Education Bill

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Mr. Timms: Yes and no. On some matters, schools that qualify for earned autonomy will be natural candidates for greater freedoms, and those will not depend on legislation. Light-touch inspections are certainly one successful example of that. However, that is outside the legislation. In terms of the legislation, the question is whether schools meet performance criteria. If the answer is yes, they can take up all the exemptions and modifications set out.

Mr. Brady: I shall not attempt to deal with all the long and diverse group of amendments. We have had a useful debate, and the Minister has genuinely done his best to answer the questions and points raised by hon. Members, especially in his response to amendment No. 66, which he was burning to give to the Committee. We are all grateful for his reassurances.

I want to comment briefly on the Minister's remarks about the amendments that I tabled to clause 6(1)(a) to (d). He helpfully enlightened the Committee about those aspects, which, even at this early stage, when the enabling legislation is still wet on the page, the Government either do or do not intend to use, or intend to discuss before making a decision.

During the course of the day, I have frequently amazed myself at how helpful I have been to Ministers—I have fallen over backwards to help them. My amendments would break down paragraphs (a) to (d) in a helpful way, in that the application of the word ''shall'' under my amendments would apply to paragraphs (a) and (c), of which the Government intend to make use and which deal with exemptions as of right. The word ''may'' would continue to apply to what are now paragraphs (b) and (d).

I do not intend to press the amendments to a Division, but I am slightly disappointed. We sought to add real context to the way in which decisions were taken and to reassure schools that they would proceed when they met the criteria and would not have to wait for Ministers to decide whether to allow them to proceed.

Mr. Willis: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that amendment No. 66 has taken on enormous importance? The Minister accepted that, in terms of the foundation subjects of the national curriculum, the Government intend to be able to disapply programmes of study. That is an important breakthrough, because they would also, therefore, have to disapply attainment targets and assessment arrangements in all those subjects.

That is a fundamental change, and it is a pity that the Press Gallery is not packed because it is the most important matter to arise today. If 50 per cent. of schools can have earned autonomy as a result of

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achieving their five plus A to Cs and meeting the standards, and 80 per cent. are not operating under special measures or with serious weaknesses, 80 per cent. of schools can aspire, under earned autonomy, to disapply attainment targets and assessment arrangements in terms of programmes of study. In relation to amendment No. 66, the inspection arrangements that exist would have to be changed dramatically to meet the new circumstances.

That is a major breakthrough, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his amendment.

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Mr. Brady: Indeed.

Mr. Timms: I leap to my feet in the dying minute. I urge the Committee to take careful note of the points that I made and the words in which I expressed them. I said that we would consult on options that would embrace the changes that I indicated. That is different from the point that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough made.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Heppell.]

        Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Ten o'clock till Thursday 13 December at five minutes to Ten o'clock.

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        Adams, Mrs. Irene (Chairman)

        Bailey, Mr.

        Brady, Mr.

        Coaker, Mr.

        Flint, Caroline

        Francis, Dr.

        Grayling, Chris

        Heppell, Mr.

        Kumar, Dr.

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        Laing, Mrs.

        Laws, Mr.

        Miliband, Mr.

        O'Brien, Mr. Stephen

        Purnell, James

        Timms, Mr.

        Touhig, Mr.

        Turner, Mr. Andrew

        Willis, Mr.

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