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Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman is assiduous in wanting his points clarified. We want the Secretary of State to make proper provision to ensure that local authorities in special measures and those that are a cause for concern do not get the power to innovate. For that to happen, the Secretary of State has to have the powers and must use them. That is the purpose behind new clause 5.
New clause 6 is important and I intend to divide the House on it. It goes to the heart of the Bill. The Government claim that they want to move away from appearing to have total central control of everything that schools do, but the Bill does just that. It takes unto the Secretary of State powers that did not exist before. A school cannot innovate or receive earned autonomy unless the Secretary of State agrees to it. That is the most preposterous level of centralisation ever.
I concede that, in the past, schools perhaps had too much autonomy to do what they liked. That regime went with the introduction of the Education Reform Act 1988, Ofsted and the rigorous inspection of our schools. Mike Tomlinson's report contains evidence that schools have adjusted to those regimes. They now regard inspection and audit as an essential tool within the school improvement process. Schools see the new tenor of inspections, especially the light touch inspections, that Mike Tomlinson has introduced as part of the process rather than something to be dreaded at the end of four or six years.
We have put in place a national curriculum and developed a clear sense of audit and inspection, and schools now operate within that climate. New clause 6 is simple: unless a school is in special measures or showing serious signs for concern, it should automatically be given the right to innovate. It should not have to go cap in hand to the Secretary of State and say, "This is what we'd like to do. Please can we have permission to do it?"
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): I applaud the hon. Gentleman's objectives, and it surprises me that he has been hostile to innovative projects introduced by previous Governments. Would new clause 6 allow a school that promotes the raising of educational standards to charge for admissions, to decide not to admit pupils with brown eyes or curly hair, or to extend the school day without the agreement of the teaching staff? It seems that the new clause could achieve that.
Mr. Willis: I trust that the hon. Gentleman is not going to spend the next day and a half engaged in a hostile debate. I am trying to be helpful. I thought that with his vast consultancy experience in such matters he would applaud the measure. He is far too intelligent not to accept that the Secretary of State has to lay down the parameters within which innovation and autonomy can be exercised. We do not have a problem with that. Indeed, we have co-operated well on that aspect of the Bill. Having set
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): I am following carefully what the hon. Gentleman says. Is it to be inferred that one of the benefits of new clause 6 is the absence of a bureaucratic process of informing the Secretary of State about an innovative project that a governing body of a school might undertake? If that is the case, how does the hon. Gentleman expect the Secretary of State to know whether or not it would appropriate to invoke new clause 6(4) and seek to restrict the ability of a governing body to undertake that kind of project?
Mr. Willis: First, I have made it clear that, under the new clause, I hope the Secretary of State will lay down the condition that schools that show serious weakness, require special measures or are under-achieving in the eyes of Ofsted, are not entitled to apply for earned autonomy or the power to innovate. That is one safeguard. Secondly, under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, local authorities were rightly given a duty to raise standards in their schools. The relationship that local authorities now have with their schools is largely positive; they engage in positive dialogue. That is another safeguard. It is also recognised that governing bodies have a duty because they carry most of the legal powers in a school. If they are to ensure that their ideas for innovation and powers of autonomy are realised, they have got to act reasonably.
We cannot have it both ways. If we argue that schools should be given powers to innovate, if we want a diverse and exciting secondary education system and if we want a plethora of different arrangements in the 14 to 19-year-old sector, we must free schools to get on with the job. That is an exciting concept, and to realise it, we should not confine schools to having to go cap in hand to the Secretary of State.
Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again; I do not want to detain him while he is developing his argument. However, new clause 6(4) gives rise to a problem that is similar to the one in new clause 5(4), as it does not seem to allow for the possibility for which the hon. Gentleman argued. He said that there are authorities or qualifying bodies generally, as well as school governing bodies, that may not meet Ofsted requirements. However, the purpose of subsection (4) is not explicitly to allow the Secretary of State to exempt certain qualifying bodies from the power to undertake innovative projects. Its purpose is, by order, to designate certain requirements under education legislation which, by extension, would apply to all qualifying bodies. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to give the Secretary of State the freedom to choose certain schools that were counted as failing schools, why did he not write that into the new clause?
Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman will accept that I do not want to put anything unnecessary into the Bill. Sadly, an awful lot of things that should have been included in it will be introduced in secondary legislation.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the key to the new clause is the definition of innovation? As drafted, the new clause hands considerable powers to the Secretary of State to define innovation. Does he envisage that under his new clause admissions policy is an area in which a school can innovate?
Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman knows my views on admissions policy, which is key to having an education system that all youngsters can access as a level playing field. One of my great criticisms of current admissions policiesI am being dragged into another part of the Billis that there is a plethora of different arrangements, which tier admissions and result in children being creamed off. I do not favour that, but we should have a genuine debate with the Secretary of State about the parameters of innovation. As for individual schools, the new clause tries to ensure that a school does not have to go cap in hand to the Secretary of State every time that it wants to innovate. We want to set down guidelines within which schools can automatically innovate, provided that, for example, they are not in special measures or another category.
Mr. Chaytor: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that, as drafted, the new clause would allow a school to innovate in admissions policy, and would certainly give a future Secretary of State enormous powers to transform admissions policies by the back door?
Mr. Willis: I must confess that when I wrote the new clause, I envisaged that a Liberal Democrat would be in power. The hon. Gentleman knows that we would apply certain rigorous conditions if we were in government. There is a failing in the Bill regarding earned autonomy; eventually, we learned that only 10 per cent. of schools would get earned autonomy. Many schools that were announced today as having outstanding Ofsted reports would not be in that 10 per cent. We want to pin the Government down; we want them to say what innovation means and what its parameters will be. The Secretary of State must know that when she introduces regulations, there will be certain areas in which schools will not be allowed to innovate; I hope that admissions is one of them.
Mr. Brady: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) hit on a key flaw in the Bill? Under clause 2, the Secretary of State would have the power to permit selection by ability or aptitude; charging by schools in the maintained sector; and the suspension of special educational needs provision. The power would be limitless. The hon. Member for Bury, North hit on what is wrong in a Bill that gives the Secretary of State enormous power, without providing any constraints or giving the House the capability to control what he or she intends to do with it.