, I apologise to the House: I very much wanted to take a full part in this debate, having raised many of these issues in Committee, but I have a personal appointment first thing in the morning in Manchester which I must keep. I am afraid that I have had to book a train to get me home tonight and, depending on how long Report stage takes, I may not be here for the end of the debate. I apologise for that.

I welcome the two government amendments in this group. Under Amendment 15B, the regulations on defining coasting will on the first occasion they are presented be subject to the affirmative resolution. That is a very welcome change on the Government’s part. I thank the Minister for taking the time to alert me to his proposals before today, and that was one of them.

I also welcome government Amendment 24, which, as the noble Lord, Lord True, said, enables—as we argued strongly for in Committee—parity of treatment between academies and maintained schools where they are defined as coasting, in need of improvement or in special measures. This is very important, particularly given the Government’s aspiration for all schools eventually to be academies. It is very important that we are clear about the process that will pertain when an academy is coasting or in need of significant improvement. Will the Minister therefore elaborate on the detail and explain how this will work in practice?

The Minister has rightly stressed throughout these debates the importance of acting quickly when a school is coasting or in need of significant improvement. As he has said on many occasions, a day longer in such a school is too long for any child. I agree. Will he say something about the timescale that he envisages will apply if and when these provisions are used in relation to an academy? The amendment refers to the warning notice. Proposed new Section 2B(4) states:

The Academy agreement must provide … the power to terminate the agreement … if the proprietor has failed to comply with a … warning notice … on time”.

What does that mean? What timescale are we talking about for implementation?

The amendments take us to the end point of giving the Secretary of State a power to terminate an academy agreement. I presume that that means that a school would not go back to being a maintained school and that it would close or become a new academy with some other sponsor. Is this correct? Will the Minister elaborate on what will happen to the school and the children if the original agreement is terminated? Again, stressing the need for children’s education to be protected, how long does he envisage it will be before alternative arrangements are in place?

Proposed new Section 2B(5) enables the Secretary of State, by regulation, to specify academies that will not be included in these provisions. What does the Minister envisage here? Does that mean that general regulations will be introduced that elaborate on the procedure by which these measures will be implemented? If so, by what means will this House approve them?

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 14 in this group, which aims to ease the return of children who are absent from school for reasons such as leukaemia, spinal injury and mental health issues by making it easier for schools to take them back. Before I do so, I join in the thanks from all sides of the House to the Minister for listening to the concerns raised in Committee, and in particular for tabling his Amendment 24. I am most grateful to him, and to my noble friend Lord Sutherland for attaching his name to my amendment.

My amendment would take data on the academic attainment of pupils absent for more than 15 days in any school year for medical reasons out of the assessment for coasting schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, whom I see is in her place, organised a meeting to discuss these issues a short while ago. We heard concerns that such young people are not always welcomed back with open arms by their schools. There may be a disincentive to support pupils who have had a significant time away due to illness. Head teachers may feel less confident about such pupils achieving their predicted grades. We heard from a young woman with a spinal injury who returned to her private school, which is very academically based. She certainly felt that she was not welcomed back.

In the statutory guidance supporting pupils at school with medical conditions, there is an expectation that local authorities should make other arrangements for the education of pupils who are,

“away from schools for 15 days or more because of health needs (whether consecutive or cumulative across the school year)”.

Fifteen days’ absence over a school year would be a suitable criterion for excluding those pupils’ results from schools’ reported data.

My hope is that this amendment would encourage the re-integration of pupils and ensure that schools’ results more accurately reflect the quality of their teaching. I am grateful to Dr John Ivens, head teacher at the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School, for suggesting this amendment. I would be most grateful if the Minister considered making such a change to the recording of coasting schools’ data, and if he considered applying such a measure to the whole school population, thereby easing the re-integration into school of all children absent for medical reasons. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the correspondence which he so generously sent to all noble Lords participating in discussion on the Bill. I have sympathy with all the amendments in this group. Certainly, coasting—whatever that may mean—should apply to all schools. I look forward to the Minister’s response to Amendment 24. There is a danger of general confusion over the concepts of a failing school, a school causing concern and coasting schools. Any school can, of course, be in one or all of these categories. But that aside, I agree that regulations defining coasting must be approved by both Houses of Parliament.

We have not yet teased out a definition of coasting. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, suggested additions to this definition and we talked about it in Committee. I realise that a consultation on the term “coasting” is taking place. I am not looking for a list of things that should be included in coasting, but issues such as those raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, should be taken account of, and I hope that they will be.

Perhaps I may again ask the Minister about the consultation. Who is being consulted? Does it include parents and pupils? When will the final definition of “coasting” appear in regulations? I hope it will be in the near future. Supposing one or both Houses of Parliament rejects the definition? Under what powers will we debate this?

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I support Amendment 15 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. The Government’s definition of “coasting”, which I have studied very carefully, seems to focus almost entirely on academic achievement, or failure to achieve academically. Is academic achievement the only thing we are looking for from our schools? I think not. Some schools have a very large number of children who do not have much potential for academic achievement. Having been a governor of two such schools, I am very conscious of the important work that those schools can do in supporting those children and preparing them for the challenges of adult life—not least the challenge of being a parent, which so often is their lot.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak briefly to these amendments. Like everyone else, I welcome government Amendments 15B and 24. However, I have some questions for the Minister, particularly about consultation. Many noble Lords have asked who is likely to be consulted about coasting or closure. I know that the Minister has in the past said that this will be done through the governors’ bodies and that it is the responsibility of the schools to ensure that this happens. I have discussed this at some length with my local school, which is very grateful for that flexibility as it wishes to take control of the consultation and do it in its own way with its own parents. So I hope that any regulations are not so tight that they are not flexible enough to allow for local interpretation.

If we have consultations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned—she referred to pupils—I would like reassurance from the Minister that children are paramount and will be at the centre of any discussions. Most parents have the best interests of their children at heart and will want to discuss their children’s education and the way their school is to be organised with those concerned in a positive way. But there are situations, which we have all come across, where parents put their own interests first and, somehow, we have to make sure that pupils have some sort of say in the consultation and that they are put first in whatever decisions are made.

I thank the Minister for hearing many of the representations we have made. I am interested in particular in the regulations because, as I said in Committee, it is crucial that we develop young people who are rounded and who are going to develop into leaders. That means that they should think not only about academic subjects such as maths and literature but also about the arts, sport and learning in general.

Photo of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Crossbench 4:15 pm, 16th December 2015

My Lords, I am very happy to have my name on the amendment headed by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I support this because I think it is the right item to emphasise in such a process. I am not sure I would want to see legislative details on this in the Bill, but I would hope to see something in regulations that would take account of the force of this amendment.

If I may step back for a moment to look at the broad clutch of amendments that we are dealing with now, the Bill is, I think, about two things, on which most of these amendments have an important bearing. The Bill is, first, about meeting the needs of individual children. I am grateful to the noble Baroness on the opposition Benches for re-emphasising the point that, for any pupil, one day too long in such a school is unacceptable. That should be the driving force on which we base our decisions on these amendments and the future of the Bill.

The Bill’s second main aim is to define the role of academies in dealing with this problem. A whole series of subsidiary questions come out of that, one of which is the definition of coasting. I am not quite as sceptical as some about this; after all, this has been brought to our notice by the Chief Inspector of Schools, who has identified a range of schools as coasting. He must have a working definition and he has not been faulted so far, as far as I can see, on the identification of such schools—we have a basis, we are not starting from scratch. I appreciate the way in which the definition will be dealt with in regulations that are subject to affirmative resolution. I, with others, thank the Minister for this being part of the process.

There are therefore two issues: the needs of the individual child and how far the academy system—which is the system we have—will meet those needs most efficiently. I do not think there is an absolute answer to the second question and that is why many of us have raised questions about some academies—some—that are in difficulty and have to be dealt with. I appreciate the government amendment, which allows parity of treatment through the whole school system and which is absolutely the right direction to take. It shows that the process of discussing this Bill in Committee had a real point and a real outcome. The whole point is that the needs of the individual child should be met.

One question is how far the processes that the Bill will put in place will contribute to or diminish this. I understand the need for and talk of the importance of consultation, but there is one real issue: I remind my fellow Peers that the process involves three years of assembling statistics. The message that there is a question of coasting will not be unannounced or sudden. One wonders what the governing bodies will have been doing, many of which contain—I stress this—elected parent representatives, whose job it is to represent the views of parents in a school that has apparently been coasting for at least three years, according to these regulations.

Is this the right direction to go? That is the broad question: whether or not we are with the whole academy movement, or whether we have evidential or ideological reasons for opposing it. We should set ideological reasons aside, as they are not relevant to the needs of the individual child, but what kind of evidential reasons could we have? Let us look at the comparisons. Quality and standards in English schools have risen dramatically while this process has been in place. Look at schools in London, which we are in the midst of. The schools I had some dealings with, including primary schools in some of its most difficult areas, were in a terrible state a number of years ago but that has changed. There will be some of which that is not true; that is why we focus on those that require change and those that are currently coasting. But the evidence across England, not least here in London, is that the quality of what is going on has improved for children and their needs are being met in a much better way.

Sadly, this is not the case in my own native country, Scotland. A report that was across the Scottish broadsheets this morning tells of a different story in Scotland. To the credit of the Scottish Government, the report was in part commissioned by them from the OECD. That different story is that attainment by school pupils has at best been coasting or has stagnated, but in a number of areas, particularly mathematics, it has slipped back. Look at how the statistics on improvement in social mobility compare between the two countries. It is much higher in England than in Scotland, where, despite students not paying fees, the proportion of people from difficult backgrounds being admitted to universities is slipping, not advancing as it is here.

There is evidence that something good is happening here. I see a significant part of that—if not the only part—as the stimulus and energising that the whole academy movement, started by the Labour Government and continued more forcibly by this Government, takes in the right direction. Whether it is the right direction is the kind of decision that we are making now. We are saying that we will either continue with this direction or find ways of trying to stymie it or slow it down. That will not do for the needs of the individual children.

I am so embarrassed about Scotland. I have spoken in this House before—I do not want to do so again now—about how much I owed immediately after the war to Woodside primary school, in the north end of

Aberdeen. My goodness, what I owe to that place! It was the kind of school that never coasted but it certainly improved social mobility dramatically. That improvement is absent in Scotland; it is not absent here now in the way that it was, so things are moving in the right direction.

The issue then is: are we going to support this? I am very keen to see the regulations that will define coasting but, as I say, we are not starting from a null base. Ofsted has a working definition and it has not been faulted so far. We all know the look of a coasting organisation; think of the many organisations that your Lordships represent. We have seen coasting and stagnating organisations, and those that are advancing.

I very much welcome the government amendments here and suggest that the criterion we use should be whether this will help individual pupils tomorrow or the day after to improve their position. My worry about processes being extended, by whatever means, is that it will slow that down. I made the point at Second Reading that, as it is, it takes three years of statistics, a year to set the thing in place and a year to analyse them—which means five years of delay. Again, this is not good enough, so I suggest that we advance the Bill and the main clauses in it.

However, I have to say to the Government that we will be watching. We do not believe that this is a Rolls-Royce version that will be for ever good and perfect. As such, it will be subject to constant comments in this House and elsewhere; we will be watching. But the direction is right and I therefore support the government amendments and advancing the Bill to the next stage.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

Having read over the amendments, I wonder about one small technical point in Amendment 24. Proposed new Section 2B says:

“An Academy agreement in respect of an Academy school … must include provision allowing the Secretary of State to terminate the agreement if … the Academy is coasting”.

Proposed new subsection (6) says the definition of coasting will be put forward in regulations, and I am just wondering about the date at which that applies. As I understand it, there is provision in the definition of coasting, and in the system to be used for setting it up, which allows the definition to be changed. If that is so, will it have an effect on the agreements retrospectively? How will it work? This is a very technical kind of point but quite an important one, because it is an essential of the agreement to have this definition of coasting in it.

Photo of Lord O'Shaughnessy Lord O'Shaughnessy Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this group of amendments. I apologise that I was not present and did not speak at Second Reading, but I had not yet been introduced to the House.

I warmly welcome the amendments that have been put forward by the Government. The fact that they have come forward in response to amendments from all over the House demonstrates what I believe to be a great truth of education reform, which is its bipartisan nature. It has been put forward by many Governments over many years, and accelerated by this one. We see that in action today.

In 2012, I wrote a paper for Policy Exchange which called for a level playing field and a single regulatory regime, and for coasting schools to be intervened on, so I am especially delighted to see that the Government have put forward the extension of this regime to academies. It is incredibly important for the reputation of academies that this is the case. I declare my interest as the managing director of an academy trust which will now be within the clutches of this—so my noble friend is making my life more difficult for me, which I am very grateful for. The idea in Amendment 24 of this detailed process for intervening in academies is incredibly important. It is important for academies to know that they are within the single regime and that the expectations that apply to all other schools also apply to them. I know the retrospective nature is uncomfortable for many but it is incredibly important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, asked in particular about what happens when an academy is intervened on. There have been plenty of examples already of academies that have had to be—in the horrible terminology—rebrokered, because they have not performed. Although they are a rare exception, there are instances already of this happening, so we are not entering into new territory here with coasting schools. It must be right that, as time goes on, we raise the bar of what we expect in terms of performance in all our schools—maintained, academy or other—so I welcome that. There are around 300 inadequate schools at the moment and there may be around 1,000 coasting schools, so we are continuing to raise the bar for all school providers, which must be the correct thing to do.

I will talk very briefly about Amendment 15, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about whether to include non-academic measures into the definition of coasting. Some other noble Lords mentioned this as well. The schools that I run have a very big focus on character education, so I absolutely believe that there is more to education than passing exams, but you get into some very difficult territory if you want to exclude schools that perhaps have good extra-curricular activity but poor standards. There is a problem of measurement. Any definition which is going to be workable and not challengeable has to be based on objective data. It is very difficult to get objective measurements of the quality of schools other than their academic standards.

I also happen to think that, in the end, schools are responsible for providing a great education. If they can do the other bits, fantastic, but if they are not providing a good academic education, they should be intervened in. What is more, any sensible or wise sponsor would want, as they always do, to keep what is excellent and change what is not good. Although I understand the impulse behind the amendment, in practice it is not workable. In any case, first and foremost, the department and anyone else who is intervening in a school should be worried about standards. I very much welcome my noble friend’s amendments and commend him on his determination and on listening to opinion from across the House.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 4:30 pm, 16th December 2015

I shall speak to Amendment 15. I preface my remarks by saying that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that it should not all be about processes. There are thousands upon thousands of teachers out there working their socks off to provide for our future generations, many of them in very difficult circumstances.

I would not want us to leave this discussion just talking about the successes of academies. We have many successful maintained schools. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, put it all one way. Although he complained about education in his native country of Scotland, he did not give a fair reflection of what is happening in England. As we know, more than 80% of council maintained schools are currently rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted. Councils perform above the national average in terms of progress made by pupils by three times compared with the largest academy chains.

When the Minister replies, will he put his mind to three issues about coasting? The first was rightly raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. The Bill gives power to future Secretaries of State to decide what may or may not constitute coasting. What will be the process for that? What consultation will be taken on that? We must be clear what is being said.

Secondly, it is not just about particular progress measures but the intake—the cohort—in a particular year. We must consider the number of children in a particular year or particular school for whom English is a second language; we must consider disadvantage. All those issues have a huge impact on the results that the school obtains. It might appear at first glance that it is coasting in terms of the strict definition as laid out in the Bill, but what is being achieved may paint a very different picture. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, is right: other issues in a school are hugely important for not just academic progress but the well-being of our society.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, first, I must apologise to the Minister: I referred to Amendment 20, as the noble Lord, Lord True, rightly pointed out. All I can say is that perhaps that has given the Minister advance notice of any issues that might be raised when we come to that group, but I apologise for misleading the House on that point.

Secondly, my noble friend Lady Hughes and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, until he got into his view about academies and other schools, made the point that these debates on structures are rather tedious and sometimes detract from our overall concern about the outcome for individual pupils at our schools. I thought that the chief inspector, in his recent report, had it right when he said:

“Much of the education debate in recent years has revolved around school structure”.

He refers to academies as having,

“injected vigour and competition into the system. But as academies have become the norm, success or failure hasn’t automatically followed. The same can be said of those schools that have remained with local authorities”.

I appeal for some balance in our debate. I do not understand the argument that academisation is automatically the route to be followed, because the evidence is not there. Where is the evidence? It is a fact, is it not, just to take the recent DfE 2015 data, that recent key stage 2 improvement results show that improvement is significantly greater in primary schools that are not academies—that it is actually greater in maintained schools? This becomes a very sterile argument. We have been debating this Bill for many happy hours and I am still waiting for the Minister to say something positive about maintained schools. Surely the 133 local authority schools graded as outstanding since 1 January deserve some recognition.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I would like to speak to the group containing Amendments 8B, 9B, 10B, 15B and 24, tabled in my name, regarding coasting schools and academies, and Amendments 8A, 8C, 8D, 9, 9A, 10, 10A, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 15A regarding coasting schools, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Addington, Lord Watson, and Lord Hunt, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland.

First, on my most substantive amendment, Amendment 24 on academies, I am grateful for the support that the House has given this amendment. The vast majority of academies are performing well and the academies programme remains central to the Government’s commitment to secure excellent education everywhere. The programme is firmly based on an approach that freedom, combined with strong accountability, raises standards. We have been clear right from the start that we will tackle underperformance wherever it occurs, whether in a maintained school or in an academy. I recognise, however, that our formal powers in relation to failing and coasting schools vary depending on the age of an academy’s funding agreement. Indeed, the older the funding agreement is, the weaker the powers are—the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to that variation. In some cases, that can restrict our ability to take action as strongly or swiftly as we would like. This is not acceptable. As the Secretary of State has said, and as a number of noble Lords have reiterated, a single day spent by a child in an underperforming school is a day too many.

Our amendment will ensure that we have the powers to hold all academies to account when they do not meet the high standards that we rightly expect and will create a more consistent framework for tackling underperformance across different types of schools. This is something that we have been considering for some time. We have listened to what noble Lords have said on the matter during the course of debate and have spoken to some of our leading sponsors. They—all of them charities, of course—tell us that they find the inconsistencies in the present system frustrating. The few cases of high-profile academy failure create a misleading picture of the excellent work being done by academies across the country. These cases have also allowed the myth to grow that the Government somehow favour academies and hold them to account less robustly than maintained schools. That is not the case, and I have in previous debates elaborated on how tough the regional schools commissioners have been, as my noble friend said, in rebrokering many cases.

This amendment will further strengthen the ability of regional schools commissioners to take action where academies underperform. When an academy’s performance meets one of two triggers in legislation—an inadequate Ofsted judgment or performance that falls within the coasting definition—and it cannot satisfy the regional schools commissioners that it has an adequate plan, as in the case of maintained schools, its funding agreement will be read as having, in effect, the same provisions around failing and coasting schools as are in our latest model funding agreement.

I hope that answers the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes. We have already changed our new model funding agreement so that the coasting definition applies to academies, and the latest funding agreement has for some time had the ability to intervene rapidly in failing and inadequate academies. Where a school is failing or has failed to come out of a coasting situation, we will now read all funding agreements as if they had that clause in them.

In practice, this will give regional schools commissioners consistent powers to move a failing academy swiftly to a new sponsor and to require a coasting academy to demonstrate that it can make sufficient improvement. Where an academy is coasting—as with a coasting maintained school—the academy will be given the opportunity to demonstrate that it can improve sufficiently. Where a coasting academy does not have a credible plan to improve sufficiently, this amendment ensures that further action can be taken by the regional schools commissioner. This could ultimately include terminating the funding agreement and bringing in a new sponsor if this is the best way to ensure rapid and sustained improvement.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, referred to the concept of a warning notice—I think she was referring to the warning notice in new Section 2B in my Amendment 24. She will be very familiar with the fact that academies operate through this contractual arrangement and the funding agreement. The termination warning notice in Amendment 24 is part of the process for terminating a coasting academy contract in those circumstances. The powers provided in this amendment take effect only when an academy is failing or meets the coasting definition. We will not interfere in the arrangements or freedoms of academies and free schools that are performing well. This approach reinforces the central principle of the academy programme: trusting heads to run their schools through freedom and autonomy, but at the same time holding them to account for the results their pupils achieve.

I hope the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Watson, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, whose amendments 8A, 8C, 8D, 9A, 10A and 13 all seek to apply the coasting definition to academies, are reassured that we take academy performance very seriously and intend to hold academies to account in the same way we do maintained schools. I therefore urge the noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Turning now to my other amendments regarding coasting—Amendments 8B, 9B, 10B and 15B—I listened closely to all the points raised during the informed and wide-ranging debate we had on Clause 1 in Grand

Committee. I know there is widespread support in this House for tackling schools that are not fulfilling the potential of their pupils, and I am grateful for that support. We all want every child, regardless of their background, to have the opportunity to go to a good school and receive the highest-quality education they deserve. Noble Lords have raised some very helpful and relevant points regarding the detail set out in Clause 1. I have considered these points very carefully and have decided to lay a number of government amendments, which will, I believe, further strengthen the Bill and address many of the points Peers have raised.

Amendments 8B and 10B remove an element of subjectivity from the coasting definition that could be implied by the current wording of the Bill. The text currently states that a school will be eligible for intervention when it has been notified that the Secretary of State considers it to be coasting. We have been clear from the outset that we want schools to be certain about whether they have fallen below the coasting bar. That is why our proposed coasting definition is clear, transparent and data-based. To make sure that schools are in no doubt about this, we are proposing to revise the wording of Clause 1 to remove the reference to “considers”. This will also help ensure that schools are treated consistently across regions, as whether a school falls in scope will be down to data not someone’s judgment. I hope noble Lords will agree that the amendment will increase transparency and certainty for schools and remove any unnecessary and unintentional anxiety teachers and head teachers may feel about whether their school could be identified as coasting.

Amendment 9B provides the Secretary of State with the power to disapply the coasting clauses from certain type of schools. The Bill as it is currently drafted applies to all maintained schools, including schools which we have no intention of applying the definition to, such as maintained nursery schools. As our proposed definition is based on key stage 2 and key stage 4 results—assessments pupils take at the age of 11 and 16—it would not be possible or appropriate to use such an approach to identify coasting maintained nursery schools. They will continue to be held to account through the Ofsted inspection regime.

Special schools are also currently included in the scope of the clause, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to this. Special schools should provide excellent education to their pupils, and we have high expectations for what children with special educational needs can achieve. However, it would be inappropriate and unfair to apply exactly the same expectations of pupil performance to these schools. We are consulting on whether and how we can develop a separate coasting definition for special schools. I am aware that this will not be easy but we are consulting on it. That consultation closes this Friday, and we expect to publish our response in the spring.

Amendment 9B would give the Secretary of State powers to disapply the coasting definition from certain types of schools. It would allow Clause 1, the coasting clause, to be disapplied from maintained nursery schools and give us the scope to do the same for special schools, should this be the outcome of the consultation. I am pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has proposed the almost identical Amendment 15A, and I hope that the House will join him in agreeing that this is a sensible change that will help improve clarity for schools and ensure that they are in no doubt about whether the coasting definition applies to them.

I turn to my Amendment 15B and Amendments 11 and 15 tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Watson and Lord Addington, regarding the affirmative procedure. In Grand Committee I undertook to consider carefully the concerns raised regarding this matter, and those highlighted by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. As noble Lords are aware, we published illustrative regulations in June so that both Houses could understand and scrutinise our proposed approach to the definition of coasting.

A number of Peers have also had the opportunity to meet the department’s statisticians to discuss the coasting definition in more depth. I know that the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Lucas, took up the offer, and I hope that they found the meeting helpful. I believe that they were satisfied, with regard to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about schools with high-ability intakes, that the coasting definition, particularly when Progress 8 comes in for the full three years, will catch all schools, including grammar schools and selective schools. From the illustrative regulations, all Peers will know that our approach is firmly based on the department’s long-established school performance tables.

As I have said previously, results for primary and secondary schools are published in the performance tables at two different points each year. This could necessitate changes to the regulations as national performance standards change. The performance tables are also technical and so, if minor changes are made to their layout or content, this may also necessitate minor consequential amendments to the regulations. The regulations by necessity refer very precisely to detail in the performance tables—for example, key stage 2 progress is defined as,

“the percentage shown in the ‘all pupils’ column of the KS2 performance table of each of the following rows in that table”.

The regulations go on to list the precise headings of each row. If the wording in these performance table row and column headings changed in any way, the regulations would need to be amended under the affirmative procedure—laid before both Houses, debated and approved—before the updated regulations could be made. And this is just for key stage 2 progress; there are similar sections for key stage 4 progress, for attainment and for arrangements under the new accountability arrangements from 2016.

Similarly, if the department were to tweak or merely update the title of published guidance regarding Progress 8, for example, again the regulations would need to be updated as the proposed regulations refer to a specific version of the guidance. As noble Lords can see, the scope for minor changes needing to be made to the regulations is substantial. Requiring the consent of both Houses each time they are needed would seem an excessive use of Parliament’s time.

We already consult widely when significant changes are made to accountability systems; we did so for the new measures coming in in 2016. I can reassure noble Lords on a point that the noble Lord, Lord Storey, was concerned about: if similar major changes to the accountability system underpinning the coasting definition were proposed, we would again undertake such a public consultation, with due time for debate. In fact, in response to the Workload Challenge, the Secretary of State committed in February that the department would introduce a minimum lead-in time of one year for significant changes that it makes to accountability, qualifications and curriculum. Finally, under the negative procedure Members in both Houses can still call for a debate and vote on the regulations should they have any concerns about the changes proposed.

For all these reasons, it would not be right or sensible to subject the regulations to the affirmative procedure every time they are amended. However, I appreciate that we are still consulting on the coasting definition and as such, Parliament has not had the opportunity to scrutinise the final version of the regulations during the passage of the Bill. I have therefore laid Amendment 15B, which will subject the regulations to the affirmative procedure when they are laid for the first time next year. I hope that the House will agree that this represents a sensible way forward, allowing both Houses to scrutinise and approve the details of the final regulations without creating an unnecessary and bureaucratic burden on parliamentary time. I therefore urge the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to withdraw his amendment and urge the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Watson, not to press theirs.

I will also speak briefly on Amendment 10, which has been proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Watson, and which proposes that the Secretary of State must make regulations under Clause 1 to define coasting. It has always been our intention that coasting regulations would be made and I am happy to remove any doubt regarding this matter. I am pleased that the noble Lords agreed with the undertaking I gave the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee last month on this matter and have tabled an amendment which has this effect. I am therefore very happy to support their amendment.

Amendment 15, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, seeks to require regional schools commissioners to take account of the entire activity of a school when deciding whether that school has a credible plan to improve sufficiently. Such consideration would include looking at achievement in sports and the arts as well as access to training, further education, apprenticeships and work placements. These factors are, of course, extremely important. However, it is not right to include them in primary legislation.

I reassure the House again that we recognise the importance of taking into account the wider context of the school. The draft Schools Causing Concern guidance, which is out for consultation until the end of this week, already makes this clear. On page 10 it reads:

“In making decisions about which coasting maintained schools require action, and what action is necessary for those schools, RSCs will take into consideration the characteristics of a coasting school, and seek to understand the school, its context, and what factors may have led it to meet the coasting definition. For example, a school may have a large Special Educational Needs … unit. In this circumstance, the RSC may wish to examine the data from the different parts of the school and not make their decisions solely on the basis of the overall results. They may also consider data and other evidence which might indicate the causes of the school’s current underperformance, and therefore what the most appropriate action would be to bring about sufficient improvement”.

It carries on in more detail, setting out that the RSCs may look at a range of factors, including, but not limited to:

“Educational performance and progress data for that school, further to the data that meant the school was identified as coasting … other data about the school, such as pupil attendance”, and:

“Recent judgements and assessments that Ofsted has made of the school”.

This last factor is particularly relevant in the context of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Ofsted already looks at a wide range of factors to inform its judgments. This includes how well prepared pupils are for training and employment, the use of the PE and sports premium, and the delivery of a broad and balanced curriculum. The guidance also makes it clear that RSCs can take a range of actions once they have considered all the evidence about a school’s performance, including its characteristics and its context. This can include taking no further action where an RSC is satisfied with the data and evidence they have seen.

I therefore hope that having been able to consider the Schools Causing Concern guidance in its draft form in detail, the noble Lord will be reassured that a school’s context and wider achievements are exactly the kind of evidence that regional schools commissioners can look at when assessing the capacity of schools whose performance puts them within a data-driven coasting definition. I am happy to commit to do more in the final version of the guidance to make this explicit, but I hope that the noble Lord will understand the Government’s intentions here.

Amendment 14, from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, seeks to exclude from the coasting definition the performance data of pupils absent from school for medical reasons for more than 15 days in any one year. I fully understand the noble Lord’s concern that the coasting definition could be seen as a disincentive for mainstream schools to reintegrate pupils who have missed school for medical reasons if the school feels that it will be penalised for the progress or lack of progress made by these pupils while they were absent. However, I assure the noble Lord that this will not be the case. Intervention in coasting schools will not be automatic.

The draft Schools Causing Concern guidance, which, as I said, is currently out for consultation, is clear that, while data will allow us to determine which schools fall within the coasting definition, RSCs may consider a range of other factors and quantitative information when deciding the best course of action to take with a coasting school. The guidance also explicitly states that this could include looking at pupil attendance data, which are published annually for all schools as part of the performance tables. I hope that this will reassure the noble Earl that the requirement that his amendment seeks to introduce is not necessary.

Amendment 9, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, seeks to take our proposal that coasting will be measured over a three-year period and place it in primary legislation rather than in regulations, as we propose. It also requires schools to be notified during the initial three-year period of whether their performance in any one year is such that, if repeated over a three-year period, they would fall within the coasting definition. Our proposed coasting definition, based on three years of performance data, is clear and transparent to schools. Schools will know themselves when their performance has fallen below the coasting bar and, just as importantly, when it has not. The amendment, which proposes that schools should be notified each year they fall below the coasting bar, is therefore not necessary. All schools will already know where they stand.

We have also been clear, right from the start, that one of the fundamental principles of our coasting policy is that it should measure a school’s performance over time. Our proposed definition suggests that this should mean where a school’s data show that it is failing to fulfil its pupils’ potential over a three-year period. We are still consulting on this proposed definition, including whether it is right that it should be based specifically on three years’ performance. I believe that teachers would prefer such an approach rather than looking at results in just a single year. The CEO of the Burnt Mill Academy Trust has supported this view, saying that,

“having a coasting definition which is based on performance over time, rather than snapshot judgement is really important”.

Even once our consultation has concluded, I do not think it would be right to be as detailed or prescriptive on the face of the Bill as this amendment proposes. However, it is certainly right that this House has the opportunity to understand and debate the final proposed approach when we lay our coasting regulations for the first time. That is why we have brought forward government Amendment 15B, which will apply the affirmative procedure to the coasting regulations when we first lay them. This will give both Houses the opportunity to debate and approve the detail of the coasting definition, including the length of time that a school must fall within the definition to be classed as coasting. I therefore urge the noble Lord not to press this amendment.

Amendment 12, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Hunt, proposes that a governing body must inform parents that the school has been notified that it is coasting. I assure the House that I understand the intention behind the amendment but I do not agree that there is a need to legislate to place such a requirement on governing bodies. The purpose of the coasting definition is to identify the schools that are not enabling pupils to fulfil their potential. We do not want to use legislation to create more duties and more bureaucracy for governing bodies.

However, my noble friend Lady Evans undertook to consider what, short of legislation, could be done through the Schools Causing Concern guidance to ensure that parents were aware that their child’s school had been identified as coasting. Having considered this issue further, I am pleased to be able to confirm various commitments today. We will use the notification that regional schools commissioners will have to send to the governing bodies of coasting schools—by virtue of Clause 1(3)—to make very clear our expectation that governing bodies will inform parents that the school has been identified as coasting. We will reiterate this expectation in the

Schools Causing Concern guidance and in the

Governors’ Handbook

—a very important document for all governors. I hope that this undertaking will reassure the noble Lords and I urge them not to press this amendment.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for her comments about putting the interests of children first. I assure her that we regard the interests of children as paramount in all this.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made a number of points and I shall attempt to deal with them all. He again referred to the fact that he thought I never had anything nice to say about maintained schools. I agree that there are plenty of excellent maintained schools in the country, and I referred to an excellent visit that I had to Morpeth School in Tower Hamlets with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—a maintained school which was incredibly impressive.

The noble Lord went a bit off piste on Amendment 20 but I will not comment on that now. I am sorry to disappoint him but nothing that he has said has surprised me, and I am not really any the wiser as to what he might say.

I can confirm that the coasting definition does not apply to 16 to 19 academies. We are basing it on data for key stages 2 and 4.

The noble Lord also made a point about the use of the articles in some of the earlier, Labour-originated funding agreements. I can explain that to him in more detail—it is quite technical—but it is not a clause that has ever been used and nothing turns on it. So it is absolutely clear from the funding agreement that people will not be able to step out of this in any way by any clever tricks in relation to changing the articles.

The noble Lord also asked what a registered parent was. A registered parent is the person or persons whose name is shown in a school’s register of pupils as a pupil’s parent, which includes carers and guardians. The school must keep a register containing, among other things, the name and address of every person known by the school to be a parent of a pupil.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, asked about timescales. I think she was referring to the timescale in which parents could be informed about what was going on in relation to a school becoming an academy. I assume that that is what she was referring to.

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Labour 5:00 pm, 16th December 2015

I really meant that, in the event that the provisions of government Amendment 24 were to be invoked because an academy was either coasting or failing, what did the Minister envisage would be the timescale to get it back on track?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

For a failing academy we would proceed as quickly as we could identify an alternative sponsor. There would be no question of the school closing, unless there was no demand for the school. In all the cases that we have brokeraged, to which my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy referred, we have waited until we identified another sponsor and moved on as quickly as possible. Generally, we are talking about a few months.

There was a question about whether different sets of regulations would apply to maintained schools and academies. There will be just one set of regulations. This is made clear by subsection (6) of new Clause 2B.

In conclusion, I note that noble Lords support our ambition to ensure that all pupils, whatever their background, receive an education that enables them to flourish. I hope that this debate and the amendments that I have laid will reassure the House that our approach will help us to achieve this ambition. I therefore urge the noble Lords not to press their amendments and to support the government amendment that I have laid.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it has been an interesting and very wide-ranging debate. I do not envy the Minister his challenge of bringing all these amendments together in one group. However, I will try to finish where I began. I thank the Minister for Amendment 24 but have one word of caution, although I am probably teaching granny to suck eggs here. Given that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, think that this should be looked at again for technical reasons, I hope that the Minister will encourage his officials to do that. He is nodding his head, and that is very much appreciated. That is what Third Reading is for; if there is a technical problem with this amendment, which is generally welcomed, let us get it right.

Amendment 15 was not a “may” or “shall” but a “must” and “may”—the updated version of that hardy perennial of Parliament. I take some reassurance from what the Minister said. The amendment was based on the exact regulations he looked at. I have had excellent help of late. I am more comfortable about the idea that the whole school be taken more into account. However, I think that we should keep an eye on this because it would be very easy to slip back to asking what the exam results are and saying, “That is it—final”. The whole House agrees that that is not a great model. There must be some flexibility. Once again the Minister nods his head, and so I am reassured.

I thank the Minister for correcting what was basically a flaw in the Bill and for doing that very promptly. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 8A withdrawn.

Amendment 8B

Moved by Lord Nash

8B: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out from “if” to end of line 14 and insert “—

(a) the school is coasting, and

“(b) the Secretary of State has notified the governing body that it is coasting.”

Amendment 8B agreed.

Amendments 8C to 9A not moved.

Amendment 9B

Moved by Lord Nash

9B: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert—

“( ) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that this section does not apply in relation to a school of a description specified in the regulations.”

Amendment 9B agreed.

Amendment 10

Moved by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

10: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, leave out “may” and insert “must”

Amendment 10 agreed.

Amendment 10A not moved.

Amendment 10B

Moved by Lord Nash

10B: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, leave out “for the purposes of subsection (1)” and insert “to which this section applies”

Amendment 10B agreed.

Amendments 11 to 15A not moved.

Amendment 15B

Moved by Lord Nash

15B: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—

“( ) In section 182 (Parliamentary control of orders and regulations), in subsection (3), after paragraph (a) insert—

“(aza) the first regulations to be made under section 60B(2) (regulations defining “coasting” in relation to a school),”.”

Amendment 15B agreed.

Clause 7: Duty to make Academy orders

Amendment 15C

Moved by Lord Watson of Invergowrie

15C: Clause 7, page 6, line 5, leave out “must” and insert “may”

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, these amendments emphasise the need for consultation before a school becomes an academy. Consultation already exists for schools that themselves decide to become academies, so these amendments seek to establish a level playing field for all schools and retain the requirement for consultation in all cases.

Amendment 15C is straightforward, allowing the Secretary of State discretion in the issuing of an academy order. Amendment 16 would insert a new Clause 7 into the Bill, which would remove the assumption that there is only one form of governance suitable for such schools, by requiring the regional schools commissioner to facilitate a local discussion about what is best for that school and the area that it serves.

Amendment 17 requires parents to be involved in discussions about the future of their children’s school, which is hardly a controversial proposal. However, I am not convinced that the Government appreciate the extent to which schools are deeply rooted in their communities. Parents should be allowed to be as fully engaged in decisions that affect their children’s education as they wish to be or have the time to be—but not just parents. Cutting short the process of academisation and removing any discussion with head teachers, teachers or support staff about either the decision to become an academy or the sponsor that might take over are ill-considered decisions likely to breed mistrust and resentment—and understandably so.

Consultation with those directly involved before a school becomes an academy is an essential part of community engagement and should not be removed. That was agreed by the previous Government after considerable debate in both Houses during the passage of the Academies Act 2010. Members of your Lordships’ House were influential at that time, insisting that consultation was built into the 2010 Act. It would be at best inconsistent if noble Lords did not support the same principle with respect to this Bill.

Section 5 of the Academies Act 2010 allows for consultation to take place before a maintained school is converted into an academy—as it should be. It may take time and it may not result in support for academisation, but that is basic democracy, which sometimes produces unwanted outcomes; on a personal level, 7 May this year springs to mind. Our Amendment 16A provides for the time allowed to be set out in regulations. In any case, inconvenience or even the potential thwarting of political motives is no reason to dispense with democracy, as the Minister is seemingly content to do. The Government say that this is about putting children above adults, a view echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. I do not accept that. I believe that a lot of political dogma is involved in this, which is being put above the views and concerns of local stakeholders. It seems that no opposition will be tolerated. That is because underpinning the Government’s whole approach is the belief that maintained schools are, by definition, deemed to be failing. If they are not failing at this moment, they are coasting and it is only a matter of time before they too fail. For them, the logic of the Bill—I accept this much—is unchallengeable. Unfortunately for them, the facts get in the way of that one-size-fits-all conclusion. The Bill rests on the assumption that school improvement can be achieved only by turning a school into a sponsored academy, yet the evidence to support this view does not exist.

At the beginning of this month Ofsted published its annual report for 2014-15. The report demonstrated that conversion to academy status certainly does not result in guaranteed improvement, with 99 converter academy schools—23% of converter academies were inspected that year—declining to less than a “good” Ofsted judgment. Ofsted found that of the 277 stand-alone converter academies, 25% had declined from “good” or “outstanding” to “requires improvement” or “inadequate”. In addition, 21% of converter academies in multi-academy trusts had declined to “requires improvement” or “inadequate” from a previous judgment of “good” or “outstanding”. Ofsted also found that 75% of “good” local authority maintained schools remained “good” or improved to “outstanding” at their next inspection, compared to 74% of “good” academies.

I believe that Ministers need to take these figures on board and give them due consideration. Even rose-tinted spectacles cannot disguise the fact that academisation is simply not the silver bullet that they will it to be. If they will not heed Opposition Peers on this matter, surely they must listen to one of their own. I am not referring here to the noble Lord, Lord True, but to someone who I am certain he will know. Roy Perry is a Tory and a politician of some substance. He is leader of Hampshire Council, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, former Member of the European Parliament and father of a current MP. Responding to the Ofsted report, Councillor Perry said:

“It is extremely worrying that over the last three years only 37% of secondary schools have actually improved their Ofsted rating after becoming academies”.

He also said:

“Councils must be regarded as education improvement partners and be allowed to intervene early and use their vast experience, integrity and desire to improve the system.”

I referred in Committee to the Minister setting out his reasons for ruling out consultation. Recently the Secretary of State herself complained that campaigners could delay or overrule failing schools being improved by what she termed “education experts”, by obstructing the process by which academy sponsors take over running schools. I repeat that: “education experts”. I do not know how one would therefore describe those who manage and run maintained schools if they are not also “education experts”. I believe that it is an insult to them to be told that the only way their school can be improved is by bringing in outsiders who think they know better. As we have seen, very often they do not.

I have to say that the Secretary of State seems to have a bent for inflammatory language recently. I do not know whether noble Lords are aware that she was involved this morning in a rather bizarre activity; blogging on the Daily Telegraph website under the subtitle:

“If the House of Lords blocks the government’s education bill, it will leave millions of children stuck in failing schools, unable to reach their potential”.

That is arrant nonsense. There is no justification on the basis of logic or evidence which can substantiate such a statement. I understand it is party-political rhetoric, although noble Lords may regard it as unbecoming of someone holding the office of Secretary of State for Education. Interestingly, the comments in reply to her blog on the whole disagreed with her, so perhaps her initiative did not pay off. Perhaps that is not surprising given that she stated of your Lordships’ House:

The Lords face deciding whether to back handing power to our best teachers and school leaders—a treasure chest of experts ready to improve underperforming schools—or leave schools without the vital support they need to get back on track to the level of excellence seen in many schools across the country”.

That language is very unhelpful.

Let us be clear: the Bill is not about school autonomy. Converter academies do get more autonomy, but the Bill is about sponsored academies, where a school is placed in a multi-academy trust and often has considerably less autonomy as a result. The question is why moving a school from the maintained sector to a multi-academy trust necessarily makes a difference or in any way gives heads more freedom.

Amendment 15C seeks to amend Clause 7, which represents an extraordinary departure from the normal processes of governmental decision-making. Under the clause, the Secretary of State is not allowed to make a decision. She seeks to bind herself to make an academy order, and nothing less. Surely there must be some flexibility in the system to allow the Secretary of State to reach a considered view, having looked beneath the assessment and heard what the stakeholders have to say. Of course in some cases there will be no opposition to academisation, and even where there is, having listened, the Secretary of State will arrive at her view, which may well be that academisation should go ahead. The amendment does not prevent her making such a decision; it simply stops it becoming automatic. No two schools are precisely the same, so why should there be the same outcome in all cases? It does not make sense either logically or in educational terms.

Local people and communities are right to be angered if they are shut out of decisions that affect their children. The Government’s authoritarian approach denies people respect and is made even worse by being carried out largely behind closed doors by regional schools commissioners and head teacher boards which are not representative of regions, far less the communities within them. I had a meeting last week with a regional schools commissioner, and very helpful it was too, but it was clear that as hard as they try, regional schools commissioners cannot take anything other than an umbrella approach to their area because of their sheer size. The idea of local representation in any form is actually not achievable, even for the head teacher boards, given the spread that they seek to achieve.

If the Minister will not listen to me on the need for consultation, I hope that I will not embarrass him if I refer him to my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley, a former Secretary of State for Education, of course, who talked in Committee about the role of consultation:

“The nature of the job is that sometimes you get what you think is the most unreasonable opposition and it drives you mad. You feel like you have had a bad day at the office, but you have to get up and go through it again the next day. That is the nature of being a Minister in a democratic institution”.—[Official Report, 10/11/15; col. GC 503.]

I believe that the Minister should take note of those wise words based on much experience.

In conclusion, when controversial changes are being proposed, it is better at least to attempt to carry people with you. That increases the chances of making the change more smooth and, importantly, successful. Academisation represents a fundamental change for a school and naturally the parents will be concerned. Change can bring with it fear and, if no one is explaining to them what is proposed, people will wonder about what is being kept from them. You cannot prevent parents talking about what is being proposed and you are not going to stop them expressing their views. They may well make more of a fuss about not being given a say than about the actual change to an academy, so why not channel that energy through consultation? There is an unanswerable case for consultation as set out in Amendments 16, 16A and 17, and there is no reason for it to be withdrawn simply because in a small number of cases people might disagree. That is not a convincing rationale, and for that reason consultation must be introduced into the Bill, as happened in 2010. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 5:15 pm, 16th December 2015

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 15C and 16A. I guess that every Member of the House who has children thought long and hard about the school they wanted to send their children to. Finding the right school to meet the needs of a child at both primary and secondary level is crucial. In some cases where there is no suitable school, or which they think is not suitable, parents have gone to the free school movement and established their own schools. In other cases parents with the resources to do so choose to buy a school place in the independent sector. The choice of a school has been a hugely important part of our education system.

As I said in Committee, when a school closes or changes in nature, it is traumatic for the children, traumatic for the parents, and certainly traumatic for the staff. So what are we going to do? Going back to the previous debate, let us consider a school that is failing. The regional schools commissioner, who by the way is not regional and certainly not local, can decide that the school will close and that a sponsor for a new school will be found. There will be no discussion or consultation with parents. It might well be that the school that the regional schools commissioner puts forward is not the school the parent wants—but tough. For a long time, parental choice has been ingrained in, and has been an important part of, our education system. Various Secretaries of State, both Labour and Conservative, have enshrined the idea of parental choice and parental involvement. Surely, it is right that a parent has the opportunity to express their views.

Following Committee stage, I am pleased that the Minister has made some progress in this regard. He chooses to use the word “communication” and not consultation. When the regional schools commissioner has identified an academy sponsor to take over a school eligible for intervention, the sponsor must communicate to parents information about plans to improve the school. When the regional commissioner decides that a school is failing, will they write to every parent telling them what is happening and what will happen so that they have an understanding of why and when? The letter says that there will be guidance as regards schools causing concern and that they may, if they wish to, have a meeting or they may choose just to write to parents. Would it not be a good idea to specify clearly what should be expected of sponsors when taking over a school so that parents have that information?

Crucially, parents want more involvement in education. They want a say in their child’s schooling—everyone here has wanted a say in our child’s schooling. The selection of the sponsor is critical to the child’s future. Not all sponsors, as the Sutton Trust shows, are as effective as others, particularly, for example, in supporting disadvantaged pupils. I shall give an example of where consultation works. The line we have constantly hear—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, repeated it—is that a single day in a failing school is a day too long for that child. A single day in the wrong school is too much for that child. A single day in a school which the parents are unhappy with, or has had foisted on them, is too long. Let me give an example of parents who were consulted and made a change. It happened at a primary school in Medway with a large number of pupils who had special needs. They were not opposed to academisation but they were opposed to the sponsor proposed by the DfE. After consultation, and no doubt a short campaign, the academy withdrew. Presumably, it realised that it had not got the wherewithal to deal with that situation.

The other argument against consultation has been the line that it can drag on for months and years, et cetera, which of course is wrong. But it does not mean that there cannot be a very quick consultation over a few months so that the parents are involved. I hope that even at this late stage the Minister might consider how important consultation is to parents and their children.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Yardley Baroness Morris of Yardley Labour

My Lords, I will speak only briefly on the amendment because the issue of consultation has been covered in an earlier group. I will make two or three points. For me, consultation is not the most important part of the Bill, but it is an important point of principle. Once we decide something today, it will probably set the pattern for future ways we deal with schools, so it is worth spending some time on.

My first point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, about the now famous phrase that noble Lords have used during the passage of the Bill: “A day in a school that is failing is a day too long”. I am not sure why the consequence of that is that parents should be denied consultation; it should be that the education system gets its act together. Let us say that three years go by in a coasting school—a school is inadequate. It is not a case of who is to blame, but if you ask what went wrong—it could have been poor leadership; something that Ofsted missed; we could have missed the data; we may not have acted quickly enough; support put in might have been at the wrong point at the wrong time—of all the people who could have got it wrong, it probably was not parents. Yet the bit of the system that we change at this point is, “Well, we won’t consult parents”—almost as though they will be the problem, rather than the potential solution. This is not a huge point, but we have to ask why, if a child should not be in a failing school for a day longer, the education system responsible for that should just carry on working and why parents should be squeezed out.

The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, made another point about this terrible phrase, “We are where we are”. It is one of my least favourite phrases, but we are where we are. Over the last 20 years, one of the features that we have put in our education system, which the noble Lord, Lord Storey, just mentioned, is the increasing involvement of parents. I think the noble Lord, Lord True, mentioned what happened in consultation in the grant-maintained days. It is true that it was not a pretty sight, but, believe it or not, that was nearly 30 years ago. Lots of things have happened since then. Whether it is setting up free schools, parents’ right to call in Ofsted inspectors, or the mooted idea that parents should have the right to demand the curriculum, to sack the head or whatever, there has been a trend over the last 20 years of giving parents a louder voice, not only in the education of their own child, which is paramount, but in the education structure their child is in. Whether we like it or not, we are where we are with parental consultation. We have to make a really strong case, given the climate in which we are working, that parents should be excluded on this.

Under new Section 2A(2), introduced by the Minister’s Amendment 24, in a case of a failing school where the academy sponsor has not delivered the goods and must hold some responsibility, and where the department is taking action, the proprietor must be given an opportunity to make representations before the academy sponsor is changed. That is a big issue. If we write into primary legislation that an academy proprietor that has not done a good job—that is why the organisation has been moved out—must have an opportunity to make representations, I am not sure why would want to strike out of legislation the opportunity for parents to make representations as well.

Consulting parents is rarely a bad thing, but it calls for sensitivity and determination, because I do not believe that parents always get it right. I do not agree with the amendment that there should be a plebiscite in all cases and that we should take the action that parents vote for. However, it should be part of this important process.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 5:30 pm, 16th December 2015

My Lords, I support this group of amendments. On Amendment 16A, I always thought it curious that schools applying for academy status must consult, but those issued with an academy order do not need to. To move on, I hope that the Government will accept the amendments on the need to consult. I remember, as I have said, being a parent and governor in London at the time of comprehensivisation. Yes, it was sometimes bloody. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, mentioned trauma. It was traumatic: there were banners in the streets and protests. But finally, having consulted parents, everything settled down. It did not take all that long. The time allowed for consultation can be defined; it does not have to go on for ever.

It is disrespectful and dangerous not to consult parents. Consultation with parents brings them more onside with what is going on and makes them more likely to support the school that their children will enter.

Amendment 15C is interesting and important, but I am reminded of the Minister’s remarks on coasting towards the end of his speech on the first group of amendments, and of one of his letters—I think to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—which stated:

“Where a school has the capacity to improve sufficiently, we will give it the time and space to do so”.

The Minister refers there to the very important principle of having the possibility to think again, hesitate and perhaps seek further advice and information. I apply this to the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State may—rather than must—intervene in the issuing of an academy order, that gives him or her an opportunity to look at the situation again. Looking again is often a very good thing.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Conservative

My Lords, I agree with many of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the role of parents. It may have been 30 years ago that we had the disgraceful intimidation and political machinations in the consultation over grant-maintained schools. However, as I said at Second Reading, if you look at the anti-academies websites and those of many of the other activists who want to stop academies, you will see the same sentiments, tactics, and calls for strike action and action against this measure, so I am afraid that that spirit is still out there in the world. However, the new leadership of the Labour Party may stamp it out, and I look forward to that.

Of course, parents have a role. I do not want to repeat what I said at Second Reading as this is Report, but we need to watch this legislation. My local authority was very grateful to receive a visit from the Prime Minister on Monday, who praised the quality of our children’s services. Many local authorities perform well, and it is a pity that those authorities are not given more space. I am concerned about bureaucracy in connection with the regional schools commissioners but we must address the Bill and the amendments that are before us. The worst amendment in this group is—perhaps not surprisingly—the one that has attracted the interest of the Liberal Democrat Benches, namely Amendment 16A. I would be very disappointed if colleagues on the other side of the House united to support it. The amendment is concerned with schools that are causing concern where children are being failed and where intervention is needed. It proposes that we should delay intervention while someone consults the very governors of the school who have failed the pupils at that school. Those governors are referred to in proposed new subsection (2)(c) of the amendment. Are we in the House of Lords going to state in an Act of Parliament that the very people who have failed children must be consulted before something can be done? I cannot believe that we would support that.

It may well be that the “relevant local authority” referred to in Amendment 16A has failed, and that its performance is causing Ofsted concern. Why, then, should we insist that it be consulted when a school’s children need to be helped, or, indeed, that the teachers at the school should be consulted, as proposed in new subsection (2)(b) of the amendment? It has to be said, although it is harsh, that the teachers at the school may be some of the people whose performance has caused the problems. Therefore, I would be astonished if the Labour Party, which at least pays lip service to supporting academies—I am never quite sure whether the Liberal Democrats support them or not, but most of the time they seem not to do so—were to line up with the Liberal Democrats and say that we must have an elaborate consultation involving the very people who failed children in the first place.

This amendment also refers to,

“the minimum length of time that must be allowed”.

At the very least we should have the maximum time allowed—I suggest no days for pursuing or consulting a governing body that has failed children.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, listening to this debate, I feel it is finely poised. It is so important to bring parents along with one and it is so important not to delay in improving the educational experience of young people. I wanted to say a little in praise of academies, from my limited experience. When, under the previous Government, the legislation introducing academies came to this House, I strongly opposed it for a number of reasons. One was that it seemed to place structures above the most important thing, which is getting excellent teachers into the classroom.

My experience, from when I first entered your Lordships’ House, has been of the truth of the inverse care law. That is, that the most disadvantaged, poorest people and children are cared for by the least well-paid, lowest-status, least well-qualified people. In social care and in education, our aim should be to recruit and retain the very best people and put them on the front line with children and vulnerable families. I was therefore concerned that the focus was not right.

However, what I have heard in the course of discussing the Bill has somewhat encouraged me. First, for those who attended the meeting with the regional schools commissioners and the head teachers of academy schools, I think it came through very clearly that the benefits brought by academy status, in terms of the governance and leadership of schools, were described positively as bringing fresh blood and excellent governors to the boards. We have heard repeatedly in recent years, and very recently from Sir Michael Wilshaw, that there is continuing concern about the quality of governors. It was good to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, provide some comfort that, thanks to new regulations, in her experience at least, two new governors had come on to her board from local business. However, clearly that is not happening everywhere.

I was grateful to the Minister for arranging for me to visit the Ark school, King Solomon Academy, in Marylebone. It is in an area with a high level of free school meals; the area is very multi-ethnic, with a large migrant population. It is also the best performing non-selective school in the country. I learnt that there was outstanding governance there; superb leaders had come out of the City with a vision and had driven the school forward. The head teacher, Max Haimendorf, was recruited from the Teach First scheme—he was maybe only 28 when he became head teacher—and most of the other teachers are also from Teach First.

I reflected that, by this process of encouraging the very best governance in schools, one achieves the aim that I, and I think many others, have of finding the means to recruit and retain the very best teachers, at the front line. I hope I make that point clear. It seems to me that one benefit, which I hope will increase over time, is that by improving the governance and leadership of our schools, they will attract and retain the very best teachers, delivering those teachers to the vulnerable pupils who need them most.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

Briefly, this debate has shown that both sides are right. There are two issues being debated. One is that parents must know what is happening when a school is changing. Whether that involves some sort of consultation seems to be the question but if parents do not know throughout—indeed, from the very beginning—there is something severely wrong with the school. All the instructions within a school should lead to the governors, the teachers, the head teacher, making that communication with parents from the very first day that something seems to be going wrong. If the outside world does not know, Ofsted will make it clear at some inspection that it knows there is a problem in the school, or there will be some event that makes it absolutely clear. The parents will therefore know that.

Whether parents should then be consulted is an interesting question. I think parents should be involved all the way along in discussion and understanding but I rather question what the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said. I am sorry that we seem to have a fundamental disagreement about where children stand in relation to parents. When he said that democracy was crucial but that it may come to unwanted outcomes, for me an unwanted outcome cannot be that a failing school is allowed to continue because parents have a particular connection with governors and teachers. We have seen that in some schools, where together they do not want change that would be in the best interests of the individual children. I had wanted to congratulate the Opposition, because they began the academies. The academies have worked but are not the total answer. I absolutely agree that local authorities do not get the praise that they should, not only in education but throughout the work that they are struggling with. If we got more balance in that, it might also help.

I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that we have to take a positive view of the way that academies are deliberated on, particularly with parents in that consultation. But we are talking about process, not principle, and the process is absolutely essential to make sure that everyone is involved, certainly local communities. It is not only parents who take a great interest in their school because it is a central part of the community’s life. But no one in my village is at all uncertain about the fact that the school has gone through a series of changes. It has been in special measures at one point and is now an academy. The discussions have gone on in the village because those changes are generally known.

I hope that the Minister will ensure that that kind of communication is enforced because I cannot imagine what it would be like if it came as a surprise to a local community, particularly to those parents who depend on a small school in rural areas where choice is limited. I reiterate that the children’s needs are paramount and if democracy was to overrule that paramountcy, then I fear that I am no longer a democrat. I would rather go for ensuring that children really get the education that they deserve.

Photo of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Crossbench

My Lords, I do feel challenged as no fewer than three speakers have indicated that there is something wrong with my views. I wish to reassure my colleagues that I know of good maintained schools. I could take your Lordships to some now on a short Underground ride. I know of them and I know what they are doing, and they do excellent work. I know that some local authorities provide excellent support. I will not name them, but I could.

But my worry is that we will make this a black and white issue when we are talking about an “on balance” thing. The only reason that it looks black and white is that we have to decide yes or no to having a clause in the Bill. Sometimes it is “yes, but” and sometimes it is definitely no or yes. We are talking about the interchange between the two. I wonder whether my fault has been to support the Government but, just to provide reassurance, your Lordships should have heard me last week when we were talking about care homes. I gave the Government a pasting then, so I have not gone completely blue; there are still hints on either side.

To go back to Scotland, I know of some excellent maintained schools there. I would not wish to suggest anything else. I know of excellent teachers there, just as there are excellent teachers throughout the system here. But interestingly, the outstanding maintained school in Scotland is Jordanhill. What is distinctive about Jordanhill? It is the only one that stands aside from the maintained sector: although the funds are provided, it has its own governance, powers and autonomy, the likes of which many academies would love. It is the number one school, and all parents want their children to go there. It is not just because of the autonomy—no doubt a whole range of things contribute to this, including the catchment area and its wise use of resources—but that is the reality.

We should set that alongside the fact that Scotland was offered a pilot independent school—by someone who was at that time a Member of this House—but turned it down. It was not invented here; possibly even worse, it was invented down there. That offer was rejected, but if it had been accepted, perhaps there would have been a move in a positive direction pioneered by Members of this House such as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who I see here today. I insist that this is not black and white. Academies are not automatically good or maintained schools bad; nor is it maintained schools good, academies bad. We are not in an Orwellian world; there are balances to be observed here. The balance of evidence on the changes in the system down here—not in individual schools, as there are academies that are not functioning well and maintained schools that are not functioning well—has to be taken account of.

I have one last word on consultation. I would be more persuaded of the move in this direction if we were talking about something more like a conversation. Furthermore, it should not happen after a school is declared to be coasting or failing; it should have happened three years before. I think we are all agreed that that is when the conversation should take place, and putting in a provision demanding a formal consultation, which will extend the process of change, I have no doubt, is doing it the wrong way round. I would love to discuss with colleagues from all around the House the possibility of how you initiate such a discussion, and I hope that the DfE note-takers are taking note of this as something that they should be looking at and putting in place, because that would do more good than the black and white approach that we have here.

Lastly, I have a cheeky little comment. I am a bit aghast at the ease with which we say we know what the words democracy and choice mean. I could take your Lordships to authorities now where there is no choice for parents whose children are moving from primary to secondary school. My own grandchildren had seven potential schools but, in the end, those did not include the one over the back fence, which was between them and the primary school which they attended. Choice is a nice, round and grand term, but it is no more a reality than so-called democracy. However, to know what democracy means in detail but not to understand what coasting means seems to me a real trick of the trade.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat 5:45 pm, 16th December 2015

My Lords, we have had a very interesting and compelling debate on this topic, but one element that has not been raised across your Lordships’ Chamber is that consultation provides a great opportunity for potential sponsors to sell their wares. If they are to take over a school, consultation provides them with a platform where they can show what they are going to offer and allow parents the opportunity to question them and understand what difference potential sponsors could make to their children’s school. That is a very valuable part of a consultation process.

In my head, consultation does not involve a plebiscite of parents, teachers, staff and governors, but it does involve an in-depth conversation, which is built into the process. That is why it is so important.

I must take exception with the noble Lord, Lord True, about why people who have overseen failure in their school should be part of the conversation. I will tell your Lordships why: because that is the moment at which they are called publicly to account. They have to present to parents the reason why their school is not fit to be continued under the current governorship and leadership and why it is important to pass it on.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Conservative

Is the noble Baroness suggesting that there should be public hearings as part of the consultation where governors appear in halls and are asked questions? How long is this process going to take? Who else will appear before these hearings?

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat

Anyone involved in local government, as is the noble Lord, Lord True, knows that you can set a programme for consultation that can be as short as six weeks. That is a normal period for consultation in local government. If six weeks is what it takes, that to me is time well spent in having that in-depth conversation, an opportunity for people to get together to understand what has gone wrong and how it can be improved.

I will tell the noble Lord something from the part of the country I come from: you do not dictate to Yorkshire people, because if you do you will have them on the wrong side from the word go. I assume that other parts of the country can be that rebellious as well. We must have consultation, but we on this side of the House do not believe that that is a plebiscite, it is a discussion about how the school can be best improved by all parties coming together to make that difference to a child’s education, which is fundamentally what it is about.

Photo of The Bishop of Ely The Bishop of Ely Bishop

My Lords, I am very keen to support the idea of effective communication with our parents, not least about the ethos and character of schools, given that they have a deep effect. We see in the good key stage 2 results this last year the impact of character and ethos on effective academic results. Our parents are really keen to ensure that in any change of school, its ethos and character are maintained and that that is effectively communicated to them by any academy proprietor.

I had submitted my own amendment, which I have now withdrawn because I am content, following conversation with the Minister, that he agrees that ethos and character can be maintained and should be safeguarded effectively. I understand that parents around the country want, of course, to have even more say in what happens, but consider that church schools, in particular, have something significant to offer in relation not only to academic performance and ethos but future guarantees of religious literacy in the way in which our country is served.

One school deeply embedded in its community is the Saint Mary’s Church of England primary school in Moss Side in Manchester. This school was named primary school of the year in 2014, having previously been towards the bottom of the north-west league of schools. It is now in the top 2% of schools in progress in reading and 7% in maths. The judges said:

“This is a school with a determined attitude that not only achieves wonderful results for its pupils but also challenges stereotypes about its catchment and local area,”

In the service of religious literacy, we also have a school, St Luke’s primary school in Bury, where I am pleased to say that the head teacher is Jewish and the majority of the children are Muslim. Another school, St Chrysostom’s in Manchester, has an intake of about 40% Muslim students. This is to demonstrate that the Church of England is engaged in education because parishes and generations of citizens have provided land, buildings and teachers to ensure that Christian values could be shared with future generations and to give poor, disadvantaged children with no previous access to education the chance to receive that wonderful gift as a matter of right.

Church of England schools are deeply embedded in their local community, whether it is affluent or deprived. Schools such as Northern Saints in Sunderland and St Peter’s primary school in Wallsend have 49% of their students on free school meals. Both schools are doing excellent work to ensure that their children develop academically and personally. Stretton Church of England Academy, sponsored and managed by the Diocese of Coventry multi-academy trust, went from special measures to outstanding in less than three years. In the most recent Ofsted report, it was written:

“Disadvantaged pupils, disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs are making the same outstanding progress as that of their classmates”.

Our own diocesan multi-academy trust in Ely has outstanding rural schools such as St Martin at Shouldham, inclusive of a great cross-section of the community. The parents there are deeply engaged with the governors and the students themselves, proud of the school’s commitment to sustainable development and the preparation of the pupils to be responsible custodians of creation.

It is schools such as those which I have mentioned that are the norm for Church of England provision. That commitment to serving the common good and providing excellent education for all is the driving force of the Church of England’s involvement in education, and it is this ethos and vision that we, with our parents, seek to protect.

As I said, I have withdrawn my amendment on the safeguarding of the ethos of Church of England schools because the Minister has been helpful in offering us assurances that it will be protected, and because I am hopeful that amendments to come, including Amendment 20, will offer parents some confidence that in helping to improve failing or coasting schools they will not lose the values and ethos that they want from a school. The Church of England is keen that any change must always be for the benefit of the children and that it should happen in a turnaround fashion, as swiftly as possible. In support of that, I would still be grateful if the Minister could expand on the safeguards that exist to ensure that that much-valued ethos is secured, and if he will commit to ensuring that the Secretary of State will work with dioceses to ensure that those safeguards are enforced.

Photo of Lord Harris of Peckham Lord Harris of Peckham Conservative

My Lords, I have some experience of these meetings with parents. I should like to talk about three primary schools: Roke of Croydon, a school which took us 18 months to get approval for, was failing and letting children down. All of you will have heard about the Tottenham school, which took us two years to get approval for, and Carshalton. They were all failing, and they all took more than two years to get approval.

I went at least twice to all those schools, and we had six meetings. A small group of parents complains. The governors are worried about their jobs and whether they can stay on. Of course, some teachers have to worry, and we meet all the teachers before we have the meetings with the public. At the second meeting, the same thing happens: eight or 10 of the parents complain about it.

I would like to say a few words about Roke at Purley. I could pick any of the three, but time is short tonight, and I want to talk about that school. It was failing for three and a half years. We have now had that school for two years and one term. In the first two years, we moved exam pass rates up from 42% to 94%. In those two years, the school has become outstanding. What is more important is that parents now want their children to go to that school. The 10 or 12 parents who complained were stopping that happening. Last year’s intake was 45. Last September, we had 550 applicants for 60 places. The parents want their children to go to the schools, and we want them to be successful. That is true of many of our schools. We take over failing schools. All but one of our schools was failing, apart from five free schools. We know that we can turn these schools around in under two years, but we need help to get to them more quickly—to make sure that we get hold of them in six months and put a governing body in as quickly as possible and make these schools successful and the children motivated.

I am going to keep my speech short tonight, but I want to say one thing. We talk about sport. We won five national championships last year, with all our schools, and last weekend Louisa Johnson, who goes to one of our schools, won “X Factor”. We have singing and we make sure that our children are motivated and that parents want them to go to our schools. At Crystal Palace, there were 3,200 applicants for 180 places, and there are many more like that. We have got to get more successful schools and get schools that are failing to become academies as quickly as possible, and we have to make to make sure that every child in this country gets a good education.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 6:00 pm, 16th December 2015

I shall speak to the amendments to Clauses 7 and 8, which seek to undermine the core intentions of the Bill. The Bill is focused on delivering a manifesto pledge, which is an essential part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that every child receives an excellent education that sets them up to succeed in modern Britain. That manifesto commitment was that we would ensure that any failing maintained school becomes a sponsored academy, to completely transform that school and its educational performance, as my noble friend Lord Harris has just outlined so eloquently and passionately. I pay tribute to the great work that he does in this area. That is why Clause 7 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to make an academy order in respect of any maintained school that Ofsted has judged to be inadequate. That duty means that there will be no question and no debate about this, which is why Clause 8 removes the requirement to consult on whether such a school should become a sponsored academy. It would be meaningless to consult when our manifesto was absolutely clear that failing maintained schools would become academies. That mandate means there is no question about what will happen, and no decision being made. It does not make sense therefore to consult on whether schools should or should not convert.

Amendment 15C fundamentally undermines our manifesto commitment to turn every failing maintained school into a sponsored academy, and we consider this amendment to be a breach of the Salisbury convention. As I have set out, I cannot accept the reintroduction of a statutory consultation process on whether a school should convert—a question that makes no sense in failing schools, when we have been so clear. The Bill puts children first, not the vested interests of adults who would seek to delay this action. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for her strong and brave words in that regard. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, referred to a situation that was not a pretty sight some 30 years ago, and I assure her that, sadly, there have been plenty of not a pretty sights much more recently. My noble friend Lord True referred to some, as did my noble friend Lord Harris.

The noble Baroness also talked about the opportunity for representation when a school becomes rebrokered as a sponsor. This is a completely different situation. I attempted to explain to the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, that that is because of how funding agreements work, and we are trying to change funding agreements as little as possible, because no Government want to interfere with contracts entered into willingly between two parties any more than they have to.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, cross-referred the situation to the coasting schools situation, whereby a school may be able to improve on its own, and said that it was relevant to thinking again about whether one should make an academy order in relation to an inadequate school. This is a completely different situation. I have been very clear that the default position for a coasting school is not to become an academy, because the school may very well improve, as I am sure many will be able to, on their own or with limited help. But here we are talking about a school that is demonstrably failing and unable to sort itself out on its own. As I say, it is a quite different situation.

However, our position absolutely does not equate to a belief that parents should not have a right to know, or be involved in, changes that affect their child’s school. This is the matter that Amendment 17 is raising. My government Amendment 20 already proposes to require parents to be informed. When a school is required to become a sponsored academy, the sponsor would be under a duty to communicate to parents about their plans for improving the school. This would have to take place before the school converted into a sponsored academy. That amendment therefore already provides robust assurances to parents that they will be kept informed. However, going further and requiring parents to be engaged through formal consultation is just not appropriate. Consultation is overly formal and inflexible. Formal consultations can unintentionally raise the temperature of the debate, rather like when one gets lawyers involved in a divorce settlement, and too often can be used to create delays to the process.

Amendment 16A would prescribe a list of various additional parties who must be included in the consultation exercise. There are already provisions in legislation that will ensure these parties are informed about changes when a school is required to become a sponsored academy. Our proposed Clause 10 is already explicit that the governing body and local authority should work with the named sponsor. The governing body will include representation from parents, staff, the head teacher and the local authority, so those parties will all already be kept informed via that route. The local authority will be further, intimately involved in the detail of the transfer of the school to academy status. The existing TUPE process already ensures that, as a minimum, staff at the school who will be affected by the transfer of the school to the academy trust will always be notified about the transfer by their employer or the academy trust. Where the academy trust proposes any changes that affect the employees, there must be consultation about those. This means that there is already a legal obligation for staff to receive information about the academy trust and be consulted on any proposed changes to terms and conditions, prior to any academy conversion taking place, comparable to what my amendment now proposes to introduce for parents.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked whether regional schools commissioners would write to parents. We do not want to be that prescriptive. In many cases, it may well be best for the governing body to write to parents to invite them to come to a meeting with a sponsor because parents may be much more likely to listen to the governing body. I am very happy to discuss the precise contents of the Schools Causing Concern guidance with the noble Lord in that regard, and to discuss why it may not be appropriate to be too prescriptive.

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely for speaking in favour of my amendment on communication to parents, and I pay tribute to the great work that he does in Ely and across the country in education. Faith schools have an excellent track record on community cohesion. I attended only last week the Church of England’s Living Well Together conference, which brought together students, teachers, faith leaders and others to share ideas about how we live well together and promote peaceful coexistence. I was very impressed by what the Church of England is doing to promote these discussions within schools, and I would very much look to the church’s view on these matters and the appropriateness of our amendment on communicating with parents. I also take this opportunity to reiterate my assurances on how we will ensure the religious character of a faith school will be protected when any intervention is unnecessary, and I shall give more detail on that later on.

I cannot allow a formal consultation exercise to be introduced that requires governing bodies and local authorities to be given a say in whether a school causing concern should become a sponsored academy. We are talking about the same governing body and local authority that, as my noble friend Lord True remarked, has already allowed the school to fail, and not taken the necessary action to halt its decline at an earlier stage. Amendment 16A takes us back to a position that is more inflexible than the current process, and I hope all Peers will accept that that is a retrograde step and a step towards delay and inaction, which would undermine the fundamental principles behind the Bill.

Let us be clear: Amendment 15C would drive a coach and horses through the core purpose of the Bill, which is to turn failing schools into academies. That was a manifesto commitment, and therefore not only would the amendment fundamentally undermine the Bill but we consider that it would be a breach of the Salisbury convention, as I said earlier. Further, we do not consider Amendment 16A to be consequential to Amendment 15C. However, I have already shown that we are prepared to listen to the concerns raised about ensuring that parents are informed about what changes are being made to improve their child’s school, and that is why I have tabled government Amendment 20, to that effect. I hope noble Lords will agree that I have listened and achieved the right balance between responding to Peers’ valid concerns about parents having a right to know what is going on in their child’s school and not undermining the Bill’s core purpose, which is to ensure that there is no scope for delay in transforming every failing school. I hope noble Lords will recognise that the Bill is delivering a manifesto commitment. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate, with many speakers and many opinions—which can only be a healthy thing. I will be as quick as I can in picking up just one or two of the major points. My noble friend Lady Morris made the point that you need to make a very strong case for excluding parents in this situation, and that case has not been made.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord True, that the consultation is not detailed. The amendment does not state exactly what it should include. The terms, including the time allowed, will be for the Secretary of State to set out in regulations. She will be obliged to take into account only the views expressed in that consultation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, made an important point, and I think that I owe her and other noble Lords an apology because I clearly did not make it evident in my remarks when moving the amendment that the alternative to academy status is not to do nothing and just carry on as before. That never was the case, and I very much hope it never would be. I would certainly never advocate it, but there are alternatives. Academy status is not the only alternative. For instance, the local authority has a role, a new head teacher can be brought in—which has been successful on other such occasions—and new governors can be appointed. Another successful school in the locality could take the school under its wing—again, there have been several examples of that having been done successfully, short of academisation. So the idea that it is one or the other is simply not true, and I am not for one moment advocating no action.

I think that parents at an underperforming school would be likely to want change—perhaps even to academy status. Who knows?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The approach to trying to improve schools which the noble Lord has just referred to has been tried for years. Bringing in a supportive school from nearby to get the school better and then move off is not a permanent solution. We have seen this for many years in some of the schools to which that my noble friend Lord Harris referred. It is a temporary solution, a quick fix, and it does not work. Here, we are talking about a permanent solution under a sponsored academy arrangement.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

That is the sort of doom and gloom we have come to associate with the Minister. I will write to him with examples of schools which have been successful in the longer term, when I get the opportunity. I was suggesting that parents at underperforming schools are in many cases likely to want changes, but you do not know whether they want changes until you ask them.

As a parent of a child at a maintained school, I would certainly want a say if that school were being forced to become an academy, but whether that was because it received an inadequate Ofsted judgment or because it was deemed to be coasting, I would take some responsibility. If it had been in those categories for two years and I had not known about it and had not banged on the head teacher’s door to say, “What are you doing to do about it?”, I would be responsible as well. So parents have responsibilities—but, equally, they have rights, and these rights should not be denied.

The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, talked about a black and white situation. That is what Amendment 16A seeks to avoid by introducing shades of grey where improvements can be made. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, suggested that the consultation did not need to be a plebiscite. That, too, is implicit in Amendment 16A, and it is not what is being suggested.

I welcome the fact that the schools that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned have been turned round, and I congratulate the trust on its achievements, but he might have mentioned that not all of his academies have enjoyed that success. On consultation, just because some parents in some schools will object is not a reason for no parents to have a say in any school.

Photo of Lord Harris of Peckham Lord Harris of Peckham Conservative

Perhaps I may say that after two years, in every school we have taken over the lowest grade we have had is “good”. They were failing schools, and I consider that getting “good” in under two years and having 80% of our secondary schools “outstanding” already is a great result. Sir Dan Moynihan and our teachers have done a great job, and I am really proud of them.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

The noble Lord is entitled to be, and I was not denigrating him. I was merely saying that not all schools are of the same standard, which is to be expected.

I will not go into the manifesto issue. I am surprised that the Minister has raised it again. We dealt with it in Committee when I quoted the Conservative manifesto to him. It is very vague—to be kind to it—on this issue, and to mention the Salisbury convention just bewilders me. I return to the point that the noble Lord did not acknowledge that the Secretary of State would still retain the final word if consultation was introduced. I made that point earlier. The Minister does not seem to have grasped it, but I hope he will. He goes on about informing parents, not consulting them. There is such a difference between being informed, which is basically being told what is going to happen, and being consulted, which is being asked what is going to happen. They are well apart.

I am not going to repeat any further arguments. I believe that the right to consultation is a basic democratic right that every parent should expect. If the Secretary of State was forced by the wording of Clause 7 to make an academy order, consultation, even if it were permitted, would be meaningless. For that reason, Amendment 15C is necessary to allow the Secretary of State the necessary flexibility—and for that reason, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Division on Amendment 15C

Contents 219; Not-Contents 219.

Division number 1 Education and Adoption Bill — Report (2nd Day)

Aye: 217 Members of the House of Lords

No: 217 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Photo of Baroness Stedman-Scott Baroness Stedman-Scott Deputy Chairman of Committees

There being an equality of votes, in accordance with Standing Order 56, which provides that no proposal to amend a Bill in the form in which it is before the House shall be agreed to unless there is a majority in favour of such amendment, I declare the amendment disagreed to.

Amendment 15C disagreed.

Amendment 15D

Moved by Lord Storey

15D: Clause 7, page 6, line 8, at end insert—

“( ) In determining whether to make an Academy order in respect of a maintained school in England, the Secretary of State must consider the availability of a suitable sponsor with a value added measure above the national average.

( ) If no suitable sponsor is available, the Secretary of State must appoint as a sponsor a willing council-maintained school or local authority with a value added measure above the national average.”

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 6:31 pm, 16th December 2015

I will speak also to Amendment 25. I am concerned that the whole tenor of this discussion has almost been, if I may characterise it in this way, along the lines of maintained schools against academies. As we know, there are some fantastic academies; we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about his schools, which I know to be highly successful. However, I am sure that he will agree with me that just as there are successful academies, there are also some failing academies, which over the years have caused a number of raised eyebrows and concerns. Equally, there are some very good maintained schools and some maintained schools which need sorting out. Whether that is done through an academy route or other means, it needs to happen.

I will first deal briefly with Amendment 25, which is about the inspection of academy chains. We know from media that Michael Wilshaw, our Chief Inspector of Schools, was very keen that the head offices of academy chains were inspected. Why? It is because academy chains deal not just with individual schools but with finance and governance, and all those important issues. Just as we would inspect local authorities that provide services and finance for schools, the same should surely be true of academy chains.

We have seen examples of academy chains where, perhaps because we have not had our finger on the pulse of the financial situation and the governance of those academy chains, we have seen all sorts of concerns.

I was going to go through them all, but I have decided to cut short what I am saying. I understand that we can inspect individual schools in batches in academy chains but I will be interested to hear from the Minister in his reply how we can be assured that the issues of finance and other governance matters are dealt with correctly.

Amendment 15D, again, follows the discussion on the previous amendments. Over the next 12 months or two years, thousands of schools will potentially need to find academy sponsors because they are failing, or are coasting and becoming failing, or because academies themselves fail and have to find other new academy sponsors. That will put a tremendous pressure on the system. In this amendment we are saying that if there is a suitable maintained school which has value added above the national average, why not use that school and provide its expertise? It is clear and simple. If we are about ensuring, as we heard in the previous debates, that the pupil gets the best possible schooling and teaching, and if an academy sponsor is not available, why not use a council-maintained school?

Photo of Baroness Morris of Yardley Baroness Morris of Yardley Labour

My Lords, I will speak on a specific issue to follow up something I raised in Committee and to make reference to a note I received from the Minister’s office this afternoon, which I wanted to put on the record.

On this amendment, considering the difficulty there sometimes is in finding sponsors, we raised in Committee that this is a problem with a number of sponsors and the length of time it has taken in some instances to match a school to a sponsor. The Minister kindly responded to my point in Committee when I asked about what the target was for doing the match and he said that there was a 12-week turnover and that 48 schools had not met that 12-week target. That is very reasonable. To get a sponsor matched with a school within 12 weeks is not unreasonable, and I would not complain.

I wrote to the Minister’s office about a month ago asking for a breakdown of how long the schools had been waiting that were in the 48 that had exceeded the time limit. I got a message by email only at the start of this debate. To tell noble Lords the truth, I am quite prepared to sit down and be told that I have read it wrong, because I find the statistics rather worrying. If that is the case, I apologise in advance and will make sure that the correction is on the record. Of the 48 schools that were just inadequate, which exceeded the 12-week brokerage time, 16 took six to 12 months, 19 took 12 to 18 months, 12 took 18 to 24 months, and one took over 24 months. Therefore the department took over two years to find a suitable sponsor for one school which had been judged inadequate. A quick add-up shows that 32 took over one year. We have heard all this about “A child shall not stay in a school that’s failing them for one day longer than necessary”, but who is responsible for that? Who is responsible for those children in that one school where it took the department over two years to find a sponsor? Who is responsible for the 32 that took over 12 months to find a sponsor? I am making a political point, but I am worried about the path we are going along, which has this as the only route and only solution for inadequate schools. Now we will add to it a whole lot more coasting schools and thereby increase the demand for sponsors, and the department seems to be failing miserably in delivering the sponsors in sufficient time. That leads me to conclude as regards this amendment that perhaps we need to look at alternative ways of finding sponsors and support if we go ahead.

Can the Minister ask his officials to convert the email to me into a letter to all Members of the Committee and place a copy in the House so that it can be seen alongside other correspondence which has been part of the consideration of the Bill?

Photo of Baroness Perry of Southwark Baroness Perry of Southwark Conservative

Will the noble Baroness accept that the appointment of the regional schools commissioners has very much changed the landscape? The regional schools commissioners, who will be responsible for finding suitable sponsors, will know their patch, so to speak; they will know the sponsors that are available in the area and will be much quicker. There will not be the long delay there was in a very hard-pressed and overstretched central department in the Department for Education.

Very briefly, on Amendment 25, I am not sure how exactly how Ofsted could inspect a sponsor. A sponsor is a business, with its finance, administration and human resources. That is not Ofsted’s business. Ofsted inspects education, not what a sponsor does, so I find that puzzling in the extreme.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Yardley Baroness Morris of Yardley Labour

Those figures are from November of this year, and the regional schools commissioners had already been in place. If demand is increased, the regional schools commissioners will be exceptionally overworked, and I am not as optimistic as the noble Baroness that they will solve the problem.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, surely the point is that the RSCs still cover a huge area. When we debated this matter in Grand Committee, we were told by the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, that there were 778 approved sponsors and about 20% were waiting to be matched with schools, but we were not told about the long delays. In our earlier debate we were told that a one-day delay would have a crucial impact on the lives of children, and I understood that argument. However, it appears that the great academisation process in itself induces months of delay in certain places and for certain schools.

I would be glad if the Minister would take away and consider the amendment between now and Third Reading. All it is saying is that there may be some circumstances where there is no suitable academy—and that is why it is taking so long—and a local authority or a maintained school might have a role to play. I would have thought that the Minister could give this a little consideration.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, Amendments 15D and 25, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, both concern the identification of an academy sponsor to take responsibility for a maintained school that is eligible for intervention.

RSCs are already responsible for subjecting prospective sponsors and their trusts to thorough scrutiny—against robust, uniform criteria—of whether they have the expertise and capacity to bring about improvement in other schools and whether they are in the right place before they are approved to take on sponsored academies. These rigorous processes ensure that academy sponsors which RSCs can match with underperforming maintained schools have a strong track record in educational improvement and financial management, and that their trust has high-quality leadership and governance.

I appreciate the intention behind the noble Lord’s amendments, which is to ensure that RSCs have a complete picture of the performance and capacity of sponsors in their region to inform the decisions they make about matching a sponsor to an underperforming maintained school. However, RSCs already take a wealth of data and intelligence into account when making those decisions. Value added measures are only one factor that an RSC will take into account when deciding on an appropriate sponsor for a failing school. They will also consider the school’s ethos, the capacity of the sponsor and their geographical location. It would be absurd, for instance, to appoint a sponsor far away from the school just because it had a higher value added measure rather than another prospective sponsor which was more suitable geographically. Therefore, Amendment 15D, requiring the RSC to take account of value added performance and progress measures when identifying a sponsor for a failing maintained school, is restrictive and unnecessary.

The amendment also proposes that, where a sponsor of a high enough quality is not available, a failing school should be sponsored by a local authority-maintained school or, indeed, directly by a local authority. Proposing that local authorities or maintained schools should have a role in sponsoring academies completely undermines the point of our reforms. A core principle behind our academy programme is to free strong school leaders from unnecessary bureaucracy by ensuring a robust single line of accountability. If local authorities and maintained schools are able to sponsor, that just blurs this line of accountability, with it going back to local government as well as to the Secretary of State. That would be a very confusing picture for schools.

This Government’s ambition is for every school to have the opportunity to become an academy and, over time, for the role of local authorities in running schools to reduce. As more schools become academies and many local authorities have few maintained schools left, as is already the case for many, I hope that we will see members of local authority teams who are skilled at school improvement spinning out to set up their own MATs. That is certainly a development which we would welcome and which I anticipate will happen before too long.

It is also critical that failing schools become part of a multi-academy trust structure—something that it is not possible for a maintained school to join. Multi-academy trusts are the most rigorous, permanent, accountable, unified and efficient way of bringing about school improvement. The MAT structure of school-to-school support offers substantial advantages, including being in charge of one’s own destiny, substantial career enhancement opportunities, better retention of staff, opportunities for subject-specific teaching in primaries, enhanced CPD and leadership opportunities, a common school improvement strategy, the ability to recruit much higher-calibre finance people and greater economies of scale. I am delighted that the NGA and ASCL have concluded that the best model for academy governance is the MAT structure. I could not agree more.

For all the reasons that I have set out, I hope that the noble Lord appreciates that my approach is not to stop good schools or strong people within local authorities sponsoring academies. In fact, I would actively encourage more schools to convert and talented education experts within local authorities to set up their own multi-academy trusts. However, the MAT model will simply not work unless all schools in the MAT are academies or unless lines of accountability are clear. I hope that the noble Lord now appreciates why this amendment simply cannot work and that he will be convinced that he should withdraw it.

Turning to Amendment 25, I believe that noble Lords are using this amendment to probe the current arrangements for inspecting and assessing academy chains. Ofsted carries out focused inspections which involve inspecting a number of schools from one chain at any one time. Sir Michael Wilshaw, as chief inspector, agreed that this approach was “appropriate” when he appeared at a recent meeting of the Education Select Committee. It is obviously important that trusts are also held to account for their financial and governance performance. This role is carried out by the Education Funding Agency, which already conducts trust-level reviews against the robust requirements of the Academies Financial Handbook.

It is right that this is a separate role for the EFA, rather than suggesting that Ofsted should focus on reviewing the finances or central operating model of academy chains. It is important that we leave HMIs to their core role, where their strengths lie, which is in inspecting the quality of teaching and learning in schools. That, of course, should not mean that we do not strive to do more to make sure that, where appropriate, a more comprehensive, coherent picture of a trust is sought. We have already held discussions with Ofsted about the circumstances in which we may want to organise a parallel audit of a trust, through a separate investigation by the EFA at the same time as Ofsted carries out a focused inspection of a group of schools. This has been very well received in a number of quarters. I therefore urge the noble Lord and the noble Baroness not to press their amendment.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 6:45 pm, 16th December 2015

I thank the Minister for clarifying the situation in terms of the inspection of academy chains. In terms of Amendment 15D, it causes concern when we constantly hear the line about a single day in a failing school being a day too long for a child when we have also heard that if an academy sponsor cannot be found a pupil can wait for months and months, even if there is a nearby local maintained school which has the reputation and the results—

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I think that I can clarify the point and, at the same time, answer the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I am sorry that I did not do so earlier. The answer that we gave—I will put it in writing to the noble Baroness and other noble Lords, and put a copy in the Library—concerned not how long it took to match a school to a sponsor but how long the school had been inadequate. I am happy to meet the noble Baroness to discuss this further but it is quite clear that these cases will not always have been delayed because of the lack of a sponsor. There are lots of delays for other reasons—the exact kinds of issues that we debated on the previous amendment, and I am sorry that the noble Baroness did not raise the point then.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

So I say again that some pupils will be waiting for a considerable time in their failing school when there might be a nearby maintained school that has a tremendous reputation and tremendous results—but we are not prepared to engage it. Of course, that comes back to what this is really all about. This is not about providing the best educational opportunities; it is about what the Prime Minister said at the Conservative Party conference. His ambition is for every school to be an academy and for local authorities running schools to be a thing of the past. That is presumably why the Minister is not happy with the notion that, if there is a council-maintained school or local authority with a value-added measure above the national average, you could use them. He is not interested in that because that is not the political philosophy. I think that that is a great mistake and a great shame. It is about what is best for the child. Therefore, on this amendment, I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Division on Amendment 15D

Contents 73; Not-Contents 209.

Amendment 15D disagreed.

Division number 2 Education and Adoption Bill — Report (2nd Day)

Aye: 71 Members of the House of Lords

No: 206 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Amendment 16 not moved.

Clause 8: Consultation about conversion

Amendment 16A

Moved by Lord Watson of Invergowrie

16A: Clause 8, page 6, line 25, at end insert—

“5ZA Consultation about conversion: schools issued with an Academy order

(1) If a school is issued with an Academy order under section 4(A1) or (1)(b), consultation must be held on whether conversion should take place.

(2) The consultation exercise must include—

(a) parents of children attending the school;

(b) teachers and staff at the school;

(c) governors at the school;

(d) the relevant local authority;

(e) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(3) The terms of such consultation, including the minimum length of time that must be allowed, shall be prescribed by the Secretary of State in regulations.

(4) After the close of the consultation, the Secretary of State must take into account the outcome of the consultation when deciding whether conversion is appropriate for the school.”

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I beg to test the opinion of the House.

Division on Amendment 16A

Contents 191; Not-Contents 205.

Amendment 16A disagreed.

Division number 3 Education and Adoption Bill — Report (2nd Day)

Aye: 189 Members of the House of Lords

No: 203 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Amendment 17 not moved.