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Trust Schools

6. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): If she will make a statement on trust schools. [41067]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Ruth Kelly): Acquiring a trust allows schools to do more to raise standards using external support and collaboration between willing partners, the strong governance arrangements that we have seen working in voluntary-aided schools, and the flexibilities that almost 900 foundation schools have used to manage their assets and resources. Trust schools are local authority-maintained schools, which means that they operate within the same funding and capital system and exactly the same code of fair admissions as other schools do now.

Mr. Chaytor: Of course, my question would have been Question 7 had the Conservatives not withdrawn their interesting question on grammar schools.

If the only technical difference between trust schools and other categories of school is that the trust has the capacity to have a majority on the governing body, what specific powers will be available to trust schools that are not already available to academies, foundation schools or even bog-standard specialist schools?
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Ruth Kelly: I know that my hon. Friend takes a deep and sustained interest in these issues as a member of the Select Committee on Education and Skills, so he will know that we are building on best practice, allowing all schools working together to avail themselves of existing flexibilities that, for example, are available to voluntary-aided schools. He knows that the trust school is legally a foundation school with a foundation. There are examples of historical foundations that run a number of schools. I should like to make it possible for schools to come together with an external partner—75 per cent. schools currently work with an external partner—and ask whether they can form a more permanent relationship with them. For example, if a group of schools comes to together, and those schools want to offer a broader, more varied vocational curriculum to pupils—it will never be the case that one school will be able to offer the full set of vocational opportunities—and they know that a local business foundation, the local university and others in the community can help them to establish that new curriculum, it will be a significant additional freedom for those schools to bind in those external partners more permanently.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): How many of the failing secondary schools does the Secretary of State envisage becoming trust schools? If they do not become trust schools, what measures does she propose to introduce to ensure that all pupils receive the education that they deserve?

Ruth Kelly: The first thing that we need to do is crack down on failing schools. In the past eight years, we have halved the number of failing schools. I am determined to raise the bar even higher with the new inspection regime and the changes to the league tables—in future, schools must include attainment in English and maths as well as other GCSE subjects. I am determined, too, to give local authorities the powers that they need to intervene earlier and quicker to turn around schools before they start to fail. I would like to give local authorities an additional tool for tackling failure—the ability for it to become a trust school. I hope that local authorities regard that as a vital weapon in their armoury to tackle failure.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend be a little more specific about the people whom she envisages as being able to run trust schools? She has previously said in a parliamentary answer that people barred from becoming directors would not be able to run a trust. Does that mean, however, that firms such as McDonald's, for instance, would technically be able to run trusts?

Ruth Kelly: I know that my hon. Friend has a sustained interest in this issue. She will be interested to learn that we published a prospectus for trust schools just last week, which sets out not just the opportunities available to trust schools but the specific safeguards that we intend to put in place in legislation if the trust—and the school must want the trust to do this—appoints the majority of governors. Those safeguards are pretty tough, and they include not just the safeguards that she set out but additional protections so that the trust can be removed or, indeed, cannot be set up if the local authority thinks that there will be some detriment to standards.
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Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): I welcome this first opportunity to question the Secretary of State. Whatever our differences on other matters today, I can assure her and the Government of our support if they do indeed pursue serious education reform. Will she clear up a crucial confusion? When the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) asked her in a Select Committee hearing last month if trust schools would be independent like academies, she said:

In October, however, the Prime Minister said that they would be "independent, self-governing state schools" with "Academy-style freedoms". Which is it to be? Will the Secretary of State sort out this confusion once and for all by simply repeating the Prime Minister's words? If I may say so, today is a good day for her to stick very close to the Prime Minister. If she does so, I hope that she will assure us that trust schools will be independent, self-governing and, indeed, have academy-style freedoms.

Ruth Kelly: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post, and I am glad to see that he has returned to his portfolio as shadow Secretary of State for Education. No doubt, he enjoyed it so much the first time that he wanted to come back for a second go. The answer to his question is that trust schools are local authority-maintained schools, just as foundation schools are now. They will have the additional freedoms of voluntary aided schools. For example, they can appoint the majority of governors. If they apply for the power to innovate—any school can do so—they will have the sort of freedoms currently available to academies.

The hon. Gentleman says there is a contradiction in speaking of schools as independent state schools. I refer him to our party's manifesto, if he can bring himself to read it. There, we referred to independent specialist schools. Those are local authority schools within the state system, as everyone recognises. Trust schools are also local authority-maintained schools, with additional freedoms.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend say a little more about the incentives there will be for trust schools to collaborate more with each other? Does she agree that the trust school model lends itself more to an urban setting than to a rural setting?

Ruth Kelly: I know that my hon. Friend has been following the debate closely. It is when schools want to collaborate on a deeper, more sustainable basis that they will consider the option of developing a mutual or common trust between them. A rural school might need that ability to collaborate and establish a permanent relationship even more than an urban school. For example, if a rural school wanted to develop its vocational curriculum—an example that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) a moment ago—it would be an opportunity for that school to embed those relationships with other schools further away. But if, for example, a rural school had
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difficulty tying in local services for the "Every Child Matters" agenda—a technical phrase meaning that the voluntary sector and the various agencies, including health, are bound into the future of that school—that again might be a reason why a rural school in particular wanted to set up a trust. These opportunities are available to schools. We are not forcing schools to go down the route of setting up a trust, but that is a possibility they might consider.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): In her reply to the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) about who can run trust schools, the Minister spoke about safeguards. I know that she is having a few problems with lists at present, but I remind her that she promised to produce a new list—a list of which organisations and individuals would be suitable and appropriate to operate trust schools. When will she publish that list? Can she confirm that she has not ruled out fast-food chains like McDonald's and Burger King from running trust schools? Can she say anything about any criteria that she has in mind for judging whether a body is suitable to run a school?

Ruth Kelly: The best safeguard for trusts is to trust the schools and the parents. If a trust is set up as a charitable foundation, has educational objectives according to charity law, and can prove and show that school and the parents that it will be able to raise standards in that school or perhaps link that school to other schools to raise standards, parents and schools should have that choice, subject to the appropriate safeguards. Although there has been huge progress over the past eight years, one in four secondary schools are still underperforming, and we have a duty as a Government to take the action that is needed to increase opportunities for every child in our secondary school system.

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