[Relevant documents: The First Report of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, School Accountability, HC 88-I, and the Second Report of the Committee, The Review of Elective Home Education, HC 39-I.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Children, Schools and Families Bill is vital to meet what I believe is our moral imperative to help every child and young person to make the most of their talents and to ensure that no barrier is allowed to hold them back. But, as well as that moral imperative, we face an economic imperative to ensure that all our young people get the skills that they need and that businesses are demanding, so that our country can thrive and succeed in the 21st century global economy.
As we debate the Bill today, 750 education experts and more than 70 Education Ministers representing 1 billion children in 80 countries around the world are meeting here in London on the other side of Parliament square, at the learning and technology world forum—the largest education and technology event of its kind in the world. They are here both because the UK is a world leader in technology for education and because our Government and every Government around the world face these twin moral and economic imperatives.
As a result of our sustained record of investment and reform over the past 12 years, we have gone from below average to well above average in the world, but our ambition is to get to a world-class education system, in which every child, and not just some, gets all the help and support they need to make good progress, and every parent, and not just some, has the choice of a good local school. That is why the Bill sets out the next steps that we will take to achieve our ambition by providing a guaranteed route to a good qualification for every young person, a promise of guaranteed extra catch-up support for every child who falls behind, more power for parents, a boost to the status of the teaching profession and further backing for local leaders to ensure that every school is a good school with stronger back-stop powers for the Government to step in as a last resort if schools are not being turned round.
Those measures are essential for a strong economy and a fair society. They are now possible only because of our sustained investment and reform over the last decade and they are also all actively opposed by the Opposition parties, particularly by the Conservative party, which is proposing instead a costly and unfair free-market free-for-all that will be paid for only by huge cuts to existing schools.
Before I move on to the details of those measures, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the former Member for North-West Leicestershire who sadly died on Boxing day and whose hugely well attended funeral took place on Saturday. He was a strong campaigner on behalf of children in this country and regularly made significant contributions to our education debates. He will be sorely missed in this House.
And he was opposed to academies.
My hon. Friend says from a sedentary position that David Taylor was opposed to academies, which is quite right, but he was also deeply committed to investing in and reforming our school system in order to deliver for all children, which was a regular part of his contribution.
To ensure that every young person can develop all the skills they need and that employers want, we have already introduced historic legislation to raise the education and training age to 18, to fund fully our school leavers’ guarantee, to expand apprenticeships and to introduce diplomas. Through this Bill, we are now legislating to implement Sir Jim Rose’s review of the primary curriculum from September next year so that teachers have more space and flexibility to decide what to teach while retaining a strong focus on basic literacy, numeracy and information communications technology. We will also put PSHE—personal, social and health education, including sex and relationship education and financial education—on a statutory footing for the first time and guarantee for the first time that all young people receive at least one year of sex and relationship education.
I speak as a governor of a Church of England primary school in my constituency, which has always taken tremendous care to involve parents in the sex and relationship education taught to their children in the school. What assurances can the Secretary of State give me that in future the ethos and culture of the school and the wishes of those parents will be respected, as I can tell him that there is worry across the House about this issue?
I can give him an absolute assurance on that. I consulted in detail both the Catholic Education Service and Church of England education leaders as well as more widely before coming forward with this proposal. The decision to make sex and relationship education statutory is, I think, supported by all political parties, but it is essential that it is taught in line with the ethos, including the faith, of the school. That is clear in the legislation: it is clear that parents as well as school governors will have a say in how the subject is taught, while there is also a parental opt-out, which will apply to pupils until they are 15. I can thus give the hon. Gentleman the complete assurance that the school will be in charge of how to teach SRE, but the fact of teaching it will be in law and guaranteed to all children.
I will take another intervention.
The Secretary of State seems to have the impression—he is certainly trying to give the impression—that everyone is in favour of making this a compulsory part of the national curriculum, but he knows that in September the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency published details of responses to the consultation it carried out, showing that of 6,433 responses, only 32 per cent. agreed with the proposal to make PSE a statutory part of the national curriculum. The right hon. Gentleman is still going ahead, despite the fact that on the basis of information from his own agency, most people are actually against it.
I shall not fall into the trap of assuming that if those on the Opposition Front Bench support a policy the hon. Gentleman will support it, or vice versa. The fact that the hon. Gentleman does not support this policy and Opposition Front Benchers—I believe—do support it is probably fairly true to form.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there was an organised campaign as part of the consultation, but we also commissioned opinion polls, in both qualitative and quantitative terms. We published the findings at the time, and they showed overwhelming support from parents for making this statutory. I think that if the hon. Gentleman talks to parents and teachers, including head teachers, he will find a widespread consensus that—consistent with a school’s ability to make its own decisions about method, content and the parental opt-out—this is the right thing to do, it is probably overdue, and it will help us to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancies and encourage a culture of mutual respect among our young people.
May I urge my right hon. Friend to avoid another trap? Will he ensure that discussion of the teaching of social and emotional behaviour, which is fundamental to all learning at primary and secondary level, is not narrowed to one tiny sliver of the argument about SRE, and that the Government’s life skills package, which is widely supported throughout the House, is seen in perspective? It seems that one or two of our more exuberant colleagues want to discuss only one tiny aspect of that broad package.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and wish him a very happy birthday. The fact that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) almost certainly calls such classes “happy classes”, and opposes them, contrasts starkly with what I believe to be the general view—that this is a very important part of our school system. Through sex and relationship education, through financial education and, more widely, through SEAL—social and emotional aspects of learning—we are teaching our children in primary and secondary schools resilience, character, respect and the ability to make their way in the world with pride and confidence. I think that schools that provide such teaching consider it to be an important part of the curriculum, and it must not be narrowed in the way described by my hon. Friend.
I do not think that, in the 12 years of the current Government, it has given me so much pleasure to vote for a Second Reading as it will give me to vote confidently with the Government tonight—in contrast to the Conservatives, whose views on education are striking terror into the heart of every teacher and parent, especially in the poorer parts of Britain.
During the Bill’s Committee stage, will my right hon. Friend look particularly at clause 26, on home teaching? There are genuine concerns about that, and my constituent Mr. Mike Dalby has written to me about it. Will my right hon. Friend be prepared to consider the clause flexibly so that we can get it absolutely right?
It is important that we discuss the details of the home education provisions, and I shall say something about them in a moment. It is great to have my right hon. Friend’s support for our Bill. It would be very nice to have a cross-party consensus in favour of it, but unfortunately it seems that although guaranteeing one-to-one catch-up tuition for children who fall behind is a priority for our party, it is not a priority for the Opposition parties.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will take one more intervention, but then I must move on.
The biggest problem is the huge difference in funding across the United Kingdom. The average Shropshire child receives about £3,300 per annum for his or her education, whereas in other parts of the country the figure can be as high as £9,000, £10,000 or £11,000. What is there in the Bill to redress that huge difference in funding levels?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are currently conducting a review of the schools funding formula, and I hope that the subsequent report will enable us to make some progress in making the system fairer. Let me also point out that it is the hon. Gentleman’s party, not our party, that is proposing a cut in the schools budget in 2010-11, which will only lead to greater unfairness.
I know that people in Shropshire, which contains the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, are waiting for Building Schools for the Future to produce school building plans in wave 7. As the Chancellor announced in the pre-Budget report, we shall be proceeding with wave 7 in the coming months. It is the hon. Gentleman’s party that has promised to cut £4.5 billion from the school building programme, which in his constituency would put 22 potential new building projects at risk. That is something about which he may wish to speak to his party’s Front Benchers before raising the issue of schools funding with me in future.
The Secretary of State says that the schools budget will increase if the Labour Government are re-elected. For the sake of clarity, will he explain precisely what that means in the context of the overall DCSF budget? Does it mean only the dedicated schools grant, or does it also include the school standards grant and school development grant? Does it, perhaps, include the standards fund, too, and all the Partnerships for Schools school capital spending? Does it include the Training and Development Agency for Schools budget for teachers, and the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services budget? Will the Secretary of State make it clear which budget lines will receive an increase, and by how much?
I am happy to do so, because this was all set out at the time of the pre-Budget report. In 2010-11, our schools budget will rise as set out in the spending review, plus we will provide the additional money for the September guarantee for school leavers—we will provide that, but the hon. Gentleman, despite 12 chances to match that school leavers guarantee, will not do so.
In 2011-12 and 2012-13, the schools budget will rise by 0.7 per cent. a year in real terms; that means all the money, including for one-to-one tuition, that goes directly to schools. The combination of that and efficiency savings mean that we can meet the guarantees we set out in this Bill.
Does that include money for the training and development of new teachers? Does it also include money for the training of head teachers, and does it specifically include capital funding for new schools?
The hon. Gentleman knows that it does not include capital funding for schools, because the PBR set out a settlement of the current budget, and the current budget does not, by definition, include capital. He will also know, however, that the Chancellor announced that we will go forward with a further wave—wave 7 —of Building Schools for the Future bids in the spring; the hon. Gentleman’s party is committed to a £4.5 billion cut, but we are committed to continuing with the BSF programme. I also just said that all the budgets that go directly to schools have been guaranteed a 0.7 per cent. rise. That includes one-to-one tuition, but, at this stage, it does not include money going to non-departmental public bodies. This was all set out at the time of the PBR, so the hon. Gentleman has had the chance to ask me questions about it in the past—
Will the Secretary of State give way?
No; if I may be allowed to do so, I shall finish my points before the hon. Gentleman stands up again.
I am raising the schools budget in 2011-12 and 2012-13, with the agreement of the Chancellor. The hon. Gentleman proposes to cut the schools budget in 2010-11, however; the reason is that the shadow Chancellor has told him he has got to do so. Despite regular attempts in the House to wriggle out of this, the fact is that, unlike the Conservatives’ health budget, under the hon. Gentleman’s watch the education budget is set to be cut.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that spending on initial teacher training in schools will increase, and spending on—[Interruption.] No, it is the Secretary of State who is wriggling. Can he also confirm that spending on head teacher training will increase—spending, for example, on ensuring that heads who become national leaders of education can do their job—or will that be cut?
I have just answered those questions. The problem with the hon. Gentleman is that, like the Leader of the Opposition, he writes his speeches and questions in advance, which means he never listens to the answers. What I said was that all the money that goes directly to schools is rising in real terms. The money that is going to agencies has not at this point been settled. So the money that is going to the TDA has not been settled—that is absolutely clear—but the money going to schools will rise this year, next year and the year after if this Government are re-elected, whereas it will be cut from next April if the hon. Gentleman’s party is elected.
Will the Secretary of State give way again?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many Back Benchers wish to speak in this debate. Given that Front Benchers will get a lot of time to make their points—even if they wish to make the same point five times—is it possible to take time off Front Benchers’ speeches if they constantly interrupt at the expense of Back-Bench time?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises that I am not in a position to rule on that matter at this point in time, but I hope that contributors from both Front Benches will confine their remarks to the Bill before the House, and also be very aware that a lot of Back Benchers wish to speak and they should be given every opportunity to do so.
The fact is that a world-class education system depends on guaranteeing excellence for all, not just for some. What we have set out in this Bill are new pupil guarantees. We have set out clear entitlements to a broad and balanced curriculum for every pupil and to a place in education or training for all 16 and 17-year-olds who want one, and a route to high quality qualifications irrespective of whether someone’s strengths are practical, academic or both, with standards guaranteed by our new, independent standards regulator, Ofqual.
Can my right hon. Friend assure me that data will be collected on all children on the autistic spectrum by every local authority so that service delivery and strategic planning become much more effective?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. As she knows, the schools census collects data on children with statements and on school action plus and they show that as of January 2009 there were 51,200 pupils on the autistic spectrum. In addition, the Special Educational Needs (Information) Act 2008, which came into effect in January, is giving us more information about the characteristics of those pupils, their attainment and the progress that they make. We first published those statistics in October, they include children on the autistic spectrum and we will continue to ensure that we prioritise those children, as we showed in the Lamb review. I should say to my hon. Friend that the leadership that she has shown on these matters has been hugely important in raising opportunity and standards for children in our country who have a special educational need.
The fact is that 100,000 more children are now leaving primary school secure in English and 100,000 more are secure in maths compared with 1997. However, a world-class education system demands that no child’s progress is allowed to stall or be held back. We know that many children, at certain points of their school life, benefit from short bursts of tailored, individual support alongside effective class teaching. Personal tuition must not just be the preserve of those who can afford it, so our pupil guarantee will entitle to catch-up support any child who falls behind in reading or writing or maths during primary school—in key stage 1 or in key stage 2—and any young person who starts secondary school behind expectations, with all looked-after children also automatically receiving one-to-one tuition so that they develop the basic skills they need. These guarantees of one-to-one catch-up support can be delivered only by the rising real-terms budgets for the schools system set out in the pre-Budget report.
This is at the heart of the Bill; the most important reform that the Secretary of State is introducing is the possibility of one-to-one tuition, catch-up support and so on. What guarantees can he give us that middle-class parents will not “snaffle”—I use that term for want of a better word—all those resources because they have the loudest voices and the best understanding and will demand that tuition for their children, perhaps at the expense of children who have less articulate parents and who probably need that tuition even more?
The guarantees are in the Bill; we will set out in law for the very first time such guarantees to pupils and to parents. Any child who is not making progress at key stage 1 will be entitled to extra support, and the school will have to write a letter to the parent setting out what it will do. Any child who is not making progress in key stage 2 will be guaranteed one-to-one tuition, and we will be offering 300,000 places for maths and for literacy from next April to deliver that one-to-one guarantee. Thirdly, any child who does the key stage 2 tests at the age of 11 and does not get to level 4 will automatically receive one-to-one tuition in year 7—in the first year of secondary school—and do a test at the end of that year. The results will not be made public, but they will be reported to parents, so that they know whether their child is catching up. Thus, this does not depend upon the parent asking for the support; the support is guaranteed to the child on the basis of the teacher’s assessment. This is what has been available for children in private schools for many years. For the first time, because of our investment and our reform, we will guarantee the same individual attention and catch-up support to parents—of whatever class and of whatever income—in our state school system. The only test is whether a child has fallen behind and needs extra help—if they have, they will get it.
The Secretary of State has just said that these are guarantees that can be relied upon and he also promised one-to-one tuition. Does he agree that what is being promised is not one-to-one tuition, because it is to be provided either one to one or in small groups?
It partly depends on the judgment of the teachers. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be willing to join me in wanting to back the professional judgment of teachers and head teachers. At key stage 2, for years 3, 4, 5 and 6, a child who is not making progress is guaranteed one-to-one tuition. At key stage 1, they are guaranteed extra support, which could mean one-to-one tuition, small-group tuition or moving at a different pace through key stage 1 —[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will let me make the point rather than shouting at me, I shall try to answer him.
At key stage 1, there will be one-to-one or small group tuition, or what the teacher decides, and in year 7, too, there will be one-to-one or small group tuition depending on what is needed. The test is whether the support means that the child makes progress and the cost is that it has to be paid for in order to be delivered. If we are willing to put the investment in, we can see all children make progress. If we are not willing to make the investment—we heard earlier that the Opposition will cut spending in 2010-11—some children will still make progress, but not all children will. That is the difference.
We will also be legislating in our Bill to introduce a new school report card that will specifically report on provision for pupils with special educational needs alongside attainment, satisfaction and discipline. We will extend the inspection remit of Ofsted to include provision for pupils with special educational needs and we will provide parents of children with special educational needs with a new right to appeal if their child’s statement is not amended at annual review. Of those children who do not get to level 4 now—100,000 fewer than in 1997—two thirds have a special educational need, which is twice the level of the whole population. In my view, putting the needs of children with special needs at the centre of our education system is not peripheral but the only way to keep raising standards in our schools.
Echoing the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase), there is a problem in many areas of the country, including Wolverhampton, as children with special educational needs wait months to get statemented. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is absolutely right to talk about such needs being central and about the inspection and so on, which will consider what is happening to those children who have been statemented. However, what is he doing to try to speed up the statementing process to begin with?
Just before Christmas, Brian Lamb’s review considered the detail of all those issues. To strengthen the inspection is very important, as is giving parents the right to appeal, but the fact is that there is great variability around the country. In some parts of the country, things are done in a speedy and timely way, but the needs of children and their parents are not always being put first. We need to shine the spotlight of scrutiny on to children with special educational needs and to ensure that they get the extra support that they need. We will train 4,000 more dyslexia-trained teachers in the coming year to ensure that the needs of a child with dyslexia are spotted early and that they get the extra help so that they can make progress. Those 4,000 extra dyslexia-trained teachers cannot be trained if the budget is to be cut in 2010-11, which is what the Opposition propose.
The Secretary of State is aware of the battle that many parents have to go through to get their children statemented—a battle that middle-class articulate parents often succeed in. Does he agree that one of the biggest problems is that when people move around the country they have to commence that battle again? That is particularly a problem for those in the armed services who will be moved from Catterick to Cheltenham to Colchester to wherever else, which means that they are perpetually engaged in this fight.
That is an important point. Children who move around the country are always potentially more vulnerable and that is why I think that the ContactPoint database will be very helpful in ensuring that those children do not fall through the cracks. For children in armed forces families who move a great deal, this is a particular issue. We have now opened the new Wellington academy in Wellington, which I hope will become a centre of excellence not just in that part of the south-west but across the country for meeting the needs of the children of armed forces personnel families—especially, in that case, non-commissioned officers’ families and forces families. I hope that that will be one issue in which the academy will become expert. The hon. Gentleman’s point is well taken and was highlighted by the Lamb review.
Will my right hon. Friend come on to an issue on which many hon. Members have been lobbying? I am sure that he is well aware of the issues to do with education at home and allegations have been made that the Select Committee’s report has not been taken seriously. Will he deal with those issues?
I will deal with those issues in a moment. Before I do, let me address the issue of guarantees, which are clear and are laid out for pupils and parents. In the vast majority of cases, the guarantees, which we have published details about today, are a summary of provisions under the existing legislation. In a small number of cases—in relation to one-to-one tuition, a choice of sciences, strength in home-school agreements and the entitlement to online reporting to parents—the guarantees are new and are being set out in legislation. We would expect the vast majority of head teachers and teachers to be delivering the guarantees already. If issues arise, in the vast majority of cases they will be sorted out by schools, but in a small minority of cases, as a last resort, there will be a right of redress through the local government ombudsman. There will also be a right of redress for pupils in academies through the Young People’s Learning Agency.
I was going to discuss home education, but I am happy to give way to my hon. Friend.
Before the Secretary of State moves on from special educational needs, may I congratulate him on that part of the Bill? He will remember that the Select Committee’s report on SEN led to the Lamb report, and we are pleased with all that is happening in that regard. Does he remember that it was the patchwork nature of delivery on SEN that was at the heart of the problem and the injustice that parents felt?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Select Committee’s reports of the past two, three or four years on these matters have been very important. He will know that, as part of the Lamb work, we are considering whether arm’s length statementing from local authorities will be a good idea. However, I must say that the Lamb review was more concerned about information flows to parents and the quality of advice than about independence, and we are now testing out that issue. I think that there is a broader point to make: children with SEN have tended to be on the periphery, and it has tended to be the parents who shouted the loudest who have received support. Many parents have felt deeply frustrated that they could not get support without banging on the door and making a great fuss. That is fundamentally unfair, because it is not right that those who shout the loudest should get the support, or that one should have to shout loud to get support. If the Lamb review is properly implemented and properly resourced, it could make a massive difference to children with SEN. I hope that the Select Committee will pay close attention to how we implement it, because its impetus to progress has been very important in this matter.
Will my right hon. Friend consider accepting a new clause in the Bill to limit the defence of reasonable punishment, as it exists in section 58 of the Children Act 2004, to those with parental responsibility? It should not extend to teachers in madrassahs or in other religious schools. I mention that at this point because the children who are being ill-treated in such schools are often those with special needs.
I hear my hon. Friend’s point, and I know that she has expertise in this matter. We have dealt with some particular cases in the past year or two. The important point to make is that there is not one rule for a child in a madrassah and another for a child in a school or in any other circumstance. The use of physical punishment against any child is wrong; it is outside the law and is not fair to children. I do not think that we should tolerate any use of physical punishment in any school or learning setting in which trusted adults are supposed to be looking after children, not abusing them.
On home education, I know that this issue will be debated in detail in Committee. The vast majority of home educating parents provide a good education for their children, and I am fully committed to the principle that parents who choose to home educate should be able to do so. It is parents, rather than the state, who are in charge of taking the ultimate decision on how their children are educated. We think that about 70,000 children are being home educated—often for a variety of reasons and often to a very high standard by committed parents. Our responsibility is to ensure that not just a large majority, but all of the children who are being home educated are safe and are learning properly. It was because of concerns that had been raised that I asked Mr. Graham Badman to do his review, which reported in the summer. Following consultation, the Bill makes some changes to his recommendations, but accepts the general core principles of his review. The first is that, as a matter of principle, parents should be allowed to home educate. The second is that they need more support, financial and otherwise, to be able to do so. That may mean catch-up, one-to-one tuition for children who need it, or support regarding the cost of exam fees.
It is important that we make sure that we know that all children are safe and are being properly educated. That is why the Bill introduces a new registration scheme for home educators, with a duty on local authorities to identify all home-educated children and to ensure that they are receiving a suitable education. That is vital to make sure that all home-educated children are safe and are making progress. It is wrong to see that as an attack on home education, and those people who try to represent it as an attack on home education in principle are wrong. On that basis, I have to say that I agree with the vast majority of the recommendations and sentiments set out in the Children, Schools and Families Committee report on home education.
Should not help be offered, not forced on families? If the Secretary of State is so enthusiastic about the Select Committee’s report, why not adopt a voluntary scheme? Why not increase support for families, without alienating and antagonising the entire home education community, among whom he will find precious few people who support the draconian proposals in the Bill?
I do think that we should offer support, rather than impose it. In our response to the Badman report, we will offer extensive support to home-educating parents, which they can choose to take up.
Let me quote the Select Committee:
“In our view it is unacceptable that local authorities do not know accurately how many children of school age in their area are in school, are being home educated or are otherwise not in school.”
I completely agree with that, but it is not possible for local authorities to know that information unless they know where all the children are and whether they are being home educated. I also agree with the Select Committee when it says:
“We believe that registration would encourage local authorities and home educators to recognise that it is to their mutual advantage to have a clear record of children who are being…educated.”
The Select Committee also says:
“the wider evidence that we received illustrated the potential value of the requirement for annual meetings between home educating families and local authority officers for the purpose of supporting home education provision. We believe that local authorities need a guaranteed means of engaging with these families.”
It is vital that people in local authorities are properly trained. The Bill makes it clear that there is no right for a local authority to see the child of a home-educating family on their own, without the parents there. There is no such right in the Bill.
I say to the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), who is a member of the Select Committee, that it is not possible for local authorities to know where the children are, and that they are safe and learning, if they do not know how many there are, and which homes they are in. We cannot know that without a registration scheme.
Does the Secretary of State not understand that the hyper-mobility and hyper-diversity in many of our cities means that it is very difficult to have a register of the exact number of children at any one time? To go back to his previous point, he made it absolutely clear that home educators—he believes that there are 70,000 of them, but I think that there are actually rather more than that—provide education at home for a variety of reasons. Does he not see that the Badman report effectively takes a one-size-fits-all approach, which is directly opposed to the fact that there is a whole variety of different reasons why home educators keep their children at home and educate them there?
I hear the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but with respect, I do not agree at all. The Badman report sets out the range of reasons why children might be home educated. In some cases, that is because it is the philosophical view of the parents that they do not want their children to be educated in a school, in a class with other children. Often, children are home educated because of problems that have arisen due to a temporary lack of places, or for reasons to do with bullying or a special educational need, which means that things have broken down. There is a wide range of provision. We should not have a one-size-fits-all policy; I completely agree.
The only obligation in the Bill—it does not say what home-educated children are to learn, or set out detailed content—is to make sure that children are safe and are learning. That is what the Badman report recommends and what the Bill does. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the detail, and does not listen to the hyperbolic comments made by some Members present—that is opposed to the sensibleness of most of the views in the Select Committee report—he will see that the diversity of the home education community is being properly respected.
Is not the point that we have had a voluntary scheme for years and years? Anyone has been able to register and make themselves known to their local authority if they want to, but the majority have not. For those who argue for the importance of voluntary scheme, we have had one, but it has not worked. That is why we are in such a mess now: we have no idea about the quality of education of thousands of children.
These would be interesting debates for the Committee, and it would be dangerous to allow the Select Committee to repeat its internal debates on the Floor of the House at this point. But the fact is that a voluntary registration system only takes us so far; it does not deliver the conclusion of the Select Committee’s report: local authorities should know where those children are. In the vast majority of cases, home-educating parents will want to co-operate fully—this will be very light touch indeed—but in the small minority of cases where things go wrong, there is a balance to be struck between the rights of the parent and the rights of the child, and we must ensure as a society that children are safe and are learning. We should not have one rule for children in schools, where we have a duty to ensure that they are safe and are learning, and another rule for children who are home-educated, which is that if their parents do not want to tell, no one is obliged to find out; that would not be the right approach.
Would not some of the problems with non-registration be helped by the rolling out of ContactPoint across the country in September? When the Secretary of State talks about registration, he also talks about the safety of the child. Would he like to define the difference? If such registration happens, should it not be about the education of the child? Is that not where the real problem lies? People fear local authority bureaucrats, many of whom they would not want to look after their children, coming into their homes and telling them what to do about something they know nothing about.
I understand my hon. Friend’s point. It is really important to get that right in training and guidance. A local authority currently, before the Bill becomes an Act, has a right in law to see a child if it fears that there is a child well-being, safety or child protection issue. That right already exists, including for home-educated children. The issue is whether they are being educated and whether they are learning. There is no right in the Bill for a local authority to go in, demand a visit and see children on their own. The vast majority of parents would be happy to let that happen, but if they choose not to do so, that is a choice for them. The local authority then has an obligation to ensure that those children are safe and are learning, and consequences will then follow from that. But the right to go in and demand a meeting will not exist for education purposes under the Bill.
I will give way to my hon. Friend, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He has made one intervention already, but he is the Chairman of the Select Committee and his Committee’s views have been extensively debated.
I am grateful for all the publicity of the Select Committee’s report. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one problem that the Select Committee found when we discussed this in great depth—it will be discussed seriously again in Committee—is that the Government propose a compulsory register with no penalties? We thought, “Why not try it for two years on a voluntary basis? If that does not work, we move to a system even with penalties.”
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, although adding penalties would further inflame the minority of home educators who do not like the current provisions in the Bill. I do not want to air further the debates about voluntary or compulsory systems; we should discuss them in Committee.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said in its briefing for today’s debate:
“We support the recommendations in Clause 26 and Schedule 1 of the Bill to establish a registration scheme for children who are educated at home in England. However, it is important that workers who undertake home visits receive specialist training to identify possible signs of child abuse or neglect.”
The NSPCC is right: we need specialist training, but it is right to have a registration scheme. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will move on and we can debate those things further in Committee.
The basis of a world-class education system is also a world-class work force. We now have more than 40,000 more teachers than in 1997, supported by more than 180,000 more teaching assistants. The Bill builds on our commitment to a masters-level profession by introducing a new licence to practise similar to other high-status professionals, such as doctors and lawyers.
We also want to ensure that head teachers and teachers have the powers and the support that they need to tackle bad behaviour.
That is why the Bill will also strengthen home-school agreements, so that pupils, parents and schools all fulfil their responsibilities.
It is important—this will be extensively discussed in Committee—that the Bill continues the process of improving confidence in family courts by opening up proceedings in a careful and staged way, with a clear sunset clause and review before we potentially move to any further opening up beyond the first stage provisions in the Bill, while ensuring that vulnerable children are safeguarded.
The Secretary of State spoke earlier about the NSPCC’s support for his plans for home education. Does he accept that the NSPCC has reservations about his plans for opening up the family courts, and that he ought to listen to it on that point as well?
Again, it is not possible for us all to agree at all times with every stakeholder who has a view on these matters. The NSPCC, the National Children’s Bureau and others have concerns about opening up the family courts and have made those concerns clear. On the other hand, many people think opening up the family courts is important for our democracy and for the stability and fairness of the courts’ proceedings. We are trying to strike a balance. That is why we will not move further without a clear sunset clause and review provisions.
I hope the issues will be extensively debated in Committee. These are Ministry of Justice clauses and it is the expert in these matters, although we have discussed them in detail because we have a joint responsibility for family policy. We are taking matters forward in a steady and sequenced way, mindful at all times not to put children, particularly vulnerable children, in positions where their welfare might be undermined. I think we are getting the balance right, but it is a topic that we will discuss in Committee. Given the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge on these matters and commitment to child welfare, perhaps he will be on the Committee and be able to participate in those debates.
I will give way one more time.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way on this point about accountability and transparency in the family courts. I congratulate the Government on upsetting those on both sides of the debate—the Newspaper Society, by trying to gag people, and the NSPCC with their other proposals. Will the right hon. Gentleman review the detailed proposals in the light of all the representations being made? It is clear that there is little support for the details of the Government’s proposals.
Upsetting those on both sides of an argument is often the best way to get to the right outcome. I hear the hon. Gentleman’s point. This is a Second Reading debate. The purpose of the Committee is to allow such scrutiny of the provisions, and I am sure the scrutiny will be robust and thorough, as always. Hopefully, it will not involve an all-night sitting this time, as on our Bill in the previous Session, and we will be able to move forward consensually.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
No, I will not.
A world-class education system is only now within our grasp because of the progress that we have made in school improvement. In 1997, more than half of our schools—over 1,600—were not getting to the basic benchmark of 30 per cent. of pupils achieving five good GCSEs, including English and maths. That has come down not just to one in two schools, but to one in 12 schools—from 1,600 schools to just 270. Because of the work that we are doing with schools and local authorities around the country, in our national challenge and academies programme, our aim is to get that number down to zero by 2011.
The Bill takes further steps that will help us to back school leadership and school improvement, by making the process of establishing an academy easier, by reducing bureaucracy so that, like colleges, universities and voluntary aided schools, all academies are guaranteed charitable status, and by strengthening collaboration between schools by updating the role of school improvement partners and through new accredited education providers, which will include academies, state schools, universities and FE colleges as well. We are consulting on those provisions.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I am not opposed to any school having charitable status, whether it be independent, state, academy or whatever—the recent debate about public benefit and charities has been helpful in that respect—but why is he bringing back the status of exempt charities for academies, especially as the Charities Act 2006 effectively brought that status to an end?
The reason why is that we now have a large number of academies, with the figure heading towards 400, and the separate and independent regulation of each academy would be bureaucratic for academy sponsors, for accredited schools groups and for the school system. Some 7,000 voluntary aided faith schools are exempt from the 2006 Act, and so are many further education providers and universities. It is clear to me that a school, funded by the taxpayer to provide free education to pupils, is charitable in its purposes, and such institutions will be regulated by the Young People’s Learning Agency—something that the Minister with responsibility for the third sector, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith), is proposing if the Bill is enacted.
I know that there are concerns within the Charity Commission about the measure’s wider ramifications, but, seen as an education policy, this legislation represents a sensible piece of deregulation and a reduction in bureaucracy. It will make the system much simpler and more streamlined, without every school having to go through a separate check when the issue is absolutely clear.
In law, it is also clear that the academy sponsor has to be charitable in its standing. So, the academy sponsor will have to be charitable, and the purpose will have to be free education for children. Such institutions are clearly charities, and it is much more sensible to undertake the process in a streamlined, class-based way, as we do with foundation schools, rather than school by school. The school-by-school approach was fine when we had 20 or 30 academies, but—the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) will not like this—given the pace at which I have accelerated the academies programme, the Bill represents an important but sensible piece of deregulation.
On the point about the ability to run chains of schools, which the Secretary of State has been promoting, I must note that one such chain has been debarred from taking on any more schools. Does he therefore accept that there ought at least to be a default position whereby local authorities can take over an entire chain and re-establish a proper educational approach to such schools? Does he not think that, even at this point, it would be wise to give local authorities the same freedom as universities and other colleges to run an education policy for the schools in their district?
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I do not fully agree, because the 2006 Act, which I support and am implementing, was a good piece of legislation that split the commissioning role of the local authority from the providing role of schools. More than 50 universities now sponsor academies, and through our academies, through the accreditation of our best schools and through our universities, we are trying to establish in the state school system good providers who can take on wider responsibilities. The local authority’s responsibility is to ensure that when there is a problem, it brings in outside support to make such action happen.
We do two different things in the Bill: first, we give local authorities the duty to survey parents’ views on local schools to see whether there is dissatisfaction and, if there is, to take action; and, secondly, we give local authorities a duty to act if they are concerned about a school, by issuing a warning notice to a school, with the Secretary of State having the power to direct a local authority to consider that point if it does not take its responsibilities seriously.
Before the Secretary of State leaves parental satisfaction surveys, I must note that the Bill describes how their results will have to demonstrate “material parental dissatisfaction”. Will he give us an example of that? What threshold will have to be passed before a local authority is required to produce a survey response plan ?
We should discuss in Committee and subsequently the details of how we operate the measure. An example might be too much homogeneity in a local area, or too much diversity and an insufficient number of good local schools. The important thing is to ensure that local authorities listen to the views of parents and see what is being done to raise standards. That is what most local authorities do already, and it is a way of ensuring that we are clearly aware of what is going on with children and their learning.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), the Secretary of State said, in terms, that it did not make sense to have academies applying school by school, and therefore there would be an exemption on the public benefit for charitable status. Why, therefore, is it the Government’s position to have academies negotiating, school by school, terms and conditions for their staff rather than going on national agreements? If we want a national system for charitable status, which I understand, why do we not have a national system for pay and conditions in academies?
That is because some academies are innovating in the way that they organise the school term and the school day, and how they provide their provision. All the information that I have shows that academies are more than delivering on the national agreement on terms and conditions of staff. I have said regularly that if there were clear evidence that they were not doing so, I would be willing to look at it, but so far none has been provided to me. Those flexibilities on the curriculum and on terms and conditions have been an important part of the success of the academies movement, and there is widespread support for them.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
It is an important point; the Secretary of State will know that Back Benchers can intervene as many times as they like if he is gracious enough to give way. A very important part of the Bill deals with the licence to practise as a teacher. Having listened intently to his speech, I do not think that he covered that in any detail. Was that on purpose, or has he missed it by mistake?
I said a moment ago that we would legislate for a licence to practise that would give teachers the same professional standing that there is for doctors and lawyers. We are discussing with teachers and head teachers the details of how that will operate, and the Bill provides a framework power to introduce it. It is essential to ensure not only that we match professional development and support for teachers with a light-touch way of operating it for the vast majority, but that we are clear that where there is underperformance there is an obligation on the school to ensure that bad teaching is addressed. We are starting to introduce the licence to practise in September with newly qualified teachers and returning teachers who have been out of the profession for some time. Our aim, over time, is for it to apply to all qualified teachers. Some people have expressed concerns—on one side of the argument, that it will be too heavy-handed and therefore make life difficult for teachers, and on the other that it will be too light touch and will not ensure that there is sufficient action in the small minority of cases where teaching is substandard. We need to get the balance right. We will have to discuss that in detail, and the views of the Children, Schools and Families Committee would be very welcome.
There is an alternative vision, some of which we heard about earlier in the regular interventions by the shadow schools spokesman, and which stretches across several different areas of the Bill. On catch-up support, there is a refusal to match our guarantees to primary school and year 7 pupils. On qualifications and the curriculum, there is a commitment to scrapping the national curriculum. On teachers and head teachers, there is a promise to end key stage 2 tests and to break promises on pay and conditions. On school improvements, there is a policy of removing the role of local authorities and expecting parents to have the time and know-how to set up their own schools or to get private sector firms to come in to run schools and make profits while allowing other schools to wither or decline, and watching as some young people are relegated to a second-class education.
There is also—we have not heard it yet, but I am sure that we will in the speech by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath—a continuing scepticism about whether the rise in standards that we have seen over the past 10 years is real or is due to the dumbing down of our exams. I say regularly in this House that the introduction of Ofqual, our independent standards regulator, is a very important protection against dumbing down and easier exams, but time after time those claims are refuted—although, as we saw in the Queen’s Speech debate on the subject, when I asked the hon. Gentleman a few exam questions on maths and science, he turned out not to know the answers. That is partly because the questions were quite hard. The question is, though, has he done any revision? Should we allow him to do a retake? Very briefly, I have two quick exam questions for him. First, two whole numbers are each between 50 and 70. They multiply—
Order. The Secretary of State has been speaking for nearly an hour. I appreciate that he has taken a number of interventions, and this is a debate after all, but I am not sure that what he is now asking is very relevant to the Bill before us.
It is relevant to the debate about whether standards are rising or falling, but I am happy to return to the matter at another time. I have been waiting for the hon. Gentleman to call an Opposition day debate on education for the past two years, and since the first three months, when we had two, we have not had a single one. It is frustrating that I almost never get a chance to ask him any of these questions in the House.
I conclude by considering statements that have been made about education visions in recent years. There is a debate about whether we should drive school standards up and tackle underperforming schools by stepping in with extra support and extra powers in the national challenge programme, as we are, or whether we should stand back and have what is called the Swedish model. That allows a more market-based approach, and the Opposition advocate it. It is important that we debate those different approaches in considering the Bill.
We were told two years ago that, according to the shadow Secretary of State:
“If we had Swedish-style reforms there is every reason to believe that we would have up to 3,000 new schools”.
Two weeks later he went further, saying that up to 5,000 new private schools would be funded by the taxpayer under his plans. However, last June The Sunday Times reported that senior Opposition figures thought the policy was unworkable and that the shadow Secretary of State’s claim of 3,000 new schools was “totally unrealistic”. In fact, in the—[Interruption.]
Order. I am sure that the Secretary of State can reassure the House about where the building of schools appears in the Bill.
The point is that there are two different approaches to driving school improvement. We can do it either through the mechanisms and powers set out in the Bill or through a free market free-for-all, abolishing powers and, as we heard in the Queen’s Speech debate, bringing in companies that are encouraged to be profit-making and drive the system in a different direction.
I assume that the Secretary of State is also interested in profit-making in schools, but profit-making in terms of the “so what” factor—the added value, dividends and benefits that come to youngsters through their experience, and the added professional development of teachers.
My hon. Friend is completely right. That is the difference. Do we have a market-based mechanism, with some schools withering on the vine while others expand, or do we drive school improvement by the measures in the Bill? It contains clear guarantees to parents and pupils, a decent licence to practise so that professional standards are maintained, and more power and independence for head teachers to drive up standards in their schools, backed by the active support of parents in home-school agreements. That is what we have set out in the Bill.
It will not be possible to deliver the guarantees and reforms in the Bill unless the money is available to pay for them. I made it clear in response to interventions at the beginning of my speech that with me, school spending would rise this year, next year and the year after, but that with the Opposition, it would be cut next year, the year after and the year after that. As the shadow Chancellor has made clear, their priority is not school spending or one-to-one catch-up support but an inheritance tax cut for 3,000 of the richest millionaires. That is the choice. Our vision in the Bill is a world-class education system with excellence and opportunity for all, not just some. That is the choice, and that is what the Bill guarantees, and I commend the Bill to the House.
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Liberal Democrats.
May I first associate myself with the comments of the Secretary of State about the former Member for North-West Leicestershire? We all miss him from his accustomed place on the back row of the Government green Benches. He was a good, kind and generous man, a fantastic constituency Member of Parliament, a grammar school boy, who never lost the love of learning—I benefited personally from his wise advice throughout my time in the House. He will be sorely missed and I should like, on behalf of Conservative Members, to associate myself with every word that the Secretary of State said. We would like to send our best wishes to his widow and his four lovely daughters.
May I also associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments about the success of so many providers of information technology in showcasing their wares in our schools and, more broadly, in education in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales? I am delighted that so many Ministers and individuals from abroad have come to admire what is happening, not only in ICT but more broadly in educational innovation.
I am sorry that we did not have an opportunity to see the Secretary of State play Magnus Magnusson again and demonstrate what a mastermind he is. What a pity it is that other members of the Cabinet are not here to play the quiz that they most enjoy with the Secretary of State and have the opportunity to say, “You are the weakest link.”
After the events of last week, may I say what a pleasure it is for all Conservative Members to see the Secretary of State still in his place? We are all delighted that he has enjoyed a high profile in recent days and look forward to his playing an even more prominent role in the campaign ahead—or should that be campaigns? As well as wanting him to play as big a role as possible in the general election campaign, I greatly hope that he will play as big a role as possible in any leadership campaigns that follow it. We assure him of our enthusiastic support.
I suspect that the Bill, whether it is passed or not, will end up being the Secretary of State’s monument. Balfour’s monument was the Education Act 1902, which established a universal system of local education provision. Rab Butler’s monument was the Education Act 1944, which established universal free secondary provision. Lord Baker of Dorking’s monument was the Education Reform Act 1988, which gave effect to the principles of parental choice, transparent assessment, diversity in the state system and greater freedom for individual schools. As the Secretary of State’s monument, the Bill seeks to establish in law one of his highest priorities—a goal that he pursues with restless zeal; indeed, it is his motivation for being in public office: drawing dividing lines.
Even before he was in the Cabinet, when he was a Back Bencher, doubtless leading the fight against any attempt on the Back Benches to organise against the incumbent leader, he told the New Statesman that he wanted to “get back” to dividing lines on education with the Conservatives. That was his highest priority—not helping the poorest, raising standard or supporting professionals, but drawing a dividing line. I do not feel personally affronted by that. The Secretary of State cannot meet anyone outside his immediate family without wanting to draw dividing lines between them. Perhaps he is right and the rest of us—all of us—are wrong. Perhaps he is the Galileo of education policy—uniquely and brilliantly insightful while all around him is mediaeval darkness and error. However, on the Bill, I am happy to be on the other side of the argument. The debate at the heart of the measure is, as the right hon. Gentleman says, about how one drives up standards in schools.
It would be helpful to me and others if the hon. Gentleman got on with his argument and started mentioning children.
My first comments paid tribute to a Member of the House, now departed, who devoted his life to the cause of education. I want to draw a clear picture of the philosophical divide, which governs how children will be educated, between the Secretary of State and Conservative Members.
What is the answer when we consider how to improve education? Is it more and more central prescription, regulation, bureaucracy, avenues for litigation, compliance costs, supervisory audits, paperwork and time spent out of the classroom on administration? That is the Government’s way under this Secretary of State. However, perhaps the answer is that it is better to trust professionals more, to support more diversity and greater pluralism, and to give parents more choice and schools more freedom—in short, to move in the direction that was set out in Tony Blair’s education White Paper of 2005 rather than the White Paper of 2009.
Which of those approaches the right hon. Lady supports will be of great interest to me.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will come back to what will drive up standards in education, which is improving, beyond what we had ever thought possible, the quality of teaching. Will he commit to seeking to ensure, through other measures in the Bill and some that he has suggested, that we attract people from the top 10 per cent. of graduates in this country to the teaching profession?
I could not agree more with the right hon. Lady—I have often agreed with her arguments and she makes an impeccable argument now. One point that I have consistently made in four of my five most recent speeches is the pressing need to attract and retain more highly talented people in education. I believe that many of the provisions in the Bill, because they bureaucratise the profession rather than trust professionals, will leave many highly gifted and talented people saying, “I do not want to go into a profession where the Secretary of State tells me, to the most minute detail, how I should perform this task, because that robs me of the professional autonomy that I have a right to expect as someone who enjoys the top level of training,” to which the right hon. Lady alluded.
I completely agree with the right hon. Lady. The reports produced by McKinsey and others demonstrate that the single most important thing we could do to improve the quality of education is improve teaching quality. The organisations that are most devoted to improving teacher quality, such as Teach First, Teaching Leaders, and Future Leaders, are opposed to the bureaucratisation of our education system under the approach of the current Secretary of State.
I sense that the right hon. Lady is straining at the bit, so I am happy to allow her to come in.
Those organisations are not opposed to things such as licensing, because we have to know that teachers in front of classes are actually doing what they should be doing. The reality is that simply saying, “We’re not going to have any concern over what is done locally,” which is what the hon. Gentleman is doing, would leave teaching to whoever wants to do it and take the quality out. We have to improve the quality, not reduce it.
The right hon. Lady is presumably unaware of the fact that the Conservatives have consistently argued that we should raise the bar on entry to the teaching profession, and that we should restrict taxpayer funding of postgraduate certificates in education to those who have at least a lower second-class degree, unlike at the moment, when those who have a third can move into teaching. We have also explicitly said that people should not be teaching in primary schools if they have anything less than a grade B pass at GCSE maths and English. Both measures would raise the bar on entry to the teaching profession and ensure that those teaching in our schools are better qualified than they are at the moment.
Teachers in our schools now are better qualified than teachers in the past, and I take this opportunity to underline, and pay tribute to, the quality of the teaching profession.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I think the hon. Gentleman is being a little bit previous and premature—I am not actually the Secretary of State—but I am delighted to give way.
I am very grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for giving way. If he believes in professional autonomy, why does it remain his policy to tell teachers exactly which method they should use to teach children to read?
My approach is that there should be no hiding place for schools that fail to teach children to read properly. We all know that evidence points to the success of systematic synthetic phonics, and teachers who wish to follow that method will be supported—I hope—by those on both sides of the House. However, if teachers wish to follow other routes, they should have the freedom to do so—they do so in Steiner and Montessori schools with some measure of success—but the crucial thing is that we would introduce a test to ensure that every child who can is reading by an appropriate age.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not at the moment.
The one consistent complaint I hear when I talk to teachers, heads, governors, academy sponsors, parents, local authorities, and indeed anyone involved in education—it is voiced most loudly by the most successful— is this: “We face too much bureaucracy.” Therefore, I approach any attempt to pile additional bureaucracy on the educational system with scepticism. Why? I do so because we know that systems work well when they are built on trust. That is the principle for Cabinet government and the principle for success in any school, and it is also the principle that should animate our entire education system. We know that trust depends on respecting autonomy. We recognise that education depends crucially on great teachers and superb school leaders. We want a culture in education where the craft of teaching is respected and the professional status of heads and teachers is enhanced at every stage. That is why we oppose many of the provisions in the Bill.
I know that the Secretary of State will say that, in opposing the Bill, we are opposing any help of any kind for pupils falling behind, and that we are against all cultural and sporting activity—indeed, that we are for deep and invincible ignorance, while he is for a new age of enlightenment and goodness. It does not matter much what we say or do, because the Secretary of State has his script written anyway.
The Secretary of State has argued that we are in favour of closing Sure Start centres, when we want more people to go to more of them. He has argued that we would abolish key stage 2 tests, when we want more rigour and greater transparency. He has argued that we are against people staying on in education, when it is our goal to raise participation beyond the current level. I am sure that between now and the election we will hear more of the same from the Secretary of State, with his characteristic machismo. However, given the transparently political nature of the Bill, you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I decline to play the political game, and instead insist on scrutinising what lies before us and say that I am afraid that it does not pass muster.
In what ways does the licence to practise inhibit empowerment and autonomy among staff? Surely it encourages professionals to develop their skills to the full.
The hon. Gentleman will already be aware, as a distinguished head teacher who did a brilliant job, that new performance management guidelines were introduced before any discussion of the licence to teach. Those guidelines are relatively recent and have met with the approval of all the professional teacher associations, most conspicuously the Association of School and College Leaders, the trade union that speaks for head teachers such as him. The ASCL has pointed out that there is absolutely no need to inaugurate a licence to teach in order to usher in better continuous professional development. Indeed, the National Union of Teachers, the union that represents the greatest number of teachers in our schools, has argued that the continuous professional development of its members is not helped in any way by the licence to teach. Having listened to the professionals on that, I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has a conflict of loyalty, as both a head teacher and a loyal Back Bencher. However, if he is prepared to listen to fellow professionals, rather than to his colleagues who are temporarily in the Whips Office, he will see that none of them has any faith in the licence to teach as a means of improving standards.
Have another go.
With due respect, the hon. Gentleman indicated earlier that the licence to practise inhibited autonomy.
I merely pointed out that the licence to practise seems to add no benefit. Indeed, the body that will be responsible for policing it if the Bill passes into law, the General Teaching Council, has pointed out exactly the same.
I was interested to hear the most recent exchange, but perhaps my hon. Friend could tell me precisely how many Glenrothes constituents the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Lindsay Roy) represents on educational matters.
I think that that was an intervention on me, but I recognise my hon. Friend’s point. The hon. Member for Glenrothes (Lindsay Roy) is a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament and he has a perfect right to question me, but my hon. Friend makes a valid point. As the provisions relate specifically to England, and in some respects also to Wales, it is appropriate that we should restrict our comments to those areas. I myself am a proud Scot, but I represent English constituents in this United Kingdom Parliament.
I should tell the hon. Gentleman that teaching today is an awful lot better than it was when I was a teacher—and not only a teacher, but an officer in the NUT, when our policy was: “The answer’s no. Now what’s the question?” We opposed the national curriculum and many of the things that his party introduced during the 1990s. So is the NUT right on everything?
I applaud the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to improving our children’s education by retiring as a teacher, leaving the profession and coming into this House. I hope that we will have an opportunity at the next election to allow him to spend more time devoting himself to improving education by whatever means he considers appropriate. [Hon. Members: “He is standing down anyway.”] I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s many years of distinguished public service and look forward to collaborating with him in whatever role he takes on, in what I hope will be a long and happy retirement.
I want to look at the provisions in the Bill as they affect schools and education, and explain our concerns. I want first to look at the pupil and parent guarantees. The Government want to make it a legal obligation on schools to deliver a range of outcomes, which are spelt out in quite prescriptive detail in the schools White Paper and subsequently revised today. They range from a guarantee of small group tuition for those who have not reached the accepted stage of literacy or numeracy in year 7—the first year of secondary school—to a guarantee of access to high-quality cultural activities for all pupils, with an aspiration, not a guarantee, that that should reach five hours a week for all.
Almost everything suggested in the guarantees is desirable, and, in many cases, good schools are already delivering beyond what is to be demanded, as the Secretary of State acknowledged. However, some of the schools that are doing the most to drive up standards, especially for those in need, have been able to do so by reducing the degree of central prescription and bureaucracy to which they have to pay heed, as the Secretary of State also acknowledged later in his speech. Those schools have not raised standards through submitting to tighter and tighter regulation; quite the opposite.
I am referring, of course, to academy schools. When they were established, they were set free from local bureaucratic control, and from the national curriculum, specifically so that they could attend to the needs of the poorest. That is why we backed them so strongly, and why we are now in the vanguard of the movement calling for an extension of the principles behind their success. The former Minister for Schools and Learners, the right hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), has argued that academies need to respond innovatively to the huge challenges that they face. He argued that they needed to be outside greater bureaucratic control, because they needed increased flexibility to meet their specific challenges. It is by operating outside bureaucratic control that they have raised standards more quickly than other schools—
The hon. Gentleman will probably be grateful to know that academies have been raising their level of attainment at GCSE at twice the rate of other state schools. Some of the best academies in chains such as the Harris group and ARK have been raising attainment at an even greater rate. In that respect, I am delighted to support Government policy, but I look forward to hearing him attack it.
Of course we can use statistics in this way, but the truth is that those academies that have improved at a faster rate have been matched by the other secondary schools in their boroughs. That shows that there is nothing particularly special about academies.
That is not entirely true.
Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the removal of academies from the democratic process is a step forward or a step back? How is it that parents have less say in the running of academies than in the running of state schools?
I reject that view; I think that those parents have more say. They can vote with their feet, as the Secretary of State pointed out in his Cass lecture last year. Parents have more control over their children’s education, and they have more choice, enabling their children to attend a school that more accurately reflects their needs, as a result of academies increasing the diversity of their provision.
Many of these academies—including Mossbourne community academy and Burlington Danes—are able to help students who are falling behind, precisely because they are free to depart from the national curriculum. Both of those schools arrange intensive catch-up work—of the kind that the Secretary of State lauds—throughout year 7, but the only reason that they have been able to do so is that their heads and teachers have pioneered that approach outside the demands that had been placed on them centrally.
Given that professionals have pioneered those innovations, why does the Secretary of State believe that more bureaucracy is always the answer? Is it really right to prescribe everything in such minute, and sometimes conflicting, detail from the centre? Why is it right, as the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) also asked, to insist on one-to-one tuition at key stage 2, for those who are falling behind at primary level, but to accept that small group tuition is sufficient for those in the first year of key stage 3 who are still falling behind at secondary school? Why should not those pupils have an entitlement to one-to-one tuition as well? When the Secretary of State was asked about this earlier, he said that it was a matter of professional judgment. Why is it his judgment that professionals should have that discretion when pupils are falling behind in year 7 but not when they are doing so in years 4, 5 or 6? There might well be an answer to that question—
Let’s hear it!
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. So far, however, answers come there none.
I really wanted to talk about academies, but if we ask that question, we find a great body of education theory and practice that shows that, at an older age, children respond better one to one and that, at a younger age, they often respond better in small groups. That is the theory behind what the Secretary of State is saying.
If the hon. Gentleman is right, that is the exact opposite of what the Government are proposing. They are proposing one-to-one tuition for younger pupils between the ages of 7 and 11, and small group tuition for the older ones at 12 and 13. Now I would be very interested to hear any case that the Secretary of State or the Minister for Schools and Learners might make in Committee, but no case has been made to explain that distinction.
There is also a guarantee of five hours of high-quality PE and sport, but the guarantee on cultural activity contains only an “aspiration” that there should be five hours of it. Once again, why that distinction? Why guarantee five hours of sport, but have only an aspiration for five hours of cultural activity?
The hon. Gentleman is being too generous. The guarantee on sport is only for “access” to five hours, not a proper guarantee of five hours.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out how loosely framed this guarantee is. Perhaps it was supposed to be iron-cast or cast iron, but it does not seem to be particularly robust.
There is also a guarantee in the White Paper on out-of-school activities. Schools are supposed to guarantee a list of activities, which
“may include study support, play/recreation, sport, music clubs, arts and crafts and other special interest clubs, and business and enterprise activities”.
Which of those activities in that list have to be offered for the guarantee to be delivered—all or just a proportion of them? What proportion? Is the list exclusive? Are there other after-school activities that, if offered, would count towards the guarantee? Would the scouts count or the boys brigade? I mention them because they are not special-interest but generalist clubs.
The reason I ask about prescription in such detail is that the Secretary of State decided to prescribe in such detail. These are not just vague aspirations that it would be good to have; they are not just expectations that he is laying down as a political hope that he will fund; they are not even matters inspectable by Oftsted, which might lead a school into special measures if they are not provided. They are legal guarantees—far stronger than any of the other obligations placed on schools. If a school breaks this guarantee, it will presumably be breaking the law.
We need precision, which is wholly absent from anything the Secretary of State has provided, in order to ensure that head teachers and people who work in schools and local authorities do not live in fear of litigation. If schools do not provide all these services, they can be taken to the local government ombudsman and if things are not resolved satisfactorily, they could end up in court. Is it really the best use of a head teacher’s time to seek to ensure that every single one of these guarantees is met in the prescribed way that the Secretary of State lists, absolutely to the letter—or potentially end up in court? That cannot be right.
In many ways, I could not admire some of these guarantees more—the aspiration to ensure that every child who can studies triple science, for example—but should heads be in the dock if the school they run cannot supply the necessary tuition because the funds have not been supplied either by the local authority or the Secretary of State? Should they be held responsible for that failure? Schools already face a formidable bureaucratic burden under the current system of Ofsted inspection—a system that we would make more light touch. Failure can be fatal to the careers of heads, but now we risk piling on another level of responsibility backed up by legal sanctions. I do not believe that that is fair. I am all in favour of sharper challenge, greater transparency and better accountability, but I am not in favour of putting the fear of even more litigation into the hearts of our teachers.
May I take the hon. Gentleman back to transparency and academies? Will he look at a series of parliamentary questions I put about the Academies Enterprise Trust, which strikes me as being a business? Does he agree that an organisation that is trying to pluck up all the schools in Essex, Twickenham, the Isle of Wight and Suffolk, for example, is a business rather than an educational institution, particularly when it is run from an office on an industrial estate next to Hockley railway station?
I know the hon. Gentleman is an indefatigable campaigner when it comes to schooling in Essex, but I also know that the Academies Enterprise Trust is responsible for the Greensward school in Essex, which is an outstanding school in every respect. I look forward to further debates with him in Committee about the ramifications of the legislation and its effect on the Academies Enterprise Trust. All I would say now is that I know that the people responsible for Greensward have done a fantastic job, and I suspect that they might well do a fantastic job elsewhere.
The heart of our division or the essence of our dividing line is that I do not know of a problem in education to which the answer is ever more lawyers. I am not aware of a single child who has been taught to read better, or to love learning, by the local government ombudsman. Teachers make the difference, and they deserve better than the approach in this Bill.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I think we established during my speech that we want these to be guarantees for all pupils and all parents, not just for some pupils in some schools. I can guarantee funding next year to pay for them, and the hon. Gentleman cannot.
Let me ask the hon. Gentleman a specific question. We will make a guarantee on one-to-one tuition at key stage 2, and next September, we will guarantee every school leaver a school, college or apprenticeship place. Will the hon. Gentleman match those guarantees? That is the nub of the issue. Can he guarantee that the provision will be for all, or will it be just for the few?
I look forward to hearing the right hon. Gentleman spell out the source of the funding of those guarantees in more detail than he has hitherto. We still do not know how much he has secured as a result of the polite and temperate negotiations in which he indulged during the prelude to the pre-Budget report. We do not know the exact global sum for the schools budget, and we do not know what precise part of it will increase. I should be delighted if he would be kind enough to let me know those figures. Perhaps we could have a private meeting to discuss the issue.
The hon. Gentleman began his speech by saying that he wanted to get down to the truth of the issue. Now, once again, we have been confronted by scripted evasion. I am being absolutely clear: we will guarantee a school, college or apprenticeship place for every 16-year-old this September. The hon. Gentleman has a chance to say—in this House, in public—and confirm that he would guarantee the necessary funds. I have guaranteed them; will he match that guarantee?
The right hon. Gentleman has not guaranteed anything of the kind. During the debate on the Loyal Address, we discovered that the places of some 50,000 of those who were currently in sixth forms or training places had not been funded by the right hon. Gentleman. We discovered that in order to fund their places in a number of colleges¸ he was insisting on reducing the per-student cost. He claimed that there would be economies of scale. Which is it to be—extra spending or economies of scale at college level?
I should be really interested if the right hon. Gentleman would spell out exactly what he means by schools funding, and how it has increased. In a number of recent interviews, he has referred to overall increases in education funding. When I asked him a couple of questions earlier, he revealed, I think for the first time, that funding for the Training and Development Agency for Schools and the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services would now be cut, which meant that education funding overall would be cut. Perhaps he would like to reassure the people who run those organisations that their funding will not be cut.
Again, I should be interested to know the precise cash sum that will go to schools—exactly how much it is, in terms of billions and millions—by how much it will increase, and which specific budget lines will increase as a result.
Order. Before the Secretary of State attempts to intervene again, I remind the House, and the Front Benches in particular, that this is not a general debate on education or even the financing of education. It is a debate specifically about the Second Reading of the Bill that is before us, and the clock is still ticking.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and I am happy to give way to the Secretary of State.
This will be my last intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
To fund our guarantee for school leavers next September, the Chancellor allocated £650 million in the Budget and a further £200 million in the pre-Budget report. That extra funding means that I can give the guarantee that is enshrined in the Bill. We have seen time and time again that the hon. Gentleman cannot make that guarantee, because he is not allowed to. He has been told by his party’s shadow Chancellor, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), that in 2010-11 the budget will not increase but will be cut. That is the difference between us.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for evading the question again. We do not know where that £650 million will come from. Given that, according to the Chancellor, the Department’s overall budget is to be cut, and given that the budgets for the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services and the TDA are to be cut, presumably the extra funding for the September guarantee will come from other parts of the right hon. Gentleman’s own budget. [Interruption.] “Wriggling” is the word that I would use for what the right hon. Gentleman is doing. He is the person who spends his entire time boasting about—forgive me; advertising—his position on spending in a variety of newspaper interviews, and he is the person who explained in The Sunday Times that he would be funding improvements in education by sacking 3,000 head teachers. I should be interested to know whether he is still committed to that policy. Perhaps we shall find out in Committee.
I said earlier that we wanted to move away from a culture in which bureaucracy runs what happens in our schools to one in which we trust professionals more. We know that one of the reasons why professionals need more backing is the poor behaviour—the constant barracking and low-level conversation—[Laughter]—that they often face when attempting to bring enlightenment to the laggardly. One of the proposed instruments is home school agreements. We have long argued that they should be strengthened, and provisions in the Bill may open the door to some improvement in this regard. I again have concerns, however. The Secretary of State appears to want home school agreements to be drawn up as individualised contracts for every pupil in the school, for them to be drawn up every year, and in some cases for individualised contracts to be drawn up differently for each of the parents of a pupil and then redrawn every year. Is that not another potentially immense bureaucratic burden? The Association of School and College Leaders has pointed out that rewriting potentially thousands of home school contracts every year will once again take school leaders’ time away from teaching and leading their institutions.
More than that, is not the whole point of a home school agreement to spell out what the school expects of every parent and pupil? Is not the whole point to assert a common ethos—a comprehensive spirit that is the mark of that school, and to which all pupils are expected to subscribe?
There is also the question of what happens if parents decline to sign the contract. I understand that under current law no parent can be forced to sign. If a parent declines to sign, they cannot be held to the obligations that they have not agreed to. Also, if parents know that they can decline to sign and can face no sanctions, why should they sign—and especially because everything they are alleged to want is guaranteed by law anyway by the Secretary of State?
One of the Secretary of State’s other wheezes for involving parents is to have parental surveys. I am very keen on surveys on education. There was one in The Sunday Telegraph this weekend that pointed out that David Cameron is trusted more than Gordon Brown by some 12 percentage points to improve this country’s education.
Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will in future remember to use the correct terminology for addressing Members of this House.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me therefore repeat that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) is trusted by many more parents to improve education than the Prime Minister is trusted.
As I understand it, the survey the Secretary of State proposes is for the parents of children in year 5 to be asked whether they are happy with the provision of secondary schools in their area. If a certain number of parents—the required number is as yet unspecified, as the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) pointed out—say they are unhappy, the local authority has to produce a response, although no time scale is specified. If the local authority produces such a report addressing the complaints of dissatisfied parents and then a number of parents object—again the required number is unspecified—the local authority has to put its report to a schools adjudicator. If the schools adjudicator finds against the local authority, the local authority has to come back with a new report—although, again, the time scale is not specified—and so the process continues. The local authority must ultimately implement plans, unless it considers them to be unreasonable, in which case I suspect the courts will once again be called in to define exactly what is reasonable.
Let us imagine that a local authority goes through this process and that that all happens within a year, and it then seeks to implement its plans only to find that the next cohort of parents of children in year 5 takes a completely different view of education provision. What happens then? Do we go through the same process all over again? Which group of parents is sovereign? Again, all the Secretary of State is proposing is a hugely bureaucratic process whose only certain beneficiary is the legal profession.
Earlier, in response to remarks made by the right hon. Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong), I mentioned my concerns about the licence to teach. There is a basic question that we all, particularly the Secretary of State, must answer: what value does this add? Bureaucratic bodies very rarely resist the accretion of extra powers to themselves, but the body charged with administering this new obligation—the General Teaching Council—has signalled profound concern about the additional powers it has been asked to accept. It says that it would be a challenge to develop a system that has sufficient rigour to make a positive impact while remaining proportionate and not unduly burdensome. It also points out that many teachers are sceptical about the practical benefits that can be secured, and interpret the initiative as another burden on them and their schools. The GTC specifically worries that any message about trusting professionals would be difficult to communicate when they see this as simply something additional layered on to the many existing mechanisms to which they are subject.
It is vital that we enhance the prestige of teaching and the esteem in which it is held, but I am not sure how that can be done simply through a process of bureaucratic certification. The answer is to raise the bar for entry to the profession and to improve continuous professional development, but the Bill contains no measures to achieve either of those aims, as both the professional associations I mentioned earlier—the National Union of Teachers and the ASCL—have pointed out.
Does my hon. Friend agree that head teachers should better be able to monitor the teachers on their staff in order to support them and bring them up to standard, and, if necessary, to remove from the profession those who are not of a sufficient standard—an action that too rarely happens nowadays? That is what we need, not the complex, bureaucratic and expensive system the Secretary of State proposes.
As ever, my hon. Friend makes his point succinctly and well, and I cannot improve on his intervention. We should introduce the sorts of changes he mentions.
Along with improving the accountability of the professionals, we should improve the accountability of schools overall. That is why I am a supporter of reformed league tables, and why I am concerned about the Bill’s proposals on the school report card. One of the great things about league tables at their best is that they shine a light on those schools—very often in disadvantaged circumstances—that are dramatically exceeding expectations, and the rest of us can learn from what those superb schools are doing. We can look at those schools that have challenging intakes and yet exceed the national average and say, “In this particular institution, there are leaders and teachers who are doing a superb job, and we wish what they are doing to be more widely applied elsewhere.” Having that combination of professional autonomy and accountability—rigorous, clear, transparent, data-led accountability—is very important.
I fear that we may be moving away from a process that, although it has some flaws, provides a measure of clarity, towards something that is at once both fuzzier and more bureaucratic. The Government want their new school report card to supersede the attainment league tables as the principal accountability measure, but it is unclear how these school report cards will work. There is supposed to be an overall grade, but that grade may conflict with an Ofsted report measure. It is unclear who will assess the grade a school is to be given. Will Ofsted be responsible for that, or the Department? If the Department is responsible, will there not be a perverse incentive for it—no matter how incorruptible its Ministers—to ensure that every year more schools are seen to be succeeding? One of the problems with the report card introduced in New York is that the proportion of schools classified as good or excellent is now some 80 per cent. of the total. That is precisely because of that tendency to level-up purely in terms of how schools are reported—not in terms of what they are actually achieving.
Within the report card, there will be a variety of different ingredients, but what weight will be given to each of them? In assessing the overall grade, what weight will be given to the attainment tables, to value-added and to contextual value-added? Given that the report card is supposed also to measure such things as well-being and parental satisfaction, what weight will be given to them? What weight will be given to the quality of a school’s relationship with other schools in framing the overall grade?
The answer is not to have a bureaucrat assessing an overall grade on a basket of measures that they decide. The answer is to retain and improve league tables, with a focus on academic attainment, and to ensure that, using sophisticated technology that is increasingly available, parents have the opportunity to develop their own ways of comparing schools in lots of different fashions, all of which will allow them to find the education and school that are right for them.
Still on the subject of finding the right school, one of the most controversial issues is home education, as we know from earlier debate. Although I wish to discuss this, I shall do so very briefly as it will certainly be debated at length in Committee. I am deeply concerned about the additional bureaucratic burden that will now potentially be placed on thousands of our fellow citizens whose only crime is to want to devote themselves as fully as possible to their children’s education. It is a basic right of parents to be able to educate their children in accordance with their own wishes, and to educate them at home if they so wish. There may be many reasons why parents take that decision: they might be dissatisfied with local provision; their child might have a specific educational need that they feel can be better supported at home; or they might have philosophical objections to the style of education on offer at the local state schools that are easily accessible. Each of these decisions can sometimes be illuminating, in that they can tell us what is wrong with current provision—there might be a lack of diversity, for instance. Ultimately however, this is a basic human right that every parent should have, and I feel the Bill erodes that right, because, as I read it, it allows the state to terminate the right of a family to educate a child at home if the education offered is not deemed suitable according to regulations that the Secretary of State writes.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware that New Zealand introduced a similar licensing and monitoring system a number of years ago but last year gave it up on the grounds that it was a waste of time and money. Have the Government learned nothing from the foreign experience of this system?
It seems that the Government have learned very little; indeed, I believe that the report on which their recommendations are based was described by one member of the expert group called in to help us as one of the most rushed, flawed and populist exercises with which he had ever been involved. I know that the Secretary of State bears no malice towards home education, so I hope that in Committee he and the Minister for Schools and Learners will do their best to address the many legitimate concerns. I do not know of any home educating parent who supports these provisions. I, like almost every Member of this House, have been inundated by correspondence, telephone calls and e-mails from, and had private meetings with, home educating parents who are deeply concerned about this legislation, because it undermines the right of a family who have broken no laws and placed no child in danger to decide what is in the interests of their child.
As the debate on home education has developed, I have become particularly worried about the way in which various issues have been conflated; I am especially worried about the conflation of safeguarding and child protection with quality of education. I deeply regret the way statistics have been used to suggest somehow that children are intrinsically at greater risk if they are being home educated; I believe I am right in saying that not a single home-educated child has had to be taken into care as a result of a child protection plan, yet there are those who have sedulously spread the myth that somehow children are at greater risk through being home educated.
Does my hon. Friend also recognise that there are often positive reasons for parents choosing to educate their children at home? These decisions are not necessarily a reflection on the schools or the local education authority, so the notion that simply improving the LEA or the schools will dissipate the demand for home education is entirely wrong. Some parents home educate for very positive reasons.
I entirely understand the point made by my hon. Friend; he is right to say that a host of reasons are involved, and it is not for us to second-guess the decisions made by parents. Many of those who sacrifice not only earnings but time make a commitment of love towards their children in order to home educate them, and that should be celebrated and applauded, not denigrated and undermined.
One of my specific concerns is that this legislation means the state will take it upon itself to regulate what may or may not be taught in the home. Proposed new section 19C in schedule 1 provides that parents will have to produce a report in accordance with regulations laid down by the Secretary of State explaining what they propose to include in the education programme for their child. They will then have to allow an inspector in at an appropriate point, and that inspector will have to be satisfied that the education being provided is suitable, according to the regulations laid down by the Secretary of State. If that education is not considered suitable by that local authority employee, the right of that individual to be home educated can be revoked. So this is not about safeguarding or even about child protection; this is about the Secretary of State being able to say that an individual home-educating parent is not providing an education that he deems appropriate and therefore they should not have the right to educate that child at home.
One of the other terrible things about this legislation is that proposed new section 19F in schedule 1 sets out that when the information provided by a parent to a local authority changes and is found to be wrong, even if it was materially right when it was given—in other words, the parent made efforts to ensure that the information was correct but the local authority finds that it has changed in some respect—the right to educate that child at home can be revoked. Even though the parent is not at fault and sought to provide the right information at the right time in the right way, they can lose the right to educate their own child. A draconian extension of state power is potentially made possible by this Bill, which is why all my hon. Friends will be working hard in Committee to ensure that we can find a consensus on this sensitive area, so that the rights of home educating parents are respected and we do not fundamentally erode their liberties.
I share some of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. Is it his party’s position that the existing regulation of home education should be left unchanged, or does he foresee the need to make some changes?
I do foresee the need to make some changes. I do not believe that the current system is perfect, but it is fundamentally important that we respect the rights of home educators first and that we ensure that any change to legislation is conducted in accordance with their wishes and interests—they have made it crystal clear that the approach that has been taken so far runs counter to those.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend finds it bizarre, as I do, that this Bill, unlike any piece of legislation to deal with children going back to 1989, fails to make the interests of the child paramount in any consideration. Instead, the Bill considers any administrative failures on the part of parents as being an open and shut case for the revocation of home education, regardless of the interests of the child, and that is simply wrong.
Instead of shaking his head, perhaps the Secretary of State could fix that.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. More broadly, I should point out that the Secretary of State’s own children’s plan makes it clear that it is families that bring up children, not the state. The rights of families should be respected, and I am not convinced that they are being respected by the proposals being introduced.
There are parts of the Bill to which the Conservatives have no objections. Such areas include the powers to intervene when youth offending teams fail and the ability of school governing bodies to establish academies—indeed, I thought that the Secretary of State made a superb case when outlining the importance of academies becoming exempt charities. I also think it is right that schools should be able to use delegated funds to provide community facilities, and the proposals to improve information sharing for local children’s safeguarding boards seem sensible. We also share the Government’s aspirations to ensure that children have all the skills and knowledge that the best personal, social and health education is supposed to impart, but we want to see more about precisely what is proposed. We differ from the Government in one respect: we believe that the right of parents to withdraw their children should not be eroded. We agree with Sir Alasdair Macdonald in that respect. [Interruption.] Exactly, we agree with his recommendation in that respect.
There are other areas, such as the primary curriculum, about which we have profound concerns about the direction the Government are taking, and we have advertised those elsewhere. At its heart, our objection to this legislation lies in our basic view that we should regulate less, trust professionals more and build on the excellence and diversity already on display in the schools system. Our philosophy for schools is simple:
“It is about schools feeling ownership of their own future, the power and the responsibility that comes from being free to chart their own course, experiment, innovate, doing things differently: the decision-makers in their own destiny not the recipients of a pre-destined formula laid down by Government.”
That was the case made by Tony Blair to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust in 2006. It is a principled vision that I entirely endorse, and I am sorry only that the Secretary of State’s Bill departs from it so profoundly.
Order. The pre-debate calculations carried out did not take account of the length of the two Front-Bench speeches that we have heard, so there is pressure on the availability of time for Back-Bench speeches. Originally, a 15-minute limit was imposed and I intend to follow that for the first speech to be made from the Labour Back Benches and by the first Conservative Back Bencher. I am sorry to say that thereafter the limit will have to revert to 10 minutes if this debate is to be as inclusive as most people would wish it to be. I hope that that will be seen as a reasonable decision in the circumstances.
I trust that I shall take a fair deal less than the 15 minutes allocated to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I found the exchanges between the two Front Benchers fascinating, and I am sorry that I shall not follow them in talking mainly about schools.
I wish to discuss some of the Bill’s specific aspects, much of which I welcome—for example, the statutory basis on which the Government propose to put personal, social and health education. Most of my remarks result from my experience, gained both before I came to this House and in this House, of the effects of social exclusion, in particular.
I cannot stress too strongly how we must help and support those children who do not get the support from their families that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) was talking about, or how we must work with them so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that are available to them. The evidence from many different reports that I saw when I was in the Cabinet Office is that emotional well-being is critical to enabling the most vulnerable to learn, and so paying attention to that is very important. There are some superb programmes out there and we should be far more centrally prescriptive when it comes to what we know works in PSHE. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) knows the programmes about which I am talking.
For very young children, but also as the children get older, learning to deal effectively with relationship development and, yes, with sex education is critical. The schools and local authorities that do that effectively are precisely the schools and local authorities that are successfully reducing teenage pregnancy rates. We are daft in this place if we simply say, “Oh, we don’t like that. We’re frightened of that.” We must consider such an approach and we must use the programmes that we know work. We should use the experience that is out there and spread the good practice much more effectively around the country.
First, may I commend my right hon. Friend for her fantastic work on this issue when she was in the Cabinet Office? Does she accept that in order to spread the good practice around and to ensure that the best policies are more broadly spread, we need something like a national policy assessment centre? Rather than constantly reinventing the wheel and trying to pick up pet projects, we should put forward a series of proven policies which have an evidence base. We can then help local authorities and others to achieve the right early interventions.
I support that, as my hon. Friend knows, and I have suggested those ideas to the Department over a number of years. An embryo organisation exists for that task, but I do not think that it yet has the power or authority effectively to implement such a process throughout local government. I would like to see that happen.
My second point concerns partnerships with schools. I want to see more examples of the voluntary sector and the outside world working in partnership with schools. If PSHE is being considered as part of the curriculum, the teacher needs to be part of that but including the work of outside bodies, and making relationships with them, is also critical. I want schools and academies to use their commissioning powers to work more effectively with community organisations that have a good track record so that they can be used to improve the educational opportunities of the children in the school.
I am sorry that I am moving from issue to issue without much of a common thread, but I want to pick out particular issues in the Bill. The implementation of the youth crime action plan, a matter on which the Front Benchers did not disagree, is very important. Last week, the Department produced an evaluation of the work so far and it raised some important questions and identified problems with what has been done so far. When anything is implemented in a local area it is critical that the local community should know what is going on—I hope that the Committee will bear that in mind.
I have seen the youth court operating in Washington, and it is incredibly effective. I have also seen the community court operating in Red Hook in Washington. The key thing is that although they set down non-custodial activity, the community knows and understands the action that is being taken and therefore has confidence in it. We do not get all the stories along the lines of, “This one was out painting a wall when they should have been inside,” and so on. The approach of those courts has been far more effective in tackling youth crime than many of the things that we have done elsewhere.
I spent much of my life before I came to this place working with young people and trying to divert them from criminal behaviour, but it is critical that if they have engaged in such behaviour we should try not only to divert them from it in the future but to ensure that there is a structure of punishment. There must be a structure whereby they know that they have done wrong and work out with somebody what to do about it. I cannot understand people who see these two things as being on opposite benches, as it were. They are part and parcel of the same policy and we have to ensure that that is how we proceed in the future. Far too often, the youth offending teams have mixed that up, which has been a problem in local areas.
More than anything else, many of these young people need some structure in their lives. They are growing up in families where they have no sense of right and wrong and no sense of what is acceptable and what is not. An important part of being an adolescent is testing boundaries, but that means that there need to be boundaries that can be tested and that the adolescent needs to understand that there are such boundaries. The way in which we develop the youth offending programme is becoming more and more important in this country because in many communities such offending drains the life and ambition out of the community, meaning that people feel that there is no point in getting together to do anything because of the level of antisocial behaviour and so on. There are things that we can do that will encourage young people but also help them to set those boundaries much more effectively. We have to include the local community in that, although we have been fearful of such an approach in this country, for reasons that I understand. If we are to change the experience of young people, we need to involve the community in a much more effective way.
That brings me to the final point that I want to tackle today, which is another issue about which there was no division between the two Front-Bench spokesmen, although there is a lot of anxiety about how it will be implemented, and it concerns the family proceedings. Everyone accepts that there should be more transparency and openness, but the Bill also affects the level of reporting. In being more open and transparent, we must maintain caution about what is reported and how it is reported. I have worked with far too many families and have been present at far too many cases in which there have been problems despite the Children Act 1989, which put the primacy of children at the forefront. I did not want to intervene on this point earlier, but that primacy remains through all legislation unless it is changed, so it does not need to be restated in this Bill. The primacy of the interests of children is critical but because of the irresponsible way in which some of our newspapers are prepared to report family proceedings, we must continue to exercise caution.
This House has established proceedings whereby Public Bill Committees can talk to outside bodies before they consider legislation in detail. I hope that the Committee will consider doing so, particularly as regards family proceedings. Although, in principle, many organisations want such proceedings to be opened up and reported, they are very anxious about the detail. We should respect that.
The primacy of the interests of the child are not enshrined in the Bill, and I do not see how the Children Act 1989 could trump that. The Bill says that if a parent has failed to register their child, the quality of the education provided to that child in the home is to be disregarded—the interests of the child are to be disregarded—and the child must be ordered back to school. I hope that the right hon. Lady will support me in seeking Government changes in that respect.
The hon. Gentleman is trying very cleverly to get around something that we know is not there, and I shall not be dragged down his route. I could have a lot to say about home education, but I am determined to stick to discussing what we are going to do about the most vulnerable in our communities.
What the Government seek to do overall, in opening up proceedings, is absolutely right, but I am concerned that in doing so we protect sensitive personal information. On my understanding of the Bill, such information could be published unless the court specifically imposes restrictions, but I suspect that any court that imposes such restrictions will be subject to enormous criticism by some members of the press. We need to be clear about what we are licensing and what we are allowing, and we must make absolutely sure that we consider the interests of the child. Family proceedings usually involve children when they are at their most vulnerable, and we must make sure that we do not put them into more danger from, for example, bullying or further abuse. I approve of the principle, but I am concerned that, frequently, because there is no disagreement about the principle, we do not pay enough attention to the level of detail. That might come back to hit us if we do not maintain the clear level of care needed for the most vulnerable children when they are part of family proceedings.
There is much in the Bill that I welcome and much that I would like to talk more about, but I have tried to concentrate on the issues that, for me, are part of how we support the most vulnerable in our society and enable them to grow up to play a full part in it because they have been able to meet their full potential.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
“this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Children, Schools and Families Bill because it adds hugely to the bureaucratic burdens on schools and colleges without improving real opportunities and educational standards for pupils and without genuinely empowering parents; its proposals for the regulation of home education introduce powers which are excessive and risk undermining key freedoms for home educators; it fails to put in place a coherent system for delivering school improvement; its provisions on family proceedings have not been properly consulted on and do not take account of existing reforms; and it does not include much needed policies to introduce a Pupil Premium to support the education of children from disadvantaged homes or to establish a new Educational Standards Authority to restore confidence in educational standards and to reduce the extent of destabilising political interference in English education.”
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong), and I agree strongly with several of her points about the release of sensitive information in the family court. I hope that we will have the opportunity to consider that issue in some detail in Committee. I appreciate that we are short of time today, and I shall do my best to limit my comments on the Bill, which covers many extremely important areas.
I should like to put on record the sadness of my party at the death of the former hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire, Mr. David Taylor. He was much respected across the House and he will be fondly remembered not only by Labour Members, but by Opposition Members, and our thoughts are with his family at this time.
Before I come to my substantive comments about the Bill, I have a request for Ministers. Will one of them, when they respond to the debate, clarify a point that got slightly mangled in the exchange between the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) regarding her question about reasonable punishment? She asked about individuals who attend madrassahs and other such quasi-educational settings and whether they should be covered by the existing restrictions on corporal punishment. I thought that the Secretary of State indicated that he was sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s point, but that approach appears to contradict both the existing legal position and a letter that Baroness Morgan, a Minister in his Department, sent to a lobby group that is pressuring for a change in the law on this issue. The letter of 6 January to the Children Are Unbeatable! Alliance said that some such educational and quasi-educational settings are currently exempt from the existing restrictions on physical punishment. Unless I got the wrong end of the stick, the Secretary of State showed sympathy for the hon. Lady’s point, but his Department’s position appears to be that the existing legislation will not be changed.
It is obvious from the Liberal Democrat’s amendment that we have considerable concerns about the Bill, and that we hope that the House will do the country a service either by not allowing it through the House before the general election, or by making massive changes to the Bill. It is extraordinary that, on the day on which the Secretary of State has effectively had to boast in the Financial Times that we are going to have the poorest education funding settlement since 1997, the Bill proposes to spend about £1.1 billion, in net present value terms, on additional bureaucracy. That money will not be available to front-line education to go to schools and parents and to assist pupils.
This point relates to the additional money that will be spent on the bureaucracy surrounding home-school agreements and pupil and parent guarantees, which even the Government have been unable to cost in the cost-benefit analysis that comes with the Bill. It also relates to the parental surveys that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) mentioned earlier, and to the cost of school improvement partners and home education and the additional regulation that will arise in that respect. It seems extraordinary, given that educational finance will be so restrained in the coming years, that we will have to spend such a huge amount of money on additional bureaucracy that seems, as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said earlier, likely to follow in the tradition of this Secretary of State who believes that he can improve the education system through central direction and legislation.
As the Liberal Democrats mentioned in the Queen’s Speech debate, this is the 12th education Bill to come from the Labour Government. It was published only one week after we approved the last education Act, and, unbelievably, amends some of the measures in that Act. That shows the extraordinary tendency of the Labour Government and this Secretary of State to legislate and often to replace legislation before it has even bedded down.
We also have serious concerns about the amount of time that will be available to debate the Bill. When one picks up the Bill, it does not look to be of the size and scale of the last education Act that we debated, or of some of the larger Bills that we are used to dealing with in the House, but it deals with extraordinarily important and sensitive issues, and the debate that we will need to have on some of those issues will be considerable—yet we will be trying to do that in only two weeks. We need to consider the range of issues that we will be trying to resolve in those two weeks.
We will be trying to debate major new proposals on home education that are extremely controversial and difficult. As the right hon. Member for North-West Durham has said, we will be debating new and controversial plans to allow the release of sensitive information from the family courts. Those proposals are opposed by many outside bodies. We will be debating controversial and important proposals on a new licensing arrangement for teachers. We will also be discussing the introduction of a new school report card, of new arrangements for school improvement partners, of new pupil and parent guarantees and of new arrangements for home-school agreements. Other issues to be discussed include the whole future of the primary school curriculum, which the Bill deals with in one clause, the important issue of personal, social and health education, which has already stirred some debate in this place, and the powers of governing bodies.
Those are only some of the issues to be debated, and the Secretary of State and the usual channels have not allowed anything like enough time properly to scrutinise those issues. He cannot be surprised if the Liberal Democrats indicate that we do not want many of those proposals to go through in a half-baked or half-scrutinised way before the general election before which we know the Government are having to rush this Bill through.
Let me make some brief comments about the parts of the Bill that we support and those that we will be seeking to amend. There are two small but important areas that we support unreservedly. The first is the new status for, and access to, PSHE education, although we are not entirely convinced that the change goes far enough in some areas. Secondly, we support, as I believe the hon. Member for Surrey Heath did, the measures on special educational needs; we think that they are beneficialand helpful
We share some of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman expressed about bureaucracy in relation to the school report card and the licence to teach, although I do not think that we would put them in as critical a way as he did. We are more optimistic, or more open-minded, than him about the potential for those two matters to lead to improvements, if the measures that the Government introduce address them in the right way. The current mechanisms for school accountability are not particularly effective, and they do not give us a very good measure of the performance of many schools, particularly those that do not have the most challenging catchments and are therefore able to coast along in the league tables without their performance being looked at closely.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned one proposal that seems to have pretty broad support—the extension of PSHE to the national curriculum. It is wonderful that all parties support that. Unfortunately, it appears that most people out there where it matters—on the estates, in the towns, in the rural areas and in the cities—have not got a clue what PSHE is. Will he join me in making a friendly plea to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we call it something that people understand? I would offer, with all modesty, the term “life skills”. Would the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) support that, and would he at some point support an amendment that brought that about, if the ministerial team did not quite find its way to accepting that idea?
I agree that it is always helpful when we use language that people understand and that is accessible. There is a problem not only with people not understanding what PSHE means, but with the quality of what currently passes for such education.
The existing school accountability mechanisms are seriously deficient and the school report card has scope for improving the way in which schools are assessed. However, as I said in the debate on the Gracious Speech, there is a real risk that the Government will seek to put too many different measures into the school report card, that it will become a box-ticking exercise, and that as a consequence, as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath said, we will end up with schools simply ticking boxes and with an increasing number of schools appearing to reach the higher grade levels without any change or improvement in performance in the areas that really matter. If that is all that the school report card does, it will be a waste of time and a bureaucratic burden.
We agree that it is quite wrong that the Department for Children, Schools and Families should be the organisation that oversees and produces the report card; there are clearly risks inherent in that. It seems obvious to us that Ofsted or, arguably, local authorities should be charged with that responsibility.
We are somewhat more positive than the hon. Gentleman about the potential of the licence to teach, but there is a great deal of confusion about what the licence to teach is meant to deliver. The Government first spun the idea, when the Bill was published, as a measure to get rid of poor-performing teachers. The Secretary of State knows perfectly well what I mean by “spin”. In a lot of the recent documentation that has come from the Government, the presentation has been all about CPD—that is, continuing professional development; the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) would have picked me up on that if I had not been clear about what it was. The Government have to be clear about which of the two they seek to deliver. There is a real risk that the proposals could, if the Government are not careful, become another expensive, bureaucratic burden.
The Government need to focus on the ability of the licensing process to deal with poorly performing teachers, including in circumstances that are not dealt with under the existing performance management regime, such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Head teachers seek to take action against poorly performing teachers by using existing mechanisms, but those teachers leave before they have been put through the performance review. They then simply turn up in other schools, where they are able to teach very poorly. That is a real issue. It raises difficult questions, but those questions are worth exploring.
Our three greatest concerns about the Bill relate to three areas: home education, the pupil and parent guarantees, and the matter that the right hon. Member for North-West Durham mentioned, the release of sensitive information in the family court. We accept the Government’s good intent in seeking to ensure high-quality home education for all children, and we recognise the evidence that was given by the local authorities. Obviously, it is extremely controversial evidence, and it is very difficult to get a reliable data set, but it is argued that 8 per cent. of home-educated children may not be receiving a good education, and that 20 per cent. may be receiving a poor education. We recognise, as I think all Opposition Members do, that local authorities already have a duty to ensure that all children receive a suitable education.
I am following the hon. Gentleman’s speech closely. Did he accept those figures? My understanding is that they were as unsound as most of the others that we have suffered in the Badman review, and that the Department is planning to produce another impact assessment because it has had to look again at all its numbers. I do not believe that the numbers that the hon. Gentleman mentioned are correct.
I accept that they are highly speculative. None of us can possibly know what the right numbers are, but the hon. Gentleman, who is, I believe, a member of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, signed up to a report that includes a lot of information about the patchy quality of home education. Some parents and families did not see themselves as having a duty to continue home education beyond key stage 2. He also signed up to a report—the Secretary of State quoted this earlier—that said:
“In our view it is unacceptable that local authorities do not know accurately how many children of school age in their area are in school, are being home educated or are otherwise not in school.”
We agree that there is a real issue, but the challenge for the Government is to get the balance right, and we do not believe that they have done so. We agree with many of the criticisms made in the Select Committee’s report, and we would like to suggest the potential for consensus on a number of points, because on such subjects it is important to seek to come to a conclusion, if we can, before this Parliament ends.
The one area in which we do not agree with the Select Committee is its conclusion that any scheme of notification or registration should be voluntary. It seems strange that the Committee can, in one sentence—the sentence that the Secretary of State cited earlier—say that it is unacceptable that local authorities do not know accurately how many children of school age in their area are in school, being home educated, or not in school. It may be that that element of the Committee’s conclusions reflected a desire to gain a compromise between individuals with very different views. I am not a member of the Committee, so I do not know whether that is true, but that is certainly the impression given.
However, we have concerns about two issues. The first is the nature of the registration process and whether the Government are in danger of presuming to be able to judge, at this stage, what a suitable education is, and of presuming to give individuals in local authorities the power to take away people’s ability to home educate when there is no clarity about what a suitable home education is. Under the Government’s proposals, individuals will not only be required to notify local authorities, but effectively be registering, and by registering will be required to prove their ability to home educate and prove that they are delivering a suitable education.
I put it to the Secretary of State that the only way that local authorities can reasonably do that job is by having a set of very detailed criteria for home education. Necessarily, the concern of home educators is that if the Government or local authorities seek to do that job without any agreement on what a suitable home education is, many individuals could suddenly find themselves having to comply with exactly the type of rigid state education that they have tried to escape by leaving formal schooling and going into home education.
Secondly, it is very regrettable that education and safeguarding have become so mixed up in the Badman report. An assumption that local authority inspectors should have to check whether all home educators meet safeguarding requirements is inappropriate. The scope for local authorities is to consider whether a suitable education, however defined, is being given, not to assume automatically that local authority inspectors should look at the safeguarding circumstances. The intrusiveness in that part of the Bill is quite extraordinary.
Under the Bill, a local authority must ascertain the child’s wishes in relation to home education in all circumstances. It must check on the child’s welfare in all circumstances, automatically assuming therefore the duty to prove that there are no welfare concerns, rather than simply picking up any that arise. In addition, a local authority must make at least one home visit and hold one meeting with the child each year. The cost-benefit analysis assumes that 100 per cent. of children will receive one in-year visit, with 50 per cent. receiving additional monitoring. There is a description of the statement of education, which has not yet been clarified in its detail but must be produced. In other words, the change in the regulation of home education is very significant and will mean that home education is regulated as never before.
We would like to suggest a way to improve the current regime, without perhaps creating some of the problems of the disproportionate response that are involved in the Government’s proposals. First, we do not support the voluntary approach that the Select Committee advocates, but we suggest in the first instance that the Secretary of State ought to consider whether the scheme could involve notification, rather than registration. Notification would oblige everyone who is home educating to declare that information, without undertaking a registration process initially that proves in some way the suitability of the education.
Secondly, we suggest that a review over a longer time scale is needed, to consider what suitability means in home education. It would be dangerous to give local authority officials the responsibility for making judgments on suitability without any detailed guidance. I put it to the Secretary of State that we are simply not able to give that guidance, based on the debate so far and those that we are likely to have in Committee.
Thirdly, we obviously want more support for home educators and more training for those local authority staff who must oversee such things, and we will debate that in Committee. I should have thought that that was an area of common ground. The Government would have a better chance of gaining a consensus if we separated educational inspection from safeguarding. That has been one of the things that home educators have found most provocative. We would like the process to focus on the quality of education, not on safeguarding. We would like the Government to reflect again on how they can introduce a much lighter touch inspection regime, where the actions taken by local authorities are proportionate to the perceived risk, rather than presuming that every home-educating household in the country must be inspected in the ways set out in the Bill.
I hope that the Secretary of State is willing to take those proposals seriously. Outside the Committee’s proceedings, we would be willing to take part in cross-party talks with him and the hon. Member for Surrey Heath if that is necessary to try to reach an agreement on proposals that could command cross-party support.
The second area about which we have considerable concerns is the pupil and parent guarantees and, tied to that, the home-school agreements. I shall not rehearse all the objections, because they came out very effectively from the exchanges, or lack of exchanges in some ways, between the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State. It was interesting that the Secretary of State failed to explain why the one-to-one tuition guarantee in primary education is different from that in secondary schools. There was no explanation of why the Government know better than head teachers and schools about whether tuition should be delivered one to one or in small groups and why one model is right for primary schools and another is right for secondary schools.
The Association of School and College Leaders and the TUC are right to criticise such measures and to say that they could open the floodgates to increased litigation, that they could involve a huge bureaucratic burden, and that the problem with pupil and parent guarantees in so many areas is that they are not meaningful, not always deliverable and not rationally designed. Many hon. Members would not object to some of the pupil and parent guarantees if they were meaningful, sensible and respected the fact that the Secretary of State does not know better than 23,500 schools across the country how to run education.
In our last debate, I gave a particularly striking example from the list of 38 pupil and parent guarantees that relates to pupil guarantee 5. I invite the Secretary of State to respond in a way that he did not last time and to tell me how on earth the local government ombudsman is remotely supposed to police guarantee 5, which says that
“every 11-14 year-old enjoys relevant and challenging learning in all subjects, and develops their personal, learning and thinking skills so that they have strong foundations to make their 14-19 choices.”
That is motherhood and apple pie, and we are not supposed to know whether or not all schools are doing that—presumably, they are not, as we are told in the White Paper:
“This will be phased in by September 2010.”
I put it to the Secretary of State that it is not only impossible to measure a supposed guarantee that is so loosely defined, but impossible for the local government ombudsman to police it, yet it is possible that a parent might want to refer a complaint under that guarantee to the local government ombudsman.
We have already debated guarantee 13, which relates to one-to-one or small group tuition. It is totally unclear why the arrangements for primary and secondary schools are different, why there should be one-to-one education in one setting and education in small groups in another, and why a certain number of sessions should be guaranteed, rather than focusing on the outputs. I should have thought that that was one of the things that the Secretary of State had learned during his time at the Treasury.
On the parental guarantees—Nos. 5, 6 and 7—that relate to home-school agreements, it is unclear why the Government should make them compulsory for every school in the country. Why on earth do we need to make home-school agreements compulsory, even in schools that do not regard them as beneficial? Why is it necessary to personalise them for each child, when that will add enormously to the bureaucratic costs, which must therefore be regarded as unrealistic, as shown in the cost-benefit analysis associated with the Bill.
The third area about which we have major concerns is that of family courts and access to sensitive information. That is, of course, a Home Office lead issue, but as we will have no one with Home Office responsibilities involved in the Bill, I should like to make some comments. This is the one area on which we as an Opposition party have so far received the greatest criticism from outside bodies, not only children’s bodies such as Barnardo’s, the NSPCC, the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children and the National Children’s Bureau, but the Bar Council, Resolution—the much-respected family law group—and the department of social policy at the university of Oxford.
All those representations have a common theme. They accept the need to make family courts more transparent, but they believe that the proposals are rushed and lack sufficient consultation. They cannot understand why they are being pushed through at the same time as other measures to pilot the improved transparency of court decisions are only just being rolled out. All those groups believe that sensitive information linked to individuals could be released and that such legislation could be against the interests of children and deter them from giving evidence in some cases.
Almost universally, those outside groups have proposed a number of solutions to the deficiencies that they see in the Bill. They believe that any change should follow an independent evaluation of the April 2009 changes, which are only just being piloted. They believe that any changes should be delayed so that there is time for consultation and consideration in relation to these new and controversial proposals, which seem to have been driven through only to meet the needs of a number of lobby groups in the media. They also believe that if the proposals are to be implemented, they need to take into account the delay and cost implications of going through each case in turn, and look at assessments about any reporting restrictions that are necessary.
We have three major concerns about the Bill, and we hope that the Government will be willing to listen to them. If not, we hope that a large part of the Bill will not go through before the dissolution of Parliament. The Bill could have concentrated on areas where we might have found some consensus with the Government, in particular the need to reform the funding of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, the need to introduce a pupil premium with real additional money, not money simply shifted around the system, the urgent need to restore credibility in relation to educational standards, which has not happened so far in spite of the earlier comments from the Secretary of State, and the need to devolve more power and freedom throughout the system, rather than accruing more power to the Secretary of State and introducing more bureaucracy.
The Bill is disappointing. We will do our best over the next few weeks constructively to amend some of the key parts of it, but at this stage we intend to vote against it and we hope that most of it will not get on to the statute book.
There is probably nothing more important to our future as a prosperous country than the need to ensure that every child has an excellent education. I feel very grateful for the education that I had at my local country primary school, Lylehill in County Antrim, and my wonderful grammar school, Belfast Royal Academy. Despite a few people trying to close all the grammar schools in Northern Ireland, they are still operating and doing extremely well.
On the country primary school, I realise that such a Bill cannot include everything, but we should remember that in 2006 the Government launched the Learning Outside the Classroom manifesto, which aimed to give every school student the opportunity to experience out-of-classroom learning in the natural environment, yet in 2008 well over half of all school-aged children would never have had a visit to the countryside or an opportunity to understand anything about the countryside. I feel particularly strongly about that, because I am the chairman of the Countryside Alliance and, more importantly, because of my inner-city schools. Using a great deal of charitable money and donations, we try to get all the primary schools in my constituency at least one visit to the countryside. That makes such a difference to the children. I hope that can be considered.
There are many aspects of the Bill with which I agree, because some of them will help to ensure an excellent education, but I share some of the concerns expressed to me by head teachers that many of the proposals in the Bill could have waited or are not necessary and will add more bureaucracy to schools, particularly to the heads. Much more time and money will be spent on ticking more boxes to satisfy monitors about things that do not necessarily need to be monitored or could have been monitored in a different way, especially where schools have good leadership.
Previous speakers have commented on home-school agreements. I cannot understand how all the effort, work, time and money involved will improve by a single iota the education of a child in primary school.
I give way to my hon. Friend, although I have only 10 minutes.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I shall not take too much of her time. As we know, she is from Northern Ireland, which has a fine record for quality of education. Is there something about the teaching methods employed in Northern Ireland that is an advantage that we have missed in the rest of the United Kingdom? Will she advise us on that?
I think that what makes a good school is a good head teacher being given as much freedom as possible to get on with doing a good job. That is why, if I may say something positive about the Bill, I welcome the measures which, hopefully, will make it easier for successful schools to sponsor new academies and new types of school. Some of the outstanding schools in my constituency want to do more and have a record of changing lives in the area. We must make it easier for those, with the right leadership, to go ahead and do greater things.
I have some aspirational primary schools in Vauxhall. One, Durand primary school, has hugely important visions for future growth. I want to see the Government support such a school—for example, the Durand aim of developing its own all-through academy, with boarding provision from the age of 13 to A-levels. The school and the governing body want to move forward on that, and they have substantial funding in place. They know that central Government are on their side and they have already proved that they can deliver, having transformed a failing primary school in a socially deprived area of Stockwell into an outstanding provider, cutting class sizes, offering all sorts of organic food, providing subsidised after-school clubs—doing everything that makes it an ideal primary school.
The school does that because it has a visionary head and visionary teachers. They take a fairly sceptical view of the local authority telling them what to do. They get on with it. As a foundation school, it now wants to deliver an all-through academy which would offer free of charge boarding to children in its catchment area. It will not be a boarding school for the privileged few— 40 per cent. of the children who attend Durand live in overcrowded households, more than 50 per cent. receive free school meals, and more than 95 per cent. come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Durand’s proposals and other proposals from primary and secondary schools would offer life-changing opportunities for such children and create much-needed additional secondary places. We need a legislative environment—I am not sure that it is in the Bill, but parts of it may be—that will allow a school such as Durand to go forward and do what it does best, which is creating excellence for children.
Like the hon. Lady, I am a great admirer of Durand school and its head teacher, and I very much enjoyed the visit that she helped to facilitate. Unfortunately, the Bill will not be able to help Durand, which is a primary school. The Bill does not allow primary schools to sponsor academies. Indeed, when I suggested that primary schools themselves become academies, the Minister for Schools and Learners said that that idea would send a shiver down the spine of every parent. I presume that the hon. Lady, like me and like many other members of her party on the Back Benches, agrees that primary schools should be allowed to become academies.
I personally agree with primary schools being able to become academies. I am not saying that I speak for my colleagues on the Back Benches. I probably do not speak for some of them, but I would like to see that. I want to see a Bill—the present Bill may not contain such provision—that gives powers that make it easier for the vision of state schools such as Durand to become a reality. Much of that involves making sure that local authorities do not become a barrier to progress.
A number of Members feel strongly about home education, and I have listened keenly to the debate between those on the two Front Benches. For an inner-city area, I have a substantial number of home-educated children, for all sorts of reasons, as Members know. Although it is important that the local authority knows who those children are, that should not impose a straitjacket on home educators.
It is rather sad that we seem to have put the cart before the horse. I was pleased to hear what the Secretary of State said about educating and providing training for local authority staff to give them a better understanding of home education, but I am not quite as trusting. I would like that education and training for local authority staff to be in place before I allowed them to be let loose on home providers in my constituency. When the Department talked about registration, it said:
“Home Education registration involves more than just providing a name and address. In particular, it will require home educating families to provide information about their approach to home education”.
That is very dangerous, because we are now saying that we actually want to interfere in how children are educated at home. If we believe that families have first responsibility for such education, we have to allow them it. However, that is totally separate from anything to do with safeguarding children in their homes, and that is why I feel that ContactPoint, which will come on stream in September throughout the country, will give local authorities the information that they need. A good local authority, which works with such parents positively and is not seen as going in and telling them what to do, will then be able to find ways of supporting home educating parents. They want to be supported, but they need support, not the regulation that is seen as coming in from above.
I agree with a lot of what the hon. Lady says, but I do not see how ContactPoint will distinguish between all those children who, for one reason or another, do not attend a mainstream school. Unless there is a notification system, there will not be a category of home education, but there will be a lot of children who do not attend a mainstream school. There may be all sorts of reasons why: they may be children about whom we are really concerned—children below the radar.
Every home educator to whom I have spoken in my constituency recognises that somebody, somewhere needs to know that children are being home educated. They are not even against people from the education department visiting and, with the right agreement, learning how they educate, because there is no doubt that a lot of home educators—probably 99.9 per cent. of them—are very good educators indeed.
I am disappointed by the fact that we seem to be rushing through the legislation. The Badman report was rushed, too. I do not agree with every word of the very fine report by the Children, Schools and Families Committee, but I agree with a lot of it.
No, I am not going to take an intervention.
The Committee produced a good report, which recognised that the Badman report had not been handled in quite the same way as many other Government reports. We are rushing through this legislation, and we need to stop and look again. I very much hope that, in Committee, changes will be made proving that the legislation represents soft-touch regulation. We have heard a lot from Ministers about it being soft-touch, but I have said before—
In reality, what starts out as light-touch, particularly when a local authority does not necessarily operate in the best possible way, can easily turn into something more than that—something that becomes another burden and is about controlling and changing what home educating parents do. I very much resent that, and I wish that it did not happen. I hope that the Government will still look and listen and, in Committee, change the legislation to make it much more acceptable to all those home educators who do a very fine job.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) is neither a light touch nor a soft touch; she is a very fine parliamentarian, and it is a privilege to follow her excellent speech.
Every progressive civilisation has depended for its success on the quality of the education of its citizens, both male and female. I have observed, over almost 27 years as a Member, that the most important thing in politics is ideas, open minds and progress. That has been the great tradition of western democracy since the age of enlightenment, but the greatest ideas are usually ruined by rules and regulations and the fine print that follows them, and I am bound to conclude that the authors of this Bill could not see the wood for the trees.
That is why I commend the intellectual approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), and I pay tribute to all who have followed their vocation to teach, just as I did when I left university. I faced my first class in a county secondary modern school in Cornwall; I then went to Leeds grammar school, which was an education in several senses. In my first job as a qualified teacher, I went to Loretto school in Scotland, and I am proud to be a Scottish-registered teacher; and then I spent 14 years at Harrow school. In all those schools, the quality of leadership and the scholarship of the teaching staff guaranteed the quality of education for all the pupils. That is still true, and that is why my hon. Friend is right. The issue is about a partnership between parents and teachers, with the state providing funding, unless we are talking about the independent sector, which has such an important role to play.
In my last few weeks as a Member, I do not mind saying that it is no good being rude about schools such as Eton and the people who go there. First, they do not choose to do so—their parents choose; and secondly, those schools are often the best in the world. All of us should seek to elevate the quality of education throughout the country to the best that can be achieved. It is foolish to deny that.
The hon. Gentleman has had a very distinguished career, and we are great friends outside the House. However, it is very easy to run a successful educational programme in the independent sector if one excludes all the poor children and all the children with special educational needs, and if it does not represent the communities in which most of us live. That is the difficulty, and sometimes people in the independent sector ought to have more humility in respect of what they claim for their schools.
In responding to the distinguished Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, I should say only that that is why, ever since 1946, the independent sector has endeavoured always to broaden its interest and intake and to provide more scholarships. But what has been the response? All the scholarships that were available to poorer children have been restricted, and since this Government came to power no scholarship amounting to more than 50 per cent. of the fees has been allowed. That is a retrogressive policy, and I deplore it.
I fear that the Bill has missed the point. As Baroness Walmsley pointed out in the other place, we have had more than 1,200 regulations since 1997, and they have added up in words to more than the combined works of Shakespeare. That is not clever, and I agreed so much with Lord Sacks, who, in the other place on 26 November 2009, reminded us that not everything that matters can be measured; not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that is valuable can be valued at a price. Of course, that is true.
As a veteran of the 1983 Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts and, I think, the only survivor of the Committee stage of the 1988 GERBIL, the great Education Reform Bill, of the now distinguished peer, Lord Baker, I can observe that the Bill before us is really not worth most of the paper on which it is written. Clause 23 alone, on the licence to practise, would be enough to erode the morale and confidence of most of the teaching profession.
There is, however, an aspect of the Bill to which I want to refer, because I support it strongly. That aspect is represented by clauses 10 to 14, on personal, social, health and economic education. It is a clumsy phrase, and I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) that, if we can think up something snappier that means something to people, so much the better. However, parents are responsible for providing a moral dimension to the education of their children, and, in my ideal world, where marriage would be the norm but stable relationships would be the best equivalent for everybody else, parents would take on that responsibility.
Such education would be not just about the biology of sex, but about the moral framework—about marriage, stable relationships and all those virtuous things that lead to stable communities and a stable society. We cannot force parents to do it, however. Some parents do not want to; some do not think that they are very good at it; and some would rather that doctors or, indeed, teachers did it instead. Someone must do it, however, and after more than 25 years as a Member one of my regrets is that Parliament and successive Governments have failed to encourage young people, over several generations, towards a more mature understanding at an earlier age of how to respect their bodies, friends and communities. It is much better that teachers should do this than pornographers, drug-pushers, people-traffickers or criminals, and that is why clauses 10 to 14 should be supported.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, North said that people outside this place, on the estates and in schools and communities, do not have a clue what this is all about. I think he is right. In fact, it is worse than that, because most people inside this House do not have a clue what it is about either. Those of us who have been here for a long time and have been talking to our education authorities, social workers and hospitals—accident and emergency departments, and so on—realise the enormous challenge that young people face nowadays that we did not face when we were their age.
The whole question of sexually transmitted infections is now the biggest public health issue in most of our constituencies, and that is fuelled by access to alcohol and its low price: it all goes together. That is why I very much welcome clause 11, particularly subsection (4), which defines, from paragraphs (a) to (g), exactly what is meant by personal, social, health and economic education. In terms of public health, we must be hard-nosed and realistic about the temptations faced by young people on our streets in our constituencies on Friday and Saturday nights, with large volumes of alcohol, binge drinking and irresponsibility all around. That can lead only to the A and E department of a hospital, where one will find, if one asks people quietly, that on a Saturday night they receive teenage girls who have had between 20 and 30 units of alcohol over a period of four or five hours, and who are legless and likely to have engaged in sexual activity that has been dangerous for them. In all this, do we not usually blame the girls? Is it not those bad gals who cause all the trouble because they are the ones who get pregnant and cause all the teenage pregnancies? In fact, it is the young men who cause the trouble, not the girls, and it is time that we addressed that. I hope that the Bill will lead to a huge improvement in the quality of education of our young people that takes on board the importance of educating young men, just as much as young women, about their social responsibilities and relationships.
I mention in parenthesis a remarkable phenomenon that should be happening right across the country—the emergence of street pastors. I helped to launch a street pastor scheme in Salisbury last autumn. These people are not busybodies who wish to go about preaching to young people—far from it. They want to be there quietly to help at critical moments at times of critical decisions when young people—it is usually young people, but not exclusively—have had a little more to drink than they should and have to decide whether to stop or how far to go. For those young people to find alongside them experienced, trained people to whom they can talk is proving to be a great benefit, certainly in Salisbury and I believe elsewhere.
I commend the report on alcohol published last week by the Select Committee on Health, because that, too, recognises the significance of cheap alcohol. I have come to the conclusion over all these years—Parliament has been discussing this for 26 years, to my certain knowledge—that we have gone much too far in making alcohol cheap and more widely available. We will not address this problem satisfactorily until we go for minimum unit pricing, and we will have to start to restrict the number of outlets and police the whole thing much better. If one asks any police force, certainly mine in Salisbury—Salisbury, for goodness’ sake: that wonderful, safe, beautiful city, which has so few problems compared with most—one will find that 80 per cent. of crime is still committed by people with alcohol-related intent. That is the bottom line, and we really must do something about it.
Then we come to the whole question of the education of our children and how we can best get it across. I make a plea that this Government, in their dying days, and the incoming Government carry on from where my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath started in bearing in mind the intellectual approach to take towards education. Before rushing into the thicket of undergrowth and muddle that is in the Bill, the House should bear in mind that British education is still the envy of the world, that English is still the most important language in the world, and that it is our duty to future generations to uphold the primacy of ideas over regulation. It is our duty, as a nation, to guard with pride the intellectual endeavour of western Christendom and western civilisation, and that depends on the quality of our education.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key). I remember that when I was Public Health Minister there was much that we could agree on, as in his speech today, as regards young people and their health, opportunities and aspirations in life.
I am pleased to speak in the debate on the Second Reading of the Children, Schools and Families Bill. As an MP of 13 years, I have seen a lot of changes in my constituency. Back in 1997, our aspiration was just to get indoor toilets in so many of our schools with dilapidated buildings and terrible outside toilets that were not a joy for the pupils, the teachers or the cleaning staff. Since that time, we have seen the refurbishment of very many schools, with more than £100 million spent on new school buildings. We have three new secondary academies and four specialist schools. We have seen improvements across Doncaster, although I would be the first to admit that there is still some way to go. In 1998, 34 per cent. of our pupils got five A to C-grade GCSEs. If one compares that with the proportion in 2009—71 per cent.—there is no doubt that there have been changes, not only through resources but reforms that have meant that the outcomes and prospects for many children in Don Valley and Doncaster are better than they were some years ago.
The Bill tries to look further at how we get the right balance between rights and responsibilities, not only for schools and staff but for pupils and parents. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench on seeking further to address these important issues. As a former member of the Education and Employment Committee, as it was then, I know only too well how important leadership is in schools. Under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), we undertook an inquiry into the role of the head teacher in that context. To be honest, nothing changes—the head teacher’s role as leader of a school was as important then as it was decades before, and it is as important today as it will be in future. More support should be given to head teachers in tackling underperforming teachers in their schools. If that is not done, it does not serve the school, the pupils or their parents, and it certainly does not serve other teachers who are having to cover for those who are not up to the job.
A lot has already been said—I will not repeat it—about pupil and parent guarantees and home-school agreements. I think I understand why my right hon. and hon. Friends want to enshrine guarantees for pupils and parents in our communities, which is a worthy aspiration. However, I am concerned about how they will be enforced and understood by pupils and parents, and about exactly what would trigger the point at which a parent might go to the local government ombudsman to tackle an issue they are worried about. Alongside that, I am concerned about the time taken and the number of cases that the ombudsman might have to take on. Over several years as an MP, I have had to work on behalf of constituents with the local government ombudsman, and I know that they are not exactly underworked in the number of cases that they have to take up in a whole host of other areas. I hope that that will get further attention in Committee.
On home-school agreements, as a parent rather than as an MP I have seen three children go through GCSEs, A-levels and degrees under a Labour Government, and two are currently looking to do postgraduate qualifications as well. Before that, I happened to have them attending a school that was already providing home-school agreements, which the Government of the time had not enshrined in law. The agreements are important, as it is important for a parent when their child starts a school, whether primary or secondary, to have a baseline of what is expected from them and their children. They should also know what they can expect from the school, both in standards of education and in pastoral support, which is very important for children’s well-being.
I am concerned about where home-school agreements are going and how much more work might be needed to personalise each one to meet the needs of every child. Hon. Members have outlined that concern in this debate. As a parent, I hope that when it comes to the educational needs of my children, and those of my constituents and of every parent in the country, that personalised attention takes place through their form tutor in each year group. Parents engage in their child’s education in different ways, such as through the parents’ meetings that they should have and the information that they receive about their child’s success or otherwise. That should be an ongoing process, and I am concerned that we may be trying to mix that up with home-school agreements too much.
Another point that I wish to make about home-school agreements was made to me by a head teacher in my constituency recently. Clarity is needed about the consequences for those parents who do not abide by their responsibilities. In most schools, as the agreements stand, an overwhelming majority of parents fulfil what is expected of them. A very small minority do not, and that could be to do with attendance at school, supporting the improvement in their child’s behaviour and so on. Head teachers tell me they do not really know where they should go and what they should do when that breaks down completely. The Bill mentions the courts and parenting orders, but some of the head teachers to whom I have talked do not realise that they can already use parenting orders. We need to ensure that where they already have powers, they know how to use them appropriately.
The matter needs attention, and a parenting order, parenting contract or acceptable behaviour contract—whatever we want to call it—may be necessary. At the moment, as with all sorts of matters to do with rights and responsibilities, the question is what to do when the responsibilities are not taken on and what sanctions there are to make a parent engage. The vast majority of parents do so, even those who are having difficulties and challenges with their children, but some refuse, and teachers often feel that there is not a lot they can do.
The new duty on local authorities requires them proactively to seek parents’ views on the range and quality of secondary school places in their area. I am interested in that, and I understand that it is focused on the year 5 age group. Perhaps there is something to be said for asking parents of children in other year groups, who have already gone into secondary education, what they think about the experience and the choice.
I was concerned recently when I took up a case on behalf of a Catholic primary school in my constituency. The local education authority was going to cease to provide funds for buses for the children from that school in Edlington, a deprived area by anyone’s measures, to go to a local Catholic secondary school. I understand that there have also been cuts in bus services to other schools. There are four specialist schools in my constituency, and part of the role of specialist schools was to offer children who excelled in a particular specialism the opportunity to go to them. If local authorities cut the means of transport to them, what choice is there for those children’s parents? That needs to be attended to.
I very much support the idea that schools should consider supporting the wider community and be able to use their delegated budgets to invest in doing so. Given the amount of money that has gone into improving our schools and building new ones, it seems only right that we should see them in the context of the wider community. There should be opportunities for other community organisations to benefit from a school’s facilities, but also to help schools and work with them on the issue of families in the community. There are other community organisations that can help the staff of schools provide better for their pupils.
I would also like schools to have an opportunity to have far more control over their finances in planning ahead. There have been headlines recently about the number of schools sitting on reserves. I shall not justify or defend schools that sit on huge amounts of money that could be better spent in their school community, but there are times when a school has to plan ahead for its needs, for example when year groups are changing and a large number of children are coming into the school because of the number of births locally. That will have an impact on spending in that school and the number of staff it needs to employ. In one year, school numbers might go up—
I must confess that I find the Bill, and particularly the provisions for the regulation of home schooling, deeply troubling. I am sure that many Members will raise the issue, so I shall endeavour to be brief.
Education is the gateway to a better world. Nothing should be done to prevent children from flourishing and learning in the environment best suited to them, in school or out. As many Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged, education is primarily a parent’s responsibility, not that of the Government. It is up to parents to select the form of education most beneficial to their children. For a variety of reasons, the schools system is not for everyone. Some just choose the home; others fear bullying or the increasing size of schools and the associated problems, and some children are not allowed to thrive within the system.
Although every child must receive an education, schools are not the only way to deliver it. Obviously, such a gap can be filled by the work of parents through home schooling their children. It is estimated that between 20,000 and 80,000 are currently home schooled. Though some may disagree, I argue that home educators understand the responsibility placed on them. They understand that the responsibility for a child’s schooling falls on nobody but the parents. Unfortunately, in yet another example of a Government obsessed with conformity, the independence that home educators currently enjoy is to be placed under threat. The plans in clause 26 to ensure that home educators conform with the requirements of the national syllabus will stamp out the individuality that many home-educated children cherish. Is not the whole point of home schooling the provision of an alternative channel for education?
Before Christmas I met a group of constituents, all home educators, who were concerned about the recommendations of the Badman report. I also met some of their children, who were some of the most articulate and erudite young people I have met. Most of the parents spoke of having schedules for teaching, but in keeping with educational flexibility so as to best fit a child’s needs. One of them told me of her son spontaneously developing a liking for Roman history. Because she retained responsibility for her son’s best interests, she was able to take a trip to a Roman villa the next week. Such a trip would have been impossible under the annual education plans that the Bill may well set in stone. If modern society has taught us anything, it is that we have to acknowledge everyone’s uniqueness. The Bill appears designed to move us in the opposite direction.
My other concern revolves around the level to which the Bill extends the state yet further into people’s lives. One of its provisions is to allow local education authorities, when neither child nor parent objects, to interview home-schooled children on their own. The phrasing of that part of the Bill, particularly the use of the word “may”, has been constructed far too loosely to be of reliable guidance. How can a measure confer a power on a local authority without detailing the full criteria for fulfilling that responsibility? Furthermore, under the Bill, interviews will be conducted in
“a place where education is provided to the child”.
From a civil liberties perspective, that paints a dangerous picture of approving authorities’ incursion into private homes.
What would be the consequences of a parent’s not consenting at any stage to a child’s being interviewed on their own? Such interviews may place the child in a distressing environment. They also underline the contradictions at the heart of the Government’s approach. Pupils are not interviewed about teachers, so why should sons and daughters be interviewed about their mothers and fathers? Furthermore, interviewing children alone gives the impression that parents are not to be trusted or have done something wrong. Indeed, the level at which the Government aim to monitor parent-child relationships is tantamount to saying that a parent willing to spend time with their child is somehow in the wrong.
Such intrusiveness into parents’ lives is bad enough, but the detrimental effects on children’s education and well-being are even more dangerous. The Government seriously need to reconsider the case for granting the new powers and requirements—not only the powers, but the Government’s perspective on the issue. I understand the Government’s wish to achieve the best for everyone, but their methods simply do not work.
Before attending to home education, the Government must first deal with those already in the system who do not achieve as they should. They should tackle those who are absent from education partially or altogether. Too many bright futures have been sucked into the mire of destructive social circumstances. The Bill is directed at the wrong children in the wrong fashion.
Indeed, no Bill has dealt successfully with those who have sex when under 16. Conception rates for those under 16 have increased from 7.8 to 8.3 per 1,000, which is 8,200 pregnancies. Those children are far too young to become parents.
Of course, I am aware that children’s well-being is one of the Bill’s motivations. The Government are concerned that home schooling may be used as a cover for child abuse or forced marriages. Certainly, that must be dealt with, but in a far more consultative manner. Greater consideration must be given to the vast majority of home-schooled children who benefit immensely from their parents’ dedicated work.
A scheme of self-regulation, rather than imposed conformity, is the best way to balance children’s education with children’s safety. One must not be sacrificed for the other, because education is the gateway to a better world. The longer we prevaricate on the most fundamental decisions and the longer we institute misguided legislation such as the Bill, the longer we deny the next generation the greatest opportunity to realise their fullest potential.
When I first examined the Bill, it made me consider how best to assess a measure on Second Reading. I have the advantage of chairing the Children, Schools and Families Committee, and therefore the further advantage of considering, in the past two years, the three main pillars on which educational reform was founded 20 years ago. My remarks today are in that context.
We have considered testing and assessment and the national curriculum and, last week, we published our report on school accountability. The Bill is about all those matters. The measure is a bit of curate’s egg. All Governments should learn that legislation is best when it has been tested and piloted or, if not, given to people who genuinely know about the subject so that they can conduct an independent inquiry. Even better, if there is time, is a pre-legislative inquiry by the Select Committee. We have not conducted such an inquiry on the Bill.
Let me comment quickly on some long overdue aspects, beginning with the special educational needs provisions. The Lamb inquiry was set up by the then Education and Skills Committee, predecessor of our current Committee. It made strong recommendations on special educational needs and was a fine report—I think that one member of that Committee is still in the Chamber this evening. We made strong recommendations for giving special educational needs students a proper chance so that they are not faced with a patchwork of provision throughout the country, with provision depending on where they happen to live. Some students and families were getting the right support while others got poor support.
I note that the Bill does not contain something to which we always thought we would go back—one never has time to revert to all the things that one discovers when conducting an inquiry. It is the dreadful lack of capacity, support and opportunity for special educational needs students when they get to 16. That is crucial. The ages of 16 to 18 are extremely difficult for special needs students, even when they have had a good deal, good support, been statemented and got everything that they should have. The ages of 16 to 18 are difficult, as are the ages beyond. Perhaps the Select Committee will have time to revert to that.
I was more hesitant about the reform of the primary curriculum and about including Sir Jim Rose’s proposals and recommendations in legislation. Our report on the national curriculum showed that we need a much more coherent approach. People ought to know where they are travelling, starting at the earliest stage, when a child is born, and continuing right through to the ages of 18 and 19. There should be a coherent national curriculum that joins up. At the moment, we have bits of curriculum and great disjunctions in it. The most famous happens at the age of 11, but they happen even at seven, and then at 16 and 18. A person setting out on the journey of life and education is not, even with best endeavours, offered a curriculum that makes sense to both the child and the parent.
Jim Rose conducted an inquiry on the primary national curriculum, and there was also the Cambridge inquiry, which the Government did not like as much, but neither inquiry was right. The results did not mesh with what comes afterwards or with the important foundation stage, which the Select Committee supports wholeheartedly. Bits of the curriculum for specific years are taken, an inquiry is conducted and proposals are made, without seeing those bits as part of one offering.
Most of us agree that putting personal, social, health and economic education on the timetable is a good idea. I am not sure whether it should be in the national curriculum; when we examined the national curriculum, we said it was overfull. We pointed out that academies had much more choice and flexibility and could choose their priorities after the basic subjects had been included in the national curriculum. We asked why, if that approach was good enough for them, it was not good enough for the rest of the schools.
The national curriculum is too full. Although I like the idea of everyone having decent PSHE education, simply placing it in a compulsory curriculum, which is already full, without changing it and granting more flexibility, is worrying. Ken Boston once told me that the trouble with PSHE and things like it is that they are given to the gym teacher with the gammy knee to teach. We need high-quality people who are trained to do PSHE well if it is going to be taught to its full extent.
If we are going to have anything at all in the national curriculum, it must be the basics. Every child should be entitled to them. Hitherto, we thought that that meant maths and English, but actually, in order to learn and come to an appreciation of any academic subject, people need those basic social and emotional capabilities. Without them, the rest of the curriculum is denied to people. That is why PSHE has to be in the national curriculum—for areas such as mine and my hon. Friend’s, where many people cannot access it.
My hon. Friend may well have won me over. What I was trying to get at is that I would have liked a real, holistic change to the national curriculum, so that the vital PSHE fits in well.
On the accountability framework, the Committee published a report on accountability last week. We looked at the matter right through from governing bodies to Ofsted and the new school report card. We found in favour of the school report card and rather liked the school improvement strategies that it underpinned. However, we also found that Governments only ever introduce new forms of accountability, and never take one away, and we are worried that there are now five levels of accountability. The Government are well intentioned and want to move away from the reliance on the publication of tables of the results of tests and examinations, and the school report card will help, but I suspect that it will not be enough to strike the balance that most people in our schools—heads and teachers—want.
Heads and teachers feel tremendous pressure from the different forms of accountability. In particular, they are very worried about accountability through Ofsted. The Committee found Ofsted to be over-large and overburdened—it has now extended into child protection—and we wonder whether an inspection over a day and a half is as good as it could be. Does a lighter-touch inspection, if it is too light, lead the Ofsted inspectors to rely much more heavily on the statistics and test results that they read on the card before they go into the school to do an assessment? The school is where the vital thing happens, but the quality of teaching in the classroom carries much less weight in the balance.
On the licence to practise, I take it that at last we have got to the stage—this seems to be the subtext—at which we have a highly regarded work force with proper qualifications and a five-year renewable licence. I believe that that is probably the way to go, but we will not get there without offering high-quality continuing professional development. Death by PowerPoint is not the way to deliver CPD. CPD must be high quality and delivered alongside that licence to practise. I suspect that part of the Government’s agenda with the licence to practise will be to weed out teachers who are not up to the job, which I suppose is a very important aspect of it.
Lastly, the Committee wrote a good report on home-educated children, and the matter has been much discussed in interventions. A very significant percentage of home-educated children are wonderfully educated. I was very impressed by the parents and children I met, but I also believe that we must know where our children are. The Committee came to a compromise view. As the Government were offering a system with a compulsory register with no fines, action, penalties or sanctions, we asked them whether they should try a voluntary system for two years as an olive branch. We said that if that method did not work, the Government should go for a compulsory system.
That was a rattle through the issues. There are some good and some not-so-good provisions in the Bill, but we could say that of all Bills.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is an eminent Chairman of the Select Committee. I listened with great interest to what he said. He contributes a huge amount to debates on education and to Second Reading debates on education Bills.
I declare an interest as a lawyer and I shall focus on part 2 of the Bill, but I shall also say a few words about the main part of the Bill. We can of course wholeheartedly support some provisions in the Bill. For example, I support the improvement in, and widening of, the appeals system for children with special educational needs, and the idea that academies should be exempt charities. However, what the Bill reveals most starkly is the fundamental divide between the Government and the Opposition when it comes to trusting the teaching profession and professionals generally.
We trust professionals to get on with their jobs and to deliver high professional standards without the need for extremely detailed, top-down prescription. Unfortunately, the Bill is far too prescriptive, the result being that it will mean more bureaucracy and litigation, a reinforcement of the risk-averse culture, and a stifling of professional self-esteem. That very damaging approach flows through and characterises so much of the Bill. The result is that the good parts of the Bill are overshadowed by top-down micro-management.
The Government believe very firmly that Ministers and Whitehall always know best. On the other hand, my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench and I take the view that the way to raise educational standards is to reduce the target culture and bureaucracy and truly trust the profession.
My starting point on part 2 of the Bill is that the rules governing family proceedings must protect children’s welfare. That is why a substantial element of privacy is essential, but there is a big difference between privacy and secrecy. Privacy means allowing reasonable access and reporting while protecting the welfare and interests of children, as happens every day in the youth courts in this country. Secrecy is a totally different matter, because it means holding proceedings completely in camera.
For a number of years, there has been growing concern about the lack of transparency and openness in the family courts. It is interesting that the campaign run by The Times in the summer of 2008 was welcomed not only by the different fathers groups, which protested vigorously, but by the legal profession, which had a big input. At the time, the president of the family division, Sir Mark Potter, and a number of eminent High Court judges, said that the lack of openness and transparency was damaging the reputation and image of the family courts. Those judges knew that they were dispensing justice to a very high standard indeed, and furthermore that the vast majority of decisions being made in the family courts were correct, but unfortunately, their reputation and that of their courts were coming under pressure and being tarnished by adverse criticism by a small minority of litigants.
Sir Mark Potter addressed the proposals for more openness and transparency in a letter at the time of the campaign. He said:
“Not only would it enable the court’s reasoning to be understood; it is likely to justify decisions in the eyes of the wider public. It will certainly ease the frustration felt by many judges that they cannot respond to criticism in the media based on one-sided accounts by aggrieved parents”.
That was the view of Sir Mark Potter; what he said at that time, which was echoed by many other family judges, was absolutely spot on.
We had a whole series of consultation papers from the then Department for Constitutional Affairs, now the Ministry of Justice. We also had a number of other initiatives from the Government. The broad conclusion was that the obvious way to improve transparency and openness was to allow the press and public into family courts, albeit subject to appropriate reporting restrictions and, obviously, the ultimate discretion of the judge. We had a false start with the Government statement in 2007, when they said that they would not go as far as was originally suggested, which triggered the campaign by The Times. We then had the statement by the Secretary of State for Justice, in December 2008, when he announced that the media would be allowed to attend family hearings, subject to the discretion of the judge and reporting restrictions. He then announced that written judgments would be piloted.
I am slightly concerned about the two pilots—the first involves the magistrates courts in Leeds and the magistrates courts and county courts in Cardiff, the second the magistrates courts and county courts in Wolverhampton. Anonymised judgments and reasons will be placed in the public domain, which is something for which we have argued for some time. However, it is incredibly important to get the details correct and ensure a proper and comprehensive evaluation of the pilots. I am slightly concerned that the Bill is moving too quickly and that we should have a chance to conduct a proper evaluation of those pilots before moving to the next legislative stage, with the provisions in the Bill.
As I have mentioned, I broadly support most of part 2 of the Bill. However, I am concerned that many of the revisions are incredibly complex. I declared an interest as a lawyer at the start of this brief contribution, but I had to read the various clauses and the explanatory notes, as well as talk to friends at the family Bar, to get a handle on those revisions, which are very complex. I support what the Secretary of State said about the phasing and the sunset review, but the scope and effect of the revisions are, in places, most uncertain. Unfortunately, the simplicity, clarity and workability of the youth court model has not been followed or emulated in the Bill. It is interesting to read what the Newspaper Society, the Society of Editors, the Press Association, ITN and the BBC said in their recent letter to MPs:
“If journalists are not confident in the application of the rules, they may be deterred from reporting the family courts at all and the central objective of this entire project—greater public accountability and scrutiny—may be”
put at risk. This is not an attempt to volunteer to serve on the Committee, but there is certainly a great deal of scope for making the provisions less complex and more easily understood.
I want to say a quick word about the default position contained in clause 32(2), which is that unless it is specifically exempted by the Bill, any publication could be in contempt of court. Surely that is the wrong way round. Surely it would be better to reverse that default judgment, so that there was a presumption in favour of all instances of such information being published, unless prohibited by the court. After all, that is exactly what will apply to the publication of orders. I see no logic in saying that the same should not apply to the publication of judgments. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that in his winding-up speech.
On the anonymity provisions, obviously it is essential that minors and certain other individuals should be subject to anonymity. However, my reading of the Bill is that it extends anonymity to all parties involved or referred to in proceedings, other than paid, professional expert witnesses. Surely automatic anonymity should be limited to the key parties, with the judge having the discretion to extend that more widely if need be. I very much hope that the Minister will look into that issue and that it might be picked up in Committee. Perhaps he could also talk to his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about the pressure that the extra requirements of the anonymity framework are likely to put on Her Majesty’s Courts Service. Will it require extra resources? What effect will that pressure have?
The Government originally said that they would not reverse Clayton v. Clayton. However, it is my understanding that the Bill will do just that. Could the Minister also comment on that in his winding-up speech?
It is vital that the concerns of the many organisations involved, such as Resolution and the Law Society, are considered and dealt with. It is important that we should get part 2 right, because it is hugely significant. We owe it to a vulnerable part of the community—the children who appear in the courts—to ensure that part 2 is well crafted and has the support of as many people as possible working in the courts.
It is always a pleasure to follow my friend, the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham). He delivers his speeches like he plays his cricket, with a stout defence and the occasional flashing, brilliant shot, but also with the tendency to take his eye off the ball on occasions—a tendency that I shall avoid the temptation to take advantage of this evening, because we are discussing such a serious issue, particularly for my constituents.
I represent a constituency that sends the fewest number of kids to college and university, has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in western Europe, and has profound and severe problems of deprivation. That is why, for me, the most important thing in the Bill is what I would call the life skills part—the part dealing with teaching our babies, children, primary children and secondary young people the importance of some of the basics that most of us here learned at our mother and father’s knees. Many of those skills—the basic social and emotional capabilities—are not in place in constituencies such as mine. If they are not there, we have a choice: either we can spend billions of pounds on remedial action when things go wrong, complain about the problem, turn our teachers into crowd control experts, put money into our courts and magistrates courts, and pay for people to spend a lifetime on welfare benefits; or we can do something about the problem. The great thing that the Bill does is take another step towards having the capability to help young people when they need it.
PSHE, as it is called—we really have to do something about that; we should change the name to something that means something to people on the ground, such as “life skills”—is not, on its own, a magic bullet; it is part of a package of early-intervention measures. In Nottingham, we have been fortunate enough to put a number of those measures in place, but we need the rest of the jigsaw. Those children need to know that they can access the great world of learning because they have the skills and capabilities to do so—the skill to listen, the skill to pay attention, the skill to be self-disciplined, the ability to reconcile arguments without violence, the ability to aspire to learn, and the ability to want to get qualifications and go on and get a decent job. That is why the Bill is so important.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the skills that he is describing demand a highly professional delivery and highly trained members of staff?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the first thing that we did in, effectively, our pilot—we are piloting the idea before the Government have introduced the legislation, through our 11-to-16 life skills programme, which I was fortunate enough to be instrumental in establishing, as chair of the local strategic partnership—was to dedicate some £400,000, from a very small budget, for basic training, so that the basic materials were in place. That was so that the teachers were not, as someone said earlier, teaching those basics after lessons in the gymnasium or running stuff off the photocopier, but understood the aim and were trained and passionate about ensuring that all young people had those basics in place.
In addition, leaving aside a bit of petty partisanship from all parts of the House, I would like to say a few words of thanks—not in the normal way, perhaps—to the Front Benchers for the serious way in which they have debated the issue and, except for a bit of fraying around the edges on sex and relationship education, for the basic consensus on the fact that we need all our kids to have those fundamental life skills in order to take advantage of education. I commend the way in which all Front Benchers have done that. I should also like to add a little historical footnote to the debate, by mentioning the debt that we all owe to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) for his work on this brief. He worked very hard to ensure that it was going to be part of the Bill, and he deserves our commendation for that.
I say all this not because I am soft, non-partisan and not in favour of my own party’s viewpoint on various issues, but because of one simple fact: if we ever break the intergenerational cycle of deprivation in this country, that achievement will not be the property of just one party—the Labour party, the Conservative party, the Liberal party or any of the minority parties. All will have to be signed up to the consensus on giving every child the abilities that will enable that child to make the best of himself or herself. I think that we are quite close to achieving that.
There was a period when the debate revolved around one side saying that the other side wanted to hug hoodies, and the other side retorting that their opponents wanted to put antisocial behaviour orders on embryos. However, the level of maturity in the debate over the past two or three years has been to the great credit of Members in the House and to the spokespeople here who have taken this issue much further than we thought we might have done. What is it that we have taken further? It is the process of early intervention, and the laying down of the bedrock that will enable all kids to do well, as part of a complete raft of measures, rather than just as a one-off.
Does my hon. Friend realise that one of the biggest factors among parents is low expectations, bridled with the celebrity culture in our society, which allows young people to think that they can get on in life by becoming a celebrity rather than by determined hard work?
There are many things that flow from having effective social and emotional capabilities. That will impact on teenage pregnancy, and it will impact massively on aspiration. A young person who is rounded, self-confident and aware of their ability to interact with others will make much more of themselves than a child who is not, often through no fault of their own but perhaps through ineffective parenting in the early years. A child who has those capabilities will aspire, seek employment, and have the desire to attain educational qualifications, and will not get into trouble with the bad lads or get involved in vandalism and antisocial behaviour. We must give those children that most precious, lifelong gift, to enable them to do the best for themselves. That is the absolute antithesis of the nanny state. The proposals represent an important step towards achieving that, and the Government are to be commended for introducing them.
I want briefly to respond to a point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). She described the desperation of reaching the end of the line with some parents, and the necessity of imposing a parenting order. I hope that I am not putting words into her mouth, but is it not a kind of failure to have reached that point? I do not want to suggest that I am waving a magic wand, but we need to get to those kids and their parents earlier than that point of failure, because penalising them is not the way to make progress. If we can get to them much earlier, they will be able to make their own way.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I was very proud to be involved in one of the trailblazer Sure Start projects, but the fact is that we do not start with a level playing field. Some parents are out of control in their approach to parenting, compared with what we accept as the norm, and something has to be done about that small minority who are working against the school and the wider community.
That is why this issue is intergenerational, and why we must look at the new-born of today as the parents of tomorrow, and help them to become the great parents of tomorrow who will, in turn, raise good kids. That is something that we all have to share.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws)—I will call him my hon. Friend—talked about one-to-one tuition and when that approach should be taken. I am not privy to the nuances of Government policy, but I know that if we are going to do one-to-one tuition, we should do it early, not late. We should not give one-to-one tuition to the 16-year-old who is banged up in a secure unit; we should give it to the 16-month-old who could otherwise become that child later on. We should get to work early on one to one, if there is a choice. I think that the Government have got that right, although I wish that we could extend the provision across the whole age range. If a choice has to be made, however, it must be that one.
I was talking to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) about life skills before we came into the Chamber—[Hon. Members: “Surely not!”] I have no secrets to tell. I hope that he will not mind my repeating that we are not just talking about sex and relationship education, or about financial capability, or about the things that are in the current PHSE curriculum. I am talking about something much more fundamental—namely, the basic ability to interact, to have empathy with other people, and to sit and listen and learn. That is what I mean by social and emotional skills. I hope that I went halfway towards convincing him that those things make a much richer, more fundamental contribution to what we can all become. That, in turn, can make English, maths and all the other academic subjects much more accessible.
I hope that I can blow the trumpet for my own city of Nottingham. We started teaching life skills for 11 to 16-year-olds a year before this legislation was introduced. We started in six of the 14 secondary schools, and it is proving to be a great success. We did the training first, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) pointed out, and there are many lessons that I hope we can learn from Nottingham. Perhaps my Front-Bench colleagues will come up and see how we are training, consulting the students, and allowing local variations so that we can hand-make the local curriculum. Yes, it is compulsory, but we must ensure that the curriculum for a special school is different from one for a pupil referral unit or for a conventional secondary school. All abilities need to be involved. All our agencies are involved, we are piloting this effectively and we have effective evaluation in place. We think that the Government could learn from Nottingham, and we wish them well with these proposals.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who made a thoughtful, thought-provoking and excellent speech. We can all agree with him, and I know that he has the best interests of children and young people at heart.
I should like to echo the remarks made earlier, and to send my condolences to the family of the late Member for North-West Leicestershire. He was an independent and fearless parliamentarian, and he will be genuinely thought of with great affection across the House for many years to come.
A number of hon. Members have already mentioned the Badman review, so I shall talk about it only briefly. It strikes a slightly discordant note, in that some of it has the taste of the nanny state about it. I was asked recently what plans the Welsh Assembly might have to use the new powers granted in the Bill. They will relate to England only, and could be introduced by Measure in Wales if the National Assembly believe that to be appropriate. My understanding is that there will be an early debate on this issue in the Assembly, but I believe that it will take a rather distinctive approach, in line with Welsh education policy. One of the first things that the Assembly did was to abolish standard assessment tests—SATs—and it was quite right to do so. I believe that there will be an in-depth consultation and that Badman will not be put into effect, at least in that manner, in Wales.
As hon. Members know, there has been a groundswell of concern about the Badman report. On 8 December, I presented to Parliament a petition on behalf of my constituents, and on that very day no fewer than 16 other petitions were presented. At the moment, I believe that there are 43 petitions about the Badman report. This is a live issue of great concern to many of our constituents.
I heartily congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what he said about Wales not following the Government’s draconian measures after the Badman report. On one day alone, more than 120 petitions from 120 different constituencies were presented in addition to those presented on other days from all around the country.
That rather diminishes my 46, but it does underline the great concern about the issue. I am sure that changes will be made to the current proposals in Committee—I sincerely hope so, as there is no grave concern about the standard of home education: quite the reverse. I went to university with people who had been home educated and they were probably the brightest people I ever met. They are high flyers today and they are probably home educating their own children in turn. I see no need to wield a big stick in that area.
Welsh people, of course, have a great regard for the liberation that education provides. I went to a university, Aberystwyth university college. It was built on public subscription; the one in Bangor was built from the odd pennies and ha’pennies from the rather poor quarrymen in the local area. We know how important education is and how liberating it can be.
I really believe that there are some good parts to the Bill, but there are also some rather strange parts. On the youth justice provisions, I would advocate the transfer of the relevant powers to Wales. The inclusion of youth justice within the education and young people’s portfolio at the Welsh Assembly seems to make sense. In the jigsaw of society, there are a great number of interlocking pieces, where decisions made in one field influence outcomes in another. It does not make sense for a Welsh education system to introduce one set of values, evidenced by the play-based foundation phase for young children and the 14-to-19 Welsh baccalaureate schemes for teenagers, and then have to make do with a criminal justice system that does not adhere to the values we would like to see reflected in it.
My party is not the only one saying it. The Howard League, a renowned think-tank, recently concluded in its paper “Thinking beyond the prison bars”:
“The current Whitehall-led option of imprisoning such a high proportion of vulnerable children in unsafe circumstances cannot be acceptable…Despite the limited effectiveness of the criminal justice system as a lever to tackle youth crime, it seems somewhat perverse that the Assembly has access to the social welfare lever but not the criminal justice lever. If the Assembly had control of both levers then it would have the ability to move finances between the two accordingly. Money currently spent on ineffective prisons could be transferred to bolster prevention and social welfare strategies”,
many of which we have heard about already. The league also drew attention to the fact that because of lack of provision, most Welsh children who find themselves in custody are held in England, far from their families. This is not simply a matter of logistics, but of culture, language and other difficulties that come along with them.
It is the responsibility of Governments to determine the exact policy, but Plaid Cymru would like an urgent debate on the devolution of youth justice to Wales. A think-piece entitled “Safer Communities”, which we published in 2008, argued that in the provision of youth justice in Wales, we could learn from the example of Finland. That country has a very small number of children in custody. Instead, there is a wide variety of psychiatric and care provision to deal with behavioural problems at an early stage, which as we heard is crucial.
A comparative analysis of young people in trouble in Wales and in Finland found that Finland had smaller numbers of young offenders locked up. It accommodates very large numbers of children and young people in non-custodial residential centres of one type or another. Those include youth homes, children’s homes, and interestingly, family-group homes. By far the largest number—almost 4,000—are also assisted with psychiatric problems and so forth. If England and Wales had the same number of psychiatric beds per head of population as Finland, there would be approximately 40,000. In Wales, there would be 2,220, but there are currently, in fact, only 28.
It appears that concern about child and adolescent mental health in Finland has eclipsed concerns about youth crime, and it would follow from this that behaviour that might be viewed as criminal in England and Wales might well be dealt with in Finland first and foremost as a form of disorder, or at least as something that should be addressed outside the criminal justice system.
We would like to see greater use of reparation orders—in other words, orders made in the civil courts that require the perpetrator to repair the damage that their behaviour has caused—of child safety orders for children under 10 years of age who have shown behavioural problems, of acceptable behaviour contracts and so forth. Provision for those orders is made in the Children Act 2001, but little use is made of them because, I understand, social services departments are understaffed and often underfunded.
Those tools should be expanded to include both mentoring of young people by older role models in the community and conferencing to bring youths, their families and relevant agencies together to discuss the young person’s problem behaviour in order to find the causes and try to fix them. The most important issue is that the system should be child-centred and work for the benefit of the community. It is very clear from the high reoffending rate and the number of people who go from youth custody of one form or another to adult custody that we must look at alternative means of dealing with the problem.
To conclude, in discussing the devolution of youth justice to the Welsh Assembly, I have welcomed the acceptance that youth justice is included as part of society’s contract with young people rather than part of the adult criminal justice system. I have also offered suggestions about the route that might be taken by a Welsh youth justice system if were we given the powers—and, of course, the funding—to implement them. There is a growing chorus of voices in Wales to devolve those powers, which could be achieved. I hope that the Minister will pay some attention to this particular plea when he responds to the debate.
I am intrigued by the debate we have had so far, which I have tried to place in the context of things that I have watched happen in my constituency since I was first elected in 1992. One of the first things I looked at in respect of education in the area was the desperate need to raise the ambitions of young people. That fits in with many of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen).
It is critical for the House to focus on education and to ask whether the Bill enhances what is happening locally. I shall put the Bill in the context of developments in my constituency that have brought positive benefits for the life chances of my constituents, how that has spilled over into trends in the area and whether the Bill improves the situation.
The first major change was the development of a series of new primary schools. One of the best-managed private finance initiatives—I do not mind being bipartisan about it; it was brilliantly managed—was led by what was then Tory-controlled Cheshire county council, working in partnership with all the key customers including the young people themselves. It made a difference: that group of children felt that the school really did belong to them. The initiative, together with Sure Start, began to change the life chances of young people, and I have seen it develop.
More recently, last September, we created a new academy, the University academy. It is the result of a fantastic partnership between Chester university, the local diocese and two secondary schools that have been merged. The close partnership with the university sector has resulted in new builds for both the academy and a further education college. Even in the few months involved, it has made a number of young people ask themselves a question about university: what is this mysterious place to which very few have aspired? It has already made a difference, and I commend it.
I am pleased to see that my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools and Learners has returned to the Chamber. When he visited the academy, he witnessed the leadership that, after only a few months, is already starting to make a difference. He also witnessed the results of a different Labour investment when he visited Hammond school. I am sure he will recall the extraordinary talent of young people who had benefited from the specialist investment in dance and drama that had enabled state-funded pupils to get into that elite school. All that investment has transformed the life chances of people in my constituency, who are beginning to believe that they can do better than their predecessors.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who knows my constituency, will be aware that there were periods when we had massive unemployment among people in their mid-teens, partly owing to recessions and technological change in the big manufacturing areas back in the mid-1980s. The children of that generation are now starting to aspire towards something different, and that is encouraging in itself. I view the Bill in the context of what is happening now. The most important of the guarantees mentioned in clause 1, to which no one has referred today, is the pupil ambition
“for all pupils to go to schools where there is good behaviour, strong discipline, order and safety”.
That returns us to the heart of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North, and it must be seen in the context of a two-way trade. Students cannot attend a school at which they expect to enjoy good behaviour around them unless they are part of it themselves. We must work hard to ensure that a programme of that kind is enshrined in legislation as soon as possible.
My second point relates to 21st-century schools. They need investment, and I believe that unless the investment programmes that I described earlier continue into the foreseeable future, it will not be possible for that part of the Bill to be delivered either. We need continued state investment, together with the ambitions set out in the Bill. Perhaps I can plug something to the Secretary of State. He visited a brilliant high school in my constituency in the week of the TUC conference last September, and saw the marvellous work being done in a shambolic set of buildings in Neston. I hope that the Government will move that school further up the list in the Building Schools for the Future programme.
As we have heard, the Bill also deals with home education. I too have received representations, and my petition on the subject was presented by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), for which I am grateful. There have been some misapprehensions and misconceptions about the Bill. Proposed new section 19E in schedule 1 makes it clear that there is no requirement for children to attend sessions on their own with a representative of the local education authority. I would have objected strongly had there been any suggestion that a child could be required to attend such a meeting. There is an absolute right of objection in the draft provision, and I consider that very important.
I do not think that that guarantee is terribly absolute. Although a parent may object to the inspector’s entering the home to speak to the child, he or she may then be deemed to have been unco-operative in terms of one of the visits that is required, in which event the right to educate the child at home may be revoked. I would not be taken in by the superficial appearance of the provision.
I am not a lawyer, but proposed new section 19E includes the words
“unless the child or a parent of the child objects”.
Proposed new section 19G which I should like to be strengthened a little in Committee—states that the regulations “may”—I think the word ought to be “should”—provide for the provision in new subsection (2)(b) enabling an extension of the registration period to be automatic in the event of an unwarranted draconian action of the kind described by the hon. Gentleman. I think that it is possible to find solutions.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Proposed new section 19F(1)(e) states that a local authority may revoke a registration
“by reason of a failure to co-operate with the authority in arrangements made by them under section 19E”.
We need reassurance if we are to believe that parents will not be penalised.
I have referred the hon. Gentleman to proposed new section 19G, which concerns appeals. The regulations should, in my view, provide for the registration to continue automatically in the event of an appeal.
Finally, I wish to say a few words about special educational needs. In the old county council structure in Cheshire, a significant number of SEN appeals were conducted at a very high level by volunteers. People with little or no means were reliant upon the voluntary sector to make representations on behalf of their child within the appeals mechanisms. At the opposite, more wealthy, end of the county, however, people were represented by highly qualified lawyers. That cannot be right. We must have equality in the SEN appeals process. The right of access for those children whose cases need representation must be absolute, and there must also be fairness in the quality of that representation. Whatever the detail of the steps that will be taken to strengthen the process, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will ensure that children of all backgrounds have both a right of access and the right to the same quality of representation.
This is an important Bill that builds upon the building blocks to which I have referred, and I hope that when it passes through Committee, it will emerge as a measure that helps to build further upon those building blocks. On that basis, I support the Bill.
I am unsure whether my voice or my time will run out first, but I hope to concentrate on three issues: home education; personal, social and health education; and family courts.
Schedule 1 to the Bill deals with the registration and monitoring of home-educated children, and it follows on from the Badman report, which gave rise to a significant number of concerns among home educators, who have done a fantastic job in lobbying parliamentarians. The right to interview children alone is a particular concern. The Government have listened, but it is clear from the debate that there are still significant concerns. If in Committee we can provide more reassurance that there will not be a heavy-handed lever for local authorities to use if they are not happy with what is going on, that will be welcomed by all.
There are also concerns that the safeguarding agenda has been over-emphasised compared with education. Actually, the balance of words in the Badman report shows that that is probably not the case. Nevertheless, it was felt that part of the Badman report brief was to look at safeguarding. If a Government have restrictive measures in place and protect their own back, they can say, “But we did all of this to try to prevent such an event from happening.” There is a timidity in just allowing people to get on with their own lives, because I am not aware of a huge problem. That is not to say that one day there might be a problem, but that will be an exception rather than the rule. We seem to be legislating for something that might happen in very exceptional circumstances.
Registration is key. It would be welcomed more if families were convinced that they would receive help and support. There is to be some money for home educators, but it is unclear whether that will go towards the cost of local education authority bureaucracy, or whether some of it will go towards helping home educators provide things, such as science equipment if that is what their children are interested in. The crux of the matter is that many people feel that this is a licence to interfere and the whole move is representative of a societal attitude that seeks to quantify and standardise everything.
Proposed new section 19E does not reassure, as proposed new subsection (1)(a) allows LEAs to determine whether the education is suitable. Many children are home educated because they were not thriving in the state system and their parents made a positive decision to home educate. Indeed, the siblings of some of the children I met were perfectly happily in the state education system; their parents had made a specific decision about one child, not for reasons of dogma or because they thought they knew best, but because that was what was best for that particular child. It is important to bear that in mind. During the recess, I met a number of home-educated children and I was struck by the breadth and variety of the learning experiences made available to them by committed parents. The concern is that some well-meaning local education authority officer with the bog-standard training will insist on changes so that the national curriculum of the day is more closely adhered to at home.
The problem with the education system, which I have been following for many years, is that it suffers from fads. Such fads have included the literacy hour and the numeracy hour, which the Secretary of State does not seem to like very much because he is getting rid of them. Over the years opinions have changed as to the best way to teach children to read, but the reality is that although there may be an overall “best way”, some children learn in different ways. A good teacher will adapt to that, and home-educating parents are doing exactly the same, by adapting to what their children need. I hope that reassurances can be given in Committee on this issue.
On personal, social and health education, I fully support both what the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) said about needing to get rid of that term and talk instead about “life skills”, and the provisions in the Bill. I served on the Select Committee on Health in 2002, when it undertook an inquiry into sexual health. We had as witnesses a number of young people who were scathing about the sex education that they had received. They all made a number of interesting observations, the first of which related to the “geography teacher” syndrome—I do not know why the geography teacher is always picked out for approbation. Not all teachers are instinctively comfortable delivering this part of the curriculum, even with training. There is nothing worse than being taught this subject or taught about relationships by a teacher who is embarrassed, so we need to have specialist teachers or good, high-quality training, with an opt-out if the teacher does not want to deliver this subject. Bad PSHE is worse than no PSHE.
The second point made to us strongly by those children was that those in their peer group who were taken out of classes were often those in the most need of information. It was not that their parents wanted them to receive this education at home; it was that their parents did not want them to be educated about sex and relationships at all. That is a problem, and we should consider—this might sound like a slightly wacky idea—involving parents more in what is going on and running courses for them so that they can follow up at home on some of the topics that are brought up in school. Some parents would like to talk about this subject—some teenagers would want them to do so like they want a hole in the head, but such an approach would be helpful.
The third point that was made to us dealt with alcohol, peer pressure and self-respect. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) made the point well about the impact of alcohol and the fact that it leads to careless attitudes, and we have to address this part of our education too.
Let us compare our approach with what happens in Sweden, which has a programme of relationship-based education. We always talk about “sex and relationships”, but we should be talking about “relationships and sex education”. Sweden’s relationships education encourages people to talk about relationships in a way that covers friendships, bullying, respect for individuals and relationships with the opposite sex—as has been said, a holistic approach is much the best one. The schools also arranged, as part of the curriculum, a visit to the young people’s sexual health clinic—we nearly put this in the report, but we decided that it would not pass the Daily Mail test. We found that the clinics were not just places that dished out condoms and contraceptive pills; they involved multidisciplinary teams. If their people found that a young person was being promiscuous, they would arrange for a psychologist to have a chat with that person, because they took the view that such behaviour was a sign of deeper problems. The evidence from places such as Sweden and the Netherlands shows that better sex education leads to an increase in the age at which young people have their first sexual experience and to fewer partners. Although I welcome the Government’s sense of direction, I hope that they will take specific account of some of the details.
In the remaining few moments available to me, I wish to talk briefly about the family courts. I welcome the move towards more openness, because we have probably all encountered constituency cases where we were not able to see the reports from the courts, where a parent was accusing the judge of bias or a professional of not doing a job properly and where it was difficult to obtain transparency. Clearly, that is wrong and there needs to be some accountability, but the new rules have been in place for less than a year and this issue is extremely delicate, and so change has to be introduced gradually.
The media’s prime interest is in selling newspapers. I have a constituency example. My female constituent was involved with Fathers 4 Justice and details were published in the press that meant that her daughter could be identified, going against everything that is supposed to be possible. My constituent challenged that in court and the judge effectively said that because of her high-profile position, her daughter did not enjoy the same protections as other children. We talk about opportunities and protections for all, and there should not be any impact on the children just because their parents might be involved in something that we do not like. Apparently, section 97 did not apply because my constituent had put herself in the public domain by protesting and courting publicity for her cause, so her children were not entitled to the same protection as others. Given that the media are totally irresponsible and exist only to sell newspapers, they will publish and be damned. I think that we need to be very careful before giving them carte blanche to ruin children’s lives.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), who made a well-presented contribution to the debate. Many of the speeches this evening have been well thought out and well presented. It is such a large subject that we might easily get distracted, but I hope that I do not become too distracted, as I took large sections out of my speech when the time limit went from 15 to 10 minutes.
This Bill is the latest step on the long path to improving education in our country and I shall support it tonight. It is a key element of that long path. Let me put it into context in my area. Like many others, I shall refer to Sure Start as one of the cornerstones in starting to recognise that children do not come with a works manual. Parents start from scratch. Our society today is a more flexible one, shall we say, in which people do not grow up in the same street as their parents or grandparents. There is no one to turn to, and knowing how to bring up children and how to be a good parent becomes much more challenging. With Sure Start provision, we at least did one thing: we started to teach parents how to play with their children, how to bring their children up and how to have expectations that their children will do better in life than they did.
The theme of raising expectations is an important one to me. Let me step forward a few years in talking about educational provision in my town. We had six secondary schools and a surplus secondary school was converted partly into an educational campus for special educational need provision and partly into a skills academy, staffed by the local college, to take students aged 14-plus one day a week. It now has 150 youngsters and is the largest such academy in the country. They come from the five remaining schools for one day a week. We have to thank our Government for sending a cheque of £8.5 million to allow us to refurbish the school and make it a jewel in the crown, as that would not have been possible otherwise. The academy is raising expectations among our 14-year-old students as well as the qualifications that they are achieving, and people are now realising that vocational status is equal to academic status in education. To me, that is very rewarding.
I also have to thank the Government for sending £100 million for construction work to the remaining five schools as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme. One of the five schools will be an academy, which I personally have no problem with, and the sixth-form centre that we are going to build from new, which will take all the sixth-form students from the remaining schools, will be built to accommodate 960 students. Considering that our town has only 660 sixth formers, Members might think that it has been overbuilt, but what a brilliant advert it is—we now have an academy that has to work to fill the surplus places. To do that, it has to encourage students to stop on into the sixth form at 16-plus. That is a real challenge, but one that we will live up to in the next few years.
Despite all the money that has been sent to our town in the past few years, we still have a problem. The best figures that I can work out show that only 23 per cent. of our 18-year-olds leave to go to university, whereas the national average is 46 per cent. So one of our problems is low expectations and the fact that people do not realise that education, qualifications and a secure future are within their grasp. Another problem is the fact that we have lower than average funding. One might think that Staffordshire is a lovely, leafy county and therefore deserves the same sort of funding as other leafy counties, but my constituency is just outside Birmingham, and many of my people have been part of the overspill programme from Birmingham. My town has the same social make-up as Birmingham, which is just a few miles down the road, but students in Birmingham receive much more funding than those in Staffordshire, in Tamworth. I hope that the new review of spending in education will put that anomaly right. Low expectations give us those low grades and low figures for university entrance.
We have some excellent schools in my constituency. Manor primary school in Drayton Bassett has just recorded results of 100 per cent. in its SATs. If one takes added value into consideration, many other primary schools do very well, but the difficulty is that one must take the added value into consideration. It is at the key point when children start primary school that one-to-one tuition would pay dividends. If we can get their expectations up and get them into the main stream, we can raise still further the number of children who go on to our secondary schools with the full SATs at level 4.
Home education is a challenge that the Government must face up to. I was not very keen on one aspect of this issue. Some of this country’s home educators feel that there has been an attack on them and the way that they provide education to children. I am sure that the Government will consider how the position has been presented to them regarding home educators. One good thing has come out of all this, however. In some local authorities, there is no halfway and home educators are either in the system or out of it, but it is about time that we recognised that those people are taxpayers and that their children have rights. Their local authorities should give them the right to use school libraries, to enter music classes and to use science laboratories if they wish to do so. I am sure that the Government will take that point on board.
The Bill will provide guarantees such as those on extra and one-to-one teaching, but for those guarantees to be met, relevant facilities must be in place. I know that the money to make those facilities available has come into my community, but I want to know whether those guarantees will be maintained. Given the uncertainty of the economic future, particularly in the next few years, which of those front-line services will be maintained? If we introduce the one-to-one guarantee, will it be maintained in future? When we give schools the extra funding and require them to give one-to-one teaching to catch-up students, will we be diverting resources from other students, or will money be ring-fenced specifically for catch-up students? It will be self-defeating to take money from gifted children—from high flyers—to spend on catch-up students, because the high flyers are the ones who have given us our results in the past. They are the ones who have gone on to achieve and to give us our current world-leading positions in culture, art, IT and games. We need to maintain that stream of high flyers.
We are to give children the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument. Will we make sure that that goes further than the spoons or the triangle? Who will provide funding for music in this country? Music, as we know, has been a Cinderella in many of our schools. At present, parents have to provide funding to allow their children to have music tuition. I would like to see much more information on exactly how much funding will be provided for that.
With regard to teacher licensing, the General Teaching Council, which was established under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, was intended to drive up standards, so what role will licensing play? How do we see it taking over the role of being the driving force? Most teachers I know would welcome the chance to undertake professional development. The only reason they do not undertake it is that their head teacher tells them that there is no money in the fund. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) said that the TUC did not back the measure, but the National Union of Teachers said that it
“could see nothing to welcome in the proposal without adequate funding”.
A comprehensive professional development strategy for all teachers, based on an individual funding entitlement for each teacher, would be welcomed as a way forward. Perhaps the proposal has raised expectations within the NUT.
I have already said this, and I will say it time and again: the one thing that must be stamped on the Bill is “Expectations, expectations, expectations”. Without that, some of our poorest children will continually fail.
I appreciate the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. Given the time constraints, I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I focus on the aspect of the Bill that is of particular interest to me: home education.
Almost exactly one year ago, the Department for Children, Schools and Families launched an independent review of home education by Graham Badman. Fearful that it represented another attempt by the Government to intrude into their lives, two home-educating parents from my constituency, Tina Robbins and Helen White, came to meet me in Parliament to see what could be done. Home educators have long suspected that the Government are uncomfortable with the idea of parents providing an education that cannot be monitored, tested or accounted for. That applies, I suspect, to Governments of all political colours, and of course to local education authorities. In many ways, the outcome of the report confirmed that suspicion.
I have to admit that in my initial meeting with my two constituents, I had misconceptions that a home education might produce an unsocialised, precocious child, unable to interact with his or her peers and shielded from all negative influences. However, the more I listened to the two mothers talk, the more I was impressed and excited by the passion and enthusiasm that they displayed for home education. Each parent was able to provide their child with an individualised learning experience, tailored to that child’s ability and interests.
Inspired by that dedication to individualised learning and that determination to fight Government impositions, in a Westminster Hall debate last June I decided to defend home educators against some of the most controversial recommendations in the Badman report—compulsory annual registration; annual home visits by local authority officers, which we have heard about; and a right for local authority officers to interview a child away from their parents.
I must confess that I was absolutely overwhelmed by the reaction to the speech that I made that day. Not only did it receive extensive support from my constituents, many of whom I had no idea shared a passion for the subject, but I received countless letters and e-mails from home educators across the country. The important point to stress is that home educators are a very diverse group of individuals with no single voice. There has been a great lobby, but it should be stressed that we are talking about individuals, to a large extent. So sacred is their independence that for a long time they have chosen to remain under the radar. However, nationwide, in the past year, they have felt compelled for the very first time to stand up and demand that their voice be heard.
The results are quite remarkable. As we know, the Department has been flooded with correspondence. Meetings have been set up with numerous MPs from every mainstream party. There has been a massive co-ordinated internet campaign, too. As Members know, that all resulted, only last December, in the biggest mass petition ever seen in the House.
A review of elective home education by the Children, Schools and Families Committee has also broadly assisted the cause. Released just before Christmas, the Committee’s report rejected the idea of compulsory registration of home-educated children and made clear the Committee’s disappointment at the
“less than robust evidence base that the Badman Report and the Department have presented with regard to the relative safeguarding risk to school and home educated children.”
The report went on strongly to discourage the notion that local authority home-education teams should be given a more overt safeguarding role and questioned the Department’s somewhat optimistic cost estimates for more robust monitoring by local authorities. It concluded:
“The way in which the Department has handled the Badman report has been unfortunate—from the way in which it framed the review, through to its drafting of legislation prior to publication of the related consultation findings. We trust that the Department will learn from this episode”.
In the light of the outcry of home educators and the criticisms of the review, I question how the Government can proceed with the plans in the Bill. Home education has been under constant scrutiny since the Children Act 2004 enshrined the Government’s Every Child Matters agenda in legislation. Home educators with whom I have engaged conclude only that either the Government have no faith in the previous reviews or the Badman report was from the start a superficial exercise designed to allay public concern—a bid somehow to make good other failures with frenetic activity; or, worse still, that child welfare concerns were being used as a cover for a Government obsessed with monitoring and targets to interfere in a sphere over which they currently have little influence.
Home educators vigorously reject the attempts by the Government to mix concerns about child welfare into any review of home education, and I believe that they are right. They believe that the Government’s concerns in this regard are in line with the misguided understanding that a child is safe when seen once or twice by a local authority. I am not diminishing in any way some legitimate concerns about child abuse and I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the problems faced by the Government, particularly in other Departments, in preventing cases similar to the appalling ones that we have recently seen, but we must be clear: local authorities already have powers to get involved in a family when there are concerns about abuse.
The uncomfortable truth is that no amount of legislation will ever remove all risk. The task of the Government is to balance the rights of all individuals. Given that home-educated children are not proven to be at any greater risk, it is inappropriate to throw away the liberty of parents to choose how to educate, particularly when it is equally possible for a child to go to school and be abused when they return home or, indeed, for children in the care of the state to suffer abuse.
On top of all the concerns over the conflation of education and welfare are fears about the implications of monitoring home educators. Monitoring is not a neutral activity and is likely to require tick boxes to ascertain whether a child is receiving a suitable education. Although a seemingly harmless word, the definition of “suitable” is worryingly subjective.
If a more formal monitoring system is implemented, it will come with severe practical and cost implications. Of course, for any monitoring to be worth while, staff will have to be trained. If no extra funding is forthcoming—a likely scenario in these difficult economic times—budgets currently allocated to ensuring the welfare of genuinely vulnerable children could be diverted to such things. That would be a real waste and, of course, a risk when the Government have already stated that they are confident that the great majority of home educators are doing a first-class job.
That majority feels that the Government are incapable of trusting parents to do the best for their children. Yes, parents fail sometimes, but, let us be honest, so too do the Government. Without being able to prevent all cases where a child is abused or not provided with a decent education—of course, such cases can happen just as often when the state is involved—it is for Governments to assess risk and ask which areas warrant most attention.
Increased intervention makes little financial sense and has the potential to divert resources from truly vulnerable children. It also further infringes the rights of parents to make what they believe are the right decisions for their children. Current legislation is perfectly adequate but all too often poorly understood. Any Government must guard the sacred right of parents to educate their children, while vigorously tightening the current system when it comes to child welfare. After that, the Government should look to their own ability to fulfil the Every Child Matters objectives, rather than continue to pursue those who put their faith, time and passion into home education. I believe that these proposals should be firmly rejected.
This is my first chance in the Chamber to pay my tribute to my dear friend and colleague, David Taylor. As fellow east midlands MPs with similar constituencies and both active in our union group, Unison, I know of his humanity, his kindness, his ability to take the mickey, the way in which he put forward ideas and campaigned, and his commitment to public services and education. The subject of the Bill would have been close to his heart.
At his funeral on Saturday in the village of Heather where he lived, I saw the primary school that he went to. One of his local council colleagues told me how proud David was to see the extension and the building work that had been done at that school under Labour, and the pride that it gave him to know that he had helped push for that and to see it happen on his watch, so to speak. I spoke to a couple of head teachers at the football pavilion where we met afterwards, who told me about all the support that David had given as a continuing member of one of the school’s governing bodies, and how he had managed to visit two thirds of his schools in just one term.
I talked to one of the heads about a neighbouring sports specialist school in Leicestershire, at which I spoke when I went to one of those Sunday “Politics Show” programmes last year. We talked about the Government pledge to provide pupils with sports and arts opportunities in all schools. That is included in the very welcome guarantees in the Bill. David would have strongly supported those.
In that programme pupils at the school talked about the different ways in which sports and music could be provided. It does not have to be traditional sports. It could be anything from the oz boxing programme in my constituency set up by a couple of police with local pupils, which won a Daily Mirror award, to dance to different forms of music, an activity in which it is easy to get pupils engaged. We know how music and sports can feed back into educational attainment. I have seen it at first hand through, for example, some of the ways in which pupils in my constituency have got involved in sports development programmes. The value that they gained from that has fed back into their academic achievement. Providing guarantees that we will see such programmes is important and valuable.
David would not have welcomed everything in the Bill. I am sure that in his inimitable style, he would probably have made some caustic comments about academies, which as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) pointed out, were not necessarily to David’s taste. I know that he would have welcomed the continuing thrust towards providing support and encouragement for every child, no matter how disadvantaged, to reach their full potential.
Like previous speakers, I see the Bill as the next stage of much of the work that we have been doing in government over recent years. I have seen huge improvements in my constituency and I can point to all sorts of facts and figures about the changes, for example, in 11-year-olds reaching level 4 at key stage 2, going up from 64 per cent. to 82 per cent. in English, and from 68 per cent. to 88 per cent. in science, the increase in the proportion of those getting five A* to Cs, and the fact that I no longer have any schools with fewer than 30 per cent. achieving that. Obviously, we want to go further. I see the Bill as a further development of such achievements.
I recall that when I was campaigning in my first election at the same time as David was, one of the things that struck me most was going to Swanwick Hall school in my constituency. The buildings in which we expected pupils to learn stank of damp. That struck me even more than the buildings that were falling down. Parents came to see me with a picture of the toilet that had a roof that was open. A dead bird had fallen almost into the lap of their pupil. The transformation in school buildings in my area, as well as the improvements that we have seen in results, and the figures that I could give to illustrate the increase in teaching staff and in non-teaching staff, have been extremely important. The proposals in the Bill to provide guarantees are important and valuable.
I am pleased about the one-to-one teaching, which has been spoken about, and the possibility of catch-up. As I have seen in a number of my schools, the practice of taking pupils out if they are not doing so well happens anywhere. It is not completely new, but the fact that the Bill makes that a systematic entitlement is valuable. However, I ask Ministers to ensure that in doing so we look at the support that we need. As a fellow Unison MP, David, like me, was very concerned about the role of support staff in schools and the valuable contribution that they make, and I am sure that they, along with teaching staff, will be an important part of the programme.
Notably, the White Paper had a specific chapter on work force development, where it clearly acknowledged that
“the ability of the school system to support every child and young person to achieve success depends most of all on the school workforce.”
We will, in effect, need a “work force guarantee”, so that teaching and non-teaching staff can continue to develop and carry out the Bill’s guarantees, which I think will be absolutely invaluable.
The Bill’s ambition
“for all pupils to go to schools where they are taught a broad, balanced and flexible curriculum and where they acquire skills learning and life”
will obviously be fleshed out. I note that the White Paper fleshes it out by talking about providing vocational qualifications and training as well as academic training—in so far as one can make a clear distinction between the two. In my constituency, one thing of which I am most proud is the new post-16 Phoenix centre at Aldercar community language college, which I took David Puttnam to open. The centre, a £4.6 million facility funded by the Learning and Skills Council, provides a range of vocational and academic qualifications.
I also visited Manthorpe Engineering, a world-class engineering company in my constituency, and I have with me a picture of some of the 24 apprentices whom, in consultation with a local school, it has taken on over the past few years and trained up for engineering. It is important that the range of opportunities for pupils does not disappear, but, looking at the Opposition’s policies, I am concerned, because I understand that the Conservatives would abolish the new diplomas. That would be a huge mistake, because they provide another pathway for pupils.
I recently attended a workshop organised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and I talked to a number of girls and boys who have been taking engineering diplomas. They were excited by the way in which they had been able to get into engineering and take up that opportunity. Indeed, the institution has been very positive about the implementation of advanced diplomas, and Russell group universities now recognise and accept them for 79 per cent. of their courses. That development is highlighted by the Bill’s guarantee of a broad range of choice, but it would be extremely disappointing if the Opposition came to power and took away such choice. I certainly hope that we carry on down that path, because it is extremely valuable.
The two other areas that I should like to mention have been well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). The provisions on community facilities and on life skills, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North put it, are invaluable parts of the Bill, and they will be very important.
Opposition Members say that the Bill is bureaucratic, but a system has to have order. A free-market system, which we would allegedly move to if we operated the Swedish system, would mean only that we threw a pile more money into things; we would not have a proper, organised programme. The programme and developments in the Bill, however, are really positive. They will enable us to move on to the next stage of improving education in my constituency and to build yet further on the improvements that we have made in recent years.
In the short time that is left in this Second Reading debate, I would like to concentrate on part 2 of the Bill, on which my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) spoke with great authority. I declare an interest in that before taking my seat in this place I was a practising family law barrister for 10 years.
Part 2 deals with the relaxation of the rules on reporting information relating to family proceedings. Like most Members who spoke about this issue, I support the principle of making the work of family courts more transparent and accountable to the wider public. That principle has developed over a period when the issue has been brought to the fore by a series of high-profile miscarriages of justice, including the cases of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings, involving professional or expert witnesses whose evidence has been discredited—in those cases, the expert witness was Professor Sir Roy Meadow. The desire to open up the family courts is therefore understandable. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), who is not in her place, that the fundamental shift that the Bill will introduce should not be rushed into without proper consideration and consultation, because it concerns a particularly delicate area.
The family courts touch the lives of the majority of people in this country. One need only look at the example of adoption—one in four people knows someone who has been involved in an adoption. That, in itself, shows the importance of the family court system and of people’s confidence in it. The system is subject to too much delay and suffers from a lack of judges, and there is a disconnect between the family court process and the public’s understanding of what that is. It is therefore essential that we address those issues when considering the transparency of these courts. Clients in family court proceedings used to ask me questions as simple as “What is a courtroom like?”, “Is there a jury?”, “Can I speak?”, “Will the social worker be there?”, and “How does the judge decide what to do?” If the people involved in the family court system do not understand these issues, it is not surprising that the wider public have a dearth of understanding of the process. It is only right that they have those questions answered, as long as the privacy of the parties and the protection of the child remain paramount. The Bill touches on that important issue. Accessibility of information must happen without compromising the natural course of justice. People’s experiences of family courts, as of criminal courts, vary widely, from satisfaction with the depth of inquiry and the sensitivity of the proceedings to disbelief at the way they feel they have been treated through their involvement in the case.
Opening up the family court system will help people to understand the judge’s reasons for coming to their decision, dispel some of the myths surrounding family court proceedings, and help to bring confidence back into the system. However, I make a plea to the Government that they should also be considering how we can prevent cases from going into the family court system in the first place, particularly the role that mediation and alternative dispute resolution can play in bringing parties together and ensuring that they do not go as far as having to instruct solicitors and to spend their own money, in some cases, or money from the public purse, in others, on trying to resolve issues that could have been resolved much earlier on.
One of my concerns about this aspect of the Bill is that it builds in a two-stage process for reviewing the sensitive information that will become available to the public through the introduction of the media into the courtroom. Stage 1, which will apply for the first 18 months once the Bill becomes law, creates a slight loosening of the reins in the reporting of proceedings, particularly placement proceedings, but when we move to stage 2, that reporting goes much further and would allow the Lord Chancellor, of his own volition, to relax rules to the extent that sensitive personal information, as it is termed, can be published unless the court specifically imposes restrictions. That presumption should be re-examined to see whether it is the right way forward, because the anonymity of some very vulnerable young children is at stake. It is clear from some of the information that has been provided to us by those who are interested in that aspect of the Bill that there is a real danger that some children will become identifiable through other sensitive information that will become available to the public, such as psychiatric and health reports. When pieced together, such information could form a picture of exactly who the child in question was.
The Government have not made a huge assessment of the impact that the proposed changes will have. The original changes were brought in only in April 2009, and as we have heard, there has been no independent evaluation of their impact on children, courts and reporting. We can say that there has been very little journalistic take-up of the opportunity to go into the courts and view the family law process. The danger is that journalists will end up going only to cases that have a sensational element and that they believe will have some public interest through their newspapers, as opposed to getting a true, broad picture of what goes on in the family courts across the country. Rather than help to deal with the fear of the family court system that some people have, the media may reinforce it through the selective reporting of what goes on.
I am conscious that other Members wish to speak, so I shall conclude by saying that although it is a welcome move that we are looking to open up the family court system, there is a danger that if we go through the process set out in the Bill, we will move ahead too quickly with a rather complex system that ends up not helping the accountability of the family court system and people’s understanding of it but shrouding it in even greater mystery with selective reporting of what goes on. People need to understand what goes on in the family courts, but I am not sure that the Bill goes the right way about it. A more structured and cautious approach of evaluating the evidence and returning to the matter at a later date would be a much more constructive way of ensuring that we deal with this very sensitive issue in the appropriate way.
I want to make a very brief contribution on a few topics. On the first two, home education and personal, social and health education, it is interesting to note that the Government’s current stance represents a U-turn. However, there are interesting contrasts in their approach to the two issues.
There are a number of reasons for home education, and it clearly is not one homogenous entity, which makes a heavy-handed and rushed approach to legislating seem singularly inappropriate. I have long been concerned about the lack of support for those home educators who would like to access certain support, and I shall briefly give a constituency example. I have a letter that states:
“This is the last straw. I have heard today that children who are excluded from school will be given home tuition through computers all financed by the government. Where is my Help?
I withdrew my son before he was excluded and we get no help what so ever, not even the right to sit free GCSE’s.”
So it goes on. I wrote to the local authority and established that there was no help. That was in 2007. I also wrote to the Government, because I was concerned about that mother, who had withdrawn her child from school for the very best of reasons—to ensure that he could make something of his life. I received a letter from the then Schools Minister, the right hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), stating:
“We recognise that it is a fundamental right enshrined in law that parents should be free to educate their children at home if they so wish. But when deciding to do so or not, parents are strongly encouraged to plan ahead and think carefully about the costs associated with educating children at home. This is because there are no funds directly available from the Government for parents who decide to home educate their children. We believe that school is the best place for the vast majority of children to receive education, therefore funding is devoted to maintaining the state system of schools from which those children benefit. There are currently no plans to change this.”
That is quite a statement, which obviously reflects the Department’s stance. That stance has affected the culture in the Department and in local authorities. I welcome the fact that the Government and Badman himself identified the need to provide support, but before rushing into legislating, one needs to work on the culture and training. Indeed, I cannot understand why the support that is to be introduced needs legislation.
Furthermore, when we had revised education guidelines for local authorities—in 2007, dipping into 2008—the Government did not move far. They suggested a few examples of additional support, such as using the library, but certainly nothing like supporting entry into examinations.
I welcome the U-turn on support, but the problem is everything that comes with it. When we examine the diverse nature of home education, we realise that a large group of competent parents wishes to pursue education for their children and is clearly capable of doing that. Those parents probably removed their children from school because they wanted to escape the straitjacket of the national curriculum. The greatest fear is that, under the Government’s proposals, registration and all the strings attached mean that there is no control over the direction of home education. That is why I understand home educators’ concerns. It is a complex topic, which needs time. We should deal with it step by step, starting with the important subjects of support and training. We should be wary of a registration scheme, which could represent the most heavy-handed approach and perhaps destroy some imaginative education.
I want briefly to consider PSHE education. I welcome the fact that it may be made statutory. I have proposed that on several occasions when considering other Bills, and been defeated. The difference between that U-turn and the previous one is that once the Government decided to follow that route, they engaged in pilots and a great deal of consultation. There is much to be commended in the proposals. I should have liked the process to start many years ago, but I respect the fact that it has happened. A great deal of engagement with the school, parents and the local community is important, as is high-quality provision. We are placing such high expectations on the provisions that we must all show great leadership. They have the power to deliver a great deal, but they could be just a damp squib if we are not careful.
It is important to dwell on the relationships provisions because they are about empowering young people to say no, whether to alcohol, following the gang or engaging in violence, as well as sex. I am therefore concerned about the opt-out of sex and relationship education at 15, because some aspects are crucial to young people’s development. We can usefully explore that in detail in Committee.
I want to consider clause 9, which deals with exceptional provision for ill or excluded children—I do not think that anyone else has referred to it. I am all in favour of improving the education on offer to excluded children. It is one way of stopping the downward spiral of exclusion, truancy and disillusionment with school. However, it is important to get the education right for children and young people who have long-term health conditions. I am not sure what clause 9 offers them. There are parents in my constituency who say, “I’d get more help with home tuition if my child was excluded rather than ill.” That cannot be right. I recently had a constituency case of home tuition being needed for someone in the sixth form. It was extremely complex. I was told:
“The Learning and Skills Council allocates funding to local authorities for such cases but the matter rests with Connexions services in discussion with the school concerned on whether this additional support is merited.”
There were months of discussions with different bodies, but the child was perhaps let down at the end of the day. In that case, the young person had myalgic encephalomyelitis. She needed to get a secure package to ensure that she could make a sound start to sixth-form studies—probably a mix of school and home tuition—but she failed to get it.
Finally, I echo some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws). Will the Minister give some clarification on whether there is a loophole in section 58 of the Children Act 2004 that allows certain adults who do not have legal responsibility to use physical punishment on a child in their care? Whereas teachers for the most part are prohibited in law from using such sanctions, the prohibition may not extend to teachers providing under 12.5 hours’ education a week, such as those in Sunday schools or madrassahs. That is important, and I would appreciate some clarification.
In the few minutes that I have, I shall address the subject of home education, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) did in an excellent speech. From the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) spoke a lot of common sense on the topic, as did the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), who addressed it in the first half of her speech.
Under clause 26 and schedule 1, local authorities will have a duty to run a licensing system—that is what it is—for all home-educating parents in their areas, complete with monitoring by local authority inspectors, who will have to be hired and trained and sent out in order to have all their meetings. Local authorities may revoke a parent’s licence to educate their own child or refuse to give one if the inspectors do not think that that child is receiving a suitable and efficient education, if they deem the families to be unco-operative—God forbid that any family should be unco-operative when an inspector from the local authority comes knocking on the door— or if the parents fail in any of the administrative requirements imposed on them by the Bill.
It has always been the duty of parents, not the state, to educate their children, and they may choose to do so through school or otherwise. That historic settlement will be turned on its head by the Bill, which tears from parents and gives to the state the decision as to how a child is to be educated. We have heard much about guarantees in this debate, but for many parents, the freedom to choose how their child is educated is the ultimate guarantee.
A small minority of parents elect to educate their children at home, for a variety of reasons—I will not go into that, but various speakers have mentioned the diverse nature of parents who home educate. Under the current legal framework, parents are trusted to do the right thing by their child unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. Of course, some home-educating parents do not do a good job of educating their child, but overwhelmingly, what evidence we have suggests that that is a tiny minority, and nothing said by Ministers has done anything to dispel that view. To deal with that tiny minority, the Secretary of State wants to set up a huge licensing bureaucracy with a long list of reasons why home-educated children can be sent back to school, whatever the opinion of the parents and the child. Because of this Bill, the cloud of suspicion will be extended to the many, not the few.
As I understand it, the Government have three principal motives for introducing the licensing inspection proposals: first, the Department for Children, Schools and Families says it has evidence from serious case reviews and other such things that under the guise of home education, some children are at risk of suffering harm or being denied an education; secondly, Ministers point out that they intend the measures to give the state the power to guarantee that every child receives a suitable education; and thirdly, Ministers say that to allow local authorities to provide greater support and other services to home-educating families, they need a better idea of the numbers.
As we heard from the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), the Government made no effort before introducing such a major licensing system—this draconian set of powers—to support home-educating families. Indeed, they wrote to her specifically to say that absolutely no money was available for home-educating families. On the Department for Children, Schools and Families website today, in the small print on the page about the home access scheme, which is designed to provide grants for parents to look after their children, it says that home-educated children are specifically excluded. That is the history under this Government, of which home-educating parents are well aware. There has been lots of suspicion, but no support, and now Ministers tell us that their approach is all about education, support and a more co-operative relationship between parents and local authorities. However, I am afraid that none of the home-educating families out there feels the same.
There has been a lot of concern about the fact that the consultation on the Badman proposals was not published before the Bill was published, despite the Cabinet Office guidelines, to which the Department is a signatory, which say that Departments must ensure that any consultation is meaningful and can properly influence decisions. I thank the Minister for Schools and Learners, with whom I had a meeting last week, for saying that he would do everything possible to ensure that as much information as possible was provided, but the response to that consultation was published yesterday. That hardly helps to inform our deliberations too well today, except for those who are particularly astute.
The numbers were 230 in favour, 4,497 against and 106 unsure, yet Ministers keep making out that it is a minority of people who are opposed. It is not a minority. A system is being set up, supposedly for the benefit of home-educated children and their families, to create, according to Ministers, a co-operative atmosphere, yet that system is being forced on to families, practically none of whom wants it. Ministers should ask themselves whether they want to bring such help to families who are so adamant that they do not want to receive it.
It is not that families do not want help or would not welcome access to the home access scheme, or to libraries or other facilities—the points that the Badman report makes on that have been fully supported by the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families—but where is the guarantee of support in the Bill for home-educated families? The Bill is full of guarantees, but anyone who searches through it for such guarantees will find that there are none. There is no evidence of any additional money and no evidence that home-educating families will be treated fairly as taxpayers and citizens. What is guaranteed is a large licensing scheme. What is also guaranteed is that the local authority will impose a school attendance order on those who fail to put their child on the register, regardless—it specifically says this in the legislation—of the quality of the education provided to that child. In other words, the administrative convenience of the local authority is to be put ahead of the interests of the child. That is what is in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath touched on this issue, but in connection with the Badman review, on which the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) spoke last week, it is also worth mentioning that bad data lead to bad decisions. That is what the legislation is based on. One member of the Badman review’s expert reference group described the review as
“slap dash, panic driven, and nakedly and naively populist”.
That is the basis on which the Government have moved forward.
As I mentioned in an intervention on the Secretary of State, New Zealand had a similar monitoring and licensing system. It ran the system for several years and found that there was no problem with home-educating families. It therefore scrapped the scheme last year, saying that it was a waste of time and money. Is it not time that Ministers learned from that experience and did likewise?
You must excuse me, Mr. Speaker, for suffering from such a bad winter cold that any compassionate teacher would seek to exclude me from their classroom for fear of infecting everybody else. I am therefore happy to have to keep my comments brief. I should start also by noting that I am, I suspect, the only Member of the House to have sat my GCSEs and received all my subsequent education under this Government—I may or may not be all the better for that, but there we are. I did that in a comprehensive school in rural Norfolk. I understand that I might therefore have shared a local authority with the Secretary of State in my early years.
I want to assert that I believe passionately in education as a means of encouraging aspiration and ambition. This debate has been wide ranging and measured, but I hope that, during the wind-ups, the Government will drop the rather sad refrain that we have heard before—not least during the Personal Care at Home Bill before Christmas—that to oppose a hyper-active, headlong and rather heavy-handed Bill is to advocate putting nothing in its place. That is not the position of many Conservative Members.
We want to focus instead on giving teachers the trust and freedom to do their jobs, rather than on producing and debating another education Bill from another Queen’s Speech. Such legislation has been introduced nearly every year, but—notwithstanding my own education under this Labour Government—less than half of all pupils currently leaving school achieve five or more GCSEs, including English and maths, at the top levels. Will the Government accept that their policies have failed, and that teachers and head teachers must now be given the trust and the freedom that they need to complete their jobs? They must not be given a bundle of bureaucratic burdens, which is what the Bill could provide if it goes through in its current form.
I do not have an awful lot of time, but I want to discuss four aspects of the provisions, from parts 1 and 3—the home-school agreements, the school report cards, the charitable status of academies, and the primary curriculum. I shall discuss each of them at top speed.
I welcome the strengthening of the existing home-school agreements. The Government agree that the present HSAs involve a bureaucratic process with few real benefits. However, the Bill could undermine them, for two reasons. First, it seeks to personalise agreements rather than making them reflect common standards that are expected of all pupils at a school. That could undermine the idea of common standards, and it could also create a mammoth administrative task for schools.
Secondly, the Bill fails to give HSAs teeth by ignoring their usefulness as a potential tool as an admission condition. The Secretary of State has said:
“It would be wrong to make signing the Home School Agreement a condition of admission, as this could unfairly deny a child a school place.”
That is wrong-headed, however. Agreements should set out common standards that are expected of all pupils, and should define the expectation that parents support their kids at school. What parent would refuse to sign a simple agreement on such terms? A failure to sign could be, and should be, a ground for head teachers to say, “I don’t want such children in my school because it could hinder everyone’s learning.” It might also have to be a ground, further down the line, for other agencies to become involved with the child and the parents. The Bill should create an opportunity to have a civilised condition of admission in that regard.
On school report cards, the Bill will get it wrong if it seeks to introduce a single grade for schools. There is no such thing as a single card that meets the data needs of all the interested parties. I also understand from one school in my constituency that there is not yet a united view within the Government on how such data should even be calculated. We need to publish as much data as possible about a school, for two particularly good reasons that were given to me by a vice-principal in my constituency. The first is that that would pull attention away from the borderline data. The second is that it could help to attract and retain good staff by reflecting the breadth of what the school does.
On the automatic charitable status for academies, the vice-principal I just mentioned is vice-principal of Norfolk’s first academy, the Open academy, which is in Norwich, North. Jumping out of the frying pan of any bureaucracy associated with a local authority into the fire connected with the Charity Commission would not be desirable, so the academy and I support this measure to simplify procedures for these new schools. May I take this opportunity to praise the Open academy for its impressive achievement in doubling its benchmark GCSE results last summer?
My fourth point is on the Rose review of the primary curriculum. In so far as these measures provide an opportunity to teach children basic learning skills, I welcome them, but they must, without doubt, be supplemented by knowledge. This must be a question of skills plus knowledge, and I believe that that is the view of many primary schools in my constituency, including the Heartsease primary school, of which I must declare that I am due to become a governor very shortly.
In three of the four areas that I have just mentioned, great opportunities have been missed. On home-school agreements, instead of empowering schools, the Bill will force head teachers to tailor toothless agreements with each parent. The measure on report cards could have provided parents with a great range of data that could help them to make choices for them and their child. But no, it seeks to condense information, turning sharpness into fuzziness. As to the Rose review, yes, children need skills for learning, but they also need knowledge. In all those cases, the measures are incredibly prescriptive towards children. The Bill fails to empower teaching professionals and, given the stream of legislation coming out of the Department, it risks stifling both head teachers and teachers.
Well, here we are, Mr. Speaker, a new year and a new education Bill. It is now almost an annual event, with nearly as many education Bills as finance Bills. We have had the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, the Learning and Skills Act 2000, the Education Act 2002, the Education Act 2005, the Education and Inspections Act 2006, the Education and Skills Act 2008, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 and now the Children, Schools and Families Bill in 2010.
It is not just the 50 clauses and four schedules of this Bill or the 270 clauses and 16 schedules of last year’s Bill that are the problem; it is the scores of regulations that each of these Bills spawns and the dozens of sets of statutory guidance and programmes of study that local authorities, governors, head teachers and teachers all have to read, absorb and act upon that is the real burden.
It is becoming almost axiomatic that, legal skills are as necessary as pedagogical skills to succeed in education these days. Legal skills and knowledge will become even more important if the Government succeed in putting on to the statute book the pupil and parent guarantees in the opening clauses of this Bill, which is why the Association of School and College Leaders is right to warn that these guarantees will
“open the flood gates for increased litigation against schools”.
As the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) pointed out, how is the local government ombudsman going to be able to enforce loosely defined guarantees about the quality of education?
If an education Bill every year were not evidence enough of a directionless and rudderless education policy, the escalation of ever-grander promises from curriculum entitlements to pupil guarantees should be a warning. After nearly 13 years of this Government and billions of pounds of extra taxpayers’ money, we still have a situation in which 40 per cent. of 11-year-olds are leaving primary school struggling with the basics of reading, writing and maths, and half of all children qualifying for free school meals fail to achieve a single GCSE above grade D. It is all evidence that the Government have failed to tackle the problems that lie at the root of underachievement in too many schools, which will not be resolved by passing yet another law saying that bad schools should not be allowed or declaring that henceforth all pupils and parents will receive better guarantees.
I now know that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) was a teacher at the school that my father attended—Leeds grammar school—but not, I think, at the time of my late father. He is right to say that the pursuit of ideas lies at the heart of democratic politics and that it requires a broad, liberal and high-quality education system. The hon. Member for Yeovil is right to say that the proposed report card risks becoming a box-ticking exercise. As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) pointed out, 84 per cent. of the schools in New York are graded A and 13 per cent. are graded B under a report-card system; in fact, only seven schools in New York were graded D or F last year.
The hon. Member for Yeovil is also right to question, as we do, the value of personalised home-school agreements—a point also well made by the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who rightly fears that the Government are mixing up the pastoral care of pupils, an ongoing matter for a pupil’s personal tutor, with home-school agreements, which should be about the ethos of the whole school.
Just before Christmas, I visited a primary school in London. I sat in on a remedial reading lesson for an 11-year-old girl. The child was barely literate after seven years of primary education and despite three years of twice weekly, one-to-one tuition. She was being shown flashcards of simple words that she had rehearsed hundreds of times over the years. She managed to read the word “even”, so I asked the teacher if the child could read the word with the first “e” covered up. The teacher covered up the “e” leaving the word “ven”. The child could not read it. She did not know what the letter “v” sounded like, so she could not begin to sound out the word.
Why is it that that little girl, who was meant to be able to read the word “even”, could not read the word “ven”? The answer is that she had not been properly taught the sounds of the alphabet and how to blend them. She had been drilled in the “whole word recognition” method, which simply does not work for the least able children and works only inefficiently for other children. That is not an isolated example. In last year’s SATs, 9 per cent. of boys and 4 per cent. of girls failed to register a grade in the key stage 2 English tests. That means that they are starting secondary school completely illiterate.
How does the Bill propose to reform primary education? By creating six “areas of learning” and, in each “area of learning”, a programme of study with 84 objectives running from E1 to E24, from M1 to M29, and from L1 to L31. The Government claim that that is a more flexible arrangement, but what could be more prescriptive and undermining of the professionalism of teachers than to be faced with 84 detailed objectives that they all know will have to be incorporated into their lesson plans on pain of criticism by Ofsted? For example, on a particular day a teacher will write on the board “Objective: to recognise how authors of moving-image and multi-modal texts use different combinations of words, images and sounds to create effect and make meaning”. That is what happens. They will write the objectives on the board, and that will be one of them on one particular day if the Bill comes into effect.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency simply cannot help itself. This proliferation of objectives—this bureaucratic tick-box approach to education—bears the hallmarks of the QCDA, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Government since they were formed, and it is one of the key reasons why we have not seen improvements in our education system despite the billions that have been spent.
As for home education, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner)—who has vast experience in the field of education—expressed concern, shared by many Members, about the dangerous increase in state intrusion into people’s homes. As he pointed out, clause 26 and schedule 1, if implemented, would stamp out the individuality that home educators cherish.
The hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) referred to the Government’s timidity about letting people get on with their own lives. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), who has conducted an effective campaign on the matter, referred to the passion of home educators, and asked how the Government could proceed with the provisions given the overwhelming opposition to them. That is a question that Ministers need to answer.
In a powerful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on home education, emphasised people’s fundamental freedom to educate their children. That presumption and that freedom are undermined by the Bill.
Clause after clause of this Bill demonstrates Ministers’ lack of understanding of the underlying causes of the problems in our education system. It proposes pupil and parent guarantees that will land head teachers and governors in the courts; home-school agreements that will become a bureaucratic nightmare for heads, with a bespoke contract for each child that will be reviewed and rewritten every year; a new curriculum for primary schools with hundreds of prescriptive objectives serving only to undermine teachers and kill the joy of education; and a new licence for teachers that is also designed to undermine their confidence.
I am not sure that our education system can stand yet another Bill that deluges schools with ever more prescription, and diverts schools from their core purpose of educating children. I am not sure that our schools or our teachers can continue with an education policy that is so lacking in focus, and so overtly political and ideological. I am not sure that our country can continue with an education policy that continues to fail so many children from deprived and disadvantaged backgrounds. This Bill will do nothing to tackle the deep-seated problems that are the cause of underachievement in too many schools. It needs to be consigned to the waste paper bin, and I urge Members in all parts of the House to help us to do just that.
First, may I thank everyone who has spoken in this debate, most of whom have made excellent contributions?
At the beginning of the debate, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) said we should not focus too much on drawing political dividing lines, but we have just heard a classic example of that. Let me put to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) what he has just said, because I think he will regret it. He said that we have not seen improvements in our education system. Those words will ring around this country, in constituencies throughout the land. One of the major Opposition spokespersons has told the House of Commons there have been no improvements in our education system.
I must inform the hon. Gentleman that I have just been to a reception in Downing street. It was attended by the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the head teachers of the 150 most improved schools in this country. Those people are a credit to this country; they work hard, and they have delivered real progress. We should start every debate by praising our head teachers, teachers and schools for the excellent work they have done and for raising standards in our country. [Interruption.] That is the context in which we should consider this matter. [Interruption.] I bet the Opposition Members who are shouting at me now do not go back to their constituencies and say to their schools that standards have fallen.
The hon. Member for Surrey Heath talked about dividing lines. There is a very clear dividing line, in that the current Secretary of State and Government consider it important for the state not to intervene in every school, but to stand away from schools and to allow them to pursue their own agendas and improvement programmes. However, when there is underperformance and underachievement and it is necessary for the state to be involved, they will not turn around to say that the state will not be involved. In those circumstances, the state has a responsibility to involve itself, and involve itself it will.
In 1997, no school in Rotherham had been rebuilt for about 20 years, and there was rotting infrastructure. Almost all of them have now been rebuilt. I am proud that the head teacher of Thornhill primary school is in the Gallery tonight. She will listen to the scorn and contempt of the Conservative party for what this Government have done. It should be ashamed of itself, because we have served the children of our nation, and it will not do so.
Yes, we have all seen improvements in school buildings in Rotherham and other areas of the country.
The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) raised a point about people acting in loco parentis. Such people fall into a number of categories, including the following: those employed in a capacity where a legal ban on physical punishment applies, such as school teachers or child minders; people within, or close to, families, such as step-parents, parents without parental responsibility and babysitters; and people in educational or quasi-educational settings. Where such people administer physical punishment resulting in actual bodily harm or constituting cruelty, they would be prosecuted and would not be able to rely in court on the defence of reasonable punishment. I am not aware of any evidence that the law as it stands is not working as it should in this regard.
A number of Members on both sides of the House raised the important topic of home education. We all want to strike the right balance in allowing parents their proper right to exercise their responsibility for their children and to educate at home should they choose to do so. It is also right for us to balance that against the need to ensure that we have the education standards we want, including for children who are educated at home; and, in that context, issues in respect of safeguarding arise.
In dealing with some of the issues raised by a number of people, including the hon. Members for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), and my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the fundamental right is that of the child not to be denied a suitable education. The local authority must consider the wishes and feelings of the child when carrying out monitoring. In most cases, parents provide a good education, but when that is not the case, the state should intervene. The monitoring of home education will be done with a light touch and it will be proportionate, so parents who are doing a good job will not see much difference from the current arrangements.
The Bill focuses on education, not on safeguarding, and safeguarding issues will be dealt with in the usual way. It is inconceivable that a local authority would revoke registration for a genuine mistake. The legislation says that registration “may” be revoked, and in such cases parents can appeal to an independent panel if the local authority behaved unreasonably. There is no right to see children on their own but this is a factor that can be taken into account if the authority decides to seek a school attendance order, and there is no right of entry under these provisions. I hope that what I have said has answered some of the general points that people have been making.
A number of Labour colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), and for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong), and my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield and for Vauxhall, made interesting contributions to this debate.
The Bill sets out a number of real developments and policy reforms. It sets out guarantees that will ensure that young people who fall behind in primary school or who start secondary school not at the appropriate level will receive one-to-one tuition. Key stage 1 is primary education and if the hon. Member for Yeovil were to read what we have said, he would find that we are talking about one-to-one and small group tuition at this stage. For key stage 2, we are talking about one-to-one tuition and for year 7 we are talking about one-to-one and small group tuition, so our approach does include small group work in primary schools.
The new primary school curriculum is set out in the Bill, and it has been massively welcomed across the whole education sector. Notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said, a large number of primary school teachers, primary heads and education professionals have generally welcomed the new primary school curriculum that we are introducing.
I have taught personal, social and health education and I believe that making PSHE compulsory is another major step forward. I was astonished when the hon. Member for Surrey Heath informed us that the Conservative Front-Bench team oppose the Bill’s proposal to change from 19 to 15 the age until which parents will have the right withdraw their children from such education. The Conservatives wish to keep the law as it stands, whereby parents will have the right to withdraw their children until they are 19. They may think that somebody who is 18 or 19 years of age can be told by their mother or father that they cannot have sex and relationship education, but that is nonsensical, as people will see when they consider the matter.
May I also quickly mention report cards, which are another—[Interruption.]
Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but there is far too much noise coming from both sides of the Chamber. The House will want to listen to the Minister.
The reason I am being shouted at is because the Conservatives’ own Front-Bench team cannot believe that they said 19. [Interruption.] They did say 19. One of the other factors to mention is school report cards, which are an important part of this debate, and I commend this Bill to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
11 January 2010
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
11 January 2010
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Bill read a Second time.
Children, Schools and families bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Children, Schools and Families Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 4 February 2010.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on consideration and Third Reading.
7. Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Mr. Blizzard)
11 January 2010
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Children, Schools and families Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Children, Schools and Families Bill, it is expedient to authorise—
(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(a) any expenditure under the Act of a Minister of the Crown, and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums which under any other enactment are payable out of money so provided, and
(2) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable into that Fund under any other enactment.—(Mr. Blizzard.)
Question agreed to.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At defence questions today, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), to whom I have given notice of the point of order, asserted that my oral supplementary question on body armour was libellous. Clearly, it could not have been. The Under-Secretary was given an opportunity at five o’clock this afternoon to clarify his remarks, but he has not done so. I seek your advice on chapter 18 of “Erskine May”, page 441, which proscribes what it calls “Charges of uttering a deliberate falsehood”, an error that, however unwittingly, the Under-Secretary appears to have made in his somewhat eccentric performance from the Dispatch Box today.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and, in particular, for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. Robust exchanges frequently take place in the House, and this afternoon’s exchange, to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention, is certainly a prime example of that. I know that he, as an experienced Member, would not want me to interfere in such a robust debate. What I can safely say is that it is correct to observe that statements made in the House are protected by parliamentary privilege.