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It is long overdue that we should do that, because it is a sad fact that our curriculum is not keeping pace with changes that are occurring in other, educationally high-performing nations. In the primary curriculum for mathematics in Hong Kong, students are expected to be able to master calculations with fractions and the solution of equations, and to know about the properties of cones, pyramids and spheres, but not in England. In Singapore, students studying science at primary school are expected to have a basic understanding of cells as the basic unit of life. They are also expected to know about the importance of the water cycle and the earth's
position relative to the sun as a factor in its ability to support life. However, those core curriculum details are not in the curriculum in this country.
Let us look at other nations. The principle of adding and subtracting fractions is in the core curriculum in Armenia, Colombia, El Salvador and Yemen, but not England. Comparing and matching different representations of the same data is in the curriculum in Lithuania, Ukraine and Tunisia, but not England, while finding a rule for the relationship between pairs of numbers is in the curriculum of Hungary and Slovenia, but not here. We cannot possibly expect our children to compete in the 21st century unless our curriculum equips them with the knowledge and skills that our competitors are giving their children.
Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): I welcome many aspects of the Bill and would like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the situation of sixth-form colleges, which offer an excellent and inexpensive education. In particular, Hereford sixth-form college, which he may know from personal acquaintance, fulfils many of the requirements that he would want in any curriculum, yet it is currently caught by a combination of a cut in the Young People's Learning Agency, the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, which especially affects rural areas, and the rise in VAT. Will he perhaps take a second glance at that unfortunate combination?
Michael Gove: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning Hereford sixth-form college, which I have had the opportunity to visit; indeed, I enjoyed dining there with him and others. We are committed to ensuring that we increase funding for 16 to 19-year-olds who are studying in sixth-form colleges such as Hereford sixth-form college. We will also specifically increase the proportion of funding going to the most disadvantaged, who I know are a particular care for my hon. Friend.
Andrew Percy: Let me take the Secretary of State back to the curriculum. I welcome the changes that he has announced. Important as it is for our young people to understand how to do quadratic equations and all the rest, it is also incredibly important that they should learn functional skills through the curriculum. I would therefore like to make a plea for financial education for young people, which could play a particularly important role in the mathematics curriculum, in functional maths. Although we obviously want our young people to learn all the important skills in the various subject areas, they must also learn something functional that they can put to use later in life.
Michael Gove: My hon. Friend makes an impeccable point. One of the problems with the mathematics curriculum is that it lacks many of the skills-and much of the knowledge-that are being taught in other countries, equipping the young people there with the ability to take advantage of the opportunities of the 21st century. The point that he makes could not be better made.
It is also the case that, as well as our curriculum not being fit for the 21st century, many of our schools are not fit for the 21st century either. It is a sad reflection of the last Government that there are still so many schools that are below acceptable standards. The Bill will therefore
give the Department for Education the power to intervene where there is failure. I hope that all hon. Members will agree that where children are trapped in an underperforming school, there should be the opportunity to ensure that the leadership and the investment are in place so that those children have the same opportunities in life as those who were fortunate enough to be born in areas where the schools are stronger.
We are raising the bar on floor standards; we are showing less tolerance of failure than has ever been shown before; and, where a school is failing, we are taking powers to intervene to ensure that when an academy solution is right, when the local authority can find a superior head teacher and when that school deserves to be federated, then whatever action is required will be taken. I hope that all hon. Members, in every part of the House, will join me in saying that there can be no excuse for failure. The culture that so often prevailed in the past which says, "These children come from such and such a background, or these children have such and such parents, so we cannot expect more of them," should be consigned to the past, where it belongs. We must ensure that in every part of the country, children have a right to high-quality education. We must also ensure that the absurd bias of the past, which suggested that just because children have working-class parents or come from immigrant backgrounds, they cannot access an academic curriculum, is ditched too.
For anyone who doubts that that is possible, I would ask them to visit some of the superb schools out there, such as Mossbourne in Hackney or Durand in Lambeth, the latter in the constituency of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). One of the things that they will find at Durand, for example, is that it has a higher proportion of children who are eligible for free school meals than the Lambeth average, and a higher proportion of children on the special educational needs register, yet every child attains at least level 4, and many get level 5, at key stage 2. In other words, they are performing well above the national average.
Mossbourne community academy is outside local authority control, and it has an inspirational head teacher, Sir Michael Wilshaw. This year, 10 of its children are going to Cambridge. What are their backgrounds? They are from one of the poorest boroughs in London-
Michael Gove: They certainly did! The hon. Gentleman should listen, because he fails to appreciate that schools such as Mossbourne academy have head teachers who recognise that every child deserves an academic education. He can sneer if he likes, but if those 10 children had been in a school where he was the head teacher, they would not have had the opportunity to go to Cambridge. He would have said to them, "I'm terribly sorry, but it's not for the likes of you." He would have said of their studying academic subjects, "I'm terribly sorry, you're not good enough." It is that culture of "know your place", of enforced mediocrity and of denying opportunity and aspiration that the Bill directly challenges.
The reason that there is so much discomfort among those on the Labour Front Bench is that they have been rumbled. They pose as meritocrats, but in fact, whenever an educational change comes about that tells people from disadvantaged backgrounds that they can achieve far more than they ever imagined, they say, "Oh no, we don't want that. We don't like it. It's inappropriate." For that reason, the unrepentant and unreformed socialists who form an increasing part of the representation on the Labour Benches object. It will be interesting to see whether every Labour Member votes against the Bill tonight, or whether some are sufficiently enlightened and reformist to see merit in the proposals and in aspiration, and to join us in supporting it.
Stephen Pound: I am really not too sure how to take that, particularly as the right hon. Gentleman is now taking provocation to previously unimagined heights. He is rocketing down that pathway at breakneck speed, but I hope he will forgive me for taking him back to the point made by the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). Does he agree that religious education is an absolutely core part of the curriculum? When he comes to consider, say, an English baccalaureate, will he recognise the significance, importance and vital nature of religious education as the core of the curriculum in our schools?
Michael Gove: The hon. Gentleman's own saintly behaviour while he has been in the House of Commons is an advertisement not only for religious education but for the religious education offered by the Roman Catholic Church, of which he is such a distinguished ornament- [ Laughter. ] He is certainly venerable, and he might be blessed and, one day, perhaps, saintly, but at the moment we will settle for ornamental. He is both ornament and use. He is formidably well informed; I know from our previous exchanges in Committee that he knows every single member of the Aberdeen team that won the European cup winners cup in Gothenburg in 1982- [ Interruption. ] My dad was there, as a matter of fact. [ Interruption. ] I am grateful. We Aberdeen fans need all the support we can get at times like this. I was going to say to the hon. Gentleman that he is misinformed on this particular point, because religious education is in the curriculum. It is a compulsory subject. Moreover, the English baccalaureate is not a compulsory measure; it is simply a performance measure that will allow us to see how many students have access to five core academic subjects. The sad fact is that only 16% of students succeeded in securing the mix of subjects that make the English baccalaureate, when every other developed country demands that its students have that suite of qualifications at 15, 16 or 17. This is another example of our falling behind.
The case for reform, as I have mentioned, is one that many Labour Members might be tempted to support. One reason they may be tempted to support it is that they will see that progressive figures from across the world are moving in the same direction as this Government.
Just two weeks ago, we were privileged to have visiting the UK Mike Feinberg, the founder of the Knowledge is Power Program set of schools.
Mike Feinberg used to be an intern for Senator Paul Simon, Barack Obama's predecessor as Senator for Illinois. Mike Feinberg, a career Democrat, was here to support our free school programme. He was joined by Joel Klein, a former Assistant Attorney-General in the Clinton Administration, and was also here to support our free school programme. They followed Arne Duncan, Barack Obama's Education Secretary, who also came here to back our free school programme. Our free school programme has also been backed by Conor Ryan, an adviser to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and to the former Prime Minister. He described the Labour party's opposition to our proposals as "ridiculous".
"Neither I nor Tony Blair believed that academies should be restricted to areas with failing schools. We wanted all schools to be eligible for academy status, and we were enthusiastic about the idea of entirely new schools being established on the academy model, as in Michael Gove's Free Schools policy."
"In many areas of... policy, the Tories will be at their best when they are allowed to get on with it-as with reforms in education".
I have a question for every Opposition Member: are they going to listen to the reformist Prime Minister who secured them three election victories, or are they going to go back to the atavistic class warrior instincts that will lead them to oppose this Bill? Tony Blair in his memoirs also pointed out that when a reformist Government are in power, it is very easy for an Opposition to oppose. He went on to say that when there are reforms like ours, the Opposition should support them, but he pointed out that Oppositions tend to get
"dragged almost unconsciously, almost unwillingly into wholesale opposition. It's where the short-term market in votes is. It is where the party feels most comfortable. It's what gets the biggest cheer. The trouble is it also chains the Opposition to positions that in the longer term look irresponsible, short-sighted, just plain wrong."
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I cannot remember how many years the Secretary of State has been a Member of this House, but I would like to know how many times he voted for one of Tony Blair's Education Bills on Second Reading, which is what he is asking us to do tonight?
Michael Gove: One of my first acts was enthusiastically to support Tony Blair's Education Bill on Second Reading. In fact, when I was a journalist, I was always happy to support to Tony Blair-rather more conspicuously than some Labour Members, including the shadow Chancellor and indeed the current Leader of the Opposition, did-and I am happy to say that our Bill, as Fiona Millar points out in The Guardian today, is in many respects one that builds on what Tony Blair wanted to do in 2005, but was thwarted by reactionaries on the Labour Benches.
That brings me to the heart of the challenge for the Opposition tonight. Will they be on the side of reform, consensus and progress in favour of a 21st-century curriculum and a 21st-century school system, or will they vote against that and put themselves in a Division Lobby thus saying no to money for early intervention, no to support for students at primary school, no to turning around our weaker schools, no to getting rid of bureaucracy and no to more good school places.
This Bill provides an historic opportunity for this country. It will help to guarantee every child a high quality education, which will equip them for the technological, economic, social and cultural challenges of the next century. Throughout history, the opportunities we give to our young people have far too often been a matter of time and chance. Accidents of birth or geography have determined children's fate, but education can change all that. Education allows each of us to become the author of our own life story. Instead of going down a path determined for us by external constraints, it allows each of us to shape our lives and the communities around us for the better. What this Bill offers is a chance for every Member to shape our education system for the better, to give every child a greater level of opportunity and to transform their futures. That is why I so enthusiastically commend it to the House.
Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): It is only weeks since the Government asked the House to pass an education Act using procedures normally reserved for counter-terrorism legislation. Today the Secretary of State is back with an even more audacious request. He is asking Members of the House of Commons to give him more than 50 new powers, and near-total control over almost every aspect of our school system in England. He wants the power to seize land, to close schools, to overrule councils on budgets, to ban teachers from working, to define early-years provision, and to rewrite the curriculum without reference to parents or the public.
The Secretary of State has been known to claim-and he did so again today-that he is continuing Labour's reforms. Labour Members empowered parents with guarantees, but the Bill does precisely the opposite. It constitutes an unprecedented power grab from pupils, parents, professionals and the public, leaving them without essential safeguards in a free-for-all. As we have heard, the Secretary of State wants to tell children what subjects and facts they must learn, and what kind of schools they must go to. Student and parent choice is being restricted.
During the passage of the Bill, the House will have to reflect very carefully on whether it can ever be healthy for so much power over something as precious as our children's education to be vested in one person. Given the Secretary of State's record in office to date, would it not be downright reckless to give him a free hand in such crucial issues? Local authorities will be stripped of their long-standing role of looking after all children in their areas, balancing the wishes of one group against those of another and thereby ensuring that service is shaped by need and not by the loudest voices.
Where does this leave Government promises of localism? I look to the Liberal Democrat Benches. Where does it leave those promises? Absolutely nowhere. By preaching freedom and autonomy-as he so frequently does-only to come up with a highly prescriptive reform of the curriculum, the Secretary of State places himself in serious danger of collapsing under the weight of his own contradictions.
As with the Government's national health service reforms, the fabric of public services is being ripped up. Power is being taken from people and handed back to the system. The result is a huge void in public accountability at local level. Liberal Democrat councillors can see that; why cannot Members of Parliament see it as well? The Bill reveals an unhealthy obsession with structures, and the mistaken view that structural reform automatically leads to higher standards. It does not. The Bill has little to say about what really matters to parents: high standards in the basics, a rich and balanced curriculum, and quality teaching in every classroom.
There are elements of the Bill that we support, such as the proposals relating to early-years provision and discipline, and I shall say something about those later. However, what we are witnessing from this Secretary of State-and, indeed, from the Secretary of State for Health-is an unseemly rush to reform in which the normal processes of government are simply ditched. There will be no pilots, no evidence and no consultation. No time will be taken to listen to parents and children, consult teachers, and build the broad consensus in the country that should properly underpin any education reform. We will oppose the Bill tonight because it represents too big a gamble with the life chances of our children, and because-as I shall now set out in terms-it takes power from pupils, parents, professionals and the public, leaving them with fewer protections in a less publicly accountable education system.
Let me explain first how the Bill takes power from pupils. It restricts student choice and takes away guarantees at a time when youth unemployment is at a record high. It strips yet more support from young people, adding to the growing risk of a lost generation. This is national apprenticeships week. Debating the abolition of a guarantee of an apprenticeship for all suitably qualified 16 to 19-year-olds seems to me an odd way in which to mark it. It cements the impression that this Secretary of State gives very little thought indeed to the hopes and life chances of the 50% of young people who are unlikely to go to university. That is further strengthened by clause 29, which lifts the requirement on local authorities to ensure young people have access to studying for the diploma. Both the Association of Colleges and the Association of School and College Leaders have expressed concerns that that sends the
"wrong message about the future of vocational education."
[Interruption.] The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning shakes his head, but that is what they say. Does it not also send the wrong message about student choice in this day and age that young people might not be able to choose the courses that will give them the skills they need?
Mr Graham Stuart:
May I gently request that the right hon. Gentleman does not take this line on apprenticeships? I served on the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill Committee. One criticism
was that the Bill gave a statutory right to an apprenticeship when one needs a job to get one. The right hon. Gentleman can correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that the current Bill simply recognises that reality, but does not alter the right of a young person who secures a job that needs apprenticeship funding to get that funding from Government. I therefore do not think the right hon. Gentleman is taking the right line on this very important issue.
Andy Burnham: I hear what the Chair of the Select Committee on Education says, but this guarantee was important because it was about bringing forward offers of apprenticeships, particularly from the public sector, so that there are sufficient opportunities for young people who decide that university is not for them. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that we in Parliament have neglected debating the opportunities for those 50% of young people who do not plan to go to university. We owe it to them to do more by debating the quality of the opportunities that we are going to give them so that they can have a foothold in the future and hope of a better life. We endlessly debate higher education, and that is very important, but is it not about time that we gave more thought to young people who want to get a good skill so that they can get on in life? The hon. Gentleman's Secretary of State has absolutely nothing to say to them.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is ignoring the 75,000 extra apprenticeships this Government are creating, and the support for university technical colleges, which will provide vocational education to 14 to 19-year-olds, and which are being rolled out throughout the country.
Andy Burnham: I have two points to make in response to that. The Secretary of State is very fond of talking about the Mossbourne academy and quoting its head, Sir Michael Wilshaw, and rightly so as it is an amazing success story, but Sir Michael has pleaded with the Government to give him a
"technical and craft-based curriculum option"
The Secretary of State also referred to Hong Kong today. Let me quote what the Under-Secretary for Education of Hong Kong said last week when he was asked about what makes his system so successful. He said the success was down to a curriculum that emphasises 21st century skills, not 1950s languages and not an approach to language study that fails to reflect the modern day. He also said that the success was not about
"asking students to memorise a whole set of facts and be able to regurgitate them in a test."
The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning (Mr John Hayes):
I have just been pondering what language we were speaking in the 1950s that we are not speaking now, but, leaving that to one side, the right hon. Gentleman must know that this Government
have placed unprecedented emphasis on skills. He must know that I have been a champion of the 50% of young people he mentions whose vocational tastes and talents deserve recognition in the education system. He must know that we published a schools strategy shortly after coming into government, and he must know that we have put enough funding in place to deliver 30,000 more apprenticeships for 16 to 18-year-olds. If he does not know that, he should.
Andy Burnham: On the Minister's first point, my mum reliably informs me that in 1950s Liverpool the mass was said in Latin, but I can tell him that it is not today. On his second point, he needs to tell the shadow schools Minister in Committee why he is removing the apprenticeships guarantee. What is the reason? If we are convinced that this can be done without restricting opportunities to young people who are not planning to go to university, perhaps we will be satisfied, but he does not fill me with encouragement.
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that Governments do not create apprenticeships, they fund apprenticeships? Employers create apprenticeships and under the previous Labour Government the number of apprenticeships trebled. Does he agree that it is simply laughable that the Secretary of State is trying to position himself as the champion of the working classes, and that we should invite him to Goodison Park to meet some ordinary working people, so that he can learn from them about what these policies will do to ordinary working-class families?
Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend is right that the Government have nothing to say to young people who want to plan to get a good skill so that they can get on in life. He rightly said that employers create apprenticeships, but the Government are a huge employer. When I was Health Secretary we increased the number of apprenticeships from 1,000 to 5,000, but that was not enough in the country's biggest employer and the third biggest employer in the world. It was the existence of that guarantee that meant that public services had to work hard to increase the number of apprenticeship places they were making available. My worry is that by dropping this commitment the Government are going to throw that progress into reverse. The Government have figures for funding apprenticeships, but I am not certain that they are going to turn into a real increase in the number of apprenticeships, and the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning will need to have some good answers on that point in Committee.
The Government are re-erecting the Berlin wall between academic qualifications and vocational qualifications, which sends a very poor message about student choice. At every turn, the Secretary of State is making life harder for young people who want to get good skills. Why, we might ask, is he pre-empting his own Wolf review by abandoning the diploma in this Bill?
Elizabeth Truss (South West Norfolk) (Con): Do not our leading competitors, such as Germany, Japan and France, specify study for more core academic qualifications until 16 than Britain does and that the number of people studying academic qualifications, such as modern foreign languages, has dropped in this country?
Andy Burnham: I wonder what evidence the hon. Lady has for that statement, because those countries-I cited the Hong Kong Minister-want to give young people skills for the world as it is now, not for the 1950s. How can it make sense to send the message to young people and schools in her constituency that it is better to study a dead language than to study information and communications technology, business studies and all the other things that will help young people to make their way in the world? The Secretary of State said in his speech, "We want to encourage the Googles, the Facebooks and the Microsofts." I think I quoted him almost perfectly. Why, then, is ICT not in his English baccalaureate? How are we going to have a work force that can give a supply of trained people to those companies and encourage them to come to this country? Has he spoken to employers about his English baccalaureate?
Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the massive gap between state education and private education in securing the top jobs in this country? Does he recognise that private schools offer more academic qualifications and that by not enabling state schools to offer those academic qualifications he is essentially relegating state school pupils from those top jobs?
Andy Burnham: I do not accept the hon. Lady's analysis. I went from a state school to Cambridge and my dad said to me, "It will open every door for you in life. You will just walk into any job you want." He said that because I took some persuading to go, as I was not convinced that it would be for me. My dad was wrong, because it did not open every door. It is the networks and the conversations around the dinner party table that open the doors to those top jobs. I am talking about the people who can sort out two weeks' work experience in the holiday period, because that is what gets people through. What further restricts opportunities for young people is the culture of unpaid internships, where young people are expected to come to London to work for free. That is beyond the reach of many working-class young people in this country, who simply cannot afford to work for free for three months in London. That is what ensures that the top jobs remain in the reach of a small social circle, as the BBC creatively and accurately reported last week.
My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that the chief executive of German Industry UK gave evidence to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs on inward investment today. He commented that master plumbers in Germany have the same status as people with many degrees. Apprenticeships are crucial to driving forward the German economy, which is expanding much faster than the zero growth that we have seen under this Government. Does he agree that
that is not reflected in the Government's plans, which will result in economic slowness in comparison with our competitors?
Andy Burnham: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The diploma, which the previous Labour Government introduced, was an attempt to bridge the divide between academic qualifications and vocational qualifications, which should remain our aim. We should want all children not to choose one route or another, but to do academic subjects and learn practical skills that will serve them well through life. My worry about this Secretary of State is that he is further entrenching the divide between academic qualifications and vocational qualifications and sending a message to those who wish to pursue a vocational route that they are second best or somehow second class, which is a damaging step to take. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) has said, most other countries do not have such a divide, which is why I argue that this Bill takes us back to the past.
Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman and other Labour Members frequently refer to Sir Richard Lambert and his comments about our growth strategy, and they have quoted him at length. Does he agree with what Sir Richard Lambert said about education in this country and preparing young people for work in an interview in The Guardian in December 2009, when he said that the Labour Government's record in that respect was "shameful"?
The Secretary of State began today by discussing a string of statistics, but he did not say how the number of young people leaving school with good GCSEs in English and maths increased considerably under the previous Government, as did the number of young people leaving school with five good GCSEs. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) entered office, some 50% of schools in this country had a record whereby kids were not leaving with five good GCSEs-it was total failure. When we left office, that figure had been massively reduced, which gives the lie to the Secretary of State's comments at the beginning that we "failed a generation". That was an outrageous comment, and it is not backed up by the facts.
"The latest wheeze from Whitehall is the English Baccalaureate, launched with a breathtaking lack of forethought by the Secretary of State for Education...MGS stands proudly at the bottom of these surreal tables-along with such other notable academic failures as St Paul's, Eton, Winchester and King Edward's Birmingham."
As a proud Scouser, I can say that I never read The Old Mancunian. Indeed, I am surprised to find that I agree with something in it, but I do. I have
visited schools recently and I have been struck by the anger and, in some cases, despair of head teachers. They have worked night and day with their staff to raise standards in their schools, and along has come a retrospectively applied league table, which has knocked the stuffing out of them. I think it is quite immoral to say to those schools, "You are now at zero: you have 0% five GCSEs under this measure," when they were not being judged by that measure previously. That applies to all kinds of schools, many of which might ask why the Secretary of State has chosen those five subjects on which to test them. Schools are voting with their feet and young people are choosing to do other things.
Michael Gove: Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me why it is immoral to tell parents in which subjects schools are performing well? Will he also tell me which other European countries do not ask their students to have a suite of academic subjects assessed at the age of 15, 16 or 17?
Andy Burnham: Why did I make that comment? I made it because I believe in student choice and parent choice. I believe that the same subjects will not be right for everyone and I do not believe that an arbitrary selection of subjects that seems to have come from the Secretary of State and his office should be used to judge the performance of every child and school in the country. I do not understand why ICT, religious education and business studies are not in the selection if he wants to create the work force of tomorrow, as he said earlier. Yesterday, he stood at the Dispatch Box and quoted the Henley review of music education in England that he was publishing on that day. We all received a fairly pious lecture about this issue yesterday, but let me quote from the review. Paragraph 3.6 states:
"Music is an important academic subject in the secondary school curriculum. When its constituent parts are next reviewed, I believe that Music should be included as one of the subjects that go to make up the new English Baccalaureate."
Michael Gove: I just wanted an answer to my question about which other European countries do not ask of their 15, 16 or 17-year-old students what level of competency they have achieved in those academic subjects. I would be very interested to know which countries the right hon. Gentleman holds up as an exemplar because they deliberately do not insist on an academic core. Can he answer that?
Andy Burnham: As I said to the Secretary of State yesterday, the programme for international student assessment research says that the systems that give the most autonomy in choice are the most successful. Is the Secretary of State saying that they all replicate his English baccalaureate? I do not think so. They have a better mix of academic and vocational qualifications. [ Interruption. ] He would not listen to the example I just gave him about an expert whom he-
Mr Sheerman: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is there any point in Back Benchers turning up to education debates? The Secretary of State spent 52 minutes at the Dispatch Box and this is the fourth intervention that he is making on my right hon. Friend's speech. What is the point of the rest of us who are interested in education and who want to participate coming here at all.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): That is not a point of order but it is a good point that should be made to the House. I understand that both Front Benchers have a lot to say, but it does prevent Back Benchers from taking part in the debate. The sooner we can get on the better.
Andy Burnham: I have answered the Secretary of State's question- [ Interruption. ] -and have I put it to him that an expert whom he commissioned is saying to him, "Keep music as an option in the English baccalaureate," and answer there was none about what he is going to do with that recommendation. The Secretary of State has not convinced the experts and he is not even convincing his own side. [ Interruption. ]
Andy Burnham: The Secretary of State is not even convincing his own activists. On ConservativeHome today, there was an article by Ed Watkins, a music teacher in south London and the deputy chairman of Dulwich and West Norwood Conservatives. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members cheer him, but will they still be cheering in a moment? He wrote:
"The principles lying behind the English Baccalaureate are therefore grounded in a sensible solution to a problem."-
"Those principles have, however, been applied in an arbitrary manner in the selection of subjects. Why History but not R.E.? Why Biblical Hebrew but not Art? Why Geography but not Music?"
My point- [Interruption.] My point, if the right hon. Gentleman will listen to it, is that children have a right to a broad and balanced curriculum, and his prescriptive English baccalaureate is taking us away from that. The body that has independently advised Ministers, which was set up by the previous Conservative Government, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, is being abolished, so what can we expect in the future? We can expect ministerial whim replacing independent expert advice. As the Education Committee pointed out last week, a mix of academic and vocational options is more likely to keep young people engaged and help reduce behaviour problems.
We welcome provisions in the Bill to ensure that every young person has access to independent careers advice, but we fear that this is yet another instance where rhetoric will fail to live up to the reality. Is not the truth that the Secretary of State's mismanagement of
transition arrangements to an all-age careers service and front-loaded cuts to local authority budgets have meant that careers advice is disappearing?
Why does the Bill remove the requirement on the Secretary of State to enforce the new legal participation age of 18? Is it because, with the scrapping of EMA and the other measures that I have described, he knows that full participation until 18 will never be achieved? Alongside the clauses on higher education, no wonder ASCL talks of a Bill with
"serious implications for social mobility".
"risks narrowing the educational agenda and limiting children's rights within schools."
"chips away at hard-won parental rights".
"may now be a void in policing admissions".
Admissions forums involve local parent representation, governors and heads. They exist to give parents avenues of redress and to help them get a fair deal. As with many provisions in the Bill, their abolition seems at odds with ideas of localism. With no group co-ordinating fair admissions, the NASUWT says that there are real risks of increased inequality, back-door selection and covert discrimination.
We welcome the extension of the schools adjudicator's powers in relation to academies and individual cases, but we fear that this move is undermined overall by a weakening of the adjudicator's role and his ability to change admission arrangements. ASCL has said that it is
"essential that parents have a well defined route to deal with their grievances relating to admissions" ,
The Secretary of State mentioned Tony Blair and our reforms. They were all about empowering parents, just as in the health service we empowered patients with guarantees. The Bill strips away those powers from parents. That is why we do not support it.
Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that in addition to the powers being stripped from parents by the Bill, they are also losing the right to legal aid for education cases? Parents without means finding themselves in difficult and challenging situations when fighting for their children will therefore be left without any recourse for help.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. It brings me on to the subject of parents whose children have special educational needs or disabilities. Her point is particularly important in respect of such parents. Concerns have been raised about the measures in the Bill disempowering parents in relation to exclusions. The removal of the ability of
appeals panels to tell schools to reinstate a pupil who has been expelled has been described by the National Children's Bureau as
"counter to the principles of natural justice."
Parents of children with disabilities and special needs already face a battle to get them a good education. With its changes to admissions and exclusions, which will see schools become judge and jury, the Bill stacks the odds against those children even further. Poor behaviour can arise from a failure to identify or support a child's special needs, yet in future any exclusions that might result will be much harder to challenge.
The changes must also be seen in the context of the diminishing ability of local authority to fund and co-ordinate specialist services that help children facing the biggest challenges. The Education Committee has noted that some pupils could be left
"without access to critical support".
That brings us to a central problem with the Government's rush to reform: the Bill has been brought forward before the long-promised Green Paper on special educational needs. The National Autistic Society has stated:
"The impact of certain aspects of the Education Bill on children with SEN and disabilities... will not be known until the Green Paper has been made public."
That means that the Government are asking Members to vote on these measures without giving them either answers to the questions posed by TreeHouse or the ability to feel sure that the most vulnerable children in their constituencies will not be adversely affected. That is profoundly wrong. It is an abusive process and an affront to this House, but, much worse, it sends a clear message to the parents who are most affected that their children are an afterthought for the Government.
Michael Gove: Those of us who have family members with special educational needs will have found the hon. Lady's outburst objectionable. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many special schools closed under the Labour Government and how many more parents were forced to buy private education for their children with special educational needs over the past 13 years?
Andy Burnham: I do not have those figures to hand, but special schools closed in my constituency and in my local authority area because we pursued a vision of inclusion within state schools. That was the right thing to do, because some of those young people are now educated alongside other children in their community, and it is human and social progress to teach those young people in that way. The question I put to the Secretary of State, which he did not answer, was this: how can he ask any Member to be sure that the Bill will not harm vulnerable children in their constituencies when we have not seen his proposals on special educational needs? What ability will anyone have to place obligations on academies or free schools to look out for their children? We do not know whether he is creating them as self-sufficient islands that can do whatever they like, so how can we be sure that children with special educational needs will not get second best from the schools system he is creating? He cannot answer that question tonight because we have not seen the Green Paper. It should have been published before the Bill was brought before the House.
Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): The Secretary of State knows very well that under the Labour Government some special schools closed because they were just not good enough, but special school places were created, and there were more when we left office than when we came into office.
I have one final comment about parents. We support the extension of free early years provision for disadvantaged two-year-olds, but we are deeply concerned that that is undermined by the Government's failure to protect Sure Start. Furthermore, giving the Secretary of State the power to define early years provision, who gets it and when they get it places question marks over the universal free entitlement for three and four-year olds. I ask him to make it clear that he does not intend to cut such provision or to introduce means-testing, particularly as fears have also been raised by the Bill's introduction of powers to charge.
Mr Slaughter: One of the Secretary of State's homilies was on equal chances, but my constituency is one of the most socially and ethnically diverse in the country, and more than half the Sure Start centres are being closed by a Conservative council. The Secretary of State and his Ministers wash their hands of that, but is it not perverse to talk about creating extra provision for two-year-olds when the provision for three and four-year-olds is being cut by 50% in seats such as mine?
Andy Burnham: The Government say that they have given councils enough money, but they have also given them a list of 20 or more things that they have to fund from the same budget as that which pays for Sure Start. How does my local authority, which is getting a cut of some £160 per head from the Government, keep all its support and provision open while other councils in other parts of the country get cuts on nothing like that scale? It is deeply unfair, and it will take away crucial services in constituencies such as my hon. Friend's and mine.
Bill Esterson: In my right hon. Friend's opening remarks, he mentioned contradictions and the ability to overrule local authorities when it comes to schools. In Sefton, the 12.9% cut in the early intervention grant means that all the children's centres are now under review, but the Secretary of State says that he wants all children's centres and the network to be maintained. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) describes what is happening in his constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if closures go ahead, they will undermine any good measures in the Bill to boost early years provision? Does he agree also that, if the Secretary of State is prepared to intervene on schools, he should take the same approach and intervene on local authorities when it comes to protecting the network of Sure Start centres?
Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I was struck yesterday by the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who feels that his report, which was commissioned by the Prime Minister, will be undermined if cuts on such a scale proceed, because the delivery system for early intervention will simply no longer be in place in constituencies throughout the country. Let us remember that this Prime Minister accused the former Prime Minister of trying to scare people about Sure Start. This Prime Minister said that he would build on Sure Start, but that is yet another broken promise.
Let me turn to how the Bill takes power from the profession. The Education Secretary says that he wants to put teachers in the driving seat, but again we see a widening gap between rhetoric and reality. There has been a 10% drop in applications for teacher training this year, which does not say much for his powers of recruitment. The drop has been blamed on his decision not to allow the Training and Development Agency for Schools to run its usual advertising and marketing campaigns to attract people to the profession. With the Bill's abolition of the TDA, teacher training places cut by 14% and most bursaries scrapped, surely we can expect to see teacher shortages in a few years' time.
The Bill restricts teachers' freedoms, undermines the status of their profession, reduces their entitlement to ongoing professional development and fails to protect the rights of support staff. Ongoing development is a hugely important issue for many teachers. The TDA provided a vehicle for identifying the training needs of the profession, and its abolition raises concerns about the future of teacher training and professional development.
"the TDA avoided teacher training being the subject of political interference",
"given the current ministerial view",
"real danger that teaching as a profession is being downgraded."
"in this and other matters, we are concerned about the large number of additional powers being granted to the Secretary of State."
How can the right hon. Gentleman possibly be judge and jury over every case of misconduct? Surely teachers have a right to be judged by their peers, not by politicians in Whitehall. I speak as a former Health Secretary, where we had well developed, independent systems of self-regulation for the medical profession. Surely that model is the right one for teaching.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's biggest slight on the professional status of teachers is his insistence that free schools must not be held back by the requirement to hire qualified individuals to teach. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) said, it makes a mockery of his claims to value teacher training. Either he believes it is important or he does not; he does not have a convincing answer to that question.
The abolition of the School Support Staff Negotiating Body sets back efforts to improve professional standards among support staff, as well as fair pay and work force planning. Support staff are key members of the education team around the child. Unison has said that the Secretary of State is
"ignorant of the reasons for its establishment".
This impression is given further weight by the fact that the Bill overlooks support staff in introducing anonymity for professionals facing allegations from pupils. The Secretary of State asked whether we would support that measure, and we do, but we agree with the ASCL that it should be
"extended to cover teachers and support staff in colleges and support staff in schools".
On other provisions relating to behaviour and discipline, we are broadly supportive of a direction of travel that builds on our achievements, although we will seek reassurance in Committee that powers to search pupils are necessary and proportionate. We welcome the proposed changes to make schools find and fund alternative provision for excluded pupils, but we would like that measure to be included in the Bill.
This Bill removes communities' rights to decide what kind of school they have-the Secretary of State is offering a one-size-fits-all model: an academy or nothing-
and restricts the information available to them about their schools. It makes strategic, community-wide planning for children and young people more difficult. According to the National Children's Bureau,
"it fails to promote and indeed protect the strategic relationship that schools must have with their local community."
We know the Government's answer to this-that communities can set up their own schools. It is the same with libraries, forests and children's centres. Communities want control and involvement, but they do not want chaos and cuts to be unleashed on the services they value and then to be told, "It's okay-you're free to set up your own."
Communities need other, more practical avenues of redress. Free schools are approved by the Secretary of State with no requirement for groups setting them up to consult widely with the local population. There is a complete lack of transparency and accountability over funding. We know that the Government have set aside £50 million to pay for new free schools, and we know from reports yesterday that about £25 million has been pledged to just two schools. Earlier, the Secretary of State failed to answer a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) about this. We know that a further 13 have been given promises of funding, but we do not know how much. Named day questions to Ministers simply go unanswered. It is not surprising that many communities believe that existing local schools are being left to fall into disrepair to allow free schools the money to be set up.
Richard Fuller: It is important that the right hon. Gentleman gets a broader perspective on his two points about free schools. In the instance of the free school that is being set up in Kempston in my constituency, there has been widespread consultation involving parents and local schools, and a debate attended by the Anti Academies Alliance. The chair of the board of the free school has said that there will be full and clear transparency, and he is head of a college of further education in my constituency that is rated outstanding by Ofsted.
Andy Burnham: My point was that that level of consultation should be required. If a free school is set up, it may be good for those immediately planning to go to there, but there may be an impact on the stability of provision around it and the viability of other local schools. There is a wider debate to be had in any community.
It is simply not acceptable that we have not had any figures. Pledges are being made; Ministers are going round the country waving cheque books at people wanting to set up their pet projects. When the Government have cancelled Building Schools for the Future, it is unacceptable that they are not prepared to answer parliamentary questions to tell us how much money has been committed to these new schools. It gives the impression that, shamefully, ideology and not need is driving the allocation of capital to schools.
"concerned that there may now be too few points of contact between local authorities and schools".
The removal of the duty to co-operate in the production of a children's plan and to work with children's trusts raises concerns over the safeguarding of children and young people. The Laming review highlighted the need for all agencies involved with children, including schools, to have a joined-up approach to ensure that no child slipped through the net. Every Child Matters was an effort to remedy the failure of services to work together. Unison says that the Bill
"drives a wedge between schools and other local services and negates Every Child Matters".
Andy Burnham: That question is not for here and now. We would not close a good school that was well integrated with its local community and played its part in a local partnership to raise standards. I do not have a dogmatic position, as some of the acolytes of the Secretary of State like to say. I do not just want to close all free schools and all academies out of spite. That is not my position. If a school was not well integrated with its local community and was not playing its part to raise the standards of all children in the area, of course that would have to be looked at.
In conclusion, last year's Liberal Democrat conference passed a motion supporting the role of local authorities in education and opposing an uneven playing field between schools, where some schools get more funding than others. This centralising Bill is the polar opposite of that motion. As I have shown today, it takes powers from pupils, parents, professionals and the public and leaves a huge democratic deficit in every community. Where are the Lib Dem voices now? Why are they not howling down a Bill that strips local councils of any meaningful role? They seem silent and defeated. This is a battle for the soul of state education. I hope for the sake of young people that the Lib Dems rediscover
some principle and backbone, and stand up to a Bill that grants one man huge power to foist an elitist view of education on everyone.
The vision is of a 1950s curriculum in a 19th-century school system; a free-for-all where parents have no guarantees, where there is a lack of protection for the most vulnerable children, and where for every winner there is a loser. I respect the undoubted passion for education of the Secretary of State, but his is a vision for some children, not all children. In his rush to reform, he is failing to take people with him; he is losing the confidence of head teachers; he is inflicting an ideological experiment on young people, with no pilot schemes, no consultation and no evidence to support it; he is taking power away from parents; and he is gambling with the life chances of our children. Today, in the interests of a fair education system for all, I ask the House to put the brakes on him.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Before we go on, I remind Members that there is an eight-minute limit. Members do not have to take all eight minutes and if they take fewer interventions, we will get more Members in. There is a huge list and very little time.
Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate. Last year, the Academies Act 2010 flew through Parliament. Today, we are debating the Government's second education Bill, which follows on from the White Paper entitled "The Importance of Teaching". Disraeli told the House 136 years ago:
"Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends."-[ Official Report, 15 June 1874; Vol. 219, c. 1618.]
There is a lot to support in the Bill-a lot that even the most opportunistic of Oppositions would struggle to oppose. I welcome the priority given to behaviour and discipline, the subject of the Education Committee's first report, which was published last week. Anonymity for teachers prior to criminal charge and clarity about teachers' powers will materially help, as will the more focused brief for Ofsted. The Committee urges the Government to collect appropriate data to monitor the actual, as opposed to the perceived, state of discipline in our schools. I hope that Ministers will think on that.
The emphasis on international comparison is also right. What was the point of the previous Government claiming higher standards at home if, compared with others, our relative position was collapsing? The changes to Ofqual are therefore also correct. The duty on schools to bring in specialist careers advice from outside is hugely welcome. The provision of advice is often woeful and exacerbates pre-existing disadvantage for those who do not have strong family networks. The change is a great move and needs to be extended to academies and free schools. If that cannot happen in the Bill, I should like to hear from Ministers that it will be included in the funding agreement.
Those are all good things, yet I cannot help feeling a little disappointed with the Bill. When I saw "The Importance of Teaching", I thought, "Maybe the Government have got it. Maybe they'll be obsessed with teacher quality above all else", as the research suggests we should be. Attracting, retaining and motivating the brightest and best in teaching is a matter of existential importance to this country's future, and removing the incompetent is likewise essential, so what does the Bill offer on that front? Less than I would like.
We know that Teach First, the highly selective programme to get the brightest graduates into teaching, is being doubled in size, which is extremely welcome. The entry level for teacher training is being raised to a 2:2 degree, and training will be reformed, with a big expansion of school-led initial teacher training, which the Education Committee has welcomed.
However, it seems to me that the biggest challenges are to increase the accountability of teachers and to manage variability both within and between schools. The Government have inherited a performance management system for teachers that is toothless. The so-called social partnership was a surrender to the teaching unions and the producer interest, strangling every effort to put the interests of the child brought up in poverty ahead of those of the well-paid, qualified adult who teaches them. Our professional standards, by which the performance of teachers is judged, were written as much by union leaders as by leaders in education. When will the Secretary of State rewrite the professional standards? That cannot be started too soon.
If the Government's promise of autonomy and accountability is to be delivered, we need more than a refocused Ofsted. We need action when children stop progressing in a teacher's class. We need a considered resetting of the rights of the child and the rights of the work force. Where are the provisions in the Bill to ensure that the teachers who do not help pupils to learn cease to teach?
The Government have stressed the importance of autonomy in their proposals for free schools and academies, which I broadly welcome. The best education systems in the world all give their schools and heads a lot of autonomy. However, we need to be wary of concluding that greater autonomy by itself brings higher standards. High-performing leaders tend to demand and be granted more autonomy in any organisation-it is a by-product of top performance rather than an initial driver. In business, a top manager is granted more freedom because of his success. He then uses that freedom further to improve his practice. A management consultant looking at businesses with branches would find that the best-performing branches in a variety of businesses tended to have leaders with greater autonomy from the centre. Observing that, the consultant might conclude that if only all managers had those greater freedoms, standards would necessarily rise elsewhere. I believe that that would be an erroneous judgment. Can Ministers assure me that we are not making that mistake in education?
McKinsey's excellent report, "How the world's most improved schools systems keep getting better", shows that different interventions are required at different stages of school system improvement. Ministers should reflect on its analysis and recognise that in a system as large as England's, one size does not fit all. Will they also expand on the respective roles of competition and
co-operation? How will the Government ensure that competition, which is so critical to improvements in the business sector, will not stifle the exchange of best practices that is often so important in the education sector?
I entirely understand why Ministers have proposed what they have proposed on the English baccalaureate-they want to ensure that young people are not put on Mickey Mouse courses that should be removed for their lack of rigour. However, that rightful intervention does not necessarily mean that one should assume that all courses that are not academic courses are Mickey Mouse courses that lack rigour. Surely we should ensure that we remove inappropriate courses rather than condemn them all. I am concerned that we could end up getting the mix between vocational and academic courses wrong.
Chris Goodwin is the head teacher of Beverley grammar school in my constituency, which must be one of the highest-performing state schools in the country. Despite its name, it is the oldest state school-and indeed the oldest school-on one site in the country. It is a comprehensive school for boys and it has been found to be outstanding in its last three Ofsted inspections. Chris Goodwin and his team have extreme concerns about the potential impact of the baccalaureate. He said:
"I thought the whole drive of the government is to give power to the Headteachers to enable them to make the right choices for their students. By publishing tables and rating schools in this way, you are placing me, the staff and students in a strait-jacket. We will have no choice but to comply, to the detriment of all concerned...This is ironic, as my entire Senior Team are in favour of a better constructed English Baccalaureate-just not this one."
I hope the Government remain open minded on that. I absolutely understand their desire for rigour and to make the basic right to a decent academic education an opportunity for everyone in our society, but we must ensure that vocational and other courses that schools often use are not squeezed out by the baccalaureate, thus undermining so much of the good work in many of our schools.
Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I worked in the child protection field for many years before entering the House, and I am chair of the all-party group on child protection, so I intend to confine my remarks to the parts of the Bill that affect the protection of children.
I welcome the fact that the Bill will not repeal the safeguarding duties on schools-the duty to protect and promote the welfare of children. I understand that that was considered, and I am glad that- following pressure from organisations such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, supported by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House-the Government recognised that it was a bad idea. It is vital that schools continue to be safe place in which children can learn and grow.
Schools have a moral duty to keep children safe, and it is often the teacher to whom a child first turns for help when he or she faces problems at home. In my experience, it was often someone at school-a class teacher or a school nurse-who identified children at risk and monitored the well-being of those considered to be at risk.
The Government say that they will remove duties and statutory guidance that create burdens for schools. A duty of child protection is not a burden but an expectation that parents and communities rightly have of schools. I am concerned about two measures in the Bill: the repeal of the requirement to give 24 hours' notice of detention, and changes to the powers of teachers to search children.
Clause 5 amends section 92 of the Education Inspections Act 2006 by removing the requirement to give a parent or carer a minimum of 24 hours' written notice that their child is required to attend detention outside normal school hours. That has been trumpeted by the Government as a major step that will help to revolutionise discipline in schools, but I believe that they are wrong. Since the Minister first spoke of such a measure in the Chamber, other hon. Members and I have raised the matter on a number of occasions and received unsatisfactory responses that show a staggering disregard for the safety of children.
When I wrote to the Secretary of State to set out my concerns, I received a reply from the Minister that did not even attempt to address the issues that I had raised. Unfortunately, there seems to be a great reluctance on the part of the Government to respond to child protection concerns. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), cancelled a meeting with the all-party group on child protection at 24 hours' notice only this week.
Children and parents do not tell the school of young carers' responsibilities for fear of unhelpful or unwanted interference. Those children may also struggle at school due to their caring responsibilities, and consequently may well receive detention. In such circumstances, they may face a dilemma. Do they collect a younger sibling from their school, or do they disobey the teacher? That could result in a younger brother or sister being left to wait alone, or they could decide to walk home on their own in the dark. Surely the Government should be reasonable. When the matter was last discussed-in Committee on the 2006 Act-the Liberal Democrat spokesperson said that the Liberal Democrats were
"not...in favour of removing the period of notice. It would be totally impractical."
"In rural areas, especially on dark evenings, parents would not know what had happened to their child and would be extremely concerned. It is perfectly acceptable to give 24 hours' notice, as it will allow parents to make other arrangements for travel or to arrange for a neighbour or other family member to stay at home to provide cover. Anything else would be unacceptable."-[ Official Report, Standing Committee E, 10 May 2006; c. 856.]
That spokesperson is now the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), and she carries the responsibility as Children's Minister. She should hold to that position.
At the very least, if the 24-hours' notice period is to be removed, why are the Government not inserting a requirement to notify parents and carers before a detention takes place? Many schools regularly text or e-mail parents and carers. If schools need to give more immediate detentions to bolster discipline, as the Government believe they do, that should not happen at the expense of children's safety. Hon. Members should be able to agree that the safety of children comes first, so I ask the Minister to introduce an appropriate amendment in Committee.
Clause 2 specifically allows a teacher of the opposite gender to search a pupil in situations of urgency, and-crucially-when no other teacher is present. That raises a number of concerns, certainly in respect of the protection of children, but also because it creates risks for the teacher involved. The Children's Rights Alliance is also alarmed by the relaxation of safeguards for children being searched.
My understanding is that such searches should happen only when a member of staff believes that there is a risk that serious harm will be caused if they do not conduct the search, and when it is not practicable for the search to be carried out by a member of staff of the same sex as the pupil, or for the search to be witnessed by another member of staff. Frankly, I am struggling to think of a scenario in which the search of a pupil by a member of staff of a different gender without witnesses would be the right thing to do. Obtaining the assistance of other staff members, or indeed contacting the police, would surely be the way to go.
Can the Minister explain how that power will make a positive difference in schools? It appears to many that introducing that power could open teachers to more allegations of inappropriate behaviour, not fewer. Organisations who work with children in care have raised concerns that children who have already been physically or sexually abused would experience such a search as yet further abuse. That could lead to further trauma for them, which is surely the last thing we want.
The Children's Rights Alliance has other concerns. It believes that such searches constitute a significant intrusion into children's privacy. Intrusions must be shown to be necessary and proportionate to be lawful. However, as well as giving extensive rights to search the individual child, the Bill enables staff to look through phones, laptops and other devices, and to delete information
"if the person thinks there is a good reason to do so".
I am puzzled as to why that detail is in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister can address that. Surely such issues would more appropriately be dealt with in guidance, which can be reconsidered and amended if necessary.
We all want good discipline in schools. A school with good discipline allows children better to learn, but it is also a safer place for children. However, I ask the Government to look again at those two measures. It appears to me that they are posturing and talking tough. Schools should protect the most vulnerable children, such as young carers and children who have been abused, but the two measures risk doing the exact opposite. Please think again.
Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I share the aspirations and passion of the Secretary of State to improve standards for all our children and young people, and I welcome the proposals to improve discipline in our schools, to tackle bullying of all types and to protect teachers from false allegations. Of course I also feel that head teachers need the freedom to exercise their professional judgment.
The Bill contains some welcome proposals, and some others that merit close scrutiny at later stages. For me, the most important part of improving standards is investing in early years in order to get the foundations right. I hope that the commitment to, and funding for, free pre-school provision for disadvantaged two-year-olds will be welcomed across the House. Research shows that good quality early-childhood services have wide-ranging benefits for children, particularly disadvantaged children. That obviously helps disadvantaged children with their development, and speech and language skills, which are vital as they progress through later schooling.
In 2010, the latest findings from the effective provision of pre-school education research project were that children aged 11 still showed benefits from attendance at high quality pre-schools, which emphasises the importance of high quality provision. With the cutbacks, however, we have to keep the focus on driving up the quality of pre-school education. I also agree with Save the Children that local authorities should be asked to publish the proportion of free early places for disadvantaged two-year-olds taken up in good or outstanding settings.
I commend the Labour Government for achieving the universal free entitlement of up to 15 hours for three and four-year-olds, and for achieving that very high take-up. However, we still face the conflicting problems of cost, quality, quantity and sustainability-we will face those challenges throughout. It is important in early years to establish the joy of learning, so I hope that any reforms we make will encourage it throughout schooling-and through life, really.
I want to comment, however, on a few clauses that concern me and on which I would like reassurance. I am particularly concerned about the removal of the duty to co-operate with local authorities. I have been involved in many Bill Committees concerned with legislation for children and young people, and I have always felt that schools have to be included-I think that my coalition partners felt that too. I can understand that people might be concerned about unnecessary bureaucracy for schools and colleges, and I can see a case for reviewing how that provision is working in practice, but a repeal with no obvious measure to fill the gap concerns me greatly.
Like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), I am deeply concerned about child protection. When I read through a serious case review that went back some years, I noticed that spattered throughout were cases in which teachers had not reported incidents. I worry, therefore, about taking away that duty, about the possibility of child protection being overlooked and about teachers not taking on their full responsibilities. I am also concerned about removing the duty to co-operate in respect of looked-after children, young carers, children with parents in prison and children with special needs. How can we ensure co-operation between schools, local
authorities and other vital services for our vulnerable young people without something being put in place? I hope that the Minister will tell us what that something is.
Pat Glass: Does the hon. Lady agree that the number of middle-years serious case reviews in this country-those from the point of starting school until the mid-teens, when other factors come into play-has reduced significantly because of the duty on schools to co-operate?
Annette Brooke: I am afraid that I do not have the hon. Lady's professional knowledge, only that of the limited serious case reviews I have had the opportunity to see. It is vital that everybody concerned with children is looking out for their protection.
I am equally concerned about removing the requirement on maintained schools in England to have regard to the children and young people's plans. Obviously, the provision for vulnerable children within the plans is really important. I have even greater concerns about special educational needs. The National Autistic Society points out that where services are not co-ordinated, children may undergo tens of assessments, and essential support can be delayed. Parents have reported the constant battles they face to get all the services that their children need. I believe that by working together we can reduce bureaucracy and costs, but I remain concerned about the removal of duties on schools to co-operate and to have regard to the children and young people's plans.
During the passage of the Autism Act 2009, which was sponsored by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), and which I was pleased to support throughout, the previous Government committed themselves to ensuring that the needs of children with autism would be supported locally through children and young people's plans. How will the Government ensure that these needs are recognised and met locally?
The shadow Secretary of State for Education challenged the belief of Liberal Democrats in local authorities. I believe strongly that local authorities should play an important strategic role in the provision of high quality education in their local areas, and that they should play a pivotal role in ensuring that other related services necessary for a child's well-being work together effectively.
I am concerned not only about removing the duty to co-operate but about the abolition of admissions forums and the reduction in the role of the schools adjudicator. I welcome the extension of the adjudicator's role to academies, but I think that the ability to look at a whole school admissions policy when responding to a particular complaint has brought many benefits. I would hope that we all want to promote fair admissions to schools, but I seek reassurance from the Minister: if we are to reduce the role of the adjudicator and get rid of admissions forums, how are we to monitor the situation and ensure that admissions policies are administered fairly at a local level? I sincerely seek answers from him, because these are important aspects of the Bill-they are important across the board for disadvantaged young people, children with special educational needs and looked-after children.
With those comments, I would like to emphasise that local authorities have a strategic role to play. I would not want to return to the old-style model for local authorities, but I do think that they have a role to play, and if we are to take away some of their powers, we need to know what will be put in their place.
Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): I say to the Secretary of State that on reflection nothing is ever quite as good or bad as we think it is: I was not as good a Secretary of State as I thought I was, and I have a feeling that the right hon. Gentleman is not quite as bad as I think he is-at least I hope he is not.
The Bill is a mixture of incrementalism, with which I agree, contradiction, with which I do not, historical misinterpretation, downright old-fashioned conservatism and, with the exception of the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), complete humiliation for the Liberal Democrats, who have been against most of the things in the Bill, but who now have to vote for it.
On incrementalism, as the Secretary of State managed to get across several times in his 52-minute speech, there is clearly much in the Bill with which the Labour party can agree and which in fact we put in place. However, there are major contradictions, one of which is that the more academies and free schools we have, the less the Secretary of State's prescriptions on the curriculum, which he laid down this afternoon, will actually apply. In fact, I thought at one stage this afternoon that the Secretary of State was going to lay down a menu for all school meals that would have sweet and sour from Hong Kong, a little tortilla from Mexico and rolled herrings from Sweden, and would be dictated by the Secretary of State, so that nobody missed out on the five portions of fruit and veg required every day, because that is how he is coming across.
There has been a complete misunderstanding of the historic mission of providing diversity and flexibility. We would all agree on having the highest quality world-class headship and top-class teaching in the classroom, but the Secretary of State went into great detail this afternoon, picking out a bit of the curriculum here and a bit there from across the world, indicating that schools would have to teach certain things to reach a particular configuration-an indigestible menu that will in fact not be manageable by most schools. I therefore ask the Secretary of State to think again. He should by all means build on the progress that has been made, learn from the mistakes that we made and transfer genuine power to heads and teachers, but he should not pretend that he is doing that when he is doing exactly the opposite.
Another contradiction that I have noticed over the past few days is the way in which the Prime Minister has indicated that we should have a sense of identity inculcated in our schooling system and our society. I do not disagree with that-indeed, I have put that in place on a number of occasions, both in education and at the Home Office-but we cannot have that at the same time as seeking to abolish citizenship from the curriculum. If we really want to ensure that we have a sense of belonging and mutuality together, and that we understand our history, we need more than simply the teaching of historical figures, so that we can understand how our world works and how people find their place in it.
Above all, my worry about this Bill is the sheer politicisation involved. The power placed in the hands of the Secretary of State, with the abolition of the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, is
a worrying factor. Let us just imagine for a moment what our media, including our beloved BBC, would have done if we had abolished the QCDA and the Training and Development Agency, and placed their powers directly in the hands of a Labour Secretary of State. It would have been on the "Today" programme every morning, with somebody, probably from Real Education-it would probably have been the former inspector, Chris Woodhead-parading themselves, saying what a dastardly thing it all was, yet here we have a Conservative Secretary of State politicising the education curriculum and the education service.
This is not just about central administration; it is about an hegemony that can be seen throughout, with the politicisation of our life more generally. In each area-it is most heavily writ large in the case of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, matched only by the current Secretary of State for Education-the parade is of freedom and localism, while the measures are about centralisation and diktat, and this goes right across the board. I fear that as the Government preach freedom, they take away the rights, as has already been described, of those who should be driving the system, namely the parents of the children concerned. Taking away rights in respect of the adjudicator and sheer fairness, as well as the right to have one's voice heard and to get redress, will lead either to the courts or to complete disillusionment. Either way, that is a bad outcome for the education system.
As we are dealing with a Bill that includes a real rate of interest for students under the new fees system, which will create difficulties and have a dangerous impact on access, it is worth reflecting on the fact that Cambridge university has today announced that it will be charging the full £9,000 fee, because it believes that the demolition of the contribution from the Government-the taxpayer-towards teaching makes it impossible to do otherwise. The whole Bill could have been about building on progress made, learning the lessons or drawing down on world-class experience; instead, it is about-
Mel Stride: The right hon. Gentleman refers to building on progress and mentions Cambridge. Does he feel that much progress was made when only 42 pupils who were on free school meals went to Oxford or Cambridge in the last year?
Mr Blunkett: I was about to say that the Bill is about those contradictions and a historical misinterpretation. What the hon. Gentleman might actually be arguing for is an increase in access and a transformation in how schools relate to Oxford and Cambridge. I was at Cambridge last week-it was the nearest thing to being at Cambridge that I have ever managed, unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the shadow Secretary of State. I was pleased to be there and to find not pomposity or exclusion but a desire-from the students at least-to reach out to try to persuade students and staff in schools across the country that their pupils could aspire to the best we have to offer. Incidentally, it is not always Oxford and Cambridge doing that; it is often our best universities and their departments across the country.
I want to give time to those who have not had the privilege that I have had of contributing to education debates over the years, but I appeal to the Secretary of State and his supporters please to not reinvent the wheel. We do not need what the Business Secretary described as the perpetual Maoist revolution; instead, we can come together on sensible ways of improving the life chances of our children.
Mr Rob Wilson (Reading East) (Con): I rise to support the broad thrust of the Bill. It is unlikely to be remembered as one of the great education reform Bills-such as, arguably, the Bills of 1988 and 1944-but the sum of this Bill is probably much greater than its parts; and, if we add the changes that have already been pushed through in the Academies Act 2010, it is likely that this Government will have a claim to be remembered as a really radical reformer of education. For all the arguments that we have heard-and will hear again-against this Bill, few would disagree with the broad principles that lie behind it. Those principles are about devolving power down to schools; ensuring that exams reach the highest possible standards internationally; improving social mobility; and reducing the bureaucratic burden on schools, allowing the quality of teaching and leadership to flower, which, as Baroness Morgan, the new chair of Ofsted, has said, is the bedrock of any successful school.
Crucially for me, what this Bill has at its core is support for teachers. I particularly welcome the measures aimed at strengthening the power of teachers to maintain school discipline. We all know how one badly behaved child can threaten the prospects of all the pupils in a class if they are not dealt with firmly and quickly. The national statistics are quite shocking. Every day, nearly 1,000 children are excluded from school for abuse or assault against staff or fellow pupils. Major assaults on staff have reached a five-year high. Good teachers are leaving the profession because of bad behaviour, while talented graduates are discouraged from coming into teaching owing to fears for their safety. Across Reading in 2008-09, we had 390 suspensions for assaults and abuse, which is equivalent to two exclusions for every school day in the last recorded year. Why should we expect teachers to put up with that? We would not expect any other profession to put up with such violence.
Put simply, the substantial improvement in pupil attainment that all Members across this House wish to see will not be possible unless we give schools all the help that we can to set and maintain school discipline. Rules imposed by the previous, Labour Government deliberately made it more difficult for schools to expel pupils, undermining the authority of head teachers. By contrast, the measures in this Bill will ensure that we get adult authority back into schools. The fact that exclusion review panels will no longer be able to enforce the reinstatement of disruptive pupils will help to set boundaries for acceptable behaviour and ensure that teachers are not second-guessed all the time. The new powers on detentions and searching for items banned under school rules will help to give the necessary legal backing to enforce school rules whenever that is needed.
Pupils go to school to learn. That must be our message to parents, pupils and teachers. I am confident that the long-overdue measures in the Bill will considerably reinforce teachers' authority in schools. But action on
discipline on its own will not be enough to drive the vast improvement that we need to see in England's schools. The latest OECD report, the "Programme for International Student Assessment", made it clear that, under Labour, schools in England plummeted down the international league tables. As we have heard from the Secretary of State, we went from seventh to 25th in reading, from eighth to 28th in maths and from fourth to 16th in science.
This trend is deeply worrying for our economic future. Reading was recently named in Centre for Cities' "Cities Outlook 2011" as one of the five cities best placed for a private sector-led recovery. Among the major local employers are international companies that require a highly skilled work force. In information technology, for example, Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco and Symantec all have important headquarters in Reading. To ensure that those employers continue to feel that Britain is the best place in which to run major parts of their operations and to enable them to draw on the skilled work force that they need, we must take every possible step to ensure that we reverse the decline, relative to other countries, and strive to get to the top once again. To do anything else would be to sell future generations short.
I welcome the provisions in the Bill that will require Ofqual to compare standards in England with others internationally. I also welcome the proposals to give the Government the power to require schools to make themselves accountable to international surveys.
Mr Graham Stuart: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does he agree that big international companies such as Microsoft need not only excellent PhDs but first-class technicians to support the work that they do?
Mr Wilson: I thank the Select Committee Chairman for his question. Of course technical skills will be important, and I hope that university technical colleges will play an important role in that regard. I shall return to that point in a minute.
Rigour is absolutely essential, but we must not lose sight of the fact that not every pupil is right for university and the academic route. There has been a danger in recent weeks that all the emphasis might be placed on academic subjects and academic achievement. I have no doubt that that emphasis might be necessary temporarily while we are changing the prevailing philosophy that has surrounded education over the past decade, and, yes, we need academic rigour, but we also need alternative, equally valid and equally celebrated pathways in education. However, this should not come down to pushing some young people towards easier subjects, which is what the previous Government did. We have to find different ways of teaching and learning. I am looking forward to the findings of the review on vocational qualifications that is being led by the excellent Professor Alison Wolf. Unfortunately, they were not available in time for this debate, which was disappointing.
I welcome the Government's support for initiatives such as university technical colleges under the academies and free schools programme. UTCs, as championed by the endlessly energetic Lord Baker and the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, offer 14 to 19-year-olds the opportunity to take a highly regarded, technically oriented course of study at a specialist college that is equipped to the highest standards. Those colleges specialise in subjects
that require particular, modern equipment, and local employers, large and small, are asked to help to shape the specialist curriculum. The colleges offer a promising way of engaging young people through a different type of teaching, which is, as the name suggests, more technical in its orientation. They do not neglect the academic subjects, however, and they also help to ensure that local employers continue to have the skilled work force they need.
I welcome the priority given to academies in the establishment of new schools. This builds on the previous Government's most successful reform programme, which in turn built on the success of city technology colleges. Academies are a proven success story, with their academic performance improving at almost twice the rate of other state schools. In 2009-10, the proportion of pupils in academies achieving the expected level at GCSE of five A* to C grades, including in English and maths, increased by 7.4 points on the previous year, compared with an increase of 4.1 points across all maintained schools. The OECD has concluded that
"in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better".
Labour Members might not like the reforms, but teachers and parents in my constituency do. Three schools in Reading have already become academies, and all the secondary schools there will probably have converted by the end of next year. The number of proposals for new free schools is rising at what the Secretary of State might regard as an alarming rate. There is clearly an appetite among parents and professionals for our policies. With the extra priority being given to academies in the Bill, Reading might finally be relieved of the absurd situation in which Reading children cross into neighbouring local authority areas in search of good schools while pupils from other local authorities cross into Reading to attend what are successful but almost regional grammar schools. The quality of schools should not depend on the local authority in which they are situated. The measures in the Bill will give head teachers more freedom to determine what goes on in their schools and greater powers to drive improvement, wherever they might be. As such, I welcome these measures as a step in the right direction.
Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): This Bill fails our children and young people. In spite of what the Secretary of State claims, many of its measures are grossly unfair, and I will not support it. It is full of rhetoric promising to devolve power to families and professionals, but the reality is quite different, with many parts of the Bill actually centralising power. As we have already heard, it will make it impossible for parents to challenge decisions about admissions, as well as limiting the choice of subjects that teachers can offer their students and denying communities the opportunities that can be gained by schools working together in partnership.
From early-years provision to students aspiring to higher education, the Bill restricts educational opportunity. With one hand, it extends free entitlement for early education and child care, which I support, yet with the other it removes the need for local authorities to ensure that there is enough quality child care available in their area. The Bill proposes to allow maintained nursery
schools and classes to charge for any early-years provision above the 15-hour entitlement. That, in conjunction with the early-years single funding formula that will come into force in April, will have a devastating impact on settings that currently provide free full-time places for disadvantaged children.
More than 3,500 Sure Start children's centres were opened under Labour, offering a range of early-years, health and parental support services to more than 2.5 million children and their families. Yesterday, we heard the Minister of State, Department for Education, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) edge her way round the question of whether Sure Start children's centres would continue to remain open and to offer every child the best start in life, or whether hundreds would close, as the survey carried out by 4Children and the Daycare Trust predicts. In my own constituency, Sure Start workers are already being made redundant. It is no good saying that early-years education is important, only to take away the funding so that parents cannot access it.
The damage that will be done to early-years education by cutting the grants for Sure Start is just the start; every parent worries about getting their child into the school of their choice. Yet these proposals will make it harder, not easier, for parents to choose what is right for their child, as free schools and academies squeeze money out of the funding for schools in their area. Similarly, the proposals on admissions will mean that parents will struggle to fight for what their child needs. Clause 34 removes the requirement for local authorities to establish an admission forum.
Even if a child can get into the school that the parents want, the way in which the Secretary of State is narrowing the national curriculum will make it harder for children to achieve. He claims that he wants to consult parents and teachers on what should be taught, but by limiting the English baccalaureate he seems already to have made up his mind that it should be quite restrictive. How can I say to a young person from my constituency that it is more important for them to learn Latin than to be able to use a computer, especially when 10% of our gross domestic product is generated from the online economy? That simply does not make sense.
With the axing of Building Schools for the Future and the promise that it gave to every child, including those in my constituency, of the learning environment that they need to succeed, it is most worrying that the Bill still fails to define the capital funding that will be available for free schools and academies. The so-called academy conversions are another example of co-operation and partnership working between schools being undermined by this Government, with federated schools being able to apply to become an academy without any discussion with other schools.
My final point relates to part 8 on student finance, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) mentioned. This is like the small print of a dodgy contract: it is almost hidden, yet it proposes to remove the cap on student loan interest rates. In effect, this will allow profit to be made out of student debt. With the trebling of tuition fees, this is another example of the Government's unfairness, kicking away the ladders of opportunity from our most disadvantaged young people.
Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important education debate. My wife is a primary school teacher; my sister is a secondary school teacher; and my mother-in-law devoted her career to primary school children with special educational needs. I understand the challenges that many teachers in the school system face daily. However, that understanding does not give me the right to tell teachers how to do their jobs. That is why this Bill is so important. It gives power back to teachers and head teachers to take the decisions on how to deliver the best education for the children in their classrooms.
Everybody remembers a good teacher, and every teacher wants to see their class grow up, develop and get the best possible start in life. Teachers love to excite and inspire children to learn so that they can enjoy a journey of lifelong learning from the primary school classroom to the boardroom. Unfortunately, many children are left behind. The highest early-year achievers from deprived backgrounds are overtaken by lower-achieving children from advantaged backgrounds by the age of seven-and the gap gets larger as the poorer students get older. For example, the primary school in my constituency with 40% of children on free school meals has only 64% achieving level 4 at key stage 2, when they are 10 or 11. The primary school in my constituency with only 4% of children on free school meals has 90% achieving level 4 at key stage 2. It is unacceptable that children from poorer backgrounds are allowed to fall further behind year after year.
A good education is the best route out of poverty. I fully support the Bill's provisions to introduce free early-years learning for disadvantaged two-year-olds and the pupil premium. These massive investments in the poorest children in our society will help spread fairness throughout our education system and lift children out of poverty. UNICEF currently ranks the UK as 13th out of 24 OECD countries for educational inequality, but it is not possible to lift children out of poverty if we measure only poverty of income. Poverty of education is an equally important factor, as it leads to a poverty of opportunity and aspiration in later life.
Before I briefly mention some of the opportunities provided by the Bill to transform educational achievement in Stevenage, I would like to make three quick points, to which I hope Ministers will be able to respond-in a little more detail, of course, in Committee. First, I fully support the introduction of a reading test for all six-year-olds so that parents know how their child is doing. However, I ask that an element of comprehension be included in this test. Many children and adults-including myself on many occasions-can often read a word, but without fully understanding its meaning, so they cannot use it correctly in a sentence. A little reassurance that the new reading test will have an element to demonstrate that children understand the meaning of the words they are reading would be welcome.
Secondly, many hon. Members will speak on the huge benefits that children and schools will obtain by converting to academies. However, will the Minister consider providing a little more clarification for those education authorities concerned about their responsibilities for casual admissions throughout the school year?
My final query is whether the pupil premium will be available to children currently in care. One of the saddest facts that I am aware of is that only 15% of children in care achieve five A to C grades at GCSE, compared with an average of 70% of all children in the UK.
I do not want to take up too much time, as many other Members want to contribute. In my final few minutes, however, I want to highlight some of the exciting developments taking place in Stevenage as a result of the freedoms that the Bill will give to schools. Plans to convert to academies are, of course, already under way. There are also discussions going on about the possibility of what we are calling an "educational village"-a school that provided full through-schooling for children from the age of four to 19. As one head teacher put it, it will allow for controlling the supply chain of the children coming through, so that the standards of the children are well known and can be developed. It should provide greater understanding of what the children are likely to achieve later in life.
My local college is looking at developing a vocational school for 14 to 19-year-olds, which is also called a university technical college. My constituency is also fortunate in having within it the headquarters of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which I know is working with university technical colleges throughout the country to develop those schemes.
The most exciting prospect for me is that the Stevenage educational trust has been established this month. This is a charity set up by local head teachers, which is developing the idea of taking on the extended services that they consider important to educational provision in Stevenage. My ultimate aim for this charity-and, I hope, the aim of the head teachers-is that it will take over the responsibilities that will be devolved from the local education authority and allow solutions that are more focused on the needs of the children in a single town rather than across a widespread geographical area. It will be able to have an educational psychologist looking after the children in a particular small area rather than on a county basis.
"The Government's new reforms for education have meant that I have more freedom to target specific resources to the young people and families I know are in most need. My accountability is now transferred to my local community rather than centralised targets, which have in the past dictated the delivery of services at a local level".
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the measured speech of the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland). Let me say first that I support many aspects of the Bill and will not join my colleagues in opposing it tonight. A number of issues can be clarified and corrected in Committee. One important issue that I feel should be looked at again is the whole question of support staff, who are so important in any school. I am not sure that the issue has been looked at carefully enough. It is the sort of matter that should be probed in Committee.
I welcome the abolition of the Training and Development Agency and the General Teaching Council for England. I welcome the fact that we can finally get back to having a Secretary of State who has to take responsibility and has to be accountable to this Parliament for what happens in education. I also welcome the fact that the Bill makes it clear that trainee teachers who do not meet the required standards should face termination of employment. As I said earlier, for too long we have tolerated poor performance in the teaching profession and we have been afraid to be honest to those who simply are not good enough. For me, there is no more important profession than that of educating the next generation. We need to foster a culture of excellence, not of complacency. As many have pointed out, we would not tolerate a pilot who had a questionable record in flying and we would not go to a doctor who always gets a diagnosis wrong. Why, then, should we accept a teacher who we know does not deliver for her children?
There are many good schools in my constituency, but one in particular has always taken that sort of approach to teacher training-the Durand school, now the Durand academy. Durand spent years fighting the local authority, Lambeth council because it refused to accept anything less than great teaching for its school. For more than 16 years, the school has had innovative social entrepreneurship under its belt, under the inspirational leadership of the executive head, Greg Martin and the head, Mark McLaughlin. It has gone from being a failing school to an outstanding one. It has built on-site accommodation for teachers who are new to London; it has a health club with special rates for parents; and it has truly self-helped.
Durand has been creative in showing how a school can use its property assets for social good, and I would encourage other schools to do the same. Through its own endeavours it bought 19 acres in Sussex, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie). It was formerly the site of a grade II listed private school and then a local education authority special school. It is the most amazing of locations, where Durand wants to open the first truly free-of-charge state boarding school, offering the best possible educational experience to inner-city teenagers.
The intake of the Durand primary school in Stockwell is extremely diverse: 95% of children come from black or ethnic minority backgrounds; more than 50% are on free school meals; and more than 40% live in overcrowded households. Despite those statistics, the quality of attainment, behaviour and attitude at the school is impeccable. It is an outstanding school, which has proved time and again that a low-income background need not mean low expectations for children. It is built on hugely important leadership.
Children leave Durand at the age of 11, and many subsequently fail to achieve five good GCSEs. Last year children leaving Durand were transferred to 20 different secondary schools, many outside the borough and many of poor quality. It is to be hoped that at the end of the current school year, if the right decisions are made and if the system proves successful, children will stay on in the middle school and, at the age of 13, will board between Monday morning and Friday afternoon. That will enable them to retain links with their community, and will allow their families-many of whom live in overcrowded accommodation-to see them receive the
best possible education while also benefiting from the extra time that boarding schools provide for sport and the other extracurricular activities that are so rarely found in inner-city areas such as mine.
Parents want choice. They want the best, and they do not see why the best should be available, or offered, only to those who can pay or who come from the most affluent areas. That cannot be right. Labour Members need to be honest. For a long time we have espoused the benefits of academies as one part of a broad system of education. Academy status has given proven successful schools such as Durand the freedom that they need in order to develop education and tailor it in accordance with their intake, helping each and every child to reach its full potential. Parents want those options: they recognise that one size does not fit all, and that local authorities do not have all the answers. There have been many struggles involving my local authority, which wanted to impose a straitjacket on its schools to ensure that they were all the same.
As a former grammar school girl, I feel strongly that my party must not lose ownership of aspiration. In the past month, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) hosted an event in the House on behalf of Progress, which reached the same conclusion. For a number of years many of my hon. Friends supported the views of Lord Adonis of Camden Town, and we are familiar with his views on much of the Bill. My constituent Katharine Birbalsingh-who may be better known for speaking at a Conservative party conference but who is a brilliant teacher, as will be clear to anyone who meets and talks to her-has shown the same willingness to believe that every child can aspire to and, indeed, reach the top. I am proud that she is my constituent, because what she says and writes is based entirely on the reality of what is happening in many inner-city schools.
We must be honest, and reflect the views of all involved in education and teaching rather than just those of the unions. Theirs is an important voice, but it is not the only one. I want us to speak for the family of the child from Myatt's Fields estate in Stockwell who wants to reach for the stars-for the family who want for their child the options that are available to a child from the richest family in the land. I want us to speak up for the silent majority, who are often without a voice.
If the Education Bill helps schools like Durand which pride themselves on great teaching to become a model for others to follow, I welcome it; if the Education Bill helps schools like Durand which insist on good discipline to enforce that discipline, I welcome it; and if the Education Bill helps schools like Durand which want to open a new secondary state boarding school for disadvantaged children to deliver that, I welcome it, and urge its adoption.
Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to speak in this important debate. I shall speak as briefly as possible so that other can contribute, but, if time allows, I shall touch on the subjects of early-years provision, academies and apprenticeships.
Why is early-years provision so important at this time? In my view it is a critical element in the Bill, because evidence increasingly suggests that it will become more crucial than ever in determining outcomes. A couple of weeks ago, in a debate initiated by Government Members-in the context of reports presented by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen)-the House benefited from speeches that demonstrated a wealth of experience in relation to early-years provision and early intervention in particular.
I believe that in providing 15 hours a week for disadvantaged children, the Government are taking a stand and making an active contribution. As a child protection lawyer, I encountered many cases whose outcomes jeopardised children and put them at risk. The situation was very delicate in such cases, and a central issue was what would happen to the children during those early years. Problems arose in relation to young children's attachments to carers and other adults, which, in my view, were likely to determine their long-term educational and socio-economic prospects. I applaud that aspect of the Bill, and was reassured to hear from the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that the Opposition supported it.
The provisions for academies, which amend provisions in the Academies Act 2010, offer some schools an exciting and positive future. They may not be appropriate for every school in Erewash, but we are fortunate in that three of our schools are seeking academy status and in each I see strong leadership, committed governors, and members of a school unit working to achieve better outcomes for children not just in their own schools, but in all the schools in their community.
Andrew Percy: My hon. Friend has made an important point in saying that such provision is not appropriate in all circumstances. Does she agree that when a school has made a decision either to become an academy or not to do so, we should support that decision and support the school's governors? On the front page of a local paper in my constituency, a Labour councillor in Goole was quoted as saying that a school that had decided to become an academy would not take children from council estates.
Jessica Lee: I agree with my hon. Friend-of course we should support a school that makes that important decision, if it is right for the school. As I have said, I have seen great leadership from head teachers throughout my constituency who, having made their decision, have worked to gain the support of the whole school unit: parents, governors and the local community.
At Long Eaton school, which has perhaps travelled furthest towards achieving academy status, I have seen leadership and encouragement on the part of the head teacher and staff. I have been concerned by the distribution by trade unions of leaflets containing scare stories and negative comments about what the school has been trying to achieve, but I believe that their efforts have been unsuccessful. Now the scare stories have started again in regard to Bennerley school in Ilkeston, and I support the actions of the head teacher, the staff, the pupils and the school community in standing firm. If their decision is right for them, they should not be bullied by unions or anyone else.
I want to mention a third school, Kirk Hallam community technology and sports college. It is also in Ilkeston, in a more socially and economically deprived part of my constituency. For decades, it did not receive the investment and attention it deserved-and it has to be said that Derbyshire county council was Labour-controlled for 28 years. I am now asking, very clearly and vocally, for a level of support and investment in Erewash from the county council and the local council that it did not have in the past.
My constituency has a proud history of manufacturing, furniture making, engineering and high-tech companies, many of which have taken on apprenticeships over the years. Apprenticeships is a topic that comes up at every meeting of the Erewash Partnership, the local business partnership in which I play a role. There is a real thirst for apprenticeships, and enthusiasm for what the Government are doing to back them. I was interested to learn that 190 different types of apprenticeship can be taken, which is more than I thought. Giving young people this opportunity and variety for their future is extremely important.
The Bill emphasises prioritising funding for young people who have already secured an apprenticeship. That is important, as it will allow us to move forward both with the commitment to have more apprenticeships-which is, of course, the right thing to do-and with making sure the practical steps are in place so that that can be achieved.
I will vote with enthusiasm for the Bill. This is a positive day for young people in this country. I think that taking this step will enable us to go forward, and I hope we get as much cross-party support as possible in order to bring all these positive ideas to fruition.
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): This Bill is part of a Government strategy to turn away from the direction in developing education that the previous Government took. The previous Government's system was founded on the principle of the equal opportunity to succeed-that is rooted in the comprehensive system-which focused on supporting failing schools in deprived areas and providing some choice and flexibility. It achieved remarkable success in GCSE results and standards.
The current Government want to shift resources-in an economic climate in which ever fewer resources are available-from the most deprived areas to those already achieving or to new schools in middle-class areas. In addition, their system will centralise power in the hands of the Secretary of State sitting in Whitehall to make decisions over the future of schools he has never seen or will never care to visit. It will undermine communities and their power to influence local intervention in schools via their democratically elected councils, and replace parent choice with head teacher choice as schools achieve growing power over selection and there is shrinking accountability to parents.
Meanwhile, the ability to plan for aggregate levels of special educational needs in an area will be undermined as that will be unknown, when what we need is, for example, the screening of all two-year-olds for speech and language difficulties in order to assess the level of need and to target early so that the system is cost-effective. We have yet to see the plans for SEN as this Bill has been introduced ahead of them.
What we know instead is that schools in middle-class areas will be empowered to select parents who can make a donation to the school and to avoid pupils who might incur disproportionate costs as the system for appeal has been weakened. Unfortunately therefore, the marketised system that will emerge will naturally adjust to create sink schools, risking the creation of dumping grounds of socially and financially disadvantaged children.
The aggregate impact of these market forces will be for the school system to exaggerate and amplify social Darwinism, and to punish people for being poor by kicking away the ladder of opportunity so that society overall suffers by being less productive, more unequal and more divided. When Britain most needs a society that is strong and united, the Lib Dem-Tories are unleashing market forces in education that will create an England that is weak and divided.
Alongside this, the Sure Start infrastructure for early intervention is being systematically cut so pupils from less well-off backgrounds will enter a worse school, worse prepared. Meanwhile, in sharp contrast, across the border in Wales, despite the Lib Dem-Tory bid to reduce the financial bloodstream to the comprehensive education system, the flame of hope for fair and equal education still burns bright. Fortunately, as NHS spending is not ring-fenced in Wales and the £3 billion cost of restructuring the NHS in England will not be wasted in Wales, we will have money to invest in education and to give all our children-not just the few-the life chances they deserve, with local authorities charged with streamlined strategic responsibilities to ensure holistic success and efficiency, with schools accountable and with a refreshed focus on leadership achievements and transparency, and with a new commitment to ensuring money meant for schools is spent on schools and not for other purposes.
The appalling waste we will see in England, of letting poorer schools go to the wall and fail and close, will still be avoided in Wales by early intervention that is locally driven, and with parents empowered through local democracy, not threatened by the distant foreign voice of Whitehall muttering the drumbeat of a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Local head teachers will not be given a free rein to run schools without parent power or be forced to stick to the new Tory curriculum diet of Billy-Bunter Britain that is being prescribed. In England, in education as in the NHS, we see the arrival of a market-led system, the withdrawal of democracy, and the distant diktat of the Secretary of State, with unaccountable schools competing to attract the most well-heeled parents and the least expensive children, who will be fed an intellectually grey diet that may keep them above their neighbours locally but will relegate them below their neighbours internationally.
This ill-thought-out patchwork of measures threatens to cast the children of England adrift from the firm anchorage of hope and opportunity to float into the uncertain and treacherous waters of growing inequality and underachievement. The Bill is a rag-bag of right-wing ideas dreamt up in haste, and threatens to undermine the future of a united and prosperous England. It is incomplete both in terms of SEN and apprenticeship provision, and it fails to acknowledge the withdrawal of support from Sure Start and will lead to us ending up with a two-tier system in respect of local authority access. All this underlines the case for Wales to avoid importing this half-baked Tory-Lib Dem plan for ruining
education. Thankfully, the only good aspect of it is that it will encourage the people of Wales to vote Labour this May.
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