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Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): Before coming into this place in 1997, I worked in one of the previous Government's grant-maintained schools. There is no doubt that the autonomy possessed by that school enabled it to achieve more, but it also enjoyed privileged funding, to the disadvantage of other schools, and benefited from an admissions policy that was not equitable across the area. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that her proposals will ensure fair funding and fair admissions policies for all schools?
I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks. He is absolutely right that the purpose of these reforms is to deliver higher standards for everybody, but particularly for those who have not been served well by the current system. That means that there must be a framework of fair funding, fair accountability and fair admissions.
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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her splendid statement. Does she agree that she is proposing not to revive grant-maintained schools but to go back to something far betterthe direct-grant school?
Ruth Kelly: I have a lot of time for the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that he quite understands the relationship of schools with the local authority under these proposals. We are proposing a system in which schools have the freedom and flexibility to tailor their curriculum and starting structures to develop the ethos that they need to raise standards for their pupils, at the same time working within a local framework whereby they spread success and work with each other as they drive up improvements across a system in which the local authority remains as the allocator of schools and the guarantor of good school standards.
Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Teachers' pay will be determined by the School Teachers Review Body, as it is at the moment. Support staff will be employed by the school and their pay will be determined on the same basis as for self-governing schools at the moment.
There is always a power to innovate, and schools can apply directly to the Department in that respect. For example, they may want to come to us with proposals for different models of term times or lengths of school day. We would consider those on their merits and decide whether to approve them.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I welcome what the Prime Minister described yesterday as a pivotal moment, and what some may describe as an about-turn. The Minister has promised to give extended opportunities to talented pupils, to encourage setting and grouping by ability, and to create genuine centres of excellence. I hope that those include centres of academic excellence. Why has not she gone the whole hog and simply introduced academic selection, which in Northern Ireland has served pupils well and has raised standards higher than in any other region of the United Kingdom? Is she bound by political ideology and Cabinet in-fighting? Will she regret in a year's time that she has not gone further?
Ruth Kelly: No, I will not. I never want to see a return to selection. I want a state school system that can promote excellence for each and every one of its pupils; that can set by ability where that is required, particularly in core subjects but also in other areas; that provides special help for those who are falling behind and special opportunities for those who are gifted and talented; and that acts to provide specialist centres of excellence that work to drive up standards in that specialism in other schools. That is not what happens in a grammar school systemit is what happens in a specialist comprehensive school system, and it is what I want for all our schools.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab):
Is the Secretary of State aware that, in inner-city communities,
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where comprehensive schools have improved and taken many local children on to their rolls, the whole community benefits, crime falls and there is a better sense of community cohesion? How is my constituency helped at all by the proposals, which, I suspect, will mean many children travelling all over London, with all the problems that that entails and the attendant loss of community?
Ruth Kelly: I agree with my hon. Friend that we need good local schools. The point of the proposals is to ensure that every state school has the opportunities that are currently reserved for a few. If a school needs extra freedom and flexibility to tailor its curriculum, hold extra classes, develop a specialist mission and ethos, it should have the ability to do that. That is how one develops strong schools that are rooted in the community, work with other schools and fulfil the needs of pupils and parents.
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): When the right hon. Lady's predecessor announced last summer the policy of allowing successful and popular schools to expand, it became clear a couple of days later that that did not apply to grammar schools, which we have in south Warwickshirelike them or not, they are an essential part of the provision. Will her policy allow the inclusion of grammar schools in the ability of successful schools to expand freely? If not, why will the policy apply to specialist schools in my constituency, which will be able to select people on their aptitude for mathematics, modern languages, technology, music and sport, but not grammar schools, which select on academic ability?
Ruth Kelly: Grammar schools will not be able to expand and I do not want selection to be expanded in the system. However, if a head teacher of a grammar school who is good at raising standards and promoting good educational outcomes wants to work in a school that is not a grammar school, we should allow an opportunity for that leadership to develop. In some parts of the country, grammar schools choose to federate with other schools and ensure that all children have access to the facilities in the grammar schools. The more we can break down such divides, the better.
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): Specialist schools, which my right hon. Friend rightly celebrates, work best when they reach out and collaborate with the local community, as happens in Blackpool. However, does she agree that, since Government policy across the board for matters that affect children is collaboration in education, it is key for my constituents that the policy is maintained under the White Paper's proposals? How will co-operation and collaboration on transience, special educational needs and staying-on rates be implemented or continued? How will they be guaranteed and enforced?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to those points of detail. We state in the White Paper that schools should take account of the children and young person's plan when they propose their school
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improvement plans. We propose that local authorities, with local learning and skills councils, should be responsible for delivering the 14 to 19 entitlement for specialised diplomas throughout the local area, and for publishing a prospectus for the area to ensure that that happens. We also suggest that they should be able to propose special needs units at schools when they believe that that is appropriate.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Will parents and local communities lose their current right of appeal against a local authority decision to close a village school? If they are faced with that, would taking trust status for the school allow it to continue despite the local authority's wishes?
Ruth Kelly: No, I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman about that. The White Paper does not propose reducing local authorities' powers to close schools. Indeed, in some respects, they are enhanced. A school will not be able to take on trust status when it is under threat of closure.
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): I commend my right hon. Friend's passion for education, which clearly comes through. What evidence has she taken to ascertain that freeing up schools will lead to the achievement of her aims, which many of us share? After all, in the national health service, hospitals were freed up, through foundation status and so on, but that did not lead to the results that we wanted. It was said that all hospitals would become free through foundation trusts, but that has not happened. Could not the same thing happen to education?
Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. We have learned from what has worked on the ground. It would be foolhardy to pretend that we dreamt up the ideas in isolation from our observation of what happens in our best local authority schools. Let us consider Knowsley. It has received an outstanding grade from Ofsted for the way it works to draw in external partners, provides 14 to 19 vocational opportunities for its pupils, and for its schools choosing to work together and with the local further education college to ensure that opportunities are available for everybody. We know that that works. We also know that, when a school develops a specialism or, as in the case of a city academy, develops a strong ethos in a short time, standards can improve. Such freedom and flexibility should not be reserved for the few but be available for all our state schools.
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