Education and Inspections Bill
Andrew Gwynne: On building schools for the future, the Minister will be aware that in Tameside, we are looking at rebuilding seven secondary schools in the largest school-building programme in the borough since the 1950s; a substantial investment is to be made. Originally, it was proposed that there would be one academy, but Tameside council is considering increasing the number to threenot because it is being forced to by the Department, but because it wants to. The council foresees a real, positive impact on the whole Tameside school family from having those academies form part of the network of schools in the borough.
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend strongly makes the case on why forward-looking local authorities that care about provision for their pupils are considering academies as a serious option as they take forward their building schools for the future proposals. That is right and it is happening. Where there are problems of failure
What is important is what makes a difference for children and young people. We should celebrate the contribution that academies make to turning around the life chances of some of the children in this country who need it the most, and reject the prejudice of the Liberal Democrats and their amendment.
Sarah Teather: This has been a helpful debate, albeit a little fractious on occasion. I want to clarify a few points.
Some local education authorities complain that they feel as though they are being bribed, or that their hands are tied and they are not able to exercise their preferred choices in a local area. They say not that they are being asked to consider including an academy in their mix of schools, but that they are being forced to do so, which is a different matter. A local authority might be put in a real dilemma if the sponsors coming forward in the area are all faith-based but there is already over-provision of faith-based schools in the area and the authority is aware that parents want something else. Having a competition and encouraging sponsors to come forward does not necessarily mean that those that do come forward will be appropriate or desirable for the local area.
I thank the Minister for putting on the record her comments on children in care. That was helpful, and we will look into the issue. With those few points, and with the time in mind, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Committee divided: Ayes 20, Noes 3.
Division No. 10]
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Consultation and publicity in relation to notice and proposals under section 7
such persons as appear to the authority to be appropriate;'
and insert parents within the locality'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 331, in clause 8, page 7, line 27, after appropriate', insert
and which must include the headteacher and the chairman of governors of all maintained schools in areas adjacent to the proposed school'.
No. 348, in clause 8, page 7, line 27, after appropriate', insert
and in the case of religious-based schools, the relevant church or religious authority'.
This clause provides that before publishing a notice under clause 7, local education authorities in England must consult such persons as they consider to be appropriate, and in discharging this duty they must have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State. Subsection (2) provides that regulations may require local education authorities to take further steps to promote public awareness of the proposals brought forward.
Our amendment would prevent vastly different practices from developing because it limits the consultation to parents. It is a probing amendment. It brings us to an element of our discussions that has loomed large today in the considerations of Committee members of all parties: the role of parents in this process.
A different view of the role of parents has begun to emerge. I do not take the view that parents are the only people who have an interest in the education of children. In an earlier sitting, I spoke about the pivotal role of the educator and how we ought to elevate teachers in our estimation because they are important people in whose hands we place the future. However, in respect of the intentions behind the Bill, the most likely drivers of the type of change that the Minister mentioned in the last debate are parents. Parents are the people who are likely to make the most difference and to want to do so. I believe, as does the Minister, I think, that that difference can mean renewal, and renewal is vital if we are to address some of the problems of our most disadvantaged communities and most struggling schools. This probing amendment is designed to tease out from the Government just how pivotal they consider parents to be in this process.
Parents are surely the most appropriate people to consult. Although I acknowledge that there are differences in the Committee about the precise role of parents, we all understand that parents are very important. The hon. Member for Bury, North, in one of his typically well informed interventions, listed the things he believes add up to a good education. He talked about the home-school relationship and the important role that parents play in motivating children, preparing them for school, interacting with the school,
The so-called alternative White Paper, to which the hon. Gentleman and others put their names, highlights some of those differences, because it specifically addresses the role of parents in the process that lies at the heart of the Bill, which is essentially the establishment of new schools and the renewal that that can bring. The alternative White Paper states:
The commitment of parents to their childrens education and the opportunities that can be created for their participation in their childrens school is important.
It goes on to say:
Not all pupils have parents who are engaged equally or wish to be.
It also says that the assumption that
Parent power is...always...present and just waiting to be unleashed in a way which will be wholly beneficial
should be challenged.
Of course it is true that parents vary and that some people are more engaged and committed to the interests of their children than others. We could leave it at that and be comfortable with that status quo. However, if we take the Conservative view that by giving parents the incentive to become more involved and enabling them to make a difference, one is likely to unleash new potential, it is important that we ensure that the Bill contains provisions that maximise parental influence. We do not disagree that the current picture is patchy. The difference between us centres on our belief in the potential of parents to make a difference. That has been highlighted by the comments that have been made in previous debates and emphasised by the amendment.
There might also be a difference in our views on how local authorities could choose to use the consultation process to inhibit the energy of parents that I have described. I am not naturally a cynical person. As you probably know, Mr. Cook, I am a romantic[Laughter.] I make no bones about my romantic idealism, for it is at the heart of my politics. I am, not cynical, but a little doubtfulperhaps even scepticalabout the intent of some of those who, faced with the legislation, may erect obstacles to the achievement of the Governments purpose. It might be that there will be people who see the consultation process as a way of slowing down and inhibiting
Mr. Hayes: My hon. Friend is even less sceptical and even more of a romantic than I am. Some people might see the process as a way of frustrating the intent of the Government and the purpose of the Bill. Conservative Members believe that by simplifying the consultation process, as the amendment would do, we will prevent any malcontents who might use this part of the Bill to slow down the process, or perhaps even stop it, from having their way.
In that effort, we are at one with the Prime Minister. I do not say that he always gets it righthon. Members would hardly expect me to say that here or
The White Paper is clear. It states at paragraph 2.1:
We are determined to transform our school system into one that responds better to the needs and aspirations of parents. Every parent should be confident that the system is delivering for their child. Every community should be confident that all parents can choose an excellent school. And the nation needs to ensure that areas of underperformance which undermine our efforts to improve social mobility are tackled vigorously.
And at paragraph 2.2, it says:
To create real choice and diversity for parents, we need...an easy route through which parents can generate change; and...new providers rooted in their community
and stimulated by parental activity. As I say, that spirit that underpinned the White Paper could be frustrated unless the Committee accepts our amendment, which would further the aims of the White Paper by ensuring that there is an easy route by which parents can generate change.
We should not be doubtful in any way about the mountain that parents will have to climb to generate a new school. It will not be easy. To gather sufficient numbers of parents with the will and wherewithal to establish a new school in their area is not an easy task. Earlier in Committee, the hon. Member for Brent, East talked about getting 50 parents together, and said that that was not a great number, but I disagree. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton that getting 50 parents together, getting families to commit and getting people to believe that they can make a difference will be a tough job. It is our task to make that job as easy as possible, and not to allow further barriers to be put in their way.
In proposing the amendment, I believe that we are acting in the spirit of the White Paper and improving the Bill. We are making a strong statement for parent power. I believe in parent power not for its own sake, but because it can make a real, positive difference to the interests of our children.
I shall now say a word about the amendments in this group tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. I understand his intent in tabling them. He will speak for them with his usual wit and elegance, and we will have a chance to respond to what he says.
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