Lord Nash debates involving the Department for Education during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 12th Jul 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Report stage: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Mon 13th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Wed 8th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

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

2nd reading: Part two & Lords Hansard - Part two
Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, I say very briefly that amid the myriad arguments on this group and, indeed, throughout the Bill, there is, if it does not sound too pompous, a philosophical difference, to put it mildly, about academies and their role. I have to say I particularly like my noble friend Lord Hunt’s Amendment 1, with its

“strategic policy on parental and community engagement”,

and I very much like the proposed new clause in Amendment 5 from my noble friends on the Front Bench, particularly proposed new subsection (2)(b)(iii) and (iv), which refers to

“the duty to cooperate with the local authority in school admissions; the duty to cooperate with the local authority in school place planning”.

That seems to be where the divide is: whether you see these academies as part of the community and to a degree answerable to the community, with community involvement, or as islands, looking after their own interests and without any requirement to be part of the whole. We will no doubt have that debate in whatever time is allowed when the Bill comes back to us from the Commons—if it gets that far.

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of a multi-academy trust, Future Academies, and a trustee of the Education Policy Institute. I am no expert on parliamentary procedure and will not comment on the discussions on it so far, but I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on listening to the concerns expressed across your Lordships’ House and by the sector, and on her approach. I will reserve judgment on any clauses that come back in whatever way until I see them, but I am delighted that my noble friend and her department will now engage widely with the sector and others. I also endorse her and my noble friend Lord Baker’s point that there are other very important parts of this Bill; for instance, on children missing from education, home education and illegal settings, which are long overdue for legislation.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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My Lords, having listened to everything that has been said, it is very tempting to rub salt in the wound, but I will resist.

We are of course pleased that the Government have agreed to withdraw Clauses 1 to 18, but note that they had no other option. At first, we wondered how this had happened. I now do not think that this was just poor drafting; I think that the Government did not know what they intended to do with this Bill. I think there was a legislative slot marked “Schools Bill” and this Bill was tabled. It should never have been tabled as it was.

Things have been said about what might have happened had this Bill been presented in the Commons. Obviously, none of us knows. I like to think that that would not have happened, because someone would have seen its deficiencies and intercepted it. All the problems we have managed to surface through our deliberations—the lack of plan, the lack of vision and there being none of the pre-legislative scrutiny that ought to have taken place and which will now take place half way through the Bill’s progress, over the summer—would have been exposed.

It is very sad that we have come to this because, as the Minister rightly reminds us, there are parts of the Bill—those looking at children not in school and illegal schools—whose implementation may be delayed, as it is not clear that we will get this Bill back as quickly as we might have done had it not been presented in the way it was. Quite a lot of work will now have to take place. It has obviously been an appalling process. It is heartening to know that noble Lords are not used to being treated this way and that we should not expect this from the Government in future.

Some colleagues have referred to Amendment 5 tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Wilcox. To be clear, we did not table this imagining that it would be a favourite of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, or anyone else. The point was to demonstrate that the Government could have proceeded in another way. We will not push it to a vote, but it was tabled to show that you can go about these things in a much better way. There could and should have been much more clarity on what the Government wanted to do.

It is worth taking this opportunity to speak a little about this amendment—I will not go on—to make it clear where these Benches stand on some of the issues of substance that have come before us. It is important that we do that because, although the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and I have found common cause through the passage of this Bill so far, we have done so for very different reasons. It is important that we are upfront and clear about that—he would expect nothing different from me.

The first and most important line in the amendment is:

“Following the completion of the Academies Regulatory and Commissioning Review”.

Nothing should have been tabled along these lines until that review was complete. I welcome the fact that the Government now share that view; it is a shame that we have had to do it in the way that we have.

I want to highlight six points that we on these Benches feel are quite important and that we need clarity on so that we know where we stand. The first is the way that academies handle complaints. Then there are the minimum qualifications required by teaching staff; you will see that this amendment complements other amendments that we have tabled around complaints, admissions and qualified teacher status. We have included adherence to national agreements achieved thorough negotiating bodies for minimum standards of pay, terms and conditions of employment, trade union recognition, adherence to the national curriculum, and, importantly, a duty to co-operate with the local authority on school admissions.

That is where these Benches are coming from on this issue. We understand that that will be very different from where other noble Lords might be coming from, but we are not having a big row among ourselves on these issues. It pleases me no end to say that that is going to be the problem of the Minister when she devises her new clauses for us to consider, perhaps later in the year.

It is clearly not satisfactory that the Government intend to come back to us with these new clauses without us having had the opportunity to debate and vote on them in the way that we would have done had this process been a more normal one. Let us see what the usual channels come up with when they consider that point; it is a point that has been very well made, and one that everyone understands. It is very unfortunate that we have got to the situation that we have, but we are interested to hear about what the Minister wants to do over the summer, using the time that she has, to consult and engage with the relevant stakeholders.

I worry that, again, this is going to be rushed. The idea that some sort of consensus will emerge at the end of it is probably unrealistic. With a likely change of Secretary of State, we just do not know, from what the Minister has said in the past, where we are going to be led with this. It would be helpful if she could talk to us about the people who are going to be involved, the finer points of that process and what she expects. If we are right, and the Government did not know what they intended when they tabled this Bill and need to go through that process now, it is unlikely that the Minister at this point knows what the outcome is going to be, otherwise that is what would have been tabled in the first place. The more she could say about that at this stage, the better.

We will not be pressing our Amendment 5 to a vote, but it is really important that the House is clear where these Benches are coming from and how we would have approached this issue.

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Moved by
12: Leave out Clause 6

Schools Bill [HL]

Lord Nash Excerpts
Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, I want to raise a point probably connected to the comments of my noble friend Lord Baker, which may help my noble friend the Minister. I raised on the first day in Committee the consideration of the legal vehicle that we are dealing with here, which is potentially affected when you move from the bilateral to the unilateral, and any implications for not just charitable status but the role of charity trustees, as well as that of company directors, as in most cases these are charitable companies. I know that my noble friend intends to write to me, but it may be that the comments that follow from that have a connected purpose to what my noble friend Lord Baker has said in relation to any effects on the charitable purpose as well as the vehicle. We are dealing with a legal entity, and the implications for that need to be fully considered in the change from a bilateral contract to the unilateral situation that my noble friend proposes.

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as a chair of an academy trust and as a trustee of the Education Policy Institute.

I shall give a little background on trustees and their role and recruitment. When I became an academies Minister in 2013, it was clear that the very good initiative started by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—who I see is not in his place—to find academy sponsors, such as myself and my noble friends Lord Agnew and Lord Baker, had been put very much on the back burner by officials in the rush to academise; it took a very long time to warm these people up and it was a long process. I said I did not care how long it took to warm these people up; we must have this process. I did not care if we got chucked out of government and the Labour Party came back in and used all the people that we had found—good luck; it is a very noble purpose.

As it happened, we did not find too many nutters like myself and my noble friend Lord Agnew who were prepared to go from a standing start to being full academy sponsors in one move, but we found hundreds, if not now thousands, of people who were prepared to go on the boards of multi-academy trusts as non-executive directors, pro bono, to serve a very good public purpose. I wonder how many we would have found if they knew they could be chucked out by the DfE at its whim.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, it is really something for me to say that I agree with most of the noble Lords opposite on this. It is a very odd Bill and a very odd process that we are going through today.

One question that comes to mind when we look at all these amendments is this: could the Minister give us a rough idea where the Minister’s power to make a decision without consultation has been increased or decreased? If there is anywhere that that power has been decreased, I would be very glad to hear about it. But if it is only the case that “We will make something without going through a consultation process”, surely that shows up one of the major flaws in the Bill.

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Lord Triesman Portrait Lord Triesman (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 169. I express my gratitude to both Ministers on the Government Front Bench for a very helpful conversation. In the course of what they will say, they may well be able to allay some of the anxieties that I have expressed about the position of adopted children in the past. I greatly appreciated that, and want my appreciation recorded.

Amendment 169 is not about the big issues on admission which we have been discussing, although I completely associate myself—if I can pick just one of my noble colleagues—with my noble friend Lady Morris about geographic and local coherence in the arrangements we make. This amendment may appear to be a small and detailed matter by comparison, but I can assure the Committee that it is of the first importance to the small number of people who are impacted by it. Amendment 169 addresses the difference in educational access and assistance experienced by children adopted from care internationally, contrasted with those who are adopted from care in the United Kingdom, and the impact of these differences on their education and life prospects.

I declare an interest as the proud father of a quite exceptional adopted daughter who became part of our family on the third day of her life and is a great blessing. When I first spoke about this matter in the House, she was 10; she is now 13 and, until the discussion I had today, it appeared to me that nothing had moved forward in those three years of her life. However, I think that we will hear something rather more different today.

Adopted children face many challenges which are well documented. Many have special needs, some far greater than others, and, in many cases, because some spend years in care before finding a loving family home, they experience many of these difficulties to a very great extent. The care they experience is of very mixed quality, especially abroad, and they carry that experience alongside the fundamental experience of loss of attachment throughout their lives. There are multiple studies in the leading peer-reviewed journal, Adoption & Fostering, which most Members of the House will feel establishes the facts beyond dispute. The impact on these children has also been largely experienced by children from particular countries: China, India, Thailand, Ethiopia, Guatemala and some from Russia. As your Lordships will easily detect, the impact of discrimination has therefore been far greater on children of colour.

The scheme of intercountry adoption is regulated by the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption 1993. It was ratified by this country, among the then 24 EU members, and it says that all children adopted from care overseas should have the same rights as those in the receiving countries. There was nothing at all unwilling about our participation, and I note that David Cameron was in the forefront of making all kinds of adoption, here and abroad, easier. I hope that in the course of this discussion, we will hear about changes being made to the School Admissions Code, so that it will require local authorities and other admissions bodies to give the same top priority for pupil places to children adopted from state care in this country.

In case it is not well understood, although I suspect that it will be, I add that most of the children who are adopted from overseas, once they are adopted, come here and become United Kingdom citizens. The question on their parents’ minds will be, “Why on earth would they have worse prospects than comparable United Kingdom citizens?”. It is acknowledged that this would be discrimination between kids adopted here and overseas, and it would violate the 2010 Equality Act which states in terms that there must be no discrimination in school admissions based on country of origin.

The data is strong. While I will not delay the Committee for long, it is always worth trying to use an occasion like this to underpin why the changes are necessary. Some 94% of peer-reviewed papers show adoption to be correlated with lower academic attainment and related behaviour problems. This is clear among very young children and gets clearer with age—it is most acute among teenagers. Of the issues faced by children, trauma around attachment and anxiety about the loss of attachment are absolutely distinct and significant in all the research. Some 80% of adopted children express profound confusion and anxiety at school; two-thirds report that they are bullied. Neither they nor their parents feel, in an overwhelming proportion of cases, that they have had an equal chance. To underline the point as thoroughly as I can: adopted children are 20 times more likely to be excluded than their classmates. In the first three years of primary school, they are 16 times more likely to be excluded. None of these data are spurious; they all meet high levels of statistical significance and confidence.

I was very grateful to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said a while ago about the role of parents, because I feel that I am talking about the same thing. It is inevitable in these circumstances—and I believe quite rightly—that parents have the central role. It is not a mainstream role for national or local government for obvious reasons, but I know first-hand that parents pay the closest attention to the attributes in the pool of school options in front of them. Parents are the ones who interact with the schools and local authority. I promise you that, as a parent, you come to know which schools are most attuned to social and emotional trauma issues, can sponsor and encourage executive functioning for your child, know about providing sensory diets to regulate behaviour and grasp the implications of neurological divergence. You form self-help groups of parents grappling with these issues where you learn a lot and enjoy a lot of support. You get to know—because you have to—where there is specific training and knowledge of attachment trauma and where the head teacher and specialist staff really know what they are doing, as distinct from knowing what they should be doing. It is the way in which you choose the mission-critical path for your child and it does not rely then on good luck in admissions. It is parent engagement and decision-making at its clearest.

Many schools are excellent at many other things, but they are not all necessarily excellent at everything and may not be excellent at this vital thing which I am describing, which could determine whether your child joins that absurdly high number of kids who get excluded or bullied, underachieve or are profoundly miserable. It matters not one whit to you whether your child was adopted from here or abroad.

I look forward to what the Minister will be able to say but, having commented on the Ministers in this House, I say that much of the running on this was made by Nick Gibb when he was Schools Minister. He told local authorities in December 2017 that they should include children adopted overseas for priority admission to schools identified by their parents to give the kids the best chance. Unfortunately, a significant number of local authorities would not take that advice from the Minister for Schools, which I think was very sad. But we are now in a position where we have a ministerial team that will, and I sincerely welcome that. I also welcome that there will be further thought on the pupil premium plus, which is also very significant for this group of students, and hope there will be further comment on that.

It turns out that we did not need, as I thought for some years we did, primary legislation to achieve the things that I think can be described by Ministers today. I welcome that for a very straightforward reason that is not all that much to do with personal experience, although of course that does bear on me. I welcome it because kids get one chance, and kids who have difficulties need all the help they can to take that chance. It is up to us to give it to them.

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, in this amendment. I have great respect for people who adopt. I personally support a wonderful organisation called Hope and Homes for Children, which has closed many orphanages in eastern European countries and allowed the children to be effectively adopted—it is not quite the terminology that most of these countries use. I took the Children and Families Act through your Lordships’ House, which was very substantially about improving adoption arrangements. I remember the noble Lord raising this point with me when I was a Minister. It seemed a no-brainer then and it seems to be so now, and I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will support him in making this amendment.

I would also like to speak briefly on the point about academies fixing their admissions arrangements to their advantage, which has been mentioned. As a rule, this is unfair. There are some schools—schools of different types, actually—which have rather complicated admissions arrangements and one sometimes wonders whether they are deliberately complicated. But, as I say, I think it is unfair on the vast majority of academies and multi-academy trusts.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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It is pleasure to follow the recent speakers, particularly my noble friend Lord Triesman. That was an exceptional speech and his personal experience really gave us food for thought. I echo what the noble Lord opposite said about people who take that life-changing decision for themselves and their families to adopt. I too am looking forward to what the Minister has to say in response.

I would also like to support my noble friend Lord Hunt and others in their desire for the Government to commit to the existing position on no new grammar schools. We understand that the Prime Minister is in generous mood with his Back-Benchers at the moment, and it would be a real shame for a change to the current rules to be made in that context. We are concerned about that, given some of the comments referenced by others, and want to make sure that it does not happen.

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Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, this is an important question, but, again, I would be looking for the output, not the input—in other words, when asking whether teachers should be qualified, it is the quality of the qualification that matters. At the moment, it is a nine-month course without any validation at the end. We have the Teach First initiative, which was pioneered very successfully by Labour, which is six weeks of training. Looking at parts of the economy where we are desperately short of good teachers—take a subject such as computer science, for example—I would say that you could bring those sorts of people into teaching for a couple of years, because they might want to put something back in an initiative similar to Teach First but then go on to a different career.

So, if we are worrying about the quality of teachers, we must be careful that this is not just about some formal qualification. It is about how good they are and, particularly in response to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, it is about how good they are at enthusing children in the classroom. I think we have moved into a new and very difficult game post-Covid. Children were learning across screens remotely on and off for two years, and the skills needed to enthuse and engage children in that way have changed, rather than just standing in a classroom. So, I am sceptical, but this is an important point, and I am glad that we have the chance to debate it, because this is exactly what a Schools Bill should be doing.

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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I support my noble friend. I say to the noble Lords, Lord Knight and Lord Blunkett, that if a teacher has been teaching in the private sector for 20 years and is well qualified in their subject—through university and through practising it for 20 years—are we really going to make them take a course for nine months, at the end of which there are no exams, so that they are qualified to teach? I think we need to be a little more flexible about this.

Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab)
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Just to add to that, I think there are—or there used to be—ways for teachers moving from the independent sector to the state sector which were far less than nine months.

I take the point about a subject like IT. I absolutely agree with the amendment: teaching is a profession, and all the evidence internationally shows that the better qualified the teacher, the better the achievement for students. That is what this is all about. But if the problem is that, in a fast-moving world, there are a set of skills such as IT that people need to come into education to deliver, there needs to be another way of meeting that need and getting those people in rather than saying to the whole of the school system that teachers do not have to have a qualification. This is not being used to get people with specialist IT skills into schools to help children. It is being used by headteachers and schools where they cannot get staff with qualifications in front of children in classrooms, so they go for those without qualifications.

Although I share with the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, the wish to get the latest skills into the classroom without making people do a year-long PGCE, we just need a bit more creative thinking in order to make that happen. It cannot be that we go back to a profession that not only is not a graduate-level profession but is not a qualified profession at all. The message that gives is something that none of us who are committed to the education of children ought to support.

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Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Baroness said; I congratulate her on saying it.

May I express the hope, which I think is in the interests of many people, that we might finish these clause stand part debates before the dinner hour? Every morning, as I leave my apartment to come to the House of Lords, my wife waves me away with the comment, “Don’t speak too much.” So I do not expect to elaborate again all the points that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, made. In fact, I do not intend to move my stand part notices for Clauses 8 to 14 at all because they use exactly corresponding words in the funding agreements. Clauses 16 to 18 are exactly the same; I do not intend to move my amendments on them in order to accelerate the movement of the House.

I will say a just few words on Clause 5, which gives the Secretary of State the power to give directions rather than advice. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and I did not have that power. I would not seek it. No Minister has had it since 1870. I do not believe that it is right for Ministers to interfere with the actual management of schools at the local level.

Clause 6 gives the Secretary of State the right to get involved in schools’ financial matters and the running of schools. Again, I do not believe that that is the right function for the Secretary of State.

Clause 7 is a significant clause because it is the one that allows the Secretary of State to appoint a new board, governor and governing body. Ministers have never had this power. In fact, the noble Lords, Lord Agnew and Lord Nash, operated the whole problem of failing schools very effectively by using funding agreements. I recommend that their practice should continue, and that this measure should not be attempted in the Bill.

That is all I have to say. I hope that we will be able to proceed quite quickly.

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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My Lords, I appreciate that my noble friend the Minister is in a difficult position; I am sure that she is reflecting greatly on the points that noble Lords across the House have made. However, as we are here, I will make a few further points. Some of them might be a bit technical; I apologise if that is the case.

On Clauses 5 and 7, I should say at the outset that, as my noble friend Lord Baker said, when I and my noble friend Lord Agnew were Academies Minister—for a combined period of seven years—neither of us felt at any stage that we did not have enough shots in our locker or enough in our armoury to deal with difficult trusts. We feel that Clauses 1 to 18 are unnecessary, which is why we have joined our noble friend Lord Baker in trying to strike them out.

We will not be voting on it here in Committee, of course, but I hope that, when we get to our arguments that Clause 1 not stand part of the Bill, the Minister listens to our sweet reasonings and fundamentally changes the whole tenor of the Bill. Constitutionally, it is an abomination. We should have had consultation on it, but there has been none on it at all. This is a serious Bill, which gives Secretaries of State powers that they have never had—that I never had and that the present Secretary of State does not have—to intervene in running schools around the country. That is unacceptable and I am amazed that a Conservative Government have done it.
Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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My Lords, I have listened carefully to what everyone has said and do not disagree with much. I only ask what is wrong with the independent school standards, which all academies must follow. Surely this is a matter for Ofsted, not the DfE.

Lord Young of Norwood Green Portrait Lord Young of Norwood Green (Lab)
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My Lords, I regret missing Second Reading, which, according to some noble Lords we heard today, was the DfE version of “Apocalypse Now”. Even the noble Lord, Lord Baker —I am an admirer of UTCs—joined the doomsayers then, as he reminded us again today. I am an admirer of Robert Louis Stevenson, whose advice is that

“to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”

He is probably right about that.

I am an admirer of this House when it is at its best—for example, the debates on Ukraine or on the jubilee. However, as referred to by my noble friend—he is still my friend at the moment, but might not be at the end of this contribution—the debate on the then Health and Care Bill, which was an overcomplex and lengthy Bill, brought out the House of Lords at its worst. Every hobby-horse noble Lords could ride was ridden for hours, whether on modern slavery or organ transplants, but the real challenges facing the health service seemed a sideshow, in my opinion.

Before I contribute on this Bill, I want to give your Lordships a quotation. I am always indebted to my noble friend Lord Bragg, who continues to educate me in my quest for lifelong learning. A recent programme of his was about a philosopher of whom, I must admit, I had never heard—that is probably my ignorance—a man called John Amos Comenius. He was a

“philosopher, pedagogue and theologian who is considered the father of modern education”.

What he proposed was fascinating—and bear in mind that we are talking about the 17th century:

“Comenius introduced a number of educational concepts and innovations including pictorial textbooks written in native languages instead of Latin, teaching based in gradual development from simple to more comprehensive concepts, lifelong learning with a focus on logical thinking over dull memorization, equal opportunity for impoverished children, education for women, and universal and practical instruction.”


If that had been written today, we might think it a modern prescription for education, but he arrived at it in the 17th century and travelled around advising a number of countries, so Comenius has a lot to recommend him to us and others.

I turn to my noble friend Lady Chapman’s amendment. Perversely, if we remove “may” and insert “must”, the Bill will give the Government the power grab that noble Lords are concerned about. To me, “may” means exactly that. I ask noble Lords if you really believe that the DfE has the desire or capacity to intervene in every school in the UK. Come on—even if it wanted to, it could not. That is my view, and people are free to disagree. Is this a perfect Bill? Of course it is not; that is the purpose of our debating it today.

I will just say this to the Committee. I hope this will not be a debate that says, “Academies bad, maintained schools good”, or vice versa. Actually, we have not mentioned free schools, which have made a contribution. My view about schools is that variety is not only the spice of life but makes an enormous contribution to education. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Knight reminded us, it was a Labour Government who, having seen the appalling record of maintained schools in London that were failing, introduced academies. They did a good job of changing that environment. Let us remember how important that is, because children get only that one chance. If these schools are failing, then that chance is denied them.

I was also interested when my noble friend said to trust in teachers. I do, but I will tell your Lordships who I put a bigger trust in, who I regard as the key component of any successful school: the head teacher. If you have not got the head teacher right, that school will not flourish. I will give as an example a good friend of mine, Liz Wolverson. She has recently retired, but she was the diocesan director of Church of England academy primary schools in London, in really challenging areas such as Newham, et cetera. They have rescued 10 failing schools. I asked her what her prescription was for dealing with failing schools. She said, “I go into the school, I look around, I talk to the head, to parents, to teachers and to pupils. Then I go back to the head and I say, ‘You’ve got six months to turn the school around, and if you don’t succeed, goodbye. That’s it’.” That is a tough prescription, but it is a necessary one if we care about that one main chance for our children. I believe we should.

I looked at the report from the committee referred to by my noble friend Lady Chapman, which talked about the terrible Henry VIII powers. I took that into account. It is right that the committee should draw that to our attention, but I also looked at what the Minister said to us in her reply to the debate at Second Reading, where these concerns were expressed. She said:

“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.”—[Official Report, 23/5/22; col. 740.]


I saw that as a serious statement from the Minister. I hope she will confirm that today.

For me, that is an important pledge by the Government. I welcome the coverage, investigation and analysis of the Bill, of course I do. I am sure there are parts of this Bill that can be improved, like any Bill, but I ask the Committee to consider carefully what it is trying to do with Amendment 1. Time is not on our side. I do not accept the argument that we should throw it all out, take our summer break and then come back again. I have never seen anything that appears in front of this House that we are completely satisfied with. If there is such a thing as a perfect Bill, no doubt it exists in some other version of the universe that we have not yet encountered.

I rarely give advice, because it is freely given and freely ignored, but I participate in the Lords outreach service. It is a great institution. This Friday, I am going to speak to a Catholic academy in East Finchley. I am looking forward to this. I will get an opportunity to talk to the pupils. I like to say to them “If you were Minister for Education, tell me where you would put the money.” That always gets them going because I remind them that politics is about the language of priorities.

The other interesting thing about it is that it is a Catholic school. When I spoke to it and we got to the end of our discussion, I said, “By the way, what is your admissions policy?”, and I was told, “Anybody can come to our school. They do not have to attend a church service or anything else.” We will go on to debate faith schools, an area where I suspect there will be further disagreements. All I can say on that subject is that a large percentage of the public have faith in faith schools because they believe they deliver good education with good discipline, so they participate in them.

I hope I have not lost all my noble friends with this contribution. I seem to be the only person who has contributed so far who has given the Government the benefit of the doubt. I believe that what they are trying to do is in the interests of every Member of this House, which is to improve the quality of the education that we deliver to our children.

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Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise; I should have declared my interests earlier as a chair of a multi-academy trust and a trustee of the Education Policy Institute. It is not particularly helpful—I agree with a number of points that have been made—for us to argue in this Chamber about the success or failure of one type of school, but I support the noble Lord, Lord Knight. Other research I have seen recently says that MATs have done an excellent job at turning around schools that were previously failing. More than seven out of 10 academies, which had taken over schools that were formerly failing and underperforming as local authority-maintained schools, were rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding at their next inspection.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, very briefly, when my noble friend replies, could she explain to us how the matters that have been discussed proceed from the last Conservative Party manifesto and how they emanate from Conservatism, which abhors nationalisation and delights in diversity?

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I hope that the Government will reflect. We do not have much time. We rise on 21 July. That is really soon. There is little more than four weeks to do this and the Government want to get Committee through in June. It will be very difficult for them to refashion a completely new set of proposals and plans to amend the Bill so fundamentally. It might be a good idea to put off Report until the autumn so that they can reflect and focus on what is really needed to help failing schools. I hope the Minister will listen and that your Lordships will support these amendments.
Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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Although I share some of the noble Lord’s concerns about simplifying the regulatory system, as a lawyer—and, I admit, an academy sponsor—I struggle with the concept of producing legislation that overrides contracts that have been negotiated between the Government, proprietors and trusts unless absolutely necessary. The officials might say that they do not understand them because there are so many of them. Frankly, I think that they should. They are not that different. The trusts certainly understand their own individual contracts.

Before the Government seek to overturn these agreements and add a vast array of powers to them, they need to explain precisely why that is necessary, as a number of noble Lords have said. I believe that the DfE already has sufficient and substantial intervention powers and that these clauses are therefore unnecessary. As we go through the Bill clause by clause, I will articulate why I think the Government already have the powers and they need just to use them where necessary.

The MAT sector is in good shape. As my noble friend Lord Baker said, the number of cases where the DfE feels it now needs to intervene is extremely small, and the kitchen sink approach in the Bill seems like a sledgehammer/nut situation. However, if we can be satisfied that any of these clauses or something like them are necessary—it is clear that there is consensus for this across the House—we are prepared to work with the Government to craft them appropriately, but we need time to do so.

The Minister mentioned that when I took the Children and Families Bill through your Lordships’ House in 2014, we added free school meals. We had to do that because they were not covered by funding agreements. Much of what is in the Bill is already covered by funding agreements, so the Government need to explain why they need to bring in a lot of these clauses.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, I find myself following the noble Lord, Lord Nash. I wanted to say that it was a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Baker, but it is equally a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Nash. I have very little to say on the report since it has been covered fully by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I say in passing that the wisdom and clarity of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was a very good contribution to the debate.

As we have heard from all sides of the Committee, the extremely long, but apparently inexhaustive, list in Clause 1 appears to be overreach at an extraordinary level. As was said at Second Reading and earlier today, it is really a power grab by the DfE without any real understanding of what the purpose of all these things then residing with the Secretary of State would be. As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, said, they are things that have never been seen. It is remarkable. It would be remarkable for school governors and staff to think that head teachers were going to be appointed in Sanctuary Buildings. It seems so remarkable as to beggar belief. These are unacceptable propositions.

As I thought about speaking today, I reflected that when I started teaching in the early 1970s, we thought of and talked about education as a national service locally delivered. That is what I would like to continue to see it as. I think all noble Lords would agree that the aspiration of the education service in England should be a good local school for every child. That seems to chime both with the title of the White Paper, Opportunity for All: Strong Schools with Great Teachers for your Child, and with the SEND Review: Right Support Right Place Right Time—it does not say local, but it has that sense of local.

Where is the local dimension in Clause 1? It is absent. It resides with the Secretary of State. Some matters are best dealt with at national level—my noble friend Lord Knight referred to one—such as remuneration, salaries, conditions of service, pensions and so on. That means that there would be coherence across teaching and education staff nationally, which has massive advantages because it means that teachers are free to move around the country and take their expertise from one place to another. In particular, when thinking about women teachers, it means that they do not have to worry when they move from one school to another about what their situation might be with, for example, access to maternity leave and maternity pay. However, if all these things are different, as they are at the moment, that is a significant problem. Clearly there are things which would be better done at national level, although it is my contention that salaries, pensions and conditions of service would be much better done through a framework of sectoral collective bargaining rather than by being imposed by the Secretary of State.

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Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, I wish to speak briefly to Amendments 23, 24, 25 and 27, to which I have added my name, and Amendment 26, which, alas, I overlooked but with which I absolutely agree. I declare an interest as a vice-chair of the APPG for Parental Participation in Education. The bulk of these amendments are obviously about the role that parents could and should have in their children’s schooling. It simply cannot be right that the voice of parents is absent from the fora in which important decisions are made. These amendments provide the opportunity to fill what I hope the Minister will acknowledge is a gap in the Bill.

Amendment 24 sets out the requirement for community engagement to make sure that it is not overlooked but is indeed strategic and effective, supported by the requirement in Amendment 26 for a parental council, for which I am sure all noble Lords would like to thank my noble friend Lord Knight.

Amendment 25 deals with local governance in the round to ensure that each constituent academy of a MAT has a local governing body, to which at least two parent governors should be elected. This seems to me an absolutely basic and essential requirement because if these things are done without parents, then when we want their help they will feel on the outside rather than being part of what is going on in those schools.

Amendment 27 is crucial to the local dimension of academies in a MAT. I am bound to say—I have some experience of this because it is going on at the moment—that it is all too easy when an individual school or academy is in the process, with a representative of a MAT, of their school possibly being absorbed into that MAT for it to be told in response to a variety of questions: “Yes, of course, that is an individual school decision.” That comes in response to a range of things that might be asked by parents or indeed staff. The fact is, however, that it is not clear that it necessarily will be an individual school decision, unless there is some requirement for it to be so.

Amendment 27 sets out the requirement that a multi-academy trust must devolve some responsibilities to the governing bodies of individual academies within the trust. That seems only sensible. We heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, that there was a trust with two schools in Norwich, one with presumably a relatively white demographic and one not too far away that was completely different. The noble Lord said that 25 languages were represented, which suggests a slightly different demographic. So of course, it has to be that some of those things are school-level decisions because the constituent schools are different institutions. It is central that local decision-making and engagement should be carried out by that local governing body.

The responsibilities suggested are all specific and ensure that each school within the MAT has the authority to determine, within its own local context, its strategic direction. The parties involved in a particular school would see these responsibilities as entirely appropriate and better held at the individual institution level. One example in particular is

“the professional autonomy of teachers over curriculum and content”.

This is not to say that each individual teacher goes in and does whatever they like; it is about developing curriculum content within the particular context of the school and with other teachers. In a primary school, it would be likely to be the whole school. In a secondary school, it might be at department level. It is logical to protect the professional autonomy of teachers so that they can make choices about curriculum content and, in particular, that they can make some decisions about pedagogy.

Most schools—obviously, I cannot speak for them all—would say that they are proud of their distinctive ethos. It is something all schools say. It is why it was quite appalling that someone once said “bog-standard comprehensive”. There is no such thing; there are schools that have differing ethoses. This amendment would ensure that the enhancement of that ethos would be with the local governing body and would be its responsibility—a local governing body, where all the voices of all the stakeholders would be able to be heard. Taken together, the amendments in this group could provide a significant improvement to what we have heard this evening is not, as it stands, a particularly good Bill.

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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My Lords, I will comment on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about the benefits for an outstanding school of moving into a multi-academy trust, given that it is already outstanding. One of the biggest benefits for schools in multi-academy trusts is the career development opportunities for teachers. Lots of multi-academy trusts are now run by people who used to run one school and now run a group of schools. They consistently tell me that, although it did not necessarily occur to them when they got involved in MATs, the best benefit was career development opportunities for teachers. They used to lose all their best staff when they ran one school because they had no career pathway for them. Now they can give them career pathways. They can identify their rising stars and move them around. That is a major benefit.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I had the experience of being a teacher from the early 1970s and what the noble Lord describes in a multi-academy trust is exactly what happened in many local authorities. There were many teachers—for example, primary teachers—who did not particularly want to go into management but had a particularly useful skill to spread around. They could be seconded from their school to the local authority to work in lots of different schools, enhance the skills base of their colleagues and perhaps enhance their own leadership skills. I recognise exactly what the noble Lord is saying, but that was entirely possible in local authorities prior to the MAT arrangements.

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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I do not doubt that, but it is unlikely that in a local authority you would have a person working in one organisation who could be developed thoroughly by that one organisation. You may have people in the local authority who know who their stars are, but they are all in different schools, so I would say that this method is even better.

The other area where multi-academy trusts can greatly help teachers is in their workload, by developing curriculum and teaching resources that teachers can use in the workplace. I am sure that in schools that the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, was involved in there was not a question of everybody doing what they liked but, sadly, if we go back in the school system many years, that was exactly what did happen all too often when every school—if not every classroom—was a little island. There was too much freedom and too many teachers were, frankly, having to develop their curriculum resources from scratch. That is a real challenge for young teachers. One great advantage is teacher development. There are the other advantages, but I would say, therefore, that a school that is outstanding may well have a greater chance of staying outstanding working in a multi-academy trust.

The Marshalled List says that this group has been marshalled additionally in relation to Clauses 5, 6 and 7, so I will now briefly talk about those clauses. I said earlier that I would comment on why a number of individual clauses were unnecessary. Clause 5—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, I am sorry to intervene, but is that right? I thought that the Questions that Clauses 5, 6 and 7 stand part were in a further group.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I believe that is currently group 9, which we would reach on a future day. Of course, future days’ groupings are finalised, before they take place, with those involved.

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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Perhaps my noble friend can help me with the fact that Amendments 39A, 39B and 39C are not on this Marshalled List at all.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I believe that may be because they have been submitted later in the process. They will go through the grouping process through the usual channels and will be reached for debate in Committee, just not now.

Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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Then I will defer to the noble Lord, Lord Knight.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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Only if the noble Lord has finished; I do not mean to interrupt.

This is a really important debate on a very important set of amendments. They are essentially about two issues: parental involvement in the running of schools at a local level and whether every academy should have a local governing body. I see the two as being slightly different issues.

I support Amendment 23, and I probably support Amendments 24 and 26 as well. In thinking about this, I thought it might be worth telling the story of two multi-academy trusts. I know about one only through an article in Schools Week, so I therefore do not claim to really know anything about it at all and can only repeat what I have read. The other is the academy trust that I chair.

The Anglian Learning academy trust won the National Governance Association award for outstanding governance this year. I understand that it has 14 schools and its CEO, Jon Culpin, talks about empowering local governing bodies, not fearing them. His approach is that every academy in the trust has a local governing body, and it works very well. My understanding from reading about it is that the MAT board very much looks after the core operational side of the business—the finances and the schools’ capital—to take that burden away from the school business managers and heads. The heads then lead the teaching and learning on a school-by-school basis in conjunction with their local governing body. That works very successfully for them, by and large.

In one or two cases, they have had to essentially impose interim executive bodies as a MAT board because they have not been able to appoint local governing bodies, they have struggled to recruit, or there has been a problem. By and large, that has worked very well for them, and that sense of being really clear about where the MAT board adds value, and where a local governing body adds value, is important when thinking about this relationship and this issue around local governing bodies. Of course, parents would have been represented on every one of those 14 local governing bodies.

Long before I was involved in E-ACT, the previous CEO but one inherited the situation where a significant majority of our 28 schools were failing and were in low Ofsted categories—I think that maybe 25% were not. It was in a pretty poor state, academically as well as financially. I am sure that it was bleeping very largely on the radar of the noble Lord, Lord Nash, when he was the Academies Minister at the time. At that point, it had local governing bodies in each of the schools. However, the decision was made by the then CEO to remove all those local governing bodies because he had to make a lot of difficult decisions very quickly to turn around the finances of the organisation and the educational performance of the schools. As a result, we currently have no local governing bodies and I am effectively—in legal terms—the chair of governors of 28 schools. That is quite a considerable pro bono burden on my time, as counsel any Members of your Lordships’ House who are thinking of doing this. I get all sorts of letters from Ofsted and the department on all sorts of things about which, frankly, it is very difficult for me to know exactly what is going on, because they are about individual schools. I do not think that this situation is ideal either.

We have local ambassador groups in each of the 28 schools. The latest version of the academies handbook is encouraging us further around parental involvement and hearing from every one of those local ambassador groups if we do not have parental trustees on the trust board. I perceive quite an encouragement from the department for us to do that. In the next round of recruiting trustees, I am very keen that we should recruit parental trustees. This is why, in the end, I support Amendment 23 and have put my name to it. This is probably an issue for the articles of association—the department can then advise us on how they should be updated—rather than standards in the Bill. Nevertheless, that is a technicality, and it has allowed us to have this debate.

One of the other problems that exists when you have a large, geographically dispersed MAT, like this one, is that the trust board cannot possibly know all the details about what is happening in all 28 of those schools and communities. Therefore, it must delegate quite a lot of governance function to the executive leadership team, and there is a danger that they are then marking their own homework on some of the decisions they are making. That is another difficulty and tension within the system as it is currently constructed.

One of the things we are doing in my particular MAT is commissioning an independent external review of governance to see how we can resolve some of these tensions. I hope that we can do this. I do not want to anticipate how that will end up, but I want to ensure that we end up with better local intelligence at a board level about what is going on, so that we are cognisant of the culture and the views of parents. When I last visited our two academies in Sheffield, I had a great meeting with our ambassador groups; they are all parents, and I had great feedback and input from them around what was going on in those two schools. In the end, however, I do not think it is quite enough.

Does that mean that I think that we should impose local governing bodies on every single school, even though I agree that it is perfectly reasonable to have two trustees who are parents on the main trust board? If they were local governing bodies, they would have to have two parental trustees on each one, so to aggregate that up to two out of 28 does not seem unreasonable. However, I do not, in the end, agree that we should impose local governing bodies in every case. There are circumstances, such as the one that happened at E-ACT some time ago, where we might want to be able to impose things while we turn things around and sort problems out, and then, hopefully, have the maturity and the reflection to decide, “Okay, we now have everything running well”—as, by and large, we do at E-ACT—“and now might be the time for us to re-empower schools and re-empower governance at a local level.” However, I am not sure that a blanket approach is appropriate. It is appropriate for the MAT board and the central MAT team, particularly around the educational activity in schools, to have more of an attitude that they are servants of the schools and not the masters of the schools—culturally, that is better—but there are other operational aspects where we want to be the masters, because in the end we can move resources around and sort things out. It is going to be different on a case-by-case basis.

So, in the end, my counsel to your Lordships is not to go with the imposition of every academy having to have a local governing body, but to ensure that we have better parental representation across the piece than we might have at the moment.

Schools Bill [HL]

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

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Nash Portrait Lord Nash (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as a sponsor and chair of Future Academies and a trustee of the Education Policy Institute. Unsurprisingly, I am delighted that the Government are promoting multi-academy trusts, with all the benefits of schools working together in groups. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, who is not in her place, for her kind words in this regard.

The benefits are not just the obvious ones of economies of scale, efficiencies and an ability to standardise procedures; I believe that the biggest benefit is in improving the career development opportunities of teachers. MAT leaders who formerly ran one school consistently tell me that, when they did so, they used to lose all of their good people. Now, they can offer them clear career development pathways and promote them, and help develop teachers’ careers in this way. They can offer them evidence-informed CPD and, increasingly, we are seeing MATs providing their teachers with excellent teaching resources that greatly reduce their workload and enable them to focus on delivery and the very difficult task of differentiation between pupils of different abilities. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, that I have taught, and I found it absolutely terrifying at times.

Much in the Bill is good. However, while I agree that the Government need powers to intervene in the event of what my noble friend the Minister describes as the “serious failure” of MATs, the Bill purports to go far further than that. The academy and MATs sector is very concerned about the far-reaching, vague and potentially draconian provisions that the Government appear to be seeking in the Bill in relation to intervention powers. They are effectively seeking to tear up many of the existing funding agreements, which are clear contractual arrangements, and to give themselves the power to tear up the rest of them for any breach whatever, apparently, and replace them with vague and draconian powers, and to give the Secretary of State very wide powers indeed to set standards.

This appears to be an attempt by the department to micromanage schools, which it is ill equipped to do and which should be left to education professionals. It is an attempt to drive a coach and horses through academies’ fundamental freedoms. This is a long way from intervention powers for “serious failure”, and I share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Baker and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, about this. Will the Minister confirm that academies’ fundamental freedoms will not, in fact, be tampered with? Will she agree to meet me to discuss how the Bill can be amended to achieve this and to remove the potential micromanaging of schools?

The Bill gives the facility for local authorities to academise some or all of their schools. I urge caution here. We have been here before when, in a rush to academise, the department allowed some groups that were not well constructed to develop. I hope the Government will ensure that there is thorough scrutiny of the record and construction of these groups, the balance between good and bad schools and their geographic focus, and that sufficient independent directors are appointed to their boards.

Turning to elective home education, I am delighted to see that the Bill proposes a register. It has been estimated that the number of children in home education has risen over the last 10 years from 20,000 or 30,000 to 80,000 or, in some estimates, 100,000. The home education lobby is very powerful and consists of some extremely able and articulate people. They will have concerns about the register, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said—I pay tribute to him and the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for their work in this regard. However, I invite them to see the bigger picture. Although I have little doubt that the members of this lobby are perfectly capable of educating their children at home, I suspect that, quite possibly, 70,000 or more of that 100,000—if that is the number—are not receiving a suitable education at home, if they are receiving any education at all. I invite the home education lobby to see the bigger picture. The Government are not concerned with them— they have nothing to fear from the register. They have a right in legislation to educate their children at home, but I believe there is a fundamental human right for a child to receive a good education, and that trumps a parents’ right where they are not able to provide it.

If I am anything like right in my view as to how many children are not receiving a suitable education at home, this is not doing the reputation of home education any favours at all. Of course, many parents elect for home education because they are concerned about the reputation of alternative provision and the particular PRU that the local authority will send their children to. This is why I believe we need clear accountability standards for PRUs. I am delighted to see that in the SEND Green Paper the plan is for all AP providers to be in MATs and for MATs to open new ones. However, under the initial existing arrangements the initiative to create new AP provision rests with local authorities. I urge the Government to look again at this, as I believe that some local authorities do not recognise the low quality of their existing AP provision, and the system would benefit from more competition and more AP free schools. I am pleased that the Government are encouraging MATs to set up their own AP provision but, with the exception of very large MATs, most MATs will not have enough students of their own to make this provision viable without pupils from third-party schools. We know that the local authorities control the funding in this regard, which is why it is important to involve them in this.

On primary schools, I am delighted to see that the Government are seeking to raise standards here. There is a tendency for people to focus on secondary education because of the importance of GCSEs and A-levels, for parents to believe that primary is all about happy days, and for people to believe that pupils can catch up in secondary—which of course they can. However, the fact is that, on average, if a child does not do well in primary, they have very little chance of doing so in secondary. During the five years when I was a Minister, if a child did not receive what we regarded as a pass coming out of primary—a level 4B—depending on which year it was, they had only a 6% or 7% chance of getting five good GCSE. I hope that Ofsted’s focus on a coherent and sequenced curriculum in primary—I have to say that a lot of primary curriculums are not well constructed—will help in that regard.