(2A) For the purposes of subsection (2) Academy arrangements require the YPLA to support the objective of the autonomy of Academies wherever it is reasonable to do so..
Amendment 339, in clause 74, page 45, line 29, at end insert
(2A) In exercising the functions in subsection (2), the YPLA must allow academies a right of appeal to the Secretary of State in circumstances where the governing body of an academy believes that a decision taken by the YPLA is unreasonable in the circumstances..
Amendment 391, in clause 74, page 45, line 35, at end insert
Amendment 392, in clause 74, page 45, line 38, leave out paragraph (a) and insert
(a) an agreement entered into by him under section 482 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) (Academies);.
Amendment 25, in clause 74, page 45, line 39, after section, insert
, except any functions related to the monitoring and assessment of school performance.
There are clearly one or two Committee members who had an overexcited lunch, while others are still finishing off.
I was giving some general comments on the debate that we have had. I shall resist the temptation to respond to all the points, because I fear that that would take a disproportionate amount of Committee time. I shall seek to address the amendments that we are debating in this section.
There are a few things to say on the stand part element of the debate. The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, as I predicted, wants to quote from the my letter from Mike Butler, and I would not want to disappoint him in his prediction by not quoting back to him the letter that I received previously from Ros McMullen, when she was the chair of the Independent Academies Association:
The IAA welcome the plans to establish the YPLA and its proposed role in the administration and support of open academies. It has been clear that the growth of this transformational and successful programme requires an agency to deal with the increasing administration. We are especially pleased that this proposition will allow Academies to continue to receive all their funding directly from a single, national agency as opposed to local authorities, as the hon. Member for Yeovil would like.
We have been discussing these issues with ministers for some time, and fully support these proposals.
I refute the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that there is little or no support for this move within the academies movement. Indeed, it is worth reiterating what Daniel Moynihan said in the evidence sessions, in response to the hon. Member for Basingstoke:
It makes sense for the Department to have an agency to take care of academies. Clearly the Department was never meant to be a local authority, so we are perfectly happy with that and we think it will work well.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke then asked:
Are you happy that academies will be administered by the YPLA at a regional level?
It makes absolute sense and, as the academies programme continues to grow, it would be anomalous and unusual for a Department of State to take direct responsibility for a very large number of schools when there are other models, both past and present, available to look at. The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust views that as a sensible provision.[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 43-44, Q107 and 109.]
There are many other quotes that I could use, but I shall not detain the Committee.
The Minister quoted Liz Reid, but perhaps he could also refer to her evidence on question 125. She was asked about the alternative of having academies under the strategic accountability of local government. All she said in answer to that was:
There are others you would have to ask. It would depend on the nature of the legislation that could be crafted and considered by the House.
Do I take it from that, that the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust envisages that it would be possible to craft legislation that would deal properly with those concerns?
You are being very diplomatic. Perhaps it is time for me to bring on Dan. Is that okay?
Daniel Moynihan then said:
I am sorry. I am not a politician and I am not good at being diplomatic. My answer would be that local authorities have called in academy sponsors[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 48, Q125.], going on to say what I quoted this morning. He clearly put the view that he thought that academies would not support the move talked about.
I am still unclear whether the reason that the Government have not been willing to put academies under LA oversight is that they believe that they are not capable of performance managing academies or that they fear local government would seek to suck the autonomy of academies away. Which of the two is it?
Both could be true. Liz was right that it depends on the precise proposition, but my strongly held view is that we should not disrupt the current academies model. Suffice to say that some of the functions performed by the Department should be carried out on an agency basis, by an arms length body and in accordance with the Education and Inspections Act 2006, the intention of which was to distance the delivery from the commissioning of services, which is what we seek to do with this legislation.
I want to deal with the point about the role of Ofsted and the YPLA performance management proposals. When the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton thinks about it, he will accept the importance of the softer, earlier intelligence that comes from a regional capacity, which will allow us to intervene earlier before problems become significant. I do not want to dwell overly on the significant problems that arose early this year at the Richard Rose academy in Cumbria. I pay tribute to the leadership of Mike Gibbons, who has taken over as chief executive of the two academies, and to the sponsors, who helped to resolve the issues. However, that situation had been allowed to get out of control, before we made the necessary interventions. It was thanks only to the procedures that we introducedallowing parents to complain directly to Ofstedthat Ofsted could properly identify the problems at the school in Carlisle.
I want the YPLA to provide the Department with intelligence about problems and be able to act much earlier itself. The hon. Gentleman has allowed ideology to take over his undoubted common sense. Once he allows his common sense to be heard, he will agree that the arrangement is sensible, and, of course, it will not get in the way of the current arrangements, under which, one year after the opening of an academy, Ofsted will carry out a monitoring visit, and three years later a full section 5 inspection. We are not introducing a second form of inspectionit is simply a relationship on the ground to provide proper support before problems become serious. We will work with academy sponsors and leaders to ensure that every single academy is a success.
On amendment 24, it will help to explain the effect of clause 74, which gives the Secretary of State the power to require the YPLA to act as his agent and to carry out academies functions. It is important to understand that we are talking about an agency role and that, in that regard, we are preserving academies autonomy. We are not moving powers away from the Secretary of State, but stating that certain functions can be carried out on an agency basis. As the programme expands, it is right, as I and others have said, that open academies continue to be supported and that their performance be monitored, owing to the challenging circumstances in which they operate. The Department finds it increasingly difficult to deliver that level of individualised support, which is why we want the delegation. The YPLA will be able to offer the necessary support, and academies will benefit from its regionalised structure. The routine functions currently carried out by staff in my Department, such as calculating and paying grants, will be undertaken by the YPLA on the Secretary of States behalf. In addition, the YPLA will oversee academy improvement through academy school improvement partners.
We are currently working on aspects of that. I would expect the regional structure to be coterminous with the Government office regions, but if the position is any different, I will let the Committee know. I do not know whether the detail of where functions will be based in the regions has been agreed in the negotiations, but if I get that information, I will certainly send it to the hon. Gentleman and copy in the rest of the Committee.
If we allowed each academy to chose whether to participate in the proposed arrangements, as amendment 24 suggests, the YPLA would potentially carry out functions for only some academies. The Department would continue to carry out the same functions as it does now for academies that did not agree to the new arrangements. There would therefore be significant duplication of roles and functions, significant inefficiences, significant inconsistencies and increased costs. I would therefore strongly resist the proposition that the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton puts forward in his amendment.
The YPLA will also be able to provide more responsive regionally based support to academiessomething that the Department is unable to do at the moment and is unlikely to be able to offer in the future. The YPLA can provide better local knowledge, additional local support can be delivered more quickly to prevent crises, and a more personalised service can be offered to meet the needs of individual academies.
On amendment 25, the Secretary of State will retain responsibility for the regulatory framework for all academies and will continue to take key decisions about individual academies on issues such as terminating the funding agreement, appointing additional members to the governing body and developing the academys policy.
On amendment 26, the Committee will be aware that one reason why academies have flexibility and independence is that they are regulated for the most part via their funding agreements. The powers in the Bill will not change the content of those agreements and will not entitle the YPLA to impose new duties on academies. Nor will it change the fundamental principle that sponsors provide direction and leadership for the academy.
The Secretary of State and his officials will, of course, have a close working relationship with the YPLA, which will be required to exercise its academy functions in accordance with arrangements set down by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will provide the YPLA with guidance on the delivery of academy functions. Reporting arrangements will ensure that there is regular communication and accountability.
The hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton of course questioned whether the YPLA was the right organisation to do the work; indeed, he proposed setting up a completely separate organisation to do it. We must ensure that any academy functions are carried out in a cost-effective way. It is intended that routine academy functions carried out by the YPLA will deliver cost savings, as the use of YPLA resources will, for example, reduce staff costs and prevent unnecessary duplication of back-office functions. The agencys internal structure, with the main office responsible for finance functions and regional offices responsible for the improved delivery of performance management functions, means that those cost savings can be achieved.
The YPLA will calculate and make payments of grants, supervise and ensure financial control of budgets, and monitor and enforce the funding agreement. That fits with its main remit of funding education and training places for 16 to 19-year-olds. A large number of the officials who transfer their employment to the YPLA will carry out the same funding functions in respect of academies that they currently perform in the Department. There is therefore a good fit in terms of the bulk of what the YPLA will do in respect of academies.
My view on such a transfer is that the academies intervention is a particular sort of intervention. It is intended to deal with circumstances in which we need to achieve a more rigorous form of government, as well as a particular form of accountability through the funding agreement, which we know has worked for academies. Other schoolsfrom trust schools to voluntary assisted schools through to community schoolsremain part of the local authority family, and it is right that they should do so. I have no proposals to alter that arrangement. Schools that are independent of local authorities will be academies, except for the few CTCs that are left.
Amendment 339 would affect the proposals in the clause. Under the clause, the YPLA will not have the power to impose new duties on academies. It will have only the Secretary of States existing powers that he asks it to exercise on his behalf. As I said, it is an agency arrangement. If an academy takes the view that the YPLA is acting unreasonably in carrying out those functions, it can complain to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will investigate any such complaint to ensure that the YPLA is carrying out those functions on his behalf in a reasonable manner.
The agency arrangement does not change the current situation. If an academy complains that officials are behaving unreasonably, the Secretary of State will investigate the matter whether the officials are in the Department or an agency. The new arrangement will not reduce the legal remedies available to academies. If an academy is unhappy with the way it is being treated by the agency on the Secretary of States behalf, it will have all the potential legal remedies it needs. For example, it might think that the agency is breaching the terms of the funding agreement by failing to pay grant or that it is failing to comply with the general principles of public law.
Amendments 391 and 392 would work together to ensure that the YPLA could not enter into a funding agreement with an academy on behalf of the Secretary of State. The clause gives the YPLA the power to do that if required to do so by the Secretary of State. However, I confirm that we have no intention of requiring the YPLA to enter into funding agreements with academies. As I have said, under the new arrangements the Secretary of State will continue to carry out those functions. These proposals will mean that the way in which the Secretary of State and the YPLA work together can be flexible. We will be able to move to a lighter-touch approach if in the light of experience that seems appropriate to the Secretary of State and, crucially, to academies.
Even if we did want funding agreements to be negotiated by the YPLA in the future, by law the contracting party would still be the Secretary of State. Therefore, the Secretary of State and the Department will take an active interest in any funding agreements for the setting up of academies. The idea that the YPLA could enter into funding agreements unravels as a serious proposition because it simply acts as an agent in respect of academies functions.
My understanding is that the only academy funding agreement that can be undertaken is the one between the Secretary of State and the academy sponsor. It is therefore not possible for the YPLA to enter into such an agreement. I assure the Committee that we do not intend for there to be any reduction in the autonomy of academies through these provisions. These are simply more practical arrangements that will allow the planned expansion of the academies programme. For those reasons, I urge hon. Members not to press their amendments.
I am grateful to the Minister for his comments on amendments 391 and 392. I am a little confused about the Governments position on this matter. I need to reflect on the Ministers words on paper.
The Minister seemed to indicate that although the Governments intention is to not confer on the YPLA the power to enter into academy funding agreements, that power is in the Bill. He is relying on the assumption that the YPLA will not be willing to do something that the Secretary of State disagrees with, but his other comments indicated that at some point the Governments attitude might change on the degree to which these powers should be devolved to the YPLA. That set off alarm bells in my mind about how much openness there is here.
I will go away and reflect on these matters and perhaps speak to the Minister and his officials to ensure that I understand their intention and the reality. Perhaps if I am not satisfied, I can bring back amendments at a later stage.
However, I will, with your permission, Mr. Chope, want to press clause 74 as a whole to a Division later, because I remain unconvinced by the reasons that the Minister has given for placing the academy programme under the YPLA. I am left with the suspicion that the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough hit on the reasons for the Governments decision when he questioned the Minister on the matter during our evidence session on 10 March and the Minister replied:
We would have given in to the charge of watering down the independence of academies if we had handed over their performance management and funding to local authorities.[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 10 March 2009; c. 173, Q411.]
My impression from that statement is that the Government were nervous about being seen to be compromising the independence of the academies programme.
When we have questioned the Minister further, he has given, under some pressure and encouragement from me, some more serious reasons why the Government might want to put the academies programme under the YPLA. The two points that under some pressure he acknowledged he has concerns about are, first, the performance management of academies and, secondly, the possibility that local authorities might seek to suck back some of the autonomy that has been granted to academies because of their concern somehow to be controlling those schools. We have made it clear that we see local authorities as having a commissioning and strategic role, not a role in running the individual schools.
The second reason that the Minister gave is entirely unconvincing, because there is no reason why the Government could not place in legislation a protection for academies in respect of the freedoms that they currently enjoy, which the Government granted them. Some of them, as the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said, have been rather rolled back on over the past couple of years. There is no reason why the Government could not also give a power of appeal, for example, to the schools commissioner to ensure that if academies were concerned about the activities of their local authority, they could appeal to the schools commissioner to ensure that their independence and autonomy was not compromised.
The other reason that the Minister gave, under some pressure and encouragement, was that he did not think that all local authorities could be trusted to performance manage academies. He said that that was one of the two concerns. Under further questioning, he said lateror perhaps it was as part of his speechthat a more rigorous form of government or governance was needed for academies. That is very surprising, because even today, with the expansion of the academies programme, the majority of the 23,500 schools in the country are under the performance management and strategic control of local authorities.
If the Government are really so concerned that a serious number of local authorities are not doing their job properly, one wonders why they should be given the strategic oversight of performance for all those other schools, including a very large number of schools whose performance is just as poor as that of some of the academies that the Government are now placing under the YPLA. If the Government are really so concerned about the inadequate performance management by local authorities, I do not see why the Government or perhaps even the Conservatives are not proposing the logical outcome of that concern and that process, which is to allow schools that are not impressed with their local authority to opt out of the local authority control and move under YPLA control. If the YPLA will provide such a rigorous form of governance and will be so much better at performance management, why on earth will it not be controlling the performance management of the majority of schools?
Why do the Government not draw the obvious conclusion from the concerns that they appear to have about the performance management of some local authorities, which is that they should be addressing that more vigorously and should be ensuring that the systems of inspection hold more transparently and vigorously to account those local authorities that are not performing well? A local authority that is failing its local school that has become an academy is likely to be failing other schools.
I asked the Minister where the oversight of academies would be in the south-west and he has kindly undertaken to let me know later where that will be from. However, I think that the impression was that there will be one headquarters to cover the entire south-west region. I do not know how many academies there are in the south-west at the moment, but there are probably not all that many. For example, I think that one academy, to which the Minister referred earlier, is just about to be established in Somerset.
It seems extraordinary that we are going to put in place an extra level of bureaucracy that will operate out of one centre in a huge region covering hundreds and thousands of square miles, and that such a system is expected to do a better and more efficient job at performance managing those schools than the local authorities that are on the spot and are aware of the local circumstances. For example, local authorities might pick up information from other schools to which parents might be taking their children if they are not happy with the school that is failing. It is possible and, indeed, necessary to have stronger performance management and oversight through the existing local authority system. If we are really not convinced that that is working at all, we would be far better getting rid of that tier altogether and allowing schools to opt in to some kind of YPLAan idea that the Conservatives occasionally toy with.
In respect of academies, the Government seem to have constructed the YPLA to meet the true concerns that they have, which was indicated by the Ministers comments to the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough. Those comments gave the impression that the Ministers concern is about much more than transferring academy oversight to local authorities; it is that the Government would be perceived to be undermining the autonomy of academies and that programme. As a consequence, it is a great pity that an opportunity has been missed to place the academy programme under the strategic oversight of local authorities and, as part of that process, to ensure that the job that local authorities are doing in terms of performance management for all schools is much improved. For that reason, I will be seeking a Division on clause 74 as a whole later.
I listened carefully to the Ministers response, and I am afraid that I ended up even more confused than before. He mentioned quotes that I have heard before, he has heard before, he has read before, and I have read beforefor example, the quote from Dr. Moynihan, who said:
It makes sense for the Department to have an agency to take care of academies. Clearly the Department was never meant to be a local authority.[Official Report, Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 43, Q107.]
We can both agree with that quote, but my honest assessment of the opinion of the academy movement is that it does not believe that the YPLA is the correct body to look after academies.
It was confusing that the Minister said that the YPLA has a useful regional structure, which makes me think that the 49 buildings plus the one in Coventry, which the LSC currently occupies at a cost of £26.1 million a year, are going to be maintained and not streamlined. That will spread the people who are managing the academies between those 49 buildings, which is not a terribly efficient way of managing them.
From memory, I think that currently 22 officials will move over from the Department to the YPLA. Does the hon. Gentleman have any idea about how we might spread them across 46 offices?
I am reassured to hear that. [Interruption.] As the hon. Member for Yeovil says from a sedentary position, that is how it will start. The Minister said that the regional structure of the YPLA is a useful mechanism through which to conduct oversight of the academies, but, of course, it is the role of the federation of academies to look after academies in a regional or national way by selecting five, six, seven or ten academies within their federation to be monitored and nurtured. That is not the role of an expanding YPLA. If possible, I would like a Division on amendment 26, rather than on lead amendment 24. Amendment 26 enshrines in legislation that the objective of the YPLA is to maintain the autonomy of academies, which is an important principle.
I was also intrigued by what the Minister had to say about the powers of the Secretary of State who would maintain his power and duty to terminate funding agreements and appoint additional governors. It seems that the Department will maintain an oversight role to ensure that academies are performing well. That prompts me to ask what the YPLA will do if it does not inspect schools or oversee them, because the power to tackle underperforming academies still rests with the Secretary of State.
A good hint as to the sort of things that it would do was given by Daniel Moynihan in his evidence to the Committee. In response to my questions about the sort of issues on which he has a regular relationship with officials, he said that there is a fair amount of traffic, and went on to say:
Admissions, funding and clarification on funding models, legal issues relating to academies, local discussions with local authorities and the DCSFs role in arbitrating those discussions, so a very wide range of different issues.[Official Report, Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Public Bill Committee, 3 March 2009; c. 45, Q112 and 113.]
Those are the sorts of things that our officials our working with academies on, on a day-to-day basis, that I would see the YPLA doing on our behalf.
On the hon. Gentlemans point about federations and their role in performance management, what should happen with academies that are not part of a wider federation, or with federations that consist of only two academies? Would he be happy for a single academy to performance manage itself, or for federations of only two or three academies to do that job?
Again, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but these are early stages in the academy movement, and I do not believe that we will have single academies surviving out there, in the long run, and that they will end up forming federations. An important part of the academy movement is allowing parents to have real power and choice. That is concomitant with the effectiveness of the whole policy. The pressure to raise standards will come from parents having a genuine choice of schools or academies for their children. There is not genuine choice at the moment, because there are so few good schools, and it is difficult for new academies to enter the market because of restrictions, planning laws and so on, so there is not that pressure to perform. Once parents have that genuine choice, because surplus places are being maintained, and it is easy for new entrants to come into the system, the reputation of academy federations will be absolutely key, and they will be determined to maintain and enhance their reputation. Therein lies the source for raising standards in our schools.
I share the hon. Gentlemans aspiration for more choice in the system and the potential to ratchet up standards as a consequence, but he will be aware of evidence that choice has not always proved to be a good vehicle for automatically increasing standards, particularly in less affluent areas. Surely, there will therefore need to be a mechanism of accountability that is stronger than simply having the choice mechanism?
We have not really had genuine choice in this country. In countries that do have genuine choice, such as Sweden, standards have risen considerably, both in the schools that have come into the system and in the existing municipality, so I believe that choice will have an effect. He is right that, ultimately, powers will have to reside somewhere to tackle academies or federation of academies that fail, and I think that they should rest in a newly established body. There is some confusion, which the Minister will clarify in a moment, about where those powers lie. Is it with the YPLA or with the Secretary of State, who has the ultimate powers to terminate funding agreements or to appoint additional governors. Those are the key powers that will be used to tackle poorly performing academies, leading to a rise in standards. If those powers rest with the Secretary of State, rather than the YPLA, the YPLA will be powerless to tackle underperformance.
I was reluctant to intervene on the hon. Gentleman because we want to make progress, but he has said something significant about his partys policy on moving towards all academies being part of wider federations and chains of schools. It is worth pointing out that Dan Moynihan, whom I have quoted, is the chief executive of one of our most successful partnerships. It is also worth pointing out that however successful the free schools in Sweden or the charter schools in the United States have been, this countrys education system still outperforms theirs in international comparisons. I thought that the hon. Gentlemans policy of parents being able to start schools would be that groups of parents could start them wherever they want, but he is now saying that they can do that only as long as they are part of a chain.
I was explaining that I thought academies would form federations. They would probably form federations with primary school academies to provide the back-office support and assistance that the schools need if they want to raise standards. I do not prescribe that that will happen, but I suspect that it would happen if there were more freedom and ease to set up academies to run autonomously.
I was reassured by what the Minister said about amendment 339 and that an appeal could be made to Secretary of State when an academy was dissatisfied with decisions by the YPLA. I, too, would like a Division to be held on clause stand part for slightly different reasons than those outlined by the hon. Member for Yeovil. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.