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I have nothing against Government-supported programmes of work-based learning, but I have everything against a Government who attempt to massage figures and manipulate names in order to try to paint their record in rosier colours than it deserves.

We broadly support the principle of creating an entitlement to apprenticeships and the way in which the Government are going about encouraging schools to offer a wider range of options to students, but the Government are using the Bill and the declaration of an entitlement as a way of covering up their failure to deliver over time. It is a similar approach to the one that they are taking over the child poverty Bill. They are attempting to enshrine in statute a commitment to eliminate child poverty by 2020, as a way of distracting from the fact that this year we will see that progress towards the interim goal in 2012 has moved backwards. It would be better if the Government were honest about their failures, because then all of us could work with them, as we sincerely wish to do, in order to achieve the noble goals that they occasionally articulate.

Ed Balls: Shameful.

Michael Gove: It is indeed shameful that we are moving back, but we are delighted that the Government, whenever they want to work with us, continue to work with us. At present one of the problems— [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. It would be helpful if any interventions were made in the normal way.

Ed Balls: I was saying that the hon. Gentleman should apologise for the fact that between 1979 and 1997 we had the biggest rise in child poverty of any European country. He should praise the Government for the fact that since 1997 we have had the biggest fall in child poverty of any European country. We are very proud of that record; the shame and apologies should come from the Conservative party.

Michael Gove: That intervention can stand without my saying anything more. It stands in its own right as a reflection of the approach that, sadly, the Secretary of State has taken to an attempt to be constructive.

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Mr. Boswell: May we go back to a point touched on a little while ago? The Secretary of State was saying that there were 1,000 additional apprenticeships to be made available in the construction industry. Does my hon. Friend not agree that in normal economic circumstances the annual demand for new labour in the construction industry equates to some 80,000 people? Even if the Government’s aspiration could be achieved, could it be anything like commensurate with our need for skills?

Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I am not against the additional provision of apprenticeship places as a result of imposing the requirement on Building Schools for the Future contractors. I do say, however, that given the drop in the number of apprenticeships in the construction sector, the numbers do not begin to match the scale of what we need. My hon. Friend made that point very effectively.

One of our other problems with apprenticeships overall is that we inevitably rely on the private sector to generate apprenticeship places. However, over the years it has become increasingly difficult for private sector concerns to supply those places. In the Green Paper on skills that my hon. Friend the Member for Havant produced just a few months ago, he helpfully listed every private sector provider’s nine barriers to hiring apprentices. They included the complexity of the inspection regime, of the quality assurance scheme, of the registration scheme, of the certification scheme, of the funding structure, of the paperwork and of the self-assessment process.

More and more people who wanted to provide apprenticeships were failing to do so, and that is one of the reasons why there has been the sad diminution of numbers that I mentioned earlier. We Conservatives do not want to add unnecessarily to that bureaucratic burden. As we scrutinise the Bill, our central aim will be to make sure that we do not add to the bureaucracy in such a way as to make it more difficult to do the right thing.

Kelvin Hopkins: The hon. Gentleman has talked about the private sector providing apprenticeships. Is it not a fact that, if we go back 30 years, the public sector was a major provider of apprenticeships? The diminution of the public sector under successive Governments has been a major factor in minimising the number of apprenticeships.

Michael Gove: It is an interesting issue. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the fact—he may lament it—that there used to be significant industrial concerns in the public sector that are no longer there. If he was alluding to the decline in the number of apprenticeships in many of those industries, I should say that that pre-dated privatisation. If he was alluding more broadly to a decline in support for apprenticeships, we have to look to a number of areas to discover why the private sector has reduced the number of apprentices that it is taking on. One crucial factor is the bureaucratic burden that many otherwise well-intentioned private sector concerns now face.

Mr. Sheerman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Gove: I am going to try to make a little progress.

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Mr. Sheerman rose—

Michael Gove: All right; the hon. Gentleman is, after all, the Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee.

Mr. Sheerman: The Select Committee took evidence on the number of apprentices, so it is important that the hon. Gentleman should put on the record where he gets the stats from. It will be important for the Committee to compare the stats that it has been given with those that the hon. Gentleman has just given the House.

I should say that one of the greatest suppliers of great apprentices over many years has been the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces. We should be proud of their apprenticeship record, which stretches back a long time.

Michael Gove: The figures come from the Government and the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee. I entirely associate myself with the words that the Select Committee Chairman has just uttered about the armed forces. I completely agree with him.

I want to talk about further education; inevitably, one of the Bill’s purposes is to implement reform or change in the FE sector. Further education has been a success for many years, since FE colleges were liberated from local authority control by a previous Conservative Government. Unfortunately, in recent years this Government have piled more bureaucracy on the sector through the Learning and Skills Council. As we all know, participation in further education has diminished.

The Government’s answer to more bureaucracy is another bureaucratic reorganisation. They are going to replace the Learning and Skills Council with the Skills Funding Agency and its chief executive, and a sub-quango, the National Apprenticeship Service, as well as with another quango, the Young People’s Learning Agency. In the Bill and supporting material, the Government described the SFA as “streamlined” and the YPLA as “slim”. We all know that they will never launch a new quango saying, “This is another bloated bureaucratic behemoth”, but when they go to such trouble to say that it will be slim or streamlined they are clearly desperately worried about the new extent of bureaucratic compliance that they will be requiring of all the organisations that have to deal with these quangos. Further education principals will have more bodies to report to, more circulars to read and more meetings to attend.

Mr. Boswell rose—

Michael Gove: I am sure that my hon. Friend will add to that point.

Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been most generous with his time. Does he remember that the argument that Ministers put to this House when they set up the Learning and Skills Council, on the basis of a very dodgy prospectus and figures, was that it would result in bureaucratic streamlining and a saving in expense, and has he any evidence that that actually took place?

Michael Gove: Absolutely none, and I fear that this reorganisation may lead only to greater bureaucratic overload. Four further education colleges will now be in an unfortunate position whereby they find that local
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authorities will be the strategic commissioners of education for 16 to 19-year-olds. However, those local authorities will not have a free hand but will be tied by operating together on a sub-regional level. Their spending in operating at a sub-regional level will be monitored by the YPLA, they will have to negotiate the funding for those over the age of 19 with the SFA, and if they offer training for apprenticeships they will have to liaise with the SFA’s sub-quango, the NAS. Even though the national LSC has gone, local authorities will still have to deal with nine regional learning and skills councils. That is because those nine regional councils, which replaced the 47 sub-regional LSCs, were created only five months ago, last September, and the Government cannot afford to get rid of them.

While this massive bureaucratic edifice has been constructed, we have found on the ground that the real building of improved facilities for students has stopped because the Learning and Skills Council has placed a moratorium on construction. There will not be a Member in this House who does not have constituents at a further education college that is affected by that moratorium. I am myself in the unfortunate position whereby improved provision for sixth-formers in my constituency has been affected by that moratorium.

The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): I have resisted intervening about a number of tendentious facts and claims uttered by the hon. Gentleman in the past half hour, but will he withdraw his claim that there has been a moratorium on construction, and will he confirm that the full £2.3 billion of further education capital budget is going to be spent, as I have promised to this House? Future schemes are currently being assessed for the pipeline, but no construction has been halted. He should not come to the House and claim that it has when he knows very well that that is not true.

Michael Gove: I have listened to what the Secretary of State says, but he should visit Thomas Tomlinscote school in my constituency to explain why they have received correspondence telling them to terminate their plans for construction. If there is absolutely nothing to worry about, why has he appointed Sir Andrew Foster to investigate the situation? Why get a Sherlock Holmes to investigate quango crimes if no crimes have been committed?

As well as being concerned about bureaucracy in the further education sector, we have similar concerns about children’s trusts. We all want better inter-agency working and recognise that when it comes to child protection, welfare and support it is important to get all the organisations with an interest working better together. However, it is clear that children’s trusts have not fulfilled the high hopes invested in them. The case of baby P proves that. The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families took firm and effective action when the joint area review report was brought to him; I pay tribute to him for that. However, there was already a children’s trust in Haringey and it did not prove to be the effective preventive institution that we would all have hoped that it might be.

There is a potential for confusion in the way in which children’s trusts are being set up—for example, over who will be the principal author of the children’s and
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young people’s plans. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who is introducing the Autism Bill on Friday, has mentioned the crucial importance of clarity as regards the authorship of those plans. There is also some confusion, which is certainly reported by local authorities, about the division of responsibility between local safeguarding children boards and children’s trusts. It is important when we bring forward new institutions and new ways of working that we are clear about the lines of responsibility. I hope that in Committee we will have an opportunity to provide a degree of reassurance to those people on the front line who are worried.

On the subject of support for professionals, as the Secretary of State mentioned, there are provisions in the Bill on discipline, too. We welcome the extension of powers to search students but we fear that they might not go far enough. We feel that the exact requirements to ensure that there are two staff of the same sex as the individual being searched, that only outer clothing can be searched, and that searches can be carried out only for specific goods, on reasonable suspicion and with proportionate use of physical force, might include too many restrictions. We believe that it would be more appropriate to give head teachers a general power that can be exercised for all materials that might be destructive of good order in schools. In our view, it is important that we give head teachers every weapon that they need in order to improve education.

Above all, when we are considering improvement in the state education system, we need to recognise where improvement has come fastest in the past few years, and why. Improvement has come fastest in those schools that have benefited from the independence that the academies programme has brought. As the Secretary of State has acknowledged, improvements at GCSE in those academies that are at a stage where students are taking those examinations have been faster than in the rest of the state sector.

The academies programme has been a success. We should have expected that, because its predecessor programme, the city technology college programme, was also a success. The 12 original CTCs now have examination results at GCSE that are better than the average level of all independent schools in this country. They are comprehensive schools and they are doing better than independent schools.

It is because independent state schools and the academies programme have been so successful that it is so worrying that the voice of academies has been raised against the Bill. The Independent Academies Association has written to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Schools and Learners to say that it is

The association’s members are the people on the front line of improving education. They say:

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The Bill, which creates new quangos and additional regulation, is specifically attacked by the association because it underlines the independence and autonomy that the association’s members need.

Mr. Dhanda: I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman is waxing lyrical about academies and I welcome his support for them, but does he have a message for Tory local authorities that have resisted the creation of academies, such as Gloucestershire—not least because it does not want to water down the four grammar schools? I am sure that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) is very concerned about that, too.

Michael Gove: I know that the hon. Gentleman is a friend of educational excellence and I know that he appreciates the role that grammar schools play in his constituency. He has not been campaigning for their closure or for any change to their position— [ Interruption. ] If he has, I am sure that his constituents and I would like to know about it. However, on his central point about support for academies, I am entirely clear that we support the extension of the academies programme. That is why it is so worrying that those who are involved in providing some of the best state schools in the country have profound worries about the Bill. The Secretary of State and his Ministers will have the opportunity in Committee to provide the reassurance that those excellent school leaders need, and unless that reassurance is provided it will be very worrying.

Ed Balls: At 3.20, I received a letter from the chair of the Independent Academies Association, Mr. Mike Butler, who explained that he was deeply disturbed by, in particular, the role of the Young People’s Learning Agency in performance assessments and by other ways of extending greater powers to local authorities. That was surprising to us because we consulted Ark, Harris, Oasis and the United Learning Trust and many academy sponsors, and in my briefing, I have a quote from Ros McMullen, the outgoing chair of the Independent Academies Association, saying that the IAA welcomed

So the IAA fully supports the proposals, or it does not—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The Secretary of State had the chance to speak. I am conscious of the time that Front Benchers are taking; they have a chance to wind up at the end of the debate to deal with any points that arise from it.

Michael Gove: If hon. Members want to find out the view of the Independent Academies Association, they can read the letter that I have, which clearly states in gripping detail precisely why those who are responsible for driving improvement are so worried. One of the reasons why they are worried is that this Bill lacks the dynamism and coherence of previous legislation introduced by this Government. One of the tragedies of this Parliament is the fact that when Tony Blair introduced a Bill in 2005 to ensure a step-change in the provision of new,
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alternative schools to challenge complacent local authorities, he was unfortunately incapable of seeing that radicalism through. We need a radical change to the way in which our state education system works if we are to provide all students, and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, with the opportunities that they require. When radicalism was brought before this House in the shape of that Bill, the people who promoted it found that it was undermined by agitation on the Back Benches led by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State.

It is a tragedy that what will almost certainly be the last piece of education legislation introduced by this Labour Government lacks any of the radicalism, coherence and passion of that earlier Bill. One of the sad epitaphs of this Parliament is that Labour, having come to the field of education with such high hopes and such good ideas, leaves it with a Bill that does nothing to meet the huge challenges that our young people face.

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