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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 162A. I thank the Minister for the reply that she has already given to my amendment. However, in discussing the amendment, I wish to speak more generally about city academies. As the Minister rightly pointed out, this is the first time we have had the opportunity to debate them in this House.
I should like to begin by discussing the more general issue. We on these Benches are sympathetic to the measures which the Government are putting forward which seek to improve the position of inner city schools in disadvantaged areas which have a disproportionately large number of people with all the multiple problems of poverty and who live in run-down communities. We have long argued that these schools should be in the front line of the fight against poverty and need more resources, more talented teachers and innovative programmes.
However, we see these proposals for city academies not as part of a co-ordinated strategy on the part of the Government to cope with these issues but, regretfully, as another ad hoc piece of legislation and another gimmick adding to an already complex situation for these schools. We already have community schools, foundation schools, Church schools and city technology colleges, all of which have different set-ups, different relations with local authorities and different governance systems.
On Report in the other place the Secretary of State made it quite clear that the new academies were not, like city technology colleges, to be placed outside the local authority system. On the contrary, he said,
The initial draft prospectus had little to say about local government except that the sponsors would liaise with local education partners, including the LEA and other schools. But the revised prospectus which has been issued more recently has shown that the Government expect that city academies will be established with the consent of local education authorities. We take that on board. It contains reference to local government--including encouraging sponsors to invite the LEA to nominate a representative to the governing body--and to the LEA role in identifying potential schools and proposing closures. A government amendment at the Commons Report stage requires the Secretary of State to consult with LEAs about the establishment of city academies. This is one of the amendments we are considering.
However, despite this requirement to consult and the emphasis on partnership, there remain doubts. A requirement to consult does not mean that the Secretary of State will react to the concerns of local authorities. City academies will essentially remain outside the sphere of local government and, consequently, separated from the integrated range of services that local government offers. The amendment seeks to address these concerns. If city academies are meant to be at the heart of the community they need to have community representation on the governing body.
Arrangements for governance will allow for community representation on that governing body--not only a single representative nominated by the LEA. Arrangements for pupil admissions will ensure that admissions are fair--with no interviewing--and inclusive and will reflect the local population. Arrangements for pupil support will ensure that children in city academies will have access to the same support arrangements that operate in LEAs, including welfare benefits, support for children at risk of exclusion and education welfare officers. Arrangements for monitoring pupil achievements outside the Ofsted school inspection system are essential to the Government's policy objective of raising standards. The LEA should have the ability to monitor the achievements of all local schools provided through their financing.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Baroness said that she was sorry that we were unable to debate these proposals earlier. However, I am deeply saddened that I was not shown the courtesy of being given notice that these amendments were being laid in another place; nor did I receive the consultation papers. I have had to go around carrying out detective work to obtain information about what the Government were doing. It is not unusual--I have made this complaint before--but I wish to register it for the record.
My noble friend Lord Baker, who is in his place, developed city technology colleges. They have been hugely successful--so successful, in fact, that the Government have not only retained them but are building on that experience. My noble friend Lord Harris of Peckham has been incredibly generous in respect of his CTC, and many other people have been equally generous.
Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness a number of questions. First, following consultation, but without the consent of an LEA and without the consent of the governing body of a school which is destined to become a new academy, can the Government set objections aside and press on with the development of a city academy anyway? In which case, will every child in the school have the right to become a pupil of the new city academy? My understanding of a reply given to a question in another place is that Estelle Morris referred to "some" children having a right to transfer to the new city academy. If that is the case, what happens to those children who do not?
It is said that city academies will be all-ability schools which cater for pupils who are 11 to 16 or 11 to 18 years' old, according to the pattern of local provision; so, too, do all comprehensives, city technology colleges and many other schools. It is said that they will be situated in major urban areas; well, such schools are in such areas. It is said that schools will be at the heart of their communities, sharing their facilities with other schools and the wider community; all schools are at the heart of their communities and many of them share their facilities with the wider community. Schools will be registered as independent schools, subject to inspection by Ofsted, and charge no fees; that, of course, is the case with CTCs.
Schools will have state-of-the-art facilities, with sponsors making a contribution; that, of course, is the case with CTCs--but why should it be only these schools with state-of-the-art facilities? What makes them distinctive? They will be owned and run by sponsors; so are CTCs. They will be schools with a broad curriculum but with special emphasis in an area of the curriculum such as science, languages, arts or sport; our specialist schools do that. They will be schools developing in their pupils the qualities of enterprise, self-reliance and responsibility which young people need for adult life; I would hope that that
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, earlier I was critical of the Government's policy on grammar schools; on this occasion I fully support the proposals tabled by the noble Baroness. I think these academies are an excellent idea, for several reasons. First, they will be based in the inner city areas, which, as everyone recognises, present the most difficult educational problems. Secondly, they will be supported by local industry--in fact the Government expect £2 million per college to be contributed. I hope that they will be successful in that. When we set up the city technology colleges we raised some £44 million for the first 15 colleges. For me, it was quite easy money to raise. I hope that the noble Baroness will find it as easy to raise money from industry and commerce as we did.
Thirdly, they will be independent of local government. I certainly congratulate the Government on this. When I introduced the technology colleges I was lambasted for this particular proposal. The original CTCs were independent of local authorities and that gave them the freedom and flexibility they needed. They could experiment with timetabling; with opening and closing schools at different hours; with varying the holidays of the year and so on. The city academies should have the same degree of freedom.
The fourth reason I welcome the academies is that the Government have done something that I did not perhaps have the percipience to do: they have taken powers--which, if I had introduced them, would have been accused of being draconian--to transfer the property of schools at no charge to the city academies. When I came to set up the city technology colleges, the schools said "Our school is worth £4 million or £5 million for development value; please give us £4 million or £5 million". The Government have sensibly taken these draconian measures--which I fully support--to transfer the schools. That is not a loss to the local community; it is transferring an existing educational asset, which is defunct and not operating correctly, into an educational asset which is properly run.
I am very glad to support the Government. As I say, the academies will be virtually indistinguishable from city technology colleges, whatever oratory and clever words the Government may use. I do not complain about that. I always feared that when the Government came to power in 1997 they would stand by their original proposal to abolish the CTCs. Not only have they not done that; they have expanded them into a
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