Two former academies ministers have teamed up with a former education secretary in an attempt to tear up sweeping proposed government powers over schools.
Lord Nash, who served in the role between 2013 and 2017, and Lord Agnew, who was at the Department for Education from 2017 to 2020, have tabled a series of amendments to the schools bill.
Alongside Lord Baker, who was education secretary from 1986 to 1989, they want to see 16 clauses stripped from the bill.
That includes proposals to tear up existing academy funding agreements, create new “compliance direction” powers and notices to improve, and the power to impose new trustees on chains and terminate funding agreements.
Meanwhile Baroness Barran, the current academies minister, has herself tabled 16 amendments, including one that would require councils to consult more widely with “person as they think appropriate” on plans to convert their schools.
It follows criticism of the government’s plans to allow local authorities to request government approval to convert their remaining maintained schools. The original bill proposed that councils would only need to consult schools’ governing bodies.
However, under the terms of the government amendment, such a consultation could take place “before or after the application, or any academy order, is made”, as is already the case for governing bodies that apply to be converted.
Another government amendment would require the education secretary to consult the “relevant religious body” before imposing interim trustees on a faith school.
Labour seeks to reduce proposed standards
The schools bill is currently making its way through the House of Lords, where it has already faced strong criticism.
Peers last week described the legislation as a “real grab for power” that will effectively make Nadhim Zahawi “the chief education officer” for thousands of schools.
Baker warned that the legislation “increases the powers of the secretary of state and the DfE in a way unprecedented since 1870”.
Nash, an academy trust founder and chair, criticised the “far-reaching, vague and potentially draconian provisions that the government appear to be seeking”.
Agnew has not yet spoken out about the bill, but his involvement in the amendment process is embarrassing for the government, given he held the academies brief in government up until just over two years ago. He is also the founder of the Inspiration Trust academy chain.
The Labour frontbench has tabled a number of amendments, including one that would replace the 20 examples of academy standards listed in the bill with eight more limited powers, scrapping proposed standards on attendance, governance and complaints.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Addington has tabled an amendment which would require the government to publish draft secondary legislation on proposed academy standards at least 26 weeks before it’s laid before Parliament, and consulted on for at least 13 weeks.
Lords want ‘exclusive list’ of schools standards
He also wants to amend the draft law to refer to the standards as an “exclusive list”, rather than a list of examples. Labour has also tabled an amendment requiring consultation.
Several lords have also tabled amendments to remove specific standards from the government’s list, in order to preserve academy “freedoms”.
And some Labour lords, along with crossbencher Baroness Meacher and former education secretary Lord Baker, want to strip the clause on academy standards from the bill entirely.
An amendment from Lord Hunt and Baroness Blower, the former NUT general secretary, seeks to change the draft law to require all academy trusts to have at least two parent trustees.
A further amendment seeks to require trusts to have local governing boards for their academies, again with at least two parent members.
Lord Lucas, a Conservative peer, is proposing an amendment which would protect academy funding agreements signed before the new legislation comes into force.
The schools bill passed its second reading last week, and will now go to the committee stage in mid-June. At this stage, the amendments will be discussed and voted-on, and a debate on the details of the bill will take place.
After passing in the House of Lords, the bill will go to the House of Commons, where MPs will also have the opportunity to amend the bill, though these changes will also need to go back to the Lords again for approval.