Clause 11

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 7th February 2008.

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Educational institutions: promotion of good attendance

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I beg to move amendment No. 163, in clause 11, page 6, line 8, at end insert—

‘(e) an Academy,

(f) a city technology college,

(g) a city college for the technology of the arts, and

(h) special schools which are not community or foundation special schools but are for the time being approved by the Secretary of State under section 342 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) (approval of special schools).’.

The clause, as stated in the explanatory notes,

“places a new duty on governing bodies of certain institutions in England to promote attendance for the purpose of enabling young people to meet the duty to participate under clause 2.”

As the notes and the detail of the Bill itself confirm, that duty applies simply to community, foundation or voluntary schools, and special schools—as well as to pupil referral units and further education institutions. The LSC has asked for the same duty to be placed on private providers.

Amendment No. 163 is also inspired by the NUT; they are inspiring a lot of amendments among the Opposition parties at this moment. The amendment seeks to explore why a series of other educational institutions have been left out of this particular duty to promote good attendance. The amendment includes within that duty academies, city technology colleges, city technology colleges of the arts and special schools that are not community or foundation schools but are—for the time being—approved by the Secretary of State.

I have no problem with those educational institutions; indeed, I strongly support academies and some of the other educational institutions detailed here. I shall be working very hard to support Lord Adonis and others within the Government who want to defend some of those institutions against the attempt by the Prime Minister and perhaps even the Secretary of State to throttle them gradually. However, I believe that it is sensible for the freedoms that some of these institutions have to be enjoyed by as many schools as possible.

It is also sensible for the strategic oversight of all these educational organisations to operate in the same way. Even within the space of this week, we have seen how the Government seem to be implementing a strategic oversight of educational institutions which differentiate some of the maintained schools, which are already covered by clause 11, and schools in some other categories, such as the ones listed in amendment No. 163, which are institutions which traditionally have a greater degree of freedom.

Yesterday, I received a parliamentary answer regarding the duties that the Government will place on educational institutions in relation to compulsory cookery lessons. It was announced just a few weeks ago that all maintained schools will have to have compulsory cookery lessons, although we know that something like 85 per cent. of them already have these lessons. However, in the answer from the Minister, dated 5 February, we see that these cookery lessons will not be compulsory for academies. That seems to be a good example of the slightly bizarre approach that the Government are taking in allowing freedoms to be available to some educational institutions which are not available to others. This is causing a different strategic oversight of some educational institutions in comparison to others, for no good reason.

The amendment has been stimulated and, to be candid, written by the NUT, and we are pleased to lend our names to it. It lists a series of other educational institutions, which are taken from section 5 of the Education Act 2005. It includes all those educational institutions that are subject to Ofsted inspection. The logic of the amendment is that the duty to promote attendance should be consistent with the susceptibility to inspection.

I encourage the Minister to explain the logic of leaving those institutions outside the duty in clause 11. In what other ways will the duty will be catered for? Presumably, the Government do not intend that those educational establishments will not be obliged to pursue the duty to attend. Will they be doing so through funding agreements? Why should funding agreements be used for that purpose, rather than including them in the Bill? How will the existing academies with their own existing funding agreements be covered by the duty? Will there be any attempt to amend the funding agreements to ensure that the duties in the Bill are part of the duties of academies in the future?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

We currently have 83 academies, 78 are or will be direct providers of post-16 education. From September there will be two city technology colleges and one city college for the technology of the arts. They are in general regulated through their funding agreements rather than through legislation. That is why they are not expressly listed in clause 11. I assure the Committee that academies are required through their funding agreements to have regard to the same guidance as maintained schools on improving behaviour and attendance.

The situation is different for the two CTCs and the one CCTA. They are not required by law to have regard to the same guidance, as they were established as independent institutions with particular freedoms, but they are successful schools with high levels of post-16 participation from committed pupils whose attendance and behaviour are good. I do not think we will have too many problems with those institutions or with academies, where attendance has risen at a much faster rate than nationally.

The final category that would be added by the amendment is that of non-maintained special schools. The hon. Gentleman has cause for some celebration because, having reflected on his amendment, I would say we do need to look further at the case for including that group of schools in clause 11. I will consider whether we might put forward a Government amendment to that effect on Report. I hope in the light of that extraordinary generosity and admission—

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

Could the Minister tell me how many such schools there are? It is not one or zero, is it?

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The Minister said he might table his own amendment to cover one category of educational institution. I was asking him to clarify how many educational institutions fall into the category that he will be allowing for.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

When I know what is included in the amendment that the Government might table, I will know the number. The best estimate I have at the moment is 74. If the total is different when the amendment is tabled, I will inform the House. I hope that in the light of my reasoning and generosity, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

This is the first triumph of this Committee’s proceedings. It is the first time the Government have had to do a massive U-turn. As ever, they prefer to table their own amendment rather than allow this magnificent Laws-NUT amendment to be included in the Bill. I hope that I do not get angry letters from 74 institutions that will now be included in this duty.

I am grateful to hear we have made some ground. I am still a little baffled why it makes sense for such a duty to be administered through an individual funding agreement. It clearly is a strategic duty, so why not have strategic duties operating at a strategic level, rather than have them dealt with individually in the funding agreements?

I thought it was rather odd to say that in a number of the institutions listed in the amendments, there would not be too many problems, because their participation or attendance rates are very high. One could say that a number of maintained schools that will be covered by the clause should be exempt on that basis. I also heard no reassurance about what will happen to the established academies which will not have the duty in their funding agreements. Is it intended to rewrite the funding agreements? Will they be changed retrospectively, or will those academies be exempt from the duty?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I remind the hon. Gentleman that I said that academies are required through their funding agreements to have regard to the same guidance as maintained schools on improving behaviour and attendance. Clearly the guidance for schools will have to reflect the clause in terms of promoting good attendance, so that duty will apply to existing academy agreements.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

I think I understand the Minister’s point. Let me give my understanding of what he is saying, and he can stop me if I am getting it wrong. I think he is saying that the established academies that have their own funding agreements will automatically have to have regard to clause 11 because that is implied directly in their funding agreements, so there will be no need to amend them.

Jim Knight indicated assent.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families)

The Minister is nodding. That gives me some reassurance, but I would still rather not deal with this particular issue through this route. But having managed to persuade the Government to tweak slightly in our direction, I think I had better cut my losses and thank the Minister for his comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden PPS (Mr Michael Wills, Minister of State), Ministry of Justice

I rise on clause stand part merely to make a brief comment and to put a question to my hon. Friend the Minister. In relation to the exercise of the governing bodies’ functions, the clause is neutral on the range of courses to which the students in the category described should have access. However, the Edge foundation, with which I have worked closely via the all-party skills  group and the Skills Commission, and one or two other organisations have raised their concern that some governing bodies, which should already be ensuring that students have access to a range of courses adapted to their interests and needs, favour an academic style of learning over more a more practical or vocational approach. As a result, some young people may be offered a limited choice of options both before and after the age of 16. The organisations make the point, which I thoroughly agree with, that some young people become disaffected because they do not enjoy school and find classes boring or irrelevant. They also make the point about the importance of learning by doing, or practical learning.

With that in mind, if my hon. Friend the Minister does not feel that that is an appropriate subject for an amendment to the Bill—I would understand why—is he able to say what the Government might be able to do, whether through guidance or some other initiative, to ensure that governing bodies, which are required to promote participation, have due regard to the broadest range of courses available?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 3:30 pm, 7th February 2008

Certainly, they should have regard to that duty. The clause clearly is just about promoting attendance, but clause 66, to which I refer my hon. Friend, deals with impartial advice of the sort for which Edge is calling. That clause specifically requires schools to give impartial advice. It has been slightly misinterpreted by some sections of the press, the Committee will be amazed to hear, but it is certainly the case that we want to ensure, as Edge has argued, that advice is in the best interests of the learner rather than in the best interests of the organisation giving that advice. I hope that, on that basis, the Committee is happy to agree clause 11.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.