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11 Jan 2010 : Column 442

There is also-we have not heard it yet, but I am sure that we will in the speech by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath-a continuing scepticism about whether the rise in standards that we have seen over the past 10 years is real or is due to the dumbing down of our exams. I say regularly in this House that the introduction of Ofqual, our independent standards regulator, is a very important protection against dumbing down and easier exams, but time after time those claims are refuted-although, as we saw in the Queen's Speech debate on the subject, when I asked the hon. Gentleman a few exam questions on maths and science, he turned out not to know the answers. That is partly because the questions were quite hard. The question is, though, has he done any revision? Should we allow him to do a retake? Very briefly, I have two quick exam questions for him. First, two whole numbers are each between 50 and 70. They multiply-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The Secretary of State has been speaking for nearly an hour. I appreciate that he has taken a number of interventions, and this is a debate after all, but I am not sure that what he is now asking is very relevant to the Bill before us.

Ed Balls: It is relevant to the debate about whether standards are rising or falling, but I am happy to return to the matter at another time. I have been waiting for the hon. Gentleman to call an Opposition day debate on education for the past two years, and since the first three months, when we had two, we have not had a single one. It is frustrating that I almost never get a chance to ask him any of these questions in the House.

I conclude by considering statements that have been made about education visions in recent years. There is a debate about whether we should drive school standards up and tackle underperforming schools by stepping in with extra support and extra powers in the national challenge programme, as we are, or whether we should stand back and have what is called the Swedish model. That allows a more market-based approach, and the Opposition advocate it. It is important that we debate those different approaches in considering the Bill.

We were told two years ago that, according to the shadow Secretary of State:

Two weeks later he went further, saying that up to 5,000 new private schools would be funded by the taxpayer under his plans. However, last June The Sunday Times reported that senior Opposition figures thought the policy was unworkable and that the shadow Secretary of State's claim of 3,000 new schools was "totally unrealistic". In fact, in the- [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure that the Secretary of State can reassure the House about where the building of schools appears in the Bill.

Ed Balls: The point is that there are two different approaches to driving school improvement. We can do it either through the mechanisms and powers set out in the Bill or through a free market free-for-all, abolishing powers and, as we heard in the Queen's Speech debate, bringing in companies that are encouraged to be profit-making and drive the system in a different direction.

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Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): I assume that the Secretary of State is also interested in profit-making in schools, but profit-making in terms of the "so what" factor-the added value, dividends and benefits that come to youngsters through their experience, and the added professional development of teachers.

Ed Balls: My hon. Friend is completely right. That is the difference. Do we have a market-based mechanism, with some schools withering on the vine while others expand, or do we drive school improvement by the measures in the Bill? It contains clear guarantees to parents and pupils, a decent licence to practise so that professional standards are maintained, and more power and independence for head teachers to drive up standards in their schools, backed by the active support of parents in home-school agreements. That is what we have set out in the Bill.

It will not be possible to deliver the guarantees and reforms in the Bill unless the money is available to pay for them. I made it clear in response to interventions at the beginning of my speech that with me, school spending would rise this year, next year and the year after, but that with the Opposition, it would be cut next year, the year after and the year after that. As the shadow Chancellor has made clear, their priority is not school spending or one-to-one catch-up support but an inheritance tax cut for 3,000 of the richest millionaires. That is the choice. Our vision in the Bill is a world-class education system with excellence and opportunity for all, not just some. That is the choice, and that is what the Bill guarantees, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

5.19 pm

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): May I first associate myself with the comments of the Secretary of State about the former Member for North-West Leicestershire? We all miss him from his accustomed place on the back row of the Government green Benches. He was a good, kind and generous man, a fantastic constituency Member of Parliament, a grammar school boy, who never lost the love of learning-I benefited personally from his wise advice throughout my time in the House. He will be sorely missed and I should like, on behalf of Conservative Members, to associate myself with every word that the Secretary of State said. We would like to send our best wishes to his widow and his four lovely daughters.

May I also associate myself with the Secretary of State's comments about the success of so many providers of information technology in showcasing their wares in our schools and, more broadly, in education in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales? I am delighted that so many Ministers and individuals from abroad have come to admire what is happening, not only in ICT but more broadly in educational innovation.

I am sorry that we did not have an opportunity to see the Secretary of State play Magnus Magnusson again and demonstrate what a mastermind he is. What a pity
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it is that other members of the Cabinet are not here to play the quiz that they most enjoy with the Secretary of State and have the opportunity to say, "You are the weakest link."

After the events of last week, may I say what a pleasure it is for all Conservative Members to see the Secretary of State still in his place? We are all delighted that he has enjoyed a high profile in recent days and look forward to his playing an even more prominent role in the campaign ahead-or should that be campaigns? As well as wanting him to play as big a role as possible in the general election campaign, I greatly hope that he will play as big a role as possible in any leadership campaigns that follow it. We assure him of our enthusiastic support.

I suspect that the Bill, whether it is passed or not, will end up being the Secretary of State's monument. Balfour's monument was the Education Act 1902, which established a universal system of local education provision. Rab Butler's monument was the Education Act 1944, which established universal free secondary provision. Lord Baker of Dorking's monument was the Education Reform Act 1988, which gave effect to the principles of parental choice, transparent assessment, diversity in the state system and greater freedom for individual schools. As the Secretary of State's monument, the Bill seeks to establish in law one of his highest priorities-a goal that he pursues with restless zeal; indeed, it is his motivation for being in public office: drawing dividing lines.

Even before he was in the Cabinet, when he was a Back Bencher, doubtless leading the fight against any attempt on the Back Benches to organise against the incumbent leader, he told the New Statesman that he wanted to "get back" to dividing lines on education with the Conservatives. That was his highest priority-not helping the poorest, raising standard or supporting professionals, but drawing a dividing line. I do not feel personally affronted by that. The Secretary of State cannot meet anyone outside his immediate family without wanting to draw dividing lines between them. Perhaps he is right and the rest of us-all of us-are wrong. Perhaps he is the Galileo of education policy-uniquely and brilliantly insightful while all around him is mediaeval darkness and error. However, on the Bill, I am happy to be on the other side of the argument. The debate at the heart of the measure is, as the right hon. Gentleman says, about how one drives up standards in schools.

Liz Blackman: It would be helpful to me and others if the hon. Gentleman got on with his argument and started mentioning children.

Michael Gove: My first comments paid tribute to a Member of the House, now departed, who devoted his life to the cause of education. I want to draw a clear picture of the philosophical divide, which governs how children will be educated, between the Secretary of State and Conservative Members.

What is the answer when we consider how to improve education? Is it more and more central prescription, regulation, bureaucracy, avenues for litigation, compliance costs, supervisory audits, paperwork and time spent out of the classroom on administration? That is the Government's way under this Secretary of State. However, perhaps the answer is that it is better to trust professionals more, to support more diversity and greater pluralism,
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and to give parents more choice and schools more freedom-in short, to move in the direction that was set out in Tony Blair's education White Paper of 2005 rather than the White Paper of 2009.

Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham) (Lab) rose-

Michael Gove: Which of those approaches the right hon. Lady supports will be of great interest to me.

Hilary Armstrong: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will come back to what will drive up standards in education, which is improving, beyond what we had ever thought possible, the quality of teaching. Will he commit to seeking to ensure, through other measures in the Bill and some that he has suggested, that we attract people from the top 10 per cent. of graduates in this country to the teaching profession?

Michael Gove: I could not agree more with the right hon. Lady-I have often agreed with her arguments and she makes an impeccable argument now. One point that I have consistently made in four of my five most recent speeches is the pressing need to attract and retain more highly talented people in education. I believe that many of the provisions in the Bill, because they bureaucratise the profession rather than trust professionals, will leave many highly gifted and talented people saying, "I do not want to go into a profession where the Secretary of State tells me, to the most minute detail, how I should perform this task, because that robs me of the professional autonomy that I have a right to expect as someone who enjoys the top level of training," to which the right hon. Lady alluded.

I completely agree with the right hon. Lady. The reports produced by McKinsey and others demonstrate that the single most important thing we could do to improve the quality of education is improve teaching quality. The organisations that are most devoted to improving teacher quality, such as Teach First, Teaching Leaders, and Future Leaders, are opposed to the bureaucratisation of our education system under the approach of the current Secretary of State.

Hilary Armstrong rose-

Michael Gove: I sense that the right hon. Lady is straining at the bit, so I am happy to allow her to come in.

Hilary Armstrong: Those organisations are not opposed to things such as licensing, because we have to know that teachers in front of classes are actually doing what they should be doing. The reality is that simply saying, "We're not going to have any concern over what is done locally," which is what the hon. Gentleman is doing, would leave teaching to whoever wants to do it and take the quality out. We have to improve the quality, not reduce it.

Michael Gove: The right hon. Lady is presumably unaware of the fact that the Conservatives have consistently argued that we should raise the bar on entry to the teaching profession, and that we should restrict taxpayer funding of postgraduate certificates in education to those who have at least a lower second-class degree,
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unlike at the moment, when those who have a third can move into teaching. We have also explicitly said that people should not be teaching in primary schools if they have anything less than a grade B pass at GCSE maths and English. Both measures would raise the bar on entry to the teaching profession and ensure that those teaching in our schools are better qualified than they are at the moment.

Teachers in our schools now are better qualified than teachers in the past, and I take this opportunity to underline, and pay tribute to, the quality of the teaching profession.

Mr. Chaytor: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Michael Gove: I think the hon. Gentleman is being a little bit previous and premature-I am not actually the Secretary of State-but I am delighted to give way.

Mr. Chaytor: I am very grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for giving way. If he believes in professional autonomy, why does it remain his policy to tell teachers exactly which method they should use to teach children to read?

Michael Gove: My approach is that there should be no hiding place for schools that fail to teach children to read properly. We all know that evidence points to the success of systematic synthetic phonics, and teachers who wish to follow that method will be supported-I hope-by those on both sides of the House. However, if teachers wish to follow other routes, they should have the freedom to do so-they do so in Steiner and Montessori schools with some measure of success-but the crucial thing is that we would introduce a test to ensure that every child who can is reading by an appropriate age.

Lindsay Roy: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Michael Gove: I will not at the moment.

The one consistent complaint I hear when I talk to teachers, heads, governors, academy sponsors, parents, local authorities, and indeed anyone involved in education-it is voiced most loudly by the most successful- is this: "We face too much bureaucracy." Therefore, I approach any attempt to pile additional bureaucracy on the educational system with scepticism. Why? I do so because we know that systems work well when they are built on trust. That is the principle for Cabinet government and the principle for success in any school, and it is also the principle that should animate our entire education system. We know that trust depends on respecting autonomy. We recognise that education depends crucially on great teachers and superb school leaders. We want a culture in education where the craft of teaching is respected and the professional status of heads and teachers is enhanced at every stage. That is why we oppose many of the provisions in the Bill.

I know that the Secretary of State will say that, in opposing the Bill, we are opposing any help of any kind for pupils falling behind, and that we are against all cultural and sporting activity-indeed, that we are for deep and invincible ignorance, while he is for a new age of enlightenment and goodness. It does not matter much what we say or do, because the Secretary of State has his script written anyway.

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The Secretary of State has argued that we are in favour of closing Sure Start centres, when we want more people to go to more of them. He has argued that we would abolish key stage 2 tests, when we want more rigour and greater transparency. He has argued that we are against people staying on in education, when it is our goal to raise participation beyond the current level. I am sure that between now and the election we will hear more of the same from the Secretary of State, with his characteristic machismo. However, given the transparently political nature of the Bill, you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I decline to play the political game, and instead insist on scrutinising what lies before us and say that I am afraid that it does not pass muster.

Lindsay Roy: In what ways does the licence to practise inhibit empowerment and autonomy among staff? Surely it encourages professionals to develop their skills to the full.

Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman will already be aware, as a distinguished head teacher who did a brilliant job, that new performance management guidelines were introduced before any discussion of the licence to teach. Those guidelines are relatively recent and have met with the approval of all the professional teacher associations, most conspicuously the Association of School and College Leaders, the trade union that speaks for head teachers such as him. The ASCL has pointed out that there is absolutely no need to inaugurate a licence to teach in order to usher in better continuous professional development. Indeed, the National Union of Teachers, the union that represents the greatest number of teachers in our schools, has argued that the continuous professional development of its members is not helped in any way by the licence to teach. Having listened to the professionals on that, I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has a conflict of loyalty, as both a head teacher and a loyal Back Bencher. However, if he is prepared to listen to fellow professionals, rather than to his colleagues who are temporarily in the Whips Office, he will see that none of them has any faith in the licence to teach as a means of improving standards.

Lindsay Roy rose-

Michael Gove: Have another go.

Lindsay Roy: With due respect, the hon. Gentleman indicated earlier that the licence to practise inhibited autonomy.

Michael Gove: I merely pointed out that the licence to practise seems to add no benefit. Indeed, the body that will be responsible for policing it if the Bill passes into law, the General Teaching Council, has pointed out exactly the same.

Mr. Mark Field: I was interested to hear the most recent exchange, but perhaps my hon. Friend could tell me precisely how many Glenrothes constituents the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Lindsay Roy) represents on educational matters.

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