The Bill does not make clear when the Government will implement this new power. This amendment would provide that the power could not be used retrospectively.
Amendment 24, in clause 7, page 6, line 8, at end insert—
‘(A1A) Prior to making an Academy Order in respect of a maintained school under subsection (A1), the Secretary of State must arrange for an independent assessment of the impact of conversion into an Academy on vulnerable pupils, including but not limited to—
(a) children with statements of special educational needs,
(b) children with special educational needs without statements,
(c) looked after children,
(d) children with disabilities, and
(e) children with low prior attainment not otherwise falling under (a) to (d).
(A1B) A report of any assessment conducted under subsection (A1A) shall be laid before each House of Parliament by the Secretary of State.
(A1C) Where a report under subsection (A1B) indicates any risks of negative impacts on vulnerable pupils, the Secretary of State must accompany the report with a statement of the steps he is taking to satisfy himself that reasonable mitigating steps will be planned and implemented to reduce such risks.”
Amendment 42, in clause 7, page 6, line 8, at end insert—
‘(A2) For the avoidance of doubt, subsection (A1) does not apply to a maintained nursery school or a Pupil Referral Unit.”
The amendment is to clarify whether the new provision applies to maintained nursery schools and Pupil Referral Units.
Amendment 45, in clause 7, page 6, line 10, at end insert—
‘( ) in section 19 of the Academies Act 2010, in subsection (2), insert at start “Except subsection (A1) of section 4” and insert after subsection (3)
( ) Before the Secretary of State makes an order commencing section 4(A1) she will lay before Parliament an independent report demonstrating the improvement, or otherwise, of schools which have been academised, or not, after being eligible for intervention by virtue of sections 61 or 62 EIA 2006.”
I want to speak briefly in support of amendment 40, which allows us maturely to reflect on the need for academisation before the Secretary of State imposes her will on an underperforming school. Before the break, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West laid out many examples of alternative methods of school improvement and made the case that academisation is not the only option. In 2012, 559 schools were judged inadequate. Of the 294 that remained maintained, and therefore were not engaged in the academisation process, only nine remained inadequate a year later. On re-inspection, 152 were deemed good and six were rated outstanding. We have heard today that local authorities are not taking the necessary action to improve standards in schools, but those figures clearly suggest otherwise. Furthermore, sponsored academies are twice as likely to stay inadequate as maintained schools.
“a distraction in all of this.”?––[Official Report, Education and Adoption Public Bill Committee, 30 June 2015; c. 18, Q36.]
Does he not think it logical for the Secretary of State to consider the case for academisation first, given that it is not the silver bullet that the Minister seems to think it is? Rather than placing a duty on the Secretary of State to force academisation, it would be good practice to allow the Secretary of State, in consultation with the chief inspector of schools at Ofsted, to make a decision based on the available evidence and the circumstances of individual schools. Amendments 40 and 39 would allow the Secretary of State space to use her judgment, rather than having her hands tied arbitrarily. In the event of a warning notice being issued, a school having been found to require significant improvement or a school being in special measures, the amendments seek to give the Secretary of State time to consider the case for academisation properly.
Welcome back to our proceedings, Mr Chope. It is again a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
Amendments 39, 40, 46, 42 and 45 all relate to clause 7, as does amendment 24, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Sefton Central. Clause 7 places a duty on the Secretary of State to make an academy order for any maintained school that Ofsted has rated inadequate, removing any doubt about how we will intervene in failing schools: they must become academies with the support of an effective sponsor to give them the necessary support and challenge to turn the school around. The clause is therefore a crucial new power to strengthen our ability to deal with failure and to do so more swiftly.
Amendment 39 seeks to make the duty to issue an academy order dependent on whether the Ofsted chief inspector advises that such an order should be made. The Government of course greatly value the independent advice of the chief inspector on school performance, but I consider the amendment to be unnecessary and likely to lead to a less efficient process for taking the necessary action quickly once a school is identified to be failing. Ofsted judgments on a school’s performance are made under the powers of Her Majesty’s chief inspector, as set out in the Education and Inspections Act 2006. When Ofsted judges a school inadequate, the chief inspector has already sent a clear signal to the school, local authority and the Secretary of State that he judges the school to be failing to provide an adequate education. Once a school is deemed inadequate, there should be no further question about whether the school should be converted into an academy. In such cases, the school is failing to provide an adequate education and requires academisation as quickly as possible. Regional schools commissioners are then responsible for taking the necessary action to secure improvements, and they are accountable to Parliament through the Secretary of State.
The amendment would create a further review stage for the individual school before an academy order is issued, but when Ofsted has already given a clear judgment that the school is failing. That additional step is unnecessary and runs against our aim to make intervention more effective and efficient. In short, we will have already asked for the opinion of Her Majesty’s chief inspector, and that will have been provided when Ofsted awards a school a category 4 grading.
Amendment 40 would remove the requirement for the Secretary of State to make an academy order when a school is found to be inadequate. In every case in which a school is found to be inadequate, it must have a fresh start immediately, secured through an academy solution with an effective sponsor. The duty that the clause places on the Secretary of State to make an academy order in respect on any maintained school that Ofsted has rated inadequate removes any doubt about how we will intervene in failing schools: they must become academies, with the support of an effective sponsor.
Since 2010, sponsors have taken on more than 1,100 such schools. The replacement of the governance of a failing school with the support of a strong sponsor is an effective way to secure rapid improvement. By 2014, results in sponsored secondary academies open for four years had risen by an average of 6.4 percentage points compared with their predecessor schools. During that same period, results in local authority schools rose by an average of 1.3 percentage points—[Interruption.] In previous sittings we have debated whether that is a valid judgment. I contend that it is, because it puts in perspective what those 6.4 percentage points mean in terms of how standards are rising overall through the system.
As the Minister is using that same statistic again, will he ask his officials to crunch the numbers for schools that were in similar positions and tried other methods of improvement to see what results were produced? Officials have had several days to do that, so I would have thought that he would have those numbers in his notes by now.
We are always crunching numbers when comparing schools and we are always looking at how individual schools and academies are faring. We pore over all kinds of crunched numbers the whole time. That is a particular role of the regional schools commissioners, who do similar analysis to identify schools, and indeed academies, that are failing.
We do take swift action when academies are failing. Thetford academy, for example, was put in special measures in March 2013. The sponsors acknowledged that they did not have the capacity to make the required improvements, so the Department brought in the Inspiration Trust, who took the school on in July 2013. Results in the next academic year showed that the number of students achieving five or more A* to C GCSEs including English and maths increased by 10 percentage points. In December 2014—just a few months later—Ofsted judged Thetford to be “good”, with outstanding leadership. Its report described the school as “transformed beyond recognition” and said that the trust’s leadership and support had
“created a strong culture where only the best is good enough.”
That demonstrates that we are equally as rigorous when dealing with underperforming academies as we will be when dealing with underperforming maintained schools under the Bill. The difference is that we have the powers to deal with underperforming academies through the funding agreement between the trust and the Secretary of State. We do not have similar powers for maintained schools; that is what the Bill is about.
The Minister is generous in giving way. The example he gave was of a failing academy being removed from a chain. Do powers exist to remove coasting academies from their chains with the same enthusiasm? It has been reported to me many times that good academies trapped in bad chains struggle to get the same freedom to move between chains that he proposes for schools to break free from local authorities.
We will use the Bill’s definition of coasting schools to assess the performance of academies. The regional schools commissioners will start a similar discussion with academy trustees or the chief executives of those trusts where schools or academies in the trust are coasting.
There are no plans to allow schools to leave academy chains; that is not how they work. If we are unhappy with the governance of a school in a chain, it is the sponsor that we are concerned about. We would be concerned not just about that one school, but about every school in that academy chain.
It is interesting that the Minister outlined the process by which you can engage in conversation with governors at such times, yet previously you talked about the need for efficiency in dealing with maintained schools. Do you think that the process is more important when dealing with academies, and that, when dealing with a maintained school, efficiency is the priority?
We are taking the same approach. Clause 7 deals with schools that have been awarded category 4 in an Ofsted judgment. Therefore, we will take swift action to turn that school into an academy. When a school is coasting, whether it is maintained or an academy, those discussions start. If the regional schools commissioner is convinced that there is an adequate plan to deal effectively with that coasting, they will support that plan. It is only after those discussions lead the regional schools commissioner to believe that it does not have an adequate plan that the Secretary of State will use the powers under other provisions in the Bill to move towards academisation.
The Minister said that the Bill gave power to the Secretary of State in those circumstances. Will he confirm that under the 2010 Act the Secretary of State can make an academy order in relation to any school that has received an adverse Ofsted finding? Therefore, the Secretary of State has the power. What this proposal would do is restrict the type of action that the Secretary of State is able to take.
The hon. Gentleman is right. There is a “may” power. The Secretary of State may issue an academy order under that provision of the 2010 Act. The provision in clause 7 would make it automatic, so that the academy order is automatically issued on the day or day after Ofsted awards a judgment of “inadequate” for that school. That fulfils our manifesto commitment to take action from day one, when a school is demonstrated to be failing. We make no apology for bringing in a Bill that changes that “may” into a “must”. That demonstrates the seriousness of the swift action the Government intend to take with failing schools.
I want to clarify something the Minister said because I do not know if I misheard. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove, the Minister said that it would not be possible for an academy—an individual school—to leave the chain. There is no provision for that. If there were a problem, he would seek to deal with the sponsors. Is he saying that schools are locked in in perpetuity under this arrangement? Is that what we are legislating for?
No. There are many examples where the Secretary of State has removed academies from chains. For example, the E-ACT and AET chains have both had their academy rebrokered into other academy chains. There is scope for doing that. I am talking about the provisions about leaving a federation that do not apply to academies leaving an academy chain.
Will the Minister confirm that, if a school wants to leave, it cannot? The examples he gave were of chains in trouble, which had to be broken up because there were very real concerns from the centre. If an individual school wants to leave, I cannot think of a single example where that has been possible. In fact such schools have less freedom, not more, than they had in the maintained system. Will the Minister confirm that is the case?
Yes, I can. There is no power for a governing body of a school within an academy chain to vote to leave that academy chain. One can see the reasons for that. If a school is underperforming and objects to improvement measures, those measures need to go ahead. The governance of that individual academy within an academy chain should not be able to avoid those measures by leaving the chain. We want academies tied in to strong academy arrangements, so schools cannot choose to leave a strong arrangement. The Secretary of State can change sponsors when there is evidence that they are not delivering high-quality education. Through that mechanism, the Secretary of State can move academies from an underperforming academy chain.
I want to pursue this, because I wonder whether this is really where the Minister wants to end up. What would happen if a school was locked into a particular sponsor chain, but all the surrounding schools were locked into another, possibly because they academised later? If the rationale for the school leaving and joining the second chain were that it would lead to a more efficient distribution of the service in the area, is the Minister saying that that would not be permitted?
One of the things that my noble Friend Lord Nash has done is to ensure that academy chains and groups, as they grow, evolve around geographical clusters. That does not mean a geographical monopoly with all schools in one chain. That would not be desirable, but nor would it be desirable for an academy chain to be dispersed throughout the United Kingdom, which would make the practical issues of travel and efficiency very difficult.
Altering clause 7, as amendment 40 proposes, would have the effect that the Secretary of State does not have to make an academy order when a school is found to be “inadequate”, which would create unnecessary delays and uncertainty. We all have a responsibility to ensure that failing schools improve as quickly as possible.
Amendment 46 seeks to prevent clause 7 from applying to schools that are judged “inadequate” by Ofsted before January 2016. As I have just said, we think it is wrong for a child to spend time in any school that is failing to provide the level of education that all children deserve. We want to raise standards swiftly across the board, which means turning around all failing schools with the same urgency. We would not achieve that by applying an arbitrary date for the new power granted by clause 7, as proposed by the amendment. A school judged “inadequate” is failing, regardless of whether the judgment was made before or after 1 January 2016. After the Bill receives Royal Assent and the provision is commenced, proposed new section 4(A1) will apply to all schools judged “inadequate” by Ofsted at that point.
Amendment 42 seeks to prevent the Secretary of State’s duty to make an academy order from applying to maintained nursery schools and pupil referral units. All children are entitled to a good education, regardless of their circumstances, and that includes children in pupil referral units. We are committed to taking swift action where that is not happening. As with maintained schools, the Secretary of State can impose an interim executive board to replace the management of a pupil referral unit that has been rated “inadequate” or a pupil referral unit that the Secretary of State is satisfied is underperforming.
The Secretary of State also has the power to make an academy order in relation to a pupil referral unit judged by Ofsted to be “inadequate”. If a pupil referral unit is failing and is not viable, the Secretary of State also has the power to direct the local authority to close it. When that happens, the local authority must provide the Secretary of State with information about the arrangements it is making to ensure pupils receive suitable education. There are already many “good” or “outstanding” alternative provision academies. For instance, there is the Bridge alternative provision academy, which was rated “outstanding” by Ofsted in May 2013. It has gained national prominence, and is frequently visited by representatives of other schools and local authorities to see what lies behind its success. At present, clause 7 does not apply to pupil referral units. The Secretary of State will therefore not be under a duty to make an academy order for any PRU that is rated “inadequate”. It will be possible, however, to apply such a provision through regulations in the future if the Government wish. We therefore do not want to exclude the possibility of doing so now, so we are able to consider whether we want to take that approach with pupil referral units.
The amendment also seeks to confirm whether clause 7 applies to maintained nursery schools. I can confirm that it does not. Current legislation does not allow maintained nursery schools to become academies, and the Secretary of State cannot make an academy order for such provision. That is because maintained nursery schools do not fall within the definition of maintained schools for the purposes of the Academies Act 2010.
Amendment 45 proposes that before we make an order commencing proposed new section 4(A1), the Government must publish an independent report demonstrating the improvement of academised schools. Under section 11 of the Academies Act 2010, the Government are already required to publish an annual report on the performance of academies. The latest report, focused on the 2013-14 academic year, was published on 30 June 2015 and sets out many examples of the progress made by academies. At Wyndham Primary Academy in Derby, for example, which is sponsored by the Spencer Academies Trust, after just two years, 90% of pupils are achieving the expected level in reading, writing and mathematics—up from 64% at its predecessor school.
Making an academy order enables us to move quickly to replace poor leadership and governance under the guidance of an expert sponsor. The last Ofsted annual schools report, published at the end of last year, said:
“Overall, sponsor-led academies have had a positive and sustained impact on attainment in challenging areas”.
Nothing in the Bill removes the requirement under section 11 of the 2010 Act to publish an annual academies report, containing information on the academy performance. I hope that I have satisfied the concerns of the hon. Member for Cardiff West and that he feels able to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 24, tabled by the hon. Member for Sefton Central, would require the Secretary of State to arrange for an independent assessment of the impact of conversion before issuing an academy order in respect of a school rated “inadequate” by Ofsted. When a school has been found to be failing, the best solution for that school and all its pupils is a fresh start, delivered through an academy solution with an effective sponsor. It is precisely because the Government are committed to securing the highest standards for all children, including those with special educational needs or from disadvantaged backgrounds, that we are introducing the Bill to turn around failing and coasting schools. The amendment would simply add bureaucracy and delay improvements.
Between 2013 and 2014, key stage 2 results for pupils eligible for free school meals in sponsored academies improved at a faster rate than those in local authority schools. The proportion of free school meal pupils achieving level 4 or above in reading, writing and mathematics improved by seven percentage points in sponsored academies, compared with four percentage points in local authority schools.
Will the Minister say why a specific requirement to consider the needs of children with special needs, which I am sure he will concede is the most overlooked group in the education system, before a school changes to an academy would simply be extra bureaucracy or administration? Is he not concerned about that? It is too late to be concerned after it has happened.
We are concerned about that. We are of the view that an effective, highly performing school is the best place for such children to be educated. That is best achieved through an academy if the predecessor school has been failing to achieve that level of education.
Perhaps the Minister looks at different schools from me, but it is perfectly possible to have an effective, highly performing school that has a lousy record on kids with special needs. In fact, some of them are so highly performing that they go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that youngsters with special needs cannot get access. It is not extra bureaucracy to say that this particular category of children deserves a bit more attention.
May I disabuse the hon. Gentleman of that last comment? Academies do play their part in providing for children with special educational needs. Sponsored academies actually have a higher proportion of pupils with special educational needs than the average across all state-funded schools. In January last year, 22.1% of pupils in sponsored secondary academies were identified as having some form of SEN, compared with 17.8% of pupils in all state-funded secondary schools. The figures are similar for primary schools.
The hon. Gentleman is correct, because that is not the interesting comparison. It is hardly surprising that sponsored academies have a higher number of children in that category since they are the schools that were likely to have been causing concern. The real test would be comparing the number of special needs pupils in those schools, now that they have become sponsored academies, with the number they had before. The Minister is no doubt about to supply us with that statistic.
I hope to be able to do that, but in the meantime I can tell the hon. Gentleman that academies perform well as far as children with special educational needs are concerned. Between 2013 and 2014, key stage 2 results for pupils with special educational needs in sponsored academies improved at a faster rate than those in local authority schools. The proportion of SEN pupils who achieved level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths improved by six percentage points in sponsored academies, compared with four percentage points in local authority schools.
No doubt one would see similar disparities across the system.
The hon. Gentleman keeps asking about a like-for-like comparison. The Department has published detailed analysis comparing the performance of sponsored academies and similar maintained schools. Analysis published in 2012 and 2013 showed sponsored academies performing at a faster rate than maintained schools with similar prior attainment, levels of deprivation and pupil starting points. Last week, the NFER published data comparing the 2014 GCSE performance of academies open for two to four years with those of matched maintained schools. It found that the percentage of pupils achieving five or more A* to C GCSEs in sponsored academies was 2.9 percentage points higher than in similar local authority schools. With that statistic, I hope to have put this debate to rest once and for all.
Far from it. The Minister accepted the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak about children with disabilities and SEN not making the same progress as other children, whether in academies or elsewhere. That is surely why the amendment is so important. There must be a proper review of children with the greatest needs before any changes are made.
We are against not analysis but delays to academisation. This kind of well-intentioned proposition can and probably would lead to delays, which we believe damage children with special educational needs as much as, if not more than, children without special needs.
The Minister says that he does not want delays to academisation. Ofsted finally published today its report from three months ago about the Collaborative Academies Trust. One of its concerns was the failure to close the gap between the most disadvantaged children and everyone else. Does that not show that the rush to academisation is the problem? We need this kind of amendment in the Bill so that there is a proper review, especially for the most disadvantaged children.
We are working with the Collaborative Academies Trust to ensure that it has a robust action plan to help make improvements in its schools. Whenever there are failures in sponsored academies, we take swift action. The record shows that we take swifter action in those circumstances than has historically been the case in many local authorities, where there are examples of schools languishing in special measures for many months, if not years.
On that point, will the Minister confirm that every time an academy receives an “inadequate” Ofsted rating, it will be removed and given to another sponsor the very next day, in the same way that he proposes maintained schools should be academised or have an academy order issued the day after receiving that Ofsted rating? That would show he is serious about parity of treatment.
We are certainly taking swift action. The difference that the hon. Gentleman fails to understand is that a new system of academy chains is now developing. There are more than 400 academy chains of at least two academy schools evolving into successful chains. Some are taking time to become effective in their overall governance and school improvement support services. Where they are struggling, we take action to remove the sponsor or to insist that reform takes place.
We are trying to make the evolving system work so that we have a collection of effective academy groups and chains that we can see developing. We have Ark and Harris at the top of the performance table, but other academy chains such as Outwood Grange are busy developing effective models of how to run multi-academy trusts. I am optimistic and excited that, in the future, we will have a very effective governance system. Be in no doubt that where we see academies graded as category 4, we will take swift action with their multi-academy trusts. If we believe that they are not capable of managing their school improvement, we will take action to remove that sponsor.
The final point I will make before I give way to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak is that the academies movement, initiated by the Labour Government before 2010, has been in place for less than a decade. The problems that we are encountering in local authorities have been there for several decades.
When local authority-maintained schools are put into category 4 by Ofsted, my view is that the local authorities have had their chance to deal with them and that is why academisation is now the automatic route. Some academy chains have been in place for just a matter of months or a few years and some of them need a little more time to ensure that they get their school improvement measures right. Sometimes, we believe that those chains are not capable of getting that school improvement service right. In such cases, we remove the sponsorship, as we have done to 75 academies.
I have an awful feeling that, in a little under a decade, we may well find ourselves saying, “We told you so,” as we recognise that the mad rush to academisation at all costs had some downsides that the Minister is blinded to at the moment. However, to return to special educational needs, he said that he is not against analysis but he does not want a proper, thorough assessment because that would be excessively bureaucratic. What will happen to children with education, health and care plans who are currently on the roll of maintained schools? Who will guarantee that the provisions in their plans are carried over in total to the new arrangement?
That is a good point. The law is clear: under part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 at section 43, academies are treated as maintained schools and so can be named in a pupil’s education, health and care plan, which means that that school—that includes academies—must take that pupil.
I apologise; perhaps I was not terribly clear. When a child already has an education, health and care plan, the maintained school that they currently attend will be listed. Without excessive bureaucracy, how will that be transferred across? Will we have to modify such plans? Who will be responsible for ensuring that that happens and that the plan is transferred in total to the new arrangements?
That is a technical point. My instinctive answer is that, of course, if an education, health and care plan names a maintained school that converts to be an academy, that plan will apply equally to the successor academy school. However, given the technical nature of that point, I will ensure that I have got my answer correct, so I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.
We have had an interesting debate on this group of amendments, in which we have teased out some interesting points from the Minister. One is that when academy schools and chains are deemed “inadequate” by Ofsted, he is happy for them to evolve—I think that is the word he used—out of the situation. Evolution is the preferred option for academy schools that are found to be “inadequate” by Ofsted.
The Ofsted report on the Collaborative Academies Trust mentioned Lumbertubs primary school in Northamptonshire, which was a predecessor school before it was academised. It received grade 3 in its final inspection before academisation, which means that it was definitely requiring improvement; there is no question about that. However, in the school’s most recent section 5 inspection since academisation, it was given grade 4—special measures. The school was turned into an academy and went from a grade 3 to a grade 4.
Under the Bill, if that school were a maintained school, the Secretary of State would have absolutely no choice but to issue—the very next day, we have been told—an academy order for the school to be academised. That is a bit difficult when the school already is an academy and has gone from grade 3 to an “inadequate” special measures situation. Under those circumstances, it is allowed to evolve out of the situation in which it has been deemed “inadequate”. As I said on Second Reading, so much for the Secretary of State’s professed view that no child should be allowed to languish in an inadequate school for one single day. If it is an academy school, it is all right because it will have plenty of opportunity for evolution to take place—that is, by the way, if the school teaches evolution. Some of the schools being contemplated by some sponsors apparently have doubts about one of our greatest ever scientific achievements—the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin. Anyway, we will leave that aside.
We have teased at least that point out of the Minister and have had a good knockaround with the amendments. So much more could be said, but I think we have said most of it. We want to move on to the debate on clause stand part, so I will not press our amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
The clause places a duty on the Secretary of State to make an academy order for any maintained school that Ofsted has rated “inadequate”, whether by virtue of being in special measures or of being judged to have serious weaknesses. This removes any doubt about how we will intervene in failing schools: they must become academies with the support of an effective sponsor to provide the support and challenge necessary to turn that school around. The clause is therefore a crucial new power to strengthen our ability to deal with failure and to do so more quickly.
We are clear that becoming a sponsored academy is an effective way rapidly to transform a failing school. There are numerous success stories of failing schools being turned around by the leadership of a sponsor, and of the huge improvement that can make to performance. For example, Meopham school was judged inadequate by Ofsted in 2012. Attainment across all subjects, especially mathematics, was poor. The Swale Academies Trust took on sponsorship of the school in 2013 and appointed two new assistant headteachers who were both specialists in maths. Extra classes were introduced to support students. Ofsted described the impact of the trust as transformative and judged the school to be good in 2012.
By requiring the Secretary of State to make an academy order in respect of a failing school, the clause will make it automatic that failing schools must become sponsored academies. When a school is found to be failing, a transformation needs to be able to take place from day one. Our experience over the past five years shows that in many cases where it was most needed, transformation was delayed by unnecessary debate, delaying tactics and obstruction of a process. The Bill seeks to put an end to such delays, which do nothing to improve the quality of education that pupils receive.
The Minister keeps referring to this as a new power. As I pointed out, the Secretary of State already has the power to academise. This is not a new power; it is a new restraint on the Secretary of State. It limits their power to take another action that might be the appropriate one when a school is found “inadequate” by Ofsted.
The Minister went on to describe academisation as an effective way—he did not use the definite article—which suggests there may be other effective ways. That is the case we have been making and he himself has accepted by saying that those ways could be used in the interim prior to the academy order finally taking effect. He went on to describe and give an example of where academisation has been accompanied by an improvement in the school’s performance. Earlier I gave an example of where academisation did exactly the opposite, where it resulted in the school’s performance declining, with the school going from category 3 to 4; that is, from requiring improvement to inadequate.
I want to make it clear that we are completely on board with the concept that, in certain circumstances, the use of a sponsored academy can be the right approach to school improvement. If there are the right sponsors and real quality, it can be a powerful way to turn a school around. However, the clause would place a requirement on the Secretary of State to issue an academy order the very next day, according to the Minister, no matter the circumstances or how many sponsors are available, their quality or whether they are to be trusted with a large number of schools.
Whatever their previous record, without their being vetted—another issue, Mr Chope—the Secretary of State must hand over the school, via an academy order, to an academy sponsor whatever the current circumstances. That means the Secretary of State does not have to take professional advice or worry about whether it is appropriate. The decision is, in effect, taken in advance under this clause. It is not surprising that there is opposition to the clause from all sorts of quarters.
I quote from the NASUWT briefing on clause 7 of the Bill:
“The lack of guidance on the face of the Bill on how the Secretary of State should exercise these discretionary powers could lead to uncertainty across the system and unacceptable variation between the ways in which different cases are handled. It should be a minimum expectation that these powers should be used in a way that is transparent and consistent. This clause seeks to apply an ideological ‘one size fits all’ approach to school improvement, regardless of local circumstances or evidence.”
That is exactly the point that we have been making. We gave copious examples of other forms of school improvement during the debate on the amendment. We think that the clause is not fit for purpose. The debate is not about whether academies sometimes work; it is about the proposition that they always work, and that nothing else ever works as well. In making those presumptions the Ministers are ignoring what the Select Committee said. The cross-party Select Committee—with a Conservative majority—in the previous Parliament called on the Government to “stop exaggerating” with regard to the success of academies.
“Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children.”
I am glad the Minister in his last remarks provided us with some new data we can get our teeth into, and we will enjoy doing so. Perhaps he could stick to that in future rather than the pointless comparisons that he sometimes makes.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, said at the end of 2014:
“There could be little difference in school improvement under an academy chain or a council.”
He argued that,
“a new name and a breathless new motto” was all that some schools received after exchanging local authority governance for a chain of academies.
The RSA Academies Commission found that,
“it is increasingly clear that academy status alone is not a panacea for improvement.”
It went on to say that,
“the evidence considered by the Commission does not suggest that improvement across all academies has been strong enough to transform the life chances of children from the poorest families.”
Earlier I cited evidence from the Catholic Education Service, as well as case studies it provided of alternative routes that have been taken successfully. Like us, the Catholic Education Service is not opposed to academies but is clear and has proven that other ways of intervening in and supporting schools can work, yet the Government cling to their belief that, in the words of their press release, the Bill will
“sweep away bureaucratic and legal loopholes” that previously prevented schools from improving. There is no loophole or legal bar that prevents the Secretary of State from academising a school if she wants to.
There is little real difference between the improvements in results. The Minister should stop exaggerating, as the Education Committee suggested. It is easy to swap anecdotes—Opposition Members have been doing that a bit too, to give the Minister a taste of his own medicine. No one would deny that there are great examples of sponsored academies working well, but anecdotes are not proof. In reality, being a sponsored academy does not always work, as we have shown. We need to look at the data and the evidence, which is what we have been calling for.
The Secretary of State tells us that waiting in the wings are
“the best education experts”,
“intervene in poor schools from the first day we spot failure.”
That is great, and we hope it will happen. However, the NAO has reminded us that Ministers have little idea what is going on in the academies that the experts are supposed to be responsible for, let alone in the many maintained schools that they will take responsibility for as a result of the Bill. We need to hear a lot more about who these experts are, because some of them are presumably the people who ran the 123 schools that have been found to be “inadequate”. I presume the Minister thought that those people were experts when handing over the schools, yet the schools have been found to be “inadequate” and have been made academies as a result. There is nothing to stop the Secretary of State acting on these schools, but all the best education experts out there should be doing so.
Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the qualities of the sponsors the Government have found have sometimes been lacking. The Sutton Trust found that there are more academy chains that perform significantly worse than chains that perform significantly better. Just before the general election, the Department slipped out its own research, which showed that in a combined league table of local authorities and academy chains, 47 of the top 50 are local authority jurisdictions. That might not be a fair comparison, but those are the DFE’s figures.
The Government have resisted tooth and nail allowing Ofsted to inspect the chains, but when Ofsted looked at groups of schools in chains, it found a huge amount of poor practice. Even the Government have found it necessary to prevent 14 chains from taking new schools and have removed schools from some chains because their performance is so poor. That is despite a number of those chains paying their senior staff far more than any headteacher—indeed, more than the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, and no doubt more than the Minister himself.
In reality, the Government do not have any case for the clause. They cannot go on asserting that sponsored academy status is always the best answer, because the data say otherwise. The people who are best placed to know, such as the chief inspector or the Education Committee, also say otherwise.
As my hon. Friend demonstrated, there is little evidence to support the Minister’s arguments. In truth, the clause is the authoritarian face of this Government. This is the Government at their dictatorial worst. The Minister will be stripped of all flexibility as a result of the clause, which he should call the “compulsory academisation at all costs” clause, because that is what he really seeks to achieve here.
My hon. Friend, once again, is right. We have to wonder what the Secretary of State’s problem is. Does she not trust herself to make the right decision? Why does she have to legislate to ensure she makes the right decision? It is a highly unusual clause, and I am racking my brains to think of something similar to it. I am sure that some constitutional experts, many of whom will be following our proceedings, will dig some up. I hope that this peculiar clause will be removed from the Bill, if not now then at a later stage, not because it is not vitally important that we do everything we can as quickly as possible to improve our schools, because it is, but simply because it is extremely foolish for Ministers to tie their hands and prevent themselves from carrying out other forms of intervention that might be the right pathway for improving schools in the long term.
The Government do not say enough about pupils who are languishing in failing academies—25% of failing schools are academies. From listening to Ministers’ wonderful anecdotes about academies that are thankfully successful, it would be easy to think that failing academies do not exist. We believe that a judgment about the future of a school should be based on evidence and on the particular circumstances of the school and the community. There should be a proper, open debate about that. There should be no stitching up of things behind closed doors.
Is it not clear from the evidence we have heard that some academy chains perform excellently and some do not, and some maintained schools perform very well and many do not? It is a mixed picture, but it is clear that the academisation programme over the past decade has produced success. The academisation of a school in my constituency has taken it from below average to “good”, and it is on track to “outstanding”. That must surely be progress. Anything that empowers that process and takes it a step forward must be supported.
I agree with everything the hon. Lady said in the first part of her intervention, and I am very pleased about the success of the intervention in her constituency that she talked about in the second part of her intervention. She said that that kind of improvement can take place in the maintained sector or under a sponsored academy programme. She was lucky that the Collaborative Academies Trust—those great experts who are supposed to take over and improve our schools—did not take over the school in her constituency, because if they did the school might have ended up in special measures. That example makes my point that we must not tether the Secretary of State to a particular course of action, which is what clause 7 does. Turning around an “inadequate” school requires the right course of action, with the right leadership, the right people and the right solution.
We need more evidence about the degree to which the fragmentation of what is intended to be a national system of schools is linked to the concerns my hon. Friends expressed about the treatment of special needs pupils and the socioeconomic segregation between schools. We need to look carefully at that. Professor Stephen Gorard of Durham University pointed out in his written evidence that we should be very careful about that fragmentation and ensure it does not cause socioeconomic divides and issues around special needs, which we spoke about earlier. On that basis, I ask my hon. Friends to join me in opposing clause 7 stand part.
The Bill is not driven by ideology but by tackling underperformance, and we are happy for local authorities such as Bristol to do their work. GCSE results in Bristol have risen for 10 years in a row. Ofsted has judged 85% of primaries and 90% of secondaries to be “good” or “outstanding” and 100% of nursery and special schools are now judged “good” or better.
Yes, that is right, because Bristol’s oversight of that particular school, of which it would have had oversight for decades, would have been proven not to be effective. We are not prepared to tolerate or risk a further decade of unsuccessful oversight. We are looking at underperformance. Where regional schools commissioners see high performance in schools, they are simply not interested in using their resources to intervene. That is the system to which we are moving.
I was pleased to hear the Minister praise a local authority for the quality of its support—I have not heard him do that often—but if Bristol or another local authority is doing a good job and an academy in that area is classed as category 4, would the Minister consider allowing the local authority to take over from the existing sponsor? The process seems to be moving in one direction only.
The school will have changed into an academy x months ago from that local authority. The local authority will have had the chance to improve the school but did not succeed, so the school then became a sponsored academy. If it fails, the wrong answer would be to send it back to the local authority. The right answer is either to ensure that the multi-academy trust is developing an effective school improvement service or to move the school to a new sponsor.
The Minister has forgotten what has been happening for the past few years. A large number of “good” or “outstanding” schools have been converted into academies. In fact, for a time, they were allowed to convert only if they were “good” or “outstanding”. If those schools end up in category 4, the logic of the Minister’s argument suggests that a good local authority should be able to take them over.
Those schools will have converted voluntarily and many still stand alone. Collaborating with other academies is the long-term answer even for stand-alone academies. That is happening. We now have 400 or 500 sponsored academies, many of which started life as “good” or “outstanding” schools. When a converter academy goes into special measures, we would expect it to collaborate and be taken over by a successful sponsor, because, as Ofsted said in its annual report at the end of last year,
“sponsor-led academies have had a positive and sustained impact on attainment in challenging areas”.
It is because of judgments such as that, and because of the experience of the academies movement, that we are determined that that must be the right approach to dealing with failure.
Turning to two of the points made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, I can confirm that the technical answer I gave him regarding education, health and care plans is correct. Also, he said in an intervention that clause 7 has stripped us of all flexibility in all circumstances, but that is incorrect. Clause 12 gives the Secretary of State a power in certain exceptional circumstances to revoke an academy order made under proposed new section 4(A1) or section 4(1)(b) of the Academies Act 2010. The Secretary of State has the flexibility in some circumstances to revoke her own order, but we will discuss those rarefied circumstances when considering clause 12.