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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 15 November 2005

[Sir Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]

Secondary Education Reform

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Coaker.]

9.30 am

Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to have this debate. No doubt there will be several debates over coming months on secondary education. I start by saying that the White Paper, "Higher Standards, Better Schools For All", is not a panacea for all the problems in secondary education, but it is an important tool that will create opportunities to tackle them. We must recognise that all communities are different and therefore all schools will be different. To treat them all the same would be to ignore the reality on the ground. I hope that the Government do not want all schools to be the same, because such an approach would simply fail, but they should aim for high standards in all our schools.

This morning, I shall explore how secondary education can be reformed using the tools available now and tools in the White Paper. I shall consider more closely the curriculum, the quality of teaching, leadership, parental involvement, the choice agenda and admissions policy, and the role of local education authorities.

One aspect that demands close attention is the curriculum in our schools. There is plenty of evidence that there is a dip in performance in the early years of secondary education. The difficulty faced by teachers is the wide range of pupil maturity at that age. That calls for specialist key stage 3 teachers, and perhaps a change in emphasis on how pupils learn in order to maintain their interest at that early stage. Any review that takes place should bear in mind the developing 14-to-19 agenda. Given that 75 per cent. of pupils achieve key stage 2 level 4 or above, but only 50 per cent. achieve the desired level at key stage 4, something is clearly going wrong.

Many educationists were disturbed by the dismissal of Mike Tomlinson's report. Many believe that the rot sets in here: the great British disease is the artificial distinction between academic and vocational qualifications. Generally, bright pupils study for the former and the less able for the latter. As a result, our whole post-16 qualifications system reflects our society's prejudice against vocational skills and crafts in favour of more academic routes of learning. Our society is crying out for more skilled tradespeople, but we do not want that career for our children; we want it for someone else's. Reform of the post-14 curriculum could help to solve that very British problem.

I am a firm believer in supporting members of the teaching profession. The Minister knows my background. I want to put it firmly on the record that no teacher ever goes into a classroom to deliver a bad lesson or deliberately not to control the class and create a
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healthy learning environment. Sometimes, however, lessons are not as good as they should be and teachers do not control the class so that every child can learn. It is the duty of the school to ensure that teachers are well prepared and operate effectively. Every teacher should undertake self-evaluation and review after every lesson. That is what we are trained to do, but school managers need to make it a reality.

To give parents confidence in a school, there should be regular visits by head teachers and heads of department to observe classroom teaching. That should not be the job of Ofsted. Ofsted should spend its time considering the management of the school, including how quality is maintained through self-evaluation. Its visits should be unannounced, so that it can see how schools really work day in, day out. Educational outcomes, not inspections, should be the measure of success. If schools adopted continuous improvement, got their processes right and worried less about external assessment, they would be following the more successful models of businesses that know that the consumer is ultimately the one in command.

The success of a school is more often than not determined by the quality of the head teacher and other school leaders. The Government are right to support heads through the training college. If there were a magic wand to improve secondary schools, it would lie with better heads and top-performing managers of our schools. They command parental support and pupil respect and create a culture in which learning takes place and they can set a direction to make a difference for every single child.

I am encouraged by the view taken in the White Paper that federated schools can help change those that are currently underperforming. However, I am also aware of how that might stretch even the very best of head teachers. I would also like the Minister to explore how the Government's plans for greater independence of secondary schools fit with a model of federation and co-operation.

School leadership is not just the remit of the head teacher. Senior managers also make a huge difference to schools. I accept that they have their own areas of interest, such as curriculum planning, discipline or quality evaluation, and it is vital that the Government provide resources for top-level training opportunities for those staff, because not only do they have an important role to play now, but they are the next generation of head teachers.

If, as a result of the White Paper, schools are to have even greater independence, specialist management support will be needed, such as the greater use of bursars or business managers. The Government should look at the private sector to learn lessons in that area—few private schools do not have their own bursars. Head teachers do not go into their career with the aim of managing a school's finances, so let us encourage the employment of bursars, provide extra training through the National College for School Leadership, and enable heads to spend more of their time on the quality and effectiveness of teaching. I know that that is not an issue that was raised in the White Paper, but it is one that can help to reform schools, without the need for fresh legislation.
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Parental involvement in schools offers real opportunities but I know that to some it poses real threats. I have heard many people say that we cannot have parents telling teachers what to do or how to run a school. At the same time, I have heard the view that parents typically cannot be bothered to get involved.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The White Paper anticipates a requirement that trust schools will appoint parent councils and hopes that non-trust schools will do something similar. My experience of 20 years as a school governor in two local secondary schools shows that it is immensely difficult to get parents involved in annual general meetings, annual report meetings and other types of administration if their own child is not directly involved. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Mr. Foster : I accept that, but I think that it varies from school to school. In my experience as a school governor, at times one was co-opting people on to the governing body, and at other times elections had to be held. That goes back to the point that I made earlier about every community and every school being different, and the need for the Government to recognise that in relation to the ideas that are put forward in the White Paper.

I do not accept the argument that parents do not want to get involved, nor do I accept the argument that they want to take over schools. As a parent, I have had the frustration of seeing something wrong in the running of a school but not having the right forum in which to express my concerns. However, I have also spent quite a lot of time as a teacher at parents evenings waiting to see the parents whom I really wanted to see about their child's progress.

I think that parent councils will work, although I would like to see a few of them in action to make a proper assessment. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) said, the White Paper implies that they will be used for independent school trusts, but I would like to see them in all schools. They should not have the formality of a governors meeting, but nor should they be like a parent-teacher association. I am convinced of the need for clear protocols on the relationship between parent councils, governing bodies and head teachers. Perhaps those protocols should be set out in legislation.

I welcome the plan to hold termly parents evenings, with proper reporting on pupils' achievements. I know how valuable those meetings can be in helping teachers to learn more about particular pupils—my own teaching was greatly improved as a result of spending time talking to parents. I also accept that, if done properly, that plan will result in the imposition of extra burdens on teaching staff—particularly part-time teaching staff. I therefore have no hesitation in supporting the equivalent of Baker days—we could call them Kelly days—whereby extra days' holiday were given, at the discretion of the head teacher, for attendance at a far greater number of parents' evenings.

I now turn to the choice agenda and the real political debate that is going on. Some say that all parents want is a good local school for their children; if only it were
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that simple. As Will Hutton pointed out in an excellent article in The Observer last week, some parents will go to extraordinary lengths to distinguish between schools to try to give their child the best possible chance to succeed. I know from my own experience that some parents choose the private route and pay thousands each year for the advantage that it brings their child. Others move house, incurring huge costs to get into the catchment area that maximises the chance of their child getting into a particular school. Some are known to lie about where they live; others find religion.

Choice is a reality and we should not pretend otherwise. Let us have an honest debate about this but let us also accept the brutally harsh fact that it is the better-off who exercise choice. Why? They do so simply because they can. Low incomes eliminate the private solution and living in social housing does not allow for the luxury of the marketplace in order to buy and sell property. A lack of transport and family-unfriendly working hours do not allow for school runs outside local catchment areas.

One high school in Worcester serves two diametrically opposed communities, one of which is the most wealthy community in Worcestershire where 16 per cent. of primary school pupils and 9 per cent. of secondary school pupils opt out of mainstream schools in the Worcester city pyramid. In the neighbouring ward, which is one of the most deprived in Worcestershire, only 1.5 per cent. of pupils opt out of the Worcester city pyramid of schools. That proves that the status quo is condemning less affluent families to schools that are underperforming.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): The hon. Gentleman has indicated that a lot of people exercise choice in a variety of ways and that some people will go to great lengths to exercise their choices. Is he suggesting that the state should facilitate every conceivable choice—for example, the provision of grammar schools if people want them—or does he put a limit on that choice?

Mr. Foster : The hon. Gentleman poses an interesting question. Choice should be made available to parents. Clearly, it will be limited by the capacity of a school to deliver the options that parents want for their child. The system may not have the capacity to deliver a choice for a child with a specialism in a particular field. On the grammar school issue, I do not want to see a return to the unfairness of the selection process at age 11, which determined some pupils' success because they went to a fast-track grammar school, while many others were destined not to succeed because they went to the equivalent of a secondary modern.

Dr. Pugh : The hon. Gentleman has answered my question, "How much choice?" by saying that choice will always be limited by capacity—but the state can decide that capacity, so it has to make a prior decision as to how much choice it will offer. He has not really addressed that issue.

Mr. Foster : Clearly, if we take the most extreme example of one child with a particular specialism, there is no way that the state can cope with providing the perfect education for that child. There will clearly be a compromise, but it is a matter of what is in the best
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interests of the local community, and of giving parents a semblance of choice. We will have to accept that compromise.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the White Paper would stop parents, acting together, making a new school into a community school? Does the removal of the community school choice extend or narrow parental choice?

Mr. Foster : That is an intriguing question, in that it relates to one controversial aspect of the White Paper. If a new school is to be set up, the White Paper envisages it as being of an independent trust nature; it cannot be a community school. It will be a foundation as opposed to a community school. The Government need to examine that matter closely, but we must accept that not all local education authorities deliver perfect standards for the child through the community system. However, the hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point.

I want more detail on how the White Paper will support less affluent parents in making informed choices about secondary schools. If transport is a problem, bussing is, without doubt, a solution. I know that it conjures up fears about the 1960s racial divide in the United States, but bussing is a fact of life in rural and semi-rural areas. Pupils are bussed to my children's secondary school daily. If buses are used to transport the better-off as well, any social stigma attached to bussing will fail.

Local education authorities as commissioners, not providers, can deliver parental advice, but the choice issue is about more than just social class divides. Central to the whole debate is the question of whether choice helps deliver higher standards. I asked the Library for information on parental choice in the magnet school system in the United States, and it provided an excellent response. An academic review makes it clear that there are greater opportunities to involve parents in monitoring and driving up standards when they can choose secondary schools for academic reasons than would occur if only convenience or location of the school were their motivating factor. That is an obvious but important conclusion.

David Taylor : Does my hon. Friend think that the White Paper is right in marginalising the influence of county hall but strengthening the influence of Whitehall on education?

Mr. Foster : I am not certain that that is what the White Paper does. I know from discussions with my hon. Friend that he rates his LEA highly, but my experience with my LEA is not the same. We come at this from slightly different directions.

I said earlier that no teacher goes into a class to do a bad job.

David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD) rose—

Mr. Foster : I did not think that what I said was that controversial.

David Lepper : My hon. Friend indicated that it is clear that some LEAs are better than others. Does he
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agree that an underlying problem with the White Paper is the stigmatisation of all LEAs as failing to provide incentives for parental involvement, innovation, success and so on, which many of us witness every day in schools in our own communities?

Mr. Foster : I do not think that the White Paper stigmatises all LEAs. There are examples of good practice in LEAs. Some are delivering many of the items contained in the White Paper. Such models encourage us to believe that some aspects of the White Paper can be achieved, as they are already being delivered by LEAs.

Paul Rowen : Can the hon. Gentleman explain how a choice-based system will improve inner-city schools? He mentions the magnet schools. I worked in an inner city for 15 years and saw the effects of a city technology college. CTCs weakened the surrounding schools, particularly when, as happened in the past, they were given extravagant funds that were not available to other schools.

Mr. Foster : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the advantages that were given to some schools in the early 1990s worked to the detriment of many inner-city schools and areas of deprivation. I shall come to the very point that he raises in a minute or two, if he will be patient.

Parental interest and involvement in a school can encourage teachers and managers to improve what they do. I firmly believe that the basic catchment area admission policy serves merely to trap the poor and to liberate the better-off to move away from bad schools to good ones. Frankly, there is nothing socialist about such a policy. Indeed, it is the very antithesis of what the Labour party should support.

If choice is encouraged, that must be backed up by fair, simple and transparent admissions policies. We should not countenance any system that gives an in-built advantage to the middle classes. They know how to work the system now. Nor should we support types of school that favour only the middle classes. So, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, any academy created should only be for schools that are significantly underperforming—not the coasting schools, but the ones that are failing the majority of their pupils. I want to make the new schools so good that they will act as a magnet for the middle classes to aspire to get their children into, but with positive admissions policies that will ensure that the less well-off are the ones that benefit the most.

Having worked in both the private and the public sector, I would urge caution on those who think along the lines of some character from Animal Farm, that all private is good and all public is bad. Simply, there are good managers, some in the private sector and some in the public. If we are going to get support and partners, the trick is just to pick the good partners. To reduce the fears of the public being short-changed in the long run, it would be prudent for an academy or trust to be run on a fixed-term contract. The contract might be for five years, obviously with a chance to renew, subject to the meeting of targets that were set for that trust or academy at the start.

We need to be vigilant in securing the best for all our pupils. The US, hardly a socialist utopia, has countless examples of admissions policies that protect the less
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well-off and deter the creaming off of pupils, such as the quota or banding system that has been described in the White Paper. If middle-class or any other parents get involved in the running of schools, to drive up standards of achievement or just to improve behaviour, not just some but all the pupils benefit.

I am concerned about the way that admissions will be managed in a system of more independently run schools. The LEA has a key role to play. The White Paper, however, refers to a code of conduct of which schools should be mindful. I am not sure that that is strong enough language or would give the LEA the power to intervene if the system was not working or was being abused. Will the Government support having schools abide by, not just consider, local admissions policies? That would provide firm ground for those who have at heart the best interests of those parents who do not know how best to play the admissions system. If colleagues accept choice as a reality, equal opportunity for that choice to be exercised is essential.

The reality of the situation tells me that LEA-wide admissions policies may not always be most appropriate either, given the variety of local situations. In my county of Worcestershire, we have two-tier and three-tier systems for secondary education. Clearly, those systems are not wholly compatible within the county, and admissions policies are not wholly compatible. Perhaps there should be a district-wide or school-family-wide admissions policy, such as with Worcester city and Martley.

The local education authority is more likely to operate a fair admissions policy as a commissioner rather than a provider of schooling. Some colleagues are fiercely protective of the LEA role in education and see no need to change. Some fear the loss of democratic accountability, but bluntly, if the current role is working, why do the lowest socio-economic groups still suffer from the poorest outcomes? Why are the schools most likely to be underperforming more likely to be based in areas of the most deprivation? If LEAs had cracked this nut, I would be defending the status quo. They have not, and I will not. Indeed, some LEAs make the situation worse.

In Worcestershire, under a Labour-Liberal coalition, under a Tory minority-run administration and now under Tory majority rule, small schools received over- generous financial payments, at the expense of those schools with deprivation needs. Deprivation is a real issue in urban constituencies like mine. I quote Ted Wragg—from a new Labour MP, that must be a first for him—who said that

My LEA singularly fails to respond, having other priorities. There is an argument for supporting small, rural schools, but not any small school. The LEA argues that head teachers support such a local funding formula, but four head teachers of 150-pupil primary schools, receiving a generous subsidy, will always out-vote one head teacher with a 600-pupil primary school.

With the widely welcomed initiative to fund personalised learning, I beg the Minister to break the armlock that local education authorities have on
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funding. Schools should be funded also by Government according to the school's local needs, not just those of their authority. Small pockets of urban deprivation are masked by relatively prosperous shires, and children in my constituency and those like it suffer. Not all schools in Birmingham are in poor areas, and not all schools in Worcestershire educate the relatively well-off. It is vital to scrap the outdated funding method for core funding and top-ups based on an LEA-level assessment.

In my research for the debate, I considered the magnet school situation and a report by an academic called B.R. Clark from the United States. He came out with an interesting quotation, and I beg to ask leave of the Chamber to read it:

Unfortunately, that was written in 1989. It could have been written today.

Several hon. Members rose—

Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair): Order. A long list of Members have written in, and clearly the Minister must have time to respond. May I make a very strong plea to Opposition spokesmen to speak at rather less length than they would normally be entitled to, to ensure that as many Back Benchers as possible can get into this very important debate?

9.57 am

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): On the face of it, the White Paper talks the talk. Unfortunately, it does not live up to its promises, and on close scrutiny it does not take long to find some of its flaws. It talks about trust schools being created with new freedoms and powers; however, that provision is already available—for foundation schools.

It is hard to see the difference between the existing provision for foundation schools and the proposals for trust schools. Will the Minister enlighten us and provide us with a list of perhaps five differences, so that when teachers and head teachers say, "We haven't chosen to go down the foundation school road, so why are trust schools different?" we can provide them with some practical differences? That would be helpful.

There are several major flaws in the White Paper. It pledges to reduce bureaucracy on the one hand, but proposes to provide guidance and assistance to schools on the other—in effect, to tell them how they should use their new-found freedoms. That will be done via the Training and Development Agency for Schools.

The White Paper talks about creating a new legal right to enable schools to provide discipline. That is much welcomed, but it is hard to see how that right will comply with the introduction of the national behaviour charter. Surely one contradicts the other.
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The White Paper talks about giving parents new powers via parent councils, but as the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) said, funding is firmly in the armlock of the LEA. There will be no real reduction in bureaucracy, and the White Paper in fact provides for increased centralisation.

Another major flaw is the fact that, as the White Paper says:

will remain the same. They will still apply, and what our children are taught, how and by whom will stay exactly the same. That is particularly disappointing. One would have hoped that the Government would use the opportunity of the White Paper to tackle some major issues facing secondary education.

One of the main problems facing education is that the global economic axis is tilting towards China, India and Brazil. Those countries produce engineers and scientists by the thousand every year. I do not know anyone who doubts that if this country is to compete nationally in a rapidly changing global marketplace we must educate our young people to the highest standards. We must be able to compete in highly knowledge-based and highly skilled industries. Can we do that? Does the education White Paper grasp the challenge?

One challenge is to look at the way in which science is taught in schools. In the majority of state schools science is taught as a dual science subject. In the independent system it is taught as a single science subject. Privately educated people can equip themselves with the skills needed to go to university to study biochemical engineering, medicine, drug research, engineering or a whole host of other courses to position themselves well in the skills marketplace and ensure that they become high earners. Those who go to state schools do not have the same options. Anyone who attends a state school anywhere in the United Kingdom will probably have the chance to study science only at dual level, which does not provide the depth of knowledge required to move on to university.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Many, many state school pupils go on to have successful university careers and many students who start off by doing dual science end up doing separate science at A-level. The hon. Lady's blanket criticism is unnecessary.

Mrs. Dorries : Unfortunately, the figures do not back up the hon. Lady's statement. The overwhelming majority of children who go on to university to study science come from the independent sector, not the state sector. To bear that out, only two of the 27 new academies offer science as a single subject.

If children from the state system want to go on to study important subjects that we will need, such as medical innovation and research, they cannot. Why did the Government in their White Paper not grasp that challenge and offer heads the opportunity to change the curriculum in their schools or to adapt the curriculum so that they could offer those subjects? Why did the Government not use their most relevant and important White Paper to tackle some of the real issues of inequality in our education system today? Instead, the White Paper is full of politically correct words such as
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"pivotal reforms" and "removing barriers", which mean nothing. There are no real reforms behind the glossy words to back up the rhetoric and, unfortunately, it is largely a testament to spin. If the Government really believe that market-based reform is the way to improve schools, surely they would empower head teachers to prepare children to compete in the changing labour marketplace and allow them to change the curriculum. The nation needs those skills if it is to remain competitive.

The hon. Member for Worcester said that all schools were different and he was right, but all children are the same. Our young people are the message we send to the future. They are all aspirational. The message that the White Paper sends is that the Government got it wrong for eight years and when they tried to put it right they got it wrong again. They missed the best opportunity they had to make the necessary change in how our schools operate and they thought that media studies, not science, was the essential economy-enhancing subject of the future. One must ask what has been happening for eight years.

Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Lady acknowledge that the creative industries are a growth sector and that they are the fastest growing sector for employment? Subjects other than science are important.

Mrs. Dorries : I acknowledge that they are a growth sector, but they will not enable us to challenge China, India and Brazil, which are dominating the growth market at the moment. The creative industries may be a growth sector in the UK, but I doubt whether they are in the world economy.

The White Paper would not be on the table today if it had the teeth needed to meet our challenges for the future. I wish that the Government had embraced the needs of tomorrow and enabled schools to meet the challenges that they sometimes fail to meet. I wish that there was some real promise for children in schools who are aspirational and want to work in highly paid industries. I wish that it had offered them those challenges; I am afraid that it does not.

Several hon. Members rose—

Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair): Order. If hon. Members restrict their comments to five minutes, all those who want to speak will be called.

10.5 am

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I will be brief, Sir Nicholas. I simply want to make three main points. In spite of the difficulties with the presentation of the White Paper to many Labour Members and many of our colleagues in the country—Labour councillors, school governors and members of our party—we must draw a distinction between the political management of the White Paper and its content. First and foremost, it is important to say that 75, 80, or 85 per cent. of the content of the White Paper will be widely welcomed by parents, members of our party and the wider public. The sections that deal with freeing up the curriculum, school discipline, reform and improvements to the work force
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and parental involvement—although there are some problems there—are eminently sensible. My only regret is that we did not have a White Paper like this eight years ago so that we could have made even more improvements to our system in the time that we have been in office.

The White Paper contains an enormous amount that is good, welcome and long overdue. However, there is the question of structural change. I welcome the fact that the Government finally recognise that structures and standards are related. The issues involved in the structural change are hugely controversial. My fear is that, as the White Paper is written—with the new system of trusts—we could easily be led down a road that would mean that Britain had the most stratified and segregated system of secondary education in Europe. If schools are to be given greater autonomy and greater powers, if we are to have a greater range of providers in the system, and if competition is to be injected to a greater degree than before, it is critical that there are counterbalancing measures to ensure that the energy and innovation that are released are used and developed for the public good, for the good of the local community and in the national interest.

It is critical that there is clarity about what new powers are being given to local education authorities and particularly about how the schools commissioner is going to do his or her work. I want to dwell on that for a moment. There seems to be a big gap in the description of the trusts and how they might work. How do we prevent some schools—the most dynamic schools, the schools that happen to have energetic head teachers and supportive governing bodies—from simply acquiring the best and most influential trusts and therefore moving forward in a way that will simply widen the gap between schools that are already strong and schools that are less strong?

The White Paper makes some reference to the role of the schools commissioner and says that he will work, in particular, with schools in underprivileged and disadvantaged areas. However, it does not say that the trusts idea will be targeted specifically to give strength to the schools that need it most. We must include in the forthcoming education Bill something that makes it clear that we are about helping, supporting and building up the strength and status of schools that are currently in the weakest position.

It follows that the key to the success of a more autonomous school system is the admissions policy. The White Paper is clear about the need for a fair admissions policy. I welcome the fact that our election manifesto earlier this year also gave great prominence to the concept of fair admissions. Sadly, as things stand, we have not yet quite defined what a fair admissions policy is. I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) about the need for the national code of practice on school admissions to be made mandatory—that is to say, for schools to have to comply with it rather than just have regard to it. However, that will work only if the content of the code is worth complying with and will lead to greater equality of opportunity.

Nia Griffith : Is my hon. Friend, like me, puzzled by the three-year limit on the admissions policy? It seems
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that the idea of having an admissions policy is washed away if, after three years, schools can do what they like. If some schools are scrabbling for the brightest pupils, that may leave other schools out in the cold. That would completely distort the balanced picture that the admissions policy is supposed to support.

Mr. Chaytor : I agree completely. The three-year limit is a recipe for further instability in the system, and it must go.

I am not sure whether I have earned an additional minute, Sir Nicholas, as a result of the intervention or whether the same rules apply in Westminster Hall as in the House. I shall bring my remarks to a close, however, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

The White Paper refers to the use of banding. I am not sure that that is a panacea, as banding brings its own difficulties. However, if we genuinely believe in fair admissions and balanced intakes, the new code of practice must be clearer and more specific. Given that the Government have recently completed a consultation on the new draft code of practice, it would be absolutely inconsistent for the revised code to be published before the proposed education Bill goes through the House. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the revision of the code of practice on admissions will not be published until the House has fully scrutinised the Bill.

10.11 am

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I thank the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) for initiating the debate. The publication of the White Paper means that this is a timely opportunity to debate the reform of secondary education.

How will the White Paper raise standards in inner-city schools, which has been the key issue in my career so far? I ask that as someone who has been a teacher for 28 years, 25 of which have been spent at inner-city schools. I was a deputy headmaster at a large secondary school for 15 years.

The White Paper, by concentrating on structures, misses the point. The Government did much good work in their early years, when they concentrated on what was going on in the classroom, on the processes and on what they could do to improve what pupils are taught. I mention the early years strategy, the literacy hour, the numeracy hour, key stage 3, specialist schools and the leadership incentive grant, which was beneficial where I was working.

The Government have now moved away from that good work. The White Paper, in contrast, talks about self-governing schools, trusts and weakening the role of the LEAs. How will those measures improve what is happening in the classroom?

I worked for 15 years in Bradford. Choice is available for the few in the inner cities. It is okay for the rich, the middle class and those in the know, but the Government are offering choice as a panacea without doing anything to improve standards, and that is totally fallacious. I worked in south Bradford, where there are six secondary schools, of which one was a city technology college. Under a Conservative Government, we had to put up with the fact that that school was given exorbitant resources and a preferential admissions policy. The effect of that policy was to weaken the other five
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secondary schools in south Bradford. That is not the situation now. Those six schools have been working together for the past few years. Indeed, last year I was the improvement grant co-ordinator for those schools.

However, one of those six schools is a former CTC and three were in serious weakness or special measures last year. The problems that they faced—they faced them together because they were working as a federation—are common: the inability to recruit and retain the right staff, problems with the condition of the buildings, and so on. I read the White Paper and say, "What are you doing to improve standards?" I am afraid that I see precious little being done.

The role of the LEA is crucial in improving standards. The Government have an obsession with the private sector; I compare Bradford LEA, which is privatised, with the LEA in my constituency of Rochdale, both of which were put on special measures at the same time. Last year, Rochdale, which is still a genuine LEA, had the fastest-improving rate of key stage 4 results and this year its key stage 2 results had the fastest improvement in the country. There are no secondary schools in Rochdale in special measures and it is introducing the "Every Child Matters" agenda by bringing social services and education departments together in one body.

I compare Rochdale with Bradford LEA. It has academies, takes part in every experiment that the Government want and has made only modest progress. Last year, 11 secondary schools in Bradford had serious weaknesses or were in special measures. In terms of its progress, which is shown in the results table, it is in the middle of the league. The progress in Bradford is nowhere near that in Rochdale.

What worries me about the White Paper is that it does not address the fundamental problems that areas in inner cities such as Bradford need to address: the need for sustained investment and co-operation, not competition. We had 18 years of competition under the Tories and it did absolutely nothing for secondary education in Bradford.

I want the Government to look closely at what choice means. If it is choice for the few at the expense of the majority, or if it means even one of the six schools being left languishing and the children in it not getting the benefits of the education that they deserve, and which others receive, that is completely unacceptable. The Government should be talking about schools working together to improve results, with weaker schools being supported by the stronger ones. That will not happen under these proposals for choice. We had 18 years of that, and I do not want to return to it.

10.18 am

Jon Cruddas (Dagenham) (Lab): I want to emphasise a couple of points that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) made on the White Paper's agenda. I acknowledge his good work in securing the debate.

I shall take up the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) about the links between class and attainment but from a slightly different standpoint—not by taking a dogmatic approach in terms of public or private sector but by
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showing the empirical evidence of the work done by schools in my constituency in providing change in life opportunities for local kids.

The statistics relating to the borough are relevant. London-wide, on average, about 18.5 per cent. of adult residents have a higher education qualification. In the borough of Barking and Dagenham, the average is about 3.5 per cent., and the rate of adult numeracy and literacy is the second and fourth worst nationally. The borough's track record on secondary schools is not good: in 1992, only 15.5 per cent. of pupils achieved five or more GCSEs at A* to C grades. Overall, the historic picture is of persistent low levels of attainment and educational aspiration. However, in the last 10 years there has been an extraordinary transformation in the performance of secondary schools; six of the eight or nine in the borough of Barking and Dagenham are in my constituency.

In 1996, 27 per cent. of the pupils obtained five or more GCSEs—18 points behind the national average, which was then 45 per cent. Last year, more than 50 per cent. secured five A* to C grades, just 3 per cent. behind the national average. That is an extraordinary rate of change in the performance of the LEA. In the space of 10 years, that was the most improved local education authority in the country as to school attainment for secondary school kids. That cannot be ignored, not least because the GCSE results are reinforced by improvements across key stages 1, 2 and 3.

We are witnessing a transformation of attainment and life opportunities for working-class kids in our borough. That radical change has, fundamentally, been built on the strategic leadership of the LEA and strong leadership from the schools. The hard groundwork has been established for durable change in school attainment. That has been based on a comprehensive strategy involving local schools. The cornerstone of that strategy is the principle of the local community school at the heart of each neighbourhood. I do not quite understand how this pragmatic, durable, incremental and comprehensive strategy dovetails with the strategy contained in the White Paper.

In 1997, the Prime Minister said:

He also spoke of standards, not structures. However, we are seeing further local advancement for our kids put at risk because of a preoccupation with structures, forms and governance. The White Paper states that the only structure for the future is

The White Paper removes the right of local authorities to publish their own proposals for the establishment of new community schools. It states that

Our local strategy has been based on the notion of the community school. It is ironic that, a few weeks ago, it was proposed that the White Paper be launched at a local community school that we had just opened—the Jo Richardson school at Castle Green in Dagenham. That did not happen, but it is a fantastic school, which has a revolving door in terms of people, including international visitors, coming in to look at the new
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building and the performance that it promises. That is a fantastic illustration of the strategy being systematically developed by the LEA. That strategy is at risk.

Arguably, this matter is more important in our community than any other, because our population is anticipated to grow by some 35,000 over the next 10 to 15 years. Therefore, we are not talking about closing schools; we are talking about building more. Arguably, we shall be building schools outside the system that has delivered the fastest rate of improvement in school attainment for working-class kids in the country. We have some of the most difficult terrain in terms of the long legacy of underperformance of public services and poverty of attainment and aspiration among the working class. I do not see where that fits within the strategy outlined in the White Paper.

A benign view of the White Paper is that it will allow for local conditions and may have a much more flexible introduction than we assume. Moreover, in contrast to the earlier grant-maintained schools, there will be no financial inducements. However, I am not too sure about that because I have heard that those schools that become trusts will have their deficits removed at a stroke, which, I infer, will be a financial inducement to move outside the present regime. That is in direct contrast to our local successful model. The objective is greater fragmentation at local level, not least because the White Paper gives all foundation, voluntary-aided and trust schools the freedom

when considering admissions.

My borough is interested only in increasing equity and building excellence. We have a strategy that is systematically delivering for local people in very challenging circumstances. At the moment, I cannot see how the White Paper will aid our local pragmatic strategy, I cannot see how the admissions system will deliver and I cannot see how the trusts will positively transform the picture. It will take some strong empirical evidence to convince me that the laudable aims of the Government to provide a better education for every child can be achieved by the measures outlined so far in the White Paper.

10.24 am

Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I shall address the White Paper, but I feel that it would be useful to outline some of the challenges faced in my constituency by staff and pupils in the borough of Hackney. Hackney has a high turnover of population of around 20 to 25 per cent. a year. When I visited a primary school during the summer, the head teacher told me that, in year 6, fewer than 20 per cent. of pupils had been there since reception. That highlights some of the challenges faced throughout the school system. Over 80 per cent. of pupils are from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. Half of all secondary school pupils have English as an additional language, which, compared with a national average of 10 per cent, underlines the challenges. The percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals is almost three times the national average.
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However, Hackney's secondary schools are among the fastest improving in the country in terms of GCSE results. Provisional results from the Learning Trust suggest that performance improved at more than three times the national rate. Six out of eight secondary schools now have over 50 per cent. of pupils gaining five A* to C grades, although in 2002, only one of the then nine schools could boast that. We are seeing a step change. Given that baseline in 2002, it is hardly surprising that Hackney's mayor, who was elected that year, the Learning Trust and the MPs have been supporters of the city academy's programme and the London Challenge, which have already made such a difference to Hackney's schools.

We already have the oversubscribed Mossbourne academy, in a top-quality, brand new building, designed by Richard Rogers with guidance from the head teacher. It was designed to suit the pupils. Mossbourne is, along with the planned Bridge academy and Petchey academy, which are yet to be built, a mixed non-denominational, non-selective school. That is in response to a local need, and we look forward to seeing its impact as those pupils reach GCSE level. Hackney is also one of only a few boroughs where all secondary schools have specialist status, and we have seen the difference that that makes to GCSE attainment. However, despite all those achievements, we all know that there is still a long way to go. The challenges of population turnover, multilingual home environments and poverty contribute to that challenge. One thing is clear to me, as a relatively new Member of Parliament: there is no poverty of ambition in Hackney. Many constituents whom I meet are working and studying and, at the same time, supporting their children and encouraging them to do well at school.

Some people have criticised the White Paper for suggesting the abolition of the LEA. I am a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament and I firmly believe in decentralisation, and in devolving power to the most appropriate local level. For most people who are directly involved in education—the pupils—their connection is with their school. Hackney's schools already have a great deal of autonomy and the LEA no longer exists in a traditional form, having been replaced by the Learning Trust. When that happened, the sky did not fall in. In fact, as I outlined, we have seen significant improvement in school achievement. It also placed councillors in a challenging role in taking on the strategic vision for the future of our schools; that is something that the elected mayor of Hackney, Jules Piper, has risen to, along with his council colleagues. However, it means that we need across-the-board support for councillors to take on that role. It is easy to get lost in the daily detail of running schools, and we must take that up a level.

I want to touch on the issue of extending autonomy to head teachers. Although I favour it, I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to consider two things. First, heads and governing bodies must be held firmly to account if they are to have such a level of responsibility and control. Secondly, where an LEA is doing a good job and there is no appetite from local schools to take on more, we should allow for some central support. However, that should be coupled with a pressure to devolve and appropriate responsibility for heads. It should not be an opt-out.
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Parental involvement is another issue, but I do not have time to go into it now. I simply want to indicate to my right hon. Friend the Minister the importance of including all parents, not just those who are in the know. There should not be carte blanche for those who can work the system. Many parents in my constituency, who do not have English as a first language and do not understand the system, feel shut out at present. If the White Paper helps them to get involved, that is a good step, but we have some way to go before that becomes a reality. I am keen to hear the Minister mention that.

I have just a moment to mention a report that was published yesterday by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which I commend to hon. Members. I shall not go into the detail, but it highlighted the difference in achievement among certain ethnic minority groups. It concludes that they can succeed and have high aspirations. The Government have launched "Every Child Matters" and the youth Green Paper, and we must see a continuum from one to the other. "Every Child Matters" focused on children in care—the hard end of the spectrum of children. We must see a much wider agenda. If, in the White Paper, we are saying bye-bye to the LEA and hello to a children's authority, that can only be good. However, that authority must champion the needs of those who are most in need, commission successfully, and challenge to create the widest range of provision, youth work and other support for children, to make a real difference to every child. If the White Paper is proposing a personalised education agenda focused on the pupil and not the institution, we welcome it, with some of the caveats that I have outlined.

10.30 am

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I invite my right hon. Friend the Minister to visit Sheffield to look at the issues there. With other Sheffield MPs, last night I met 65 colleagues, many of them councillors and school governors, who expressed concern that much of the White Paper addresses perceived problems in parts of London and has little to do with the issues faced in Sheffield. I welcome many elements of the White Paper, but I want to express the concerns raised at that meeting.

First, there was a feeling that the choice agenda is being developed too far: if any secondary school that is successful and full—there are some in my constituency—can expand at will, without being part of a co-ordinated approach to the city's overall capacity, that will cause problems. Not only will it not provide a solution for at least three years, but it will happen at a time when there is over-capacity in secondary schools, as numbers fall. If we allow successful schools to expand, will that mean spare capacity in other schools—perhaps struggling schools in more deprived communities? Will the solution therefore be to bus more of the academically able kids from those schools to the more successful ones, leaving behind those that are unviable? That is contrary to the Government's sustainable communities approach, as those schools are buildings not merely for educating kids, but for adult learning, for youth and for the community. There does not seem to be much joined-up government in that approach.

There is a need for somebody to oversee expansion in the area. Sheffield college in my constituency, which is looking to develop post-16 vocational provision, is
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worried about going ahead because it is not sure whether the local schools will develop a similar capacity at the same time, with nobody having the oversight to control the process, get the bodies together and say, "We will do one thing rather than another". The idea that the building programme can simply be a free-for-all will not work.

We are successful in getting about 95 per cent. of first choices for parents and children in Sheffield. We have a joint admissions policy, which we work with Rotherham and Derbyshire on a joint arrangement basis. We are worried about the idea that every school will have its own individual admissions approach and that none will ultimately have to conform to the fair admissions code. We do not believe that a series of separate, fragmented admissions policies with a different form for every school will help parents to make a decent choice.

We are worried about trusts coming in and a different form of ownership, when at present in Sheffield families of schools work together under the LEA. We believe that that is the way forward—through co-operation rather than competition. We do not believe that LEAs will micro-manage schools; they do not do so in Sheffield now. Their role is to be a locally elected, democratically accountable body, with the right to plan capacity, oversee admissions, ensure co-operation and take strategic decisions. That is what we want to retain, and we are worried that the White Paper challenges some of those important rights.

10.34 am

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): I became an education adviser when the national curriculum was introduced in the late '80s, at a time when schools were encouraged to apply for grant-maintained status. I remember the way in which that undermined the whole system, with unfair admissions and unfair funding. It is therefore crucial that, in their reorganisation and reform of secondary education, the Government ensure that there is fair funding for all schools and a tough admissions policy to which they all adhere, including a fair way of sharing pupils with behavioural problems. I recall the words from the 2005 Labour manifesto:

Those words are particularly relevant in my constituency, where full schools can refuse disruptive pupils, thus creating a two-tier secondary system. Although I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) says about his constituency and community schools, I know that in my constituency there is a clear split between community schools and foundation schools—where grant-maintained schools have become foundation schools. There is still a difference between the pupils going to those schools: pupils from more deprived areas go to community schools.

As an education adviser, I saw the Tories' failure to invest fairly in education in all schools, which created the two-tier system. I taught a few lessons in the '80s and '90s, but I learned two important truths. We cannot reform the whole system without both the investment to back it up and the structures that will create a level playing field for every school. That is why I welcome the
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White Paper and look forward to those fair structures being introduced for schools in Swindon and throughout the country.

10.36 am

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on the way in which he introduced the debate, and particularly his initial remarks on the curriculum. They may have been outside the scope of the White Paper but he made some very important points, particularly on the importance of Tomlinson—we need to revive that process and get it back on the Government's agenda—and on vocational education, which he expressed extremely eloquently. Obviously, the Foster report has some things to say about that, but we also need to ensure that those lessons are taken into our secondary sector.

The debate is useful because we can try to get a clear indication from the Minister of what the White Paper means. As other hon. Members have said, there is some confusion about, and contradiction within, the White Paper on the future of local authorities. Will local authorities have more powers, or fewer? Where does the balance lie in their new role? What are the real differences between the new types of schools proposed? Do the words on parental choice mean much? Is it not just a matter of giving out some red meat to newspapers and parents but not delivering anything meaningful in the way of parental choice?

I want to focus my remarks on two issues: trust schools and admissions policies. Trust schools could be an interesting idea, which might help promote diversity in the secondary and primary system. However, as I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Worcester, the idea of excluding community schools is nonsensical if we want diversity. Diversity should include a future for community schools. Trust schools may be a vehicle to extend the diversity that we have at the moment, but how will they work? Will they enable collaboration between schools, which is a key test, and how will they be structured? If the Minister cannot answer my specific questions on trust schools in the time that she has today, I hope that she will do me the courtesy of writing to me.

What are the carrots or sticks for a school to move to trust status? Reading the White Paper, one finds words such as "encourage". A new nationalised quango is being set up under the schools commissioner and it looks as though he or she may be pushing and cajoling schools to become trust schools. However, the framework is not clear and I would like the Minister to say a little more about that. Where would the freedoms and status of trust schools differ from foundation schools? Again, that is unclear. They might have a different relationship with outside sponsors, but how is that different from the status of specialist foundation schools?

How will the powers of existing school governors change if they vote for their school to join or become a trust? Will those governors be voting themselves out of a job? How will their relationship work with a trust that may be running 10 to 15 schools? Could a local authority be part of a trust? Could a series of schools
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come together with a local authority to form a community trust of schools? That is an interesting idea that could be developed if aspects of collaboration can be taken on.

The White Paper says that if a trust school wants freedom in relation to the curriculum, the school can apply for it. How will that process work? Does the school have to go to the Department or the schools commissioner? Who will confer that freedom on a trust school and what will be the rationale and criteria used for conferring that freedom? Can the Minister confirm that the Government have given a categorical assurance to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers that trust schools will have to apply national pay scales and conditions? If so, how does that square with what the White Paper says? What will be the relationship between trust schools and a local authority? Will the new powers for local authorities in chapter 9—for example, to serve an improvement notice on a failing school—apply simply to community schools or will they also apply to city academies and trust schools? The Minister seems to assent from a sedentary position. I hope that she will confirm that for the record. Finally, on trust schools, do the Government have a timetable target for the number of trust schools that they want to be set up, say by 2009 or 2010? They have established a target for city academies. Do they have a similar target for trust schools?

On admissions, the Government seem to make four key proposals in the White Paper. They propose that every primary and secondary school could become its own admissions authority, that there will be a new duty on local authorities relating to fair access and that there will be more free school transport for disadvantaged children, and they make a rather undeveloped reference to banding. They are interesting ideas, but they have caused real alarm on the Liberal Democrat Benches and on the Labour Benches. If more schools—and potentially every primary and secondary school—could become their own admissions authority, that could be a serious threat to equality of opportunity. As another Member said, equality of opportunity is not necessarily guaranteed and certainly has not been produced in practice by the local education authority being the controller of admissions, but it is not clear that having 24,000 separate admissions authorities will guarantee equality of opportunity either.

Let us try to test the Government's model with some questions. If the Government are so keen on the model, why, as other Members have said, will they not make the code of practice on admissions legally binding? If they are not that keen and if the code is not made legally binding, how will the idea that the Secretary of State put forward—that there will be a statutory instrument making looked-after children the top admissions criterion for every school—work? It is a good idea to ensure that looked-after children are the top priority. What about special needs children as well? That is really important. How will that proposal work overall, in a legal context, within the codes framework?

How will the new duty for local authorities work? Will the local authorities have any teeth in pushing the duty? Will they be able to tell a school, "You are not promoting fair access. You've got to change your admissions arrangements, or the way you administer them"? Have the Government considered that that idea
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might fit within their own model? Schools could be allowed to set their own admissions criteria, but the administration of that admissions policy could be handed over to the local authority. The parents would apply to the local authority to go to a particular school, the school having set its own criteria. That would be a more transparent system. It would prevent schools from choosing parents and might mean that parents chose schools. Handing the administration arrangements over to the local authority might be the safeguard that some of us want—or one of the many safeguards that some of us want.

There are many other questions that I would like to ask, but I shall finish with three broader ones, although I want to focus on trusts and admissions. First, how will the White Paper help to address falling rolls in most parts of the country? I accept that in areas of the Thames Gateway, in Milton Keynes and in a few London boroughs, there are expanding populations, which means that there is a need for schools to expand and for new schools to be created, but that is not the case in the vast majority of areas. The White Paper mentions falling rolls only once. That is a dereliction of duty, given that falling rolls are the key challenge facing schools over the next 10 years.

Why does the White Paper keep so much power in Whitehall? As another Member said, many aspects of the White Paper read as though it is proposing a further nationalisation of education. Why is that and how does that square with the rhetoric about more freedoms?

Finally, how does the White Paper help the "Every Child Matters" agenda? It is talked about in some of the later chapters, which are among the better parts of the White Paper, but there are no proposals anywhere for a duty on schools to co-operate with other schools and the local authority to deliver "Every Child Matters". Frankly, without that, the White Paper is failing that agenda. The Minister must address that point.

10.45 am

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): I shall try to restrict my remarks to give the Minister the opportunity to respond to the points that hon. Members have raised. I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on securing the debate and on the way in which he opened it. There was much that he said that I could agree with. In particular, he was right to highlight the fact that every school and every child is different, and that a system is needed that is built round the needs of the children rather than those of the school, the council or the Government.

I shall focus on three key issues that arise from the White Paper—choice, the expansion of capacity, and autonomy for schools. We in the Opposition welcome the emphasis in the White Paper on increasing school choice. Choice is a good thing in itself, but it is also an important driver to raise standards in our schools. The hon. Member for Worcester came up with some research evidence from magnet schools from the United States.

In his foreword to the White Paper, the Prime Minister highlighted the fact that

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That is an important message for the Government. They must ensure that choice becomes effective.

I shall be critical of the Government for the moment. Although, over the past three or four years, they have talked a great deal about improving capacity in our schools, and about ensuring that there are more school places for parents to choose from, the reality behind that rhetoric is that only seven schools have received funding from the Government to expand the number of places that are on offer and create additional choice in their areas. Looking at the number of schools that put forward applications to expand their numbers over the past year, two were rejected by school organisation committees and have already been referred to the adjudicator—that is two out of the five that school organisation committees have had the chance to look at.

We need more capacity in schools. Admissions policies have become so central to the argument because there is a shortage of good schools and a shortage of places in good schools. The Prime Minister was right when he said in a speech in Downing street, before the White Paper was published:

The point about equity is also important in relation to that matter, as the hon. Member for Worcester pointed out. Again, in his foreword, the Prime Minister said:

Choice and capacity therefore go hand in hand in this debate.

It is not clear from the White Paper that the Government have clearly identified what drivers they will use to improve capacity in the system. Reference is made to the funding for new schools coming through the "Building schools for the future" programme, and there is a suggestion that there might be a fund set aside for backing new schools. We need a concrete indication from the Government of how they will work to increase capacity in the school system.

It is also important, in tackling the issues related to attainment, to give schools greater autonomy. On Friday, I visited an excellent school in Portsmouth in which the head teacher has used the flexibility available to her to change the curriculum, to ensure that it meets the needs of children. In the past six years, that school has seen a 20-fold increase in the proportion of children getting five A* to C grades. The head teacher has been able to achieve that as a result of being given autonomy.

Academies have been set up with incredible autonomy in staffing, curriculum and governance. If those freedoms are seen as vital in raising standards in areas served by academies, it is important that those same freedoms are made available to trust schools and foundation schools. I was concerned that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) made reference to an assurance that the Government had given to the NASUWT about trust schools not being
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able to have those freedoms, because that certainly runs counter to the answer that the Minister gave me earlier this month.

The pivotal issue is the role of local authorities. We have seen examples of the ambiguity underpinning the White Paper, and the Government must be much clearer on that issue. Will the balance of power sit with Whitehall or with county hall? My concern is that those who are not fully signed up to the ethos and strategy set out by the Prime Minister in his foreword to the White Paper will use some of the checks and balances in the legislation to frustrate the aims of increasing school choice, creating more equity, raising standards and providing schools with autonomy.

The Government need to be much clearer, both to their own Back Benchers and to other parties in the House, about the direction of policy, so that we can understand whether or not the White Paper will live up to its political presentation or, as the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) said, live up to its substance.

10.50 am

The Minister for Schools (Jacqui Smith) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on initiating and introducing the debate. He drew on his considerable experience as an educationist, in business and as a committed constituency MP. He set a useful and important context for the debate, which was followed by some important and helpful contributions.

Although everybody has given me as much time as possible to respond in the debate, I will not be able to cover every single issue. However, I suspect that this debate is the first of many, so I am sure that, as well as responding to some specific questions, we will have ample opportunity to return to the issues.

The challenge of secondary education reform is one we set ourselves in the context of building on the significant successes of the past eight years. We have the best ever set of results for our young people at 11, 14, 16 and 18. We have a work force who have grown in size and quality—

as evidenced by Ofsted. We have significantly reduced the number of failing schools and are able to turn around quickly those that go into special measures. However, as hon. Members have identified today, there are still challenges in the system.

Despite the fact that schools in disadvantaged areas have improved faster than others, we have more work to do to narrow the attainment gap between individuals. We have to do more to improve our staying-on rates post-16. Hon. Members rightly raised the important issue of reforms at 14 to 19. In the near future, we will bring forward the implementation plan that spells out how we will take the next stages for ensuring the right place for vocational education, for focusing on basic skills and for other important issues raised. We need to do more to improve discipline and behaviour, so that teachers can teach and pupils can learn. The White Paper is about meeting those challenges and raising our aspirations, both for individual children and for schools.
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Some hon. Members have said that the White Paper does not focus on what is happening in the classrooms, but at the heart of the White Paper is the challenge of how we personalise and tailor education for every single child and ensure that progress is being made. We spell out and will give more detail about our support through new resources; through further reforms to the work force; through developing our information and communications technology; through the opportunity—particularly in those early years of secondary education, as my hon. Friend identified—for young people to catch up, where they have not got the basic skills necessary, and to have extra tuition and support through extended schools; and through expanding the gifted and talented programme. That will reach into every secondary classroom.

Likewise, as my hon. Friend identified, there will be the new challenges to performance-manage teachers in a way that focuses on their teaching and learning. The new Ofsted framework and the nature of the inspections raises the bar on school improvement. We will support school leadership, through the National College for School Leadership and, particularly, through the support for those leaders increasingly leading complex schools and working in collaboration with other schools to drive improvement through the system. Many such issues are covered in the White Paper.

Ensuring that we maintain the improvement in standards and make that reach every child is a big and important job. Arguably, that should not and could not be left to schools and educationists alone. That is why we argue in the White Paper for new opportunities for schools to draft in the support that they need. Our vision is of a system open to the influence and support of communities, of civic and faith bodies, of employers and of wider education institutions. The independent sector and the most successful state schools have always benefited from that type of support network. Our task is to bring its benefits to schools that have previously had to battle through alone. That is the starting point for the trust school model and why we will intervene explicitly—my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) made important points on this subject—to ensure that there is redistribution of the broader support to those in the most challenging circumstances.

I cannot answer all the detailed questions, but trust schools, while benefiting from the drive and success culture of external partners, will remain firmly part of the local authority family of schools, subject to fair admissions, fair funding and full accountability. We expect trusts to be developed by community organisations, binding the local school into its community.

There has been comment on the proposal that as local authorities move to a commissioner role, they should not be promoting and producing new community schools. Let me be clear. The term "community school" refers only to the legal entity of that school. It is clear, as we take forward this policy, that schools are a fundamental part of their community, linked into extended services and delivering on the broader children's agenda. That is what schools, whether or not they are self-governing or continuing as community schools, should be about. In building trusts around other successful schools, universities and community organisations, we can ensure that that is embedded more clearly in the way in which our schools are run.
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All trusts will be required to have charitable objects, which we will set down in regulations. We shall proscribe certain individuals from being members of school trusts and ensure that no trust can be established without local consultation. I take seriously the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North about how we focus the efforts of the schools commissioner to ensure that the external support is drafted into the schools in which it is most needed.

There was considerable discussion of choice and admissions in the debate. As my hon. Friends outlined, parents value the right to choose a school for their child and that choice cannot be driven by the ability to go into the private sector or to move house. We need to create more good school places. Although I do not have time to go into it, there is a strong emphasis in the White Paper on how we focus on school improvement and tackle school failure. As we create those places, we need to ensure that we redistribute choice. We shall achieve that by ensuring that we provide advice to those parents who need it most, not least to counter the problem of self-deselection, whereby parents are put off applying to good schools. We shall also extend the offer of free transport for the most disadvantaged pupils.

We will ensure fair admissions for all schools. Several of my hon. Friends raised that issue, and I listened carefully to what they said. We have a clear objective of ensuring that we develop the system described within a fair admissions system. It is not about returning to the divisive selection that several hon. Members identified as part of the previous grant-maintained regime. The school admissions code of practice is a device to which all admissions authorities must have regard in setting their admissions arrangements. It requires arrangements to be fair, clear and objective. We shall issue a new code in the new year, which will contain advice on reducing social segregation. The code is backed up by the schools adjudicator. However, I listened to and will reflect carefully on the points made
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by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester about how we need to strengthen that process to ensure that we deliver on the objective of fair admissions.

Several hon. Members mentioned local authorities. At the heart of the school system will be the local authority. It will play a new role, standing up for the interests of pupils and parents, rather than protecting the providers, but it will be a significant role, ensuring sufficiency and planning of school places, including through strategic capital plans. The role will also involve ensuring that the admissions code is adhered to, integrating schools into the "Every Child Matters" work and the broader work on children's services, engaging parents, setting the terms for new school competitions, playing an important part in 14-to-19 provision and having new powers to intervene swiftly where schools are underperforming. I hope that I have given some reassurance that this debate will continue.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair): We are grateful to the Minister for seeking to get in as much as possible in the time allocated. I regret to say that the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne), who has secured the next debate, is not present and, as there is no debate at 12.30, I therefore have no alternative but to suspend the sitting until 1 o'clock.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): On a point of order, Sir Nicholas.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair): I regret to say that there cannot be a point of order on the matter. The hon. Gentleman who succeeded in securing the debate is not present at the appropriate time, so I have no alternative but to suspend the sitting.

11.1 am

Sitting suspended.

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