The Bishop of Gloucester asked a question about government plans to implement parts of the Schools Bill, during a debate on improving the education system on 30th November 2022:
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, the Schools Bill was partly intended to remove barriers to enable church schools to fully embrace the journey towards academisation. Given that there has been no further progress on that Bill, what plan do the Government have for introducing the legislative parts of that Bill that were broadly agreed and are needed to secure the development of all schools?
The Bishop of Carlisle spoke in a debate on the Schools Bill in its second day of Report Stage, on 18th July 2022, in support of amendments on home schooling and the home school register. His speech is below, followed by those of other peers:
The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I speak on behalf of my right reverend friend the Bishop of St. Albans, who has two amendments in his name,
Amendments 66 and 94. His name is also listed on Amendments 65 and 66A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
Amendments 65, 66 and 66A continue to take issue with the proposals for details of the means by which a child is being educated to be included on the register. Amendment 66 would replace this with a determination of suitability, and provide for visits by the local authority for determining that suitability to be recorded. However, further to communication with the Department for Education and the Minister, we understand that their interpretation of the word “means” does not relate to the educational content or methods of home educating but simply to the providers of the education, since separate rules for registration will pertain to out-of-school education. We have been informed that this framework will be set out in the future statutory guidance. This is a much more positive interpretation than had previously been supposed, but if this is the interpretation I am not sure why it could not have been contained within the primary legislation rather than prescribed at a later date. Amendment 66A, from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would naturally resolve that problem.
The House of Lords considered the Government’s Schools Bill at Report Stage on 12th July 2022. The Bishop of Durham spoke in the debate on numerous amendments, several of which were put to a vote. His speeches and contributions from other peers are below:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that there are many maintained and voluntary-aided stand-alone schools that have turned themselves around incredibly well through good leadership and high-quality teaching, so academisation is not the simple answer. Local leadership and governance undoubtedly need to be got right. I declare my interest as chair of the National Society and would like to highlight the importance here, in the church sector, of the diocesan boards of education as key local engagers. We will come to that in a later group.
Local knowledge of schools is crucial in ensuring that their flourishing is provided for. However, I am going to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Storey, because I find the amendment overly mandatory and restrictive, giving too much power to a local body to trigger a school leaving an academy trust; I am not sure that that is right. The principle of local governance needs to be got right. I am not convinced that this amendment as proposed is quite the right way to do it. As was said in Committee, it is important to have proper local engagement, but it must not be too detailed in how it is mandated.
On 15th June 2022, the House of Lords debated the Schools Bill (HL) in committee. The Bishop ofSt Edmundsbury and Ipswich spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich: My Lords, I speak on behalf of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham and declare his interest as chair of the National Society. I am grateful to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, as I will speak in favour of Amendment 85.
On 15th June 2022, the House of Lords debated the Schools Bill (HL) in committee. The Bishop of Chichester spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Chichester: 59: Clause 29, page 23, line 23, leave out “of its maintained schools” and insert “maintained schools in its area“
Member’s explanatory statement: This amendment makes the language in this section consistent with language used elsewhere in legislation relating to maintained schools in a church context.
My Lords, I rise to speak on behalf of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who regrets that he cannot be here to move the amendments in this group tabled in his name. I declare his interest as chair of the National Society.
Firstly, I shall say a brief word about Amendment 59, which is a small effort to ensure consistency of language used throughout the legislation relating to maintained schools in a church context. The particular amended line in Clause 23 removes the wording that assumes control of all maintained schools and replaces it with language that is applicable in a church context.
On 13th June the House of Lords continued to debate the Government’s Schools Bill in committee. The Bishop of Chichester spoke in the debate, on behalf of the Bishop of Durham, introducing and responding to a number of amendments:
The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, I speak on behalf of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, and declare his interest as chair of the National Society.
On 13th June the House of Lords continued to debate the Government’s Schools Bill in committee. The Bishop of Bristol spoke in the debate, on behalf of the Bishop of Durham:
The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, I speak in place of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who unfortunately cannot be present today. I declare his interest as chair of the National Society.
I rise briefly to welcome Amendment 40 in this group, which offers real clarity on the issue. We welcome the recognition it shows that the religious body must be involved in giving an interim trustee notice to the proprietor of an academy school with a religious character. We are grateful for the Minister’s continued work on this and hope this might provide a little encouragement at this point.
On 8th June 2022, the House of Lords debated the Government’s Schools Bill (HL) in its first day in committee. The Bishop of Durham spoke in the debate, on amendments to the first clause:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I have to declare my interest as chair of the National Society, which oversees Church of England schools, although obviously they are all devolved around each diocesan board. I also apologise that I cannot be here for days two and three in Committee. I have a long-standing family holiday booked, and my marriage and parenthood are more important. I assure noble Lords that things will be covered by other Members on these Benches.
I have been told clearly by Members of this House that I should be very concerned about Clause 1, and indeed Clauses 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and so on. Because of the nature of the people who have expressed those concerns, I listened very carefully. However, in principle I am persuaded that the move towards full academisation warrants the Secretary of State being given some additional powers. I disagree with a large number here: I think the direction of travel is abundantly clear. It is full academisation. If that is the direction of travel, we need to ensure that system is appropriately covered.
On 23rd May 2022, the House of Lords debated the Schools Bill in its second reading. The Bishop of Durham spoke in the debate with regards to faith schools, teachers, and other points in the bill. The Bill was committed to a committee of the whole house.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I declare my specific interest as chair of the National Society. Noble Lords will know that the Church of England started mass education for the poor in England in 1811 through the work of the National Society. We built thousands of schools which have been at the heart of our commitment to the common good ever since. The state joined in this educational endeavour 50 years later. A strong mutual relationship developed, culminating in the dual system settlement in the 1944 Education Act.
Since a Labour Government introduced academies in the early 2000s, that system has been evolving but bringing complexity and fragmentation. Free schools added to this. Academies started as an innovation to bring fresh approaches to improve outcomes, especially for children in the most disadvantaged areas. There has been much success, although not in every case. Academies are now the predominant school type. As the system moves towards all schools being academies in a strong trust, it is right that we give detailed attention to ensure that academies are placed within a firm legislative context rather than rely on the largely contractual nature of the present arrangements.