HL Deb 09 June 2004 vol 662 cc258-9

2.57 p.m.

Lord Tombs asked Her Majesty's Government:

What control is exercised by the sponsors of city academies over the design, construction and management of a new school.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, sponsors provide the vision for the academy design and are involved in the appointment of the design team. The academy trust, established by the sponsor, contracts with the construction companies. It is also responsible for running the academy in much the same way as a maintained school's governing body.

Lord Tombs

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that brief but helpful reply. I am concerned that 90 per cent of the capital cost of the schools is state money and all of the running costs are met by the state, but they are outside the local education authority. Will the noble Baroness indicate the powers that her department has to ensure remedial action in the event of financial or academic shortfalls? Will she also be prepared to place a model contract, not a specific one, in the Library of the House?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, sponsors work closely with local education authorities and predecessor schools on any proposals to establish academies. The local education authority is represented on the governing body, so there are strong links. Also, the funding agreement is made between the Secretary of State and the academy itself. If there is a model of the contract I shall certainly look to placing that in the Library of the House.

Lord Shutt of Greetland

My Lords, the issue of design, construction and management is one thing, but what will be the ethos of these city academies? What is it that city academies will bring to education that is not available at the present time, and would these resources not be better employed in seeing that state education is better than it is already?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, that it is not a question of "either/or"; it is "both/and". The basis upon which we develop academies is to look at areas where we have seriously under-performing or failing schools and to be innovative in bringing sponsorship into the design and build of a new school with the kind of flexibilities that enable those children to succeed more easily. Although it is early days, the results are very encouraging.

Lord Blackwell

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Government are relatively satisfied with the performance of city academies? Can she confirm that, as the Government see it, a large part of that performance is due to their relative freedom to innovate not only in construction and design but in academic areas, free of state and LEA controls?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, academies follow aspects of the national curriculum and they have to provide a broad and balanced curriculum. Therefore, what they offer to children and young people is more flexible but it comes within the wealth of opportunity provided within the curriculum. As I said, these are early days, and those who have taken GCSEs, for example, have had little more than two terms in the academies. But from the three that are fully up and operational, we have seen significant increases not only in terms of academic attainment but also in areas of pupil behaviour and attendance.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how the results of the city academies and the so-called "bog standard" comprehensives compare?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, as I indicated, these are very early days. Pupils sat the 2003 GCSE examinations in three academies. In Bexley, the number of pupils who attained five A* to C results in their GCSEs increased from 7 to 20 per cent; for Greig, the increase went from 25 to 35 per cent, with a value added score that put them in the top 25 per cent of schools in the country; and Unity scored 16 per cent, which is broadly comparable with the results of the two other schools, and it also demonstrated increased attendance by pupils and better behaviour.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, in the London Borough of Hackney, the school which was previously known as Hackney Downs School is being redeveloped with the support of countless people? Help is being brought to many poor people, many of whom would have to go out of the borough to seek a worthwhile education.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I visited Hackney and saw the work that Mike Tomlinson and the team are doing there. There are critical issues surrounding the lack of secondary school facilities within the borough. Therefore, I pay tribute to all that is happening. Hackney made significant gains in GCSE results this year.

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