All 15 contributions to the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Mon 23rd May 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading: Part one & Lords Hansard - Part one
Mon 23rd May 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
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2nd reading: Part two & Lords Hansard - Part two
Wed 8th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
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Committee stage & Committee stage
Mon 13th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
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Committee stage: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Mon 13th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
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Committee stage: Part 2 & Lords Hansard - Part 2
Wed 15th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Wed 15th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 2 & Lords Hansard - Part 2
Mon 20th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
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Committee stage: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Mon 20th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 2 & Lords Hansard - Part 2
Wed 22nd Jun 2022
Mon 27th Jun 2022
Tue 12th Jul 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
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Report stage: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Tue 12th Jul 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
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Report stage: Part 2 & Lords Hansard - Part 2
Mon 18th Jul 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Report stage: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Mon 18th Jul 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Report stage: Part 2 & Lords Hansard - Part 2

Schools Bill [HL]

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2nd reading & Lords Hansard - Part one
Monday 23rd May 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Moved by
Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who showed an interest in this Bill during the humble Address debate on the Queen’s Speech last week. I welcome the shared interest in delivering high-quality education, and in keeping our children safe, that was witnessed across all sides of the House.

Over the past 12 years, we have seen great improvements to the school system. The proportion of schools rated good or outstanding has increased by 19 percentage points, from 68% in 2010 to 87% in 2019. While my predecessors delivered significant progress, the Government recognise that yet more must be done to level up the school system. We must, therefore, bring forward vital reforms which will support children, schools, teachers and parents. This Government have a vision to create a fairer and stronger school system that works for every child. All children should have a safe and effective education and, as both Houses have consistently argued, we must ensure that no child is left falling through the cracks.

In March, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education published the schools White Paper, setting out the Government’s long-term vision for a school system that helps every child to fulfil their potential by ensuring that they receive the right support, in the right place, and at the right time, founded on achieving world-class literacy and numeracy. This included our ambition that, by 2030, 90% of primary school children will achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas of the country will have increased by a third.

The Bill sits within a wider programme of steps that we are taking to deliver this ambition, including a parent pledge for any child who falls behind in English or maths, investment in teacher training, teacher starting salaries set to rise to £30,000, a new arm’s-length curriculum body, and the creation of education investment areas to increase funding and support to areas most need in need, plus extra funding in priority areas facing the most entrenched challenges.

This Bill seeks to level up standards by supporting every school to be part of a family of schools in a strong trust. To achieve this, we must play our role in ensuring system quality by rethinking the way in which we uphold trust standards, so that our legislative framework is fit for purpose for a fully trust-led system. We are seeking the power to deliver, for the first time, a coherent single set of regulations on academy standards. This will set transparent, publicly available standards that academies must meet, replacing a diverse set of contractual and funding arrangements with each individual trust. Alongside this, we are seeking new intervention powers, to ensure that action can be taken to tackle serious failure if it occurs. These measures will lay the foundations for a successful, fully trust-led system.

We must also ensure that all schools can feel comfortable joining a trust without losing their individual characteristics. That is why we are putting clear protections for faith schools and grammar schools into primary legislation to provide confidence that their unique characteristics can be retained within an academy trust. We recognise that local authorities can play an important role in this journey, so we are giving them the ability to request conversion of their schools. Outside the Bill, we also plan to enable local authorities to establish their own trusts.

To build a genuine level playing field for children, we need to ensure an equitable distribution of resources. There remains too much variation in funding between comparable schools in this country. That is not right, and our long-planned reforms for funding will be delivered through the Bill, enabling us to resolve it.

The Government have already made great progress in reforming the school funding system. In 2018 we introduced the national funding formula, a system which meant that local authority areas received consistent funding based on a single formula for the first time. However, the current system still means that the local authority’s own formulae determine how much each school is ultimately allocated.

The Bill takes us to the next step, moving to a direct national funding formula, meaning that each mainstream school is allocated funding on the same basis, wherever it is in the country, and each child can be given the same opportunities, based on a consistent assessment of their needs.

The Bill also introduces new measures on attendance. Clearly, to benefit from a high-quality school education, consistent attendance is vital. We made good progress in the years between 2009-10 and 2018-19, with levels of pupil absence falling from 6% to 4.7%, meaning that students were spending an extra 15 million days in school. That being said, the Government understand that more needs to be done. Pre-pandemic levels of persistent absenteeism were at one in nine pupils, and these figures have risen further during the pandemic. We recognise that these absences greatly enlarge the gap between vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils and their peers. We know that schools are working hard to ensure that pupils are attending lessons, but reforms are needed to provide them with the right support to do this effectively.

The Bill will require schools to publish an attendance policy, as well as putting attendance guidance for schools, trusts, governing bodies and local authorities on a statutory footing, making roles and responsibilities clearer. This will build on their existing work on attendance and deliver greater consistency of support for families across England, and focus better, more targeted multi-agency support on the pupils who need it most.

The Bill also seeks to deliver this Government’s commitment to introduce registers of children not in schools—something that this House has persistently debated and rightly requested. The Government acknowledge the great value that a good home education can bring and support the principle of choice for parents, but we know that some children miss out on high-quality, full-time education because they are missing from the system.

In 2020-21, there was an estimated 34% increase in children whose parents chose to educate them outside the school system at some point during that period. The children not in school registers will provide accurate data and enable local authorities to identify children in their areas who are not receiving efficient, full-time education. We also recognise the need to support families who are home educating, and therefore we will require local authorities to offer support to interested parents of registered home-educated students.

The Bill will protect more children by expanding registration requirements for more educational settings that provide all, or the majority of, a child’s education. We will work closely with Ofsted, enhancing its powers to investigate registered independent educational institutions that are breaching relevant restrictions and unregistered independent educational institutions that are being conducted unlawfully. These additional enforcement powers will provide the ability to suspend registration pending further investigation.

This Bill will also broaden the scope of the current teacher misconduct regime so that it includes more educational settings. This will ensure that children who receive their education at further education colleges, special post-16 institutions, independent training providers, online education providers and some independent educational institutions will be protected and safeguarded by the teacher misconduct regime. It will clarify that teachers who have committed misconduct at any time when not employed to undertake teaching work can be investigated by the Secretary of State, and that misconduct uncovered by departmental officials can be referred without the need for it to be referred by a party external to the department.

I feel hugely optimistic about what we will collectively deliver once this Bill has had the benefit of the minds and experience in this Chamber. The Bill provides the opportunity to continue progress in reforming the school system so that it works for all children, supports teachers and provides parents with the confidence that their child is receiving the best and safest possible education. Reforming the school system is not a quick fix and work will carry on long after we consider the legislation before us today, but this Bill takes essential strides towards creating a stronger, fairer and safer school system that will improve the education of children across this country. I beg to move.

Schools Bill [HL]

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2nd reading & Lords Hansard - Part two
Monday 23rd May 2022

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Lords Chamber
Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions today. I am deeply grateful for the knowledge and expertise that have been brought to bear on the debate, and I am pleased to hear from so many with great experience in the sector. I echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, about the noble Lord, Lord Watson, although I would like her to put herself in my shoes: she has him behind her; I have both of them across the aisle.

Among the many comments offering support, I have also heard the phrases “limited ambition” and “missed opportunity” on a number of occasions, so I would like to clarify our approach a bit better. In developing this Bill, we have looked carefully at the evidence. We have considered what works, and we are putting that into practice. To paraphrase my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education: arguably, the most ambitious thing a Government can try to do is replicate what is working in some places and scale it across the country. That is what we are trying to do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, referred to a lack of ambition in supporting children, empowering teachers and supporting parents. I would point her to our schools White Paper, where we have set out all those things in detail, supported by a broad range of programmes, including a “Parent Pledge”, which is a promise to every family that

“any child that falls behind in English or maths should receive timely and evidence-based support to enable them to reach their potential.”

I would also point your Lordships who challenged the Government’s position in relation to careers advice and forward-looking qualifications to the achievements in the skills Act and our work on T-levels.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham suggested that we might be selling our children short if we focus so much on numeracy and literacy. My noble friend Lord Nash put it brilliantly as to why this is so important. Without the fundamental skills of literacy and numeracy, all the other subjects and areas of the curriculum that noble Lords have rightly raised this evening cannot be accessed, so I think we are selling them even shorter if we do not focus on those.

We are supporting teachers by providing 500,000 new teacher training opportunities by 2024. We are making sure that teachers have access to evidence-based and world-class training. We are introducing our new professional qualifications, including in relation to early years leadership, which I know is an area that this House rightly cares a great deal about.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, asked about funding to address the most entrenched areas of educational underperformance, and I would point your Lordships again to the education investment areas. I really hope the noble Lord does not feel that the Government have a sense of complacency about this. If this was an easy thing to turn around, other Governments would have done it already. We are in no way complacent; we absolutely see the scale of the challenge.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, invited me to acknowledge the excellence among some maintained schools. I am more than happy to do that, but I would ask noble Lords on all sides of the House to be equally generous and equally honest in acknowledging the remarkable work of some multi-academy trusts in turning around schools that have been failing ever since inspections were introduced.

In relation to the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, about the statistics that we published recently, I hope they are both aware that we have already updated the relevant document to ensure greater clarity and transparency. I hope they are also aware that the findings and conclusions were completely unchanged as a result of that; it was purely a point of clarity and transparency. I would not want the House to have any confusion about that.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Blunkett, and my noble friend Lady Berridge, referred to the importance of school capital funding. Well maintained and safe school buildings are an absolute priority for the department; that is why we have allocated over £13 billion since 2015 for keeping schools safe and operational, including £1.8 billion committed this year, informed by consistent data on the school estate. In addition, our school rebuilding programme will transform 500 schools over the next decade, prioritising those in poor condition and with potential safety issues.

The noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Addington, my noble friend Lord Holmes, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, all talked about the importance of having ambition and the needs of children with special educational needs and disabilities at the heart of our strategy. To enable them to thrive, we want to build an education system where they can get the right support in a timely way and close to where they are. The SEND and alternative provision Green Paper published on 29 March sets out our ambitions in this regard. We are currently engaging in a very broad public consultation on our proposals. That consultation closes on 22 July, and we will then publish a delivery plan setting out how change will be implemented. I hope that the consultation will give an opportunity to the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, to input her questions, views and recommendations in relation to alternative provision and excluded pupils. There are also clear opportunities in that consultation to input on issues around autism, about which the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, spoke so movingly in relation to the experience within her own family.

Turning to the Bill, many of your Lordships talked about the centralising move and questioned whether this was a power grab, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Morris, the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett, Lord Davies, Lord Addington and Lord Watson, my noble friends Lord Baker, Lord Eccles and Lord Lingfield, and other noble Lords; I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I have not referred to them all. I really would like to reassure your Lordships about the breadth of matters that could be covered by the academy standards. The examples provided in the standards clauses reflect matters already covered in existing funding agreements, legislation and the Academy Trust Handbook. For example, the model funding agreement includes a clause on the curriculum which states that it must include English, maths and science; the intention is to replicate this freedom in the standards regulations.

My noble friend Lord Eccles talked about a concern around consistency. We are keen on consistency of ambition but very keen not to be prescriptive in how those results and outcomes are to be achieved. Our proposals for a new set of statutory academy standards will provide much more parliamentary and public scrutiny of the requirements placed on academy trusts and the existing regime. We will shortly be publishing expanded fact sheets, setting out significantly more detail on our delegated powers.

My noble friends Lord Nash and Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, also were concerned about the impact on the fundamental freedoms of academies. These reforms will maintain the central freedoms and autonomy of the academy programme. Our “strong trust” definition and standards will set out clearly what we expect all academy trusts to deliver, but trusts remain free to design, innovate and implement operating models that they believe will deliver the best outcomes for their pupils. I would be delighted to meet my noble friend Lord Nash to discuss this further and benefit from his experience and insight on the matter.

A number of noble Lords questioned the capacity of the department to deliver regulation. It is precisely to ensure that we are properly equipped to oversee a system where all schools are in trusts that we are launching a formal regulatory review. That review will establish the appropriate model and options for how best to regulate the English schools system when all schools are part of a family of schools in strong trusts. The noble Baroness asked if I had looked at clusters and federations. I absolutely have and I am happy to share more detail on those conversations with her if she has time.

Many of your Lordships challenged the sense of a local feel of multi-academy trusts, including the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Garden and Lady Bennett. We recognise absolutely that local schools are at the heart of the communities that they serve and that local governance arrangements also play an important role in enabling trusts to be responsive to parents and local communities. As we set out in the schools White Paper, we want to see all trusts having such arrangements to ensure that they are connected to all their schools and the communities they serve and to make sure that the trusts can make decisions that are well informed by the local context.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford asked specifically about our consideration for small, rural schools. It is an issue of which we are acutely aware and I am very happy again to pick that up in more detail with him if that would be helpful.

The vast majority of trusts already choose to have local governing bodies. We will discuss with the sector the best way to implement these arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, in particular, I think, cited a sense of dissatisfaction about this. If the noble Lord can share specific examples with me, I would be very happy to explore those further.

Your Lordships also asked a number of questions on admissions. In particular, we are planning to consult on a new statutory framework for pupil movement which ensures that a decision to move a child in year is always in the best interests of that child. As a final safety net there will be a new backstop power for local authorities to direct trusts to admit children, with the right for the trust to appeal to the Schools Adjudicator.

My noble friend Lord Blackwell and the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington—who I should congratulate on King’s Maths School being school of the decade—asked about schools in areas of deprivation offering the maximum opportunity to talented local children. We announced in the levelling-up White Paper that we will be looking at opening new free schools for children aged 16 to 19, targeted in areas where they are most needed.

As my noble friend Lord Blackwell said, grammar schools are among the best-performing schools in the country. They also have an important role to play in a future schools system, but we are committed to supporting all disadvantaged pupils in England to realise their potential.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for his kind words in relation to the work that my colleagues in the department have done with his colleagues in relation to faith protection. We are working on the land and other issues and are happy to continue to explore those.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, raised the issues argued by the Humanist Society and others, but she will know that many faith schools have a really strong track record in delivering excellent education and our experience is that they are popular with parents, whether they belong to that faith or not. Again, I am happy to follow up the points that she raised.

On the attendance measures in the Bill, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, suggested that some of the measures on attendance could appear punitive. My noble friend Lord Lucas also spoke on these issues. Our attendance measures are underpinned by the principle of “support first”. The measures will help school absence from becoming persistent or severe by improving, at a national level, the consistency of support offered to pupils and their parents through an earlier and more targeted approach. I urge noble Lords to look at the evidence in this area, which shows a great inconsistency across the country. We hope that the measures will reduce the need for legal intervention overall, so that the existing legal interventions are primarily used where support has not been successful or families have not engaged with that support.

On the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, of course the intention here is not to punish children with long-term health conditions. Again, I would be happy to follow up with her on some of the examples that she raised. That also applies to the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, regarding autism.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Fox and Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Lucas expressed concerns about bringing in a register for children not in school. I just reiterate that the Government respect the right of all families to home-educate, where it is done in the best interests of the child. We want parents and local authorities to be supported in ensuring that that education is suitable. The move to require local authority registration is not intended to undermine privacy, nor will it interfere with a parent’s right to educate their child in a way and with the methods that they think are best. Notification to the local authority that a child is receiving home education will help it to plan and target resources at children who are truly missing education. It will help local authorities to plan their resources for complying with their duties under existing guidance and the new duty to provide support where it is requested. It will also support them in identifying children who would otherwise be considered as children missing education, who could be at a safeguarding risk due to not receiving a suitable education, or indeed any education at all, and at risk of harm.

The consultation response did not feature any proposals for additional powers for local authorities, such as to explicitly monitor education or enforce entry into the home. Our view remains that local authorities’ existing powers are sufficient to determine whether the provision offered is suitable. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, invited me to talk to home-educating parents, and I would be happy to hear their concerns.

Turning to the regulatory regime for independent educational institutions, the regulatory regime that we are proposing is tailored to settings that are intended to provide the whole or the majority of a student’s education. Our view is that it would not be proportionate to apply this regime to part-time or supplementary educational settings. We are going to launch a call for evidence regarding part-time settings shortly, but we have worked hard to try to address the questions raised by both the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, about institutions that try to evade the spirit of these regulations. Again, I would be glad to explore that in more detail with noble Lords.

As ever, we are preparing an increasingly long letter, and I know I have not done justice to all the points raised. In closing, I know that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, talked about his amendment on fundamental British values, and I am looking forward to meeting tomorrow to discuss that further. Similarly, I will follow up on my noble friend Lady Berridge’s points on data regarding children on free school meals and with special educational needs, and with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on clarifying points around governance and conflicts of interests for local authorities when they have their own MATs. I will also follow up with my noble friend Lord Lexden in relation to the fit and proper persons test, and with the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on adoption from abroad.

I want to spend one moment on a point to which I cannot do justice. Many noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Altrincham and Lord Sandhurst, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Watkins, talked about children’s mental health. I am hoping we will have a chance to talk about this more in Committee. We remain absolutely committed, as are all your Lordships, to promoting and supporting children and young people’s mental health and well-being in schools and listening to what more can be done. Counselling is obviously an important part of that.

On the specific points raised by my noble friends on guidance for schools about trans pupils, we recognise that this is a complex and sensitive area for schools to navigate. We believe they are well placed to work with parents, pupils and public services to help decide what is best for individual children and others in the school. We are working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to make sure that we give the clearest possible guidance to schools on these important issues.

In closing, I echo other noble Lords in thanking teachers, teaching assistants, MAT leaders and all who are involved in our school system for the incredibly important and valuable work that they do. As noble Lords have heard me say several times, I am very committed, as are my colleagues in the department, to meeting your Lordships to discuss the issues raised this evening. I also commit to going through the data that we have put together and the evidence base for the choices that we are making for the school system to make sure that we can reinforce your Lordships’ confidence in how we have arrived at those conclusions.

I invite your Lordships to perhaps meet some of the multi-academy trust leaders in your areas, if you have time—we would also be happy to put together a round table—because the picture painted in many of the speeches tonight is not one that I recognise from the many schools that I have visited and leaders whom I have spoken to. Us all having the clearest and broadest possible understanding will be helpful for making the Bill the best that it can be.

In conclusion, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to the debate and look forward to even more detailed scrutiny and challenge as we move to Committee. I beg to move.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Schools Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

There is one thing we need, following King Lear’s “Nothing will come of nothing”: if we are going to have a high-quality state education system, it has to have a decent level of funding. In the modern world, where the demands on education are so great, that must be funding which at least keeps pace with inflation and, in terms of the capital stock, which has been massively underinvested in in our education system, it should go beyond that. The great missed opportunity at the moment is of a Government committed to investing in education and taking successful and proven models and spreading them more widely. The Bill will not do anything to achieve that goal. Hopefully, it will not make anything worse, but it simply postpones the moment when we have to have a new reckoning about the investment we are prepared to make, as a society, in our state education system. It must be significantly more than we are making at the moment.
Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, I shall begin by speaking to the first group of amendments, which are mostly amendments to Clause 1 tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. Clause 1 enables the Secretary of State to make academy standards regulations, subject to the affirmative procedure. I have heard concerns from almost every noble Lord who has spoken this afternoon about the breadth of the power in Clause 1 and the potential for the centralisation of power over academies with the Secretary of State. I genuinely look forward, after today’s debate, to reflecting on the points that have been raised, and I hope I will be able to meet and discuss them further ahead of Report.

If I may, I will just set a little of the context of the Bill and why it should not be seen in isolation. My noble friend Lord Lucas asked how this makes schools better. The Bill needs to be seen in the context also of what was covered in the schools White Paper, with the Government aiming to improve further the quality of education. We plan to do this through our commissioning approach, by creating a system that incentivises school improvement, and by a coherent inspection and regulatory approach. Much of this work to raise standards will be done in the coming months and will involve extensive engagement with the sector. However, we are clear that we need to ensure that no school or trust falls below a clearly articulated minimum standard. The Bill sets out what these standards could include and, in later clauses, how we propose to enforce them. I recognise concerns from noble Lords about the proportionality of our enforcement approach, and I hope to address those concerns in future debates.

The current regulatory regime has enabled the growth of the academy sector over the last decade, and I pay tribute to noble Lords in the Chamber who were instrumental in making that happen, but it was designed for a school system comprising hundreds of academies, rather than a trust-led system comprising all schools. The academy standards regulations will set out the requirements on academy trusts clearly, consistently and subject to parliamentary scrutiny. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the Secretary of State can jump out of bed in the morning and change things, that really is not accurate, and I will try to clarify further. They will create a common rulebook for academy trusts that is capable of applying equally to all trusts and types of academy. This is an important step that will provide a level playing field for multi-academy trusts and more effective and proportionate options for enforcement if a trust does not meet those obligations.

We are introducing the new regulatory framework in a phased way to minimise disruption to the sector. To this end, we do not intend to use these regulations to place significant new burdens on academies that would restrict the freedoms that enable them to collaborate, innovate and organise themselves to deliver the best outcomes for their pupils. We will formally consult on every iteration of the academy standards regulations. We expect the first set of regulations will largely consolidate the existing requirements on academy trusts that are found in their funding agreements, the independent school standards regulations and the Academy Trust Handbook.

I reiterate that I recognise the strength of feeling across the Chamber on Clause 1 and fully intend to take whatever time is needed to reflect on the concerns, views and suggestions of noble Lords today.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, have tabled a number of amendments relating to what the academy standards regulations may or may not cover. To be clear to the House about the Government’s intentions, we had provided examples of what the academy standards regulations may cover in Clause 1(2). However, I accept that the list of examples is lengthy, albeit they describe requirements that largely already apply to academies.

The noble Baronesses, my noble friend Lord Nash and others have suggested that the regulations must set out standards equivalent to those applied to independent schools. I think your Lordships will appreciate, however, the need for additional requirements on matters such as the appropriate management of public funding, fair admissions and other matters covered not by the independent school standards but by, for example, funding agreements. As previously mentioned, we want to consolidate as much as possible the existing requirements into a single set of regulations. We could not achieve that if most requirements were to remain in funding agreements and the Academy Trust Handbook.

The noble Baronesses are also seeking that examples listed in Clause 1(2) be removed, such as curriculum, admissions, governance, teacher pay and pupil assessment, among others. The Government have no desire to intervene in the day-to-day management of individual academies other than in cases of failure, but we must get the basics right. To take only one example, we believe it is important that parents can continue to rely on a fair admissions system when they apply for a school place.

Clause 2 will make void any provisions in existing academy funding agreements that deal with the same matters that will be in the academy standards regulations. I recognise from conversations with my noble friends Lord Baker, Lord Agnew and Lord Nash that they have concerns about existing contracts being overridden. This was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. Of course, this is something that Governments would wish to do only very rarely, but the only alternative in this context, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, pointed out, would be to seek to renegotiate individual contracts with individual trusts, which would be a far more complicated, expensive and time-consuming approach.

There is precedent for this approach. For example, the Children and Families Act 2014 made provision requiring academies to provide free school meals to pupils, bringing them into line with requirements on maintained schools. Those provisions overrode funding agreements; as here, that was deemed appropriate in order to enable us to make essential changes and regulate and support schools better. This is an important clause for enabling the current contract-based regulatory regime to move to a simpler, single overarching statutory framework, which will ensure that academy trusts are all subject to the same requirements that will be in the regulations.

Finally, Clause 4 will require academy trusts to have regard to guidance that the department will issue. The guidance will provide a clear and accessible articulation of the requirements in the academy standards, providing greater clarity for the benefit of both academy trusts and wider stakeholders.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, questioned whether the Bill should be a hybrid one. The legal advice we have taken suggests that this is not a hybrid Bill, but I am happy to return to this point in the letter providing more detail.

In closing, I would like to pick up on just two points; one was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, about acknowledging the strengths both in academies and in local authority maintained schools. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who challenged me on that at the Dispatch Box in an earlier debate, but the noble Baroness will know that it is absolutely clear in the schools White Paper and in our move to encourage local authority maintained schools to create their own MATs that we recognise absolutely the strengths in the maintained sector and hope to use that for the benefit of more schools and more pupils in future.

I genuinely thank your Lordships for the very constructive tone of this debate and for the spirit in which you have shared your expertise, experience and advice. As I have said, we will reflect on that with great care. On that basis, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I think it is only right that I recognise the tone that the Minister has just struck and welcome the fact that she has acknowledged the concerns from across the House—although I do not think she had much choice. She said that she will listen and that there will be consultation on standards. I gently suggest that this should take place before the Bill goes through its future stages. The Minister is managing to unite the noble Lords, Lord Baker and Lord Adonis, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Morris, which is quite something to achieve. It would be far better for school leaders, parents and students to see us proceed with something which, although perhaps not consensus, is short of the level of concern we have heard expressed today. Obviously we will return to this issue at later stages, but I thank the Minister for the way she has engaged with the discussions so far. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I move on to the second group of amendments. As I have spoken at length on the first group on the intention and rationale behind Clause 1, I hope that your Lordships will understand if I do not repeat those arguments. I want to underline that I have noted the very strongly held concerns, particularly from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, as expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. We are considering closely the reports from that committee and from the Constitution Committee, which came out on Monday, and we will look forward to working with all your Lordships to address these issues.

Turning to Amendment 2 from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I remind the House that our intention is for the initial regulations largely to consolidate and reflect existing requirements on academies. The Government recognise the importance of consulting representatives from the sector on the regulations and I am willing to make a commitment on the Floor of the House to your Lordships that this Government will always undertake a consultation on the regulations, prior to them being laid. I hope that reassures your Lordships, including my noble friend Lord Baker, who suggested otherwise.

I also remind your Lordships that under the current regulatory regime for academies, the Secretary of State can add any new requirements into the model funding agreements or Academy Trust Handbook without any parliamentary oversight. Moving to a statutory set of regulations will provide Parliament with the opportunity to scrutinise, debate and vote upon the exercise of power in Clause 1.

Moving on to Clause 3, we are at the beginning of the process of consolidating existing requirements on academy trusts into a single set of academy standards regulations. Over time, we envisage amending or repealing primary legislation which applies directly to academy trusts and, where necessary or appropriate, moving such provision into a single set of regulations. This clause provides the Secretary of State with the necessary power, subject to the affirmative procedure, to amend primary legislation by regulations, leading to a simpler and more transparent regulatory framework suitable for a system that is fully trust-led.

As the academy system evolves, it also allows the Secretary of State to make necessary changes that will strengthen the regulatory framework in future. The power in this clause is restricted and cannot make provision about the designation of selective academy grammar schools or alter their selective admission arrangements. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked for clarification in relation to Clause 1(6). Although the clause as drafted prevents the Secretary of State removing admission arrangements from grammar schools via secondary legislation, it would of course be open to a future Government to change the law on selection via primary legislation; nor can it amend the provisions of this Bill which relate to governance, collective worship and religious education in those academies that have a religious character. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for his very kind remarks about working with the department and the Secretary of State.

Clause 3 also introduces Schedule 1, which sets out the primary legislation that is being extended or disapplied in relation to academies through the Bill. This reflects the fact that we wish these requirements to be statutory, rather than in individual funding agreements.

I turn to Amendment 32 from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I have heard the concerns expressed about the power conferred on the Secretary of State in Clause 3 and am carefully reflecting on what your Lordships have said on this matter. The noble Lord asked for the basis on which we took the powers as drafted in the Bill. My officials studied the reports in great detail and took great care with the delegated powers in the Bill. The noble Lord may be aware that 47 of the 49 powers taken received no comment from the committee.

It is our view that establishing academy trust standards creates improved scrutiny for Parliament, not less, and that was the rationale behind the way in which the measure was drawn together. But that in no way diminishes my earlier comments regarding listening carefully to the House on this point, and I underline that we take the recommendations of the committee seriously. I will be reading the 30-year review, as recommended by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I also understand and will take away the points that she made regarding our need to bring clarity about the principles which underpin any delegated powers and how they would be used in future. I look forward to working with her and other noble Lords on that.

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Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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This set of amendments is quite close to my heart. I think most of us here will have served as parent or community governors or on governing bodies in some form or another. I do not think any of us has rose-tinted glasses about the experience; it is not always a fulcrum of democratic engagement enabling parents to make change. That is not quite my experience, anyway. However, it is a formalised way of enshrining the power of parents in decision-making. Echoing what my noble friend Lord Hunt said about Parentkind and the initiatives it proposes, which I absolutely support, we need both: a way of having the formalised power of parents alongside the broader engagement initiatives. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, just said about her Amendment 21A being entirely complementary to these amendments. This is worthy of the Government giving it some thought and coming back with their own suggestions of how it ought to be done. I have a lot of time for what my noble friend Lord Knight said about avoiding being too prescriptive, but perhaps there ought to be some mechanism whereby schools can decide how they want to go about this task of ensuring that parents are properly represented, empowered, engaged and involved in their children’s education.

There is much evidence that parental engagement is better for all children, not just the children of the parents taking part. It is vital for community confidence in schools. When a school has been through a difficult time—perhaps it has been forced to academise or change its name—community confidence is often the first thing to go. That affects admissions and many different things. The more we can encourage schools, and in some cases compel them, to take steps to improve relationships with the wider community, specifically through parents, the better.

We support the idea of parent councils. We are very warm to that idea. Reflecting on what my noble friend Lord Hunt said about trusts in the NHS, I remember an old friend of mine, Alan Milburn, talking to me about this at the time. I thought it sounded fantastic, but now I question just how effective those mechanisms are on a day-to-day basis. They are important to have, but they work well only alongside a raft of other measures around patient involvement, effective complaints procedures and networks in the local community around specific conditions. The two need to go hand in hand.

So we do not look at this with a backward-facing “Let’s recreate something that’s existed in every school historically”. It is about taking the best of what we have perhaps lost in some situations and adding different ways of engaging parents—there are now quite forward-looking, innovative and creative ways, using technology —to make sure that you do not just get the parents who would probably be most engaged anyway but get parental engagement that is representative of the wider community. I think we all want to make sure that we get that right.

I do not think the Minister is about to stand up and say, “Yes, we accept these amendments”; she is probably going to say that she does not think they are necessary or that there are other ways of going about it. But it would be good if she could come back at some point and explain how the Government are going to encourage or compel—however they want to do it—to make sure that all schools, whatever their governance status, can benefit from the value that can be gained from the really effective involvement of parents.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for their amendments relating to trust governance structures, parental representation and engagement, and the definition of “parent” in the Bill.

Amendments 23, 24 and 25, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, seek to secure the position of parental representation in the trust governance structures at both trust board and local level, and to have a strategic plan for parental and stakeholder engagement. Amendment 25, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also seeks to mandate local governing bodies in all trusts. I would like to cover this point first by saying that the schools White Paper sets out the department’s view that all trusts should have local governance arrangements for their schools. To respond to the query from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, about how I was going to deal with this point, we have committed in the White Paper to working with the sector over the summer as the best way to implement this.

Moving on to the amendments pertaining to parental involvement, I reassure the House that it is already our position that all trusts should have a minimum of two parents in their governance structure, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, pointed out. Amendment 26 continues with a focus on parental engagement in the form of mandating all trusts and academies to have a parent council and specifying the composition, role and support required. Parental and community engagement serves an extremely important role and can have a large and positive impact on children’s learning, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. An effective scheme of delegation should explain the trust’s parental and community engagement arrangements and how these feed into and inform governance at both trust and local level. The department’s Governance Handbook contains guidance for academy trusts on parental and community engagement.

However, as I said earlier, we believe that trusts are best placed to decide what engagement methods work best in the local context and—to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Knight—at different points in the evolution of an individual trust. In addition, the place of parents in the governance of trusts will fall within scope of the planned discussions with the sector about the local tier of governance announced in the schools White Paper, and I am sure that the House would not want to pre-empt the outcome of that discussion at this point.

Amendment 27, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, seeks to ensure that all trusts clearly set out the delegation of powers to their local governing bodies, and that delegation should include ensuring clarity of vision, ethos and strategic direction of the school, holding executive leaders to account, financial performance and ensuring that local voices are heard.

Some of the responsibilities set out in the noble Lord’s amendment are core functions of the trust board as the accountable body of the trust, which the board may already choose to delegate to local governing bodies or choose to retain at board level. As such, there is a risk of duplication and some confusion.

Amendment 38, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Storey, introduces a clause similar, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, pointed out, to that of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, to mandate local governing bodies, while also including membership and specific powers of the local governing body.

I would like to address both amendments by referring to my previous comments that we will be holding discussions with the sector on local governance arrangements and that we do not want to pre-empt those discussions by introducing requirements concerning local governance arrangements at this point.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, have introduced Amendment 39 to mandate the establishment of an independent scheme of arbitration to resolve disputes between a multi-academy trust and the local governing bodies of individual academies within the trust. It is far from clear that it would be a proportionate and good use of public funds to set up a formal scheme, and we would want to discuss with the sector how local governance arrangements could be effective.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, for their Amendment 52, which seeks to ensure that references to “parents” in the Bill also include different kinds of legal guardian. We agree that this is an important point, and I am pleased to say that this is already captured within the Bill. The majority of references to “parent” in the Bill are in Parts 1 and 2. Clauses 31 and 46 state:

“Other words and expressions used in this Part have the same meanings as in the Education Act 1996, unless the context otherwise requires.”


I am therefore pleased to say that all references to “parent” in the Bill already include different kinds of legal guardian.

For the reasons set out above, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been a very useful debate. Clearly, I agree with my noble friend that, with parental involvement in school governing bodies, there has perhaps not been a nirvana or golden age where it has always worked perfectly. School governance can be quirky; sometimes heads have far too much control and basically appoint their own governing body, and we have seen the problems that arise from that. However, I think there is a general consensus that getting parents involved in schools is a good thing per se. There are various mechanisms under which you can do that. Parent councils is a very good idea, and I would like to see that further encouraged. However, it is important to have statutory representation, if you like, of elected parent governors on the board of a maintained school or of an academy trust.

When it comes to multi-academy trusts, I still fail to see why it should be optional, in that if you have two parent governors on the multi-academy trust board, you do not then have to have the same representation on local governing bodies, and vice versa. That should be changed. Where you have a multi-academy trust, both the multi-academy trust board and the local governing body ought to have parent governors. However, I am sure that we will find a consensus on that on Report.

When it comes to the relationship between multi-academy trusts and local governing bodies where they are the individual trusts within a MAT, that is obviously a much more difficult issue where we do not have complete consensus. Here, the absence of a way forward for MATs is a big problem for us in trying to decide what is the best way through. In her response the noble Baroness said that obviously this is work that is taking place and that we must not pre-empt the outcome of discussions. I could not help thinking that, unfortunately, the Bill pre-empts the outcome of the discussions, which is why we are having this difficulty at the moment.

However, in principle, it is right that every local school has some kind of governance body. My noble friend Lady Blower is absolutely right: the local school needs ownership of the core decisions. I accept what she says about the need for interventions but, harking back to my health experience, I would say that we have boards until the cows come home but quick interventions can be made. It is really important that, when a parent goes to the school, they know that the people in charge are there, and that includes governance, as much as possible.

Also, we have to sort out this problem of what an academy trust does if it wants to leave a MAT. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Nash, arguing that an outstanding academy trust can go into a MAT and gain great advantage from it, but what happens if it is not going well? Can that outstanding trust leave? At the moment the answer is no, because it has no legal entity of its own to make that decision.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I know that it is unusual to intervene this way round, but just to clarify for the noble Lord, in the schools White Paper we said that we will consult on the exceptional circumstances in which a good school could request that the regulator agrees that it moves to a stronger trust.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I know, but I worry about the “exceptional circumstances” because I do not see why an individual school could not simply opt out if it wanted to, giving due notice. Perhaps we will come back to that on one of our later amendments.

Having said that, this has been a really good debate. I welcome the Minister’s constructive response and look forward to further discussions. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, given the lateness of the hour, I will comment but briefly. Notwithstanding that some of us on these Benches have found this a difficult Bill to amend in the way we might have wanted, I hope the Minister can see that, by proposing the super-affirmative procedure, we are seeking a way through so that we can improve the Bill, at least from our perspective, although I hope that, on reflection, the Government might also consider that the Bill will have been improved.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this group of amendments seeks to apply additional procedural requirements to the use of the powers in Clause 1. I have heard again your Lordships’ concerns about the centralisation of power over academies with the Secretary of State but, again, we want to do this so that we have a regulatory system which is more transparent and accountable to Parliament than the one which we currently have.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, invites me to consider carefully the super-affirmative procedure. The spirit of the regulations is that they will be subject to the affirmative procedure each time they are laid, allowing Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise, debate, and vote on them. We recognise the importance of consulting representatives from the sector on regulations and, as I have said before, the Government will always undertake a consultation on the regulations prior to them being laid.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the report and impact assessment on the exercise of the powers. The Secretary of State will of course consider very carefully the likely and actual impact on academy trusts of any standards set out in the regulations.

Turning to Amendment 83, I say that Clause 1 is not designed to increase burdens on academy trusts, and that includes burdens associated with regulatory compliance. Clause 1(7) allows the conferral of the Secretary of State’s regulatory functions to another person. It is important that we ensure that the right accountability arrangements are in place. In some cases that will be ensured by Ofsted and Ofqual. It is already the case that the Secretary of State can delegate responsibility for some elements of regulatory compliance, such as in relation to the monitoring of exams and other assessments. The provisions in Clause 1(7) ensure that this can continue to happen under the academy standards framework. I therefore invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
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The Minister noted that the Government want a more transparent and accountable way forward, but this whole debate has seen strong arguments from all sides of the House, from former Secretaries of State, in direct opposition to this view. I hope that the Minister has been listening, as I am sure that she has, but the story continues, as do the probing amendments and the demystifying of what on earth is going on here, while wanting the central purpose to remain the raising of standards for young people. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Schools Bill [HL]

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Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (13 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

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Moved by
30: Clause 2, page 3, line 35, leave out subsection (6)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes clause 2(6), bringing the treatment of secure 16 to 19 Academies under that clause in line with that of other Academies. This means that if an Academy standard applies to secure 16 to 19 Academies, this can trump any corresponding contractual provisions.
Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I turn first to the government amendments in my name. The majority of these represent technical amendments to deliver the policy as intended, extend consultation requirements to existing measures and otherwise clarify the intent of the Bill.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I apologise, but I want to intervene on the Minister before she gets too much into her stride. I want to put on record the disappointment from these Benches that these amendments, which we do not consider to be simply technical or minor, are grouped together. It is a shame, because we would have liked to debate them separately. Can the Minister bear that in mind as we come to Report?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Of course, we will take that into consideration. I was not aware of the noble Baroness’s concerns. To echo that, there are two measures which are more substantial, which relate to secure schools and a prohibition order as part of our enhanced suite of powers to tackle unregistered schools.

I turn first to Amendments 30, 42 and 76, relating to secure schools and their particular context. Secure schools place education at the centre of the response to supporting children in custody, to reduce reoffending and improve children’s life chances. They will be established as both secure children’s homes and secure 16 to 19 academies using the academies framework as a basis for opening.

Secure schools’ funding agreements require unique provisions that reflect their context. Clause 2(6) was drafted to ensure that future new academy standards would not invalidate those unique provisions. We have now confirmed that primary legislation is not required to achieve that because new standards can be selectively applied within the standards themselves. Amendment 30 therefore removes Clause 2(6) as unnecessary to the functioning of the Bill.

Turning to government Amendment 42, Clause 8 requires the Secretary of State to provide seven years’ notice if they wish to terminate funding for an academy to ensure continuity for all year groups. Because children will generally spend fewer than two years in a secure school, Amendment 42 will modify Clause 8 to reduce the termination notice period from seven to two years for secure schools.

Amendment 76 introduces provision for secure schools covering payment termination notices as well as local impact considerations and consultation requirements. On payment termination notices, it amends the Academies Act 2010 to make it consistent with Amendment 42. Section 2 of the 2010 Act places a requirement on the Secretary of State to give seven years’ notice before ceasing payments to an academy. For the reasons I set out when discussing Amendment 42, this amendment will modify the Act to reduce this notice period to two years. Existing consultation requirements for academies include the requirement that the Secretary of State consider the impact of new academies on existing schools in the area. Given that the secure school will not be recruiting from the local area in the same way as local schools, we seek to disapply this requirement to secure schools.

The Academies Act also requires providers to consult relevant persons, such as local residents, on whether an academy arrangement should be entered into. Our view is that there will be a wide and complex range of views on the location of a secure school that the Government will wish to engage with. A “yes or no” consultation on a secure school is less likely to promote this engagement and, instead, the consultation will focus on how the secure school will work with local partners.

I acknowledge that Amendments 76A and 76B have been tabled to Amendment 76 in my name, and I shall respond to the comments from the noble Lord, Lord German, in my closing remarks.

Amendment 40 relates to academy trust standards. Clause 7 allows the Secretary of State to replace an entire trust board with a board of interim trustees. The amendment makes specific provision for the Secretary of State to consult the relevant religious body where the trust includes academies designated as having a religious character. It takes account of the fact that religious bodies have a particular interest in the governance of academies with a religious character, as reflected in those academies’ articles of association. Where the Secretary of State intends to appoint an interim trustee board, the religious authority will rightly wish to be assured that arrangements are in place to safeguard academies’ religious character. The amendment will ensure that religious bodies are able to make representations before any decision is made to appoint an interim trustee board.

I now turn to the five amendments relating to termination provisions for academy agreements and master agreements. Amendments 43 to 46 and 48 in my name relate to the termination procedure to be followed where a 16 to 19 academy is judged by Ofsted as not providing an adequate quality of education or training, or if the Secretary of State is of the view that boarding accommodation at an academy does not meet the required standards. The effect of these amendments is to apply the termination procedure which applies when an academy is judged inadequate by Ofsted, and it ensures consistency of approach. It also replicates the termination procedure currently provided for in funding agreements in these circumstances.

Amendment 47 expands Clause 11 so that it applies to academy agreements as well as master agreements in the case of a change of control of the trust or an insolvency event occurring. This means that the termination power will apply to a single-academy trust as well as a multi-academy trust. This is a corrective amendment to ensure that the legislation accurately replicates provisions in existing funding agreements.

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, I thank your Lordships for your contributions. I confess to being puzzled about the concerns on groupings, because those were agreed through the usual channels. Colleagues will obviously have heard the concerns expressed today, but we did go through the normal process and were not aware of some of the points raised.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, with the greatest respect, I say that the Government put those amendments into one group. Only movers of amendments can remove amendments from them so, as far as ordinary Members of the House of Lords are concerned, we were presented with a fait accompli about which we could do nothing.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As the noble Lord heard me say, this was agreed through the usual channels where we could have discussed that, had serious concerns been raised. The point has been heard loud and clear but I wanted to give the context. A number of points have been raised which I will aim to address, but I start by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol for her support on Amendment 40.

I turn to Amendments 76A and 76B tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German, and presented today by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, in relation to Amendment 76 in my name on secure schools. Regarding Amendment 76A, the Government remain open to considering any objection to the opening of a secure school. We expect that if the question were framed in this way, however, most local concerns about opening a secure school would focus on its custodial nature. These concerns may very well be valid. However, the secure school provider is not realistically able to address issues with the fundamental character of the school. Instead of consulting on whether a secure school should open, we propose that the provider must consult on how it should work with local partners. That, we hope, should ensure that the consultation is focused on issues that the provider is empowered to address.

Connected to this, Amendment 76B, which proposes to include local government in the consultation requirement, would not result in any material change. This is because the secure school provider must consult on how it will work with local partners, and the definition of local partners that we have used already includes any person

“whose functions are functions of a public nature”,

as set out in Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998. The noble Baroness asked if there were any changes in relation to planning. There is clearly no intention to evade planning regulations. She also asked whether the position of the local authority had changed. Of course, more broadly, the position of local authorities will change, given that we intend to give them powers to set up multi-academy trusts, which they have not historically been able to do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, raised concerns about the potential scope of the proposed education and childcare behaviour orders, while welcoming the principle behind them. I reassure her that while these orders have been designed to be broad in scope, their use will be focused. The court can exercise discretion to impose an order only if it considers it appropriate to do so, and it would be appropriate only for the purposes of protecting children from the risk of harm arising from a defendant re-committing an offence of conducting an unregistered independent educational institution.

We intend for these orders to prohibit activities taking place only in specified settings at specified times of the week, rather than them being a sweeping power. In sentencing, the courts must do so proportionately, so it is not our intention that these orders should prohibit someone working in a setting that is already subject to another regulatory regime. Other regulatory bodies, such as the Teaching Regulation Agency, may wish to take action against those found guilty of conducting an unregistered school but these orders are not designed to interfere with that work. Their aim is to prevent the behaviour which has led to some being prosecuted for conducting an unregistered school, not to interfere with someone’s activity beyond that.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I am grateful; that is helpful. Does the Minister intend to publish any guidance or examples? At the moment there is nothing, as drafted, to say whether these orders will be about someone’s professional ability to engage in running an illegal school or if it will impinge in other areas of their life and their contact with children. There is nothing to give us any guidance about this at the moment.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I undertake that we will provide guidance—in inverted commas—whether that is formal guidance or setting out examples in a letter as the noble Baroness suggests. I will need to check with colleagues as to the most appropriate way to do that. I am happy to undertake that we will provide a full explanation, as she rightly requests.

My noble friend Lord Baker, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, and others, questioned whether the measures in the Bill would affect an academy trust’s charitable status. I am pleased to confirm that the Government have engaged with the Charity Commission about the intervention powers, including the termination provisions in the Bill. There are currently no concerns about the interaction of these powers with the independence of charities. My noble friend Lady Berridge raised a very pertinent point again. I reassure her that her letter is in preparation as I stand here.

Through the schools White Paper, the Government set out their vision to deliver real action and level up education, supporting children, empowering teachers and school leaders and enabling parents. This Bill and these amendments help deliver that vision by underpinning it with legislation focused on improving the systems and standards of schools. I commend the amendments in my name and ask the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, not to move the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German.

Amendment 30 agreed.
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Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it might be helpful to point out that my amendment was inspired by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report, which talks about Clause 3 and its relevance.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I shall now speak to the group of amendments relating to Clause 3, ahead of the question being put on whether Clause 3 stands part of the Bill.

First, I shall speak to Amendment 31. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, I begin by reassuring the Committee again that I have fully heard the concerns that have been expressed about the Henry VIII power conferred on the Secretary of State by Clause 3, including those, importantly, from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. We are carefully reflecting on what noble Lords have said today on the matter, as well as on the report from the committee. Any use of the power in Clause 3 would be exercised by the affirmative procedure and, as we will cover in relation to Amendment 34, the Government will consult on any new regulations.

Academy trusts are already subject to many of the same requirements as maintained schools, set out in numerous pieces of primary legislation. We want to consolidate these requirements on trusts as much as possible into the academy standards regulations. This will be a gradual process, and we want to work with trusts on the implementation of the standards at a pace which is right for them. As we move towards a school system in which all schools are academies within strong trusts, we want to ensure that the legal framework is fit for purpose, including by removing requirements should they prove excessively onerous or unnecessary. Clause 3 enables the Secretary of State to make these adjustments, subject to the affirmative procedure, and to be responsive to the changing needs of the system.

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not know whether it is the Committee’s problem, but it is my problem, as I do not understand how this enormous tidying-up process, if it should be called that, has any connection with improving the education of our children. We need some fundamental explanation as to what is perhaps marginally wrong, if I have heard right, and of why this has any real prospect of making any real improvement.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My noble friend is right—the thing we should principally be concerned about is improving the education of our children. I will be more than happy to meet my noble friend or any other noble Lord who wants to go through some more of the work that we are doing in relation to that, as was set out initially in the schools White Paper. As I said in the introduction to one of the groups on day one of Committee, this Bill needs to be seen in the context of the wider work that the department is doing and that Ministers are leading in relation to a commitment to improving outcomes for our children, which my noble friend absolutely rightly says should be pre-eminent.

Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab)
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The Minister said at the start of her summing up—and it was about the 20th time she had said it—that she had heard the concerns of Members, would reflect on them and would come back. To be honest, unless she gives us some indication as to when she is going to come back and what she is going to say, we are going to have this at every turn. The noble Viscount who has just spoken is right. My noble friend asked about this with the first amendment—and, since the statement at the end of the first day in Committee, I am sure that she has reflected on the views of the House. What conclusions did she come to? Is she able to tell us now? If not, when will she be able to tell us? Then we could perhaps use the time available to us much more constructively.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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Tempting as it is to take power into my hands and give the noble Baroness the answer straightaway, she knows very well that this is something we need to agree more broadly within the department. As soon as that is done, of course I look forward—that is an understatement—to updating the House.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
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Before the Minister sits down, I just ask a simple question: when?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I must explain to the Committee that I am not able to give a firm date on that today, but as soon as I am able to, I will update the House.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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In the debate last week, I was delighted to commend the wisdom and clarity of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. If it is impossible for the Minister to say anything more about how this process is going to proceed, she may find herself with requests for any number of meetings with the noble Viscount, but also with any number of people from these Benches, because how we are proceeding does not really seem to be comprehensible or explicable. If we are actually interested in improving things for children and young people through the education system, there is something different we should be doing.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I apologise to the noble Baroness. I do not think there is much I can add beyond what I have already said, which is to underline that as soon as I can clarify further, I will.

Turning to Amendment 33, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol for moving this amendment on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. As she knows, the Government are a strong supporter of schools provided by the Church of England and by other religious bodies. We believe strongly that they bring great richness and diversity to our school system. That is why we have included measures in the Bill to ensure that statutory protections are in place for academy schools with a religious character, to ensure that their unique powers and freedoms are appropriately safeguarded. The power to designate a school with a religious character is already enshrined in existing legislation. I give a clear commitment that the Government will not use the powers in Clause 3 to affect the designation of academy schools with a religious character.

I appreciate that the right revered Prelate’s concern extends beyond the intentions and commitments of this Government. However, we are committed to ensuring that schools with a religious character remain an important element of our school system in the future. I offer my reassurance that we will give further consideration to ensuring that the powers in Clause 3 could not be used to undermine this.

On Amendment 34A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, I am willing to make a commitment on the Floor of the House to your Lordships that the Government will always undertake a full consultation with representatives from the sector prior to any regulations being laid which exercise the power in Clause 3. Those regulations will also be subject to the affirmative procedure.

On Amendment 35, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, by removing further education institutions from the scope of this power, we would lose the ability to make these adjustments in relation to 16 to 19 academies, with the possibility that we could introduce complexity to the regulatory framework rather than streamlining it. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment and other noble Lords not to press theirs.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, really, this is something of a hangover from day one—something I think the noble Baroness, understandably, would best like forgotten. I am still not clear why, when Clause 3 has been so heavily condemned, we are not saying, “Let’s get rid of it and try something else.” The undertaking the Minister has just given about consultation is welcome, but we should not need it, because we should know what we are getting into: it should have been discussed in Parliament, in detail, going through the full process. Also, an undertaking to consult comes back to the old point: I am sure this Minister will stand by it—she is an honourable person, as she has shown in her conduct over this—but we do not know who is coming next; we do not know who is giving the orders next.

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Lord Adonis Portrait Lord Adonis (Lab)
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Since the noble Lord has raised the issue of Clause 3 standing part of the Bill, I wonder whether I might add a few remarks in the form of a question to the Minister. Unusually, the debates on this Bill in your Lordships’ House appear to be attracting the attention of the media, which very rarely happens, because people have suddenly noticed that these are extremely wide-ranging powers that have the potential to transform the whole educational landscape in England. One of the commentaries I read said that the person most frequently mentioned in the debates on this Bill so far has been Henry VIII. He has been much more frequently mentioned than the Secretary of State or any of us who are former Ministers, and so he appears to have been the principal author of this Bill. I think the remarks that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, made last week are what the media are latching on to.

In trying to understand the Bill, I have a question for the Minister. My understanding of Clause 3(1) is that it would give the Government the power to override any existing admissions arrangements for an academy by ministerial direction. This is quite significant, because, as those of us who have laboured in this territory know, there are 101 varieties of non-selective admissions, and in respect of academies there are different forms of banding and inner and outer catchment areas—all these things—which are hugely important to the relationship between the school and its community which are usually brokered. I know that some people think that academies operate in a vacuum, but they do not; these arrangements have generally been very intensely negotiated, including with local authorities, to see that there is fairness between schools and so on.

My reading of this clause is that it will give the Government the power to override all the funding agreements in respect of admissions, in a way that may be very ill-thought through, just because a particular Minister or Secretary of State takes against one form of banding and wants a different form of non-selective admissions. This would completely subvert arrangements which, for very good reason, have been entered into between sponsors, multi-academy trusts and previous Ministers and would effectively override the whole contractual basis on which sponsors have taken responsibility for the management of schools. That is my reading of Clause 3(1). I know that there are ongoing discussions, which I have not been party to, but could the Minister confirm that this would give the Government the power to override any existing admissions arrangements set out in a funding agreement? If that is the case, I think Henry VIII has made a dramatic reappearance in the affairs of the Committee this afternoon.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I thank your Lordships. I will keep my remarks extremely brief, because we covered many of the points raised this afternoon when we debated this clause on the first day of Committee. If I may, I will write to the noble Lord on his question regarding admissions arrangements and set that out in detail. I ask my noble friend if he will consider withdrawing his remarks about the department taking revenge. It does not take revenge on anybody or anything. It works to serve Ministers to the best of their ability.

Clause 3 agreed.
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We believe the Government need to match the ambition of Labour’s national excellence programme, our plans and vision for education, whereby we will recruit thousands of new teachers to address vacancies and skill gaps across the profession. We will reform Ofsted to focus on supporting struggling schools and ensure we have the best fully qualified teachers in our schools by providing teachers and head teachers with continuing professional development and leadership skills training. This amendment will begin to address the current failings.
Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 35B and 36, which amend Schedule 1. Schedule 1 extends certain provisions in maintained school legislation which currently apply to academies through funding agreements to academies directly.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, for Amendment 35B. He is seeking to require academies to employ qualified teachers and to be subject to the Secretary of State’s guidance on teacher pay and conditions that applies to maintained schools. However, the provisions in Schedule 1 that the amendment changes relate specifically to special schools and the removal of the power for the Secretary of State to prescribe that special academies employ qualified teachers. The amendment would not have the effect that the noble Lord is seeking to achieve.

However, it is clear that the intended purpose of this amendment and Amendment 36, which is about removing the exemption that academies have for teachers to have qualified teacher status, would provide for a restriction to a core tenet of the academy system, namely that, with the exception of special academies, all academy trusts have the freedom to employ those they believe are suitably qualified to teach in their academies and that all academy trusts can make decisions about pay and conditions of service in their academies.

The academy standards regulations will reflect existing requirements in the funding agreements, including those relating to enrolment in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme or the Local Government Pension Scheme. I have heard the fears expressed about a future Government using these regulations to undermine the freedoms that enable academy trusts to collaborate, innovate and organise themselves to deliver the best outcomes for their pupils, and I am carefully reflecting on those concerns.

On teacher pay and conditions, although all academy trusts have the freedom to set their own pay structure and conditions of service for teachers, we believe the vast majority follow some, if not all, of the guidance in the school teachers’ pay and conditions document. We believe it is right that academies continue to benefit from this freedom because it allows heads and trust leaders to have the flexibility to respond to their local context to support recruitment and retention of teachers. I am reminded of the phrase used by the noble Lord. I do not want to misquote him, but he spoke very powerfully on the first day of Committee about how important and attractive it was to trust our leaders, and that is exactly where these freedoms fall.

Academy trusts are also allowed the freedom to make their own decisions about who they believe is suitably qualified to teach pupils in their academies. However, most schools, including academies, understand the importance of well-trained teachers and choose to employ teachers who have undertaken initial teacher training and gained qualified teacher status. I agree very much with the sentiment expressed by my noble friend Lord Agnew in relation to the quality of the qualification as opposed to just the qualification in its own right. I am slightly baffled at your Lordships’ focus on this, as 96.9% of teachers in academy schools held QTS in November 2021, compared to 97.7% in maintained schools, so there is less than a percentage point difference between the two. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, seemed to suggest that there are examples where it might be much higher. If that is the case, perhaps she would be very kind and share them with us, so that we can look into that.

The intention behind the amendment is to place additional requirements on academy trusts that would undermine the discretion and flexibility at the front line that fundamental academy freedoms give to heads and MAT leaders. That is not the intention of this Bill. On that basis, I would be grateful if the noble Lord would withdraw Amendment 35B and if the noble Baronesses would not move Amendment 36.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful again for this half-hour debate and for the Minister’s reply. It is important that we have a vision for the whole system, now that we are moving to a single system, and perhaps this is something we will continue to reflect on.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, for his comments. The core of the argument for having a single national pay and conditions arrangement for teaching relates to the difficulty of recruiting people into the profession. It is a critical profession for the future of our country and any society, and we must make sure that we recruit the finest people to be teachers—as one of their careers. These days, we are going to live longer and work longer. I am not saying that you necessarily have to do 40 or 50 years as a teacher, but would it not be great if, for one career, people wanted to be a teacher? It is easier to recruit people if they know that they have a predictable pay progression with a predictable, quality pension at the end of it, as part of their public service—as part of the motivation and the vocation around becoming a teacher.

I hear and respect very much what the noble Lords, Lord Agnew and Lord Nash, say about the output and the nature of the different routes into the profession. There is of course the assessment-only route. People who have been working for 20 years in the private sector or who are coming in from industry could perhaps have some brief training in some of the pedagogic or behaviour management elements that my noble friend on the Front Bench talked about and can then be assessed against the standards that are set around what we require from qualified teachers. They do not have to go through training; they can just be assessed against those standards. One of the things I pioneered when I was working at TES, with the TES Institute, was a route through the assessment-only process.

I am happy to withdraw this amendment. I hope this brief debate has given us cause and a pause to reflect on what kind of system we want for the teaching profession in the context of every school being an academy.

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Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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The Government are in a bit of trouble here. I have not previously sat through a debate where there has been no support at all for what the Government are trying to do. I do not see how the Bill can leave this House intact. It is becoming quite urgent for the Minister to share with us the Government’s intentions around it. I appreciate that may not be possible today, but on Wednesday we should have some indication of how the Government intend to respond. This is getting repetitive and very frustrating. Deep concerns have come up through this discussion that demonstrate again the failure of the Government to engage with academies, particularly on their approach.

My noble friend Lord Knight makes very sensible suggestions about the appointment of trustees, which highlights the issues around remuneration. We get the impression that the Government have not thought this through sufficiently. He rightly highlights the dangers of a gang of usual suspects taking roles—although he did not rule out being one himself. This makes us all realise, the Bill being as it is, that none of us has the first idea where the Government will take us. This is not a sustainable position for the Government to put the Minister in day after day as we go through Committee.

The Bill is muddled and rushed and has not benefited from the regulatory review. We do not understand the haste. There is no clarity about how all this will work in practice. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, summed it up really well. She said there was no strategic framework and no detail, and that it does not reflect the White Paper. I am afraid that is where we find ourselves. Several noble Lords have proposed a delay. It would appear a justifiable proposal at this stage, given everything we have heard. It would be in the Government’s interest—perhaps not today but on Wednesday, before we go much further—if we could have some indication about what they are going to do about the fact that they clearly will not have sufficient support to get the Bill through as drafted.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I start by acknowledging the noble Baroness’s last comments. I will endeavour to come back on the next day of Committee with more clarity on the points she raises.

I thank my noble friends Lord Agnew, Lord Baker and Lord Nash, who have so much experience in this area, for discussing their concerns in respect of Clauses 5 to 18 with me ahead of today’s Committee. As we know, the vast majority of academy trusts are well managed and meeting their obligations, but it is right that the Secretary of State should be able to step in where trusts fail to safeguard children’s education and public money.

These intervention powers form part of a toolbox of measures enabling the Secretary of State to intervene in trusts in a proportionate way. The powers enable the department to tackle failure at the multi-academy trust level. In response to my noble friends and the noble Lords, Lord Knight and Lord Addington, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Chapman, I shall attempt to explain why these powers are necessary, offer some assurance as to how they will be used proportionately, and summarise our plans for building confidence in the department’s decision-making processes.

The powers are necessary for two main reasons. First, they will provide a strong platform on which to build a fully trust-led system. Under the current framework the Secretary of State’s intervention powers are set out in individual funding agreements, as we have heard. These powers can vary, depending on when the agreement was signed. In the case of a multi-academy trust, there may be several funding agreements with different termination provisions. We believe it is the right time to create a more coherent trust framework under which the Secretary of State’s powers can be applied consistently and transparently.

Secondly, the powers will allow the Secretary of State to intervene, where necessary, in a more proportionate way. The current tools are limited and blunt, relying heavily on the power to terminate the funding agreement. For example, Clause 5 will give the Secretary of State a targeted power to act where a trust is failing to fulfil a specific legal duty. This could include, for example, not complying with the new attendance legislation under this Bill or a misuse of funding.

My noble friends have suggested that the Secretary of State could enforce such requirements under common law by taking legal action against the trust for breach of contract. I fear that such an approach to enforcement would be costly and burdensome for both the department and trusts. Instead, the Bill provides for a straightforward remedy, while allowing for resolution through legal action as a last resort.

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Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab)
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May I seek some clarification on that point? Will the payment of trustees and the interim executive board be the same for maintained schools? There is a parallel situation there, where a governing body of a maintained school is not strong and an interim executive board is put in place. Are the Government proposing that they be paid as well in the intervening period?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will come back to the noble Baroness on that point. I do not have the answers to hand but I will write to her.

We believe that there will be circumstances where it is right to remunerate trustees who have the particular skills and experience required to tackle the most serious failings in governance and management. These powers offer an alternative to terminating the funding agreement, which could be costly and disruptive to children’s education.

We would expect any additional directors and members of interim trust boards to be drawn from our strongest trusts, in line with our aspiration for a trust-led system. If noble Lords have colleagues who are trustees, or are trustees themselves and wish to discuss this further, I am happy to undertake to meet and explore this point.

My noble friends expressed concerns that these powers could be used in a heavy-handed way, such as terminating a trust’s master funding agreement on the basis of a single breach. As I have explained, the intention behind these measures is to create a more nuanced framework for intervention which avoids resorting to the threat of termination, while ensuring that weaknesses can be addressed. Any Secretary of State is bound by common-law requirements of proportionality. This means that they would terminate a funding agreement only on the basis of a material breach. Moreover, except in very limited circumstances—for example, where a trust is insolvent—the Secretary of State may terminate a funding agreement only after exhausting other options.

In general, the Bill provides for termination only where a trust has not addressed concerns raised through an earlier intervention, whether a compliance direction, a notice to improve or a termination warning notice. I agree that there should be proper scrutiny of how the Secretary of State, through regional directors, exercises any powers of intervention in academies and trusts. The Government’s recent schools White Paper announced a plan for a review of regulation. I assure the Committee and my noble friend behind me that, as part of that review, we will—

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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Given that the regulatory review seems to be so significant in the Government’s considerations and has come up many times, and that we are discussing pausing the Bill—I know the Minister has not yet engaged directly with that—I wonder whether we could have some idea of the timescale on the regulatory review. Should we wish to suggest a pause, we could make sure that it was for sufficient time, but not too much time, to allow us to benefit from the findings of that review.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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We plan for the review to be launched in the coming weeks. I cannot give the noble Baroness an exact date, but I think I am allowed to say “shortly”. I have probably said more than I am allowed to.

I will go back, because this is important. The noble Baroness is right to raise the regulatory review; we see it as very important. As part of that, we will look at how we provide for the scrutiny of how these powers are exercised. Critically, we will do that in a way that wins the confidence of the sector.

I have reflected on my noble friends’ concerns, but I believe that, taken together, these clauses create a sound framework for robust but proportionate intervention as we move to a fully trust-led system.

Amendments 39A and 39B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, envisage a new role for Ofsted in inspecting multi-academy trusts, and make the decision to issue a compliance direction and a notice to improve contingent on the outcome of such an inspection. Currently, the department relies on a range of evidence from a variety of sources to build up a joined-up picture of each multi-academy trust, to inform decisions about intervention. This includes evidence on finance and governance, as well as Ofsted’s school inspection judgments on educational performance.

Through the regulatory review, the department will consider the evolving role of inspection in a fully trust-led system. This will include consideration of how inspection of multi-academy trusts would be co-ordinated with our wider regulatory arrangements, as well as how it would interact with school-level inspection. I hope the noble Lord will agree that it is important that the review runs its course before we make any decisions in this area. He also asked a number of quite specific questions. If I may, I will write in response.

I commend Clauses 5 to 18 standing part of the Bill. I also ask the noble Lord, Lord Knight, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, is right about getting Ofsted into multi-academy trusts. It would make a great difference to how parents are able to interact with the eventual system. Parents need the level of information and reassurance that will come from an Ofsted report, and I hope it would be done in a way that, as others have suggested, is very much focused on the educational aspects, which is where Ofsted’s expertise lies.

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Moved by
40: Clause 7, page 8, line 7, at end insert—
“(3A) Where the Secretary of State proposes to give an interim trustee notice to the proprietor of one or more Academy schools with a religious character, the Secretary of State must first consult the relevant religious body for each Academy school with a religious character in the proprietor’s care.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State, before giving an interim trustee notice to the proprietor of an Academy school with a religious character, to consult the relevant religious body for the school.

Schools Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Lords Hansard - Part 2
Monday 13th June 2022

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Lords Chamber
Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (13 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

With Amendment 159, schools must maintain a digital record for pupils, updated quarterly, which may include an assessment of grades, effort, behaviour and any work experience completed. Parents need more information—and information that is relevant to them. Paper reports can easily be lost. All information needs to be centralised so that parents can track progress. Many, if not most, schools in the maintained sector have moved to online systems. If anything came out of the pandemic, it was a shift to online recording of student attainment and parental access to the whole spectrum of teaching and learning resources for their child. Notwithstanding that, I put in a cautionary note. I had a discussion with my noble friend Lord Knight earlier today about the confidential use of data and not selling data to commercial companies.
Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, I will now respond to this group of amendments, which relates principally to the academy legal framework. Amendment 41, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Shipley, pertains to the geographical spread of multi-academy trusts. I share the noble Lords’ view that this is an important matter.

The Government’s published guidance on building strong academy trusts states:

“When considering whether to grow, an academy trust will need to consider the geographical fit of schools”.


Many trusts operate successfully only in their local area, but others spread their expertise beyond local boundaries, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Knight, establishing clusters across England. This amendment risks restricting this sort of innovation, which can enable effective school support and improvements in performance, with clear accountability and strong governance. If I understood rightly, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, suggested that it was an either/or choice between regional clusters and national MATs. I do not think it is either/or; it can absolutely be both/and.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, asked why we would not have only one MAT in an area—for example, having a single multi-academy trust in one local authority area. We believe that there should be parental choice. MATs will have different styles. There is obviously a particular risk profile if all schools in an area are in the same MAT. We think it makes for a healthier ecosystem if there are several MATs in an area. I have certainly seen examples in local authority areas where a number of MATs are collaborating extremely constructively to address some of the entrenched issues that they find in those areas.

Amendment 49 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, and Amendment 50 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Blower and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, relate to an individual academy leaving its multi-academy trust. As we stated in the schools White Paper, we will consult on the exceptional circumstances in which a good school could request that the regulator agrees to the school moving to a stronger trust, but we do not want to pre-empt the outcome of that consultation by legislating now, not least as we expect the process to be administrative rather than legislative. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester for his reflections on the risks of destabilising the system through schools moving from one trust to another. I gently reflect back to the noble Baronesses who spoke on this that it is important that this measure works for the individual school, which both of them pointed out, but it also needs to work for the multi-academy trust, which I did not hear either of them refer to directly.

I turn to Amendment 55. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, for her amendment relating to academies without a religious character joining a MAT with a majority of or all academies with a religious character. The process by which an academy joins another trust is a matter for agreement between the two trusts and is subject to the approval of the Secretary of State in the person of the regional director. When considering any application for a stand-alone academy to join a trust, the regional director will consider what stakeholder engagement has taken place and take account of views expressed. It is neither necessary nor appropriate to provide specific consultation requirements in legislation. I again thank the right reverend Prelate for his clarification about church model articles.

I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, for Amendment 77. As the noble Lords pointed out, academy autonomy is a core principle of the academies programme. For the past decade, such powers and freedoms have been available uniquely to academies, providing them with greater freedom and flexibility in how they operate and promoting innovation and diversity in the system. As set out in the schools White Paper, our intention is that by 2030, all children will benefit from being taught in a strong multi-academy trust or with plans to form one. Therefore, all schools will be able to benefit from academy status and its associated autonomy in the near term.

Amendment 79A concerns the relationship between further education colleges and multi-academy trusts. Further education providers and academies are different types of organisation founded on different legal frameworks. Although that prevents them joining as a single legal entity, FE providers are still able to play a valuable role supporting academies, and this includes forming a multi-academy trust and sitting on academy trust boards. We are committed to considering what more we can do to minimise any existing barriers when further education providers work alongside academies, and we have established a working group with a group of FE providers to explore this in more detail.

Amendment 94, in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, and Amendment 95, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, relate to financial reporting in academy trusts. The Government hold academies to account for their financial health through the academy trust, which is the accountable body that signs the funding agreement with the Secretary of State. The department publishes a full report and consolidated accounts for the academy sector annually. It is right that academy trusts hold appropriate levels of reserves to enable investment in initiatives that will improve pupils’ educational experience, as well as supporting them to meet challenges.

This year, the Department for Education will collect information from trusts holding reserves equal to 20% or more of their overall income to assure us that there are robust plans in place to use them, as the noble Baronesses suggest. There is a split in reserves between what we might call core reserves, investment reserves and those that academies will need if they take on failing schools with low pupil numbers to manage the lag in their funding as those pupil numbers increase, and we need to understand that picture fully.

I really do not recognise the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, of rural schools feeling that they lose funding. I recognise much more the example that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, gave the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, may have a specific example that he would like to share. Often, we see exactly the reverse—that small schools are made sustainable through the MAT.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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I can clarify that for the Minister. I simply picked up a view that rural schools may feel that they could lose money and that, as a consequence, such a school may feel that it has become less viable. It was a worry about what might happen as opposed to the case if everybody had to become part of a multi-academy trust; that was the concern. If the Minister could allay those fears, that would be helpful.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Lord for that. I will endeavour to find some examples that he can share with those who have expressed such concerns of where smaller rural schools have benefited from being part of a trust with the unattractively named GAG pooling, which the noble Baroness opposite will be dreaming about tonight.

Multi-academy trusts must publish their annual audited accounts online, including details of their objectives, achievements and future plans. They must set out what they have done to promote value for money in support of those objectives as part of their accounts. We currently publish funding allocations for each individual academy. School-level income and expenditure information for schools that form part of a MAT is also available online. If noble Lords are not familiar with that information, it is extremely comprehensive and useful. Parents and others are able to see not only what their child’s individual school receives and spends but how this compares to the income and expenditure of other similar schools, whether they are academies or maintained schools. I will put the link to that website in my letter to noble Lords after this debate.

Turning to Amendment 157, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, I am pleased to say that we have launched a new regions group in the Department for Education. It brings together the ESFA and the former regional schools commissioners to address some of the issues that the noble Baroness pointed to. We are confident that this new group will deliver the singular role of scrutiny that is set out in the noble Baroness’s amendment.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for his Amendment 79B, which proposes a regional schools commissioner advisory board. He will be aware that, as he alluded to, regional directors—formerly regional schools commissioners—are currently supported by their own advisory boards. We believe that it is beneficial that those board members are made up of a mixture of head teachers, trust leaders, trustees and business leaders who bring specific expertise and experience to decisions that directly affect academies, in particular approving academy conversions and matching schools to strong trusts. It is important to note that advisory board meetings are transparent: agendas are already published in advance and records of meetings are published. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred to an annual report, but an annual report is already published by region.

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Moved by
42: Clause 8, page 8, line 28, at end insert—
“(3) Subsection (2) applies to an Academy agreement in respect of a secure 16 to 19 Academy (see section 1B of the Academies Act 2010) as if the reference to the seventh Academy financial year were a reference to the second Academy financial year.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment provides for a two-year notice period for terminating an Academy agreement in respect of a secure 16 to 19 Academy (in contrast to the seven-year notice period which applies to other types of Academy).
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Moved by
43: Clause 9, page 8, line 29, at end insert—
“(A1) The Secretary of State may by notice terminate an Academy agreement with the proprietor of an Academy if any of subsections (1) to (1B) applies.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment, and the other amendments to clauses 9 and 14 in Baroness Barran’s name, allow the Secretary of State to terminate an Academy agreement without first issuing a termination warning notice in certain cases where the Academy is failing.
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Moved by
47: Clause 11, page 9, line 23, leave out “a” and insert “an Academy agreement or”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment allows the Secretary of State to terminate an Academy agreement as well as a master agreement if there is a change of control or insolvency event (so that an Academy agreement in respect of a single-Academy trust could be terminated on those grounds).
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Moved by
48: Clause 14, page 12, line 11, leave out subsections (6) and (7)
Member's explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement to the amendment in Baroness Barran’s name at page 8, line 29.

Schools Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-III(b) Amendments for Committee (Supplementary to the Third Marshalled List) - (15 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will say a few words following days one and two in Committee on the issues your Lordships raised about the Bill. Your Lordships heard me say that we are listening and that, after hearing concerns during the earlier days in Committee, I am acutely aware of the strength of feeling in the House. Your Lordships are aware that there is a process which is followed after Committee. Noble Lords can be reassured that, when we return to the Bill on Report, I will be able to clarify and confirm the Government’s position, having heard the views of the House in Committee. Any such statement will reflect the Government’s position, will be subject to usual processes of agreeing policy and will be shared ahead of Report.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I will press the Minister. Should those amendments that she comes back with on Report, which is how I interpret what she has just said, be as substantial as we would hope and expect given our concerns, which I appreciate she says she had heard, would she perhaps consider reconvening the Committee for us to examine those new amendments? We expect that they will substantially alter the way the Bill is currently drafted.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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Is the Minister intending to conduct some kind of regulatory review and consultation prior to Report?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am sure all your Lordships understand that the timing and content of what we discuss at Report is a matter that will be agreed with the Chief Whip and through the usual channels. I really cannot say any more on that today.

Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
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Does the Minister still intend to have Report in July this year?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I repeat to my noble friend that this is not a decision that I can make; it is a decision for the Chief Whip and the usual channels.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, the specific question my noble friend Lady Chapman asked was about a quite common procedure in this House: if very substantial changes are proposed between Committee and Report, involving large numbers of new clauses et cetera, it is common that a Committee stage should be resumed to consider those precise additions so that the conversation can take place under Committee rules rather than Report rules. I know that the Minister cannot decide on the procedures of the House, but she is—I hope my saying so does not ruin her career—a very accommodating Minister, as far as she is able to be, who does listen to the House. Having listened to most of the Committee so far myself, it is quite clear that many issues need to be discussed if and when there is some clarification about the content of the Bill. That needs to be discussed in Committee.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am unable to give any more clarification on that point at this stage. I am sorry that I cannot say anymore to your Lordships.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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I realise that the Minister is not able to say anything further about the timing with regard to Committee and Report, but could she say anything further in response to my noble friend Lord Knight about regulatory review, leaving aside the question of Report?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I have already said at the Dispatch Box that the regulatory review will begin within weeks. I am unable to say anything further about the other stages of the Bill.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, may I just try this then with the Minister, who is doing her best in very difficult circumstances? Would she be prepared to talk with the Secretary of State, who is one of the most able members of the Cabinet—that might not mean a lot to others, but I think in this particular case it does—on whether it would be beneficial, not just to the passage of this legislation but to the whole education system, if he were able to see his way to taking time to reach a substantial consensus on the majority of this Bill, which I think we can do, if time were allowed to do so?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am more than happy to commit to taking back the views of the House to the Secretary of State.

Clause 29: Local authorities: power to apply for an Academy order

Amendment 59

Moved by
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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
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For the second successive year, I am here in the Chamber debating an education Bill. At least when I taught, I could leave at 4 pm.

For the avoidance of doubt, this group is about consultation. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Blower for proposing such a sensible way forward and reminding us of the value of governing bodies. We are supportive of the thrust of these amendments, which would give a greater voice to parents and staff and consideration to the local context and challenges. A struggling local authority may want to offload a school that is not equipped to academise yet—or indeed at all—so we cautiously note the government amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, which requires consultation with appropriate persons before this can happen.

However, we have a genuine question about why this consultation can be carried out after a local authority’s application, as noted by my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lady Blower. It cannot possibly be meaningful, and it looks as if it is a done deal. It is another example of the cart before the horse. Many times in this Committee we have mentioned the word “consultation”, so we need to put it in the correct context and the appropriate order.

I will speak specifically to our Amendment 63, and I thank my noble friend Lord Grocott for his support. It aims to be proportionate. If the Secretary of State intends to accept an application for academisation and the school’s governing body opposes it, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a Statement explaining how academisation will benefit children’s education—it is as clear, simple and straightforward as that. Over the coming days, this whole debate will be about the benefit to children’s education.

These amendments speak to the Bill’s general approach of imposing academisation in a top-down fashion on schools, children and parents. If a governing body is opposed, the Secretary of State must give robust consideration to, and justify the case for, approval. After all, they are the arbiters of the community, and parents, teachers, governors and children will have a much clearer insight of the situated context of the school and the wider community issues than—with the greatest respect—a Whitehall official. Many great plays have been written about the disruption caused when a stranger enters a community and the chaos that subsequently unfolds.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, the amendments in this group are concerned mainly with rights of consultation and consent when a local authority intends to apply for an academy order on behalf of a maintained school.

The picture drawn by your Lordships of some kind of Machiavellian plan to impose multi-academy trusts on schools is not a fair representation of how the Government propose that the system should work in the future. I will come on to specific examples, but, in response to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on academies coming in and being imposed, I say that they are imposed because those schools have failed children—both noble Lords know that that is the case. When schools are judged to be inadequate, as was the case with the school that the noble Baroness referred to, academies come in to turn them around because they are failing children. I will leave it there, but I think that it is fair to set the record straight on that point.

Amendment 60, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would require a local authority to obtain the consent or support of the governing body of a school where it is proposed that the school join a strong trust. I will also refer here to Amendment 63, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. As the noble Baroness described, it would require the Secretary of State to lay a Statement before Parliament if they approved an application for an academy order against a governing body’s wishes. There is a requirement in the Bill for local authorities to consult a school’s governing body before applying for an academy order. We expect that local authorities and schools will have open discussions about the principle of joining a trust and which trusts schools might join.

Although we hope that any applications for academy orders would have the support of the local governing body, there may be genuine circumstances where agreement cannot be reached with individual schools. Whether the local authority includes such schools within its plans will depend on whether it is prepared to continue to maintain those individual schools.

The decision on whether to approve an order will rest with the relevant regional director. When considering local authorities’ applications, regional directors will of course take all relevant considerations into account. These will include the views of governing bodies, local authorities and other stakeholders—and, of course, the likely impact on children’s education. The regional director’s decision would be made public. Against this background, I do not believe that the additional requirements proposed in these amendments are necessary.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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I am rather attracted by the concept that the Government should be very clear about the reasons why this kind of change takes place and how it would benefit the children’s education. I do not understand why that is not absolutely necessary. I quite see that you do not have to have the agreement of everyone—if you did, you would never get anything done—but, when you have made a decision and there are differences of opinion, it seems that there is a lot to be said for explaining precisely why you have done so.

My worry about the Bill is that there seems to be an overemphasis on neatness—neatness is the enemy of civilisation. I am a believer in difference, and one reason that I like academies is that different academy trusts are different; that is a change from when this was under local authorities, when I am afraid there was a very considerable sameness. I like this, but, when there is a real row, it is incumbent upon the Government to explain why they have made a decision.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government are clear—we are talking about cases where a local authority wants a school to convert to an academy. I referred to the Government’s current criteria earlier in Committee. The criteria that the regional directors use when deciding which trust a school should join are set out clearly. I believe that I put the link in my last letter to your Lordships, so I encourage my noble friend to take a look—they are very fair and clear.

I am not sure that my noble friend was in the Chamber when we talked about the fact that this legislation is part of wider work that the Government are doing in relation to commissioning and regulation, where there will be extensive engagement over the summer. I reassure my noble friend that that will focus predominantly on how we can achieve better outcomes for children. He used the word “neatness” in perhaps a pejorative way; one could absolutely justify why we need clarity in a system the size of the school system in this country.

In responding to Amendments 61 and 62, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I will explain how the corrective Amendment 68, in my name, will introduce a new consultation requirement. The Government expect local authorities to engage widely with interested parties when considering supporting schools to join strong trusts. Amendment 68 explicitly requires local authorities applying for an academy order to

“consult such persons as they think appropriate about whether the conversion should take place.”

The noble Baroness gave an extensive list of the types of organisations and individuals who should be consulted, and she suggested, fairly, that in these cases there should always be a clear explanation of why the conversion should take place.

This amendment applies to local authorities the same consultation requirements as exist when governing bodies apply for maintained schools to be converted into academies. Local authorities should act reasonably in deciding who to consult, and it is therefore inevitable that parents and staff would be aware and able to express their views. As I said in response to my noble friend, the decision on whether schools should convert rests ultimately with regional directors, who will need to be satisfied that local authorities have consulted sufficiently and that their plans benefit children’s education. However, it is not necessary or appropriate to require local authorities to demonstrate that they have considered alternatives. The decision before the regional director is whether to approve the local authority’s plans for its schools to become academies. I hope but am not entirely confident that the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be reassured by the addition of this requirement.

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Lord’s point is a little broader than what we are talking about at the moment. With the free school applications that have come across my desk I have certainly tried to be very aware of, and sensitive to, the challenges they can pose. The noble Lord is also very well aware that, historically, there were areas where new free schools have been really important in raising standards. There is not a single answer.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, I will take the opportunity of the Minister’s slight pause to ask her a question about my reading of her Amendment 68, which says:

“Before a maintained school in England is converted into an Academy following an application under section 3A (application for Academy order by local authority)”.


By the time the local authorities have made an application, that is, in effect, the decision. The point my noble friend and I were trying to make is that, surely, there should be mandatory consultation before the local authority makes the application.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am glad that I have been promoted to be the noble Lord’s “noble friend”; things are looking up. I am very happy to take this offline with the noble Lord. It is just not case that the decision is made at that point, but I would be happy to meet with him and we can go through this in more detail, if that would be helpful.

Amendment 75 is concerned with existing stand-alone academies joining multi-academy trusts, which we discussed at length in the earlier group. The process by which an academy joins another trust is not set out in legislation; it is a matter for agreement between the two trusts and is subject to the approval of the regional director. I hope that noble Lords can forgive me for repeating myself. When considering any application for a stand-alone academy to join a MAT, the regional director will consider what stakeholder engagement has taken place, and the views expressed by stakeholders.

I do not believe that it is necessary or appropriate to provide for very specific consultation requirements in legislation. Stakeholder engagement is already embedded in the decision-making process. However, I agree that the process by which academies join trusts should be transparent—here, I am a little more optimistic about reassuring the noble Baroness, the noble Lord and other noble Lords opposite. As part of the regulatory review, which I have mentioned previously, we will consider the scope to clarify the arrangements for engaging with stakeholders when a stand-alone academy joins a multi-academy trust.

In the light of Amendment 68 in my name, and given these assurances, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, to withdraw her Amendment 60, and that other noble Lords do not move their amendments. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, that I did not echo the birthday wishes, but I wish her a very happy birthday.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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Before I begin my remarks, I wish many happy returns to my noble friend on the Front Bench.

Never in my wildest dreams would I think of the Minister as Machiavellian—absolutely not. However, the lived experience of many people is that discussions over issues to do with academisation, moving into MATs or other such things have not always been open and the system has not always been transparent. I am personally aware of representatives of particular unions who, after being called in to see head teachers, have been briefed and then been told that the matter is absolutely confidential, and that they must say nothing to any member outside that room. I am not saying that this is the position the Minister would take, but it is the lived experience of a lot of people who genuinely believe that there should be proper and open consultation. We can say that those head teachers were doing it completely wrongly, but the fact is that it would have impacted those union members, and there is the impact of someone in the school now knowing something which the parents and students do not know.

There is clearly something here about the need constantly to reinforce the fact that consultation should be open, appropriate and transparent. This is probably why, although the Minister said these things in very reassuring tones, I cannot see why we would not specify the need to consult with particular groups of people, including parents, staff and so on. This remains an issue. I am delighted that the Minister thinks that it is inevitable, but my experience is that consultation has not always been inevitable. However, I would like to believe that it was.

I will comment on the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, about neatness, which I thought was very entertaining. To him, I would add: I do not think that all local authority schools are like cookie cutters and exactly the same; they pride themselves on the fact that they have a particular ethos. That comes from the student intake, the particular group of staff they have, the governors and the head’s style of leadership, so I do not think that they are all the same.

I am sure that those who have visited very many maintained schools will agree with me that they are quite different, whether they have a uniform or not—all sorts of things do make them different. But I was entertained by the noble Lord’s remarks about neatness. Again repeating that nothing in my remarks suggests anything Machiavellian, although I am not completely reassured by everything, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
68: Clause 29, page 24, line 6, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert—
“(a) in subsection (1), after “Academy” insert “following an application under section 3 (application for Academy order by governing body)”;(b) after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) Before a maintained school in England is converted into an Academy following an application under section 3A (application for Academy order by local authority), the local authority must consult such persons as they think appropriate about whether the conversion should take place.”;(c) for subsection (2) substitute—“(2) But this section ceases to apply where, following an application under section 3 or 3A in respect of a school, an Academy order is made in respect of the school under—(a) section 4(A1) (duty to make Academy order in respect of school requiring significant improvement or special measures), or(b) section 4(1)(b) (power to make Academy order in respect of school otherwise eligible for intervention).””Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would require the local authority to carry out a consultation in relation to an application under new section 3A for conversion of a maintained school into an Academy. As with consultations by governing bodies who apply for Academy conversion, the consultation may be carried out before or after the application, or any Academy order, is made.
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Moved by
76: After Clause 30, insert the following new Clause—
“Secure 16 to 19 Academies(1) The Academies Act 2010 is amended as follows.(2) In section 2 (payments under Academy agreements), after subsection (2) insert— “(2A) Subsection (2) applies to an Academy agreement in respect of a secure 16 to 19 Academy as though the references to 7 years were references to 2 years.”(3) In section 9 (impact: new and expanded educational institutions), in subsection (1), after paragraph (b) (and on a new line) insert—“except where the institution, if the arrangements are entered into, is to be a secure 16 to 19 Academy.”(4) In section 10 (consultation: new and expanded educational institutions)—after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) But where the educational institution, if the arrangements are entered into, is to be a secure 16 to 19 Academy—(a) the person is not required to carry out a consultation on that question, and (b) they must instead carry out a consultation on the question of how they should cooperate with potential local partners in connection with the establishment and carrying on of the Academy.(2B) “Potential local partners” in subsection (2A)(b) means—(a) public authorities (within the meaning of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998), and(b) so far as not falling within paragraph (a), proprietors of educational institutions,with whom the person carrying out the consultation thinks it appropriate to cooperate.”;(b) in subsection (3), for “The consultation” substitute “A consultation under this section”.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment makes special provision for secure 16 to 19 Academies as to the period for which funding must continue, the requirement to consider the impact of new or expanded educational institutions on other local institutions, and the consultation requirements applicable to new or expanded educational institutions.
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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I very strongly support the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, but I will return to that issue in the next group. I was not going to participate in this debate, but I have been forced to because of the references made to rural and metropolitan areas. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench as gently as I possibly can that comparisons between allocations to different regions are always difficult and complicated.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, said that we metropolitan elites do not have much knowledge of what happens in the countryside. Equally, people from the rest of the country have surprisingly little knowledge of what happens in metropolitan areas. The levels of deprivation in London—a vast area in terms of population—are enormous. In terms of picking out individual figures, I have the brief from London Councils, which provides figures demonstrating to its satisfaction that London has been hard done by over the last few years, with bigger reductions in the allocation to schools than the rest of the country. I do not believe bandying figures in that way is that helpful. What we want is sufficient funding across the country as a whole, and I think that setting one part of the country against another should be done with great discretion.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I genuinely welcome the chance to talk to your Lordships about reforms to the national funding formula. We will come on to this in more detail on Clause 33 in the next group. I want to start my response by noting that this part of the Bill delivers a long-standing commitment to achieve fair funding for schools and, I should say, a commitment where there have been multiple consultations over the years with the sector.

I will start by responding to Amendment 79 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and Amendments 79ZA and 79C in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, on the financial arrangements of multi-academy trusts. One of the ways that the best multi-academy trusts transform outcomes for pupils is by focusing their expenditure and investment towards the right areas, whether this is investing in new IT across the trust or securing additional staff to work across all the trust’s schools.

Trusts can target funding to turn around underperforming schools they have brought into their trust or, indeed, as we discussed with the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on a previous day, target funding to very small, rural schools which would otherwise not be viable. The academy model relies on trusts’ ability to harness and share expertise and resources. However, Amendments 79 and 79ZA would stifle trusts’ ability to do this, undermining one of the fundamental benefits of the model.

Moreover, academy trusts are already required to publish a full set of financial accounts annually, which are publicly available. The department publishes a full report and consolidated accounts for the academy sector each year. We believe this meets the intention of Amendment 79C. The report includes data on financial health across the academy sector, and the educational performance of the academy sector at a regional level, to which the noble Baroness alluded.

My noble friend Lord Deben suggested that we needed to do more with data. Again, I challenge my noble friend just to look at how much data on schools we share publicly. The website Get Information about Schools gives very detailed information on school and trust performance. You can look by constituency area, local authority area or trust area. It gives information on finance—including the voluntary income that was referenced in the debate—workforce, and educational outcomes. That allows one to compare academies and maintained schools. We also publish school-level funding formula allocations for every school every year and the Department for Education runs a website specifically to enable anyone to see school-level national funding formula allocations and understand what funding they would receive if the national funding formula was followed locally. That may be something to look at for the Devon schools; I have not looked but I will do. The webtool is called view NFF allocations—I will write to noble Lords with the link—and it is published on GOV.UK.

We continue, of course, to look at how we can improve transparency, and in the schools White Paper we committed to consult on future financial reporting arrangements. The noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, asked —again, I hope she will forgive me if I paraphrase inaccurately—why we were not including local authorities in the process. She will know that we worked hard with local authorities ahead of publishing the schools White Paper to get a much clearer role for them. We are clear that the Government’s responsibility is to make sure that local authorities are empowered to be the champion of the child. They will be at the heart of the system, championing all children in their area but particularly the most vulnerable children, so they will play a leading role, of course, in safeguarding, pupil place planning and admissions. They will continue to be responsible for the high-needs budget and will lead local delivery of provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and they will be supported by the new partnerships.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, alluded—again, I think I am right in saying—to related party transactions in trusts. The Government are extremely vigilant to make sure that related party transactions, whether they are in maintained schools or in trusts, are handled with the highest levels of governance. But I point out to the noble Lord that the £120 million is on a budget in 2019-20 of over £31 billion so, if my maths is right, it is 0.3%.

I turn to Amendments 85 and 86 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey. As I have already said, transparency is critical and is at the heart of our reforms. In relation to Amendment 85, we will continue to publish information annually on the national funding formula, including how it is calculated, what factors it uses, school-level allocations, and an equality impact assessment. Based on this information, it is already possible to see the impact on rural schools, or indeed any other group of schools.

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Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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It is in some ways reassuring to hear what the Minister is saying. However, does she not accept that we have a situation where the lowest funding is going to parts of the country with the poorest outcomes? However much the Government think they are allowing for these factors, if something is going wrong, either the formula needs to be reconsidered in some respects or other measures need to be put in place to address this.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government have worked hard. I know the noble Baroness is familiar with the data, but if she looks at the most recent allocations, we are, dare I say it, trying to level up funding to the areas which she and the Government rightly care about. I think others in the Committee will understand very well that these are not things that can be moved quickly, and if we were moving quicker than we are there would be challenge on that. We expect this to be a slow process but the direction of travel is very clear. The noble Baroness will also be aware that in those areas beyond the core schools budget there is also significant investment, particularly through the education investment areas and the priority education investment areas, which cover—I think I remember rightly—55 local authorities across the country for the EIAs and 20 for the priority areas, where they are getting significant additional help.

On Amendment 84 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, on the affordability of home-to-school transport for 16 to 19 year-olds, it is for local authorities to determine the level of support available, including whether to offer free or subsidised travel, as many authorities do. Responsibility for securing home-to-school transport should continue to rest with local authorities because they are best placed to co-ordinate it locally. It would therefore be inappropriate to include it in the national funding formula, which directs funding to schools rather than local authorities. These funding provisions also apply only to pupils between the ages of five and 16.

On Amendment 97ZA, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Knight, of course I welcome the opportunity to discuss sustainability, which is, as the noble Lord said and as all your Lordships are aware, an issue of paramount importance. Noble Lords may be aware of our recently announced strategy for sustainability and climate change, which was co-created with young people and which I think has been very well received. It includes setting sustainability leadership and the introduction of climate action plans, which will include mitigation.

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord on empowering pupils. He will be aware that part of the strategy relates to the National Education Nature Park, which empowers young people through both the information that they gather and the skills that they will learn in their work in relation to the nature park, which we very much hope will stand them in good stead in future life. More generally, the framework set by the Bill does not intend for the actual content of the funding formula to be specified in legislation, so any such detailed provisions would not be dealt with here.

Lastly, I turn to Amendments 92 and 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. Many of his remarks were about the wider relationship between local authorities and central government. He will be aware that we have been working with local authorities over several years to implement this reform and we will continue to do so. Ultimately, however, if we want the same pupil to attract the same funding based on their needs, wherever they go to school, we must complete the move to a consistent national funding formula.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Has any staffing assessment been done by the department? My interpretation of what the Bill is now saying is that a huge growth is due in the number of staff who will be employed by the department in Whitehall.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I may have to write to the noble Lord on that. However, he will know that, through the Education and Skills Funding Agency—the ESFA—we already deal with payments to, as I think he said, roughly 10,000 schools. I would hope that the infrastructure that has been built to do that would allow scaling without having to increase staff in a direct proportion. However, I will write to him to clarify that.

Specifically regarding local authorities, there is a key interaction between schools and high-needs funding, which we are consulting on. The House will be aware that funding for high needs is increasing by £1 billion this year to a total of over £9 billion, which is an unprecedented investment in this area. Once we move to a direct national funding formula, local authorities will no longer calculate a local schools formula or transfer funding from the schools block to high needs. Clause 40 provides a new national-to-local budget reallocation mechanism from schools to high needs.

The Secretary of State will make final decisions to ensure national consistency, while still taking account of local circumstances. That could not occur if decision-making was left to 150 local authorities. Local authorities will still retain a key role in this process. They will initiate requests for funding transfers, setting out their rationale, and will consult with local schools. Overall, we think this strikes the right balance and aligns with the wider reforms in the recent SEND and AP Green Paper.

I hope that I have convinced your Lordships that the direct national funding formula will allow us fairly, consistently and transparently to fund schools on the basis of their needs. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to withdraw his Amendment 79 and I hope that other noble Lords will not move theirs.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate which has ranged very far and wide. I put in only an innocent little amendment to talk about the reserves of schools going into an academy trust or multi-academy trust. It is the gentlest of amendments, which the Minister ruthlessly swept away, saying that it would stifle the innovation and leadership of the multi-academy trust. However, behind it was an issue of substance, which is that the integrity of a whole school and its leadership is very important, and having control over its own budget goes with that.

Obviously, we have a load of interesting amendments around the whole concept of fair funding of schools. The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, spoke on rural schools. I totally agree with my noble friend Lord Davies; he might have mentioned Birmingham schools in his analysis of the issues that metropolitan schools face. My noble friend Lady Chapman, in looking at a region’s ranking in the index of multiple deprivation, sought to bring a holistic solution to the undoubted different issues and tensions that are faced.

I noted the Minister’s helpful comments. Whenever you have a funding formula, it is easier to shift money when you have real growth in the overall funding settlement. One of the problems we have at the moment has been the squeeze on school funding—my noble friend Lord Adonis made a telling intervention in our previous day in Committee. From my own experience, the health service has gone through its own funding formula. We had RAWP for many years, and then ACRA. It was all about the same issues of teeing up deprivation in rural and urban areas, age factors, and a population who are growing older. However, my goodness me, it was much easier to shift money when you had real growth in the system.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Just to be clear, there has been significant growth in funding in the system. In 2022-23, schools in the north-east, to which the noble Baroness opposite referred, will see a funding increase of 6.1%, with 5.9% in Yorkshire and the Humber. Small rural schools are attracting per pupil increases of 5.6%.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If my noble friend will allow me to butt in with some figures, London Councils points out that, between 2017-18 and 2020-21, 84% of schools in inner London saw a real-terms decrease in per pupil funding, compared with 55% in the rest of the country.

Schools Bill [HL]

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Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-III(b) Amendments for Committee (Supplementary to the Third Marshalled List) - (15 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I was not going to speak on this issue; I will do so very briefly. It is really important, and it is a shame that it is so late in the evening. I am in two minds about it: I can see where the Minister is coming from but my views, on the whole, accord with those of my noble friend Lord Liddle, who has just spoken.

The point I want to make, and I would ask for the Minister’s observations on it, is this. When I was doing her job, I remember when I learned that my decision on how the money should be allocated was not replicated in the local authority. I was a bit cross about it: here we are taking decisions about this, we send the money out to the local authorities and, blow me down, they change it around. I then realised that we just had to live with it—that was democracy, and that was making sure there was some local flexibility. However, I can remember feeling irritated by it. We lived with it because we were not as centralised as this Government intend to be.

My worry about this is not that it is trying to remedy the wrong that was referred to earlier on this evening—that 20 local authorities do not pass on the funding to small schools in rural areas when it leaves the department. It does not look like that to me, although I do not doubt that she is concerned. The way it looks to me is that this Bill is about giving power to the Secretary of State over every school and over everything. The minute the Government do that they have to control all the money. It seems to me that is the order: if the Government were not taking all the powers to control every school and everything they do, they would be able to be more flexible with the money, because that flexibility with the money would go with the flexibility given to the school. Because the Government are taking all the power to control all schools over all things, it looks as though they have thought, “The only way we can do that is to control every penny as well. We have to have that lever.” That is what worries me. If you put it together with what is happening in initial teacher training, it is the last brick in the wall of an absolute top-down, very heavily controlled nationalised school system. I would really like the Minister’s observations on that.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will start by setting out the principles of Clause 33, in response to the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, to oppose the question that the clause stand part of the Bill. I am thankful for the opportunity to debate the role of Clause 33 and this part of the Bill more broadly. This measure implements the direct national funding formula and, as I said in response to the third group, delivers on our long-standing commitment to achieve fair funding for schools. We received wide-ranging support from the sector for this vision of how we fund schools in our consultation last year, and we heard your Lordships’ views on the importance of not only holding consultations but listening to them.

A single national funding formula, replacing the current 150 local arrangements, will make funding for schools simpler, fairer and more transparent. It will allow the sector, and your Lordships in this place, to hold the department to account for school funding. This measure outlines the framework of roles and responsibilities for the new funding system. The reforms set out in this part of the Bill have been developed carefully, in extensive consultation with stakeholders, to ensure we reflect the needs of pupils and schools in the fairest and most consistent way.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, talked about how well the system had worked previously, but when I look at the data for funding per pupil from 2017—I think this was something the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, also touched on earlier—for Brent and Lincolnshire, both of which had 12% of children on free school meals, the funding per pupil was £5,523 in Brent and £4,305 in Lincolnshire. Similarly, there were big differences in a number of other areas, not only London boroughs. For example, Blackpool and Manchester, at that time, had 25% of children on free school meals and there was about £800 higher funding per pupil in Manchester than there was in Blackpool. I hope the noble Lord will acknowledge that is hard to see as either transparent or apparently fair.

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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think figures were quoted comparing Blackpool and Brent—

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It was Blackpool and Manchester.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Okay. Does this imply that the introduction of the new funding formula will see a significant reduction in the payments received by the school that had the higher figure? The Minister told us there was a difference but we do not know the reason for it. If she is saying that the reason is unjustified, it must lead to a reduction in funding for the school that had the higher amount previously.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I see the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, is tempted to answer the question. The figures I referred to were from 2017. I am happy to set out in a letter to the noble Lord more of the reasons for the differences, but I suspect, being familiar with the subject, he knows what some of them are. To date, no area has seen a reduction in nominal terms in its funding. One reason why we intend to implement this over a longer period is to avoid any disruption to local funding. As I am sure the Front Bench opposite would say on my behalf, it will depend on the total quantum of funding committed to our schools.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, for Amendment 87 and for their unerring focus on ensuring that all children have a fair chance to realise their potential. The introduction of the national funding formula in 2018 was a historic reform to school funding, replacing what we believe to have been an unfair and out of date system.

The national funding formula already calculates funding allocations for each school, which, as I mentioned in the earlier group, are publicly available and, with these, the calculations used to determine funding allocations for local authorities. In the current system, individual schools’ final allocations are then determined through 150 different local formulae. The direct national funding formula will mean that every school is funded through the same national formula, with only specific, local adjustments. That will achieve this Government’s long-standing ambition that funding is distributed fairly, and means that parents, school leaders and governors will have assurance that their school is funded on the basis of the needs and characteristics of their pupils, rather than where the school happens to be located. The intentions of the reforms are not to lead to changes in the distribution between geographical areas, but within them.

Similarly, this change should not impact how much funding the formula directs overall towards socioeconomic disadvantage. Instead, it should ensure that each school, in each local authority, receives a consistent amount of deprivation funding based on their pupil cohorts.

I want to reassure noble Lords that we are committed to levelling up opportunity to make sure that all children have a fair chance in life, wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. We are specifically targeting funding towards disadvantage. Through the national funding formula, we are allocating £6.7 billion towards additional needs, including deprivation, which is a sixth of available funding. In addition, we are directing other funding sources towards disadvantaged pupils, including the pupil premium which is rising to over £2.6 billion this year, and the school supplementary grant which includes a further £200 million targeted towards deprivation. We are also allocating over £200 million to support disadvantaged pupils as part of the holiday activities and food programme. This means that, altogether this year, we are allocating £9.7 billion towards pupils with additional needs, including deprivation.

For the 2022-23 academic year, the Government have committed around £500 million through the recovery premium and £350 million through the national tutoring programme, through which 1.5 million courses have been started so far to support the children whose education has been most impacted by the pandemic, with a particular focus on disadvantaged pupils.

By introducing the national funding formula and replacing the previous postcode lottery, we have a funding system that is much more responsive to changes on the ground. School funding is allocated based on current patterns of deprivation and additional needs across the country. It means that pupil intakes that have similar levels of deprivation, such as Liverpool and Wolverhampton, or Calderdale and Coventry, are now receiving similar levels of funding per pupil. The redistribution of funding seen since the introduction of the national funding formula reflects that the funding system has been catching up with changes in patterns of relative deprivation.

As we have discussed at length, the principle of transparency has underpinned our reforms to the school funding system. As I have said, we publish information annually on the national funding formula. We are committed to publishing the impact of transition on individual schools and on different types of school every year. I would also like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who is not in his place, that this does include the factor weightings which he questioned in the last group. Based on this, it is already possible to see the geographical distribution of funding and how that changes year on year, and what support the national funding formula offers for deprivation. We will continue to review the impact of the national funding formula in terms of meeting policy objectives, such as supporting schools to close attainment gaps. In addition, we want to ensure the information we publish is as helpful as possible and we are currently consulting with schools and the wider sector on what published information would be most useful for them.

I hope this has persuaded your Lordships that the national funding formula will continue to distribute funding ever more fairly, based on the needs of schools and their pupil cohorts. I therefore ask the noble Baroness opposite to withdraw her Amendment 87.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for her reply. Nevertheless, our concerns remain, and much of what my noble friend Lord Davies has discussed is worthy of support. But in terms of our specific amendment, our call for a robust analysis still stands, together with detailed democratic scrutiny of the funding formula, and concerns around the removal of local authorities in allocations of funding still apply. However, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the 7p increase to infant school meals announced yesterday by the Government has generally been received as inadequate. Labour’s amendment compels the Secretary of State to review food standards every three years and to consider quality, nutritional value and value for money. As noted, the Government rejected Henry Dimbleby’s advice to extend free school meals to 1 million more children in need and to raise the grant schools get in line with rocketing inflation. Schools are already reducing meal sizes to afford their obligations. Will the Minister say what the Government’s plans are to help avoid children going hungry? Have they done any analysis of what inflation is doing to the amount of food schools are able to provide and the adverse effects when this gets smaller and smaller?

I shall give the UK Government some good ideas and positive direction on what the Welsh Government are doing on these matters. From September, some of the youngest children in primary schools in Wales will begin receiving free school meals. Our First Minister said:

“no child in Wales should go hungry and … every child in our primary schools will be able to have a free school meal.

We are facing an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis. We know younger children are more likely to be living in relative income poverty, which is why the youngest of our learners will be the first to benefit.


This cost-of-living crisis is being felt by families all over Wales, extending free school meals is one of a number of measures we are taking to support families through this difficult time.”


I sincerely urge the Minister to reflect on these proposals and see whether there is the political will to do something similar for English children.

In terms of what we can practically do in the meantime, our amendment would ensure that food standards are reviewed regularly and would weigh up value for money with quality and nutritional value. All the evidence suggests that children cannot learn when there are hungry. Acting on this fundamental principle is surely an all-round win for the Government.

We know that governmental focus has drifted from children in care too. In March, it was revealed that the National Tutoring Programme, referred to earlier, no longer had to ensure it was reaching two-thirds of the most deprived pupils. The requirement that two-thirds of pupils in the programme must be from disadvantaged backgrounds was in place for a reason: there is strong research evidence that poorer pupils have been the biggest losers from the pandemic, seeing greater attainment losses than their peers.

For the purposes of political balance, as I have quoted my First Minister, I shall now quote what the Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Education Committee, said about the National Tutoring Programme:

“The Government must ensure Randstad shapes up, or boot them out. The catch-up programme must be shown to be reaching disadvantaged pupils and this data must be published.”


So there is cross-party agreement that we must ensure that disadvantaged pupils are at the front and centre of our thinking in all aspects of educational provision, especially in the critical area of school admissions. As was debated on Monday, we cannot exclude pupils and operate a soft selection policy as it is unfair and frankly immoral.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I turn first to Amendment 89 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys. As the noble Baroness said very eloquently, providing free school meals to eligible children is very important to this Government. We spend around £600 million per year making sure that 1.25 million infants enjoy a free meal under the universal policy. The per-meal rate was increased last year and the Secretary of State recently announced a further £18 million, increasing the rate to £2.41 per meal, which has been backdated to April this year. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, stressed the importance of supporting children in the early years, particularly post the pandemic. He is absolutely right.

Under the benefits-related criteria, the Government provide a free meal to around 1.9 million more children. For 2022-23, funding through the free school meal factor in the national funding formula is increasing to £470 per eligible pupil. In recognition of cost pressures, after the national funding formula rates were set the department provided extra for core schools funding for 2022-23. Core schools funding for mainstream schools, which includes benefits-related free school meals, is therefore increasing by £2.5 billion, compared with last year.

Schools Bill [HL]

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Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (20 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their very thoughtful contributions to the debate on the amendments in this group. I start by thanking the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Aberdare, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for their Amendment 91. The Government believe strongly that starting career-related learning early is important. As noble Lords have said, children as young as seven start to adopt stereotypes based on gender, ethnicity and social background which can limit their future subject and career choices. In fact, on Friday I was lucky enough to take part in a careers session at the Howitt Primary Community School outside Derby. I am not sure that I converted anyone to a political career, but there were definitely budding newsreaders, scientists, paramedics and others in the room.

The importance of early career-related learning is why we announced in the schools White Paper that we will fund a new careers programme for primary schools in disadvantaged areas, and we will announce more details of that in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, raised some particular questions; if I may, given the time, I will write to him with answers to those.

As your Lordships will remember, careers advice also featured prominently in the Skills and Post-16 Education Act, with many helpful contributions from this House. We have strengthened provider access legislation by requiring schools to put on six encounters—if I remember rightly, that figure was quite challenging for us all in terms of our maths, whatever our curriculum was—with providers of technical education or apprenticeships to take place during school years 8 to 13.

Turning to Amendments 171I and 158 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox, of course the Government agree in principle with what the noble Baroness said about every child having access to work experience. We want that happen in practice; it is not enough to agree in principle. The first part of Amendment 171I would require schools to provide pupils with at least 10 days of work experience. We believe it is right to give schools the autonomy to provide a range of experiences of work of different type and duration, rather than to impose a blanket 10 days. Schools can deliver this as part of their legal duty to provide independent careers guidance for year 8 to 13 pupils. Of course, work experience is part of the Gatsby benchmarks, which all schools are expected to follow. We believe that the second part of the amendment is unnecessary as we already fund the Careers & Enterprise Company to deliver careers hubs. We are extending access to careers hubs so that they will cover approximately 90% of schools and colleges by August next year.

On the first part of Amendment 158, many academies choose to use the national curriculum, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, said on another day in Committee, we trust heads and trust leaders to determine their own curriculum. I find a slight irony in the mix between areas where the Government are being encouraged to lean in and influence the curriculum, and others where the Government are being accused of taking too much power. We believe that heads and trust leaders should determine their own curriculum but that the national curriculum is something of great quality for them to benchmark against.

We recognise the value of academy freedoms and do not intend to undermine them with this legislation. Academy trusts have been at the forefront of curriculum innovation. We believe that many of the topics suggested in the remaining parts of this amendment are already covered in the existing curriculum. After a period of disruption in education due to the pandemic, we have committed to make no changes to the national curriculum in this Parliament.

I turn now to Amendment 168 in the names of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth. The amendment seeks change to the phrase “fundamental British values”, the list of values and their definition, and their place in the curriculum. The national curriculum does not add the level of detail in this amendment as it is our policy that schools should lead on the development of the detailed content of their curriculum. However, the key principles of the amendment—democracy, law, freedom, respect and sustainability and climate change—are already covered across the citizenship, science and geography curricula.

It is rightly highlighted that these values are not exclusive to our society; however, we believe it is important to articulate those values fundamental to life in modern Britain. “British values” is a shorthand for those values that unite us and are commonly understood to be at the core of what it means to be a citizen in a modern, diverse Britain. Developing and deepening pupils’ understanding of these values is already part of the Ofsted inspection framework. Ultimately, school leaders are best placed to make decisions about how to embed these values to meet the needs of their pupils, and many good schools already do so very effectively.

As I hinted at, we think that adding “respect for the environment” to the values is unnecessary because this is taught through the geography, science and citizenship curricula. Whether we refer to “fundamental British values” or “the values of British citizenship”, what ultimately matters are the values themselves and how they are embedded in schools’ ethos and practices. We do not believe that it is the role of the Government to try to manage the delivery of the curriculum in this way.

The point about quality of delivery was behind what the noble and right reverend Lord and other noble Lords spoke about. As I mentioned, Ofsted inspects how well schools and colleges promote these values and, by 2018, nearly all leaders and teachers—98%—reported that they were confident that their school effectively taught the values of respect and tolerance for those from different backgrounds.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 171F in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, my noble friend Lord Sandhurst and the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven. Of course, we should encourage parents to engage with their child’s curriculum to allow them to support their child’s learning at home. However, as the noble Baroness and other noble Lords expressed very clearly, parents should feel confident that they understand what their children are learning. We also think it vital that schools and teachers are focused on the activities that add the greatest value to pupil outcomes. It is a priority for the Government to reduce teacher workload. We are concerned that introducing this amendment could drive teachers to focus on tasks which become very burdensome—which I know is not the noble Baroness’s intention. There are already ways for parents to engage with their child’s school curriculum to the extent needed to support learning at home. My noble friend Lady Stroud spoke about online learning. The Oak National Academy, for example, provides packages of optional, free and adaptable digital curriculum resources and video lessons which pupils and parents can access to supplement learning.

Baroness Stroud Portrait Baroness Stroud (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I clarify with my noble friend the Minister that my comment about online learning was that schools could put the materials online so that parents could access what was being taught in school? I was not actually encouraging online learning.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Just to be clear, the Oak National Academy, as my noble friend may know, was set up during the pandemic to provide online resources. It continues to make those resources available to any parent or child who wishes to use them and to teachers who want high-quality curriculum resources to teach in a physical setting.

Furthermore, the statutory guidance for relationships and sex education is clear that schools must have a written policy in place for these subjects and must consult parents. My noble friend Lord Sandhurst referenced our guidance in this regard: schools should provide examples of the resources they plan to use when they consult to reassure parents and enable them to continue the conversation started in class when their children are at home. I think those are exactly the points your Lordships raised this afternoon.

The department has published guidance to support school engagement with parents and leaflets for schools to provide to parents when communicating about their teaching of these subjects. As was referenced, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked the Children’s Commissioner to look at the RSE curriculum to complement the work that the department is already doing to improve the consistency and quality of RSE teaching, to make sure that children are being taught well and that we have equipped teachers with the right tools to teach these sensitive and difficult subjects well.

Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this is an incredibly disappointing reply. My worry is that I do not know whether the Minister has offered all she is going to offer. This is not about using Oak National Academy resources rather than those of an outside organisation. It is not about how to communicate with parents. The amendment has nothing to do with that. I am quite sure that the Government have a lot of good ideas on advising schools about how to communicate with parents. This was very specifically about schools using materials from outside bodies, which save them work and having to rewrite the curriculum in line with what the Government want them to do—but, by law, they are not permitted to show parents these materials. I hope the Minister will forgive me if she was about to address that point, but I do not want her to sit down before doing so and I am a little worried by the tone of the response so far.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sorry; the last thing I want to do is worry the noble Baroness. I am not sure that I will be able to reassure her entirely, but I was coming to this point. Specifically on the intellectual property loophole, which I understand is the point the noble Baroness raised, if she would be agreeable, it would be helpful to meet and go through some of the examples. We would like to be confident that the law is being interpreted correctly and, without seeing the examples, it is difficult for us to establish that. If the noble Baroness agrees, we could look at this in more detail.

Lord Sandhurst Portrait Lord Sandhurst (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hesitate to ask this, but I simply do not understand. The material has been relied on and shown to children in class. What good reason is there for parents not to be able to inspect that material within the school?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think two issues underpin the point that my noble friend raises. I will finish the point on intellectual property, which is where I think he was initially; perhaps I misunderstood. We want to be clear that the law is being applied correctly. We will be honoured to take the time to establish that and clarify it for the House. That is one point.

The second point is that I absolutely understand the spirit of my noble friend’s question. When I spoke to colleagues in the department who had previously been head teachers, their answer was that they understand the sentiments that my noble friend expresses but are also concerned that one could end up in a situation in which there are vexatious requests and a school becomes unable to cope with them because of the number of them. With the permission of the Committee, I would just like to be able to explore that in more detail.

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand the noble Baroness’s point and I do not think I said for a second that I thought the Committee was suggesting that parents should have a veto. If I may, I will take this point away and write to your Lordships on it.

Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The department and the head teachers the Minister has spoken to have chosen to go down a dangerous avenue on this. If the issue is to stop parents being vexatious and demanding too much of schools in asking for materials, they can do that now with almost all the curriculum materials that are taught in schools and they do not. The only ones they cannot see are these in the most contentious areas of the curriculum. I am not worried about parents being vexatious and asking for all the curriculum materials; that is not what happens at the moment. I am not sure how there can be any justification for the one area where, by law, you cannot see the teaching materials happening to be the area where parents would have most concern about curriculum content.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

All I was trying to say to the noble Baroness is that I think there are two steps in this. First, is the intellectual property law being applied correctly and, secondly, how does that then translate? I think we have to answer the first question first, but I will undertake to give a full answer to the House when we have a chance to look at this in more detail. If your Lordships have specific examples, it would be extremely helpful to share them with us so that we get a broad sense of the issue.

With that, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, to withdraw Amendment 91 and other noble Lords not to move their amendments.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for her reply. We have now been on this group for two hours, 21 minutes and 51 seconds. I think it rather demonstrates the problems that we have been experiencing in the first three days of this Bill—it is now day four—where a whole set of matters being proposed have not been properly thought through. I hope the Minister will understand my concern—and I think that of others in your Lordships’ Chamber—that perhaps Report should be deferred until the autumn.

However, I am slightly encouraged by what the Minister said in relation to my Amendment 91 on careers guidance in primary schools. I hope very much that the Government will come forward with proposals, maybe before we get to Report. If that is not to be, I need to give notice that I am likely to come back on Report with a further amendment and debate on this matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in my name.

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Moved by
96: Schedule 3, page 93, line 18, at end insert—
“Education Act 1996
A1 (1) Section 494 of the Education Act 1996 (recoupment: excluded pupils) is amended as follows.(2) In subsection (1)—(a) after “maintained by” (in the first place it occurs) insert “, or from any Academy located in the area of,”; (b) after “provided with education by” insert “or in the area of”;(c) for “or otherwise than at school” substitute “, at an Academy located in that authority’s area, or by that authority otherwise than at school”.(3) In subsection (3)—(a) after “maintained by” (in the first place it occurs) insert “, or from any Academy located in the area of,”;(b) in paragraph (b)—(i) after “education by” insert “or in the area of”;(ii) for “or otherwise than at school” substitute “, at an Academy located in that authority’s area, or by that authority otherwise than at school”.(4) After that subsection insert—“(3A) For the purposes of this section references to an Academy do not include a 16-19 Academy.””
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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
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As my noble friend Lord Knight expressed, we support the fundamental right for home education. Interesting practice is evident in a variety of settings. However, checks and balances need to be present in the system. I echo what others have said in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Soley, who told me earlier today that he began this work in 2017.

I also echo the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about local authorities having to assume these extra responsibilities without appropriate funding, and remind the Government that local government finances are paper-thin and cannot continually absorb extra responsibilities.

Eventually, the Government have acted on concerns around the increasing number of children receiving an education outside the classroom. We have talked about them missing out on the many benefits that a school environment brings. An old education professor of mine once said that education is “caught not taught”. I eventually got to understand what that meant, because learning and socialising with other children is very important, as are safeguarding issues.

For some children, home schooling can be a positive experience. The calls for a register for all home educators, as my noble friend Lord Soley pointed out earlier, have been around for at least the last five years, to ensure that children are receiving a suitable education in a safe environment, as well as the tools and flexibilities that that register would bring to check on a child’s home schooling.

I cannot see how we can argue with the fact that these are vital safeguards in helping to ensure that children are not being taught in unsuitable or dangerous environments. We support these school register measures in general, but we also recognise, as has been discussed in the debate, that there is a need to balance the concerns of some stakeholders.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate and acknowledge particularly the work of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, in making sure that the issue of children who are not in school is addressed effectively. I thank him very much for his remarks.

Before addressing your Lordships’ amendments, perhaps I might say something about the tone of the debate. It is absolutely the right of the House to challenge what the Government are doing, but, as a number of your Lordships pointed out, there are parents who are incredibly anxious about their children and the implications of these measures. The approach of the Government is as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said and as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, suggested: we are there to support parents. I wrote down terms such as “criminalisation”, “colluding”, “demonised” and “attacking”. The Government are doing none of those things. I just ask your Lordships, out of respect for the parents who listen to this debate, who are worried about their children, to be fair in the challenge that is put to the Government and not to suggest that any of those things are in the Government’s mind, because I can absolutely assure noble Lords that they are not.

Amendment 172 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, seeks to require the Government to complete a review of their policy on children not in school, considering less intrusive measures and the financial cost of implementation. We believe that this is an area that is long overdue for reform to ensure that the rights of children are upheld.

We have had many reforms to the school system over recent years but home education has not been addressed. The registers are not just about those who are being home educated. They are for all those children who are not in school full-time. I think that the noble Baroness was unfair when she suggested—my words, not hers—that this is a one-size-fits-all process. As the noble Lord, Lord Storey said, once local authorities know where children who are not in school full-time are and what kind of education they are getting, they can then focus their attention on those who are not receiving suitable home education and who are missing out in a range of different ways. It will mean that in future local authorities will know this information for all children.

It is important that it is a fundamental right of a child to have a good education, which is in their best interests. The rights of parents to choose how to educate their children are upheld by the Government, but the right of the child for their parents to operate in the child’s best interests are paramount, as set out in the law. If the noble Lord, Lord Laming, were here, I am sure that he would put that point more eloquently than I can. As the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, we know, not least from correspondence cases, whether from parents or teachers, that there are instances where some children who are not in school have not had a proper education.

I absolutely recognise the three groups that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, described and that is how we are approaching this. But our problem is that we do not know how widespread the situation is of children who are not getting a proper education. That is the problem that these clauses seek to address. We do not even know how many children are in home education; how many are ostensibly in home education but are not receiving a proper education; or how many are not receiving anything at all. That is not acceptable and as a nation we need a better grip on this, for the good of the children themselves and to make sure they all receive the education that is their right.

The measures in the Bill were consulted on in 2019 as part of the Children Not in School consultation, which received nearly 5,000 responses from parents, local authorities and other interested groups, so we do not believe that a further review would be beneficial. Our published response to this consultation and our policy statement outlined why the legislation is needed to promote the welfare and education of children not in school. The consultation also considered the financial implications, since we used the consultation to ask local authorities about the costs.

We know that registers are not a panacea, but they will help us to identify the children who are missing out, and the process of addressing that and getting them a proper education can then begin, while, of course, upholding the principle of choice for parents in the education that they feel is best for their child. I thank the noble Baroness for having arranged for me to meet parents the other day and I hope we can work across the House to reassure those parents who are concerned.

With Amendments 97A and 97B, my noble friend Lord Lucas raises important clarification points about eligibility for inclusion in the register, as well as parents’ ability to withdraw their children from school to home educate should they choose. I reassure my noble friend that the Bill already ensures that only those children ordinarily resident in an area would be eligible for registration within a local authority register. It remains the case that parents do not normally need the permission of the school or local authority to home educate. Agreement needs to be sought only in exceptional circumstances, such as when a school attendance order is in force.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, proposes in Amendment 97BA that no child who is registered at a school should be included on a local authority register. It is critical for the registers to include those children who are not receiving education full-time as a registered pupil. The main exception to this, which we intend to provide for in regulations, is where a registered pupil is receiving some education outside of the school, at a non-school setting but arranged by the school. In that case, the school is still responsible and accountable for the provision, but in other cases, where the provision is arranged by third parties, it is important that the children are included on the register so that the local authority can be assured that, taken together, the provision for the child adds up to a suitable full-time education. This should ensure that children do not fall through the cracks and miss education when not attending school. We will set out further exceptions in regulations so that children who are regularly absent from school for short amounts of time are not included in local authority registers.

My noble friend Lord Lucas raised valuable points with Amendment 97C around the importance of parents having sufficient notice to understand what is expected of them in relation to the registers. The Bill already includes a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out how local authorities are to maintain their registers and how they will publicise them. This will be supported by statutory guidance, setting out operational details on how they should implement their registers, which could also include guidance on assistance to parents.

Amendments 122B and 130B, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, are about the importance of ensuring that children who are entitled to receive alternative provision are within scope of the parental duty to provide information for the registers, as well as the support duty. These children will be excepted from the parental duty if they are receiving full-time education through a Section 19 arrangement, as local authorities will already have the required information available to them. Otherwise, it is important that these children should be on the register; for example, where they are in receipt of some part-time alternative provision which is supplemented by home education. The local authority will need to assure itself that, taken together, the provision for the child adds up to suitable full-time education. Similarly, local authorities have existing obligations to ensure that these children are receiving adequate support to promote their education. I hope that this reassures my noble friend that there is not an escape hatch, as he described it.

Amendment 129AA, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, would require a local authority to consider any views expressed by an independent expert when considering how to respond to a request for support. It is already the case that, when taking its decisions, a local authority must consider all relevant information that is before it, including information from independent experts. Our statutory guidance will add further clarity as to what factors local authorities should take into account when discharging their duty to provide support. We will be consulting with local authorities and other interested parties, certainly including home educators, prior to the issuing of the guidance.

Amendment 132A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, would require non-maintained special schools and independent schools to provide information prescribed in regulations to the Secretary of State, and for this information to be added to the national pupil database. Existing legislation already allows for regulations requiring non-maintained special schools and independent schools to provide information to the Secretary of State, and already enables the collection of information from all non-maintained special schools. This is done via the termly pupil level school census.

Additionally, independent schools, like state-funded schools, are required to notify their local authority when new pupils are admitted, and to provide all the information that is held on their admissions register to the local authority. They are also required to notify the local authority when a pupil’s name is deleted from the admissions register and of details including information that they hold about the pupil’s current address and destination school. Therefore, local authorities already have access to the pupil-level data about those at independent schools that they need to maintain a children not in school register. Data from non-maintained special schools and from independent schools, where collected, is also already included, and made available from the national pupil database.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for her answers to my amendment. By and large, she has answered extremely well, and I thank her for that.

I would like to press her a bit further on the business of identifying people who identify themselves as elective home education. There is a real importance in making that distinction, because elective home educators are taking responsibility for educating their children and the local authority has only a supervisory duty. If a child is not in education and is not being electively home educated, the local authority needs to take a very different kind of action. It is therefore very important that, in this register, we should differentiate between the two so that we can focus on what local authorities need to be doing. I am delighted to see my noble friend shaking her head on that.

I have been a user of the national pupil database for a very long time and, in the annual school census, I have never found information on independent schools. The pupils appear for the first time in the data when they take GCSEs—if they take GCSEs. I am puzzled by my noble friend’s response that the data is there. I will write to her, if I may, to see if we can solve that problem.

I am grateful for what my noble friend has said about Section 19. At the moment, some children under Section 19 get five hours of education a week. My understanding is that those children would have to be on the register because that would not qualify as full-time. If I am wrong about that, I would be grateful if my noble friend could let me know, because I am comforted that, where a child is not being provided with full-time education, it must get noticed, and that there are no circumstances under which five hours of education counts as full-time for the purposes of the conversation that we have just had.

I am attracted by the idea from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, of a unique children’s number—a crossover between the medical and teaching professions—and getting some integration there. It really helps to know where and how children are, particularly when it comes to supporting children well. Knowing that the information is available to professionals when appropriate and required in an integrated way seems sensible. But then I am very much a data person so perhaps I am pushing further there than the noble Lord, Lord Knight, would do.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the interests of time, I will be brief. My noble friend may be aware that the recent Health and Social Care Act commits the department to report to Parliament in the summer of 2023 on the feasibility of using a consistent child identifier. I will of course include more information on that in my letter to your Lordships.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful for that. Perhaps we will get to the stage when there is a single identifier for a school. At least three different numbers are used by the Department for Education, as far as I know. It would be nice to have consistency. There is a fourth number, too—universities—so it all gets extremely confusing when one is trying to understand which school the data is talking about. I am all in favour of identifiable numbers. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for saying that he sees this proposal as a supportive measure. That is good and is, I hope, absolutely the basis on which we are all going forward on this.

When we come to later groups, my focus will be on: how do we make this a Bill whereby it is advantageous to be a supportive local authority and harder to be one that is not supportive? At the moment, I have big worries about the Bill making things easy for an abusive local authority, without giving any incentives to supportive local authorities. There are some wonderfully supportive local authorities. I come back to what the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said. There are local authorities that are just hymned by the home educators in their patch, who say what a wonderful experience they have had and how supported they feel, how good the relationship is and how good the authority is at picking up cases where home education is not working because everyone feels like telling the local authority about it and because they know that the parent will be treated well and the child will be looked after.

I therefore approach the rest of the discussion on this part of the Bill with optimism—but possibly after supper. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Schools Bill [HL]

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Monday 20th June 2022

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Lords Chamber
Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (20 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, if I may, before turning to the amendments in this group, I shall respond to the request of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that I should clarify my remarks regarding criminalisation. I am happy to do so.

The context in the previous group where this was mentioned related to parents who failed, if I remember correctly, because they were on holiday or away, to provide information in time for their home-educated child to be registered with the local authority. To be clear, there is no criminal sanction for not providing information for registers by parents. The offence mentioned by the noble Baroness is an existing offence: the breaching of a school attendance order. Nothing is being made an offence in this case that is not already an offence. I hope that that clarifies that point.

I turn to this group of amendments, which broadly concern requirements to collect information for the children not in school registers and how this information will be shared.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is fair enough if the Minister is saying that we have misunderstood. That happens. However, the legislation states clearly that a parent who is registered by a local authority under proposed new Section 436B “must”. That sounds to me as if the parent is compelled to do that and, if they do not do so, there will be a penalty. I do not understand what the Minister means when she says that it is not an offence.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The example to which I was alluding in my remarks on the previous group was the one whereby parents would be asked to provide information but missed the deadline because they were on holiday and would be criminalised. That is not accurate. Parents who are asked to provide information, who miss the deadline and then provide the information, will not be criminalised.

The general point that I was trying to make in the earlier group was that I felt that language was being used in the Committee about the way in which the Government were approaching the Bill that would be taken at face value by home-educating parents, many of whom, we all agree, are already anxious about this matter. That would not help. Any challenge is absolutely right and proper; I was just requesting that we should do this in a way in which home-educating parents are not alarmed inappropriately.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Nobody wants to alarm anyone unnecessarily, which is why we are trying to get the Bill right, but it states clearly that a person “must” comply with the duty within a period of not less than 15 days. To me, that reads like something that we are compelling people to do and that if they do not, there will be a consequence. I do not want to drag this out further but it is important that we interpret this as something that is being made into an offence. I can see why people are concerned.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand. However, that would be a civil matter but we will confirm it in writing.

If I may proceed, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker, Lady Brinton and Lady Garden, and the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Knight of Weymouth, for Amendments 97D, 97E, 102 and 103, which all seek for additional information to be included on the registers. The Bill allows for regulations to be made prescribing details of the means by which a child is being educated and other information that must be included in registers.

The Government have already signalled their intention for certain information to be required for inclusion on the registers via regulations, such as ethnicity, sex and other demographic information. This is in addition to whether a child is electively home educated or receiving their education in other settings. The delegated powers in the Bill would also allow for prescription of further data at a later date, which could include, for example, unique identifying numbers if that were desired.

I turn to Amendments 104 to 109, tabled in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. Under the new measures, local authorities will be able to require parents to provide them only with the information prescribed in legislation. They may, however, record any other information in their registers that they consider appropriate and have collected through other channels.

To be clear, local authorities will be able to require parents to provide them only with the information that is prescribed in legislation; in this case it will be secondary legislation. I hear the concerns raised by noble Lords, particularly in relation to proposed new Section 436C(1)(d). I will take that away and reflect on your Lordships’ comments.

Amendments that limit this ability could cause local authorities to act with unnecessary caution in relation to the collection and inputting of information. There may be cases where data, such as special category data, is collected that may not be initially deemed directly relevant to safeguarding a child or in their best interests but could in future be critical to protecting that child from harm.

On Amendments 113 and 114 from the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, I will try to reassure her that any provision made in regulations will be lawful only if it has been “reasonably” made. I also thank her for her Amendment 98. Under education law, each parent of every child of compulsory school age is legally responsible for ensuring that their child receives an efficient full-time education. It is therefore appropriate that the name and address of each parent be recorded in the registers.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for Amendments 98A, 101A, 104A, 110A and 126B, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for Amendments 111, 112 and 127, which raise the important issue of data protection. Regarding data retention, the Bill already allows for regulations to make provision about the format and keeping of registers, as well as about access to and publication of the register. It is the Government’s intention to use this power to stipulate how local authorities must keep the information on their registers up to date and whether and how information is to be published. The requirement in the Bill for local authorities to provide prescribed information to the Secretary of State will help inform policy development; for example, in relation to the types and level of support needed by families and whether particular groups need more support than others.

It is also important that the Secretary of State is able to, if needed, collect individual level data. This can be linked to other datasets for research purposes; for example, to understand who benefits from home education. It is also vital in improving our understanding of children going “missing” from data systems. We would be unable to gather a full picture of this from aggregated data. The Government do not intend to use the power on setting out how the registers are published to instruct local authorities to publish personal information about children or families, but again, I will reflect on the comments made by your Lordships in relation to that.

Registers will also include important information on children that may aid other professionals’ work for the purposes of promoting or safeguarding the education or welfare of the child. It is therefore necessary to enable relevant information to be shared with certain other persons external to a local authority without delay, especially where children are at risk of immediate harm.

Existing UK GDPR obligations will apply, however, and should ensure that all the information held in the registers is protected like any other personal data. It also requires that personal data not be kept for longer than is necessary and is proportionate to achieve the purpose of keeping it. Data protection will be a strong focus in the new statutory guidance, and we will continue to engage with stakeholders on that prior to publication.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for Amendments 100 and 101. Regulations are likely only to require details of where a child is being educated and the proportion of time there. This will help local authorities to ensure that children are receiving a suitable education and identify those who are missing education or attending illegal schools.

I turn to Amendments 109A and 110. These amendments relate to the ability to make regulations relating to provisions for the maintenance and publication of children not in school registers. The power to make regulations about whether and how the contents of registers are to be made available or published is important to ensure consistency across local authorities; consistency, or rather the current lack of it, has been mentioned by many of your Lordships today.

However, it may also be appropriate for some of this to be for local authorities to determine, based on local circumstances and requirements. For example, while we would expect to make regulations concerning how the register is to be kept updated, we may not initially wish to prescribe the registration forms that local authorities must use. Similarly, we may not ultimately wish to prescribe whether an authority needs to publish specific information from its register.

I turn to Amendment 133 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. The regulations prescribing the information to be provided to the Secretary of State have a narrow scope, as only information included within a local authority register can be shared. Information will be used to inform policy development to support safeguarding and children not in school. The Government believe that the negative resolution is appropriate for these regulations.

Regarding Amendment 171S, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, existing UK GDPR obligations will apply and require that all the information held in the registers is protected, like any other personal data. In addition, work is already under way in my department to develop a certification process, independently endorsed by the Information Commissioner’s Office, that will cover the education sector to regulate the sharing of children’s data across the whole sector in a better way.

I hope I have managed to cover this large group of amendments on this important topic. I will take away a number of your Lordships’ remarks and reflect on them. With that, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, feels able to withdraw her amendment and that other noble Lords will not press theirs.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister finishes, I say that the local authorities have been heavily involved in this data information issue. What sort of consultations were held with the Local Government Association and what information do local authorities actually need about a child?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If I may, I will include the answer to that question in a letter to the noble Lord.

Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In her very careful responses, the noble Baroness the Minister clearly recognises that there are very wide differences between the children who are not in school. Some are well educated and nobody wants to curtail that—adjustments may be made, but this is not thought to be a large percentage. An unknown number, but it is estimated to be a very large number, of children are not well educated; I suggest that the register needs to be primarily directed at these children. There are all sorts of reasons why they are not well educated. I will not go into them at this hour of the night but, for example, the schools are illegal or extreme, or the parents are at work or cannot educate the children; there are all sorts of reasons.

The Minister’s responses to our questions aimed at making the register more precise—more exactly tailored to what we all need from it while not curtailing the freedom of parents to educate their children at home well—seem mainly to relegate the details to regulations. For the reasons already given in earlier debates, there are problems with this; we have difficulty with it. However, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Schools Bill [HL]

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Committee stage
Wednesday 22nd June 2022

(1 year, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (20 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank you all for your thoughtful contributions. I start by saying that I could not agree more with my noble friend Lord Lucas. I had the pleasure of talking to a number of home educators from Gloucestershire yesterday and to the local authority, thanks to an introduction from my honourable friend Siobhan Baillie. Clearly, the relationships between the two were extremely strong and good, as my noble friend pointed out.

I will start my remarks with Amendments 112A and 137C, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, and Amendment 171X from my noble friend Lord Wei. The issues of appeal are extremely important. I will summarise the current routes for your Lordships, but also make some commitments to the Committee about how we can make sure that the concerns that have been aired this afternoon, and by home educators I have spoken to, can be addressed.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the noble Baroness finishes that point, if somebody has special educational needs—we had an example from my noble friend Lord Storey—and they are still interacting with the education system to an extent, would they still get that support despite the fact they are home educated? I appreciate that it is a difficult interchange—I probably did not declare my interests properly before—but could we get an example? The primary problem with this is the fact that home educators are a very broad church.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

So, as the noble Lord knows extremely well, is the spectrum of educational needs. I know that one is not allowed to have props in the Chamber, but I commend to the noble Lord the flowchart at the back of the policy notes on this part of the Bill. It sets out the process, including where a child has special educational needs. I think it is easier to follow than me trying to explain at the Dispatch Box.

Turning to Amendment 130A from my noble friend Lord Lucas, individuals already have the right to ask local authorities for copies of their personal information and inquire how they are using it by submitting a subject access request. A parent can demand that inaccurate information is corrected, and if the local authority fails to do so, the parent can complain to the Information Commissioner, who has significant enforcement powers.

Turning to Amendment 134A, I repeat that it is not possible for fines or penalty notices to be given to parents for failing to provide information for the registers and the Bill does not provide for that, but if parents fail to demonstrate that their child is receiving a suitable education, it is right that the local authority begin the process of issuing a school attendance order. If the parent is unable to evidence that the education they are providing is suitable, the process will lead to an order being issued. If the parent then breaches the order, they may be fined by the magistrates’ court. On collecting and publishing data on this, the Bill already provides flexibility to require this through regulations.

I now turn to Amendments 136ZA, 136B, 136C, 137B, 138ZA, 138A, 139 and 140, from my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. My department’s guidance for local authorities highlights that the authority should initially attempt to resolve doubts through informal inquiries.

The noble Lord raised the point of expediency, and I am grateful, because I absolutely understand why, and why it sounds anything other than what one might expect. The current test for issuing a school attendance order is that the child is not receiving a suitable education, in the opinion of the local authority and, as the noble Lord said, that it would be expedient for the child to attend school. That is the test contained in the existing Section 437 of the Education Act 1996, and new Section 436J mirrors that test, so this will keep the test for issuing a school attendance order the same in both England and Wales. I again point the noble Lord to my favourite flowchart, from which he will see that, prior to issuing a school attendance order, there needs to be a preliminary notice, which is covered at new Section 436I(3)(c), where it says that one of the conditions for issuing a preliminary notice is:

“the child is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise”.

I absolutely understand his question, but I hope I have reassured him and the House that, while it may appear to be one thing, it is covered absolutely properly in the legislation dating from the 1996 Act. The current law, supported by guidance, requires that local authorities take all relevant factors into account when considering whether it is expedient for a child to attend school, and that includes where the child has expressed an opinion about attending school—the voice of the child was something that a number of your Lordships raised.

Local authorities should have the in-house expertise to make these decisions, but if they do not, they can and should consult a suitably qualified external expert. We will make this clear in our guidance. It is crucial that the time a child is in receipt of unsuitable education is minimised, and therefore it is right that local authorities move to initiate formal school attendance order procedures as soon as possible where home education appears unsuitable. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, rightly mentioned the work of many charities; we may be thinking about the same ones. If he goes back to the schools White Paper, he will see that our approach on attendance is: support first, support second, support third, with enforcement very much down the line. We are working with a number of charities which are leaders in this field.

Amendment 143B from my noble friend Lord Lucas is unnecessary, because if local authorities were to refuse to revoke a school attendance order on an unreasonable basis, that refusal would in itself be unlawful.

My noble friend’s Amendment 143F would mean that if a parent was found guilty of breaching a school attendance order and continued to breach it, the local authority could take no further action to enforce it: it would have to restart the process and make a new order. That would obviously be a waste of public resources, but, more significantly, would add to an already lengthy timeframe in which a child may be in receipt of an unsuitable education. I should be very happy to follow up with my noble friend on the specific example he gave, where that home education may have changed, to check that we have that very reasonable point covered.

Finally, I speak to Amendment 143I, also tabled by my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. A breach of a school attendance order is currently punishable by a fine of up to £1,000, compared to a maximum fine of £2,500, or up to three months’ imprisonment, for the offence of knowingly failing to cause a child to attend the school at which they are registered. This means that there is currently an incentive for some parents to remove their child from school under the guise of home education rather than incur the greater penalty associated with non-attendance. By aligning the penalties, we can increase the deterrent and help ensure that as many children as possible are in receipt of a suitable education.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Brinton, asked about the change in custodial sentence. Wider criminal justice legislation, which has not yet come into force, will raise sentences in magistrates’ courts from three months to 51 weeks. New Section 436Q is simply in line with that wider change, and until it comes into force, the maximum sentence under new Section 436Q will remain at three months, as set out in subsection (9). The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also raised the issue of publication of individual data, and I am happy to repeat that we are taking that away to consider it.

I hope that I have answered the bulk of the points raised in this group and I ask my noble friend to withdraw his Amendment 112A—

Lord Wei Portrait Lord Wei (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think that my amendment might have been missed out. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister had any thoughts on Amendment 171X and the idea of an ombudsman with the expertise to adjudicate and mediate to prevent any expensive court cases that might otherwise occur.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise. I referred to my noble friend’s amendment right at the beginning of my remarks and reflected that we will consider what options there are to make sure that there is a system that feels fair to parents and in which parents have trust and confidence. With that, I ask my noble friend Lord Lucas to withdraw his Amendment 112A and hope that other noble Lords will not move theirs.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for those replies. I shall read them in Hansard and return to her if I have any points of detail to make. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Wei that we need an appeal system that feels fair and builds trust. There are different ways of doing it. It clearly should not be by internal local authority appeals, the Local Government Ombudsmen have not proved helpful in elective home education cases to date and the Secretary of State system is a bit on the impenetrable side, so I very much hope this is an area where we will make improvements.

My noble friend’s remarks put a lot of weight on the forthcoming guidance. If at any stage a draft of that can be shared, I would be most grateful to have a look at it. It would shortcut a lot of debate if we had a clear feeling of where the Government are heading.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I hope my noble friend picked up the point, but if not, I will repeat it: we plan to develop the guidance in co-operation with home-educating parents and local authorities. I am sure that, when a draft is ready, we would be happy to share it with other Members of the House.

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Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I do not want to repeat much of the good stuff that has been said, but I shall just mention our Amendment 128, which amends Clause 48 on sharing data between local authorities when a child moves. We are just pointing out that we must have regard to child protection and the safety of their parents when this is done. We are concerned that, where there are circumstances in which a parent is moving as a consequence of domestic violence or is a victim of or witness to crime, that they are protected. To be absolutely clear, we want to make sure that information can be shared, and that it can be shared safely and quickly.

On Amendment 129, about the support provided by local authorities to children with special needs or disabilities, we are very interested in supporting this. We take the points raised on time limits and school days and would be sympathetic to any reasonable amendments along these lines at Report.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, I turn to the second group of amendments, starting with Amendment 128A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. I would remind the House that the law is already clear that parents have a right to educate their children at home. The Government continue to support this where it is done in the best interests of the child. Our guidance on home education for local authorities is clear that elective home education, of itself, is not an inherent safeguarding risk, and local authorities should not treat it as such. We are also aware that there are a number of reasons why parents may choose elective home education. Sometimes, as your Lordships have already raised this afternoon, this may not be their choice, for example due to off-rolling, which is why we believe it would be valuable to require the recording of reasons for home education, so we can identify some of the wider system issues which my noble friend rightly points to in his amendment.

On Amendment 128, from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, the information held in registers will of course be protected under UK GDPR, like any other data, and the Bill only enables data to be shared with prescribed partners where the local authority feels that it is appropriate and proportionate to promote the education, safety and welfare of children. I am very familiar with the issues that she raises in relation to domestic abuse and just how devious some people can be in trying to track down a former partner, which is why that proportionality of risk is so important.

I would like to thank again my noble friend Lord Lucas, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, for Amendments 114A through to 119. We believe that the timeframe of 15 days in which parents or out-of-school providers must provide information for a local authority register strikes the right balance between minimising the amount of time a child would spend in potentially unsuitable education and allowing sufficient time to send the required information. In addition, defining the period in terms of “school days” would, we believe, be an inappropriate and impractical measurement for home-educated children who, as we heard in the debate, by definition do not necessarily follow a school calendar. But I think the issue with the timings and those proposed by my noble friend in later amendments on the school attendance order process is that, if you take them all together, it would more than double the length of time that a child would be without suitable education. It would take the total number of days to 120, instead of 51 on the Government’s proposed process. I think that is the way I would ask your Lordships to think about it. Each individual step may look tight to some of your Lordships, and to some home educators and proprietors of education institutions, but when we look at it in the round, the fact that a child could be in unsuitable education for 120 days, versus 51, is the point I would ask your Lordships to reflect on.

The noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, proposed Amendment 126. The monetary penalty for failing to provide information, contained in the new Section 436E, only applies to persons who provide out-of-school education to children without their parents being present. Parents who fail in their duty to provide information, or who provide false information, for the register would not be subject to any financial penalty. Rather, as I mentioned earlier, the local authority will be required then to initiate the process of finding out whether a child is receiving suitable education. That is obviously the central point of their inquiry. If they find that a child is not receiving this, then it could lead to a school attendance order. And if that attendance order is not complied with, it could eventually result in a fine being imposed, but only if the parent convinces neither the local authority nor the magistrates’ court that their child is being suitably educated.

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Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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That was fairly helpful, but we are now overly dependent on the plans; I do not think there is any doubt about that. The Government are effectively saying that an identified need which is either not severe or has not yet gone through the process would still give some form of obligation, recognition and an entitlement to support in certain circumstances.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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Under the changes proposed in the Bill—if I understood the noble Lord correctly.

I turn to Amendment 173 from my noble friend Lord Lucas. We would like the system of registration to be implemented as soon as possible to—I hope—reassure those parents who are doing a great job supporting their children at home. It will offer support to those parents who are struggling to provide education to their children at home, help safeguard those children who may be more vulnerable and not in school, and allow local authorities to better target their resources to those families who want or need support. We will take sufficient time prior to the registration system coming into force to ensure the registers work for everyone and that local authorities are clear on their support duty. Therefore, we do not feel it is helpful to set a strict implementation plan for the new support duty in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, raised Amendment 123. I hope he will be reassured that it is already a criminal offence knowingly to recruit someone to work in a regulated activity with children who has been barred from working with children.

The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and my noble friend Lord Lucas brought forward Amendments 122C, 125 and 126A. A threshold set out in regulations will ensure that the duty to provide information targets only those providers that are used for a substantial proportion of a child’s education. I was not altogether surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Storey, raised the issue of unregulated alternative provision. I know we are going to be debating it in more detail in a subsequent group, so I hope I can save my remarks on that for later.

There is also a power in new Section 436E(6) to make regulations creating specific exemptions to the requirement for providers to provide information, which could be used to exclude certain settings from scope. We will continue to engage with stakeholders on this. However, where providers are eligible, the duty will be vital in aiding identification of eligible children and ensuring the registration system is effective in safeguarding them from harm and promoting their education.

My noble friend—I mean my noble friend Lord Lucas; I have so many noble friends—referred to the importance of adequate funding. We are still in the process of determining what the minimum expectation on local authorities should be in terms of their new support duty. To ensure that it is as effective as possible, it is right that we undertake the necessary consideration and assessment of need, including how this can be achieved and the costs involved. We will engage closely with stakeholders on this prior to the statutory guidance being issued and we have also committed to undertake a new burdens assessment to identify the level of funding that may be required to support local authorities so that they can discharge their duty effectively and well. Therefore, I ask my noble friend Lord Lucas—

Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab)
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I have a very quick question before the Minister sits down. She talked about making sure that people have the relevant safeguarding qualifications and going through the process. Whose responsibility is that? Does the parent of a home-educated child have a legal duty to do the checking or does that power and responsibility lie with someone else? If it was a school, it would be the school’s responsibility. I am not sure whose responsibility this is.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I do not know the answer to the noble Baroness’s specific question, but I will get an answer and respond to her.

In closing, I ask my noble friend Lord Lucas to withdraw Amendment 114A and other noble Lords not to move the amendments in their names.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
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My Lords, yet again, I am very grateful to my noble friend for her replies. I assume that the Government have all the powers they need to create this guidance that we are all placing so much reliance on. I hope my noble friend will tell me if that is not the case, but I assume that it is. I look forward to reading her replies in more detail in Hansard and picking up any issues I have with them in correspondence. For now, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a technical question and compassion for parents who are often struggling to deal with vulnerable children must be factored in. These amendments are intended to simplify the immediate duty to one of registration, leaving it to the local authority then to inform the parents of the other requirements and increase the timescale to accommodate additional responsibilities on parents. School days are used to exempt parents from having to disrupt holidays to provide the required information. These all seem sensible alternatives to what is currently proposed by the Government. I conclude by asking the Minister what analysis lies behind the Government’s choice of a 15-day period in these proposals.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, again, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, represented tonight by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, for Amendments 120, 120A, 121, 122 and 122A. As debated with your Lordships earlier this evening, the relevant period has been set at 15 days to minimise the amount of time that children are potentially not in receipt of a suitable education and to allow local authorities to use their powers effectively. Therefore, extending this timeframe could reduce local authority visibility where, for example, a child might be missing education, and prevent them quickly redirecting their resource, where a child ceases to be eligible for registration, to those children and families still eligible. As I said in the earlier group, our approach to this has been to look at the total length of the process and consider the balance between the requirements placed on parents and providers with the rights of the child to access a suitable education as quickly as possible. As I said, the amendments would increase that from 51 days to 120 days, and I am sure all the former teachers in the Committee will be able to convert that into a term or more in a nanosecond. That is the reason we would resist these amendments.

Turning to Amendment 124 from the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, the response time for providers has been set to 15 days for similar reasons—so that local authorities can be sure that their registers are accurate and they are discharging their duties effectively to ensure that children are in receipt of a suitable education. By extending the timeframe, local authorities would not be able to identify where certain children are receiving their education or, at worst, if they are attending unsuitable settings such as illegal schools.

Finally, turning to Amendment 134: we consider extending the 14-day period unnecessary, as a person served with a warning notice is already able to extend their period to respond to 28 days if they provide notice that they will be making representations. Therefore, I would ask the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, to withdraw her Amendment 120 and other noble Lords not to move theirs.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
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My Lords, the general thrust of these amendments is to make school attendance order conditions easier for parents by, for example, increasing the information handover period, compelling consideration of the child’s relevant medical conditions—looking at the child holistically.

An important factor that has not had enough mention is that of the impact of poverty on attendance. Poverty affects school attendance for a variety of reasons, and in the third decade of the 21st century some children are unable to attend school because their parents cannot afford fuel or travel costs, or they are more likely to be absent with sickness as their families cannot afford heating or hot water, or to provide a healthy diet.

For some children, not having the right uniform and missing breakfast are barriers to them setting foot in school. Children are having to take days off school due to unwashed, ill fitting or shabby clothes. This often leads to bullying, which is a huge concern when children are unable to dress like their peers and have poorer-quality clothing, shoes and school bags. I have seen and experienced these issues first-hand as a barrier to attendance, and teachers themselves often provide for children in these desperate circumstances. It cannot be right that in a society as wealthy as Britain, we still have children living like this. Poor attendance adds to the inequalities that they face.

We know that schools are often the first point of contact when dealing with such inequalities, so it is important that we have the correct resources and tools to deal with them. Our Amendment 144 ensures that schools’ attendance policies consider how to support staff who have been given new responsibilities for implementing the policies. This whole Bill will give hard-pressed teachers even more responsibilities, so we require recognition of that and to get them the support that they deserve in those areas.

Naturally, none of these measures will increase the resources for education, financial or physical. In the debate on Monday, I noted to your Lordships the paper-thin state of local government finances, and schools are finely balanced within that equation. Such an increase in monitoring and evaluation of attendance policies will be yet another job for an already hard-pressed member of the senior management team in a school. I have served in that capacity for decades; it is an extremely stressful occupation. This is one reason it is increasingly difficult to recruit heads and deputies in the secondary sector.

Our Amendment 146 will mandate the Secretary of State to produce a breakdown of those fined to allow assessment of disparities and compel them to consider the measures to address this. If we examine the data, attendance fines and fixed penalty notices are vastly skewed towards women, who are more often caregivers, and less affluent people, who are more often dealing with truant children. The Secretary of State should be forced to recognise this injustice and tackle it. I pose the question: where is the levelling-up agenda here?

I must stress that we do not disagree with this clause in principle. I set out earlier that we must ensure that the children at greatest risk attend school regularly, but I must press the Minister on what her department’s hard evidence is—whether behavioural science or otherwise—that fines will increase the information given or get more absent children into school. Children with poor attendance need support and staff need the resources to help them deal with it.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox, Lady Chapman, Lady Brinton, Lady Bennett and Lady Garden, and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for their amendments in this group. I shall speak to Amendments 136 to 143, from the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and Amendments 136A and 137A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas. We have worked closely with a group of local authorities in developing the timeframes set out in the Bill. As we discussed in previous groups on school attendance order timeframes, we want to ensure that the school attendance order process is as efficient as possible, so that any child not receiving a suitable education is placed in adequate provision swiftly and can benefit from the full-time education to which they are entitled. 

Amendment 143D, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, would bypass the existing procedures under the Children and Families Act 2014 and associated secondary legislation for amending an education, health and care plan. Clause 49, as drafted, does not prevent a parent seeking to have the name of a school changed or removed from their child’s education, health and care plan, in line with the existing process and timescales set out in the Act. Following that process, a parent may apply for the school attendance order to be revoked as normal.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, for their Amendments 140A, 143A and 143C. If local authorities were required to revoke orders simply on the grounds that a child has moved to a new area, the continuity of the child’s education and the local authority’s duties to safeguard children—and to satisfy itself that every child is receiving a suitable education—would be impeded.

When a child leaves the local authority area, including, as in the example given in Amendment 140A, to move to Wales, we expect both local authorities to work together to co-ordinate and facilitate the movement of children and parents subject to school attendance orders. We expect local authorities to facilitate this swiftly and efficiently, given the importance of ensuring that all children have access to suitable full-time education, in line with their common-law obligation to act within a reasonable timeframe. We will set out further details on this issue in future guidance.

On Amendment 143E, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, I assure him that school attendance orders already apply only to children of compulsory school age. This is included under new Section 436J(4), introduced through this Bill.

On Amendments 143G and 143H, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and my noble friend Lord Lucas, Clause 50 as drafted already allows the court to use its discretion to rule that a school attendance order ceases to be in force in the event of an acquittal for breaching the order. This discretion is valuable, as there may be circumstances where there are clear reasons for the order to remain in force.

If the court finds that a parent has had their child registered at the school named in the order, they would find the parent not guilty of the offence, but there may be individual factors making it important for the child to continue attending that school and, therefore, for the order to remain in force; for example, if there had been a previous pattern of school attendance orders being required in respect of that child.

Amendment 143IA, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, would create duties on Ofsted to oversee local authorities’ exercise of their functions in relation to electively home-educated children and school attendance in a way that encourages a positive relationship between the two. As your Lordships have heard me and my noble friend say several times this evening, that is absolutely our goal. Ofsted already covers both elective home education and children missing education as part of its children’s social care remit; local authorities are held to account in relation to those functions.

On school attendance, through recently published attendance guidance, which we intend to put on a statutory footing through the Bill, local authorities are expected to provide attendance support to pupils who face barriers to attendance prior to considering any legal intervention. As I said earlier, in response to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, it is “support, support and support” before there is any kind of enforcement. We understand that the reasons children may not be attending school are often very complex and support is almost always the right answer.

On Amendment 137D, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, local authorities are already required by law to take account of relevant factors when making decisions, including on preliminary notices. They should have the necessary in-house expertise to make these decisions but, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, that is not always the case. If local authorities do not have the expertise, they are able to consult an external expert. Parents are able to ask local authorities to take account of expert advice when making decisions, and the local authority must consider this external evidence and any other relevant considerations in line with public law.

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Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I do not want to detain the Committee either, but my ears also pricked up at the question of six months or 12 months. I was part of the Bill Committee when we agreed that magistrates should have the power to hand down sentences of up to a year. This is a slightly odd one; I do not think I have ever seen an offence drafted quite like this, especially given the journey that people would go on to be subject to these orders. I absolutely accept that, for a situation to get this point, the circumstances would be extremely unusual. If you need to send a parent to prison for a year for failing to get their child to school, there is a lot more going on. There will probably have been multiple interventions from social services and elsewhere before we ever got to that point. Whether the child would still be in the care of a parent who needed to go to prison for failing to get them to school is an interesting question.

It is usual, I should think, with an offence such as this, for a Minister to explain why a penalty of a year will have any more of a deterrent effect then a penalty of six months, eight months or three months. I know they would be available to a magistrate, but it is unusual to see it done in this way. I do not know whether that is because it is a Bill of the Department for Education, rather than the MoJ, which is perhaps more used to dealing with such clauses. It would be helpful if the Minister said a bit more about this.

I am content that these clauses should stand part of the Bill, but I am sensitive to the concerns of home educators, particularly those who are doing a good job. We do not want them to feel undermined or threatened in any way by this. We can stand here and say “Well, they shouldn’t; there’s no need for them to”, but the fact is that that is how they already feel, so we have a job of work to do to meet them where they are on this. At this point, it would be helpful if the Minister said what she can on that, but we do not want the clauses removed from the Bill.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I shall speak to Clauses 49, 50 and 51 and Schedule 4, which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, opposes. She asked me to summarise the purpose of this part of the Bill. The overarching purpose is that we should feel confident that every child in this country is getting a suitable education, that we should offer support to those home-educating parents who feel they need it, and that we should address the very small number of children who are not in school or being suitably educated at home, and who are exposed to a range of risks which we have discussed tonight.

The other point behind the noble Baroness’s very fair question was to ask us about the spirit in which we approach this and how we are doing it. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, said, it does not matter whether we tell parents to think a certain thing: if we feel it, we feel it. I hope that the Committee senses that we acknowledge that. I feel it is our responsibility to try to address those anxieties and put ourselves in the shoes of parents who are worried about the proposals. It is material, in our commitment to develop guidance for local authorities, that we will do that in partnership with local authorities and home-educating parents, so both voices are there. I hope very much that we will reach a good place with them, and that that recap responds to the noble Baroness’s question.

I am afraid that I will have to write to the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Chapman, regarding their questions. My understanding is that we are bringing the offence in this Bill in line with other similar offences, but both noble Baronesses have asked extremely good and detailed questions and I will respond to them in writing.

Clause 49 amends the school attendance order process in England to make an order a more effective measure for parents who are not providing their child with a suitable education, or who fail to demonstrate that they are doing so to local authorities. If a local authority knows that a suitable education is not being provided, or cannot deduce whether it is, it is important that this be acted on quickly to make sure that children get a suitable education as quickly as possible. For this reason, additional timeframes have been introduced and in some existing cases, as the Committee has debated tonight, shortened. We are trying to bring more consistency by aligning the process for and effect of orders for academy schools more closely with that for maintained schools.

Clause 50 similarly seeks to increase the efficiency of the process where a parent fails to comply with a school attendance order in England, and to support the child’s right to education and minimise the amount of time that a child misses education. Today, if a child is registered at a school but their parent keeps them at home without a valid reason, the parent commits an offence and can potentially receive a heavier penalty than if they simply withdraw the child from school completely without providing any education at all and ignore a school attendance order. Equalising the maximum penalties for those two situations removes this perverse incentive to take children out of school without providing suitable home education. These changes are only being made to the school attendance order process in England. Therefore, Clause 51 and Schedule 4 make consequential amendments to help separate the two processes in England and Wales and to ensure they are reflected in relevant legislation such as the Children Act 1989 and the Education Act 1996.

With that explanation, I ask the noble Baroness not to oppose Clause 49, the other clauses and Schedule 4.

Clause 49 agreed.
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Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, although this amendment was scheduled to be in the last group, amendments have been moved around a bit. I am sorry I missed it.

The rationale of Amendment 143J is that attendance policies should respect protected characteristics—that is, those that are cardinal to a child’s identity and enjoin small, short absences such as for religious or other festivals or necessary travel by parents. I beg to move.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Government understand the importance of schools developing their attendance policies in a way that considers the characteristics of individual pupils, including those with protected characteristics that may mean they face greater barriers to attendance. The Equality Act 2010 protects pupils with certain characteristics, such as race, disability and religion, from discrimination in their educational setting. Schools have clear duties under the Act, and we expect them to develop all policies, including attendance policies, in line with those duties.

The department recently published attendance guidance, Working Together To Improve School Attendance, which we intend to put on a statutory footing through the Bill. In addition, through this guidance and their own Equality Act obligations, academy trust boards and governing bodies of maintained schools are expected to ensure that their schools have an attendance policy that considers their obligations under the Act.

As I believe the amendment to be unnecessary, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Minister’s reassurance and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to give some background, if I may. At the general election of February 1974 the Labour manifesto declared:

“All forms of tax-relief and charitable status for public schools will be withdrawn.”


With some redrafting, “private schools” being substituted for “public schools” for example, this remained the Labour Party’s position during the rest of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s. At the 1992 election, the threat to charitable status disappeared, 30 years later to suddenly come back now, a weary ghost from the past.

What has happened during the last 30 years? Something significant has occurred: schools in the two sectors of education have moved ever closer together. The credit for this, of course, belongs to the schools themselves. They were drawn together by a recognition of the mutual benefits of partnership in so many different areas—in teaching, particularly in specialist subjects, music, drama and sport. Today this large programme of joint work is underpinned by a memorandum of understanding between the Independent Schools Council and the Government. Details are available on the council’s Schools Together website. Extensive though the programme is, there is more to be done. The best thing that everyone who has the interests of education at heart can do is to press independent and state schools to do more together. Noble Lords opposite should perhaps visit some independent schools to see what partnership work they are carrying out with state sector colleagues—that is the word they use, “colleagues”.

When I was at the Independent Schools Council, years ago, I found it quite difficult to interest the Conservative Party in any of this; Tony Blair’s Government was a different matter. Education Ministers, including Charles Clarke and David Miliband, came to the council’s offices for discussions. An official independent/state schools partnership scheme was set up to encourage progress, backed by modest funding from the Department for Education. In 2000, the then Schools Minister wrote that there had been “a huge cultural change”. In January 2001, she wrote: “There are no plans to legislate to remove charitable status from independent schools.” The same Minister got independent schools seats in the General Teaching Council and introduced special fast-track arrangements to help teachers in independent schools get QTS. She referred to them earlier in these debates. Always listen carefully to everything the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, says in this House. I am sorry she is not in her place at the moment.

For years, independent schools have used the benefits of their charitable status, and more besides, to give help with fees. Back in 2001, I used to say that for every pound of benefit received, they provided £2.30 in help with fees. What would be the effect of overturning a law that has stood for over 400 years by confiscating the schools’ charitable status? Fees would rise, bursaries would fall, and schools would become more socially exclusive. I think the policy embodied in this amendment should go back to the Labour Party’s archives.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, that was a very interesting and wide-ranging debate on a number of important issues, which I will try and cover in my remarks. I turn first to Amendment 146A from my noble friend Lord Lucas, which would exempt settings that are classified as being a family from regulation under the Education and Skills Act 2008. I can assure my noble friend that the Government already, and will continue to, consider private arrangements where parents home educate their own children only as exempt.

Turning to Amendment 146B from the noble Lord, Lord Knight: we consulted in 2020 on defining full-time provision as being 18 or more hours per week. However, we concluded that this approach would encourage gaming of the system, allowing settings to opt out of regulation by operating just short of the threshold. We heard powerfully from the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about how there are settings determined to do just that. So, guidance will be produced to help settings to understand where the registration requirements apply.

Amendments 147 and 149 from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, seek to register part-time provision and other unregistered provision where local authorities place children. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also highlighted some of the cultural sensitivities that arise in addressing some of these settings. Unregistered alternative provision, as the noble Lord knows, can provide a valuable hook back into learning for children who have complex needs or require bespoke packages. Its use, though, as the noble Lord knows extremely well, requires extremely careful planning and oversight. We absolutely agree on the need to act to address poor commissioning practice, and I know my officials would be very keen to meet with the noble Lord if he would be agreeable to discuss this further. As we set out in the recent special educational needs and alternative provision Green Paper, we are absolutely committed to strengthening protections for children in unregistered alternative provision, and we will be issuing a call for evidence before the summer on its use. I know the noble Lord will contribute to that.

I turn to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Regulating part-time settings would address the risk that currently unregistered full-time provision is split into separate settings. I know this is also a concern of the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn. However, most part-time provision does serve a legitimate purpose, and this risks interrupting the support and education that those settings provide, where it is provided legitimately. We believe that automatically applying the regulatory regime for independent schools to therapeutic and part-time settings would be inappropriate and likely to introduce unnecessary burdens. However, we will look at this again in the light of the call for evidence.

On Amendment 152 from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, Clause 63 introduces, as she described, new search powers. The powers as drafted aim to balance the need to enable Ofsted to search effectively with the safeguarding of civil liberties. This amendment would risk disrupting that balance. I know that the noble Baroness’s concern is that one would lose the element of surprise if inspectors went to an address and then had to go away and get a warrant, but requiring warrants before people’s homes are searched, particularly where consent is not given to enter the property, is a proportionate safeguard.

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Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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This is not quite the right moment to do this, but I thank the Minister for allowing me to say a word. Has she been in touch with Ofsted and is she satisfied that it is reassured that it will be able to inspect these illegal schools—these, in my view, very high-risk schools? Is Ofsted content?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am obviously cautious about speaking on behalf of Ofsted, but we have worked closely with it in developing this legislation. My understanding is that it is content, but I would not want to speak on its behalf, as it is an independent body.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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That is a very fair answer but between Committee and Report, will the Minister just make sure that Ofsted is completely content and there are no further loopholes?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I would be delighted to do that.

I was talking about how institutions might be operating separately but effectively as one institution. The evidence Ofsted might use to establish that could relate to individuals acting in concert or other evidence of links between the activities, such as the same pupils being educated on different premises. Clause 63 is intended to enhance Ofsted’s powers of inspection in these circumstances. This could include the investigation of so-called “tapestry schools”, with which the noble Lord is rightly concerned. In brief, we believe that those loopholes are closed.

As I explained, we do not believe it appropriate to regulate part-time settings until we have considered the response to the call for evidence on unregistered alternative provision. However, as we have discussed at length, parents have a duty to ensure that their children who are of compulsory school age receive a suitable full-time education. As we know from our earlier debates, local authorities can check this, and where a parent cannot demonstrate that the settings a child attends provide a suitable education, a school attendance order could of course be issued. A parent who sends their child to a different setting that provides only a narrow religious education with no secular education each weekday is very unlikely to be ensuring that their child receives a suitable full-time education, which I think is the point the noble Lord is rightly concerned about. I would be delighted to meet with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord to work through some of these examples in detail to assure them that we are meeting the spirit of their amendments.

Amendment 154 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Chapman, would remove the charitable status of independent educational institutions. When the noble Baroness talked about a change of tone, I thought for a minute that we were going to go to a certain place, but I thank her for the very measured way in which she made her case.

Independent schools that are charities are already obliged to show public benefit, as the noble Baroness acknowledged. She questioned the strength of that, but we are concerned that we should avoid piecemeal reform of charity law, aimed at only one group of charities. The amendment risks creating pressure to extend the removal of charitable status to other sectors. All charities must exist for public benefit, but they are not required to serve the whole public. It is not clear why this principle should change for one group, namely independent schools, and not for other charities.

As my noble friend Lord Lexden explained better than I can and with much greater experience, 85% of independent school council members are already involved in cross-sector working. I have met with a number of schools that are in different partnerships. I think there is a real sense of mutual benefit for the private schools and state-funded schools working together. I know that the noble Baroness and the Government will not agree on this point, but we see independent schools as an asset in our school system. Our responsibility is to make sure they fulfil their charitable purpose and that we use that asset to maximum benefit.

Finally, on Amendment 171G, also from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, schools are already under a statutory duty to act in accordance with the arrangements set out by local safeguarding partners. The noble Baroness will remember the recommendations made in Sir Alan Wood’s report following the review of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements. The Government legislated in the Children and Social Work Act 2017 to remove the requirement for local authorities to establish local safeguarding children’s boards. The 2004 Children Act was then amended by the 2017 Act to include provisions relating to those three safeguarding partners—the local authority, police and health—including a duty to make arrangements for them and any appropriate relevant agencies to work together to deliver their safeguarding functions. So there is some history here that we need to remember and take into consideration. The noble Baroness is absolutely right to point out that the independent review included a recommendation to make schools a statutory safeguarding partner. It is something that needs proper consideration and to which we will respond in our implementation strategy later this year.

I therefore ask my noble friend Lord Lucas to withdraw his Amendment 146A and I ask other noble Lords not to move the amendments in their names.

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Moved by
148: After Clause 57, insert the following new Clause—
“Education and childcare behaviour orders(1) The Education and Skills Act 2008 is amended as set out in subsections (2) and (3).(2) In section 96 (unregistered independent educational institutions: offence), at the end insert—“(5) Schedule A1 makes provision enabling a court to make an education and childcare behaviour order where a person is convicted of an offence under this section.”(3) Before Schedule 1 insert—“Schedule A1Education and childcare behaviour ordersMaking an education and childcare behaviour order
1 (1) Where a person (the “defendant”) is convicted of an offence under section 96 (conducting an unregistered independent educational institution) after the coming into force of this Schedule, the prosecution may apply for an education and childcare behaviour order.(2) On an application under sub-paragraph (1), the court may make an education and childcare behaviour order if it thinks it is appropriate to do so for the purpose of protecting children from the risk of harm arising from the defendant conducting an unregistered independent educational institution or otherwise providing children with education, childcare, instruction or supervision. (3) An education and childcare behaviour order is an order which, for the purpose mentioned in sub-paragraph (2)—(a) requires the defendant to do anything specified in the order, or(b) prohibits the defendant from doing anything specified in the order.(4) The court may make an education and childcare behaviour order in respect of the defendant only if it is made in addition to—(a) a sentence imposed in respect of the offence under section 96, or(b) an order discharging the offender conditionally.(5) If, following an application by the prosecution for an education and childcare behaviour order, the court decides not to make such an order, it must state in open court its reasons for that decision.Duration of education and childcare behaviour order
2 (1) An education and childcare behaviour order takes effect on the day on which it is made.(2) An education and childcare behaviour order must specify the period for which it has effect, which must be a fixed period of at least six months and not more than three years.(3) Where a court makes an education and childcare behaviour order in respect of a defendant who is already subject to such an order, the earlier order ceases to have effect.Application for variation or discharge of education and childcare behaviour order
3 (1) The defendant may apply to the appropriate court for an order varying or discharging an education and childcare behaviour order.(2) On an application under this paragraph, the court may by order vary or discharge the education and childcare behaviour order.(3) A defendant may not make an application under this paragraph—(a) before the end of the period of three months beginning with the day on which the order was made, or(b) before the end of the period of three months beginning with the day on which any previous application under this paragraph was refused.(4) In this paragraph, the “appropriate court” means—(a) the court that made the order, or(b) a magistrates’ court for the area in which the defendant lives.Offence of breaching education and childcare behaviour order
4 (1) A person who breaches an education and childcare behaviour order is guilty of an offence.(2) A person guilty of an offence under this paragraph is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks or to a fine (or to both).(3) In relation to an offence committed before the commencement of section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, for “51 weeks” in sub-paragraph (2), substitute “six months”.(4) Where a person is convicted of an offence under this paragraph, it is not open to the court by or before which the person is convicted to make, in respect of the offence, an order for conditional discharge.”(4) In section 379 of the Sentencing Act 2020, in the table in subsection (1), after the entry for the Serious Crime Act 2007 insert—

“Education and Skills Act 2008

Schedule A1

education and childcare behaviour order

offence of conducting an unregistered independent education institution”.”

Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would enable a court, after having convicted a person of the offence of operating an unregistered independent educational institution, to make an order requiring or prohibiting certain behaviour by that person, if the court considers it appropriate in order to protect children from a risk of harm. Breach of an order would constitute a further criminal offence.
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Moved by
151: Schedule 5, page 103, line 40, leave out ““refusal” substitute “decision not”” and insert ““104(1) (refusal” substitute “104 (decision not””
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment corrects a missed consequential amendment.
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Moved by
153: Clause 63, page 74, line 33, at end insert—
“(g) paragraph 4 of Schedule A1 (breach of education and childcare behaviour order).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment adds the offence of breaching an education and childcare behaviour order to the list of offences in clause 63, meaning that the new powers of entry and investigation in the Bill would be exercisable in respect of a suspected offence under this Schedule.
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Moved by
155: Clause 65, page 78, line 14, at end insert “that is not a school”
Member’s explanatory statement
This is a drafting clarification to make it clear that the reference to independent educational institutions inserted into s.141A(1) (teachers to whom the misconduct provisions apply) only catches such institutions that are not schools. Schools are already covered by s.141A(1)(a), so this amendment avoids an overlap between existing paragraph (a) and new paragraph (bb).

Schools Bill [HL]

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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Committee stage
Monday 27th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 1-VI Sixth marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jun 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, we support all three amendments in this group. I declare my interest as vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I start by telling the Committee that every single school on Merseyside has a defibrillator. Why? As we have heard, at the school that my daughter attended at the time, a young boy called Oliver King had a tragic sudden cardiac arrest in the swimming pool and died. As noble Lords can imagine, the school was grief-stricken; the pupils and the staff needed counselling. However, from that awful tragedy something wonderful happened, in that Mark King established a charity in his son’s name, the Oliver King Foundation, with the simple aim of putting a defibrillator in every school on Merseyside. As noble Lords can imagine, the community rallied round—the local press, benefactors, et cetera—and it happened. As we have heard from other noble Lords, Mark has continued his mission, not just for Merseyside but for schools throughout the UK. He was a frequent visitor to Parliament, trying to encourage MPs and Peers to get behind his campaign. I have to single out former Education Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, for whom I managed to arrange meetings with Mark King. The noble Lord had planned to celebrate, so that when we reached the target of, say, 1,000 defibrillators in schools, we would have a party. Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, was reshuffled, or decided to leave, and that never happened, but he was very helpful and supportive in that campaign.

I mention that it is not going to be expensive, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, rightly said. We are not allowed to use props or visual aids in the Chamber, but an Australian and a Canadian—noble Lords have probably met them as well—have come up with something, because most cardiac arrests actually happen in the home. They do not happen in public places, at schools or sporting events; most happen in the home and it is too expensive to spend several thousand pounds to have a defibrillator in your house unless you are very wealthy. These two people—one is an inventor and the other a salesperson—have invented a defibrillator which is about the size of a notebook. They are very simple to use and they cost, I think, just under £200. If you cannot afford that, there is a monthly subscription of a few pounds, and there is no reason why everybody should not have one in their home. For those who cannot afford one, there should be some mechanism of support. I gave mine to my noble friend Lady Walmsley and she promised me she would show it to the Health Minister. Maybe she will show it to the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, as well, or I will get it back off my noble friend. It is a real way forward.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, when he rightly says that this is about protecting young lives. There are various other things we can do. Defibrillators should be available in every school, but so too, for example, should an EpiPen—it should be mandatory for every school to have one. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, puts his finger on it when he says that every school should include first aid training as part of its curriculum. It does not take long. There is a gap when year 6 pupils have finished their SATs and are kicking their heels before they go to secondary school. That is an ideal time to do first aid training. It could be four or five sessions, and St John Ambulance or the Red Cross are only too willing to help out. There are wonderful schemes whereby they can provide lesson notes and all the rest.

Similarly, another area that should be mandated—by the way, I have a Private Member’s Bill on this—is water safety. We could prevent young people drowning if people knew proper water safety. This is about preserving lives, so it is hugely important. I am sorry that I have repeated the points that others have made.

The amendments on school buildings are absolutely right. At Second Reading I mentioned the internal memos, which the Minister will know about, outlining real concerns about the safety of our school buildings. This has gone on for a while—the coalition time was mentioned; I am not sure if that is true but perhaps it is. Of course, the Building Schools for the Future programme was excellent, but many of the buildings were very shoddily built and had a life expectancy of 20 or 25 years. Never mind the whole business of PFIs and whether they were good value for money—we will not go there—but I know from personal experience that many of the buildings, certainly the ones I have seen, are quite shoddy in my opinion; they are well past their proper use. These two amendments are hugely important and I hope that, between now and Report, we can look at them carefully and see what support we can give.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, for Amendment 156. Well-maintained and safe buildings and facilities are essential to support high-quality education, and they remain a priority for this Government. Perhaps the noble Baroness will be very kind and pass on my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for her update on the Welsh strategy.

As my noble friend Lady Berridge pointed out, responsibility for school buildings lies with the relevant local authority, academy trust or voluntary-aided school body. Those organisations are best placed to prioritise available resources to keep schools safe and in good working order, based on their local knowledge. We provide significant annual capital funding, major rebuilding programmes, and extensive guidance and support to the sector. We have allocated more than £13 billion to improve the condition of schools since 2015, including £1.8 billion committed this year.

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Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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The amendment is not saying that we should compel schools, for that reason. My noble friend may need to come back to this, but what happens in a scenario where there is no agreement between the department and the responsible body about what should happen to a building? That is the key issue in the amendment: transferring the responsibility to the department. Although I appreciate the detailed case-by-case examples, it is a very different scenario if you have a building material fail across thousands of schools and risk going across the system. Can my noble friend say what happens if there is disagreement in that kind of scenario?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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It might be most helpful to the Committee if I come back to my noble friend. She is right to insist to have this point discussed on public record but it would be more useful to take a real example that we can quantify in some way.

On Amendment 167 in the names of my noble friend Lord Moynihan, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, we absolutely recognise the importance of defibrillators. That is why our guidance for building new schools has included the provision of defibrillators since 2019. As noble Lords referred to, we have also worked with NHS England to establish a framework for schools to purchase defibrillators at a reduced rate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for his update on the latest in defibrillator technology, and I would of course be delighted to meet with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and colleagues.

I was touched by the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, to the tragic death of Oliver King; a friend of my children died in a school local to us, so I am all too aware of the tragedy involved in such cases. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has committed to working with the Oliver King Foundation to ensure that all schools have access to defibrillators. We are currently working on options to deliver these life-saving devices, and I look forward to being able to update noble Lords on that before too long.

I am told, for your Lordships’ benefit, that there is a defibrillator in Black Rod’s box, so we are all now informed.

I therefore ask the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, to withdraw her Amendment 156 and ask other noble Lords not to move the amendments in their names.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I am very pleased to hear what the Minister has just said about defibrillators. I was waiting to hear what noble Lords said on that amendment before responding, and I have to say that the case is overwhelming, given the tragic cases of Oliver King and a young person who was a friend of the Minister’s family, as she said. It is very strange that whether these devices are accessible to you largely depends on when your school was built. That does not seem to make any sense. They are not expensive and the benefits are incredible. I am encouraged by the Minister’s last sentence about wanting to come back to us, I hope on Report, with something more on that.

On the amendments on school land and buildings, I think I followed what the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, was arguing. Had she not tabled her amendment, that issue probably would not have come to the attention of noble Lords. Again, we need to hear what the Minister has to say on that. If she is intending to write to the noble Baroness, could that letter be shared so that we can all appreciate and understand how the Government intend to answer that question?

On the amendment I tabled alongside my noble friend Lady Wilcox, we remain concerned about the condition of school buildings. I understand the points made from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench about BSF, but I gently point out that if you were a governor at a school who had put a lot of time and effort into their BSF bid—as I did at the time—and then had that cancelled, you would much rather have what the noble Lord describes as a less than gold-plated building to learn in than what we were presented with: a leaky, cold, not particularly safe building that dated back to the 1970s. I would have bitten Michael Gove’s hand off at the time to get that bid agreed. It was not as if BSF was replaced with something less bureaucratic, which I can accept may have been needed. That did not happen and the investment was not forthcoming. I understand that the Minister does not want to comment on leaked documents, but we find ourselves now in a situation where, as a parent, you read that there is great concern that buildings are deemed a risk to life. That is something we need to continue to press Ministers on and may well return to on Report. I beg leave to withdraw.

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, for Amendment 171H and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for Amendment 171U, both on local education partnerships. I very much enjoyed my meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, a few months ago to discuss her important work chairing the Area-Based Education Partnerships Association. I absolutely agree with both noble Baronesses and other noble Lords about the importance of local coherence and collaboration between different parts of our schools system.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, talked about the importance of school improvement in part underpinning her amendment. She will be aware that, in the schools White Paper, we set out a specific plank of the strong trust framework focused on school improvement. We absolutely support the spirit of her amendment but, as she knows, we believe that this is best done through strong multi-academy trusts.

However, as all of your Lordships have said, it is vital that trusts, local authorities and other actors in the school system work together effectively. The schools White Paper sets out our commitment to ensure that this is the case, and the special educational needs and disability and alternative provision Green Paper outlines proposals to enable statutory local SEND partnerships. We are also establishing local partnership boards in the 24 priority education investment areas that bring together local authorities and strong trusts to help identify local priorities and drive improvement at key stage 2 and key stage 4.

However, we do not believe that either of these amendments is necessary. We have already committed to developing a collaborative standard, which will facilitate effective partnerships between trusts, local authorities and third sector organisations to impact their communities positively in the way your Lordships have described. We will work with the sector to develop the detail of this standard as part of the regulatory review.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, talked about the importance of place. Again, we agree with her. She will be well aware of our work previously on the opportunity areas and, more recently, on the education investment areas.

Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab)
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What the Minister just said is very interesting. I was going to intervene to ask what mechanism the Government will use to bring them together. Am I right in interpreting what she said as that the mechanism might be something the Government will look at in the regulatory review? If so, at that point, would she consider partnerships as one of the mechanisms that might bring it about?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am sure that the noble Baroness would not allow me to get away with prejudging the findings of the regulatory review. In all seriousness, the point of the review is to engage intensively with the sector and partners. I was going to invite her to meet to talk about some of these points in more detail as the review progresses. The review will also develop not just the collaborative standard that both noble Baronesses pointed towards but the area-based approach to commissioning, which we articulated in the guidance we released in May on implementing school system reform.

I also point to the work done by the Confederation of School Trusts, which represents many in the sector. It has done a lot of work on public benefit and civic duty, which speaks to the spirit of what is behind both noble Baronesses’ amendments and which we support very strongly. Although we continue to emphasise the importance of local partnerships, we do not believe it is for government to mandate a particular form in every area, and we believe that local partners are best placed to determine the arrangements that are right for their areas.

I now turn to Amendments 171T and 171W, both tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which seek to extend the role of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to include complaints about academy admissions. There is already a strong and effective route for complaints by anyone, including parents, about academy admission arrangements, including oversubscription criteria, through the independent Office of the Schools Adjudicator, whose decisions are binding and enforceable. Forgive me: I am not sure I heard the noble Lord refer to that, but we believe that system works very well.

Where an individual child is refused a place at a school they have applied to, the parent always has the right to an independent appeal. We made changes to the School Admissions Code last year to improve the process for managing in-year admissions and to improve the effectiveness of the fair access protocols, the mechanism to find places for vulnerable and unplaced children in-year. The local authority can direct a maintained school to admit a child and the Secretary of State has the power to direct an academy to admit a child. Looking forward, the schools White Paper confirmed that the Government will consult on a new statutory framework for pupil movements between schools and a back-up power to enable local authorities to direct an academy trust to admit a child. More broadly, there is a requirement that every academy trust has a published complaints procedure and, in turn, that this must include an opportunity for the complaint to be heard by a panel containing members not involved in the subject of the complaint and one person not involved in the management or running of the school.

As noble Lords have rightly said, it is important that parents have access to a strong and effective appeals process. The department currently provides a route for independent consideration of complaints about maladministration of appeals in relation to academy schools. To put this in perspective, we received 374 complaints about maladministration by independent appeal panels between 1 April and 31 December 2020. Of these, 123 complaints were in scope and were considered further. However, that is a tiny number compared to the total number of appeals that year, which was 41,000 for academies and maintained schools. We are aware that the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has made proposal in its triennial review, similar to the one supported by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, that it should include maladministration of academy appeals. We are considering its proposals and will publish a response in due course. Therefore, we believe that there are sufficient measures in place for academy complaints and that these amendments are not necessary. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, to withdraw Amendment 171H and other noble Lords not to move theirs.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I am very grateful to the Minister for her response. The amendments that my noble friend Lady Morris and I tabled are different, but they come from the same place, if I may put it like that. My experience is more about getting anyone who has any interest whatever in the life of young people in a particular place together, and I found that useful, but I completely understand and support the idea of getting a focus on school improvement. There is a lot to be said for that and it is pleasing that the Government are, I think, starting to recognise the value that brings and the need to allow for a place-based approach. Children live in a particular area and a particular community, and it is a problem when schools do not work together.

As an example, we had a problem with transition between primary and secondary school. We were able to get all the schools to work together and to agree that they would have one week that primary schoolchildren spent in their secondary school and the secondary schoolkids spent at work experience or in their sixth form or FE college nearby. Everyone did it together, it made life a lot easier and it made the experience far more beneficial for the children involved. There are practical things but it needs somebody to hold the ring and to organise and broker that agreement. If you do not have that, these things just do not get done. That is all we are trying to get at.

The other thing it does is to make head teachers and subject leaders, and perhaps a PHSE group in primary schools, accountable to one another. That is so valuable. My noble friend Lady Morris said that she felt she was a teacher in Coventry and had a responsibility to that place in which she had an identity. Mutual accountability brings out the best in school leaders. We are very pleased to hear that the Government are looking at it. I will go away and have a look at the things the Minister referred to, but I wonder whether the approach she outlined is strong or energetic enough to inspire that collaboration at a local level everywhere that needs it. It is interesting that EIAs will be asked to work on that. I would have thought that if it is beneficial to areas with that kind of problem, it would be beneficial to areas that fall just outside the criteria for them. I cannot think of a place that would not benefit from having school leaders and others working together.

On the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, we need to look at the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, but having said what I said initially and having listened to my noble friend make an incredibly good case, perhaps I have to look again at my experience of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, at how user-friendly or not it might be and at whether there is something that could be done quite straightforwardly along the lines outlined by my noble friend that would improve the situation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Watson, for highlighting the importance of spoken language and communication in his Amendments 171J and 171K. I pay tribute to him for his work in advocating for the importance of oracy, and I thank the APPG for its work. I mentioned to the noble Lord the other day that, certainly in the schools I visit, oracy is often mentioned as an absolutely key skill and tool in a child’s development and the way in which they approach and understand the world. However, I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that it is about not anecdotes but a systematic approach.

Children’s spoken language levels are assessed during their time at school, including as part of the early years foundation stage profile, which happens as children leave reception year and again in GCSE English language. Last year, the Government published non-statutory guidance aimed at improving the teaching of the foundations of reading in primary schools, including guidance on developing spoken language. As the noble Lord mentioned, Ofsted recently published its English research review, which contains guidance on the importance of high-quality spoken language. However, it is hard to envisage how the Government would report on the overall level of pupils’ spoken language and communication without a new statutory national assessment. After a period of disruption in education due to the pandemic, new assessments monitored by the Government would place pressure on teachers and school leaders.

On the specific matter of Ofsted inspection, raised in Amendment 171K, Ofsted’s methodology is designed to ensure a holistic assessment of the quality of education provided. Inspectors undertake deep-dive explorations of a sample of curriculum subjects in each inspection to help build an understanding of the school’s curriculum. When English language is included, inspectors will expect to see pupils developing effective spoken language and communication skills as part of a strong English curriculum. All inspectors are trained in how to evaluate children’s language development, which includes their spoken English skills. The Government do not wish to limit a school’s inspection outcome based on one specific factor—although we absolutely understand the spirit of the noble Lord’s amendment—but, of course, the job of an inspector is to weigh up a range of evidence to reach a balanced assessment.

Finally, Ofsted is planning a subject report on English, which will include specific consideration of the quality of spoken language education in English schools. I hope that that addresses some of the concerns behind the noble Lord’s amendments. This will report next year.

I move to Amendment 171L, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. Getting students back in face-to-face education has obviously been one of the Government’s top priorities. Since June 2020, we have committed nearly £5 billion to fund a recovery package prioritising the most disadvantaged and those with the least time left in education. I note the noble Baroness’s emphasis on early years but I know that she will also acknowledge the pressures on children who have little time left at school and have missed a big chunk of their education. Our investment will provide 500,000 training opportunities for early years practitioners and teachers and up to 100 million tutoring hours for five to 19 year-olds by 2024.

We are great believers in the added value that undergraduates and graduates can offer to schools. We have spoken to universities about how their undergraduates may become National Tutoring Programme tutors, and we welcome other programmes that enable undergraduates and graduates to work in schools. The Government are providing an additional £1 billion to extend the recovery premium over the next two academic years to support the most disadvantaged pupils. If I followed her correctly, the noble Baroness focused particularly on the importance of the recovery premium and the pupil premium more broadly.

Primary schools will continue to benefit from an additional £145 per eligible pupil, and secondary schools will receive £276 per eligible pupil. For special schools and alternative provision, there will be an additional £290 at primary level and £552 at secondary. The noble Baroness makes very sound points regarding the importance of early years; the Government understand those points and have focused, particularly through our family hubs, to ensure that support is there for the youngest children and their families. We also stress the point that older children have little time left, hence the choices we have made, as we have almost doubled the secondary rate—also to reflect the greater learning loss that has been seen in secondary pupils. We are always reviewing and assessing our approach to targeting funding towards deprivation. That includes not only the pupil premium funding but the national funding formula. We are allocating £6.7 billion this financial year through the national funding formula towards additional needs, which includes deprivation. This is one-sixth of all our available funding.

Many of our recovery programmes can be used to tackle problems with attendance and behaviour, deliver social and emotional support and provide enrichment elements, in relation to both physical and mental health and well-being. The Committee will be aware that we published the national plan for music education on 25 June, together with the Department for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which sets out our vision to enable all children and young people to learn to sing, play an instrument, create music together and have the opportunity to progress their musical interests and talents.

We are also supporting free breakfast provision by investing up to £24 million for 2021 to 2023, supporting up to 2,500 schools in the most disadvantaged areas. We are also considering ways to collect further data on the provision of breakfasts in schools; we are aware of a number of organisations that do great work in this area.

I now turn to Amendments 171N, 171O, 171P and 171Q in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. Of course, all types of bullying are unacceptable and schools play a vital role in preventing and tackling bullying. We believe that the basis for addressing bullying starts with a strong culture regarding behaviour in schools to support pupils, prevent all forms of bullying and ensure that there is a calm environment in each school to do well. All schools are required by law to have a behaviour policy that aims not only to encourage good behaviour but to prevent bullying among pupils. Schools are also required to have regard to the Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance, which will be relevant where there is a safeguarding risk to a child.

The Government are providing over £2 million of funding between 2021 and 2023 to anti-bullying organisations targeting the bullying of children and young people with protected characteristics. Part of our funding has gone to resources specifically on the bullying of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, such as an e-learning course on that subject that is now available to all schools in England.

Our Preventing and Tackling Bullying guidance sets out that schools should develop a consistent approach to monitoring bullying and evaluating their approaches. Schools are accountable to Ofsted, which will look at how effectively they prevent or deal with bullying incidents, including whether they have recorded incidents of bullying. We know, anecdotally, that formal reporting of incidents can act as a disincentive to record, which is why we worked with Ofsted to make its position on recording bullying very clear in guidance. The Government will continue to support the current school-level approach to recording, supporting schools to meet their duties to take action to tackle bullying.

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Lord Watson of Invergowrie Portrait Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this group. Before I come specifically to the two amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Blower I would just like to say, on the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lady Whitaker and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that bullying is one of those issues that if you do not measure it, you cannot improve it. The Minister has just said that Ofsted has issued guidance on schools recording bullying. That is all right for those schools which are doing that, but the point is that it is guidance. What about those instances where it is not recorded, for whatever reason—the school may wish to protect its reputation or whatever?

The noble Baroness talked about local authorities having a register. I think it is important to go beyond the individual school. We are moving away from a situation in this Bill where we thought academies were a law unto themselves; we are now finding that perhaps that is not the case after all. I think it is important to broaden that.

I will give some examples of bullying. Noble Lords have highlighted issues, and I would like to mention some more. One is that it is not just those you might think are obvious targets for bullying. Children who are adopted often suffer very badly from being bullied, if the fact that they are adopted becomes known. Noble Lords may remember that, following the MacAlister report on the children’s social care review, a day of action was organised here on Wednesday last week by a number of children’s charities. They brought along a lot of children in care and, in speaking to them, I was very disappointed to hear some of them say that they are stigmatised in school because they are in care. They said that some teachers will ask, “What do your mum and dad think of this?” Of course, a child in care can find that most distressing. That is not bullying—I am not suggesting that teachers bully—but it allows it to emerge, and children can then be subject to bullying by their peers. It takes so many forms and it has to be more carefully recorded, and schools held to account if they are not acting appropriately.

On Amendments 171J and 171K, I acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about young people with dyslexia and dyspraxia. I should at least have referred to the fact that the amendment was as broad as possible and covered all children who, for whatever reason, need assistance with developing their speech and communication skills.

I hear what the Minister said about the guidance that is available. Again, the point is the same as with bullying: it is guidance. For those schools that abide by it, fine; but those that do not are the problem, and these are the areas where it has to be strengthened. That is why I think that a statutory position is necessary.

The Minister contradicted herself, because she said at one point, “We cannot really have statutory assessment at this stage”, in relation to the need to check on spoken and communication skills because, post-pandemic, that would put undue stress on teachers and school staff. That is basically saying, “It is a good idea, but this is not the time to do it”. If we say that, that means that the older children—the ones who will have moved on in three or four years, or however long it takes for us to be in a proper post-pandemic situation—have not benefited. Then the Minister said, in relation to my noble friend Lady Chapman’s amendment, that we need to concentrate funding now because the older pupils will have moved on by the time the funding reaches them. I understand her point about needing to make sure that older pupils get that consideration, but you cannot on the one hand say, “We cannot do it now” for one reason, but then say that older pupils have to get that consideration now in terms of the funding. I do not think it is an either/or situation.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I apologise if I was not clear. What I was saying was that to introduce an additional assessment early on would put greater resource strain on the system. What I was saying in relation to investment in older children was not about assessment; it was just making sure that we prioritise them for greater funding because they have less time left in school, so we want to give them as much support as possible.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie Portrait Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that clarification. I accept what she says about the differences as well, but I was drawing attention to the fact that older children, by definition, do not have much longer in school, so we need to ensure that they get every support that we can give them, either financial or through encouragement to improve their speaking skills. I also note what the Minister says about the current situation, so I invite her to bring forward an amendment on Report which might have a time-limited introduction of the sort of resources necessary for the suggestion I made in Amendment 171J.

I hope I have covered the points. I am not suggesting that the Minister is not taking these issues seriously—I know her well enough to know that she is and does—but there has to be some kind of step change, because the views and surveys I referred to earlier have pointed out that, however well meant things are, there are too many children who are not getting the assistance they need to make sure they have the skills that we discussed for many hours on the skills Bill not so long ago. To bring young people on to the jobs market, they need these skills—that is the key. There is no point in having a bit of paper that says “So-and-so has passed this qualification” if he or she is not really able to make the most of it by articulating in a way that helps them to do that job effectively. With those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Schools Bill [HL]

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Tuesday 12th July 2022

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Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 35-I(b) Amendments for Report (Supplementary to the Marshalled List) - (12 Jul 2022)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 passage through Parliament.

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Moved by
Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran
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That the Report be now received.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I propose to your Lordships’ House that Report not be received and that consideration of the Bill not proceed at this time. This reflects the fact that, of the many people I have spoken to, few believe that the Government are truly ready to proceed with the Bill.

I posit three reasons for this. First, we have been through three Education Secretaries in three days. We now have a caretaker Prime Minister and Government. Perhaps the less said about the behaviour of the new Education Minister, the better; the National Education Union has said all that needs to be said on that matter. In our unwritten, dysfunctional constitution, accreted over centuries of historical accident, “caretaker Education Secretary” may not have a technical meaning, but it has a practical one. With a new Prime Minister due in a couple of months, there is a very good chance that we will have a fourth Education Secretary.

The second reason is that, were this reform to be carefully thought through, long planned and developed over a long period of consultation and reflection with clear goals in mind, a temporary—if long-running—perturbation in the Government might not be a significant impediment to progress. However, it is nothing like that. We have the Government agreeing to pull one major element of the Bill—the first part, which was presumably their primary reason for bringing the Bill forward—and promising both to introduce an alternative approach in the other place and that they will allow future extended debate in your Lordships’ House. This promise will have to be followed by a new Government, most likely with a new team of people; I intend no insult to anyone still in post.

The third reason why we should not proceed today is that the remaining parts of the Bill are a controversial hotchpotch that has produced in my mailbag—and those of many other noble Lords, I have no doubt—cries of fear and horror. As usual, your Lordships’ House is trying modestly to improve the Bill, with a series of votes planned for this afternoon. However, a bad law is surely worse than no law at all, particularly in the current circumstances. Our schools would be better off without the extra confusion and disruption created by a half-cooked Bill proceeding to the other place, allowing them and the department to concentrate on the triple epidemic that they face: the continuing Covid epidemic; the crisis of mental ill-health and stress affecting pupils, teachers and other staff; and the cost of living crisis that is hitting school and family budgets hard.

If we proceed now, we will be trying to put a few patches on a sow’s ear. That is not progress and not the right direction for your Lordships’ House. Instead, let us leave our education system and department to settle down and seek stability and certainty where they can find them, rather than contribute to their problems.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Knight said, we should proceed with Report. I am happy to have discussions with the Government Chief Whip, through the usual channels, between the end of Report and Third Reading, and we will see how we can move forward from there.

I am not sure whether this is the worst Bill; from our point of view, there is quite a long list. Some of the comments from the Government Benches were interesting. Some of the views expressed have been our views for many months or even years, but they seem to have all turned up in the last week. I am not going to get involved in some spat between people on the Government Benches, but I am happy to have that discussion with the Government Chief Whip between the end of Report and Third Reading on how we should proceed.