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There are innumerable examples of collaboration between institutions that have not generally worked together before, but are now giving new opportunities to young people in creative and imaginative ways. We shall need more such collaborations in the future, and the Bill will make it easier to establish themfor example, through the power to form companies, which has been widely welcomed.
Local education authorities will have an important role, especially in school improvement. The Conservative amendment makes a welcome reference to local democratic control of schoolsinterestingly, as that is not an issue that the Conservatives have raised in the past. Indeed, until September almost the only school policy that they talked about was free schools, the freedom in question being the abolition of local democratic control. In a pleasing U-turn, they seem to advocate it now. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Burton I look forward to hearing exactly what the Conservative party's policy is now.
Innovation is central to the Bill. We now have a highly developed accountability framework for education, with clear targets set throughout the system. Everyone knows what their school is aiming for. That is what provides an opportunity for the Bill to be used to free the system, and increase trust in teachers' informed professional judgment. We know that there are many good ideas in schools. We want it to be possible for them to be put into practice, and for schools to lead the next wave of educational reform. The power to innovatewhich, incidentally, is not available only to successful schoolsand earned autonomy, which is, obviously, earned, are enshrined in the Bill with the aim of creating such an opportunity.
The procedure that we propose is not centralising; it is the opposite. Those such as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) who say that every successful school will have to undergo an application process to gain each flexibility are wrong. The Bill makes it clear, in regard to earned autonomy, that the Secretary of State will have a duty to grant autonomy but that the process will be essentially automatic once the criteria are met.
Mr. Andrew Turner: It was the Minister's party that abolished grant-maintained status, which gave schools autonomy. Will the Minister publish the criteria according to which the Secretary of State intends to judge applications before we reach that stage in Committee?
It is because of our wish to support innovation and partnership that we are giving schools the powerwith the agreement of their LEAsto form companies with other schools. I am pleased with the wide welcome given to that proposal today. Reflecting on what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson), however, I submit that diversity is the route to a genuine comprehensive system catering for the multiplicity of talents and aspirations of all children in the country. Children are different, situations are different, teachers are different, and different things work in different places. We want schools to be able to develop further their own individual character and ethos, to be able to play to their strengths.
There has been much discussion today about specialist schools, some of the benefits of which were very well spelled out by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole. Modernising the comprehensive principle does not mean abandoning it; quite the reverse, it means strengthening it. Specialist status is not taking away from a school but adding to it. As the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) said, a rural school's adoption of a language specialism will not weaken its physical education provision. We must grasp that very important point about the specialist model. It is not about narrowing, but about adding a centre of excellence, a mission to develop and share good practice in the specialism, and a requirement and funding to work with the wider community.
Far from a two-tier system, specialist statuswith the process of professional reflection and collective endeavour that it entailsis a powerful lever to improve standards in every part of the secondary system across the country. It is one of the most powerful levers that we have, and we are determined to use it to the greatest possible effect.
There was some discussion in the debateparticularly in the speeches of the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones)about the provisions for Wales. I was pleased to hear the support of the hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr for the education proposals of the National Assembly for Wales. There are of course differences between England and Wales. Wales has, for example, a much higher proportion of rural schools and much smaller LEAs. Those and other differences have led to differences in the legislative approach. However, devolution exists precisely to make such an approach possible.
Therefore, we are, for example, separating out in the legislation for the first time the national curriculum for Wales, so that treatment of the Welsh language and other matters can be dealt with in legislation by the National Assembly. Many of the Bill's powers are in common; I think that 150 of the clauses apply to both England and Wales. The power to innovate, for example, is available in both England and Wales. The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr asked about the power to form companies. However, that power is subject to agreement by the LEA and is not a matter for the decision of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills or the National Assembly for Wales.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Earlier I cited an example in which the evidence showed that the English system was working rather better than the Welsh one. Is the Minister prepared to take into account future examples in which the evidence shows that the Welsh system is working better than the English one?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) spoke at the beginning of the debate with some feeling on the issue of faith-based schools, as did some other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East also made some very important points on the issue. Those who study the Bill will see that it is not about imposing faith schools on communities. If there is no broad demand, there will not be a school.
The current position must be the starting point for the debate. We have a tradition of faith-based education, with more than 7,000 faith-based schools. They are doing a good job and they command strong support from parents. However, the overwhelming majority of those schools are Church of England or Roman Catholic. I do not think that any hon. Member could argue that, in our multicultural society, it is a defensible position to offer faith-based schools only to those of one major faith and to deny the opportunity of such an education to those of other faiths.
The principle is simply equality. Where there is clear local agreement we will welcome faith schools into the maintained sector. It would surely, in any case, reduce rather than increase segregation to bring such schools from the independent system into the state system, where they would be subject to the national curriculum, national testing and Ofsted inspection, rather than leaving them outside the system to fend for themselves. That is the best response to the fears expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar).
We do not want any school to contribute to segregation or isolation. That is why we have included citizenship in the national curriculum and why we will send out new guidance to school organisation committees after Christmas. Every proposed new faith school will need to show that it will contribute to the inclusiveness of the system by taking pupils from outside its own faith or by working in partnership with schools of a different faith or of no faith. My hon. Friend the Member for Burton raised the possibility of a multi-faith school. I can tell her that last week I received a deputation comprising Rabbi Julia Neuberger, the Bishop of Oxford and Dr. Zaki Badawi of the Muslim Council, who want to do exactly what my hon. Friend advocates. It is a proposal of some merit in which several people are interested. We want to see