Moved by Lord Knight of Weymouth
35A: Schedule 1, page 88, line 28, at end insert—“33A In section 88(1)(a) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, after “in relation to” insert “an Academy or”.”Member’s explanatory statementThis is to make academies subject to the guidance from local authorities on admissions.
My Lords, Schedule 1 applies the maintained school legislation to academies, as set out in the controversial Clause 3 that we have just been discussing. My amendment seeks to make academies subject to guidance from local authorities on admissions, so that they are the same as maintained schools. Here I probably part company with some of my new allies on the Benches opposite in my vision for academies, but so be it.
The starting point for me in thinking about this is my vision for local authorities in respect of the provision of education and schooling. I see the fundamental role of local authorities as safeguarding children’s interests in the area in which they have jurisdiction, rather than the interests of the schools that they might run. If we are going to move to every school becoming part of a strong multi-academy trust, as is the direction of travel and the Government’s intent, then they will not be operating schools. It is important to avoid that conflict of interest.
When my noble friend Lord Adonis first began the academies programme, as I recall, the arguments I was making in his defence in the other place concerned the notion that, in some cases, there are local authorities which are operating—and have been operating for generations—schools that are failing. There was a fundamental problem for them in calling out their own failure, which is part of why I am very nervous about the direction of travel, with the Secretary of State running all the schools in the country. The Secretary of State might ultimately become nervous about calling out the failures of all the schools they are responsible for.
If the local authority is to become the guardian of the interests of the children in its area, it is right that it should become accountable for fair local admissions for parents. In an environment where every school is an academy, every academy school should be subject to guidance from the local authority on admissions. My noble friend Lord Adonis just talked about the 101 varieties of admission arrangements. Nerdy people like me might understand them, but this is a real problem for parents, particularly parents of year 6 children.
Year 6 begins with parents starting to get their head around what school their child will go into year 7 at. They then have to grapple with banded admissions over here, some kind of attainment test over there, schools that are not that popular where you can get in if you just put them on the list, and schools that are popular and that attempt some kind of fair admissions. Then there are schools that have some faith-based admissions, and there is then the question of whether you have to go to church, the synagogue, the temple or whatever on a regular basis to be allowed into those schools; in some cases you might and in some you might not. It is deeply confusing for parents. I like the idea that they would hold their local council representatives responsible for making that process somewhat easier. I see that my noble friend wants to say something.
I am itching to say something, because what I am hearing my noble friend describe is that the best system we can envisage for the management of our schools is for them to be locally managed with a common admission policy across a group of schools in an area. That is the system that has been slowly dismantled, it has to be said, by the development of academies.
That is where I part company with my noble friend, in that I am relatively comfortable with others managing the schools, but with that management being accountable to local authorities and part of that accountability being managing the admissions process for all the schools in their area.
Another problem I see in a minority of cases of those schools that are their own admissions authority is that they are trying to find ways to choose pupils: rather than parents choosing schools, it is schools choosing parents. That is strongly related to accountability. Accountability for public funding and for delivery of school services is really important and I do not want to dilute that in any way, but the danger is that we end up with schools trying to ensure that a standardised pupil comes in who their whole curriculum and way of operating fits, so that they have the best chance of success.
In that respect, I commend to your Lordships a book by Todd Rose, an academic at Harvard, called The End of Average, which begins with a great story of the US Air Force when it first introduced fast jets. They kept crashing and the air force did not understand why. It worked out that the reason was that they were all designed for a standard dimension of pilot, so the controls were in slightly awkward places and the split-second timing required for fast jets meant that a lot of them crashed. That is why we now have adjustable seats in our cars, so that we can adjust to the different dimensions of people. The danger I see is that, thanks to our system of accountability, we have that problem of standardisation, with schools trying to admit pupils of standard dimensions, so to speak.
I point your Lordships to a problem I have seen in the London Borough of Lambeth, where a multi-academy trust, the board of which I chair, has a secondary school academy called City Heights. We were approached earlier in this school year about reducing the pupil allocated number for City Heights. It was not a unilateral conversation: the local authority approached all the secondary schools in the area, because the predicted demand for school places was coming down and it needed to reduce the provision of school places across the borough. All the secondary schools agreed verbally, informally, that they would reduce their PAN proportionately to accommodate that reduction. What happened when, finally, the proposals were formalised and agreed? Two of those schools, which happen to be two of the more popular schools—two academy schools—increased their PAN so that they could get more money in and continue their story of success, but at the expense of all the other schools which had played ball and tried to do the right thing with the local authority. That kind of practice needs to be sorted out, and this is an opportunity to do so.
We see some problems about fair in-year access, where pupils need to get admitted into schools in-year. We see some social selection by schools that are their own admissions authorities: things such as very subtle boundary changes, where it is hard to spot what they have done, but they happen to have cut out a social housing estate or done something else that just makes it a little easier to select the standard pupil that they are designed for. There might be elaborate religious criteria, as I mentioned. There might be talk in their prospectus of these great school trips that everyone will be expected to contribute a load of money to. That is part of the social selection that can be the practice of admissions authorities that bothers me.
This amendment would lead to fairer admissions, provide more local compatibility with the 101 varieties of admissions arrangements going on within a local authority area, particularly primary feeders, and restore confidence among parents in our admission system where that small minority of schools which abuse it and try to choose parents are undermining that confidence and we need to put it right.
This group has a number of other amendments in it; I will not attempt to speak to them all. I am supportive of my noble friend Lord Hunt’s amendment on grammar schools. I will not anticipate his comments but, when thinking about what he might say, I was reminded of a wonderful passage in an interesting, really great book written by Tim Brighouse and Mick Waters, About Our Schools—it is a huge tome of a thing but I commend it to your Lordships—about some of the early private hospitals. They had criteria around what patients they would select, in essence, to make their job easier: if you could admit only patients who were not that sick, you would be a really successful hospital. Similarly, if you admit only pupils who are already pretty bright, your job is really straightforward, but it leaves the rest of the schools with a real problem that you then have pick up with the majority.
My Lords, the Clause 28 stand part notice is in my name. Because it is about grammar schools, I think it is right to have it in this group, in talking about admissions policies.
I very much empathised with my noble friend Lord Knight when he spoke about the traumas of year 6 for not only the children who have to take SATs but the parents who have to choose—or attempt to choose—a secondary school for their children. It was also interesting to hear about the parallel between private hospitals choosing their patients and schools choosing their pupils. Often, the difference between health and education is that, in the main, our best hospitals are based in urban areas, with some of the poorest people, serving them. In a sense, I am not sure that education has ever quite been able to pull off the support that the health service has often given to the poorest and most deprived people, imperfect though that may be.
Clause 28 is concerned with grammar schools and academies but it has prompted me to ask the Minister a wider question: what is the Government’s general policy in relation to grammar schools? We know that, in 2016, the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, said that she wanted to allow for an expansion in grammar schools. It was in the 2017 manifesto but nothing appeared in the Queen’s Speech; more recently, the Government have said that they do not want to see an expansion in the grammar school system. However, rumours and briefings often come out saying that, actually, the Government would like to see a change in policy.
We have already seen a number of so-called satellite grammar schools open or get under way. Basically, this is a back-door way of expanding the grammar school system. Satellite schools bear the same name as the host grammar school. They are often located several miles away. Eventually, of course, it will lead to two separate schools being established. We know that the county council in Kent seems determined to expand its selective schools despite all the evidence showing that the Kent system is a poor one in terms of overall outcomes for the whole of the student population. Grammar schools in Kent do nothing more than attain the results that you would expect if you selected for high attainment—hence my noble friend Lord Knight’s comment about schools choosing their pupils.
As Comprehensive Future has stated:
“What is there to stop any grammar school from creating a whole chain of satellites stretching from Northumberland to Land’s End?”
This is not an academic argument because there have been suggestions that the Bill could be amended by Conservative MPs when it goes to the Commons. The Evening Standard has reported that the Government refused to rule out lifting the current ban on new grammar schools, while the Telegraph has reported that the Government are open to expanding academic selection. Indeed, Chris Philp MP was quoted as referring to his plans to amend the Schools Bill to support new grammars. Can the Minister clarify the Government’s exact position?
I am afraid that I am old enough to have experienced the wretched old grammar/secondary modern system, and the 11-plus, which condemned so many children to be classified as failures at the age of 11 and to be sent to schools with fewer resources and less ambition. That is why the move to a comprehensive system was so popular. It is interesting that the movement started in some of the shire counties. I lived in Oxford, and Oxfordshire and Leicestershire were determined to get rid of grammar schools in the 1950s and 1960s because they did not want all their children to be branded as failures at the age of 11. In 1953 and 1957, Leicestershire started to experiment with comprehensive education, expanding it throughout the whole county in 1969. Oxfordshire started in 1955 and 1957, subsequently expanding throughout the whole county as well.
Why did parents support this? It is very simple. Those arguing for grammar schools present only the image of children passing the 11-plus and going to grammar schools, and their subsequent achievements. They do not refer to the large number of children—around 70% in Kent—who are told aged 11 that they are failures and then attend underresourced secondary moderns. There is plenty of research to show that in those areas with a grammar school system, achievement is lower. Look no further than Kent and Buckinghamshire. Grammar school systems continually and consistently undermine educational achievement. According to the DfE, in 2019, the GCSE pass rate was 11 points below the national average in Kent and five points below average in Buckinghamshire.
Claims that grammar schools give a foot up the ladder for poorer children have, again, been debunked comprehensively. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that in the remaining grammar schools, the percentage of pupils from poor backgrounds is lower than ever: 2.7% are entitled to free meals, against 16% nationally. Once the pupil intake of grammar schools is taken into account, based on factors such as chronic poverty, ethnicity, home language, special educational needs and age in year group, Durham University analysis shows that grammar schools are no more or less effective than other schools.
Finally, the poorest children in Kent and Medway have a less than 10% chance of getting into grammar schools, while for children in the very richest neighbourhoods, it is over 50%—schools choosing their own pupils. I want the Minister to say that there is no intention of changing the policy with any amendments that any Conservative MP might seek to move in the Commons, although whether the Bill reaches the Commons is a question that we are all interested in. Assuming that it does eventually reach the Commons, I hope that the Government will say today that they will have no truck with that.
Amendment 78 deals with the issue that we were discussing earlier about the provision of school places by academies. It says that the Secretary of State must, within six months of the Act being passed, make regulations which provide local authorities in England with the power to direct academies within their area to admit students or expand school places. An example of why that could be important would be a new housing development of some significance which alters the balance of pupil numbers in a particular geographical area. Broadly speaking, our amendment is very similar to that of the noble Lord, Lord Knight. He uses “guidance”; we use “direction”. It is also similar to Amendment 160, which will be spoken to shortly.
The problem is simply that councils have a statutory duty to ensure there is a local school place for every child who needs one, but they currently do not have the power to direct academy trusts to expand school places or to admit pupils. This amendment would introduce a new backstop power for local authorities to direct trusts to admit children as a safety net.
I understand that the Government have committed to consult on a new statutory framework for pupil movement, which might introduce a new backstop power for local authorities to direct trusts to admit children as that final safety net, with a right for the trust to appeal to the schools adjudicator. I seek the Minister’s confirmation that that is what the Government are planning. However, councils’ ability to meet local demand will be increasingly undermined as more schools convert from local authority maintained schools to academies, so we need to ensure that the backstop power is introduced as soon as possible to give local authorities the power to deliver their duty in school place planning. I regard these as essential powers for local authorities. Parents and guardians would be incredibly surprised if they discovered that local authorities did not have those powers, which, of course, are currently limited, as I explained.
Briefly, Amendment 162 takes us wider than just the admissions function. It prescribes a list of functions that a local authority should be responsible for managing for all state-funded schools in the authority’s area. The first is what we have just been talking about: that every child “has a school place”. In addition, we need to co-ordinate
“the provision of education to children who are at risk of exclusion from school” and
“the provision of support to children with special educational needs or disabilities”.
We also need a local authority
“to act as the admissions authority for all state-funded schools in the local authority area, including by managing in-year admissions … to manage the appeals process against individual admissions decisions … to prevent pupils from being removed from the pupil roll of a school unlawfully … to monitor the performance of schools; and … to monitor how schools engage with their local community.”
That all seems common sense, and it is what the general public would expect for their local area.
There are two overriding reasons why it is essential to define local authority powers and responsibilities. Local authorities are, after all, the locally elected democratic body to which parents and the public will turn if there are difficulties, but secondly, they are the place where the co-ordination and integration of provision in schools can be undertaken. We will talk later about multi-academy trusts and whether they can be geographically widely spread across the country, with all the problems we can foresee if that is a developing trend. With these two amendments, I seek the Minister’s assurances that the role of local authorities will be properly embedded in the schools system.
My Lords, I too have an amendment in this group, but first, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, I very much share his vision of taking local authorities to the point where they are advocates for parents. If we look back to the old days, that role was missing; they were advocates for schools, not parents. I remember local authorities that would pull a bad teacher out of a school and deliberately put him in another one because they were there to look after the teachers, not the parents. The logic of the direction we are going in is to have local authorities as the parents’ advocate and therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said, to have some power in this—to have the ability to really shift rocks where they are in the way of parents.
My Amendment 58A is, like this grouping, an odd collection of bits and pieces. We have largely dealt with proposed new subsection 1 in earlier debates, but I have a real problem with the way academies handle admissions data at the moment. What used to be a coherent local authority booklet on how you could get into one school or another has now been reduced to a collection of “For information, apply to school” notices. There is no coherence. It gets really difficult and time consuming for a parent to get to understand what schools they might have access to, and that is really destructive to the power of parental choice and the point of having lots of different schools and admissions systems in the first place.
You absolutely ought to empower parents to make the best choice for their child. That ought to be the centre of the admissions system; it is not. I have failed to shift the DfE on this on many occasions. It is ridiculous. All schools have to do is, on a reasonable timescale, provide the local authority with their admissions data in a standard format—it has to exist in that format anyway, because there is a common system of handling admissions—and then allow the local authority to publish it.
The Bill is an opportunity to bring some sense back into the admissions data system and to remember why it is there, the point of parents choosing schools and the good that we used to argue came from doing that, rather than allowing this continued pointless, profitless inertia in the DfE to get in the way of parents’ interests. I appeal to my noble friend to pick up on this issue again but to do so from the point of view of doing best by children and parents.
Academies also need to get better at providing standardised information to parents, so that it gets easy for parents to compare one school with another. Destinations of children, examination results and the level of literacy and numeracy in the school are elements which it ought to be possible for a parent to look at in detail, beyond the Government’s performance tables. It ought to be easy. You do not need to make it easy for the sharp-elbowed middle classes; they do it anyway. They have the time and do the work. We want to make it easy for every parent, and that requires not asking parents to do the work, because a lot of parents do not have the time to get to the point where they really understand what is going on. We have to provide things in a standard way, so it is really important that we get the data and that there is an up-to-date Ofsted report—and ideally one for the multi-academy trust, where there is one, too—because that sort of data is easily comparable and digestible by any parent who is really putting their mind to it, which should be the point of those reports.
In a system where we have a lot of academies rather than local authority schools, I think we need to come back to a system that really centres its thinking on parents, how they make the choices and how they negotiate their relationships with schools, and to reinvent the local authority as a strong friend of parents in that context.
My Lords, I welcome the fact that we are discussing admissions policy. It is not the principal object of the comments that I want to make but it is certainly at the heart of the unfairness of the system that operates in many parts of the country. I was shocked at the number of different admissions systems referred to by my noble friend Lord Adonis. As soon as you depart—as, I am afraid, we did quite a while ago now—from a common admissions system for the whole of a local authority area, you depart from a situation whereby there could be no question of schools poaching pupils by varying the system. The only way to get fairness across the system, with schools working together co-operatively and the whole community being served, is through a common admissions system, not sundry random ones.
We have all heard comments—not just anecdotal ones—about the questions sometimes asked when selecting pupils for schools. I have even heard questions asked about whether there is a suitable room at home in which a pupil can conduct their homework—an outrageous kind of selection policy—or whether, at 11, it can be guaranteed that the pupil will stay on until the sixth form, and other selective admissions questions.
Anyway, that is not my main purpose. What I really want to say in connection with this group of amendments is, essentially, “hear, hear” to what my noble friend Lord Hunt said. I find it very depressing that, after so many years, we are still debating the merits of grammar schools. I much prefer to couch the debate not in relation to those merits but to the merits of saying to an 11 year-old—indeed to the majority of 11 year-olds in a particular area—“You have failed.” We hear lots about the alleged advantages of going to a grammar school, but I have not read many books—I would like to have references to them if they exist—on the wonders of failing the 11-plus and the advantages that come from it.
For most people, if not everyone, of my generation and probably a good few who are younger, there was no option; we all took the 11-plus. Over half a century ago in my case, in an average road in an average part of Britain such as I lived in, we all played football and cricket together and then, some of us had passed and some had failed. To this day, I do not know why; it was random. They were the same people who played football, who I went to the pub with when I was a bit older, and who I played with in a rock group—that was a long time ago—about the same time as the Beatles, although they were more successful.
Some of us had passed and some had failed. If anyone thinks, well, they should just get over it, I can tell the Committee that, 50 years on, many people who failed the 11-plus never really got over it. It was a life-changing circumstance, a life-changing occurrence at the age of 11, which I find indefensible. It has got better in many ways as educationalists of all parties have got rid of grammar schools in many areas but, in areas where it persists, it has, if anything, got worse.
At least when I took the 11-plus there was no intensive coaching of 10 and 11-year-olds to try to get us through, but the nightmare reported by parents in Kent is that this is now the prerequisite; that is what you have to do. I do not want to get too anecdotal about this but I even know of parents who, due to a promotion, wanted to move their family to Kent but were initially dissuaded from doing so—they did it eventually—because they did not want to put their seven, eight or nine year-olds, as they were at the time, through the trauma of having to take the 11-plus. Again, in a family near me with four children, the three eldest passed and the fourth failed; we can just imagine what it does to a family when that kind of thing happens.
I just find it depressing that we even need to discuss this, but I ask the same question that my noble friend did. If the Minister can reassure us that there is no intention to expand and develop the grammar school system, which for so long has been demonstrated to be unsatisfactory and unfair, then that is a status quo that I do not find acceptable but is at least better than the situation getting worse. Really, I blame all parties, including mine, for the fact that this iniquitous system was not removed from our educational structure a long time ago. It would be wonderful, although this will not happen, if the Minister were able to stand up and say that it was a bad system and that the Government were keen to see it removed.
My Lords, I shall speak against Amendment 35A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Knight. The amendment—for obvious reasons, given what he has said today—does not account for voluntary, aided and foundation schools. This is not a recent provision; they have always acted as their own admission authorities as maintained schools. As set out in the School Admissions Code, academies with a religious designation must also consult the diocese and the board of education and have regard to the advice of the diocese.
My Lords, I support the thrust of the arguments from the noble Lords who have led this debate. I shall make one or two points that perhaps have not yet come out strongly. The freedom to set their own admissions arrangements was given to academies when they first started. To be honest, I think that was a huge mistake. In local areas, it caused terrible animosity between the academies and the other maintained schools. That is part of the rift and the bad feeling that exist in many communities. I do not know many schools that, in setting their own admissions criteria, have sought to prioritise the poorest and most challenging children, those who have been excluded from more schools than anyone else, those without supportive parents and those without a room to work in at home—that is not how choosing your own admissions criteria actually works.
This is not the schools’ fault but, in terms of judging schools by how well they do academically, our whole system incentivises schools to have admissions criteria that get those children who are most likely to do well academically. If we were to change the accountability mechanisms so that we had as our most important accountability measure how much you can do for the poorest 5% of children in your city, we would have a different system, but that is not the way it runs.
However, I also blame schools. I was a teacher for 18 years. At the heart of it, I have always believed that the job of a professional teacher is to teach the children who end up in front of you on any given day—not to pick and choose; not to reject and throw away; not to say, “It’s easier to teach you than you”, but to do your best with the skills you have with the children in front of you. I taught in a school that was very challenging, and as a teacher the greatest rewards come from the progress you make with the children who are furthest behind when you start—but that is not the way the system works. There have been too many examples of academies that have used their ability to have their own admissions arrangements to select the children, or the parents, that will put them highest in the accountability stakes.
If you are a school that is undersubscribed, this argument does not matter to you. If you cannot get enough kids through the door for your published admissions number, then none of this matters. It matters only if you are a school that is oversubscribed, because only when it gets to oversubscription do the criteria for admissions come into effect. So think that through: if you are a school that is undersubscribed and not attracting children, so not getting the money, you have to take whoever no one else wants. Therefore, you do not improve, you do not get as many children, you do not get the money and again, you do not improve. That is the cycle that happens: undersubscribed schools do not attract children and therefore find it very difficult to improve.
Looking back, when the academies started under the Labour Government they were addressing the needs of those schools in the most challenging areas. In truth, what happened was that if you gave them a new building, a new head and a committed sponsor, they still did not have a cross-section of students coming through their doors. The idea at that stage, in giving them some power over admissions arrangements, was to try to get a better social mix. I can sort of see that, but it has gone way out of kilter with how it should be. In 2010, the minute the vision was that every school should become an academy, that just did not make sense.
I say to my noble friend Lord Hunt that where schools differ from hospitals is that who you treat in one hospital does not usually have an impact on the neighbouring hospital or another in the outer ring of the city. But schools are interrelated: who you choose to admit has an effect on every other school in your locality as it is an interrelated business, so it is very important that we do not have schools competing with each other in any geographical area for the bright kids. It has to work across such an area, for two reasons.
First, successful schools will always manage to attract children who, quite frankly, are easier to get the high results with—I would not say they are easier to teach. That has an effect on other schools and creates that bad feeling, so it is interrelated. The way you choose to admit pupils has an effect on other schools in your locality. I do not mind what they do, whether they band or have feeder schools, or measure it in yards from the school. What I do mind is that all schools in a local authority area ought to do the same. If you want a social mix, you can band right across the local authority area. I am not sure I like that but I do not have a problem with it because the behaviour of one school will not badly affect the performance of another.
In Birmingham, however, the minute you let over 400 schools set their own admissions arrangements there was chaos. It meant that they do not match each other. Some people of a faith with a child of a certain ability live in a place where they cannot get them into their local school because they do not live close enough, or into a faith school because they are not of the right faith. Neither does their child have the right ability to get selected in the banding arrangements, so where do they go? They go to the school that still has places left. That is not choice, but it happens in areas where there are a lot of schools that are allowed to have separate admission arrangements.
In supporting very much the amendments put forward, my plea is that it has to make sense across a geographical area. That means you cannot allow schools within the same area to have different admissions arrangements from other schools within it. I think the local authority should manage that, and that there is nothing wrong in all the schools getting together with a local authority, the parents and the primary schools to decide what those criteria should be within a national framework set down by government. But at some point they have to come to an agreement, because education is about a social as well as an academic experience. Your social experience is, in part, the children who are around you in your school—and that matters.
To be honest, that is why parents go to so much effort to exercise choice over where they want their child to go. It is not just for the academic experience but for the social experience—again, it is different with a hospital. That social experience will be right for all children, or as good as we can make it for them, only if we have some camaraderie within a geographical area so that people sit down with the same admissions arrangements. Having done that, teachers should do what they do: get on with teaching the children in front of them, not spending time on trying to get a different bunch of children in their classrooms because they think it gives them a better chance of success.
My Lords, I have a quick comment. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his history lesson. During the period he mentioned, Rutland had the unfortunate experience of being part of Leicestershire. Had grammar schools still existed then, I can only look back and wonder what my own education—with no money for tutoring—would have been if the local school in the market town had been left as a secondary modern.
I have a specific question on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about the backstop power, which I was surprised to see included in, I think, the White Paper. What is the timing of that? At the moment, we know that some boroughs are under extraordinary pressure. When we nationally decide, for instance, to admit tens of thousands of families from Hong Kong—which is a great policy—we create extraordinary influxes of children into particular areas. I was just reading a Manchester Evening News article about the pressures Trafford Council is under at the moment, having had an extraordinary influx of Hong Kong Chinese families into the area. This has unusual ripples in Trafford, where there are grammar schools within the borough.
What would the timing of this be? At the moment, we have local authorities which cannot have any effect on admissions, particularly in those secondary schools that are academies. There is a proposal for a backstop power. This was also before we admitted tens of thousands of Ukrainian families into this country. If in the consultation it is decided not to have the backstop power—I recognise the view from those in the academies sector on local authorities’ admission policies—is there not a case for some emergency power in a situation when tens of thousands of families come into an area? You need different admissions arrangements because you have to think about the cohesion of the area locally. If you have an influx of families, families who have lived in an area for many years find that they cannot get their children into the schools they want. There are also the unpredictable ripples of selection in an area. Can my noble friend the Minister outline the timing of this, because there are boroughs under pressure today?
My Lords, can the Minister clarify how special educational needs fits into this picture? I know the Government are currently looking at this area, but it is one that has led to the growth of legal firms to fight a way through the system. It is a failing system. I remind the Committee of my interests in special educational needs, and dyslexia in particular. With dyslexics, for instance, we are discovering that something like 80% of those on that spectrum are not identified within the school system. There is capacity here for a group that exists but we know is not even being spotted. Should we not have some capacity for dealing with the people with these sorts of problems, because we know they are going to come across? This also applies to all the spectrum of non-obvious conditions and hidden difficulties.
If the Minister cannot reply now, when we are looking at this, could she write to us about what the Government’s thinking on this sector is at the moment? It is yet another element when it comes to choosing a school or a school’s willingness to take on a pupil. We know there are people fighting this. As I said, if ever there was a definition of failure, it is that you need lawyers to get your rights. That has to be the classic case. Can the Minister give us an idea of the Government’s thinking about admissions? If you cannot get into a school because it has set criteria, regardless of any formal test or examination, it will change how things work. It will be very interesting to hear what the Minister says about government thinking on this, because it is another factor that will affect this whole process.
My Lords, I will briefly enter this debate on Amendment 35A and the question of whether Clause 28 should stand part. There is a so-called route to school improvement that my noble friend Lady Morris mentioned: you change your intake. It is relatively quick and it is not painless at all for the school, but because of the way our systems work it can be done. But it is immoral and socially unjust. It is not the right way to do things.
The fact that, in a debate, we can even talk about “children whom no one else wants”—which I put in inverted commas, as my noble friend Lady Morris did—is frankly quite appalling, and that is why I am enthusiastic about this Clause 28 stand part debate. My noble friends Lords Hunt and Lord Grocott made excellent speeches, which I hope they will redeploy if we ever get a Second Reading of the Private Member’s Bill I introduced this morning, because they made all the relevant points. I will not repeat them, except to say that the comprehensive principle is essentially about levelling up, because if you have schools choosing parents and children, you have selection for some and rejection for others. Frankly, no education system ought to reject significant numbers of children; they should just not do it.
The fact is that, for large numbers of children—whether the areas in which they live have grammar schools or have all the difficulties outlined by my noble friend Lord Knight in terms of how the transfer between year 6 and year 7 works—year 6 is blighted for those children, their parents and carers and often, frankly, for their wider family members who are also worrying about where their niece, nephew or whoever else might end up. This is a year when these children, who are at the top of their primary school, ought to be developing their leadership skills in an age-appropriate way and ought to be looking to the next phase of their education and thinking about how exciting it is going to be. However, what they are actually doing is worrying: of course, they are worrying about SATs, but they are also worrying about where they are going to end up. The idea that some of them end up in one school and some end up in another—sometimes on the basis of admissions arrangements which are completely inexplicable to parents—is an absolutely terrible thing. If we really want education to work for all children and to be the service that can do the best by all children and young people, we certainly need to have reassurance from the Minister about no expansion of grammar schools, but we also need to ensure that we have genuinely fair admissions arrangements for all children, wherever they are.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 169. I express my gratitude to both Ministers on the Government Front Bench for a very helpful conversation. In the course of what they will say, they may well be able to allay some of the anxieties that I have expressed about the position of adopted children in the past. I greatly appreciated that, and want my appreciation recorded.
Amendment 169 is not about the big issues on admission which we have been discussing, although I completely associate myself—if I can pick just one of my noble colleagues—with my noble friend Lady Morris about geographic and local coherence in the arrangements we make. This amendment may appear to be a small and detailed matter by comparison, but I can assure the Committee that it is of the first importance to the small number of people who are impacted by it. Amendment 169 addresses the difference in educational access and assistance experienced by children adopted from care internationally, contrasted with those who are adopted from care in the United Kingdom, and the impact of these differences on their education and life prospects.
I declare an interest as the proud father of a quite exceptional adopted daughter who became part of our family on the third day of her life and is a great blessing. When I first spoke about this matter in the House, she was 10; she is now 13 and, until the discussion I had today, it appeared to me that nothing had moved forward in those three years of her life. However, I think that we will hear something rather more different today.
Adopted children face many challenges which are well documented. Many have special needs, some far greater than others, and, in many cases, because some spend years in care before finding a loving family home, they experience many of these difficulties to a very great extent. The care they experience is of very mixed quality, especially abroad, and they carry that experience alongside the fundamental experience of loss of attachment throughout their lives. There are multiple studies in the leading peer-reviewed journal, Adoption & Fostering, which most Members of the House will feel establishes the facts beyond dispute. The impact on these children has also been largely experienced by children from particular countries: China, India, Thailand, Ethiopia, Guatemala and some from Russia. As your Lordships will easily detect, the impact of discrimination has therefore been far greater on children of colour.
The scheme of intercountry adoption is regulated by the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption 1993. It was ratified by this country, among the then 24 EU members, and it says that all children adopted from care overseas should have the same rights as those in the receiving countries. There was nothing at all unwilling about our participation, and I note that David Cameron was in the forefront of making all kinds of adoption, here and abroad, easier. I hope that in the course of this discussion, we will hear about changes being made to the School Admissions Code, so that it will require local authorities and other admissions bodies to give the same top priority for pupil places to children adopted from state care in this country.
In case it is not well understood, although I suspect that it will be, I add that most of the children who are adopted from overseas, once they are adopted, come here and become United Kingdom citizens. The question on their parents’ minds will be, “Why on earth would they have worse prospects than comparable United Kingdom citizens?”. It is acknowledged that this would be discrimination between kids adopted here and overseas, and it would violate the 2010 Equality Act which states in terms that there must be no discrimination in school admissions based on country of origin.
The data is strong. While I will not delay the Committee for long, it is always worth trying to use an occasion like this to underpin why the changes are necessary. Some 94% of peer-reviewed papers show adoption to be correlated with lower academic attainment and related behaviour problems. This is clear among very young children and gets clearer with age—it is most acute among teenagers. Of the issues faced by children, trauma around attachment and anxiety about the loss of attachment are absolutely distinct and significant in all the research. Some 80% of adopted children express profound confusion and anxiety at school; two-thirds report that they are bullied. Neither they nor their parents feel, in an overwhelming proportion of cases, that they have had an equal chance. To underline the point as thoroughly as I can: adopted children are 20 times more likely to be excluded than their classmates. In the first three years of primary school, they are 16 times more likely to be excluded. None of these data are spurious; they all meet high levels of statistical significance and confidence.
I was very grateful to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said a while ago about the role of parents, because I feel that I am talking about the same thing. It is inevitable in these circumstances—and I believe quite rightly—that parents have the central role. It is not a mainstream role for national or local government for obvious reasons, but I know first-hand that parents pay the closest attention to the attributes in the pool of school options in front of them. Parents are the ones who interact with the schools and local authority. I promise you that, as a parent, you come to know which schools are most attuned to social and emotional trauma issues, can sponsor and encourage executive functioning for your child, know about providing sensory diets to regulate behaviour and grasp the implications of neurological divergence. You form self-help groups of parents grappling with these issues where you learn a lot and enjoy a lot of support. You get to know—because you have to—where there is specific training and knowledge of attachment trauma and where the head teacher and specialist staff really know what they are doing, as distinct from knowing what they should be doing. It is the way in which you choose the mission-critical path for your child and it does not rely then on good luck in admissions. It is parent engagement and decision-making at its clearest.
Many schools are excellent at many other things, but they are not all necessarily excellent at everything and may not be excellent at this vital thing which I am describing, which could determine whether your child joins that absurdly high number of kids who get excluded or bullied, underachieve or are profoundly miserable. It matters not one whit to you whether your child was adopted from here or abroad.
I look forward to what the Minister will be able to say but, having commented on the Ministers in this House, I say that much of the running on this was made by Nick Gibb when he was Schools Minister. He told local authorities in December 2017 that they should include children adopted overseas for priority admission to schools identified by their parents to give the kids the best chance. Unfortunately, a significant number of local authorities would not take that advice from the Minister for Schools, which I think was very sad. But we are now in a position where we have a ministerial team that will, and I sincerely welcome that. I also welcome that there will be further thought on the pupil premium plus, which is also very significant for this group of students, and hope there will be further comment on that.
It turns out that we did not need, as I thought for some years we did, primary legislation to achieve the things that I think can be described by Ministers today. I welcome that for a very straightforward reason that is not all that much to do with personal experience, although of course that does bear on me. I welcome it because kids get one chance, and kids who have difficulties need all the help they can to take that chance. It is up to us to give it to them.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, in this amendment. I have great respect for people who adopt. I personally support a wonderful organisation called Hope and Homes for Children, which has closed many orphanages in eastern European countries and allowed the children to be effectively adopted—it is not quite the terminology that most of these countries use. I took the Children and Families Act through your Lordships’ House, which was very substantially about improving adoption arrangements. I remember the noble Lord raising this point with me when I was a Minister. It seemed a no-brainer then and it seems to be so now, and I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will support him in making this amendment.
I would also like to speak briefly on the point about academies fixing their admissions arrangements to their advantage, which has been mentioned. As a rule, this is unfair. There are some schools—schools of different types, actually—which have rather complicated admissions arrangements and one sometimes wonders whether they are deliberately complicated. But, as I say, I think it is unfair on the vast majority of academies and multi-academy trusts.
It is pleasure to follow the recent speakers, particularly my noble friend Lord Triesman. That was an exceptional speech and his personal experience really gave us food for thought. I echo what the noble Lord opposite said about people who take that life-changing decision for themselves and their families to adopt. I too am looking forward to what the Minister has to say in response.
I would also like to support my noble friend Lord Hunt and others in their desire for the Government to commit to the existing position on no new grammar schools. We understand that the Prime Minister is in generous mood with his Back-Benchers at the moment, and it would be a real shame for a change to the current rules to be made in that context. We are concerned about that, given some of the comments referenced by others, and want to make sure that it does not happen.
I shall just reflect on what the noble Lord opposite said about academies having the finger unfairly pointed at them. We understand that in many areas, through choice, academies co-operate very well with local authorities as the admissions authority. They share admissions arrangements and it is done in a way that we would like to see done everywhere and accepted and understood. In our Amendment 160 we are clear that local authorities should be the admissions authority, and amendments have been tabled by others. In particular, in his introduction to this group, my noble friend Lord Knight made the case extremely well. We think that local authorities should have the responsibility because they have the responsibility for the well-being of the children in their areas. This is not just about making sure that every child has a school place; it is about making sure that the way that the system works is fair to children and their parents.
Local authorities can fulfil the honest broker role very successfully. We know that parents often feel insufficient agency, shall we say, and are tempted into gaming the system. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, sometimes that is done on some very questionable information or perhaps an out-of-date reputation of a particular school. We would be interested in supporting there being more information that is relevant to making that decision, rather than some of the marketing that parents see from year 5 onwards.
We have reports every year of schools giving out supplementary forms, asking for personal details or encouraging, in subtle ways, contributions to the school or using very subjective tests that are deeply concerning. On the surface, they can be explicable in some way, but we know what is really going on. It would be good if the Minister could let us know how widespread she assesses these practices to be.
Local authorities have a good understanding of the educational landscape in their areas. Obviously, they have responsibility for place planning and that is a vital function, but so too is ensuring that children are admitted to school fairly. In our amendment I have made special reference to looked-after children. Noble Lords will know that, in most cases, looked-after children are in the system due to abuse or neglect. They are more likely to have mental health problems, more likely to have additional needs, and less likely to do well at school. Some 35% of care leavers are not in education, employment or training, compared to 11% of the general population. Local authorities have an existing duty to promote educational achievement of looked-after children, and one of Josh MacAlister’s five missions is to secure a quality education for looked-after children. But we know that they currently are less likely to go to a good or outstanding school; the Children’s Commissioner is very clear and is challenging the Government on that.
We note the inadequacy to date of the Government’s response to MacAlister. I know it is relatively early days, but so far we have just had a letter and an opportunity to discuss a Statement. We really want to see more, and I would be grateful if the Minister could commit to writing to us on her assessment of the current situation in relation to looked-after children. We know that there is a substantial legal framework around all this and that guidance does exist, yet we still find outcomes to be as poor as they are. What is her assessment of the current situation? Can she bring us up to date on the Government’s intention to support this group of people in particular? Having said all that, I just want to get on the record our concerns about children who have experience of the care system. We particularly want to see the Government clarifying and making the good practice that happens—we know that it does, with local authorities being the lead organisation for admissions in some places—the norm across the country.
Just finally, we have had to shoehorn this discussion into the Bill because it does not seem to say anything about admissions beyond the Secretary of State being able to have a power to make orders about them. This has been a most worthwhile, enlightening and enriching debate, and it would be good if the Government could be a bit more forthcoming about what they plan to do.
My Lords, Amendments 35A, 78, 160 and 162 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Knight, Lord Shipley and Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, seek to clarify the strategic role of the local authority in education, particularly on admissions. I welcome the opportunity to restate that this Government believe that local authorities should remain at the heart of the education system, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said, championing all children, particularly the most vulnerable.
Through existing legislation, local authorities are already responsible for ensuring that every child in their area has a school place; for co-ordinating applications for the main round of school places; for identifying children and young people in their area who have special educational needs or disabilities; and for working with other agencies to ensure that support is available. As we move to a fully trust-led system, local authorities will retain these roles, continuing to ensure there are enough school places and to play a central role in fair admissions, particularly for the most vulnerable. We plan to increase the levers that local authorities have to help them deliver these duties, while maintaining trust autonomy.
Like my noble friend Lord Nash, I must disagree with some of the sentiments expressed by some of the Committee on trust autonomy with regard to admissions. The best MATs and academies have a strong record of admitting pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and achieving excellent outcomes. My noble friend the Minister will happily write to the Committee to set out more detail on this issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked about how special educational needs will fit into the picture. In the SEND and alternative provision Green Paper, we proposed new powers to convene partners as part of a statutory framework for pupil movement, including for excluded children. To respond to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, we will also include consultation on a power for local authorities to direct trusts to admit individual children in limited circumstances. Consultation is ongoing on these proposals. In the schools White Paper, we proposed further strengthening local authority levers to deliver their duties with a new power to object to the schools adjudicator when a trust’s planned admission numbers threaten school place sufficiency and requiring local authorities to co-ordinate in-year applications. We will consult on these measures; it is important that we listen to the outcomes of that consultation. My noble friend Lady Berridge asked about the timing of that. Given the scale and complexity of the admissions system, it is important to get these decisions right, so we are working currently with the stakeholders to refine our proposals. We will consult in due course and seek a further legislative opportunity where needed.
I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Knight, and others that close working between trusts and local authorities on these duties is essential. Through the proposed powers in Clause 1, we will create a new collaborative standard, which will require trusts to collaborate with local authorities and encourage better co-operation. Amendments 160 and 162, however, propose making the local authority the admission authority for all schools. This would prevent school leaders making decisions that are most appropriate to their community, including, as we heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, for voluntary aided schools, which have had long-standing control over their own admissions.
The proposal in Amendment 78 to allow a local authority to direct a physical expansion of any school would be very difficult to achieve, because in many cases neither the local authority nor the Secretary of State has control over a school’s land. Our White Paper proposal instead allows trusts to continue to determine how many places they will offer but gives local authorities an additional power to ensure that they can still meet their sufficiency duty.
Amendment 58A from my noble friend Lord Lucas rightly emphasises the importance of parents having access to the information that they need to support their children’s schooling and of schools having good links with their parent body. However, we do not believe that this amendment is necessary because existing regulations, which academies are required to follow via their funding agreements, already require academy schools to provide a range of information to parents on aspects such as exam performance, Ofsted outcomes and admission arrangements. Furthermore, the department’s governance handbook is clear that schools and academy trusts should have in place mechanisms to engage with parents and the broader community, and that should be able to demonstrate how those views have influenced their decision-making. These provisions will transfer to the academy standards in future.
Amendment 160, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, is rightly concerned with the best interests of looked-after children, some of the most vulnerable in our society. That is why the School Admissions Code already requires all schools to give the highest priority in their admissions criteria to looked-after and previously looked-after children. To respond to Amendment 169 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, I am pleased to confirm that the admissions code was updated last year to require admissions authorities to provide children adopted from state care outside England equal highest priority for admission with those who are looked after and previously looked after by a local authority in England. That change is now in force. I join him in paying tribute to my right honourable friend Nick Gibb, the previous Schools Minister, but also noble Lords in this Chamber—the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell, Lord Watson and Lord Storey, as well as my noble friends Lord Agnew and Lord Nash, who, along with the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, have shown a commitment to advocating for this group of children. The Committee has my commitment that those children will continue to be prioritised in admissions criteria. As the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, noted, the Government are looking at including them in the school census from the 2022-23 academic year to gather the data that we need when we look at extending the pupil premium plus to that group of children too.
Finally, I turn to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which seeks to remove Clause 28 from the Bill. As we have heard, grammar schools have a long history within the education system and, where they exist, they are popular and oversubscribed. However, they are concerned about surrendering their independence to a MAT if it does not share their views on selection by ability. Clause 28 will put the status of academy grammar schools on to a legislative footing by designating them as grammar schools in the same way as local authority-maintained grammar schools are designated as grammar schools. The Bill will not enable the opening of new grammar schools. These changes, at their heart, are about regularising, within legislation, the status of grammar schools.
The Bill does not provide for that, and it is not government policy to open further grammar schools. It is about regularising their status within the legislation, and the provision makes sure that only a parental ballot can trigger an end to selection, whether that grammar school is a local authority-maintained grammar school or an academy grammar school. It will remove one of the main perceived barriers to them joining a MAT, while retaining the right of parents to choose whether they should continue to select by ability. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, will feel able to withdraw his amendment and that other noble Lords will not move theirs when they are reached.
My Lords, might I just drop in before the noble Lord, Lord Knight? My noble friend is not right in saying that academies currently provide all the data required on admissions. I have written to the Minister and demonstrated many examples of where this information is not provided. Yes, you can go to the school and ask for it, and it may be somewhere on the school website, in an irregular place, but it is absolutely not given to local authorities in a way that makes it easy for the local authority to publish a booklet that gives parents complete information on the admissions structure in their demesnes. This hurts parents a lot. As editor of the Good Schools Guide, I know how much this disadvantages parents who do not have the time and experience to crack the code of 20 different schools and find out how to get the information and how it all knits together. It really gets in the way. If my noble friend would be willing to grant me a conversation with officials on that, I should be most grateful.
I will happily arrange that conversation. There are two points I would make to my noble friend. The first is that the information is publicly available, albeit maybe not in the format that he thinks is most usable. The second comes back to the new collaborative standard requiring trusts to work collaboratively with local authorities, which will encourage better co-operation. I hope that will be a positive move in his eyes.
My Lords, I am grateful that we have been able to have an hour and 20 minutes to discuss admissions. Given that the Government’s policy is that all schools should become academies, it is an uncertain area and it is really important that we have taken a bit of time to debate it.
I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Triesman already has a victory under his belt. I think my noble friend Lord Hunt is pretty close to a victory: we noted the words that the Bill as it currently stands will not enable the opening of new grammar schools and that it is not government policy for new grammar schools to be created without a parental ballot. Let us just hope that this government policy remains sound as the Bill proceeds through both Houses. There were some really powerful speeches, as ever, from my noble friend Lady Morris in particular, my noble friends Lord Triesman and Lady Blower—those are just the ones around me—and others.
I say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol that it was not my intention at all to interfere with the admission arrangements for voluntary aided schools. I am scarred from my time as Schools Minister from a moment when we heard the shadow Secretary of State, a young David Cameron, say that we might want to loosen up admission arrangements for faith schools. So the then Secretary of State, Alan Johnson, and myself announced that maybe that was a good idea and we then had priests preaching against us on Sunday and MPs in the Division Lobbies beating us up, saying, “We are going to lose the next election if you go ahead with this” and we performed a very delicate U-turn. I really did not want to go anywhere near interfering with the admission arrangements of voluntary aided schools.
I say to my noble friend Lord Grocott, in connection to his comment about the 11-plus, that my dad was one of four sons in Kettering who all took the 11-plus. He passed; his youngest brother, Hugh, passed; the middle two brothers failed. The two who passed joined the professions, one as an accountant, the other as a banker; the two middle ones took much lower-skilled work and both emigrated, one to Canada and one to Australia. Those two remained close; the two who passed the 11-plus remained close; but in my view, the 11-plus created a schism in our family, and that is part of my very deep opposition to selection and grammar schools.
My noble friend Lady Morris talked about the chaos of admissions, and that undoubtedly advantages middle-class parents. They can navigate the criteria; they can navigate what order to put schools in—what is your second or third choice, but you will only get looked at if it is your first choice, and you have to be quite sophisticated to work out the order you put things down. Then there are appeals. When I was an MP, I occasionally had constituents who came to see me wanting help with an admissions appeal in the summer, and they were never the more disadvantaged constituents in my area; they were only ever the more articulate ones. We really need to get this right if we want a school system that deals with entrenched disadvantage.
Having listened carefully to what the Minister had to say from the Dispatch Box, I will be pleased if, subject to the conversation we are having about Clauses 1 to 18, we get to a point where she introduces a collaboration standard. I would welcome that. I encourage the Government to go further and show us what their vision is for local authorities across the piece. She came close to that in some of her comments, but I would like to see, in the context of schooling, the Government’s vision for the role of local authorities, MATs, individual schools, and the Secretary of State. Publish that so that we can all see it before Report and can then make our judgment about whether they have it right. That would really help us, and then we might have some agreement about the future of admissions for all our schools. I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 35A withdrawn.