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I also have to thank the Government for sending £100 million for construction work to the remaining five schools as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme. One of the five schools will be an academy, which I personally have no problem with, and
the sixth-form centre that we are going to build from new, which will take all the sixth-form students from the remaining schools, will be built to accommodate 960 students. Considering that our town has only 660 sixth formers, Members might think that it has been overbuilt, but what a brilliant advert it is-we now have an academy that has to work to fill the surplus places. To do that, it has to encourage students to stop on into the sixth form at 16-plus. That is a real challenge, but one that we will live up to in the next few years.
Despite all the money that has been sent to our town in the past few years, we still have a problem. The best figures that I can work out show that only 23 per cent. of our 18-year-olds leave to go to university, whereas the national average is 46 per cent. So one of our problems is low expectations and the fact that people do not realise that education, qualifications and a secure future are within their grasp. Another problem is the fact that we have lower than average funding. One might think that Staffordshire is a lovely, leafy county and therefore deserves the same sort of funding as other leafy counties, but my constituency is just outside Birmingham, and many of my people have been part of the overspill programme from Birmingham. My town has the same social make-up as Birmingham, which is just a few miles down the road, but students in Birmingham receive much more funding than those in Staffordshire, in Tamworth. I hope that the new review of spending in education will put that anomaly right. Low expectations give us those low grades and low figures for university entrance.
We have some excellent schools in my constituency. Manor primary school in Drayton Bassett has just recorded results of 100 per cent. in its SATs. If one takes added value into consideration, many other primary schools do very well, but the difficulty is that one must take the added value into consideration. It is at the key point when children start primary school that one-to-one tuition would pay dividends. If we can get their expectations up and get them into the main stream, we can raise still further the number of children who go on to our secondary schools with the full SATs at level 4.
Home education is a challenge that the Government must face up to. I was not very keen on one aspect of this issue. Some of this country's home educators feel that there has been an attack on them and the way that they provide education to children. I am sure that the Government will consider how the position has been presented to them regarding home educators. One good thing has come out of all this, however. In some local authorities, there is no halfway and home educators are either in the system or out of it, but it is about time that we recognised that those people are taxpayers and that their children have rights. Their local authorities should give them the right to use school libraries, to enter music classes and to use science laboratories if they wish to do so. I am sure that the Government will take that point on board.
The Bill will provide guarantees such as those on extra and one-to-one teaching, but for those guarantees to be met, relevant facilities must be in place. I know that the money to make those facilities available has come into my community, but I want to know whether those guarantees will be maintained. Given the uncertainty
of the economic future, particularly in the next few years, which of those front-line services will be maintained? If we introduce the one-to-one guarantee, will it be maintained in future? When we give schools the extra funding and require them to give one-to-one teaching to catch-up students, will we be diverting resources from other students, or will money be ring-fenced specifically for catch-up students? It will be self-defeating to take money from gifted children-from high flyers-to spend on catch-up students, because the high flyers are the ones who have given us our results in the past. They are the ones who have gone on to achieve and to give us our current world-leading positions in culture, art, IT and games. We need to maintain that stream of high flyers.
We are to give children the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. Will we make sure that that goes further than the spoons or the triangle? Who will provide funding for music in this country? Music, as we know, has been a Cinderella in many of our schools. At present, parents have to provide funding to allow their children to have music tuition. I would like to see much more information on exactly how much funding will be provided for that.
With regard to teacher licensing, the General Teaching Council, which was established under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, was intended to drive up standards, so what role will licensing play? How do we see it taking over the role of being the driving force? Most teachers I know would welcome the chance to undertake professional development. The only reason they do not undertake it is that their head teacher tells them that there is no money in the fund. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) said that the TUC did not back the measure, but the National Union of Teachers said that it
"could see nothing to welcome in the proposal without adequate funding".
A comprehensive professional development strategy for all teachers, based on an individual funding entitlement for each teacher, would be welcomed as a way forward. Perhaps the proposal has raised expectations within the NUT.
I have already said this, and I will say it time and again: the one thing that must be stamped on the Bill is "Expectations, expectations, expectations". Without that, some of our poorest children will continually fail.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I appreciate the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. Given the time constraints, I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I focus on the aspect of the Bill that is of particular interest to me: home education.
Almost exactly one year ago, the Department for Children, Schools and Families launched an independent review of home education by Graham Badman. Fearful that it represented another attempt by the Government to intrude into their lives, two home-educating parents from my constituency, Tina Robbins and Helen White, came to meet me in Parliament to see what could be done. Home educators have long suspected that the Government are uncomfortable with the idea of parents providing an education that cannot be monitored, tested or accounted for. That applies, I suspect, to Governments
of all political colours, and of course to local education authorities. In many ways, the outcome of the report confirmed that suspicion.
I have to admit that in my initial meeting with my two constituents, I had misconceptions that a home education might produce an unsocialised, precocious child, unable to interact with his or her peers and shielded from all negative influences. However, the more I listened to the two mothers talk, the more I was impressed and excited by the passion and enthusiasm that they displayed for home education. Each parent was able to provide their child with an individualised learning experience, tailored to that child's ability and interests.
Inspired by that dedication to individualised learning and that determination to fight Government impositions, in a Westminster Hall debate last June I decided to defend home educators against some of the most controversial recommendations in the Badman report-compulsory annual registration; annual home visits by local authority officers, which we have heard about; and a right for local authority officers to interview a child away from their parents.
I must confess that I was absolutely overwhelmed by the reaction to the speech that I made that day. Not only did it receive extensive support from my constituents, many of whom I had no idea shared a passion for the subject, but I received countless letters and e-mails from home educators across the country. The important point to stress is that home educators are a very diverse group of individuals with no single voice. There has been a great lobby, but it should be stressed that we are talking about individuals, to a large extent. So sacred is their independence that for a long time they have chosen to remain under the radar. However, nationwide, in the past year, they have felt compelled for the very first time to stand up and demand that their voice be heard.
The results are quite remarkable. As we know, the Department has been flooded with correspondence. Meetings have been set up with numerous MPs from every mainstream party. There has been a massive co-ordinated internet campaign, too. As Members know, that all resulted, only last December, in the biggest mass petition ever seen in the House.
A review of elective home education by the Children, Schools and Families Committee has also broadly assisted the cause. Released just before Christmas, the Committee's report rejected the idea of compulsory registration of home-educated children and made clear the Committee's disappointment at the
"less than robust evidence base that the Badman Report and the Department have presented with regard to the relative safeguarding risk to school and home educated children."
The report went on strongly to discourage the notion that local authority home-education teams should be given a more overt safeguarding role and questioned the Department's somewhat optimistic cost estimates for more robust monitoring by local authorities. It concluded:
"The way in which the Department has handled the Badman report has been unfortunate-from the way in which it framed the review, through to its drafting of legislation prior to publication of the related consultation findings. We trust that the Department will learn from this episode".
In the light of the outcry of home educators and the criticisms of the review, I question how the Government can proceed with the plans in the Bill. Home education has been under constant scrutiny since the Children
Act 2004 enshrined the Government's Every Child Matters agenda in legislation. Home educators with whom I have engaged conclude only that either the Government have no faith in the previous reviews or the Badman report was from the start a superficial exercise designed to allay public concern-a bid somehow to make good other failures with frenetic activity; or, worse still, that child welfare concerns were being used as a cover for a Government obsessed with monitoring and targets to interfere in a sphere over which they currently have little influence.
Home educators vigorously reject the attempts by the Government to mix concerns about child welfare into any review of home education, and I believe that they are right. They believe that the Government's concerns in this regard are in line with the misguided understanding that a child is safe when seen once or twice by a local authority. I am not diminishing in any way some legitimate concerns about child abuse and I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the problems faced by the Government, particularly in other Departments, in preventing cases similar to the appalling ones that we have recently seen, but we must be clear: local authorities already have powers to get involved in a family when there are concerns about abuse.
The uncomfortable truth is that no amount of legislation will ever remove all risk. The task of the Government is to balance the rights of all individuals. Given that home-educated children are not proven to be at any greater risk, it is inappropriate to throw away the liberty of parents to choose how to educate, particularly when it is equally possible for a child to go to school and be abused when they return home or, indeed, for children in the care of the state to suffer abuse.
On top of all the concerns over the conflation of education and welfare are fears about the implications of monitoring home educators. Monitoring is not a neutral activity and is likely to require tick boxes to ascertain whether a child is receiving a suitable education. Although a seemingly harmless word, the definition of "suitable" is worryingly subjective.
If a more formal monitoring system is implemented, it will come with severe practical and cost implications. Of course, for any monitoring to be worth while, staff will have to be trained. If no extra funding is forthcoming-a likely scenario in these difficult economic times-budgets currently allocated to ensuring the welfare of genuinely vulnerable children could be diverted to such things. That would be a real waste and, of course, a risk when the Government have already stated that they are confident that the great majority of home educators are doing a first-class job.
That majority feels that the Government are incapable of trusting parents to do the best for their children. Yes, parents fail sometimes, but, let us be honest, so too do the Government. Without being able to prevent all cases where a child is abused or not provided with a decent education-of course, such cases can happen just as often when the state is involved-it is for Governments to assess risk and ask which areas warrant most attention.
Increased intervention makes little financial sense and has the potential to divert resources from truly vulnerable children. It also further infringes the rights of parents to make what they believe are the right decisions for their children. Current legislation is perfectly
adequate but all too often poorly understood. Any Government must guard the sacred right of parents to educate their children, while vigorously tightening the current system when it comes to child welfare. After that, the Government should look to their own ability to fulfil the Every Child Matters objectives, rather than continue to pursue those who put their faith, time and passion into home education. I believe that these proposals should be firmly rejected.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): This is my first chance in the Chamber to pay my tribute to my dear friend and colleague, David Taylor. As fellow east midlands MPs with similar constituencies and both active in our union group, Unison, I know of his humanity, his kindness, his ability to take the mickey, the way in which he put forward ideas and campaigned, and his commitment to public services and education. The subject of the Bill would have been close to his heart.
At his funeral on Saturday in the village of Heather where he lived, I saw the primary school that he went to. One of his local council colleagues told me how proud David was to see the extension and the building work that had been done at that school under Labour, and the pride that it gave him to know that he had helped push for that and to see it happen on his watch, so to speak. I spoke to a couple of head teachers at the football pavilion where we met afterwards, who told me about all the support that David had given as a continuing member of one of the school's governing bodies, and how he had managed to visit two thirds of his schools in just one term.
I talked to one of the heads about a neighbouring sports specialist school in Leicestershire, at which I spoke when I went to one of those Sunday "Politics Show" programmes last year. We talked about the Government pledge to provide pupils with sports and arts opportunities in all schools. That is included in the very welcome guarantees in the Bill. David would have strongly supported those.
In that programme pupils at the school talked about the different ways in which sports and music could be provided. It does not have to be traditional sports. It could be anything from the oz boxing programme in my constituency set up by a couple of police with local pupils, which won a Daily Mirror award, to dance to different forms of music, an activity in which it is easy to get pupils engaged. We know how music and sports can feed back into educational attainment. I have seen it at first hand through, for example, some of the ways in which pupils in my constituency have got involved in sports development programmes. The value that they gained from that has fed back into their academic achievement. Providing guarantees that we will see such programmes is important and valuable.
David would not have welcomed everything in the Bill. I am sure that in his inimitable style, he would probably have made some caustic comments about academies, which as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) pointed out, were not necessarily to David's taste. I know that he would have welcomed the continuing thrust towards providing support and encouragement for every child, no matter how disadvantaged, to reach their full potential.
Like previous speakers, I see the Bill as the next stage of much of the work that we have been doing in government over recent years. I have seen huge improvements in my constituency and I can point to all sorts of facts and figures about the changes, for example, in 11-year-olds reaching level 4 at key stage 2, going up from 64 per cent. to 82 per cent. in English, and from 68 per cent. to 88 per cent. in science, the increase in the proportion of those getting five A* to Cs, and the fact that I no longer have any schools with fewer than 30 per cent. achieving that. Obviously, we want to go further. I see the Bill as a further development of such achievements.
I recall that when I was campaigning in my first election at the same time as David was, one of the things that struck me most was going to Swanwick Hall school in my constituency. The buildings in which we expected pupils to learn stank of damp. That struck me even more than the buildings that were falling down. Parents came to see me with a picture of the toilet that had a roof that was open. A dead bird had fallen almost into the lap of their pupil. The transformation in school buildings in my area, as well as the improvements that we have seen in results, and the figures that I could give to illustrate the increase in teaching staff and in non-teaching staff, have been extremely important. The proposals in the Bill to provide guarantees are important and valuable.
I am pleased about the one-to-one teaching, which has been spoken about, and the possibility of catch-up. As I have seen in a number of my schools, the practice of taking pupils out if they are not doing so well happens anywhere. It is not completely new, but the fact that the Bill makes that a systematic entitlement is valuable. However, I ask Ministers to ensure that in doing so we look at the support that we need. As a fellow Unison MP, David, like me, was very concerned about the role of support staff in schools and the valuable contribution that they make, and I am sure that they, along with teaching staff, will be an important part of the programme.
"the ability of the school system to support every child and young person to achieve success depends most of all on the school workforce."
"for all pupils to go to schools where they are taught a broad, balanced and flexible curriculum and where they acquire skills learning and life"
will obviously be fleshed out. I note that the White Paper fleshes it out by talking about providing vocational qualifications and training as well as academic training-in so far as one can make a clear distinction between the two. In my constituency, one thing of which I am most proud is the new post-16 Phoenix centre at Aldercar community language college, which I took David Puttnam to open. The centre, a £4.6 million facility funded by the Learning and Skills Council, provides a range of vocational and academic qualifications.
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