Agriculture is, of course, the backbone of many of our communities, in the sense that it supports social activities and maintains year-round spending in the local economy. The upland family farms of Eryri are

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integral in maintaining the landscape’s fragile ecological balance. Of equal if not greater importance is the fact that the quality of the lamb and beef that they produce is excellent.

Education gives our young people a ticket to hope and a career, but the lack of decent salaries and affordable housing closes the door on their return. Work and the means to buy a home are essential. Rural hinterlands are at risk of becoming a low-income combination of conservation museum and adventure playground, to be serviced by the locals on the minimum wage and enjoyed by those who have made their money elsewhere.

I would like to say a few words about the Bill. For the past 22 years, I have been involved in education as a teacher, college director and local authority education leader. The House will, of course, be aware that in Wales, education is a devolved matter. As a result of Labour’s handling of teaching and learning since the advent of devolution, standards of education have gone from a respectable level to a situation where Wales has slid down the PISA rankings to the worst in the UK and 40th out of the 68 member countries.

Plaid Cymru is committed to public services for all. The reason we will oppose the Bill if there is a vote, even though education is a devolved matter, is that the growing privatisation by stealth of education in England through the increased number of academies has implications for the funding of Wales via the Barnett formula.

I am one of three Plaid Cymru Members, the first woman to represent my party in Westminster and the first woman to represent the communities of Dwyfor Meirionnydd. The Welsh national movement has its roots in my constituency. Plaid Cymru was established in the town of Pwllheli in 1925. The village of Capel Celyn in Meirionnydd was drowned by Liverpool Corporation 50 years ago. That sparked an awareness that our communities were expendable and that what we valued was of little significance to the great and the powerful. The flooding was inflammatory and caused a national awakening in Wales. We are here now, as we were then, with the best interests of Wales at the heart of all our endeavours.

6.57 pm

Luke Hall (Thornbury and Yate) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech in this House. I congratulate all hon. Members who have spoken so far. There have been some informative speeches and it is great to hear that every Member is as passionate about their own constituency as I am about mine.

The Thornbury and Yate constituency and its predecessor, Northavon, have been served by some outstanding Members, including Lord Cope of Berkeley and my immediate predecessor, Professor Steven Webb. I pay tribute to Professor Webb, who served as a Member of this House from 1997 to 2015. He will be remembered in particular for his work as Minister for Pensions in the coalition Government, which included overseeing major reforms of our pensions system. Locally, Professor Webb was a hard-working and dedicated Member of Parliament. I will exert every effort to emulate his dedication to our communities in south Gloucestershire.

Thornbury is a beautiful market town that has this year, once again, been named one of the top places to live in the UK by The Sunday Times. Yate, which

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predates the Domesday Book, is home to more than 35,000 residents and was the birthplace and early home of J. K. Rowling.

If one travels to the east, one comes to Pucklechurch, where, on 26 May 946, Edmund, King of all England and grandson of Alfred the Great, was stabbed to death by a local thief who was exiled by the King. If one goes north-east, one comes to Wickwar, where the old brewery used a water wheel powered by a local spring to create electricity, making it the first village in the country to have electric street lights. If there is one thing that I can bring to the House, it is the ale of the Wickwar Brewing Company, which will shortly be available in the House of Commons bar.

If one travels further west towards the River Severn, one finds the beautiful villages, towns and hamlets surrounding Alveston, Olveston and Tockington, and south-west from there, one will find the communities that surround Frampton Cotterell and my home village of Westerleigh. The constituency is my home and I am proud to stand here as its new Member of Parliament.

I am delighted to make my maiden speech on Second Reading of the Education and Adoption Bill. As somebody who attended one of the 15 original city technology colleges, I can testify that having a good-quality education helps to provide young people with the best start in life. It should be part of the duty of our society and this Government to inform young people after they leave education about the opportunities available across all sectors, including in retail.

After leaving education, I worked in every position in retail—from butcher to market stall trader, cleaner, caretaker, shelf stacker, till worker, store manager and, most recently, south-west area manager. I have cleaned floors, sat on the tills and pulled pallets. I hope that I can in some way reflect the challenges that young people face in the workforce, and I fully intend to bring that experience to the Floor of the House.

There is one short story I would like to share—one that speaks volumes about the talents of our young people. In 2013, I went to meet some new apprentices during their day in college. I turned up at 9 am and asked one young apprentice, Danny Murphy, how he had got to college that day. He said that his travel to work was slightly different that morning. The lorry had been late the previous evening, so he had got up at 3 am, walked from his house at 4 am for an hour in the rain to get to the store to work the delivery, before getting to college for a full day’s study. He was 18 years old. I am very pleased to say that Danny has now finished his apprenticeship, has an NVQ level 2 in retail and is part of the management team running that store. He is a great example of how giving our young people the skills, the responsibility and pride in their work allows them the opportunity to succeed.

I have to confess to being slightly surprised to find myself here, Madam Deputy Speaker. In fact, the only person more surprised than me was my employer. I phoned them up the day after the general election and said, “I think I have a bit of an issue—I have just been elected as the Member of Parliament for Thornbury and Yate and I am not coming back.” They took it with incredible grace—so much so that, when I look back in years to come, I might be surprised and a little disappointed at how happy they were to hear the news that I had been elected and would not be returning to work.

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It was Adam Smith who, in 1776, wrote that Britain was

“a nation governed by shopkeepers”.

I am a shopkeeper, I am proud to support this Government, and I will bring the same energy and passion from the shop floor to the shop Floor of this House.

7.1 pm

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) on sharing his experiences with us. I am sure he will bring real value to the House. I also thank the other four new Members who have given their maiden speeches today.

I have to say that I am intrigued. This is the Second Reading debate on the Government’s one piece of legislation addressing standards in education. We are left with a draft Bill that looks at a very narrow definition of something called “coasting” and proposes yet another top-down reorganisation in education, rather than looking at the causes of the unbelievable pressures on our schools at this time and at what would really make a difference to children’s education. Those pressures include the cuts to support services provided by our local authorities, the recruitment and retention crisis in our schools, the incredible pressures under which teachers are being put, and the funding crisis that many of our schools are experiencing. It is the causes that we should be debating today and what will really turn around the lives of our nation’s children and improve schools. Instead, we have to debate something called “coasting”. Even at this moment, we are denied the opportunity to have a clear definition of what that actually means.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my hon. Friend for raising other issues and the causes of the difficulties, including recruitment and retention. A number of head teachers in my constituency have highlighted the increasingly challenging times they are facing as they try to recruit teachers and get teachers who have not been trained. They are finding it difficult to fill vacancies and are having to pay expensive introduction fees to agencies. That is having an impact on morale and team spirit in schools.

Rachael Maskell: My hon. Friend raises so many of the issues that are impacting on school standards today and the vital profession of teaching. We really must take heed of what she has said.

My second bemusement is that the Government talk about the urgency of improving standards in education, yet they are legislating only for schools currently under local authority control. Why is it acceptable that there are 133 failing academies on this Secretary of State’s watch? That certainly raises the issue of why the standards in those academies are not being questioned in this Bill. It is important to improve the outcomes for all children through the Bill. Why are alternative providers—perhaps even local authorities—not insisted upon for those schools?

There is a lack of evidence behind the Bill. The Education Committee proved that there is absolutely no evidence of net improvements in standards in primary and secondary schools that have become academies.

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Ofsted determined that other initiatives such as the city challenge were far more effective at improving standards. One educationist said:

“schools fail for a number of reasons and simply changing their structure may not address the whole picture”.

Therefore, in view of the evidence, why has there been this ideological move to turn more schools into academies? Tragically, after listening to parents, governors and heads of schools in York, it seems that schools are now seeing this as an inevitable process and are therefore debating whether it is better to jump before they are pushed and to have some control of the process in the meantime—and that includes even our outstanding schools. They are concerned that they will lose more resources; schools in York are seriously underfunded as we fall below national funding levels. The plea I have heard from all heads in York who have raised the issue with me is that the Government should do everything they can to improve school funding as the priority for raising standards.

I could stray into talking about the funding issues in further education, which are also having an impact on our education system. It is pointless to mend one part of the education system without looking at the challenges that will come later. However, I will return to the mainstay of the debate: who is now in charge of our children’s education?

Parents spend most of their time with their children—school holidays, weekends, mornings and evenings—yet the draft legislation is trying to take them out of the education-making process and is instead inserting the very remote Secretary of State. If this Government are at all serious about devolution and parental engagement, they will give a real voice to parents in the future of their children’s education. No one can have the interest of their children’s success closer to mind. Every parent wants to do what is best for their children.

In York, as we have debated the academisation of Millthorpe school and Scarcroft and Knavesmire primary schools—outstanding schools, I might add—it is the parents who have wanted all the information to hand to understand the best path for their children. We are about to enter the same debate at Hempland primary. Why detach schools from parents? Surely we should be involving them more. Why, instead, place the powers in the hands of the Secretary of State, who may know about what happens in Loughborough but will not know about the issues faced in the corners of York Central?

We should strengthen the parents’ voice, empowering parents’ involvement in their children’s education, and listen carefully to the issues they raise. In York, parents have called for a ballot over the multi-academy trust conversion exercise—one that Labour would have granted, but now denied by the Tory-led coalition council. We have to give parents the information they need, trust their expertise and give them a voice and the respect they deserve. After all, localism must be about trust.

I want to mention teachers and support staff and to put on record my sincere thanks for their outstanding dedication to our children, as they work day and night, often under extreme pressure, in giving their all. Teachers and support staff—not just heads—must also have a say. They cannot be told how important their professionalism is in one breath and then not be trusted to make the best decisions for children in the next.

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The whole Bill—whether the education or the adoption clauses—boils down to trust. Are we going to trust the true professionals and the parents to determine what is best for children, or place everything in the hands of the Secretary of State, who is, after all, not an educationist?

7.8 pm

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): I am particularly pleased to be called to make my maiden speech in this important debate and to follow so many other excellent maiden speeches. I know that you will forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, if, before I turn to the subject matter of the debate, I make one or two comments about my constituency.

Mid Dorset and North Poole is home, and it is a beautiful place in which to live and work. It stretches from the historic Saxon town of Wareham in the south to Wimborne Minster in the north; and from Bere Regis in the west to Bearwood in the east. I am honoured to have been elected as the Member of Parliament for such a beautiful place. It is where I have chosen to live and to bring up my family.

I am the third Member of Parliament for Mid Dorset and North Poole, a seat that was created in 1997, but I am the first to make my maiden speech from the Government Benches as part of a majority Conservative Government. It gives me great pleasure to pay tribute to my predecessor, Annette Brooke, who in fact was my Member of Parliament for the past 12 years. She had a reputation for being an assiduous constituency MP and working tirelessly on behalf of her constituents, and many people have told me of the hard work that she carried out on their behalf. It is my pledge to my constituents to work as hard as Annette, if at all possible, and first and foremost to be a good constituency Member of Parliament.

Beautiful as my constituency is, it is not without its challenges. Time does not permit me to touch on more than one or two of those, but I will touch on infrastructure, starting with roads. The A351 stretches from the Bakers Arms to Wareham and beyond, and if you have had the pleasure of visiting Purbeck, Madam Deputy Speaker, you may well have had the misfortune of sitting on that particular road. It does not affect just tourists and businesses; it affects most especially the residents who have to cope with it daily. The A31 runs from east to west and back again, and only last week there was yet another fatality on that stretch of road. Finally, the A350 runs from north to south across the constituency. I pledge to work with my colleagues across Dorset to seek improvements where that is possible.

I want to touch on the railways as well. There is the opportunity to improve the speed of our trains from Waterloo to Dorset, and to build upon the heritage railway of Swanage by linking it into the main line.

Of course, infrastructure is not just about roads and railways, it is also about broadband, a subject that is particularly hot in Dorset and which is just as important for my constituency. There is a disparity across the patch, and even within one village—I declare an interest; it is my own village of Lytchett Matravers. There are speeds of 0.8 megabits per second in the part where I live, but in the better part there are speeds in excess of 30 megabits per second. That disparity is particularly frustrating for my constituents. It is also frustrating for

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my wife who, even as I speak, may be trying to live stream these proceedings and watch this maiden speech—although if she misses it, that may well be a blessing in disguise. More importantly, it affects our businesses across Dorset, whether they are large, medium or small. Each and every one relies upon the internet, and they struggle to compete if they cannot even make that connection.

Turning to the subject matter of today’s debate, there are many excellent schools in Mid Dorset and North Poole, and education is the key to opportunity and social mobility. A number of schools have already converted to academy status, and I have time to mention but one—the Magna Academy in Canford Heath. It is the most recent school to convert. It has a magnificent new building, and it is beginning to get the results to match. But in Dorset, we struggle with a lack of fair funding. Schools in Poole and Dorset are among the worst funded across the whole country—Poole is the second worst funded area and Dorset is in the bottom 10. I am not asking for preferential treatment for my constituents, simply for a level playing field. After all, all schools are judged against the same criteria regardless of the disparity in resources. I am delighted that our manifesto commitment was fairer funding, and I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State repeat that pledge in the House a few moments ago.

Time does not permit me to expand much further, but coming from a family of teachers—like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry), both my parents are teachers—it would be remiss of me not to put on record the hard work and dedication of all our teachers.

I pledge to fight for fairer funding for our schools; I pledge to fight for fairer infrastructure across Dorset; but most importantly I pledge that all I do, I will do first and foremost for my constituents.

7.14 pm

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) on making a great maiden speech, and I sincerely hope that his wife got to see it.

I will focus my remarks on clause 13, which relates to adoption, but before I do so I want to raise an ongoing concern that I have with the Government’s overall approach to children’s social care. There seems to be an obsession with reforming adoption services in isolation from all the other vital services that surround the adoption process and have an impact on it. Adoption is, and should always remain, the absolute last resort for any child and the end of a long process. Before it is even considered, a lot of work needs to be done with the child, the birth family and agencies. In the best-case scenario, that work can improve circumstances at home, repair relationships and mean that adoption is no longer necessary, resulting in a child remaining with their birth family or birth parents, which is an outcome that I think we would all rather see.

It is simply a mistake to focus on adoption to the exclusion of early intervention and other services that could keep a family together. Focusing on improving how children’s services work, reducing the administrative workload on social workers so that they can spend more

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time with families, and resisting the temptation to cut early years services such as Sure Start could prevent the need for adoptions. I find it concerning that when I have asked questions of Ministers and the Government in the past, they have shown little inclination to protect early years and child protection services, yet now they expect local authorities to restructure their adoption services, with all the costs that that will entail. Would the money not be better spent at the beginning of a child’s journey through social services, rather than towards the end?

It is important to remember that continuing support for families who have adopted is vital to help children and families adapt to their new lives. Will the Government therefore consider ensuring that special guardians are entitled to the same ongoing support as families who adopt?

I am continually disappointed that the Government are not making the necessary fundamental reforms to our court process, because it remains in court, not in social work departments or adoption teams, that most of the delay for children is caused. From my professional experience, the court process is one of the biggest barriers to timely adoption. It can be dragged out over years and years. Despite all the advice that is issued, it is still common for multiple assessments to be ordered on the same case, with the sheer number of parties involved meaning that cases drag on and on. The Bill would have benefited from measures to deal with the court process, but without those measures it is likely to fail in its goal of making adoption a quicker process.

I am open to the aims behind the Bill, but I am concerned about the detail and about what the changes might mean in practice. The Bill states that an authority’s functions may be taken on by either another local authority or another adoption agency, but there is nothing to say how the Secretary of State will choose which is the preferred option. If the power in clause 13 were to be used on a wide scale, it could result in adoption services being removed from the scope of local authority duties in many areas of our country. Will the Minister explain whether that is the preferred option, or whether adoption services will remain in local authority control unless there is simply no other option?

There is also little clarity in the Bill about when the Secretary of State will use the power in clause 13. We are told that it will be used as a last resort when local authorities fail to integrate adoption services on their own, but that is not made plain in the Bill. How long does the Department for Education think an authority will be able to take before it is considered to be dragging its feet?

What is there to prevent the Secretary of State from using that power as soon as the Bill takes effect? It does not appear that she will have to justify her decisions in any way at all. Nor is there any clarity about how a regional adoption agency should be defined. Would it mean one or two neighbouring authorities working together, or would it mean creating an adoption agency for the whole of the north-east, for example? They are very different propositions, and the Government need to make their intentions clear.

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I would like assurances that the powers will not be misused as part of a conscious attempt to shift children’s services out of local government and towards independent providers. One of the more worrying and yet under-reported moves the DFE made during the last Parliament was opening up children’s services to outside bodies, which lack the expertise or experience to carry out the delicate work of child protection. To me, the Bill seems like another move in that direction. If the Secretary of State uses the powers to require adoption to be taken over by outside agencies, how will she guarantee that they are qualified and have a track record in delivering adoption services?

The Minister genuinely cares, and I am hopeful that he will respond not only to the questions I have asked, but on the wider issues I have noted. He knows and I know that our children deserve far better.

7.20 pm

Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) and the excellent maiden speeches we have heard today.

One key theme of the debate is adoption. I am pleased that we are giving airtime to the subject. I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), who spoke passionately. It is an important issue for him to focus on as Chairman of the Education Committee.

First and foremost, I commend the Bill and the intention to reduce the time that children spend in care. I pay tribute to the excellent work of the Minister for Children and Families, whose extensive experience as a family law barrister and his personal experience make him so well suited to his brief. I pay tribute to his excellent work with children in care through the Who Cares Trust. He will know as well as anyone the tragic situations that are played out in the family courts every day. I know he is doing his utmost to improve the situation for children and families.

One increasing concern, particularly in my constituency, is the number of children who are taken into the care system every day. It has increased dramatically in recent years. It has become a pressing social issue that we cannot ignore. It has a huge cost to families in human misery, it has social and economic costs to society, and the cost to a child of a life in care.

More efficiency and speeding up adoption is a positive step forward, but it is not a solution in itself. We must look at how we tackle the problem of children entering the care system and think about different benchmarks of success. Increased numbers of children being adopted is not a measure of success, but fewer children entering the care system is.

Before the tragic case of baby Peter Connelly, adoption was always seen as a last resort. There are plenty of examples today when that is not the case. We see judges condemning the social engineering of social workers who judge, assess and find fault with parents. As the Secretary of State rightly said, the decision to remove is for the courts, but the courts can rely only on the evidence put before them. All too often, that evidence is the opinion of a number of professionals who are so anxious about the post-Baby P culture that they act pre-emptively through a fear of missing potential harm.

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I believe that the solution must be to work more closely with families to help them stay together safely, and to ensure that we recognise that the best place, if at all possible, is the natural family. Many children experience terrible trauma when they are removed from their natural parents, with whom they have developed a strong and reciprocated bond.

In my experience of working with adoption panels and families who have lost their children to state care, it is wrong to assume that all parents whose children are taken into care are neglectful, dysfunctional or subhuman. Too many people make that assumption.

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): I declare an interest, having worked as a psychologist in a school. I would be interested in the hon. Lady’s thoughts on access to psychological assessments in the process and, as was mentioned earlier, the priority given to access to mental health services in looked-after and accommodated services.

Lucy Allan: We should provide mental health support to all children going through the care system.

I should like to tell hon. Members a story about a case I worked on. A mother had two children, both of whom were removed when she went to seek help because she believed she could not cope with the parenting of her young toddler. That family ended up completely broken: one child was adopted, and the other was placed into a series of different foster placements and is now awaiting a long-term placement. The judge in his case described him as a well behaved child. He was a pleasant, successful child at school—he was delightful in every sense—but now, having experienced six sets of foster carers in three years, placement disruption is occurring over and over again. That once happy, delightful boy is physically attacking his foster carers, swearing and attacking other children at school. No one can argue that the result is in the best interests of that child, even if the motivation behind those actions was the right one. His life was turned upside down. We can only guess at the trauma, bewilderment and rage that he must have experienced at the break-up of his family.

For many, the loss of their child to the state is a bereavement—there is a total sense of loss and grief, accompanied by rage at the injustice of being judged wanting as a parent. We do our best as parents, and some of us do not do as well as we would like. We should hope that, when the state presumes to judge us, it should also assist us to be the best parents we can be.

Too many grieving parents go on to stem that emptiness by having another child, and then another child. Sequentially, those children are taken into care, but at what cost and for what misery for those children and families? I am delighted by some of the work being done on that. I pay tribute to the Minister, particularly for his social care innovation programme and the financial support being made available to the mothers I have described. I have had a case of a mother who had 10 children taken sequentially into care. That was of no benefit to her or to anyone else.

I conclude by saying that it is not the role of the state to presume to decide what makes for a fit parent. The situation is far more complex than that. We should not hope that we can ever replace the natural bond and the benefit of being within a family setting. I urge the

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Minister to continue his excellent work to strengthen families and ensure that they stay together to provide the best possible situation for children as they grow up.

7.28 pm

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), and to hear such wonderful maiden speeches from new Members. The House will be well served over the next five years. The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) is not in her place, but I should tell her that Welsh is the oldest language in Europe—it says so on the tea towel I got on one of my many holidays in Pembrokeshire.

This is a debate on Second Reading, and I want to speak about the principles of the Bill rather than the individual clauses, but I will address my remarks to three specific matters: coasting schools, the duty to make academy orders, and local authority joint arrangements for adoption.

Education should be about the best interests of our children. Ultimately, society benefits from that, but I am struggling to find it in the Bill. I find the term “coasting schools” incredibly demeaning. Not only that, but the Secretary of State does not define it in the Bill and chooses to introduce regulations to do so. I should like to know from the Minister what advice he has received from parliamentary counsel on whether that term is clear on the face of the Bill and whether it sets out Parliament’s intentions as to what it means. If the Bill were a contract, it would be void for uncertainty. Has the definition been agreed with Ofsted? The Secretary of State outlined some of the measures that she will introduce in regulations, but could those regulations change? Could the definition of a coasting school change? Is this the same regime as the Ofsted regime? My concern is the effect it will have on children, teachers and other staff at those schools that are identified as so-called coasting schools.

What about the Joseph Leckie Academy in my constituency? It was promised £17 million under Building Schools for the Future, which was then cancelled. It then entered a bidding war, and managed to receive £4 million. It needs a further £4 million to remove the asbestos and build a new classroom. More than 50% of the children are in receipt of school meals and are struggling to achieve, despite their best endeavours. Would it be fair for the school to be identified as coasting? That cannot be right.

What about the academy order? The Secretary of State needs to listen to parents and staff, not slap an academy order on a school. Members will know that we receive letters from many constituents who cannot get their children into their first choice of school. Amazingly, the Bill says that parents should not be consulted, so the very people who know about a school will not be allowed to have a say. In this country, we consult, we do not dictate, and that is one of the key areas that judges will look at in considering whether a decision is lawful. The Government have already laid the foundations in that area, however, by restricting judicial review.

I hope that in Committee Ministers will look at how parents and governors can have a say. One of the issues that was raised in the election was how we can increase the pool of diversity for governors. It is the governors

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who have a say on how a school is run, who hold a head to account and who are critical friends. Evidence is a key area. What is the evidence that a school performs better as an academy than as a maintained school?

On adoption, the Bill provides that the Secretary of State can require a local authority to make arrangements for someone else to carry out its functions. That will take functions away from elected local government. It is right that adoption should be speeded up, and the Minister for Children and Families has done much to improve the face of adoption. I pay tribute to the work that he and his family have done in that role. Perhaps Mr John Timpson should be the face of a public campaign on adoption.

It is a scandal that children have to wait a long time to be adopted, but at the end of the day the social workers will make the assessment. It is therefore concerning that the Government have refused to fund the College of Social Work—the very place that is needed to promote social work as an important profession. Where will we get the extra, properly trained social workers who will fast-track adoption? They step in when adoption goes wrong and they have to deal with families all the time. They deal with many issues—and their job is getting more and more difficult—from addressing child abuse to helping people with mental health issues and disabilities. All those areas have faced budget cuts. What are the figures for adoptions that have not worked out, and how will those families be supported? What support will be in place for the fast-track adoptions? Will such families be exempt from the bedroom tax?

One part of the Government—the Treasury—wants devolution revolution, but the Secretary of State has placed herself above the wishes of parents and reserved powers so that she can transfer functions away from local authorities. The Government are like the Hydra in Greek mythology—all the heads are doing and saying different things. The Bill is not in the best interests of children, parents and families—the very people the Government were elected to serve.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am now increasing the time limit to eight minutes for those who wish to take advantage of it.

Valerie Vaz: Oh!

Mr Deputy Speaker: I am sorry about that.

7.34 pm

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): I congratulate all hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches this afternoon, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry), whose constituency I know well.

The education section of the Bill is primarily about accelerating school improvement. In the verbal jousts across the Floor, I fear that we sometimes forget what or who we are talking about. I ask hon. Members to imagine their own child attending a failing primary school. Their child might be failing to learn to read and write, but perhaps nobody does anything about it. Perhaps no one notices or seems to think that it matters. That

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goes on for two or three years, the child gets further and further behind, and may never catch up. Then it is too late, and the child becomes one of the one in five children who leave primary school unable to read and write properly.

Over the last few years, the Secretary of State and her predecessor have made bold decisions to put into practice what the research tells us works in education systems around the world. They have increased transparency and accountability. They have increased the focus on the quality of teaching and the calibre of teachers and school leadership. Huge progress has been made in making teaching a more attractive profession. For example, for three years in a row, Teach First has been the top recruiter of graduates from elite universities, and a royal college of teaching is in the pipeline.

Hundreds of schools have more autonomy through the academies and free school programmes, and it is autonomy that gives good school leaders and their staff the chance to innovate—the key to success in the very best school systems around the world. Head teachers I have spoken to tell me how much they value the extra autonomy that their school being an academy gives them. Around the country, struggling schools are being helped to turn around, whether well-known examples such as King Solomon Academy and Durand Academy in London, or less dramatic but equally important improvement stories, such as the Abbey School in my constituency. With so much going in the right direction, what matters now is ensuring that every school is part of it. If a school is failing its pupils, there is no time to lose, because each day, term or year a child is in a failing school is another opportunity lost in that child’s education.

Although the Government are right to give extra attention to failing schools, we must not overlook schools that are doing well. My constituency has many good and outstanding schools, but the area suffers from below average education funding. While some schools around the country receive £8,000 or so per pupil, most of my schools receive half that amount. They have made savings, including making staff redundant, and one school is now facing the choice of which of three modern languages —French, German or Spanish—to drop. If we aspire to excellence in education, we should not have schools facing such choices. I welcome the Secretary of State’s assurance last week that the funding formula will be reviewed, but I press her to ensure that that happens as soon as possible and, while the review is being carried out, that help be considered for financially struggling schools to tide them over.

7.38 pm

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) mentioned the freedoms that academies enjoy and, undoubtedly, the academies legislation provides for additional freedoms. But most of the freedoms that heads in academies have used could have been used when the school was maintained. That was the finding from the evidence that the Education Committee took. The legislation has not led to wholesale change in how such freedoms are used.

Several hon. Members have talked about coasting schools, which is one of the issues of greatest contention in the Bill. The Education Committee looked at the issue of coasting schools, and we found that schools that

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were doing well—with a good or even an outstanding Ofsted grading—were not necessarily doing the best by their students. A coasting school can be doing very well, but should be doing better, and the difficulty for Opposition Members is understanding exactly what is meant by “coasting”. Is the Secretary of State targeting schools that are already doing well but should be doing better, or is she looking at schools that are perhaps not doing so well by their children? The definition needs to be addressed in Committee.

What should we be looking at today on Second Reading? I would hope that any proposed legislation on education would consider how education can deliver long-term prosperity and success for our young people and for our economy. Education is a critical factor, if not the critical factor, in determining how well young people are prepared for the wider world, in particular the world of work. Employers look to us to deliver an education system where young people can turn up at work and be ready to get going and to contribute, yet throughout the five years of the previous Parliament the Education Committee heard again and again from employers that far too often that is not happening. Young people are not coming out of school prepared for the world of work. Work experience is one example of where things have gone backwards in the past five years.

The Select Committee produced a number of inquiries. On more than one occasion, it came up with evidence which has been mentioned by many Members: the most important factor in providing great education is the quality of teachers, in particular head teachers. That came up in the inquiry into great teachers, but was repeated again and again in the past five years. What is happening in the world of education to deliver great teachers? The education element of the Bill looks at making academisation easier, but it has nothing to say on the quality of teaching. That is a great pity.

It has been suggested by many that the Government want all schools to become academies. Given that the term “coasting schools” is so broadly defined, it occurs to me to ask whether that is really what the Government are trying to do. By failing to define it, are they saying that they want all schools to become academies, without being quite so bold as to actually state that? If that is the intention, Ministers really ought to say so. Perhaps the Minister, in winding up, will confirm whether that is what he wants to do. From what he has said in the past, I think that is his intention.

Kevin Brennan: On that point, I wonder whether my hon. Friend saw recently in Tatler—I am sure he is an avid reader—the comments of the headteacher of Wymondham College in Norfolk, Mr Melvyn Roffe? He said that he had been told becoming an academy would mean more freedom and autonomy, but what happened was the reverse. He said:

“We have had more control from central government rather than local government…I don’t believe he”—

referring to the former Education Secretary, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove)—

“intended academy status to reduce autonomy. I wish he had the courage to say there are schools doing a good job and they should be allowed to do a good job.”

He regrets the college becoming an academy, so it is not always the case that heads welcome it.

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Bill Esterson: Like my hon. Friend, I am of course an avid reader of Tatler. The Select Committee found that schools in multi-academy trusts or chains did not have the autonomy they thought they would have, and that everything was controlled from the centre. The Government prided themselves on localism in the past five years, but if anything they reduced local accountability by removing councillors’ responsibility and involvement. Localism in its widest sense has been reduced because everything became even more centralised, either through people running multi-academy trusts, or because every one of those schools is controlled, ultimately, from the desk of the Secretary of State in Whitehall. The creation of just eight regional schools commissioners does not go very far, given that there are more than 4,000 academies—or 500 each. That is centralisation. My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which should concern us all.

The Select Committee concluded that the Government should review the lessons of the rapid conversion of secondary schools to inform any future expansion. It highlighted the fact that a programme devised by Labour— as I said earlier, the Labour academies have been a great success according to the evidence presented to the Committee—for a small number of secondary schools was not necessarily appropriate for primary schools. The Government have completely failed to address that point. They acknowledged the point in their response to the Committee’s report, but did not have an answer. The international evidence suggests that the expansion of the academies programme was exceptionally fast and perhaps something we should be concerned about.

We would all say that, alongside having the very best teachers, school improvement should be a priority. The Labour programme of academies was an example of massive investment in school improvement, with many successes. The best example of school improvement over an extended period in recent years was undoubtedly the London Challenge. London schools went from being the basket case of schools in the country to being shining examples of success. That was based not on academisation, but on collaboration between teachers, institutions and local authorities. The Government, when they came into office, should have looked far more closely at the success of the London Challenge and spread it around the country, instead of being hellbent on the rapid expansion of an academy system that was not designed for the purpose it is now being used for.

On adoption, I mentioned earlier my disappointment with the relevant elements of the Bill, which, although there is nothing wrong with them per se, do not mention other forms of permanence for children. There is no mention of foster care, residential care or kinship placements. That is a missed opportunity. It leaves nagging doubts regarding the Government’s intentions for all children. As many as 75,000 children are in care at any one time. The Government have pulled the funding for the College of Social Work, which again leaves grave doubts about the future of the profession and its ability to support children, including those being put up for adoption.

There are many questions to be answered, whether on adoption or education. I am sure we will probe them more deeply in Committee.

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7.47 pm

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): I congratulate all those who have made their maiden speeches today, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), whose powerful speech made a big impact on me. I would have liked to talk about adoption, but I will concentrate on schools today.

I welcome the new categorisation of coasting schools. Having worked as a lay Ofsted inspector, I know exactly what those sort of schools look like: schools that are not stretching every child and are happy to just reach the minimum level. I have been rung up by parents asking me why their very nice primary school has been classified as inadequate, and why their great teachers were not doing as well as they thought they were. Schools would be classified as inadequate because bright children were getting level 4 rather than level 6, and other children were getting level 3 when they should have been getting level 4. It is these schools that have been classified as inadequate. They were not failing their children completely, but they were coasting and not doing a good job.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Lady, a former lay inspector, raises a very interesting point. When she was inspecting a school, would she have been able to give it a good or outstanding rating, but still find it to be coasting?

Mrs Drummond: No, under the old system it would be a failing school if it was coasting. Nowadays, it would be seen as an inadequate school. In terms of terminology, coasting is much more acceptable to parents, teachers and schools. A school cannot be said to be inadequate when children are still learning to read, write and do mathematics but are not doing as well as they should be doing. That is how I see a coasting school, but I know we are going to develop this. I have some concerns about how coasting schools will be evaluated. The Secretary of State said that they would be evaluated on the basis of more data, but I should like that evaluation to be widened slightly to include Ofsted inspections. Perhaps there could be mini-inspections to ensure that all the data were available.

Let me give an example. We consider the school of which I am a governor to be a rapidly improving school, but its current level is “requires improvement”, and the local authority sent us a warning letter last year because we had missed the overall target by just 1%. It was the maths that had let us down. However, the children have made very good progress throughout their time at the school.

Nearly all the children arrive at a level that is well below the average, and a large number are eligible for free school meals. Last year we had several level 6 results, and many level 5s. One reason for our not achieving higher results was the fact that children covered by our autism provision were included in the results. Children with special educational needs find tests very stressful, and often do not meet national standards in any event. I should like to see much more provision for such children, whether they are included in the overall results or treated differently. I should also like to see a completely different system of assessing, in particular, children with autism. Other children arrived during the school year speaking English as a foreign language, and it is difficult for teachers to raise such children to national standards. I should like to see a much more holistic approach to the categorisation of schools.

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There is a new curriculum and assessment system, and schools are still settling down and working out how the new levels—exceeding expectation, at expectation or below expectation—will operate. The Department needs to help schools with those new levels, which are still quite confusing as schools develop their own methodologies. It is right for them to be able to do that, but no clear national guidelines have been provided. The results of school evaluations often hide the true picture, and I ask the Secretary of State to ensure that they are fair.

I agree that schools must become academies if their local authorities are weak. Portsmouth City Council was deemed to be the sixth worst authority in the country in this context, and during the 10 years the Liberal Democrats were in control, there was very little political will to improve educational standards. That has begun to change over the past year, under the new Conservative administration.

In many instances, when Portsmouth schools have become academies, children’s education has improved. I mentioned the Charter Academy in my maiden speech. In five years, its GCSE pass rate has risen from 3% to 85%. The local authority wanted to shut down the school, which is in an area of great deprivation, but fortunately the old head teacher saw its potential and brought in Ark Schools, which I consider to be one of the pinnacles of academy provision. I am pleased to learn that it has recently taken on some primary schools in Portsmouth as well. I recently visited Ark Ayrton with my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools. The head teacher of the primary school that it took over was extremely reluctant to allow the school to become an academy, but was forced to do so. She now says that it was the best thing that she could have done, that she wishes that she had done it a long time ago, and that she is receiving incredible support from Ark. Ark Dickens has taken over another school in my constituency—again, in an area of great deprivation—and I look forward to seeing a difference in children’s education there.

I have spoken before, outside the House, about the poor performance of my local authority. I agree with the National Union of Teachers that it should be the job of local authorities to assist schools, but where they are failing, we need an alternative, and free schools are providing that alternative. I am grateful to academies for giving some of the children in Portsmouth the education that they deserve, along with aspiration and the tools that will enable them to realise their ambitions.

7.53 pm

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on your re-election as Chairman of Ways and Means. It is a pleasure to follow the new hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond). I was also pleased to hear from the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), whose predecessor was and is a great friend of mine and was well liked throughout the House. He is sadly missed.

I support the amendment, because I believe that the Bill could have been much more ambitious than it is. It fails to provide a clear definition of a coasting school. A number of Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), have expressed concern about coasting schools. I am struck by the fact that the Secretary of State has come to the House

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and—as she has done on five previous occasions—failed to provide a definition. I do not think it right for us to have to wait until the Committee stage of a Bill that includes the term for the Government to define it. What does the amorphous word “coasting” mean? Is it based on exam results, progress measures or Ofsted ratings? What defines a coasting school? We still do not know. That strikes me as a worrying feature of the Bill.

The Bill is important, and there are parts of it that I commend, but I believe that it has not gone far enough. We need to be much more ambitious and bold when we talk about education in this country. There is a massive difference between the levels of attainment of those who are receiving free school meals and their more affluent peers, but the Bill does not address it.

In 2009, the Centre for Development and Enterprise, a South African organisation, published a report entitled “International Best Practice in Schooling Reform”. It was based on workshops that had taken place in Washington D.C. Global education experts examined more than 100 school systems across the world to establish what worked in improving education and what did not. The report concluded that giving schools more autonomy was an “ineffective reform”. In fact, it argued that

“time required by school leaders to manage and run autonomous schools takes time away from supporting teachers and supervising the system”,

to the detriment of education outcomes.

It is not a question of more funding, which evidence shows does not work past a certain level. The Bill talks of converting failing or coasting schools to academies, but it should be about meaningful reform and the following of best practice all over the world. Unfortunately, it is sadly wanting in that regard.

I believe that there are five things that we must get right if we are to ensure that our education system improves. First, there must be a new appreciation that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. There is no more important lever for the improvement of student outcomes than teacher quality. The world’s top-performing systems recruit talented people and train them intensively. Teaching must be considered a prestigious profession and teachers must have all the support that they deserve. They should have competitive starting salaries and adequate remuneration for excellence, which can be affordable if the remuneration curve remains shallower than it is in other professions. Those who do not meet strict criteria, however, must be forced to leave teaching, or asked not to join in the first place. We should reward and support good teachers and make it significantly easier to get rid of bad ones.

Secondly, reforms must focus on improving teaching skills and changing classroom practice. According to the report from the Centre for Development and Enterprise, if teachers are given effective support and in-service training, student performance can be significantly improved within three to six years. Continuous professional development applies to other professions, so why can it not apply to teaching? Problems arise when teachers come straight out of university, do not interact with their peers and have no examples of excellence. The best systems in the world—those in Belgium, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand—improve teachers’ skills by bringing professionalism, mentoring and apprenticeships back to teaching. They have

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comprehensive feedback systems which enable teachers to learn from their mistakes and improve in problem areas.

In 2007, Eric Hanushek of Stanford University found that the only way to increase the economic output of school leavers was for students to learn effectively and to be taught well. We can achieve that only by supporting our teachers, and ensuring that teaching is a highly skilled, attractive career option that supports and constantly seeks to improve the people in it.

Thirdly, there is leadership. The best education systems recruit and train excellent head teachers—people with intrinsic leadership skills. I would wager that the best-performing academies are those with the best head teachers. Even in my south Wales constituency, where we have no academies, the best schools that I visit usually have the best head teachers. These people should be supported to become effective leaders, and not just effective educators. We must get this right, because without effective leadership the reforms will never be embedded.

To improve education we must look at not just the people, but the environment in which children learn, and that brings me to my fourth point. The Royal Institute of British Architects report “Building a Better Britain” makes the case that good school design could have a direct impact on reducing maintenance costs and improving student wellbeing and attainment. For example, its evidence suggests that ensuring that corridors are designed so that they are not too narrow can significantly reduce bullying. Good design of schools delivers value not just now, but in the future.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, high performance requires that every child succeeds—not just the select few in the schools chosen, but every child, everywhere. From Land’s End to John o’Groats, from Treginnis to Lowestoft, all students need to be well educated and must be given the teaching they need to fulfil their ambitions. We need standards and measures of success relevant to the needs of our country. We need effective mechanisms to help schools to achieve those standards. Pressure without support does not yield better performance. We need to make sure that targets are being met. We need to identify the obstacles to success and put in place strategies to overcome them.

To reduce wide disparities in education and in the country at large we must overcome huge challenges. We must reverse decades of socio-economic problems keeping those in poorer areas from achieving their potential. The harsh reality is that the circumstances of someone’s birth are often to their greatest detriment in terms of how well they will do at school or how well they will do in life. We can help to overcome that. We can change the sad fact that being born poor means someone is likely to stay poor, but we can do so only with great teachers, with great schools and if we make the right choices and follow the evidence. The Government had a real opportunity in this Bill to set out an ambitious plan for Britain, but, unfortunately, they have been found wanting.

8.1 pm

Lucy Frazer (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I have listened with admiration to many of the maiden speeches made by hon. Members on both sides of this House and to the speeches of many new Members. Clearly, we have a breadth of experience in the education sector in this new Parliament, and that is so important.

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There can be nothing controversial about a desire to give our children the best start in life, whatever their background and wherever they live, and this Bill seeks to do that. Although more than l million more children are in good or outstanding schools than was the case in 2010, 1.5 million pupils are still taught in schools that do not meet those necessary standards.

I would like to discuss three critical elements of the Bill. First, it rightly recognises that a mediocre education is not good enough. As parents, we all want the best for our children and our Government should strive to deliver it. This Bill acknowledges aspiration, ensuring that schools will regularly assess their own performance and standards, and that they must never be complacent.

The second point is about control. This Bill is not about taking powers away from schools, but about giving them autonomy—and quicker. If schools become academies, they will have greater control over what they teach, when they teach it and who teaches it. We must recognise that the best people to run schools are teachers, and the excellent work of those teachers must be recognised.

Finally, the third point is about the people who lead our schools and help others that are failing. We recognise that, in building good schools, we need good and inspirational teachers, and I hope the profession will welcome the use of expert teachers to help drive coasting schools forward. The 1,000 national leaders of education are a vital component of those plans. They are the outstanding headteachers who work with schools in challenging circumstances to support school improvement. We must support and enable less good schools to learn from the best. In that respect, I wish to mention a school in my own constituency. Bottisham Village College, an outstanding school, is helping a local school, Netherhall School, which is in need of improvement. That is the sort of collaborative action that nurtures development. To improve our schools, we need partnerships: between local and national Government; between outstanding schools and those that are failing and coasting; and between trusts and management. It is not by standing still and doing nothing that we will improve our standards—it is by taking action and working together.

When we talk about what we want from our own children and from our students, we talk about aspiration, about the importance of learning from others and about aiming high, not settling for mediocrity. Those principles apply to schools, too, and they are the principles at the heart of this Bill.

8.5 pm

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I join others in congratulating hon. Members who have made their excellent maiden speeches today.

We share the Government’s desire for excellence in all schools, irrespective of whether they are voluntary aided, academies, free schools or whatever. I listened to the Secretary of State’s praise for sponsored academies, but the inconsistency and glaring omissions of this Bill are highlighted by the fact that the only sponsored academy in my constituency is also the only secondary school deemed to require improvement. Why did the Bill not include the incorporation of academy chains into Ofsted inspections?

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I wonder how many more schools in future years are going to be a cause of concern or deemed to be “coasting”—whenever that term is explained—before the growing challenge of teacher recruitment and retention is going to be properly addressed by this Government. How many inspiring teachers such as Neville McGraw, who taught my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), are going to be leaving the profession in the next few years? That is the issue of greatest concern to heads of schools in Hounslow, the borough covered by my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra).

I have also met a number of parents in recent months who are concerned about the extent to which their children are being taught by supply teachers. Yesterday, I spoke to the mother of a year 9 pupil in an outstanding school who had had five different supply teachers last week. At another great school, a science specialist school, a head of science cannot be recruited. What does this mean? Headteachers often find that they have only one or two applicants for each post and sometimes none at all. Some vacancies go on term after term and have to be filled with agency staff—expensive agency staff. In secondary schools in our borough, most subjects are now classified as shortage subjects, with there being a severe crisis in maths and science. Some schools struggle to appoint technology teachers, and home economics is a disappearing subject. Those pressures are going to get worse as the EBacc is rolled out. A further issue we face is that the immigration rules are not helping the retention of teachers who are doing well and teaching inspirationally, but are not going to be able to stay in the UK.

All of that leads to massive staff turnover, inconsistency in teaching standards and increasing dependence on supply teaching. Our party shares the Secretary of State’s passion for standards, so why did she say nothing about this crisis? Instability and vacancies in schools negatively affect academic progress and pastoral support. Those who have left or are considering leaving the profession are demoralised by the pressures. In addition, all schools in Hounslow are expanding and we have new schools opening this September and next September, which only adds to the recruitment problem. One head hold told me, “Filling a science post in London is like trying to snatch honey from bees. In the end the students lose out significantly, no matter how much time and energy you put into supporting and developing teachers who are struggling.”

The crisis has several elements, all of which we feel the Government should address, with greater priority than just finding new ways of intervening once things have gone wrong. First, teaching is a graduate profession, but not enough UK graduates are choosing teaching. In London, the private sector economy is picking up, as is the availability of higher paid jobs, which carry greater esteem than teaching. That is why teaching should be marketed as a valuable and worthwhile profession. We need more graduates to want to be teachers, and an even higher proportion of our best graduates to see the value of teaching as a long-term career. There needs to be a clear way into a teaching career. Several headteachers have told me that the routes into teaching are too complex and confusing, which creates yet another barrier to those graduates considering teaching as a possible career.

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Schools Direct has not produced the desired number of quality trainees. Teach First, while providing high quality entrants, has issues with career retention. Researchers in education programmes have had major problems in the delivery of teacher trainees. One local school, Brentford School for Girls, has tackled the shortage of science teachers in a different way. The head told me at the summer fair on Saturday that the school has recruited good science graduates into unfilled posts, and it will train and develop those young people to be teachers. Those applicants were all keen to teach but had been confused by the routes of application, so they welcomed the school’s approach.

I was told that the reduction in university training places is a major worry. Cuts in postgraduate certificate in education training places in supposed non-shortage subjects, such as history and business studies, have severely limited training places, even though there are some very high-quality graduates wanting to train in those areas. There is currently a major shortage of geography graduates going into teaching, yet the subject will be compulsory for those not doing history in the EBacc. On top of that, post-16 budget cuts mean that teachers are being asked to do more, thereby adding to the pressures and increasing the haemorrhage of already pressurised staff.

A third issue for us in London is the cost of living. Last week, the Minister for Schools said in the Adjournment debate on teacher recruitment and retention that there were no problems recruiting young teachers in London. There may not be a problem with recruitment, but there is certainly one with retention. Several heads in my constituency say they are having problems retaining teachers who want to buy their own home. Those teachers have to move well away from London to get new jobs elsewhere in order to buy their own home. The lack of urgency from the Government on the housing crisis leads me to believe that that problem will only get worse.

Finally, let me turn to teachers’ morale. Recently, I have met many good teachers who want to leave the profession because of the workload generated by the plethora of sudden unplanned changes and the persistent berating of the achievements of teachers, pupils and schools by Government and the media. That is another complaint of headteachers. They told me that they are trying to keep their schools going when they are questioning their own capacity to continue in the profession, given the relentless pressure that they are under and the negating of their professionalism by this Government.

Inaccurate derision of the profession by the Government has a long-term impact on perceptions, and it discourages young people from considering the profession despite their own positive experience in the schools that they attended. It undermines the morale of senior staff and headteachers. Will the Government please stop undermining the morale of those who work long hours to ensure that our children get a good education? They should set a good example and use positive language—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I call Suella Fernandes.

8.13 pm

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) and I congratulate hon. Friends and hon. Members on excellent maiden speeches.

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Aspiration is today’s buzzword. The reason why the Conservatives won the election was that we embodied the real sentiment of that word. What does aspiration mean? For me, our education reforms are the engine of aspiration and tackle social inequality at its root cause. Our one nation party says to every child that it does not matter where they start; they can get ahead through self-empowerment, taking responsibility and hard work. Nowhere do those values ring more loudly than in our schools and in this Bill.

In 2010, after 13 years of a Labour Government supposedly supporting education, two in five 16-year-olds left school functionally illiterate or innumerate. In a country where we have some of the best schools in the world, that is a shocking disgrace. It is therefore just and essential that the Government have powers to intervene in failing and coasting schools, and those powers are enabled in this Bill. We all know what coasting schools are. They are schools in affluent areas where there is no incentive to achieve beyond a C, D or borderline pass. One reason why I am so proud to support this Bill is that we are the only party—

Kevin Brennan rose—

Suella Fernandes: I wish to make progress. We are the only party that is courageous enough to talk honestly about failing schools. We have done that in the past by giving people, volunteers, teachers and parents a say in the solution.

Several hon. Members rose

Suella Fernandes: I will not give way. Teachers are wonderful, but endemic weaknesses in the system stop our children getting the best. I have seen at first hand how our reforms have addressed the problem.

Kevin Brennan: Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Suella Fernandes: No, I will not. I teamed up with a group of teachers to set up a free school in Wembley, my home town. Led by Katherine Birbalsingh, an inspiring headteacher, the school has some of the best staff in the country. As chairman of the board of governors, I can say that our aim is simple: to bring excellence and a private school quality to the inner city. I grew up in the area, and attended a state school at the beginning of my education. Teachers went on strike, discipline was poor and expectations were low. After designing the vision of a knowledge-based curriculum, we secured approval and Government funding.

Kevin Brennan: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way; she is being very generous. Earlier in her remarks, she said that everyone knows what a coasting school looks like. Would she care to name for us the coasting schools in her constituency?

Suella Fernandes: I will not name any schools, but I have adequately defined the features and the hallmarks of coasting schools. It is clear that further guidance will be forthcoming.

After designing the vision of a knowledge-based curriculum for the free school in which I was involved, we secured approval and funding from the Government.

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We recruited staff and found a building. I am proud to say that Michaela Community School opened its doors last September to 120 12-year-olds and it is transforming their lives. Many of the children come from neighbouring council estates or areas such as Harlesden and Willesden. They have the chance to aim high because of inspired and innovative teaching. If one walks through the corridors, one can hear a pin drop, because pupils are quietly learning in their classrooms. I invite Members here to join them for lunch and they will see how polite they are. If they take a bus in the area, they will spot them by their impeccable uniform. Whether it is the practice of appreciation at lunchtime or the rigorous learning, Michaela Community School has been made possible only because teachers have been set free to teach and set high expectations. It was teachers, not the state, who saw a need and took action.

Rachael Maskell: Why has £241 million been spent on free schools in areas that do not have a crisis in school places?

Suella Fernandes: A key criterion for gaining Government approval for a free school is to establish need. There needs to be an established deficit in school places, which is evidenced in the data, to form part of the application.

Several hon. Members rose

Suella Fernandes: I will make some progress. My point is that it was teachers, not the state, who saw the need and took action. Those teachers who exercised strong leadership were set free to teach the subjects about which they were passionate. They had freedom over staff, and over spending. That freedom is bolstered by the reforms in this Bill and is at the heart of aspiration.

8.19 pm

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) on her speech. She spoke with singular clarity about her educational viewpoints and her constituency.

I declare an interest as the chair of governors of an academy school based in the city of Brighton and Hove. I have spoken before in this House about my journey through education, leaving school lacking the qualifications needed to succeed in life and therefore having to return to secondary school at the age of 25 to start over again. I approached the Bill with an open mind about its publicised aim of challenging underperformance throughout the education system. For me, excusing underperformance in schools rather than challenging it has always been a source of intense frustration, even anger, due to my own experiences.

There are many reasons to excuse failure, such as poor school performance, students living in areas of deprivation or the difficult family circumstances of some students, but for me those are barriers to overcome rather than reasons to excuse poor attainment. A student who graduates before overcoming those challenges will carry them into adulthood and for the rest of their lives, so I wholeheartedly support having a radically higher sense of ambition for young people. However, the Bill stands out more for what it does not cover than for what it does. It focuses on the performance of local authority

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controlled schools, which are, in educational terms, one part of the challenge we face, but in reading it one might be forgiven for thinking that they are the only challenge.

I have some sympathy with the need to tackle the lack of ambition in some local authority departments, because I come from Brighton and Hove. Today, Ofsted released its findings on the education authority where I live, and judged that it “requires improvement”. A year ago, a Local Government Association peer review stated that the authority

“lacked ambition for young people”

and was not supporting school improvement with the vigour that was needed. After two such warnings in one year, I firmly believe that enough is enough. Every young person has the potential to succeed, but some need help to get there. People who do not share that belief have no place in running education systems and that is my warning to Brighton and Hove education authority as it responds to those challenges.

Underperformance is not the sole preserve of local authority education systems. If this Government truly cared about rooting out and challenging coasting schools, they would extend the reach of the Bill to include other organisations. The first would be underperforming academies, particularly good schools that are being held back by being locked into low-performing academy chains. Why the Government are not introducing measures to release them from the contracts with the same rapidity as the maintained schools covered by the Bill is a mystery to me. The second group would be coasting private schools that are registered with the Charity Commission and receiving tax breaks. They should also be expected to deliver the same improvements as those demanded of maintained schools.

I also have concerns about clause 8, which covers consultation. As chair of the governors of an academy, I feel strongly that links to the surrounding community beyond the students and parents are incredibly important for the success of the school. The predecessor of the school I now chair was in special measures at the time of the conversion and the consultation time was therefore limited, but the powers granted to the Secretary of State by the Bill will enable similarly rapid conversion for coasting schools. Unless a rapid consultation is carried out with extreme skill, that will disempower the school community and could well hinder the improvement that is needed and desired.

Academisation is one tool among many in improving local education. Others include improving teaching standards, better leadership and improving whole family approaches to education. Each of those is a means to an end, not an end in itself, but because the Government have prioritised the academy programme above other methods of tackling coasting schools, the future of individual schools has become an ideological battleground rather than a place where communities come together to express their ambitions for their school and for the next generation of young people. That is why the Bill is too limited and ideological to warrant our support.

8.24 pm

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab): I, too, congratulate those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches this evening. In particular, I was intrigued

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by the comments of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) about his experiences with Ofsted. I want to return to his words during my speech.

This afternoon, Labour has been accused of being ideologically driven in our concerns about the Bill and in our reasoned amendment. I believe that the opposite is true. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) talked about Greek mythology, and I might invoke that myself and describe the Bill as something of a Trojan horse. Among all the talk of standards and of improving schools, I think that there is another hidden agenda, which is the philosophical aim of taking the delivery of public services away from the public sector. I think that is one of the Government’s real motivations.

The Bill vests greater centralised power in the Secretary of State, who appears to have decided that forced academisation is a golden bullet to improve school standards, but proportionally more academies are at “requires improvement” stage or below than local education authority schools. There is therefore evidence of an ideological drive from the Government, because their stated aim is to create at least 1,000 new academies during this Parliament, whereas the number of schools that are failing is about 250. The gap between those two figures suggest that this is about ideology rather than standards.

That gap must be why the Secretary of State has chosen to move the goalposts by introducing the new concept of a coasting school, although of course we do not know at this stage where she has moved the goalposts to. Accountability switches from parents and the local community via its council to the Secretary of State, meaning more centralisation from a Government who say one thing but do the opposite. It means fewer parental choices and less involvement.

One in four academies have seen their headteachers depart in the past year, prompting fears of a leadership crisis. Indeed, according to figures from UHY Hacker Young, which audits academy accounts, the figures are higher among secondary schools. The survey showed that although some of the departures are due to retirement, a tougher inspection regime and failing morale among headteachers were largely to blame. UHY Hacker Young said that the situation was putting potential heads off applying for the top job, causing an imminent recruitment crisis. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) talked about the recruitment crisis in the teaching profession and she was absolutely right, but if the Government’s aim is to force the academisation of schools and bring in superheads, where will all these superheads come from if we cannot recruit heads for existing schools?

The Government will turn to forced academisation for ideological purposes, despite there being no evidence that it will work or that it will address the problems of leadership. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) spoke passionately about the importance of leadership.

Let me return to the role of Ofsted. I understand that a firm inspection regime is needed, but there is despair in the teaching profession at the way Ofsted and the Government constantly change the goalposts for the targets that schools and teachers are expected to meet. There is a reliance on too many bare statistics, and teachers in Chester tell me that they are spending not

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enough time teaching and too much time reporting on how they are teaching. One very experienced school governor—of an academy, I hasten to add—in Chester last week spoke to me of a

“cold wind of an obsession with accountability, measuring performance. It’s all quantitative…. With Ofsted there is a fear of failure rather than a celebration of success.”

That reminds me of what Sir Michael Wilshaw was quoted as saying in January 2013, I think, in The Guardian:

“if morale is at an all-time low, then that is a good thing because that means that management”—

he is referring to schools’ management—

“is doing its job.”

To some, that may sound like the smack of firm leadership; to me, it sounds like a licence for workplace bullying. It is no surprise that 40% of teachers leave in their first five years on the job.

If teachers are to inspire our children, they have to feel inspiration themselves, and beating that inspiration out of teachers in a quest for figures and ticking boxes, all the while berating them as potential failures, will do nothing to raise standards. What will? Quality teaching and inspirational leadership make all the difference. The Government should be building leadership, not forcing heads out simply to justify academisation.

Last week, I visited an academy in my constituency, Mill View primary school, which under inspirational head Susan Walters has twice been rated outstanding, but it has achieved that rating because of the teaching and the leadership that she and her governors provide. She believes firmly in supporting her staff and in having a clear vision and goals that are understood and that all the staff buy in to. She shares responsibility within the school and she shares credit for success. She will drive staff forward, but their wellbeing remains her personal priority. She keeps parents engaged as well, whether using their expertise to help the continuing professional development that she provides for her staff, or perhaps planning school trips.

Chester Bluecoat primary is one of the most diverse schools in my constituency, with more than 20 languages spoken. Headteacher Vince O’Brien focuses on putting each child at the centre of their own learning programme and has maximised use of the school’s building environment to inspire the children’s imagination. Of course, he has also built a strong team of teachers and teaching assistants. Perhaps it is time we let teachers get on with the job they trained to do.

We should trust our teachers and not dangle the sword of Damocles over them. We should change the culture from threats and blame and fear of failure to one that aspires instead to celebrate success. The Bill does nothing to address the real problems in education; it only takes us down the blind alley of forced academisation driven by the Government’s ideology and not by a desire to raise standards. It raises more questions than it answers and provides yet more churn and change where stability is required. I cannot support the Bill’s Second Reading.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I think it would be appropriate to raise the time limit on speeches to 10 minutes.

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8.31 pm

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. I congratulate all those on both sides of the House who have made their maiden speech today, and done so very well.

I have an interest in the debate as a primary school governor, at Grove primary school in Chadwell Heath, and as a councillor—an unpaid councillor, I should emphasise, given recent media reports—in the London borough of Redbridge, so I have several different perspectives on the Bill.

I want to respond first to a comment made by the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), in her enthusiastic speech, on the record of the last Labour Government. The Conservatives really need to decide whether they are the heirs to Blair, championing the school reforms that they are happy to laud in the misguided hope that we will feel uncomfortable or embarrassed by the fact that during our 13 years in government we made an enormous difference or whether they want to talk down the record of the Labour Government. They really cannot have it both ways.

As one who went to school under the last Labour Government and saw the improvements that were made, I am proud of the fact that we transformed the fabric of our schools through Building Schools for the Future. The secondary school I attended is now unrecognisable. It is an academy and its results have improved enormously. I am proud of the programmes the Labour Government introduced, such as the sponsored academies programme, which has delivered investment and greater freedoms and autonomy for our schools, excellence in cities and the London Challenge, tackling poor school performance, increasing educational achievement and tackling the inequality and educational disadvantage that hold back too many people, in particular those from the most disadvantaged families. I am also proud of initiatives started when we were in government, such as fast-track teaching and the major recruitment campaigns such as “Those who can, teach”, as well as the introduction of routes such as Teach First. Not only did we improve the quality and quantity of people entering the teaching profession, but we raised the standards and status of the profession.

That stands in stark contrast to the record of the five years of the coalition Government in terms of low morale and teachers leaving the profession in droves because of dissatisfaction caused by the Government’s reforms and the extent to which Ministers, for political gain, are happy to beat up on the teaching profession in the hope of bumping up a few points in the opinion polls. The present Government should show some humility about the record they inherit from the coalition. Ministers should come to the Dispatch Box with more answers about how to address the problems than we heard last Thursday, when my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) raised these issues in her Adjournment debate.

This is the first education Bill that we have had from a Conservative Government since the 1990s, and it says an awful lot about this Conservative Government and their aspirations and breadth of ambition for our schools that the Bill is so thin and so ill-defined. If the Secretary of State for Education, when she was at the Dispatch Box earlier, had not been so busy providing a running

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commentary on the Labour leadership contest—perhaps she is launching her own gambit for the Conservative leadership contest that we will see in the next couple of years—maybe she would have had time to provide a little more definition to a Bill whose Second Reading she expects us to troop into the Lobby and vote for this evening.

Not only does the Bill think small, but it continues the mistakes of the previous Government. There is a misguided focus on one part of the system, local authority maintained schools, and one solution, academisation. I have no doubt that for some schools conversion to an academy and bringing in new leadership and new funding is the right way to turn around people’s life chances through improvement in the quality of provision at the school, but as so many Opposition Members have said this afternoon, that is just one route towards improvement. I challenged the Secretary of State earlier with a case study from my own borough, where Snaresbrook primary school was deemed by Ofsted to be failing. Action was already being taken by the local authority in partnership with the governors, the parents and the pupils, and as a result of those efforts the school was already on the path to improvement, with renewed leadership and a re-energised and refocused governing body. To have forced academisation at that stage, as the Bill would require, would have disrupted progress.

The Secretary of State’s predecessor was right to listen to local people, parents and the Conservative-led local authority at the time and conclude that it was right for the school to continue as part of the local authority family because it had a clear sense of how it would move forward. I am pleased to report that Snaresbrook primary school has made considerable improvements within the local authority family.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): I have listened with care to the eloquent representations that are being made, but is it not dangerous, whichever side of the argument one is on, to paint one era as being rosy and another era as being grim? Under Labour, it is a fact that standards slipped. In the PISA league standards we went from 8th to 28th in maths and from 7th to 25th in reading. Although I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman’s school bucked that trend, it is correct to say that these are—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. Interventions must be short. He cannot make a speech, only a quick intervention in order to allow the person who is speaking to respond. If he wanted to make a speech, he would have been better off putting his name down. That is good advice. I am sure he has finished speaking. Is that correct?

Alex Chalk: Yes, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Wes Streeting: I am grateful for the intervention, because the hon. Gentleman makes precisely the point that I am trying to make and reflects the narrow-minded ideologically driven view that the only route to improvement is academisation. That is exactly what the Bill presents us with. What we had before was the flexibility to look at the particular circumstances of a school and decide whether it was right that it should be converted to an academy or remain part of the local authority family, or whether other means for improvement should be considered. The Bill would remove the flexibility that the previous

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Secretary of State exercised in the case of the local primary school in my borough and would compel it to become an academy, which may or may not be the right way forward. If the hon. Gentleman is on the Bill Committee, perhaps I can gain his support for amendment along those lines.

Other hon. Members have referred to the oversight and inspection of academy chains. Following on from the intervention, it is right that there are some fantastic academy chains which are providing great service to the schools within their family—chains such as Ark and the Harris federation, which are in the business of education for the right reasons. They want to tackle educational inequality and improve life chances and educational outcomes, and those chains do a fantastic job. But I still cannot fathom why Ministers are not listening to the concerns that have been raised by the Sutton Trust and Sir Michael Wilshaw, and even some of the evidence produced by the Department itself, which is that we are doing some schools no service at all by trapping them in academy chains that are failing them. Why do we not open them up to the rigour of inspection? Why do we set academy chains apart and not require them to achieve the same high standards and undergo the same inspections as others do?

This is the contradiction in the Government’s approach. They present Labour Members as taking a narrow-minded ideologically driven dogmatic approach, but it is actually the Government that are taking that approach. It is they who are making an assumption that academy chains can do no wrong, whereas we acknowledge that there is good and bad right across the mixed economy of education. We can accept that. Why cannot the Government do so, and why are they not addressing that question in the Bill?

Contrary to what the Government have said, academies do not always outperform local authority-maintained schools on educational improvement. Of course anyone who wants to skew the statistics in a certain way can draw the conclusion that they want, but the Government should look at the research produced by the National Foundation for Educational Research and others, which compares schools like for like. If we compare similarly performing schools, like for like, and examine them within the context of local authority-maintained schools or academy chain schools, there is not much difference between the two. If there is to be a more evidence-based approach to the debate, Members need to examine the evidence rather than simply parroting propaganda produced in a remarkably poor fashion by the Whips of the governing party.

Finally, I want to mention the definition of “coasting”. The hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes) gave the House what she thought was a very good definition of the term, and in some cases I might even agree with her. I know that she is being billed as a rising star in her party, but with the greatest respect, she is not yet the Education Secretary. We have not heard a definition of coasting schools from either the Secretary of State or Ministers, even though their Bill is now before the House of Commons for its Second Reading and the concept of coasting schools is at its centre. Perhaps the hon. Lady should be on the Government Front Bench, because she is providing the answers that her Ministers are not. For now, however, we have absolutely no idea what coasting schools are, how they will be judged and measured, and how the Secretary of State will intervene to improve

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them apart from through forced academisation, which I have already said might not be the best way forward. Why on earth those on the Treasury Bench expect us to troop into the Lobby with them to support the Second Reading of such a half-baked Bill I do not know. They need to be a bit more reasonable in their expectations.

The Bill also says absolutely nothing about the people on the fringes of education. For example, there are 17,000 pupils in pupil referral units, only 1.4% of whom will get five good GCSEs. Where do they figure in the Bill? How are their needs going to be addressed? And of course, the Bill is simply looking at the problems that exist now, rather than at the education system of the future. For the Conservatives’ first education Bill since they entered Government to have such a narrow focus shows a real lack of imagination. In this century, this country will have to work and compete very hard on the global stage for the jobs of the future. That will require all our young people to go through an excellent, world-class education system that thinks hard about pedagogy and about the manner and the environment in which we teach in a rapidly changing world. There is absolutely nothing about that context in the Bill. It is a narrow, ill-defined Bill that is unworthy of a Second Reading. I might have been in the House only a short time, but I know a half-baked Bill when I see one. It is time for our coasting Ministers to provide better definitions before turning up with such a Bill.

8.43 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I rise to support clause 13, which promotes best practice on adoption through regional adoption agencies. First, however, I should like to congratulate my Cheshire neighbour, the Minister for Children and Families, on his promotion to Minister of State, and pay tribute to him for the excellent work that he led in the previous Parliament to improve the adoption process and the support for adopters and adopted children. It is clearly in recognition of that that he has retained his portfolio, and he is bringing forward this further initiative today with undiminished vigour. I know that he grew up with some 90 fostered or adopted siblings and that he understands these issues intimately. He understands that living in a loving family can give a child the best possible start in life.

Real progress on adoption has already been made as a result of reforms initiated by the previous Government. In 2014, 5,000 children were found the permanent home that they needed—a record increase of 26% on the previous 12 months. The increase in the past three years has been a combined 63%—a remarkable achievement reflecting an improvement in the life chances of thousands of children. That has been achieved through implementing determined improvements, initiated, as I say, by the previous Government. Clause 13 follows on from that.

Since 2010, a number of adoption support reforms have been introduced so that the families can be confident that support will be provided if needed. These include placing responsibility on local authorities to inform prospective adopters and adoptees of their rights to assessments of need and entitlements to other adoption support services; improving access to specialist therapeutic services through the £19 million adoption support fund; extending entitlements on priority schools admissions; access to the pupil premium; and reforming adoption pay and leave.

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In 2013 the adopter approvals process was reformed to ensure that prospective adopters could be assessed and approved more quickly. Most approvals now take place within six months—or should do. The new assessment process is just as rigorous as its predecessor but is structured to ensure swift and appropriate progress. The Department for Education has ensured that there has been continued improvement in opportunities to support matching children to adopters. That includes the work of the national adoption register service and the provision of exchange days and adoption activity days.

The Department funds First4Adoption, which is a national information service for adoption in England. The Department has also provided £17 million in additional funding over 2013-16 to help voluntary adoption agencies to recruit and approve more adopters, including those who can meet the needs of children who are harder to place. The Government have provided local authorities with £200 million over 2014-16 to support adoption reform on the ground and improve the recruitment of adopters. Last year, the Department and First4Adoption worked closely together in developing promotional resources in order to reach out to anyone interested in adoption. It is particularly important—the Minister is aware of my concern about this—that adoption is promoted to women with unplanned pregnancies as an option for them to consider. In 2014, the introduction of the Adoption Leadership Board headed by Sir Martin Narey has helped to drive further progress in recruiting new adopters.

Tremendous progress has been made, but more needs to be done. More than 3,000 children are still waiting to be adopted—to be matched with new parents. Sadly, more than half have already spent 18 months in care, despite enough approved adopters being readily available. Ministers are right to try to address this; it is so important because it is a matter of social justice. Children who experience a loving, stable family home in their early years are more likely to replicate that in later life in their own homes. Sadly, that is also the case vice versa. Children who do not experience supportive family life often experience other unfair disadvantages that are drivers of poverty, educational and employment challenges, physical and mental health issues, addictions, and debt and relationship problems often lasting well into adult years.

Clause 13 is important in promoting, as it will, best practice across regions. When trying to place a child from, say, east Cheshire for adoption, there is surely no reason to focus on east Cheshire families if a loving family in west Cheshire, or indeed nearby Staffordshire, provides the answer. Many of the current boundaries are arbitrary. I am pleased that Ministers want to break this down and ask local authorities and local adoption agencies to work collaboratively and creatively on the recruitment, assessment and approval of prospective adopters, and on decisions about the placement of children with families and ongoing support.

I understand that in the United States a form of “adoption speed dating”—my term—allowing children to meet prospective families is proving more successful than anticipated. Prospective adopters might have a particular picture in mind of the kind of child or the age of the child they want to adopt, but given the chance to meet several children in an informal atmosphere, they often realise that they can widen their ideas, and

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successful matches from such events are at positive levels. That is the kind of creative thinking that the Bill seeks to encourage.

I was surprised to discover that there are as many as 180 different councils and agencies recruiting and matching children for adoption. That number seems incredibly large, especially as some provide adoption for a relatively small number of children. The number of agencies must be bewildering for would-be adopters, so the possibility offered by the Bill for the rationalisation of those numbers should promote the sharing and increase of best practice, as well as assist would-be adopters.

Of course, there are currently no barriers to councils working together to streamline adoption services, so I am pleased that there are examples of good practice to lead the way. For example, Warrington, Wigan and St Helens councils are already working together in the north-west. I am pleased that councils will be able to draw on external expertise to make their arrangements. Coram, a successful voluntary adoption service, already works with councils, including Harrow, Kent and Cambridgeshire councils. They—and, more importantly, local children—are already benefiting from those joint-working arrangements.

I am pleased that the Minister is on record as stating that he would prefer regional adoption agencies to spring up organically and be organised locally—as opposed to being imposed by Whitehall—and in a form chosen by the local authority and/or registered adoption society. We are all agreed that, in this policy area, one size does not fit all, so I welcome the fact that the Government’s approach reflects that.

I know we are using the term “regional adoption agencies” to describe the outcome of the reforms, but it is worth saying that they do not have to meet some fixed definition of “regional”. Ministers have said that local councils are free to organise themselves however they see fit, as long as they achieve sufficient scale to drive the efficiencies we all want to see. New regional adoption agencies can work across county or regional boundaries, minimising the delays in matching children with new homes. We all know that is critical, as a few months can be a very long time in the life of a young child, with their attendant needs for development, security and a loving family. I welcome the Government’s commitment to practical and financial support to help to deliver those changes. I am confident that, with that support, the majority of local authorities will see the advantages of joint working.

Evidence suggests that councils tend to look for adopters in-house before looking for them in other councils, which can result in children waiting longer than need be for new families. The Bill’s proposals are therefore important, as they will produce a culture change. The Government are sending out a clear message that that should happen—hence the proposal that councils should form regional agencies voluntarily but that, through new powers, the Government could, if need be, require councils to combine their adoption functions if they fail to join services voluntarily within the next two years. That underlines the determination of the Government to see these changes happen.

I urge all Members across the House to support clause 13—indeed, I have heard no valid arguments as to why we should not do so.

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8.53 pm

Clive Lewis (Norwich South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), and a particular pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who I think kicked this sorry excuse of a Bill into next week.

I congratulate the hon. Members for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) on their maiden speeches today. It’s a lovely feeling when you’ve nailed it—I know what it’s like.

I come to this debate as a governor of Thorpe St Andrew school—an outstanding local authority school; I am very proud of it. I will direct my contribution to the education component of the Bill, starting with what I believe is one of its overarching aims, namely, to build on the work of the Education Act 2011. If that Act could be described as the ignition of an engine to drive the dismantling of our public education system, this Bill is intended to turbocharge it—as the PM might say, “Fire up the Quattro, Nicky!”

In my constituency of Norwich South, the vultures are not just circling in anticipation of the Bill’s passage; they are already hacking away at the juiciest cuts. The Inspiration Trust has its beady eye on the Hewett local authority school and the £60 million of land that it sits on—land that belongs to the people of my city, not to what is little more than a corporation masquerading as a so-called educational charity. A secretive, unaccountable corporation in all but name, it has links to the very heart of this Government in the form of Theodore Agnew—a Conservative party donor and non-executive board member initially at the Department for Education, but now at the Ministry of Justice. I am sure that irony has not been missed by the parents and pupils of Hewett, who have seen little in the way of justice when it comes to having a say in their school’s future. That situation will be faced by many more communities if the Bill is passed in its current form.

In saying that, I recognise that there are good and decent academy chains out there, such as the academies run by the Co-operative Academies Trust, which are genuinely accountable and act in the public interest to improve the education of our children. Alas, the Inspiration Trust is not one of them. The Bill worsens rather than improves the chances of holding it to account.

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the other problems with the Bill is the lack of academies and sponsors who are able and willing to take on the number of schools that the Government intend to convert? The Co-operative can take on only so many schools. Is he concerned that the schools he describes in his constituency may have little choice other than to be forcibly taken over by the trust that he mentioned?

Clive Lewis: My hon. Friend makes an important and alarming point. Like many other trusts, the Inspiration Trust has already gobbled up tens of millions of pounds worth of public land and buildings and now, emboldened by the Bill, it finds its appetite whetted for yet more pickings.

Last year, using freedom of information requests, an investigation byThe Guardian revealed that academy schools have paid millions of taxpayer pounds into the private businesses of directors, trustees and their relatives.

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Rachael Maskell: Given the case that my hon. Friend described from his constituency, does he agree that there are real points of concern in the Bill about the weaknesses of consultation not just on academy status, but on the identity of the sponsors?

Clive Lewis: My hon. Friend is right: there is neither sufficient consultation nor sufficient scrutiny.

Even a report for the Education Committee, with its Government majority, has said that

“checks and balances on academy trusts in relation to conflicts of interest are still too weak.”

Sadly I see nothing in the Bill to remedy that, and much to make it worse.

The Committee also questioned the so-called not for profit branding being used by many trusts and called for more regulation and greater transparency. Instead, the Bill offers less of both and fast-tracks academisation, removing any form of consultation and robbing communities even of the enfeebled fig-leaf consultations that the Academies Act 2010 offered.

A great Member of this House, the late Tony Benn, suggested five questions to ask those in power. I would ask them of the Inspiration Trust and many other academies. What power have they got? The answer: too much. Where did they get it from? From those on the Government Benches. In whose interests do they use it? Judging by the money that Theodore Agnew is pumping into the Conservative party, I speculate that it is not in ours. To whom are they accountable? According to the Education Committee, no one in particular. And the most important question of all: how do we get rid of them? We cannot.

I see nothing in this Bill that seriously challenges that glaring lack of democratic accountability. As Tony Benn said:

“Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.”—[Official Report, 16 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 685.]

That goes to the heart of my argument about why we must oppose the Bill. This is not just a smash and grab on our public schools, their buildings, equipment and the very land they sit on, but an attack on the values that we on both sides of the House should hold dear—the values of democracy, accountability and transparency, especially when dealing with the allocation and use of public funds and giving local communities a real say in their children’s education.

A total of 145 academies are currently rated as inadequate, but nothing in the Bill deals with that. With the Education Committee this year saying that there was no evidence academisation in and of itself has improved educational standards, we have to question why the Bill is before the House. I cannot believe that it is on the basis of a fair and open-minded assessment of the best interests of our constituents and their children. It is their interests that I represent, however, and in their interests that I shall vote against the Bill and, instead, vote for the Opposition amendment. I urge the House to do the same.

8.59 pm

Louise Haigh (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow so many excellent maiden speeches, especially those by Government Members who are former

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teachers and who called on the Secretary of State to tackle the crisis of morale, recruitment and retention among teachers, which they have obviously experienced. It is also an incredible pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) and for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who made excellent contributions on the principles of what I and many colleagues believe to be a Bill that fails to address its professed aims.

The guiding principles of any education Bill that leaves this House should be to improve the life chances of our children. It therefore troubles me that the Government are intent on pursuing academisation at all costs, regardless of the evidence or the potential impact on pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged. My broad concern is that the Bill will force the Secretary of State to force academisation, regardless of the specific circumstances of the school and even if there is a clear alternative path to improvement.

When the last Labour Government introduced the academies scheme, it was intended to offer greater resources, new leadership and a fresh start to struggling schools. That principle has been abandoned in the Government’s programme, which instils competition in the education system and imposes almost complete centralisation. Indeed, the Bill finally removes the local authority, governors and, most shockingly, parents from the consultation process, denying them a voice completely.

As hon. Members have indicated, clauses 1 and 7 not only increase the power of the Secretary of State to force academisation, but introduce a statutory duty on her to issue an academy order for any school rated inadequate by Ofsted. The Government have estimated that the process will lead to an extra 1,000 schools being converted into academies over the course of this Parliament. That will constitute the largest wave of forcible academisation since the inception of academies.

We have had little assurance from the Government that forcing the academisation of swathes of our schools will improve those schools or the life chances of their pupils. Indeed, as we have heard, finding sponsors who are capable of driving improvement in at least 1,000 new academies will not be easy. Voices from across the sector have raised concerns over whether the academy chains on offer are capable of driving improvement. The Sutton Trust, in its 2014 report, found that

“a majority of the chains analysed still underperform the mainstream average on attainment for their disadvantaged pupils.”

Even the Education Committee, just this year, concluded:

“Current evidence does not allow us to draw conclusions on whether academies in themselves are a positive force for change.”

Does that not get to the heart of the matter? In a headlong rush to pursue academisation at all costs, the Government are ignoring the evidence and failing to take account of the specific circumstances of schools. Surely the Secretary of State should be compelled to force academisation only if the evidence supporting academy status is overwhelming and largely unchallenged? The reality is anything but that.

If the Bill is allegedly about driving school improvement, surely the Secretary of State should at least operate consistently by signalling a move towards driving improvement among academies too. However, there is

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no parallel requirement for the Secretary of State to act if an academy is shown to be failing. There is not even provision for Osted to carry out inspections of academy chains, despite the Sutton Trust reporting that the poor results of some academy chains represent a “clear and urgent problem”.

Is the Bill not a clear case of the Government putting ideology first? That is particularly important, given the pressures that schools are currently under. Is it really wise to impose wholesale structural change on a school if the issues that are contributing to its underperformance are nothing to do with the structure of the school? The problem of school places and the vexed issue of teacher recruitment and retention, which I and hon. Friends have raised in this House on a number of occasions already in this Parliament, will not disappear upon academisation. Forcing the academisation of schools will do nothing to address those, the most significant of issues for our schools and children; in fact, it may even exacerbate the crisis.

With Department for Education figures showing a 33% under-subscription of teachers in the core STEM subjects for the year ahead, and with schools in my constituency not receiving a single application when putting out national adverts for science teachers, how does the Secretary of State expect the Bill to address the teacher shortage that is fast turning into a crisis? Surely, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), it would be better to have a Bill before us that focused on tackling the very real issues that our schools face—a Bill that put evidence at the heart of any changes. Instead, we have a draconian Bill that causes a further massive centralisation of power in the hands of the Secretary of State.

If the Government’s primary interest is to drive up standards, I am afraid that this Bill would not pass that very test. With very little evidence to suggest that academisation drives up standards and with the Government doing nothing to drive up standards among failing academies, it seems wrong-headed for the Government to make the entire focus of the Bill a push to academise—regardless of whether it will improve schools or the life chances of schoolchildren. With such significant issues facing our schools and children, I am afraid that this Bill constitutes a missed opportunity to tackle the educational inequalities that scar many of our constituencies and to ensure that we have schools fit to provide the next generation with the education they deserve.

9.5 pm

Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab): I, too, congratulate hon. Members who have made their initial contributions in today’s debate. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), and particularly for Norwich South (Clive Lewis). He and I between us have doubled Labour’s representation in the east—from not a lot to, sadly for us, not quite enough.

The Bill claims that schools should do better, and no one is going to disagree with that, but the real question is whether the Bill provides the best way to go about it. Representing an education city, where nearly 1,500 young people are attending schools rated as “less than good”, if one trusts that definition, I find that to be a question well worth asking.

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The trouble is that the Bill does not address some of the obvious problems, such as inadequate funding. As a Cambridgeshire Member, I can hardly stand up today without pointing out the chronic long-term underfunding from which Cambridgeshire schools have suffered by comparison with other areas. It is worth pointing out that, partly as a consequence of foolish decisions made in the past by Conservative county councils, today’s young people should not be made to pay for the political errors of previous generations. As the Government consider the national funding formula, I urge them to create a long-term change that will correct this imbalance. The last Parliament saw some limited progress in that area, and produced a welcome, although relatively small, sum for Cambridge schools. This progress, however, will need to be improved massively if we are to bridge the funding gap that has so weakened investment in schools for decades.

I would ask—I am not entirely sure that it will be achieved—for any changes made to be done in an equitable way across the country, rather than being just a further cash grab at other parts of the country that have already suffered and lost out heavily. I would ask, too, that any such funding changes do not reduce the minimum funding guarantee for the most disadvantaged schools, where such an impact would again mean the worst-off schools disproportionately bearing the brunt of Government meddling in education.

I suspect that that point will resonate with many of the people I meet in schools—the headteachers, teachers and support staff to whom I speak regularly. The problem with the Bill, as so many others have noted, is that further structural change is not what is needed to improve schools. What we need are good teachers, good leaders, good support staff and a whole team highly motivated, well rewarded and well regarded. Sadly, we are a long way from that. As we have heard, a record number of teachers left the profession last year, and, as a combined result of these incessant cuts, the attack on morale and the exodus of over-worked teachers, even in a prosperous city such as Cambridge, 7% of the teaching workforce is unqualified, and in some schools, it is double that number.

Christian Matheson: Is my hon. Friend aware that these problems are not just happening in Cambridge? The headteacher of one school in the Chester area has for financial reasons been unable to appoint a qualified modern languages teacher, while a music teacher who happens to have a French A-level is teaching early-years French. The head of modern languages in that school has expressed concern to me that the children affected might be lost to languages for ever. That is entirely because of a lack of qualified teachers—and that is due, in turn, to a lack of resources for appointing them.

Daniel Zeichner: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is shameful that in one of my schools one in seven teachers is unqualified, and parents are horrified by that. I entirely endorse his comments.

Another issue that is not addressed in the Bill is the bizarrely named Priority School Building programme, which appears to be neither a priority programme nor a building programme. As we discovered last week, its rate of achievement is running at something like 5%. In my constituency, we have the rare occurrence of a new build that is currently under construction, but to such

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an incredibly low standard that the school has had to sell off its own assets to fund a widening of the corridors. The original plans would have made them so narrow that it would have been a depressing building. Far from lifting standards and inspiring pupils in a disadvantaged area, it would have made the situation worse.

Rachael Maskell: At Tang Hall School in my constituency the children are freezing in the winter. They have to wear hoodies, and they are still not warm. Will that not have an impact on standards in that school, and should investment not be put into improving school buildings to improve standards?

Daniel Zeichner: Indeed it should, and that resonates with those of us with long memories who remember what life was like under the Conservatives 20 years ago. We thought we’d got past that, didn’t we? If improving schools rather than cutting costs were the Government’s aim, they would be building to the highest standards, not the lowest.

I will conclude by reflecting on the acute pressure on school places, another issue that has not been addressed. In Cambridgeshire, which is a high-growth area, we expect to see a massive increase in numbers in the coming years. Is it not extraordinary that this pressing issue barely gets a mention in the Bill? It is not just a Cambridgeshire problem, because the situation is similar across the country. Why are the Government not addressing it?

A discussion on education is always welcome, but the Bill fails to address the issues that matter. Frankly, the problem is not so much coasting schools as a Government who do not understand the problem and so inevitably get the wrong answer—we could say, a Government who require improvement.

9.12 pm

Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): We have heard much discussion from Members on both sides of the House today, and a lot of questions have still not been answered. We are still trying to find out what “coasting schools” actually means. That term is central to the new powers provided in the Bill. Does the Minister not feel that the definition of that term should have been included in the Bill, so that we could be clear about the exact powers that we are voting on?

One of my biggest issues with the Bill is the huge number of powers that are being passed over to the Secretary of State, many of which are to be taken up by the regional schools commissioners, who have performance targets as part of their remit. Is there not a conflict of interest if those commissioners are to be rewarded for academising schools?

Clive Lewis: The regional schools commissioners report to the headteacher boards. In my constituency, one person who has been appointed to the headteacher board is Dame Rachel de Souza, who will now be making decisions on which schools will be academised and where there will be free schools. Does my hon. Friend not feel that there is something inherently wrong with that?

Kate Osamor: I totally agree, and that is what I want to ask the Minister. Does he not think that such people are wearing two hats, and that there is a grey area that needs more explaining?

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The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb): I say to the hon. Lady and to the hon. Member for Norwich South (Clive Lewis) that the Inspiration Trust is one of the most successful academy chains in the country and is transforming the quality of education in the part of the country that the hon. Gentleman represents. If I were in his shoes, I would go and see the Thetford academy and some of the other schools—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Minister, I want you to save some speech for later.

Kate Osamor: I would ask the Minister to be open, and to ensure that those of us representing constituencies where that could happen feel that it is above board. Until such time, that question will float. I would like him to answer it.

Louise Haigh: The debate is not just between my hon. Friend and the Minister. A great many other stakeholders should be involved in the process when academies want to take over schools, not least parents and governors. Does she agree that it is appalling that parents have been completely removed from the consultation process in academies?

Kate Osamor: Parents should be totally involved in the education of their children. In the new academisation process, parents are not on governing bodies, which is itself an issue that the Minister should look in to.

Daniel Zeichner: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is something curious—I welcome it—about the development of regional schools commissioners? Some of us will remember that, when the process first started, many of us suggested that things could not continue with everything being done from the centre. We now have regional schools commissioners. Does she agree that we might end up with that being further sub-divided—we might end up with something that is remarkably like local education authorities?

Kate Osamor: I totally agree with all the interventions apart from the Minister’s. On that ground, I will not support the Bill.

9.16 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): It is an early hour for me to be speaking in such a debate, but I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Labour Opposition to the Bill.

We have had a very good debate and a great number of contributions—in the end, we had, I think, 30 contributions from the Back Benches. We heard from the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), and the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan), who is in her place, made her maiden speech. I join those who have congratulated her on it. She told us that, prior to coming to the House, she had been a physics teacher, and had then decided to retrain as a stonemason. She offered her services to the House in the massive refurbishment that is likely to have to take place in years to come. I have to tell her—she may be disappointed—that, if she is not engaged by the House of Commons as a stonemason, unfortunately the Labour party will not be in need of the services of a

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stonemason for the foreseeable future, and probably never in the future will we need her services. I congratulate her on her maiden speech, which was extremely effective and fluent. I hope she makes many more such contributions during her time in the House.

We heard contributions from the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) and from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), and a maiden speech from the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry), who is not yet back in his place. I am sure messages are being sent to hon. Members in the various corners of the building and that they are working very hard to return for the winding-up speeches.

The hon. Gentleman’s maiden speech was very fluent. He reminded us that he is not the only Berry in the House. [Interruption.] I welcome him back to his place. Before he arrived, I was just saying how much the House enjoyed his maiden speech, which I congratulate him on. I understand the problem he has been encountering with his parliamentary mail as a result of not being the only Berry in the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) and I share similar but not exactly identical names. On new year’s eve a couple of years ago, I was very briefly knighted by the Daily Mail online as a result of the similarities of our names. I had to explain that I was more shovelry than chivalry, and that the knighthood probably was not intended for me.

We also had a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who movingly told us about the GCSE English teacher who made a great contribution to his life and future prospects. My hon. Friend is right: it is the quality of teaching that counts, so research shows, more than the quality of or the differences between schools. It is the difference between teachers in schools that is even more important, and we should all seek to raise the standing and quality of the teaching workforce. As a former teacher, I often meet ex-pupils in all sorts of places. They have not yet made any complaints, but I doubt that I would ever get as great an endorsement as the one my hon. Friend gave to his English teacher. I am sure that he will be very proud of the mention he got in the House.

We had speeches from the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter), who spoke about adoption; from the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown); and from the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg), who also told us that he was a former teacher and brought his expertise to the debate. I was going to say “Llongyfarchiadau” to the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), but she is not yet back in her place—that is not her fault because the wind-up speeches started early. She made an impressive maiden speech and I congratulate her on it. I also congratulate her on her mastery of the Welsh language for someone who was born in London. It is far greater than mine, even though I was born in Wales.

We also had a maiden speech from the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), and he told us of his experience in the retail sector. We have that in common, as I was once a Saturday boy in Marks and Spencer, as well as a warehouse cleaner in Fine Fare, at 48.5p an hour, which shows how long ago it was—long before the Labour Government brought in the minimum wage.