I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Today’s Second Reading marks the first legislative step towards the fulfilment of our manifesto commitment to improve England’s education system. It grants greater autonomy to individual schools, it gives more freedom to teachers and it injects a new level of dynamism into a programme that has been proven to raise standards for all children and for the disadvantaged most of all.
The need for action to transform our state education system has never been more urgent. In the past 10 years, we have seen a decline in the performance of our country’s education in comparison with our competitors. We were, 10 years ago, fourth in the world for the quality of our science education; we are now 14th. We were, 10 years ago, seventh in the world for the quality of our children’s literacy; we are now 17th. And we were, 10 years ago, eighth in the world for the quality of our children’s mathematics; we are now 24th. At the same time as we have fallen behind other nations, we have seen a stubborn gap persist between the educational attainment of the wealthiest and the opportunities available to the poorest.
Pioneering work by Leon Feinstein for the Institute of Education has proven that educational disadvantage starts even before children go to school and that children of low cognitive ability from wealthy homes overtake children of greater cognitive ability from poorer homes even before they arrive at school. As they go through school, the gap widens. Schools, instead of being engines of social mobility and guarantors of equality, are only perpetuating the divide between the wealthy and the poorest. At key stage 1, some 71% of pupils who are eligible for free school meals are reading at the expected level, compared with 87% of pupils who are not eligible for free school meals. At the end of key stage 2, the gap has grown wider. By the end of primary school, just 53% of pupils who are eligible for free school meals reach level 4—the expected level in English—compared with 76% of pupils who are not eligible for free school meals.
As students go through secondary school, the gap becomes even wider. By the time they are taking their GCSEs, just 27% of pupils who are eligible for free school meals get five A to C grades, including English and maths. That is exactly half the figure for those students who are not eligible for free school meals. When it comes to A-levels and university entry, the gap is wider still. In the last year for which we have figures, of the 81,000 who had been eligible for free school meals, just 45 made it to Oxbridge by the time they turned 19, whereas one top London school gets an average of 82 Oxbridge admissions a year. We cannot go on with such a drastic waste of talent, which is why we need to legislate now to ensure that opportunity becomes more equal in our society.
As well as the legislation that we are bringing forward today, the coalition Government are bringing forward a series of changes to transform our educational system. We are hoping to transform teaching for the better by doubling the number of graduates on the Teach First scheme, which has already been proven to raise attainment, particularly in the poorest areas. The expansion of Teach First was backed by every party in the House of Commons at the time of the last general election, but it is the coalition Government who have found the money to ensure that the very best graduates are in the schools that need them most. We will be bringing forward proposals to improve the continuous professional development of all teachers to ensure that the current crop of teachers—here I agree with the shadow Education Secretary that they are among the best ever—can benefit from the best evidence available on how to raise attainment.
When it comes to attracting great teachers, we know that we need to take action on discipline, because the biggest single disincentive for talented people going into the classroom is the standard of behaviour that they encounter. As a result, the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), has outlined proposals to change the rules in order to give teachers greater confidence on the use of force, greater confidence when they exercise search powers and greater protection when false or vexatious claims are made against them.
As well as changing the rules on discipline, we are conducting a thoroughgoing reform of special educational needs. The Bill makes it clear that in future there will be protection for all pupils who have statements when they apply for academy schools, so that they are treated on an even keel. We shall have a comprehensive review, led by the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), to ensure that the heartache suffered by so many children who cannot get the school they need for their special needs is addressed.
We shall also be taking steps to ensure that our children are reading fluently earlier in primary school, and we shall be transforming our curriculum and our examinations so that they rank with the world’s best—less prescription in the curriculum, more rigour in our examinations.
The right hon. Gentleman was speaking expressly about the curriculum that those schools will pursue. Many of us are worried about two areas where the schools may effectively opt out of things we believe are important to everybody. The first is religious education. Schools might advocate a set of religious prescriptions that were inimical to the broad understanding of most people’s expectations about British society. The second is sex and relationship education. We believe that it is important that every child should have an opportunity to understand their self-worth, so that they can make better decisions affecting their future.
I respect the hon. Gentleman for his commitment to both those issues. As part of our curriculum review later this year, we shall address both religious education and sex and relationship education. I agree that it is important that when sex and relationship education is reformed—as it will be—we go for the maximum consensus across the House, and that we do so in a way that ensures that as many schools as possible buy into our belief that we should have a 21st-century curriculum that reflects a modern understanding of sex and relationships.
I welcome the Second Reading of the Bill. It has gained a huge amount of support in Bournemouth. Despite what the unions say, many teachers and schools are looking forward to the extra powers they are likely to gain from the Bill.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the curriculum. As he knows, I am a huge supporter of the international baccalaureate, and if, as I hope, the Bill becomes law, could he say what scope it will allow schools to drop A-levels and take on the international baccalaureate?
My hon. Friend is a great advertisement for the way in which the international baccalaureate develops a rounded individual, with all the characteristics needed to succeed in life. It is a pity that the commitment of the previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to have a school offering the international baccalaureate in every neighbourhood was one that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) decided to abandon. I assure my hon. Friend that academies can offer the international baccalaureate and, to be fair to the shadow Education Secretary, some academies that opened on his watch, including Havelock academy in Grimsby, offer the middle years programme of the international baccalaureate. One of the things we want to see is a greater degree of curriculum flexibility, so that teachers, not bureaucrats, can decide what is in the best interest of their pupils.
I am going to hand power back to teachers. There are some teachers, Vernon, like yourself, that I should be a little less reluctant to hand power back to.
The Bill trusts teachers. It marks a big step forward from what happened under the last Government. The last piece of education legislation that Labour tried to bring forward sought to prescribe in excessive detail exactly what should happen in every school, but all the evidence suggests that a greater degree of autonomy and freedom yields results for all pupils. Even before academies, a group of schools—the city technology colleges—was established by my right hon. Friend Lord Baker of Dorking. All of them were comprehensive schools in working-class, challenged or disadvantaged areas. All of them were established independent of local authority control. They are now achieving fantastic results. On average, their GCSE performance involves more than 82% of students getting five good GCSEs, including English and maths, which is at least half as good again as the average level of all schools in the country.
We know that CTCs have been successful. They have been in existence for more than 20 years and are a proven model of how autonomy can work. It was their persuasive work and the evidence of school improvement they generated that prompted Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, to go for the academies programme. He believed that the autonomy CTCs benefited from should be extended much more widely.
Is the Secretary of State aware that Dixons CTC, one of the first in the country, has hardly any European students at all, yet the new Bradford academy, which is less than a mile away, is overrun with new arrivals from eastern Europe? How does he explain that?
My understanding is that the Bradford Dixons CTC operates a banded entry system, which is one of the truest and fairest methods of comprehensive entry, but I recognise that demographic change in Bradford and elsewhere is posing challenges for all schools. One of the things I believe is that the success of many CTCs shows that children, including those with special educational needs and those who have English as an additional language, can flourish. I hope that other schools in Bradford will contemplate—as several of them are—taking on some of the freedoms in the Bill to address the very real deprivation that exists in that city and that my hon. Friend has done so much to address, both as a councillor and as a Member of Parliament.
The Secretary of State makes a compelling case about why schools should get away from the control of local education authorities, such as the dead hand that we have in Essex. In the era of the big society, should not the number of elected parents on an academy’s governing body at least match the number of elected parents on a secondary school’s governing body?
My hon. Friend mentions the big society. I was asked earlier today on Radio 5 Live, “What is the big society?” and an image of him came to my mind. In many respects, he sums up the big society. He is not only an exemplary legislator, but a dedicated citizen activist who has always put Colchester first and last. I believe that he will be able—I know this from our informal conversations—to use the legislation to ensure that schools in his part of the world can acquire academy status, with an equal number of parent governors and other governors, thus providing him with the sort of model that, I am sure, he will press other hon. Members across the House to emulate.
Before the right hon. Gentleman completely rewrites the front pages of every newspaper in Colchester tomorrow, may I return him to CTCs? Can he tell us how many CTCs teach creationism as an integral part of the curriculum? Does he feel that the number is too many, too few or just about right?
The number is zero, which is just about right. It has often been alleged that, for example, Gateshead Emmanuel CTC teaches creationism as part of the science curriculum. Having visited that school, I know that it does not. I can tell anyone who is a critic of CTCs or academies that the cure for such cynicism is to visit them. It used to be said that the cure for anyone who admired the House of Lords too much was to visit it. Having visited the House of Lords during its deliberations on the Bill, I am full of admiration for the way in which it was debated there and for the many Liberal Democrat colleagues who helped to improve it. To anyone who wants to see how our schools can be improved, I recommend visiting academies such as Mossbourne community academy in Hackney, with 84% of children getting five good GCSEs; Burlington Danes academy in Hammersmith, where a school that was in special measures now has more than half its children getting five good GCSEs; Manchester academy, where Kathy August, on behalf of the United Learning Trust, has taken a school in which only 6% of students got five good GCSEs to a point where 35% do so now—all great successes, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to applaud.
I do indeed applaud all those successes. Surely the difference between the CTCs and academies that Labour introduced and the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal is that the CTCs and academies deliberately focused on areas of disadvantage, but his proposal is to give first priority to outstanding schools, which are disproportionately in areas of affluence and advantage.
First, outstanding schools can be found in any area, including areas of disadvantage. Secondly, if most of our outstanding schools are in areas of advantage, is it not a telling indictment of 13 years of Labour rule that all the best schools are in the richest areas? The hon. Gentleman lost his seat just five years ago; if only he had stayed in the Department for Education, perhaps the situation would not have been so bad. We will ensure that every school that acquires academy freedom takes an underperforming school under its wing to ensure that all schools improve as a result.
I believe that I am the only Member of Parliament who is the parent of a child at an academy, and I am a great believer in what academies have been able to do, but I want to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). Precisely because academies have invested resources in the most disadvantaged areas—the school that my child attends is the 16th most deprived in the country—they have been able to exercise a relative improvement. Surely spreading those resources and the advantages of academy status to highly privileged schools will do the reverse of what the Secretary of State intends and widen the gap in educational achievement.
I take the hon. Lady’s point, but she is making the case that only resources drive improvement. Resources are critical, but so is autonomy, and the record of the CTCs shows that it was their autonomy that drove improvement. We Government Members all know that it is the ethos and quality of a school, and in particular the capacity of a head teacher to lead, that make all the difference.
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to correct two things that he said? The first relates to Burlington Danes, which has traditionally been a very good school. It got into special measures, and became an academy, but did not improve. It has now improved with a new, second, head. Will he accept that often it is not being an academy that makes the difference, but having a good head teacher and a good ethos in the school?
I come to the second point on which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to correct him. We have two outstanding schools with a very deprived intake in my constituency. Both have decided not to become academies. Privately, the schools’ governors have said to me that they believe that special educational needs children and non-teaching staff would be discriminated against if the schools became academies, because they have seen that happen in other academies. So will the Secretary of State not be quite so arrogant in pushing academies on every level?
On the second point made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), the Bill is permissive. If head teachers do not wish to go down the academy route, that is a matter for them. I trust head teachers, unlike the previous Government who told head teachers what was right for them. We believe in professional autonomy. On the first point, I agree. I agree that the current head teacher at Burlington Danes, Ms Sally Coates, is fantastic; that is why she supports the legislation, and why she appeared with me in public to say that more schools should embrace the academy status that allowed her to do so much for the disadvantaged children whom the hon. Gentleman represents, and who are our first care.
In just one second, if I may; first I want to make a point that follows on from that made by the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and for Westminster North (Ms Buck), which was that by extending academy freedoms we do not help the most disadvantaged. That was not the view of Tony Blair in 2005, when he introduced the education White Paper. He made it clear then that he wanted every school to have academy freedoms so that they could drive up standards for all. In that sense, we are merely fulfilling the case that was made in 2005. I am happy to call myself a born-again Blairite, but all I see as I look at the Opposition Benches are groups of Peters denying—I hesitate to say the messiah—the previous Prime Minister three times. Now that the cock has crowed, I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson).
I am grateful to the Secretary of State. He called the Bill permissive. What it most markedly does not permit is any kind of consultation with parents, governors, teachers and schools other than the one pursuing academy status. That is the antithesis of localism, which I understood was the bedrock of the Conservative party’s proposals.
I have great respect for the hon. Lady, but the Bill includes specific provision for consultation. Hitherto, academies had to consult only local authorities, but there is provision for wider consultation in the legislation. More than that, because the Bill is permissive, it is for schools and heads to decide whether to make the change. I know that there are a number of schools in the hon. Lady’s constituency that are very interested in doing so.
When my right hon. Friend was deciding on the ambit of the Bill, did he take note of the recommendation of the Children, Schools and Family Committee, as it was then, in its report on the national curriculum that the freedoms enjoyed by academies should be available to all schools?
My hon. Friend was a distinguished member of that Committee, and it is precisely because the Committee made such a good case that I have been so influenced by it. The case was also made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), who argued that if academy freedoms were so good, why should all schools not have them? If there is a coalition of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil and the former Member for Sedgefield, who am I to stand in its way?
I consulted head teachers, teachers, and parents, and I also took the trouble to consult the electorate at the general election; the proposal was in our manifesto, and received a great deal of support. Following the general election, I was fortunate enough to find out that the proposal received support from not just my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) and my many other hon. Friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. If I may quote, I believe:
“The best local authorities already increasingly see their primary role as championing parents and pupils rather than being a direct provider of education. We need to see every local authority moving from provider to commissioner, so that the system acquires a local dynamism responsive to the needs of their communities and open to change and new forms of school provision. This will liberate local authorities from too often feeling the need to defend the status quo, so that instead they become the champions of innovation and diversity, and the partner of local parents in driving continuous improvement.”
That was Tony Blair in October 2005—once again, an unimprovable argument.
But that speech led directly to the Education and Inspections Act 2006, in which local authorities were given the responsibility for commissioning places. The legislation before us entirely removes the local authority’s role in such commissioning, so the idea that the right hon. Gentleman is the heir to Tony Blair is complete and utter tosh.
I would never claim to be the heir to Blair; I know that the right hon. Gentleman yearns to fill that role. I was one of the many thousands watching the Labour leadership hustings on “Newsnight”, when he said that Tony Blair was the finest Prime Minister the Labour party ever had. I dropped my cocoa in excitement at the right hon. Gentleman’s conversion to the cause of Blairism. It is somewhat at variance with what is recorded in Alastair Campbell’s diaries, Peter Mandelson’s memoirs and various other documents that have thudded on to my desk over the past few weeks, but I am very happy to see him join the conventicle.
The hon. Lady will know that academies are governed by the same admissions rules as all local authority schools. They have to abide by the admissions code and subscribe to fair access protocols, so that those hard-to-place children are placed appropriately. I grant the hon. Lady that some academies, when they have made the journey from failing school to academy status, have experienced an increase in the number of exclusions, but that normally settles down after a short period, as it does in most schools with a good new head teacher who is extending discipline and control. Then we find that once academies have become settled, the number of exclusions falls, and that is certainly the case with city technology colleges. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) wished to make a point, and I am delighted to give way.
Does the Secretary of State consider the greatest missed opportunity of the previous Conservative Government to be the failure to make all schools grant maintained? Therefore, philosophically, does he believe that such freedoms should gradually spread out so that, in the end, the head teachers of all state schools have the same freedoms as the head teachers of independent schools?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I want a greater degree of freedom for all head teachers. If we compare our proposals with the ’90s and the world of grant-maintained schools, however, one big difference is that we do not envisage schools existing in a parallel universe, but collaborating with other schools. One of the great gains of the past 15 years has been the culture of collaboration that has taken root between head teachers and throughout state schools. It is wholly worth while, I wish to build on it and I make no apology for saying that it happened over the course of the past 15 years, because any fair-minded person would wish to acknowledge it and see it develop.
When the head teacher of Woodberry Down community primary school in Hackney, an outstanding school in a federation with two other primary schools, approached the Department for Education to ask whether the school might access academy freedoms, the Department said it could do so only if it broke up the federation, because outstanding schools would be able to federate only with other outstanding schools rather than underperforming schools. On what basis will such collaboration help less good schools to become better? Is that not just excellence supporting excellence, or has the right hon. Gentleman had to change that policy?
No, it is my belief that all outstanding schools should be there to support other schools. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for drawing that issue to my attention. Actually, we have made it clear that groups of schools in which one school is outstanding and the others are not can apply. Woodberry Down may well be a school that we would like to see enjoy academy status and hope will work with other schools, but it may not be among the very first schools to enjoy academy status. If he would like Woodberry Down’s application accelerated so that it can become an academy in September, I hope he will join me in the Lobby this evening.
I have found in the past few weeks that the right hon. Gentleman is never, ever able to answer a straight question in the House. I will try again. An outstanding school was told that it could federate only with other outstanding schools if it wanted academy status. Is that his policy, yes or no?
It is certainly not our policy, and I am sorry that the headmaster of Woodberry Down has been told that. I shall write to him later or call him, or perhaps he, I and the right hon. Gentleman can have a cup of tea together, to ensure that that excellent school can become an academy by September if it wishes.
May I set the right hon. Gentleman straight on one point? Yes, the former Children, Schools and Families Committee did recommend that all schools should have the same curriculum freedoms as academies, but it was never necessary to expand academy status to outstanding schools in order to do that. It was always under the control of central Government and the Department, not local authorities.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point, but as a believer in freedom I believe not just that schools should have the chance to have greater freedom over the curriculum but that they should have other freedoms as well. I remember the former Member for South Dorset, who is now Lord Knight of Weymouth, making the point in debate here that academies also have freedoms on pay and conditions, and they need those freedoms to generate the improvement that has been such an attractive characteristic of the academies movement. I agree that the Department can disapply the national curriculum when specific schools apply, but I should like to see a wider range of freedoms.
May I say how much I welcome many of the freedoms that the Secretary of State proposes, not least freedom for teachers and freeing up the curriculum?
On consultation with local education authorities, the Secretary of State will be aware that in my constituency Oldfield girls school wants to become an academy but the local authority’s reorganisation plan to reduce surplus places envisages it as a co-educational school. Can he assure me that he will not approve academy status if the school remains a single-sex school?
I take my hon. Friend’s point, which follows that made by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls). Some 1,800 schools have applied for academy status, and if we were to run through the pros and cons of each my speech would be of interminable length. However, we have discussed that specific school before and I know that my right hon. Friend—sorry, I mean my hon. Friend; that will come later—is seeking in a fair-minded way to see whether that school can become co-educational and enjoy greater autonomy. I am sure we can find a way through.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is slightly ironic to hear Opposition Members make accusations of inadequate consultation on the Bill, given that the previous Secretary of State simply dispatched to my constituency his henchman Mr Badman, who decided to close one of the comprehensive schools there? The consultation was simply on whether to close it or merge it with another one, and it was stated that the new academy must open in September. Does he agree that this Government are trying to deal with the problems that have resulted from a very crude consultation and a very tight deadline?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and the fact that the electors of Gloucester, even though they had a superb Labour MP last time round, chose to elect him, an even better Conservative one, shows what they thought of how the last Government dealt with education.
I must try to make progress, because many Members wish to speak in the debate, so for the moment I shall not take any more interventions.
I stress that although we are following the path set down by successful schools in this country, we are also following the one set down by successful jurisdictions elsewhere in the world. In America, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is due to visit in just a few days’ time, President Obama is pressing ahead with school reforms exactly analogous to those with which we are pressing ahead here. He is making reforms to ensure that there are better teachers in every classroom and that more schools enjoy greater autonomy. The charter schools in the USA, such as the Knowledge is Power programme schools, with which I know the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) is familiar, have done a fantastic job, free from local bureaucratic control, of transforming the life chances of young people. Children who would not have expected to graduate from high school are now going on to elite colleges because of the quality of the education that they enjoy. Charter schools in Boston have succeeded in cutting by half the achievement gap between black and white children.
In Chicago, as Caroline Hoxby and Jonah Rockoff have pointed out, charter schools have achieved even more dramatic gains for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The striking thing about Hoxby and Rockoff’s research is that in Chicago the children are drawn overwhelmingly from poorer homes. Whether one goes to Sweden, Finland, Singapore or Alberta—Alberta is the highest-performing English-speaking jurisdiction in education—education reform is guided by greater devolution to the front line, greater control for professionals and a relentless focus on higher standards.
Not at this stage.
The Opposition have tabled a reasoned amendment. My problem with it is that it is not reasoned and nor does it amend matters in our schools for the better. It is simply a list of unjustified assertions. It states that the Bill provides the legal framework for new parent-promoted schools. That is not true; that was created in 2002. It states that our proposals for academy status are funded by cuts in the Building Schools for the Future programme. That is not true; they are funded using money that was in the harnessing technology grant, and we are making the Building Schools for the Future programme more efficient.
The Opposition argue that our proposals are based on reforms in other countries with falling standards and rising inequality. That is not true; they are based on reforms in countries such as President Barack Obama’s America and in Singapore, Canada and Finland, where standards are rising and equity is greater. The Opposition claim that there are no measures to drive up standards, improve discipline or deliver greater equality. At the beginning of my speech, I pointed out what we are doing about teaching and discipline, and, thanks to the impassioned advocacy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil and the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central, we will shortly introduce proposals for a pupil premium.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend has listed a whole series of aspects of the amendment that show it contains many untruths. Would it be in order for the Opposition to be given the opportunity to walk away, rewrite it and come back with an amendment that might be worthy of the House?
It is, of course, a point of debate, and I look forward to hearing the shadow Secretary of State shortly.
The reasoned amendment argues that we are not building on the success of the academies programme, but the Bill fulfils it. It makes it easier for failing schools to be placed in the hands of great sponsors to turn them round, for good schools to take faltering schools under their wing and for all children from disadvantaged backgrounds to benefit from academy status.
I refer those who argue that we are failing children with special educational needs to the remarks of Lord Adonis in the upper House when the Bill was making progress there. He said:
“On the contrary, in crucial areas of special educational needs, particularly EBD”—
emotional and behavioural difficulties—
“the dynamic innovation…that academies can bring could lead to significant improvements…in ways that enhance the overall quality of the state education system.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 June 2010; Vol. 719, c. 1399.]
The expansion of the academies programme will drive that improvement in state education. I know that some Opposition Members say, “Pause, gie canny, slow down, hesitate”, but that is the argument of the conservative throughout the ages when confronted with the radicalism that says we need to do better for our children. We cannot afford to wait. We cannot afford Labour’s failed approach any more, with teachers directed from the centre, regulations stifling innovation and our country falling behind other nations. We need reform and we need it now. We need the Bill.
I beg to move,
That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Academies Bill [Lords] because it creates the legal framework for the expensive free market schools reforms which will be funded by scrapping existing school building programmes; its approach is based on reforms in other countries which have seen falling standards and rising inequality; it contains no measures to drive up standards, improve discipline or deliver greater equality in schools; it fails to build on the success of the previous Government’s Academies programme and instead focuses additional support and resources on those schools that are already succeeding at the expense of the majority of schools; it deprives schools with the biggest behaviour and special educational needs challenges of local authority support for special needs provision, the funding for which will go to those with the fewest such challenges; it permits selective schools to convert to Academy status, which risks the unplanned expansion of selective education; it removes any proper requirement to consult local authorities or the community before the creation of an Academy and centralises power in the hands of the Secretary of State over the future of thousands of schools without adequate provision for local accountability.
The Secretary of State and I have seen a great deal of each other across the Dispatch Box in recent weeks. I said to him two weeks ago that the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme was a black day for our country’s schools. Since then, he has had a torrid fortnight. He has gone from under fire to embattled to beleaguered in only 15 days.
The Secretary of State may think that the recess is in sight, but the backlash that his statement kicked off two weeks ago has only just begun, and the rushed and flawed provisions in the Bill will make things much worse for our schools and our children in the coming months. Having had to apologise twice for his announcement two weeks ago and his rushed and botched decision, even his senior Back Benchers are asking why he is so contemptuously trying to railroad his academies and free schools policy through the House in only four days. The reason is that the right hon. Gentleman, who can never answer a question, is also afraid of scrutiny.
Let me tell the House what is really going on. Today and over the next week, the Opposition will show that the Bill will create unfair and two-tier education in this country. There will be gross unfairness in funding, standards will not rise but fall, and fairness and social cohesion will be undermined. The Bill will mean that funding is diverted to the strongest schools to convert to academy status, and to fund hundreds of new free-market schools, and that the role for the local authority in planning places, allocating capital or guaranteeing fairness or social cohesion is entirely removed. The weakest schools, children from the poorest communities, and children with a special need and those with a disability, will be left to pick up the pieces with old buildings, fewer teachers and larger class sizes. The fact is that the Bill will rip apart the community-based comprehensive education system that we have built in the past 60 years, which has delivered record rising standards in the last decade.
To rush the Bill through in this way is a complete abuse of Parliament. The Secretary of State should be ashamed of himself. We will challenge this coalition—Conservatives and Liberal Democrats—to support our amendment and put a halt to this deeply ideological, free-market experiment before it is all too late.
The right hon. Gentleman is seeking to be a leader, but he seeks leadership in the luddite tendency. He has always opposed reform: he opposed it from the Back Benches when he first came into Parliament, and he continues to oppose reform that will raise standards.
To return to the subject of Building Schools for the Future, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was absolutely right to intervene. He took a brave decision to intervene on a programme that is wasteful and that does not lead to results in our schools. We will now have a system that prioritises need, not political fixes, and that ensures that the money goes on school buildings—
The former Chair of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families and I did not always see eye to eye, but he always had respect on both sides of the House for his independence. The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart) got some respect yesterday for saying that the Bill was being railroaded through Parliament, but he loses it for that ridiculous, partisan and stooge-like performance. Maybe he should call some witnesses and hear some evidence before he decides to write his Select Committee’s report—unless it is being written for him by Conservative Front Benchers. His credibility is very substantially undermined.
I have been asked to give evidence to the hon. Gentleman’s Committee in a week’s time, as has the Secretary of State. My point is that the hon. Gentleman should probably hear the evidence before he jumps to conclusions. That is the proper way to act as a Select Committee Chair, rather than jumping up and making not an intervention but a speech of the most partisan and specious nature.
Let me begin with capital spending. The Liberal Democrats deputy leader, the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), put it very well to the BBC when he said:
“It would be a nonsense to take money that could be used for improving existing schools to create new schools where, on the ground, the will of the local community is for the existing schools to continue”.
That is precisely what the Bill will do. The fact is that the dismay across the country at the decision to cancel more than 700 promised new schools, disappoint more than 2 million children and parents, and put at risk thousands of construction jobs, has turned to anger at the growing realisation that those schools are being cancelled to pay for the free-market schools policy that is set out in the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman said that this measure is a brake on progress. In my constituency, children going into one of the schools—it has an inspirational head teacher—at age 11 have a reading age of 8. After 13 years of Labour Government, what is progressive about that?
We have 720 schools where children from primary school were looking forward to going into brand-new schools. Their hopes have now been dashed by the Conservatives to pay for their free-market schools policy—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question.”] Unlike the Secretary of State, I have the courage to answer the question, and the fact is that in 1997 70% of children reached the required level in English and maths at age 11, and that rose to 80% under the last Government. We improved standards because we invested in schools and teachers. It is the cuts by the Government that will set back the improvement in standards.
Government Members know that the reason the new schools have been cancelled is not to reduce the deficit. It is not because of the nonsensical claims about bureaucracy. Those claims are as flimsy as the Prime Minister’s promise to protect the front line. The cuts in the school building programme are to pay for the new free schools policy. We know that, because in opposition the Conservatives said:
“we propose that capital funding for new academies should come through a new fund, established by reallocating the money available within the building schools for the future programme.”
To be fair to them, they promised it in opposition and they are delivering it in government, so that 700 schools around the country are now feeling the reality of a Conservative-Liberal Administration, and do not like it very much.
The Secretary of State talked at length about various freedoms. One of the freedoms that concerns me is the freedom of schools to exclude children with special educational needs and looked-after children, among other categories of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the lack of protection for children from such backgrounds is a worrying aspect of the legislation?
I visited Sandwell last week, a borough where several schools were told that their new school buildings were going ahead—in version 1 of the Secretary of State’s list—but were told in list 2 or 3 that he had made a mistake and all their new buildings were being cancelled. As part of that discussion, I met the head teacher of a special school whose promised new investment has been taken away. We discussed the fact that the new academies policy will take out of the funding agreement the obligation on academies to focus on stopping exclusions of children with special needs. So I have exactly the same concern as my hon. Friend.
The head teachers in Sandwell were pleased that I visited. They were also pleased that the Secretary of State has agreed to visit Sandwell to apologise for his dreadful mistake. However, they think that it is odd that he wants to visit on 5 August. Visiting schools in August is not usually the done thing, as the Secretary of State will find out. I am sure the reason is that his diary is full. Perhaps he should share the load. I know that the Prime Minister is today in Liverpool announcing his big society. Perhaps the Secretary of State should urge the Prime Minister to apologise to the 25 schools in Liverpool and the many thousands of children who have seen their new school taken away from them by the free-market schools policy in this Bill.
Perhaps while the Prime Minister is there, he could also apologise to the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Liverpool council, who had some interesting things to say about the Secretary of State. Former council leader Councillor Warren Bradley said:
“it would be absolute folly if we were to ignore the impact of such a ridiculous decision by Michael Gove, whether or not we are in coalition. Not only would it show how shallow we are, either in control or opposition, we would be letting this and future generations of young people down.”
He goes on:
“It’s ridiculous. The plans for BSF were so far advanced and it’s unforgivable that other funding options are not in place.”
In just a second. I am going to finish reading this quote. The hon. Gentleman might enjoy it.
“I think the national party have got to wake up and listen to the people on the ground that are hearing the complaints from core voters. Being in coalition should be a two-way street. There are times when Clegg has got to say to Cameron, ‘No more’. I think BSF is the straw that has broken the camel’s back. You do not fill a hole at the expense of the young people of this country.”
Wise words indeed, from a Liberal Democrat. I would be happy to take an intervention from the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) on this point.
The right hon. Gentleman might like to know that, when I spoke to Councillor Bradley, he said that he was very happy to meet the Secretary of State. When I spoke to the Secretary of State, he said that he was very happy to meet all our colleagues in all the metropolitan boroughs concerned with the educational plans for the future.
The hon. Gentleman has obviously done a good job of whipping some colleagues, but it is a pity that he did not speak to the Liberal Democrat Education Association, which has condemned the very Bill that he is being asked to vote for today. We must wait and see whether the hon. Gentleman signs the association’s petition—I do not know whether he is thinking about leadership elections to come.
My point is that visits to metropolitan areas and apologies are not enough. That is not what people want. Parents, teachers and children do not want the Secretary of State to say sorry; they want him to change his mind, to throw out this Bill and to let them build the new schools that they were promised. The people I spoke to today also said to me, “Can’t you get an answer from the Secretary of State?” I wrote to him two weeks ago to ask whether the money was being diverted away from Building Schools for the Future to fund the proposals in this Bill, but I have had no reply so far. I am going to ask him the question again, because a lot of taxpayers’ money rides on the answer. During the weekend before he announced the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future, did he at any point receive written or oral advice from departmental officials or from Partnerships for Schools urging him not to publish a list of schools until after he had consulted local authorities to ensure that his criteria were sound and that his facts were right? I would be very happy to take an intervention from him. Would he like to answer the question? No.
After two weeks of waiting for an answer, my expectations were not very high.
Let me try another question. Is it not the case that the Secretary of State was also advised of the risk of legal challenges from private contractors, and did he not personally decide to ignore that advice? He can set the record straight now, or we can keep on asking these questions. People want to know the answers. This is about the cack-handed way in which he did this, and about whether there will be legal challenges from the authorities and contractors who will have been left out of pocket by hundreds of millions of pounds as a result of his decision.
Will my right hon. Friend also comment on the potential for challenges from some of the tens of thousands of workers who will be affected by this decision? They do not know whether they are going to be made redundant, or what their terms and conditions will be. Surely there is a legal imperative for them to be consulted properly, but that consultation will take place while most of them are on their summer holidays.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
On the subject of the consultation, we had an interesting answer on the question of schools becoming academies. We were told that there would be consultation. The fact is that the Bill that was published a few weeks ago contained no obligation for any consultation at all. It was only as a result of intervention in the other place that a provision was added to say that there should be consultation, but what obligation does that provision place on schools and governing bodies? It says that they need only consult whomever they think appropriate, and that they can consult before they decide to become an academy or after they have done the deed. The idea that that represents consultation is complete and utter nonsense.
Listening to the right hon. Gentleman has certainly taken me back to my previous job as a class 1 teacher. On the issue of consultation, is he honestly suggesting that governing bodies, which are made up of schoolteachers, head teachers, parents and interested people from the community, are going to push ahead without going out and talking to parents and other interested parties? If he is saying that, it is a fairly despicable way to describe governing bodies.
I am afraid that the reason why the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench team have added in an obligation to consult is, presumably, that they disagree with the hon. Gentleman. If they were going to consult anyway, there would be no need to build the provision into the Bill. It is there because they know some head teachers and chairs of governors would consult nobody at all, which would be undemocratic and unfair. The reality is that under our academies policy—look, let me turn to the details of the Bill. [Interruption.] Government Members should note that I am at least talking about the Bill, unlike the Secretary of State who did not talk about it at all, and did not mention any clause, any provision or any of the completely undemocratic ways in which our schools system is being railroaded and undermined.
I turn to deal with the detail of the Bill. This Bill does not build on or expand on our academy scheme at all. It is a total and utter perversion of it. Our academies were in the poorest communities and were turning around underperforming schools. As I exposed earlier, the right hon. Gentleman’s policy is about outstanding schools supporting only other outstanding schools—schools that are disproportionately in higher income areas with fewer children with disabilities or special educational needs.
I will give way in a few moments.
Those schools are not only going to get extra funding, they will take their share of extra funding for special needs, even though they have, disproportionately, fewer children with special needs. It will be other children with special needs in other schools in the area who will lose out as a result of this policy.
If the hon. Lady would like to defend that policy—[Interruption.] She can sit down for a second. [Interruption.] I am helping her out. If she can defend this policy, she might even make it to the Front Bench. It would be very good if she could explain it, because the Secretary of State made no attempt to do so.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. What would be his reply to the group of parents in my Corby constituency with children on the autistic spectrum who have written asking for my advice on how to apply for a free school? How would he reply to the National Autistic Society, which has broadly welcomed the Academies Bill, because of how it will raise standards for children with special needs?
I would say that they should be very fearful indeed. The reality is that we are on a fast track to treat as second class the majority of children with special educational needs, who will find their funding cut and their opportunities reduced by this legislation. They should be very careful.
Would you say that the shadow Secretary of State is going back 20 years and coming back with the same arguments and fears that the Labour party put out about grant-maintained schools, when there was absolutely nothing wrong with them? They did a very good job for schools, raised standards and raised attainment for many pupils. They did a really good job, but, like then, you are just coming back and trying to bully people into saying that the Bill will not work and should not go ahead.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we have been here before. We have had freedoms and resources given to higher-performing schools in more affluent areas, and we all know what resulted from it. The academies policy that we introduced was the exact opposite of that, but our policy is being undermined.
The reality is that this Bill gives extra resources to higher-performing schools in more affluent areas while at the same time removing any obligation for consultation with parents, local authorities or external sponsors. Indeed, the requirement for a sponsor is removed entirely under this legislation. We have talked about consultation, but the fact is that the only consultation any school need have about how it proceeds and how it teaches its curriculum is with the Secretary of State. The role of the local authority is entirely removed. This is the biggest centralisation in education policy in the post-war period.
Although the Bill makes clear that the academies will be accountable to the Secretary of State, it is interesting to note that the model funding agreement circulated by the Government contains no requirement for teachers to have qualified-teacher status. It also contains no requirement for co-operation in regard to behaviour and exclusion: schools can go their own way and exclude at will. There will be no independent appeals panels for excluded children, which will hit children with special needs disproportionately. There is no requirement for a named member of staff to be responsible for children in care. There is no requirement for careers education. There is no requirement for academies to observe nutritional standards, or to provide sex and relationship education. We will address all those issues in our amendments, and I urge Members to vote for them so that we can put the Bill on to the straight and narrow.
The shadow Secretary of State talks of people from the poorest communities. While there are clearly differences between those on the two front Benches, it might be generous of him to acknowledge that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is motivated by the best of intentions: he wants to give opportunities to those people from poorer communities. Is it not appalling to look back on 13 years of Labour government and see that, in one year, only 45 of 80,000 pupils receiving free school meals made it to Oxford university?
I do not doubt the good intentions of the Secretary of State when it comes to some schools and some children, but Labour Members are motivated by the need to do the best for all children rather than just some. That is the deep dividing line between the two sides of the House, and it brings me to what the Bill is really all about.
I will not give way for the moment.
The Secretary of State wants us to believe that the Bill is about changing existing schools into academies, but Lord Hill, writing to colleagues in the other place, confirmed that it was being used as enabling legislation for the free-market schools policy. The reason why local authorities must be cleared out of the way is to enable additional school places to be created in a completely free-market way, with only the check of the Secretary of State and no role whatever for the local authority. As we have made clear in the House before, substantial questions about that policy are being completely ignored. The Secretary of State has ignored them so far today, and we have been given a very limited amount of time in which to scrutinise them in a Committee of the whole House.
First, it is clear that there is no new money to cover the capital or current costs of free schools. The creation of additional places will be funded by cuts in budgets and the removal of teachers from existing schools. I was asked about the impact of the new free schools. Having examined the case for a new parent-promoted school in Kirklees, Professor David Woods said that it would
“have a negative impact on other schools in the area in the form of surplus places and an adverse effect on revenue and capital budgets”.
The fact is that the cost of the new free schools will be covered by cuts in existing schools. We have seen what has happened to the Building Schools for the Future programme. That is why we will table amendments to stop Building Schools for the Future money being siphoned off to pay for new free-market schools against the wishes of local communities—and given that that is exactly the policy of the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), I hope that he will join us in the Lobby to vote for it.
I was happy with the expansion of academies under our system, which involved agreement with local authorities. As we know from what has happened in Sweden, the removal of local authorities and the granting of a complete free-for-all is likely to be deeply divisive, both socially and in a wider sense. I believe that it will lead to huge unfairness and a complete lack of social cohesion. Individual groups of parents will go it alone for a range of reasons, and there will be absolutely no check on the system, because, apart from a back-stop reserve power for the Secretary of State, nobody has any obligation at all to ask why that is being done and what the impact will be on other schools. That represents an unbelievable centralisation of education policy.
The Secretary of State has proved that he cannot even announce a list, so the idea that he will be able to police social cohesion in 3,500 secondary schools is a complete and utter joke.
Does my right hon. Friend think that it is a coincidence that the week after the cancellation of the capital funding under Building Schools for the Future for all schools for secondary-age children in my constituency, including three special schools, a private company put around a flyer to parents in Shepherd’s Bush saying that it will soon be opening a new primary school in their area? There is no new primary school; there is only the idea of attracting children from existing schools and then applying to the Government for the money that goes to those schools in order to set up a new free school.
Exactly, and that is why my hon. Friend and I both fear that this will turn out to be a deeply divisive reform which will lead to a two-tier education system. Indeed, the clauses in the Bill are structured in such a way as to allow the Secretary of State to give funding arrangements to private companies taking over the running of schools—and we should have the opportunity to scrutinise such aspects of the Bill. We will see exactly what they saw in Sweden: private companies travelling around the country touting to parents by saying, “If you want to set up a school, we’ll do it for you—and we’ll make a profit out of it.” I think that will be deeply, deeply divisive.
Is the right hon. Gentleman really saying that he and his party believe that it is not parents who know best how their children should be educated, but local authorities and people in Whitehall, because that is what he has just said in reply to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter)? Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that parents should be the people who have the greatest say in their children’s education?
There is no obligation on the governing body even to consult parents in deciding to opt for the new academy status. Of course the voice of parents is important, as are the choices for parents. What I am worried about—and we will table an amendment to prevent this—is profit-making companies taking over the entire management of schools and touting themselves for business. That amounts to completely ripping up the last 60 years of free state education. Secondly, on this point, if a group of parents wants to go it alone, there must be somebody whose job it is to say, “Will this contribute to, or undermine, social cohesion?” [Interruption.] Well, in that case, if parents know best, I predict this will lead to a huge rise in social division, not social cohesion, and I am very concerned about that.
My right hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. The reason why the Secretary of State is trying to sweep away any local democratic accountability for education—a move that, incidentally, is deplored by many Conservative leaders of local authorities—is precisely that he needs to get local government out of the way in order, perhaps, to introduce these quasi-private, free-market school arrangements.
Exactly, and that is why I am fearful. The money is not there and there is no evidence that the Government’s proposals will contribute to raising standards. My fear is that we will see, as Sweden did, a rise in social segregation, with children in high-income areas doing better and children in lower-income areas doing worse. That would be deeply socially divisive, and that is not the only social division we may see as a result.
If Members really believe that parents know best, is it not our duty to include the need for a parent vote as a precondition of any move to academy status and thereby give parents the choice as well, as happened under the old grant-maintained legislation?
That is a very interesting suggestion, and if an amendment to that effect is tabled, we will look at it. I am all in favour of parent power. What the Secretary of State is doing, however, is cutting parents out of the equation entirely; he is leaving it entirely to the head teacher, the chair of governors and himself. There is no parent voice at all in this Bill. That is why I am very fearful, and that is why I believe that this Bill is the biggest threat to our comprehensive state education system in the post-war period.
We will table amendments to ensure that local authorities maintain their role in education as guarantors of fairness and of the public interest—as set out in the very Education and Inspections Act 2006 that the Secretary of State likes to quote from.
On 5 July, I asked the Secretary of State where his much-touted expressions of interest had come from—chairs of governors, head teachers or full governing bodies. The answer I received was that that information is not included in the form that is sent out to schools. In other words, these expressions of interest could have come from the caretaker’s cat. We do not know exactly who they have come from in order to arrive at the figure of the 1,800 schools that, apparently, have expressed an interest in academy status.
I am afraid that I can give no guidance or enlightenment to my hon. Friend on that. We read in The Times this morning that only 50 schools will be going for academy status, rather than the thousands we were told about a few weeks ago. If my hon. Friend is thinking of putting down a question to the Secretary of State, he should not hold his breath. In my experience, answers are not very forthcoming.
It is clear that, whether we are talking about funding, fairness, standards, accountability, the role of local authorities, social cohesion, the role of free schools, existing schools becoming academies or the incentives for collaboration, there are massive questions, none of which were addressed—as always—in the Secretary of State’s speech, but which must now be scrutinised in Committee in just two or three days on the Floor of the House. It would not surprise me at all if we end up with statements on Wednesday, Thursday and the following Monday in order further to constrict that time.
I have to say to the hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) that I cannot believe that the Liberal Democrats are allowing themselves to be led through the Lobby to support this Bill. They face a very important choice. Interestingly, the Secretary of State’s deputy, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), is not availing herself of the opportunity to sum up this Bill tonight. She is leaving it to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), presumably because, having described this policy as a complete shambles, she does not fancy having to defend it on the Floor of the House. The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) described this policy as “dotty”, and in their own manifesto the Liberal Democrats said:
“we will ensure a level playing field for admissions and funding and replace Academies with our own model of ‘Sponsor-Managed Schools’. These schools will be commissioned by and accountable to local authorities and not Whitehall”.
So their manifesto actually said—
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I am quite sure I just heard the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather) explain from a sedentary position to her hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) that she did not say that this was a shameless policy. Is my right hon. Friend prepared to give way to the hon. Lady if she wants to clarify her position on this point?
I will put the hon. Lady out of her misery—I will just quote what she said:
“unless you give local authorities that power to plan and unless you actually make sure that there is money available...it’s just a gimmick”.
That is exactly what we have before us—just a gimmick, the very gimmick that she warned of. The right hon. Member for Yeovil said,
“strategic oversight of all state funded schools should be returned to Local Government.”
That is precisely the opposite of what this Bill does.
As for Building Schools for the Future, the deputy to the Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Brent Central, clearly wishes the world to know that she is very upset with the Secretary of State’s policy. Although she is not quite prepared to do that on the record, she arranged for friends to tell the newspapers that she is “privately seething”. The giants of the Liberal party will count her among their number for her bravery. The hon. Lady has a choice. She cannot sit on the fence any longer. Either she votes for the coalition or she stands up for the schools of Brent—that is her choice tonight.
Is not the truth about this whole business that during the past few weeks, the Secretary of State’s credibility has been completely shot to pieces? Even his own Back Benchers are now questioning his decision to rush this legislation on to the statute book and to cancel hundreds of new schools. The right hon. Gentleman is on a slippery slope. The Tory party’s shining intellectual, its greatest hope, has in the last fortnight been completely found out.
No, I will not.
The eloquence that brought such prizes as a journalist has been reduced to a shambles, and this morning allegations were made of a giant BBC conspiracy. The Secretary of State should not be attacking the BBC; he should be listening to the anger of the thousands of parents, teachers and pupils around the country who have lost their chance of a new school. The fact is that when faced with the tough job of actually running a Department, he has in the past fortnight been totally exposed. When forced to make decisions, he is just not up to the job. He can make fancy speeches, but he cannot make policy. He can write good jokes, but he has exposed himself in the past fortnight as having terrible judgment.
The battle lines are now drawn for this Bill, which is the biggest threat to state education in 60 years. This is not just a question of policy; it is a question of values. Labour Members believe that every school should be able to succeed, not just some; we believe that every parent should have a chance of a good school, not just some; and we believe that every child matters, not just every other child. That is the shared moral purpose that drives those on the Labour Benches and it is why we will be voting for our reasoned amendment this evening. That is why the Liberal Democrats should join us in the Lobby. We should vote against this deeply divisive shambles of a Bill.
I would like to be able to say that it is a pleasure to follow the shadow Secretary of State, but that contribution was a bid for the leadership of not only the luddite tendency, but the mean-spirited tendency. I would have thought that, whatever their views about the policies that this Bill represents, anyone in this House would recognise that everyone in this House seeks the best for all our children. To suggest that the Secretary of State would not do so is low, even for the shadow Secretary of State.
Cuts in public spending and posts were made inevitable by the disastrous financial stewardship of the Labour party, which took a golden legacy and then blew it. Labour made promises on school buildings, on teacher training and on so many other areas that, it turned out, it simply could not fund. It now lies with the coalition Government to clean up the mess that the shadow Secretary of State played such a major part in creating.
So the new Government have to find ways to improve public services and enhance, rather than reduce, the life chances of our children without spending additional money. The two coalition partners are united in believing that one of the best ways of doing that is by giving greater autonomy to local communities and those on the front line of public services. This Bill will take academy freedoms and make them potentially available to all schools for the first time; primary and special schools, as well as secondary schools, will be able to become independent state schools, free at the point of use, but with control over their curriculum, their teaching hours—at least, in theory—and their special educational needs provision and the like.
That is a good thing and it is why I support this Bill, despite the fact that, generally speaking, I am a structural change sceptic. Reorganisations are too frequent, too expensive and too convenient for politicians who wish to make their mark. This policy, like all education policies, should be measured by whether it will result in better teachers, better led. The key determinant of a good education is the quality of the teaching work force. I hope that this Bill, the expansion of Teach First and the introduction of a pupil premium for children from lower-income families will, along with other measures, improve the quality, motivation and retention of high-calibre people in education. If it does that, it will have succeeded.
The Bill builds on the previous Government’s academies programme, which itself grew from Lord Baker’s innovations back in the 1980s. It takes those programmes forward and is not, therefore, radically new. The changes that this Bill will bring about are not minor, however. They may not be radically new in concept, but they are potentially radical in effect. If hundreds of schools leave local authority control each year—starting in September—the implications for our education system overall will be profound. The powers in the Bill are essentially permissive, as Ministers emphasise. That does mean, though, that different local authorities will be affected in different ways.
Countries behind the former iron curtain that moved from centrally controlled economies to free-market systems did not always find the transition easy or pleasant. When the centre collapses, some services and skills are scattered and even destroyed and they take time to grow again. Even when crying freedom, it is best to think deeply, consider carefully and do everything possible to minimise the potential downsides of change.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that despite the welcome amendments in the other place, there is great uncertainty about the provision of special educational needs education, particularly for children with complex needs, with funding split between the academies and the local authorities? I am concerned that we might end up with the worst of all worlds for some of our most vulnerable and needy children.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention and I share some of those concerns. I hope that, in this coming week, those on the Government Front Bench will be able to allay those concerns. Last week I visited an academy, called the Ashcroft technology academy. It has a centre it calls the ARC, which specialises in looking after children on the autistic spectrum, and an AWA—an academy within an academy—for children otherwise at risk of exclusion. By using those innovations, the academy has done a tremendous job of looking after those with special educational needs as well as intervening to ensure that there is not a higher than average number of exclusions from the school. Academies can be part of the answer and the innovation that they allow can improve the situation in the average school today.
I thank my next-door neighbour but one for giving way. On that point, does he agree that academies must not be allowed to use exclusions as a way of driving up standards? Does he also agree that what we heard from the shadow Secretary of State failed to recognise that the people in academies are teachers—professionals, and people in a caring profession who went into it for the right reasons? They care about children, and they are the same as teachers in any other state school.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention and the last thing I would want to do is to disrespect those in the teaching profession. On the other hand, however, in any change in Government, it is enormously important to examine the incentives created for those on the front line. If those incentives incentivise the wrong behaviour, we can expect more of that behaviour.
It is true that academies have twice the rate of permanent exclusions of the average school. A question for those on the Front Bench to answer—perhaps the Schools Minister will do that when he winds up—concerns what steps can be taken to ensure that that rate of exclusions does not continue. What if that rate accelerates under the incentives for the schools in the academy system that have been made free? What powers will remain with the Secretary of State and with local authorities to ensure that that does not happen? We need to understand the incentives in the system. Not every teacher will be the best teacher and not every head will always be driven by the highest possible motives. It is necessary to build a system that is robust, even when it is staffed by people who are not of the highest possible calibre.
Such issues are why I am concerned by the speed at which the legislation is going through Parliament. It would be a great shame if something so potentially beneficial were damaged or discredited by over-hasty execution. The Bill delivers a Conservative manifesto commitment on a policy that has been clear for years, but none the less parliamentary scrutiny is necessary and beneficial for any policy. It should not be rushed and when it is, as the last Administration found, the errors usually rebound on the Government who put it through. I ask Ministers to think carefully about implementation this September—whether we are talking about hundreds or, perhaps, as few as 50 schools. Is it worth the candle to put the Bill through so swiftly? I shall leave Ministers to think about that.
I felt that the Secretary of State was quite right to move swiftly to halt the scandalous waste involved in the Building Schools for the Future programme, notwithstanding the fact that my Committee will take evidence from both the shadow Secretary of State and the Secretary of State next week. I am clear in my opinion on this subject, although I shall of course listen to the evidence and weigh it carefully along with my Committee colleagues.
The embarrassments caused were of the programme’s making, not the Secretary of State’s. His swift action took courage and will result in more building improvements to more schools in more need. Every day of delay cost money and cheated children and he did the right thing. I am not so sure about the speed of this measure, however, and that is why I ask him to reflect on that, but I am absolutely sure that history will judge his move on Building Schools for the Future as both brave and right.
Is the Chair of the Select Committee fully confident in saying that the Secretary of State has acted properly? Is he fully confident that the Secretary of State has in no way ignored advice and acted in a disorderly manner, therefore opening the way for potential legal challenges regarding the way in which he has treated local authorities and private companies? Is the hon. Gentleman sure that it is wise to reach his conclusion before he has heard the evidence?
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for that intervention. Obviously, we will be taking evidence next week not only from him but from the head of Partnerships for Schools and from the Secretary of State, so we will get more detail. In principle, I am absolutely clear that the Secretary of State did the right thing. The shadow Secretary of State could show a little more humility in the House given the mess that was left by Building Schools for the Future. He mentions the 700 schools, but he never mentions the dozens of schools that, on his schedule, should have been built by the time he left power, but were not.
I have no time; it is strictly limited.
If the Bill is to be on the statute book in a week’s time, the House will have to improve its normal powers of scrutiny and the effectiveness with which it improves Bills, and the Government will likewise have to show that they are listening as well as leading. Communities and parents need to feel that academy freedoms are something that they choose and not something that can be imposed on them. The Government’s concession in clause 5 at least makes governing bodies consult those whom they deem appropriate, but it is blunted by the fact that they do not have to do so prior to applying to the Secretary of State and because they can do so even after they have been issued with an academy order. Those consulted in such circumstances would have good grounds for feeling that they were participating in a charade. I ask those on the Government Front Bench to consider that.
That clumsy approach risks building opposition to academies and could be a gift to the luddite tendency within the teaching unions, whose members are gathered outside as we speak, and resurgent on the Opposition Benches. Building confidence in the Government’s approach requires sure-footedness and careful consideration of everything they do. I ask the Government to reconsider the measures on the timing of consultation. I fear that they have been drafted in that way not because Ministers think it right in principle but because schools that seek to gain academy status this September would otherwise not be able to do so.
Let me conclude by posing a few more questions to those on the Front Bench. Lord Hill said that the Bill would lead to “greater partnerships between schools.” Will that be a requirement or an expectation? It is important to reassure the House that we will not see schools closing in and only looking after themselves, and we would like to know precisely how the proposal will be implemented. Lord Hill also talked about “fair and open admissions”. What plans do the Government have for the admissions code and the adjudicator? Have Front Benchers considered the impact of the changes on rural areas and the provision of transport in such areas? I should be interested to hear from them on that.
I have already touched on special educational needs; how will the parents of children with SEN make sure that their voices are heard? I have talked about good examples in academies, but it could be that other schools do not think about that issue sufficiently. I should particularly like to hear from Ministers regarding children with SEN who may be suffering from permanent exclusion. What monitoring will there be and who will have access to it? I support the Bill and I hope that the Government will give further consideration to the points I have made.
I suppose that one could describe this as the education, education, education moment for the new Government. They have not called it that, but this is their flagship piece of legislation. The dramatic difference is that in 1997 the new Labour Administration went straight for a policy that would help the most underprivileged children in our society. The academy programme that emerged later was targeted at the children in most need, at the poorest towns and cities and at schools that were underperforming badly.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the proof of the pudding is in the eating? In Hackney, six new city academies have been built or are being built, and 84% of pupils have gained five A to Cs in the one that has so far had results. Surely, that proves that the previous Government’s policy was a good one.
I am trying to be even-handed, but I take my hon. Friend’s point. Over 13 years, the Labour Government built more new schools and more new colleges and renewed more educational facilities than any Government in the history of our country. That building programme is indisputable, whatever one thinks about BSF and whether if Labour had been returned, we would have had to tamp it down or ease it in over a much longer period. However, we can discuss that at another time.
The difference between what we did in 1997 and what is proposed in the Bill did not come out in the speech made by the Secretary of State. Why go for outstanding schools? What is the magic of the outstanding school? The right hon. Gentleman referred to the work of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, saying that we wanted to free things up. Yes, we produced three strong reports that recommended giving schools more control over the curriculum, taking away some of the testing and assessment and reducing the six levels of school accountability. We said all those things, but we did so in the spirit of their being particularly important for all schools, not just the outstanding ones.
I believe that the new Administration, like the previous one, want to do the best for every child in our country. We only have one chance for education and both sides of the House—all three parties—want at heart to identify the talent and potential of our children and push them as far as they can go. It is important that we start from that basis, because when we look, as I have done, having spent nearly 10 years as Chair of the Select Committee, over the past 20 or 30 years—a period that the Committee used to call “From Baker to Balls” or “From Butler to Balls”—we can see that there are many more continuities in education policy than we might think if we heard only rousing speeches from Front-Bench speakers on either side.
There is a great danger in the Bill. Every Government need to be able to deliver their policies, and I have never known a policy be delivered by a demoralised work force. One of the secrets of our success over the last 13 years was that gradually, with difficulty, we got the teachers on side, partly by paying them better than ever before, rewarding them and respecting them more. That was the secret of our success and I hope the new Government will continue it.
Another tremendous partnership is needed to deliver policy—with the people who work in local government. It is easy to say that they have only back-office functions or unnecessary core functions, and that somebody else could do things better. Over the years, I have visited schools and local authorities around the country and I found that the one thing most school leaders and most people in schools want is a good, supportive local authority that knows the system, supports schools, knows what the difficulties are and tries to do everything it can to make the education system a success across the piece. I am worried that the Bill will be atomising—there will be a direct relationship between a big central Department and schools, with no intermediary. The people who were the intermediaries—local government—have high skills and it would be sad if the Government wasted them.
The hon. Gentleman has put in a lot of work on education and has great expertise. On the point about demoralising the work force, in my work on education, where I may have more expertise, I have seen great demoralisation of head teachers and deputy heads because of the amount of bureaucracy they feel they have to do. The head teacher of Avonmouth primary school, where I am a governor, says that the burden of bureaucracy has become unbearable. Dealing with bureaucracy may be one of the main incentives for people to seek academy freedoms. Some of the work force have been demoralised by excessive bureaucracy and they may seek to alleviate it.
I am afraid that I must disagree with the hon. Lady. I go into many schools, and one head will say, “I can’t do my job; I can’t cope; I can’t do anything, because of the amount of bureaucracy, red tape and all that,” yet in an almost exactly similar school, with a good leadership, the head will say, “Bureaucracy, red tape. We skip over that. We run the school for the children. And that all comes later, and we deal with it.” I am always suspicious, because I guarantee that the House will spend time over the next years introducing all sort of things—health and safety, child protection and child safety measures, and so on—and that we will end up with more bureaucracy in schools. We will gladly do both things at the same time.
May I continue for the moment?
I worry about the speed at which the Bill is being considered and the fact that the debates in Committee will be constrained to three days. That makes the Bill look like a bit of panicky measure. A couple of interventions rather upset me. An hon. Gentleman—an old friend of mine—asked whether the policy was similar to that on grant-maintained status, as did another Back Bencher. I hope that the policy is not a reversion to that. If that is all that it is—a return to the old grant-maintained situation—I really believe that it is a backward step.
Let us put all this into perspective. Sometimes, even among colleagues in the Tea Room, I ask, “How many secondary schools do you think there are in England?” and they often get it wildly wrong. There are 3,500, and there are about 20,000 primary schools. Many people do not know that. How many academies did we aim for? Two hundred, rising to 400—between 5% and 6% of secondary schools have academy status. It was a pilot, which makes me wonder why it caused so much passion, even among Labour Members. Indeed, the shadow Secretary of State was very passionately against academies at one stage in his career, early in the days when I was Chairman of the Select Committee. Academies were an interesting and successful pilot. They have not been given enough time. On the freedoms that we gave academies, yes, schools should be able to have that status on licence if they meet the standard.
I want to pursue another point. I, too, believe that the most worrying part of the Bill is the bit about free schools. I can understand the argument for academies, and I know why the Government are doing this—I can understand all that—but the question of free schools worries me indeed, not because of the suggestion that, somehow, the private sector will insidiously come in and run our schools. The Labour Government used the private sector all the time in education. Of course, we have to do so, and it is a healthy relationship: the private sector is a very good partner. It delivers all sorts of things. We called it into a number of local authorities to sort things out when they failed. So let us view the private sector as part of the solution and the answer, rather than thinking that it will come in through the back door.
I am worried about a different feature of free schools. When Tony Blair was very keen on faith schools, those of us who looked at them were concerned about the way in which they were delivered too easily to people who just said, “I want a faith school,” because they happened to have a certain brand of religion or to be a certain kind of Muslim or Christian. Without great care, that way leads to a deal of disunity and the break-up of social cohesion in our towns and cities. I would hate free schools to lead to that break-up. Baroness Sharp put it very well in the other place when she said that every area has a community of schools and that, if the legislation breaks up that community, we will put ourselves in great danger of harming the unity of our communities.
Consultation with schools, pupils and parents is very important, but it is still very weak under the Bill. The more I look at the Bill, the more concerned I am. We take so much notice of the governors of a school at one moment in time, but the school will go on for another 50 or 100 years. The school that I went to is, I think, still going after 500 years. The fact is that asking the question of one small set of school governors today will bind in a whole community, and the school at the centre of the community. The community should have something to say about the future of education in that community.
All the work that I have done in education has led me to believe that we have to give schools a decent chance of teaching a representative bunch of kids from the community—not all the poorest, not all the richest, but a good blend. Sometimes one has to be brave in how one selects; sometimes one has to be very brave. People should read the Sutton Trust report on how to handle school admissions. The Committee that I chaired did some very good work on admissions, and the schools admissions scene has been transformed in the direction that we recommended. There will always be schools that are better than others, and envy about not being able to get into those better schools. The Sutton Trust is right: the only way to sort that out is to have a fair system of banding, and when there is high demand for school places, there should be admission by ballot.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), the former Select Committee Chairman, who rightly gave full credit to Members on both sides of the House for our commitment to furthering the interests of all children and ensuring the best in education. He raised concerns about the free schools policy, of which I am a strong advocate. I join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in having visited a KIPP—knowledge is power programme—academy in a very deprived neighbourhood in Washington DC, where I saw tremendous educational outcomes. It was one of the most exciting schools that I have ever visited. I want that kind of provision and flexibility opened up in this country, so that people have access to decent state schools, particularly people in communities that are too often deprived of any such schools. That is one of the most exciting parts of the Bill.
I am delighted to support the widening of the academies programme. Again, I have form on that issue, on which I am entirely consistent. Perhaps it is a great vice of mine, in politics, to be consistent. The former Secretary of State criticised the involvement of the private sector, but he, as the former Select Committee Chairman pointed out, presided over the involvement of the private sector in school provision and in local education authority provision. I am entirely relaxed about the involvement of the private sector, where it is appropriate.
More fundamentally than that, I have always taken the view that good, well-led schools benefit most if they have the maximum freedom and liberty to flourish, without excessive bureaucratic intervention. One of the main reasons why I take that view is that I represent a constituency that has possibly the best state schools in the country, and nearly all the secondary schools were grant-maintained prior to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. I sat on the Committee that considered that Bill, and strongly opposed the Government’s efforts to remove grant-maintained status.
There was a bit of banter earlier about the qualities of grant-maintained schools. My experience locally was that they very much worked together. They took great pride in co-operating and built exactly the community of schooling and education to which Members on both sides of the House referred, but they did so because they wanted to, and because they saw that as part of what would bring greater success to their school, and better educational outcomes for the whole community. I have always supported that. Now I find that the enthusiasm in my constituency, in secondary schools in particular, for the possibility of academy status is precisely because so many of them have a positive experience of grant-maintained status and would very much like to see returned at least the freedoms that they enjoyed under it.
Having sat through the proceedings of the School Standards and Framework Bill and served on its Standing Committee and those of other education Bills in previous Parliaments, I was pleased when the previous Government eventually saw the error of their ways. Having removed some freedoms from grant-maintained schools and moved on to foundation schools, which were more restrictive, they wanted to build on the academies model precisely because they started to understand that greater freedom, fewer restrictions and less bureaucracy for those schools would be the way for them to continue to raise standards.
The notion that one can create independent state-funded schools is very radical, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly chided the Opposition for being conservative in their response to the Bill. We are being radical: we are pushing forward measures that will not only free schools to become more successful, but start to break down the barriers—some have referred to it as apartheid in the education system—between the state and independent sectors. I would certainly welcome more independent schools choosing to enter the state sector as academies.
Is it really a radical policy? Surely the Government are proposing to take us back to the bad old days of grammar schools and secondary schools. That will be the next step, because the new academies will have their own admissions policies, and they will enforce them through an entrance examination. Do we really want to go back to that?
If only the hon. Lady were right. I am sure she knows that I would very much like to go back to exactly that system, because we have it in my constituency, and that, I suspect, is why the schools in Trafford are better than those in her constituency. However, that is probably a debate for another day.
Today, we have the questions of consistency and of real belief in what was proposed by the previous Government and is now proposed by this Government. I was the shadow Schools Minister at the time of the legislation that became the Education Act 2002, and at that point I was pleased that we, the then Opposition, looked at the Government’s proposals in an entirely open-minded way, saw the benefits of the academies model being offered and welcomed it. In our critique and scrutiny of the then Government, we urged them to go further, to have the courage of their convictions and to ensure that more schools could benefit from the freedoms on offer. In that regard, the removal of the requirement for a sponsor is an important step forward.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting contribution, but he used the expression “educational apartheid”. Under his analysis, and the legislation before us, there will still be an educational apartheid: there will be schools with freedoms, and schools with lesser freedoms or no freedom at all.
I should like more and more schools to attain the outstanding status that will allow them to move more rapidly on to academy status, but a policy of greater freedom for schools that can exercise it well, in the interests of their pupils, is clearly beneficial.
At the time of the 2002 Act, we urged the Government to go further, to accelerate their programme and to have the courage of their convictions. As I look at the reasoned amendment, I really wish that the current Opposition had taken a similarly generous approach and been prepared to accept not only that there is enormous common ground in the proposals before us, but that we had reached the point at which the previous Labour Government and the Conservative party had recognised the real value in giving greater freedom and flexibility to schools and more autonomy to good head teachers.
The previous Government were moving forward slowly but we want to move forward more quickly, and I really wish they would join us in that. Instead, in the discussions relating to the Bill, including by the shadow Secretary of State today, the Labour party has moved towards seeing the whole purpose of the academies programme that it pursued as being about funding. It sees the importance of academies as being the insertion of a sponsor, an outside partner, preferably investing a very large sum in sponsorship to help fund the school. Fundamentally, however, we see the central point of academies as being the freedom that they provide. We understand the importance of allowing good heads, governing bodies and teachers to get on with their jobs and teach.
I started by advising Members to be entirely consistent and I will finish entirely consistently. Having spent the Committee and Report stages of what became the 2002 Act criticising the previous Government for being too timid in their approach to academies and to giving good schools more freedom, I encourage my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to demonstrate with vigour the courage of our convictions and see this as just the beginning of what should be a truly radical, powerful revolution that will lead to much better state education in this country.
Coming from my background, having worked for 25 years in education and particularly in special educational needs, I am used to making decisions about children and young people based upon what works for them and what is in their best interests, not upon ideology or my own philosophical beliefs. I am therefore concerned about the speed with which the Bill is being rushed through the House and the impact that that will have on children with special educational needs. I ask the Secretary of State, although he has left the Chamber, to think carefully about that matter.
Having examined the Bill in some detail, I do not believe that there has been any detailed analysis of its impact on vulnerable children, particularly those with special educational needs. I am particularly concerned about two things, based on what we know about the small number of academies that currently exist. First, we know that that group of children has not had a good deal in admissions, accountability and exclusion. I am concerned that if we increase the number of academies massively without considering in detail the impact that it will have on that vulnerable group of children, we will simply make the problem much greater.
We know that the educational achievement of vulnerable children—those with SEN, those living in care and those living in poverty—is lower than the average in the school population. Local authority managers of services such as admissions at least try to ensure that those children are not systematically disadvantaged when it comes to admission to good schools. By taking admissions out of the hands of local authorities and handing them over to academies to administer on their own behalf, we run the risk of taking any pretence of fairness out of the system and systematically disadvantaging the already disadvantaged.
Currently, local authorities have no power to name an academy on a statement of special educational needs, even when a parent particularly wants it and the local authority that has assessed the needs of the child in question believes that the academy can meet that child’s needs. I have come across that a number of times as an assistant director, when I have looked carefully at a child’s assessment and believed that an academy can meet their needs, and when the parent particularly wants their child to go to that academy, but the academy simply refuses to consider the point.
My hon. Friend is right. When will we realise that children with special educational needs need specialists? That is why they are special—they require specialists. It is foolish to say that anyone in a school whom the head teacher chooses to act as an unqualified support assistant can take the part of an SEN co-ordinator.
Currently, cases where an academy decides that it does not want to take a child or cannot meet the child’s needs go to an adjudicator. That takes valuable time and seems designed to put off all but the most determined parents. Parents of children with SEN already have difficult lives and we seem to be putting up additional, systematic barriers to prevent them from securing a place at a local academy that they believe can meet their child’s needs. I fear that that will lead to selective admissions through the back door in the new breed of academies and will make the situation that much worse for so many more children.
The hon. Lady is making a persuasive case and I share some of her concerns. If my memory of the equalities impact assessment is correct, existing academies take rather more statemented children and those with school support and school support plus—I think that I am getting my terminology wrong—than the average school. On the evidence so far, it does not look as if academies fail to take on their fair share of children with special needs.
The picture varies throughout the country. Some schools in some parts of the country take a larger percentage of children with special educational needs, but some schools in other parts of the country—I think that it is particularly true in London—do not. It is another postcode lottery. It depends on how good the system is across the piece.
Does the hon. Lady think that the pupil premium model might be useful in ensuring that children from the poorest families have additional resources to go with them, which in some ways makes them more attractive to schools? Does she agree that a system that provides incentives for schools to attract and look after the most vulnerable is better than one of bureaucratic diktat and fiat that forces children on schools that are reluctant to have them? Could not the former prove more productive in the end?
That is the problem—we simply do not know. We have not got the detail. I do not know what the pupil premium will bring. I was talking to a head teacher today who told me, “On the face of it, the premium looks attractive. However, I suspect that when I get it, I will actually lose the standards fund and lose additional educational needs funding. I may end up with less, not more funding for my vulnerable children.” That is the problem. The devil is in the detail and we do not have the detail. The Bill is being rushed through, without giving us the opportunity to look at those matters.
I am concerned that academies will be reluctant to admit vulnerable children because, through no fault of their own, they do not perform as well as their peers. The likelihood of vulnerable children gaining admission, particularly to outstanding schools, will therefore be reduced. I could see nothing in the Bill—I have looked at it carefully—about making the admission of vulnerable children a must. I know only too well that telling head teachers and governors that they should admit is very different from telling them that they must do so. I would like further reassurances that academies’ admissions policies will ensure that children with special educational needs are not disadvantaged.
I am concerned about the accountability framework, particularly for children with SEN. There is no clarity in the Bill on where a parent goes for redress if an academy fails to deliver on SEN, whether the child is statemented or not. Currently, parents can go to the local authority if a school fails to deliver, and ultimately to the SEN tribunal. If a school fails to deliver, a parent has redress through judicial review, but there is no clarity on whether such redress will be available under the Bill, so parents simply will not know where to go if an academy fails to deliver.
It is unclear who will monitor the progress of SEN children in academies. If we have learned anything in the past 10 or 15 years, it is that when the spotlight is put on the performance of vulnerable children, they improve. We have seen that with looked-after children. If there is no clarity on who is monitoring the performance of SEN children, they will simply be lost in the system.
Before my voice packs up altogether, I shall move on to exclusions. I have worked in a number of local authorities, in each of which I have analysed permanent and fixed-term exclusions. The pattern is the same. In my experience, 75% of children who are excluded on a fixed-term or permanent basis have special educational needs. Of those, my analysis shows that 100% have either behavioural difficulties linked to autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
TreeHouse, a charity that works with children with autism, has found that SEN children are nine times more likely to be excluded from school, and the situation is more acute in academies. If we massively increase the number of academies, we will increase the problem.
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point, with which I have some sympathy, but she must also accept that the Bill gives schools the ability to tailor their curriculum much more. She will know that part of the problem of dealing with some of our more difficult children is that the curriculum is too restrictive for them. The Bill will give schools more freedom, so it has some positive aspects.
I entirely agree that part of the exclusion problem is the formalisation of the curriculum, which in many cases happens far too early. However, my experience of academies does not give me hope. I do not expect that vast numbers of academies will amend the curriculum to meet the needs of SEN children. Which children are failing? The gap between those who achieve the most and those at the bottom is greatest at outstanding or high-achieving schools. Although I welcome freedom in the curriculum, I have no hope that it will be used for SEN children.
The proposals in the Bill are not well thought out and they are likely to affect adversely the education and life chances of children with SEN. They will make the already difficult lives of children and parents harder, and they will become part of the problem, not part of the solution. I ask simply that we take the time to look at the Bill in relation to the most vulnerable children in our society. If we take that time, the chances are that we will make the Bill that much better for that many more children.
May I refer the hon. Lady to clause 1(7), which strengthens the position of children with special educational needs compared with what it was when the previous Government were in power? Under the Bill, academies are on the same footing as maintained schools.
They are on the same footing in terms of funding, but we have no guarantees about what that funding means. That is what I meant by the problem with the detail. The Bill talks about funding without going into the details and saying what it means. What is the pupil premium and does it affect additional educational needs funding? Who will be responsible for non-statemented pupils? All those details are simply not in the Bill.
Nobody in the Chamber has ever argued that good government benefits by legislating in a hurry—nobody sane at any rate—and nobody in education has ever believed that the best time to consult schools and parents is during the school holidays, so the puzzle is this: why is the Secretary of State making us stay in and, with some haste, pass this legislation, when pressing matters such as reviews of discipline, special needs and so on need to be undertaken? Why this sudden and seemingly unjustified imposition, when there appear, on the face of it, to be more pressing things to do?
The Secretary of State is, I believe, extraordinarily well intentioned, dedicated, polite and considerate, and he is keener to convince than to coerce, but on this issue he seems to be possessed by a messianic enthusiasm characteristic of Tony Blair—in fact, he admitted as much in the debate—who, let it be said, never let practical problems cloud pleasing prospects. I find it perfectly understandable that the new Secretary of State, not content with simply running his Department well, wants to make his mark. The way that is customarily done is by introducing legislation—legislating for change. The easiest thing that a Schools Minister can do is change the governance of schools. It is what Education Ministers most commonly do—although not necessarily what they do best—so we have had comprehensives, direct grant schools, city technology colleges, grant-maintained schools, specialist schools and academies. There are many variations.
Ministers argue at every twist and turn that each latest new governance proposal will eradicate bad schools, bad teaching and poor pupil performance. If only it were that easy. Addiction to academies is simply the latest manifestation of this tendency. The Blair/Adonis academies demonstrated the well-known truth that if a school has a fresh start, plenty of money, new staff and a lovely building, it will produce at least a temporary fillip in results. What those academies did not demonstrate —as hon. Members must know—is that academy governance and its freedoms made any difference whatever.
I recommend that Members study carefully the National Audit Office report on academies. It showed conclusively that academies in deprived areas produced no better results than the previous excellence in cities programme, and at much greater cost. I really do instruct Members to get hold of that report, read it carefully and see that what made the difference was the funding, not the governance. Tellingly too, that report leaves out the effect on neighbouring schools. It does not even take that into consideration as a problem.
The Bill suggests that simply calling schools academies without the dosh will work some special magic. I am personally intrigued by this relabelling exercise. There may be a day when simply calling an institution a “school” might be some sort of insult or an indication of failure. I do not know whether other hon. Members have read Evelyn Waugh’s “Decline and Fall” but in it the hapless Paul Pennyfeather seeks a teaching job through an agency having been expelled from Oxford. He is told by the man at the agency:
“We class schools…into…Leading School, First-rate School, Good School and School. Frankly…School is pretty bad”.
Interestingly enough, Waugh’s unfortunate character Paul Pennyfeather was expelled from Oxford for indecency, having been de-bagged by drunken members of what Waugh calls the Bollinger Club. There is a slight resonance in that.
There is no particularly persuasive evidence that a plethora of independent academies produces better outcomes than a network of schools organised by a good local authority. Studies of parallel arrangements in Sweden and the USA have been similarly inconclusive. They are not the ringing endorsement that the Secretary of State described, and those who are well informed know that only too well.
Does the hon. Gentleman find it interesting that in the debates that have taken place so far on the Academies Bill there has been little reference to the evidence pointing to the opposite conclusion to that arrived at by Government on free schools or charter schools? Even more remarkably, there has been little reference to the equality impact assessment published alongside this Bill, which demonstrates some serious concerns about achievements in academies with respect to special needs pupils, girls and ethnic minorities. I am not against academies, but I would have thought that those conclusions would suggest to a Government who were not acting with such haste that they should proceed with some caution.
The shadow Minister has the advantage of me. I do know that there are a number of studies of charter schools in the United States, and that some are for and some against. The meta-analysis is inconclusive. It does not show that charter schools necessarily produce the wholesale educational improvement that the Secretary of State mentioned in his contribution.
There is no evidence that schools with all their current freedoms—and the ordinary council school has much more freedom than it ever used to have—feel oppressed rather than supported by local authorities. However, as has been said several times today, there is ample evidence that they are sick to death of the bureaucratic overload imposed by the Department and Ministers. It is downright shoddy and unfair to suggest that schools can be released from the bullying and bossiness of central Government only if they break their relationship with the local authority. It is dishonest to suggest that academy status is about addressing underperformance, when it is those who overperform who are to be fast-tracked and those in the leafy suburbs who are most likely to apply.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in regard to the other part of the coalition, the cat is out of the bag, in that some Conservative Members regard academy status as grant-maintained status reinvented, and as a sort of promised land towards which they have been working? Part of the underlying problem is that, with money for services such as special educational needs, and school improvements in particular, being dragged back from local education authorities, schools that are already regarded as outstanding and excellent will be taking from local authorities money that would otherwise be used to improve other schools, which there will no longer be the capacity to do.
To a certain extent, it seems to be a case of “to those that have, shall be given”. It is also highly unlikely that parents in the most deprived areas, where attainment is low, will have the skills, the capacity or the conviction to set up their own schools. Free schools will probably be created elsewhere, in areas that are already stocked with quite decent and reasonable schools.
Even if we can force ourselves to ignore the slim evidence and the implausibility of some of the arguments, we should not blind ourselves to the risks involved. Those risks have been mentioned here and in the other place. They include the risk of a two-tier education system—the word “apartheid” has been used—and the risk of knock-on consequences for other schools. A number of Members have also mentioned the risks to special educational needs and support services. I also invite Members to inspect the Bill’s treatment of charity law, which could create the risk of profiteering skewing schooling at some time in the future. There is also a risk of diminished public accountability for a public resource, and an enormous risk in the current circumstances, with the £150 billion deficit, that we might lose economies of scale and consequently spend more money to less effect. Furthermore, we might have to bear the huge capital cost of providing extra buildings while underusing the present buildings in an anarchic, unplanned education market.
My hon. Friend seems to be constructing an argument that freedom is a bad thing. He has described a number of risks, and yes, there are risks, but surely life involves risk. Does he not agree that the word “liberal” is derived from “liberty”? I find it confusing and surprising that he is making such a strong case against liberty.
I have never thought that liberalism had anything to do with precipitate, foolish and unresearched activity. I am not in any way suggesting that that is what we have here, but I am saying that there are valid reasons for an essentially rational liberal to make fair and cautious points about where we might be going with this, and to want to be assured that what we are doing will have the consequences that we expect.
There are risks involved, many of which have been voiced in the other place as well as here. To be fair, Ministers have tried to forestall those risks, privately and publicly, and to placate people with their mellifluous tones. I welcome that and I accept it; it is a good thing, as it encourages rational discourse. But, however convinced or unconvinced we might be, what negates all those assurances and soothing words, and what gives the game away and convinces me that this is a semblance, and a rational coating perhaps disguising an unbending ideology—although I hope not—and a visceral dislike of local authorities, is not the words that Ministers have used but the haste with which they have moved.
Having worked in schools for a large part of my life, and knowing the degree of organisation required during the summer recess to prepare for the new term, I find it distinctly improbable that any such schools will be ready to run on a completely different footing in September. The Minister clearly disagrees, and I defer to his knowledge of how things might go. I have to rely on my own experience in these circumstances, however. I have to emphasise that there is a big difference between legislation for a pet project, which we have seen many times in this House, particularly in the Blair years, and mature and considered legislation, and it revolves around whether it is properly handled in this place.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that schools in his constituency and mine have made inquiries about academy status and that one head teacher in his constituency commented that the whole process was a shambles? Does not that underline his point about the haste with which this legislation is being carried out?
It is not yet a shambles, but I welcomed the intervention from the Chairman of the Select Committee, suggesting that there is a proper and appropriate way to proceed with an important piece of legislation like this. I do not think that we have yet hit on that way here. What is the best I can say of this legislation? It does not remind me of the new politics; it reminds me—though Opposition Members might not want to hear this—of new Labour. That should give us cause for concern in this corner of the House.
We have heard excellent speeches from both sides of the House, but I rise with feelings of real unease about the proposals in this Bill. My unease is real as my constituents’ children will be denied the promise, via Building Schools for the Future funding, of a new secondary school in the town of Guisborough. This school is already the largest on Teesside and, under BSF, it would have partnered a state-of-the-art special needs school on the same campus, serving the whole of East Cleveland. My unease is also real because the Bill contains provisions to allow new, highly dubious and experimental schools to flourish, while schools like the Laurence Jackson, which has given decades of service to our local community, are being actively undermined by the Con-Dem coalition.
I also feel anger as these new academies will be allowed to flourish in a deliberate attempt to marginalise old, long-established local education authorities. Indeed, the new academies will also flourish at the real expense of the equally long-established and highly regarded diocesan school structure, which gave the Church of England and the Roman Catholic community a direct input into education.
I am particularly concerned about the Bill’s implications for the further growth of faith schools—in the context of the recent history of academies, this really means fundamentalist Christian groups—and their ability to deploy significant funds to endow academies. In my constituency, we already have the King’s academy, based in the Middlesbrough estate of Coulby Newham. That school was the brainchild of the Vardy Foundation, which I would describe as an evangelist group. To its credit, the foundation adheres to the national curriculum at the King’s academy—and in other schools it controls—although it has in the past hit local authority headlines for things such as allegedly banning Harry Potter books from the school library. The King’s academy is popular with parents—partly, I believe, because it still organises its classes around the national curriculum. However, this Bill removes that condition. Although I do not believe that the Vardy Foundation will change its stance, the ability to do so is entrenched by this Bill.
Put simply, this deregulation of public education will significantly increase the power and influence of any fringe movement. Worse still, these changes may turn out to be irreversible, entrenching views held by only a small minority and allowing them to be propagated.
Speaking as a committed Christian, I am most surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman talking in these terms about minorities. If Conservative Members spoke in these terms about different minorities, I am sure he would be quick to condemn us. Although I am a committed Christian, I spent yesterday evening in the mosque. I was happy to be there with those gentlemen; I get on terribly well with them. I ask the hon. Gentleman to use more moderate language in his description of Christians. I think Christians in this country have had enough; they deserve to be treated with the same sort of respect that the hon. Gentleman would expect for any minority.
Speaking as a Christian myself—a Roman Catholic Christian—I take the hon. Gentleman’s words into account. However, I am not making any allegations about minorities; I am talking about checks and balances for all minorities with respect to other minorities.
Put simply, the deregulation of public education will significantly increase the power and influence of any fringe movement. Worse still, as I said, these changes may turn out to be irreversible, entrenching views held by only a small minority, allowing them to be propagated to young and impressionable children under the veil of accepted educational practice. Such potential developments fill me with great fear. I can see the perverse realisation of young children, some of primary age, being taught or indoctrinated with views that border on the near fanatical—and possibly in totally unsuitable premises. There are also curriculum-related concerns about such matters as the teaching of creationism, and the total absence of any compulsion to ensure that elements of personal, social or health education are taught. I believe that some clauses will serve as a Trojan horse in that regard.
Earlier, I referred to maintained schools that are managed by their respective dioceses. I should say that I am a product of Roman Catholic primary, secondary and sixth-form education. Those schools worked in harmony with the local education authority, not against it or separately from it. The same applies to self-governing further education and sixth-form colleges. The National Governors Association, the National Grammar Schools Association, the Catholic board of education and many major charities are now urging the coalition to slow down their consultation for precisely that reason. Indeed, the Liberal Democrat Education Association opposes the Bill.
None of those organisations asked for the Bill, and I suspect that, with good reason, they will be wary and fearful of what may result from it. It could lead to the creation of religious academies which, unlike maintained faith schools, would lack the moderating and sensible constraints and influence of local communities. Such academies would be separate from society, big or otherwise. Unamended and without clarification, the Bill would allow academies run by religious groups to devise and use their own curriculums, to the exclusion of arguments and facts that might question the minority beliefs of those groups. Some provisions might well allow academies to discriminate against children in their admissions policies on the basis of their perception of parental beliefs.
As I said earlier, mainstream faith schools will be fearful of some of the ideas contained in the Bill. Some of its provisions could ride roughshod over them. Clause 5(8) would force a state-maintained school with a religious character—a faith school—automatically to become an independent school with that religious character. It would permanently remove any possibility that state-funded religious schools could choose to become inclusive academies. Such draconian and one-sided powers would remove any element of choice and freedom from the existing school governing body, and thus run counter to the parts of the Bill that refer to increasing the autonomy of schools.
The dialectic between appearance and reality seems to be a recurring theme in the coalition Government. When it comes to consultation, they give the appearance of thoughtful, reticent appreciation of the opinions of all who will potentially be involved, while in reality—in contravention of the procedure for potentially controversial legislation—the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords and then rushed through, and is likely to be given even less time in this place. Indeed, the Secretary of State’s insistence that its passage must be completed before the summer recess may mean only four days of scrutiny.
Will the coalition trot out the same old mantras? Will they say that this is necessary because of the deficit, or that it is the new politics of radical reform? That is more than likely. The “words of appearance” will give birth to a reality of fringe interests. Representatives of such interests, often with deep pockets, will muscle in on the people’s education system, presumably at the expense of the pay, terms and conditions of workers in that system.
Professional school support staff play a vital role in every school, although they are often part-time and low-paid. As a result of the Bill, school support staff as well as teachers would be directly employed by the new academies. That would take staff outside nationally agreed and recognised pay and conditions, leaving them much more vulnerable to cuts, poor working conditions and, fundamentally, uncertainty. Support staff would not be covered by the new School Support Staff Negotiating Body, which has been developed over several years to deliver long-awaited fairness and consistent, decent equal pay for classroom support work that has increased in terms of both scope and demand.
The point is that we do not know. Because of the pace at which we are dealing with the Bill, we do not know what some elements of it actually mean. We have no definitive evidence. Members on both sides of the House have gone into some detail, but have not provided enough specificity for us to discuss it.
Many support staff, unlike teachers, are not paid during the school holidays. The SSSNB was given cross-party support in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, and has a broad range of school, local authority, religious and employee representation. The Bill would effectively transfer workers to the private sector, unilaterally, without due consultation or consideration. It has the potential to undermine the previous consensual approach of all parties to the creation of the SSSNB. That is certainly not an indication of the “new politics”.
However, despite my obvious criticism—and if we are to take the coalition Government at their word—we can agree that there may be merits in widening the educational family beyond the tried and tested mainstream of the LEA. In the past, academies have had a variety of sponsors. Some, to which I have referred, have had a particular religious conviction. Some have been part of higher education—for instance, Teesside university, which is committed to becoming a partner in the sponsorship of Freeborough college, in the East Cleveland part of my constituency. The NHS is also involved, but most sponsors have come from commercial business, although given the coalition’s recent pace and predilection, the NHS may join the long list of private enterprises. Commercial business sponsors range from Lord Harris, of carpet warehouse fame, to companies such as the United Learning Trust, which has links with major public schools, and firms such as Vodafone, Barclays and Honda (UK).
If representatives of one side of society and commerce can be partners in schools, what about those on the other side? I should be fascinated to hear the Minister’s reaction to a new concept that I want to float. I simply suggest that the Trades Union Congress, or individual TUC unions, be encouraged to set up a trade union school or schools. We might also ask representatives of the co-operative movement—an organisation that was dedicated to mutualism, harmony and fairness centuries before Cameron’s “big society” road to Damascus—whether they would be interested in being part of a wider educational family.
The trade unions have a long history of propagation of adult education through institutions such as Ruskin college in Oxford. The TUC still has its own education department, and individual trade unions, with TUC encouragement and help from local learning and skills councils, have developed successful and widespread union learning campuses in workplaces where they have recognition agreements. The co-operative movement is historically associated with early socialist Sunday schools designed to give children a broader view of the world than could be obtained through Victorian churches, and even today it helps to sponsor educational development in parts of the developing world where it sources food for consumers.
The country, and even the coalition Government, can live with co-operative forms of enterprise. The Government could even float the concept as a way of managing former central or local state provision. If a state can ensure our children’s education with car dealers, carpet salesmen and other wider commerce, why should it not do the same with the democratically elected expression of working people, the trade union movement?
I look forward to the Minister’s response to the points that I have made.
I shall try to be brief, as we keep being reminded that time is of the essence. I believe in quality, not length, when it comes to debate.
I understand the points made by Opposition Members, but I think we should recognise that we are discussing yet another reform of the education system because there is a problem. There is a two-tier system. Our schools have gone down the ranks in terms of international comparison, and the poorest in our society have borne the brunt. We have the biggest gap between private and state education anywhere in the world. As has already been pointed out today, only 45 of the 80,000 children receiving free school meals have gone to Oxbridge. That worries Members on this side of the House as well as Opposition Members. Another problem is that those who have money can buy into a good state school, and those who are ideologically opposed to private schools can spend the equivalent of private school fees by moving into the catchment area of a state school, often a faith school.
The hon. Lady said that our schools were performing less well on the OECD list. Does she accept that, using the same comparison earlier, the Secretary of State did not acknowledge that since the break-up of the Soviet Union a number of states have entered the system, and that the Soviet Union had a fairly good education system?
My hon. Friend makes a point that I was not going to make for the sake of making progress in my comments, but I thank him very much for that clarification.
Some clarification is required in respect of the Bill as well. There is not some kind of compulsion whereby politicians are driving schools to claim these freedoms. The Bill simply seeks to lift the lid on the ambition, desire and passion that already exists, such as in outstanding schools whose head teachers have said to me, “Isn’t it amazing that if I was at a bad school I’d be able to get the freedoms I want to run my school, but we are just doing too well to have them?” The Bill removes that perverse incentive, and it enables parents and—to mention a group that we have not discussed enough in our debate—teachers to act: it enables parents and ideologically driven teachers who want to help the most vulnerable in our society by starting small schools, along the lines of the American charter schools, in those communities that most need them.
Many of the people who express an interest about this subject to me are those very teachers. They are the kinds of teachers who may be involved in Teach First and the Future Leaders programme. They are people who desperately want to improve the lot of those children who are on free school meals in the most deprived parts of our communities. It deserves a little more recognition in this debate that the Bill aims to lift the lid on passion, belief and desire that already exist to improve education. It is not about compulsion; that is not what we on these Benches are all about.
I understand the concern felt on the Opposition Benches that it is the good schools that will benefit from academy status. I would share those concerns if very substantial amounts of capital investment were to be going into those very good schools, but that is not the case. The good news is that there can be improvement without enormous injections of taxpayers’ money; after 13 years, that obviously comes as very good news to all Members. That improvement will allow good head teachers who lead outstanding schools to have the freedom to innovate, and also to offer their innovations to struggling schools. One aspect of the Bill that I particularly welcome is that it will not only encourage but require good schools that take on academy status to link up, not with outstanding schools as the shadow Secretary of State rather oddly implied, but with the weakest schools that most need that help. That point needs reiterating.
Another aspect of the Bill that should be highlighted is the fact that, for the first time, academy proprietors and sponsors will be subject to freedom of information legislation. Freedom of information has, of course, made the past year and a bit extremely rocky for this House, but, all in all, I think it is an extremely good thing and I am extremely pleased that that kind of public accountability will apply to academies and free schools so that we have a proper test of whether they are actually doing what we want and expect them to do.
I was around in the corridors of this House—although not as a Member, and nor, alas, in the corridors of power—when the Education and Inspections Act 2006 was making its progress as a Bill, and I remember that when the concept of trust schools was first floated there was a huge amount of sincere panic on the Labour Benches that that would open the floodgates and that it would be the end of the educational world and we would all be going to hell in a handcart because local authorities would not be able to control schools as they had previously. Now, four years on, has the world ended? No. Four years on, has trust status enabled Orchard school in my constituency to link up as a trust with the Bridge learning campus, which is driving very good improvements? Yes it has. Therefore, I say to Opposition Members that there was a lot of panic about the 2006 Act, and I also suspect that a lot of what is being said now is conjecture and expressions of fear about the liberation of forces that are not Government forces. I hope that alleviates some of the concerns among those on the Opposition Benches.
It is important not to see this Bill in isolation. We cannot solve everything through structural reform alone. It is certainly part of the equation, but we need to remember that there are far more measures in the coalition manifesto that tackle standards issues—and standards issues in respect of struggling, weak schools. If we were to see this Bill alone as the sole coalition offering on education, some of the concerns expressed by Opposition Members might carry more weight, but it does not stand alone. We also have reforms for improving discipline in struggling schools, which is one of the things that makes teaching in such schools so very difficult. Also, the pupil premium will send money directly to those children who most need it; of course there is work to be done on that, but that is what this House exists to do.
One development that I find particularly concerning, and scandalous, is that over the past 10 years pupil referral units have become repositories for children with special educational needs at the same time as special schools have been closed. I know no one wanted that to come about, but the House must address that tendency, and I hope the added responsibility for new academies to take care of children with SEN will improve the situation. I also hope that some of the measures we will be taking forward will look at pupil referral units alongside other society and voluntary organisations that can perform that function better.
The hon. Lady says the coalition is very concerned to remove disadvantage within our education system. If that is the case, why is it that under these proposals the first schools to become academies will be those that are already deemed to be outstanding?
As I have said, if this involved a huge capital investment going to those outstanding schools, I would not be standing here defending the Bill; instead, I would be pretty horrified. The point is, however, that schools that are outstanding have proved their worth; they know what they are doing and they are doing it well. It is a very easy and simple step to say to those head teachers who are doing well that, with measures of accountability, they should carry on and share their best practice. We would like such freedoms to be extended to all schools, but that has to be done within an accountable structure.
I will repeat what I said before—and also just note that it is interesting and very pleasing that the hon. Gentleman uses the word “help” in that that suggests that he agrees with Government Members that granting freedom to schools is in fact helpful. However, I repeat the point that this is not loading resources that could go to a school that is struggling onto a school that is not struggling. This is lifting the lid on ability, ambition, desire and aspiration that already exists, and enabling that to come out and flow into those schools that most need it. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, however.
I shall now conclude, as the House always hears enough of talking. A key point comes out of the idea that we can have improvement only through capital investment and rebranding. I have heard concerns that there will be an enormous amount of expenditure on rebranding those outstanding schools that become academies, but we are not going to do a rebranding exercise and then expect that alone to be the change and do nothing else. There will be no massive investment in a rebranding that does not actually effect change.
All in all, I welcome the Bill. It is real action—it is not money spent merely on rebranding—and it liberates the knowledge of professionals and also the desire of professionals to improve children’s lives and opportunities that I believe has been stifled for far too long.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie), who made a constructive and reflective speech.
The starting point when thinking about the Second Reading of this Bill is to consider what are the keys to success for schools reform. We must consider the impact of reform on the following: the quality of leadership in our schools; the standards of teaching and learning in our schools; and the achievement gaps that we know still scar our system both within schools and between schools.
I want to set out six areas of concern. The first of them echoes a concern raised by the Select Committee Chair, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), who described himself as a “structural change sceptic”. I agree with him: it is wrong that structures are so often put first. We on the Labour Benches sometimes did that when we were in government, and I think this Bill repeats the error. I think the key to success in education is the quality of the people involved—the quality of the head teacher and of the rest of the leadership team in a school, the quality of parental engagement, and, of course, the quality of the learning of the young people themselves.
The example of Mossbourne community academy in Hackney is rightly often cited. It is a wonderful, brilliant school and a great advertisement for academies. One of the main reasons for its success is its principal, Michael Wilshaw, who was previously at St Bonaventure’s, a Roman Catholic school in Newham, where he achieved a similarly remarkable transformation. I make that point to emphasise that, first and foremost, it is about the individuals and the personal skills that they bring, rather than the structures.
In Labour’s academy programme—as others, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), have said—our starting point was schools that serve some of the most deprived communities in our country. I had the privilege to serve as Minister for Schools for three years in Tony Blair’s second term, and one of the things I was responsible for was the London challenge, which addressed disadvantage and the failure of schools in some parts of our capital city. Academies were absolutely central to strategy that we pursued in London. However, it was about not just academies but strengthening school leadership, Teach First—the hon. Member for Bristol North West referred to that—and effective networks between schools sharing professional best practice.
In most cases the academies have so far been very positive, and for a number of reasons: their freedom to innovate, the positive involvement of their sponsors, and their focus on good leadership in our schools. I do not accept the argument of the hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) that it was just about the funding, although that was certainly a factor. There is a big difference between autonomy for schools, which I absolutely support, and isolation of individual schools. We need to achieve a combination of autonomy and partnership between different schools if we are to produce a high-quality system, and that is not just about structures.
My second concern, freedom, was eloquently discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). If these freedoms do work—by and large, they do—why do we not apply them to all schools? I have not heard a convincing argument from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats as to why this legislation applies first and foremost to schools that are already outstanding, rather than seeking to apply some of these freedoms to all schools.
Indeed he did, but my understanding is that there will be a fast track for schools that are already outstanding. In responding to me earlier, the Secretary of State rightly said—I will return to this point—that there are many outstanding schools in deprived communities, but we know that on average, most outstanding schools have lower levels of children with free school meals and of children with special educational needs. I therefore want the Government to consider whether it is right to give this fast-track prioritisation to outstanding schools.
The provision in the Bill dealing with schools in special measures leads me to worry about the schools in the middle. If we have academies that are aimed at the outstanding schools, and academies—the Labour academies and those that fit into the second category in the Bill—aimed at schools in the most challenging circumstances, what about the schools in neither of those categories? We need to consider that issue in more detail in Committee.
My third concern, which has already been set out by other Members, is the speed—the haste—with which this proposal is being taken forward. In the excellent debates on the Bill in the other place, Lord Turnbull, who chairs Dulwich college, an academy sponsor in Kent, made a strong case for that view, and I hope the House will bear with me if I quote him:
“The granting of academy status should be seen not just as a reward for past achievement but as an opportunity for future improvement. Candidates should not be invited to write a ‘Yes please, me too’ letter, of which we have had a thousand already; they should be required to reflect on how they can turn these freedoms to advantage. They should think about their governance structures rather than simply carrying on with existing boards that were created in a different regime. The opportunity to bring in new sponsors with new ideas must not be skipped…An aspiring academy…needs to think through afresh its ethos, the curriculum that it offers, its policies on a huge range of issues…A school cannot do a thorough job of preparing its prospectus in that time, let alone get it approved by the department and the as yet non-existent regulator. We should not be encouraging schools to skimp on this important work.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 June 2010; Vol. 719, c. 537.]
I echo those words of Lord Turnbull, and I want to illustrate the point further with three examples from my own constituency. Schools feel that they are being rushed into a decision without all the information being available to them, and this links to the earlier decision to end the Building Schools for the Future programme. De La Salle is a Catholic boys’ school in Croxteth, in a very deprived part of my constituency. It is an outstanding school, according to Ofsted, and was due to become an academy under BSF, so its BSF money is currently under review. It wants to know whether it is going to get its investment.
Just next door to that school is St John Bosco, a Catholic girls’ school that was a sample school under BSF. It, too, is an outstanding school in a deprived community. Its head, whom I saw on Saturday, is wondering whether she should apply for academy status in order to get the money the school was going to get under BSF.
A third example, Holly Lodge school, in West Derby—a good, well-respected school with an outstanding curriculum —has lost its BSF funding. Its chair and head of governors do not want it to be an academy, but they are nervous that their school may end up at a disadvantage as these proposals go forward.
All this says to me that the Government should have taken a more considered approach to this legislation. There is a real danger of harm being done, and I am not at all clear—hopefully, the Minister can enlighten me in his closing remarks—how the Secretary of State intends to prioritise schools that are going to become academies. The role that sponsors and partners have played in supporting existing academy schools and trust schools has been absolutely crucial, but if many hundreds of schools become academies straight away, I cannot see how those effective partnerships can be put in place. Therefore, those academies will not be as effective as the existing ones have been.
My fourth concern is fairness—fairness in admissions, funding and exclusions. Autonomy, which I support, must not mean academies avoiding their responsibilities on key issues such as the local behaviour partnerships and how they treat children with special educational needs.
That brings me to my fifth, penultimate concern: the treatment of children with special educational needs and disabilities. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) made the case on this issue very strongly. We know that many SEN children are being failed now—not only by academies but by other schools. In Liverpool, many parents of children with autism have come to see me in the two and a half months since I have been their MP to talk about how they feel the system is failing them. Some special schools becoming academies could be a very positive thing for the education of SEN children, but we need to ensure that the mainstream schools are also meeting the needs of all those children.
My final concern is one that other Members have referred to: the role of local government and the balance between the local and the centre. When I was the Minister for Schools, I had to make decisions affecting academies on quite detailed issues. I often felt rather uncomfortable that I, a Minister in London, was making decisions about schools across the country on limited information—and that was when there were fewer than 200 academies. I am concerned that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood said, this Bill could massively centralise power over schools in the hands of the Secretary of State. We need to look at a renewed role for local government in education, but without turning the clock back to the days of local authorities running schools; I do not think anyone is arguing for that.
In the other place, Lord Baker made the case for local authorities taking a lead role on special educational needs. That is important. Local authorities can have a strategic role, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood said, in commissioning places. The local behaviour partnerships that are due to come in this year should go ahead, and local authorities have a key strategic role to play in that regard.
Over-hasty legislation is rarely good legislation. This Bill potentially takes the excellent academies programme in the wrong direction. More freedom is a positive thing, but it should be for all schools—unless there are good reasons not to give it—rather than just for the outstanding schools first. There is a real danger, as I said, for schools in the middle, and for those reasons I am certainly not persuaded that the Bill meets the tests I set out at the beginning of my speech.
It is a pleasure to speak in a debate in which so many excellent contributions have been made. A number of hon. Members, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr Pugh), have raised the issue of timing. The new coalition Government are beginning a legislative programme and are seeking to set out their stall and signal to those who may well have to take contingent decisions on the legislation exactly what opportunities may be available to them. So I understand why the Government were keen to press ahead with this approach, which was part of the coalition agreement, and to make it absolutely clear how it might be developed by means of a Bill.
The fact that we are considering this Bill on the Floor of the House in seven or eight days is unusual. However, I hope that many of the hon. Members who are in the Chamber will be with us throughout our deliberations and that we will have the opportunity to probe on certain issues and end up reassuring the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) that the Bill can achieve its aims. Perhaps we will also be able to convince my hon. Friend the Member for Southport on the points that he raised with his customary humour and good will.
This Bill began its journey in the other place, and I pay tribute to my noble Friends the Baronesses Walmsley, Garden, Sharp and Williams, and to other Lords and Baronesses, for the time that they spent on the Bill. The Government did make changes to it during its progress through the other place, and others have succeeded in advancing slightly different views that have also been incorporated in the Bill. That makes it a stronger Bill and the process has clarified some of the issues that we are coming to consider. However, as other hon. Members have pointed out, some matters still need to be resolved to the satisfaction of Members of this House. It is right that the elected House has its chance to do that and, although the timetable is challenging, our considering this Bill on the Floor of the House in this way will provide us with that opportunity.
Interestingly, the concept of academies originated from the parties on this side of the House; it came, in particular, from the Conservative side of the coalition, rather than from the Labour party, which now finds itself in opposition. Tellingly, as has been said by some hon. Members, Labour still had work to do to convince its Members that there was a role for academies in the education system. Clearly, as Labour Members have pointed out, my party’s policy going into the election was to revisit the academies issue; we came up with “sponsor-managed schools” as a different approach.
Much to my regret and, doubtless, to that of many Labour Members, they are not facing a Liberal Democrat Government across the Chamber, but a coalition Government. It is important that these issues are debated in that coalition and that we have the opportunity to come up with an approach that—we hope—represents some points raised by both manifestos. The Secretary of State has pressed forward with, and has been a great advocate of, the approach in this Bill. I hope that my Liberal Democrat colleagues will have the opportunity to put forward our concerns so that we can develop a Bill that reassures everyone.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that his party’s manifesto contained a pledge to invest more money in education, but does he agree that he is now accepting a 25% cut? Furthermore, is it not the case that the money that is being supplied is being directed to the middle-class areas and is no longer being targeted at those most in need? How can he reconcile those things with his principles?
As has been mentioned, the key proposal that the Liberal Democrats made during the election was for a pupil premium to target money at disadvantaged pupils and those with particular needs—that is in the coalition agreement and will be delivered. As the hon. Gentleman says, there are cuts to be made to public services but, at the risk of tiring the House, we have repeatedly set out why that has to happen. We are where we are, and I am proud that the coalition is still pressing ahead with the pupil premium and will consider taking money for it from outside the education budget to help particularly disadvantaged pupils.
I wish to raise a few issues, some of which have been touched on by other hon. Members. My information suggests that issues relating to special educational needs have concerned some organisations; they are worried about how another generation of academies on this model would be able to deliver support. The hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), who is no longer in her place, made an excellent, reasoned and thoughtful contribution. I might have disagreed with some of her conclusions, but she made a great contribution to the debate and I hope that the Minister will reflect on those concerns in his wind-up.
Some Labour Members have discussed pay and conditions for those working in schools, and that issue concerns me too. In the past, there was a small number of academies and so, just as there was choice for parents, those working in the field of education could choose whether or not to work in the academy set-up. If more and more schools are going to go down the academy route, we have to revisit the issue of exactly what the terms and conditions are and how they are negotiated to ensure that, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said, what has been gained is built upon, rather than lost.
The normal way in which somebody pursues concerns is by tabling amendments, and sometimes they are passed. Given the programme motion and the way this Bill is set up, has the hon. Gentleman considered what would happen if he were successful in having his concerns allayed by way of amendments being passed? As there is no Report stage for this Bill, it would appear that that would cause a great deal of problems for his own Whips and those of the coalition Government.
The Minister is an experienced Member of this House and he will have encountered issues on which there have been disagreements between both Houses and things have had to be resolved quickly. Draftspeople have been able to put things together quickly on such occasions and I am sure that if a matter had to be revisited, it could be. It may be that the Minister is able to reassure hon. Members on certain issues without the need for amendments—we will see as our debate progresses and the Bill goes into Committee.
Some hon. Members have raised the concern that the Bill will force everybody down the academy route, but if that were the case, I would not be able to support it. I have talked to those involved in education in my constituency, and I have found that some are prepared to explore this approach. The Secretary of State has said that many hundreds of schools have expressed an interest in this. Some of them may well explore it and choose not to go down the academy route, but others will choose to do so. I am keen to ensure that the Bill makes that choice available, and not only to those professionals. As all good schools do, they will be talking to the communities that they represent and educate, and with which they work, to ensure that if they move in this direction, they carry people with them.
I am also given confidence by the fact that many local authorities do good work in supporting the existing schools. If there is indeed a level playing field and this Bill is not pushing people in a particular direction—I do not believe that that is the Secretary of State’s intention—many schools will choose to stay in the current set-up, but they will have the option available to them. Therefore, I can see nothing in the Bill that will lead to the horror stories that some Labour Members have set out by saying that this is a one-way direction of travel and that all schools will take this approach. Hon. Members will have different views and their discussions with the schools in their constituencies will lead them to different conclusions as to whether all the schools in those constituencies will seek to take advantage of these opportunities straight away. I hope that by extending the possibility of academy status to schools that have pushed on towards “outstanding” status, we will provide them with an opportunity. This is certainly not compulsory, and I would not be party to such an approach.
I was seeking to point out that an option would be available for schools to choose. The hon. Gentleman may be saying that people would go down this route only for the money, but I do not think that that is the case. I have looked at the amount of money that some local authorities hold back, so I can say that this proposal would not be hugely beneficial in terms of the services also received for that money. Circumstances differ across the country and schools will take the decision based on their own local circumstances, but I do not think that schools are financially compelled to take this route.
The other concerns that I want to raise—I believe that they were raised in the other place—are to do with standards and the role that Ofsted plays in the education system. Schools—admittedly those that are outstanding, but that does not necessarily mean that all schools achieve that status—would stay there for ever if it were based on the quality of the teaching and leadership. I want to hear a little more from the Minister about how the monitoring of progress and attainment will continue for schools that go down this route.
Although some hon. Members are concerned about how the flexibility in the curriculum might be interpreted, the Bill involves a positive step. In the coalition agreement, both parties had no problem in signing up to the aspiration to free schools from restrictive curricula. I hope that that will allow schools to develop a curriculum that is appropriate to their pupils and to the local circumstances in which they find themselves.
I find myself moving on to the subject of free schools, which is not integral to the academy issue that we have principally been discussing. However, provisions for free schools are in the Bill and the subject will need further scrutiny. I suspect that we will consider those issues in the Committee of the whole House, and I see that hon. Members will want to discuss that. It is an important new aspiration that the Secretary of State has set out, which is also in the coalition agreement. Fundamentally, I hope, whatever options are available, to see a level playing field, and recognition that although these solutions might be appropriate in some parts of the country, in others they will not.
The concept of free schools has perhaps been discussed in the context of some of the larger urban areas, where parents aspire to have a different model of school available to them. In a rural area, such as mine, there might be a different view. However, if there is a move to close a small village school, a group of people who are active in that village might want to consider ways in which they could resurrect the school and do so efficiently and effectively.
To sum up, I hope that over the next few days we will have the opportunity to look in detail at the issues set out in the Bill and that we can answer some of the fears that hon. Members have raised.
The House has been blessed this afternoon that so many contributions have emanated from people who have such experience in matters of education, so it is my choice to lower the tone somewhat drastically.
I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Government’s proposals are ideologically based. This seems to me to be a harking back to almost two decades ago, when the given text for the Conservative Government was essentially “privatising the world”. We have already seen their first incursion into attempting to privatise the NHS and it is clear to me that what is being proposed in this Bill is the first step in, essentially, privatising education. If it does not privatise education in the overt monetary sense, it will certainly revert back to the bad old days of the 11-plus, of a grammar school system and of secondary schools that were much lower than bog-standard. It seems to me that that is what the Government are working for.
For example, my constituency is served by two local authorities—Brent and Camden. Both are looking at a serious shortfall for available school places not only in secondary schools but in junior schools for a variety of reasons, not least the increase in population. Both were savagely disappointed because their schools were taken out of the Building Schools for the Future programme. No one on the Government Benches has been able to give me or any of the head teachers, governors, parents and pupils in Brent and Camden a reason why their schools have been excised—we have been given no economic reasons and certainly no educational reasons.
These local authorities in my constituency are blessed with a multiracial, multi-ethnic society, and it is absurd for the Government to believe that the kind of freedom that they argue will automatically be brought about by the expansion of the academies programme will help some of the most disadvantaged of our children in some of the most disadvantaged areas.
I thought that we had already established in this country that if we truly wish to ensure that disadvantaged areas and disadvantaged children receive the benefits that we expect for our own children—all of us in this Chamber would not accept for our children what it seems to me that the Government intend to impose on other people’s children—we must learn the basic lesson that a school alone cannot do it alone, however much money we pour into it, however much we expand it and however much the teachers wish to work there. That is a point that no one has raised, which is also reflected in a sense in the NHS: there are certainly very deprived areas that teachers do not wish to work in. How will we persuade them to go into there? By giving them more money? Apparently not, because this Government are saying that there is absolutely no money anywhere. The same is true as far as the NHS is concerned—there are certain deprived areas in which GPs do not wish to work.
We cannot simply say to one organ of society that it has to be the sole repository of transforming those areas of our society that we wish to see transformed. We already heard a most thoughtful, highly detailed contribution, clearly coming from many years of experience, about the difficulties experienced in some schools by some children with special educational needs. I have seen this for myself within my schools.
Not infrequently, the issues that create behaviour in an individual child in a school have nothing to do with the curriculum, the teachers or the physical environment in which a child finds itself. That child might have to live in seriously substandard housing in very overcrowded conditions. If we are saying that we genuinely want to ensure that every child in our society should have the best of educations, we must look much more widely at the external influences that in many instances could make it virtually impossible for children to learn, and that is not exclusively to do with the issue of special educational needs.
I am deeply cynical—I frankly and freely admit it—about what the Government are proposing for education. My constituency was Hampstead and Highgate; now, through boundary changes, it is Hampstead and Kilburn, and I can remember distinctly what every single state school in my constituency was like in 1992. Every spare moment that every teacher, every governor, every parent and, not infrequently, the pupils had was engaged in trying to raise money. They were attempting to raise funds to buy basics such as paper, pencils and books for the school library. Not in every school, but in the majority of schools in my constituency at that time the plaster was kept on the walls by the artwork of the pupils and miles and miles of Sellotape affixed by the teachers. Books were unknown as a teaching tool—pupils were lucky if they had a copy of the chapter they were looking at that day. If a computer was found in one of my schools, that was headline news—it was the equivalent of finding the educational holy grail.
Now, the situation in every one of my schools has been transformed beyond recognition. They have been physically improved, the quality of teaching has improved, visitors are tripping over whiteboards and children have computers that they can take home with them. Educational standards were always high because when I was first elected and for many years after that, the local authority was a Labour-controlled local authority and, despite the savage underfunding of year after year of Conservative Government, it always prioritised education. The standards were always high and the schools have always been oversubscribed, but if we go down the road advocated by this Conservative Government, I can see—as others have said tonight—not only a deterioration of educational standards but a serious breakdown in social cohesion.
There is not a single school in my constituency at a junior level where there are fewer than 49 to 53 different languages spoken. I can distinctly remember when I was first elected going with groups of my colleagues, mostly from London I admit, to argue frantically for section 11 money still to be there to assist in the teaching of English as a second language. There are enormous benefits for all our children in what we see in our schools. I recently visited a junior school in my constituency in which, because of the influx of people from the European Union and other parts of the world, the children are now learning Portuguese and Somali. When I was that age, I did not even know that those languages existed. There are huge benefits from that, but the divisive process that the Government are committed to reintroducing will savagely attack all that has been achieved not only on an educational level but in the social cohesion that I, as a London MP, believe is one of the blessings of living in this great capital city. The Government’s approach will move us back to the terrible days of the 11-plus, of grammar schools and of children being discounted utterly at the age of 11 if they did not pass the 11-plus.
The hon. Lady said that she knew nothing about education, or very little, and, certainly, some of the points she has made are interesting, to be polite. I have read the Bill from start to finish and I have not seen anything in it about expanding selection. Can she tell me where it says anything about that?
I cannot afford the hon. Gentleman the same compliment that he afforded me regarding politeness. It is a pity that he could not listen to me with the attention that I have afforded to his colleagues during the debate, because I did not say that I knew nothing about education. I have completely forgotten the point that he was trying to make, but that is probably just as well. If he really wants me to go back into why I am so suspicious of what the Bill is doing, I shall do so. It is first because of the speed with which the Government are driving the Bill through the House and, secondly, because of the complete lack of consultation on the fundamental and major changes inherent in it. There is an illogicality in that regard, because we have heard much from the Government about their absolute commitment to localism and about enabling local people to make local decisions about what affects their local communities. That is the absolute bedrock of his party’s commitment.
I must be entirely honest with my hon. Friend: I tend to avoid speeches by the Prime Minister. If you have heard one, you have heard them all. The Government are constantly arguing that localism is all and that local people must make the decisions about housing, the erection of wind farms, jobs and everything else, but on this central and essential issue—the education of all our children—that local dimension is, apparently, thrown out of the window. There is to be no consultation with the people who really matter.
The hon. Lady made that point to the Minister in his introductory remarks and he said that it was up to the headmaster of any school that wishes for academy status to consult the community about it. That is exactly what is happening in one school in my constituency, which was taken into an academy as introduced by Labour Members. It is consulting widely and of its own volition—and very successfully.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, if I heard the Secretary of State correctly, and if I remember the changes being made by the Bill, it says not that they must, but that they should engage with poorly achieving schools. It is much too broadly drafted for there to be any real input at all—for a high-achieving school to make the widest possible contribution to its local community. I am not saying that high-achieving schools are not doing that already—certainly, academies in some areas do—but what the Government propose will set up a barrier that will be driven, as we all know because we are all human beings who see it all the time, by parents. Schools will be in the position of selecting not pupils but parents, and those parents will be selecting them.
The idea that there is an equivalency in education between the voices of parents simply is not true. A colleague of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) raised an issue that we all know about—people who have enough money to buy themselves into the catchment area of a school they wish their children to attend. In many instances, that practice excludes the children of people who were born and raised in the area and whose parents and grandparents were born and raised there. That happens a great deal in my constituency.
I cannot see how, when the House is, understandably, trying to rebuild its reputation for various reasons, it will help its good name to rush through such important legislation without full consultation. I cannot believe that that will add to the general view of the House as a place that is worthy to give the deliberation that the Bill deserves.
The Bill is not an emergency measure, but it is leading to what could be a nasty accident. I believe and support the coalition agreement, which says:
“We will give parents, teachers, charities and local communities the chance to set up new schools, as part of our plans to allow new providers to enter the state school system in response to parental demand.”
But that does not add to the state school system. Whatever the intention is, the outcome will be a fragmentation and a weakening of the state school system.
It has also been said recently that
“more choice for parents is a quintessentially liberal approach. This is an area where the state needs to back off.”
However, as we have heard before in the House, liberty without equality is a name of noble sound but squalid meaning. There is a difference between freedom and a free-for-all. In a free-for-all, invariably, the least articulate, the least organised, the least well represented, the least well-off and the least well educated tend to lose out.
It is important always, in whatever we do, to begin with the end in mind. What are we trying to do with our education system? We want, first, to raise the overall attainment of the young people who go through the system and, secondly, to narrow the gap in attainment in our system. The first issue is one of productivity and getting the most that we can out of the system, whereas the second is very much a political issue about narrowing the gap and seeing the importance, not just to young people but to the nation as a whole, of doing so.
There have been some extremely good contributions from knowledgeable people on both sides of the debate, so there is a danger of my trying to teach people to suck eggs, but let me put the issue in practical terms. There is a difference between things that are simple and things that are easy. To achieve well, a school needs a great head teacher, a great management team and great teachers. Then there are other things that help but that are less crucial, such as adequate resources. What resources are adequate will differ from school to school depending on the community that the school serves. Some schools will need more—hence the pupil premium.
A school’s buildings are quite important but not as crucial as some people think. One of my schools, Carlton Bolling college, where I am a governor—one of the schools for which the BSF proposals have been frozen—became an outstanding school not because of its buildings but despite them. It became the first secondary school in Bradford to gain an outstanding Ofsted categorisation because of the things that I have mentioned—a great head teacher, a great management team and great teachers. Schools also need excellent support services such as occupational therapy, educational psychology and speech therapy.
The governing body is less important than many governors believe. A terrific governing body with a poor head teacher will not mean that the school is successful in terms of achievement. A really good head teacher can get by with a governing body that is not so good—just don’t tell them.
At the end of last week, I was at a school that serves a challenged area in Swansea West. It was clear that the school’s relationship with parents, who often do not have a background of high achievement over generations, in building self-esteem for children is a key part of breaking out of intergenerational poverty. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one key issue is targeting resources on schools that serve challenged areas, rather than just having a free-for-all where middle-class parents grab what little is left of the cake from the Conservative Government?
Hence the pupil premium. Parental involvement —my next point—is very important too.
There is nothing to stop a school having all the things that I mentioned. It does not have to be a faith school, a maintained school, an academy, a grant-maintained school or a foundation school. A point not previously raised, although I think the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) touched on it, is that everything that I have mentioned will produce a school with high achievement, but not necessarily a school with high attainment. There is a difference between the two.
As I said, it is simple to determine what makes a successful school, but it is not always easy. Apart from parental involvement, everything that I have talked about relates to school level variables—the school and what it can actually deliver—but pupil level variables determine attainment in the school. We seem to have common agreement about the need for a pupil premium to support schools serving deprived communities, but why not give it a chance in those schools? Is it not premature to look at the structure yet again, before we have seen what the additional funding can do to raise attainment in those schools?
Without doubt there are exceptions to the rule, and we need to learn best practice wherever it resides, but powerful opposing forces work against all schools being in the educational utopia that is described by the ingredients for high achievement. Bradford has 200 schools—special, primary and secondary. We shall not get 200 great head teachers; it will not happen.
Another force working against that utopia is how schools are judged. In most cases, they are judged on attainment, and although we often pay lip service to contextual value added, that is not how schools are actually evaluated. Because of the system, schools are in competition. They do not like being in competition, but they are in competition over who is recruited to which school.
How can we bring about change in struggling schools? Only with very great difficulty. Some of the measures are impatient, but it requires hard slog in struggling schools to put in place the ingredients required to turn them around. How much simpler to set up a new school with all the ingredients in place, including the great new head teacher. But where will the great new head teachers come from? They will come from other schools, where they may have been needed because those schools served deprived communities. If a teacher gets the same pay—or even, in these new schools, more pay—why on earth would they go in every morning to work in a school serving a deprived community for less money? Teachers’ conditions of service need to change if we are to make the most of the pupil premium, so I welcome that flexibility.
More important than anything else in terms of attainment, resources and how a school is judged, is the intake of the school. Why do people want academies? There must be a reason. It is because they think they will get something new. If it is simply about flexibility in the national curriculum, why not give it to all schools? If it is about flexibility in teachers’ conditions of service, why not give that to all schools? People want academies—whether or not they admit it—because by one means or another they want to change the intake of the school. If everything was made available for every school, for what reason would they want to set up an academy?
On local authorities controlling schools, I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been for the last 20 years. It does not happen now. Money is passported straight to schools. If he has an issue with support services, he should get his councillors to sort it out. The local authority should be providing quality services to schools.
I am reliably informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) that it happens quite frequently in Essex county council.
Pointing out where there are failings or errors in the system is not to condemn the system but to improve it. One of the reasons I find the measure so difficult to accept is that it ignores the crucial role of the local authority in co-ordination. I have seen no mention of the Every Child Matters agenda in the Bill. The role of the local authority is crucial in places planning, ensuring that admissions are fair and supporting, challenging and monitoring schools. If we put those things in place we shall be on our way to improving our schools.
The final thing that I am worried about has more to do with free schools: within a year, the British National party will have a group of parents applying to set up a school.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward). No doubt we shall be seeing him later.
I want to make a rather basic intervention. Amidst all the language of funding models, burdens of bureaucracy, accountability and pupil premiums, I thought that it would be germane to raise the question of what children might learn under these new school reforms. We are being invited to extend the academy model in one form or another on the specific rationale that those schools raise educational attainment, in particular through a rapidly improving results framework, with almost double the number of A* to C grades at GCSE. At the beginning of the Secretary of State’s speech, we heard the litany of schools that are doing so well, and in The Daily Telegraph on Friday, the Department for Education repeated the mantra that academies were outstanding. But what are they outstanding at? How have the results improved so markedly?
Although much of the success can be attributed to strong leadership, inspiring teaching, improved facilities and the new ethos of learning that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) outlined so well, in some cases improved results are the product of directing students into less demanding examination options that in the end improve no one’s life chances. We are being asked to implement an educational model whose validity is open to question. Indeed, there should have been an element of scepticism about the academies when they were not subject to freedom of information legislation. With a degree of ease, some academies were able to disguise some of the data behind their results surge.
As the hon. Gentleman will hear later, the statistics are rather sharp on the difference between academies and the rest of the maintained sector. Moreover, the academies were unwilling to divulge the difference between academic qualifications and academic equivalent qualifications in vocational subjects.
Let us be clear that we are not debating the relative merits of academic versus vocational education. The equivalent qualifications sold as vocational are, in fact, rarely so. Many academy pupils are directed towards what might be described as semi-vocational or semi-academic subjects that do not provide the rigorous technical training that might lead to an apprenticeship but are simply weaker versions of GCSEs, such as BTEC science or OCR national certificates in information and communications technology.
Did not the Labour Government put in place the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, with its dogma of equivalence that made those subjects equivalent in the first place and give head teachers the incentives to treat those qualifications equally?
Clearly, the hon. Lady has not discovered the new politics. This is not about party political point scoring. [Interruption.] As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is about what children learn in our schools, and Government Members would do well to remember that amid their guffawing. Although a BTEC can officially be worth two GCSEs, or an OCR national certificate worth four GCSEs, that equation is not necessarily accepted by further or higher education colleges or other academic institutions, so often the pupil is short-changed even as grade results are inflated.