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"it is government policy that school places should be located where parents want them. There is therefore a strong presumption that proposals to expand successful and popular schools . . . should normally be approved. The fact that there are surplus places elsewhere in the area does not necessarily mean that that should not be approved."[Official Report, House of Lords 18 January 2005; Vol. 668, c. 692.]
Local parents recently challenged the LEA successfully on the lowering of the admission limits for a successful and popular school. However, can my right hon. Friend
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clarify the way forward for parents when government policy supports their aspirations but they are frustrated by the attitude of the LEA?
Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I am not familiar with the details of that case, but I know that she has arranged a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards to talk about it. That is very welcome. I know of only two cases that have been turned down by local school organisation committees. We have a policy of allowing successful and popular schools to expand, and I would expect that to be the case in most situations.
Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): The Secretary of State said that only two applications for expansion had been turned down by school organisation committees. How many schools have successfully expanded?
Ruth Kelly: I do not have the figures to hand, but one would have to add the total agreed at a local level, to those agreed by the schools adjudicator, to those agreed by the DFES, to reach the sum total. It is not the case that every school wants to expand, but I want to make it the presumption that popular and successful schools should be allowed to expand. That will sometimes mean taking tough decisions, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
Ruth Kelly: The hon. Gentleman will know that the figure does not take into account all the categories that I have just outlined. Some of the proposals for expansion are agreed routinely by school organisation committees. He did not ask how the issue was determined at local level. As I understand it, most applications are agreed at local levelbut the Bill will make it easier for capital to be put towards the expansion of successful and popular schools.
Mr. Chaytor: Following the Government's commitment to the 14-to-19 phase of education and their response to the 14-to-19 working group, would not it be more logical to have a common inspection framework that covered both schools and colleges? The improvements and changes to the schools inspection regime that my right hon. Friend is outlining are broadly welcomed by everybody concerned. Am I right in thinking that consultation on a common inspection framework for colleges finished on 31 January, and can she tell the House when she is likely to be able to respond to that? Does she see convergence into a common inspection framework for the whole 14-to-19 sector?
My hon. Friend has made an extremely interesting point. As he knows, there is a big debate in Government, including in the DFES, about the future of inspection regimes, about how far Ofsted should be linked to the early years agendawhich has of course taken placeand about how far Ofsted should be linked across the early years agenda and children's services as a whole, and with training providers. We have consulted on some of the proposals and I expect that we shall be
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able to respond shortly, but I am afraid that my hon. Friend will have to await the outcome of the consultation.
Dr. Pugh: Can the Secretary of State clear up something for me? She seems to have decided that the best inspection system is user-friendly, flexible and almost tailor-made for each school. If that is the case, Ofsted inspectors will receive different amounts of data from different schools when they inspect them. Will that not lead to problems when drawing comparisons between schoolsfor example, when schools do or do not have telephone lines?
Schools need enough resources as well as a good inspection regime. They also need a work force with the right skills. Since the national agreement in January 2003 on the work force, "Raising standards and tackling workload", our schools are making more use than ever before of teaching assistants and other support staff in ways that allow teachers to focus their time and energies on what they do bestteaching.
The Bill continues the development of a world-class work force with a major reform of the Teacher Training Agency. The success of the agency is easy for all to see. More than a million staff are working in our schools, with more qualified teachers than ever before. Vacancy rates are down and recruitment in key subjects such as maths is on the increase, as is recruitment to London schools. The newly named Training and Development Agency for Schools will build on the success of the TTA by assuming responsibility for the continued professional development of serving teachers, as well as taking the lead role in the training and recruitment of the wider school work force. That will create a new professionalism across the school work force and ensure that teachers get the support they need in the classroom to deliver personalised learning to every child.
Charged with making best use of the record levels of investment available to it, the agency will oversee a new programme to deliver a world-class work force. The Bill introduces three-year budgets, giving schools unprecedented financial stability and the scope to plan resources more effectively to meet the needs of all learners. Head teachers and governors will be able to make decisions about staffing levels and pay, and about how to meet the long-term needs of their school with greater certainty than ever before.
The Bill will continue the Government's drive to raise standards and increase opportunity for all, irrespective of where they live or the challenges they face. The Bill will raise standards by making school inspection a more effective tool for school improvement, by making schools more accountable to parents, by removing unnecessary prescription that prevents schools from reaching their potential, by giving schools stability to plan for the future, by increasing the professionalism of the school work force and by promoting diversity and flexibility in the system to ensure that children's needs are met. I commend it to the House.
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Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (Con): I start by making it clear that although I hold the Government responsible for a number of problems with our education system, unlike the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) I do not think that a large number of schools in our country have a problem with telephone lines. I think that most of them have probably managed to get connected up.
Dr. Pugh: The point I was endeavouring to make, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman fully appreciates, is that some Ofsted inspectors allow schools to contact them by telephone but some do not. That is what the Secretary of State said. Had the hon. Gentleman been listening carefully, he would have got that point.
Mr. Collins: I think that I heard the hon. Gentleman clearly, and he said that some schools did not have telephone lines. Anyway, we have made progress and we all agree that, in the 21st century, even under a Labour Government, schools have got telephone lines. Indeed, more and more of them are getting broadband, which is even more important.
We also need to recognise that, although the Secretary of State started with a long list of achievements in recent years, that must be balanced by recognising that, sadly, a number things have not improved in recent years at all. Assaults on teachers have increased since 1997. Violence in schools is up by 50 per cent. Drug use among school-age children has doubled since 1997. The Statistics Commission recently said specifically that Ministers should not overstate the extent to which the national literacy strategy has made any difference to the improvement in the reported figures that relate to literacy for younger primary school children, yet the Secretary of State, once again, seems to have defied precisely that advice. The National Audit Office recently pointed out that the Government have spent £885 million in the past eight years on anti-truancy initiatives, yet truancy has not improved; indeed, on the Government's own figures, it has worsened by a third in that period.
The Secretary of State said that one purpose of the Bill is to get rid of bureaucracy. We are all in favour of that, but which Administration, more than any other in British history, have introduced bureaucracy, interference, second-guessing and measurement in respect of our schools? It is this Administration, and after 10 separate pieces of education legislation since 1977, of which this Bill is the 10th, we must judge the Government not by what they say, but by what they have done.
I was sorry that the Secretary of State found herself taking part in the campaign of what can only be described as smear, fear and, indeed, outright invention that is being pushed by some other members of the Cabinet. When challenged twice by me on whether she could come up with the words of a single Conservative Front Bencher or a Conservative document that would justify the repeated claims that we are committed to taking £1 billion from the schools system, she could only retort that she had got a quote from an independent think-tank. That is not the way in which such debates ought to proceed.
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Indeed, the very policy that we advocate for our education system, which is that money provided by the taxpayer should be spent on behalf of someone else free of charge to that person, is precisely the policy that the Government are introducing in the national health service. Would the Secretary of State say that an NHS patient treated free of charge, paid for by the taxpayer, represents money taken from the NHS? I suspect that some Labour Back Benchers might take that view but I am absolutely certain that her Cabinet colleagues would not, so I hope that we will hear no more of that assertion.
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