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Mr. Miliband: As usual, the hon. Gentleman makes an intelligent and thoughtful contribution. On setting and mixed ability teaching, does he accept that the average he quotes hides quite a lot? For example, the percentage of schools that use setting in maths is much higher than it is in other subjects. I hope that he accepts that setting in maths is higher than it is in PE or other subjects that make up the average that he quoted.

Mr. Gibb: I accept that for maths. Some 80 per cent. of lessons in maths take place in setting, but that still means that one in five lessons are not setted. The Minister implies that only peripheral subjects are taught in mixed ability classes, but 55 per cent. of English lessons are setted, which means that 45 per cent. are in mixed ability classes. In history, 75 per cent. of lessons take place in mixed ability classes and in geography only 36 per cent. of lessons are in setted classes. He is right in precisely what he says, but he is wrong to imply that mixed ability classes are confined to non-core subjects because they are not.
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My concern about the drive towards diversity, limited as it is, is that it seems to be the only area of education policy that politicians dare to enter. Structure has been for many years the sole area of education reform that politicians feel safe engaging in. They will not try to reform teaching methods, classroom configuration or teacher training methods, which seem to have become no-go areas for Ministers—of Administrations of both parties. I am especially surprised, and a little disappointed, that this Labour Administration has continued the focus on structure, because Labour's 1997 manifesto made it clear that it would stop doing so. It stated:

Since 1997, the debate has continued to focus on structures and until the Government begin to address the real causes—whatever their assessment of those real causes is—of an underperforming secondary state system, we will continue to see embarrassing international surveys and further botched attempts to conceal what is happening in our state schools.

5.21 pm

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): The Government tell us repeatedly that, especially for education, they believe in evidence-based policy making. The Education and Skills Committee has repeatedly asked where it can find the evidence for most of the Government's proposals, although yesterday morning—in a refreshing change—we received a lot of well thought out evidence on how the national literacy strategy had come about. That was a unique experience.

Last week, when the Secretary of State gave evidence before the Committee, the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) asked him about the evidence that led to the introduction of city academies. His long reply did not answer the question at all, so later in the meeting I repeated the question—on what basis did the Government intend to create 200 schools, almost totally funded by the taxpayer but handed over to rich private individuals. Again, I did not receive an answer.

The benefit of city academies is supposed to be that their additional status and the extra money that is provided to them will lead to improvements. The average cost of building an academy is £25 million, twice the cost of building a new comprehensive school. However, if the benefit is the extra money and status, they could be given to state-run schools under state head teachers. Indeed, programmes such as the fresh start initiative did exactly that. Perhaps the benefit of academies is the freedom they have to innovate, which the Department's website makes much of. However, it was the Conservative Government who introduced the straitjacket of the national curriculum and it has been continued by the present Government. They could take the straitjacket off. Why cannot the Government give head teachers within the state system the freedom to innovate? Why does it have to be given only to private institutions?

The benefit of academies may be the ability to select 10 per cent. of pupils by aptitude—the Orwellian newspeak used by the Government for ability. But why cannot that freedom be given to state schools, as it has been given to specialist schools? All the benefits of the academy programme that the Secretary of State told us
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about last week could be and are delivered by the state system. Those benefits are obviously not the real reasons for introducing academies.

What is unique about academies is that they will have individual private sponsors who will take them over, largely at taxpayers' expense. Do those sponsors have to have an educational vision? The Department's website makes no reference to that: it appears to be enough simply to have £2 million to spend. What is the educational vision of a car salesman, a fashion designer, a car importer, a construction firm or the head of a recruiting agency? We do not know. All those people may have an educational vision, but no one has told us about it yet.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), I was not a head teacher in an inner-city school in Leeds, but I was a teacher for 22 years and I am a stakeholder—horrible word—in the system, with two of my three children at the local comprehensive school in Chesterfield. I have an educational vision and I know what I would like to do in schools. I have a lot of educational experience, but I do not have £2 million to buy into the system and run my own school.

The Government propose to hand over 200 of our schools, funded almost entirely by the taxpayer, to rich individuals who will be able to do what they like. What is the problem with that? Many concerns have been expressed. The Government's least favourite teachers' union, the NUT, produced a detailed briefing last year, which stated:

The report comments that neighbouring schools could be left to foot the bill for the new academies, after it emerged that the Government want local authorities to use money earmarked for school refurbishment to expand the academies programme.

Academies are independent schools, and therefore outside the responsibility of the local education authority. They have the potential to disrupt fair and efficient admissions arrangements operated by authorities, as the Select Committee said in its critical report on admissions policies. Although academies are represented on local admissions forums, they are responsible for their own admissions arrangements. The admissions proposals for Sandwell academy are rigid in their categorisation of pupils according to ability bands. Such policies will lead to children being denied places in their neighbourhood academy because such schools select a proportion of their intake.

Concerns have been expressed about academies targeting pupils in their recruitment drives. In Bristol, for example, the NUT said that when the St. George community college was due to reopen as an academy glossy leaflets advertising the new school were distributed in the more affluent areas of the city. The Greig academy in Haringey, which experienced difficulties recruiting pupils, targeted the leafy suburbs rather than the neighbourhood of Tottenham, but we have been told that academies are purely there to benefit the deprived inner cities. The NUT is not the Government's favourite union, but the Association of
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Teachers and Lecturers, a much more moderate union, which I joined in 1978, said:

We have some evidence on expulsion. In 2003–04, the King's academy in Middlesbrough expelled 28 pupils permanently—10 times the English average. In the same year, the other academy in the city expelled 14 pupils, which is also above the average. The two academies therefore expelled 42 pupils, while the other five secondary schools in Middlesbrough expelled a total of 10 pupils.

Mr. Miliband: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has done his research and, as he said, 28 pupils were expelled from the King's academy in 2003–04. Does he accept that in the previous year, its predecessor sent 38 pupils to the referral unit run by Middlesbrough council?

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