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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A (6) (Programme motions),

Question agreed to.


Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.

9 Jan 2006 : Column 128


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Northern Ireland

That the draft Industrial and Provident Societies (Northern Ireland) Order 2005, which was laid before this House on 14th November, be approved.—[Mr. Watson.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Proceeds of Crime

That the draft Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and Money Laundering Regulations 2003 (Amendment) Order 2005, which was laid before this House on 22nd November,
be approved.—[Mr. Watson.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Constitutional Law

That the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modifications of Schedule 5) Order 2006, which was laid before this House on 29th November, be approved.—[Mr. Watson.]

Question agreed to.



10.20 pm

Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North) (Lab): After first wishing you a happy new year, Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek your indulgence because I find myself in a very unusual position. I have brought forward this petition on behalf of my constituent, Mr. Ron McQuillan. I do not agree with the petition, but I would not in any way wish to prevent him from having his rights in this House, and in fairness I have brought it forward. It is right that I say that in fairness to Mr. McQuillan and myself.

Mr. Speaker: Petition—Mr. Etherington.

Bill Etherington: I cannot really say any more, Mr. Speaker. I have never come across a situation where an MP has brought a petition that he does not agree with.

Mr. Speaker: Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that an hon. Member does not have to agree with the spirit or intention of the petition, but he is required to explain to the House what it is about. I am getting curiouser and curiouser.

Bill Etherington: It is not about me, Mr. Speaker—that is one thing that is for certain.
9 Jan 2006 : Column 129

The petitioner, Mr. McQuillan, has had a long-running dispute with just about everyone in society about asbestos in his house. He has managed to get a few people to support him, and that is the basis of his petition.

Mr. Speaker: Does the hon. Gentleman have the petition?

Bill Etherington: It is in the Table Office.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should have the petition in his possession. For the sake of good order, perhaps tomorrow he can bring the petition with him and present it to the House. He is presenting a petition on behalf of a constituent, so if that is done tomorrow everything will be in good order and according to the rules of our House.

9 Jan 2006 : Column 130

School Education Standards (Plymouth)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Watson.]

10.22 pm

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): Tonight I want to tell the story of one city, Plymouth, and the great strides that we have taken to raise standards in schools. I want to set out how much we value the investment that has underpinned that and how we want to ensure that the White Paper and the education Bill that flows from it allow us to build on what is, by anybody's measure, a success.

Making the most of that investment in Plymouth has been an army of people—the teachers and support staff, the governors who have seen their responsibilities increase substantially over the period, principals and head teachers in primary and secondary schools across the city, and students and their parents. As Professor Charles Desforges has shown, involved parents can add more than anyone—including the most able teachers—to the children's ability to achieve the standards that we know they are able to achieve.

I want to acknowledge the investment in early-years learning through one of the first early excellence centres—the Nomony centre in my constituency—as well as five Sure Start Schemes and children's centres that are developing from those. All told, 17 are now established in Plymouth. The very welcome recent £3.5 million investment in such programmes will ensure that even more children are able to take those important first steps at primary school with confidence and good-quality parental support.

To create the physical surroundings fit for a 21st-century learning environment, there has been substantial investment in school buildings since 1997—one of the most visible signs of investment in public services is the scaffolding outside almost every school in the city since 1997—and now we are set to see a further wave of investment through private finance initiative credits, although not as much as we think we merit from our track record or the significant challenges we face in the city. The number of teachers has increased. There are substantially more classroom assistants, who now have a career path where they want it, and a status that recognises their important role in making our classrooms places of achievement for students.

Our local education authority, under the able leadership of Bronwen Lacey, who is now director of children's services, and council portfolio holders Camp and Purnell, has merited good ratings by Ofsted and the Audit Commission since Plymouth became a unitary authority in 1998. Strengths reported in the recent audit include good early-years' provision, effective monitoring and challenging for schools causing concern, improving standards of English in primary schools, and attaining higher standards at key stages 3 and 5 than other authorities. Specific areas of improvement include attainment in science and a reduction in levels of unauthorised absence in primary schools, as well as progress made by lower-attaining pupils.

I recognise that much of what I am about to say depends on having a local authority that makes the most of the tools and the investment provided by the
9 Jan 2006 : Column 131
Government. Plymouth was the first city in the country to have specialist college status for all its secondary schools, and that has provided a strong focus for school improvement and for driving up standards. Leadership, quality teaching and a strong emphasis on collaboration to offer choice and raise standards have been the key drivers.

In Plymouth, a range of federated schools offer choice and do so with models of personalised learning that appear already to meet many if not most of the aspirations of chapter 4 of the White Paper. The one that I know best is the Lipson, Estover, Plymouth high school for girls model. Two schools with specialist art college status and a girls' grammar school co-operate to offer a sixth-form programme with a choice of 100 courses and a virtual sixth form of some 600 students. Within the same federation, the 14-to-19 programme offers a well developed system of personalised learning supported by the much-valued investment in IT resources which, it seems hard to remember, barely existed in 1997.

Choice in our education community in Plymouth has a much wider meaning than simply the choice of school made by parents and by students at the age of 11. Drawing on a catchment area, which 10 years ago included the poorest ward in England, school achievements at Lipson college have been significantly above the national average for value added from key stages 2 to 4. Indeed, if we look at key stage 3, we see that between 2001 and 2005, English standards have risen by 14 per cent. as against a national fall of 1 per cent., and that maths standards have risen by 14 per cent. as against a national upward trend of 8 per cent.

The work in that federation and others in Plymouth draws on a long experience of such collaborative work. The Tamar Valley consortium, which was established in 1988, was a case study in the 2002 Green Paper "14–19: Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards". Labour's investment in our education action zone, the excellence cluster and learning improvement grants have built on that, and there is now some success in meeting the needs of young people who are not in employment, education or training.

The White Paper makes many proposals that continue reform in line with the intellectual and financial investment that our Government have made to establish and secure principles of discipline, to recognise the importance of a strong learning environment, to entrench first-rate and well supported leadership, to enhance and support the role of parents, and to   acknowledge the role of personalised learning, but in our education community in Plymouth there are real—and I believe understandable—worries about the reliance in the White Paper on principles that could be at odds with building on that experience.

The White Paper appears to see the principal impetus to drive up standards coming from the expansion of popular schools and the contraction and closure of unpopular schools—from an admissions policy associated with that which many fear will become increasingly competitive. Whatever restraints are placed on it, people fear that the presumption that popular schools should be allowed to expand will inevitably
9 Jan 2006 : Column 132
drive competition. The assumption that parent power is ready and waiting to support the process is also doubted in every case.

I would like to describe what some people fear that could mean in Plymouth, especially given that we have the fastest-falling school rolls in the country. There is no doubt that some schools and pupils would benefit if, let us say, school A in the leafy suburbs, with good and improving achievements to its name and excellent parental engagement to support it, were allowed to expand. There would, however, be various opportunity costs to school B, an inner-city school in my constituency, and to the wider education facilities available to young people in Plymouth.

School A is given permission to expand. More pupils from the inner city will be admitted to school A. The investment used to expand the school will not be available to develop school B, to build on the personalised learning and to develop further work to drive up standards. Although it may take a bit longer, the improvements in standards in school B will almost certainly be more sustainable. In the interim, students and parents who opt for school A will no longer play a part in the life of school B. Its diverse admissions base will be damaged and by, say, 2008–09 the drain on the school financially, socially and intellectually will be such that the achievements it has fought so hard to establish will start to be reversed.

Standards in school B fall. The local authority will help it to "fire-fight" that, rather than continuing the virtuous circle of development and higher standards that has been well established. One opportunity cost may be that the local authority is doing that rather than helping school B and schools like it through the welcome roles given to it under the Children Act 1989, and the equally welcome roles envisaged in the Green Paper "Youth Matters". Another opportunity cost may arise from the energy that the local authority has to give to respond to strong schools applying for trust status, or to expand, when the best and most sustainable results for achievement may come from investing the same energy in the areas of the city that do not have the capacity to be proactive in the same way or to the same degree.

Hon. Members can imagine the additional frustration when, instead of 98 per cent. of parents' being granted their first choice as is the case now, by 2010 that figure may fall to only 85 per cent., and the number of those not being granted their first choice may rise and seem likely to continue to rise. I know that those are not intended consequences of the White Paper, but they are possible outcomes. I look to the Minister to tell me how the legislation to which the White Paper gives rise will prevent them.

As my colleagues who are co-signatories to the document "Shaping the Education Bill—reaching for consensus" say,

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