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"How can I...keep to the September guarantee if I do not know if I am going to get funded to do so? There is a good chance that I will be turning 40 or 50 students away from this college. And, given the absence of apprenticeships in this area, unless other schools and colleges take these young people, they are likely to become neets."
In Cirencester, the college principal, Nigel Robbins, has not even received enough cash from the Secretary of State to cover a shortfall from last year, when more than 100 students received no funding. This year, another 110 students are unfunded-a shortfall of £450,000. The principal is furious with the Government. He says that
"young people who fail to get a job...will...ask for a place"
"In the past we would have taken them."
"This year I will be saying, 'No, sorry, there is no room. We refuse to take you...because no one is funding us for this place'."
"the situation is...very tight."
"The reality is that we are very, very full."
Mr. Dakin is not a Tory troublemaker but the recently selected prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour party in Scunthorpe. He was chosen on an honesty ticket, because he would tell it straight on behalf of his community. He will be popular with the Whips when he gets here.
If he gets here-he is not here yet. I like him, but he is not here yet, sadly. He is still telling it straight, however, because under this Government the so-called September guarantee is a con trick. Even the Prime Minister appears to think so, otherwise he would not have introduced in his speech yesterday another guarantee: the January guarantee-to join the September
guarantee and the other 38 guarantees that were already in the schools White Paper. This Government produce new guarantees at the same rate at which Zimbabwe prints dollars, and they are worth about the same.
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman lost me somewhere during his argument, but I shall take him back, because I recognise that he is at odds with my good friend, the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman will not answer the Secretary of State's question about 2010-11, so will he clarify for others, with whom he may not be at loggerheads, his party's exact position?
Michael Gove: Our party's position in 2010-11 is to contest and fight a general election, win it, I hope, get rid of this discredited Government and ensure that the hon. Gentleman has more opportunities to pursue his interest in education. I am delighted that he, as the Member for Dumfries and Galloway, has come to the Chamber to sit on the green Benches. Indeed, it is striking that the Government have so little support: the only people on their Benches are Parliamentary Private Secretaries and the Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families. The Government have had to draft in Members from Scotland to provide the Secretary of State with support, but I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is so interested in public spending south of the border. Let me assure him that education is safe in our hands.
Unfortunately for the Secretary of State, none of his guarantees is defensible, credible or funded. The January guarantee is supposed to give every young person not in employment, education or training a guaranteed place at school, college or on a training course, but that is what the September guarantee was supposed to offer. The Prime Minister said that, by adding 45,000 places, the new guarantee would build on the 55,000 places that the September guarantee funded, making 100,000. The truth, however, is that there are many more than 100,000 young people in need of a place at college.
Today, we discover that there is a record number of young people not in education, employment or training-more than 1 million overall, and more than at any time since the Government have been in power. There are more than 140,000 16 and 17-year-olds not in education, employment or training. How many of them will not benefit because the Government's September and January guarantees are not worth the paper they are not written on?
The fundamental problem with all these guarantees is that the Government have run out of money and are reduced to printing promises that they know they cannot redeem. They are economically bankrupt, ideologically bankrupt and politically bankrupt. They have completely run out of ideas on pushing forward reform in schools, and the Opposition parties are now making the running in the education debate: our arguments reflect the global tide in favour of more autonomy for professionals, better accountability for the public, greater choice for parents and higher standards overall.
The Government have tried to respond to the fact that the intellectual tide is moving away from them, but their response only shows how tired, exhausted and
barren they are. More and more parents every year signal that they are unhappy with schools, and we propose radical change to give them more choice. Let me tell the House what the Government propose. In the schools White Paper, they state:
"Local authorities will survey parents as they apply to secondary schools, and will ask parents whether they are satisfied with the quality and range of provision."
We might expect the Government to ask parents if they are satisfied with the choice well before they have to choose, but the lameness of the Government's response does not end there. The White Paper continues:
"If a sufficient proportion of parents are dissatisfied".
We do not know what a sufficient proportion is-5 per cent., 25 per cent., 50 per cent? What if one parent is dissatisfied? I thought that every child was supposed to matter. Anyway, if a sufficient proportion is dissatisfied, the White Paper states that
"the local authority should consult parents about their specific concerns and work with them to improve the choice, range, governance and type of...schools".
The question is: why has not the local authority improved things before? We all know that very often it is at fault. The local authority, as the monopoly supplier of schools in an area, may often have resisted diversity, prevented choice and stood in the way of increasing standards
According to the Government plan, dissatisfied parents should, after their own children have been allocated to a school with which they are unhappy, work with the local authority to help write a new "plan" to be published in due course-heaven knows when. When the plan is produced, it might include proposals for federating schools, expanding some schools, even opening new schools-or perhaps none of the above, because there is no requirement on the local authority to do anything quickly. However, if parents are unhappy when the proposals are introduced, what do they do? The White Paper says that they can
"appeal to the Schools Adjudicator if they are not happy with the resulting plan, in the same way they can currently appeal about local admission arrangements."
If parents are not happy about how one bureaucracy responds to bureaucratic failure, they can ask another bureaucrat to get his bureaucracy to take a look at it. How long do we have to wait before that process starts? The Government say that later this year they will work with up to 10 local authorities to trial the approach, then use that trial to decide how things might work and further consult on its introduction.
To say that the process is advancing at a sloth-like pace is a slander against sloths, and a gross underestimation of the sense of urgency of which those gentle, leaf-eating mammals are capable. By the time the whole process is complete, the children who are in underperforming schools will be so old that they will be getting a telegram from the Queen before their A-level results.
Mr. Graham Stuart: My hon. Friend is making powerful points about local bureaucracies that too often let parents down. Does he agree that local authorities have sufficient powers to intervene if a home-educated child gives cause for concern to a local authority, either on safeguarding or on educational grounds? Does he think, as I do, that giving local authority officials with no such cause for concern the right to access people's homes is in breach of article 8 of the European convention on human rights and should be fiercely resisted?
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and he is quite right to draw attention to the fact that the Government's response to the Badman review unfortunately places many admirable home educators in the dock. We should work with people who want to home educate their children, rather than stigmatise them.
Bob Russell: I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's sincerity. It is not what Conservatives say from the Front Bench today that concerns me, but what happens with Conservatives out there running education authorities. When 96 per cent. of parents in my constituency objected to the closure of two schools, wishing their schools to remain open under a super-head, the local Conservative-controlled education authority ignored them. What percentage would they need to get to? Even Mugabe could never dream of 96 per cent.
Michael Gove: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I know that he enjoys North Korean levels of popularity with some people. I will take a close look at the point that he makes. I would be delighted to go to Colchester with him and the Conservative candidate to talk to the Conservative council some time. It is always a pleasure to spend time in Essex-
Mr. Sheerman: As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman has supported Every Child Matters and the five outcomes for children. Does he really believe, as he implied in response to an earlier intervention, that the five outcomes should apply to 99 per cent. of schoolchildren but not to the home educated?
Michael Gove: The overwhelming number of home-educated children benefit from the dedication of individuals who have deliberately sought to forgo income and time to give them the best possible education, and I think that the Secretary of State agrees with that. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. We need to have a constructive debate about how we ensure that all children, everywhere, get the best possible support at every stage. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) for raising the vital importance of not stigmatising those who choose to home educate their children. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect, would absolutely agree with that.
One of the sadnesses of the Secretary of State's tenure in office is the fact that there is a lack of freshness, rigour and credibility in everything that he has introduced. He said that there were some good ideas in the Bill that he has introduced-yes, there are, but those good ideas are ours. For example, when enforceable home-school contracts were first proposed, he said:
"I do not think a commitment to helping children to read and behave well should be put in a contract".
"The Home School Agreement should not be a contract forced on parents".
Today, however, in the legislation laid before us, we have enforceable home-school contracts with penalties for recalcitrant parents. When did this conversion happen? Can we have a word of gratitude for my right hon.
Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who first suggested this proposal? Not a word of gratitude is offered-a remarkable and, may I say, uncharacteristic display of gracelessness by the Secretary of State.
The issue on home-school agreements is whether they should be an optional condition in the admissions process that schools can use to exclude some parents and thus some pupils from going to the school if they do not sign them. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that, and if so, does he therefore support a change in the admissions code, as the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) proposes?
According to the Secretary of State, new parenting orders have been introduced in the Gracious Speech. He says that they are new, but he clearly does not understand the history of his own Department, because parenting orders have been available to local authorities since 30 September 1998. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 allows schools to apply directly for an order. Schools and local authorities can also apply for an order earlier, prior to exclusion, following serious misbehaviour which, if continued, would warrant exclusion. However, despite the fact that those powers and their extensions have existed since at least 1998, not a single school has applied for a behaviour parenting order since September 2004.
The problem is that in every respect the Government's proposals are either incredible or, if they have merit, borrowed. All their much-heralded guarantees are literally incredible. I suspect that few people are keener on the arts than me. I know that the Secretary of State has a deep love of music, but how does he intend to make legally enforceable in the courts his guarantee to five hours of good-quality cultural activity? Are we going to arrest head teachers who cannot get the Royal Philharmonic to play at assembly? Are we going to fetter good head teachers by taking money from schools and giving it to lawyers so they can be sued?
"every pupil should have access to high-quality cultural activities in and out-of-school, with an aspiration that, over time, this will reach five hours".
Let us look at the guarantee of one-to-one tuition for every child who is falling behind. That is admirable in principle, but how many children does it cover-every child below average, or half the children in the country? The original promise intended to deliver one-to-one tuition for every child who has fallen behind, but we
heard yesterday that it would now provide for one-to-one or small group tuition. Can the Secretary of State tell us which it is to be-one-to-one or small group tuition-and to how many children it will apply?
Ed Balls: In 2010-11, we will deliver one-to-one or small group tuition. For a child who falls behind in key stage 2, the commitment is to one-to-one tuition, and for a child in year 7, the commitment is to one-to-one or small group tuition. Some 600,000 pupils will get one-to-one tuition. We can deliver that because we are funding those budgets for 2010-11. We now know that the hon. Gentleman cannot match that because he cannot support the 2010-11 budgets. We can deliver those 600,000 places and he cannot, as parents around the country will know as a result of this debate.
Michael Gove: I am grateful for the Secretary of State's acknowledgement of that retreat-another of his retreats-from the original promise. The commitment is no longer to one-to-one tuition but to one-to-one or small group tuition. The problem with the Secretary of State is that all his guarantees and commitments are literally incredible because he does not have backing from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, nor does he have the resources to deliver, nor the originality of policy.
The Secretary of State could give guarantees today that would be credible and welcome and that we would unhesitatingly support. He could guarantee, as we would, that children in comprehensives would have access to the same high-quality exams as those in private schools by lifting the ban on state schools doing the rigorous international GCSEs in English and maths. He could guarantee, as we would, that every child who can do so is reading fluently after two years of primary school by introducing a universal national reading test to ensure that all children are decoding fluently and that dyslexic children are identified early. He could guarantee, as we would, to raise the prestige and esteem of teaching by saying no one with poor GCSEs or a poor degree could become a teacher. He could guarantee, as we would, to deal with failure in more of our poorest schools by promising to take quickly the 100 worst out of local authority control.
The Secretary of State could guarantee, as we would, to improve behaviour by giving teachers more powers to keep order, as well as greater freedom to search pupils and to ban disruptive items. He could guarantee, as we would, to give teachers proper protection from false allegations and to give heads the power to exclude violent children without being overruled. He could guarantee, as we would, to get more great graduates into teaching by expanding the Teach First scheme. He could guarantee, as we would, to make more superb graduates heads of department and head teachers by expanding the Teaching Leaders and Future Leaders programmes. He could guarantee, as we would, to give all heads more freedom and control by allowing all high-performing schools to become academies. He could guarantee, as we would, more choice and improved standards in primary schools by allowing primary schools to become academies. He could even guarantee, as we would, a system of funding for pupils which concentrates resources on the very poorest.
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