[Relevant document: The Nineteenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2007-08, Legislative Scrutiny: Education and Skills Bill, HC 553.]
As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
New Clause 14
‘(1) The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c. 31) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 88 insert—
“Admission arrangements: England”.
(3) In section 88A (prohibition on interviews), in subsections (1) and (3), after “maintained school” insert “in England”.
(4) After section 88A insert—
“88B Admission arrangements relating to children looked after by local authority
(1) Regulations may require the admission authorities for maintained schools in England to include in their admission arrangements such provision relating to the admission of children who are looked after by a local authority in England as may be prescribed.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may in particular include provision for securing that, subject to sections 86(3), 86B(2) and (4) and 87, such children are to be offered admission in preference to other children.
88C Procedure for determining admission arrangements
(1) The admission authority for a maintained school in England must, before the beginning of each school year, determine in accordance with this section the admission arrangements which are to apply for that year.
(2) The admission authority must, before determining the admission arrangements that are to apply for a year, carry out such consultation about the proposed arrangements as may be prescribed.
(3) Regulations under subsection (2) may in particular make provision—
(a) specifying persons who must be consulted, or who must be consulted about prescribed provisions of proposed arrangements;
(b) Specifying provisions of proposed arrangements about which any such consultation is to be carried out;
(c) specifying matters to which any such consultation is, or is not, to relate;
(d) as to the manner in which, and the time by which, any such consultation is to be carried out.
(4) When the admission authority have determined the admission arrangements that are to apply for a year, they must notify the appropriate bodies of those admission arrangements.
(5) Regulations may make provision—
(a) as to the manner in which, and the time by which, any such notification is to be given;
(b) specifying cases in which subsection (4) does not apply.
88D Determination of admission numbers
(1) A determination under section 88C by the admission authority for a maintained school in England of the admission arrangements which are to apply for a school year must include a determination of the number of pupils in each relevant age group that it is intended to admit to the school in that year.
(2) Such a determination under section 88C may also, if the school is one at which boarding accommodation is provided for pupils, include—
(a) a determination of the number of pupils in each relevant age group that it is intended to admit to the school in that year as boarders, and
(b) a determination of the number of pupils in each relevant age group that it is intended to admit to the school in that year otherwise than as boarders.
(3) Regulations may make provision about the making of any determination required by subsection (1), and may in particular require the admission authority for a maintained school to have regard, in making any such determination, to—
(a) any prescribed method of calculation, and
(b) any other prescribed matter.
(4) References in this section to the determination of any number include references to the determination of zero as that number.
88E Variation of admission arrangements
(1) Subsection (2) applies where an admission authority—
(a) have in accordance with section 88C determined the admission arrangements which are to apply for a particular school year, but
(b) at any time before the end of that year consider that the arrangements should be varied in view of a major change in circumstances occurring since they were so determined.
(2) The authority must—
(a) refer their proposed variations to the adjudicator, and
(b) notify the appropriate bodies of the proposed variations.
(3) Subsection (2)(a) does not apply in a case where the authority’s proposed variations fall within any description of variations prescribed for the purposes of this subsection.
(4) Where the local education authority are the admission authority for a community or voluntary controlled school, they must consult the governing body before making any reference under subsection (2)(a).
(5) On a reference under subsection (2)(a), the adjudicator must consider whether the admission arrangements should have effect with the proposed variations until the end of the school year in question.
(6) If the adjudicator determines—
(a) that the arrangements should so have effect, or
(b) that they should so have effect subject to such modification of those variations as the adjudicator may determine,
the arrangements are to have effect accordingly as from the date of the adjudicator’s determination.
(7) Where the adjudicator makes a determination under subsection (6), the admission authority must notify the appropriate bodies of the variations subject to which the arrangements are to have effect.
(8) Regulations may make provision—
(a) as to the manner in which, and the time by which, any such notification is to be given;
(b) specifying cases in which subsection (7) does not apply.
(9) Regulations may make provision—
(a) specifying matters which are, or are not, to constitute major changes in circumstances for the purposes of subsection (1)(b);
(b) authorising an admission authority, where they have in accordance with section 88C determined the admission arrangements which are to apply for a particular school year, to vary those arrangements to such extent or in such circumstances as may be prescribed;
(c) for the application of any of the requirements of, or imposed under, subsections (2) to (8) to variations proposed to be made by virtue of paragraph (b), or to any prescribed description of such variations, as if they were variations proposed to be made under subsection (1).
88F Sections 88C to 88E: supplementary
(1) Regulations may make provision—
(a) requiring an admission authority who have made a determination of a prescribed description under section 88C to publish such information relating to the determination (including information as to the authority’s reasons for making the determination) as may be prescribed;
(b) as to such other matters connected with the procedure for determining or varying admission arrangements under sections 88C to 88E as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(2) The power under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) to require an admission authority to publish information includes power to require them to publish it—
(a) by giving a notice containing the information to prescribed persons, or
(b) in any other prescribed manner.
(3) In sections 88C and 88E, the “appropriate bodies”, in relation to an admission authority, means—
(a) whichever of the governing body and the local education authority are not the admission authority,
(b) the admission authorities for all other maintained schools in the relevant area or for such class of schools as may be prescribed;
(c) the governing bodies for all community and voluntary controlled schools in the relevant area (so far as not falling within paragraph (a) or (b)),
(d) the admission authorities for maintained schools in England of any prescribed description,
(e) in the case of a foundation or voluntary school which has a religious character for the purposes of Part 2, such body or person representing the religion or religious denomination in question as may be prescribed,
(f) the admission forum for the area of the local education authority in which the school is situated, and
(g) such other persons as may be prescribed.
(4) In subsection (3), “the relevant area” means—
(a) the area of the local education authority in which the school in question is situated, or
(b) if regulations so provide, such other area in England (whether more or less extensive than the area of the local education authority) as may be determined by or in accordance with the regulations.
88G Power to restrict alteration of admission arrangements following establishment or expansion
(1) Subsection (2) applies in relation to a maintained school in England where—
(a) proposals for the establishment of, or the making of a prescribed alteration to, the school have been published under Part 2 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (c. 40) or under section 113A of, or Schedule 7 to, the Learning and Skills Act 2000 (c. 21),
(b) in the case of proposals for the making of a prescribed alteration to the school, the proposals are for an increase in the number of pupils that may be admitted to the school or for an enlargement of the premises,
(c) the proposals fall to be implemented (with or without modifications), and
(d) prescribed conditions are satisfied.
(2) Regulations may provide that, where this subsection applies in relation to a maintained school—
(a) the admission arrangements for the initial period and each of a prescribed number of school years following that period are to be the arrangements which fall to be implemented in accordance with the proposals (or in accordance with the proposals as modified), and
(b) those arrangements may not be varied by the admission authority for the school except—
(i) to comply with any duty imposed on them by regulations under section 88B, or
(ii) in accordance with regulations under subsection (5).
(3) Regulations under subsection (2) may exclude or modify any provision of section 88C, 88E or 88F in its application to cases to which the regulations apply.
(4) Regulations under subsection (2) may provide that in cases to which the regulations apply the admission arrangements which fall to be implemented in accordance with the proposals (or in accordance with the proposals as modified) are to be treated for the purposes of section 86(5) to (5B) as having been determined by the admission authority under section 88C.
(5) Regulations may prescribe circumstances in which an admission authority may refer to the adjudicator proposals to vary admission arrangements in cases to which regulations under subsection (2) apply.
(6) Regulations may make provision as to the determination by the adjudicator of any reference made by virtue of subsection (5).
(7) In this section—
“initial period” means—
(a) in relation to a maintained school which is being established, the period beginning with the day on which the school opens and ending with the beginning of the first school term to begin after the following July;
(b) in relation to a maintained school which is increasing the number of pupils that may be admitted to the school or enlarging its premises, the period beginning with the first day on which additional pupils may be admitted or (as the case may be) the enlarged premises are in use and ending with the beginning of the first school term to begin after the following July;
“prescribed alteration” means an alteration prescribed for the purposes of section 18 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (c. 40).
88H Reference of objections to adjudicator
(1) This section applies where admission arrangements have been determined by an admission authority for a maintained school in England under section 88C.
(a) an appropriate person wishes to make an objection about the admission arrangements, and
(b) the objection does not fall within any description of objections prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph,
that person may refer the objection to the adjudicator.
(a) a parent of a prescribed description wishes to make an objection about the admission arrangements, and
(b) the objection falls within any description of objections prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph,
that person may refer the objection to the adjudicator.
(4) On a reference under subsection (2) or (3) the adjudicator must decide whether, and (if so) to what extent, the objection should be upheld.
(5) Regulations may make provision—
(a) as to any conditions which must be satisfied before—
(i) an objection can be referred to the adjudicator under subsection (2) or (3), or
(ii) the adjudicator is required to determine an objection referred to him under subsection (3);
(b) as to circumstances in which the adjudicator is not required to determine an objection under subsection (4);
(c) prescribing the steps which may be taken by an admission authority where an objection has been referred to the adjudicator under subsection (2) or (3) but has not yet been determined.
(d) prohibiting or restricting the reference under subsection (2) or (3), within such period following a decision by the adjudicator under this section as may be prescribed, of any objection raising the same (or substantially the same) issues in relation to the admission arrangements of the school in question.
(6) In subsection (2), “appropriate person” means—
(a) a body or person within any of paragraphs (a) to (f) of section 88F(3); or
(b) any person prescribed for the purposes of this subsection.
88I Other functions of adjudicator relating to admission arrangements
(1) This section applies where admission arrangements have been determined by an admission authority for a maintained school in England under section 88C.
(2) Where it appears to the Secretary of State that the admission arrangements do not, or may not, conform with the requirements relating to admission arrangements, the Secretary of State may refer the admission arrangements to the adjudicator.
(3) Subsection (4) applies where—
(a) the Secretary of State refers the admission arrangements to the adjudicator under subsection (2), or
(b) the adjudicator receives a report under section 88P which, pursuant to regulations under subsection (5) of that section, states that the admission arrangements do not, or may not, conform with the requirements relating to admission arrangements.
(4) The adjudicator must—
(a) consider the admission arrangements, and
(b) decide whether they conform with those requirements and, if not, in what respect they do not.
(5) Where it appears to the adjudicator that the admission arrangements do not, or may not, conform with the requirements relating to admission arrangements (and subsection (4) does not apply)—
(a) the adjudicator may consider the admission arrangements, and
(b) if the adjudicator considers the arrangements under paragraph (a), the adjudicator must decide whether they conform with those requirements and, if not, in what respect they do not.
(6) Regulations may make provision prescribing the steps which may be taken by an admission authority where the adjudicator—
(a) is considering the authority’s admission arrangements under subsection (4)(a) or (5)(a), but
(b) has not yet made a decision in the case under subsection (4)(b) or (5)(b) (as the case may be).
88J Changes to admission arrangements
(1) This section applies where the adjudicator is required to make a decision (“the primary decision”)—
(a) under section 88H(4) on whether to uphold an objection to admission arrangements, or
(b) under section 88I(4)(b) or (5)(b) on whether admission arrangements conform with the requirements relating to admission arrangements.
(2) The adjudicator—
(a) must consider whether it would be appropriate for changes to be made to any aspect of the admission arrangements in consequence of the primary decision, and
(b) may consider whether it would be appropriate for any other changes to be made to any aspect of the admission arrangements.
(3) Where the adjudicator decides under subsection (2) that it would be appropriate for changes to be made to the admission arrangements—
(a) that decision may specify the modifications that are to be made to the arrangements, and
(b) the admission authority must forthwith revise those arrangements in such a way as to give effect to that decision.
(4) The adjudicator may—
(a) decide, in the case of any change required by subsection (3)(b), that it is to be a protected change for the purpose of section 88L, and
(b) where the adjudicator does so but considers that the change ought not to be protected for the number of years prescribed under subsection (2) of that section, decide that the change is to be protected only for such lesser number of school years as the adjudicator may specify.
88K Sections 88H to 88J: supplementary
(1) Subsection (2) applies to any decision of the adjudicator—
(a) under section 88H(4) on whether to uphold an objection to admission arrangements,
(b) under section 88I(4)(b) or (5)(b) on whether admission arrangements conform with the requirements relating to admission arrangements, or
(c) under section 88J(2) as to whether or not it would be appropriate for changes to be made to admission arrangements.
(2) Any decision of the adjudicator to which this subsection applies is binding on—
(a) the admission authority in question, and
(b) all persons by whom an objection may be referred to the adjudicator under section 88H(2) or (3) in relation to the admission arrangements.
(3) In the case of a decision mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or (b), the adjudicator must publish a report containing the following—
(a) the adjudicator’s decision on the objection or (as the case may be) on whether the admission arrangements conform with the requirements relating to admission arrangements,
(b) the decision of the adjudicator under section 88J(2)(a), and any decision of the adjudicator under section 88J(2)(b), on whether it would be appropriate for changes to be made to the admission arrangements,
(c) any decision of the adjudicator—
(i) under section 88J(4)(a) that a change is to be a protected change for the purposes of section 88L, or
(ii) under section 88J(4)(b) that a change is to be protected only for such lesser number of school years as the adjudicator may specify, and
(d) the adjudicator’s reasons for the decisions mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (c).
(4) Regulations may make provision—
(a) requiring an admission authority for a maintained school in England to provide information which—
(i) falls within a prescribed description, and
(ii) is requested by the adjudicator for the purposes of the exercise by the adjudicator of functions under sections 88H to 88J or this section or of enabling the adjudicator to decide whether to exercise the power conferred by section 88I(5);
(b) as to the manner in which a report required to be published under subsection (3) is to be published;
(c) requiring such matters to be notified to such persons, and in such manner, as may be prescribed;
(d) prescribing circumstances in which an admission authority may revise the admission arrangements for their school in the light of any decision by the adjudicator relating to the admission arrangements for another school, and the procedure to be followed in such a case.
(5) In sections 88I and 88J and this section “the requirements relating to admission arrangements” means the requirements imposed by or under this Part as to the content of admission arrangements for maintained schools in England.
88L Restriction on alteration of admission arrangements following adjudicator’s decision
(1) This section applies where—
(a) in accordance with section 88J(3)(b) the admissions authority for a maintained school in England have revised any provisions of admission arrangements for a school year, and
(b) the revisions include any protected change.
(2) In this section—
“protected change” means a change which the adjudicator has decided under section 88J(4)(a) is to be a protected change for the purposes of this section;
“the protected provisions”, in relation to any admission arrangements, means provisions corresponding to—
(c) provisions so far as implementing a protected change, or
(d) provisions so far as revised in accordance with regulations under subsection (6);
“the required number” means such number as may be prescribed or such lesser number as is specified by the adjudicator under section 88J(4)(b) in relation to a particular protected change.
(3) The admission authority for the school—
(a) must incorporate the protected provisions in determining the admission arrangements for each of the required number of school years following the school year mentioned in subsection (1)(a), and
(b) may not vary those arrangements in such a way as to alter the protected provisions.
(4) Subsection (3) does not apply to the extent that—
(a) the admission authority are required to determine or vary their admission arrangements in a way which alters the protected provisions in order to comply with any duty imposed on them by regulations under section 88B, or
(b) the arrangements may be determined or varied in a way which alters those provisions in accordance with regulations under subsection (6).
(5) Regulations may exclude or modify any provision of section 88C, 88E or 88F in its application to cases to which this section applies.
(6) Regulations may prescribe circumstances in which, in a case where this section applies, an admission authority may refer to the adjudicator proposals to determine or vary their admission arrangements in a way which alters the protected provisions.
(7) Regulations may make provision as to the determination by the adjudicator of any reference made by virtue of subsection (6).
88M Co-ordination of admission arrangements
(1) Regulations may require a local education authority in England—
(a) to formulate, for any academic year in relation to which prescribed conditions are satisfied, a qualifying scheme for co-ordinating the arrangements for the admission of pupils to maintained schools in their area, and
(b) to take prescribed action with a view to securing the adoption of the scheme by themselves and each governing body who are the admission authority for a maintained school in their area.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), the Secretary of State may make, in relation to the area of a local education authority in England and an academic year, a scheme for co-ordinating the arrangements, or assisting in the co-ordination of the arrangements, for the admission of pupils to maintained schools in that area.
(3) A scheme may not be made under subsection (2) in relation to a local education authority and an academic year if, before the prescribed date in the year preceding the year in which that academic year commences—
(a) a scheme formulated by the local education authority in accordance with subsection (1) is adopted in the prescribed manner by the persons mentioned in paragraph (b) of that subsection, and
(b) the authority provide the Secretary of State with a copy of the scheme and inform the Secretary of State that the scheme has been so adopted.
(4) Regulations may provide—
(a) that each local education authority in England must secure that, subject to such exceptions as may be prescribed, no decision made by any admission authority for a maintained school in their area to offer or refuse a child admission to the school is to be communicated to the parent of the child except on a single day, designated by the local education authority, in each year, or
(b) that, subject to such exceptions as may be prescribed, a decision made by the admission authority for a maintained school in England to offer or refuse a child admission to the school is not to be communicated to the parent of the child except on a prescribed day.
(5) In this section
“academic year” means a period commencing with 1st August and ending with the next 31st July;
“qualifying scheme” means a scheme that meets prescribed requirements.
(6) Nothing in this section applies in relation to arrangements for the admission to maintained schools of pupils—
(i) have ceased to be of compulsory school age, or
(ii) will have ceased to be of compulsory school age before education is provided for them at the school, or
(b) for the purpose of receiving sixth form education.
88N Further provision about schemes adopted or made by virtue of section 88M
(1) Regulations may make provision about the contents of schemes under section 88M(2), including provision about the duties that may be imposed by such schemes on—
(a) local education authorities in England, and
(b) the admission authorities for maintained schools in England.
(2) Regulations may provide that where a local education authority in England or the governing body of a maintained school in England have, in such manner as may be prescribed, adopted a scheme formulated by a local education authority for the purpose mentioned in section 88M(1)(a), sections 496 and 497 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) are to apply as if any obligations imposed on the local education authority or governing body under the scheme were duties imposed on them by that Act.
(3) Regulations may provide that where any decision as to whether a child is to be granted or refused admission to a maintained school in England falls to be made in prescribed circumstances, the decision must, if a scheme adopted or made by virtue of section 88M so provides, be made by the local education authority regardless of whether they are the admission authority for the school.
(4) Where any decision as to whether a child is to be granted or refused admission to a maintained school is (by virtue of regulations under subsection (3)) made by the local education authority although they are not the admission authority, the governing body of the school must implement the decision.
(5) Before proposing a scheme for adoption under section 88M(1) a local education authority must comply with such requirements as to consultation as may be prescribed.
(6) Regulations under subsection (5) may in particular require consultations to be undertaken with a view to securing that the arrangements for the admission of pupils to maintained schools in the areas of different local education authorities are, so far as is reasonably practicable, compatible with each other.
(7) Before making a scheme under section 88M(2) in relation to the area of any local education authority, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the local education authority, and
(b) any governing body who are the admission authority for a school which appears to the Secretary of State to be a school to which the scheme will apply.
(8) A scheme made under section 88M(2) may be varied or revoked by the Secretary of State.
88O Sharing of information by local education authorities
The Secretary of State may by regulations require local education authorities in England to provide other local education authorities with such information as may be required by them in connection with the exercise of any of their functions under this Chapter.
88P Reports by local education authorities to adjudicator
(1) A local education authority in England must make such reports to the adjudicator about such matters connected with relevant school admissions as may be prescribed.
(2) In subsection (1) “relevant school admissions”, in relation to a local education authority, means—
(a) the admission of pupils to relevant schools in the authority’s area;
(b) the admission of pupils in the authority’s area to other relevant schools;
(c) the entry to the sixth form of pupils who have been admitted to relevant schools in the authority’s area; and
(d) the entry to the sixth form of pupils in the authority’s area who have been admitted to other relevant schools.
(3) In this section, “relevant school” means—
(a) a maintained school,
(b) an Academy,
(c) a city technology college, or
(d) a city college for the technology of the arts.
(4) The matters which may be prescribed under subsection (1) in relation to a report by a local education authority include, in particular, matters relating to—
(a) the determination and operation of admission arrangements for maintained schools in the area of the local education authority;
(b) the determination and operation of arrangements for the admission of pupils to Academies, city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts in the area of the local education authority;
(c) the adoption and operation of any scheme, whether or not formulated by the local education authority and whether under section 88M or otherwise, for co-ordinating—
(i) the admission of pupils to relevant schools in their area,
(ii) the admission of pupils in their area to other relevant schools.
(5) Regulations under subsection (1) may make provision as to—
(a) the time by which any report under that subsection must be made; and
(b) the form and content of any such report;
and may, in particular, require a report to include a statement as to whether or not admission arrangements for maintained schools in the area of the local education authority conform with the requirements imposed by or under this Part as to the content of admission arrangements for maintained schools in England.
88Q Reports under section 88P: provision of information
(1) A relevant person must, on request, provide a local education authority in England with such information as the authority may reasonably require for the purpose of enabling the authority to fulfil their duties under section 88P.
(2) In subsection (1), “relevant person”, in relation to a local education authority, means—
(a) an admission authority (other than the local education authority) for a maintained school in the area of the local education authority;
(b) the admission forum for the area of the local education authority;
(c) any member of an appeal panel constituted under section 94 by—
(i) the local education authority, or
(ii) the governing body of a foundation or voluntary aided school in the area of the local education authority;
(d) the proprietor of—
(i) an Academy,
(ii) a city technology college, or
(iii) a city college for the technology of the arts,
in the area of the local education authority;
(e) any other local education authority in England;
(f) such other person as may be prescribed.’.—[Ed Balls.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: (a), in line 10, after ‘schools’, insert ‘and academies’.
(b), in line 17, after ‘school’, insert ‘and academy’.
(c), in line 42, after ‘school’, insert ‘and academy’.
(d), in line 56, after ‘school’, insert ‘and academy’.
(e), in line 244, after ‘school’, insert ‘and academy’.
(f), in line 337, after ‘school’, insert ‘and academy’.
(g), in line 362, after ‘school’, insert ‘and academy’.
(h), in line 405, after ‘schools’, insert ‘and academies’.
(i), in line 408, after ‘school’, insert ‘and academy’.
(j), in line 413, after ‘schools’, insert ‘and academies’.
(k), in line 427, after ‘school’, insert ‘and academy’.
(l), in line 432, after ‘school’, insert ‘and academy’.
(m), in line 494, at end insert ‘and admission forum’.
(n), in line 527, at end insert—
‘(d) the number and percentages of first, second and third preferences expressed in accordance with arrangements made under section 86(1) of the School Standards and Framework Act (or more if applicable) which were met and the main factors that affected whether such preferences were met;
(e) the number of appeals made to the appeal panel within the area of the authority;
(f) the ethnic and social mix of pupils attending schools in the area of the authority and the factors that affect this;
(g) the extent to which existing and proposed admission arrangements serve the interests of looked after children, children with disabilities and children with special educational needs;
(h) how well the admission forum protocol has worked and how many children have been admitted to each school under the protocol;
(i) whether primary schools are meeting their statutory duties in relation to infant class sizes;
(j) details of other matters that might affect how fairly admission arrangements serve the interests of children and parents within the authority; and
(k) any recommendation or recommendations that the forum wishes to make in order to improve parental choice and access to education in the area of the authority.’.
New clause 18—Selection by aptitude
‘(1) No new or existing maintained school shall select pupils by aptitude.
(2) For the purposes of this section, “maintained school” includes all Academies, Specialist, Trust or Foundation Schools.’.
New clause 19—Parental right to secure attendance at nearest school
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations make such provision as he considers necessary which may include the repeal, amendment or revocation of any legislation enacted prior to the coming into effect of this Act, for the purposes of giving full effect to the principle set out in subsection (2).
(2) The principle referred to in subsection (1) is that the admission authority for each maintained school, following the commencement of a school year on or after 1st August 2011, shall admit all pupils on whose behalf the parent has stated a preference and demonstrated that the school is the nearest to the pupil’s home.’.
New clause 20—Retention of selection by ability or aptitude after parent ballot
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations make such provision as he considers necessary which may include the repeal, amendment or revocation of any legislation enacted prior to the coming into effect of this Act, for the purposes of giving full effect to the principle set out in subsection (2).
(2) The principle referred to in subsection (1) is that no admission arrangements for any school providing secondary education may, following the commencement of a school year on or after 1st August 2011 continue to make provision for the selection of pupils by ability or aptitude other than under section 101 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (Permitted selection: pupil banding) unless the continuation of such selection has been approved in a ballot of parents of pupils attending primary schools from which such pupils may by choice of their parents transfer.’.
New clause 21—Abolition of selection by ability before the age of 14
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall by regulations make such provision as he considers necessary which may include the repeal, amendment or revocation of any legislation enacted prior to the coming into effect of this Act, for the purposes of giving full effect to the principle set out in subsection (2).
(2) The principle referred to in subsection (1) is that no admission arrangements for any school providing secondary education shall, following the commencement of a school year on or after 1st August 2011 make provision for the selection of pupils under the age of 14 years by ability or aptitude other than under section 101 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (Permitted selection: pupil banding).’.
New clause 22—School admissions: cessation of selection
‘After the school year commencing on or after 1st August 2011, the following shall cease to have effect—
(1) sections 99 to 100, and 102 to 109 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (c.31), and
(2) subsection (1)(b) of section 39 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 (c.40).’.
Government amendments Nos. 119 to 123.
Government amendments Nos. 133 to 140.
It is a great honour to speak on Report of this historic Bill to raise the education and training leaving age to 18, and also to move new clause 14 to strengthen the schools admissions code, which I believe is a vital part of the reforms to our education system that we must put in place to make this whole Bill a success. I should like to start by commending Committee members and all the outside experts on the high quality of scrutiny and debate that the Bill received in Committee. I very much enjoyed studying the details of those discussions.
This is a landmark piece of legislation; it is the biggest reform in educational participation for more than 50 years and the culmination of this House’s century-long ambition to deliver educational opportunity for all young people. In Committee, it was widely recognised by Members from all parts of the House that our wider education reforms—those to qualifications, the curriculum, information and guidance, schools and schools admissions—were all necessary steps to take over the next few years to bring our education system into line with the highest performing education systems in the world and to ensure that all our young people have the skills that they need to succeed in the fast-moving global economy.
Our goal is not simply to preserve opportunity and excellence for some, but to deliver it for all. We recognise that excellence for all demands both that every school is a good school and that every parent should have a fair chance to get their child into a school of their choosing. It is to deliver the goal that every school should be a good one that our national challenge programme will aim to lift all schools above the 30 per cent. threshold in respect of five GCSEs at grades A to C, including English and Maths.
Fair admissions are also vital in ensuring universal access to educational opportunity, and excellence for all children and young people. That is why the Education and Inspections Act 2006 introduced the schools admissions code, with cross-party support in Parliament, to ensure a level playing field for all parents and to ban unfair practices, such as interviewing parents or asking them for financial contributions as part of the admissions process. The code has been in operation for just one year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said, we have been building on the Select Committee report that preceded it and on the 2006 Act, and I believe that we have made real progress in delivering fair admissions.
In January, the Minister for Schools and Learners wrote to all local authorities to remind them of their new obligations under the code. Also earlier this year, my Department’s officials undertook a spot check on admissions arrangements in three local authority areas. The areas were chosen by officials on the basis that they represented a London borough, a metropolitan borough and a shire county, and were areas where the schools adjudicator had received no complaints about admissions in the first year of the code’s operation.
As we have discussed before in this House, we were taken aback by the findings reported to us. One in six schools in the areas surveyed were found to have been in breach of the admissions code—18 schools were in breach on more than three counts. A total of 96 schools had adopted admissions arrangements that were unlawful under the code without any objection having been made to the schools adjudicator.
In the light of those findings, which I published to Parliament, and following detailed consultation on reforms to strengthen the admissions arrangements, which we have undertaken in recent weeks, the new clause introduces a package of proposals further to strengthen the admissions system on the basis of the announcements that I made to the House on 2 April. We believe that our proposals will constitute a further transparent and important step towards fair admissions.
The Minister for Schools and Learners wrote to the Chairs of the Public Bill Committee on 8 May to explain the detail of the proposals, and the letter was copied to the members of the Committee and to all Front-Bench spokespeople in the House. A copy of the letter was also placed in the Library. I should like to record that since we started that consultation, and since the proposals were published in draft, the chief schools adjudicator has written to me to welcome them, and I am grateful to him for his support. In addition, we have consulted widely with faith groups and parents groups, which all support the actions that are needed in order to strengthen the code and to ensure fair admissions.
The new clause and the amendments relate to the code in three areas. First, we need to do more to ensure that the admissions arrangements for all maintained schools are fully consulted on and scrutinised at a local level to ensure that, school by school, they comply with the code, and that therefore they deliver fair admissions for all parents.
The requirement for admissions arrangements to be consulted on annually, irrespective of whether they have changed since the previous year, is, in our view, an unnecessary burden. Also, parents and their communities are required to play no role in the consultation process. The amendments will therefore allow us to set out in secondary legislation a more flexible and adaptable consultation process, which will enable us more effectively to engage parents and communities.
It is our intention to consult in the summer on proposals that would require admission authorities to consult on their arrangements not every year, but every three years, to lighten the burden on schools. Where changes are proposed within the three-year period, then, and only then, would a full consultation have to take place. It is our intention at that stage to ensure that parents and communities would be consulted. It is my intention separately but in parallel with that work also to ensure that in local areas elected local councillors can represent their constituents at appeals under the admissions code.
The second thing that we are doing in relation to the new clause is placing a clear duty on local authorities to report to the schools adjudicator on admission arrangements in their area. That is as part of their responsibility to monitor actively the compliance of admissions arrangements in their areas with the code and with admissions legislation. It is our intention to consult in the summer on regulations that prescribe the exact form, content and timing of those reports.
Thirdly, I am extending the role of the schools adjudicator so that, rather than being reactive as he is now, he will have a power to consider any admissions arrangements that come to his attention by any means, rather than waiting for complaints or reports to come to him. The schools adjudicator has no power to consider whether a school’s admission arrangements are unlawful unless he receives an objection from a local authority, a school, a faith body, a parent or an admissions forum. It is clear to me, on the basis of the evidence I have seen, that the adjudicator’s powers do not go far enough. He agrees with that.
Also, when particular admissions arrangements are referred to the adjudicator by my Department or are highlighted in a local authority report on admissions, the schools adjudicator will be obliged to consider them and to act accordingly. By extending the adjudicator’s role in that way, together with the other measures we are introducing through the Bill, we believe that we will be able to ensure greater compliance with the code and achieve fair admissions.
In fact, we believe that the steps we have taken in recent months will themselves constitute a decisive step towards fair admissions in our country. It is the only way to ensure that not some parents, but all parents, and not some children, but all children, have a fair and equal chance of gaining a place for the child at the school of their choice.
I should point out, as the letter to the Committee explained, that although those are the three main changes, there are other changes in relation to the new clause, which are consequential amendments Nos. 133 to 140, in particular to reorganise this chapter of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 so it is easier to understand and to draw the distinction between those amendments that relate to England and those that relate to the devolved Administrations.
I should also briefly mention the amendments to clauses 134 and 135, which we tabled and which were inserted during consideration of the Bill in Committee in the Commons. They support young people in fulfilling their duty to participate in education or training to the age of 18 by giving young people of whatever age the right to express a preference as to which school they want to attend to receive sixth form education, and give young people aged 16 to 18 the right to appeal to an independent panel against decisions made.
Amendment No. 119 will remove the regulation-making power from clause 134, as the law already provides for children on a roll at a school and transferring to the sixth form to be kept on the roll unless there are lawful grounds for them to be removed. Amendments Nos. 120 to 123 are consequential to clause 135 as a result of amendment No. 119.
The admissions code demonstrates a substantial step towards fair admissions in our country. As I said, it was passed with cross-party support in the House, and I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, for the work he did and the leadership he gave in delivering that code.
May I take the Secretary of State back to line 553 of new clause 14, which is on page 2057 of the amendment paper and concerns local education authorities requesting information from certain bodies? Line 553 refers to
“the proprietor of…an Academy…a city technology college, or…a city college for the technology of the arts…in the area of the local education authority”.
Will my right hon. Friend say what is meant by the term “the proprietor”?
In that case, I think that it is a technical term. It would refer to the governing body of those schools in those three cases. I shall confirm that when I make my concluding remarks after the debate, but I am sure that that is the case.
In conclusion, the admissions code was a decisive step forward, but we need to ensure that it is implemented properly and consistently across the country. We have had the support of schools, parents and all the faith groups in taking forward our drive for fair admissions in recent weeks. I hope that we will achieve consensus in the House on new clause 14 and the importance of fair admissions.
I know that consensus on the Bill has at times proved elusive. We have the support of the CBI, the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce on the wider debates, but there were differences in Committee that we will hear about later, in particular about the core of the Bill, which is the subject of compulsion. I hope that there will be an opportunity for Opposition Members to change their minds and to join the consensus in the country about the importance of education to 18 being for all young people, not just for some. On admissions, I urge Opposition Members to put politics aside and to support our reforms to deliver a level playing field and fairness for all parents. That is what our new clause will achieve. I hope that we will have the support of all parties today.
I am sure that I am not alone in the House in being moved by the Secretary of State’s plea for consensus and for us all to put aside petty politics in the interests of the nation. It is a great pity that the right hon. Members for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) are not in the Chamber to hear that plea.
I am also conscious of the way the Secretary of State framed the debate, and the way he talked about the importance of ensuring that everyone has the right to participate in education and training until the age of 18. As the Secretary of State will recall from Second Reading, and from the points that were made so well by my hon. Friends the Members for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) and for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) in Committee, the Opposition are committed to education not only until the age of 18 but beyond. We are committed to lifelong learning, to expanding university participation and to ensuring that every child who wishes to has the opportunity to allow their talent—
I am sure that if the Secretary of State wishes to refresh his memory on our views, he can do so by reading Hansard. I would recommend that exercise to all.
We all want admissions to be fair. We all want equity and transparency in admissions. As the Secretary of State, typically generous and consensual, pointed out, we played a part in ensuring that the admissions code formed part of the Education and Inspections Bill. I remember that the Secretary of State was less keen on that Bill as a Back Bencher than some, but, nevertheless, with the help of Conservative votes and after considerable soothing of the fevered brows of Labour Back Benchers, that legislation made its way on to the statute book.
When it comes to discussing admissions, the Government do not come to the debate with entirely clean hands. We saw the approach that the Secretary of State and his team take to admissions—he alluded to this case—just a few weeks ago. It was not an edifying spectacle. I shall turn in a second to what that episode reveals and how it inevitably affects the discussion of these amendments. First, however, I shall deal with the broader philosophical question behind admissions and the Government’s approach to them, as well as our approach and that of the other Opposition parties.
Unfortunately, there is still an old Labour, socialist approach to the question of admissions. It is not restricted merely to the Back Benches graced by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), but is evident in Sanctuary buildings, too. It is the Secretary of State’s belief that what really matters is manipulating access to a limited number of good school places, instead of expanding their number overall. If only he would commit as much intellectual energy to generating more good school places as he does to the micro-management of their allocation, this country would be in a better place and his political reputation would rank higher today.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West for displaying a spirit of loyalty that is sadly lacking at the moment on the Labour Bank Benches. No doubt it will stand him in good stead in whatever reshuffle we inevitably see after 22 May.
The Government’s approach to admissions has been described by some as bleeding heart Stalinism. In the Soviet Union, the production and enjoyment of a few worthwhile goods such as Zil limousines were restricted—
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. My contention is that those who criticise the Government for their approach to admissions are on to something. Instead of ensuring a genuine expansion in the number of good school places, the Government want to ration the limited number of such places.
In Soviet Russia, there were a few goods that were worth while, such as Zil limousines, and they were reserved for the nomenklatura, the bureaucratic elite. As far as this Government are concerned, there are a few good school places and they will be allocated at random or through the admissions code. They believe that that is enough to justify their approach to education. Instead of concentrating and devoting their intellectual energy to generating more good school places, for the Government it is a matter of dividing up what already exists—a classic left-wing approach.
I cannot help but point out to the hon. Gentleman that he seems to be describing in great detail what happens in Kent. There, access to good school places is limited by the Conservative council to those pupils who can pass the 11-plus examination. The admissions process is geared to making sure that they get two first choices in the admissions procedure, rather than the one to which everyone else is restricted. How does the hon. Gentleman think we should address that problem?
I am interested in the question of selection, and note that the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) has tabled an amendment that deals with the broader issue of selection at 11 and grammar schools. My party shares what I think was the view of the former Prime Minister: we believe that in counties where selection still occurs—Kent and Buckinghamshire, for example—it is a matter for local people to decide. The arrangements in place should remain as long as they command popular support. If the hon. Gentleman agrees with that view, I am delighted; but if he takes issue with it, that is a matter for him and his constituents.
I certainly support the Government’s position that it should be a matter for local choice but, as I shall set out later, the problem is that in Kent the rules currently require us to get up a petition of more than 40,000 names—together with a whole raft of information to verify that they are the correct people—before we can have a referendum. If, at some point in the future, I can convince my Front-Bench colleagues that they should simplify the process so that we can have a referendum on selection in Kent once and for all, will the hon. Gentleman support me in that?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. While we are on the subject of grammar schools, I should say that there has been some uncertainty about his position. If an authority such as Tory Buckinghamshire wanted to build new grammar schools, would he support that?
It is always a pleasure to receive your rulings, Madam Deputy Speaker.
In the debate on grammar schools, some people sometimes take the view that intake determines how good a school is, and that if we manipulate that, we fix everything. The view is taken by some on the extreme left and by others who are stuck in the past. My view is that it is not the social engineering of the intake that makes a good school, but getting the basics right. If a school has the right ethos and good behaviour and discipline, if its leadership team inculcates appropriate values in all those associated with the school, and if high standards are the school’s watchword, any school, no matter how challenging its intake, can be good. I—and, I am sure, the Secretary of State—have seen schools with uniquely challenging intakes produce superb results. I have also seen schools in relatively privileged areas where high standards have not been the norm, and where expectations have not been as high as they should be. Those schools have been underperforming.
It is my contention that deprivation is not destiny. It is the quality of the school, not the background of the intake, that is the decisive factor. It should be the mission of hon. Members from across the House to drive up standards, whatever a school’s intake, and to concentrate on the changes that will generate improvements.
The hon. Gentleman has said something with which I can agree wholeheartedly, so may I recommend to him the research done by Professor Jesson at York university? He has clearly demonstrated that in areas where selection is the norm, standards of teaching in grammar schools, measured on an “added value” basis, are far worse than in schools that have a comprehensive ethos, or where pupils are not selectively chosen. If the hon. Gentleman is interested in genuinely driving up standards, will he study that research, and if he agrees with its conclusions, will he join me in my campaign against selection?
I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his commitment to evidence-based policy making. I will look with interest at the research that he mentions, but my assessment, from all the educational research that I have read, is that the debate is a red herring. Ultimately, it is what happens in schools, and not how they select their intake, that determines how successful they are. However, he makes his point courteously, so I shall take the trouble to get hold of the research that he mentions.
There has been a measure of agreement among Front Benchers and Back Benchers about the importance of recognising and celebrating good schools and the ethos that makes them distinctive and successful. The worrying thing about the Government’s approach to admissions and the admissions code is that they have alienated good heads and have undermined good schools. In March, as the Secretary of State pointed out, the Government rushed out an announcement in which they drew attention to what they perceived to be numerous infractions of the admissions code. The timing of the announcement was curious: it was made on the same day that we discovered that one in five parents found their children had been denied their choice of school. Headlines would have underlined the extent of Government failure to generate enough good school places. Curiously, instead of explaining why that had taken place, the Government attacked successful schools. Why? Well, I can only quote the words of Joshua Rowe, one of the governors of King David high school in Manchester, who said:
“this is a political stunt and smokescreen; a diversion from the real issues of failing schools”.
I can only quote the Church of England’s chief education officer, Jan Ainsworth, who said:
“The Secretary of State must have known his decision to go public in this way would result in hostile coverage. There is a real feeling of betrayal by the minister, and some anxiety about the direction of future relationships with his department.”
It was not only Jan Ainsworth who spoke up on behalf of the Church of England. Colin Hopkins, secretary to the Dearing review commissioned under the previous Prime Minister, stated that as a result of what Ministers had said the public had been given an
“outrageously false impression of our schools”.
Listening to the Secretary of State, one would have got the impression that faith leaders welcomed his intervention the other month, but all those directly involved in the provision of faith education pointed out that the style, manner and content of the ministerial intervention was directly hostile to the ethos of those good schools.
It was not just faith leaders who made that point. Conor Ryan, who was not just special adviser to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) when he was Secretary of State, but adviser on public service reform to the former Prime Minister, also pointed out that the problem with turning the issue that the present Secretary of State deliberately chose to raise into a cause célèbre is that it
“alienates many of the good school leaders whom the Government need if they are to tackle failing schools.”
Denounced by governors, criticised by the Church of England, held to account by those in the front line and damned by the man who was responsible for the education reforms that genuinely marked out the first few years of the Government as distinctive—not a happy position for the Secretary of State.
A good question. “Ethos” refers, inevitably, to the qualities that a school has that make it distinctive and special, the qualities that parents admire and pupils appreciate—a commitment to discipline, to high standards, to making sure that an academic curriculum is available to all, a belief that every child, properly taught and appropriately nurtured, can achieve more than the parents may ever have envisaged.
One of the distinctive features of faith schools is that, whether actuated by the individual tenets of the beliefs that motivated the founders or by the commitment of those within them to good education, they consistently outperform the mean level of other schools. They are something to be cherished, something that the previous Prime Minister made it clear that he cherished, and they are schools that, unfortunately, feel demoralised and under attack as a result of the Secretary of State’s intervention—not a happy moment in his career.
What was the consequence of the Secretary of State’s intervention? We had lurid headlines about cash for places. Any suggestion that cash was determining access would have been worth objecting to, but there was no evidence that cash was determining access. As I pointed out on the Floor of the House, the money that was required and requested by those schools was required and requested for good reasons and entirely consistent with established practice, not affected by the clauses and amendments that we are discussing today.
It was the case that the money that was asked for specifically by Jewish faith schools was to provide the physical security of those children, who face a renewed and increased threat of anti-Semitic attack, and it was also required to pay for the explicitly religious Jewish studies, which are not covered by the amount of money that the DCSF remits for education in those schools. So it is entirely understandable that there should be a request for purely voluntary contributions.
Within the community concerned, people knew that the contributions were entirely voluntary. It is the case, as was pointed out by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, that in some of those schools a third of parents or less are paying the voluntary contributions requested. If it was the case that those voluntary contributions constituted a barrier, if it was the case that they determined entry, why in those schools would so few be making that contribution? When the Secretary of State launched that attack, he was not aware of the precise figures, how many people had paid or their circumstances. If he had been, I doubt very much whether he would have launched his ill considered attack.
I appreciate that when it comes to asking for any contribution sensitivity must be applied, but that sensitivity cuts both ways. It is important to ensure that schools ask for a contribution after admissions have been granted and in a way that ensures that members of the community are fully aware of how that money will be deployed. But it is also incumbent on the Secretary of State to show sensitivity to minority faith groups. If he believes, and I believe, that the situation could have been improved, he had a choice. His choice was publicly to name and shame schools in a way that led them to believe that their position was under threat, to see those schools criticised, and to see their names appear in the press under the allegation that there was somehow a cash for access scam operating. The Secretary of State will have an opportunity later in this debate to disavow that implication, apologise for the coverage that his intervention generated and put on the record his admiration for those schools and his regret at his and his Department’s clumsiness. I look forward to that; it would be a gracious acknowledgement that would do him great credit.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, since I became Secretary of State I have said many times that I fully support faith schools, including Jewish faith schools. Is he really saying that, if he had been in my position, with the clear information that a number of schools were making contributions part of the admission process in direct contradiction of the law, he would have chosen not to make that information available—not just to the schools themselves, but to parents in the area? Is he really saying that he would have decided to deny the public that information?
I would have verified my facts before calling a press conference at a politically convenient time to cover my embarrassment and make schools the victims of a witch hunt. The Secretary of State owes it to those schools to offer not vanilla words of support, but proper words of regret and an acknowledgement of the hurt that they and their governing bodies felt and of the difficulties that they faced in the national press as a result. If the Secretary of State did that, I would be grateful and we could move on to discuss other aspects of what he proposes. It is interesting that, even at this stage, the Secretary of State, in a hole, insists on digging.
The only person who has used the words “witch hunt” about this matter is the hon. Gentleman. He should apologise to me and my Department for using such language when he knows full well that we entirely support Jewish schools and voluntary contributions for security and ethos, although we also want fair admissions for parents.
We did verify with individual schools before we went public. The hon. Gentleman should apologise to me; his use of intemperate and divisive language has brought politics into fair admissions, something that previously had cross-party support. I make no apologies to parents in this country for driving forward fair admissions. The hon. Gentleman should apologise to me.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Tom Peryer, the director of education at the London Diocesan Board for Schools, wrote to the Secretary of State after the various statements. Mr. Peryer said that he wished to express on behalf of faith schools his disappointment and consternation at how the exercise was conducted—the clear inaccuracies and subsequent naming and shaming of schools when some schools were not guilty as charged. He objected to the highly questionable interpretations by officials of certain aspects of the code, to the inadequate communication and to how the exercise was publicised. Speaking on behalf of faith organisations, I have consistently cited individuals who were disappointed and experienced consternation at the way the Secretary of State and his Ministers acted. I am delighted to be able to act as their advocate in this place.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman to comment on the statement from the Church of England? On 11 March, the day we made the statement, it said:
“We fully support the challenge issued by the Secretary of State where schools have not heeded the Admissions Code. There is no excuse for not complying with the law in this area.”
The fact is that the Board of Deputies, the Catholic Education Service and the Church of England all supported our measures and drive for fair admissions. The hon. Gentleman should be supporting us and the faith groups, rather than trying to sow division. He should be on the side of parents, which is where I am.
The Secretary of State was responsible for making the statement that generated the responses; I did not ask Tom Peryer, Joshua Rowe or any of the headmasters or governors who contacted me to make their statements. It was the Secretary of State who deliberately sought to politicise the issue with his statement and to publicise things in a way that caused the disappointment and consternation that I have referred to.
I have tried to allow every intervention to be made and to allow this debate to be as full as possible. We made it clear in our opposition to the programme motion that we felt there was inadequate time to debate the very serious issues surrounding admissions and to debate the other issues surrounding the raising of the participation age. Let us be clear that it is the Government who tabled the new clause and consequent amendments. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s anxiety about the lack of time to debate—[Interruption.] The Government Whip, the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy), intervenes from a sedentary position; if he would like to make a proper intervention, I would be delighted to take it.
I am outlining our approach, and the Secretary of State will have to wait for a Division to be called when we will give him our position on that. Following all the interventions that hon. Gentlemen have been kind and wise enough to make, I am attempting to answer their points and to ensure that we have adequate debate. That is always my aim. The hon. Gentleman from the Government Whips Office just said that we had agreed to the programme motion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton made clear, that was before the Government made a number of changes to today’s business. [Interruption.]
Delighted, Madam Deputy Speaker.
One of the central aspects of the admissions code covered by the new clause and amendments is the priority given to children who are in care—looked-after children. We agree that it is important that those children receive absolute priority in the admissions process. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that they were not getting that. Let me refer him to evidence—something that was absent in much of his speech—from the London Diocesan Board for Schools. In his letter to the Secretary of State, Tom Peryer referred to the
“public naming and shaming of schools”
covered by the new clause in a
“‘score-sheet’ handed out to journalists”.
He points out that that
“would have been regrettable even if all the allegations”
made by the Secretary of State and his Department
“were true, but in a number of instances they were not.”
He goes on to give examples. Four schools in the London diocese were explicitly named by the Department as schools that failed to prioritise children in care correctly. Tom Peryer says that
“therefore the impression given is that those C of E schools are heartless in turning away the most vulnerable. However, those four schools did prioritise children in care correctly. The officials checking the letter interpreted the fact that those schools included a statement seeking corroborating information from a local authority that a child was indeed in public care as a request for justification as to why the school was the most suitable. This is not the case and the charge of non-compliance rests on an erroneous interpretation of what the school statement said. If indeed their statements are against the code then local authorities should also be found guilty because the common application form for Barnet and for other local authorities in London also requires evidence from the relevant social worker/authority. A few of our schools have had requests or applications from relatives of children who”
believe themselves to be
“‘looking after’ a child for the child’s parents”
and believe that they would therefore be able to go to the top of the priority list. All that those schools were seeking to do was to be true to the spirit of the admissions code and to give proper priority to looked-after children. Yet those schools, in being true to their Christian mission, were named and shamed by the Secretary of State.
I am afraid that the whole episode has been a deeply regrettable exercise on the part of the Secretary of State in seeking to put politics before policy. One of the welcome aspects of the amendments is their bolstering and strengthening of the role of the school adjudicator, given that the way in which the Secretary of State has used his powers causes Conservative Members great concern about whether he has the genuine best interests of the vulnerable most at heart.
When we have an admissions code agreed by all parties, it is absolutely vital that its implementation should be as consensual and considerate as possible. The Secretary of State’s approach to the existing admissions code earlier this year showed that it was an instrument that could not be trusted in his hands.
We welcome some of the signs of contrition that the Government have shown in the way they have approached the matter. The article that the Secretary of State wrote in the Jewish Chronicle and the visit that the Minister for Schools and Learners made to the Board of Deputies are acknowledgments that the issue was mishandled and required better handling. When the Secretary of State returns to the issue, it is important that he give us a fuller and better explanation of the way in which the admissions code will be framed in the future. In the new clauses we are debating and some of the subsequent amendments, the Secretary of State and his Ministers acknowledge that it is appropriate to consult on precise implementation of aspects of that code.
One of the questions that concerns Jewish schools is that many of them have requested a ketubah, or marriage certificate, in order to ensure that those who are applying to that school are properly married in accordance with Jewish religious law. I understand why the admissions code is chary about asking for proof of marriage, for all sorts of entirely understandable reasons, which I shall not detain the House by going into now. It is important, however, that the Secretary of State makes it clear that he will be appropriately sensitive and recognise that it is legitimate for Jewish and other faith schools to ask for proof of religious commitment and membership of the appropriate religious community. I look forward to hearing that assurance on the Floor of the House.
One of the other questions that has been raised by certain headmasters in connection with the admissions code and the new clauses is the way in which behaviour cannot be a determining factor when it comes to guaranteeing access to the sixth form of a particular school. One of the questions we would like elucidation on—I am not making the matter party political; we are curious because we are accurately reflecting, as we have done throughout the debate, the concerns of those who run good schools—is the Government’s view on the concerns raised by headmasters, such as the headmaster of Hasmonean, and teachers about the way in which they might be compelled to accept children into sixth form whose behaviour has been less than it should be, particularly when the ethos of those schools matters so much to them. I know that the head teacher of Hasmonean has written to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Schools and Learners, so if he cannot give us detail now, perhaps it would be appropriate for him to provide elucidation at another point.
There is another question relating to ethos. In response to the intervention by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, I defined “ethos” in my own way, but there was a specific objection from Ministers, in the context of the admissions code, to the use of the word “ethos” because they feared it could create a barrier in certain circumstances. Schools that believe that their distinctive religious ethos is central to their education mission need elucidation as to how it can be protected in the context of the schools adjudicator’s new powers. All that would be helpful.
Those are detailed questions that go to the heart of the admissions code, but I make those points now because they are points I have been asked to raise by people who felt hurt and bruised by the process that the Secretary of State and his Department indulged in earlier. We have not had an opportunity to hold the Secretary of State to account for his behaviour during that period. Many in the communities affected have formed a judgment of his approach to their faith and their schools as a result of his actions. This debate provides the Secretary of State with an opportunity to apologise; I hope that he will have the grace to do so.
It was as long ago as July 2004 that the previous Select Committee on Education and Skills published its report on admissions in secondary education. It has taken some time for the recommendations to work their way through to a Bill that I hope will soon become the law of the land. It has been refreshing to see just how far the Government have accepted the recommendations that we made on an all-party, non-partisan basis.
I was a little saddened by the speech of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) because it was about not whether we want to reform the admissions system to make it fair but a specific episode. He said that the Opposition were trying to reflect the views of those who run schools. We were concerned about exactly that when we took the evidence on which our admissions report was based.
Time and again, when head teachers and others were pressed about whether they honoured the admissions code, it was obvious from their answers that they did not. They pointed out that it was an advisory code and that the advice to a head teacher or board of governors was that they should take note of it, but did not have to do anything about it. Several head teachers told me—nicely, politely and modestly—that they had no looked-after children in their school and hardly any special educational needs children. When I or my colleagues intervened to ask the reason and point out that the admissions code should be prioritised, we got a sweet smile and the reply, “We take note of the code.”
I have sometimes been accused of being anti-faith school. I am not—indeed, some hon. Members might know that I was parliamentary church warden at St. Margaret’s for seven years. I am still a Christian, however bad. The contribution of faith schools over hundreds of years to our education system is magnificent. Although many of us, if starting anew, might change some aspects of their role, they are part of a rich history, and we are where we are.
We did not take evidence from Jewish schools, but we took much from Anglican and Catholic schools, which appeared to have an unerring ability to exclude poor children—I put it as bluntly as that. By some method in their admissions code—I do not know whether it was planned or plotted; I doubt it—Christian foundations, whether Catholic or Anglican, reached a comfortable arrangement whereby desirable schools could exclude children in need. There is a rich tradition of Christians setting up some of the greatest public schools, which were originally established to look after and educate poor Christian souls. Many of those public schools do not do that much any longer. However, I was astonished, as Chairman of the Select Committee, to witness the ability to stop poor children, disadvantaged children, children with special educational needs and looked-after children from getting into Anglican and Catholic schools. I suspect that those schools slipped into that, through custom and practice, over a long time.
The Select Committee report stated that we should have an obligatory code that schools and governing bodies must obey, and that calling in a schools adjudicator should be made easy. Until now, a schools adjudicator could come in only in special circumstances, which would often embarrass a few people in the community. It would be clear that one school had complained about another, and the camaraderie among head teachers meant that one did not do that. It appeared to the Committee that the rules were stacked against fair access. Surely the new clause tackles that, and we should accept it. I have never listened only to the views of those running such schools. Indeed, many of the people who gave evidence to the Committee did not seem to be too concerned about fair access. The current, mandatory code will put that right and new clause 14 is essential in delivering that.
I do not want to make a long speech. I do not want to be too partisan, but we had reached the stage at which somebody had to make an example of some of those schools. Not only was the code and the schools adjudicator made obligatory, but when research was conducted in three local authorities we found that some schools were still not conforming to the new rules of the game. There comes a point at which any Secretary of State who wants to take a firm view on fair admissions has to say, “Okay, we don’t want to, but we’re going to make an example of someone. There will be bad publicity if people don’t get out of their rather comfortable habit of excluding children who have a right to be in a school.”
To conclude, new clause 14 is right. I have spent a few hours today and yesterday in various studios and elsewhere, giving the Government quite a hard time on testing and assessment. However, I am switching modes in this short speech to say that I hope that it will not take as long—nearly four years—to reform our testing and assessment practices. In this case, however, do not let the House be ungrateful for what I think has been the perfect working of educational reform. The Education and Skills Committee did not make things up; it listened to the oral evidence and read the written evidence. We picked up on the feeling that something was deeply wrong with admissions policy and that it was not fair. We made a recommendation on an all-party basis and the Government have eventually taken note. That is good parliamentary practice and now good legislation.
I shall not speculate on the timing of the announcement of Government new clause 14 or the motives that informed it. I simply say that we are happy to support it and believe it necessary to address some of the unfair practices used in admissions over the years, which have been identified in many reports, including the Education and Skills Committee report three years ago.
We have two concerns about admissions, which informed our attitude to not only new clause 14 but new clause 18, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friends. First, we want to ensure that pupils and parents can choose schools, so that schools are not choosing parents and pupils to select their way to better performance. We want to ensure that the consumer rather than the producer is in the driving seat, if I may put the matter that way without provoking any comment from those on the Benches behind me.
We also seek to challenge the extraordinarily high levels of social segregation that remain in the school system, which the Secretary of State mentioned and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) would acknowledge. Some of those elements of social segregation exist because of schools’ catchment areas and are difficult to address without using more complex admissions procedures and selective devices. However, where there are elements of unfair admissions that we can address, we surely should address them. Although I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is quite possible for schools in deprived catchment areas to perform well, even with the challenging youngsters they often have, he will know that the results in our school system are, generally speaking, driven by a school’s social composition and its admissions practices.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath recently received a very interesting parliamentary answer, which I managed to steal from under his nose to use in some of the press coverage, so good was it. He asked the Secretary of State to break down the 600 or so schools that were failing to hit the Government’s target of 30 per cent. five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths, and to identify how many schools in each decile, according to deprivation, were failing to hit that target. The results were pretty astonishing, and they demonstrated what I assume the hon. Gentleman wanted them to demonstrate. They showed that 54 per cent. of schools in the most deprived decile failed to achieve the Government’s target. I believe that the comparable figure in the top decile was 3 per cent., so we know that there are extraordinarily high levels of social deprivation in schools in this country, and we also know that they have a powerful impact on driving opportunities for young people.
The hon. Gentleman has just made some very good points about social deprivation, but I want to bring him back to the issue of pupils choosing schools, rather than schools choosing pupils. Can he assure me that that Liberal Democrat policy will apply to the party’s candidates in Kent, because I have now been opposed at three general elections by a Liberal Democrat candidate who was fully committed to grammar schools and to selection at the age of 11?
The hon. Gentleman pre-empts my comments on new clauses 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22, and I shall come to that point in a few minutes.
Regardless of the report that informed the Secretary of State’s announcement a couple of months ago, this element of unfair admission practices should not have come as a surprise to his Department, not only because of the report that the Select Committee produced a couple of years ago but because of the research commissioned by the Department over the past six months. I refer in particular to the DCSF paper on secondary school admissions, which was commissioned by his Department and bears the departmental imprint. It was released in January 2008 and contained work undertaken by Sheffield Hallam university and by the National Centre for Social Research on behalf of the Department.
That research identified some of the unfair practices that new clause 14 seeks to address. It also highlighted other concerns about the way in which the admissions system concentrates educational need in certain establishments but not in others. The findings in the report tally with other parts of the Select Committee’s report, to which I will refer in a minute. It stated:
“Procedural non-compliance and covert selection on the part of schools is only a part of the reason for segregated intakes.”
It went on to look at some of the other driving forces behind segregated intakes, including the present aspects of selection in the education system. Some of those aspects have been grandfathered in our system for some time now through grammar schools, but there are other aspects of selection in the system, including selection that has been brought in by this Government since 1997 under the guise of the ability to select by aptitude. That is the issue that new clause 18 seeks to address.
I confess that I am not an education expert, and I have never understood the difference between selection by aptitude and selection by ability. New clause 18 refers to selection by aptitude. Does the hon. Gentleman encompass in the word “aptitude” the concept of ability, or does he distinguish between aptitude and ability? If so, will he explain how he does that?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, and I will tell him in a minute what the Government’s response to that question is. He will probably know, as an assiduous Back Bencher, that the Select Committee investigated this precise point in its report of 2004. It said that it could find
“neither evidence of a meaningful distinction between aptitude and ability nor evidence relating to the purpose or justification for selection by aptitude”.
I know that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), the Select Committee Chairman, was in constructive mode in his earlier comments. I pay tribute to the report that he and others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), drew up a number of years ago, which was clearly ahead of its time in respect of Government policy. The hon. Gentleman was perhaps a little generous, however, in overlooking some of the other parts of that Select Committee report on admissions, which the Government have yet to address. Some of the issues are dealt with in new clause 18 on selection by aptitude.
I appreciate how disciplined our Select Committee Chairman is, but we are dealing with a group of amending provisions, which allows me to talk more widely and to tempt the hon. Gentleman into doing the same. Paragraphs 200 and 201 were not at all generous about the Government’s policy of selection by aptitude. Let me remind Members who may not have a copy of the report precisely what they said:
“Given the well established links between social class and attainment and the Government’s stated commitment to social inclusion and equity, the integrity of the Government’s commitment to aptitude testing is hard to defend without clear evidence of its educational benefit. We have not been made aware of any such educational benefits. Nor have we been made aware of any means by which aptitude can be assessed without reference to ability.”
The conclusion was:
“Aptitude tests are an additional and unnecessary complication in the schools admissions process. Moreover, the resources invested by schools in running these tests are significant both financially and in terms of staff time.”
It is particularly interesting to look at the evidence recently commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which I commend particularly for its paper on secondary school admissions.
Let me assure the hon. Gentleman, in case he thinks that I have just rolled over and let the Government step over me, that I still believe in every word in that report. I am sure that that is true of the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) and, indeed, of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor). We all believe what was said about the 10 per cent. and we still stand by it.
I am grateful to the Select Committee Chairman for assuring us that he is not going to roll over on any of these issues and that he will continue to adopt the robust position that he has on this and other issues. I would say to him that the Department’s own research also seems to be catching up on this issue raised in the Select Committee report compiled by him and his colleagues back in 2004. As well as identifying that some existing unfair practices needed to be done away with, the report noted the quite significant increase in percentage terms in the use of the power to select by aptitude.
Some hon. Members may be surprised to know that it is not only the schools defined as specialist schools that have the power to select by aptitude, as any maintained school that considers itself to have a specialism is able to select in that way. It is interesting to note the extent to which that power for secondary schools to select by aptitude has grown over the past few years. In 2000, only 1.3 per cent. of schools used that power, which had grown to 3 per cent. by 2001 and was up to 4 per cent. in 2006. As the number of specialist schools grows, of course, the power to select by aptitude grows with it.
The Government say that they do not know how many schools exercise their freedom to select by aptitude, but it looks from the data as if the proportion of children within our schools system who are selected by aptitude is now larger than the number selected by ability through the grammar school system. The latest data for grammar schools show that about 4.7 per cent. of the school cohort are selected by ability. If selection by aptitude has continued to grow since 2006, we will be very close to that figure.
I must point out the logical flaw in the hon. Gentleman’s argument. Grammar schools’ selection by ability is concentrated in a couple of areas where the level of selection is very high, but the hon. Gentleman is comparing that figure with selection by aptitude, which is averaged over the whole country. The two figures cannot be compared.
I am pointing out that the Government and most of their Back Benchers who committed to halt an expansion in admission by ability or aptitude are now involved in a quite large experiment in which those forms of selection are increasingly used. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report that his Government Department and the Secretary of State commissioned on this issue. I hope that the Secretary of State has had a chance to see its conclusions, because the Government’s own research shows that
“there are strong arguments to suggest that selection by aptitude is likely to be socially selective by default. A high relative attainment in any of the subjects… will involve expense of resources of time and money for travelling, equipment and training. More affluent families have more of these resources as well as more social and cultural capital. In addition, parents from higher socio-economic groups tend to be more active in choosing a school and to be more willing for their children to travel away from their nearest school… so they may be more likely to apply for the aptitude places”.
That brings us back to the issues in the Select Committee’s path-breaking report of 2004. The Government are proposing measures to get rid of unfairness in admissions as set out in new clause 14 and Government-commissioned research suggests that they should be considering removing the ability to select a proportion of pupils by aptitude. There is now a growing consensus that this is a big issue in the schools system and that it can lead to social segregation, as shown in the Government’s own research as well as that by the Select Committee.
Even policy groups associated with the right in British politics have begun to criticise this aspect of selection. I draw hon. Members’ attention to the paper by the Policy Exchange, which I believe is a think-tank quite closely associated with the Conservative party. It published a paper entitled “Helping Schools to Succeed” at the beginning of this year. Its recommendation 21 is to end the practice of selection by aptitude at all state-funded schools. I know that we shall come on to debate some of the wider issues of selection by ability in a few moments.
Purely for the benefit of the House, I would like to say that I used to be chairman of Policy Exchange, but before it enjoyed its current level of success, which post-dated my departure. I did not write that report. Although it has many good things in it, it contains one or two recommendations that we do not endorse—and what the hon. Gentleman mentioned is one of them.
There are also one or two Conservative policies that are not endorsed in this paper, but I may be steering rather wide of the new clauses before us. I was not attempting to draw the hon. Gentleman, as Conservative spokesman, into responsibility for this paper; I was merely pointing out that issues about selection, admissions and social segregation within the schools system are shared across the political divide.
If the hon. Gentleman’s thesis about social segregation is right, how does he account for Mossbourne community academy, where 50 per cent. of the intake qualify for free school meals? It is in the most deprived part of Hackney, yet it is on target to achieve 80 per cent. of children getting five or more GCSEs, including English and maths, and has a truly comprehensive intake. How does it achieve that with all its social problems?
In fairness, I said that it is right—I very much agree with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath—that individual schools are capable of performing outside their social intake with strong leadership and good education. However, anyone who denies that there is a strong correlation between the social intake of a school and its results has only to look at the parliamentary answers that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath is getting back from the Government, which show in the starkest terms the link between social class and educational performance. Although it may be true that some of those schools suffer from the inability to attract high-quality school leadership, given the tough conditions that they face, it is difficult to argue that the big gaps in performance are simply due to the effectiveness of the teaching rather than the social composition of the schools, which has a powerful influence even though individual schools can clearly perform far better, or in some cases far worse, than their social catchment would indicate.
Perhaps I can throw some light on the previous intervention. I will not comment on the academy mentioned, because I have never been there or studied it, but what is important—I have seen this in the selection process of some academies—is which children with free school meals the school takes in. If, for example, it takes in children with free school meals who have supportive parents who come to several evening meetings and a Saturday meeting before they apply to enter the academy, it will get a certain type of child with free school meals. The parents of children with free school meals who come from dysfunctional families will not come to three evening meetings and a Saturday meeting before filling in the application form for the academy.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, although not one, as he knows from our earlier conversations, that I entirely agree with, because most of the evidence for most of the academies shows that they are selecting a deprived intake, often more deprived even than their local catchment area.
As my hon. Friend says, we disagree on this. Academies that take over from failing schools will inherit those deprived catchment areas. The question is what academies will be like two, five or 10 years down the line. Most have been in existence for too short a time to tell, but city technology colleges, which were academies under another name and set up by a previous Government, have been around for a long time. The evidence is that they select enormously.
I think that my hon. Friend is strongly supporting my point about getting rid of covert—or overt—mechanisms to select by aptitude and ability. In the case of the city technology colleges set up by the Conservatives, I suspect that the evidence indicates that many of them were not set up in deprived catchment zones from the very beginning. The free school meal percentage for many of them is extraordinarily low. However, I share his view that we must ensure, both through this mechanism and the way in which banding is used, that we do not allow any school simply to improve its performance by changing its intake. That is important if the academy programme is to prove itself.
If I cannot persuade the Government to accept new clause 18, I hope that we will divide on the issue later. It is important. It clearly has not been dealt with by new clause 14, and the recommendation was in the Select Committee report. Although it is welcome that the Government have caught up with its recommendations of four years ago on unfair admissions, they have not caught up on the issue of selection by aptitude. That is why we have tabled new clause 18.
I shall not detain the House for long because it has heard my views on the subject on numerous occasions, but I shall continue to bang away at it until something is done.
I fully support what the Government are attempting to do. The rules on admissions procedures are difficult to understand and lead to many anomalies and controversies in local areas. Schools are obviously trying to get around the existing set of rules in some cases and suffering as a consequence in others. The Government have acted correctly in trying to set out rules that will govern admissions procedures around the country. I have no problem if, in doing that, they followed recommendations of the Select Committee, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said. All I ask is that that same fairness—the same set of criteria—be applied to the children of my constituency in South Thanet.
South Thanet is in Kent, and in Kent the educational reforms of the past 50 years have effectively not happened. We still have exactly the same education system as we had in the 1960s when the then Labour Government started to legislate to create comprehensives. We have grammar schools on the one hand and secondary moderns on the other. The county council can call the secondary moderns high schools and non-selective schools to its heart’s content, but they are, in effect, secondary modern schools.
The situation has improved slightly in recent years as the result of the creation of academies that are genuinely determined to create a comprehensive ethos. One or two schools have tried to do that, but we cannot create a genuine comprehensive school in a selective area. The two do not work together. The simple fact of the matter is that most parents in my constituency believe that the grammar schools are better than the secondary moderns. I take a different view. The grammar schools in my constituency—there are four of them—are very good. I have no criticism of them as schools; I just do not believe that the children who attend them do as well as they would if they were to attend genuine comprehensive schools in a setting that can support their individual strengths and weaknesses and give them access to a wider curriculum. That is my personal view. I do not want to impose it on all the parents in my constituency. I genuinely believe that the Government are right to say that we should get rid of selection in a selective area only by holding a referendum; I just want to have the referendum.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), who has tabled new clause 20, would I think argue—he will speak for himself in a moment if he manages to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that the simple fact of the matter is that we are not going to get referendums to abolish selection, so it should be abolished, full stop. He does not want to put me, for the first time in my political career, into the Lobby to vote against my Government. I certainly do not want to have to do that, and I hope not to have to support his new clause. The thing that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can say to me that will stop me doing that is that he recognises the problems of selective areas, will look at the rules that govern whether an area such as Kent can have a referendum, and will ensure that they are fair and that it is practical to have them.
The rules as they stand would require me and people like me who share my views to get together a petition of more than 44,000 people, because the rules say that it is necessary to get a proportion of the entire county, covering all the feeder schools and the secondary schools. That is not based on a catchment area around a single school, as it is in some parts of the country. We would need to get 44,000 signatures on a petition. Each entry would have to include the name of the person signing the petition, the name of the child, the school that the child attends, the relationship of the person signing the petition to that child, that person’s name and address, and the name and address of the child. All of that information has to be obtained for every one of the 44,000 people and all of it has to be provided in a vacuum, because the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1998 prevent people from getting access to the names of all the people who are entitled to sign the petition.
I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but does he share mine? My understanding of the rules is that, apart from parents of pupils and prospective pupils, the taxpayers in the area who are funding the schools will not even be given a say. I consider that outrageous.
My hon. Friend is right: that is exactly the position. Constituents of mine may be sitting at home now planning to start families and, for that reason, worrying about the state of their local schools, but they will have no vote. Others with young children who are not yet old enough to attend one of the feeder schools, but who will certainly attend one in the next few years, will not be able to sign the petition. It is impossible to know which of the 2 million people who live in Kent will be entitled to sign it.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we need referendums to avoid selection, but he must give me a fair chance to go out and convince my constituents that they should sign a petition—and even after 44,000 signatures have been obtained, the referendum will still have to be organised. All I ask is for my right hon. Friend, if he does not want me to support new clause 18, to assure me that he will look at the rules and make it at least conceivable that referendums can be held in areas such as Kent, so that their schools can be brought within the family that will be created by new clause 14 and benefit from the excellent work that he has done in trying to improve admissions procedures.
One issue that will remain in Kent if the 11-plus continues, either with or without a referendum, is the expression of preference. The county council and those who support grammar schools want pupils to make their choices when they know whether they have passed the 11-plus. That means that those who pass are given first choice of grammar school, while those who fail are given first choice of another school. It prevents the other schools—academies such as the wonderful Marlowe academy in Ramsgate, in which the Government have invested such huge amounts—from creating a genuinely comprehensive ethos, because there is no way of ensuring that the parents and children who are given first choice of that school are genuinely committed to comprehensive education.
Some of us do believe in comprehensive education. I did not put my children through the selective system because I do not believe in it, and there are other parents like me out there. I should have thought that we should be given preference when it comes to selecting schools that genuinely want to adopt a comprehensive structure, but we are given no such preference, because the county council wants to fiddle the selection procedure so that those who want to attend grammar schools are effectively given two first choices. New clause 14 will give the adjudicator power to stop that, and to make clear rules giving people an opportunity to build genuine comprehensive schools in my area.
I fully support what the Government are doing. I merely ask them to show some sympathy in the framing of the rules for the ballot on selection, and to offer my constituents a reasonable prospect that they will be free to choose how they want education to develop in Kent at some point in the future.
I welcome the thrust of what the Government are trying to achieve in new clause 14. I have been a member of what was the Education and Skills Committee and is now the Select Committee on Children, Families and Schools for nearly all the past seven years, and I played a small part in the writing of the 2004 report on admissions, which has been mentioned a number of times. The report helped to prompt the Government to improve admission procedures, which they now intend to improve further to prevent them from being exploited for purposes of covert selection.
Over the years, partly as a result of our current inquiry into diversity in schools, the Select Committee has received copious academic research evidence on the effects of overt and covert selection and the way in which it boosts some schools at the expense of the majority. I disagree with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who seemed to suggest that we should ignore all evidence of the negative effects of selection of various kinds and pretend that it makes no real difference, because what matters above all else is the ethos of the school. There is, of course, the ethos of the sink school. The most famous, of which everyone has heard, is the Ridings school.
Someone who knows Halifax extremely well is Alice Mahon, who was Member of Parliament for Halifax until she retired at the 2005 election. Writing in the Yorkshire Post in March, she pointed out that Halifax had eight secondary schools: two grammars that cream off the top 20, 30, or 40 per cent. of the ability range, two faith schools that select in a different way, and four “ordinary schools” to take the rest of the pupils. For whatever reason, over the years the Ridings fell to the bottom of the pecking order. Its ethos was that of the sink school. I know that that is not a term that we are encouraged to use nowadays, although it was in common usage when I started teaching in 1979, but the fact that it is frowned on does not alter the fact that such schools exist. There are schools that lose out badly because of the effects of both covert and overt selection. We see that on a county-wide basis in places such as Kent and Lincolnshire, where the grammar school system still reigns.
Although new clause 14 is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough, for two reasons. First, it leaves academies out of the equation. That is why I support new clause 18, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), and why I tabled amendments (a) to (n) thereto, along with the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor). I simply cannot understand why academies should be free to use covert methods of selection, some of which the Secretary of State described a few weeks ago when he talked about the abuse of admissions procedures, while other schools in the state system are not.
The reports from local authorities to the schools adjudicator will apply to all maintained schools, including academies, and all academies are required to comply fully with the admissions code. It is true that that is done through the foundation agreement rather than through statute—a point that I am sure will be raised later—but no academy is free from scrutiny or an obligation to comply. That will be part of the reporting process under new clause 14.
None the less, many people see a need to tighten up the system to make clear its absolute application to academies. I gave some examples earlier of the way in which they can play the system. I saw something similar in a free school in Stockholm, which is currently a favoured topic of conversation in some quarters. Although there is a ban on selective admission procedures in Sweden, those wishing to get into the school had to attend seven meetings with their parents—five in the evenings and two lasting throughout two Saturdays—before they could even put their names down. Pregnant mothers already had their unborn children’s names on the waiting list for a school with “non-selective” intake policies. Some academies in this country have similar admissions procedures.
I have never been able to understand why academies should be outside the system, just as I have never understood why they should enjoy freedom from Government diktat on curriculums. Why cannot state schools and their heads have the same freedom? I should like to give all state schools the same freedoms as academies, while also imposing on all schools the restrictions on abuse of admissions procedures proposed in new clause 14.
The other reason why new clause 14 does not go far enough is that it leaves out schools that select, directly and openly, on the basis of ability. That is why the hon. Member for Bury, North and I tabled new clauses 20, 21 and 22. Before anyone intervenes to ask, let me say that I am not speaking for the Liberal Democrats; my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil does that from the Front Bench, and those who have questions should address them to him. I am a mere Back Bencher, elected by my constituents to represent them, and I base my views on 22 years of working in three non-selective schools in the state system. I am also basing my views on having sent all three of my children to non-selective state schools in my neighbourhood in Chesterfield, as well as on having spent seven years on the Select Committee in both its incarnations, studying extensively the evidence in both this country and other countries.
I thought—I say this with my tongue slightly in my cheek—that there was cross-party agreement on the insidious effects of selection by ability. The current admission arrangements in which the 11-plus operates, to which the new clause applies, determine a child’s future at age 11 on the basis of a couple of short, simple tests that are no longer relevant to today’s needs. They distort the primary school curriculum. Those who can afford to do so pay for extra coaching. They constitute a high-stakes process that puts unacceptable pressure and anxiety on pupils, parents and teachers. The result is a system that leaves the majority of pupils being perceived, and perceiving themselves, as failures at the age of 11. Also, rather than providing a ladder out of disadvantage, there is significant bias against the less well-off in the test results, which is compounded later in public examinations.
“It is simply not right that a child’s future should be determined at age 11, nor is it right to segregate children into two discrete groups at that age.” —[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 July 2006; Vol. 684, c. 544.]
Before anyone asks, let me say that that is not me speaking; it is a direct quote from a Minister, Lord Rooker, on July 10 2006, when he introduced the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.
I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. I am old enough to have been part of the 11-plus generation, and I saw what happened to families when one sibling passed and one sibling failed. That changed their lives for the whole of their lives. Their relationship became one of success and relative failure, and it should not be like that.
I agree absolutely. When Lord Rooker made that statement in the other place in introducing legislation to end grammar schools and the 11-plus in Northern Ireland, he went on to say:
“The Government are committed to ending academic selection in Northern Ireland and to a new system that involves parents choosing schools rather than schools selecting pupils.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 July 2006; Vol. 684, c. 544.]
I am at a loss to understand why that same principle should not apply in England, if it is good enough to apply in Northern Ireland, and that is the Government’s view.
A former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), told the Labour party’s Manchester conference on 28 September 2006:
“We are reforming Northern Ireland’s antiquated, unfair schools system which forced every child aged 11 to sit a test to determine their future; a test which opened a door to opportunities for a few, but closed those life chances off from too many. I’ve just taken through legislation to not only scrap the 11-plus but to abolish academic selection completely across Northern Ireland.”
I ask again, if that is good enough for Northern Ireland—or any other party of the UK—why is it not good enough for England? After all, that was a member of the same Government speaking. Another Labour Member said in a Commons debate on the same order that the Government were committed to ending selection, because they believe it disadvantages those individuals who are not selected. If the Government believe that in Northern Ireland, why do they not believe it in England—in Kent, Lincolnshire and elsewhere?
The Conservative party had a far-sighted shadow Education Secretary, who believed in an evidence-based research policy. He researched deeply into the subject and made an excellent speech last year based on that research. The speech was delivered to the CBI, and in it, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) said:
“We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright, poor kids.”
Not that I believe that it ever was. One of the seminal works on the topic, published in the 1950s, “Education and the Working Class” by Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden, studied every child in Huddersfield in one year who was going to grammar school. They pinpointed on the map exactly which streets the children came from, and found that whole swathes of the poor areas of town sent almost nobody to grammar school. That belief was therefore revealed as a myth 50 years ago, and it was a central part of teaching when I was at university. I do not know why there is still this myth that selection is the ladder up for the poor.
The hon. Member for Havant went on to say that the idea that selection transforms the life chances of bright, poor kids
“is a widespread belief but we just have to recognise that there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it.”
He was so far-sighted, so visionary, so much based in the realities of research and policy-based evidence, that he got sacked and replaced.
I just want to refer the hon. Gentleman to the research to which I earlier referred a Conservative Front Bencher. Professor Jesson has compared the performance of cohorts going through the two distinct educational systems of selection and non-selection. He has clearly demonstrated that the brightest 2 or 3 per cent. do equally well in both systems—equally well, not better in the grammar school system—but that all the remaining children do on average one GCSE grade better in a comprehensive system than they do in a selective system, and that includes many of the very brightest.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That point can also be seen on an international scale. The PISA—programme for international student assessment—studies look at the OECD countries, which have comparable western-style economies. I think three studies in that sequence have been conducted now. All of them show that the more comprehensive the school system is—as in Finland, which tops the league tables every time—the better the whole cohort of the school population does, whereas the more selective systems tend to sink down to the middle of the performance table, although the amount of money that is spent has to be allowed for, too. The PISA studies have specifically cited countries such as Germany, the UK and the USA, where there are wide variations of selection in the system, because while selection is undoubtedly good for the 10, 20 or 30 per cent. who are selected and taken into the elite schools, it has a very negative, downward effect on the vast majority of our pupils who are left out. I entered into politics to try to improve the life chances of everybody, not of a selected elite minority.
That is a valid point, and one could make it again with reference to other areas. The Select Committee recently heard evidence from a former rear-admiral who now heads a group for public schools. He told us that what mattered is ethos. I said that Lord Adonis had said we should get the DNA of grammar schools and public schools and transfer it to the rest of the sector, and asked what was the DNA that was so good for this ethos. Was it the fact that those schools spent twice as much per pupil, that their class sizes were half that in the state system, that the teachers were paid more and had longer holidays, and that they selected only bright kids and they could get rid of any problem kid, or was it something else to do with the ethos? I think that question answers itself.
As I have mentioned, I thought that the Government were absolutely committed to addressing selection as a result of what they said about it, and the action they have taken on it in Northern Ireland. The Conservatives certainly were committed to that, until their research-based and visionary spokesman was sacked for stating the obvious based on that research.
I have to address my own party, too. My party leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), said on January 29 that
“if education is to deliver liberal social justice we must ensure that a minority of schools don’t skim off the brightest pupils at will, leaving other schools to suffer the consequences of poorer attainment and weaker reputations. That’s why we must end selection in academies, trust schools and foundation schools.”
I have to ask the same question, however: why does that sentence not conclude with the additional statement, “and grammar schools”, because they are clearly the biggest problem in terms of overt selection in this country? They are the elephant in the room that the Government and the Conservatives ignore—as do others.
I thought there was cross-party agreement on this issue, but the key is how we push towards the final goal. Perhaps we should be happy. We know that politics is the art of the possible, and that we get incremental improvements. Under the previous Prime Minister, it was difficult to get this Government to admit that there was any problem on admissions. Things have been moving forward much more rapidly since the change of Prime Minister last year, so we can hope, and new clause 14 goes some way in the right direction. With amendments such as new clause 18 and the amendments standing in the name of the hon. Member for Bury, North and myself, things would move a bit further, but the elephant in the room is the issue that new clauses 20, 21 and 22 address—the outright, open, overt selection by ability that privileges a small elite in the grammar schools and penalises the large majority in the secondary moderns, which, whether they are called comprehensives, community schools or academies, are indeed secondary moderns in that situation.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) spoke powerfully on the issue of selective admissions policies, which is at the heart of some of the amendments that I have tabled in this group.
I wish to speak specifically in support of new clause 14, the other Government proposals and my amendments to new clause 14—amendments (a) to (n)—which would strengthen it. Since he started in his post, the Secretary of State’s record on tackling the difficult issue of school admission policies is exemplary. It was necessary to take a tough line with some schools that may have been abusing the system to ensure that the issue remained at the forefront of public concern. Every parent and head teacher in the country knows that for many years most schools have done their utmost to manipulate the existing admissions system to their advantage. I do not believe that most head teachers want to do that, and I certainly do not think that most parents want to have to lie, cheat and deceive to get their children into the school of their choice, but those are responses to the situation in which they find themselves. The House owes a debt of gratitude to the Secretary of State for taking the line that he did on this issue.
The Secretary of State will also recall that the code of practice on school admissions was central to the debate on the Education and Inspections Bill in 2006. The House eventually agreed that if there was to be a freeing-up of the supply of schools and of the power of individual schools to run their own affairs, that had to be balanced by a tougher school admissions code of practice. One of the key issues was the legal responsibility of schools to comply with the code of practice. Under the old code, schools merely had to have regard to the code’s requirements, but we were able to change that arrangement in the 2006 Bill and make it clear that schools had to comply with the code’s requirements.
However, there was always a question mark over the freedom of academies. I am completely in favour of schools having the capacity to innovate, and I support, and am enthusiastic about, the academy programme. If that programme is to continue to thrive, flourish and maintain public support, it must be based on a level playing field. Any hint or suggestion that academies receive special treatment on admissions policies must be dealt with; such is the purpose of my amendments (a) to (m), which would amend new clause 14. They would ensure that the provisions that apply to all maintained schools should also apply to academies, so that there is a level playing field on admissions.
Amendment (n) is slightly different from those provisions, because it seeks to deal with the welcome new requirement in new clause 14 for local education authorities to report to the adjudicator. That requirement returns the role of LEAs to the position in which they should always have been, because they will have this important co-ordinating function on school admissions. The amendment picks up on the other important development in the 2006 Bill, which gave admissions forums the power to prepare a report to the schools commissioner. Interestingly, the Department’s website contains guidance to admissions forums as to how they should prepare their annual report to the schools commissioner. The wording of the amendment would require the report to include
“the number and percentages of first, second and third preferences…the number of appeals…the ethnic and social mix…the extent to which existing and proposed admission arrangements serve the interests of looked after children”.
All those requirements are now on the admissions forum. The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that those criteria are also included in the report that must be made by the LEA to the schools adjudicator.
I apologise if that is complex, but it is complex because two bodies are being required to make two separate reports. The admissions forum is required to make a report to the schools commissioner and the local authority must make one to the adjudicator. Perhaps, in time, those two separate reports should be merged into one, but if that is done, it is important that the criteria listed in the amendment relating to the ethnic and social mix of pupils attending schools, the number of appeals made and the number of first, second and third preferences are included in that report.
I turn specifically to new clauses 19, 20, 21 and 22, because they deal with the issue of selection by ability. I do not want to go over the ground and the arguments that have been well covered by the hon. Member for Chesterfield and my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet. I simply wish to say that the evidence on the effect of selection by ability at too early a stage in an education system has been well documented, not just this past year, the previous one or during the past decade, but for 50 years. The evidence from the United Kingdom and across the world shows that systems that select at too early a stage have the lower level of achievement overall and the biggest gap between higher achieving students and lower achieving students.
There is no shortage of evidence on the matter, and last year, we almost reached the position of having all-party agreement in this House. Significantly, today’s debate takes place almost 12 months to the day that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) made his speech to the CBI, and I was delighted that the hon. Member for Chesterfield quoted that speech. I was intending to cite it again, despite the fact that I have read it into the record on at least one previous occasion in this House, because it was a most important speech.
On 16 May 2007, we were on the edge of having all-party consensus and recognition of what the evidence from half a century’s educational research in this country and in countries across the world said: that academic selection at too early a stage destroys the opportunities of large numbers of young people and holds back overall levels of achievement.
I know that my hon. Friend will be aware of OECD statistics that suggest that the gap between the highest achievers and the lowest achievers in Britain is very large. That reinforces the social divisions that so bedevil our country and if we do not deal with that gap, we will continue to have the kind of frictions from which we have always suffered.
That is right, and that point was finally recognised last year in the then shadow Secretary of State’s speech. It was reiterated earlier this year in the Department’s own research on the admissions system for 2006, which was conducted by Sheffield Hallam university. Reference has been made to that.
The difficulty is that if we almost have consensus, how can we move forward? We have to work just a little bit harder on the current shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), his colleagues and the Conservative party, and we must test out some of their arguments and assumptions. Although he spent 25 minutes discussing an argument that took place four months ago and not addressing new clause 14, the hon. Gentleman did say something about the context in which he was approaching the Bill and the issue of fair school admissions. The difficulty is that in trying to extricate themselves from the policy that they almost had 12 months ago, the Conservatives are now posing a false antithesis. They are saying that the Government’s desire to ensure fairer admissions within the available school places is somehow at odds with the desire to get more good school places. To get a thriving education system, we need both. We absolutely need fair admissions policies, but we need to continue the process of ensuring that every school is a good school.
It is not good enough to say, “The solution to the problem is nothing to do with fair admissions; it is all about getting more good school places.” That raises the question, “What is a good school place?” Far too often, the official Opposition define a good school as one with a high proportion of highly able and motivated children. That is a completely distorted approach. The Opposition are locked into a circle of misconception that a good school is a school with a high proportion of such pupils. Therefore, not all schools can be good schools.
It seems to me that one or two basic principles should underline the Government’s approach—any Government’s approach.
I would be inclined to repeat some of the criteria that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath referred to earlier, but, to give the briefest possible definition, I would say a school that maximised the potential of the greatest number of its children and did most for their well-being and long-term future. However, that is not central to the issue.
We could all play around with our individual definitions, and I think we would all probably be in the same area in what defined a good school, but we must challenge the notion that a good school is one that happens to have a high proportion of able and motivated children. Conversely, we must challenge the notion that any school with a low percentage pass rate for those gaining five A to C grades at GCSE is necessarily failing. Too often—previous speakers emphasised this point—the good school and the failing school are, in our most selective areas, located next door to one another.
I risk prolonging the debate on what is a good school—the hon. Gentleman’s definition is admirable—but is not the Conservative party, since sacking the previous shadow Secretary of State, getting locked back into this loop of privilege: a good school is only a school with lots of high achieving, very able pupils? That is rather like the rear admiral representing the private sector who, in response to the hon. Gentleman during questioning at the Select Committee recently, said, “Well, there are only so many excellent teachers and excellent pupils.” The corollary was, “And they are all in the private schools where people pay £28,000 a year to send their kids.”
I think that is right. Paradoxically, it is in the interests of the Opposition to drop this archaic prejudice about the structure of secondary education. If they are genuinely trying to reinvent themselves as a party that represents the majority of the population of the United Kingdom, they cannot afford to hang on to their hang ups.
I have to admit that I struggle to work out the difference between shiny new compassionate conservatism and the old, nasty reactionary conservatism. Frankly, in the education policy that Conservative Members have espoused today, there is no difference.
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s lecture on modernity, but given what he has said so far, does he think that the Government have been wrong to concentrate on standards rather than structures over the last 10 years? That has certainly been their mission. Have they been wrong in that mission, because he seems rather preoccupied with structures?
The Government, in 2006, explicitly accepted that they were turning their attention to structures. The issue is that anybody with any experience of the state education system would appreciate that standards and structures are closely related. We might argue about the extent and depth of the relationship, and its exact nature, but they are closely related.
I am extremely lucky. In Ribble Valley, I have one grammar school, which is excellent, and several non-grammar schools, which are excellent. They are all excellent schools. I am following the hon. Gentleman’s arguments and I assume from the passion with which he is speaking that he has spoken about this with his Front Benchers. I also assume that we will enjoy a Division at the end of the debate.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, but I would rather continue with my argument for the moment.
The issue this, what should be the underlying principle of a state secondary school system? Two points, above all, should be at the heart of that matter. There is now a consensus that we want parents to be able to choose schools, not schools to be able to choose parents. Unfortunately, the official Opposition have not worked through the logic of that statement, because they still support schools—wholly selective, partly selective, quasi-selective—choosing pupils.
My argument is, first, let us agree that we really want parents to be able to choose schools and, secondly, let us accept that the fact that children are intellectually differentiated does not mean that they have to be socially segregated. It is in the interests of all those children and in the national interest that we do not build barriers at too early an age between children who come from different social backgrounds and who have different intellectual capacities.
If we can accept that we want to base the system on real, not phoney, parental choice and that it is in the national interest that children of all backgrounds are brought up together, we can move forward. That leads us inexorably to the point of view that selection by ability in secondary schools is not serving the national interest or the interests of the overwhelming majority of children.
Moving quickly and specifically to the amendments, I shall not spend long on new clause 18. Although I am sympathetic to the argument on selection by aptitude, and although in 2004 and afterwards I spent time trying to get the Government to define “aptitude”, in one sense it is almost a distraction to focus entirely on aptitude. The new clause is also a contradiction in a way, but if the argument is that selection by aptitude should be abolished because “aptitude” is a proxy for “ability”, why does the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), not deal with the question of selection by ability? I see little point in dealing with the proxy rather than the substance. My proposal deals with both together.
My second point on new clause 18 is that it does not do the job in that it will not amend legislation suitably and appropriately. It is a bit of gesture politics and it has served to raise the issue for debate, but it is not a serious proposal.
My new clauses 19 to 22 offer a spectrum of ways to deal with the question of selection by ability. That spectrum goes from the easiest way—it would start the process of change—in new clause 19 to the big bang solution in new clause 22. New clause 19 would turn on its head the assumption that has underpinned all school admission policies since the Education Act 1980—since the days of Keith Joseph. For the last quarter of a century and more, the assumption that has driven all Government policy is that most parents want to avoid their local school. All Governments’ admissions policies, all the incentives in the system and all the regulations have encouraged and made it easier for parents to send their children to other schools and move further away from their local school. We all know the background and context to that and we all know that a number of parents—not a majority, but a significant minority—do not wish, for whatever reason, their child to attend the local school.
My argument is that there is an equally significant minority of parents who want their child to attend the nearest school, but they are not allowed in because that school is selective—either wholly or partially by ability, partially by aptitude, by faith or by a variety of quasi-selective devices. One of the easiest changes to the code of practice on school admissions and to primary legislation would be to guarantee that parents had an absolute right to send their child to the nearest school, whatever the designation of that school. We would be putting parental choice at the heart of the system and not allowing the specific admissions policies of an individual school to keep out children who live on its doorstep. That would have implications for wholly selective schools and for some of the partially selective schools, as well as for some faith schools. However—this is again a response to the shadow Secretary of State’s opening remarks—all the major religious groups, as I understand it, are taking part in a lively debate about the balance between inclusive and exclusive admissions policies. In the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, many people at the most senior levels feel passionately that their faith schools should operate inclusive admissions policies rather than seek to keep children out. The debate will continue, and I hope that the Government will maintain a close dialogue with the major faith groups to encourage the adoption of more inclusive policies.
New clause 19 is the ultimate inclusive policy and would allow a parent who lived near a selective school, which was their nearest school, to have the automatic right to send their child to that school.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case, and he has been a doughty campaigner on the issue for many years, for which I pay tribute to him. I am concerned that if new clause 19 was accepted and new clause 20 was not, we would find that, in constituencies such as mine, all the middle-class parents who live close to the middle-class schools could send their kids there while the working-class parents on the working class estates would essentially find themselves with no choice other than to send their child to the closest school, which was what used to be called a sink school.
It is true that this system could have different effects in different parts of the country. However, the fact remains that in many of the selective local authorities in this country—quite apart from many of our leading quasi-selective schools and faith schools—such schools are located in areas of great deprivation. It is a national scandal that some of the poorest children living in the poorest neighbourhoods have to be bused out of those neighbourhoods because of the admissions policies of some of our most privileged schools. I fully understand the difficulties, and the system would operate differently in different parts of the country.
New clause 20 takes on board the Government policy on selection, but gives it a slight twist. It maintains the ballot system and says nothing about the fairness of the ballot regulations, which we would condemn from the rooftops had they been invented by Robert Mugabe. The new clause accepts that the ballot should stay but requires the Government to change the default position of the ballot. Selection by ability and aptitude would be abolished, but the ballot procedure would stay so that parents could opt to reverse it if they chose to do so. In Thanet, for example, Government policy would abolish selection but if the good citizens of Thanet wanted to reverse that, they would have the opportunity to do so through a ballot.
I will leave the exact number of signatures required and the exact rules of the ballot to the imagination, as there is no reference to them in new clause 20.
New clause 21, moving along the spectrum, deals with the issue in a different way. Whereas in new clause 19 I tried to reverse the assumption that all parents want to avoid their local school by building in an assumption that many parents want their children to attend their nearest school, in new clause 21 I try to shift the focus of debate from the choice between selection and non-selection to the age at which selection takes place and the interface between selection and choice. New clause 21 reiterates the case that selection by ability is completely unacceptable, for the reasons outlined earlier, but says that there comes a point in the education system at which children have to choose which curriculum they will follow.
Few people in the House would challenge the notion that selection takes place when people enter a university—there clearly has to be a selective process for a degree course. Many people would accept that there needs to be a form of selection at the age of 16, as people move on to level 3 education. An absolutely fascinating question concerns the implication of the emergence of the 14 to 19 curriculum and the development of diplomas for selection by ability. Another fascinating question concerns the role of an institution in choosing which pupils should be admitted to a diploma programme and the role of an individual pupil, with the support and advice of their teacher and their parent, in deciding which programme they want to progress to.
New clause 21 reiterates the inappropriateness of selection by ability at the age of 11, but accepts that at a certain stage of a young person’s progress through the system some selection takes place. It emphasises that it is far better if children and young people can choose the curriculum that they want to follow, on the advice of their teachers and parents, rather than having an arbitrary institutional decision made to keep them out of an educational establishment.
Finally, new clause 22 is the big bang solution. It asks why on earth the Government do not just get on with it and legislate against selection by ability at the age of 11, as Harold Wilson did 42 years ago.
We have had a wide-ranging debate on a number of issues to do with admissions. A great deal of passion, as well as experience and knowledge, was displayed by Members from all parties. I want to try to address a number of points that were made by going through the individual amendments and clauses. I shall try to do so as fast as possible to see whether we can progress to the next group of amendments before we have to move on.
I shall turn to the issue of principle about new clause 14 at the end, but I started by saying that we wanted consensus on the importance of fair admissions, and on the importance of providing opportunity and excellence for all through such fair admissions. It seemed that there was consensus in favour of taking forward the recommendations in the Select Committee’s report and of ensuring that the admissions code was properly implemented and strengthened. That consensus stretched across both sides of the House, but seemed to exclude the Opposition Front Benchers.
I shall come back to the issue of faith schools when I talk about the individual amendments, but my impression was that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) was saying that he was in favour of an admissions code in principle, but not a code that is implemented, that has any substance and that backs parents who want a fair chance to get their children into schools—or at least not if the code ends up being contrary to the views of what my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) called the “proprietor” and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath referred to as the “individual governors”. It was most revealing that at no point did the hon. Gentleman refer to parents or to the parents and children who do not get into a school because they choose not to apply, having been deterred by the way admissions policies were set. That was very revealing.
I shall come back to new clause 14, but first I shall talk about some of the amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) and the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) referred to amendments (a) to (n) to new clause 14. They both argued in different ways that we should not have a special set of arrangements on admissions for academies that exclude them or let them off the hook when it comes to fair admissions. My answer to that is that we have different legal arrangements for academies, but not special arrangements. We do not intend to allow any form of selection for academies, by either the front or back door, that goes outside the admissions code.
It is true that we do not legislate for academies in the same way that we legislate for maintained schools. The obligations placed on academies are contained in their funding agreements, rather than directly in primary legislation. However, I assure hon. Members again that the funding agreements for all academies require their admissions arrangements to be in accordance with admissions law. The provisions of the school admissions code apply to academies just as they do to maintained schools.
The study that we conducted in three local authority areas was both revealing and interesting, in that it showed that all admissions to the academies in those areas were fully compliant with the admissions code. The academies know clearly what their admissions policies need to be. After discussions with the Department, they have made sure that they have fair admissions, in compliance with the code.
The evidence that the Select Committee has looked at—for example that from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which did research for the Government, and from Professor Stephen Gorard—showed that the longer academies are open, the fewer children with free school meals or special educational needs they take; moreover, the prior educational attainment of ESN pupils rises, and four times as many kids are expelled. Does the Secretary of State agree that the picture is not quite as rosy as the one he is painting?
The hon. Gentleman is pointing to the fact that with academies, we are trying to achieve truly comprehensive admissions. We talked about the Mossbourne academy earlier, and it is true that many try to do that through a banded admissions system. However, whatever method is used, the aim is truly comprehensive admissions in academies. One would expect there to be some change over time, but academies are still disproportionately to be found in areas where family incomes are below average, and more children in the intake get free school meals than the catchment area would suggest.
The evidence shows that the academies represent a progressive policy that is delivering educational opportunity for children in disadvantaged areas and from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is a good example of fair admissions in practice. That is why the amendments, which would change the legal basis of the Government’s relationship with academies but nothing at all in respect of their admissions policy, are neither necessary nor desirable.
I said earlier that it was too early to make a judgment about academies, as they are still fairly new. However, city technology colleges are academies under another name; they have been around a long time and they certainly support the evidence about increasing selection. Professor Gorard told the Select Committee about one academy that was founded in 2002—one of the first. More than 50 per cent. of students were on free school meals, and that was clearly way over the level from the area that it should have had, but that proportion has fallen to 12 per cent., which is way under.
I and my Department are determined to keep the evidence on academies under review, to make sure that they are delivering the purpose for which they have been set up—that is, as I said earlier, educational excellence in areas that previously had too often been denied it. However, CTCs were the policy of the previous Conservative Government, not this one. They were not driven by the aim of extending opportunity into disadvantaged communities, and the evidence about them is as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I feel no need to defend CTCs, but I am happy to defend academies.
I turn now to amendments (m) and (n). New clause 14 makes it clear that we want to require local authorities to make public reports on each school to the schools adjudicator. We believe that having that information in public, for people to see, is the right way to ensure compliance with the admissions code.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North noted, school admissions forums can choose to have an annual report, and in our consultation on the regulations that follow from the new clause we will look very carefully at the content, form and timing of those reports and at their relationship to school admissions forums. We will consult on that in the summer, and we will also consult in detail on what the content of the reports should be. I do not think that it is right, as amendment (n) proposes, to specify that in primary legislation, but I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be a full and detailed consultation on what should be in the reports to the schools adjudicator. By the time those reports are complied, we will have had experience with local authorities around the country that have been asked to provide reports to the schools adjudicator for this year, in advance of the regulations. On the basis of that evidence, we will be able to see what we need to do in the regulations for next year. I therefore ask my hon. Friend to withdraw amendments (m) and (n).
I deal now with new clauses 18, 20, 21 and 22. Earlier we had an important and lengthy debate about grammar schools. I understand that there are strong views on both sides of the argument about grammar schools among MPs who represent Kent and the other parts of the country where selection still operates. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) has a long-standing commitment to his argument, and a very great deal of knowledge, so I listened very carefully to what he, and the hon. Member for Chesterfield, had to say.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), who is Minister for the South East, visited three secondary modern or non-grammar schools in Kent. We saw how they were using the Building Schools for the Future programme to deliver a culture of rising standards of aspiration and excellence.
I entirely agree that many of the schools that I refer to as secondary moderns in Kent are absolutely excellent, and I said as much in my contribution. My right hon. Friend is making available to Kent £3 billion through the Building Schools for the Future programme—the most magnificent opportunity to rebuild the county’s secondary education that we will see in our lifetimes. However, Kent county council is being allowed to spend the money on locking selection into the structure. Does he not think that that is a bit odd?
My hon. Friend is right to point to the great educational opportunity that arises from the huge Building Schools for the Future investment. I am sure that he is aware of Opposition proposals to cut £4.5 billion in provision for constituencies across the country, although we do not yet know which of the six new schools in Crewe and Nantwich would be lost if those proposals were allowed to be taken forward. However, I agree it is important that we ensure that we get the best educational value from that money and investment.
We on this side of the House are clear that we oppose selection by ability. The Government have put in place provisions to ensure that banding or selection for school sixth forms are the only conditions under which selection by ability should ever occur. That is clearly consistent with the schools admissions code, and we are committed to ensuring that all maintained schools comply with that code.
We are clear that there will be no new academic selection. We reaffirmed that ban in the Education and Inspections Act 2006, but we have said consistently that, where grammar schools exist, it is right for parents to decide whether selection should continue in a particular grammar school, and we have put in place mechanisms for assessment.
I know that some people around the country believe that, where selection applies across a whole county, the hurdles that have to be surmounted before a ballot can be held are substantial. However, parents still have the ability in law to vote to end grammar schools, if they choose to, on the basis of a petition. Last year, my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners investigated these issues carefully and concluded that this was not the right time to change the ballot process. He put the file back into the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet, but he is committed to keeping the system under review. He will remove the file from the cabinet on a regular basis to make sure that it is still there.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State will answer the question that I posed earlier. If Ministers such as Lord Rooker and the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) can speak so eloquently and passionately about the need to remove the pernicious evils of selection and the grammar school system in Northern Ireland, why is the same not true of England?
The Government’s position is clear: we do not support selection in schools, but where such selection exists it should be for local areas to decide whether to remove it. We do not support new grammar schools, and in fact that is prescribed in law. We have clear procedures. My hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners considered the issues, but there was not consensus and he did not think that there was a need to change the arrangements. I understand that some Members are unhappy about that, but that is the position that he reached, and that is our position.
I have taken a number of interventions; I had better make a bit more progress. We cannot support the new clauses that would change the balloting process, and we do not think that it is the right time to put them to a vote.
On new clause 19, we ensure fair admissions in a range of ways—by taking into account proximity, banding or a combination of the two. It would not be right to put into legislation a guarantee that admissions will always be based on proximity. That would not be the way to allow parents to express a preference. A school will not always have the capacity to accept all those who apply to it because it is the nearest school, and in rural areas in particular, the proposals in the new clause may not be the right way to go. We do not think that the clause is the right way for my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North to achieve his objectives.
New clause 18 raises an interesting set of issues. I do not think it is right to equate selection by aptitude with selection by ability. As I have made clear, we do not want to extend selection by ability at all. Children may have an aptitude for a particular subject; that is, they may be able to demonstrate a particular capacity to succeed in a subject, or demonstrate that they will benefit from being taught it. That is something that many schools with a specialism value, and that approach is supported by many parents and schools. As hon. Members know, we made changes in recent years because there were a couple of areas where we were concerned that there might be selection by ability through the specialism route. We took action with regard to information and communications technology and design technology.
I will finish my point first, and then I will take the intervention.
I have seen the research that we commissioned from Sheffield Hallam university. I understand very well the view of the researchers, who believe that selection on the grounds of aptitude is likely to be socially selective by default. I take that issue very seriously, and we in government have looked at that issue. I remind hon. Members that the Sheffield Hallam research was conducted before the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the subsequent introduction of the admissions code. The code banned interviewing as part of the admissions process. That step occurred after the Sheffield Hallam research was done.
We should agree that in the light of the Sheffield Hallam research, and in the light of experience with the admissions code, we will keep the issue under review. If it was our view that the researchers were right, and selection by ability was creeping in through the back door, we would take that very seriously, as would the schools adjudicators. However, we think that the admissions code is the right way to take the issue forward for now, although we are happy to keep the position under review.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for those comments, and I can understand why the issue of selection by ability is in the Schools Minister’s bottom drawer, but we are talking about a different question; we are talking about new selection coming into the system. Selection by aptitude is still in place for foreign languages, for example. Will the Secretary of State keep that under review in an active way and commission new research on it, rather than keep it under review in the same way that the other issue, which has been buried in the bottom drawer, is being kept under review?
As I said earlier, the hon. Gentleman has commended us on our evidence-based research. We will ensure that we have evidence, and we will keep looking at the evidence to see whether, as a result of the admissions code, a problem that some people feared would arise has developed. That is a better way forward than legislating now to drop something that has not been proven to be a problem, and which is popular with schools and parents alike.
If a sports college has the power to choose only 10 per cent. of its pupils on the basis of whether they have a particular reason to benefit from its sports offer and its facilities, that is fine. If it turns out that the college is using sports aptitude as a way of finding out whether people can get a certain grade in GCSE maths, or in modern languages, or were using aptitude as a proxy for income, that would be wrong. We are very clear that if a school has a specialism in something other than ICT or design technology—as we have said, it could be in maths, sports or modern languages—choosing 10 per cent. of pupils on the basis of aptitude for that subject is fine, so long as aptitude does not become a proxy for wider academic ability or social selection. If the evidence shows that it is indeed being used as a proxy, we will act, but we would need to see the evidence.
What is the difference between modern languages, for which the Secretary of State does allow selection by aptitude, and ICT, in respect of which new selection has been banned, although where there is existing selection in schools the practice has been grandfathered?
It is generally agreed that we need to do more to expand the teaching of, and the number of pupils taking exams in, modern languages in secondary and primary schools. In my constituency, there is a school that has a new modern languages speciality. It is doing well, but to establish a base of expertise and to bring teachers in, it is looking to bring in pupils who have an aptitude for modern languages. That seems to be a perfectly appropriate way for the school to strengthen its experience in that area, and to share that experience with other schools.
Will the Secretary of State explain for the benefit of the House what the difference is between an intellectual facility with French, which he classifies as an aptitude, and an intellectual ability with, say, the English language or mathematics, which he describes as ability? What is the philosophical or pedagogical difference? I am sure that we would all benefit from hearing that.
Not having read the Policy Exchange report that advocated the abolition of selecting 10 per cent. of pupils by aptitude, I am not sure that I can answer that question in a way that the hon. Gentleman would find acceptable. It is clear that when it comes to supporting the specialist schools movement and giving parents what they want, selecting 10 per cent. of pupils by aptitude is a powerful way of encouraging the ethos—he may like that word—of those schools. However, that must not happen in a way that allows widespread selection for a range of academic subjects through the back door, or selection by ability.
The 10 per cent. figure has been there since the beginning of the specialist schools movement, which preceded the Government coming to power in 1997, so the hon. Gentleman may have to ask Conservative Members why 10 per cent. was originally chosen. We think that 10 per cent. allows a school to choose a minority—a tenth—of their pupils on the basis of aptitude, without aptitude becoming a proxy for academic ability. As I say, we will keep the Sheffield Hallam research under review. If Policy Exchange is right to say that the policy is a covert, back-door means of allowing selection, it would be right to take action.
Let me turn to new clause 14, admissions and the work that our Department has done in recent months. At the beginning of the debate, I said that we should move forward by consensus and should try not to allow the issue to become a political football. I said that because Government Members and people in my Department have not played politics with the issue. In my view, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath has consistently played politics with it from the very beginning. He made that clear in his rather lengthy speech.
I want to explain where I stand on these issues. When I became Secretary of State, I inherited a document called “Faith in the System”, which we published in September. It sets out clearly my support and the Government’s support for faith schools and the role that they play in our education system. Many of them were playing that role before the state provided free education, and many of those had a mission to tackle disadvantage in our education system.
At that time I said—I have been consistent on this—that it is important that our faith schools demonstrate that they are promoting community cohesion and fair admissions through the admissions code. In the conversations that I have had with faith organisations and faith leaders, they are clear in their support for that.
Of course, in the first year there were some issues to sort out, and I am happy to confirm to the hon. Gentleman that in the discussions we have been having with the Board of Deputies, we have been able to clarify under the code that the faith organisations’ use of marriage certificates as a way of confirming religious activity is fine. The important thing is that it should be done not by the individual school but by the faith organisations. On that issue, I think we can make progress.
Consistently through this period we have been in discussion with the faith organisations. Let me provide a couple of quotes from the different faith organisations that we have worked with—the hon. Gentleman read out a number of quotes earlier. Mr. Henry Grunwald QC, of the Board of Deputies, said on 10 April:
“Throughout, the Board of Deputies has worked closely with the DCSF to ensure that the concerns of the community are understood by the Department, and that Jewish schools understand the requirements of the Admissions Code. It is clear from my conversations with Ed Balls, and our exchange of correspondence, that he is supportive of our schools”—
as I am, and as I set out in the Jewish Chronicle.
The Board of Deputies agrees with me that it is important that Jewish schools comply with the admissions code, and they will do so in future. We are working with them to do so. This is not a witch hunt. The Board of Deputies is working with us to ensure that those schools, which have every right to voluntary contributions, are compliant.
I shall also quote the Bishop of Dover, Stephen Venner, who told BBC Radio 4’s “World at One”:
“Ed Balls used the word ‘horrified’ in his statement, and I think I would repeat that. We are entirely behind the Government in what they have discovered and in the actions they are taking to try to deal with it. We have said all along we will work with Government and local authorities to ensure that appropriate admissions criteria are in place and that they are followed.”
Similar statements were made by the Catholic Education Service.
We will work with the faith organisations to deliver community cohesion. We will work with the religious authorities and individual schools to ensure community cohesion, fair admissions and compliance with the code. That is the best way to ensure that parents and those schools have wider support. We continue to support the role of faith schools in our system. I therefore make no apology at all for the fact that when we discovered substantial non-compliance, we published the information so that schools, governors and parents could see that we needed to act to improve the situation. That is what we shall do.
If the Secretary of State was working so closely with faith organisations, why did the diocesan officer for education for the London diocese express such profound disappointment and consternation at the way in which the Secretary of State handled the matter, and why were four schools slandered inappropriately for their treatment of looked-after children?
I absolutely reject the idea that I have slandered any school. We published in a factual way details of schools that were not compliant with the law and the admissions code. When I had that information, it would have been quite wrong for me to conceal it from governors or parents. I published the information with the support of faith leaders so that we could ensure compliance with the code in the future.
It is revealing that the hon. Gentleman is not supporting our action to ensure compliance with the code. He is not supporting our proposals to strengthen the admissions code. The conclusion that I reach is that he does not support fair admissions. The inevitable conclusion is that while our party drives forward excellence for all in our education system, he and his colleagues continue to support excellence for the few—the preservation of excellence for some, not the promotion of excellence for all. That is why he is opposed to the admissions code, to diplomas, to the Bill and to education to 18 for all. The hon. Gentleman supports a two-tier education policy and excellence for some. With us, it is excellence for all. That is the dividing line.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 1
Abolition of appeals against permanent exclusion of pupils
‘(1) The Education (Pupil Exclusions and Appeals) (Maintained Schools) (England) Regulations 2002 are amended as follows.
(2) Omit regulation 6 and the Schedule to the Regulations.’.—[Mr. Gibb.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 2—Home-school contracts
‘(1) An admission authority may make it a condition of a child’s admission to a school that the parent of a child agrees to secure compliance with any school rules made by the head teacher and governors of that school.
(2) In this section “admission authority” has the same meaning as in section 88 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.’.
New clauses 1 and 2 deal with behaviour. Poor behaviour, disruptive behaviour and even violent behaviour in our schools has become one of the main problems facing our education system. Tackling poor behaviour lies at the centre of the Conservatives’ education policy and our determination to raise standards and the quality of our schools.
According to Home Office figures, a quarter of young people aged 10 to 25 said that they had committed a crime in the previous year. In 2006, 94,000 custodial sentences were handed down to 10 to 17-year-olds, and there were more than 250,000 persistent truants. Two thirds of teachers had been verbally or physically assaulted in the previous year of the survey, and nearly one in 10 had been threatened with a weapon. In March this year the Association of Teachers and Lecturers published a survey showing that 29 per cent. of all teachers had been punched, kicked or bitten by their pupils. No one should therefore be in any doubt about the extent of the problem or its seriousness.
When I visit schools I am continually told by head teachers that one of the main hurdles that they face is the difficulty in expelling persistently disruptive pupils. No head whom I have met wants to expel pupils from their school, but when every avenue has been explored to try to change the behaviour of a disruptive child, heads need to be able to apply the ultimate deterrent of expulsion. However, when children know that expulsion is rarely an option, the credibility of the head in his attempts to instil good behaviour is severely undermined.
The particular difficulty that heads mention is the nightmare that they have to go through if a parent appeals to the independent appeals panel administered by the local authority against their child’s expulsion. Those appeals are stressful and distracting for the head and they can be time consuming and expensive for the school.
Will the hon. Gentleman, in the course of his remarks, respond to the statement issued by the special education consortium, which said in its briefing in response to his new clause that
“independent exclusion appeal panels remain an important safeguard to allow further consideration of whether exclusion is an appropriate response in each individual case”?
I understand that concern, but there will be a safeguard under our new clause. The safeguard will be the appeal to the governing body. A section of the governing body that is not involved in the original expulsion will hear the appeal. That should deal with the concern.
The effect of appeal panels on schools is clear. Since 1997 permanent exclusions have fallen from 12,700 to 9,300. In that period suspensions have risen from 290,000 to 340,000. That is a matter of concern to Chris Keates, the general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, who points out that when a child is expelled for hitting a teacher or for verbal abuse and goes through the appeals panel, they come back. A quarter of all appeals are won by parents. In half of the appeals that are won, the pupil returns to the school.
I urge the Government to consider carefully new clause 1 and new clause 2, which makes home-school contracts a condition of admission to a school, which is currently forbidden.
I shall be very brief, given the time available. I ask my hon. Friends to resist the new clauses. There are two reasons to reject them in respect of school appeals panels on exclusions. I mentioned one in my intervention: the panels are an important safeguard for pupils with special educational needs. Conservative Front Benchers often ask us to do as much as we can to protect such pupils’ interests.
Secondly, abolishing the panels would result in more and more cases in court. That would only line the pockets of the lawyers and take more time. The proposal is opposed by the Association of School and College Leaders. Head teachers are not in agreement with the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) and the other Conservative Front Benchers.
Home-school contracts would be yet another way—
It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day.]
The House divided: Ayes 103, Noes 300.
Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day.]
New Clause 18
Selection by aptitude
‘(1) No new or existing maintained school shall select pupils by aptitude.
(2) For the purposes of this section, “maintained school” includes all Academies, Specialist, Trust or Foundation Schools.’.—[Mr. Laws.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
Persons to whom Part 1 applies
In proposing the amendment, I very much applaud the excellent work of Jane Hutt, the Assembly Minister for Education, Culture and Young People, and her colleagues in innovatively and imaginatively developing the 14 to 19 curriculum in Wales.
I fully respect the power and responsibility that the Assembly has with regard to education, but my reason for proposing the amendment is quite simply to ensure that if the Welsh Assembly Government see the need to make the entitlement to education or training up until the age of 18 compulsory in future, they have the facility to do so without the need for primary legislation from the UK Government.
Many excellent programmes in Wales to encourage young people to continue their education or training up until the age of 18 are being delivered largely through schools and colleges. The response of the National Training Federation for Wales to “Skills That Work for Wales” states that the Welsh Assembly should include 16 to 19-year-olds at work in the learning entitlement measure and should seriously consider taking reserve powers to introduce, if necessary, an obligation to learn along the lines of the English Bill. It says that such a reserve power could be useful in underpinning entitlement by prompting employers and young employees alike to engage voluntarily in and complete an appropriate qualification process. In the view of the NTFW, that would also encourage the completion of apprenticeships because non-completions have long been identified as a problem within the apprenticeship process.
We all appreciate that, as far as we possibly can, we need to motivate young people to take up education and training opportunities up to the age of 18 of their own volition, but without repeating the many good reasons why the Bill will make that entitlement compulsory, I should like to highlight a couple of issues. First, one of the reasons for making entitlement up to the age of 18 compulsory is that authorities, particularly in difficult times, have to concentrate their resources on statutory provision. If a service is not statutory, it can be in danger of being starved of funding and under-resourced. Secondly, once the measures in the Bill come into force, making entitlement up to the age of 18 compulsory in England, there may be cross-border issues and unintended consequences that make compulsion desirable in Wales. I propose the amendment in order to ensure that that option will be open to the Welsh Assembly Government.
I rise to address amendment No. 149 and the Government amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) raised some important points about education in Wales that will have been heard, and which will be heard after the debate as well. If I may address the crux of the matter in amendment No. 149, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that the Welsh Assembly Government should be able to decide to raise the participation age in Wales at some point in the future.
The intention behind the amendment is laudable. It seeks to ensure that young people in England and Wales, who are above compulsory school age, under 18 and without a level 3 qualification, receive the undoubted benefits of education and training. That is a virtuous circle: as the young people receive the benefits of additional education and training, their communities, families and wider society also benefit. It is a classic “win-win” scenario. We want those benefits to accrue in England and Wales, to our constituents in Llanelli, Ogmore and elsewhere. Yet I hope that I can explain to my hon. Friend and the House that the amendment, while rightly probing the intentions of the Welsh Assembly Government and Westminster, is unnecessary.
It may help if I put the amendment in context. The Welsh Assembly Government are fully committed to ensuring that as many young people as possible stay on in education or training until the age of 18. We have a shared aim of equipping more and more young people in the 14 to 19 range with the skills and abilities that they need to shape a successful future.
The Welsh Assembly Government are putting in place their strategies to achieve that, focused on two key objectives to encourage participation. The first is extending the entitlement of young people to education and training generally, and the second is expanding the range of options available to them, through programmes such as 14 to 19 learning pathways and the Welsh baccalaureate—the Welsh bac.
The Assembly Government have a long-standing endorsement of an approach that increases the obligation on providers of services to expand and improve the offers made to young people, and to make staying in education and training more attractive and worth while. They recently concluded a consultation exercise on a draft learning and skills measure, through which they intend to legislate to provide young people with a statutory entitlement to education and training during that period in their lives.
I know that the Assembly Government are keen to work with us, sharing and learning from our different experiences as they plan their policies for the future. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners set out in Committee, we do not believe that those matters should be reduced to “either/or”. Improving the range and quality of the offer to young people is essential, and raising the participation age can galvanise the system to do that.
The Government of Wales Act 2006 allows the Assembly to acquire enhanced legislative powers through legislative competence orders—LCOs. If, based on the English experience, the Welsh Assembly Government decide to pursue the approach taken in England, they have the option of proposing a legislative competence order to seek powers to enable them to raise the participation age.
In the meantime, we are working with the Assembly Government to ensure that the Bill is drafted in such a way that it enables all aspects of the policy to be capable of application in Wales in future, should they decide to pursue such an approach. However, if the amendment were accepted, it would apply the duty to participate and the rest of the provisions of part 1 in exactly the same form to Wales as to England. It would not allow flexibility to reflect different structures, provisions or qualifications in Wales. I therefore ask my hon. Friend to withdraw it, with the clear commitment of the Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to continue to work with the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that the approach in England could be adopted if required and requested, and in the light of our shared aim of equipping young people with the skills and abilities for a successful future.
I hope that I will not detain us long on Government amendments Nos. 113 to 118. The Bill contains framework powers for the National Assembly for Wales to legislate on regulation and inspection. The amendments would alter those powers so that they more comprehensively cover the regulation of the independent sector. That would avoid the position whereby Westminster regulates some parts of the sector and the Government in Wales regulate others.
Clause 133 enables the National Assembly for Wales to legislate on the arrangements for the registration and regulation of independent schools in the context of educational provision and, more generally, of pupil welfare. The framework provision also confers power on the Assembly to introduce measures on the inspection of maintained schools for children of or below compulsory school age, and other education and training for those aged 16 and under, as well as the inspection of independent schools and education and training provided other than in a school to those of compulsory school age.
The amendments would extend the framework power to enable the National Assembly to regulate independent nursery schools and part-time educational training provided at independent educational institutions, which provide education for one or more pupils of compulsory school age. That will ensure that the power is comprehensive in giving the Assembly the ability to legislate on regulation in the independent sector.
I ask hon. Members to support the Government amendments.
It is indicative of my support for the Union that, although I represent an east of England constituency, I spend a disproportionate amount of time debating Welsh matters. I do so again with great pleasure.
The amendment would extend part 1—the duty to participate until the age of 18—to Wales, as the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) argued. I take it from the tone of her contribution and the Under-Secretary’s response that it is a probing amendment, which is designed to tease out the Welsh Assembly’s perspective on the subject. Hon. Members will know that some provisions apply to Wales, although the Bill’s main purpose—to raise the age of compulsory participation—does not.
According to a written statement by Jane Hutt, the Assembly Minister for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, to the Assembly, the provisions for inspection of education and training for those aged 16 and under; regulation, registration and inspection of independent schools in Wales; school forums; data sharing; and changes to the remit of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority apply in Wales.
Conservative Members believe that the Assembly should decide whether the age of compulsory participation should be raised in Wales. However, the current legislation, with some provisions applying in Wales and others not, could give rise to a lack of clarity. I guess that is why the hon. Lady tabled the amendment.
I do not want to embarrass the Government unduly or unnecessarily. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that is not my habit. However, as we found when we debated the Bill that became the Further Education and Training Act 2007 in the previous Session, such lack of clarity can have constitutional implications. As the Under-Secretary will remember, the Act enables the Privy Council to grant powers to award foundation degrees to further education colleges in England, but the measure did not extend to Wales. The Government’s position was that the Welsh Assembly should decide whether the powers should apply in Wales. However, it became clear as the measure was scrutinised in Committee that such powers would not be devolved to the Assembly and that no proper discussion about that had taken place.
I am pleased that the Government appear to have moved on and got it right in the Bill that we are considering. I appreciate that the balance of power between the Assembly and the House is a developing understanding on the part of the Government and the Opposition, but the useful tabling of the amendment gives us a chance to reconsider those matters. It is worth repeating that, for the Welsh Affairs Committee, Conservative Members and, I guess, some Labour Members, the preferred method of dealing with those matters is through Orders in Council rather than through encouraging the inclusion of provisions in primary legislation. After all, that principle lies behind devolution. It would be useful if the Under-Secretary could say something specific about that. He responded to the hon. Lady in the terms that I expected, but it would be useful to have absolute clarity about the different ways in which to legislate for Wales on education and other matters and perhaps an assurance—now is as good a time as any to offer it—that the Government will proceed by the preferred method in future with regard to the Bill and other measures.
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by clarifying that, within the Wales Office and the Welsh Assembly Government, we do not see the need to preclude either option. However, as he is aware, for the first time ever, Orders in Council give the ability to bring forward National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Assembly Government-inspired legislation, which is a good way to bring things forward. However, framework powers will still be brought forward on occasion. They will be debated in the House, as they are now. We would not want to rule out either option, but the hon. Gentleman is right that there is a good new method, under the Government of Wales Act 2006, which we fully support.
I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention. I presume that the reasoning behind the unwillingness to take an “either/or” route is that on some occasions the Government would deem it appropriate and desirable to have a broader debate about a subject. That was the argument used last time around. However, I am mindful that the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs said:
“We are concerned that continuing to use primary legislation to extend the powers of the National Assembly (in a parallel procedure to adding Matters by way of Legislative Competence Orders) will mean that Matters introduced in this way will escape the detailed arrangements for pre-legislative scrutiny”.
The other point that the Minister might want to intervene to clarify is that pre-legislative scrutiny will form a key part of future legislation and has formed a key part of this legislation.
I am again grateful to the Minister. Mindful that we have many other matters to debate in the short time available and not wishing to test the House’s patience beyond reasonable limits—or, indeed, yours, Madam Deputy Speaker—I draw my remarks to a close by saying merely that the Government have learnt their lesson and are improving, in respect of the application of their measures in the Principality of Wales.
Further to the point that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) made, I, too, will keep my remarks brief. However, there is good reason to consider education and amendment No. 149 in detail.
Education is a devolved matter and has been so for a long time, if to varying degrees. Wales has a long educational tradition that is both radical and different from that in England. I am glad to have this opportunity to mention Griffith Jones Llanddowror and Robert Jones Rhoslan, who in the 18th century ensured that 158,000 Welsh people were literate, long before such a position obtained in England. Then we had the Welsh Intermediate Education Act 1889, which provided that public money should be spent on Welsh intermediate education—that education should be paid for from the rates, again long before that was the case in England.
In recent decades we have seen other specifically Welsh developments, including the continuing success of Welsh medium education, the provisions on language of the Education Reform Act 1988, which the Conservatives introduced, the deletion of burdensome SATs, the Welsh baccalaureate and now the foundation stage for early education. Furthermore, as has been mentioned, field 5 of schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006, on “education and training”, sets out 17 separate matters—more matters than any other field. They range from matter 1, the categories of schools to be maintained, to matter 17, education and training for those with learning and other difficulties. Clearly the Assembly has been judged to be competent in education—all the more reason, therefore, not to pursue the amendment. Whether a further legislative competence order will be required is another matter.
There is, however, more to the situation. Historically, there has been a long series of clashes between the champions of distinct Welsh education provision and London Departments. There was a time when such clashes were between the popular representatives of the people—that is, the politicians—and the Administration here in London, with their murkier motives and strategies. The amendment might—or might not—be one further example of that historic clash. Since the advent of formal democratic devolution, however, there is the potential for a further clash, as has been mentioned. That clash is not between the people of Wales and the machine of Government, but between democratically elected representatives of the people of Wales here in London and democratically elected representatives in Wales. I do not know whether this debate is a clash of that sort, but as a Plaid Cymru MP, I know precisely where I stand on the matter, following the legislation to which the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings referred. To cut to the argument, I would ask one question: is the amendment really needed? If not, it should be rejected.
Education is the main plank of the One Wales agreement for government between the Labour party and Plaid Cymru. That agreement sets out principles that the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) would scarcely argue against. For example, section 6, on “Learning for Life”, says:
“Our vision is of a society in which learning throughout life is the norm”.
The agreement continues by saying that
“our unwavering commitment is to give the children of Wales the best start in life, through providing a first-class education for all children, whatever their social origins or wherever they live.”
In the section on establishing a right to learn, the One Wales agreement says:
“We will provide a government-guaranteed right, backed up with new money, to education and accredited training until the age of eighteen, including a broader-based baccalaureate, incorporating vocational and academic learning opportunities, with a legislative framework.”
The intention behind the One Wales document of the Government in Cardiff could scarcely be clearer.
The real question is whether the Welsh Assembly Government are to be trusted to implement their own policy. If they want to pursue a policy of compulsion, are they to be trusted to apply for a legislative competence order, should one be needed? Speaking for Plaid Cymru, I am glad to give that assurance. I would not presume to speak for the Labour party or the Government in Cardiff as a whole. However, as I have argued, the weight of our educational history suggests that we will take the radical course in Wales, not least because the provision of education and training up to the age of 18 is part of the binding agreement between the two great radical parties that now form the Government in Wales.
I listened carefully to the Minister and was particularly impressed by his assurance that it is possible for the Welsh Assembly Government to bring forth a LCO, should they so desire. I was also impressed by his emphasis on the need to leave them some flexibility as an option. If my amendment was accepted into the main measure that we are debating tonight, it could impinge upon that flexibility. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 6
Learning and support contracts
‘(1) This section applies where a person to whom this Part applies (“the young person”) is failing to fulfil the duty imposed by section 2.
(2) A local education authority in England may enter into a learning and support contract with the young person if—
(a) the young person is resident in England, and
(b) the authority considers that entering into the learning and support contract would be desirable in the interests of the young person’s fulfilment of that duty.
(3) A learning and support contract is a document which contains—
(a) a statement by the young person that the young person agrees to comply with such requirements as may be specified in the document for such period as so may be specified, and
(b) a statement by the local education authority that it agrees to provide support to the young person for the purpose of complying with those requirements.
(4) A learning and support contract must be signed by the young person, and signed on behalf of the local education authority.
(5) A learning and support contract does not create any obligations in respect of whose breach any liability arises in contract or tort.’.—[Mr. Hayes.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 9—Learning and support contracts (No. 2)
‘(1) This section applies where a person to whom this Part applies (“the young person”) is failing to fulfil the duty imposed by section 2.
(2) A local education authority in England may enter into a learning and support contract with a young person—
(a) if the young person is resident in that authority’s area; and
(b) the authority considers that entering into the learning and support contract would be desirable in the interests of the young person’s fulfilment of that duty.
(3) A learning and support contract is a document which contains—
(a) a statement by the young person that the young person agrees to comply with such requirements as may be specified in the document for such period as so may be specified; and
(b) a statement by the local education authority that it agrees to provide support to the young person for the purpose of complying with those requirements.
(4) A learning and support contract must be signed by the young person, and signed on behalf of the local education authority.
(5) A learning and support contract does not create any obligations in respect of whose breach any liability arises in contract or tort.’.
New clause 13—Annual consultation with employers’ organisations
‘On each anniversary of the coming into force of Chapter 3 of Part 1 of this Act, the Secretary of State shall consult—
(a) the Confederation of British Industry,
(b) the Institute of Directors,
(c) the British Chambers of Commerce, and
(d) the Federation of Small Businesses,
to assess the effect the provisions in this Chapter have had in the previous twelve months, on the employment market for 16 and 17 year old people.’.
New clause 23—Participation in vocational education
‘(1) A pupil who has completed three years of secondary education may leave school in order to pursue full-time vocational education elsewhere if the conditions in subsection (2) are satisfied.
(2) Those conditions are that the pupil—
(a) has the written permission of their parent or guardian not to continue in full-time education at school;
(b) has the written permission of the head teacher of the school at which they are registered as a pupil not to continue in full-time education at school; and
(c) has achieved level 5 at key stage 3 in English, mathematics and science.’.
Amendment No. 45, in clause 1, page 1, line 7, at beginning insert—
‘(1) This Part does not apply to any person who—
(a) has full time learning responsibilities for a parent, sibling or other relation,
(b) is a parent of a child under the age of 5,
(c) is engaged in full time voluntary work,
(d) has an illness requiring significant medical attention, or
(e) has a terminal illness.’.
Amendment No. 43, page 1, line 7, leave out ‘is resident’ and insert ‘lives’.
Amendment No. 44, page 1, line 7, leave out ‘is resident’ and insert ‘currently resides’.
Amendment No. 42, page 1, line 7, leave out ‘resident’.
Amendment No. 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert ‘, and
(d) is not engaged in full-time sport or on a sporting apprenticeship.’.
Amendment No. 2, page 1, line 10, at end insert ‘, and
(d) has not written to the relevant local authority to request that their education and training entitlement under section 2 should be delayed until a specified future date.’.
Amendment No. 3, page 1, line 10, at end insert ‘, and
(d) is not engaged in voluntary activity for more than 20 hours per week.’.
Amendment No. 4, page 1, line 10, at end insert ‘, and
(d) is not a parent of a child who is aged 1 year or less.’.
Amendment No. 8, in clause 2, page 1, line 12, leave out from ‘applies’ to end of line 3 on page 2 and insert
‘shall be entitled to 2 years of free education or training up to level 3, to be taken at any time after leaving education at the present compulsory school leaving age.’.
Amendment No. 7, page 1, line 17, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—
‘(c) be in full-time occupation (see section 5).’.
Amendment No. 5, page 2, line 3, at end insert ‘, or
(d) have signed and be participating in a learning and support contract entered into with a local education authority to provide personalised support leading to future participation in accredited education or training.’.
Amendment No. 6, page 2, line 3, at end insert ‘, or
(d) be in receipt of full-time non-educational support.’.
Amendment No. 9, page 2, line 11, at end insert—
‘(3) This section may not come into force until the Secretary of State has published an assessment of the availability of suitable education and training opportunities in each local authority area.’.
Amendment No. 46, page 2, line 11, at end insert—
‘(3) This section may not come into force until 90 per cent. of 16 and 17 year olds are, as certified by the Statistics Commission, participating in education or training.’.
Amendment No. 47, page 2, line 11, at end insert—
‘(3) This section may not come into force until the Learning and Skills Council has certified that in its opinion there are sufficient contracts of apprenticeship of suitable quality available to meet the level of demand by persons to whom this Part applies.’.
Amendment No. 48, in clause 3, page 2, line 18, after ‘two’, insert ‘knowledge-based’.
Amendment No. 11, in clause 4, page 2, line 32, after ‘ability’, insert ‘, interests’.
Amendment No. 10, page 2, leave out lines 34 and 35.
Amendment No. 49, page 2, line 35, after ‘sector’, insert ‘, at home’.
Amendment No. 50, page 2, line 35, after ‘sector’, insert ‘, in the workplace’.
Amendment No. 12, page 2, line 41, at end insert—
‘(4) Regulations must provide for “appropriate full-time education or training” which—
(a) is not in formal educational institutions,
(b) is not accredited,
(c) includes personalised support for non-educational needs.’.
Amendment No. 13, in clause 6, page 4, line 6, leave out from ‘Part’ to end of line 7 and insert
‘training or education in relation to any person to whom this Part applies shall be regarded as “relevant” if and only if it is—
(a) training or education towards an accredited qualification provided by a course or courses, or
(b) in-house training provided by an employer, or
(c) training or education which, if the person concerned were participating in full time education or training, would be considered appropriate having regard to the person’s age, ability, interests and aptitude, and any learning difficulties which the person may have.’.
Amendment No. 51, page 4, line 7, at end insert
‘or in-house training provided by an employer in the course of full-time employment.’.
Amendment No. 41, in clause 8, page 4, line 28, leave out from ‘it’ to end of line 39 and insert—
‘(a) amounts in aggregate to at least 280 hours of guided learning, in the case of a relevant period which is one year;
(b) amounts in aggregate to such number of hours of guided learning as is determined in accordance with regulations, in the case of any other relevant period; or
(c) is designed to lead within a year to credits with a value equivalent to the credit value normally attached to qualifications estimated to require 280 hours of guided learning by the QCA or other accrediting bodies whose functions and qualifications are recognised by the European Credit Framework.’.
Amendment No. 30, page 4, line 29, leave out ‘guided learning’ and insert ‘learning time’.
Amendment No. 31, page 4, line 31, leave out ‘guided learning’ and insert ‘learning time’.
Amendment No. 32, page 4, line 34, leave out ‘guided learning’ and insert ‘learning time’.
Amendment No. 33, page 4, line 35, leave out ‘actual guided’.
Amendment No. 34, page 4, line 39, leave out ‘guided learning’ and insert ‘learning time’.
Amendment No. 35, page 4, line 42, leave out ‘actual guided learning’ and insert ‘learning time’.
Amendment No. 36, page 5, leave out lines 5 and 6 and insert ‘or
(c) in any unsupervised preparation or study, whether at home or otherwise, which a person is expected by the lecturer, tutor, teacher or other appropriate provider to take to complete the learning outcomes of a qualification or part of a qualification.’.
Amendment No. 37, in clause 9, page 5, line 15, leave out ‘guided learning’ and insert ‘learning time’.
Amendment No. 38, page 5, line 21, leave out ‘guided learning’ and insert ‘learning time’.
Amendment No. 39, page 5, line 26, leave out ‘guided learning’ and insert ‘learning time’.
Amendment No. 40, page 5, leave out lines 34 and 35 and insert ‘or
(c) on unsupervised preparation or study, whether at home or otherwise, where this work is allocated by a lecturer, tutor, supervisor or other appropriate provider of training or education.’.
Amendment No. 29, in clause 10, page 6, line 2, at end insert—
‘(2) This duty applies to all such persons under the supervision of the local authority youth offending team, including those in custody.’.
Amendment No. 54, in clause 14, page 8, line 8, leave out from ‘to’ to end of line 9 and insert
‘provide advice in relation to careers, education or training.’.
Amendment No. 59, page 8, line 9, leave out ‘Part’ and insert ‘Chapter’.
Amendment No. 16, page 8, line 13, at end insert
‘which relates directly to the pupil or student’s educational record, and educational and support needs.’.
Amendment No. 57, page 8, line 15, leave out ‘if’ and insert ‘unless’.
Amendment No. 58, page 8, line 20, leave out ‘not’.
Amendment No. 55, page 8, line 21, at end insert—
‘(4A) An educational institution shall, at the beginning of each academic year, write to every student attending its institution informing them of their rights under subsection (4).’.
Amendment No. 56, page 8, line 21, at end insert—
‘(4A) Information supplied under this section may not be used by a local education authority for the purpose of enforcing the duty to participate in education or training under the provision of Chapter 5 of this Part.’.
Amendment No. 60, in clause 15, page 8, line 27, leave out ‘exercise its functions under this Part’ and insert
‘provide advice in relation to careers, education or training’.
Amendment No. 62, page 8, line 27, leave out ‘Part’ and insert ‘Chapter’.
Amendment No. 61, page 9, line 18, at end insert—
‘(8) Information supplied under this section may not be used by a local education authority for the purposes of enforcing the duty to participate in education or training under the provisions of Chapter 5 of this Part.’.
Amendment No. 18, in clause 16, page 9, line 21, after ‘person’, insert
‘whose written consent for this supply of information has been sought and given.’.
Amendment No. 63, page 9, line 22, leave out ‘exercise its functions under this Part’ and insert
‘provide advice in relation to careers, education or training’.
Amendment No. 17, page 9, line 22, after ‘functions’, insert ‘solely in relation to providing support.’.
Amendment No. 65, page 9, line 23, leave out ‘Part’ and insert ‘Chapter’.
Amendment No. 66, page 9, line 31, at end insert—
‘(2A) Within seven days of supplying information the persons and bodies listed in subsection (2) must be inform the person about whom they are supplying information that such information has been supplied to a local education authority.’.
Amendment No. 64, page 9, line 36, at end insert—
‘(4) Information supplied under this section may not be used by a local education authority for the purposes of enforcing the duty to participate in education or training under the provisions of Chapter 5 of this Part.’.
Amendment No. 67, in clause 17, in page 10, line 5, leave out ‘for any relevant purpose’ and insert
‘only to provide advice in relation to careers education or training’.
Amendment No. 68, page 10, line 12, at end insert—
‘(6A) Information supplied under this section may not be used by a local education authority for the purpose of enforcing the duty to participate in education or training under the provisions of Chapter 5 of this Part.’.
Amendment No. 69, page 10, line 22, leave out ‘Part’ and insert ‘Chapter’.
Amendment No. 19, in clause 21, page 11, line 37, leave out from ‘applies’ to end of line 11 on page 12 and insert
‘who has not either attained a level 3 qualification or who is not in certified or in-house education or training.’.
Amendment No. 70, page 12, line 13, at end insert—
‘(4) For the purposes of this section, the steps that an employer is expected to take to fulfil its obligations in subsection (1) shall not include contacting a college of further education to verify—
(a) that the young person is enrolled,
(b) that the young person is attending courses, or
(c) the number of hours of attendance the young person’s course requires.’.
Amendment No. 71, in clause 34, page 19, line 16, at end insert—
‘(7) The provisions of this section shall not come into force until the recommendations of the review of the national strategy for carers have been implemented.’.
Amendment No. 72, in clause 39, page 22, line 8, at end insert—
‘(7A) In this section, “reasonable excuse” includes circumstances in which a young person—
(a) is homeless,
(b) has health problems, including temporary illness, long term disability or ongoing mental health issues,
(c) has addiction problems,
(d) has secured a place on a course which does not start until the following month or the following term,
(e) is recovering from giving birth,
(f) has caring responsibilities, or
(g) has particular learning difficulties for which support has not been put in place.’.
Amendment No. 73, in clause 40, page 22, line 17, leave out ‘and’.
Amendment No. 74, page 22, line 20, at end insert ‘and
(d) all other measures have been undertaken by the local authority to encourage the young person to fulfil the duty imposed by section 2.’.
Government amendment No. 100
Amendment No. 22, in clause 41, page 23, line 23, at end insert
‘, having regard to a person’s age, ability, interests, aptitudes and needs (if any) for personalised support and personalised learning opportunities.’.
Amendment No. 75, page 23, line 23, at end insert—
‘, having regard to a person’s ability, prior educational attainment and special educational needs.’.
Amendment No. 76, page 23, line 23, at end insert—
‘, having regard to a person’s needs and circumstances.’.
Amendment No. 78, in clause 42, page 23, line 37, leave out second ‘a’ and insert ‘an independent’.
Amendment No. 77, page 23, line 37, after ‘panel’ insert ‘of three people’.
Amendment No. 23, page 23, line 38, at end insert—
‘(1A) The regulations shall provide for a duty on local authorities to make available independent advocacy services for those young people who would benefit from such services.’.
Amendment No. 79, page 24, line 7, leave out ‘chairs’ and insert ‘is a member of’.
Amendment No. 80, page 24, line 7, after ‘member’ insert ‘or employee’.
Amendment No. 20, in clause 43, page 24, line 29, at end insert—
‘(4) In considering an appeal the attendance panel must invite the young person who is appealing against the attendance notice, or the young person’s nominated representative, to make representations to it.’.
Amendment No. 81, page 24, line 29, at end insert—
‘(4) Regulations made under subsection (3) shall provide that a young person making an appeal may attend the attendance panel appeal hearing and, if they wish, may be accompanied by an advocate or friend.’.
Amendment No. 24, in clause 45, page 25, line 19, at end insert—
‘(2A) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) to show that he or she is—
(a) in treatment for a serious medical condition,
(b) terminally ill,
(c) caring for a family member who is seriously ill, or
(d) unlikely to benefit from the education, training or service offered.’.
Amendment No. 25, in page 25, line 21, at end insert—
‘(4) No offence under this section will have to be disclosed by a person who is convicted of the offence of failing to comply with an attendance notice.’.
Amendment No. 82, in page 25, line 21, at end insert—
‘(4) A conviction under this section shall be regarded as spent on the date the young person convicted of such an offence reaches the age of 18.’.
Amendment No. 83, in page 25, line 21, at end insert—
‘(4) A conviction under this section shall not be—
‘(a) a recordable offence under the National Police Records (Recordable Offences) Regulations 2000 (S.I 2000/1139), and
(b) disclosed in Criminal Records Bureau checks.’.
Amendment No. 84, in page 25, line 21, at end insert—
‘(4) A conviction under this section shall be regarded as spent after 12 months.’.
Government amendment No. 105
Amendment No. 85, in clause 46, page 26, line 3, after ‘45’, insert ‘and an advocate or friend’.
Amendment No. 86, in clause 47, page 26, line 15, after ‘notice’ insert ‘for the payment of £50’.
Amendment No. 26, page 26, line 28, at end insert
‘, provided that such penalty does not exceed £50 or the weekly amount of maximum educational maintenance allowance.’.
Amendment No. 21, in clause 48, page 27, line 19, at end insert—
‘(4) In considering an appeal the attendance panel must invite the young person who is appealing against the penalty notice, or the young person’s nominated representative, to make representations to it.’.
Amendment No. 87, in page 27, line 19, at end insert—
‘(4) Regulations made under subsection (3) shall provide that a young person making an appeal may attend the attendance panel appeal hearing and, if they wish, may be accompanied by an advocate or friend.’.
Amendment No. 88, in clause 54, page 30, line 7, leave out ‘services’ and insert
‘information, advice and guidance about education and career opportunities’.
Amendment No. 89, page 30, line 9, at end insert—
‘(1A) Services made available under subsection (1) shall be appropriate to the needs of the young person, including those young people with special educational needs.’.
Amendment No. 152, in clause 59, page 33, line 16, at end insert—
‘(c) the provision, in response to requests by young persons and relevant young adults with visual impairment, of text books and educational course materials, capable of enlargement and enhancement by electronic means.’.
Amendment No. 150, in clause 67, page 39, line 26, after ‘includes’, insert ‘workplace based’.
Amendment No. 151, page 39, line 30, after ‘includes’, insert ‘workplace based’.
Amendment No. 91, in clause 68, page 40, line 8, at end insert—
‘(2) The Secretary of State shall commission an independent review into the effectiveness of the transport arrangements of local authorities, schools and colleges resulting from the entitlement to study each of the diploma lines.’.
Amendment No. 92, page 40, line 8, at end insert—
‘(2) This section may not come into force before the Secretary of State has published the research conducted by York Consulting into the transport needs arising from the introduction of diplomas.’.
I rise to speak to this enormous group of amendments, mindful of the fact that the time in which to do so is very short indeed. I therefore hope that the House will forgive me if I focus on just some of the amendments, rather than try to deal with them all in detail.
New clause 6 would introduce learning support contracts, where the young person concerned is failing to fulfil the duty imposed by clause 2. Learning support contracts are modelled on the parenting contracts in clause 34. A learning support contract would contain a statement by the young person that they agreed to comply with such requirements as may be specified in the document and a statement by the local education authority that it agreed to provide support to the young person for the purposes of complying with those requirements. Parents and carers would also be involved unless the young person was living independently.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) and I made clear during the earlier stages of the Bill, Conservatives believe that a learning support contract should always be considered before an attendance notice is issued. By amending clause 39(5)(b), and providing a mechanism for intervening earlier, before—and, ideally, instead of—the enforcement process, our desire is to minimise the chance of enforcement proceedings taking place, because of the damaging effect that they can have on a young person’s prospects. I accept that there is a desire shared across the Chamber to encourage participation by as many post-16-year-olds as possible, but I do not think that anyone wants to see young people being prosecuted. The new clause would help to avoid that possibility.
Time and again, we heard in evidence sessions that young people could be criminalised by the Bill. That is a great concern not only to the young people but to many of the organisations that work with the most disadvantaged members of our society. As compassionate Conservatives, we make no apology for allocating a disproportionate degree of concern, energy and intellectual capital to the defence of the most vulnerable people in our land. The experience of those who deal with young people—particularly with disengaged and troubled young people—was made clear by their evidence. They believe that, if those young people were stigmatised or criminalised, they could become entirely disengaged and impossible to re-engage.
For example, we heard from Martina Milburn, the chief executive of the Prince’s Trust, who told us that
“the bulk of the 40,000 people who we worked with last year had issues with drugs and alcohol. What do you do with a young person who is already going down the path of taking too many drugs and drinking too much...The question is how you deal with that. Do you increasingly criminalise young people and just say, ‘Right, we’re going to lock you all up,’ or do you find some way of trying to reach them and sort out some of their issues?”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 16, Q36.]
That evidence graphically illustrates that the young people in the greatest need are the least likely to benefit from a Bill that coerces them and, ultimately, if they do not abide by their duties, criminalises them. Hence our attempt at this juncture to soften the impact of the part of the Bill that might do just that, by building in an additional protection for those vulnerable young people. The Association of School and College Leaders said in its briefing on the Bill that its preferred approach to achieving full participation was by persuasion rather than by coercion.
There is no lack of commitment among those on the Conservative Benches to the principle of increasing the participation of post-16-year-olds in education. Indeed, we regard ourselves as being at the forefront of that campaign. However, we believe that we are most likely to achieve that by inspiring, by encouraging, by moving the hearts and minds of young people, rather than by coercion.
Early intervention has long been an aspiration in the delivery of services for children and young people—
I will happily give way when I have finished this sentence.
Early intervention has long been an aspiration in the delivery of services for children and young people, but, in reality, over-stretched budgets make it hard to achieve that in practice. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity of this intervention to acknowledge those difficulties, to pay tribute to the people who deal with them on a day-to-day basis and to recognise the strength of the evidence that we were given when he and I listened to the people who are dealing with these problems at the sharp end.
There are certainly some excellent people doing excellent work at the sharp end. The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he supports the principle of people carrying on learning until they are 18. How does he think that we are going to bring that about in practice? If he says that the answer is simply good schools, will he also tell us when he thinks we will achieve 100 per cent. participation solely on the basis of encouragement and good schools?
The Minister is encouraging me to be rather more critical of him than I would instinctively choose to be. However, because he has encouraged me, let me say that, when we debated the Bill in Committee, he made it clear that he believed that the vast majority of young people—including many who are disengaged—could be re-engaged not by compulsion but by the quality of the offer that the Government would seductively put before them. Furthermore, when I scrutinised his remarks closely, he acknowledged that there would always be a certain number of young people who would truant. We know that because, of the people who are currently obliged to attend school or college up to the age of 16, a proportion do not do so. We do not succeed in getting a 100 per cent. of those who are legally obliged to go to school or college to do so.
The question that I put to the Minister then—I put it to him again now; perhaps he will intervene on me to answer it—was as follows: given that he thinks that about 90 per cent. of young people might be encouraged to participate post-16, and that about 5 or 6 per cent. of young people do not attend school, is he suggesting that coercion will affect only about 4 or 5 per cent. of young people? I am simply more ambitious and more positive, and less sceptical and cynical, than he is about our capacity to engage people without coercion.
I want to press on with our proper scrutiny of this very broad group of amendments, but I will just say that my estimation is that that is most likely to happen when a Conservative Government are returned to power, and when Ministers are prepared to stand up for the interests of young people in a way that engages them, encourages them and stimulates their imagination—
I knew that you were going to say that, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am not going to be encouraged by the Secretary of State. I am going to abide by your ruling, because that is the right thing to do.
The Bill, as currently drafted, would not allow for the learning support contracts that we recommend in our new clause. We believe that they are an important mechanism for intervening earlier in young people’s lives, and that they would have a particularly valuable impact on the young people who are the hardest to get at, in terms of engagement. They would provide a framework for a local authority to agree with a young person, and their parents or carer, how that young person was to fulfil their duty to participate, and how that arrangement was to be supported. I am sure that the Government will embrace the new clause, because it would improve the Bill. It in no way contradicts the Bill’s proper intent; it simply seeks to make it more palatable, more workable and more effective.
Following that theme, I know that my hon. Friend is cantering through a large number of amendments, but will he comment briefly on my new clause 23, which encourages a more “horses for courses” approach to education whereby people can leave the academic field and opt for a vocational education from the age of 14, provided that they have parental permission, a head teacher’s approval and that they have reached level 5 at key stage 3 in English, maths and science? Does my hon. Friend agree that allowing children to go down a vocational—
Perhaps there is another lunch in the offing.
Amendment No. 70 and new clause 13 deal with duties on employers. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, clause 21 places a duty on employers not to employ a person unless they have taken reasonable steps to check that the person has made “appropriate arrangements” to participate in relevant training or education. The explanatory notes state that if an employer does not fulfil his duty under clause 21, clause 22
“provides for a local education authority to serve a penalty notice on the employer and sets out the circumstances in which the notice can be given.”
We had an interesting debate in Committee about the burden these duties will place on employers. Particularly pertinent to that debate was the evidence offered by Professor Alison Wolf of King’s college, London. She told the Committee during an early evidence session that in her estimation,
“the negative impact that the Bill will have, by effectively destroying the labour market of 16 and 17-year-olds, is enormously underestimated. That might be justified if one were confident that they were going to be doing something that was extremely valuable. Since one is not, and since we know that on-the-job experience is demonstrably extremely valuable to people, I think we have to take the impact on the job market extremely seriously. I think the effect will be very serious and almost totally negative.”—[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c16, Q34]
The cost of employer checking is much higher in the Institute of Directors’ estimation than the Government assume. The IOD says:
“Government figures estimate that the process of employer checking is a single exchange of paper between an employee and employer which will take ten minutes”
and therefore cost approximately £16.8 million nationally. It continues:
“In reality this process will actually require a mixture of discussion, checking, altering of work rotas and/or addressing employees’ needs.”
The IOD projects that it will cost more than double the figure suggested by the Government. The top estimate is that it could cost up to £68 million a year. The administrative burden also accounts for what it calculates to be a 32 per cent. hike in the Department’s imposition on business. That is entirely contrary to the Government’s policy, articulated by the Minister, of reducing the administrative burden on businesses by 25 per cent. The consequential unintended impact of the clause could be that employers employ only people who are older than the proposed compulsory age—precisely the argument of Professor Wolf and others.
That problem may be especially profound in small and medium-sized businesses. I suspect that the very large organisations, as so often with bureaucratic and administrative burdens, have the capacity to absorb the extra costs in a way that small businesses simply do not. For example, a small training business that employs a 17-year-old to work in numerous different jobs will spend less time on tasks such as marketing and business and more on burdensome administration. It is therefore important to review the impact of the clause after 12 months. We must find out whether the Ministry is right and the Government’s estimates are borne out or whether the IOD and Professor Wolf are more accurate in their estimation of the detrimental effects of the employment of young people on the costs of businesses to checking their new obligations.
We debated these issues in earlier stages of our consideration. In response to these concerns, the Minister for Schools and Learners sought to reassure the Committee by saying that
“if employers want to take on a young person for more than 20 hours a week in a situation when they are not providing their own accredited training, the young person will need to provide evidence that they have made arrangements to attend training or education before they can start employment. The employer will simply need to check that before allowing the employment to begin. If he does not, he will be failing to meet his duty. Employers will not be required to do anything further, such as calling the college to check that the young person has enrolled there; nor would they have an ongoing duty to check that they were attending the course…employers would not have to check the number of hours”. ––[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 19 February 2008; c. 556.]
Our amendment No. 70 would put those assurances on the face of the Bill. Once again, we merely attempt to improve the Bill as a responsible Opposition should, given that we agree with the basic premise that we want as many 16, 17 and 18-year-olds to be involved in education and training as possible. By building those assurances into the Bill, we hope to limit the damage that the legislation might otherwise do to youth employment and to costs faced by businesses, particularly small businesses.
That is also why we tabled new clause 13, which requires the Government to consult the CBI and the IOD as well as the British Chambers of Commerce, and the Federation of Small Businesses in order to assess the effect that duties on employers have had in 12 months’ time and similarly the impact of the provisions on the employment market for 16 and 17-year-olds. It is absolutely right that we take a raincheck by making a judgment about the Bill’s effect over time. That is what a responsible Government would do; it is what a responsible Secretary of State would want; so, once again, I cannot imagine that the Government will not embrace these suggestions—these amendments and new clauses—with relish. In Committee there was some dispute about the length of time it will take for employers to check whether the young people they employ are fulfilling their duties under legislation. In particular, there was a difference between the burden estimated by the Minister and, as I said, the much greater burden estimated by the IOD.
Amendment No. 88—an important amendment, in our estimation—would amend clause 54. My hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton spoke about the importance of getting young people the right careers advice when we debated the matter in Committee. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that it is my considered view that it is critical, if we are to engage young people, that they are given appropriate guidance, so that they understand the merits of the various training and education options that confront them. I think that that will be best done by an all-age