Education and Adoption Bill Update

October 21st, 2015 by Rachel Kamm

Further to my summary of the education provisions in the Bill as introduced and Holly’s post about the Second Reading and Commons Committee stages, it’s time for another update.

The Commons Report and Third Reading stages took place on 16 September, without amendment to the Bill. The formality of the First Reading in the House of Lords took place on the same day. There is a very useful House of Lords Library Note, summarising the debates in the Commons and the reactions of some groups to the Bill.

Yesterday was the Second Reading in the House of Lords. You can read the debate here. Without attempting to summarise all of the arguments, here is a flavour of the discussion.

Lord Nash (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and academy sponsor) opened the debate, emphasising that ” we know that becoming a sponsored academy is the start of the process of rebuilding school performance, not the conclusion“. On the hot topic of coasting schools, he explained that “the Government published their proposed coasting definition at the end of June. Noble Lords have my reassurance that it is of course of paramount importance to the Government, as it is to the entire education sector, that we get the coasting definition right. We will therefore launch a public consultation seeking views on our definition, as well as listening to Parliament’s views during the course of our debates. We propose that the definition of a coasting school should be based on the progress pupils make and should take into account data over three years rather than a single Ofsted judgment. To qualify as coasting, schools will have to fall below a bar for each of the previous three years. Schools which fall within our definition of coasting will become eligible for intervention. I wish to reassure noble Lords that that the Bill does not propose any automatic interventions or academisation for coasting schools.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Labour) responded: “In practice, the Bill will simply fast-track many more so-called underachieving schools into academy chains and create a new label to stigmatise them and their staff and pupils with the toxic notion of coasting schools. There is a grave danger that this Bill will create a situation in disadvantaged areas where schools are simply unable to attract head teachers and teachers, because the chances of these schools being found wanting and forced into an academy chain are so great, with the implicit stigmatisation of their staff.” On coasting schools, he commented that “Adding insult to injury is the fact that the coasting label would apply only to maintained schools, although many academies are likely to fulfil the criteria that have now been laid down. What plans do the Government have to deal with academies that are coasting? The term “coasting” cannot apply; academy chains cannot be inspected by Ofsted and successful local authorities are not allowed to oversee failing academies in their area. That raises the question: quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Lord Storey (Liberal Democrat) was also critical of the Bill: “it is more centralising, more bureaucratic, more undemocratic, and accountability is given a back seat. We cannot give parents a say in the matter because it is far too important; if a school is failing, we must get on with it—we cannot allow parents a voice. Neither can we give local authorities any say, even if they are a model of good practice and success, because they have no part in our plans. We will establish the wonderful term “coasting schools”, so that when the Secretary of State determines that a school is coasting we will be able, if we want, to force it to become an academy. What is more, because we cannot micromanage from the centre any more, we will give these Government-appointed regional commissars —sorry: commissionaires—the power to do so. Is that really the way to develop an educational policy or build up confidence with our school leaders? Would it not be more honest, if you share the Minister’s aim, to say what you really want to achieve and then work with schools to plan out the road map for the academisation of all our schools?

The Second Reading debate was the chance for the Lords to make general comments about the Bill (and education policy more widely). It is only once the Bill goes to Committee that amendments will be proposed and the detail of the drafting discussed. However, it is clear from the tone of the Second Reading debate that there will be some interesting discussions ahead.

Rachel Kamm, 11KBW, @kamm11kbw

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