My Lords, I want to speak to Amendments 147 and 152.
I applaud the Government for including in this Bill Clause 56, which seeks to ensure that schools currently avoiding registration and inspection are included in Ofsted’s remit in the future. This is a far more important issue than we may have considered it. This country has been standing by while an unknown number of extremist, fundamentalist, isolationist schools are teaching children to reject the values of the country in which they are growing up. What will some of those children do when they grow up? Will they join a terrorist organisation? We simply do not know.
Ofsted has written to me to give us the benefit of some of its information, which is worth quoting. It says that at least 6,000 children are being educated in 900 unregistered schools, or, as it puts it, likely many more. It is very concerning that Ofsted has issued more than 100 warning notices to those it believes are running illegal schools, and 40 % of those settings have not changed to comply with registration as a result. These are people who do not respect the law, so we have to be very tough with them.
It is worrying that children are not learning the most fundamental subjects, including maths and English. Not only is the narrow religious curriculum in many unregistered schools unacceptable but these schools may have unsanitary and unsafe conditions. Ofsted says that it found settings with severe health and safety hazards, and other problems. No one is able to check on these things so long as schools evade registration.
I want to thank Rob Cann of Humanists UK for his very detailed briefing and the precise wording of these amendments.
In Clause 56, the Government are seeking to extend registration to independent education institutions—that is fantastic—but only to those which provide all, or the majority, of the child’s education. Herein lies a significant loophole. The proprietors of some such settings know that if they are inspected, they will have to choose between changing to something very different and closing down. They are therefore very wily and will do all they can to continue to evade regulation and inspection. They will use every loophole they can find to wriggle out of their safeguarding duties. Amendment 146B would limit registration to establishments that provide 18 hours of teaching for 39 weeks of the year. That would be something, but I believe these schools would adjust their regime and continue to avoid registration.
Without doubt, as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent, these proprietors—who all know one another; there are little groups of them—will get together and split their provision into separate morning and afternoon settings, or some other configuration such as one teacher taking kids in the morning, another in the afternoon. Neither will then be subject to registration under Clause 56 as it stands, and I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on this loophole and whether the Government are content to see these extremist schools escape the important purpose of this Bill.
I recognise that Clause 56(2) allows further tightening definitions to be done through regulations. Here, I am going to say something from experience. Nine years ago, I allowed, if you like, the Government to have a little adjustment to my proposal for an amendment on the face of a Bill on the basis that they would introduce regulations and deal with the problem. I thought, “Well, that sounds okay”. Was I naive? Nine years later, nothing has happened, so I am not impressed with the idea that this can be dealt with through regulations. I fear that it simply would not be done. That is a bit cynical, but it really is my experience.
My Amendment 147 has been carefully thought through. By applying registration only to establishments providing at least a quarter of a child’s education, it would not catch common after-school classes in music, sport or, indeed, religion. I very much hope the Minister will feel able to accept it.
Amendment 152 would close off another loophole for unregistered schools. Many of them operate in private dwellings; indeed, 85% of illegal education settings in Hackney, the borough with the greatest prevalence of illegal schools, are private dwellings. If the proprietor puts down a mattress in a school, on inspection, the school may be classified as a dwelling and a warrant would be required under the law as it stands. Without a warrant, the inspection would be invalidated, so, as Clause 63 stands, a warrant will be required for almost every investigation to prevent that. This will generate unacceptable pressure on the courts, the courts will then put a whole lot of pressure on the inspectors to prove that they really need the warrant, and the whole system could be snarled up. It is reasonable to suppose that determined proprietors will disguise their settings as dwellings to try to protect themselves from Ofsted’s new powers. As I said, they will do just about anything.
Clause 63 introduces a requirement that inspectors can enter a private dwelling only if a warrant has been issued, and a request for a warrant is permissible only if consent has been refused. This leaves in limbo the situation of an inspection in what could be deemed a private dwelling where consent has been given. I am sure this is not the intention, but the wording leaves open the situation of those inspections where consent is given but there is a problem; it leaves an issue.
Registration and inspection of schools must, of course, be dealt with sensitively and authorities cannot be given free access to private dwellings without a warrant if consent is not given. Nevertheless, if the first intimation for Ofsted that a school is in a so-called private dwelling is when it attempts to enter the building, it will need to go away, fill in the forms and ultimately get a warrant, which could take a week or more. This will allow lots of time for the proprietors to conceal, dispose of or fabricate false evidence about whether a school was in operation within the dwelling. Surprise is essential in such situations.
Some proprietors will be less cunning than others and perhaps have less need to be, if a proprietor provides access immediately to an inspector arriving at the address. Amendment 152 clarifies that a warrant will be required only where consent has not been given for entry and where the setting visibly appears to be a dwelling. That sounds a bit pedantic, but it is important, on the basis that these people may just put a mattress down somewhere and claim it is a private dwelling. What is a private dwelling? All sorts of things can be done by them.
I hope the Minister will therefore ask officials to give serious consideration to the following two points. First, the current drafting of Clause 63 is poor and risks making matters worse for Ofsted inspectors. The element of surprise is so important, yet Clause 63 seems to reduce the scope for that surprise. Secondly, the clause does not clarify what a private dwelling is. Will the Minister ensure that, if possible, a definition of a private dwelling for the purposes of the Bill is given in it?
I failed at the beginning of my speech to thank the Minister very much indeed for the discussion we had, and I remember that one of her points was: how on earth do you define a private dwelling—it is probably impossible? I hope that efforts will be made to define a private dwelling to avoid what I call the mattress problem.
Again, I emphasise that the Government seek to achieve a very important objective in these clauses. I hope these comments are helpful; they are certainly intended to be.
I should like briefly to add my support to these two very sensible amendments, which would stop unscrupulous unregistered schools circumventing the law and speed up the inspection process.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 171C and 171D. I strongly support the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, as well. I think she has a very correct estimate of the challenges and has presented some situations that are rather familiar in how they will be used to try to circumvent the Bill. I express my thanks to the Minister for her courtesy and for the time with her and her officials to discuss the matters raised in these amendments.
These amendments relate to unregistered schools or, more accurately, illegal schools. The Government’s measures, together with the provisions on home schooling, represent an important translation of the commitments to address a long-standing problem. The commitments made in 2018 are a vital step to deal with a very long-standing and thorny problem.
I am pleased that the Government have drafted the Bill with a strong acknowledgement that there are those who are determined to dodge or ignore the legislation. The amendments I propose are suggestions as to how any potential gaps could be eliminated in the Bill. What was previously unacceptable must no longer be possible.
The earlier debates relating to home education raised the important concerns of some home educators, and I hope the Minister can provide reassurance and allay the fears of the majority of home educators. But it is vital that local authorities have the capacity to seek and probe to get relevant information, as those who use illegal schools largely claim that they are home educating. This is clear dishonesty.
My amendments are in the vein of trying to address this. Those who provide or use unregistered settings, many from closed communities and organised groups, have a strong intent to avoid the rules and no interest in balancing the rights to educate with proper safeguarding. They have used loopholes and the lack of investigative rights, access, capacity and data to avoid complying with the existing law, so it is vital that the Bill properly ensures that adherence follows its passage in law.
The Bill goes to great lengths to address this. The definition based on time at unregistered settings helps to close the leeway given to the nature of supervision and addresses the false representation of home schooling. Providing powers to Ofsted to enter and inspect is welcome, and strengthened by being underpinned by police support if needed—but I note and strongly agree with the points from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on this one. It is also welcome to have the new offences of failing to provide documents or information or be interviewed, but I hope that the Minister will consider that the reasonable excuse may well provide some leeway and should be supplemented by guidance. I am very pleased that Clause 56 delegates powers to adjust the rules by regulation and secondary legislation to future-proof it against loopholes not yet foreseen.
While I claim no crystal ball, I think the amendments that I have proposed further strengthen the Bill in a couple of key areas. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that, while we always tend to have these provisions, they are rarely followed up with the measures or speed necessary.
Amendment 171C is a general anti-avoidance provision. I stress the use of anti-avoidance measures to provide a broader latitude of discretion for the people we are entrusting with the role of making sure that the right education is provided. The key measure is to make
“provision for Ofsted to have the authority to investigate any suspicions of an institution trying to work around its qualification as an educational institution, and therefore the regulatory provisions,
Amendment 171D is another discouragement but tries to target not just the providers but the enablers, who may try to assist the establishment or operation of such institutions but can avoid the definitions of “provider” in the current framing of the Bill. The amendment
“would enable the revocation of charity status to ensure that charity status is not accorded to those involved in helping, assisting or facilitating disobedience”.
I am aware of the deficiencies in the drafting of these amendments, but I would be grateful if the Minister considered their intent carefully. Of course, I will be happy to assist in any way I can. When passing the Bill, it is essential that we live up to the intent behind it and ensure that no one can inveigle it in any way or at any time.
I shall speak to my own Amendment 149, and also speak to Amendment 152 and 171C. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for the amendments and congratulate the Government for, for the first time, trying to sort this problem out. I do not want to repeat everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, because she has painted the situation as it has existed, which is, frankly, totally unacceptable in our society.
I met with people from Ofsted yesterday—and I have had a long-running dialogue with Ofsted over the issue of unregistered schools. I asked them if we have sorted this issue out. They said, “Yes, Government have done the right things now, and this will make a real contribution”. They paused and said that, if we wanted to do something further, we could do, just to close that very small loophole in the issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, raised. I hope between Committee and Report, the Government might look at this again. It would be silly to have got so far, and not be able to deal with that last bit where they morph into private dwellings. I know the Minister is very keen that we deal with this, and so I hope she will think carefully about that.
I turn to unregistered schools. We talk a lot about young children and attendance at school, and a lot of time, quite rightly, we talk about special educational needs. If there is one group of young people who are constantly forgotten, and pushed from pillar to post, it is those young people who are excluded from school. They are often excluded from school for all the wrong reasons. They are often young people who have special educational needs. In fact, the vast majority of young people excluded from school have special needs. Just think what happens to them. If they are lucky, there is a pupil referral unit on the site, and that seems to me to be the right model. I know the Government are looking at expanding the number of pupil referral units. It seems right to me that they are on the school campus and they can draw from the expertise of the school, and the young people can, we hope, go back into mainstream schooling—if that is the right expression to use. I welcome that, but that is not going to deal with the problem, because the progress in providing that number of pupil referral units will take a long time.
So what happens? If they are lucky, these young people go to a registered provider, but there are not enough registered providers. There is also the issue, which we have talked about quite a lot in this Chamber, of unregistered providers. Some providers are genuine, but some just want to make money and they are almost babysitting those young people. It is absolutely awful: Ofsted told me of a number of providers that charge £50 a day, plus the taxi fare in. If you speak to Ofsted, they will tell you that. What do you get for £50? You get somebody childminding a really vulnerable young person who has special educational needs. Why does that happen? It is because we do not have the places in registered schools, and also because local authorities are strapped for cash. In the past, I have questioned why local authorities do that. I think they do it because they are strapped for cash, but also there is not the provision available. If most of the young people have special educational needs, that special educational needs money does not get to them. Certainly, the staff in these establishments do not have the qualifications, the training, the expertise or the interest in giving them the support and education these young people need.
I do not have all the answers to the current situation we are in. Clearly, the Government are looking at this issue and we need to keep it high on our agenda and keep coming back to it. Noble Lords can be sure that we on these Benches will do that.
There are a couple of practices that I do not like, and which can be closed down straightaway. There is the “managed move”, which used to happen with local authorities: a young person who was disruptive, rather than being permanently excluded from school, was moved to another school to be managed. Sometimes it worked at the other school, or then they would maybe be moved to another school, and if it did not work, they would go back to their original school. If that failed, they would be permanently excluded. Now they go on a dual register, so they are on the register of the school that they are excluded from and the school or alternative provision that they are going to but then, come the examinations, they are immediately taken off the host school, because they affect the overall results. We must examine that very carefully indeed.
The Minister knows the problem better than anybody. I just hope that we can come to some sensible moves on this.
My Lords, I want to embellish a couple of points particularly pertinent to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lady Meacher.
Some noble Lords may remember that a few years ago we created care orders in cases of FGM for the family court. What emerged from the research that I did into that was that it was the family units that were espousing FGM but, furthermore, they liked to see themselves as a society—and, in certain cases, belonged to a society—that initiated and believed in female genital mutilation. I make this point because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, it is very easy for a small group of people to move from being a family unit to being accepted possibly as a “school” and thereby having the moral authority to take forward these practices and propagate them. I mention this as a point which we should bear in mind, given what my noble friend Lady Meacher and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, were warning us about.
The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is a characteristically sensible suggestion. I hope that the Government are mindful and assure the House that there is no loophole or that an amendment will be used to close it. The amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn raise similar important issue. The Minister is nodding, so I am sure that she will have something positive to say about this.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Storey, about excluded children, is an important one. Maybe we cannot deal with everything in his remarks through this Bill, but I hope that we can attend to those issues that have been around for such a long time. We still see managed moves used far too frequently. It is gaming the system. We know that it goes on. I am sure that when we put in measures to deal with that there will then be another set of behaviours to tackle, but such is life.
On our Amendment 171G, I was very keen to get something in the Bill that has come out of Josh MacAlister’s potentially ground-breaking report. MacAlister’s argument is that in too many places the contribution and voice of education is missing from multi-agency safeguarding conversations. I hear often from partners, usually in health, how difficult it is to engage with schools. Schools want their voices to be heard and to have a statutory role but are unable to do so at the moment. The recommendation from the MacAlister report is that there should be the opportunity that there is in this Bill—well, I am saying that it is an opportunity in this Bill. If we do not take it, I wonder whether when we get the Government’s full response to the MacAlister report we will look back at this and regret that we did not take the opportunity of what is quite a simple recommendation.
MacAlister said that children constantly face new threats, including online harms. There are ever more sophisticated criminal networks and what he describes as the best team need to be on the field. That should include schools. He has a really important point, and it might be a good idea to incorporate that into this Bill.
At the risk of disrupting the friendly tone of consensus in our deliberations so far, I want to speak to the issue in Amendment 154 on the tax status of private schools. It is something that we on these Benches have felt quite strongly about and have had a growing interest in in recent years. The point we want to make is that independent schools are not charities, and we should not be treating them as if they are. The services they provide are not primarily for public benefit; they are for the benefit of those who can afford to use them.
Some private schools offer bursaries and I have heard every argument and thread in this row over the years. We obviously know that they offer bursaries and many of them go to some considerable effort to contribute to the public good. That is recognised, appreciated, valued and respected. But that is no different to the way many businesses operate. Timpson, for example, does wonderful work with offenders—it provides opportunities and does great stuff—but Timpson is not a charity. The fact that many private schools work in their communities and offer some opportunities is very much on their terms and is quite limited. We do not consider that that makes them charities.
Around 500,000 pupils attend independent schools in the UK. It is true that around one-third of these receive some help with their school fees, but most of these children win scholarships or benefit from something like a staff discount. Among those who get some help, only a very small minority pay no fees at all. It is not usually means-tested. The average amount of financial support received is around one-third of the fee. Given that I have seen estimates of an average fee at between £13,00 and £15,500, that is still a lot of money for a child attending—even with support from the school—to have to find: around £8,000 to £10,000 per year. Only 1.5% of means-tested bursaries and scholarships include any help at all with additional costs like uniform, so we really query the “widening opportunities, social mobility” arguments that you hear in defending charitable status.
We know too that only 7% of the population go to private schools and yet they account for nearly two-thirds of senior judges, six in 10 Permanent Secretaries, and—I read somewhere—around six in 10 Members of the House of Lords. I do not know if that is still true, but I hope that does not affect in any way how we consider what is a very sensible amendment to this Bill.
Charitable status gives private schools around 80% relief on their business rates and saves a school like Eton more than £500,000 a year. We think we can save around £1.7 billion by removing tax breaks for private schools. Even if you are relaxed about the impact on society, equal opportunities and all of those issues, it is very difficult to argue that this is the best use of £1.7 billion. Removing a tax break from private schools should not be viewed as a matter just of ideology, though I am quite relaxed about saying that there is some ideology in this. It is also good management of public finances.
I ask noble Lords to consider whether this really is the best use of public money given the cost of living crisis and the pressures on the vast majority of families. This is about asking noble Lords to engage with the reality we face in 2022. Independent schools are just not charities in any modern sense. It is a status they have inherited for good historical reasons, but one that we think is no longer justifiable.
My Lords, I will comment briefly, following on from the noble Baroness. As usual in education debates, I declare my interest as a former general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, which accredits and represents some 1,400 schools, and as the current president of the Independent Schools Association, one of the council’s constituent bodies, which has some 580 of those schools in its membership. There is not a household name among them, and none of them is large in size: many have no more than 200 pupils, some less. But all of them are serving their local communities; responding to their parents’ wishes; striving to keep fees down; and fulfilling their charitable purposes, not just by providing education—recognised as a charitable purpose in law for over 400 years—but by delivering wider public benefit through bursaries, partnership projects with local state schools, and participation in local community projects. Because of the lateness of the hour, I will not give further details in full reply to the noble Baroness.
It has not been dug out of an archive. I expect it to be in our next manifesto, so I expect the noble Lord to have to engage with this on a regular basis.
I want to give some background, if I may. At the general election of February 1974 the Labour manifesto declared:
“All forms of tax-relief and charitable status for public schools will be withdrawn.”
With some redrafting, “private schools” being substituted for “public schools” for example, this remained the Labour Party’s position during the rest of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s. At the 1992 election, the threat to charitable status disappeared, 30 years later to suddenly come back now, a weary ghost from the past.
What has happened during the last 30 years? Something significant has occurred: schools in the two sectors of education have moved ever closer together. The credit for this, of course, belongs to the schools themselves. They were drawn together by a recognition of the mutual benefits of partnership in so many different areas—in teaching, particularly in specialist subjects, music, drama and sport. Today this large programme of joint work is underpinned by a memorandum of understanding between the Independent Schools Council and the Government. Details are available on the council’s Schools Together website. Extensive though the programme is, there is more to be done. The best thing that everyone who has the interests of education at heart can do is to press independent and state schools to do more together. Noble Lords opposite should perhaps visit some independent schools to see what partnership work they are carrying out with state sector colleagues—that is the word they use, “colleagues”.
When I was at the Independent Schools Council, years ago, I found it quite difficult to interest the Conservative Party in any of this; Tony Blair’s Government was a different matter. Education Ministers, including Charles Clarke and David Miliband, came to the council’s offices for discussions. An official independent/state schools partnership scheme was set up to encourage progress, backed by modest funding from the Department for Education. In 2000, the then Schools Minister wrote that there had been “a huge cultural change”. In January 2001, she wrote: “There are no plans to legislate to remove charitable status from independent schools.” The same Minister got independent schools seats in the General Teaching Council and introduced special fast-track arrangements to help teachers in independent schools get QTS. She referred to them earlier in these debates. Always listen carefully to everything the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, says in this House. I am sorry she is not in her place at the moment.
For years, independent schools have used the benefits of their charitable status, and more besides, to give help with fees. Back in 2001, I used to say that for every pound of benefit received, they provided £2.30 in help with fees. What would be the effect of overturning a law that has stood for over 400 years by confiscating the schools’ charitable status? Fees would rise, bursaries would fall, and schools would become more socially exclusive. I think the policy embodied in this amendment should go back to the Labour Party’s archives.
My Lords, that was a very interesting and wide-ranging debate on a number of important issues, which I will try and cover in my remarks. I turn first to Amendment 146A from my noble friend Lord Lucas, which would exempt settings that are classified as being a family from regulation under the Education and Skills Act 2008. I can assure my noble friend that the Government already, and will continue to, consider private arrangements where parents home educate their own children only as exempt.
Turning to Amendment 146B from the noble Lord, Lord Knight: we consulted in 2020 on defining full-time provision as being 18 or more hours per week. However, we concluded that this approach would encourage gaming of the system, allowing settings to opt out of regulation by operating just short of the threshold. We heard powerfully from the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about how there are settings determined to do just that. So, guidance will be produced to help settings to understand where the registration requirements apply.
Amendments 147 and 149 from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, seek to register part-time provision and other unregistered provision where local authorities place children. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also highlighted some of the cultural sensitivities that arise in addressing some of these settings. Unregistered alternative provision, as the noble Lord knows, can provide a valuable hook back into learning for children who have complex needs or require bespoke packages. Its use, though, as the noble Lord knows extremely well, requires extremely careful planning and oversight. We absolutely agree on the need to act to address poor commissioning practice, and I know my officials would be very keen to meet with the noble Lord if he would be agreeable to discuss this further. As we set out in the recent special educational needs and alternative provision Green Paper, we are absolutely committed to strengthening protections for children in unregistered alternative provision, and we will be issuing a call for evidence before the summer on its use. I know the noble Lord will contribute to that.
I turn to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Regulating part-time settings would address the risk that currently unregistered full-time provision is split into separate settings. I know this is also a concern of the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn. However, most part-time provision does serve a legitimate purpose, and this risks interrupting the support and education that those settings provide, where it is provided legitimately. We believe that automatically applying the regulatory regime for independent schools to therapeutic and part-time settings would be inappropriate and likely to introduce unnecessary burdens. However, we will look at this again in the light of the call for evidence.
On Amendment 152 from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, Clause 63 introduces, as she described, new search powers. The powers as drafted aim to balance the need to enable Ofsted to search effectively with the safeguarding of civil liberties. This amendment would risk disrupting that balance. I know that the noble Baroness’s concern is that one would lose the element of surprise if inspectors went to an address and then had to go away and get a warrant, but requiring warrants before people’s homes are searched, particularly where consent is not given to enter the property, is a proportionate safeguard.
However, we do believe that the element of surprise can be maintained, because the Bill allows for pre-emptive warrants if one of three conditions are met. Those conditions are that:
“consent to enter is unlikely to be given unless a warrant is produced”,
“it is not practicable to communicate with any person entitled to grant entry”,
“seeking consent to enter may frustrate or seriously prejudice the purpose of entering.”
So I think we have the grounds, in the context the noble Baroness describes, to use pre-emptive warrants. I know that when we met, she was also worried about the capacity of the courts to cope with those applications. Ofsted plans its inspections carefully and will be able to apply to the court in appropriate time, before a warrant is required. Courts hear applications for warrants every day. I think the phrase the noble Baroness used was that the courts would get “snarled up”, but we are confident that that would not be the case. I hope that addresses the points raised in her amendment.
Turning to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, in Amendments 171D and 171C, of course the Government agree with him, in the spirit of Amendment 171D, that all children have the right to receive a broad education and that schools should be held accountable for this. All registered independent schools that are charities are required to provide a broad education, and the inspectorates and the Department for Education can hold them to account for this. Settings which are not registered independent schools may have charitable status, but they of course need to show that they meet their charitable objects, including through the reporting each year to the Charity Commission that all registered charities have to undertake.
Where a charitable setting is operating in such a way that it is providing a full-time education to sufficient primary or secondary pupils, Clause 56 would require it to register. It can then be held to account to provide a broad education, just as with other schools. We do not see the need to remove charitable status from charities that are not operating as schools. They may have some legitimate involvement in the education of primary or secondary-age pupils, and they could have a range of other valid charitable objects. But I know the purpose of the noble Lord’s amendments—I think the word he used was “anti-avoidance”.
The Government consider that Amendment 171C is unnecessary. Ofsted can already inspect settings reasonably believed to be operating full-time unlawfully and without registration. That would permit investigating the activities at a number of premises where inspectors reasonably believed on the basis of evidence that they were really operating as one institution. That evidence might relate to individuals acting in concert, and other evidence—
This is not quite the right moment to do this, but I thank the Minister for allowing me to say a word. Has she been in touch with Ofsted and is she satisfied that it is reassured that it will be able to inspect these illegal schools—these, in my view, very high-risk schools? Is Ofsted content?
I am obviously cautious about speaking on behalf of Ofsted, but we have worked closely with it in developing this legislation. My understanding is that it is content, but I would not want to speak on its behalf, as it is an independent body.
That is a very fair answer but between Committee and Report, will the Minister just make sure that Ofsted is completely content and there are no further loopholes?
I would be delighted to do that.
I was talking about how institutions might be operating separately but effectively as one institution. The evidence Ofsted might use to establish that could relate to individuals acting in concert or other evidence of links between the activities, such as the same pupils being educated on different premises. Clause 63 is intended to enhance Ofsted’s powers of inspection in these circumstances. This could include the investigation of so-called “tapestry schools”, with which the noble Lord is rightly concerned. In brief, we believe that those loopholes are closed.
As I explained, we do not believe it appropriate to regulate part-time settings until we have considered the response to the call for evidence on unregistered alternative provision. However, as we have discussed at length, parents have a duty to ensure that their children who are of compulsory school age receive a suitable full-time education. As we know from our earlier debates, local authorities can check this, and where a parent cannot demonstrate that the settings a child attends provide a suitable education, a school attendance order could of course be issued. A parent who sends their child to a different setting that provides only a narrow religious education with no secular education each weekday is very unlikely to be ensuring that their child receives a suitable full-time education, which I think is the point the noble Lord is rightly concerned about. I would be delighted to meet with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord to work through some of these examples in detail to assure them that we are meeting the spirit of their amendments.
Amendment 154 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman, would remove the charitable status of independent educational institutions. When the noble Baroness talked about a change of tone, I thought for a minute that we were going to go to a certain place, but I thank her for the very measured way in which she made her case.
Independent schools that are charities are already obliged to show public benefit, as the noble Baroness acknowledged. She questioned the strength of that, but we are concerned that we should avoid piecemeal reform of charity law, aimed at only one group of charities. The amendment risks creating pressure to extend the removal of charitable status to other sectors. All charities must exist for public benefit, but they are not required to serve the whole public. It is not clear why this principle should change for one group, namely independent schools, and not for other charities.
As my noble friend Lord Lexden explained better than I can and with much greater experience, 85% of independent school council members are already involved in cross-sector working. I have met with a number of schools that are in different partnerships. I think there is a real sense of mutual benefit for the private schools and state-funded schools working together. I know that the noble Baroness and the Government will not agree on this point, but we see independent schools as an asset in our school system. Our responsibility is to make sure they fulfil their charitable purpose and that we use that asset to maximum benefit.
Finally, on Amendment 171G, also from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, schools are already under a statutory duty to act in accordance with the arrangements set out by local safeguarding partners. The noble Baroness will remember the recommendations made in Sir Alan Wood’s report following the review of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements. The Government legislated in the Children and Social Work Act 2017 to remove the requirement for local authorities to establish local safeguarding children’s boards. The 2004 Children Act was then amended by the 2017 Act to include provisions relating to those three safeguarding partners—the local authority, police and health—including a duty to make arrangements for them and any appropriate relevant agencies to work together to deliver their safeguarding functions. So there is some history here that we need to remember and take into consideration. The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point out that the independent review included a recommendation to make schools a statutory safeguarding partner. It is something that needs proper consideration and to which we will respond in our implementation strategy later this year.
I therefore ask my noble friend Lord Lucas to withdraw his Amendment 146A and I ask other noble Lords not to move the amendments in their names.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the answer she gave on my amendment. I had a lot of sympathy for Amendment 149, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey. If we are to require home educators to provide a suitable education, we should make the same requirement of local authorities. What is important is that all children get a suitable education, and we should not accept backsliding by the state on that.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, would expect, as editor of the Good Schools Guide and a product of Eton, I do not have any sympathy for her amendment. It just seems self-defeating. If you take away the charitable exemption so that independent schools start paying rates, they will do that much less charitable work. That charitable benefit goes straight through to charitable work; the sufferers will be the people currently benefiting from the charity. It will all come back to the state because, although the local authorities may get some additional money from business rates, the state will find itself educating a lot more pupils who are currently being educated elsewhere, not at its expense. The same applies to VAT, but in spades. It appears merely to be an unsatisfactory solution to a long-running niggle. This Government’s approach to try to get the two sectors working together, integrated and benefiting each other, so that they become part of a unified system in rather the way that the health service works with private providers, seems a much better idea. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 146A withdrawn.
Amendments 146B and 147 not moved.
Clause 56 agreed.
Clause 57 agreed.