Amendment 53

Part of Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 6:52 pm on 21 October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Chair, Services Committee, Chair, Services Committee 6:52, 21 October 2021

My Lords, I take note of the point made by the Minister and will not detain the Chamber for long. I am sure that colleagues have been here much longer than I have today—I have been elsewhere. I congratulate the Minister on her appointment and pay tribute to her predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for her hard work on this Bill.

I will speak to government Amendment 58. My interest in the Bill arose because existing legislation prevents Catholic sixth-form colleges becoming 16 to 19 academies without losing their religious character. The colleges currently benefit from several protections set out in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. These relate to issues such as governance, collective worship, religious education and many others, and they are vital to maintaining the Catholic ethos of these colleges.

Any sixth-form college can of course become a 16 to 19 academy. However, the definition of “school” in the Education Act 1996, as amended by the Education Act 2011, excludes 16 to 19 academies. This means that 16 to 19 academies are currently ineligible for the protections and freedoms needed to remain Catholic.

Catholic dioceses across England that oversee colleges have developed strategies to bring the Catholic community together by creating families of schools within multi-academy trusts. These strategies enable schools to work in partnership and share resources. Many other sixth-form colleges around the country have become academies and are benefiting from the advantages of academy status. The 14—yes, there are just 14—Catholic sixth-form colleges across England would like to gain this benefit.

In Committee, I tabled a probing amendment to empower the Secretary of State to allow sixth-form college corporations to covert to academies without losing their current statutory protection—the Minister referred to this. I was encouraged by the response from the then Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and I warmly welcome the work of her successor, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, who, with her excellent Bill team, has worked with the Catholic Education Service to find a way forward. Therefore, I am pleased that the Minister has tabled Amendment 58 to address this issue.

The amendment represents nearly a decade of engagement between the Department for Education and the Catholic Education Service on this matter. From my conversations with the CES, I know that the amendment has been positively received across the dioceses and the catholic sixth-form colleges. Indeed, Danny Pearson, principal of the Aquinas College in Stockport and chair of the Association of Catholic Sixth Form Colleges, said:

“Catholic sixth-form colleges are thrilled to see the government’s amendments will, at last, enable sixth-form colleges to become academies. As highly performing colleges with proven track records, this will allow us to grow and share our expertise across educational sectors for the benefit of local communities”.

He added:

“Many of our settings are in areas of high deprivation and this amendment will give colleges the stability and reach to ensure our young people get the life chances they deserve”.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, and the Government for tabling this amendment. I hope that the House will support it—I certainly will.