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Clause 8 was inserted as part of a set of compromises agreed within the Commons. It essentially allows local authorities to establish community schools only when that local authority has achieved the top rating of excellent in the local authority performance ratings. Only 11 authorities out of 145 have achieved that rating. Local authorities are otherwise allowed to put forward a proposal only with the permission of the Secretary of State, and then subject to a lot of further conditions relating to the proportion of foundation and voluntary-aided or controlled schools already existing in the area. We seek on this occasion not to eliminate Clause 8 but to ease the criteria so that authorities getting the top two ratings in local authority performance assessment will be allowed to put forward proposals for community schools.
The amendment would retain the Secretary of States control over proposals put forward by authorities achieving only a fair or poor rating. We thus meet the criteria of one objection put forward at Report to our proposals then, when the Minister said:
I do not accept that a local authority should have an unfettered right, however bad its track record, to promote schools which it more directly manages. A local authority with a poor track record should commission those with better prospects of successbe they a parents group or an education foundationto take on the task by means of a trust or a voluntary-aided school or an academy.[Official Report, 17/10/06; col. 674.]
On this occasion, we accept that those with a poor track record should not be allowed to enter the competition. We ask that those with a good track recordthe good and the excellentshould be allowed to do so. This amounts to approximately 100 of 145 authorities, cutting out those that have a poor track record.
I stress again that we are arguing only about who may put forward proposals for the competition. The competition then goes forward, and it is not necessarily the proposal put forward by the local authority that is chosen. The local authority is one of the contestants and the competition is decided by the adjudicator. We argued last time that local authorities, elected democratically by those who pay council taxa good part of council tax pays for schools in the areashould know what the local community wants. It is right and proper that they have the chance to make known what they think that is.
I also find it astonishing in the week after the Government have published their White Paper on local government, which asks local authorities to take more responsibility, that in the heart of the Bill we have a clause that prevents them from taking responsibilities which I believe are their democratic right. I beg to move.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I support what my noble friend has just said. To me it is astonishing that the House has virtually emptied, having given itself great satisfaction in passing an amendmentor at least getting the Government to agree to itabout promoting community cohesion.
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As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, pointed out, the tremendous achievement of our comprehensive, local authority schools has been precisely in creating community schools. The whole idea of comprehensive schools was to bring about such cohesion, because faith is not the only issue that might divide a society; there is also class, income, background, gender and race. Over the past 40 years, these community schools have made an astonishing contribution to community cohesion in this country.
Having satisfied themselves with putting a couple of words into the Billwith, admittedly, as the Minister has articulately pointed out, some obligation on the inspectors to ensure that that means somethinga part of this House then leaves before the crucial element of the Bill is discussed: how many of our community schools will be permitted, under the Bill, to survive.
In our amendment we are proposing something simple. The local authorities that could be permitted to put forward a proposal for a new community school or community special school should include not just the very thin group at the top that are described as excellent, but the rather broader group described as both excellent and good. I must ask your Lordships to consider for a moment whether we are applying those criteria to all the other schools that will be part of the pattern of education under the terms of the Bill. The Edinburgh study published in May 2006 pointed out that the academies so far in existence, despite all the extra money that has been lavished upon them, had achieved less than a 1 per cent improvement on the position of the associated previous community schools. I pointed out to this House only recently that the closest parallel we have to the proposed trust schools, the charter schools of America, have actually produced less successful standards in literacy and numeracy than the schools they succeeded.
We have pointed out from these Benches that the single most successful educational system in the whole of Europe, according to the OECDa pretty independent and impeccable sourceis the comprehensive system in Finland. It is far ahead of virtually any other European country and sadly a long way ahead of this country. It has been argued that Finland is a small country. Yes, it is. It is also amazingly cohesive and educationally successful.
We have tended not to look too closely at the relatively better results of our Scottish colleagues, in terms of the proportion going on to higher education, staying on, achieving in schools and so on, in what is still almost entirely a genuinely comprehensive system, not one that has been raddled by political football matches in the way that has been in true in the rest of the United Kingdom.
My first point is that we ought to consider above allI believe that the Minister is very concerned about this and always has beenwhat constitutes a good school. Surely the criteria we apply to good
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My second point has already been made effectively by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford. What is proposed runs directly contrary to the promises made by the Government in the White Paper on local government. In it we give local government some extra, rather unattractive, powers to impose fixed penalties. In this Bill, we take away from local authorities a much more significant power, the power to run a substantial number of schools in their own communities, thereby making a joke of the Governments recent promises to devolve much more power to local authorities.
Thirdly, on community cohesion, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is right to say that words, admittedly supported by the inspectors in this case, are not much of a substitute for a structure of education that puts the community and community cohesion at its heart. We are trading a serious system for a passel of promises. Fourthly, but not least important, we have a serious problem of trying to attract enough good teachers to stay in our schools and enough even better teachers to take on the huge responsibilities of headship. We know that, at least in London and other great cities, it is now extremely difficult to find a good head teacher.
In our previous debate on community cohesion, as in so many debates on this Bill, we once again placed responsibility on the teacher and on the head teacher. If you add up the responsibilities that we now place, morally and legally, on head teachers, it is hardly surprising that so few people are willing to come forward to bear such huge burdens, with so little assistance. The evidence is clear that without the support of local authorities and their inspectors and the support that one gets from a good county hall, it becomes even harder to become a head teacherand that becomes a very lonely activity indeed. We have not begun to thank our teachers and head teachers for the huge endeavours that they have made and for their successes that they have to their credit, whether in secular or faith schools.
We have a brilliant, articulate and extremely helpful Minister. If he was not there, this Bill would have had a very much rougher time getting through the two Chambers of Parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, whose honesty always gets the better of him, has implied, quite a few passionate critics of the Bill have decided that the better course is simply to stay away and let it happen, because they feel that it would be futile to try at this late stage to change it by more than minor ways.
In my view, this Bill will prove to be a disaster. There will be constant competition under it. The fine words about fair admissions and all the rest are, I am sure, sincerely meant, but they will turn out to be in conflict with the deep, underlying principles of the
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Lord Adonis: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in paying tribute to the outstanding work of our head teachers and teachers in all types of schools up and down the country. I see that work day in and day out. I visit schools frequently and make no discrimination between the successes of different categories of schools. All of them are equally community minded, whatever their formal legal status, and it is absolutely right that we should pay tribute to them. It is fair to say that no Government in recent times have given them more practical support than this Government in terms of resources to enable the profession to succeed, its pay, its trainingand in terms of its numbers, given the sheer size of the teaching profession, which has grown substantially in recent years and is vital to teachers being able to do their jobs.
So I hope that those big issues of principle that the noble Baroness mentioned do not turn out to be the great divisions that she described. I continue to believe that many of her concerns are due to misapprehensions as to the design and effect of the policies that we are talking about. She repeated the view, which she articulated powerfully in Committee, that only community schoolsthat is, schools in the legal category of community schools, which is simply one characteristic of their governing bodies formationcould be relied on to act in a community-minded spirit. I deny that contention. There are effective schools in all categories that are extremely good at promoting community cohesion.
I also pointed out to the noble Baroness that a disproportionate number of schools that offer low standards of educationwhich, frankly, neither she nor I would find acceptable for local communitieshave the legal status of community schools. If only we have the determination to be bold in this area, it is absolutely within our power to see the development of many more successful schools serving communities honestly without fear or favour in the way that she would wish. We could have many more such schools if we were prepared to see the further development of mission by schools, including more flexibility in their governance, which is what trust status brings about.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I draw to the Ministers attention that the amendment is precisely about the authorities that are rated by his own department and by local authorities as being either excellent or good. We are not talking about what are admittedly poor schools, whether in the private sector, among academies or, for that matter, among local authority schools.
Lord Adonis: My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, that is precisely what we are talking about. The Secretary of State will exercise his
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If I may say so, I think that the noble Baroness is confusing the status of the local authority in terms of its performance assessment, which is a judgment on the local authority at large, and the precise set of circumstances that apply in respect of the individual school competitions, many of which will be to replace existing weak or failing schools. With regard to the latter, it might be absolutely appropriate for the Secretary of State to wish to see a greater diversity of proposals coming forward rather than for the local authority to promote a community school where the set of circumstances surrounding the school to be replaced would lead the Secretary of State to judge that other proposals would have a much better chance of producing a successful school.
For those reasons, we do not believe that the amendment should be supported. The clause as drafted puts the details in regulations, and the draft regulations specify that only authorities with an annual performance assessment rating of four should be allowed an automatic right to promote community schools in competitions. For other authorities, as I said, the Secretary of State may well give consent for community schools to be entered into competitions, but we believe that that judgment should be made on a case-by-case basis, specifically because we want to see effective action taken in areas where standards are low and where there is insufficient diversity in the provision of schools. We do not believe that it is inappropriate for the Government to play that role in areas where educational standards have not been sufficiently high or where choice for parents is inadequate. For those reasons, we invite the House to disagree with the amendment.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I point out again that the amendment relates only to whether local authorities are allowed to put a proposal on the table. By no means are these proposals about always replacing poorly performing state schools. Frequently, they will be proposals for a new school where housing estates are expanding on the edge of a large community. As we know, somewhere in the region of half a million new houses are due to be built in the south-east of England. Many new schools will be required to meet the needs of those housing estates. As I said, the competition will be open to anyone to put forward proposals, and the question is whether the local authority should be allowed to put forward such proposals.
We have whittled down our amendments. We have accepted the Ministers view that poorly performing local authorities should not be allowed to put forward such proposals. We now propose to him that authorities which are rated either good or excellent in local government performance terms and are judged
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These are democratically elected local authorities. Why do we have elections? We have them so that people represent us locally when it comes to spending our council tax on such things as education. It is right and proper that such local authorities should be allowed to have a view on what best represents their interests; it is right and proper that they should be allowed to put forward such proposals. If they did so, decisions would be taken by the schools adjudicator, outside the range of the local authority concerned, because the authority would obviously be an interested party if it had put a proposal on to the table.
It is demeaning to local authorities which are generally judged to be performing well to suggest that they should not be allowed to put forward such proposals. We would like to test the opinion of the House on this issue.
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