Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Lansley: Does my hon. Friend agree that the new clause would make it possible for a school governing body to disapply all its data collection, information and accountability functions? In effect, the Secretary of State would not have to be told about that; she would simply discover that the school governing body had taken that action when the figures stopped coming in or when Ofsted was turned away at the school gates.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend has highlighted the fact that a school would only discover whether it was allowed to do something when it tried it; the Secretary of State might then have to intervene to say no, which would give rise to conflict.

Conflict could also arise with faith schools, which could use the powers enshrined in new clause 6. It is particularly appropriate to consider faith schools, given the participation of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough in tabling later new clauses. One could easily envisage a faith school wanting to innovate in a way deemed inappropriate by the Secretary of State. It might wish to restructure the curriculum, change admissions policy, change religious education in the school, and so on. It is conceivable that a school may seek to innovate, then discover that it was in conflict with the Secretary of State who, again, would have to intervene after the event to say, "No, you may not do that."

Mr. Hoban: Is not one problem that, by applying to the Secretary of State for the power to innovate on a case by case basis, a great deal of uncertainty is introduced into the system? For example, the current Secretary of State is very much in favour of faith schools. If, however, she was replaced by the right hon. Member for Holborn

5 Feb 2002 : Column 824

and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), he might veto proposals on faith schools, although the right hon. Lady would accept them.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes a good point which speaks for itself. New clauses 5 and 6 are admirable in their aspirations, but their detail would create too many complexities and problems for the House to accept them in their current form, given that we have a duty to try to produce the most effective and best-quality legislation which works in practice.

I have a particular concern about the way that the two new clauses and the part of the Bill that they seek to enhance would work in relation to admissions procedures. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough is offering schools greater freedom to choose their own admissions procedure. The Government claim that to some degree schools have that. I recently experienced in my constituency the limitations of the freedom that schools currently enjoy.

Blenheim high school in my constituency, an enormously popular school, has this year been forced to turn away 180 pupils seeking places at that school, despite the fact that only a few months ago the school sought to change its admissions policy to enable a number of those who have been turned away to attend the school. That change to the admissions policy was overturned by the schools adjudicator, following a complaint by the London borough of Sutton, which is controlled by the party of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough—a decision that I very much regret, because of the difficulty that it is creating for young people in my constituency.

We know that school admissions are a difficult matter. A school might choose to amend its admissions policy not necessarily for any reason related to selection by academic ability, but simply because it wants to reflect a local geographic issue. If the Secretary of State retains the power to intervene and tell the school that it cannot do so, that creates a potential conflict between schools and the Secretary of State.

On new clause 10, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West for the aspirations that the clause reflects. One of my great disappointments in the Bill and in the Government's handling of education has been the lack of tangible action to address the great disparities in the rewards offered to the education profession in different parts of the country.

Those disparities were clearly shown in the answer to a written question that I tabled this week. I asked the Department what the ratio was between the salary of a newly qualified teacher three years in the job and average house prices in London, Surrey, Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear. The disparities are enormous. Essentially, a teacher who has been in a job for three years on average earnings for that profession can afford to buy the average house in the north-east and in Yorkshire. In London and the south-east the ratio of an average teacher's salary to the average house price is 1:8.

The practical reality is that costs in the south-east of England are making it massively more difficult for our schools to attract teachers. I mentioned the Ofsted report. It is worth dwelling on the comments made about the

5 Feb 2002 : Column 825

issues dealt with by new clause 10. The report highlights the problems of schools in London, the south-east and other areas where housing costs are high. It states:

Those are fundamentally difficult problems for schools in London and the south-east. We need tangible action to solve those problems. One way of doing that is to give schools greater flexibility to set different pay and conditions to meet individual recruitment needs. I know about specific cases in which schools needed to bend the rules to bring in teachers, after they had advertised time and again for vacancies to be filled and not received applications.

Mr. Lansley: Is my hon. Friend aware of the work that was done in examining changes to the area cost adjustment in the revenue support grant system, which looked at specific costs, as they are called? Although there are national pay scales, the use of flexibility within those pay scales is already evident in response to local labour market pressures. Does my hon. Friend agree that in addition to what is required under the Bill, there should be allocations of funding to local authorities and to schools to reflect those different costs? For example, it cannot be right for a school in Hertfordshire to receive £277 per pupil more than a school in Cambridgeshire.

9.15 pm

Chris Grayling: I endorse my hon. Friend's comments. I hope that, if the Government accept new clause 10, it will give schools the flexibility to adjust their pay and conditions to meet local recruitment needs. If that happens, the Minister should then go to the Treasury and make the strongest possible representations about support for our education system that reflects the very disparate needs of teachers in different parts of the country. I hope that the Government will help our head teachers to fill the gaps that they currently have great difficulty in filling, remove the need for them to recruit from abroad to such a degree and provide real solutions to a problem that is becoming serious and which the inspectorate said would have an adverse impact on exam results in future years. If we start down that road by implementing a provision such as new clause 10, we will begin to address the issue and to provide our schools with the flexibility in the system that is necessary for tackling the problem.

Amendments Nos. 79, 130 and 131 deal with the importance of special educational needs. In Committee, the Opposition tabled a significant number of amendments merely to clarify the role of schools, governing bodies and LEAs in relation to special educational needs. It was disappointing that the Government systematically rejected them. Amendments Nos. 79, 130 and 131 restate the importance of special educational needs and give the Government the opportunity to change their mind and accept that they could enhance the Bill in relation to SENs and send out to the country a clearer signal about their importance. The amendments would clarify for governing bodies this area of responsibility and the decisions that they cannot take.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is reasonable to go further and say

5 Feb 2002 : Column 826

that if the Government do not accept amendments Nos. 130, 131 and 79, they will effectively be demonstrating that they do not give proper attention to special needs and are unwilling to safeguard special needs education in the way in which members of the Committee and the Opposition would wish them to do?

Chris Grayling: I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. She makes the case for the amendments very clearly. There is no reason for the Government to say no to them. If they accept them, they will send out a powerful signal about the importance of SEN provision in our schools and demonstrate that we care about and are committed to the educational interests of children of all abilities, including those with particular needs as well as those with particular abilities. If they reject them, they will be sending out a wholly negative signal on this important matter.

In conclusion, I hope that the Government will accept new clause 10 and amendments Nos. 79, 130 and 131, as they are significant contributions to tackling the financial problems of our country that would also send a clear signal about the importance of special educational needs. I hope that they will accept that the amendments would be an important part of the Bill and should go forth as such from the House.

Next Section

IndexHome Page