Education Funding - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 7:35 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 7:35 pm, 3rd September 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in the other place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission Mr Speaker, I am delighted to make a Statement today confirming the Prime Minister’s weekend announcement. This Government have committed an extra £14 billion to our schools across England over the next three years, ensuring that funding for all schools can rise at least in line with inflation next year. I also take this opportunity to thank my predecessor, the right honourable Member for East Hampshire, for all the groundwork he did ahead of the settlement.

The funding announcement includes a cash increase compared to 2019-20 of £2.6 billion to core schools funding next year, with increases of £4.8 billion and £7.1 billion in 2021-22 and 2022-23. This is in addition to the £1.5 billion per year that we will continue to provide to fund additional pension costs for teachers over the next three years. This additional investment delivers on the Prime Minister’s pledge to ensure that every secondary school will be allocated at least £5,000 per pupil next year, and every primary school will be allocated at least £3,750, putting primary schools on the path to receiving at least £4,000 per pupil in the following year.

We are allocating funding so that every school’s per pupil funding can rise at least in line with inflation, and to accelerate gains for areas of the country which have been historically underfunded, with most areas seeing significant gains above inflation. We will ensure that all schools are allocated their gains under the formula in full next year, by removing the cap on gains that underfunded schools have seen over the past two years. This underpins our historic reforms to the overall schools funding system, so that a child with the same needs benefits from the same funding, wherever they live in the country.

I can confirm our intention to move to a hard national funding formula, where schools’ budgets are set on the basis of a single, national formula, as soon as possible. We recognise that this will represent a significant change and we will work closely with local authorities, schools and others to make this transition as smooth as possible.

We are determined that no pupil will be held back from reaching their potential, and this additional investment includes over £700 million to support children with special educational needs and disabilities so that they can access the education that is right for them and the education that they need. This is an increase of 11% on the funding available this year.

Since 2010, education standards in this country have been transformed, but we are determined to go further still. On top of this funding investment, we have announced a package of measures that will intensify our efforts to support all schools in delivering consistently high standards for every single pupil in this country.

We will begin a consultation to lift the inspection exemption for outstanding schools, so that parents have up-to-date information and reassurance about the education in their child’s school. We will also provide additional funding to allow strong academy trusts to expand, building on the success of the academy programme as a powerful vehicle to deliver excellence and school improvement in every school in this country.

We will increase the level of support available to some of the most challenging schools that have required improvement—those that have not been judged good by Ofsted in over a decade—giving them more support from experienced school leaders so they can deliver for the children who turn to them and expect the very best in their education. To ensure the extra funding for schools delivers better outcomes and efficiency, we will continue to expand the school resource management programme, supporting schools to make every pound count. We will also work closely with Ofsted and others to make sure parents have the information they need on how schools utilise their funding.

There are no great schools without great teachers and this settlement underlines our determination to recognise teaching as the high-value, prestigious profession it is. The £14 billion investment announced last week will ensure that pay can be increased for all teachers. Subject to the School Teachers’ Review Body process, the investment will make it possible to increase teachers starting salaries by up to £6,000, with the aim of reaching a £30,000 starting salary by 2022-23. This would make starting salaries for teachers among the most competitive in the graduate labour market. This sits alongside reforms to ensure our teachers have the highest-quality training, supporting those already in the profession but also attracting even more brilliant graduates to the classroom to make a difference to children’s lives. And we will make sure teaching continues to be attractive throughout a teacher’s career, launching a group of ambassador schools to champion flexible working and share good practice.

A key element in supporting our teachers and leaders is ensuring that they have the tools and support to create safe and disciplined school environments. That is why we have made £10 million available to establish national behaviour hubs. The hubs programme will be led by Tom Bennett and will enable schools that have already achieved an excellent behaviour culture to work with other schools that have struggled in the past to drive improvement. In addition to this investment, we will consult on revised behaviour and exclusions guidance to provide clarity and consistency to head teachers on the action they can take when pupils do not follow the rules. It is vitally important that we ensure that every child succeeds in their school environment and make sure schools are a safe place for pupils to study.

We will also be investing an extra £400 million in 16 to 19 education. This total includes £190 million to raise the base rate of funding from £4,000 at present to £4,188 next year. The additional investment is a 7% increase in overall 16 to 19 funding. The total also includes £120 million for colleges and school sixth forms so that they can deliver crucial subjects such as engineering, which are so vital to our future economy.

Colleges and further education providers will receive an extra £25 million to deliver T-levels and an extra £10 million through the advanced maths premium. A new £20 million investment will also help the sector to continue to recruit and retain brilliant teachers and leaders, and provide more support to ensure high-quality teaching of T-Levels. There will be £35 million more for targeted interventions to support students on level 3 courses—A-level equivalent—who failed their GCSE maths and English. Together, this package will ensure that we are building the skills that our country needs to thrive in the future.

I am sure that many in the House will be eager to know what this announcement means for their constituency, their local area and their constituents. When the information is ready, I will be writing to Members with further details on the impact on schools in their local areas. Now more than ever is the time to invest in the next generation. That is what this party and this Government are doing, making sure that our children get the very best. I commend the Statement to the House”.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 7:43 pm, 3rd September 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Secretary of State’s Statement, but we feel that the announcement should come with a note of apology, because the Government have for so long denied our regular and consistent claims that there is a funding crisis in our schools. Now, all of a sudden, it seems that there is.

Nevertheless, the funding announced is welcome and a clear recognition of the campaigning not just of Labour in both Houses but of the education unions—the NEU, the NAHT and the ASCL—together with parents, councillors and many others. But unfortunately, today’s announcements do not live up to their billing, because even the sums announced are not enough to reverse all the cuts already made that have so damaged children’s education. As teachers and pupils start the new term this week, too many will do so in schools facing an immediate financial crisis. Can the Minister say why there is no immediate support? Even next year’s funding is £1 billion short of reversing just the cuts to school budgets since 2010. Will this additional funding be allocated on the basis of the new funding formula announced last year?

In case the Minister is thinking that only the usual suspects are questioning the funding announcement, he might have seen that last weekend’s Sunday Times—hardly noted for criticising the Government—reported that the so-called “cash boost” will overwhelmingly benefit those in Tory constituencies. That paper’s analysis of how regions will benefit from the new minimum funding thresholds revealed that more than 90% of schools receiving more than an additional £100 per pupil are in Conservative seats in areas such as Essex, Kent and the south-west. Of the 153 constituencies set to receive the increase, 143 are Tory held. Can the Minister say whether that is simply a coincidence?

The Statement said that the Secretary of State would announce the affected individual constituencies. It seems that he could get some useful information from the Sunday Times, because it has delivered quite a bit of that already. So is it a coincidence or, as many others suspect or perhaps know, just an election bribe? Many of the schools most in need and struggling with their budgets are in the north of England and London. They are largely not to receive any help. What does the Minister have to say about that? He might be aware that the Education Policy Institute found that a pupil eligible for free school meals would receive less than half the funding of their more affluent peers. How can that be fair?

Can the Minister reassure noble Lords that support staff will not pay the price for the boost to teachers’ salaries? A leaked document from the Prime Minister’s office recently revealed that they were concerned about the rising number of teaching assistants. Many people feel that there should be more teaching assistants, given the extremely important support they provide, and we join with parents, teachers, heads and those who care for children with special needs and disabilities in valuing them. Perhaps the Minister can say what the effect on them would be of this announcement.

On school standards, we know that Ofsted is to lift the exemption on outstanding schools being inspected. I welcome that. The school that my son attends has an outstanding report attached to it, but it was dated three years before he was born. That outstanding schools should not have that protection—I use the word advisedly—is to be welcomed, but none the less, what additional resources will be provided to Ofsted? Its staffing levels show that it is already under strain. If this is to be meaningful, there will have to be additional resources there.

It seems that the Government have finally admitted that there is a crisis in further education, but we know that the Education Secretary returned from the Treasury with about half of what he thought was needed for that sector. What plans are there to address the long-overdue increase in pay for further education staff? Without it they will continue to fall further behind teachers in schools.

Finally, I will say a word about early years. I understand that it is not officially part of this announcement, but the hourly rate for providers has not increased since 2017. How can issues in schools such as mental health concerns, closing the disadvantage gap and social mobility issues be addressed without paying attention to the support required in early years? Surely it is about prevention rather than cure. Might this issue be addressed tomorrow by the Chancellor, or have the youngest children been forgotten again? I certainly hope not.

The Statement contains far more questions than answers. Whenever the general election comes, Labour will offer a comprehensive funding package for our schools, allowing head teachers, teachers and teaching assistants to provide the high-quality education our young people deserve. I regret to say that this Statement will not achieve that.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. It is interesting and we have to say thank you for the increase in funding—but we needed it. As I understand it, we will get the full impact in about three years’ time. We will not get all of it quickly enough.

The main delivery system for education is the staff. Teaching staff will receive a pay rise, but there seems to be a question about whether academies will be able to filch off and take away the best staff with better offers to make sure that they are not available to schools that need them. Can the noble Lord give us some idea of what the thinking is there?

In the same tone, why are those in further education teaching not being treated in the same way and given the same degree of support? Delivery, and the person who delivers, is the key point here. If you get that wrong, everything struggles. Making sure that we have systems in place to ensure that people are properly paid across the sector is vital. We need more thinking about this. The cash is welcome, but unless these things are properly delivered, problems will be compounded.

There is also the issue of equalisation of funding. We have already mentioned that schools who have been receiving this seem to be those with fewer, shall we say, home problems, or potential home problems, in terms of free school meals. We all know that backing a parent sufficiently makes a huge difference to schools. An idea about the thinking there would be very beneficial. Why is it that those who have that background support are able to get support outside and within the system more easily? Why is that seen to be the way forward?

I now go to my specialist subject and remind the House of my interests in special educational needs and technical support. I thank the Minister for the money for special educational needs; it is roughly a third of what we need to go back to 2015 levels. When are we going to make sure that local government and the education authorities have enough money to meet their needs? I have raised with the Minister on numerous occasions the fact that tens of millions of pounds is wasted by local authorities in losing appeals not to fulfil education and healthcare plans. When will this no longer be the case? This is a ridiculous situation. We have, I hope, the start of a cohesive plan here. It can be restructured if you like, to put in more specialist teachers who can deal with these problems in the classroom and the school. That is an infinitely better situation than leaving it to bureaucracy—but when are we going to start dealing with it?

In the same tone, why are we so obsessed with making sure that people must continually take English and maths tests they failed when they were in further education? The amount of undiscovered special educational needs is recognised by everybody, possibly because the staff are not well enough trained to recognise it and give the correct amount of support. Some people just will not pass. Why are we wasting time there and not finding other ways of getting around this? The technology for English translation is there and it is also there to help with things such as maths. Surely this is a better and more coherent way forward. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I thank the noble Lords for their questions; I will try to address all of them.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, is worried about the fact that the funding seems to be benefiting Conservative seats. The only reason it will benefit those is that historically they have been underfunded compared to other seats: small rural schools have not received the same level of funding as urban schools. With the national funding formula, we have introduced a hard bottom, so that even the best funded schools will increase their funding, but we will increase those who are below the NFF at a rate that is considerably quicker. I assure the noble Lord that there is no gerrymandering; it is just a quirk of history that has ensured that these schools have not done nearly so well.

The noble Lord also asked about teaching assistants. I am concerned about teaching assistants because I believe that we are missing an opportunity to provide fantastic career progression for many of them. Amazingly, some 30% of teaching assistants have degrees, and therefore could go on to teaching relatively easily if they wanted to but are often held back by their wish to look after their children. Many TAs are the parents—mostly mothers—of young children, and therefore teaching hours are not always conducive. That is why the Statement says that we are going to try to make more progress with having more flexible working in the teaching profession. We strongly believe that if we could have more flexible working in teaching, job sharing and so on, many more TAs would go on into teaching, which would be a great boon to them. It would increase their pay—

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

I thank the Minister for giving way. It is not so much about those progressing from being teaching assistants to being teachers, but that schools under such financial pressure have in many cases had to dispense with the services of teaching assistants. That is an important issue and many people will be looking to this announcement for reassurance.

I had not noticed when I was speaking earlier that the Secretary of State and the Minister for Schools are here. That is laudable, and I commend them .

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

On the noble Lord’s concern about teaching assistants, even through a period of what he would consider to be austerity, the number of teaching assistants has risen by some 49,000 since 2010. In 1997, there were 70,000 teaching assistants, and today there are around 250,000, so I do not believe that the system is in any way denuded of them. The next phase is to encourage those who want to enhance their careers and move to a higher paid profession.

In relation to the noble Lord’s question on Ofsted inspections of outstanding schools and resources, we are already in detailed discussions with it about funding the cost of these additional inspections. I reassure the noble Lord that we are not going to ask it to do it without some support.

On FE funding, this is a tremendous settlement, certainly the biggest since 2010, and, officials have indicated to me, it might be the biggest since 2004. It increases the base rate by 4.7%.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made a point which I did not fully understand, when he said that academies would filch the best teachers through this process. Academies are schools; they now account for over half of all pupils in the state system. Therefore, they will benefit from these announcements, but so will local authority schools.

Again, in terms of FE staff—

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for giving way. My point is that academies are not under the same restrictions on maximum levels of pay.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The noble Lord is correct that they are not under the same restrictions, but there are very few examples of academies paying more. I have come across one or two innovative ideas. For example, one trust in Kent pays its newly qualified teachers £2,000 more a year, but that ends up saving it money because it has less attrition and keeps its teachers for longer. As the Statement said, we will be increasing starting salaries for all teachers to £30,000, which is a dramatic increase, some £6,000 above where it is at the moment.

The noble Lord also asked about free school meals. He felt that those schools with higher numbers of children receiving free school meals were benefiting less. It is worth reminding the noble Lord that we introduced the pupil premium back in 2011, and each year that has been a sum of some £2 billion going to support the schools with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. More importantly, it is encouraging schools to recruit these sorts of children, because they get a strong financial benefit. It works out at nearly £1,000 a pupil for a secondary school.

Lastly, the noble Lord raised his particular passion around SEN. I accept that the noble Lord has raised the level of funding many times. We dramatically increased it in 2013. It was £5 billion a year, and with this new funding it will go up to £7 billion a year. We have also announced that we will carry out an inquiry into how the whole SEN healthcare plan system is working. I take on board the noble Lord’s concerns about the cost of appeals which local authorities are losing, but any system must have a hard edge. As we have discussed, the percentage of cases going to appeal is minuscule in relation to the overall number of cases being given these education healthcare plans.

I did not expect the noble Lords opposite me would be ululating with pleasure at this settlement, but it is a dramatic improvement. I have spent two years defending the system, but this is a Statement that I absolutely wanted to deliver tonight, and I am delighted that I was able to do so.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 7:59 pm, 3rd September 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. As he said, we are all delighted that more money is going into education, but like the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and my noble friend Lord Addington, I have reservations. Mine focus on the part of the Statement relating to colleges. As we know, our FE colleges are underfunded and unloved and have been for far too long, yet they often not only provide outstanding education but are a community resource and provide community cohesion. I want to ask the Minister about two matters. First, the Statement says:

“Colleges and further education providers will receive an extra £25 million to deliver T-levels”.

T-levels are totally untried and untested, whereas there are a raft of well-established and well-understood vocational qualifications—I declare an interest as a vice-president of City & Guilds—which could continue to do great things if they had better funding behind them. Why is this funding going only to T-levels, which are not yet tried and tested and about which we know very little, and not to all the work-based qualifications which provide the skills that the country desperately needs?

My second question repeats that of my noble friend Lord Addington, which I do not think the Minister replied to. It relates to the pernicious practice of trying to get youngsters repeatedly to resit GCSE English and maths, only for them to fail again and again. All one does is reinforce failure and leave people demoralised and thoroughly fed up about education. Nobody argues with the idea that young people need literacy and maths skills, but GCSE is not the right vehicle for that. Colleges spend an awful lot of time and resource trying to put youngsters through those wretched exams and watching them fail again and again. When will the Government rethink and bring in some functional literacy and maths tests which would be far more appropriate for the youngsters who have to resit?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The noble Baroness raises important points. It may be worth summarising some of the specific funding coming into the FE sector, because I know that she is a passionate supporter of it, as am I. I am very pleased that, under my new Secretary of State, I will have greater involvement in the FE sector and look forward to discussing some of these issues personally with the noble Baroness.

We will invest an extra £400 million in colleges and school sixth forms; there is a 7% uplift of 16 to 19 funding, not including the increase in funding for pensions. The total includes protection of and an increase in the 16 to 19 base of £190 million, with £120 million for colleges and school sixth forms so that they can deliver on subjects which require perhaps more expensive teachers, such as engineering and so on. I hear the noble Baroness’s concerns about T-levels, but we are also adding another £10 million for the advanced maths premium. There will be an additional £20 million to help the sector continue to recruit and retain teachers, and there will be £35 million more for targeted interventions to support the area that the noble Baroness is concerned about; that is, resits. Some of that money will be used to look at different ways of trying to help children who perhaps do not learn in a traditional way. In 2019, more than 46,000 pupils successfully resat their English GCSEs, as did 35,500 maths pupils, to obtain a standard pass. All those children whose careers were blocked by not having maths and English have cleared that hurdle this year. I am one of seven children in my family; only two of us got maths O-level, so I know exactly the frustration faced by children who struggle with these subjects, but we are on the right course and I hope to use some of this additional money to see whether we can find better ways to reach them.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, this is a most significant Statement and I congratulate my noble friend and all his colleagues on it. It surely represents a central element in the ambitious Tory programme of reform that is emerging under this Government, a programme that must not be overshadowed by Brexit.

Can my noble friend give the House a little further information on two of the initiatives announced in the Statement? First, how many ambassador schools are there to be? Where are they to be established and how will they operate? Secondly, how many national behaviour hubs will there be, where will they be established and how they will operate? One is bound to express here a great hope that that these initiatives will answer the deep sense of yearning in our country for good standards of behaviour in all our schools. Finally, what progress is being made towards the final establishment of the national funding formula, which we have discussed on a number of occasions in this House?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My noble friend asks important questions, too. The ambassador schools are a new initiative which we are working on at the moment, so I will be happy to write to him when we have developed the information a little more. There is a school—I believe it is in Tunbridge Wells—where 38 of its 100 teaching staff are part time, yet it achieves outstanding educational results. This is a process of education for the teaching profession to show that job sharing and part-time teaching are viable in a school setting. We will develop that, and I will write to my noble friend as we push that forward.

Likewise, the national behaviour hubs have rolled out very recently. The extra money will enhance the number of hubs. My noble friend is not here, but, if he were, I could give a number and he could nod at me, but I think that we are starting with around eight hubs. I might be wrong and will write if that is so, but the idea is to take best practice from those schools that are good at it to show those which are struggling. That is how we plan to roll it out.

On the NFF, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, pointed out, the funding that we are proposing will be fed in over the next three years, but the idea is that, by 2022-23, all schools will be on or above that funding. For those that are well below it, particularly primaries, we are not pushing up the amount straightaway from £3,500 to £4,000 per pupil, because we want them to have time to absorb the extra resource, so the allocation will go up by £250 next year and reach £4,000 the following year.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Much of it is extremely welcome. We know that rural schools in particular have been under enormous pressure, so the fact that the new formula should assist them is really to be welcomed. However, is the Minister confident that it will offer the real protection that some of those schools need? They are at the heart of their communities, and the loss of them will have a massive impact on those small rural communities. I would like a reassurance on that. I remain slightly unconvinced that schools in the poorest areas will not lose out. I accept that pupil premium is clearly there, but I remain concerned that the evidence that the Sunday Times has produced so far means that the poorest may suffer.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson, asked a question about early years; we know that the earliest years matter most. I hope the Minister will forgive me if I missed something in his earlier response about what further commitment to sustaining early years education might be.

If I may add my voice to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, I think that further work needs to be done on alternative ways for literacy and maths, not just keeping on pushing GCSEs. Yes, it is great that some further students passed, and the Minister gave us the numbers, but that alone will not solve the issue. We must find some alternatives.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I am perhaps more optimistic on rural schools than the right reverend Prelate. Coming from a rural background myself, I know the importance of these schools in communities beyond the simple provision of education. As he quite rightly said, some of the greatest increases in funding will go to these schools over the next two to three years. I am therefore very confident that it will be a huge boost to them.

Early years was not the subject of this announcement. It may be addressed as part of the spending review tomorrow, but it is not in the remit of this announcement.

I hear the right reverend Prelate’s concern on these retakes, but I am afraid I respectfully disagree with him; I think it is incredibly important that they get these base qualifications so that they can progress to their career, but I accept that we need to find better ways of educating. I am particularly interested in edtech, which might bring in ways of teaching that have previously eluded those pupils.

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

My Lords, I also welcome the Statement. We are obviously delighted that extra resources are being made available, and I accept the figures that were given. I am concerned about two areas. The first is further education—we heard my noble friend Lady Garden speak eloquently on this subject. While there are extra resources, does the Minister expect that they will increase over the next few years? I have never quite understood—perhaps the Minister could explain this to me—why, if I am a chemistry teacher in an academy or a maintained secondary school, I get considerably more pay than if I am a chemistry teacher in a further education college. Why should this be the case? Secondly, if I am in a sixth form college which is part of an academy chain, there is a VAT exemption. If I am in a stand-alone sixth form college which is not part of an academy chain, the school has to pay VAT. Can that be fair?

My niche question is on behaviour. I was fascinated, interested and delighted to hear about these behaviour hubs and will watch this space with interest. We heard the Secretary of State say, whether it was in the Statement or separately, that he would back schools which permanently excluded pupils from school for bad behaviour. I have always said that teachers have a right to teach and pupils have a right to learn. Schools have to do everything possible to try to ensure that pupils with behavioural problems are supported within the school, but if we move to a system where there is a sort of free rein to exclude pupils, we will see all sorts of difficulties. If we move to that new ethos, will the Minister make available more resources for alternative education? If that is the case, will he ensure that the use of unregistered alternative providers no longer happens? We are seeing young people excluded from school and going into unregistered providers, many of which quite frankly do not deserve to be in education at all. The young people are not even checked in and checked out; they can often roam the streets and get involved in drug and gang culture. That cannot be the case, so what extra resources will there be for alternative education in this announcement?

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The noble Lord asks important questions. First, I will try to clarify the difference between FE and the school system, particularly the academy system. FE colleges have a different legal status and a degree of independence which does not relate to the school system. The colleges themselves take the decisions on pay, and one of the anomalies which I must admit I do not really understand is that they tend to prefer to pay all teachers exactly the same rate irrespective of their skills or the particular subjects they are teaching. One of the things that I want to do with this new funding is to find a way of challenging them to be a bit more flexible. As the noble Lord says, if you teach chemistry in an academy and earn X amount, why can you not earn a similar amount in an FE college? I want to get to the bottom of that, to be honest.

Again, VAT status is a quirk of the different legal status of these entities. For example, FE colleges as independent units have the right to borrow, which does not exist in the school system; however, as almost a quid pro quo, they do not have the right to recover VAT. We have offered for sixth form colleges to convert to academisation; quite a lot of them—over half, I think—have done so. Those that have not have reasons for choosing not to, but it is an option that they can consider.

On behaviour, I have just found a note. To answer my noble friend Lord Lexden’s earlier question, the first hubs will open in September next year. In relation to exclusions, I assure the noble Lord and everyone here that we are not for a second suggesting a free-for-all on permanent exclusions. Indeed, in the new Ofsted framework, there will be much more scrutiny of exclusion policies, particularly permanent ones, by schools. So there is no suggestion that we encourage exclusion, but I believe strongly that it is an important tool in the locker of a school where very difficult children disrupt the education of others.

To be clear, an unregistered school is an illegal school. Ofsted has an ongoing programme to track these schools down; when they are located, we close them and take legal action against the proprietors where that is the appropriate course.

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

I am pleased with the Minister’s answer. In terms of alternative provision, the problem with unregistered schools is that local authorities themselves send the excluded pupils to those institutions. The parents are not deciding that they should go to a particular religious type of unregistered school; local authorities are saying, “Oh, we’ve got this boy or girl, this student, who has been excluded from school. We are going to put them in alternative provision”. They then go for the cheapest option, which is often an unregistered school, with all the problems that that entails. I have asked before whether we can write to local authorities saying that this is not acceptable because they are operating illegally.

Photo of Lord Agnew of Oulton Lord Agnew of Oulton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The noble Lord is quite right. Sometimes, a local authority may use part-time provision that may be legal but, often, these morph into full-time institutions without the local authority realising. We are in constant dialogue with local authorities on this issue, reminding them that sending a child to an unregistered school on a full-time basis is not on. We are carrying out a consultation of the process of getting schools to take ownership of a pupil once they have excluded them; in other words—this is not agreed yet, but we are consulting on these ideas at the moment—they would be responsible for the ultimate educational results of the child that they had excluded, so they would have to consider the issue much more carefully. We are opening more free school PRUs and APs so that more provision is available. I accept that this is a difficult area, but we are putting a lot of emphasis on it.

House adjourned at 8.16 pm.