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Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): A school in my constituency which opted out subsequently became a failing school and was subjected to special measures. Happily, that is no longer the case, but the difference between opted-out schools and those that stay with local authorities now seems to be fairly meaningless.

Dr. Pugh: What the Government are doing, and what the Conservatives never did, is disempowering parents whose children attend a school and preventing them from making a decision on behalf of that school, while allowing a limited number of governors to make decisions that might have radical consequences for the educational picture in their area.

Finally, I turn to an issue that detained their lordships a little: the role of the General Teaching Council. The GTC as defined in previous legislation was set up to give a professional image to a heavily unionised profession, and the model was the General Medical Council. The GTC tried to acquire a role in the educational environment commensurate with the initial definition of its functions, but this Bill allows teachers in academies not to belong to the GTC. As a result, the GTC is to some extent losing its real role and the reasons for its creation are largely being forgotten. If this compendium of legislation is to contain a measure that works against other legislation, the compendium will be very muddled.

5.50 pm

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): This is not the most exciting or radical Education Bill of recent years but it contains a number of sensible proposals and certain principles on which there is now broad consensus. I simply want to make some general observations about some of the Bill's implications. Frankly, nobody is going to object to the new inspection proposals, and I commend Ofsted and the current chief inspector on the drawing up of his new inspection framework, which responds sensitively to the criticisms of the old regime of terror to which the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) referred.

However, the issue of inspection does give rise to certain questions. Mention has already been made of the extent to which all—or even most—schools are fully
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prepared, through their self-evaluation procedures, to take on greater autonomy in this regard. There is also the question of the role of school improvement partners, and of the Ofsted system in England, which traditionally involves purely inspection and accepts no responsibility for following up criticisms made during the inspection process. Perhaps we could learn more from the system that applies in Scotland, where inspection and follow-through are seen as part of a continuous process. I urge the Secretary of State and the Government to take on board what happens in Scotland.

Nobody is going to object to the change to the name of the Teacher Training Agency or to the introduction of three-year budgets. The tragedy is that we have not had such budgets in our schools for many years, and I commend the Government on finally getting to grips with this issue. But I should draw attention to an issue that might affect some of the local authorities—they include my own in Bury—that were the biggest losers under the old standard spending assessment system. By and large, those at the bottom of the funding league table under the SSA system welcomed the change in the formula introduced two years ago and the move to formula spending share. Generally speaking, the authorities that lost out under the old system made gains under the new one, but some—including my own—found that the full gains to which they were entitled did not follow through because of the introduction of floors and ceilings. My local authority claims to have lost several million pounds to which it was entitled under the new formula but which it has yet to receive in grant allocation.

Will the move not only to three-year budgeting but to direct central control of budgeting ensure that authorities that should have gained under the move from SSA to FSS will get the full gains to which they are entitled? I raised this issue with the former Secretary of State for Education when he responded to the phoney funding crisis of two years ago and decided that direct funding from the centre was the way forward. Everyone will doubtless agree that it would be completely unjust if, when we had moved to a fairer system, some authorities still did not get their full gains because of the additional move to a highly centralised system.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): I know that the hon. Gentleman follows these matters closely, but I must contend with what he has just said. The funding crisis was not phoney; indeed, in Essex there was a very severe crisis because of the change from SSA to FSS, and a large number of schools had to throw in all their reserves in one go so as not to set deficit budgets. That caused real anger among schools and teachers in the county, so I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that remark.

Mr. Chaytor: I am afraid that I am not going to, because the point is that schools in Essex and in other authorities had for a number of years been receiving up to £1,500 per pupil more than some metropolitan districts. The issue is: what have they done with that money? The hon. Gentleman mentions Essex schools' reserves, but many others never had the opportunity to build up reserves, precisely because the funding system
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was skewed against some of the poorer northern districts. So I am afraid that I am not going to withdraw that comment.

Mr. Francois rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind hon. Members of the nature of today's debate.

Mr. Chaytor: I shall move on to the two issues to which I really want to draw attention. First, one reason why the Bill is spectacularly consensual is that many of the Government's more radical proposals of recent times do not need current legislation. The principle of schools becoming foundation schools by a single vote of the governing body, and last autumn's consultation document, on shifting the presumption in favour of the opening of new sixth forms, could have radical implications for the structure of our school system and colleges. Moreover, the major decisions on the curriculum have been taken through the Government's response to the 14-to-19 working party's recommendations, so the interesting thing about the Bill is that the really radical changes to our secondary school system's funding, structure and curriculum have all taken place outside the Bill.

The Government have made their decision on Tomlinson, and I hope that there will be a further chance to come back to that issue in the 2008 review. But I urge them to look particularly carefully at the responses to their proposed presumption in favour of the opening of new sixth forms, which has the potential massively to destabilise the provision of education in certain areas. If the preference or ambition of a particular school or head teacher were to lead to the opening of a new small sixth form without reference to the pattern of education in a particular area, that could prove destabilising and could actually work against the Government's declared intention of bringing about greater co-operation between schools in order to implement the full implications of the new 14-to-19 curriculum.

I now turn to my second major observation. Although I appreciate the extent to which, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) pointed out, the Bill is designed to repeal earlier legislation, many of its clauses seem to have been conceived in advance of the Government's decision to establish a clear 14-to-19 phase of education. I referred to inspection during an intervention on the Secretary of State at the start of the debate. If we are to have a unified 14-to-19 phase of education—and if students in the 16-to-19 phase can be in school or in college, and which type of institution they find themselves in is just a matter of historical or geographical accident—it is surely self-evident that subjecting those schools and colleges to different inspection regimes is an enormous anomaly. There can be no logical argument for continuing with two separate inspection regimes. Once we have decided on a unified 14-to-19 phase of education, it follows that inspection of the institutions that are co-operating to deliver that phase should be carried out under a unified framework.

I make a similar point in respect of the training and development agency. It is obvious that students pursuing the same course in adjacent districts or even
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within the same district could be taught either by a secondary school teacher or a further education teacher, yet it remains the case that the secondary school teacher will be subject to the new Training and Development Agency for Schools, but the further education teacher will not. How can the same teachers working with students on the same courses find themselves ineligible to take advantage of the same professional development opportunities? I believe that the Government should revisit the issue of whether the new body should cover both school teachers and FE college teachers.

Staffing is a related matter. Some clauses bring about new requirements to provide more accurate monitoring of staffing in our secondary schools, but the same requirements do not apply to staffing in FE colleges. The reality is that since 1993, successive Governments have said that the staffing of FE colleges is not a matter for the Government, but entirely for the individual college corporations. That cannot be sensible when—I reiterate the point—we have a unified curriculum. Where is the sense in collecting statistics on staff teaching GCSE and A-level courses in schools without collecting them on staff teaching similar courses in FE colleges?

I want to draw attention to some of the implications of foundation status for all schools. I vividly recall the Education Reform Act 1988 and the opportunities offered to schools to become grant maintained. My argument then, as chair of an education committee that faced the prospect of being the first local education authority in the country to implode because of the pressure of so many schools opting to become grant maintained, was either that the legislation allowing grant-maintained status must be abolished or that all schools must be allowed to become grant maintained. I am delighted that, 17 years on, the Government have now finally accepted that we should not have a two-tier system in which special funding privileges and special autonomies apply to certain schools but not to others. The Bill makes it clear that all schools will be eligible for foundation status.

I question whether everything that the Government are doing is moving in the same direction. Alongside the move to greater autonomy and managerial devolution, we also have a parallel movement towards recognition of a much greater need for co-operation. The Government's argument in putting the case for the growth of specialist schools is that such schools will need to co-operate with other specialist schools to provide a rich curriculum and staff development opportunities. In response to the Tomlinson report and the 14-to-19 working group, it was argued that in future, schools would have to take collective responsibility for the progress of pupils in a given area. It is increasingly likely that individual pupils will attend different schools to take advantage of a particular specialism, or attend schools or colleges for curricular reasons.

If we are giving schools greater powers of autonomy and greater independence, but also saying that they will have to co-operate more closely with each other in order to provide the full range of the curriculum for 14 to 19-year-old students, there is clearly a tension
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between those two proposals. I wonder whether the Government have fully thought through the implications of the new autonomy. What incentives will they offer schools to co-operate in the recommended way?

That issue is highlighted above all in the matter of the school's autonomy on admissions. As the law now stands, if 3,000 secondary schools all become foundation schools, we will have 3,000 new admissions authorities. If we think about the war on bureaucracy, I would have thought that there was no argument whatever for increasing the number of individual admissions authorities, which would inevitably lead to a greater level of bureaucracy, form-filling and needless paperwork. I am therefore flagging up the question of whether the Government have really thought through the implications of foundation status for all schools, in terms of every school becoming its own admissions authority.

Broadly, it is impossible to take exception to the Bill, which moves our education system forward in the right direction. The Government's achievements over the last eight years are indisputable. It was encouraging to hear the official Opposition recognise—despite some nit-picking over statistics—the great improvements made to both primary and secondary schools. Parents in my constituency, however, will be unconvinced by the Opposition's assurance that if they ever come to power, they will not cut the education budget. Parents will not be convinced that under a Conservative Government it would be possible to sustain the year-on-year level of investment that this Government have sustained over the last eight years. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale may think that an attack on bureaucracy and foliage may find the savings that he is looking for, but I do not believe that that is credible.

6.6 pm

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