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I think that that was an intervention on me, but I recognise my hon. Friend's point. The hon. Member for Glenrothes (Lindsay Roy) is a Member of
the United Kingdom Parliament and he has a perfect right to question me, but my hon. Friend makes a valid point. As the provisions relate specifically to England, and in some respects also to Wales, it is appropriate that we should restrict our comments to those areas. I myself am a proud Scot, but I represent English constituents in this United Kingdom Parliament.
Tom Levitt: I should tell the hon. Gentleman that teaching today is an awful lot better than it was when I was a teacher-and not only a teacher, but an officer in the NUT, when our policy was: "The answer's no. Now what's the question?" We opposed the national curriculum and many of the things that his party introduced during the 1990s. So is the NUT right on everything?
Michael Gove: I applaud the hon. Gentleman's contribution to improving our children's education by retiring as a teacher, leaving the profession and coming into this House. I hope that we will have an opportunity at the next election to allow him to spend more time devoting himself to improving education by whatever means he considers appropriate. [Hon. Members: "He is standing down anyway."] I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's many years of distinguished public service and look forward to collaborating with him in whatever role he takes on, in what I hope will be a long and happy retirement.
I want to look at the provisions in the Bill as they affect schools and education, and explain our concerns. I want first to look at the pupil and parent guarantees. The Government want to make it a legal obligation on schools to deliver a range of outcomes, which are spelt out in quite prescriptive detail in the schools White Paper and subsequently revised today. They range from a guarantee of small group tuition for those who have not reached the accepted stage of literacy or numeracy in year 7-the first year of secondary school-to a guarantee of access to high-quality cultural activities for all pupils, with an aspiration, not a guarantee, that that should reach five hours a week for all.
Almost everything suggested in the guarantees is desirable, and, in many cases, good schools are already delivering beyond what is to be demanded, as the Secretary of State acknowledged. However, some of the schools that are doing the most to drive up standards, especially for those in need, have been able to do so by reducing the degree of central prescription and bureaucracy to which they have to pay heed, as the Secretary of State also acknowledged later in his speech. Those schools have not raised standards through submitting to tighter and tighter regulation; quite the opposite.
I am referring, of course, to academy schools. When they were established, they were set free from local bureaucratic control, and from the national curriculum, specifically so that they could attend to the needs of the poorest. That is why we backed them so strongly, and why we are now in the vanguard of the movement calling for an extension of the principles behind their success. The former Minister for Schools and Learners, the right hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), has argued that academies need to respond innovatively to the huge challenges that they face. He argued that they needed to be outside greater bureaucratic control, because they needed increased flexibility to meet their
specific challenges. It is by operating outside bureaucratic control that they have raised standards more quickly than other schools-
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman will probably be grateful to know that academies have been raising their level of attainment at GCSE at twice the rate of other state schools. Some of the best academies in chains such as the Harris group and ARK have been raising attainment at an even greater rate. In that respect, I am delighted to support Government policy, but I look forward to hearing him attack it.
Mr. Purchase: Of course we can use statistics in this way, but the truth is that those academies that have improved at a faster rate have been matched by the other secondary schools in their boroughs. That shows that there is nothing particularly special about academies.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the removal of academies from the democratic process is a step forward or a step back? How is it that parents have less say in the running of academies than in the running of state schools?
Michael Gove: I reject that view; I think that those parents have more say. They can vote with their feet, as the Secretary of State pointed out in his Cass lecture last year. Parents have more control over their children's education, and they have more choice, enabling their children to attend a school that more accurately reflects their needs, as a result of academies increasing the diversity of their provision.
Many of these academies-including Mossbourne community academy and Burlington Danes-are able to help students who are falling behind, precisely because they are free to depart from the national curriculum. Both of those schools arrange intensive catch-up work-of the kind that the Secretary of State lauds-throughout year 7, but the only reason that they have been able to do so is that their heads and teachers have pioneered that approach outside the demands that had been placed on them centrally.
Given that professionals have pioneered those innovations, why does the Secretary of State believe that more bureaucracy is always the answer? Is it really right to prescribe everything in such minute, and sometimes conflicting, detail from the centre? Why is it right, as the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) also asked, to insist on one-to-one tuition at key stage 2, for those who are falling behind at primary level, but to accept that small group tuition is sufficient for those in the first year of key stage 3 who are still falling behind at secondary school? Why should not those pupils have an entitlement to one-to-one tuition as well? When the Secretary of State was asked about this earlier, he said that it was a matter of professional judgment. Why is it his judgment that professionals should have that discretion when
pupils are falling behind in year 7 but not when they are doing so in years 4, 5 or 6? There might well be an answer to that question-
Mr. Purchase: I really wanted to talk about academies, but if we ask that question, we find a great body of education theory and practice that shows that, at an older age, children respond better one to one and that, at a younger age, they often respond better in small groups. That is the theory behind what the Secretary of State is saying.
Michael Gove: If the hon. Gentleman is right, that is the exact opposite of what the Government are proposing. They are proposing one-to-one tuition for younger pupils between the ages of 7 and 11, and small group tuition for the older ones at 12 and 13. Now I would be very interested to hear any case that the Secretary of State or the Minister for Schools and Learners might make in Committee, but no case has been made to explain that distinction.
There is also a guarantee of five hours of high-quality PE and sport, but the guarantee on cultural activity contains only an "aspiration" that there should be five hours of it. Once again, why that distinction? Why guarantee five hours of sport, but have only an aspiration for five hours of cultural activity?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out how loosely framed this guarantee is. Perhaps it was supposed to be iron-cast or cast iron, but it does not seem to be particularly robust.
"may include study support, play/recreation, sport, music clubs, arts and crafts and other special interest clubs, and business and enterprise activities".
Which of those activities in that list have to be offered for the guarantee to be delivered-all or just a proportion of them? What proportion? Is the list exclusive? Are there other after-school activities that, if offered, would count towards the guarantee? Would the scouts count or the boys brigade? I mention them because they are not special-interest but generalist clubs.
The reason I ask about prescription in such detail is that the Secretary of State decided to prescribe in such detail. These are not just vague aspirations that it would be good to have; they are not just expectations that he is laying down as a political hope that he will fund; they are not even matters inspectable by Oftsted, which might lead a school into special measures if they are not provided. They are legal guarantees-far stronger than any of the other obligations placed on schools. If a school breaks this guarantee, it will presumably be breaking the law.
We need precision, which is wholly absent from anything the Secretary of State has provided, in order to ensure that head teachers and people who work in schools and local authorities do not live in fear of litigation. If schools do not provide all these services, they can be taken to the local government ombudsman and if things are not resolved satisfactorily, they could end up in court. Is it really the best use of a head teacher's time to seek to ensure that every single one of these guarantees is met in the prescribed way that the Secretary of State lists, absolutely to the letter-or potentially end up in court? That cannot be right.
In many ways, I could not admire some of these guarantees more-the aspiration to ensure that every child who can studies triple science, for example-but should heads be in the dock if the school they run cannot supply the necessary tuition because the funds have not been supplied either by the local authority or the Secretary of State? Should they be held responsible for that failure? Schools already face a formidable bureaucratic burden under the current system of Ofsted inspection-a system that we would make more light touch. Failure can be fatal to the careers of heads, but now we risk piling on another level of responsibility backed up by legal sanctions. I do not believe that that is fair. I am all in favour of sharper challenge, greater transparency and better accountability, but I am not in favour of putting the fear of even more litigation into the hearts of our teachers.
Bob Russell: May I take the hon. Gentleman back to transparency and academies? Will he look at a series of parliamentary questions I put about the Academies Enterprise Trust, which strikes me as being a business? Does he agree that an organisation that is trying to pluck up all the schools in Essex, Twickenham, the Isle of Wight and Suffolk, for example, is a business rather than an educational institution, particularly when it is run from an office on an industrial estate next to Hockley railway station?
Michael Gove: I know the hon. Gentleman is an indefatigable campaigner when it comes to schooling in Essex, but I also know that the Academies Enterprise Trust is responsible for the Greensward school in Essex, which is an outstanding school in every respect. I look forward to further debates with him in Committee about the ramifications of the legislation and its effect on the Academies Enterprise Trust. All I would say now is that I know that the people responsible for Greensward have done a fantastic job, and I suspect that they might well do a fantastic job elsewhere.
The heart of our division or the essence of our dividing line is that I do not know of a problem in education to which the answer is ever more lawyers. I am not aware of a single child who has been taught to read better, or to love learning, by the local government ombudsman. Teachers make the difference, and they deserve better than the approach in this Bill.
Ed Balls: I think we established during my speech that we want these to be guarantees for all pupils and all parents, not just for some pupils in some schools. I can guarantee funding next year to pay for them, and the hon. Gentleman cannot.
Let me ask the hon. Gentleman a specific question. We will make a guarantee on one-to-one tuition at key stage 2, and next September, we will guarantee every school leaver a school, college or apprenticeship place. Will the hon. Gentleman match those guarantees? That is the nub of the issue. Can he guarantee that the provision will be for all, or will it be just for the few?
Michael Gove: I look forward to hearing the right hon. Gentleman spell out the source of the funding of those guarantees in more detail than he has hitherto. We still do not know how much he has secured as a result of the polite and temperate negotiations in which he indulged during the prelude to the pre-Budget report. We do not know the exact global sum for the schools budget, and we do not know what precise part of it will increase. I should be delighted if he would be kind enough to let me know those figures. Perhaps we could have a private meeting to discuss the issue.
Ed Balls: The hon. Gentleman began his speech by saying that he wanted to get down to the truth of the issue. Now, once again, we have been confronted by scripted evasion. I am being absolutely clear: we will guarantee a school, college or apprenticeship place for every 16-year-old this September. The hon. Gentleman has a chance to say-in this House, in public-and confirm that he would guarantee the necessary funds. I have guaranteed them; will he match that guarantee?
Michael Gove: The right hon. Gentleman has not guaranteed anything of the kind. During the debate on the Loyal Address, we discovered that the places of some 50,000 of those who were currently in sixth forms or training places had not been funded by the right hon. Gentleman. We discovered that in order to fund their places in a number of colleges¸ he was insisting on reducing the per-student cost. He claimed that there would be economies of scale. Which is it to be-extra spending or economies of scale at college level?
I should be really interested if the right hon. Gentleman would spell out exactly what he means by schools funding, and how it has increased. In a number of recent interviews, he has referred to overall increases in education funding. When I asked him a couple of questions earlier, he revealed, I think for the first time, that funding for the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services would now be cut, which meant that education funding overall would be cut. Perhaps he would like to reassure the people who run those organisations that their funding will not be cut.
Again, I should be interested to know the precise cash sum that will go to schools-exactly how much it is, in terms of billions and millions-by how much it will increase, and which specific budget lines will increase as a result.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the Secretary of State attempts to intervene again, I remind the House, and the Front Benches in particular, that this is not a general debate on education or even the financing of education. It is a debate specifically about the Second Reading of the Bill that is before us, and the clock is still ticking.
To fund our guarantee for school leavers next September, the Chancellor allocated £650 million in the Budget and a further £200 million in the pre-Budget report. That extra funding means that I can give the guarantee that is enshrined in the Bill. We have seen time and time again that the hon. Gentleman cannot make that guarantee, because he is not allowed to. He has been told by his party's shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), that in 2010-11 the budget will not increase but will be cut. That is the difference between us.
Michael Gove: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for evading the question again. We do not know where that £650 million will come from. Given that, according to the Chancellor, the Department's overall budget is to be cut, and given that the budgets for the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services and the TDA are to be cut, presumably the extra funding for the September guarantee will come from other parts of the right hon. Gentleman's own budget. [Interruption.] "Wriggling" is the word that I would use for what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. He is the person who spends his entire time boasting about-forgive me; advertising-his position on spending in a variety of newspaper interviews, and he is the person who explained in The Sunday Times that he would be funding improvements in education by sacking 3,000 head teachers. I should be interested to know whether he is still committed to that policy. Perhaps we shall find out in Committee.
I said earlier that we wanted to move away from a culture in which bureaucracy runs what happens in our schools to one in which we trust professionals more. We know that one of the reasons why professionals need more backing is the poor behaviour-the constant barracking and low-level conversation- [Laughter]-that they often face when attempting to bring enlightenment to the laggardly. One of the proposed instruments is home school agreements. We have long argued that they should be strengthened, and provisions in the Bill may open the door to some improvement in this regard. I again have concerns, however. The Secretary of State appears to want home school agreements to be drawn up as individualised contracts for every pupil in the school, for them to be drawn up every year, and in some cases for individualised contracts to be drawn up differently for each of the parents of a pupil and then redrawn every year. Is that not another potentially immense bureaucratic burden? The Association of School and College Leaders has pointed out that rewriting potentially thousands of home school contracts every year will once again take school leaders' time away from teaching and leading their institutions.
More than that, is not the whole point of a home school agreement to spell out what the school expects of every parent and pupil? Is not the whole point to assert a common ethos-a comprehensive spirit that is the mark of that school, and to which all pupils are expected to subscribe?
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