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Conservative Members have consistently believed in that philosophy; it is the thinking behind the White Paper and many of the provisions that survive even in relatively modest form in the Bill. The Labour rebels, if they may be called that, are deeply uncomfortable with that philosophy. I disagree with them, but I respect the
integrity and consistency with which they have argued their case. They have revealed the real division that now exists in the House on education reform. A majority in the House, represented by the entirety of my party and the Front Bench of the Labour party, believe in those principles, although there may be many Labour Members who are uncomfortable with them. It is partly a disagreement of principle, but I have to say that I am increasingly persuaded by the evidence produced by evaluations around the world that school choice and school freedom work.
There is clear evidence from Sweden, from America and even from evaluations of our own grant-maintained schools that that is the best way in which to raise standards of education in our country, which is why we support the Bill and will continue to support it. But of course, in supporting the Bill and developing this agenda, my party has changed its approach as well. I fully recognise that my partys approach to the issue of selection has changed. In the process of forming a consensus on the best way of reforming education, we have abandoned any idea of a grammar school in every town. We have abandoned any idea of bringing back the 11-plus in grammar schools. We have recognised that our focus should be on how we can best raise standards in all our nations schools. If there is to be selection, it is best for it to take place by means of setting within schools rather than allowing children across the country to face an invidious decision, at the age of 11, on which school they should attend.
Mr. Willetts: Of course we wish to support the grammar schools that survivethey are institutions with a long historybut my party will not bring back the 11-plus, and will not bring back grammar schools. That was an important statement for us to make, enabling us to show that we were serious about proceeding with the education reform agenda that lies behind the Bill.
In fact, we have now reached a stage at which, unlike some Labour Members, we are not obsessed with the issue of selection. We are not going to try to expunge the last grammar school from the country. We will focus our attention on how to secure more good school places in total, rather than on the endless depressing battle over exactly how children are allocated to a small number of good schools. We all recognise that the problem in our country today is that there are not enough good schools.
Mr. Willetts: Perhaps I can look forward to a day when a Conservative Secretary of State is in office, and
is able to use the powers in the Bill to deliver real education reform of the sort that the Prime Minister envisaged when he produced his White Paper last autumn.
Mr. Willetts: We will use the powers in the Bill to make it easier for schools to expand. We will use the powers in the Bill to give more freedom to schools. We will use the powers in the Bill to deliver on some of the promises that the Prime Minister made, but on which he has not been able to deliver. We look forward to using the powers in the Bill to deliver what the Prime Minister called, in his foreword to the White Paper, the aim of
the creation of a system of independent non-fee paying
state schools. That, I think, is the true objective of serious education reform, and as we fight that battle we will be able to say that ours is the party that is united in a commitment to deliver the radicalism behind the White Paperfrom which, sadly, the Government have had to retreat because of pressures from their own Back Benchers.
Sarah Teather: I am not sure how to follow that extraordinary love-in between the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) and the Secretary of State[Hon. Members: Inter-twingle!] Indeed. I cannot help wondering whether such a deep and personal display of affection may be something that we should not be watching in public. Although we are liberals on these Benches, I have always felt that three is a crowd, so we will not be joining in.
Of course, the truth is that it is just a marriage of convenience, not the real thing. The Secretary of State needs the passport that the Conservatives can give his Bill, and the Conservatives are really only interested in breaking up his family. The Secretary of State has been left walking a tightrope between the two, trying to persuade his family that this time he really has changed while still clinging to his affair with the Conservative Front Bench. The truth is that, as the hon. Member for Havant said, the Bill has change very little since Second Reading, despite the Secretary of States attempts to reassure his own Back Benchers that it has.
The three key concerns that we had when we embarked on Second Reading remain. First, we do not believe that adequate safeguards on admissions have been given. If we are to give schools more freedom to control their own admissions, we want the extra safeguard of ensuring that someone impartial administers them. I welcomed the concession that the Minister made on Report for the conducting of pilots. However, I would have preferred that a permissive clause or enabling regulation be included in the Bill so that we could be sure that the Government are serious
about this issue and are not simply going to kick it into the long grass, as I fear they will. Without such a safeguard, giving schools more freedom to control admissions is not adequate.
Secondly, on accountability, we are totally opposed to giving trust schools the option of reducing the number of elected parent governors. To us, that flies in the face of all the spin about parent power. I assumed that I would never win the argument with the Secretary of State about giving away the power of veto, so that local authorities could have the strategic power that they desire to plan their own services. New Labours commitment to new localism has never really been about accountability. Nevertheless, I was astonished by the arguments that were advanced yesterday against parental ballots.
Thirdly and most importantly, I still do not feel that an adequate, clear vision has been set out. Is this a competitive education model or a collaborative one? Still, we have the Prime Ministers vision of a competitive model, rather than the vision that, I suspect, the Department for Education and Skills would much rather pursue: of a collaborative model that allows real choice in the curriculum. Without that model, we will never see the real reforms that we wantreforms that give schools the freedom to teach what young people want to learn.
Mr. Sheerman: It is with reluctance, almost, that I rise to speak. I feel embarrassed at not having participated in the long hours of consideration of this Bill in Committee; however, my Select Committee did carry out a virtual pre-legislative inquiry when we examined the White Paper.
I welcome the Bill and I will support it on Third Reading, as will the vast majority of my Labour colleagues. I will do so because it builds, as the Secretary of State said, on what we know works. The longer that I have chaired the Select Committee, the more that I have come to realise that it is not dogma that will deal with the problems that we encounter in our schools throughout the country. Some of my colleagues like dogma. A small group of them would still like to nationalise the top 100 companies, for example, and will vote for any of those old dogmas if they are given the chance. [Interruption.] Well, they do not like it, do they?
Mr. Sheerman: I am supporting this Bill, Mr. Speaker, because it is based on the principle of judging the evidence of what works in our schools. As the Chairman of the Select Committee, I visit at least one school a week, and I know that what works on the ground is not some high-flown dogma from the past or, indeed, the future. We need to sit down with our teachers, governors, parents and students and work out what will improve education on the ground.
The fact is that this Bill is not radical or revolutionary; rather, it builds on the steady progress achieveddare I say it?under previous Conservative Governments as well as this Labour Government. That is the truth that we sometimes dare not speak in this House. Education is too important an issue for one party to make changes on taking office, and for the other then to reverse them on taking office. However, such a consensual approach is not good enough for some of my colleagues. What I want to do is to make steady progress, which probably sounds a little Oakeshottian to some of my colleagues. We have worked for nine years to improve the education of our children throughout this country, but that is not enough. There is a long way to go, and this Bill will take us further along the path of good, steady progress.
Clive Efford: There is much in the Bill that deserves to be supported and I accept the efforts that have been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team, and their predecessors. However, the Bill provides the opportunity for schools to break away from the school community in a locality. The danger of that is that the local authorities will lose direct control of and influence over those schools. That would mean that the local community would lose influence over those schools.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, in further proceedings on the Bill, will take on board that it should not diminish the role of local authorities. The overarching strategic responsibility for developing education in an area should remain with the local authority. We need a dynamic relationship with local communities, in which the local authority has a responsibility to consult with the whole school communityparents, head teachers, governors and everybody else involved in educationto develop an education plan that it can then publish and against which the performance of schools can be measured. Local parents will then have a clear framework for education in their area, against which they can measure the performance of schools and the delivery of education. The issue is providing information that parents can understand about education in their area that will allow them to make informed decisions about education.
Even more importantly, local authorities have to be given the opportunity to identify areas of deprivation and of special educational need so that they can direct resources to those areas to raise standards. I said on Second Reading that as we came to power in 1997 the league tables for schools were being published. Although we have improved standards enormously across all schools, the schools are in the same positions in the league tables. That is true for my area and for areas across the country. I would have liked to have seen it stated in the Bill that we intended to identify areas of deprivation and need by setting the necessary criteria, so that we could direct the resources to them and finally, once and for all, give those kids who have not had the opportunity of having a decent education
the resources needed to give them that. The Bill has been more about structures than about providing support for the very people at the sharp end of doing that very job.
Ms Angela C. Smith: Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Government have already done a great deal to direct resources to deprived areas? Excellence in cities is a good example of the Government directing resources to where they are needed.
Clive Efford: I fully accept that and I made that point in my opening remarks. Indeed, the education action zone in my area worked because it provided extra resources and the freedom for staff and governors to direct those resources to improve standards.
The White Paper said that the Government would make an announcement about that subject in the autumn, but why is it not part of the Bill? That is what I am arguing for. If a future Government did not want to invest resources in that way, they would have to explain to parents why it is no longer part of the local education plan that resources would be directed to schools in that way. That is what I wanted from the Bill. I accept that some hon. Members will say that that is what we want to achieve, but that is light years away from the rhetoric surrounding the Bill when it was published and from some of the statements made later.
Dr. Blackman-Woods: There have been some very interesting discussions and deliberations over the past two days. However, I suggest to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) that consensus in the best interests of our children is something to be applauded rather than denigrated.
It is perhaps unfortunate that we could not spend more time on some of the excellent proposals in the Bill. I shall highlight a few of them briefly, beginning with the duty that the Bill places on local authorities in the provision of services and facilities for young people. That is a huge step forward and it will help a lot of young people, in my constituency and others, to access a range of services that are not available at present.
The Bill also moves forward the education of 14 to 19-year-olds. The availability of new diplomas and the right to study for specialised diplomas are essential for many of our young people and will contribute to the promotion of vocational education. In addition, local authorities will have new opportunities to provide free school meals to all children in their areas. That will transform the quality of food available to students, who will be able to eat good food at lunch time. I hope that the Government will encourage local authorities to take the option up.
We have not had an opportunity to explore what personalised learning will mean for young people. However, I have seen it at work in some schools in Sweden, and I hope that the Bill will help its delivery in this country. That is one reason why I urge all colleagues to support the Bills Third Reading.
Other good provisions in the Bill include the new procedures to help improve discipline in schools, but
before I conclude I want to mention the greater ability that this measure gives to local authorities to intervene in failing and coasting schools. That will raise standards for all our young people.
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