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Children, Schools and Families Bill

Children, Schools and Families Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. David Amess, Janet Anderson
Brooke, Annette (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Minister for Schools and Learners)
Cryer, Mrs. Ann (Keighley) (Lab)
Flint, Caroline (Don Valley) (Lab)
Gibb, Mr. Nick (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con)
Johnson, Ms Diana R. (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families)
Laws, Mr. David (Yeovil) (LD)
Linton, Martin (Battersea) (Lab)
Loughton, Tim (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)
McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)
Prentice, Bridget (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)
Purchase, Mr. Ken (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Timpson, Mr. Edward (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wiggin, Bill (Leominster) (Con)
Sarah Davies, Sara Howe, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 26 January 2010


[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Children, Schools and Families Bill

Written evidence to be reported to the House
CS23 Local Government Association
CS24 Sir Mark Potter
CS25 Lorena Hodgson
CS26 Kelly Green
CS27 Louise Thorn
CS28 Ceridwen Roberts and Robert George
CS29 Michael Crawshaw — additional memorandum
CS30 Dave Watson
CS31 Jill Harris
CS32 Comprehensive Future

Clause 1

Pupil and parent guarantees
10.30 am
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out ‘must’ and insert ‘may’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 41, in clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 40 and 41.
Amendment 42, in clause 1, page 2, line 44, leave out subsections (9) and (10).
Amendment 125, in clause 1, page 2, line 44, leave out subsection (9).
Amendment 155, in clause 1, page 2, line 45, after ‘person’, insert
‘provided that the bodies added do not include private schools.’.
Amendment 177, in clause 1, page 3, line 3, at end add—
‘( ) The Secretary of State shall, before issuing or revising the pupil guarantee document or the parent guarantee document, carry out an audit of the capacity of schools to comply with the pupil guarantee document and the parent guarantee document; and such audit shall include a consideration of the adequacy of the financial, training and any other requirements of schools to be able to comply with such guarantees.’.
Amendment 178, in clause 1, page 3, line 3, at end add—
‘( ) The Secretary of State shall evaluate the per pupil cost implications of the pupil and parent guarantees and take account of the different learning and developmental needs of pupils for the purpose of placing those cost implications into the draft guarantee.’.
Amendment 179, in clause 1, page 3, line 3, at end add—
‘( ) The Secretary of State shall append to the pupil and parent guarantees such guarantees as are necessary to secure sufficient trained staff and resources in the context of the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document and agreements made in the School Support Staff Negotiating Body.’.
Mr. Gibb: It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess. I know from experience that you will be fair, of light touch and have all the good things that we expect from a good Chairman.
Here we are about the start the clause-by-clause, line-by-line scrutiny of yet another education Bill from the Government. The amendments will enable us to debate the principle, purpose and effectiveness of enshrining into legislation a form of legal guarantee for the quality of education. Clause 1 is an odd provision. Most people would assume that they had been promised a certain quality of education when they elected a Government, particularly one who had in their manifesto a promise to deliver a quality education, and they would expect that to be delivered through a range of administrative, executive and legislative measures and through proper and careful funding out of taxes levied on the general public.
The Labour party’s 2005 manifesto set out the promise:
“We want to see every pupil mastering the basics. If they are not mastered by 11, there will be extra time in the secondary curriculum to get them right”.
It went on to say that
“Every pupil has the right to learn without disruption”.
It is odd therefore that, five years later, the Government feel the necessity to enshrine promises already made into legislation and into a series of guarantees set out in the two appendices to the White Paper. The view about the provisions is that, at best, they are just a waste of time and, at worst, they could lead to a proliferation of legalistic complaints.
Let us take one of the guarantees from the consultation document. Pupil guarantee 2.2 on page 24 states:
“The curriculum is tailored to every child’s needs so that every pupil receives the support they need to secure good literacy, numeracy and ICT skills, learn another language and about the humanities, science, technology and the arts”.
Given that 16 per cent. of 11-year-olds are not reaching level 4 in English, does that mean all the parents of those children should consider making a complaint to the local government ombudsman? Nearly 40 per cent. of 11-year-olds are failing to achieve level 4 in reading, writing and maths combined. Should the parents of those children take legal action? Furthermore, 9 per cent. of boys and 4 per cent. of girls fail to register a grade in the key stage 2 test taken at 11 years old. Surely the parents of those children have grounds for complaint. Last week, I visited a fine academy where half the year 7 intake had a reading age below 11 years and a third had a reading age of nine years or under. Those children have a lot to complain about in respect of their primary schools.
Clause 1(1) of the Bill that amendment 1 would amend states that the Secretary of State
“must issue, and may from time to time revise”
a document setting out the pupil and parent guarantees. A draft of that document has just been published and put out for consultation. It states on page 8 that
“All maintained schools and all Academies must already have arrangements in place to consider any complaints from parents. But for those rare cases where concerns and complaints cannot be resolved at school level, parents can as a last resort take their complaint further. Parents can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman where their complaint relates to a maintained school or a local authority.”
If the local government ombudsman, having investigated the complaint, upholds it, paragraph 19 states:
“The LGO can recommend one or more of the following: where there has been a failure to make provision promised in the Guarantees, the LGO could seek to ensure that it is delivered”.
My question to the Minister is, how will the LGO “seek to ensure” that a primary school stops sending children to secondary school with a reading age of 9, 8, 7 or 6 and stops sending 33 per cent. of its pupils to secondary school with a reading age of 9 or under? Since the Minister, the Secretary of State and all his predecessors do not seem to know how to do this, why does the Minister think that the local government ombudsman will be able to do it?
In our evidence session on Tuesday I asked Mr. Redmond, the LGO, how he intended to ensure that the guarantee was delivered, he replied:
“I do not think that it is the role or responsibility of local government to change a school. My role is to consider a complaint that is presented to the commission after it has been properly considered by the school and the governing body...If I conclude that there is evidence that the guarantee has not been fulfilled, I recommend to the school that it consider how that guarantee should be fulfilled. As you rightly point out, it is a recommendation—I cannot enforce it—but I think by virtue of making that recommendation, I highlight the issues on which I feel that the school has fallen short in respect of fulfilling the guarantee...It is then for the school to decide how it should proceed.——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 5-6, Q11.]
So Mr. Redmond would look at the evidence, which would clearly show that too many children at that primary school were not learning to read properly, and he would recommend that the school teaches those children how to read and then leave it up to the school to decide how to proceed. Would he examine the reading schemes used by the school? Is it read-write or Jolly Phonics? Does it use the whole-language approach? Is it still using the searchlights model? Does it use letters and sounds? Will the LGO or a member of his staff sit in lessons to see how the children are taught to read? Or will he just say, “They need to do better,” and, as he says, leave it to the school to decide how it should proceed?
In response to a question from the hon. Member for Yeovil, Mr. Redmond said:
“we are also conscious of the fact that in terms of curriculum and teaching, some of those things might step outside the jurisdiction of the ombudsman, and we would be conscious of how we proceeded in dealing with those.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 7, Q5.]
In other words, if I have interpreted the LGO’s words correctly, he will not venture into curricular or pedagogical issues. That makes most of the guarantees and indeed the whole apparatus pointless, because it is likely that poor teaching or poor academic standards will make up the bulk of complaints arising from guarantees about our education system.
Dr. Daniel Moynihan of the Harris Federation summed up the issue when he told the Committee during our evidence sessions:
“If you look at some of the guarantees, every child is entitled to relevant and challenging learning in all subjects. Of course that is true, but can it be so because it is mandated by Government? If there are still some schools that do not achieve that now, I cannot see how central Government can guarantee it. There are other strategies that can bring that about.”——[Official Report, Children, Schools and Families Public Bill Committee, 19 January 2010; c. 30, Q38.]
To take just one more example, guarantee 3.10 says that:
“every pupil identified as gifted and talented receives written confirmation by their school of the extra challenge and support they will receive”.
But according to The Observer this week,
“A government initiative to boost the performance of Britain's brightest schoolchildren is to be abandoned. The national academy for gifted and talented pupils, which received £20m funding, will be abolished next month with the money rediverted...It will now be scaled down to an online information resource.”
So will the guarantee now disappear from the draft consultation document? If so, does that mean that whenever there is a change in education policy or a redirection of £20 million of funding from a particular initiative, under clause 1 the Secretary of State will have to produce another document? Can the Minister also expand on what he has in mind in the phrase “from time to time” in clause 1? Does it mean that he will revise the document annually, or when there is a major change in education policy, or every two years, or every five years?
In Thursday’s evidence session we heard witnesses talking about the importance of children’s spoken language—something that has been neglected in recent years. We heard how some children are starting school with very poor spoken English and with a very limited vocabulary. In another interesting and well-researched article in The Observer, which is the newspaper of choice on these Benches, Mr. Amess, Harriet Sergeant compared a KIPP—knowledge is power programme—charter school in Harlem, New York with a school in east London. The KIPP school had high expectations and high academic standards. In the east London school, the pupils who sat around the reporter were:
“slouched in their seat, barely looking at me. These boys were just as bright”—
as the pupils in the Harlem school—
“but they complained they were ‘bored out of our brains’. One said: ‘I want to do all those experiments. But the female teacher, she like talk to you about health and safety. She just treat you like a child.’
Afterwards their teacher described their inarticulacy as ‘a serious issue. It’s quite often the reason they get really frustrated’, yet she thought it ‘patronising’ to try to correct them. ‘I don’t want to push my middle-class values on them,’ she said.”
Perhaps the Minister could respond to that article, and the notion that teachers should not correct mistakes in spoken English.
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Prepared 27 January 2010