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23 May 2006 : Column 1361

Mr. Gibb: This is not an anti-local authority issue, as I will come on to say. Under the White Paper and the Bill, it is still possible for local authorities to propose foundation schools. The issue is not about being anti-local authority or being prescriptive in that respect—I am defending the Government’s policy again. The purpose behind the White Paper is to create diversity in the system, but the concessions that the Government have made will hamper that original judgment.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman and his party were ever to be in power—God forbid—he would have to learn that Governments need to listen. Is it not important that, having listened, we recognise that community schools play an important role in diversity of provision? It is important that that reflects local need and not just what he wants.

Mr. Gibb: Of course, parents will initially set out the determination to have one of the new schools. Those who really want more parental choice should realise that the provisions in the Bill that encourage parents to set up new schools and new providers to come in are the way to create a much more responsive education system—responsive to parents, not just to local authorities.

Mr. Redwood: Does my hon. Friend understand why Labour Members seem to want to leave the rich with a complete choice of many good schools and to offer no choice to those without sufficient money?

Mr. Gibb: My right hon. Friend makes a good point and his pertinent intervention has encapsulated the history of education reform over the past 40 years.

Meg Hillier: I am driven to rise to my feet again. In Hackney in my constituency, we have a new city academy, to which the Secretary of State referred. It is fully comprehensive and the rich, whom the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) mentioned, want their children to get into it. It is full of children from a diverse range of backgrounds, including poor backgrounds, and is representative of my constituency. That is the sort of school that Labour Members want to see more of. I challenge the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) to say whether he really wants that as well.

Mr. Gibb: I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. That is precisely what Conservative Members want. We want to see more academies such as the Petchey academy in her constituency, more foundation schools with foundations, more trust schools, and more voluntary-aided schools. We want the kind of diversity in our constituencies that she wants in her constituency, and which the Secretary of State wants too.

Paul Farrelly: Clearly, the Bill not only proposes a new form of school, but sets some limits. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, in supporting the Government’s policy and the Bill, the Conservative party subscribes to the principle that there should be no further selection by academic ability?

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Mr. Gibb: The Conservative party has already set out its position and there will be a debate on admissions tomorrow. We have said that an incoming Conservative Government would not see a return to wholesale selection across the board. We will not see new grammar schools and secondary moderns being established outside areas that do not already have grammar schools.

The White Paper contained a sensible set of proposals, but then Lord Kinnock intervened and 53 Labour rebels eventually went on to vote against the Bill. In their alternative White Paper, they said:

That looming Labour rebellion between the publication of the White Paper last October and the publication of the Bill at the end of February this year resulted in the famous concession letter from the then Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee. In that letter, the Secretary of State said:

That represents a complete change of view—a change that was not based on the judgment of the Prime Minister or the then Secretary of State as to what would best serve the interests of this country in creating a high quality education system, but which was occasioned by problems in the Labour party. The change of policy was all about internal Labour party management.

Mr. Marsden: I know that it suits the hon. Gentleman’s perspective to present what happened as an enormous concession to a particular group of Labour Members. However, will he reflect on the fact that the letter was sent to the Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee on the basis of the report that that Committee produced? Will he also take into account the fact that the then Secretary of State quite rightly took action on the matters that we discovered and discussed and then presented in our report?

5 pm

Mr. Gibb: Select Committees bring out reports all the time and the Government respond to them, but such reports do not always result in changes to a Bill after a White Paper has been published. What happened was due to the management of the Labour party.

It was not even the case that the proposals had to be changed to get the Bill through the House. Conservative Members always said that they would support the Bill, and we did, which was why it received its Second Reading with a majority of 343. The Government claim that the concessions were made as a result of consultation on the White Paper. They will cite bodies such as the National Union of Teachers and the Local Government Association, but those bodies
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were always opposed to measures to take away local authorities’ ability to establish community schools, regardless of the White Paper. The process thus had nothing to do with consultation.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the NUT is still entirely opposed to any aspect of the Bill that gives greater power to parents to play their part in their children’s education and insists that the power should lie in the hands of the NUT and local authorities?

Mr. Gibb: My right hon. Friend makes the point well enough. It is very much a producer-capture situation.

If the Government are claiming that the consultation took place with MPs, we should consider the make-up of the House of Commons. We must assume that all Labour Members, except the 100 who signed the early-day motion, and all Conservative Members supported the proposals to remove the right of local authorities to propose new community schools.

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman rightly highlights the fact that the Members who signed the alternative White Paper were all from one party. At the same time, does he accept that the Local Government Association, which set out its opposition to the proposals that he is endorsing, represents all parties and, indeed, has a Conservative majority?

Mr. Gibb: There is a diverse range of views in the Conservative party and we are proud of that fact.

Anne Snelgrove: On diverse views, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) tabled interesting and informative amendments in Committee, most of which we were happy to vote down and some of which were withdrawn. Those amendments showed that Conservative Members, or at least a considerable number of them, look forward to the return of grammar schools. What is the view of the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) about the split in his party on the Bill?

Mr. Gibb: There are cross-party views on all kinds of education issues. I am speaking for the Opposition, yet defending the White Paper and Bill of the Prime Minister who leads the hon. Lady’s party. Let us not talk about splits in the Conservative party when she can see splits all over the Labour Benches. Her point is irrelevant to the important principles behind the Bill.

The Government’s excuse about consultation is a smokescreen. In reality, the concessions were made for reasons of internal Labour party management, rather than as part of a considered approach to education reform. We have thus tabled amendments Nos. 101 and 102 and new clauses 53 and 58, which would put back into the Bill the original vision that the Prime Minister set out with clarity, passion and sincerity on 24 October.

New clauses 53 and 58 would simply insert in the Bill the wording used in the White Paper. New clause 58 comes from page 116 of the White Paper and new clause 53 is taken from paragraph 2.5 on page 25, which says:

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Throughout our time in Committee, Conservative Members tried to restore the Bill to a form that corresponded to the original vision in the White Paper. As such, if the Government do not accept new clause 53, we hope that it will be possible to press the principles that it sets out to a Division.

The concessions made in the then Secretary of State’s letter of 6 February could have provided ample reason for the official Opposition to vote against the Bill’s Second Reading on 15 March. Such a vote would have been decisive, because it would have killed the Bill. However, we took the view—and we still hold it—that half a loaf is better than none. The Conservative party is serious about raising the quality of education in our schools. It is unacceptable that, according to the National Audit Office, 23 per cent. of secondary schools are underperforming and a similar proportion is probably coasting. On page 138 of the regulatory impact assessment, the Government consider the four school grading categories used by Ofsted—excellent, good, satisfactory and poor—and say:

We agree. We have moved into a global jobs market, in which prosperity for individuals and the country depends on the acquisition of a high-quality knowledge-based education, and that is why we take education reform seriously.

It is not just a matter of economics. A thorough education enables us to enjoy life to the full and to appreciate and contribute to our culture. The Bill, with all its flaws and concessions, is still a step in the right direction. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, when the Government do the right thing, we will support them. The concept of trust schools is right. On Second Reading, we accepted the concession that local authorities could, subject to agreement by the Secretary of State, propose a community school as part of a competition for a new school. It was an unnecessary concession, but we accepted it rather than lose the Bill. Under the White Paper proposals, local authorities can, as I said earlier, propose a foundation school. This is not an anti-local authority issue—it is about creating a more diverse range of provision. We therefore listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), the then Minister for Schools, when she clarified in Committee when the Secretary of State would or would not exercise the veto. We did not want her clarification to amount to further unnecessary concessions to the Labour left. We wanted to be sure that the principle behind the use of the veto was in line with the principle established by the letter from the previous Secretary of State and by the Government’s response to the Select Committee report. In that response, which was published on 6 February, three weeks before the publication of the Bill, the Government said:

We are happy that the concessions are in line with those principles.

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Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I wish to declare my interest as a member of Tameside metropolitan borough council, and to draw to the attention of the House the fact that my wife is the council cabinet member responsible for services to children and young people. Returning to the role of local education authorities, it is not inconceivable that a very good local authority with an excellent track record of providing community schools should be responsible for a diverse group of schools, whether foundation schools, city academies or trust schools. Under the provisions, might it not want to propose a community school, because that is precisely what the community wants?

Mr. Gibb: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, which is why we are not averse to supporting the Bill with those concessions in it. The main purpose of the White Paper is to try to create a greater diversity of schools throughout the country. A total of 63 per cent. of schools are community schools, so we will not create diversity if every new school is yet another community school. With school rolls and population demand falling, the number of new schools is lower than we might otherwise wish. On 20 April, the then Minister for Schools said in Committee that a local authority with an annual performance assessment of 4—the highest level—could propose a community school without consent. There are 11 such authorities. She said, too, that the worst local authorities with an APA of 1 would never be able to propose a new community school. For the remainder, it would depend on the diversity of provision in the area and the quality of the schools that they provide.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I share my hon. Friend’s satisfaction that the Bill has been amended as it has. Is it not the adjudicator who will make the decision, and will the adjudicator not sing to tune of the Secretary of State, if not of No. 10, in deciding whether to go for a bog-standard community school or one of the new diverse schools that the Prime Minister clearly wants?

Mr. Gibb: My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I wish I had made myself. When there is a competition in which the local authorities take part, they are no longer the judge, the matter is referred to the adjudicator, and it is for him to decide whether the school will go ahead. I hope very much that he will err on the side of diversity in making those decisions.

Jon Trickett: I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, who offered a welcome clarification of the principle of diversity. He clearly stated that diversity would be defined by him and by the adjudicator to cover ethos, not necessarily governance. That is a major shift by the Government—a major clarification. Will the hon. Gentleman still vote with the Government on Third Reading? Will he not join us now and try to defeat the Bill?

Mr. Gibb: People are more interested in how the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will vote tomorrow than in how the Opposition will vote. We have adopted one of the principles from the Minister’s clarification. Where
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local authorities do not have a diverse range of schools, or where more than 15 per cent. of schools in a local authority area are of poor quality, our new clause 18 would provide that a local authority must publish a notice under clause 7 inviting proposals for a new school. Where the range of schools in a local authority area is of poor quality, it is unacceptable that those schools can languish year after year, providing a substandard education to our children. Children have only one chance of an education, and we cannot stand idly by while local authorities preside over such provision.

Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): May I take the hon. Gentleman back to a comment that he made about local education authorities that have an annual performance assessment of 1? He said that they would be not allowed to submit an application for a community school. That is not correct. My LEA, unfortunately, would fall into the category of having an APA of 1, but with the strides that it is making, it may well have the opportunity to make such an application in future.

Mr. Gibb: Of course. I meant that if the local education authority ceased to have that poor rating of 1 it would fall into another category, but if it remained in category 1, it would never be able to establish a community school.

Judy Mallaber: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there can be a diverse range of ethoses and styles of schools, even when they are all community schools? Does he also accept that a community school such as Aldercar in my constituency, which used to have an A to C attainment level of 19 per cent. and now has one of 60 per cent., can pull itself up by its bootstraps with an excellent head, an excellent team and an excellent supportive local authority, but remain a community school, although with a specialism in languages? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that is possible?

Mr. Gibb: Of course I accept that. The then Minister for Schools told us that the plural of ethos is ethoi, so we all learn something in Committee. If we want to accelerate the diversity of ethoi and school provision, the best way to achieve that is through a diversity of structural approaches to schools. Even after the Bill has been in force for several years, there will still be plenty of community schools and they will still probably be the majority type of school in Britain.

Helen Jones: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the need to tackle failing schools, which is shared in all parts of the House. However, he seems to be making a simplistic link by saying that the only way to improve schools is for them to be something other than community schools. May I remind him what the Select Committee found in its inquiry? It stated:

Is the matter not far more complicated than he portrays? The success of schools depends on good heads and good teachers. It is not necessarily related to the type of school.

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Mr. Gibb: Of course, the hon. Lady is right. Conservative Members have never said that we can solve all the problems in our state education system by passing this Bill and introducing a variety of structural provision. There are a huge number of issues related to the curriculum, ethos, discipline, quality of teaching and quality of heads. The variety of structural provision is only one element, but let us not deny ourselves that element, because it is important.

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