New Clause 2

Education and Adoption Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 14 July 2015.

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Duty to inspect Academy sponsors at prescribed intervals

(1) After section 5 of the Academies Act 2010, insert—

“Duty to inspect Academy sponsors at prescribed intervals

(1) It is the duty of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills—

(a) to inspect under this section every Academy sponsor in England to which this section applies, at such intervals as may be prescribed,

(b) to publish a report of the inspection,

(c) report on how far the education provided by the Academy sponsor—

(i) promotes high standards,

(ii) ensures fair access to opportunity for education and training, and

(iii) promotes the fulfilment of learning potential by every person in attendance at an Academy sponsored by the Academy sponsor,

(iv) meets the needs of disabled pupils and pupils who have special educational needs.

(2) The duty in subsection (1) does not apply where an Academy sponsor sponsors a single school.”—(Kevin Brennan.)

Currently the law does not provide specifically for the Ofsted inspection on academy sponsors, sometimes referred to as Academy Chains, or Multi Academy trusts. This new clause corrects that omission.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 4—Inspection of Academy sponsors in certain cases —

After section 4 of the Academies Act 2010 insert—

“4B Inspection of Academy sponsors in certain cases

(1) The Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills may inspect the overall performance of any Academy proprietor in performing their functions under an Academy agreement, and any ancillary functions.

(2) When requested to do so by the Secretary of State, the Chief Inspector must conduct an inspection under this section in relation to the person specified in the request.

(3) Such a request may specify particular matters which the Chief Inspector must inspect.

(4) Ancillary functions shall include any function that may be carried on by a local education authority.

(5) Before entering into Academy arrangements in relation to a school to which an Academy order under section 4(A1) has had effect with an Academy proprietor with whom the Secretary of State has existing Academy arrangements in relation to one or more other schools, he must receive a report from the Chief Inspector on the overall performance of the proprietor in performing their functions.”—(Louise Haigh.)

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I apologise to anyone watching who might have got excited and thought that we had reached the end of the Bill when we got to clause 18. It is indeed the final clause in the Bill, but by convention we now move on to discuss any new clauses, of which there are two. They raise a substantial issue, on which we will be interested to hear the Minister’s response. Opposition Members consider that this is a fundamental lacuna in the current arrangements regarding the inspection of schools. I will be speaking to new clause 2 and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley has a new clause of her own, to which no doubt she will wish to speak.

The reluctance of Ministers to allow any normal public scrutiny of academy chains is of long standing. The Secretary of State and her predecessor consistently refused to allow Ofsted to inspect and make an overall  judgment on chains. This new clause is intended to address that omission. The current Secretary of State sought to muddy the waters somewhat by arguing that,

“I am satisfied they”— that is, Ofsted—

“can inspect constituent parts, they can particularly inspect school governance and support that chains are offering to schools within the chain. They can also do batch inspections.”

However, Her Majesty’s chief inspector’s response to that observation by the Secretary of State was unambiguous. He said:

“I do not have the powers to inspect and report on the overall effectiveness of multi-academy trusts.”

He went on to say:

“Of course it’s not just accountability to Ofsted that the DfE has a problem with. When asked in a PQ to publish the internal grades given by the DfE to chains, the response was that ‘The disclosure of this information would prejudice, or would be likely to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.’”

When people want to find out what grades the DFE gives to academy chains—these organisations that are charged with looking after the schools that our children attend—it would seem that, almost uniquely in the education ecology, their grades are not to be exposed. Pupils’ grades, schools’ grades and teachers’ grades are exposed but the chains’ grades are not to be exposed because the disclosure would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

When asked through a freedom of information request for the same material, the reply from the Department was:

“Sponsor grades are subject to change”— which is hardly surprising—

“and therefore the release of this potentially misleading information would not be in the public interest.”

That is an astonishing statement. Because the grades are subject to change, it would not be in the public interest to release them, because the grades are potentially misleading. I just do not understand how that can be the case. Either the grade is correct or it is not. If the grade is correct, it is not misleading to release it. If the grade changes in due course, that is good, possibly, if it is an improvement, although it might be a deterioration in the grade if an organisation is having problems. To suggest that it is potentially misleading to release the information simply because it is subject to change is of course absolute nonsense. Just imagine a school trying to make that argument stick in arguing with inspectors or anybody else. I would venture to suggest that it is hard to imagine Ministers showing much sympathy with that argument if it was put forward by a school.

The reality is that disclosure would prejudice not the conduct of public affairs but the conduct of private affairs and the reputation of Ministers. A big question mark might be raised over their policies if that information were put in the public domain because we know from Department for Education data that hardly any academy chains are above average in relation to pupil progress. We know that if we combine local authorities and academy chains, 47 out of the best-performing 50 are local authorities. We know from what Ofsted has been  able to dig out—despite the restrictions placed on it—how poor the performance of some of those chains has been, including chains such as AET, Kemnal, the School Partnership Trust and Oasis. We heard earlier about the focused inspection on schools in the Collaborative Academies Trust, which said:

“Too many academies have not improved since joining the trust. Of the five academies that have had a full inspection since joining the trust, only one has improved its inspection grade compared with its predecessor school. Two have remained the same and two have declined. This means that, at the time of the focused inspection, there were not yet any good or outstanding academies in the trust. Leaders fully accept that improvement has not been fast enough.”

I accept that I could equally have read out a poor Ofsted rating for a poor local authority. I perfectly accept that that is the case. That is not the point. We want to know why Ministers are reluctant to allow Ofsted to do what it wants to do, in its independent capacity as an inspectorate, and inspect academy chains fully. We know that the DFE has had to stop 14 chains from taking any more schools. We have here a Bill that anticipates, according to the Prime Minister, more than 1,000 new sponsored academies being created during the course of this Parliament, but it does not provide any mechanism of public judgment on the quality of their sponsors who are ultimately all funded by the taxpayer.

There is no legitimate reason that we can see for Ministers not to accept this new clause. If they do not, it can only be that they do not have any confidence in those policies, and certainly no confidence that those policies would stand up to the kind of public scrutiny that we are calling for. Surely that is not the message that they want to send out to the public, who are, after all, ultimately bankrolling this brave new world that the Minister does not want to be subject to scrutiny. He may have seen an article that appeared in the TES last Friday under the headline, “Academy sponsors admit the schools ‘are not a panacea’”—I mentioned it earlier in our proceedings, but it contains some further interesting observations. It states:

“Academisation has swiftly become the cornerstone of the new government’s education agenda, with swathes of ‘failing’ and ‘coasting’ state schools facing conversion.

The expansion of the academies programme was always going to be controversial for those who argue that it represents a loss of democratic control and local accountability for state education. But a TES investigation has established that there are also serious doubts within the very organisations that ministers will be relying on to make their plans work.”

So the article raises serious doubts from the organisations themselves. It goes on to say:

Academy chains”— many of them, in talking to the Times Educational Supplement—

“have revealed major misgivings about funding, capacity and the government’s ability to manage the expansion.”

Furthermore, it relates:

“The head of one large academy chain told TES that under the coalition government, DfE officials were ‘queuing up’ to hand over schools in special measures to willing academy sponsors. At one stage, officials even lost track of the number of academy orders that had been signed off.”

I cited the same quotation earlier as well.

I raise a couple of further points from the article. It went on to say:

“‘The two most successful academy chains, Ark and Harris, have also had the most investment,’ they added. ‘It’s an interesting point. If you don’t have a hedge fund or a Lord Harris, how do you grow as a chain? Where are they going to get these chains that will take on all of these schools rated inadequate?’”

It was a head of one of the smaller academy chains who made those remarks. Another person went on to say that the Education Funding Agency,

“don’t know their left hand from their right”.

The point I make is that there is a lot of criticism out there. Just how quickly the Government can respond remains to be seen, but one academy chief executive quoted in the article said:

“We’re building a system as we go along, but the EFA, the DfE and Ofsted don’t all agree on what good looks like. That needs to change—and quickly.”

There are real issues out there in relation to the inspection of academy chains and different views about how well they are performing. The Department for Education’s response, in that article, is inadequate. Judging by ministerial responses during the debate and the fact that the DFE cannot even publish consistent lists of free schools with the all-important ESTAB and URN numbers—let alone the name, charity number and company number of the academy trust behind each free school and academy—it seems, to me, to suggest that the DFE is having a problem with the administration of this system. Yet it claims to be up to running the two separate national education systems in this Bill. There is no reason why chains should not be inspected.

I refer briefly to the Education Committee, which looked into the matter of inspecting academy chains last year, and the exchanges that were reported on 15 October 2014 in TheGuardian. At that time, the then Chair of the Education Select Committee, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), was questioning the Secretary of State about allowing Ofsted inspectors to question the leadership of academy chains and, indeed, to inspect them. He said, as reported by the Guardian:

“It’s absurd. It would be like trying to judge an army by only talking to people at the front line, and not having a meeting with the generals in charge”.

That was the comment from the Chair of the Select Committee to the Secretary of State. The following exchanges are all as reported by The Guardian. The Secretary of State’s reponse was:

“I’m not entirely sure that visiting the head office is actually going to yield more than going and talking to the people who are actually running the chains”.

That was her response to the point from the Chair of the Select Committee. He responded:

“You’re kidding me. If you wanted to know what was going on at Shell you’d be quite happy to be told: no, don’t go to the head office, just go round and visit their refineries.”

That is the Conservative Chair of the Select Committee on Education, speaking to the current Secretary of State last October. She again maintained that

“going to look at an office is not actually going to help”.

The Chair responded:

“That’s a bit trite, isn’t it? It’s not the office, it’s the people. Trying to find out who runs the organisation.”

There were further exchanges in that regard. The Secretary of State referred to the view of Her Majesty’s chief inspector. She said:

“I’ve had one conversation when we discussed it—” before the Chair cut in and said:

“Did you do any listening? I am sorry to be so rude.”

There is clearly an issue of concern not just to Opposition Members. The Conservative Chair of the Education Committee was clearly exercised by the Government’s position regarding the inspection of academy chains. Like the Conservative Chair of the Education Committee it seems, we see no good reason why Her Majesty’s chief inspector should not be allowed to inspect the chains itself. Why is the chief inspector not allowed to inspect the chains? We need to hear more about that and a better response from the Schools Minister than we heard from the Secretary of State at the Select Committee. Does the DFE have something to hide? Why is it so intent on preventing the independent inspectorate from doing its job?

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley 3:30, 14 July 2015

In another time and place, I was a fan of the original clause 4, but in this instance I prefer the new one. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn notes that on this matter I am on message.

As hon. Members can see, new clause 4, in similar fashion to new clause 2, would place a new duty on the chief inspector of Ofsted to inspect the overall performance of any academy chain, to ascertain whether it is carrying out its functions appropriately, and give the Secretary of State power to direct the chief inspector to inspect any academy chain and specify which areas he may wish to inspect.

In addition, before an existing chain takes over a new school under the powers in the Bill, the chief inspector would have to produce a report detailing the proprietor’s overall performance in performing its functions, including those that relate not only to the running of individual schools, but to the overall management of the group of schools and the support services it provides, in particular where those are equivalent to the roles performed by a local authority for other schools.

New clauses 4 and 2 go some way to opening up the accountability system within academies that have taken some time to catch up. The speed at which schools converted into academies or joined multi-academy trusts over the past three years has increased at a dramatic rate. In 2012-13, the Department opened three times as many sponsored academies as in 2011-12. By December 2014, 3,062 academies had converted to academy status, way in excess of expectations.

We heard in evidence session how some multi-academy trusts now provide their own shared services, even their own pupil referral units within the chain in the case of the Harris Federation. Some have their own training schools, replacing functions that universities perform, let alone local authorities. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect that proper rigorous accountability of the chains, which administer a significant proportion of the new schools, should follow such a rapid expansion. That is all the more important because, as the Committee has heard, performance levels between chains still suffer significant variation, with the Sutton Trust concluding in its report:

“The very poor results of some chains…for pupils…comprises a clear and urgent problem.”

In that context, Sir Michael Wilshaw called for the specific power that we are trying to lay down in the new clauses: that Ofsted be given specific powers to inspect academy chains. Such powers are already available so that it can inspect children’s services at a local council, for instance. The Secretary of State gave Ofsted directions within its existing powers to inspect academy chains, but not to pass judgment, instead focusing more narrowly on the group of schools within the chain. This is particularly concerning given the record of poor performance of some academy chains that the Sutton Trust rightly remarked upon.

To be fair to the Minister and the Government, during the previous Parliament they produced a detailed analysis of the performance of both local authorities and academy chains, which demonstrated that of the 20 academy chains, only three had added value above the national average, and some showed signs of serious underperformance and, occasionally, even a dramatic fall in performance once a conversion had taken place.

The National Audit Office warned that Ofsted’s inability to inspect academy chains means that

“there is no independent source of information about the quality of their work”,

and it called on the Government to ensure that the Department has

“an independent source of information for assessing the quality, capacity and performance of academy sponsors.”

Perhaps even worse, the funding arrangements by which academy chains receive all their public funding has also been found to be open to abuse and conflict of interest. The Education Committee said that the system of funding arrangements whereby the EFA acts as both a regulator and a funder

“lacks transparency, is heavily politicised and prone to favouritism”.

The Committee’s report concludes:

“Civil servants in the EFA have become very politicised”,

and schools may then be given preferential treatment, leaving the EFA wide open to conflicts of interest. That is in the context, as we heard earlier, of an accountability system going directly back to the Secretary of State using private contract law rather than public law and parliamentary accountability, as applies to maintained schools.

Given that, it is important to raise another concern: the widespread involvement of Conservative party donors in a number of academy chains. For example, David Ross has donated more than £250,000 to the Conservative party. He runs the David Ross Foundation, which has 30 academies incorporating primary, secondary, grammar and special schools, and is looking to take over more, especially if the Bill is passed.

Arpad Busson, the founding chairman of Ark Schools, gave £75,000, perhaps from the taxes he avoided as a non-dom, and of course the former Conservative treasurer, Lord Fink, is also heavily involved in the Ark chain. The Minister will be aware of the concerns raised downstairs by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) about the Inspiration Trust, an academy chain led by another Conservative party donor, Theodore Agnew, and whose Norwich federation board is chaired by a former Tory MP.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 3:45, 14 July 2015

Is not the hon. Lady aware that all the gentlemen whom she listed are following in the footsteps of philanthropists in the United States in giving large sums of money and large amounts of their time and experience to the public good to raise academic standards in academy chains? She should applaud those individuals, not criticise them.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

I absolutely applaud philanthropic activity. If that is genuinely the motivation of those individuals, I will certainly pass that on. My concern is around the conflicts of interest that independent auditors and the National Audit Office have raised about the Education Funding Agency, and those that are clearly apparent among these institutions. I do not think it is inappropriate to ask, as the Select Committee report did last year, what processes the Minister has in place to guard against certain trusts being given preferential treatment if, as we expect, the Government refuse to allow independent scrutineers to judge for themselves.

The context is important and demonstrates that the oversight and accountability of academy chains are far from ideal. Of course, some of the concerns are about wider issues, but our interest, especially in the Bill, is primarily in ensuring high quality education for all our children. New clause 4 goes some way to address that specific point.

A couple of examples from the Institute of Education report show the consequences of the lack of accountability directly for the management and oversight of schools. One interviewee described a case where a headteacher had spent more than £50,000 on a one-day training course run by a friend. In another case, one executive head was also the member of the wider chain, meaning that the executive head could appoint the board, which would then undertake performance management on their own school. Although the report states that that is clearly not widespread practice, it highlights how crucial it is to have an independent assessment and judgement of academy chains, and that is exactly what the new clauses seek to do.

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

New clauses 2 and 4 relate to inspection arrangements for academy trusts and sponsors. I agree that it is important that multi-academy trusts, including those led by sponsors, are held to account for their performance. The main way in which this should be done is through the individual Ofsted inspections of schools within their chain. The funding agreement with the Secretary of State allows the Department to take action where Ofsted finds that individual academies within the chain are failing.

The Secretary of State and the chief inspector at Ofsted agreed the arrangements for focus inspections of multi-academy trusts earlier this year. The agreement set out that there was no need to extend Ofsted’s remit to provide them with additional powers to inspect multi-academy trusts. These arrangements enable the assessment by Ofsted of the overall performance of a multi-academy trust, including the contribution and role that the sponsor plays in supporting and leading the effective governance of the trust and the improvement of its schools.

The core of these inspections is based on the inspection of a group of individual academies governed by the trust. In addition, Ofsted can seek the views of all the academies under the trust on the support they receive  and use any data and information that they have about the trust and its academies. Ofsted uses this information to reach a view about the overall quality of the support and governance that the trust provides to its academies.

We therefore recognise the importance of holding academy chains to account, which is why we published a statistical working paper in March 2015 putting forward new measures for multi-academy trust educational performance. We have undertaken to make access to information about multi-academy trust performance more transparent and easier to access. We will improve the performance tables to ensure that they allow access to information on overall multi-academy trusts. A cycle of inspections is under way and Ofsted has so far inspected four multi-academy trusts and published reports on three.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley is enamoured of new clause 4, which also proposes requiring the chief inspector to provide a report on the performance of the trust before the Secretary of State can enter into a funding agreement with it in respect of an additional sponsored academy. This is also unnecessary. The Secretary of State already subjects sponsors and their trusts to thorough scrutiny through the regional schools commissioners before they are approved to take on sponsored academies. They consider all new sponsor applications in their regions, approving those that demonstrate that they have the capacity and expertise to turn failing schools around.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Given that I pointed out earlier that about 3% of applications were rejected and yet there was quite a failure rate following that, does the Minister agree that more could be done to identify suitable sponsors more accurately?

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

We are always looking for more sponsors of academy groups. The vast majority of sponsors to which the hon. Gentleman refers are existing schools that are graded good and outstanding by Ofsted, so they have a track record of high academic performance. It is not surprising that when those schools apply to become sponsors, they get through the system, because they have already shown an exemplary track record of delivering good quality education to their pupils.

Regional schools commissioners apply a rigorous assessment process, benefiting from the advice of the headteacher boards. That ensures that prospective sponsors have a strong track record in educational improvement and financial management and that their proposed trust has high quality leadership and appropriate governance. The majority of sponsors are high-performing schools, which have been subject to rigorous assessment by Ofsted.

After sponsors are approved, they remain under careful monitoring by the Department, which takes account of the trust’s capacity and track record in turning round the performance of academies, before allocating them to any new sponsored academies. Where academies are not making sufficient progress, this is challenged. Where it is clear that the trust is not improving the school, we will not hesitate to take action and re-broker it to another stronger trust.

The hon. Member for Cardiff West referred to the article by Warwick Mansell, in which he said that the  DFE had published combined league tables of local authorities and academy chains and that the top 47 out of 50 were local authorities. He noted:

“That might not be a fair comparison”.

Mr Mansell’s claim is based on a partial reading of the statistics. Actually, that is exactly the accusation that the hon. Gentleman has laid at my door in these sittings—erroneously, I should add.

It is not surprising that there are many more local authorities than sponsors in the list, but there are only 20 academy chains in the analysis, compared with 100 local authorities. The working paper refers to two aspects of performance—current performance and improvements—and, on improvements, academy chains make up 10 of the top 50 slots. Given their relative numbers, they are disproportionately more likely to be among the top performers.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I may have misheard the Minister, but I thought that he said that the proportions were 20 out of 100 and 10 out of 50. Does that not mean that the proportions are exactly the same?

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

I am saying that there are 10 academy chains in the top 50, which is one fifth, compared with 20 out of 120. Therefore, they are disproportionately more likely to be in the top 50 than local authorities.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I think that the Minister said something different, but I understand his subsequent point so I will not press that any further. He did say, however, that I had said that that was perhaps not a fair comparison. Would it not be helpful if he sometimes said that about some of the comparisons he has regularly made, which have been criticised by the UK Statistics Authority?

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

As I said, the UK Statistics Authority was confident that what had been said by Ministers in the media and in the House was fine. When I have referred to the statistic about the improvement in sponsored academies over the past four years, I have compared that with the national improvement just to put that number into perspective. I have not claimed what the hon. Gentleman said I had about that figure, but a 6.4 percentage point improvement in schools’ GCSE results is stark compared with improvement of just over one percentage point in the system as a whole.

We are confident that the arrangements are effective and that they provide clear information about the effectiveness of the trust and enable appropriate decisions to be made in allocating sponsored academies. We are therefore clear that new clauses 2 and 4 are unnecessary.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Before the Minister winds up, I know he says that it is unnecessary, but will he explain his philosophical objection to Ofsted inspection of academy sponsors?

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

The point is that they are being inspected by Ofsted, but through batched inspections of academies within a chain. It can also look at the quality of core services being provided by head office to those schools. It will look at the quality of the school improvement service and ask questions to the academies while it investigates the schools. On that basis, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

I thank the Minister for his response, but we remain unconvinced. We do not quite understand why the Government have not given way, because quite a lot of points have been made, including by the cross-party Education Committee, on that. I was not really convinced when the Minister said that academy sponsors could be inspected. After all, Sir Michael Wilshaw was quite clear that he was extremely keen to have this power, and it would be useful for Ofsted to be able to do that.

We had no explanation of why academy sponsors’ internal grades, which are compiled by the DFE, are not made available to the public. Why should academy sponsors be allowed to coast and hide the assessment that has been made of their progress, achievement or attainment? Why are they exempt while everyone else has to be held to account, particularly when vast sums of public money are being given to sponsors to run schools and when the Government envisage a vast expansion of the money given to academy sponsors to run schools? That is the very purpose—or at least one of the likely consequences—of the provisions in the Bill. We therefore remain unconvinced that new clause 2 should not form part of the Bill.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Shadow Minister (Education) 4:00, 14 July 2015

On that point, would the public not find it puzzling that we have a set of reforms in an age of transparency that rely on the Government concealing key information that could be crucial to the argument?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

My hon. Friend is right. We have seen a deep reluctance from the Department for Education to engage properly at times with the freedom of information legislation in its reaction to requests for information from members of the public, journalists, Members of Parliament and others.

We see that sometimes in the way in which parliamentary questions are answered, as I have highlighted. I appeal to Ministers to ensure, when they are going through their red boxes, that they send back inadequate responses if the drafting is the cause of the problem, or not to redraft them in a way that makes it necessary for Members such as myself to ask pursuant questions. That is a waste of public money, but it is what we will do until we get the answers. We could all save ourselves some time and misery by behaving differently.

The Government should publish the grades given to academy sponsors because that information is in the public interest and taxpayers’ money is being spent. We are talking about the future of our children and people being given funding to run some of our schools. It is perfectly reasonable for Her Majesty’s chief inspector to be given the power to inspect academy sponsors. The Education Committee has supported that request. On that basis, I would like to test the view of the Committee and ask my hon. Friends to join me in supporting new clause 2.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Division number 5 Decision Time — New Clause 2

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

On a point of order, Mr Chope. As we have reached the end of these proceedings, I thank you and Sir Alan for your careful chairing of these 12 sittings. When I say the figure 12, I am slightly hesitant now about whether I have got the mathematics right. It is all to do with adding back the denominator and the numerator when calculating what the denominator is. I shall stop digging and say that it has been a very good series of sittings. I thank all hon. Members on both sides for their attendance and their contributions. The hon. Member for Cardiff West persistently seeks examples of high performance, and I think it fair to say that the Committee has been an example of detailed and effective scrutiny of an important Bill.

I know from personal experience how much the burden of these debates falls on the Opposition, particularly on the Front-Bench speakers. Some 80 amendments were drafted by the Opposition and a staggering zero made it into the legislation. A less generous person might define that as a metric that should lead to special measures, but I think that it would be grossly unfair to regard either the hon. Member for Cardiff West or the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak as anything other than outstanding performers in this Committee. There was nothing coasting about any of the interventions by my hon. Friends or Opposition Members. I particularly thank both Whips—the hon. Member for Hyndburn and my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge—for keeping us all on track.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester for his efficiency in delivering in-flight refuelling, though on occasion, as just now, a little sooner would have been helpful. I thank both the Clerks and the Doorkeepers for managing the Committee. Last, but not least, I thank the officials from the Department, the lawyers and the Bill team who did so well in drafting the Bill that it leaves Committee as perfect as when it entered. Finally, I wish everyone a pleasant final week before heading off for a relaxing holiday and an intensive period in our constituencies over the summer Recess.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

Further to that point of order, Mr Chope, I thank the Minister for his very kind remarks. He is courteous, as always, and he knows what it is like to sit on this side of the House. I have to say that having a score of 0 out of 80 when you honestly could not have tried harder is probably the worst school report you could get. However, I am grateful that he leavened that assessment with his kind remarks and I sympathise with the few problems he had with his maths towards the latter stages of the Bill. Now he knows what it feels like when he goes round schools in the country testing children on their times tables as they wander innocently through the corridors. Perhaps he will have a little more sympathy for them in future if they stutter slightly at his now infamous testing when he goes around looking at schools, occasionally terrorising pupils—not intentionally, I am sure—by asking them to recite their times tables.

I, too, thank everyone whom the Minister thanked. I thank you, Mr Chope, and Sir Alan for your chairmanship of the Committee and for keeping us in order throughout our proceedings. I thank my hon. Friends, all of whom made a great contribution, especially my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. It takes a great deal of work to scrutinise a Bill in opposition and there is a degree of whipping as well as presenting of amendments to be done. I also thank the members of staff and volunteers, because in Opposition, as the Minister for Schools will know, we do not have the Rolls-Royce service of the civil servants available to us. I thank them for their contribution to our proceedings. We have to rely a little bit on our wits and on limited resources—rather like the schools commissioners—and also on volunteers in order to carry out our duties. I thank the volunteers who have helped us, and also the Clerks of the Committee, the doorkeepers, the police and everybody else who has helped our proceedings. I thank the members of the public who have attended and followed our proceedings from a distance for their kind interest. I also thank the witnesses who gave evidence in our oral proceedings, and those who have taken the trouble to submit written evidence, for which we have all been very grateful as it has helped us in our efforts to scrutinise the Bill.

The Minister said that the Bill was perfectly drafted, and it emerges from Committee unscathed. This is true, although it is not unusual in the Commons. It will be interesting to see what happens to the Bill as it progresses to Report after the summer recess, and then goes to another place. It may well be that some of the fruit that we have attempted to shake from the tree with our efforts here in Committee in the Commons may be picked up and bear further fruit in the other place at a later stage. When the Bill eventually returns to us, if it has not been amended on Report and Third Reading in the Commons, it may well be that their lordships in due  course will come up with some suggestions as to how the Bill might be amended and improved. I hope that I have not forgotten anyone.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I thank the Minister and the shadow Minister, and I shall report their kind and generous comments to my fellow Chairman, Sir Alan. Members of the Committee on both sides have made our collective job much easier than it might have been. It seems amazing that it is only 15 days ago at the first sitting that we were concerned about whether there would be space for us all to sit down. I can report that the Chairman of Ways and Means said today that from now on there will be a default seating arrangement in the Boothroyd Room. This means that it will be laid out for a Standing Committee to take evidence, and if it is changed the room will be put back into the original form, so no subsequent Committee will have that problem.

I add my thanks to the Clerks and particularly to the Scrutiny Unit, which had a big job to do on a Bill that was published very shortly after the general election. Without the Scrutiny Unit, we would not have been informed and able to ask questions during the oral evidence sessions. I thank the doorkeepers, Hansard and everyone else who has ensured that our proceedings have gone so smoothly. Thank you, too, to all Members, particularly new Members. I hope that they are wiser as a result of this experience of serving on a Standing Committee. There is a steep learning curve and, while I will not say that there is no room for improvement, I would certainly say that a lot of progress has been made.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.

 Written evidence reported to the House



EAB 24 Local Government Association

EAB 25 Peterborough Diocese Board of Education

EAB 26 National Governors’ Association

EAB 27 St Helens Council

EAB 28 National Union of Teachers

EAB 29 David McNaught

EAB 30 Independent Adoption Panel Chairs

EAB 31 Richard Harris

EAB 32 Parents Want a Say

EAB 33 Coram

EAB 34 Local Schools Network

EAB 35 Stockport Education Partnership Board