All 1 Baroness Watkins of Tavistock contributions to the Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23

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

2nd reading: Part one & Lords Hansard - Part one

Schools Bill [HL]

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
2nd reading & Lords Hansard - Part one
Monday 23rd May 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Schools Bill [HL] 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this Second Reading and draw attention to my interests in the register. I was the founding chair of Marine Academy Plymouth, now a successful member of the Ted Wragg multi-academy trust. In addition, I have a long-term interest as previous chair of the Acorn schools in Cornwall, working with students with special needs, and I now sit on the quality committee for Outcomes First, a company which owns several schools supporting children with a range of special needs. In addition, I have a family member involved in secondary school teaching.

I welcome the Schools Bill, particularly the emphasis on enhancing a sound approach to monitoring all children through their school attendance and following up those whose attendance is sporadic, which has a negative impact on their potential to learn and lifelong chances. The pandemic has shown us that we must follow up these children quickly and not leave it till the end of term.

The encouragement for all schools to become academies is, in principle, something I fully support. However, a similar approach was adopted to promote that all NHS trusts become foundation trusts, and is one which we now question following the recent pandemic, looking to other forms of partnership to provide best solutions. Do the Government intend to force all schools to either become or join an established academy trust, even if governors and parents support remaining within the local authority through other kinds of partnership schemes?

The emphasis in the Bill on ensuring equal opportunities for all children through a national formula for funding pupil places is clearly fair. However, in severely deprived areas, is there not an argument for considering not only pupil premium allocation but significant additional investment in new and improved school buildings, IT and sports facilities? I remember when the Conservative Government were elected and the schools building programme which had been instigated under the previous Government was in question. That meant that the money for which we had fought for Plymouth was at risk. I have to say that I came with the then principal and saw the then Education Minister, the right honourable Michael Gove, and the funding came forward in Plymouth to build the new school extension that we had already anticipated. If you go and look at that school, which is now an all-through school, taking children at three through to 18, you will see that it is an example of where new buildings made a significant difference.

Grammar schools are, quite understandably, to be protected. Will these selective schools get the same pupil allocation as other academies, despite the fact that they take fewer students from poorer wards?

As the noble Lord, Lord Altrincham, has well articulated, there needs to be a greater emphasis in the Bill on the mental and physical health support provided to students and teachers in school. Too often teachers are undertaking health roles.

I understand that all schools will be required to provide school lunches and will receive funding for those entitled to free school meals. That seems to focus on lunch. Is there not an argument for providing school breakfasts as well? Will this be the subject of local authority funding rather than central funding?

Please could the Minister explain whether there will be an increased emphasis on reducing the number of children referred to pupil referral units? Should we perhaps say that all academies over a certain student-roll size—for example, 3,000—be required to make provision within the academies themselves for pupil referral units? This is a really important issue, and one that I hope we will explore as we take the Bill through the House.

I welcome the tightening of managing teacher misconduct, but I ask the Minister to clarify the definition of “teacher”. Is it someone with a nationally recognised qualification and/or a graduate who is contributing to teaching?

I note that there is an expectation that all academies should offer teachers the opportunity to access the teacher pension scheme, but what about other terms of service protection for teachers who move from one academy to another? For example, I am aware that some academies employing teachers count their first day of work in the new academy as day one, despite them having over five years’ teaching experience, for rights to sickness benefits outside those of statutory requirements.

I look forward to working constructively on the Bill in its passage through the House because I firmly believe that it is necessary to improve and enhance the education that pupils receive in future.