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Chris Grayling rose

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) rose

Estelle Morris: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), but then I must make progress.

Chris Grayling: Does the right hon. Lady realise how frustrating it is for head teachers to have to deal with

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micro-managed budgets and to lack the discretion to make decisions within their own schools about how to use the funds available to them? They constantly have to work with prescribed pots of money, which involves a huge amount of work and removes their ability to make the right decisions for their schools.

Estelle Morris: They do not find it as frustrating as dealing with ever-diminishing budgets for 20 years. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but if he talks to heads in his local schools he will find that, last year, we removed ring-fencing from the standards fund. Head teachers will tell him now that the standards fund no longer consists of separate pots of money that have to be spent on certain things; they have the freedom to carry that money forward or to vire, as long as they achieve the right outcomes. Any head teacher will acknowledge that, last year, there were far fewer ring-fenced budgets.

The Government have an obligation to make sure that there are funds to support the introduction of our key strategies, such as the literacy and numeracy strategies. I would defend again and again the fact that we attached money to those, and because they were properly funded, teachers were given training and support, and progress has been made.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: My right hon. Friend has not yet said anything about the clauses dealing with Wales, just as the Secretary of State for Health failed to refer to provisions for Wales when introducing the NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill. Will she look carefully at the respective merits of the situation in Wales, where there will not be ring-fencing, and the situation in England, where there will? I take no particular view about which is better, but I would like to believe that new Labour will consider the two, and consider, on the basis of evidence, which works best.

Estelle Morris: Let me be clear about ring-fencing. The Green Paper on the reform of local authority finance separated the education budget into the schools budget and the budget for LEAs. We hope that that clarity and openness will ensure that schools get the money that they need. Nothing is more frustrating for head teachers than hearing politicians in central Government make speeches about money that never gets to them. Clarity is key, so we have taken the power to make sure that the schools budget and the LEAs' budget are transparent.

The only ring-fencing introduced by the Bill is a reserved power—to which I shall turn in a moment and which I suspect will rarely be used—to make sure that local authorities passport money to schools. The Opposition bemoan that fact, but I am serious about the fact that I want the money to go to schools, and the Government will take powers to ensure that that happens.

I shall now make progress on introducing the Bill. Schools will be given major new flexibilities in governance. They will be able to choose for themselves the model of leadership and management that best suits their circumstances. They will be able to create new forms of partnership with other local schools. Within a framework, they will be able to decide the size and precise composition of their governing body and form joint committees to carry out some work. That could mean

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partnerships to develop specialisms and maintain shared sites or work in any area where schools can benefit from sharing strengths. There will be new freedoms for schools to federate so that, for example, weak schools can benefit from the effective leadership and management of good schools.

At the heart of the Bill are measures to support schools, but it will be for them to decide what suits them best. However, the Bill gives them a chance that they have never previously had to work together more closely, from informal working together to joint committees and full federation. The Bill introduces a range of options, but it will be for the schools to decide what is best for them. We want to give the best schools even greater freedoms. They already receive lighter-touch inspection, which is working well. However, when their success shows that they can manage their own affairs, we want to give them more scope to do so. Under the Bill, successful schools will earn greater autonomy over the curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions. Again, it will be for them to decide whether or not to take up that autonomy. We will lay down strict and challenging qualifying criteria which, however, will be objective, open and available to all. Any school will therefore be able to take up the challenge to try to qualify so that we get an improving system that provides schools with an incentive to improve and allows the number of qualifying schools to rise over time.

The new autonomies for our best schools will support innovation and provide an incentive for other schools to improve their performance. Most importantly, for the first time, they will put our best schools, head teachers, teachers and classroom assistants in the driving seat for the next stage of educational reform. The accountability framework that we have developed gives us a chance to give freedom to some schools, but we have a continuing responsibility to raise standards in our weakest schools. The principle of intervention in inverse proportion to success means that we will free the best schools, but intervene decisively to turn around those that are unsuccessful. Our record on that is good and I pay tribute to everyone who has worked hard on the most difficult task in teaching—going into a failing school and turning it around. More than 800 schools have come out of special measures since 1997. We have cut the average time taken to turn schools around and reduced the number of schools subject to special measures from 234 in 1999–2000 to 138 last year.

However, we must intensify our efforts. There are serious weakness as long as one school is not as good as it should be or as long as one school is subject to special measures; that means that children are not getting the best possible start, which is the most important thing at the beginning of their life. We have always had schools that are not as good as they should be; I acknowledge that some of them face particularly challenging circumstances and work with children who deserve the most support.

There is even more reason to make those schools the best and give them the support that they need. Some do not have good leadership and some do not have the organisation that they need, which is why the Bill, in addition to reaffirming our commitment to do all that we can to work with those schools, gives us a reserve power to involve external partners if that is the only way to turn a school around. That partner may be a local education authority, a cluster of successful schools or a private,

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voluntary or public body. The only thing on which it will be judged is whether it provides a way to turn around a school that is not available to the LEA or the school at the moment. So that there is not a shadow of doubt, I pay tribute to LEAs that have worked hard to turn schools around and continue to do so. Surely no one in the House disagrees that there are some schools whose problems have yet to be solved and which can be improved. That is the innovation that we invite, and the direction in which we want to go.

If the governing body is part of the problem, as it sometimes is, the Bill will give us powers to replace it with an interim executive board while the school is turned around. In the past, Governments have too often turned their back on such schools. We are the first Government to turn them around in significant numbers. That is why, in the interests of raising standards for every child, we shall continue to do so.

However, it is not enough merely to raise minimum standards. Teachers and parents have always wanted an education system that can teach children as individuals. Every teacher strives to do that, and every parent wants that for their child, but it has never been possible to make it happen in the past. We believe that we have the potential and the chance to develop an education system that can more closely be tailored to the needs of the individual.

That is why we want to take powers to support innovation and to free schools to take new approaches to staffing, making possible more accelerated learning. We want to free the best schools to develop the next wave of reform, and make sure that 16-to-19 provision can be adjusted to meet the needs of local young people.

In the new year we will publish a consultation paper setting out our proposals for a new coherent 14-to-19 phase of education that will enable each individual to develop more fully their talents and aptitudes. In the Bill, we separate key stage 4 of the national curriculum from the other key stages, so that we can create the legal framework that will enable the conclusions of our consultation on 14-to-19 education to be put into effect.

Through the Bill, we are also promoting innovation within schools. We are promoting innovation in the provision of new schools. The Bill will extend city academies so that they can be set up outside urban areas, in which case they will not be called city academies, and will allow all-age academies. The Bill also introduces a new approach to the supply of schools. Where a wholly new secondary school is needed to meet a rising demand for places, any interested party will be able to present a proposal—

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