Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow such a vivid speech, describing- [Interruption.] Well, it contained a lot of imagery, but it described an outcome that I do not think many people outside this House who commented on the Bill will recognise. There are undoubtedly concerns and areas that require clarification, but while the language of the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) used was very colourful, it was, perhaps, not entirely accurate. We will look back in a few years and see whether the vision he set out has come to pass. The hon. Gentleman's party colleague, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), had a more generous view of both the intentions behind the Bill and the outcomes its provisions might produce.
I join other Members in welcoming the addition to the Bill of a commitment to extending early-years provision for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. That will have a huge impact. It will be tied to the pupil premium, which was a Liberal Democrat commitment. I greatly welcome the fact that the coalition is focusing on trying to raise the attainment of those from disadvantaged backgrounds, as the Secretary of State set out. I also hope that this encouragement to drive up the take-up of places in early-years education will lead to more investment and therefore greater provision as well. Other hon. Members have mentioned training and, by setting out greater investment in that sector, we hope to encourage more people to participate in delivering it and to improve it.
The issue of bureaucracy has been raised. The hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), who is no longer in his place, started his speech by stating his family's educational credentials. Unlike some hon. Members, I have never been a teacher, but both my parents were teachers and my wife is a teacher. I did work for a while in a teacher training college and I have been a school governor, so I have seen close up the reams of guidance and prescription issued by the Department under the previous Government. Therefore, I very much welcome the fact that at last we have a Bill that puts at its heart cutting aside a lot of that and allowing schools to get on with teaching, because that is what teachers want to do.
The Government have already addressed issues such as financial management in schools and the self-assessment documentation, and in this Bill we are looking at the school profile. Those measures together deal with a huge amount of the reading through that has to be done. They also address the quantity of work that head teachers, governors and staff have to do to send back pieces of paper or to hang on to filing cabinets full of paper that do not achieve a huge amount-or a proportionate amount, given the time involved in doing that work-for the pupils in their school or for the wider community.
The Bill also seeks to abolish some organisations; we have heard a little today about the General Teaching Council, the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency. The Young People's Learning Agency could have been mentioned too. Those organisations have
undoubtedly performed a role, but it is right for the Government to challenge how effective they have been in discharging their roles. If it is at all possible, it is right to do that work far more efficiently.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall talked about accountability, which is also important. She made a good point, because I recall discussions about the Bill that set up the Infrastructure Planning Commission and I felt that it was all about taking tricky decisions away from the Secretary of State and giving them to an unelected body to consider. So I very much welcome the decisions that this Government have taken across the legislation that they are introducing to ensure that Government accountability is included and that the buck stops with them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) made an excellent and measured contribution, in which she rightly set out some questions for the Government. She also mentioned bullying, which has been mentioned by all parties in election manifestos and so on. It is therefore welcome that the Government are dealing with discipline issues and are tackling bullying, so that teachers can have the confidence that they will be supported when they try to intervene to ensure that they get the discipline that they want in their classes and so that parents can be reassured too.
The speech made by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) laid into the issue of apprenticeships. He tried to pretend that the approach that had been adopted towards the end of the previous Parliament was going to deliver a huge number of apprenticeships. A responsibility had been placed to deliver those places, but we need employers to come forward with them. There is far more clarity in our arrangement because the funding and support is in place, and it is then up to people to get out and secure those places locally.
My questions for the Minister focus on school governance. We need to explore in greater detail the proposals for governing bodies to alter their own structures and remove some categories of governor. I have concerns about that with regard to local authority governors and staff governors, so I hope that we can hear more justification of that proposal.
The Association of School and College Leaders has said that it welcomes the exclusions proposals that will ensure that teachers will able to take action to remove pupils who are having a disruptive effect on their classmates. However, we must make sure that safeguards are in place. The Minister may correct me if I am wrong here, but I believe that the Bill provides that decisions on exclusions must recognise the position of children with special educational needs, particularly those who have autism. Could similar sorts of rights be put in place for looked-after children too, given the pressures that they are under and the disruptions that life has inflicted on them?
The measures on providing an independent careers service are also welcome. They will allow people to be confident that the advice being given is in the best interests of the young person. In most cases, it has been, but we have all heard examples of people being pushed to stay on at a particular school in the interests of the school, rather than the young person. The independence contained in the measures is good, but I hope that the Government will be considering transition arrangements
to ensure that as we move to the new system, the experience that has been gained in providing careers advice will not be lost.
Dan Rogerson: In conclusion, we need to explore a number of questions in Committee and on Report that have been raised by hon. Members. I welcome the comments of those who have said that by giving the Bill a Second Reading we can develop and make progress on a number of aspects, such as early-years provision, apprenticeships and giving teachers and schools the room to get on with teaching, which is what they want to do.
Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab): It may not surprise many right hon. and hon. Members to learn that I want to discuss part 7 of the Bill, which covers post-16 education and training. More specifically, I want to discuss clause 65 on "The apprenticeship offer". This is particularly appropriate given that we are in national apprenticeship week, as the shadow Secretary of State said. I am pleased to see that the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning and his shadow counterpart are in their places.
I have been a passionate campaigner on the importance of apprenticeships for both businesses and workers, and for the economy and for wider society. They provide a structured career path for young and old people alike, while helping to develop the skills that UK plc will need if it is going to compete effectively on the global scale. It is for that reason that I introduced my Apprenticeships and Skills (Public Procurement Contracts) Bill, which seeks to increase the number of apprenticeship places available across the country by introducing a requirement that when awarding large contracts all public authorities must ensure that successful bidders demonstrate a firm commitment to providing skills training, wherever possible and appropriate, and, crucially, apprenticeship places.
I am delighted that my Bill is to have its Second Reading debate this Friday, during national apprenticeships week, and that it has garnered widespread support from organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the TUC, the North East chamber of commerce, Unison, Unite, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, the Association of Colleges, the Federation of Master Builders, the Electrical Contractors Association and the GMB, and indeed from the former Government enterprise champion, Lord Sugar, to name but a few. It is a simple measure that will help to increase the number of apprenticeships available. It will ensure that employers do their bit and are on an equal footing when bidding for public contracts as the Bill will reward those with good practice and encourage the others to do more. I therefore urge the Government to do all they can to secure the Bill's passage through the House or to take on the ideas and proposals in their own policies.
I was also delighted to welcome my own 16-year-old apprentice to her first day in my Newcastle office. Charlene Curry, a business administration apprentice from Newbiggin Hall, in my constituency, has been placed in my office by the excellent North East Apprenticeship Company, which works hard on a not-for-profit basis to marry businesses with willing apprentices,
with great success. I wish to take this opportunity to urge all right hon. and hon. Members to make every effort to accommodate an apprentice in their office, if they have the ability to do so.
At this stage, it is useful to take stock and acknowledge that the previous Labour Government had a clear, unwavering commitment to boosting and expanding apprenticeships. As I have said, this is national apprenticeship week, which the previous Government launched in 2008 to celebrate and promote the important role that apprenticeships play. Under Labour, the apprenticeship system was lifted from its knees by a Government who invested money, status and opportunities in apprenticeships for young and older people alike.
In 1996-97, the final year of the previous Tory Government, only 65,000 people started an apprenticeship. By 2009-10, that figure had risen to almost 280,000, a massive and highly commendable increase which comfortably exceeded Labour's original target of 250,000 starts.
Labour increased the number of apprenticeship starts from the planned 200,000 to 279,000 in the final year alone, an increase which contrasts with the current Government's ambition of funding an extra 50,000, 75,000 or 100,000 apprenticeship places over the next four years-an announcement was made yesterday, and I hope that the figure keeps rising. Either way, the target is unambitious over four years when we consider demand and the obstacles that young people now face in trying to stay on at school or carry on to higher education.
Labour's commitment to expanding apprenticeships included the introduction of a statutory apprenticeship offer as part of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, which required the Skills Funding Agency to secure an apprenticeship place for all suitably qualified 16 to 18-year-olds by 2013. Part 7 of the Bill seeks to repeal that duty and replace it with a requirement to fund apprenticeship training for those people who have already secured an apprenticeship place. I do not doubt that the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning shares my passion for promoting the importance of apprenticeships, but I am concerned about the signal that that repeal will send out. Should we not be encouraging all young people to think that an apprenticeship is at least an option for them?
Yesterday, City and Guilds published the results of a study showing that employers actually find apprentices to be more valuable than graduates. What impact does the Minister believe that taking away the guarantee of an apprenticeship will have on the number of young people seeking and successfully acquiring apprenticeship places, particularly among those from disadvantaged backgrounds?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because I know that time is short. I have three points. First, we warmly welcome her attempts to link procurement and apprenticeships. Regardless of whether we can support the Apprenticeships and Skills (Public Procurement Contracts) Bill, we will take action to
support the intentions behind it. Secondly, on the numbers, we will grow apprenticeships on the back of the progress that Labour made, which I acknowledge, to an unprecedented level-we have put the funding in place for at least 105,000 more apprenticeships. Thirdly, we have changed the offer because we want to ensure that everyone who secures an apprenticeship place with an employer is funded. That is my commitment to the House tonight, which is reinforced in the legislation.
At a time when we are facing the highest recorded level of youth unemployment, with one fifth of young people being out of work nationally, rising to one third in the north-east, should we not be putting every measure in place to ensure that our young people have the opportunities to gain skills and qualifications? It is creditable that the Minister has managed to secure funding for an additional 30,000 apprenticeship places for 16 to 18-year-olds, but does he genuinely believe that those extra places will even come close to meeting demand?
Recently published figures show that BT received 24,000 applications for only 400 places on its apprenticeship programme this year. PricewaterhouseCoopers has reported that applications to its school leavers entry scheme doubled to 800 in the past two years, while Network Rail has said that it received 4,000 entries for around 200 apprenticeship places this year. I would be grateful if the Minister took the opportunity provided by this debate and national apprenticeship week to clarify how removing the statutory guarantee will help the Government to increase the number of young people starting apprenticeships and the further measures that his Government intend to take to guarantee the expansion of both youth and adult apprenticeships across the UK.
Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): One of the greatest failures of the previous Government, who started with great hope, was their failure to improve the performance of schools. We know that the performance of schools in international league tables, which is measured by the programme for international student assessment, fell from where we-the Conservatives-left it in 1997.
The Labour Government promised that their three main priorities in government would be "Education, education, education". The aim was clearly for schools' performance to get better and, more importantly, for schools to get better, but the problem was that performance was getting worse all the time. While Ministers here insisted all was well, every external audit proved the opposite.
Let me illustrate how well we were doing under Sir John Major's Government and how much worse the statistics were by 2009. The first PISA assessment took place in 2000, three years after the Labour Government had won power. In it, the UK ranked seventh in reading, eighth in maths and fourth in science. In the 2009 assessment, the UK ranked 25th in reading, 28th in maths and 16th in science. I confess that there are many ways to read the statistics, as the PISA readings were
collected over a long period and any one set of results used in the tables may have been taken over a period of five years, but the striking thing is that the United Kingdom was, using the average of the three results, in sixth place in 2000, and yet we were in 23rd place in 2009.
Opposition Members may argue about the finer details, but to any objective observer it is obvious that the UK has tumbled down the international league tables. Canada, New Zealand and Australia now occupy much higher positions, around sixth, seventh and ninth. Their positions are statistically significant above the OECD average. I would expect the United Kingdom to occupy a similar position, but we are ranked 23rd. We are only around average on the majority of indicators, although we are a little above average for science. The OECD says that average performance needs to be judged against a range of socio-economic indicators, most of which give the UK an advantage. The problem is not the money that we spend on education-only seven OECD countries spend more per student than the UK-but the way in which it is being spent. The best performing countries are China, South Korea, Finland and Hong Kong. The UK is now below Ireland and the United States, which, to make it clear, are pretty average.
To be fair, the problem was clear to us even in the 1980s, when from a good position we were starting to get worse. We needed to slow down that slide in performance, and there were two ways in which schools could improve. One was greater independence for all schools, which was called local management and which was reasonably successful in many areas. The other was giving schools greater freedom-grant-maintained schools. Seventeen schools became grant maintained in the first group in 1989. In 1994, 554 secondary schools-about 15% of the total-enjoyed the freedom to make the right decisions for their school and their pupils that grant-maintained status gave them. The results in those schools were well above average, and grant-maintained status did what needed to be done for individual schools in individual areas.
Finally, I draw hon. Members' attention to small schools, which have also benefited from having more freedom. The smallest grant-maintained school was Kettleshulme in Cheshire: it had 12 pupils, but the number grew to 19 by the time it was grant-maintained. It was already a successful small school and after it achieved grant-maintained status it became very successful. The head teacher at that time was Allan Ramsdale-Capper, who is now one of my constituents. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to him and to all the other headmasters and mistresses of grant-maintained schools who have done so much to improve the education of their pupils. Large schools are often very good, but I want to make it clear that small ones are equally successful and that their position does not need a huge influx of money to keep them going. I believe that decisions are best made by parents, head teachers and governors. The OECD comments that
"the international achievement gap is imposing on the United Kingdom economy an invisible but recurring economic loss".
When grant-maintained schools were created in the '90s, they were successful, and it was the freedoms they were given that made them so. I should like to say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education
that I am sure that free schools and academies will be successes given time, although they will not need that much time. They will be our successes and, most importantly, the successes of parents up and down the country.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I think that all hon. Members who are interested in education struggle with the challenges of which we are all aware. We want every child in our country to fulfil their full potential and to garner from education the very best, from which many of us have benefited. I had a very happy educational experience and I wanted the same for my children and now for my growing number of grandchildren. We all want that, but the truth is that we are not doing well enough.
When Labour won the general election in 1997, I could not have been happier with the commitment of our young, new Prime Minister to education, education, education. I watched the performance of Labour Governments for 10 years as the Chair of the Select Committee on Education-indeed, it had three names in that time-and I saw them make tremendous efforts to raise standards and to innovate in order to do so. A great deal was achieved in that time through innovation, new ideas and confronting the truth that many of our young people had been given a pretty bad deal-and not only in the centres of great deprivation. When the Committee looked at Sure Start centres, we had to consider the fact that if one circles the areas of greatest poverty, one does not find the most children in poverty because most of them live outside those areas. That is why we had to have 3,500 children's centres instead of the 500 originally envisaged. There is always this challenge of getting through to the most deprived families and constituents, and that is difficult for any Government.
I am going to be honest: much of the Bill could have come from the previous Labour Administration. I think some colleagues would agree with that. I shall not vote against its Second Reading because I want to make a plea. The longer I chaired the Select Committee, the more I realised that much of what really works comes when we have agreement across the House. One can see that from the history of educational progress in our country. It was true of the Education Act 1944, of the Callaghan speech that was taken up by Ken Baker and of later legislation.
We often throw across the Chamber allegations that the other side is being ideological-those on the Government side say it about the Opposition and vice versa-but I cannot find any ideology in this Bill. Indeed, if I were to vote against it, it would be because it is a bit of a mish-mash. There are some very good things in it, but there are other things that I do not really like and want to know much more about. I do not like the fact that the Government want to get rid of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, as that would be a retrograde step. I do not agree with what they have said about schools adjudicators or with giving parents less chance to challenge admissions policies and get them changed. The Select Committee worked very hard to persuade the former Government to change the powers of adjudicators and allow them to be called in more easily because we found that many schools, such as faith schools, were evading their responsibilities in terms of fairer admissions policies.
I want to be able to vote for the Bill and I am not going to vote against it today because I want to see whether we can improve it in Committee. However, I get very irritated when I hear about PISA studies and TIMSS-trends in international mathematics and science study-tables and about the OECD. I remember when the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) and I went to Paris to talk to the OECD about the PISA study. The truth is that many such evaluations are quite flaky and have changed dramatically over the years. When I chaired the Select Committee I was constantly saying that I wanted our country to be compared with other countries such as ours-large, populous countries with high migration and high turnover in inner urban schools. The United States, Germany and France, and perhaps Italy and Spain, would be fairer comparisons for the UK. On that measure, our education system has improved dramatically in the past 13 years. I do not believe the PISA studies showing a cataclysmic decline: I do not believe that is true and I do not think that Ministers believe it either. Let us have some good sense.
When do we get good policy? As you will know from a previous incarnation, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is when it is based on evidence, good research and good experience in similar countries. It is not about pulling off what the Hong Kongs and Chinas of the world have done-or Alberta, which became a country earlier today. Let us learn from countries such as ours, but let us also have high-quality expertise and research. Too many Education Departments are not good enough and they should be better. There should be much more research on why we do not get better results.
When all parties have concentrated on what works and on good research, we have come up with early-years education-children's centres and Sure Start. I applaud the idea of reaching out to two-year-olds-the Government are right about that-but not in the context of changing the commitment to Sure Start children's centres. That is good policy based on research and what is really happening.
What if we used the same holistic method as the Dutch to tackle those not in education, employment or training, and tied it to the welfare system? In Holland, people up to the age of 27 can get no welfare benefit unless they are in training and learning the Dutch language. Why not link welfare to training here? Why not make everyone on benefits do something to improve their training, skills and employability and to learn the English language?
One of the problems that we do not consider in this country is the effect on the ability of families to support their children in schools if they have no English language themselves, the television is on in the home language, and then we suffer deprivation in our inner cities. We see a new form of poverty, not the poverty that was found in the shipbuilding and mining areas. The new kind of poverty is based on high turnover. In schools in my inner town, 40% of the children in front of the school today will not be there next year. None of the political parties has examined the new poverty in sufficient detail and come up with policies to deal with it.
Too many people in education policy want to live in a mythical golden age that never existed, but also want some ideological determination of what happens. I was taught by Michael Oakeshott, the greatest Conservative philosopher of the 20th century, who believed in the pursuit of intimations. Education policy is best when we pursue the intimations, and very often when we do that across parties. I will not vote against Second Reading tonight.
Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): I support the words of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who made some excellent and even-handed points. No one will be surprised that I support the Bill, not least because it signals a shift of power away from bureaucrats and quangos and back towards those who run our schools.
For too long teachers and head teachers have been dictated to by Government and overloaded with complex bureaucracy and endless initiatives. How can it be that head teachers spend 15 hours a week on unnecessary paperwork-15 hours that do not raise a single teaching standard, improve a single result or support a single pupil?
I want to speak on one particular topic today-Ofsted. We must not undervalue Ofsted, for it does an important job in identifying the quality of schools and informing parents about the choices. However, we should be under no illusions that Ofsted is perfect. There are currently 27 separate headings under which schools are marked during inspections-27 headings, but, as one school told me, the inspectors did not speak to a single child during their visit.
Under the Bill, Ofsted inspections will focus on four key areas-the achievement of pupils, the quality of teaching, leadership and management, and the behaviour and safety of pupils at the school. In today's society it is far too easy to judge a pupil by an exam result or a school by a rigid and complex Ofsted report. The results tell only a part, never the whole story.
Over the past few months, I have visited on average two schools a week. I have 39 schools in my constituency, so I still have a way to go. I am extremely fortunate that the diversity of my constituency gives me a good insight into the challenges that schools face. Not only do I have some schools in nice middle class areas, but I have others that are situated in areas with significant welfare dependency and high levels of multiple deprivation. In some of my schools well over half the children are on free school meals, more than 75% live with just one of their birth parents, and more than 10% are under child protection measures because of neglect or abuse.
Many children experience challenging home lives, sometimes with parents who have drug or alcohol problems or mental health issues. These kids, from an early age, have to get themselves up in the morning, feed themselves, dress themselves and get themselves to school, perhaps with a younger sibling, while their mum might still be in bed. For these children, school is their stability, their comfort zone, a safe haven where they know what to expect and what is expected of them, where they will be secure, nurtured, listened to and cared for, where their needs are put first.
The schools that take children from extremely vulnerable backgrounds often have to do much more than educate them. Often they have to heal them, deal with their issues and address their needs, and give them so much more than numeracy and literacy. Those that are doing this successfully are, to me, the very best schools and the very best teachers of all. The problem with the current system is that after this incredible level of achievement, they might still get only a satisfactory Ofsted report because they have not attained the same high level of results as schools in more affluent areas.
That must be incredibly demoralising for the amazing teachers and governors who pour so much of themselves into supporting the most vulnerable children. What incentive is there for more able teachers and heads to take jobs in the most challenging of schools, which should surely the most rewarding of roles, when they know that all their effort could be seen as merely satisfactory?
Reforms to Ofsted inspections will help to prevent that. Of course grades and results are important, but there is hope that for the first time it will be more than the end result that is considered. It will be possible to achieve good Ofsted reports in certain circumstances by demonstrating the true progress that has been made, measuring achievement from where the school started, not just where it ends up. Ofsted must be more sophisticated in recognising the social justice agenda, not just performance levels.
In many schools, the move away from mainstream academic subjects such as modern languages could be laid partly at the door of Ofsted. The constant focus on performance levels and grades achieved, irrespective of the subject matter, means that curriculums have been altered to please Ofsted. In my constituency there are senior schools in which no one is studying a modern language, yet classes are crammed with pupils studying for a GCSE in dance. We will become a nation of people who can glide sure-footedly through the streets of the cities of the world, but unable to communicate with a soul who lives there.
The Bill removes the requirement for Ofsted to inspect every school, enabling more resources to be concentrated on the underperforming schools. This will lead to more targeted inspections, so schools in need of support will get the help that they require to progress and show that progress is being made. Above all, the Bill sends parents the message that allowing every child to flourish and be the very best that they can is at the heart of Government thinking. It sends heads the message that the Government prize educating more than ticking boxes and filling forms, and it sends teachers the message that the Government value teachers and understand that nothing is more important than attracting great people into teaching. That is why I will support the Bill.
Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) on her brief speech. I shall endeavour to be brief also. I was struck by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). I agreed with much of what he said.
I want to take colleagues on a journey to a not particularly closely examined part of the Bill, which deals with children's trusts. Before I do that, I want to
say something about social mobility. The Secretary of State often speaks about social mobility in a way that might lead people to think that he understood it. However, he refers only to statistics on free school meal take-up and admission to Oxford and Cambridge. In my constituency, Darlington, five or six years ago, there were one or two wards where a young woman of 18 or 19 would be more likely to be a mother than to be a student in higher education. I can report with great pride that that is no longer the case. Teenage pregnancies are reducing and participation in higher education in those wards is improving. That needs to be taken into account when we discuss social mobility in the House.
It is not right to portray Labour as the party that resists academies and is against them. Academies are a Labour initiative. [Interruption.] Alan Milburn, indeed. I am pleased that the remaining schools in my constituency that are not yet academies will become academies. I support them in that and I am pleased to see them aspiring to take that step.
Part 5 removes the duty on local authorities to establish children's trusts. Let me remind the House of the origins of children's trusts. In 2001 Lord Laming wrote a report commissioned by the former Secretary of State for Education, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), and the former Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn. The report examined the murder of Victoria Climbié in north-west London. One of the key findings was that the various agencies that should have the safeguarding of children at the forefront of their minds were not able to protect that eight-year-old girl.
"Each local authority with social services responsibilities must establish a Committee of Members for Children and Families with lay members drawn from the management committees of each of the key services. This Committee must ensure the services to children and families are properly co-ordinated and that the inter-agency dimension of this work is being managed effectively."
The Children Act 2004 placed local authorities under a duty to make arrangements to co-operate and promote the safeguarding of children, including the sharing of resources, money and information. I am pleased that Darlington was an early adopter of the children's trust model before it became a statutory requirement. The success from 2004 obviously differed between agency areas, which was partly because the model was optional and so some areas, such as Surrey, did not take up the recommendation as quickly as they might have done. As a former lead member for children's services in Darlington and a former chair of its children's trust, I remember attending a training course with the lead member for children's services from Surrey county council and its chair of scrutiny, who were utterly perplexed by the idea that those services would need to work quite so closely together.
In 2008 it was realised, following consultation, that strengthening was needed, so all local authorities were required to set up trusts and "duty to co-operate" partners were expanded. Schools were included in that duty to co-operate, and it would be surprising if they were not, as they are best placed to know when things
are going wrong and should, if anything, be better supported by the wider children's services and properly involved in commissioning services.
In November 2010, Ofsted undertook to study six children's trusts, Darlington being one of them, to find out whether this children's trust business was all just bureaucracy and a load of nonsense that was having no impact. As chair of the children's trust, I was relieved to find that what we were doing was having an effect. Ofsted concluded:
"Children's Trusts were providing more integrated front-line services that were linked closely to and responded to local needs... Trust boards showed considerable flexibility and willingness to find common ground from which to move services forward. They showed strong commitment to intervention and prevention",
"They worked effectively in a complex environment which involved different performance targets, priorities and ways of providing services."
I am proud to have been chair of Darlington children's trust at the time of that inspection and to have worked closely with the superb director of children's services, Murray Rose. Our children's trust was highlighted as an example of best practice. Success has not been replicated in every local authority, so we need to take lessons from the areas that have managed to make this work well for the benefit of children and families, rather than scrapping the whole infrastructure.
In conclusion, and in case anyone thinks that this is some sort of romantic ideal of mine that services should work together properly, I should point out that Ofsted found some tangible outcomes from Darlington's children's trust: a rise in the number of young people screened for chlamydia as a result of closer working between schools and health services; a reduction of more than 20% in teenage pregnancy rates; improvements in long-term stability of placements for looked-after children, an area that is close to my heart; the continued improvement of GCSE performance; importantly, an increase in the number of children receiving free school meals who achieve qualifications at age 19; and, most significantly, a reduction in the achievement gap at level 3 at age 19 between young people who had received free school meals and those who had not. I am proud of Darlington's achievements and would like the Government to reconsider abolishing children's trusts.
Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): I have changed my speech; I have rewritten it while listening to the debate. I was going to talk about the free school bid in Bristol and my hope that the local council would give parents what they wanted: an all-through school. I was also going to make a plea to the Front-Bench team to consider my idea for a trigger for a special needs assessment after a certain number of exclusions to see whether something was wrong with the original assessment. However, I am not going to talk about any of that, because I want to address something else which has been at the heart of the debate: appearance versus reality.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) talked about ideology and appearance and the importance of evidence, and I could not agree more with him. I know that Opposition Members are concerned about social mobility, as are Government Members, and I saw their bleak faces when the Secretary of State illustrated
the awful situation facing children on free school meals and their lack of opportunity in comparison with their richer counterparts. I know that they are concerned, so we must ask how we deal with that.
In asking that question, we cannot shy away from things that might not be ideologically to our liking. International league tables are so important, because there is a tendency to get caught up in a self-referential bubble of success, of exam results getting ever better. Our young people always work hard, and I believe that the cohort of young people in the country today is every bit as good as that in the 1950s, but that is not the point. The point is this: what is the objective reality of the qualifications that we are offering those young people? We must look at those measures to work out what is going on and then what we can do about it.
I will re-rehearse the statistics. I understand that statistics always have wriggle room, but I do not think that Members can argue with the general thrust of the statistics from the OECD programme for international student assessment. They show that the UK has moved from fourth to 16th in science; from seventh to 25th in literacy; and from eighth to 28th in maths. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) for his brilliant breakdown of those figures and their background. The worst thing about that is that it is the poorest who suffer, and we have to look at why that is so. That is why the idea of an English baccalaureate is so interesting and crucial. The fact of the matter is that the poorest suffer in the curriculum. The evidence is overwhelming that those who go to state schools in deprived areas do not have access to the kind of academic subjects available to those who go to state schools in better-off areas or to private schools. That is because struggling schools have perverse incentives to put their pupils through qualifications that lead to equivalents so that they look good in the league tables. We cannot blame them for that, because it is obvious why they do it. The English baccalaureate is an attempt to offset that perverse incentive.
Charlotte Leslie: I agree absolutely, and my hon. Friend anticipates my point. The English baccalaureate shines a cold and difficult light of reality on what is going on. I will ask a question that Members might expect to come from the Labour Benches: why is it that, because I went to a private school, I was able to study Latin and a range of academic subjects which friends of mine who did not go to private schools were not able to study? When I applied for difficult and competitive jobs in television, I was told time and again that Latin looked interesting on my CV. Why was I given that opportunity and my friends at state schools were not? I do not think that that is fair. I make no apology for a system that will enable people from less well-off schools to study academic subjects, because it is resetting a balance. It is a case not of having either academic or vocational subjects, but of having both. It is really very simple.
If we look at the other objective measures of what is going on, we see that universities have courses that they value. I have a concern that our schools, in their bid to
look good in the league tables, are pushing our children through courses that the universities do not value as much. The statistics show that only 1% of children on free school meals are going on to Russell group universities. That is not because those children are any less able than the counterparts, but because we have got something wrong.
I would like to run through a few scenarios that I have come across to add colour to what I am saying. First, there is a boy in my constituency who went to a school in one of the more deprived wards, and he was prevented from taking physics. He was an incredibly bright chap and wanted to study physics, but he was prevented from doing so, which was awful. Secondly, the head who took over that same school recently said to me how despairing he was that he had bright students who had been told that they would do only vocational courses. Vocational courses are obviously equally important-someone had to build the building we are in now-but that does not mean that academically able children should not be able to pursue their course in life as well.
Thirdly, we do not have the vocational element right. I do not even like the name "vocational", because a vocation is what one does, so one can have a vocation as a brain surgeon, as a plumber and even as an MP, but "vocational", which has slipped into the political language, is a euphemism for manual, practical and technical skills and crafts.
To illustrate that point, I recall talking to a young offender in a young offenders institute. I asked him how he ended up there, expecting him just to be a bad sort, but he said, "I was really interested in electronics. I wanted to be an electrician, but every time I thought I was going to do something practical about electronics, they gave me paper about it." He said, "I can't do the paper; I can do the thing." That is how we have failed-for 13 years and more-a whole generation of people whose skills lie in the practical and technical fields. I could go on about how restoring discipline in our schools will help most those on free school meals, and about how discipline problems are highest in schools in deprived areas, but I will not.
I finish with a plea, because I know that Opposition Members are as concerned as we are about the matter. We cannot any more afford the luxury of well-meaning idealism, and we cannot afford to refuse to face difficult realities, because the reality that we refuse to face is the reality that faces our poorest children throughout the country, every day and for the rest of their lives.
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab):
With so much in the Bill, it is difficult to know where to start. Some of it, such as the intention to give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils, is welcome. There are too many cases in which innocent teachers have had their careers and, sometimes, their lives ruined or, even worse, lost their lives, because of false accusations and malicious gossip,
but such anonymity should be extended to support staff and to teachers and support staff in colleges, because they are equally vulnerable to accusations. I hope that the Bill will be amended to include them.
Much of the Bill is, however, unwelcome. The abolition of the school support staff negotiating body is a real step backwards for the professionalisation of school support staff, making those workers-predominantly women-vulnerable to a return to poor wages and poor terms and conditions. Setting a core contract and developing a qualification framework has been fundamental in making support staff an integral part of our school landscape, but the Bill will reverse that progress, and is it the thin end of the wedge? Academies are being actively dissuaded from signing up to national terms and conditions for teachers, so will teachers become the next group to be thrown to the market?
So much of the Bill seems to roll back the progress that has been made. It represents a view of education that does not match today's reality. In most parts of the country, we no longer separate children at 11 years old, creaming off just a few for grammar school education while giving the rest a shorter, cheaper education. Now, we have a more equal education system, in which we try to enable all young people to fulfil their potential. We said that we need 50% of our children to be educated to degree level, but what about the other 50%?
We have very few low-skilled jobs left in our economy, and we need young people to be educated so that they are ready for the higher-skilled jobs that we do have. I therefore really do not understand why the Government are proposing a very narrow English baccalaureate and abandoning diplomas. Where is the research and evidence that those are the subjects that society and employers need? Why those narrow subjects? Should not education develop skills in investigation, analysis and comprehension? Is it not more important, therefore, that we have a range of equivalent subjects rather than a narrow definition?
As a scientist, I stopped doing history and geography in year 8. Is the Secretary of State saying that those subjects are better than the physics and chemistry that I did? Young people need a broad and balanced curriculum, not one based on the narrow views of a few individuals. We also need to recognise that different children and young people learn differently. Some are perfectly happy to listen and absorb information, but others need to learn by doing. The diplomas would have opened up different routes for young people to learn-and to learn things that employers want.
I met a group of apprentices in Parliament yesterday from my constituency. They work for MBDA, a company that manufactures missiles. It is clearly very high-tech engineering, and the company has a fantastic apprenticeship programme. Those apprentices will all do ONDs, HNDs and NVQs, which the company very much values, because they judge what the apprentice can actually do, not just what they can write on paper.
Many will also do a degree as part of their apprenticeship. I asked them why they decided to go down the apprenticeship route, and part of the reason was the fear that, if they went to university, they would just be hugely in debt and then possibly unable to get a job. They also did so because they preferred to learn by doing and to put theory into practice on a daily basis. I asked their training officer and their managing director what subjects they needed young people to learn in
schools. They said they wanted maths, English and science, but they also believed that technology was essential. Why will the Secretary of State not listen to employers, such as MBDA, which are the highly technical, high-value manufacturers that our economy needs?
Moving on, I am as confused as the Bill appears to be about the future of careers guidance. As we speak, Connexions personal advisers all over the country are getting their redundancy notices. Of course, Connexions is more than careers guidance. It is also about working with young people who are either not in employment, education or training, or at risk of becoming a NEET, to help them to reach their full potential; and it is about working in partnership with schools and other agencies.
The Bill states that schools have to provide independent careers guidance, but that the school does not have to pass on information about the pupil to the adviser. The Department has announced the introduction of an all-age careers service later in the year, but as yet we have no details about it, and local authorities currently have a duty to provide the Connexions service. That part of the Bill appears to be an ill-thought-out mess. Surely the sensible thing to do is to fund Connexions until its staff can be transferred to the new all-age service, keeping intact all those years of experience and the expertise of careers advisers, with the service then having a duty to provide careers advice in schools and continuing to provide a much-needed service to young people. As one of the young female engineering apprentices said yesterday, "How will young people like me know about the option for apprenticeships like this if they don't get good careers advice?"
Finally, I have concerns about education funding. Whether the schools budget is being cut or growing is for somebody else to argue, because there is no question but that funding for other parts of education has been slashed. All other funding streams have been put into the early intervention grant, covering such things as Sure Start, Connexions, teenage pregnancy, substance misuse and youth services-a much reduced pot of money compared with the original funding. The Government state that they are
"freeing local authorities to focus on essential frontline services".
What we are seeing nationally is the utter destruction of youth work, both in maintained youth services and in the voluntary sector. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 gave statutory responsibility to local authorities to provide positive activities for young people, and to consult them about the services that should be delivered. The Bill appears to be silent on youth services, but surely there is a responsibility to ensure that youth services are delivered and young people consulted.
This Saturday, 30 national organisations and 1,000 young people representing hundreds of thousands of users of youth services will meet in Solihull to discuss the demise of the youth service. Some local authorities have shut their youth services altogether; many face 50% to 80% cuts. Unless the Government act, many parts of the country will have no youth service, nowhere for young people to go, nothing for them to do and, even more importantly, no one providing the informal education and support that is so vital to young people's development. I beg the Minister to intervene to save the youth service.
Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I look forward to supporting this Bill with gusto on behalf of all my constituents. It is, indeed, a landmark Bill. Historic? Well, not quite historic. Landmark, I think, is better, but the canon of my right hon. Friend's work as Secretary of State for Education will truly be seen as historic as time passes.
It has been interesting to sit on the Government Benches and hear not only the speeches recognising that the Bill honours, empowers and respects our head teachers, but the observations of right hon. and hon. Opposition Members and the real divisions within the Labour party over the Bill, which is really the continuation of a journey that their Government started. There are divisions between those who believed then and believe now; those who believed then and are now just a little bit iffy; and those who never believed in the first place and certainly do not now. It has been very interesting to hear the observations about those divisions in the Labour party. It is welcome, however, to hear that Labour Members will be supporting the Bill.
One part of the Bill that is extraordinarily useful and valuable is the requirement for local authorities to fund early-years teaching for the most disadvantaged. That will come as welcome news to the governing boards and teachers at Cherry Trees, Peter Pan and Southway nurseries in Cauldwell ward, one of the most deprived parts of my town, which are suffering cuts from the Liberal Democrat-controlled council. I hope that we can move this measure forward quickly so that they can see that there is some hope for their funding in future.
If we are moving forward with the reading test at the age of six, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) welcomed, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues will ensure that they maintain the grants that are extraordinarily important for children who do not have English as a primary language at home. At two primary schools in my constituency, Priory lower school and Queens Park lower school, well over 80% of pupils do not have English as a primary language. We must maintain the ethnic minority achievement grants for families where English is not the primary language spoken at home. I also draw the Minister's attention to issues of exclusion, which were mentioned by the shadow Secretary of State. The National Autistic Society says that for children with autism the exclusion rate is 27%, but for the rest of the population it is 4%. That is a major difference that requires further consideration.
My main concerns are about the proposals on academies and free schools. I like the fact that the Bill enables schools, each in their own time, to move towards becoming an academy. The Bill gives them that freedom, which they did not have before it was proposed and will not have until it is passed. I urge us all to think about talking to our own local authorities. As this strong movement towards academies moves forward, there will come a tipping point when local authorities no longer have the critical mass to offer the services they provide to the remaining schools. That is not a reason to hold back on this new-found freedom for head teachers, but a push for us to ensure that our local authorities are thinking ahead about what they will do next.
The Bill overcomes inertia and intransigence and promotes inspiration. I know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you will want me to give local examples of those three things, so I will accede to that. Let me start with inertia, which comes from the local authorities. As the shadow Secretary of State desperately tried not to be on the wrong side of history, he may have put a bit too much reliance on the record of local authorities. A total of 216 schools across the country are below the national minimum standard. That gives hon. Members a one in three chance of having one in their constituency. I inherited two: that was the record that my local authority bequeathed to me when I became the Member of Parliament.
I am not going to stand for that in my constituency. One of them, John Bunyan school, had been trailing at 19% and the low 20%s-at the lowest point, 9%-in terms of students who were achieving the minimum level of five GCSEs, including English and maths. Parents were voting with their feet, and its pupil numbers rolled down from 900 to 600. The school then became an academy. It has taken the action, and parents are responding. Now, its application rate makes it a 1,200-pupil school. Parents want this. They see that academies are a way of breaking down the inertia of local authorities, and I can see that in my town.
We have seen intransigence from the more extreme, unreconstructed class warriors or defenders of their own self-interest-by that I mean those at the Anti Academies Alliance and their fellow travellers at the Local Schools Network, who are, around the country, doing a great disservice to parents by distorting information, in some circumstances possibly to the extent of giving misinformation, about what academies and free schools are trying to do. They are also indulging in highly personalised attacks against people who want to establish academies and free schools-attacks they would never allow on members of their own union. We have seen that in Battersea, in Stourbridge, in Hammersmith and in my own constituency.
It is time that those people stopped acting as bovver boys for a Labour leadership who do not want their fingerprints on the crime of attacking people who have educational inspiration for their communities. I challenge the Labour leadership, in this debate, to draw the campaign by those groups to a close. There should be no more misinformation and no more attacks on people who are in the proudest tradition of trying to establish educational excellence in some of the most deprived areas of the country. In a blog for the Local Schools Network, the author refers to a debate in my town in which someone said of Mark Lehain, who has established a free school,
"Does he truly believe that local LA heads and teachers...are going to willingly and regularly exchange pleasantries?"
Well, I have got news for that person: we do things differently in Bedford and Kempston. I am very proud of our head teachers, 34 of whom came down here to make their case to the Secretary of State. We do things as a team in Bedford. Head teachers share what they learn from each other and grow together. I am very proud to say that that exchange partnership is going to welcome the head teacher of the free school, when it is established, as part of the family of schools. That is part of showing the way forward. That is the inspiration that we need, and that is what this Bill provides.
Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Like the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), I have changed some of what I was going to say, because I want to respond some of the outrageous and inaccurate comments made about Labour's record in office with regard to education.
I want, however, to start a bit earlier than that-in the early 1990s, when I was vice-chair of education in Newcastle. I think that Conservative Members need a history lesson about what we inherited from the previous Tory Government. For very many years, because of budget cuts, all that we did when we met as an education committee was to take money out of the education system. We made teachers redundant, and we made class sizes larger and larger as the teachers disappeared, so that in the end we often had 48 or 50 pupils in our classes. When schools came to us with a request to do something about their roof leaking, we did not tell them how much money they would get or how many years it would take to mend it-we said "Go and buy buckets because there is no capital allowance for schools." The outcome was that in my constituency and in many areas like it, 30% of young people or fewer got five A to C grades at GCSE in any subject. This generation was, in many ways, failed by that Tory Government.
When Labour came to office, we had to do something to try to reverse that dreadful situation, and we did. In my constituency, education was transformed under the Labour Government. We not only employed lots more teachers so that we could get more specialisms into schools, but reduced class sizes drastically. We did not waste money: we built new schools, which were absolutely necessary because of the appalling state of the school estate that we inherited. Most important of all, we improved qualifications so that by last year young people in my constituency were doing better than the national average for five A to C grades at GCSE, including maths and English. That was the reality under Labour, and it is an important legacy that I hope this Government will build on, rather than simply being trashed by Government Members.
In the time left, it is impossible to go through the Bill in any detail, but there are a few overriding considerations. The first is about the number of powers that are centralised in the Bill that previously resided with parents, schools, teaching agencies, the admissions adjudicator and the admissions forum. I do not see how the Bill is devolving powers to schools. Secondly, there is a lack of any clear direction on vocational skills. Thirdly, a number of the proposals could make the education system more unfair, not less.
I will start with part 8, which contains clauses 70 and 71. On Friday morning, I visited New College Durham in my constituency to discuss with 16 and 17-year-olds what they felt about the abolition of the education maintenance allowance and the introduction of the new tuition fees system. Clauses 70 and 71 are important in operationalising part of that new student funding system. I do not think that that should be done in a Bill such as this and outside the White Paper on higher education. I totally disagree with the market rates that are being introduced for student loans. It was quickly apparent on talking to the young people that fees of £9,000 would put them off even thinking about continuing their education. They cannot comprehend the sums
involved-£27,000 on fees alone. When that is coupled with the payback on market interest rates, they just cannot believe that a Government of any description would ask for something that so dampens their aspirations. It was dreadful to witness that. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will think again about introducing this appalling and unfair system of student funding.
We have to look wider than just some poor students getting to Oxford and Cambridge. I am getting fed up with how much I hear about that in this House. Although that is important and although I want students from poorer backgrounds to go to Oxford and Cambridge, I want every young person who would benefit from it to go to higher education at the institution that suits them. Unfortunately, I do not think that will be possible with the Government proposals.
I will make a couple of points about early years and charges. I would like an explanation from the Minister about what clause 35 means and what the impact of introducing different levels of charges for services is likely to be on children. For example, people will pay a range of sums of money for milk or school meals. How that is implemented will be important, because there is a lot of stigma when some children get things free and others have to pay.
I am sorry that the Government did not take the opportunity to use the Bill to extend free school meals and to extend the pilots of universal free school meals to all areas. There is an obsession with how schools impact on children and young people, without seeing the wider context within which they live. Children need to be properly fed, and to have good parenting, housing and health to thrive in schools. They need adequate support to enable them to overcome difficulties. It is a pity that when the Government looked at Sweden's free schools, they did not look at its excellent free school meals system.
In Salisbury, I am blessed with some amazing schools, from the Trafalgar school at Downton in the south to Stonehenge school in the north. I have visited them all at least twice since I was elected. The school I am most proud of is Sarum academy, which operates in one of the most challenging communities in my constituency. When I first visited it a few months after being elected last summer, the headmaster would not show me round the school. He sat me down and explained many of the difficulties he had encountered. To his credit, he had made great progress in the previous 12 months in meeting some of the targets that had been set for him.
A few months later, I visited the school again. The excellent new principal, Ruth Johnson, took delight in showing me round, perhaps because she was keen for me to take up the case for greater investment in the school. I am pleased to say that the Government duly heard those pleas and money has been forthcoming. She said that what was critical was not only the investment in buildings-I acknowledge what the previous speaker said about that sometimes being critical to lift the morale of teachers and pupils-but the discipline that she was able to instil because of the culture of the school.
I welcome the provisions of the Bill, which give massive encouragement to teachers who have been struggling with discipline and pupil behaviour in recent years. It may be true, as was said by those on the Opposition Front Bench, that the cut in advertising will have an impact on recruitment. However, I suspect that the bigger reason for the drop in the number of people who want to go into the profession is that they have been unhappy at the level of discipline that they have had to deal with, and the level of support that they have been given, in the classroom. I am delighted that the Bill gives teachers practical powers to search and confiscate possessions when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting the possession of prohibited items. They need that detailed provision to deal with some of the situations that they face. It is a scandal that a quarter of school staff have been subject to false allegations. It is important and welcome that teachers will be able to impose detentions immediately, without having to give 24 hours' notice.
The Bill could go further. Like other Members, I am concerned about the provision for excluded children, particularly those who suffer from special educational needs and who need extra provision. I hope that when the Government bring forward proposals in this area, there is special investment for individual children who need extra help from the state. Vulnerable children who are excluded still have to access education and support. For the past six months, I have been battling along with my constituents Stuart and Emma Verdin to secure the right provision for their son James, and it has not been an easy process. Finding the appropriate discretion and finance for such individual cases needs to be taken seriously.
I am delighted by the provisions on raising standards in schools. Currently, I do not think that educational standards have the full confidence of employers, parents and universities, particularly with respect to the examinations system. There seems to have been a conspiracy of affirmation that does not acknowledge the reality of grade inflation over the past 20 years. Every summer, every politician goes out of their way to praise the improvement in the quality of teaching. Some of that must be true, but I am not convinced that it is all true. Schools are choosing less rigorous subjects for their pupils to ensure that their league table position is maintained. That is not healthy. The provision for Ofqual to ensure that attainment standards are improved is welcome.
I urge the Government to think again about the great contribution that religious studies could make to the English baccalaureate curriculum. I have been lobbied about the matter by a number of my constituents, and having studied the subject myself to the age of 18, I believe that it is of great assistance to critical thinking, teaching pupils to respect themselves and other religions, beliefs and cultures.
I welcome, too, the simplification of the scrutiny process and the fact that Ofsted inspections will focus on four key areas. I welcome the fact that outstanding schools such as Bishop Wordsworth's grammar school in my constituency-soon to be, if not already, an academy-will not need to be inspected unless their performance indicators fall. That seems to me a reasonable and practical step for schools that do not need masses of attention from regulators and scrutiny by the state.
I shall finish by addressing early-years provision. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee), who endorsed the Bill's provision of free early-years education for two-year-olds. It is critical that the Government have a joined-up policy across education and welfare reform, which we will discuss in a couple of weeks, to ensure that poor children do not become poor adults. I endorse the report by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who has done so much to raise awareness of the critical importance of that issue.
We need to go further in recognising that there is too much micro-management in early-years provision. I remember visiting a school in my constituency last autumn and seeing pads of yellow Post-it notes lined up as the teachers and teachers' assistants were getting ready to photograph every single element of behaviour in order to demonstrate change. It is right that parents want to see some evidence of progress, but do they really need a blow-by-blow account of every time their four-year-old blows his or her nose?
The Bill will make a massive contribution for children in this country and in my constituency. I have suggested a few improvements, but I welcome it massively. Those improvements can be taken on in Committee, and the Bill will make a massive contribution to education in this country.
Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): There are elements of the Bill that I welcome. I like the parts that are intended to ensure that full funding follows an excluded child from their school. Too often, some schools have simply washed their hands of children with difficulties and problems, and hopefully the Bill will make schools think carefully, and financially, before doing so in future.
I also like the plans that will, we hope, ensure that schools remain responsible for the educational outcomes of children they exclude. I have visited very many schools over very many years, from the smallest nursery schools to the highest-achieving grammar schools to the most specialist behaviour schools, and eventually the conversation always gets round to behaviour. At almost every school, I have been told at some point, "If you could just take away the five most difficult children, everything would be wonderful." But teachers know, and I know, that if they took away the five most difficult children, the next five would simply rise to the surface.
Only when schools start to deal properly with their difficulties in the quality of teaching and learning, and introduce consistent approaches to behaviour and staff training, do they begin to feel confident in their ability to manage behavioural problems. I hope that preventing schools from simply washing their hands of the difficult children will make all schools begin a proper internal dialogue about those issues. I also welcome plans to provide anonymity to teachers accused by pupils until they are charged, and I hope that the Government will consider extending that to all school staff.
Given that I welcome some clauses in the Bill, I hope that Members will see that my remarks today are not about opposition for opposition's sake but about making the Bill better for all children and young people, their schools and their families.
I wish to focus for a while on early intervention. We all know that there is an enormous body of evidence to support it, not least that provided to the House in recent months and years by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field). As we all know, early intervention means not just intervention in the early years but intervention with children and young people as soon as a difficulty becomes apparent, whether that is when a special educational need is suspected, when other barriers to learning become clear or when the safety and well-being of a child or young person is suspected to be at risk.
The Bill is full of good intentions about early years and early intervention, but it cannot be separated from the reality of, in some cases, biblical-sized cuts facing local authorities. In the early years, Sure Start is widely recognised as a distinctive and increasingly important service that plays an essential role in helping our children get the right start in life and ensuring that they are ready to learn when they start school. Both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have made personal promises to keep Sure Start centres open. Even since the election, they have said that they do not want any to close, yet there are to be significant budget cuts that will mean the removal of funding for Sure Start and the ring-fencing that would have protected those centres.
The Government have said that they are safeguarding Sure Start funding, but they have cleverly rolled together 10 separate and previously ring-fenced budgets, including that for Sure Start, into their new early-intervention grant. That budget will increase to £2.2 billion in 2014, but they have dictated that that money has to support not only Sure Start centres but the cost of extending free education to two-year-olds; the cost of short breaks for disabled and vulnerable children; all support programmes targeted at preventing children from engaging in crime; all support programmes targeted at tackling substance misuse; all teenage pregnancy support programmes; programmes for children with mental health problems and learning difficulties; and all transition arrangements. It also has to support all behaviour support services in schools and local authorities; child and adolescent mental health services; children's community paramedic services such as speech therapy; special educational needs services; and youth services.
For the Government to say that they are providing funding to support Sure Start and early intervention is not only wrong, given the current financial situation facing local authorities, but insulting. They are tying the hands of local authorities by slashing their budgets, while at the same time washing their hands of any proper support. Closures in the children's centre network are inevitable.
Although I welcome some things in the Bill, some matters are missing from it that would have benefited it. I urge the Secretary of State to include measures to ensure that all schools take their fair share of pupils from poorer homes and those with special educational needs. All that we have had so far is a promise to simplify the admissions code of practice, but for many parents there are real concerns that "simplify" will mean "make opaque", and that it will therefore be
easier for schools regarded as good or outstanding effectively to exclude those groups of children through their admissions policies.
I also urge the Secretary of State to amend the Ofsted framework to ensure that all schools are properly held to account for all children's outcomes. That can be done by including a limiting judgment that ensures that no school can be designated an outstanding school if it cannot demonstrate, first, that it takes its fair share of pupils from poorer homes and pupils with SEN, and secondly, that it is narrowing the gap between the achievements of those children and the most able in the school. In my view, that is what makes an outstanding school. Those would be real sanctions, and I recommend them to the Secretary of State if he is serious about improving outcomes for vulnerable children and those from poor homes.
As well as clauses that are missing from the Bill, there are those with which I disagree outright, including the ones that reduce the powers of independent exclusions panels. They will have a direct detrimental effect on children with SEN, particularly those with hearing impairments, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette's syndrome, epilepsy and diabetes. There is a known link with behaviour when those conditions are not properly addressed. The Select Committee on Education looked at that in some detail recently, and I recall that not even one witness from across the educational divide felt that the reduction of those powers was a good thing.
I disagree with the measures that seek to remove the requirement to give 24 hours' notice of detention. That is at best disrespectful to parents, and at worst a child safeguarding issue. I also disagree with the measures that repeal the duty on schools to co-operate with local authorities and those that repeal the duty on schools to have regard to children and young people's plans. As I said in an intervention, those duties have had a significant impact in reducing the number of serious case reviews in the middle years-from when a child starts school to the middle teenage years.
Christopher Pincher: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to my dwindling number of fans in the Chamber for that unsolicited testimonial. I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak on Second Reading of this wide-ranging Bill. In the interests of time-the fickle finger of fate is working against us-I shall focus my remarks on one aspect of education that is essential to its success: the need to drive greater aspiration.
In Tamworth, we face a real challenge to encourage aspiration among our young people, because historically we have not had the sort of GCSE and A-level results that we could and should have had. However, parents, pupils and teachers are prepared to meet that challenge if they are given the tools with which to do the job.
There are three essential tools to driving up aspiration among our young people, the first of which is restoring discipline in our classrooms. I do not want to go on too much about that-my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson) has already spoken very eloquently about it-but we know that without good discipline, there cannot be good education. We heard the statistics. There are some 18,000 assaults on teachers each year, resulting in pupils being suspended or excluded, and that does not begin to describe the pain and fear that members of the teaching profession feel when those assaults happen.
Such indiscipline drives teachers out of the classroom, but it also distracts good children from their studies and means that the kids who really need help-the disadvantaged ones-do not even get into the classroom in the first place to be taught. I therefore welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's announcement that the 24-hour notice period for detention will be abolished. That will give detention real teeth. I am pleased that we will encourage ex-members of the armed forces into the teaching profession, because they have dedication and enthusiasm and they know a little bit about discipline. I am also pleased that we will free-up pupil referral units, particularly in respect of my own excellent PRU at Two Rivers in Tamworth, to give them the opportunity to use their expertise to stem the tide of disruptive pupils who end up on the NEETs scrap heap.
We also need to use teachers. The Secretary of State paid tribute to them, as I do. We have some fantastic teachers in Tamworth, including a great set of maths A-level teachers at Belgrave high school. When I go to see my primary school heads at their quarterly meetings, I see the enthusiasm that they have for their subjects.
However, those professional people are burdened by bureaucracy. It is our responsibility to remove that burden of responsibility from our head teachers and other teachers, so that they can get on and do what they really want to do, which is to teach. That is what the Secretary of State will do. I also think that freeing-up schools via the academies programme encourages good teachers to stay in the profession and the recruitment of good teachers. We have one academy school in Tamworth, but by the end of next year all our secondary schools should be academies. Teachers in Tamworth are embracing freedom and the choice that freedom gives them.
It is important to stress vertical integration between primary and secondary schools. In Tamworth, we still have kids going into secondary school aged 11 who have a reading age of eight. Some even have reading ages of seven. I suppose that after 13 years in government, Labour might call that progressive. However, I do not think it is good enough, because it means that kids in that situation, entering Belgrave school, Wilnecote school, Queen Elizabeth's Mercian school, Rawlett school or wherever, start at a disadvantage, and many of them will never catch up but will be put on the NEETs scrap heap.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take note of this point, because we have discussed it before. We need to encourage greater linkage between primary and secondary schools, even joining them up, so that secondary and primary school teachers can work together to identify the children who need help and raise them
up so that they are ready to go to secondary school and have the same chances as the other kids. Going to secondary school should be like going up a gentle incline; it should not be like facing a sheer cliff face. I hope that he will take that point onboard.
I should like to say one more thing about secondary school education and the need for greater aspiration. It is something that is not actually in the Bill, so I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, in his winding-up speech, will make some remarks about it. Since the Butler Act-the Education Act 1944-we have clung to the antiquated notion that A-level students should apply to university six months before they sit the examinations that will determine whether they go to university. It is strange that the hopes and aspirations of young people should be determined by the educated guesses of their teachers, rather than their own merits. The fact is that they are just educated guesses: 55% of predicted grades, on which universities make their conditional offers, turn out to be wrong, and it is the most disadvantaged children who suffer, because of the kids doing A-levels in the lowest socio-economic group, 61% have mis-predicted grades and a very large proportion have under-predicted grades, the result being that many of them do not go to the university they want to and many do not go to university at all. That is a travesty.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will use all his eloquence and artistry to prevail upon the Minister for Universities and Science jointly to come up with a proposal for post-qualification applications to universities. It is a challenge, but it will mean less bureaucracy for universities and UCAS; it will end that horrible spectacle-I remember it back in 1988 when I left school-of kids going through the clearing process over the summer; and it will even up the advantage for those disadvantaged young people who currently go to university on the basis of crystal-ball gazing by their teachers, not on their merits.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. A large number of Members are still trying to get into this debate, so the time limit will be reduced to six minutes. Even with that, I suspect that some Members still might not get in.
As we have already heard, the Bill covers a wide range of concerns-from school discipline and behaviour to schools admissions and exclusions, setting up new academies and even changes to apprenticeships and the reform of student fees and loans. It is a mishmash of proposals designed not to give everyone the best chance of a good education but to create a three-tier system of the haves, the have-nots and the have-not-got-a-chances. In the future, unless parents have money or good connections,
their children will be sent to schools facing massive cuts in their budgets, while money is siphoned off to academies and free schools.
Narrowing the curriculum to five subjects will mean abandoning all the young people who have thrived on vocational courses. Removing the promise of an apprenticeship will leave a legacy of young people who do not fit into this 1950s vision of what an education should be-young people consigned to the scrap heap by a Secretary of State who cares more about Latin and the classics than he does about Liverpool and the educational attainment of children from ordinary working families.
Above all, the Secretary of State is asking this House to strip local authorities of their role in managing the provision of education, and to transfer to him 50 new powers to interfere in and control almost every aspect of our schools system in England, including what subjects our children learn and what kind of schools they go to. Indeed, so much will be affected that, in view of the time, I shall confine my remarks to an aspect of education that gets little attention in the Bill, something that I believe highlights this Government's misguided priorities.
We on the Labour Benches judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable, not by how the strong prosper. In that sense, many Members have been right to express deep concern today about what the proposals will mean for the treatment of children with special educational needs. As Ofsted highlights, just over one in five pupils-1.7 million school-age children in England-are identified as having special educational needs. Critically, as a whole, pupils currently identified as having special educational needs are disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds, are much more likely to be absent or even excluded from school, and achieve less well than their peers, in terms of both attainment at any given age and progress over time.
Getting education right for those young people transforms their chances and our ability as a society to benefit from what they could be, rather than dealing with the consequences of what they never get help to overcome. First and foremost, what many parents of children with SEN in Liverpool will ask about this Bill is: how can we judge what these proposals will mean for those children if we have not even been given notice of when the special educational needs Green Paper that this Government said they would publish will be published? In the absence of such information, the proposals offer little comfort to parents, who fight hard to ensure that their children receive the education they need, whatever their ability.
Many in the Chamber would recognise the challenges that Ofsted identified in its work reviewing SEN schooling and in the special educational needs and disability review. However, that is why it is all the more worrying that the proposals in the Bill have been brought forward without any details outlining what they will mean for children with SEN. Under the present system, a parent of a child with SEN often fights long and hard to get their child statemented, to ensure that they can access the services necessary to address their specific requirements. Under the proposals in the Bill, I fear for those children who need the co-operation of different services to participate in education-for example, children with a disability-or to access speech and language therapy, or mental health support.
It is not just in ensuring that children with special needs are supported that the cross-agency approach is important. Many of the current provisions were introduced as a result of the Laming report, as we heard earlier, following the death of Victoria Climbié, in order to protect the health, safety and well-being of children and young people. I therefore hope that Ministers will offer more than kind words for the parents of children with special educational needs who are listening today, and explain clearly how the Government's proposals and the removal of the role of local authorities will not lead to a loss in joined-up services for our most vulnerable students. We know that children with SEN or a disability are more likely to face discrimination in admissions. The outcomes of the case often depend on the evidence presented, and if-
Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con): At its heart, the Bill is about social mobility and opportunity for all, and we need to address those issues urgently. No one would doubt the good intentions of the previous Government, but the statistics are there for all to see. The hon. Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman) complained about how much people talked about Oxbridge statistics, and the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) said she was fed up with hearing them. Sadly, however, there are many other, equally depressing, statistics. Among young adults, there are 1 million people who are not in employment, education or training. The lower income groups, which form 50% of the population, have only a 16% representation in the top universities represented by the Russell group. A student's chances of getting five good GCSEs are four times as great if they have degree-educated parents than if they do not. Even at the age of three, twice as many children in the top income quintile are school-ready as in the bottom one.
Problems such as social immobility did not start under the previous Government, but we have every right to expect that these things will improve constantly. I am afraid that social mobility has stalled. It is stuck stubbornly at levels that, in some cases, we barely tolerated in the 1970s. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said that we should look for evidence-based approaches, and I could not agree more. We know what makes a difference. Given the economic legacy that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench inherited, with the Government spending £4 for every £3 that they received in income, it would perhaps have been easiest to postpone any expansionary programme. However, I am pleased and proud that the Government whom I support are finding ways to extend free nursery care to two-year-olds. They are extending the participation age to 18-or continuing its extension, to be fair-and, perhaps most dramatically, introducing the pupil premium, which represents a significant structural change to the way in which we fund education.
Another factor that we know from international studies makes a huge difference, not only to the overall average attainment in a school but to equality of opportunity, is the person standing at the front of the room: the teacher. That dwarfs other factors, including class size. When you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I were at school,
we were taught not to judge a book by its cover. In this case, however, we can do just that, because the front page of the White Paper tells us all that we need to know about this Government's approach. It is entitled "The importance of teaching".
This will be manifested by reinforcing the status and authority of the teacher, making a clear statement that they have an absolute right to impose reasonable measures to achieve classroom discipline, and to be protected from vexatious allegations. We need to move from a situation in which difficult children mutter, "I know my rights" to one in which all children can say, "I know where I stand." Teachers repeatedly complain that they are burdened by too many targets, too much prescription and too many directives and missives landing on their doorstep. I therefore welcome the Government's approach in rationalising the national curriculum to leave more room for innovation and for learning other things.
We have fantastic teachers in our school system-I think they actually work a lot harder today than they did when I was at school, and, by the way, I think the children do as well-but we need to encourage yet more talent into the profession. Teach First has been a great programme, and I celebrate the fact that it happened on the watch of the previous Government. Now, it is going to be doubled in size, and we should all welcome that. I hope that the publicity surrounding the troops to teachers programme, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) referred, will send a clear signal to men that more of them are needed and welcome, particularly in the primary sector, whether or not they have been troops.
Alongside mobility within the system, we also need to think about mobility opportunity for us collectively as a nation. I am afraid that one of the bad things about the past decade or so is that, as every single domestic record has been smashed, we have been falling further down the league tables. One of the most refreshing things about the new Government is that whenever anyone asks, "How did you come up with that idea?" or "Where did that one come from?", the answer starts with, "We looked at where they do it best in the world." I am pleased that that world outlook also extends to the international benchmarking of our qualifications.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) explained quite brilliantly how some of the fastest growing qualifications were not those that are sought by universities or employers but those that offered quick, short-cut ladders up the performance tables. This misleads students and flatters the system, and it does nobody any favours except in the very short term.
There will be a sharper focus on the key aspects of an academic education, but, to be absolutely clear to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), the English baccalaureate is not all that is in the curriculum: it comprises only five core academic subjects, and I do not think that for most people, English, maths, science, a humanity and a language would be a particularly controversial definition of what should constitute an academic core. Alongside it, of course, we must have proper valuing of, and political will behind, the vocational routes and qualifications.
We should not care only about headline results; we need to look at how to value every child and how to progress every child. CVA-contextual value-added-is a ridiculously complex measure, which nobody I have ever met understands. We need better ways of ensuring that schools' efforts on behalf of every child are valued. Too often in this House we debate how we are going to tackle the bills of social failure, and I am delighted that today we are debating this Bill-a Bill for social opportunity.
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I will, of course, oppose this Bill because it provides yet more evidence of an elitist approach to the education of our young people. This Tory-led Government are out of touch with teachers, with parents and with students.
I get sick and tired of people doing down our young people and their very real achievements, when we should be celebrating with them and praising and encouraging them to do better. They should be able to thrive, doing the things that they do best within a balanced curriculum. Yet at Education questions yesterday, the Secretary of State proudly promoted his narrow 1950s vision of what our education system should look like. His attachment to dead languages such as Latin is worrying. As Secretary of State, he has a responsibility to create a flexible education system that caters for all students-he is failing in that responsibility.
The proposals for the "English baccalaureate" are a backward step, which sends our young people the message that only traditional academic subjects hold any value. Instead of telling young people what subjects they should be studying, the Secretary of State should be giving them the freedom to pursue the subjects that they are passionate about. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) rightly questioned, how can the Secretary of State proclaim that Latin is more important than information technology in the 21st century?
About 50% of our young people do not plan to go to university, and I think that number is going to grow as the tuition fees rises are brought into place. We have brilliant universities in this country, including the excellent Teesside and Durham universities, and the young people who aspire to attend university should be encouraged to do so. A university education, however, is not the be-all and end-all, because other things are happening in further education. We must be careful not to send the wrong message to our young people, many of whom work incredibly hard and are rightly proud of their achievements-irrespective of whether or not they reach university.
This Bill contains measures that give the Secretary of State free rein to set uncapped and commercial rates of interest on student loans. The thousands of students who marched passed my office as part of the protests against the rise in tuition fees are learning government lessons the hard way, and it will be their successors who know that we are not "all in it together".
Youth unemployment is at an all-time high. One in five of our young people are out of work. The Tory-led Government are in danger of creating a lost generation of young people, so why does this Bill repeal Labour's apprenticeship guarantee? With current levels of youth unemployment, we should be doing everything we can
to help young people succeed in education and training. Over and again, we hear the mantra, "We're all in this together"-but not according to the large numbers of young people in my constituency who have e-mailed me, angry at the way their generation is being targeted by this Tory-led Government. They are most particularly concerned about the move to scrap education maintenance allowance-another broken promise to add to the list.
There is much to criticise in this Bill, but I want to move on to focus on the Secretary of State's pet project of free schools. The Government's free schools initiative has serious implications for secondary education in the Stockton borough. Last week, the Secretary of State visited Stockton to announce he had given the go-ahead for an initial plan for a free school in my neighbouring constituency of Stockton South. In my former life as a local councillor in Stockton, I was the cabinet member for children and young people, so I know this is a very difficult local issue.
Ingleby Barwick is a modern and growing housing development, with only one secondary school. Many hundreds of local children have to travel a few miles to get to school. Parents in Ingleby Barwick have campaigned for years for another secondary school, but if they are successful the implications will be problematic. Conyers and Egglescliffe schools-both excellent local secondary schools-rely on pupils from Ingleby Barwick to keep their numbers up. At least one of these schools serves children from my constituency and potentially would have to close if the Secretary of State were to approve a new school in Ingleby Barwick.
If the free school proposal goes ahead, which other schools will suffer, and perhaps even close, as a result? That is what I and affected communities in my constituency want to know. I cannot understand how the Government can allow any school proposal to go ahead without consideration of the local authority strategy for schools. In Stockton the strategy provided for a massive expansion of All Saints school in the middle of Ingleby Barwick, which could have been facilitated without the investment that will be needed if the free school proposal is to go ahead. That idea was ditched by the Secretary of State when he axed Building Schools for the Future.
It is important for parents to have influence over local schools, but free schools will undermine local authorities. I am concerned about the impact that the free schools initiative will have across the Stockton borough as communities and schools are pitted against each other. When it comes to the free schools policy, for every winner there will be an even bigger loser.
The Bill requires the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds that would surely be better spent on supporting existing schools. The Secretary of State is preoccupied with his structural changes to the education system, while neglecting what teachers and parents care about most: the provision of the best possible education and training for all our young people, not just the most academically able. Contrary to what the Secretary of State claimed, in my area children across the education system did considerably better over the past 13 years than over the previous 10. We need to work with our schools and local authorities to achieve even greater success, rather than setting school against school. Let us build on success, not abandon it.
Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): I welcome the Bill, because it will improve education in our country in the same way as the Academies Act 2010 does. That is vital not just to the pupils whom we have been discussing today, but to our standing in the world. It is important to our businesses and to our economy. We are trading in an increasingly international, globalised, competitive marketplace in which the knowledge-based industries are king, and knowledge is power in the modern world.
Over the past week or so, Opposition Members have taken great delight in bandying about the words of Sir Richard Lambert, the outgoing director general of the CBI, about our growth strategy. In December 2009, in an interview in The Guardian, Sir Richard said that the then Government should be ashamed of the results produced by the education system. The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) should interpret such comments not as an attack on the pupils who are working so hard, but as an attack on a system that has consistently and utterly failed them.
Social mobility is essential, but, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), it is probably at its lowest level since the 1970s. I will not pretend that responsibility for that lies only with the previous Government, but no one can escape the simple reality that education is the great route of social mobility, and that we get it wrong at our peril. Some Opposition Members are irritated by the statistic revealing that last year just 42 pupils receiving free school meals obtained places at Oxford and Cambridge, compared to over 80 at one public school alone, Westminster. That is a disgrace, but, rather than being irritated by it, Opposition Members should feel angry and sorry for the many other children receiving free school meals who have been deprived of the opportunity to achieve the very best in their lives.
I welcome many aspects of the Bill. For instance, I welcome the way in which it encourages and promotes academies and free schools. I believe that parents should be the ultimate arbiters of what is best in education. They do not need league tables. They know-as they say in Northern Ireland-what the dogs in the street know. They know a good school from a mediocre school, and it is they who are most likely to stand up for their sons and daughters. We must promote academies at every turn.
I also welcome the Bill's emphasis on the importance of improving qualifications, and on ensuring that Ofqual takes account of international league tables. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), there is no point in our continually looking to the past and our inflated examination results, patting ourselves on the back and telling ourselves how well we are doing domestically, when we are plummeting in the international league tables year after year. The PISA numbers have frequently been cited in the debate. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) rightly pointed a finger at them, saying, "You can't quite compare one year with another, as there's a different cohort." There may be some truth in that, but even Opposition Members must on occasion have pause for thought about the fact that there has been such a slump consistently over time.
It is important that through this Bill we get a firm grip on the issue of school discipline. Some 1,000 pupils are excluded each day for abusive or possibly even assault-based behaviour, and many teachers are being put off from even going into the classroom as a consequence. It is right that teachers should now be given the authority to search pupils; we should trust them to do that. Among the items they are currently not allowed to search for are hardcore pornography and video cameras, which can be used to film disruptive incidents that can then be posted on the web. It is right that we should empower them to take the necessary action.
It is also extremely important that we afford teachers our protection in respect of unfair claims made against them by pupils. An Association of Teachers and Lecturers survey has shown that about one in four teachers have been the recipient of false claims, and I welcome the Government's commitment to ensuring that they are given anonymity up until the point at which they are-or are not-charged.
I welcome the Bill, and I want it to be a moment of hope not just for the children who are currently at school, but for future generations yet to come. I hope they will look back and see that this was a moment when their life chances were improved immeasurably.
Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): I welcome some of the Bill's measures, in particular the commitment to retain the extension of free early-years provision to two-year-olds, which could not be more important. I am sorry it is no longer envisaged as a universal provision, but I am grateful to Ministers for deciding to protect it for the targeted few at least. I would also welcome clarity on how it is to be funded.
I am less enthusiastic about the Bill's provisions on behaviour and discipline, however. I am a member of the Education Committee, and we have spent a considerable amount of time debating that topic and hearing about it from witnesses in evidence, and it seems to me that there are two key principles: first, powers and protection for staff; and secondly, protection and freedom for pupils. I think Ministers have got that balance wrong. We heard from a range of witnesses and we could not find any evidence that over several years behaviour had worsened. In fact, the majority of witnesses agreed with Ofsted that the vast majority of behaviour in schools is good and no worse than previously.
I also think Ministers have got the balance wrong because there is cause to believe that their proposals may make the situation worse. The relationship between pupils and teachers should be based on mutual respect. Pupils learn by example and flourish in strong, trusting relationships with adults, yet what is proposed in the Bill is largely a one-way street that says to pupils, "We expect you to respect us, but we won't respect you back." No-notice detentions, which I raised earlier, are a pressing example of that. I am particularly concerned about them in respect of young carers, but I am concerned not only for the children but for teachers as well. The point that the Secretary of State failed to understand when responding to my question was that teachers do not necessarily know that young people have caring responsibilities. Rather than trusting teachers, this
Government are putting them in an impossible position. This "bureaucratic burden" of giving notice is an important safeguard for teachers as well.
The same could be said of powers of search. Many of the teaching unions have said that they think what is proposed will lead to a rise in the number of legal cases against teachers, and I am extremely concerned about the protection for those teachers. Will the Secretary of State support teachers when a legal case is brought against them for overstepping their powers of search? If not, this is not so much liberation for teachers as abandonment.
There are signs that the Government wish to protect teachers, however. I am particularly grateful that the plans to remove the requirement to record incidents of the use of force have been reconsidered, because that is an important safeguard. Like many others, I welcome measures to protect anonymity, but why do they not also apply to support staff? We must be careful not to create an impression that, with the abolition of the school support staff negotiating body, we are saying to support staff that they do not matter.
I am also at a loss to understand why safeguards on exclusions are being removed, given that statistics show that head teacher decisions are overturned in only 2% of cases. I know from experience that we do not always get this right; looked-after children are nine times more likely and children with special educational needs are eight times more likely to be excluded from schools than others. That can produce appalling results, and are we seriously saying to children who have suffered that injustice that they cannot go back to the school where their friends are?
For the most vulnerable children the Bill seems to be a disastrous unravelling of a decade of progress. I am concerned about the removal of the Children Act 2004 duty to co-operate. As a school governor, I know that schools are really busy and pressed for time. That is why it is so important that they are required to sit round the table and take the time to talk to partners. I say to Ministers that, by taking schools out of that equation, they are putting children at risk. I urge them to reconsider.
I am not at all convinced by the fairness of the new school arrangements and I am particularly concerned about admissions forums. Ministers are reviewing the code with a view to slimming it down so, with the abolition of admissions forums and the watering down of powers for the school adjudicator, we simply do not know which standards, if any, schools will be held to for admissions. We need to know that if we are to understand the Bill's implications.
I am most concerned about the aggressive expansion of new-style academies and free schools, for which the Bill provides. In my local area, a campaign group, Save Wigan Schools, is battling against academies, not just for the children who will lose out as a result of academies, but for teachers. According to international studies, their pay and conditions are one of the key factors, so I say to Members on the Government Benches that this is a problem not just for teachers, but for children, as the evidence tells us that through pay and conditions we raise standards. I was appalled to see a letter from Lord Hill, the Education Minister, telling schools not to sign up to the NASUWT's pay and conditions agreement. I say to those Government Members who talked about bullying tactics, if that is not a bullying tactic, what is?
My chief concern is that the Bill will entrench segregation and widen the achievement gap. I welcome the increase in the participation age, but how are students expected to carry on without the education maintenance allowance? Although the Bill contains measures that I welcome, its general direction is of great concern: it introduces more centralisation and prescription; it is based on a lack of respect for children; in reality, it removes protection for teachers; it shows a shocking lack of respect for the valuable contribution made by school support staff; and, most importantly, it is based on a vision of competition between schools that is sure to create winners and losers. The Bill undermines the key principle that education is a public good, held and managed in trust for the wider community. For that reason, the Bill will not just disadvantage the most disadvantaged children; it will disadvantage us all, and I will not be voting for it.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): This has been an interesting debate, with the Bill having been described variously as minor tinkering building on Blairite successes and as creating a wasteland in education across England and Wales-and that is just from Labour Members. We have heard some very diverse opinions from them. Although there was some good in what the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) said, she fails to understand the reality of what classroom teachers face in our schools today.
An awful lot of myth has been put about in respect of many of the Bill's proposals. I am broadly supportive of the Bill, although it contains bits that I do not particularly agree with and so I will get those out of the way first. Since I have been in this place, I have learned that legislation is like a box of chocolates: you do not like everything in it. I am not a particular fan of the forced raising of the participation age to 18, but I am probably out of sync with many people, on both sides of the debate, about that. I also have some concerns about the changes to student loan interest and I have some issues to raise about the English baccalaureate, which I shall discuss in a moment. Those are my minor concerns with the Bill, but in general I am a huge supporter of it and of the ministerial team in this Department, who have the best interests of this country's young people at heart.
I wish to deal with some of the points made by Opposition Members about bringing unqualified people into the classroom, as if that were something new. I intervened on the Secretary of State on this matter. The practice is not new, although there are more unqualified staff teaching young people in our country today than at any time since the war and possibly ever. Studies have been done by the unions to prove that. Some of that teaching has been very good and in some circumstances schools have had to go down that route, because standards have slipped in some of our schools and they have been unable to recruit qualified staff. There is nothing wrong with bringing in people from different backgrounds. My personal view is that once they are teaching in the classroom, they should at least follow a route to a formal qualification. We should make that process as easy as possible, because it is desirable. When I did my post-graduate certificate of education, I learned important things in the classroom that people cannot necessarily obtain outside the classroom. We should not be worried about bringing in people from different backgrounds.
The hon. Members for Wigan and for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) have mentioned discipline. In specific circumstances, the power to search pupils there and then is important. One may have concerns about the wording of the provision, but sometimes situations arise in schools where classroom teachers need to act immediately-I can think of a number of situations in which it would be important to conduct a search there and then for the safety of other people in school. The power is important, but it is a permissive power, because Ministers would prefer teachers not to have to search young people.
On notice for detentions, there are times in teachers' careers when they need to act there and then, because it is important to deal with an issue at the end of the school day. I taught at an incredibly difficult school, and I remember a huge problem on the local estate when a large number of our young people got involved in physical fights with another school-the situation also involved some parents, which was not helpful. We needed to deal with that situation there and then, and writing to say that we wanted to see a child in 24 hours' time was not helpful. We had to deal with the situation there and then, but we were hamstrung by the rules.
The hon. Member for Wigan has raised the issue of discipline. I did not want to write home to some pupils' parents to tell them that their child had a detention; I wanted to deal with the situation myself, because I knew that if I made contact with some of those young people's homes, their lives would be made much more difficult. I would prefer to deal with such issues in the way in which I see fit rather than necessarily by engaging with parents. There is a protection issue for young people.
I do not have a great deal of time left, so I will not discuss exclusions, but I will comment on the curriculum and standards. I welcome the review of Ofsted, but the issue always comes down to interpretation. It is virtually impossible for a school to put itself through an Ofsted inspection in an honest way. The school has to step up to a mark that is not necessarily sustainable throughout the whole school year and jump through hoops that are impossible in any other circumstances. Classroom teachers are asked to do things that it is not possible to do all the time. I welcome the changes, but I hope that Ofsted's interpretation will change.
The English baccalaureate is not simply a case of requiring schools to do certain subjects. However, it is probably drawn a little too narrowly, particularly where schools are required to do modern foreign languages. It might be very good to get young people to do modern foreign languages-I make these remarks as a history teacher, who will benefit from the change-but in a selfless act I appeal for the baccalaureate to be drawn a little more widely, because we will end up with its being used as a measure. In schools such as the one where I used to teach, engaging children and young people in modern foreign languages who may not receive support at home is incredibly difficult, and those schools will be judged against that standard, no matter how much we try to make it a secondary standard.
I am sorry that I do not have time to continue in further detail. I say to Ministers that the Bill is good and that I will support it, but please will they think again about the English baccalaureate?
Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for instinctively knowing that I wanted to be called after the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), who talks an awful lot of sense particularly about the English baccalaureate.
Today is an opportunity for us to discuss the principle of the Bill, which is why it is so disappointing that the first 52 minutes of the debate were about politics. A number of elephant traps were set to try to make the Labour party look as though it were the roadblock to reform, which is not the case.
The Bill raises important issues. It includes a shift from Whitehall to the classroom, but it also goes in other directions. It goes from local people, in the form of local authorities, to individual schools. Parts 5 and 6, in particular, relate to local authorities and schools admissions and they will remove the admissions role of schools adjudicators, increase the emphasis on academies and remove the requirement to consult on them. Also relevant are free schools, appropriate consultation and the disappearance of local admissions forums. All those issues point to a broad but consistent agenda that seeks to undermine the role of local authorities and each of us in our individual locations. We are losing the sense that we are together making decisions in our towns and cities about how we educate our young people. There are trade-offs involved and we should not seek to minimise them. This is our role in debating the principles behind the Bill.
There has been a lot of talk on both sides about the number of young people coming from a free school meals background and going to Cambridge. I came from a free school meals background and went to Cambridge, so I would have been included in the figures. Much as I am concerned about that issue, I am more concerned about the young people in my constituency who come from a free school meals background, or just above that line, and who are not achieving the results that they should. I went to a comprehensive school in Luton and when I left school in 1998, which is not so long ago, only one third of young people in my constituency were achieving five GCSEs at grades A to C-the kind of thing that would help them to get on in life. At the time of the last election, the figure was two thirds, so real progress was made under Labour.
I concede that much of that progress was made as a result of the arguments about whether we should have more choice and more autonomy in schools. We have two excellent academies in Luton, one of which started in my constituency and will shortly move into a new building. I do not want to undermine the ability of people to come in and turn around schools that are really struggling, but we should not pretend there is no trade-off in relation to the power of individual heads versus power being pooled, or to the sense that together we are educating our young people.
The situation in Luton illustrates those points very well. We had 11 Building Schools for the Future projects cancelled in the BSF cancellations. For us, the projects were not just about providing world-class facilities but about providing the additional capacity that we desperately need. We have a major issue with our primary schools: we have projected that we will need another 5,000 places at a cost of £76 million, but we will get only £4 million
over the next four years. As a result of more providers coming in, there is a disjointed admissions policy and successful free schools and academies, will serve only to increase the gap. My concern is that we are squeezing provision and narrowing the options in places such as Luton about how to respond to the diverse challenges required in education. The choice is between academies and free schools or nothing. There is not even a chance to expand good-quality comprehensive education because no additional is money coming in and there is no scope for local people to step in, through the realms of the local authority, and choose what type of school is appropriate for them.
Last weekend, the English Defence League was in Luton and it raised the issue, once again, of community cohesion in our town. Education is about more than children achieving what they can in terms of grades and results. It is also about the kind of society that we want to create. If we want a comprehensive and mixed society in which people from different backgrounds come together, surely in a place such as Luton comprehensive education is the ideal. We have schools that are doing the work and want to expand, so why close them off and tell them that the only route is through free-school education? Schools are drilling down into more reduced catchment areas and the only route to expanding capacity is through academies or free schools. The slimmed-down admissions codes that are coming might make the situation even worse.
In his speech, the Secretary of State cast himself as a brave reformer and cast Labour Members as the luddites who refuse to adapt to a changing world, but that is not the case. I believe there is a move, which started under the previous Government and continues under this one, to put more power into the hands of individual head teachers and away from local authorities, which are tasked with the responsibility of together finding a response that is appropriate to their setting. We have to accept that doing that comes with a cost. If the very principle of the Bill is to suck power away from the pooling of heads, we will have a model for education that is prescribed, controlled and modelled. In Luton, the effect of the Bill will be to store up problems for the future and for that reason-for my constituents-I will not vote for it tonight.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I support the Bill. As a recipient of free school meals who went to his local comprehensive and then to a red-brick university, I think there has been too much concentration on Oxbridge in the debate tonight. There are significant aspects of the Bill that need improving in Committee, but we should recognise the improvements that the Bill will bring to education across the country.
As I have gone round the schools in my constituency, I have seen that they share a number of concerns. In the last year of the Labour Government, they received 5,000 pages of diktats and orders from Whitehall. They faced unnecessary bureaucratic interference. In most schools, which are excellent, head teachers know what to do, teachers know what to do, and they can get on with the job. They do not need diktats from Whitehall telling them how they should behave and how they should operate. I am glad that that will be swept away by the Bill.
All the schools in my constituency have excellent disciplinary records, with firm discipline and leadership from the top. They say that when they have to exclude a pupil, they do so regretfully. They do not rush to do so. They try to support the pupil all the way until, regrettably, an exclusion is necessary. I speak as someone who served on a governing body for a long time and had to chair exclusion panels and go through the appeals process after the exclusions were upheld. It is a nightmare for the head teachers and for the governors, and it is unfair to the poor children who are excluded. We must give head teachers and teachers the power to do what they need to do to maintain discipline in the school so that those children can be taught in a properly disciplined way, and so that they can aspire to be the best that they can be. Without strong discipline, there can be no learning.
I would like to see some aspects of the Bill improved. The first concerns the anonymity of individuals who have been accused of crimes, about which others have spoken. I agree that teachers should be protected, but so should support staff. In a school where I was a governor, the school caretaker, sadly, was accused-falsely, I am pleased to say-of the rape of a young child. The stain on his character after being named everywhere left his life in ruins. It is not fair for that individual or any member of school staff who has been falsely accused to suffer that. We should extend anonymity to support staff.
We need to get right the issue of standard assessment tests, which are not mentioned in the Bill. For far too long, teachers in primary schools have had to teach to the SATs and the league tables, rather than teaching the children to the best of their ability and as broadly as possible.
We must look at the subjects taught in our schools. I share with the hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) the fact that the vast majority of the schools in my constituency have a majority of children for whom English is an additional language. Far from learning French or German, learning Hindi or Gujarati would be far more appropriate for them. It should be an option for them to achieve in schools. When we are talking about global expansion and our relationship with India and the far east, why should we limit ourselves to teaching European languages? That aspect must be examined as the Bill progresses.
Finally, we need to consider the bureaucracy that has built up and the ability of academies to set themselves free and be a beacon of excellence in their communities. I was one of those who opposed the Labour Government's academy programme because I felt that it was far too elitist. It encouraged people who did not necessarily have the best interests of education at heart to take over schools.
The beauty of the Bill and of the agenda that we are pursuing is that they offer all children the opportunity to succeed to their optimum ability. They will not be limited necessarily by their parentage or by where they come from. By offering that opportunity to everyone, from all walks of life and all backgrounds, we will give children the opportunity to succeed in a much more equal society where their ability can come to the fore and where that is what is important, rather than the accident of their birth. I strongly support the Bill.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): What a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who has broken the overwhelming trend in the contributions we have heard from the Government Members, which has been to paint a virtually dystopian picture of education in our country in which virtually every classroom is a battlefield, every teacher is incompetent and lacking in inspiration, every child is badly taught and where examination results are lamentable in comparison with other countries.
The ability of children who receive free school meals to make it to Oxbridge seems to have been the recurring theme. The hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), who was the most recent Member to make that contribution, gave the example of Westminster school. If he is so concerned, why is he not arguing ferociously with the Government to fund pupils in our schools to the level charged in fees by Westminster and for class sizes to be as small as the standard not only in Westminster, but in every private school in this country?
As far as I can see, the Bill is a typical Government piece of legislation; it purports to be under the overarching aegis of giving back to people in this country the right to make local decisions that affect them in their local areas, but it does exactly the opposite. It will put powers into the hands of the Secretary of State that are currently undreamt of by many local authorities and by the schools in my constituency.
What I find most paradoxical is the way Government Members have bought what the Government are attempting to sell in the Bill. It starts with early-years education, because the Govt have trumpeted loud and long that every disadvantaged two-year-old-we are yet to know what will constitute that disadvantage because the Government have given us no detail-will be able to have nursery education. They then attempt to convince us that a child going from age two to five will of course be given a place in a local primary school-there is a desperate need for primary school places in my constituency-and that there will then be a gradual progression on to secondary school. Hang on a moment, because it looks, certainly from what the Government have said and from what has happened in my constituency, as though when children get to the age of 11 there will be no comprehensive schools left, only academies and free schools. The central and monstrous aspect of the Bill is that is will reintroduce a form of selection in schools. If there is no concerted local area agreement on what constitutes an admissions policy for all schools, we will see a return to what people of my generation lived through, which is the "them and us" approach to education for all our children.
The Secretary of State's speech this afternoon culminated with the example of two schools that he admires and wants us to admire, but he ignored the fact that they rose to their present heights under a Labour Government.
The Secretary of State also asserted that the Government are committed to ensuring that every child in this country has the best possible education. How can that conceivably be so when we are looking at a situation in which
academies and free schools will be the only schools available to local people? We have no idea what the capital costs or revenue costs of those schools will be. The idea that we are making a real inroad into affording opportunity and aspiration for every child, however disadvantaged their background, by introducing free education for two-year-olds, when we know that Sure Start facilities are being closed even as we speak-
The idea that this Bill is going to ensure that every child has an absolutely clear ride from the ages of two to 18, that there will never be a bump on the way and that at every single point they will be encouraged, inspired and told to aspire is utter nonsense. I shall not go down the road of discussing the abolition of the education maintenance allowance for those who stay on at school until aged 18.
For Liberal Democrat party members-who I presume obtained their degrees from the Pontius Pilate school of political philosophy-to support this Bill is yet something else of which they have real cause to be ashamed. But no one should be as ashamed as the Conservative party, which, despite its protestations about caring for every child in this country, is setting in train an educational system that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) said, will create not just one or two but three tiers of education in this country.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I am reminded of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), the Education Committee Chairman, who, towards the beginning of the debate, talked about Benjamin Disraeli and how important education was to him.
When Disraeli was talking about education, however, Bismarck was launching secondary education in Germany, and we did not get around to that until 1944. Education has always been a case of catch-up for us, and that is one reason why it is so important to focus on international comparisons. The first battle that we have to fight is the battle between ourselves and other nation states. It is an important battle and one for which we have plenty of weapons. One is having trust and confidence in our head teachers, another is having trust and confidence in our teachers and another is ensuring that our reform of the education system empowers schools to get on with their job.