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Many people have discussed the governance and accountability of schools. Accountability to governors is important and it is vital that parents and teachers continue to have a role on the governing body-and, I would argue, the local community as well-but accountability has to go further than the governing body. Very often, the nature of a school, particularly a smaller school, is such that the governing body is in a difficult position if it wants to intervene when things start to go wrong in the school. The head teacher, the leading governors and perhaps the whole governing body get very close. They do so for obvious and very good reasons, often because they are involved in doing important things in running the school. Schools bring in accountants and solicitors who work for free. Involving them when something is going seriously wrong is very difficult. It usually involves the intervention of the local education authority or the diocesan education authority. I can quote two examples from my own part of Lancashire where this has happened. The head teacher of the schools in question and, in one case, other senior staff, had to go because of what was going on in the school. It is very difficult if nobody who is reasonably local can intervene. Is that intervention possible if a large number of academy schools are directly responsible to bureaucrats in Whitehall, who are in many ways more bureaucratic than the local authority? If you talk to head teachers about the
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If more than half of a small education authority's schools become academies, how can it manage to maintain its services to its existing local authority-maintained schools? It will have difficulty maintaining the services; it will certainly have difficulty maintaining its unit costs. Unit costs are bound in the short run to rise under those circumstances and keeping them under control will be very difficult.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, academies can and do succeed. They have had special talent in many cases; they have had extra funding in many cases; they have had the ability to focus on particular problems or subjects, or just to focus on their activity. They have been special schools, and if they had not succeeded it would have been quite extraordinary. They can do that because they are a minority that has had special attention and treatment. Whether that can be translated to a system where a large number of schools become academies is a big question.
There is a lot to talk about. The House of Lords is often said to be a Chamber of scrutiny and revision. This is a Bill where the House's skill, ability and experience in scrutinising and revising will be absolutely necessary for it to become legislation which we can send to the Commons with confidence that it will actually work.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, this is an important Bill which I look forward to supporting. The direction of travel is right. It is a further extension on the journey from the city technology colleges of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, through the changes that have been achieved over the years to complement the work of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I pay tribute to them both.
I make two initial points in welcoming the Bill. First, I was delighted, perhaps even a little surprised, to find the Minister exhibiting just a touch of humility-we have not heard an awful lot of that from the Front Benches-in saying that it was important to manage expectations, which is absolutely right. No legislation that I have seen in a comparatively short time in this House can ever achieve what it is often alleged to be able to achieve. That is as true of this Bill as any other. Legislation can take you so far, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, stressed in a magnificent speech-I have to say that I did not agree with all of it, but it was magnificent none the less-it is the quality of teaching and school leadership that carry you the rest of the way. This is an enabling Bill. We should have just a touch of modesty about what it will achieve, while making sure that we have the support in place to make it work for at least some of those in the system who needed support most clearly.
Secondly, the Bill is part of a one-wheeled tandem. In the Minister's speech in the debate on the Address last week, we were promised further legislation on standards, dealing effectively with regulation and accountability. These are not add-ons; they are absolutely essential. It would be good to have seen the whole picture. We have not, but I am happy to proceed in the expectation that we will have a considered legislative programme put before us that deals with standards, accountability and regulation. That has been stressed by other speakers in your Lordships' House.
One other minor surprise about the speeches so far is that both Front Benches seem to share an assumption that there is something out there called a two-tier system that is either to be resisted or will inevitably follow the implementation of the legislation. We have a two-tier system-or, even more realistically, a multi-tier system-already in place. There are schools that do the most that they possibly can-most schools do that-but have high achievement for a whole variety of reasons, in the end to do with the quality of teaching and leadership; and there are schools that fail our pupils. We have heard the statistics-I shall not repeat them-about those who leave primary school without an adequate grasp of reading. That is a handicap the importance of which we can hardly assess, sitting as we are on these privileged Benches. There are pupils who leave school-they are no longer children-not having picked up the basics of what is essential for playing a strong and important part in employment, family and community, all of which we would normally expect to follow. We have at least a two-tier system.
It used to be very clear and straightforward. When I first came to London in the mid-1970s, I had young children, all at primary school stage, and they went to the local primary school. We then inquired about secondary schooling. We were from a privileged community, a small town in Scotland, where there was one secondary school which was terrific. That was not true of what we found in south-east London. We got the message that there were the private schools for which you paid, that there were the rest which had a very rigid banding system, A, B and C-your may remember this from the days of Ken Livingstone-and then that there was a tiny silver lining for some which I used to think of as the Holland Park syndrome: those who could afford to buy a house in that educationally favoured part of town. We have had two- and three-tier systems; we have got them now. It is not a question of whether the Bill will create a further one; it is whether it will move us forward and erode some of the differences that we all deplore in the schools of this city and of this country. I have to say that the same is true in Scotland, despite its traditional reputation in this area.
A second criticism that has been made of the Bill in principle is that it will weaken the power and role of local authorities and reduce their capacity to afford to provide common services. To that, I say that there is a risk. A very interesting proposal was made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about giving specific functions to local authorities dealing with children with special educational needs-that idea should bear very close scrutiny. There may well be other functions which a local authority, alive to the shape of the local community-language difficulties is an obvious one-is
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I go back to one of my early points. A significant number of schools will become academies; the fact that 1,000 have expressed interest is reason enough to go ahead with the Bill. If no one was interested, I would hear the siren calls and say, "Drop it". But if 1,000 schools think that this is worth looking at, it is worth looking at. These are the teachers and head teachers, the parents and the governing bodies, which will be able to debate locally whether it is the right thing for them.
In passing, I should say that many of those schools are primary schools, which may be quite small in some cases. So they will need partners; they will not have the capacity to take the leadership on matters of property or salary-the whole range of matters about which some noble Lords know a great deal more than I do. The capacity to run a school at that level is like running elements of a small or medium-sized business. Small primary schools will not have that capacity and will need help and co-operation and those who can support them. No single structural or legislative change will solve the problem that we have had as long as we have been able to measure ability and outcomes, nor will it solve all the problems, not even this one. But if it can move us forward, that is immensely important and we must take it on board.
The Bill is largely permissive, as has been stressed, rather than coercive. Schools doing well are invited to express an interest. However, one element of possible coercion or compulsion is complicit in the Bill. Underperforming or failing schools can be required to step out from under the guise of local authorities and possibly to become academies. I would not object-indeed, I think that it is very important-to that capacity. I stand before noble Lords as the person who signed the first order declaring a school in England to be failing, many years ago when I helped to set up Ofsted. It was a considered and difficult decision, but there are such schools, and the pupils in them have to be rescued and helped. I refer noble Lords to an article in today's Times by Libby Purves. But there may be complex reasons for why a school is not delivering; there may be a definition of what it is to deliver that is not quite adequate or right for the context of the school. All I ask is that the Secretary of State and Ministers show
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Finally, if we are to move in this direction-and we will-there are some measures that we must put in place to deal with those schools that are not doing so well. First, the Secretary of State must have the power to intervene and require special measures, including the possibility of academy status. Secondly, the public commitment given in the speech last week that there would be further legislation on accountability, regulation and standards must be brought forward as soon as possible. Thirdly, the commitment to pupil premiums is very important. I confess an interest: I chair the Goldsmiths' Company Education Committee, an education charity. One of the main things that we do, which has been successful, is to give small sums of money up to £6,000 a year to head teachers of schools in difficult areas-most of them in this city, but some in Walsall, which I have already mentioned. We give them this money, which they welcome not only because it is cash but because it is money without a tag attached. The inventiveness and imagination that they show in applying it to the most needy corners of the school means that there is clear to us a huge, untapped reservoir of ability if we allow the professionals to have a proper part in the process.
I come to this debate today out of what the Americans would call "left field"-not a political left field, this side of the House will be pleased to hear. Rather, it is a definition of the direction of the game being changed for a moment by an unexpected move. I hope that I might provide that. I love the idea of these academies. I only wish that I could have gone to one, but that would have been a long time ago and, in any event, I know that I would not have got in; I would have been classified as a special needs child and I would not have got into the system at all. My special need was that I was classified as mentally retarded. I have no argument with that assessment at all. I have made no secret of it since I came to your Lordships' House. It causes me no grief now and I came to terms with it many years ago. What concerns me are the many children in this country today in a similar category who will also never get to an academy and how they can be motivated to set their eyes on a horizon worth aiming for, for the enrichment of their lives, which is otherwise a difficult issue in the present circumstances. This should engage the political parties of all persuasions in this House and should not be an exclusive issue for one.
We have a problem in this country that is beginning to look to me like a replication of the circumstances that gave rise to the difficulties experienced by my generation during and after the Second World War, when I began my educational progress. I am 73 years
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Lord James of Blackheath: I did not know it at the time, my Lords, but found out in rather changed circumstances many years later. The BBC ended up playing this damned tune every five minutes the whole day, but my mother would not switch off the wireless because she wanted to hear when the Prime Minister came on. So we listened to it. That has been very much in my mind in the past month, because of the celebrations of the Dunkirk deliverance. However, we knew nothing of that at the time; all we knew was that France had fallen. We did not know that operation Dunkirk was going on at that time or that 380,000 soldiers were coming back to help the defence. My mother was convinced that the Germans would be there for tea, and she did not have any apple strudel. I suspect that they would have wanted something other than that, but that was her problem at the time. We had this terrible phase of two weeks or so of misery before we had an army back; had we but known it, in another four months we would have the victory of the Battle of Britain to announce.
So we got through the war, more or less. We had three times the ritual of the little orange envelope being delivered, starting off with the words, "The War Office regrets to advise"-but that happened in every family. The war ended, really on VJ Day not VE Day. On that day we learnt for the first time the terrible power of the atomic bomb. From that moment on we knew, as a generation, that we were doomed. There was no point in working-why bother with school? We had no hope whatever, which was how we were brought up for many years to come. We also had the threat of the great red horde flooding across Europe. Berlin was going to fall-the Berlin air lift was a waste of time and was never going to succeed. When it did, we had to wait to see whether we could survive the Korean War and the yellow horde coming from the other direction, so we had no hope anywhere. Who was bothering to sit their exams with any serious intent, or to pass anything? We did not, so I got sent to a school for what would today be called special needs. We really were special needs, but we were not quite as stupid as we might have been thought: of the 22 boys in the class that I was sent to, two played for England at chess within 10 years of the class being formed.
In the fullness of time, one went on from there and-hoping for the best-I got an Oxford entrance
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Around me, all sorts of things were happening. The Teddy boys came on the scene. They gave way to the beatniks and the beatniks gave way to the hippies. Why? These were the remnants of my generation, who had no motivation and no thrust for what to do with their lives, all because the education system had failed to do anything with them when it could have done. Now I see a similar pattern emerging. At that time, we were frightened out of our wits by the atomic and nuclear threat and the prospect of communist overrun. We have exactly the same factors today, only all children today believe that there is no point in working on because global warming will destroy everything in their lives-they are frightened out of their wits about it. Also, they believe that the world economy has been destroyed and has no prospect of recovery, so there is no point in them working to take a role in it. We have to get the political sights up. With all due respect, the right reverend Prelates at the end of these Benches have a role to play as well, in reminding children that God has given us everything with which to support ourselves and have a good life, provided that we use it and take God's strength with us to do it. It is time that the churches all got together behind that with a much bigger voice.
I ask that we do something very positive and think in terms of how we motivate and take with us the people who will not go to the academies and who will have special needs arising not out of being stupid but out of the complete lack of any inspiration or motivation on which they can draw, because of their depression due to the circumstances around them.
As a postscript, I shall pick up on the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, to me about Purcell and the trumpet voluntary. When I was picking the music for my wedding, I chose that my wife should enter the church to the sound of the same piece of music and was informed by the organist at St Paul's, where we were getting married, that it was not by Purcell, but was Jeremiah Clarke's march for the Prince of Denmark. Then my wife asked me why I had chosen it. I said, "I wanted to get rid from my mind the association I have between it and the fall of France". She said, "You think marrying me is comparable to a disaster like the
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This is a splendid Bill. It will do well for the clever ones who get there, but please can we not forget the non-clever ones who have their lives to lead and who will make a big contribution to the economy of this country in time to come if we look after them properly?
Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, having studied the Bill before us-thankfully, it is very short-I saw little that took into account community cohesion. It appears to say that academies are the answer to all the problems in our school community and that those who are not satisfied should set up their own schools, give local authorities the brush-off and go their own way. I sincerely hope that my understanding is not correct. Today I want to bring before you my concerns about the British Afro-Caribbean child, whose experience of the school system in the early days was less than satisfactory.
Most of the children coming into Britain then were sent to SEN schools. We are now at a point where black children, given the support suited to their needs, can and do succeed. However, many parents now feel that the battle almost won is about to recreate itself in what this Bill suggests and there is a fear that the struggle will begin again. I make it clear, once and for all, that education has always been accepted as the means of upward mobility. Research will show that from the day when the phonics of the alphabet were made available to the enslaved Africans, they have embraced education, looked within the system and more or less found solutions. It is now well known that black children achieve in schools at an equal rate to kids from other backgrounds.
The high standards set by the last Government were easily reached by black Caribbean children. What changed most of all was the need for the children to understand that the expectations for them were the same as those for white children-expectations that came from families but were reinforced by teachers, for which I thank them. My purpose today is to make it reasonably clear that there is a need to consider the deep-seated cultural and social differences that characterise black children in our attempt to educate, counsel and assist them in the UK system.
From the early 1960s, a variety of efforts have been directed towards the amelioration of the apparent problems, ostensibly a function of certain disadvantages suffered because of skin colour-but that is untrue. Research efforts of a bewildering variety have been designed and implemented to discover the reasons for the poor performance of such children as a group,
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Parents took this as a condemnation of their children. The result was that we set up Saturday schools, run by black parents and black teachers. They showed that the black child is capable of achieving any standards that are set. We have now seen a great improvement among young boys. The major shortcomings in attempts to educate young black children, and the inability or unwillingness to come to grips with the deep-seated differences between them and white youngsters, meant that it was left to the black community to secure for its children a mixture of black and white teachers so that both black and white cultures were valued and recognised in their own right.
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