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Diplomas were supposed to be about improving vocational education not undermining academic excellence.
Why is the hon. Gentleman against reform? Why is he on the wrong side of this debate? After all, there was a time, not so long ago, when we thought we might have won the Opposition's supporta time when his party might have claimed to back these historic reforms, when it looked like they were arguing for opening up opportunity and not for closing it down. Just two years ago, the Conservatives claimed that they were backing these qualificationsin fact, they urged us to go further and implement what they called the central recommendation of Tomlinson. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Surrey Heath recalls that. He might want to check with the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne). I have a transcript from BBC Radio 4. Just two years ago, the shadow Chancellor said that
an over-arching diploma which brings together academic and vocational training into one single diploma which we support, the Conservative Party supports, and I think would help end this historic gap and this deeply damaging gap between academic qualifications and vocational training.
In two years, there has been quite a U-turn. Two years ago, the hon. Member for Tatton said that his party backed reform, and a new general diplomathe very reform that we have announced we will deliver. Two years on, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath opposes that reform, and boasts that he will continue with a clear divide between academic and vocational qualifications. That two-tier approach to education has held Britain back for decades. Why does he now oppose the reforms that, two years ago, the shadow Chancellor not only advocated but criticised us for not implementing? [Interruption.] My guess is that he learned
Ed Balls: Opposition Members do not want to hear what the shadow Chancellor said two years ago. They do not want to hear the details of the U-turn. They do not want to hear what it was like when the Conservative party appeared to be advocating education for all, and not just a few. Why has the hon. Member for Surrey Heath changed course? My guess is that he learned the right lesson of what happened to his predecessor, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), who came out against grammar schools and in favour of opportunity for all, not just for some, with the seeming support of the Tory party leadershipa bold move for his party. At the time, it seemed to signal the possibility of consensus on education for all. He is not here to tell us about that; he has decided not to come. Forty-eight hours later, the Leader of the Opposition changed his mind, and the hon. Member for Havant was outflanked from the right and sacked in 48 days. I can see why the hon. Member for Surrey Heath is determined not to be similarly undermined, but he has revealed the truth about the supposedly new Conservative party. The fact is that the Conservatives are reverting to type under the hon. Gentlemans leadership
Ed Balls: On education. It is the Conservatives deeply held belief, which the hon. Gentleman now tells us he shares, that excellence can only be for the few, and not for the many. [Interruption.] That is why the Opposition oppose our education reforms. They oppose our plans
Michael Gove: I am fascinated by the Secretary of States tour dhorizon. He has attributed to meon, I think, three occasionsthe phrase excellence for the few. When did I use that phrase, and if he cannot provide evidence of my using it, will he withdraw it?
Diplomas were supposed to be about improving vocational education not undermining academic excellence.
We support the reform of vocational learning but these new exams are designed to subvert GCSEs and A levels.
Michael Gove: The Secretary of State made a serious accusation, saying that I believe in excellence for a few. [Interruption.] He has not backed it up. The Secretary of State knows that we believe that A-levels [Interruption.]
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Government clearly are not interested in excellence for everyone. We Opposition Members believe that A-levels and GCSEsacademic excellenceshould be spread as widely as possible. That was the view of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, whom you spent all your
time trying to subvert [Interruption.] Whom the Secretary of State spent all his time trying to subvert. If the Secretary of State cannot justify his allegation, I am afraid that he will have to withdraw it, or once again his credibility will be undermined.
Ed Balls: The hon. Gentleman made allegations about what I supposedly did, or did not, do. He regularly appears on Newsnight to review fiction, but he has no facts to back his assertion. The fact is, two years ago, the hon. Member for Tatton said that the Conservatives would support an overarching diploma to end the damaging gap between academic and vocational qualifications. Two years on, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath opposes our three new diplomas, because he says that they would be fantasy qualifications that would undermine excellence. I reject that entirely. We can have excellence for all, not just a few, through a comprehensive suite of diplomas. The idea that diplomas should be only for someonly for vocational learningis not true. That is whyand I stand by thiswe stand for excellence for all. We reject
Ed Balls: No, I will not give way. [ Interruption. ] Well, I am happy to do so, but if the hon. Gentleman is going make the same accusation, I will make the same reply. In opposing diplomas, in coming out against our three new diplomas, and in saying that the very fact of introducing them would undermine excellence, he made it clear that in his view a comprehensive system of diplomas delivering excellence for all is not consistent with the excellence he supports. That is why he advocated a two-tier system. I can provide more details. [ Interruption. ] No, the fact is that we want more than 50 per cent. of young people to go to university, but the Conservatives oppose that, because they do not believe that excellence can be for allthey think that it is only for the few. They oppose our diplomasa U-turn on what the hon. Member for Tatton saidbecause they do not believe that excellence is for all. We propose the biggest educational reform in 50 years, to provide excellent education or training for every young person until 18, but the Conservatives oppose it, because they do not believe that excellence in education and training until 18 can be delivered. They oppose our legislation.
Mr. Graham Stuart: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State made an allegation, which he has not substantiated. He said that he would give way, but he has not done so. Is there anything that you can do, Madam Deputy Speaker, to ask him either to substantiate the allegation or to withdraw it?
Madam Deputy Speaker:
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) took issue with what the Secretary of State said. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might wish to reconsider his words.
Ed Balls: It is very clear, Madam Deputy Speaker: the Conservatives stand for two tiers of educational opportunity. Education for all until 18 with the Government; education for some with the Opposition. We support a comprehensive system of diplomas, which was rejected by the Opposition, who would make vocational education available only to some people. I stand by what I said: we stand for educational excellence for all. They advocate two-tier education and excellence only for some. That is the dividing line on education. They may not like the fact that it is there, but it is. [ Interruption. ]
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have listenedor at least, attempted to listen, given the numerous conversations on both Front Benchesvery carefully to what has been said. It is clear that this is a question for debate. I hope that the opportunity will arise for Members to put their point of view on the record later.
Ed Balls: The hon. Member for Surrey Heath is upset, because I read out a very clear statement by the shadow Chancellor two years ago that the Conservatives would support excellence for all through an
over-arching diploma which brings together academic and vocational training into one single diploma...and...end this deeply damaging gap between academic qualifications and vocational training.
I am now implementing that proposal, but the hon. Member for Surrey Heath rejects it. I stand by what I said. He will perpetuate the damaging gap between academic and vocational training, and he will perpetuate a two-tier system of education. Excellence for some, not excellence for allthat is the dividing line.
Michael Gove: May I give the Secretary of State some advice? When in a hole, stop digging. He asserted that we believe in education for a few, but nowhere could he substantiate that assertion. He used a phrase that he could not substantiate but, worse than that, he said that we did not believe in increasing the number of people going to university. We argued at our party conference that we should increase it beyond 50 per cent. to match other high-performing countries, so there were two misrepresentations in the course of one speech. There is a legitimate debate to be had about how we achieve those goalscompulsion or incentivesand I am happy to join it. I am deeply disappointed, however, that the Secretary of State has chosen to go in for misrepresentation and distortion, which reflects badly on his office and on the strength of his case.
I am happy to have a discussion with the hon. Gentleman about false allegations. This morning, he claimed on the news wires that I was slowing down
the academies programme when, in fact, I have accelerated it. He claimed that I am going backwards on reform when, in fact, I am going faster on reform with academies. He said that I wanted to exclude them from education policy, but I want to bring them into the mainstream. He made those allegations. I did not seek to give him advice; I just sought to have a debate with him. He is upset, because he did not like to be told that, two years ago, his party stood for educational opportunity for all, and he does not support that.
It is very simple: he can refute that allegation, and support excellence for all. I never said that he was not in favour of excellence; I said that he was in favour of excellence for a few, and the evidence is, first, his opposition to our three new diplomas, which he says will undermine academic excellence, and, secondly, his opposition to our Bill to raise the education leaving age to 18. It is very easy: if he wants to set the record straight and show that he is in favour of excellence for all, and not just a few, it is not too late. He can change his mind and show that the Conservatives are not stuck in the past. He can show that he does not stand for the few and not the many, and that he stands for educational opportunity for all. My advice to him is: be a moderniser, and back our reforms. That is what he ought to do. I hope that, as he chose not to open the debate, and as he has a bit more time to think
Mr. Lansley: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I ask through the Chair that the Secretary of State withdraw the assertion that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) chose not to open the debate. The Oppositions intention was always that I should open the debate with the Secretary of State for Health, until we were notified yesterday of a change in plan. There was no change on our part at all.
Ed Balls: I have never attended a debate where the Opposition have tried so many parliamentary techniques to try to avoid the big issue. We stand for educational opportunity for all, but they stand for opportunity for a few. We propose new diplomas; they oppose them. We propose legislation to raise the education leaving age to 18 for all young people, but they oppose that as well. The fact is [ Interruption. ]
Ed Balls: It is for the Opposition to decide whether they want separate debates on health and on education, and they have chosen not to do so. Last year, the debate was opened by a health spokesman, so when I conferred with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, we assumed that this year the opening speeches would be on education. We discussed that last Wednesday, and we found out only yesterday that the Conservatives were not continuing with an opening speech on education.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State is in grave danger of misleading the people. He alleged that somehow [ Interruption. ]
Mr. McLoughlin: I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Speakers Office and the Government were informed that we would open todays debate with a speech on health and close with one on education. For the Secretary of State to say anything else shows that he is not in contact with the people who make those decisions, and is unaware of what is going on in government.
Ed Balls: I conferred with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and on the basis of his knowledge of precedent both as Secretary of State for Health and as a former Secretary of State for Education and Skills, we proceeded as we thought best. I am happy to open or close debates in the House. Whether I had made the opening or the closing speech would have made no difference
Ed Balls: The reason there are so many points of order and interventions is that Opposition Members are trying to conceal a fundamental factthat on education policy and raising the education leaving age to 18, they are against reform, they are acting against the reviews of business, and they are acting against educational opportunity for all and not just some. It is the Government who are taking the long-term view and delivering educational opportunity for all and not just some. It is the Government who are preparing all our young people for the demands of the modern world. It is Labour, not the Opposition, that has the vision, and I commend the Gracious Speech to the House. [Interruption.]
Norman Lamb: I suspect that I am not alone in having lost the will to live after that performance. I suspect that, on reflection, the Government might decide that the Secretary of State for Health should have started the debate.
The beginning of the debate has been rather disjointed, with the shadow Secretary of State for Health being followed by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and now we are back to the subject of health. It might have been helpful if the Government Whips had informed the Liberal Democrats of the shenanigans that went on yesterday. No one on our side was informed of the change. It seems that the Government Whips themselves did not know.
to help the most vulnerable members of society.
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