Education Bill

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Mr. Timms: I envisage the catchment areas for academies varying in the same way as they do for maintained schools. Admissions arrangements can be framed in a great variety of ways, and I do not expect academies' arrangements to have any particular distinguishing characteristics compared with those of other schools.

Mr. Brady: The Minister may be underplaying the extent to which an academy may have benefits,

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especially in terms of its reputation or the excitement or press coverage in a locality that might attend its establishment. An academy may have a disproportionate effect on the patterns of applications in the overall admissions structure in an area.

Mr. Turner: I listened carefully to the Minister's remarks. He does not appear to have dealt with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell that a specialism and a requirement to admit the local community at the same time are two conflicting admission requirements. One can envisage a situation in which an academy with a specialism in languages could be established in a small town in an LEA. There could be oversubscription to that academy in that town, while there is great demand from other towns, perhaps within travelling distance, from youngsters who want to take up that specialism.

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend makes a valid and important point. That is a phenomenon that could equally apply in an urban area, where one academy specialises in performing arts. It would not take a huge leap of the imagination to foresee intense competition among those who wish to develop that specialism and who would like access to a school with that specialism. That might push the aptitude qualification up to a level that would exclude all but a few pupils from the locality from applying under the specialism criteria.

Those are important questions that the Minister has not entirely addressed. However, he has helped to flag up the extent to which Ministers are proceeding with their eyes open. They clearly intend to develop the academies as schools that are permitted to specialise, perhaps in any subject or combination of subjects. The academies will also be permitted to select a proportion of their pupils for those specialisms, whether they be technical, vocational or academic. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil): I beg to move amendment No. 409, in page 42, line 23, at end insert:

    '(c) is likely, in the opinion of the local education authority in whose area the school is to be situated and in the opinion of any other local education authority in whose area a significant proportion of the pupils at the school is likely to be resident, to make a significant contribution to the raising of educational standards achieved by children in that or those areas.'

I will not detain the Committee for too long, in the hope that we may rush through clause 62 by lunchtime, even if we do not get to many of the other clauses.

The amendment is designed to be helpful and to probe the Government's policies on city and other academies. Will the Minister tell us what research his Department has undertaken on the value of academies and the quantifiable benefit for those who attend them and for pupils of other schools in the same LEA? Will he confirm that no city or other academies have yet been established? How many does he believe will be established in the coming year? Does he expect that only 20 academies will be established by 2005, and what proportion of the relevant pupil population will they cover? Is he concerned that we seem to be spending a great deal of time on a sector that

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represents a small proportion of the total school population? Is he minded to put in place for all schools a more sensible overall structure that will deliver the benefits that he seeks to deliver through specific initiatives such as academies?

The Minister's comments this morning about the advantages that academies will offer contrast with his comments last week about earned autonomy. He said that the criteria will be such that only one in 10 schools qualify for earned autonomy. Many hon. MembersŚnot only members of the CommitteeŚwill be concerned that the Government are giving much attention to particular initiatives and wheezes that will break open new education possibilities but that will leave many schools without the intended benefits.

12 noon

Mr. Timms: Let me first deal with the hon. Gentleman's more general points, rather than those tied specifically to the amendment. The Bill is about raising standards throughout the system but particularly in secondary schools. We are determined to establish a modern and effective system that will command the confidence of every community, and that means raising standards in a large number of schools. He is aware that we set targets for every school: by 2004, at least 20 per cent. of pupils should be getting five or more good GCSEs, and the proportion rises to 25 per cent. by 2006. We want to encourage a new wave of innovation that will benefit every school.

The hon. Gentleman asked about research. We have learned lessons from experience. I expect the first two or three academies to open in September this year. I confirm that we envisage 20 academies by 2005, as was mentioned in the White Paper. It is true that that is a relatively small proportion of the total number of secondary schools, but I expect that the academies will have greater significance because of their role as innovators. New patterns and ideas that emerge from their experience will be applied widely. I said earlier that academies will have a full role in the local family of schools. Like other specialist schools, they will work with schools in the area so that the benefits of their high standards will extend to children in other institutions.

Mr. Brady: Would the Minister say a word about academies vis-Ó-vis schools that have been given exemptions to innovate? Is the role of an academy in raising standards in a locality more effective than that of schools with the power to innovate, or will other schools pick up on the model of the academy and seek innovation in a particular direction as a result of seeing the success of the academy?

Mr. Timms: It is not a question of one being more effective than the other. I expect to see a diverse range of approaches and innovations. The Bill sets out greater freedom for academies than for maintained schools. I anticipate that many of the successful ideas developed in academies will be taken up by other schools, through using the power to innovate or changing the arrangements for earned autonomy.

We want new ideas to be developed so that we can raise standards throughout the entire secondary

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system. The amendment relates to the role of LEAs in the academy decision-making process. We expect academies to be established in partnership with LEAs. We are delighted with the enthusiasm that LEAs are showing for the establishment of city academies. LEAs have been active partners in every city academy partnership announced so far, and we have received many expressions of interest from LEAs wanting to explore the opportunities that city academies offer.

However, an LEA or an adjacent LEA might not support the case for an academy. We have made it clear that the Secretary of State has to consult the LEA and any other LEA from which he or she thinks pupils might attend the academy. If the authorities do not support it, they will say so. The Secretary of State must consider those views alongside the case made for the academy by sponsors and others. The LEA's view might not be the right one. In an exceptional case, an LEA could set its face against an academy, despite the Secretary of State taking a view that an academy was exactly what the area needed. In such a case, we would want the Secretary of State to authorise the academy to go ahead. The amendment would prevent that, so I hope that the Committee agrees that it is not helpful.

Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I appreciate that my comments were quite wide. Having had that debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Laws: I beg to move amendment No. 415, in page 42, line 25, leave out ''consult'' and insert ''seek the consent of''.

The Minister addressed quite a lot of my points on the amendment in his previous response. Amendment No. 415 would require a need for the consent of LEAs in the establishment of academies. The Minister said that he was delighted that LEAs have shown great enthusiasm in establishing academies, and that they had been active partners in each initiative to set up an academy so far. Has any LEA shown signs that it is not happy to work to establish academies? Has there been any resistance to the introduction of academies? Given the Minister's earlier comments that academies would be important in areas of high deprivation or where there are failing schools, does he agree that LEAs should be actively involved and give consent? LEAs should be fundamental to the plans to establish academies in such areas.

Mr. Brady: On a point of information, can the hon. Gentleman explain if the amendment would require consent from the neighbouring authority also?

Mr. Laws: It would. In his plans to establish academies and direct additional finance to them, does the Minister envisage some flexibility, which may allow the local education authorities to use such moneys in a different way; rather than setting up academies themselves, the money would go to an academy project in that LEA area to achieve the same objectives but through a different structure.

Mr. Turner: The amendment is extraordinarily ambiguous. Its comprehension was not assisted by the hon. Gentleman's proposal; he maundered around

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the word ''consent'' without explaining whether the amendment should be taken literally. The amendment says that the Secretary of State shall ''seek'' consent, not ''obtain'' it. I shall be happy to give way if the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene. He may want to clarify whether he intends to allow local education authorities a veto on the establishment of city academies.

 
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Prepared 15 January 2002