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Vernon Coaker: As I said at the beginning of the debate on the previous amendment, for which the hon. Gentleman was present, I want to see more academies. I have not said that there should not be any more academies. Indeed, many of the academies that will open in September- [Interruption.] A Tory Member is nodding because there is one in his constituency. Many of those that will open in September will be ones that I agreed with the previous Secretary of State. Sometimes, they were agreed in the face of quite difficult local circumstances. I do not have a problem with the expansion of academies; what I am saying-this is the thrust of the debate-is that the academy model in the Bill is completely different from the one pursued by the last Government. That is the choice that people have made: the Government are in power and they have come forward with what they believe is an appropriate model, which is to allow outstanding schools to fast-track to academy status, as well as including special schools and primary schools. What I am saying is that that means rushing headlong into something for which, as I will mention again in a minute, the Government have presented no evidence and which, in a way, will potentially mean riding roughshod over the wishes of local people and local authorities, when they should be playing a significant role in the organisation and provision of schooling in an area.
Glenda Jackson: I rise in the light of the remarks made by the hon. Members for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) and for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), both of whom were proselytising on the basis that it would be unthinkable for anybody engaged with a primary school not to consult automatically, at least with the parents. I realise that this is merely anecdotal, but there is a situation in my constituency where the board of governors of a grant-maintained school-or, the aspect of the school which is grant-maintained-wishes to pull the school down and build a brand-new one. No one has consulted the parents, who certainly do not want that to happen. I acknowledge that that example is merely anecdotal, but it underlines my underlying fear about the Bill: that if it does not say that parents must be consulted on such issues, we are essentially going to destroy state education.
"persons as they think appropriate"
not being sufficient. Instead, the Bill should list groups such as parents and the local authority. If the Government had done that, it would have strengthened the Bill and meant that many of the difficulties that some of us have with it would have been to some extent ameliorated.
Sammy Wilson: I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's explanation of why he objects to the catch-all phrase "appropriate persons", but is he really suggesting that if a school moved towards academy status, yet parents or another group of significant stakeholders had not been included in the consultation, which must take place according to the Bill, and people wished to challenge that decision in court, the court would say that the letter of the law had been applied, even though that group had been excluded from the consultation?
Vernon Coaker: I am not a lawyer, but one of the phrases that people often use is "for the avoidance of doubt". Given the magnitude of the decisions that could be entered into, I would have thought that, for the avoidance of doubt, it should not be beyond the wit of us all to list some of the groups that we think it should be essential to consult-local authorities, parents and so on-and then to have a phrase at the end such as "and others as the school governing body thinks appropriate".
Glenda Jackson: Briefly, it is hardly going to advance educational standards if a proposed academy cannot get up and educate because both the school and the Government are engaged in a judicial review, quite apart from the expense that such a review would create.
We have serious doubts about the capacity of primary schools, and about what the costs will be, who will be leading the process, how it will be managed and so on. There are also financial implications. I have been told of a primary school in the west midlands-I think that it was mentioned in the other place-that recently developed serious structural faults. The local authority found the money to put the problem right, with a final cost of around £1 million.
Another example of where the local authority often steps in is on the matter of fires on school premises. How would that work under academy status? The Department for Education advice states that it would expect schools that had become academies facing such problems to take out loans. How could a small school possibly afford to do that? What does the Minister imagine would happen in those circumstances? How would the repayments be made? Who would get the loan in the first place? How would that operate? Most primary schools rely on the local authority to pick up the costs of redundancies and employment tribunals, as well as the legal costs associated with challenges on accidents. The school would not necessarily be able to find the cost of the insurance to cover those things.
Again, the Department for Education's own website states that, for most schools, the cost of insurance will be between £60,000 and £100,000. The cost of purchasing legal and personal advice commercially needs to be taken into account. How would that work? What will happen with all that? Are we going to have another advisory committee to look at all those details, as we did with special schools, before we get a proper answer? The problem for primary schools is that all these are unanswered questions. Many primary schools are on holiday now, yet some of them are supposed to be opening in September as academies. How is that going to happen? What is going on?
A great deal of work has been done over the past few years, by others as well as the Government, on managing the process of transition from an early years setting into the first year of primary school. The review of the early years foundation stage announced by the Government over the last week or two will not, I trust, represent the reversal of much of that good work. The reality is that there are overlapping responsibilities between early years settings, the children's trusts-the abolition of which would cause great concern for Labour Members, but I know that Ministers are either considering or proceeding
with it-and a number of child care and early years settings sited with primary schools. How is that supposed to work? What happens with all of that-child care, nursery provision, early years provisions-in relation to primary schools? Will there be separate applications to convert separately? Do they stand alone? Will it work differently for a primary school, a nursery and an infant school? Again, I have seen no explanation of that. In many ways, I am concerned not so much about the ideology as the practicality. In the rush to get the Bill through, many practical issues have not been thought through and, frankly, Ministers do not have the answer to them.
Thousands of primary schools-some small, some big, some in rural areas-are involved, but where is the evidence for this change coming from? As I stressed in the debate on the last group of amendments, the crucial evidence that Governments often publish on their Bills is the equality impact assessments and the impact assessments. All members of this Committee will have seen and read those assessments, but there is not a word about primary schools in them-not a word. How, then, are we supposed to judge? This is supposed to be the evidence base for the Bill. Where is the evidence base for this Academies Bill, when there is nothing in it about primary schools? How can any hon. Member look at the evidence base and decide whether the Government's proposals are acceptable?
Conservative Members seem to think that the idea of primary schools becoming academies is great, but their new Government effectively said, "We do not believe that policy should be made without evidence," so where is the evidence?
It is the same with the equality impact assessments. They relate to existing academies, which are all secondary schools, so there is nothing in them about primary schools. Yet this is supposed to be the evidence base for the Bill. Frankly-although I am going to say this gently to the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, as we get along-this is not good enough. For all of us to look at the evidence for or against this Bill and to analyse, discuss, debate or disagree with it, and to say what has been missed out of it or what should have been included in it, we require an evidence base-but there is no evidence in it. We are told that if conversion to academies goes ahead, the GCSE results will be 1.5% what might have been expected if the schools had not converted. What on earth has that got to do with primary schools? This is a very serious point and at some stage the Minister will have to answer it.
Vernon Coaker: The evidence came from the local people, the local authority and local schools discussing with each other the best way forward for educational provision in their area. That was our academy model, not the model that the hon. Gentleman supports, whereby local authorities are completely missed out of the equation, and there is not even a statutory right to ensure that parents are consulted. It was sometimes difficult, but we ensured that local people and local authorities were involved in those decisions.
Mr Gibb: That is an opinion, not evidence. I take the hon. Gentleman's point about opinion, but the evidence is clearly set out in the impact assessment, headed "evidence base". It describes the huge success of the city technology colleges and their increasingly good academic results over the years since they were established. Cannot the shadow Minister extrapolate evidence from that to special schools and primary schools? That is what policy making is all about-taking the existing evidence and applying it to other forms of schooling.
Vernon Coaker: It is not for me to extrapolate, but for the Government to demonstrate through evidence. I am no longer in government: the Minister is. He, in his new role, should present the evidence. The Secretary of State signed off the impact assessment. If he wanted to do what the Minister claims, why did he not amend it? I am sure that he read it carefully, word for word. Why did he not notice that primary schools were not mentioned, go back to his officials and say, "We haven't mentioned primary schools in this. Do you know what? The shadow Minister will get up and say that, because it's in the Library notes-the House of Commons Library has noticed, too." I repeat that it is not for me to extrapolate.
Mr Gibb: The evidence base is the same one that the shadow Minister used when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) said, he signed off all-through academies. Consulting local opinion is not evidence for the early years sections of all-through academies. The evidence that the hon. Gentleman looked at will have been the success of the academies movement as a whole. We have based our policy on that.
Vernon Coaker: The Minister has not set the evidence out. The impact assessments mention CTCs, but not primary schools. The Minister makes a good debating point when he says that CTCs have primary sections, and they are therefore covered. I think that if the Government could rewind the clock three, four or five weeks-whenever the assessments were prepared-the Minister would ensure that primary schools and special schools were included, particularly in the equality impact assessment.
The hon. Gentleman talks about evidence, and we have that of GCSE performance. I am sure that he welcomes the performance of secondary schools that have become academies. For example, when Mossbourne academy was Hackney Downs school, 10% of pupils got five good GCSEs, but now more than 80% get five good GCSEs as a result of the school gaining academy freedoms. Primary schools have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy those freedoms, but we know that 40% of primary school pupils currently do not get the three R's at level 4, key stage 2 and that fewer
than 50% of pupils in around 500 primary schools achieve the required standard in English and maths. Does the hon. Gentleman think that that is acceptable, or that those schools should have the same chance as Mossbourne to change?
Vernon Coaker: The dramatic rise in standards-the improvements in reading, writing and maths-in primary schools is significant. The hon. Gentleman asks whether we want higher standards and even faster progress. Of course we all do. However, the Government want to achieve that by allowing outstanding primary schools initially-we will find out how many shortly-to fast-track to academy status in September. If that is the Government's policy direction, where is the evidence to demonstrate that the results will be as he predicts? The whole point of a Bill's impact assessment, as the Chair of the Select Committee knows from his days as a member of that Committee, is to present evidence.
Chris Skidmore: The fact that nearly 300,000 pupils are not achieving level 4 in the three R's at key stage 2 is clearly not acceptable. Yes, we admit that standards have risen since 1997, but at level 4 they have stalled and begun to go backwards. Will the hon. Gentleman not admit that? During the next stage of the march, we need to think about freedoms. We need to think about giving teachers freedom to seek academy status if they wish, so that they can push forward as secondary school teachers have at Mossbourne school.
Vernon Coaker: This is a Committee stage, but the hon. Gentleman has retreated into a Second Reading political statement. I was asking what evidence the Government had presented to Parliament- [Interruption.] It is not for me to present evidence. I am not the Government. I am asking the hon. Gentleman what evidence the Government have presented to persuade Parliament to accept the Bill. How have they demonstrated that primary academies would deliver what he wants? That is the issue. I do not agree with the proposal, so it is not for me to say what evidence there is in favour of it. The hon. Gentleman is a Back-Bench Member of the Government. He may progress further-I do not know-but his responsibility now is to defend the Government and to explain how Government policy will improve standards.
Mr Graham Stuart: The Minister makes a reasonable point about the quality of the evidence that the Govt should provide when presenting proposals, but I am struck by the way in which the Opposition have retreated. They are no longer telling the truth about the fact that, in 2005, the then Prime Minister said that all schools wanted these freedoms. The Government proposed a managed move, but the aim was to provide these freedoms everywhere.
It is as if the whole new Labour era is ending. The thaw is over, and we feel the cold ice of a monolithic centralised state system forming over us once more. Is that really the vision seen by the shadow Minister, of whom I have always had a high opinion? Is he really reverting to his Socialist Educational Association roots?
The hon. Gentleman and I have worked together a great deal over the last few years, and no doubt we will work together more over the next two or three years, or however many there may be. As I have made clear on a number of occasions, I have not said that I am opposed to academies. That would be hypocrisy of the highest order, given that I agreed to the establishment of a number of academies, and given that many of the academies that will open in September are academies to whose establishment I agreed.
I think it right to seek to increase the number of academies when that is appropriate, whether they are primary or secondary schools, although I prefer all-through academies. However, I do not think it right to fast-track outstanding schools to academy status, and to allow academy status to primary and special schools when there is no real evidence in favour of such action.
It is not a case of retreating in the direction of the Socialist Educational Association, many of whose members would oppose any academy. I do not oppose every or any academy. What I propose is a third way, which has been proposed by neither the Government nor the Socialist Educational Association but which, according to some famous politician, makes it possible to find a balance between two alternatives in order to move forward.
I want to ask the Minister a few more questions. What arrangements will there be for primary schools that are members of federations to apply for academy status, and what are the implications for each school? Can schools apply as a group, or must they apply individually? As I said, there are important questions to be asked about how academy status will work for nurseries, and about the arrangements for collaboration and funding. How will things be arranged between a local authority and a primary school if the authority has given large amounts of money to the school? How does the Minister expect small rural schools to become primary academies? What criteria will apply to them, as opposed to primary schools in the middle of cities?
Those are serious questions, and I know that the Minister will reflect on them seriously. However, as in the case of special schools, I find it slightly regrettable that we do not already know many of the answers. As I have said, the evidence base is fairly poor, given the magnitude of the decisions that we must make.
Dan Rogerson: May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Evans, at this stage in the proceedings? Earlier, Mr Chope reminded us that it is out of order to refer to the decision about which amendments have been selected and which have not, so I will not reflect further on that and thereby risk being called out of order, except merely to say that I am delighted that amendment 48 in my name was selected.
The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has set out the dangers he foresees in primary schools being allowed to follow the academy route, but he adds that he is none the less an advocate of the academy system and that he thinks it is a success. I come at this from a different angle: I think the jury is still out because the evidence is balanced as to whether the academy structure has made a substantial difference to results. We Liberal Democrats have not been entirely convinced, although some party members have advocated academies throughout the process. Other arguments can be put as to why schools that have been established as academies have been successful and we talked about some of them on Second Reading, so I will not rehearse them at length. If I were to do so, I am sure you would rule me out of order, Mr Evans, but there are arguments to do with leadership and the resources put into academies, for instance.
This is a permissive Bill. We will either allow schools to examine, and consider following, this route or we will not. From visiting schools in my constituency, it seems fairly clear that not many of them are interested in doing so. They do not see it as right for them. They are largely happy with their relationship with Cornwall council, their local authority. I welcome that, and I am sure it is also the case in many other parts of the country. I believe that local authorities have a role to play and they have often played a good role in the past. However, that has not always been the case, because there are undoubtedly places where the relationship has broken down and there have been failings. The fact that not many schools in my area wish to follow the academy route does not, however, strike me as necessarily an argument for saying that it should not be open to them.
I tabled amendment 48 in order to have a debate about primary schools. I am therefore pleased that we are having that debate, and I would like to add a number of questions to those already asked by the hon. Gentleman. He raised the important issue of federation. It is being explored in many rural areas-and, I imagine, increasingly in urban areas too. Federation is often controversial because people sometimes feel they are giving up some measure of control over their local school, but my experience of those federations that have been formed-there are three or four in my part of the world now-is that the governing bodies and communities can come together. They still have their own school in their community and it performs a vital function not only in terms of education but in many other ways as well, especially for rural village communities. Therefore, if these schools become part of something a bit bigger, it means they are able to support a full-time head-and to recruit one as well, which is increasingly an issue. Federation can be a crucial step, therefore.
There are questions, however, about what approach the Government should take to applications for federation and how they would be explored. There are also, perhaps, issues to do with capacity. I hope, therefore, that no primary school approaches this option lightly. If they are considering it, they should reflect on their own situation and what resources they will have to take advantage of any freedoms that arise. That is an important consideration.
There are questions to do with the monitoring of schools as well. I have discussed that briefly with the Minister outside the Chamber. There is a role for the
Young People's Learning Agency in monitoring academies to ensure that they meet the criteria set out in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that if primary schools, in particular, are going to go down the academy route, they will have the capacity to be able to do that and to manage a relationship with a much larger number of schools. If primary schools are to take up that option, the number of schools involved will be much greater than has been the case up to now.
The idea of all-though schools, to which the hon. Member for Gedling referred, presents an exciting opportunity. One of these schools is coming to my constituency and, again, the trust and confidence of the local people has to be won; they have to feel that the change will protect what they may see as younger, vulnerable pupils in that bigger set-up. That argument has been won in one community and this may be a route that some take towards academy status.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks on the clause, I am not convinced that this is necessarily the best route for everybody. My hon. Friends, some of whom spoke on Second Reading, have made it clear that they have concerns about the model too.
Mr Stewart Jackson: The hon. Gentleman will doubtless concede that this is permissive legislation and, therefore, schools will not be the subject of draconian diktat. He will also know that the experience of grant-maintained schools was that the legislation allowed them to work closely with their local education authority on things such as procurement and purchasing, and that consortiums were often very successful in that respect. This Bill specifically does not preclude the involvement on a practical, day-to-day basis of the local education authority. In that respect, I am sure that he will be reassured.
Dan Rogerson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We have served together on a number of Public Bill Committees, not always agreeing when we have debated issues. However, we can perhaps agree that the permissive nature of this Bill allows both of us to explore what is available to schools and communities in our constituencies. As I say, I remain to be convinced that this is necessarily the best route and that it offers as many benefits as some hon. Members, including him, are convinced it does. However, I believe that if the route is to be available to some schools in particular circumstances, we ought to explore the option, as this Bill does, of making it available to others. So I accept his point about this being a permissive Bill.
The hon. Gentleman also makes the point about schools continuing to work with the local authority. The Minister may wish to talk about the fact that schools that take up the option that the Bill extends to them could continue to explore buying back some services from the local authority, even though they may well have not wanted to have such a rigid relationship with it. Clearly, they could still have an engagement with it and may indeed wish to buy back some services from it. This debate has begun and we may be at risk of going back over issues that we covered when discussing the previous group.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab):
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the sceptical wing of the coalition and respect his position. Yesterday morning, at Ealing
hospital, I welcomed my newest constituent, Noah White, weighing 6 lb 9 oz, to the constituency. When that child is ready to go to primary school, there will be no primary school place for him in the London borough of Ealing, given the present capacity. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should be looking to expand the educational estate, rather than overloading head teachers and governors with yet more crushing work and just changing the signs outside the schools?
Dan Rogerson: I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman is such an assiduous constituency MP that he is there to greet every new arrival to it. It is a wonder that we have the benefit of his company in this place as often as we do, given that he is so hard-working and pays such attention to detail. However, it is slightly problematic for a Labour Member to talk about the overburdening of head teachers. I have spent time talking to them about the reams of paper that were generated and imposed upon them by this Department-under its various names-under the previous Government, so I can say that he is on fairly sticky ground. However, he is absolutely right to raise the point about providing places, and we need the flexibility to do that.
I shall draw my remarks to a close. Clearly, I have been addressing my remarks to the lead amendment, but I tabled the second amendment with the purpose of discussing the particular circumstances that pertain to primary schools. I hope that the Minister will respond both to the issues that I and the hon. Member for Gedling have raised.
Gavin Barwell: First, I thank the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) for being so generous in his speeches on this amendment and the previous amendment in allowing people to intervene and ask him questions. I appreciate that.
The amendment is further evidence of the dichotomy of the Labour party's approach to education policy for primary and secondary schools. With capital, as has been discussed, the previous Government's Building Schools for the Future programme was concentrated purely on the secondary sector, whereas their policy on academies was to have them in deprived areas at secondary level but not at primary level, even though many issues of educational under-attainment stem from performance at primary level. The list on the Department for Education website of schools in my constituency that have expressed an interest in the academy process includes Wolsey infant school in New Addington, which is an outstanding school, and St Mary's junior school, which is not. Both of them serve highly deprived parts of my constituency. If Labour Members have the passion that they say they have about driving up educational standards in deprived areas, that ought to apply equally at primary and secondary level.
I do not wish to detain hon. Members for long, but I want to address the four main objections that have been raised regarding primary schools. The first objection was about size and whether primary schools would be able to cope with the responsibilities that come with academy status. Having looked at the schools in my constituency that have expressed an interest, I would
expect a far lower proportion of primary schools than secondary schools to be interested in going down this route because of their size. However, there are large discrepancies regarding primary schools. In my local authority area there are a number of single-form entry schools, some two-form entry schools and a significant number of three-form entry schools. The picture is very different for a three-form entry school, such as the state school that my children go to, than for a single-form entry school.
It would be helpful if the Minister clarified the position on federations. The Secretary of State's response to the shadow Secretary of State on Second Reading implied that applications from federations would be accepted. Clearly, that would be one way of addressing issues of size and scope. One concern that the Labour party has raised about academies is the fear that schools will stop working together, so it seems particularly perverse for the amendment to rule out the prospect of federations of schools applying for academy status and preserving those relationships that Members on both sides want to persist.
My main point about the issue of school size is that the legislation is, as several hon. Members have pointed out, permissive. Surely, we should trust head teachers, leadership teams and governors to judge whether their schools have the capacity to cope with academy status.
Mr Stewart Jackson: My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. It is better to have looser language in the Bill because, as the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) knows, any issues of consultation in relation to the schools that seek to proceed along this path will be the subject of regulation and secondary legislation. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is better to have looser language in the Bill than to be too prescriptive, because that might, as the shadow Minister has said, lay individual schools, local education authorities and other bodies open to legal action further down the line?
Gavin Barwell: My hon. Friend makes the point far more eloquently than I can. At some point in the future, the shadow Education Minister might have the honour of being the Minister again, or even the Secretary of State, who will sign off the applications for academy status. However, the amendment would tell primary schools or federations of primary schools that they were not even allowed to make the case for academy status, and that is completely the wrong approach.
Ian Mearns: The hon. Gentleman refers to schools working in partnership on school improvement programmes, and clause 15 refers to city technology colleges becoming part of the family of academies that the legislation will look after, but I am afraid that the city technology college in my constituency has always been fiercely independent and has never wanted to work in partnership with any other school or with the local education authority. I do not see how the circle will be squared, because that is the evidence from our experience.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but my experience in my part of the world is very different. In Croydon we had one of the original city technology colleges, which has converted to an
academy, as most CTCs have, and the academy partners have continued to work closely with the local authority and community.
My next point is about the evidence base. In an intervention on the hon. Member for Gedling, I referred to the evidence in relation to the Oasis Academy Shirley Park, an all-through academy that he and the former Secretary of State approved in my constituency. The evidence from the first year is that at primary and secondary levels the academy has made a profound difference not just to pupil attainment, parental satisfaction and the local community's confidence in the school, but most importantly to the pupils' perception of the school that they attend, which surely ought to be the key judge of any school.
The Opposition also argued that the policy is a leap in the dark, and that, whereas the previous policy was managed and a number of schools became academies each year, we are opening the floodgates and do not know how many schools might become such institutions. Having listened to the debate, however, it is clear that the Secretary of State will retain control of approving academy applications, and the explanatory notes to the Bill give a rough forecast of the numbers that we might expect.
My final point is about the admissions policy. The hon. Gentleman suggested that, given how primary schools are rooted in their community and some secondary schools are not, there was a danger that the admissions criteria might change and the local link could break down. As I understand the arrangements, however, such schools will continue to be covered by the admissions code. Indeed, in my area we have written into academy funding agreements the importance of a clear local link in relation to selection. In all parts of the country, we want good schools serving their local communities so that local parents have what they want, which in my experience is a good local school.
None of the concerns about size, evidence base, opening the floodgates or admissions bears any scrutiny, and there is a very important point of principle. Primary schools or federations of primary schools should have the chance to make to the Secretary of State the case for being given academy status, so that we see at primary level the same improvement, particularly in deprived parts of the country, of which there are a number in my constituency, that we have seen at secondary level.
Glenda Jackson: The Government argue that the Bill is permissive, but my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) has made it abundantly clear that there is no evidence why primary schools should apply for academy status, so I am intrigued about the permission that the Government believe primary schools are denied and, therefore, want to grant them.
Government Members have also argued that the Bill is born of a desire to raise standards, but the issue with primary schools in my constituency, all of which are over-subscribed, have very high educational standards and provide a much more rounded education to the children who attend them, is that there will be a serious shortfall in places. Before the general election we were informed that a new primary school would be built in my constituency, and I shall not go into the debacle of Building Schools for the Future, but it has a knock-on
effect on the provision of school places-certainly in an inner-London borough such as mine. That proposal now seems either to have disappeared or to have been thrown into the deep freeze.
The overriding issue that parents raise with me as regards primary schools is that they cannot get their child into their first-choice primary school, which almost invariably is that within walking distance of where their child lives. They want that not only because their child is already part of the community where they then make friends who live in the same area but because, as we are increasingly aware, many parents have to juggle not only work but a variety of school ages among their children. Only the other day, I had a constituency case involving a mother whose third child is about to start primary school. She has to transport the other two children to different parts of the borough, and it is clearly out of the question for her to be asked to take a place in another primary school that is even further away.
I am somewhat bemused as to why the Government think that their approach of academising all our schools will tackle the real issues that are facing my constituents and their children in relation to the provision of school places. There is another, more nuanced issue in my constituency. Many of the primary schools are faith-based, and there is constant conflict between parents who want their children to go to a faith-based school and parents who do not want their children to go to such a school.
That brings me back to my central point about academising all our schools-the Government's continuing total exclusion of the opinions of parents. If it were stated in the Bill that parents have to be consulted, I could begin to understand this. I would not understand it completely, but I could see that it might offer the means genuinely to examine the issues that face many of my constituents as regards primary schools. My hon. Friend mentioned another concern to do with nursery places linked to a primary school, but he did not touch on after-school clubs, which are also linked to primary schools, certainly in my constituency. There has also been a move towards primary schools acting as feeders for secondary schools, as well as community linkage across my entire constituency, which encompasses two London boroughs.
As I say, I am bemused by the idea of academising our educational system, but the central and essential issue for me is the Government's total failure to acknowledge the importance of consulting parents on these issues. I see that the Chair of the Education Committee has returned to his place. In an earlier intervention, he castigated my hon. Friend for his criticism of the Bill and said that Labour was reverting to some deep-frozen I do not know what-he said something about the waters closing over new Labour. I found that somewhat surprising, because before the election he was, almost individually, the creator of the all-party group on home education. If I remember rightly, the central and essential argument that he consistently proselytised, and I agreed with him, was that the Government of the day-my Government-had markedly failed to consult parents. That was the basis of his argument, and I am somewhat shocked that it seems to have disappeared from his mind.
Mr Graham Stuart: I think that it was rather more to do with the fact that the Government of the day wanted to monitor, regulate, intervene, instruct, license and control parents than with the fact that they were not listening to them. The main aim was to ensure that the state did not trample all over their freedom, and that is an essential safety valve that home education gives to a system that too often fails parents and children-the most vulnerable children the most often.
Glenda Jackson: I have not been quite so hyperbolic in my choice of verbs as the hon. Gentleman, but it seems to me that in this Bill his Government are attempting to replicate precisely what he is accusing my Government of attempting to do with regard to home-educated children.
Put in the simplest terms, the Government are ignoring parents' opinions. That is why the arguments that they have advanced on primary schools, and will advance with regard to secondary schools, should be fiercely opposed, and I am delighted to see that Labour Members are continuing to do that.
Mr Gibb: May I add my welcome to the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) to the Opposition Front-Bench role? In some ways, it is as tough as being a Minister. He has no support and has to draft all the amendments himself, so I am sympathetic to his position. I am grateful to him for the kind words that he passed on at the beginning of the debate.
The amendments focus on nursery and primary schools. Amendment 32 would prevent stand-alone nurseries or primary schools, or joint primary and nursery schools, from becoming academies. Amendment 48 would prevent any primary school from applying for an academy order within the first two years of the Bill receiving Royal Assent, after which only primary schools or federations of primary schools with more than 500 pupils would be able to apply.
First, I reassure hon. Members that no stand-alone nursery is permitted to become an academy. Academies are schools, as defined in section 463 of the Education Act 1996, which provides that any independent school must provide full-time education for five or more pupils of compulsory school age. Hence, stand-alone nursery schools will not be able to apply for academy status.
Primary schools will be free to choose whether academy status is the right option for them. There will be no requirement for them to convert into academies. I appreciate that many small primary schools may depend on the local authority more than other schools, which is why the Bill is permissive rather than prescriptive, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) so ably pointed out. It is about trusting professionals. We want schools to determine whether academy status is right for them, and we understand that it may not be right for some very small primaries. That should not mean that primary schools that want to become academies and believe that it is a viable option for them should be prevented from doing so.
"I am not completely against the notion that there might be circumstances where groups of primaries could become academies".
"many of these primary schools, particularly in rural communities, are at the heart of the community and can attract very senior and experienced businesspeople and professionals from the community to their governing bodies and the chairmanship of those bodies. Therefore, they do not lack that kind of hard-edged business experience in running their affairs."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 6 July 2010; Vol. 720, c. 122, 120.]
Mr Ward: On the Minister's defence of the Bill as being of a permissive nature, does he believe we should also have permissive legislation without a full impact assessment to allow everybody to walk around naked, on the basis that they would not have to do it if they did not want to?
Mr Graham Stuart: The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) made an important point about the need to ensure that communities, parents and schools feel that they are in control and making decisions, which is why the power is properly permissive.
What consideration did the Minister give to whether a school that becomes an academy could reverse that process? I bring that up, I hope in order, because smaller primary schools might find that the academy freedoms do not work for them. It is important that the system makes communities and schools feel in control, not forced down a particular channel. We will get much further with the policy if people feel that way.
Mr Gibb: No primary school is being forced down any channel, that is the whole essence of the proposals. We will not let academies fail, and if they are struggling intervention measures and monitoring will take place to ensure that different sponsors can take them over.
We want all schools that want academy status to be able to apply for it, and we do not intend to deny certain schools that option. Nor do we believe that a delay of two years before primary schools can apply to convert is necessary or appropriate. However, we will see whether any lessons can be learned from the primaries that convert this September. Furthermore, we encourage federations or partnership arrangements that wish to convert, as well as proposals for all-through academies.
I should also point out that when there are challenges with primaries-for example, with shared or co-located services such as children's centres-we intend to work through them with all the relevant partners to ensure that services are maintained without interruption. That may mean that the process of conversion takes a little longer, but it is important to do things correctly.
The hon. Member for Gedling seemed to express no principle objection. He cited all-through academies, but said that things were different for stand-alone primaries owing to their size and the fact that their location communities could be at risk, but why? In another place, the Under-Secretary of State, Lord Hill of Oareford, said:
"The local primary school is very much part of the village where I live and I know that that is true throughout the country...If an outstanding local primary were to become an academy, it is
not clear why it should automatically become less of a part of the local community, village or town life. It will have the same head, staff, parents and children with some additional freedoms. I am not clear why the change of status should suddenly make those people in their villages, towns and communities suddenly start to behave differently."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 6 July 2010; Vol. 720, c. 125.]
That is a very well expressed answer to the questions asked throughout the debate on the Bill on whether academies will continue to be part of the community. Of course they will. There is no evidence from the 203 academies, other than the one cited by the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), that they are any more or less involved in their communities than maintained schools. I am sure that the hon. Member for Gedling did not preside over the 203 academies with a view to them being islands unto themselves and isolated from the community.
Mr Gibb: They were not permitted to become academies under the hon. Gentleman's tutelage and stewardship. The Bill is permissive legislation to allow more schools to acquire the academy status that he extolled as a Minister.
Stephen Pound: I am not entirely opposed to academies-we have an extremely good one in Ealing North-but there is a problem with governance and involvement with local communities. When an academy sets up, it does not need local education governors or even parent governors-it can select governors. The link with the community is crucial, so what would the Minister say to those who remain to be convinced when it comes to the establishment of an academy within their local community but who would also like that governance link?
Mr Gibb: An academy can, of course, have the local authority represented on its governing body, but it is up to the academy trust to decide its structure. The hon. Gentleman praised his local academy in Ealing, but there are different models for schools. The academy model gives schools more independence from the local authority and indeed from the Government, and it has worked in his constituency and up and down the country. There is ample evidence in the impact assessment that the model is very effective here and in other countries. We need not have a one-size-fits-all approach to the governance of schools. The community school is one model, and the academy is another. We believe that the latter needs to be boosted and given a chance to extend into other forms of school.
Stephen Pound: I do not want to trespass on the Minister's good nature or generosity. I quite rightly praised West London academy because it maintains the link with the local community. What is his personal preference? Is it for a school governing body to be drawn from the local community or for it to be completely separate?
Mr Gibb: I do not think that it matters. What matters is that the academy is engaged with the local community. Any academy that wants to attract parents and pupils will engage with the local community. That is my preference.
Glenda Jackson: The Minister rightly says that he does not believe that there will be a one-size-fits-all approach. However, he said earlier that no academy would be allowed to fail. How can he guarantee that? Will there be a wide range of failure prevention measures?
Mr Gibb: Any Government face such challenges, but the Government whom the hon. Lady supported for 13 years were not that effective in dealing with them. Under the previous Government, a considerable number of schools were in special measures for a long period, and the results in some schools were very poor. This is going to be a challenge for this Government, as it was for the previous Government. It will also be a challenge for the organisation that monitors the quangos-the Young People's Learning Agency.
Ian Mearns: The way in which the legislation has been framed seems to have built in a mechanism under which that scrutiny will not need to be carried out in the first instance, because only outstanding schools will be allowed to go forward. The whole point of the previous Government's academies programme was to lift standards in schools that were performing below the level that we all want for our children. This Government's programme is for outstanding schools only-[Hon. Members: "No, it's not."] Well, that is certainly the way the legislation seems to be framed.
Mr Gibb: My hon. Friends have just made the point from a sedentary position that that is not the case. It is not only outstanding schools that are being invited to acquire academy status; it is all schools. We are also continuing to address the problems at the other end of the scale, to ensure that schools that are in special measures and that are struggling can acquire academy status and have a sponsor that can raise standards in those schools. Those projects, and that approach to policy, will continue.
I am surprised at the opposition to these proposals, given that they build on the legislation of the previous Government. They do not represent a major departure from the previous approach. The Bill has only 20 clauses, and the reason for that is that it builds on the legislation introduced by the previous Government.
Dr Pugh: I want to test my understanding of what the Minister is saying. In response to the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), he said that he would be perfectly happy for a governing body to spend a fair amount of money on behalf of local children, even though there might not be anyone on that governing body who had any connection to local children. Surely there is an issue of accountability there-
The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. This is not a wide-ranging debate on academies in general. We are debating the amendment, so perhaps the Minister could now direct his comments to that.
There will be parent governors on the governing bodies of the schools, so they will not be divorced from them. We are trying to be permissive and to allow
academies to draw up their own arrangements, and to select their own directors for the academy trusts and governors for the school. That is the approach that we want to take; we do not want to take a top-down approach to the governance of schools.
The hon. Member for Gedling mentioned the figure of 200 in the impact assessment. That is an illustrative figure to show the costs and the benefits that would arise if that number of schools were to convert annually. Given that this is permissive legislation, we cannot say that we will require x number of schools to convert annually and that the cost will therefore be y. He also asked for the number of primary schools that had expressed an interest. I can give him a figure, but with all the caveats that my fellow Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) expressed earlier. Of the 1,900 expressions of interest, 862 have been from primary schools, and 529 of the 862 have been judged by Ofsted to be outstanding.
Vernon Coaker: I thank the Minister for that information. How many primary schools does he expect to become academies in September? He has talked about expressions of interest, but how many does he expect actually to convert?
Mr Gibb: It is very hard to say at the moment. I cannot anticipate what the number will be. For every application that has been submitted, there is a named official working with the school. That process is happening right now, and I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait until we are able to announce the figure. I think that he will be very pleased with the figure.
Mr Gibb: The discussions will carry on through August; not everyone is rushing away. Those schools that are determined to open as academies in September will be working throughout August to achieve that.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the costs of insurance and VAT. Those will be covered by the general annual grant paid to academies. He asked about federations, a question also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson).
Vernon Coaker: I appreciate that the Minister may not know the answer to this, but what is his estimate of the VAT cost? Is it an additional cost, as I think it might be, for the academies? Is it factored in at 17.5%, and is the increase to 20% in January taken into account?
Mr Gibb: I will happily respond to the hon. Gentleman's questions. As he knows, having been a Minister, there is a VAT cost because academies, as independent schools, cannot reclaim it, whereas when they were maintained schools the local authority had a reclaim procedure that enabled them to reclaim it. The VAT that academies cannot reclaim at the moment will form part of their funding and does not present a cost to Government; it is simply an internal accounting issue.
There are hard federations and soft federations. A hard federation has one governing body that is shared by the number of schools within it; that governing body can of course apply to become an academy. Soft federations, which have a number of governing bodies, can also apply, regardless of whether one or two of the schools are outstanding. If there are no outstanding schools in the federation, things will take a little longer than if there were.
Primaries with a nursery school will be able to convert to an academy, notwithstanding the fact that the nursery school is within the school. In those circumstances, therefore, the nursery school will become an academy.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the early years foundation stage, which does of course apply to independent schools. Academies are independent schools and the early years foundation stage is statutory, so it will also apply to academies.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) talked about her constituents being unable to get their children into their first choice of primary school. This is absolutely the issue we are debating. We want to raise standards across all schools and to invite new providers into the system, particularly in areas such as those she described, in which there is parental dissatisfaction with existing provision. That is where the focus of our efforts will be.
Glenda Jackson: The issue is not standards but capacity. There are insufficient places, and for the majority of primary schools in my constituency there is no possibility of extending their existing sites. As I said before the general election, we were promised a new primary school. Where has that gone? Why are the hon. Gentleman's Government not meeting that promise?
Mr Gibb: That is a different issue, and capital will be available to deal with the increasing population of young children. The birth rate is increasing, which means that new capacity will be required in some areas, and those capital costs will be met. I thought that the hon. Lady was making a slightly different point-that some very popular schools are over-subscribed because parents from a wider area try to get their children in, crowding out local children in some circumstances. We want to ensure that parents are happy with the quality, as well as the quantity, of provision.
Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): The Minister will be aware that there are specific issues in inner London, particularly given the massive increase in population mobility and local authorities' policy of encouraging families in. There are therefore some issues specific to central London that the Minister needs to be aware of as he puts this policy in place.
Mr Gibb: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important issue on behalf of his constituents, which he has raised before in Westminster Hall debates. I am aware of it, we are concerned about it and I can assure him it will be dealt with.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall raised a number of issues. In particular, he talked about monitoring schools and asked about the Young People's Learning Agency. I reassure him that it will have the capacity to monitor academies' performance as the
number of academies increases over the years. He also asked about buying back services from local authorities. That is very much part of the model. Just because a school opts to become an academy, it does not mean that it will sever its links with the local authority, or will not continue to use local authority services. Local authorities that provide high-quality services are more likely to be able to sell them to academies.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend's comments, and will continue to reflect on his arguments, but I make three points, which are best summed up by the Minister in the other place, my noble Friend Lord Hill:
"First...we believe that the number of primaries that will convert in the very first wave is likely to be very modest. Secondly, the Secretary of State has made it clear that he will keep the situation under review and learn any lessons from the first primary converters."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 6 July 2010; Vol. 720, c. 127.]
His third point was that there will be an annual report to Parliament on the progress of academies policy. Noble Lords from my hon. Friend's party managed to persuade the Minister in the other place to put that requirement on the statute book. That report is precisely the vehicle through which to consider the impact of academies policy on primary schools.
Vernon Coaker: I thank the Minister for his response and the information that he gave us in answer to some of our questions. The issue of VAT is interesting; I am not quite sure of the mechanism involved, but if the Department for Education reimburses schools, hopefully the Treasury will reimburse the Department. I am not quite sure which way round that goes, but I leave the issue with the Minister and will see whether he is more successful with that argument about money than the Department was in its argument about Building Schools for the Future money.
Some of the answers to questions posed by Members from across the Chamber demonstrate that the Bill has been rushed, and demonstrate problems with what the policy will mean in practice. It is interesting that in many respects-this is not so much the case for primaries as for special schools-the Minister is saying, "Trust us. This is permissive legislation; we will sort out some of the detail after we've legislated, hopefully in the next education and schools Bill, in the autumn." That is not particularly appropriate. I understand why the Government want to rush through this legislation-they see it as flagship-but the Minister himself said, in answer to various questions, that issues are being worked on.
Let me give the Minister one example. If I were trying to be nasty to him, I would ask him to explain to the Committee how the ready reckoner on the DFE website works. I am sure that he understands, but nobody else knows how it works. The point is not whether he understands it, but whether anybody out there does. It is telling that large numbers of primary-and, indeed, secondary-schools trying to work out what becoming an academy would mean for them find it difficult to make the ready reckoner work. Some local authorities have been astonished to find that when they put their figures in, it seems that they would pay out more money
than they receive. There is some work to be done on that, and no doubt that issue is one that will be looked at when the detail is sorted.
Dan Rogerson: The ready reckoner was the subject of debate in the other place, and I have had sight of a letter to my noble Friend Baroness Walmsley from Lord Hill, the Under-Secretary, on that issue. I understand that he has placed copies of that letter in the Library for hon. Members to look at. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to see it.
Vernon Coaker: I was not aware of that letter. It would have been even more helpful if the hon. Gentleman had told us what it said, but I will have a look at it. Certainly, the ready reckoner and the whole question of funding for primary schools is still an issue.
I take the point about primary schools being an important part of the community, whether they are small, rural or urban. The more important point that many hon. Members made concerned the capacity of those schools operating on their own to deal with academy status, particularly in regard to some of the support that they receive from local authorities on insurance, legal costs and sometimes when emergencies occur. If we are not careful, the Government will undermine the local authority's capacity to deal with such matters, while not giving individual primary schools, even if they become academies, the capacity to deal with them either. That is a real issue for us all.
To be fair, the Minister tried to address most of the points made, except that relating to the inadequacy of the equalities impact assessment and the impact assessment on the Bill, which makes no reference to any evidence for what the Government are doing. My hon. Friends and I have raised serious concerns about the rush to academy status for primary schools, but in the interests of dealing with some of the important issues that remain to be debated in the limited time available, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
(12) The Academy agreement must include terms imposed for the purpose of securing that no greater percentage of pupils are selected on the basis of religion or belief after, as compared with before, the conversion date.'.
( ) Subsections (7) and (8) do not apply if the school is not designated by order under section 69(3) of SSFA 1998 as a school having a particular religious character and, on conversion to an Academy, such a school may not then be designated or treated as designated by order under section 69(3) of SSFA 1998 as a school having a particular religious character.'.
I am not a fan of the legislation as it takes a set of proposals that were meant for one set of schools and transfers those, lock, stock and barrel, to schools in a wholly different category. It takes resources that were meant to improve the educational outcome for children in schools that are underperforming and transfers them in a targeted way to schools that are, in the first instance, already regarded as outstanding. It will also take resources that the local authority currently receives to be targeted at school improvement and gives those resources to schools that are already outstanding, in a "devil take the hindmost" fashion.
Mr Graham Stuart:
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case were it not for the fact that the Government have made it clear that they want all schools to have the opportunity to become academies and have that freedom.
Also, the pupil premium, which is an important part of the policy platform, will ensure that the poorest in our society have an extra resource, which, for the first time, will follow them, rather than some political fix. Surely he should recognise that in his remarks.
Ian Mearns: I thank the Select Committee Chair for his comments, but I did emphasise the words "in the first instance" with regard to the outstanding schools in these proposals. The pupil premium will be part of legislation in the autumn, and it remains to be seen how those proposals will pan out.
Government Members have regularly alluded to and broadly welcomed what they see as a return to grant-maintained schools by another name, now known as son of grant-maintained schools or academies. If the policy were to go down that road, its fairness, equity and accountability would have to be severely questioned. Unlike local authorities, the governing body of an academy will not undergo the rigours of the local democratic system. That is, it will not have to stand for election and stand or fall on its record and/or its programme.
I know that the Secretary of State has been keen to placate local government representatives on these issues. Indeed, in a speech at the Local Government Association annual conference in Bournemouth, he confirmed that he sees councils continuing to play a strong, strategic role in the school system. However, local government is very disappointed that there has been no opportunity for formal consultation on these proposals, which has left little chance to discuss in detail some of the potential issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) referred to the ready reckoner implications earlier. In my local authority, some of the ready reckoner calculations done by finance officers have resulted in horrendous-
Mr Gibb: The ready reckoner is used to give an indication to prospective academies of what their funding might be. It is not to be used by local authorities to calculate the claw-back, because they are different figures. Academies are funded through two different routes, so the figures would not match.
Ian Mearns: Nevertheless, local authorities are uncertain about the financial implications and their capacity to improve schools in the future. Indeed, education cannot be delivered in isolation from the wider range of local public services used by children and young people-or by the local community. Within education, if the role of local authorities as commissioners was recognised and strengthened, the children's services budget could be more efficiently used by delivering a wider range of services through schools.
It is important to ensure that all children have fair access to a place in a local school, and that academies operate a fair admissions procedure. Similarly, it is imperative that all schools operate a fair exclusions policy. I was pleased that the Secretary of State gave a reassurance on Second Reading when he said that academies
"have to abide by the admissions code and subscribe to fair access protocols, so that those hard-to-place children are placed appropriately."-[ Official Report, 19 July 2010; Vol. 514, c. 31.]
However, I would like to see an inclusion in the Bill that all academies must comply with admissions law and codes and fair access protocols, as well as regulations relating to pupil exclusions. That would ensure that they were on the same footing as other schools, requiring a change to primary legislation to amend and making them truly equal partners. I therefore ask the Committee to accept amendment No. 19 in my name because it would achieve exactly that.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I tabled amendments 42, 43 and 44, which deal with one aspect of admissions to academies of a religious nature. I understand the benefits that can flow from such schools. Indeed, I used to be a governor of a Church of England school in the ward I represented and it was a very interesting experience. However, I am concerned that the Bill may inadvertently lead to an increase in the proportion of religious places. It risks permanently entrenching religious segregation in our education system through irreversible changes that could permit wide discrimination in admissions and employment.
By "freeing" religious academies from the national curriculum without sufficient safeguards, the Bill also risks exposing children to extreme religious views, including creationism. Members will know that I have spent some time arguing for the scientific line on such issues. My concern is widely shared. A new ICM poll commissioned by the British Humanist Association found that 72% of the public are concerned that the Academies Bill could lead to taxpayers' money being used to promote religion. A third of the public said that they were "very concerned" about that. The poll also found that two thirds of people think that religious academies should be required to teach pupils about other beliefs, including non-religious ones.
I seek assurances from the Minister on these issues and I have tabled three amendments to flush out their thinking in this area. Amendment 42 would prevent any form of religious discrimination in admissions policies. Many state-funded "faith schools" use privileges to have highly selective admissions criteria, giving preference to the children of parents with particular beliefs. The Government have so far made it clear that they intend to allow these schools to retain their admissions policies, and I have great concerns in that area. It can cause segregation along religious and socio-economic lines. Professor Ted Cantle, author of a report into community cohesion in Blackburn, describes religious schools as
"automatically a source of division"
in the town, which is not something we would wish to see. In other areas, faith schools, which are their own admissions authorities-as these academies will be-are 10 times more likely to be highly unrepresentative of their surrounding area than faith schools where the local authority is the admission authority. Separating
children by religion, class and ethnicity is totally antithetical to the aims of social cohesion, and amendment 42 would ensure that no academy pupil is discriminated against on religious grounds.
That is an ideal to which I hope we all aspire. However, if amendment 42 cannot be accepted by the Government, I hope that amendment 43 can at least provide greater assurance. It would ensure that, at the very least, existing faith schools cannot discriminate more when they achieve academy status. During discussions in the other place, the Government confirmed that maintained faith schools will be able to discriminate in admissions. I hope they will change their mind on that. They said that a 50% quota would be imposed to ensure that 50% of admissions would not be religiously selective, and that was repeated on Second Reading. However, that provision is not in the Bill, the model funding agreement or any other official guidance or information. We need to know what would happen there. If amendment 42 cannot be accepted, I hope that amendment 43 will be, to ensure that things can get no worse than they currently are.
Finally, I turn to amendment 44, which deals with two issues, one of which I take to be a drafting error on which I seek reassurance, and the other is the desire to provide choice for current religious schools. I shall take the second part of the amendment first. The amendment would ensure symmetry. Currently a state-funded religious school becomes a religious academy, but there is nothing to confirm that a non-faith school becomes a non-faith academy. I therefore seek the guarantee, which I think the Secretary of State intended, that that is what would happen-that their nature simply would not change.
The first part of the amendment deals with schools that are religious schools now. Currently, a state-maintained school with a religious character is forced to become an academy with that religious character, but surely religious schools should at least have the option not to do that if they do not wish to. That would be popular with the local community: a recent poll found that 64% of people agreed that the Government should not be funding faith schools of any kind-but that is a debate for another time. However, some faith schools are only nominally of a religious character-that character being a residue of former connections. When taking on academy status with the possibility of growth, these schools may wish to free themselves of the restrictive status of being of a religious character which has ceased to be relevant to them. The amendment would allow them the choice, rather than compel them.
I hope my amendments will be considered carefully by the Government, and I hope that Ministers will comment on them. I intend them as probing amendments and will not press them to a vote, but I hope that the Government will take them seriously and accept a number of them.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am the author of four amendments in this group, and their purpose is to try to make it mandatory for the new academies to comply with the schools admission code. Concerns have been expressed in this debate that increasing the number of academies will have major implications for admissions planning, and, as I said, the amendments seek to ensure that there is co-ordination and that it is mandatory for academies to comply with the code.
If the Government are serious that the proposals will not open up the back door to selection, as many of us fear-that promise was made in the other place-why not state very clearly in the Bill that academies should comply with the schools admission code, instead of only stating that academies will have to comply with the codes under their funding arrangements? Although required under those arrangements to meet the code, the levers to ensure that that happens still rest entirely with the Secretary of State. So all concerns about fairness keep being met with the reassurance that it is in the funding agreement, but that is not good enough. Parents must know, through a proper consultation process prior to the setting up of an academy, what the admissions arrangements for the school will be and how their chances of getting into the local schools will be affected. Furthermore, there must be mechanisms to ensure that funding agreements can be changed to ensure that academies follow any changes required in any future code on admissions.
Essentially, voluntary-aided schools, foundation schools, trust schools and academies all operate as admission authorities, able to set their own admission criteria. Research over a number of years has shown that where schools set their own criteria, there is more social segregation. In particular, the fact that grammar schools will be allowed to become academies is a serious concern. Selective academies will be able to expand in a way that grammar schools currently are not allowed to. That expansion will also take place after limited consultation with the local community. I would therefore like the Minister to reassure the Committee that all new academies, including former grammar schools, will be required to participate in local admissions co-ordination schemes.
Under the 2009 code, the schools adjudicators, as the independent enforcers of fair access to schools, also have a wider remit to consider any admissions arrangements that come to their attention, in addition to any complaints received through an objection. Can the Minister tell the Committee whether the schools adjudicators will be reporting annually to the Secretary of State on the admissions of academies as well? We could debate at length the ability of an admission forum to ensure fairness, but will the Minister assure the Committee that academies will be represented on admissions forums? Currently, regulations allow for the administration of all admissions-in other words, dealing with the key administrative decisions on whether an applicant meets the admissions criteria, even if they are set by the school-to be carried out by the local authority. Is the option to allow the local authority to administer admissions still open to all schools, including academies? Finally, will the Government encourage a role for local authorities in administering admissions in that way?
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I hope that the Committee will excuse me if I intervene briefly in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner to deal with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert). What he was talking about was something of a straw man. There is nothing in the Bill that changes the existing relationship between the state and faith groups, although it is important to remind the Committee of a couple of things.
First, the reason why there are so many faith schools among primary and secondary schools in England and Wales is that, as part of the Education Act 1944, the then Government persuaded the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church to place at the disposal of the state all the Church schools that they had previously run. The then Government simply could not have delivered universal state education through the 1944 Act if the Churches had not brought all their schools into the state system.
Secondly, one fundamental principle of the 1944 Act was that, so far as possible, children should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. No one is obliged to send their child to a faith school; they do so because they wish to. I suspect that it is the experience of us all in the House that faith schools in our constituencies are consistently and substantially over-subscribed. I have one faith school in my constituency-Blessed George Napier school, a Roman Catholic comprehensive secondary school in the diocese of Birmingham-that is consistently over-subscribed, because parents wish to send their children there.
Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Could the hon. Gentleman help me to understand why, across the piece and on average, faith schools have an intake that is substantially less deprived than maintained schools?
Tony Baldry: I do not accept that as a principle or an assertion, although I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to talk about it, because the Church takes considerable pride in the fact that it admits into its schools a wide range of pupils, from all backgrounds, all faiths and all cultures, particularly in London. The Church of England sees that as an important part of its outreach and its commitment to the community and society as a whole.
It is of fundamental importance that parents can educate their children as they wish. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge is clearly opposed to any faith schools at all. That may well be a debate for another occasion, but it is not a debate under this Bill. This Bill does nothing to alter the existing covenant and arrangements between Church and faith groups in respect of faith schools. I suspect that I am not the only Member to have received all sorts of e-mails suggesting otherwise. They are wrong: this Bill does nothing to upset or alter the covenant between Church and state that has existed since 1944.
Dr Huppert: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. First, he says that parents have a choice, but does he accept that that simply does not apply in many rural areas where there is no reasonable choice because there is a shortage of schools nearby? Furthermore, he says that there is no change, so may I take it that he will support the second part of my amendment 44, which stipulates that there should be no change in either direction-into or out of faith schools?
For the more than 27 years I have represented my constituency, I have never yet received a complaint from a parent about being obliged to send a child to a rural church school. It is usually the other
way round, with parents expressing the concern that they cannot get their children into the local church school if there is only one school available. I hope that Government Members would accept it as a fundamental principle that, so far as possible, children should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.
On my hon. Friend's second point, with all due respect I think his amendments are seeking to create some straw men that simply do not exist in this Bill. It is a distraction. There may be another time for such a debate and I am sure that I and other colleagues would gladly engage with him because many in the House believe that faith schools make a very substantial contribution to our national life, provide diversity in education and contribute to the richness of educational experience in this country. As I say, I believe that seeking to introduce these amendments is a distraction, and I hope that the House will oppose them.
Glenda Jackson: Following on from the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), let me say that it is more than anecdotal-and certain in my constituency-that all schools, primary or secondary, are over-subscribed. As the hon. Gentleman said, parents should be allowed to educate their children as they wish, but parents who want to educate their child in a faith school-Church of England, Roman Catholic or Muslim-may find that there are no places because they have been superseded not only by people who have suddenly discovered their faith but by those who have had the money to buy their way into a catchment area. Yes, we would all like parents to see their children educated as they wish, whether it be in a faith school or a non-faith school, but what my constituents overwhelmingly want is to see their children educated in a local school, so they do not have to travel vast distances and so that relationships can be created with in a local area.
In my opinion, this group of amendments brings us to the central part of the Bill, which is all to do with admissions. I have already touched lightly on the difficulties experienced in my constituency. As I said on Second Reading, if the Bill goes through without further amendment, we will return the country to the bad old days of the 11-plus. Many Members on the opposite Benches would love the restoration of the 11-plus and are desperate to return to grammar schools and the old-fashioned secondary modern schools. Under the Bill, they would not even be bog-standard comprehensives, and I can remember what the old secondary schools were like.
It is intrinsically wrong to approach education in a way that so totally excludes parents' input. It is astounding that hon. Members, who, like me, must come across such issues in their constituency surgeries, cannot foresee a position in which, should the Bill go through and the academisation of our schools go on, there would be a determined move on the part of some parents to exclude, first, children with special educational needs; secondly, children who could claim free school meals; and, thirdly, children with English as a second language.
Chris Skidmore: I simply do not understand the hon. Lady's assertion that academies will penalise those with special educational needs or those who can claim free school meals. All the available evidence shows that academies take more pupils who can claim free school meals and more pupils with special educational needs. Her comments therefore make no sense.
Glenda Jackson: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman simply does not know or whether he is deliberately blurring the issue, but existing academies were established by my Government in areas of grievous deprivation in an attempt to raise the educational standards of children who not only lived in deprived areas, but whose whole lives constituted deprivation. That was the central and essential motive of my Government. The hon. Gentleman's Government propose that every secondary school in the country can suddenly become an academy. I reiterate what I have had occasion to say before: human nature does not change. To go back to the point that the hon. Member for Banbury made-that every parent has the right to educate their child as they wish-there will always be parents who want their children to be in a particular situation, which is not inclusive, but deliberately exclusive. They would wish to exclude children whom they feel, for a variety of reasons-I have given only three-should not share a school with their children.
Chris Skidmore: Many hon. Members simply do not understand the politics of class warfare that the hon. Lady describes. Where is the available evidence for what she outlines? It does not matter if the parents are rich or poor or what their background is, they want to do the best for their children, and that should happen. I am sure she will welcome the Government's attempt to ensure that the most deprived pupils have a better start in school through the pupil premium. I look forward to her supporting that.
Glenda Jackson: The hon. Gentleman will be very disappointed. It is not a matter of class warfare, as he describes it. We all understand parents' vulnerability when they are presented with sending their child to a school, and the agonies that they go through-initially, when they first let the child go out of the front door without their being there all the time. We all understand the anxieties that parents experience if they think that the school is not up to the standard that they desire for their children. However, we must not delude ourselves. Some parents are perfectly prepared to sacrifice the education of other parents' children if they think they can gain a greater advantage for their own. Academies open the door to that. That is why, apart from the academic downturn to which the Bill will lead, the potential for social division is horrendous.
An inner-London constituency such as mine is multiracial, multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-you-name-it-we've-got-it-and it works. People communicate and get on, and there is an exchange of culture, tradition and identity and a sense of community, which is shared by all. It is inherent in the Bill, however, that it will begin to chip away at that and destroy it. That is inevitable. I remember the terrible rows that took place, the terrible ongoing arguments, when it was first proposed that we should get rid of grammar schools. That situation could be replicated.
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I think that my hon. Friend is describing the difference between an admissions policy, which can be manipulated, and a secondary school catchment area. The catchment area will give an impression of the community that contains the school, whereas an admissions policy that is not nailed down or defined in any great detail will not necessarily give such an impression.
Glenda Jackson: Absolutely. My hon. Friend has made the point much more succinctly than I could have done. That is the bedrock of my argument: there must be an admissions policy that affects all schools and cannot be left exclusively to the governors of a school.
Chris Skidmore: The hon. Lady says that the schools system in her constituency "absolutely works". Last year, 48.4% of pupils in the constituency achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths. That means that more than half the pupils in her constituency are not achieving the basics at GCSE. Does the system really "absolutely work"?
Glenda Jackson: I do not wish to be rude, but the hon. Gentleman is not a testament to his own education. He does not listen to what I say. The point that I was making about a community was not about education, but about the way in which communities work together over a wide spectrum of experience, ethnicity and age. I consider that the Bill has enormous potential to create a serious breakdown in social cohesion-
It seems to me that the strongest bulwark against that serious breakdown is to ensure that we have an admissions policy that is fair in the broadest sense, as suggested by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas).
Ms Buck: Is not my hon. Friend's point reinforced, and that made by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) undermined, by the extraordinary variation in the intake of precisely the pupils whom my hon. Friend has described-pupils who are on School Action Plus, pupils with special educational needs and pupils who are entitled to free school dinners? Schools with a significantly larger proportion of pupils in those categories almost invariably struggle to achieve the educational standards achieved by schools that choose to take fewer such pupils. Will not allowing more schools to choose less deprived pupils increase that variation between higher and lower-performing schools?
We have come so far in so many ways in this country. I know that the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) disagrees with me, but over the past 13 years I have seen a transformation of the schools in my constituency and a transformation of the educational levels of pupils in my constituency, and that seems to be increasing. There are invariably benefits in such circumstances, because of the wide variety of people whom our children meet. The variations in culture, language and tradition feed into schools in a way that has an intrinsically positive effect not only on the children's education, but on the quality and stability of life in this country.
I am a product of the 11-plus, and I remember distinctly what happened at the time. I lived in a very small town. I was probably related to two thirds of the people there, and everyone knew me and my entire family. The results of the 11-plus came in. As I walked
to school people asked me, "Have you passed?" and I said, "I don't know." "Oh," they said, "You've failed." I went home for lunch. The brown envelope had arrived; I had passed. I went back. In the intervening time, my mother had run around and told everyone that I had passed.
What is most shocking to me, however-I did not realise it at the time, but I realise it now-was the attitude of adults whom I had known all my life. I must say in fairness to them that they had always looked out for me and mine and ours, because at that time there was a community culture of looking out for our children. They had changed in a second their view of what I was capable of and of what I was as a human being. If Government Members really wish to return that burden to the shoulders of 11-year-old children, I throw up my hands in despair because I do not know what they want from education or what they expect of our children.
Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Does the hon. Lady not accept that this Bill does not include the capacity to expand selection? It is clear that that is not in the Bill; indeed, that is very clearly stated in the Bill. Would the hon. Lady not accept that?
Glenda Jackson: No, I would not accept that, because the Bill is allowing a minute number of people who are engaged in delivering publicly funded education to our children over a period of time to decide on their admissions policies. They can decide on everything. It seems that they have no need to consult anyone, and if they make a decision and there is a little trouble locally, they then go to the Secretary of State.
Many of us can remember that under a previous Conservative Government there were great difficulties with planning proposals. Planning was always a terrible problem, and the Government of the day simply rubber-stamped the proposals they wished to proceed.
The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The hon. Member should know that he cannot accuse another hon. Member of deceit. Perhaps he would like to rephrase his comments, and withdraw the word "deceit".
Julian Smith: I withdraw that word, but I think it is important that we do not represent the Bill inaccurately. This Bill does not propose any expansion to selection in this country, beyond the terms embedded in existing legislation.
Glenda Jackson: How many Bills have been enacted in this place, the unconsidered consequences of which have created the necessity for this House to come back again and either write a new Bill or add an amendment to the existing legislation? To reassure the hon. Gentleman, I have been extremely public about what I regard as the intrinsic potential for huge damage in this Bill.
Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that in rushing the Bill through with such haste precisely the danger she mentions arises because we are not scrutinising its measures properly and so we may end up with an Act that needs to be changed?
Glenda Jackson: That is an extremely salient point, and one is left wondering why the Bill has to be rushed through in such a short space of time. I personally have received no comfort from the Minister when it has been pointed out during this afternoon's debate that we are running into the long summer holidays and he has replied, "Well, work is going on and schools will open in September." We do not know which schools they are. I am secretly hoping that the Minister will, with the best will in the world and not because of his own individual failure, be proved wrong on this matter, as his Secretary of State was when he made his five varying announcements on which schools would or would not be in the Building Schools for the Future programme.
The Bill's measures would take us back to a position to which we really should not want to return. As we all know, we are living in an ever more competitive world, and the greatest national resource we have is our people-their talent, their energy, their ability, their creativity. The future of this country is dependent upon our young people, and on our being able to deliver to them the best possible education, but it must be the best possible education we can deliver to all our children and young people, not just a selected, or selective, few. So I sincerely hope that the amendments that have already been presented will be accepted by the Committee, because this is the heart of the Bill and the Committee should reject the Bill as it stands.
Mr Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) for giving me my cue, once again. She finished her remarks by saying that what is important is that we have the best possible education for all our children, and that is precisely why I have always been an advocate of academic selection. May I say to her-I hope that she will take this in the spirit in which it is intended-that there is always a danger in these debates of reverting to historical anecdotes about our own experiences? All too often, people look at debates about academic selection through a prism that is not the experience of people today in areas such as mine, which still have selective schools. The borough of Trafford has a model of diverse education, where the grammar schools are excellent and so are the high schools, a very large number of which are specialist schools that excel in particular areas.
We have moved a tremendous distance from the kind of world that the hon. Lady described, which was one of pass or fail. We have moved to a world where many people will choose to go to a high school because of its specialism and its very high academic attainment. My area achieves better results than leafier Cheshire does
over the border. In fact, it achieves better results than any other part of the country apart from Northern Ireland, which also has a wholly selective system. As is well known, I am an advocate of that system.
Glenda Jackson: Surely the hon. Gentleman would also acknowledge that there has been an explosion across the whole country of parents buying additional educational facilities for their children at the point when they have to sit a selective examination, and not always in a secondary or a grammar school. That kind of pressure, which is being exerted on our children, is a pressure too far. We hear about that in respect of standard assessment tests. Why do we not hear about it in terms of the pressure on children whose choice of school must be via selection?
Mr Brady: As the hon. Lady well knows, there has also been an explosion in the practice of parents paying over the odds for houses in the catchment area of the better comprehensive schools, in her constituency and elsewhere. That is why the Sutton Trust found earlier this year that the better comprehensive schools are the most socially selective, not the grammar schools.
It is time that we had a more rational and open-minded debate. Hon. Members will have heard the exchanges that took place a few moments ago on the Bill's content and whether it would allow an expansion of selection. As I said in response to the hon. Lady's intervention on Second Reading, I only wish that it would. At the moment, although the Conservative Front-Bench team takes the view that parents should have more choice on the kind of schools that are available and that schools should have more freedom, it sadly still does not quite have the courage of its convictions to allow the choice to include academic selection where parents want it. I would like to see that additional choice allowed.
I oppose amendment 14, which is an attack on the remaining grammar schools, many of which, including those in my constituency, wish to become academies because they believe that they can benefit from the additional freedom that that will give them to flourish and excel. Of course, I wish to support amendment 43, which stands in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends and at least one Labour Member. In speaking in support of amendment 43, I suppose I should start with a rare admission-
I expect broad support from hon. Members on both sides of the Houses on amendment 49, and I shall start my comments on that amendment with the unusual admission that I was once wrong in an education debate in the House. I am going all the way back to the Committee stage of the Bill that became the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, in which I opposed introducing ballot arrangements to continue grammar
schools because I made the mistake of imagining that they were intended to be a route to abolishing grammar schools. It has become apparent, with experience and practice over the years, that those arrangements have been the greatest safeguard introduced by the Labour Government because there has been only one instance in which parents achieved the requisite threshold to trigger a ballot through a petition, and the proposal was then thrown out by an overwhelming majority precisely because grammar schools are immensely popular with parents. I was therefore mistaken in my earlier view.
The introduction of the ballot arrangements in 1998 was a great tribute to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the former right hon. Member for Sedgefield. Many of us came to understand, much to our regret, that he had an unrivalled feel for the views and instincts of middle Britain. In that instance, he had correctly identified the affection and support that so many people have for grammar schools and he had identified the perfect mechanism for protecting both them and the then Labour Government from the opprobrium that would have resulted had any of them closed during the years of Labour government.
As the ballot arrangements were introduced by a Labour Government and have been nurtured and kept in place by Education Ministers throughout the period of Labour government, I am sure that the shadow Minister will support my amendment. I am also sure, given the very strong support that the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), has given to the continuation of grammar schools-he has also visited some of the excellent schools in my constituency-that the Government will want to reassure us that grammar schools are entirely safe under the Bill, and I look forward to hearing that reassurance.
During the general election, all four candidates in my constituency, which I think probably has the best state schools in the country, were to a greater or lesser extent supportive of the selective system. Even the Labour candidate was reasonably warm about grammar schools because he, like me, is an old boy of Altrincham grammar school for boys; perhaps that helped to condition his views on the subject. The Liberal Democrat candidate was strongly in support, and I hope that our coalition partners will follow suit and strongly support the grammar schools in the two Divisions on them this evening. The other candidate from the United Kingdom Independence party was also very supportive.
Ms Buck: Can the hon. Gentleman help me with one point? If grammar schools are, as he and other proponents of them claim, a route for high-achieving children from more deprived backgrounds, why do they have fewer children who are entitled to free school meals than other schools?
Mr Brady: There are a number of reasons, but the principal one is that most inner-city grammar schools were sadly destroyed by misguided policy, so there are fewer grammar schools in the most deprived areas and they tend to survive- [ Interruption. ] No, I am responding to the hon. Lady's point. They tend to survive in the outer-urban and more rural areas. The reduction in grammar schools, particularly in London, where there are so few, has had another effect: they have become more selective over time. In my borough of Trafford, we select about 35% of that cohort to go to grammar school, but selection can amount to as little as 1% or 2% of the ability range at some London grammar schools.
Ms Buck: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the national statistics, but is he saying that, in Trafford, grammar schools have the same proportion of children on free school dinners as non-grammar schools?
Mr Brady: That would depend on the part of Trafford that one was in, and the figure would largely relate to the school's catchment area, but overall grammar schools have become more selective than they should have had to become.
I do not want to detain the Committee for long. The crucial point about amendment 49 is that it would protect the status quo not just of the excellent schools that are thriving and popular in their communities, but of their protection in current education legislation. If the amendment is accepted and those schools become academies, they will have the protection of a parental ballot, which will transfer with them and prevent any change in their status without reference to the parents. I hope that the amendment is uncontentious, and I very much hope that my Front Benchers warmly welcome it.
Vernon Coaker: Mr Evans, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to some really important amendments that clearly arouse feelings among Members on both sides of the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) has left the Chamber, but in a very good speech she again outlined some of the differences between hon. Members on how to achieve the educational objectives that we all want.
Mr Field: Well, my point is actually rather important, because many of us fundamentally differ in our objectives for the education system and in our feelings about what it is there to achieve. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) made a very impassioned speech, but we should not be fooled, because some of us have very different objectives. Some of us do not feel that an egalitarian and equal education for every single child is necessarily the right way forward. Some Government Members feel very strongly that, given the global world in which we will compete in the decades ahead, we should look at an elitist education in order to ensure that our brightest and best have the very best opportunities without having to rely upon the wealth of their parents.
Vernon Coaker: The hon. Gentleman and I have spoken on several occasions and exchanged pleasantries at debates not just in the Chamber, but outside, and I do not think that, when he reflects on what he has said, he will agree with himself-if I might be so bold. In my opening remarks I was essentially trying to say that everybody wants the best for the children of this country. We want them to achieve the very best that they can. Opposition Members believe in comprehensive education, and we believe that grammar schools are divisive. It is a caricature of our position to say that, therefore, we do not want young people to excel at something; that is not the case.
The issue is about trying different ways from those of the hon. Gentleman to ensure that every child has the same chance of achieving their educational objectives. The difference between us is that he sees the route to excellence, and an opportunity to be created, in a system that allows for grammar schools, and we do not see it that way at all. I would be surprised if his Front Benchers, who are also exercised about this issue, voted for amendment 49 along with the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady).
In the continuing debate about grammar schools, we are debating a few schools rather than how we raise the standard and quality of education right across the system. I do not decry the desire of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) to ensure that all children achieve the very best that they can, and I hope that he would not decry me, or any of my hon. Friends, in terms of wanting that either. It is a difference of philosophy and view about how one achieves that. [ Interruption. ] With respect to the hon. Gentleman, if he reads what he said, I think he will find that that was not quite the point that he was making. If I am wrong, I apologise.
The amendments tabled in my name deal with exclusions and admissions. I should say at the outset, for the avoidance of doubt, that I wish to press amendments 23, 27 and 14 to a vote to test the opinion of the Committee. The amendments would ensure that independence for academies does not mean an ability to select covertly and to exclude more easily. That is particularly relevant now that we have this changed academy model. As hon. Members who have sat through a few hours of this debate will know, that is one of the principal points of difference. We are not opposing academies per se, but we see this particular model of academy as different. Hundreds of outstanding schools are now eligible for academy status.
One of the interesting points, which changes the whole dynamic of the debate, is that when we look at schools that are applying to become academies as opposed to those that are already academies under the existing model, we see a completely different version of the academy profile. According to a study published this month by the Centre for Economic Performance, schools that have expressed an interest are, unlike the current academies, characterised by having a more advantaged pupil population, lower proportions of free school meals, lower numbers of pupils with special educational needs, lower numbers of pupils with ethnic minority status, and superior levels of GCSE attainment. That is an important difference to reflect on when we consider the Bill in this context. We believe it is necessary to consider how we change some of the provisions in the Bill to deal with that changed situation.
Mr Gibb: Is it not an indictment of 13 years of Labour Government that outstanding schools are disproportionately in areas of affluence? That is the best example of that Government's track record that could be revealed, and the hon. Gentleman has revealed it to the Committee.
Vernon Coaker: That could be a debate that the hon. Gentleman will want to have another time. The context for this debate, though, is to consider the changed profile of schools that wish to become academies as opposed to the profile of schools that are already academies. We are debating a different situation in which those academies, through a funding agreement rather than through statutory legislation, now have to abide by various things such as admissions codes, exclusions and so on. That is the point that we are making about the genuine difference between these two sets of the schools and the need for some of the amendments that we have before us.
Ms Buck: Is the Minister not wrong? There are actually cases in which two schools serve the same neighbourhood and one has a dramatically lower number of children on free school dinners, on School Action Plus or with special educational needs than the other, which is only a few hundred yards away. Neither school is situated in a more affluent area; they simply have different intakes. That shows that something else is going on in their admissions policies.
Vernon Coaker: Such a difference in intake is certainly true in many cases. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn pointed out, it is also crucial for us to understand the difference between the profile of pupils at the new academies that the Government intend to set free and give all sorts of freedoms to, and those at the existing academies. The study by the Centre for Economic Performance is extremely important in that respect.
Robert Flello: Does my hon. Friend understand my concern that at the moment, not just in Stoke-on-Trent but more widely, there are young people in the education system, such as those on the autism spectrum, who have undiagnosed conditions and who have problems in school? Under the Government's proposals, they will be much more readily kicked out of their schools, whereas they should be getting more support and help in them.
I shall give an example of how difficult the matter is, and I hope that the Minister will comment specifically on it. The Government's view is that none of our suggestions needs to be on the face of the Bill. We fundamentally disagree, hence the amendments that we have tabled. We do not believe it is enough for the admissions provisions to be set out simply in the funding agreements. One of the most fundamental changes that I can find in annexe A of the draft funding agreement, on admissions-I am sure there are many others-relates to the annual procedures for determining admissions arrangements. In the current model agreement, the relevant annexe contains detailed provisions with which
an academy has to comply in order to remain within the terms of the funding agreement. The proposed draft completely removes those provisions.
Somebody cynical would ask why, when the Government are seeking to reassure Members throughout the House who want a fair admissions process, the Minister or the Department has signed off a model funding agreement that removes some of the detailed provisions on admissions.
Mr Gibb: What we are trying to do across government at the moment is reduce the bureaucratic burdens faced by the public services. However, the model funding agreement still applies the law on admissions, as well as the admissions code and admissions appeal code, to all converting academies. It achieves exactly the same effect as before, and academies will be on exactly the same basis as maintained schools when it comes to admissions. We can achieve that with fewer words.
Vernon Coaker: The model that the Minister is working to is one that will lead to a massive expansion in academies right across the country, not just 200 at secondary schools in areas of social disadvantage and educational underperformance. The new academies will be outstanding schools that are already doing well and are socially advantaged, and that have a totally different profile from existing academies. At the same time as Members throughout the Committee are raising concerns about what the impact of that will be on admissions to the new academies, the Minister weakens the model funding agreement. Those things are tucked away-they are not deliberately hidden-in model funding agreements. We need to compare funding agreements, as I will with respect to exclusions, but significant changes in provisions are included in them.
The Minister has tried to offer a justification, but will he say what other differences there are in the model funding agreements on admissions between what existed and what happens now? Why have those changes been made, and why should we be reassured simply by his words on changing the model funding agreement, which is the legally binding contract between the Secretary of State and the school that becomes an academy? Even if the Opposition agreed with the Minister's policy, which we do not, would it not have been better to have reassured people by ensuring that the various things that have been taken out of the model funding agreement were kept in?
Much of the debate has been on schools in areas of social deprivation and selective schools, but what about the middle ground, such as schools in my constituency? Mid-Cheshire towns have areas of deep social deprivation-not quite the same as
in cities-but also prosperous families. When they are brought together, we end up with good rather than outstanding schools. Does the hon. Gentleman not see that the Bill will help good schools that are under-achieving? Under the Bill, all sections of those communities could come together to achieve the outstanding excellence that we all want.
Vernon Coaker: In fairness, the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point on the need to concentrate not only on outstanding and failing schools. He is right to point that out. It would have been perfectly possible to develop Labour's academies model to deal with schools in the middle-I will not call them coasting schools. Similarly, that is why our model contained provisions for all-through academies. It was sometimes a matter not of the secondary school alone, but of linking the primary and secondary schools. That is important.
The reason why the Opposition are opposed to the way in which the Bill is constructed is that it does not consider the need for academies or where they can bring added value to schools in an area, but says that they are the only solution. National challenge trusts, a change of head teacher or the injection of new staff to a school could make the difference rather than structural change, as I have seen in different parts of the country. One flaw at the heart of the Bill, to which we will doubtless return when the Government introduce their Bill in the autumn, is that they have made the mistake that people always make of believing that structural change brings improved performance in schools. Sometimes such change creates the opportunity for change to take place, but essentially, what ultimately makes the difference, whether in a local authority school, a national challenge trust or an academy, is the quality of leadership and teaching in the school, not structural change.
Good schools deserve help and support, and the hon. Gentleman was right to point out that we need better to understand how we get that injection of pace and inspiration into them. I do not think that that is necessarily brought about by structural change, particularly the structural change enabled by the Bill, which does not include a requirement on outstanding schools to link to or partner other schools. That is an aspiration and a desire-
The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. We are straying somewhat from the amendments we are discussing on admissions and exclusions. There is a lot to be debated this evening in a short space of time, so could the shadow Minister please restrict himself to the amendments?
Amendment 14 would effectively prevent grammar schools from becoming academies. We are worried that grammar schools becoming academies will lead to an increase in selection in the academies arena. Will the Minister explain whether it would be possible for a grammar school with 1,000 places that had become an
academy to expand to 1,500 or 2,000 places? Will he also explain what, if any, influence in terms of selection a grammar school that had become an academy would have if it were to link up with a weaker school? What effect would its selection policy have on that other school?
Will the Minister also explain what Lord Hill meant when he wrote that the Government intended to allow selective academies to expand where there was a strong case for doing so and where there had been local consultation? It is important that we understand what he meant by that.
On exclusions, amendment 27 seeks to ensure that the current legal framework would apply to the new academies, to the extent that they would have to conform to the existing codes that schools have to conform to at the moment. One piece of evidence from the equalities impact assessment shows that the overall rate of exclusions is higher in academies than in local authority-maintained secondary schools. How does the Minister expect to keep track of that and understand how it is all working? How can we ensure that pupils with special educational needs, and pupils who are less academic or who are difficult, are not excluded from a school simply to preserve the school's examination standing?
"Subject to the exceptions in paragraph 4, the Academy Trust shall ensure that in carrying out their functions the Principal, the Governing Body and the Independent Appeal Panel (established in accordance with paragraph 5) have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions, as if the Academy were a maintained school."
"Subject to the exceptions in paragraph 4, the Academy Trust shall ensure that in carrying out their functions the Principal and the Governing Body have regard to the Secretary of State's guidance on exclusions including in relation to any appeals process as if the Academy were a maintained school."
Mr Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is quoting the statistics of the exclusion rates in the 200-odd academies set up under Labour. What was his plan to bring those academies back into line? Why were they excluding so many pupils, and what action was his Department planning to take?
Vernon Coaker: The Department was planning to have discussions with all those academies, and with their sponsors, to try to understand why those exclusions figures were as they were, to see what we could do to reduce the numbers, and to accept it as a difficulty. The Bill proposes a massive expansion of academies to include outstanding schools, and they will only be asked-not required-to partner schools that are in difficulty. Given that the Government refuse to put these issues on the face of the Bill, one can only wonder what this will mean for exclusions and admissions. If the hon. Gentleman does not believe that they should be included in the Bill, how does he expect them to be monitored and academies to be held to account?
Mr Hancock: I do not have a problem with what is in the Bill because I will be voting against it anyway. However, given all that the hon. Gentleman said the previous Government were doing to encourage schools to be more understanding about exclusions, why did the number of exclusions continue to rise?
Vernon Coaker: As I said, what happens is that a problem is identified and an attempt is made to deal with it. It became apparent that there were a number of exclusions, and I could have stood here and not drawn attention to that, opening myself up to exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman has, correctly, made. The rate of exclusions in academies was too high, and we wanted to do something about it.
It is clear that one way to deal with that issue is to include in the Bill a requirement to conform to measures such as admissions codes and the legal frameworks laid out on exclusions. In doing so, we would give much more legislative clout to achieving the things we want to achieve. I have given examples-the changes to the model funding agreements on admissions and on exclusions-that demonstrate that the Government are saying, "Trust us, we will do all this through the model funding agreement." Through these amendments, I and my party are saying that we do not believe that that is sufficient and that such a provision needs to be included in the Bill, which is why we tabled these amendments.
Gavin Barwell: The hon. Gentleman is trying to make the case that the exclusion rates are higher in academies, and is comparing them with the whole of the maintained sector. Is it not true that research published by his Department when he was a Minister showed that exclusion rates in academies are no higher than the average rates for their local authority areas?
Let me try to make some progress. This set of amendments is extremely important. Allowing outstanding schools to fast-track to becoming academies raises all sorts of questions and concerns right across the Committee. What will it mean for admissions? We are told, "Trust the funding agreement." What will it mean for exclusions? We are told, "Trust the funding agreement." Grammar schools are to become part of the academy world. We are told, "Don't worry, it won't mean more selection. Don't worry, it won't mean more selective places."
It is clear from the answers we have been given and the evidence before us that grammar schools becoming academies will lead to more selection. It is clear that, without its being made explicit in the Bill that there is a requirement to abide by the various codes and the legal framework in respect of exclusions and admissions, over the next few years we will see an expansion of selection and of exclusions from the intakes into certain schools-or, more likely, non-admittance-and a more socially exclusive education system. We all want increased attainment and our young people to achieve the very best they can, but we cannot do that by creating what this Bill in effect creates at its heart: a two-tier education system.
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