Clause 12 - Power to revoke Academy orders

Education and Adoption Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 14th July 2015.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education) 9:25 am, 14th July 2015

I beg to move amendment 61, in clause 12, page 8, line 4, at beginning insert

“Except where an Academy Agreement has been made under section 1(3),”

This amendment is to establish the implications of this clause where an Academy Agreement has already been made.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 62, in clause 12, page 8, leave out lines 9 to 12

Requires any Order revoking an Academy Order to be made by a statutory instrument which has to be laid before Parliament.

Amendment 63, in clause 12, page 8, line 12, at end insert—

‘(4) The Secretary of State’s power in subsection (1) does not apply where the Secretary of State can revoke an Order under section 570 (Revocation and variation of certain orders and directions) Education Act 1996.”

A probing amendment to see if the existing mechanism for revoking orders which do not have to be made by statutory instrument applies.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I understand that you are not with us this afternoon, Sir Alan, so I take this opportunity to thank you for chairing our proceedings over the past few days. I speak for everyone when I say that we will all miss our get-togethers, but good things have to come to an end. Thank you for your fair chairmanship of our proceedings.

We now come to amendments 61 to 63, which relate to clause 12. Amendment 61 is designed to establish the implications of the clause where an academy agreement has already been made. Amendment 62 would require that any order revoking an academy order be made by a statutory instrument that has to be laid before Parliament. Amendment 63 is a probing amendment to see whether the existing mechanism for revoking orders that do not have to be made by statutory instrument applies.

Under section 4 of the Academies Act 2010, the Secretary of State has the power to make an academy order in two sets of circumstances: first, where an application for an academy order has been made in respect of the school, such as with a voluntary conversion; and, secondly, where the school is eligible for intervention  within the meaning of part 4 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which has subsequently been amended.

The statutory guidance, “Schools causing concern”, makes it clear that conversion to sponsored academy status should be considered the normal means of improving a school where it has a history of sustained underperformance. Clause 12 inserts new section 5D into the 2010 Act. It allows the Secretary of State to revoke any academy order in relation to schools eligible for intervention. The explanatory notes give the example of a situation where the Secretary of State decides that it would be better to direct the local authority to close the school.

With amendment 61 we are probing on where, in the process of creating an academy, the power to revoke applies. Does it lapse when a funding agreement is signed, for example? That is not immediately obvious to us from the wording. If it does not lapse then, that radically undermines the position of academy trusts. If they have a seven-year contract, they might reasonably expect some clarity.

Given the implications of the clause and the potential for controversy, amendment 62 would require a statutory instrument to be laid, which could be prayed against. Would that not prove a useful safeguard in the circumstances?

We tabled amendment 63 to explore whether there are two bits of potentially contradictory legislation here. We look forward to the Minister’s explanation.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

May I add my thanks to you, Sir Alan, for your professional and courteous chairing of the Committee? I am sure you will miss our deliberations as we go into the summer recess.

Amendments 61, 62 and 63 relate to the power in clause 12 for the Secretary of State to revoke academy orders. The Bill strengthens the Secretary of State’s powers to turn around failing schools by bringing in sponsors with the necessary expertise to raise standards. The Bill simplifies the process of conversion and reduces opportunities for ideological obstruction, ensuring that the necessary improvements to schools are secured more quickly.

There will, however, be rare circumstances where an academy order needs to be revoked. As the hon. Gentleman said, clause 12 addresses that by inserting new section 5D into the 2010 Act. That will allow the Secretary of State to revoke any Academy order issued to a school that is eligible for intervention. The Bill requires the Secretary of State to make an academy order for every school judged “inadequate” by Ofsted. The vast majority of those schools will become sponsored academies as a result.

Under clause 1, other schools will become eligible for intervention because they are coasting or, under other provisions, have failed to comply with a warning notice. In those circumstances, the regional schools commissioners may decide that the best strategy to tackle underperformance is for the school to become a sponsored academy. Those schools will also be issued with an academy order.

There might, however, be a small number of exceptional cases where the Secretary of State decides not to pursue academy conversion after an academy order has been  issued. A school may, for example, prove to be unviable because of falling pupil numbers. As the hon. Gentleman alluded to in his opening remarks, in those circumstances closure would be more appropriate. One such example was Wakefield Pathways school, which was judged to require special measures in November 2014. After undertaking our due diligence, and with agreement from the local authority, the Department decided not to pursue sponsored academisation. The school’s falling pupil numbers meant that it is not considered to be viable and the children will be supported to move to other schools.

There may be other examples in the future. There may be an instance where a school has gone from “outstanding” to “inadequate” due to a specific safeguarding concern but that issue has been quickly resolved. In such a case, the Secretary of State may not view academisation as in the interests of the school or its pupils. She would be able to revoke the automatic academy order using the power in Clause 12.

In amendment 61, the hon. Member for Cardiff West seeks to remove the power of the Secretary of State to revoke an academy order after a funding agreement has already been signed. I understand that this is a probing amendment, to see at which point the power lapses. We do not believe that the amendment is necessary. Once a funding agreement has been signed, the academy will open. It is important to have the power to revoke an academy order prior and up to the point of the funding agreement being signed and an academy opening, for the reasons I have set out; but it would make no sense to have a power to revoke the academy order after this point.

Amendment 62 would require any revocation of an academy order to be made by statutory instrument. This is an unnecessary complication. We anticipate that the Secretary of State will use her power to revoke an academy order only in a very small number of exceptional cases. For each of these cases, of which I have already provided examples, the case for revoking an academy order is clear and straightforward. This amendment could create unnecessary and costly delays when the Secretary of State has determined that a school should be closed because it is not viable.

Amendment 63 would remove the provision in clause 12 enabling the Secretary of State to revoke an academy order, on the basis that she already has other powers regarding revocation and variation of certain orders and directions under section 570 of the Education Act 1996. Given our aim of simplifying the streamlining of the processes for turning around underperforming schools, it is important that there is a clause contained within the Education and Adoption Bill that applies specifically to the revocation of academy orders. The Bill is clear that the Secretary of State has a duty to automatically make an academy order for every school judged “inadequate” by Ofsted. It is only right that it should also contain a power that relates specifically to academy orders and permits the Secretary of State, in the exceptional circumstances which I have described, to revoke an order. It is important that these processes are clear on the face of the Bill and available for exceptional circumstances as they occur.

In view of this I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel reassured and withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield

Before we call Mr Brennan again, I have indicated to Mr Jones and Mr McCabe that it is okay to remove their jackets if they so wish. Other members are entitled to do the same, although no more.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Well, Sir Alan, we are all very grateful that you are protecting the interests of public decency at the same time as chairing our proceedings.

The Minister is right: these are probing amendments. We are trying to find out what the Government’s thinking is here and how far along the road this revocation could take place. He has given a further example to the one given in the explanatory notes. We would be interested in due course, perhaps, to hear about other circumstances in which a revocation order might be brought into play, but he has extended that in his remarks. I am not entirely clear until what point the power to revoke exists. I do not want to extend this into a clause stand part debate, but does the Minister have anything to add on whether the power to revoke exists only until the signing of the funding agreement? Unless he knows the answer now or I missed him saying it, I would be happy to hear it later.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

I am happy to confirm that the power to revoke exists up until the point at which the funding agreement has been signed, when it becomes otiose.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful for that. On that basis, 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 Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education)

The clause gives the power to revoke an academy order made on the grounds that a school is eligible for intervention. The Bill is clear that the Secretary of State must make an academy order for every school judged “inadequate” by Ofsted. The vast majority of those schools will become sponsored academies as a result. There will be other schools that have become eligible for intervention through being a coasting school or failing to comply with a warning notice, for which becoming a sponsored academy is also the best way of bringing about sufficient improvement. They will therefore also be issued with academy orders.

There might, however, be a small number of exceptional cases where the Secretary of State decides not to progress with academy conversion. Such a case might, for example, be where a school is not considered viable and closure is appropriate, or where a school has gone from “outstanding” to “inadequate” only because of a specific safeguarding concern that has quickly been resolved, rather than concerns about leadership or standards, so the school does not need the additional support and leadership of a sponsor.

When an academy order is made for a school that is eligible for intervention, through the new sections of the 2010 Act inserted by the Bill, the governing body and local authority have a duty to facilitate the conversion and comply with directions given by the Secretary of State. Where the Secretary of State made an academy order in relation to a school that was eligible for intervention and has subsequently decided not to proceed to enter  into academy arrangements, it is desirable that she provides certainty for all those involved by revoking the order and telling those involved that she has done so.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.