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Amendments relating to schools causing concern

Amendments made: No. 76, in page 194, line 21, leave out sub-paragraph (4) and insert—

‘(4) Omit subsection (7).'.

No. 77, in page 196, line 10, at end insert—

‘Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c. 21)

17A (1) Schedule 7 to the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (sixth forms requiring significant improvement) is amended as follows.

(2) In paragraph 6(3)(a)(iii) for “section 15(2) and (3)” substitute “section 15(2) to (4)”.

(3) Omit paragraph 13.'. — [Phil Hope.]

Schedule 9

School travel schemes

Amendment made: No. 37, in page 203, line 17, leave out from ‘child' to end of line 22 and insert ‘if—

(a) no travel arrangements relating to travel in either direction between his home and the relevant educational establishment in relation to him, or in both directions, are provided in relation to him by any person who is not the scheme authority, or

(b) such travel arrangements are provided in relation to him by any person who is not the scheme authority but those arrangements, taken together with any other such travel arrangements which are so provided, do not provide suitable home to school travel arrangements for the purpose of facilitating his attendance at the relevant educational establishment in relation to him.'.— [Phil Hope.]

Schedule 14

Minor and consequential amendments relating to Part 8

Amendments made: No. 115, in page 224, line 24, at end insert—

‘(4) In paragraph 14 omit sub-paragraph (1).'.

No. 116, in page 228, line 8, leave out from beginning to ‘omit' in line 9 and insert—

‘(1) Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (public authorities) is amended as follows.

(2) In Part 1—

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(a) at the end of paragraph 1 insert “other than the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills”, and

(b) after that paragraph insert—

“1A The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, in respect of information held for purposes other than those of the functions exercisable by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills by virtue of section 5(1)(a)(iii) of the Care Standards Act 2000.”

(3) In Part 6'.

No. 117, in page 230, line 32, after second ‘school,' insert ‘in England'. — [Phil Hope.]

Schedule 18


Amendments made: No. 78, in page 239, line 9, at end insert—

    ‘Education Act 1996 (c. 56)

    In section 444—

    In subsection (1A), the words “without reasonable justification”, and

    In subsection (3),paragraph (b) andthe word “or” immediately following it.'.

No. 79, in page 239, line 27, column 2, at beginning insert—

    ‘Section 159(3).'

No. 80, in page 241, line 33, column 2, leave out

‘In section 15(7), the words “65 or” '

and insert ‘Section 15(7)'.

No. 81, in page 241, line 39, column 2, at beginning insert—

    ‘In Schedule 7, paragraph 13.'.

No. 82, in page 241, line 39, column 2, leave out ‘paragraph 79' and insert ‘paragraphs 78 and 79'.

No. 83, in page 241, line 47, column 2, at end insert—

    ‘In Schedule 5, paragraph 3(14).'.

No. 118, in page 243, line 4, column 2, leave out ‘paragraph 13A(4)' and insert ‘paragraphs 13A(4) and 14(1)'.

No. 38, in page 244, line 37, column 2, at end insert—

    ‘In Schedule 22—paragraph 1(1)(c);in paragraph 2(1)(a), the words from “or acquired” to the end; in paragraph 3(1)(a), the words from “or acquired” to the end; paragraph 3(1)(d);in paragraph 3(1)(f), the words “(d) or”; and in paragraph 3(8), the words “(d),”.'.

No. 39, in page 244, line 37, at end insert—

    ‘Education Act 2002 (c.32)

    In Schedule 21, paragraph 118(3)(b) and (4)(a)(ii).'.

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No. 40, in page 244, line 39, at end add—

    ‘Education Act 2005 (c.18)

    In Schedule 12, paragraph 15.'.

[Phil Hope.]

Order for Third Reading read.

6.26 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Alan Johnson): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Valid concerns have been raised during the passage of this Bill, and I hope that Members on both sides will agree that the Government have listened very carefully and responded where possible to make this a better Bill. The House has conducted a mature and healthy debate on a matter of supreme importance to all of our constituents.

Education remains this Government’s priority. Since 1997, we have almost doubled education spending, so that today there is an unprecedented rebuilding and refurbishment programme, with more teachers and support staff who are better trained and using new books and computers in our classrooms. We have also made huge progress in tackling embedded problems with literacy, numeracy and failing schools. All this is reflected in the fact that schools today are achieving the best ever results at every key stage.

However, serious problems remain. High achievement is unevenly spread, and the scales of educational opportunity are still tipped far too heavily against disadvantaged children. The Bill focuses on unleashing the potential of each and every child, and with nine years’ successful experience in raising educational attainment, we can build on what we know works well.

The Bill will help more schools to follow the path to high achievement. By enabling schools to become self-governing and to form links with a charitable trust, the Bill will give greater independence, but within a structure of increased interdependence, so that all those with an interest in successful schooling can make a full contribution to their local school. The opportunities are great for further and higher education establishments to entice more children to climb the ladder of attainment, for voluntary groups to bring in new ideas and fresh thinking, for business trusts to help focus on future careers and take forward the 14-to-19 agenda, and for schools to share best practice.

The trust model also ensures that those relationships are permanent and lasting, rather than transient and dependent on a few visionaries whose departure heralds the collapse of the project. Trusts combine the best of all the existing models, and there has been broad consensus about their potential in principle. However, concerns have revolved around how they might operate in practice.

Sarah Teather: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Alan Johnson: No, I will not, as time is limited.

We have confirmed that no school will be forced to become a trust school, but that every school will have
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that option, after consulting parents and stakeholders. And we have set out safeguards to ensure that trusts are not involved in activities that may be considered inappropriate. We have also put a requirement on trusts not only to help drive up standards but to contribute to community cohesion.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Alan Johnson: No.

We have amended the Bill so that the best local authorities will automatically be able to put forward new community schools for consideration. Most other local authorities will have opportunities to do the same, with only the worst being barred from doing so. The Bill also includes a clear ban on interviews and new selection by academic ability. We have strengthened the code on admissions, enhanced its status and circulated a draft of it to the House. That makes it crystal clear that there will be no new selection by the more covert means used in some places.

Although the spotlight has fallen on trust schools, the Bill contains many other crucial measures that have attracted less attention. Giving all 14 to 19-year-olds the right to study for specialised diplomas will help to tackle three major economic and social problems: the skills gap; youth unemployment; and classroom disengagement. Twenty years after Lord Elton’s ground-breaking report, the Bill enacts its central recommendation by giving teachers tough new powers to tackle unruly pupils inside and outside school. That will reduce classroom disruption and improve the attainment of all pupils. Other important powers relate to school meals, transport and an obligation on local authorities to ensure that young people have places to go and constructive things to do in their leisure time.

I want to highlight one other less publicised aspect of the Bill. In respect of looked-after children, on whom we will focus attention over coming months, I remind the House that, for the first time, schools will be obliged to take in looked-after children who move into their area during the school year, as they often do, even if the school is full. That addresses the central problem of looked-after children consistently being dumped in the worst-performing schools to make up the numbers. That is one of the most important measures in the Bill, even if it has not attracted the most publicity.

This Bill has received robust and thorough scrutiny in the House.

Clive Efford: I wanted the opportunity to engage with my right hon. Friend on a number of issues that, I think, are missing from the Bill, such as targeting resources on those areas where we need to raise standards—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but Third Reading is not the occasion to raise points that are not in the Bill. Third Reading is about what is in the Bill.

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Alan Johnson: Incidentally, through this Bill and other policies, we are targeting attention on the most disadvantaged areas and failing schools. Another aspect of the Bill is that it allows us to turn around failing schools more quickly, as I have mentioned.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposals in the Bill relating to school food provide for the first time ever a national curriculum for children’s bodies as well as for their minds? Will he urge local authorities to use the powers in the Bill to provide free school meals to children in their areas and to opt out of the charges that they currently impose?

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to mention the ground-breaking scheme introduced by the local authority in Hull to provide free school meals, free fruit and vegetables and free breakfasts to all primary school pupils. To do that, it had to go through a tortuous process under the power to innovate. This Bill will allow every local authority to do that, and I agree very much with my hon. Friend, who has done some splendid work on the issue, that that is another crucial aspect of the Bill.

As always, there will be Members who will not agree with every single aspect of the Bill. The question on Third Reading must be what educational advantage would be served by defeating the Bill. The Bill will drive up educational standards further by supporting stronger partnerships; creating new curriculum entitlements for 14 to 19-year-olds, enacting in many respects what was in the Butler Act of 1944 but was never brought into practice; ensuring better discipline; developing a powerful strategic role for local authorities; tightening up the admissions framework; and, as I mentioned, helping to turn around failing schools. Its purpose is to make every school a good school and to ensure that every child realises their full potential. Those objectives are shared by all hon. Members, no matter on which Benches they sit, and I commend the Bill to the House.

6.34 pm

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): Perhaps I can begin by paying tribute to the work that has been done by hon. Members on both sides of the House in scrutinising the Bill in Committee. It emerged from the Committee remarkably similar to the Bill that went into Committee and remarkably similar to the Bill that the Conservative party voted for on Second Reading. We will, of course, support the Bill on Third Reading, for many of the reasons set out by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills.

I welcome the Secretary of State to the Dispatch Box. I have not previously had a proper opportunity to welcome him to his new post. I have enormous respect for his abilities, both as a politician and as a Minister. Our paths have strangely inter-twingled—[Hon. Members: “Inter-twingled?”] I should be the Deputy Prime Minister, talking like that. We have gone from pensions to energy and now to schools. In fact, the Secretary of State is to be found wherever the Government are in crisis, and he brings his own distinct sort of “Dad’s Army”, “Don’t panic” style to the
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various crises that he finds. If I may say so, I thought that he was in fine form yesterday. I cannot think of any member of the Cabinet who could have handled the rebellion that he faced yesterday better than he did. His reward, of course, was a Labour rebellion of 69 Members who voted against the Government. Perhaps it tells us a lot about the state of the Labour party and the Labour Government that, with all his skill, he faced a rebellion that wiped out their majority.

The debates on the Bill, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House, have had a strangely elusive quality, because the implications of the Bill may be quite modest. I hope that they are not modest in practice, but I am not as confident as the Secretary of State about how many schools will become trust schools. I have some concerns about what will happen when the human rights lawyers get to work on some of the points in a recent report. We may find that some of the Bill’s provisions are hard to implement.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): The Secretary of State told me yesterday that a great many schools would opt for trust status by the end of this Parliament. Will the hon. Gentleman estimate how many schools he thinks will go for trust status?

Mr. Willetts: I would not like to give an estimate, but I believe that we should encourage schools to become trust schools. That is what the White Paper said, and it was one of the more curious moments in the passage of the Bill when the Secretary of State and other Ministers went through the Lobby yesterday to vote against a Conservative amendment that would have simply implemented the proposals in the White Paper. It is very unusual for Ministers to vote against the proposals in their own White Paper, when the Bill comes to the House.

Ian Stewart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willetts: I am afraid that time is very limited, so I hope that hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

I want to bring out the point that the reason why these debates have been so hard to pin down is that, although the Bill’s implications may be modest in practice, they are very large in theory. There is a different way to think about education behind the Bill. It is a recognition that the future role for local education authorities is as purchasers, not as providers, that the future for schools must involve diversity, not standardisation, and that parents want choice, rather finding their children trapped in certain catchment areas.

Ian Stewart: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willetts: I am afraid that I will try to make progress in very limited time.

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