Clause 18

Children, Schools and Families Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 4 Chwefror 2010.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Power to propose new schools

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I beg to move amendment 67, in clause 18, page 17, line 20, at beginning insert

‘Subject to the provisions of section 8(1),’.

Photo of Janet Anderson Janet Anderson Llafur, Rossendale and Darwen

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 66, in clause 18, page 17, line 24, leave out from ‘State’ to end of line 26.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

Welcome to the chair, Mrs. Anderson. I will be brief. According to the impact assessment, the policy behind the clause and the preceding clauses is to make

“it easier for maintained schools that have the right combination of educational excellence, capacity and track record and are therefore accredited to be brought in to lead school improvement interventions in weak schools through Academies, majority Trusts and federations and also to propose to establish new maintained schools.”

There appears to be some question about whether governing bodies of maintained schools already have this power to establish new schools. But the Government’s view is  that they do. It would be helpful, therefore, if the Minister could expand further on whether maintained schools already have this power.

The purpose of amendment 67 is to probe this issue further and to ask how the clause ties in with the policy behind section 8(1)(b) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. Under that provision, LEAs can publish proposals for a new school under the competition procedures of section 7 only if certain conditions prevail and only with the consent of the Secretary of State. Those conditions relate to the track record of the education authority concerned. The Minister will recall how controversial that measure was and why those safeguards were inserted into the Bill. Originally the intention was that local authorities could not propose any school under the competition rules.

The impact assessment says that since 2006 there have been 31 new school competitions, of which 11 have been won by existing schools which have been or formed part of a trust. Could the Minister expand on the details of those 11 schools? Were they schools in local education authorities with a proven track record, for example? What does he mean by maintained schools that have the right combination of educational excellence, capacity and track record? Can he define which schools will meet that threshold? Amendment 66 simply removes from the Secretary of State the ability to pass decisions over whether a school can have these powers to another person or body. These are important judgments and ought to be made by someone who is directly accountable to Parliament. We have debated this issue on a previous clause, but the principles apply equally to this clause.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners) 10:15, 4 Chwefror 2010

Under clause 18, new schools can be proposed by a governing body. We are trying to make it clear that governing bodies have that power—it is currently unclear. That goes to the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the clause. We want to ensure that governing bodies have that power.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the accreditation process. He will know that we have consulted on that process, which has just finished, taking into account what we believe about accredited school providers and groups. He asked what we mean by “excellence”. That is the point of the consultation. We do not want new governing bodies to have the power to create new schools or join other schools if we are not certain of their quality. Clearly, there must be some assurance and certainty. We must have some criteria by which we judge whether an institution has the capacity, educational talent and ability and quality in itself to share with others. That will be a part of the accreditation process. As I said, we are consulting on that, and we hope to publish the first list in the next two or three weeks—perhaps it might interest the hon. Gentleman.

Only the Secretary of State will be able to designate other people who can allow governing bodies to act. Again, we think that that is right. There may be other bodies to which it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to give the authority to designate or accredit a particular governing body. We are trying to ensure that those who propose new schools—if they are to share them with other schools—have the ability, talent, expertise, experience and standards that we want.

With those assurances, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendments.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He has confirmed that the purpose of the clause is to firm up the vagaries of the law. I am grateful to him for spelling out that there is a consultation process in play to determine what is meant by educational excellence, capacity and track record. It would have been helpful to have an indication of whether it means a proportion of GCSE grades or an Ofsted judgment of outstanding leadership, management or something else.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

All those things—the standard and quality of education, extra-curricular activities and Ofsted inspections—will be taken into account. The weight that we give to each of them is also important.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am grateful for that further clarification. I look forward to seeing the first list of schools that are regarded as having educational excellence, capacity and track record in the next two to three weeks, and I will look at that list carefully.

I was disappointed in the Minister’s response about other bodies. It is important that such important judgments are taken by Ministers who are accountable to this place, and not by quangos and other non-departmental public bodies that are not directly accountable for their decisions to this place. In the current atmosphere of trying to make politics more transparent and accountable, I do not think that it is right that we start to devolve decisions to such bodies. It undermines confidence in the parliamentary system and the purpose of elections if decisions are ultimately taken by people who are not subject to elections and parliamentary accountability. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.